Friday, March 30, 2012

To Get Rid of Stuff

So here I am, trying to type out part 2 of my posts on excess stuff. However, my "shift" key is broken again (happens from time to time), so bare with me if not all my sentences start out capitalized, or this post gets cut horrendously short in a fit of frustration (do I actually have fits of frustration? Noooo, not lil' old me! Never.).

Back to our actual topic at hand! I've already touched very briefly on the subject of stuff. I'd like to go into it more deeply, but really I think anyone who has too much stuff is already keenly aware of the problems and stresses it creates without somebody harping on how it raises your blood pressure just to think about dealing with a messy house, encourages your likelihood to be perpetually late to appointments (how can you get anywhere on time when you can't find things like shoes or keys?), is an embarrassment when guests stop by unexpectedly, and more! And let's face it, the less excess "stuff" you have, the easier it is to avoid those stressful messes. But you already have too much stuff. Your garage is crammed, your attic is packed, and don't let your next guest open up the hall closet! And that's to say nothing of the stacks of paper that cover every flat surface in your office, or the piles of old mail you've already looked at but just haven't thrown out. You have a problem you need to deal with, but you're not one of those naturally organized types, so where do you start? With these 3 simple steps!

1. Pick one room -- don't try to deal with the entire house at once. You will become overwhelmed and you will fail. Instead make up a list of the rooms you need to deal with (and if that's all of them, then so be it!) and choose only one at a time to attack. Do not move on to the next room until the first is complete.
2. Go in with a plan -- if you're attacking a room full of miscellaneous papers, grab a couple bins, baskets, or whatever else you have around to help you sort through things. One bin of things you must keep, another for things you can throw out. The things you must keep should then be filed away into their proper place, or otherwise dealt with right away. Do not make a "deal with later" pile. It will not happen and the accumulation will begin all over again. If you're attacking the garage full of odds and ends, clear some space somewhere and start four separate piles 1) Keep, 2) Throw out, 3) Sell, 4) Giveaway/donate.
3. Be rutheless! -- If you finish sorting and there's almost nothing in piles 2, 3, or 4, go through pile 1 again and ask yourself with every item, "Do I need this? What for? When was the last time I used it? Is it worth the space it takes up?" Also don't forget the phrase, "When in doubt throw it out!" If you find an item you haven't used in a 12 month period, odds are good that you don't actually need it. 12 months allows you to keep items you use only during the holidays, or during certain seasons.

When you're through deciphering what is to be kept, thrown out, sold, or given away, don't stop there. Actually take the next step of tossing it, selling it, or whatever else. If there is more to sell/give away than you can easily deal with in a reasonable period, make up a list and commit to dealing with 1 item each day until you've made it through everything. Depending on what the items are, consider CraigsList, eBay, FreeCycle, or if you have the time, a good old fashioned garage sale. Personally, my husband and I have never had much compared to many American's, but when we were preparing to move once, I got extra ruthless and we made around $700 over the course of two days and we've never missed any of the things we sold those two days.

A few more tips to help you get through all the stuff if purging, cleaning, and organizing is not your forte:

