Saving What Is Useful

useful bags.jpg  When my mother and I went to Russia in 1991 among the places we visited was the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. It was very impressive. My favorite part was the room with six Rembrandts. Sitting among them was an extraordinary experience. As we left we bought some postcards and other souvenirs and when none seemed to be forthcoming, asked for a bag to put them in. The cashier gave us a sour look then finally dug out a used plastic bag– an obvious treasure from her hoard and placed our items in it. Recycled bags were more common there than new ones were then.

I certainly do save and either use or recycle lots of plastic bags, however I have a stash of various sizes of paper bags as well as small gift boxes that threatens to erupt from its container. Some are saved for when we give people gifts. The ones with decorations for Christmas or birthday, for instance come in very handy. Others with no decorations or simply printed with the name of a store can be used for any occasion, and also for carrying things. I only wish I knew just how many of these decorated bags I would need in the near future so I could pass some of them on to others.

I simply cannot bear to throw out anything that is ultimately useful. Take for instance the elastics that come on things. I haven’t bought any rubber elastics for years. They come in various sizes, shapes and colors, mostly on vegetables. The small bag I have stays full because what I use gets replaced. Twisty ties are something else I tend to save. They too come in various lengths and are useful for tying up many things as well as substituting for the difficult to reuse flat plastic closures most bread bags come with. The long ones are good for wrapping around electric cords and small tools.

I seldom use paper towels unless I want to clean up a mess, thus saving paper. I tear appeal letters and ads for insurance and so forth on 81/2 by 11 sheets with a blank side into thirds, pinch them together with a clip and use them to make my grocery and “to do” lists. Smaller scraps of paper become notes, though I have to be careful not to lose those. String of any length of course gets reused, as does ribbon, and of course wrapping paper. Unless it’s torn, I fold and save Christmas and birthday wrapping paper, as did my parents.

Being of a saving nature runs in my family. My father once told me he found an envelope among his mother’s things with bits of string in it labeled “pieces of string too small to use.” However I have since heard this story from other sources, so it may have been something he borrowed rather than experienced. My mother, my father, my grandmother and my other relatives all followed the Yankee thrift rule: recycle, reuse or do without, so it’s not surprising I developed this habit and needless to say as I have discovered, passed it on to my children.

Delicious Nutritious Recycling

Deb's party food 2          I can’t help it. I save too much. Periodically I have to prune away the overage and find a home for it if I can. I get my saving instincts from both sides of my family. My mother didn’t throw out anything that could be reused, recycled or repurposed. Neither did my Yankee ancestors on my father’s side. I find it difficult to discard any containers that seem to have a potential for good storage. I was saddened when my honey lady could no longer use my glass jars.

The elastics that come on vegetables are saved in a special place. I reuse twisty ties until they become too twisted to reuse, and I have several collections of bags of different sizes and shapes, some of which say Merry Christmas, some Happy Birthday and some nothing at all. There is a place where I keep small boxes and another where I keep large ones. In my efficient apartment this can become a problem.

My mother spent her childhood years in war torn Germany with very little food to be had, during and after the First World War. The early years of her marriage to my dad occurred during the rationing of World War II. Furthermore, in those days food transportation was minimal, and the markets did not have the variety or the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit we have now. She grew and canned many of the vegetables and even some of the fruit we ate in the winter. To her wasting food was tantamount to committing a mortal sin.

I too dislike wasting food. Something that until very recently I found frustrating in the extreme was overripe avocados. It is impossible to know what the inside of one looks like when looking at the outside. Also, mysteriously they seem to ripen at different rates of speed. Thus all too often I would open one only to discover it was too far past its prime to use. However, all that has changed. I recently discovered a wonderful way to recycle even the most unappealingly overripe fruit in a most delicious and nutritious way. I altered this recipe from one I found the Internet, referenced in Spry Living, a magazine put out by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

Even if you don’t believe me, please try the recipe anyway. You will be very surprised. It helps to have a food processor, otherwise you could make it in a blender, or even an electric mixer. Use what you have, as many or as few avocados. My recipe is per avocado: peel and scoop out 1 overripe avocado, add 2 Tablespoons maple syrup, 11/2 teaspoons vanilla, a pinch of salt, and 3 tablespoons powdered baking chocolate. Place all in a food processor, blender or mixer and process until smooth. Taste and appreciate! As an optional treat you can add (per avocado) half a ripe banana, 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans, or 1/4 cup strawberries or raspberries, or experiment for yourself.


Me and My To Do Lists

Poinsetta and water drops036My friend and I sat over breakfast at a restaurant near where I live. “I find myself getting very forgetful,” she told me. We commiserated a bit. I assured her that if it were not for my lists I would never remember what I had to do. I’ve been making them for as long as I can remember. I know that my grandmother made lots of lists. My mother told me that when she stayed at my grandmother’s home one year, she often found herself almost tripping over them. Nonny, as I called her, used to leave them on the floor so she would be more apt to see them.

I don’t need to write many as she did, nor to drop them on the floor. I get along very nicely with my two main lists. I keep one in the kitchen where I write down whatever food I plan to prepare, the next necessary errands, and the various household tasks it is time to do. I keep the other on my desk. That one reminds me of what I need to do on my compute–whether emails I need to write or assignments I must complete. It tells me when my deadlines are due, and what bills it is time to pay or what cards I need to send and to whom. Actually, these are not my only lists, just the permanent ones. As I cross things off I rewrite them and throw away the old pages.

I also keep grocery lists, health food store lists, and lists of other items i need to purchase. These are vital! When it was time to send out invitations to my birthday party I made a list of the people I wanted to invite. I also now have a list of the Christmas gifts Stephen and I received, and the people who gave them to us. I need that to write my thank you notes. My short term memory is not what it used to be, however it hasn’t been that good for some time. I am told this is nothing to worry about and is part of normal aging.

I also use my lists to practice recycling. Whatever comes my way that is a one sided piece of paper gets folded in three, torn into strips, and clipped together to form a pad to make my lists on. It is only a small gesture, yet every effort to conserve counts, no matter how insignificant. I also believe that any attempt to be mindful of the environment carries an impetus to help increase the totality of what will I hope and trust one day lead to greater participation for all in the conservation of planetary energy and resources.

I admire those who say they do not need lists in order to remember things. I prefer to use what mental energy I have to be observant, to remain in the present moment, and to notice when I need to participate in some way in the ongoing scene. If I have to waste time and energy remembering what I need to buy at the grocery store I may not have the mental focus to notice the hawk circling the highway above me or the interesting shapes of the trees’ bare branches thrusting their patterns against the blue of the winter sky.