Saturday, March 26, 2011

Have you seen the muffin pan?

Wedding shower gifts from 1971
 The person who gave Mom these baking pans at her wedding shower in 1971 could never have known the long term yield on the investment. Other snazzier models (non-stick, air insulated, etc.) have been introduced into the household over the years, but the cookie sheet to the right is the one that is still burning the bottoms of ginger bread boys and roasting tater tots.

I made popovers yesterday and while digging through the storage drawer under the stove to find the muffin pan, discovered that I must have been distracted when cleaning up after my last baking project.

It seems that I totally bypassed the, "Oh, just let it soak overnight in the sink," step and put it away without even rinsing it at all. I love to cook and honestly enjoy doing dishes, but pots and pans are usually the last in the line-up, and they sometimes get overlooked. Have you ever opened the door of the oven to put something into it only to discover the roasting pan from last weekend, right where you left it?
The  muffin pan
I found an electric skillet in my grandmother's kitchen that contained what may have been the remnants of fried chicken, which I estimate to have been in there for at least five years before my discovery. It was stored in the cabinet over the refrigerator, which nobody in my immediate family can reach without a ladder, so I am not quite sure how it got there. The condo kitchenette, which was designed for people who like to eat out, contained three complete sets of cookware, each with a large stock pot and three sizes of saucepans.

What is the status of your cookie sheet collection? Is there something sticky permanently stuck to your non-stick?  Are you regularly ingesting Teflon flakes with your scrambled eggs? How many sauce pans do you really use on a day other than Thanksgiving? This week's Downsize Challenge is to take inventory of your pots and pans and cull out any that you are ready to live without. If intensive cleaning and polishing is in order, as it was here, an online search for "how to clean pots and pans" will yield many great suggestions for dealing with baked on grease. A paste of vinegar and baking soda worked very well for us.

If your unwanted pots and pans are still in usable condition for cooking, consider donation sites that accept household goods (Salvation Army, Goodwill, other charities in your area, etc.) Posting them on Craigslist under "free stuff" or on Freecycle might also help them find a good new home. Some metal pans will be accepted by your recycling center, but non-stick cookware seems to be a challenge in most areas. Consider re-purposing instead. Mom has found a few applications in the greenhouse. Seedling flats sit nicely on an old rusty cookie sheet. The handles can often be removed from pans and can serve as dishes under houseplants.

Gluten free muffins

Is there a place in the house where a magnetic message board would help YOU get more organized? Before you throw away that metal cookie sheet, check out this link for a creative idea with simple instructions by Carolyn on her beautiful blog about do it yourself projects at home.

Last night, I covered an old Baker's Secret with fabric to create a reminder board for Opa. When he woke up this morning, he was greeted by this note:

Today is Saturday
  (a good day for a shower)
  Muffins for breakfast!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Vintage Vicks and Vaseline

Winter has officially ended and I am eager for our N.H. weather to match the arrival of a new season. I started my more ambitious Spring cleaning in the same corner of the house where the downsize challenge began last year; the bathroom. The medicine cabinet is a good place to start, because the decisions to be made are more straight forward than in other parts of the house. Expiration dates are easier to deal with than the more vague questions of current usage that we face elsewhere. It amazes me that although we have lived here for just over a year, we have somehow accumulated enough toe nail clippers to fully stock a pedicure salon in the mall. We have razor cartridges that don't fit any of the handles in our supply. The hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol are expired. There is sediment in the calamine lotion. I've got a few of Opa's prescriptions that were discontinued, but never discarded. Our four boxes of supposedly “assorted” Bandaids mostly contain empty wrappers now, or the little round ones that are too small for most of the things that happen around here.

What's the first aid supply situation at your place? If you had an accident with a minor injury right now, could you, or someone in your house, easily locate the stuff you would need to clean and dress your wound?  How is your stretched-out ace bandage collection? 

The downsize challenge of the week: 
I invited my family to compete with each other last spring to see who would find the bathroom product with the oldest expiration date. Some Pre-Sun 29 that had expired in 1986 placed third. My Oma's bottle of Ponds Cold Cream, circa 1982 held the record for almost a week, until one of her daughters discovered some Norwegian Vaseline that had been left behind by a visitor during the 1970's.

This week's downsize challenge is to clean out YOUR medicine cabinet. Will YOU be the new champion?