  • The trash can is your friend. Spend time with him regularly.
  • If it belongs to someone who doesn't live in your home, ask them to come take it away, or bring it back to them yourself. No excuses. Just do it. 
  • Edit, edit, edit!!! Collections and knick knacks are cluttery. Cluttery does not feel relaxing and pleasant, nor is it easy to keep clean. If you have a collection you simply cannot part with, find a way to contain it all in one general area, instead of spreading it all over the house. Things you feel any less than madly in love with, get rid of them. If you're afraid you'll regret the choice, take the items and put them all into a box somewhere where you won't see them regularly. Several months down the line, if you haven't regularly thought of and longed for them, donate them, garage sale them, or if it's things that were only meaningful to you, throw them out. Do not forget, however, that you have tucked them away. Consider marking a date 2-3 months in the future on your calendar and dealing with them on that date, no matter what. 
  • You are not morally obligated to keep everything that anyone ever gives you or that you inherit. It's shocking I know, but quite true. Friends and family really do not want to burden their loved ones with things they either don't need, want, or like. Trust me when I say it is okay to throw out the old clock from Uncle John, or that ceramic owl that belonged to Grandma's brother's best-friend. If it is not improving your life by being regularly used, or aesthetically pleasing, forget it.
  • Get rid of extras. You do not need to keep old hairdryers, weed-eaters, or anything else if the one you have is functioning. Don't play the "what if?" game. Things break. That's life. You can't keep enough of everything to run two entire households, just in case the ones you currently use break. Toss, sell, or giveaway all of your extras. If your husband has 4 black ties (and doesn't work for MIB hunting aliens), get rid of all but one. If you have 5 pairs of neutral colored Keds, keep only the 1 or 2 pairs that you wear with regularity and do away with the others. 
  • Repair anything that's broken that you've been putting off.
  • When you're done with all the purging, don't forget to give everything a thorough cleaning! Nothing feels better than having those floors you can finally see again sparkling. 
And last of all one final point I have to bring up that should help you in your new found effort to live free of clutter is to make sure that the things that you do have are multi-purpose whenever possible! Don't buy the plainest, simplest coffee table out there; go for one that doubles as storage space, whether you can open up the top and tuck a blanket inside, lift a lid to store your (hopefully downsized) DVD collection, or one that has a shelf underneath where you can stow books, magazines, and TV remotes.   

Lest anyone think me cold and heartless, yes, you can keep a box or two full of purely sentimental items. Just be very careful not to let these one or two become more and more until your entire garage is full of sentimental stuff again!

On The Subject of Stuff

I think today we'll talk about stuff. It's an issue that has been on my mind a lot lately as quite a few friends have mentioned having too much of it and not knowing what to do about it. This seems to be a common problem and yet most of us continue to accumulate more, more, more, all the time! The latest gadget. The most stylish clothes. Maybe you have a thing for shoes and own 30 pairs, or maybe it's jewelry and you need an entire piece of furniture just to house it all. Many of us have garages, basements, attics, or even storage units we pay hard earned money to rent, full of stuff we don't need, and often don't even remember we have (I heard recently that the self-storage business is a 22 billion dollar industry - that's 22 BILLION spent annually to keep excess junk around)! And don't forget your closests, cabinets, and shelves that are crammed so full it's downright embarrassing to open them up in front of anyone (Monica's secret closet, anyone?).

As a nation, we are accumulating more and more all the time. And it's no wonder, really. We live in such a fast-paced society where we are expected to do everything, remember everything, be everything (wife/ mother/employee, husband/father/employee/church-leader) and somehow stay sane. If you don't have an expensive home, the latest model vehicles, or designer clothes you're viewed as a failure at life. It is inconceivable to many American's that anyone could actually be happy with less, and if you say you are you must be lying. We want bigger, newer, better. The problem is, we're never going to find lasting satisfaction in more, newer, or the most costly of material possessions. Even scripture warns about the uselessness of keeping too much. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21) Scripture also tells us that if we have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies, we should be content ("But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." 1 Timothy 6:6-8).  Everything else is just icing on the cake!

I am not anti-"stuff". Come into my home and  you will see that I have more than I actually need to survive. Some of it helps me to be a better hostess. Some of it makes me happy just because I like to look at it. Could I happily do without a lot of it? Yes. Is it a nuisance, a mess? Does it make finding that one thing I need impossible? Do I feel stressed out when I see it, or force myself to ignore it so I don't feel frustrated by one more thing still undone? If I were to die tomorrow, would it cause others undue stress to try to deal with it all? No to all of that. My point is that I am not arguing against keeping things. I don't think we should get rid of everything that isn't absolutely necessary to survival, or never have something we like purely because we like it. But there are two major things that I think we have to be careful of when it comes to our earthly possessions, and that is: #1. That we don't make an idol of our "stuff". It's easy to do, even for Christians. Think long and hard about what you're keeping and why you're keeping it. We cannot serve God and *money.  #2. That we don't allow our things to own us. Clutter is a source of stress to anyone (don't try to pretend it doesn't bother you!), and whether you realize it or not, holding on to "stuff" can harm your physical health, as well as your spiritual health (see point #1). Stress is something we all experience way too much of in our modern society; why add to it with the burden of "stuff"?

An article in the NY Times online says, "Excessive clutter and disorganization are often symptoms of a bigger health problem. People who have suffered an emotional trauma or a brain injury often find housecleaning an insurmountable task. Attention deficit disorder,depression, chronic pain and grief can prevent people from getting organized or lead to a buildup of clutter. At its most extreme, chronic disorganization is called hoarding, a condition many experts believe is a mental illness in its own right, although psychiatrists have yet to formally recognize it."

The article goes on to explain how one doctor decided to study the brains of compulsive hoarders, and found significantly increased brain activity in those with hoarding tendencies when faced with a decision to keep or discard something, compared to those without hoarding tendencies.

So how does it happen, the accumulation of "stuff"? Most of us start out with very little. You're in school perhaps, or you get your first apartment and you're probably doing well if you have a bed to sleep in, a table to eat at, and real dishes to eat off of! But in this society, accumulation of "stuff" is a status symbol. The more you have the better. So over the years we collect. We gather. We hoard. Before you know it you're moving out of that first apartment because you've run out of room for all your stuff! Then you get married and from there it's a house, 'cause you've got to have a garage now to fit all of your stuff along with your spouses. Before you know it the attic is full, the garage is a mess, and if you have a basement it's probably full of useless junk collecting dust, too. Then you might start saving things for your kids first homes, you've got Aunt  Matilda's dishes, Grandma's pots and pans along with all her kitchen decor, because the retirement home she moved to is so small she couldn't keep it. Then your husband has his father's old sports equipment, along with all of his own, plus enough fishing gear for a small army and he hasn't fished in a decade (probably not because he doesn't like it anymore, but because he has to work all the time to pay for all the stuff). Then there's all the unfinished "DIY" projects you've started and tossed into the garage which includes paints of all kinds, furniture you want to refinish, that old guitar you've been meaning to sell on eBay for 5 years. Then there are the boxes full of baby clothes in the attic that you keep around for sentimental reasons. At first it was "just in case" but as your kids grew up it became harder and harder to say goodbye to all the sweet memories, and now that grandkids aren't all that far off, why throw them out at all?

Any of that sound familiar? If it does, listen up! You can get out. You can break free from the bondage your "stuff" has you in! I know it's overwhelming to think about trying to tackle the clutter, the stuff. But you will find yourself feeling so light and free once it is done.

So, where to start? Well that will be the topic of my next post, so check back soon!

(*Greek mammon, a Semitic word for money or possessions)  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Squatty Potty

Remember this post where I talked about how we're not really intended to sit on a toilet like chair, but to squat?

Check out the Squatty Potty Toilet Stool! It's a brilliant product, and their video is rather hilarious:

Squatty Potty Toilet Stool Helps Prevent Colon Cancer from Judy Edwards on Vimeo.

They sell on for $29.95 to $69.99.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Kefir: What It Is, Why You Should Drink It, and How You Make It

Ran across this on my private journal and thought I should share it with you all. I wrote this back it 2007 after I first started making my own kefir, back when I was still ill with Lyme disease:

It's been suggested that I write something for a community I'm in, about kefir. I've never considered myself to be a very good writer, and add to that the brain-fog related to my Lyme disease that's been flaring up lately, and you may very well be in for a painfully retarded post. The brain fog makes it not only more difficult to think of certain words, but it also affects my ability to be clear and concise. So forgive me if this is neither (though I will do my best!). Oh, and it also increases my preexisting tendency to write pointless rambling paragraphs. ;)

 "What is kefir?" 