And what should you do with unused or expired medications?
They are not safe for septic tanks or public water supplies, so please DON'T FLUSH them. Your local waste management facility can tell you the specific rules for disposition in your area. When I was in Florida last spring, I was instructed to crush Oma's unused pills and mix them with cat litter or damp coffee grounds before putting them in a plastic bag and then disposing of them with our regular trash. This was an enormous task, as the blender, food processor, and most of Opa's tools that might have been useful for crushing hundreds of tablets had just been sold for a few dollars each in a yard sale. The coffee/spice mill that I borrowed from my friend upstairs worked very well for pulverizing, though in hindsight, I would highly recommend wearing a mask while handling this stuff.

In response to concerns about public health hazards related to improper storage and disposition of medications, the Drug Enforcement Agency initiated a national Take Back program last year and has scheduled a spring collection date for April 30th, 2011. This is an easy and safe way to get rid of expired or unused medications. Follow this link to learn more about the initiative, and to enter your zip code to find a nearby collection site.

Some of the lessons I learned from this particular challenge:
It's really worth thinking twice before buying one of anything just to get another one for free, but especially when it comes to talcum powder. We have more than enough to last a lifetime.
Antibiotic ointment RARELY gets used up before it expires, so if ever needed in the future, purchasing the smallest tube they've got in the store is probably a smart move.
Storing creams for faces and creams for butts in different locations is a really good idea, especially if anyone in the household is at the point in life where reading glasses are standard issue, but are frequently missing at important moments.
Based on the number of fully loaded complementary floss dispensers I still have in stock, I am not flossing at the rate that the hygienist suggests.  
It's smart to dump out the water from a hot water bottle before putting it away and forgetting about it for a few years.

And lastly, it is not a given that all members of a household will correctly identify their own toothbrushes when asked to do so. 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Yellow Roses (the first downsize challenge)

The Downsize Challenge began for me last spring, while I was sitting on the edge of my Oma's tub, staring at a bottle of Jean Nate. It had been there as long as I could remember, right next to the dish of dusty little yellow soaps, shaped like roses, which I figured she must have won at Bridge, because they weren't the kind of thing she would have bought for herself. She had been a very practical person and didn't have much use for decorative things. I decided that the logical thing to do with the soap was to use it, but the little roses started to crumble when they made contact with the water, and they wouldn't lather. So I chucked the whole lot into the trash.

When I woke up the next morning, I desperately wanted them back. I stared down the trash chute next to the elevators and felt the permanence of the situation. They were gone. There was nothing I could do about it. I sat down for a while, in front of the recycling bins, on a pile of cardboard boxes, trying to compose myself before going back to check on Opa, who couldn't be left for too long. My thoughts eventually settled. “They're just soap. They are not Her. Love can never be thrown down a trash chute.”

If you have ever dismantled a place that has always existed in your heart, you know what it means to pour Jean Nate down the toilet.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

Locked out (a few keys to spare)

Can you currently identify each key on the keyring in your pocket or purse? Do they unlock doors that exist in your present life, or are you deliberately carrying around some extras as part of a weight bearing exercise program? I finally have the keyring under control, but the ones I have removed from it over the years are still around, and I don't have any good excuses. When my old car didn't pass inspection last year, it was ultimately sold for parts. Since it's dismantled in a salvage yard someplace, it's safe to say that theft is no longer a concern, so what am I doing with the key? And what about the three copies of former front door keys to my current home, which had new locks installed two years ago? Hey, at least those are identifiable and an informed decision can be made, but what about the ones that remain a mystery? Might need them someday, but don't know for sure. Won't know until I need them, right? What if one of them belongs to my neighbor who might ask me again to feed the cat while she's away...can't exactly go over there now with all the miscellaneous keys and start trying them out on her front door. I'd at least better wait until she isn't home.

Have you got a similar collection? This week's downsize challenge is to sort through your keys, not just the ones on the keyring, but the ones hanging on nails by the door, or hiding in drawers, or on desks and dressers. Figure out what they open. Keep them only if you need them.

What can we do with our old keys?
The internet is full of ideas for craft projects to be made with keys, but this remains a downsize challenge, so I encourage you to fight the overwhelming urge to make wind chimes or necklaces from your old luggage set.

Don't throw them in the trash! Keys are metal and can be recycled, often right along with the rest of your metal recycling. Ask the folks at your recycling center or transfer station. Mine told me to put them in with the cans.

If you have a lot of keys, especially brass or other metals of value, you might want to scrap them for cash.

If you'd like to donate them to a group raising money for Multiple Sclerosis research? See the link below:

Whatever you do, label the ones you keep. It'll save you a lot of time later.