 The first question people inevitably ask about kefir is "What is it?" So I shall tell you. Kefir is fermented milk (any kind of milk; cow, goat, sheep... camel; even non-mammalian milk such as soy and coconut milk will produce kefir*). The name kefir comes from the Turkish word "keif" which is loosely translated "good feeling" or "feeling good". Some alternate names for kefir include "Tibetan Mushrooms", "Snow Lotus", and "Yogurt Plant" to name a few. "Yogurt plant! Ah, so it's like yogurt, right?" It is vaguely similar (in fact, much of the kefir you can buy in the store is not real kefir at all, but thin yogurt). So if that's the case, why bother with kefir, right? Yogurt is easier to come by, so why not just stick to that? Because kefir (real kefir, at least) is chock full of vitamins and probiotics that your poor yogurt only dreams of having (comparing yogurt to kefir is kind of like comparing Chuck Norris to Jack Bauer -- they're both people, but that's about the extent of their similarities; yogurt and kefir both come from milk, but that's about the extent of their similarity -- it's also a funny comparison since Jack Bauer's real name is Keifer Sutherland. Hah). And because of it's high vitamin and probiotic content, kefir is ideal for those who are struggling with illnesses of any kind, or simply those who are trying to maintain a healthier lifestyle in this crazy world that attacks such a thing from every angle imaginable. The probiotics have a little party in your intestinal walls and make them happy again -- something most of our intestines aren't familiar with, due to poor diets, internal and external stress, environmental toxins, and illness. The vitamins of course contribute to overall well being, protect proper brain function etc., And since kefir is especially high in B 12, it can be especially good for those in need of a little more energy (I dare anyone to say that's not them!). 

"So where does kefir come from?" 

 Kefir is made from nothing more than fresh milk, and kefir grains. Don't let the name fool you though; the biomass that turns milk into kefir is not a grain like wheat or oats. It's much more like a mushroom; a gelatinous glob of bacteria and yeasts (the good kinds) in a sort of womb made up of protein, lipids, and kefiran that ends up resembling overcooked cauliflower. Interestingly, no one seems to know where kefir grains originally came from though. Centuries ago it was discovered in the Northern Caucasus mountains (a region between Iran and Turkey, where the tribes people are all exceptionally healthy, and attribute their health and long life to their "probiotic jewel") and brought to other parts of the world only as recently as 1908. Where the Caucasian people got it though, only rumor tells -- some of the Caucasians say, "The grains were a gift from God provided over 1,000 years ago." Some seem to believe they were given to the people by the prophet Mohammed (and believe he received them from Allah). Others think kefir grains may be the manna described in the Bible ("Now the house of Israel called its name manna. It was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey." Exodus 16:31). I'm not sure what to think about where it came from, but that doesn't really matter, anyway. Originally kefir was made as a means of preserving milk, before the convenience of refrigeration was available. The art of kefir-making has been preserved throughout the years though, and we are finally learning about the incredible health benefits of this form of preservation. There are many variations when it comes to the creation of kefir; secondary fermentation is a good example of this (which can increase the folic acid content by up to 116%!). 

"So why should I be drinking kefir again?" 

 Because it tastes so great! Okay, so that's only really a pleasant benefit; the real glory of the thing is in it's incredible health benefits. Beginning sometime around the eighteenth century, kefir grains were considered almost miraculous for their ability to heal. The tribes-people would protect the secret of the process of kefir-making, and the mother-grains with their very lives. A family in posession of kefir grains was thought to be very wealthy. Many of the supposed benefits of kefir have yet to be "proven" according to organizations like the FDA, as kefir hasn't yet obtained a lot of attention from the medical/scientific communities. Recent experiments performed on mice though showed that kefiran (remember that's part of the composition of the kefir grain) exhibited strong anti-tumor properties. The author of one of these Japanese studies initially began the research on himself, ingesting kefiran to try and correct Ulcerative Colitis (inflammation and sores in the lining of the colon and rectum). He succeeded in his attempts to correct the disease, and started research on the antiinflammatory properties of kefir grains. The author of the study also found that his RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) symptoms disappeared after ingesting 1/3 cup of kefir grains for 7 days, furthering his theory that kefir has strong anti-inflammatory abilities. Other studies showed that daily ingestion of kefir liquid significantly supressed high blood pressure and also significantly lowered blood glucose in obese insulin-resistant KKAy mice. It also successfully treated constipated rats. Additionally, the good bacteria and yeasts in kefir have been shown to inhibit E. Coli and salmonella in lab tests (in other words, kefir is anti-microbial). Kefir is also being shown in studies to be an immune system modulator -- that is, a slow/weak immune system will be strengthened, and an overactive immune system will be calmed. As stated previously, kefir also contains many vitamins, minerals, amino acids and enzymes, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, B2 and B12, vitamin K, vitamin A and vitamin D. This is especially true if you can make kefir from grass-fed milk. And don't forget all the good bacteria (Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lb delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lb helveticus, Lb casei subsp. pseudoplantarum and Lb brevis) and yeasts (Kluyveromyces, Torulopsis, and Saccharomyces, acetic acid bacteria; to name a few). Kefir has been used successfully to treat allergies, yeast infections, cancer, and TB to name just the few I remember reading. Hospitals in the former Soviet Union use kefir to treat patients with an incredible variety of illnesses. Another great thing about kefir? Even most who are lactose intolerant can drink kefir without ill-effect, because the yeasts in the kefir grains eat up most of the lactose (and the longer it ferments the more lactose the yeasts consume). 

"How can I obtain my own kefir?"

The easiest way, one might think is to buy it at a grocery or health food store. This is not ideal for several reasons though; 1) the cost is significantly higher when purchasing commercially produced kefir, as opposed to making it yourself, 2) the odds are high that even in a "healthy" drink like kefir you will find perservatives such as MSG (a highly dangerous excitotoxin) added to it (and don't be fooled just because the label doesn't say "MSG"; the government allows MSG to be hidden in more than a handful of additives that sound harmless such as "natural flavoring" and "spices", 3) Companies who produce kefir, like any other company is likely to be primarily interested in turning a profit and not making the absolute best product for their customers, thus the fermentation time for commercially produced kefir is likely to be lower, thus lowering the nutritional value of your kefir. So what am I suggesting? Making your own kefir, of course! Don't worry that you won't do it right, or don't have the time; once you obtain the grains, making your own kefir is a snap! I'll explain how in just a moment. 

"How do I make my own kefir?"

Making your very own kefir is an incredibly simple process. First thing you'll want to do is obtain your own grains; you can purchase them online, or do a google search for "Kefir Grains" (or if you're very fortunate you may have a friend who is already making their own kefir, and after a few weeks they'll be able to share some grains with you). You should be able to find a variety of websites offering kefir grains for no more than the cost of shipping. You could even try a website like the International Kefir Grain List where people from all over the world offer their extra grains (some for a small price, others for just the cost of shipping). You can even obtain freeze-dried kefir grains from some healthfood stores, but fair warning; not only will some in the kefir community "shun" you for making "fake" kefir, but these grains will not grow like real kefir grains do. So you have obtained your grains: Now what? Now you want to take a large, clean jar (glass is best) and plop your little grains in there with some milk (about 1 cup of milk for every approximate tablespoon of grains), cover it (if you cover it tightly be sure that the gases have a way to escape; if the seal is too tight, and the extra space in the jar too small, the jar could explode from the build up of pressure as the milk ferments!), and allow it to sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours. As I mentioned before, there are many variations in how kefir is made; you can cover the jar more loosely and your milk will ferment a bit more slowly, leaving you with a milder taste. You can ferment it beyond 24 hours for a more sour, fizzy drink. You can remove the grains, and put your kefir into beer bottles, and allow for a secondary fermentation which will create an even fizzier, yeasty beverage. Whenever you deem that your kefir is ready, you can strain out the grains, and drink the kefir immediately, or refrigerate it for longer storage (it will continue to ferment even without the grains, but at a much slower rate now). You can also "store" your grains in milk in the refrigerator if you don't plan on having fresh kefir ready for consumption every day. The grains can also be frozen for short periods of time, or stored in water (though this is not ideal for the health and happiness of your grains and should not be done for more than a day or so every two weeks). 

 BE AWARE: Recently shipped kefir grains will not produce a "proper" kefir the first batch or so. The shipping time creates an excess of yeast in the little grains, thus creating a drink that is grossly akin to baby spit-up. When your first batch or two turns out like this, do not be discouraged; this is normal. Also, new milk (i.e. switching from cow to goat, or goat to soy) can cause the grains to "freak out" in a sense, and create another nasty dud batch. Do not be dismayed; this too is normal. And too, be aware that switching from say, 1% milk to whole milk can cause a change in the taste and texture of your kefir. 

Just for my own future reference, due to my "brain fog" this took all night to write, and I'm not exaggerating. 

*one should be aware that consistantly culturing your grains in non-mammalian milk will cause them to cease growing as the grains need certain nutrients to grow that are only present in the milk of mammals.