Tiny Tuesday: Space bags

I bought my first set of space bags at a drugstore about 17 years ago, when we lived in an apartment with limited storage, and I needed a compact way to store coats and sweaters during the summer.

The bags were huge, required a vacuum hose to use, and tore easily. They did, however, hold a lot of clothes and fit neatly under the bed, so I didn’t get too wound up about having to patch one and throw out another that tore while I was trying to figure out how to use them.

Space bags have come a long way in the last 17 years. I don’t recommend the off-brand, which are still awkward to use and prone to tear, but the Ziploc brand work fine, and the company has developed a second variety that I really like: travel space bags, which have a little one-way valve at the bottom that allows you to fill the bags about two-thirds of the way up, zip them shut, and then fold or roll down the top, pressing on the items inside to force out as much air as possible out through the valve at the bottom — no vacuum required.

Travel space bags are among my favorite tools for organizing small spaces.
Travel space bags are among my favorite tools for organizing small spaces.

They’re not quite as airtight and won’t flatten down quite as much as the ones that require a vacuum to use, but they’re great for vacation (I assume you don’t travel with a vacuum cleaner and hose attachments) and even better for storing my surplus T-shirts on the top shelf of our bedroom closet so I’ve got replacements on hand when one wears out or gets stained. If you’re creating a capsule wardrobe, they’re also a nice way to store items you aren’t quite ready to get rid of altogether but are pretty sure you don’t really need.

Space bags can be pricey, and the travel kind aren’t always available when I need them, but I found a cheap alternative in the food-storage aisle at Target: plain old 2.5-gallon Ziploc bags.

Big storage bags: the poor man's space bag.
Big storage bags: the poor man’s space bag.
Press down on the bag with one hand to keep the air out while you use your free hand to seal it. Or to take a picture of it. Whatever.
Press down on the bag with one hand to keep the air out while you use your free hand to seal it. Or to take a picture of it. Whatever.

Fill ’em halfway, zip ’em most of the way shut — leaving about a quarter-inch gap at the end for air to escape — and fold or roll ’em up, starting at the bottom and pressing out as much air as you can before you zip them the rest of the way shut. They don’t compress quite as much as space bags, but they’re cheap, hold several T-shirts, and work pretty well in a pinch to keep items organized in a relatively compact manner on a closet shelf or in a backpack.

Emily

Disclaimer: Ziploc didn’t give me anything to write this review. I just found these products handy and thought somebody else might, too. Nobody ever gives me anything to get me to blog about it. I’m not popular enough for that. Poop.

Vegetarian Friday: Frozen fruit pops

Packed with phytonutrients, my anti-inflammatory fruit pops are a great recovery snack after a hard workout.
Packed with phytonutrients, my anti-inflammatory fruit pops are a great recovery snack after a hard workout.

As an erstwhile distance runner, I (usually) (sort of) try to eat sensibly(ish). You can train for a marathon on Krispy Kremes and MaggieMoo’s, but it’s not pretty.

A few months ago, I read an article somewhere about foods with natural anti-inflammatory properties and how they help tired muscles recover after a long run. As summer was just getting started, I decided the best way to incorporate such foods into my postrun snacks would be to freeze them into popsicles, giving me all the inherent benefits of the foods themselves, plus an easy way to bring my core temperature down quickly without having to stop and make a smoothie while doing the dear-calves-please-don’t-cramp dance.

With that in mind, I picked up a popsicle mold similar to these at World Market and hit the grocery store for ingredients I could run through the blender. Here are the two best recipes I came up with.

This isn’t an exact science, so I didn’t get too specific with the amounts. Base your proportions on what you like, what you have on hand, and the capacity of your popsicle mold. My mold has 10 openings that hold about 2 oz. apiece, so I aim for 20 oz. of liquid in the blender when I’m done.

In a pinch, you can use ice-cube trays or small Dixie cups with lollipop sticks in them, but molds are much easier to work with and pay for themselves in a few batches. Also, frozen fruit works fine for this (obviously) and is usually cheaper than fresh.

Anti-Inflammatory Fruit Pops

About a cup of red raspberries
About a cup of strawberries
About a cup of cranberry or grape juice (or a blend)

Puree fruit in blender. Add enough juice to make 20 oz. (or whatever your popsicle molds require) and blend briefly to mix. Pour into molds and freeze. Unmold, wrap individually in waxed paper, and store in a big freezer bag.

The phytochemicals in the fruit make these a good choice after long runs or hill training.

Spicy Electrolyte Pops

2 c. seedless watermelon, diced
About a cup of orange juice
Chile-lime salt (available at Mexican grocery stores)

Puree watermelon in blender. Add juice as indicated above and blend briefly to mix. Pour into molds and freeze. Unmold pops. Lay each pop on waxed paper, sprinkle with chile-lime salt on both sides, wrap in waxed paper, and store in a big freezer bag. (Work quickly, as the salt will melt the surface a little bit.)

With the potassium from the orange juice and the sodium from the chile-lime salt, these are a good source of electrolytes after a hard workout on a hot day.

New friends

I got to help with a cool project Saturday morning. Some volunteers from the local Islamic Center teamed up with some members of Abbey Road Christian Church — which I’ve been visiting for the last few weeks — to pull weeds and trim back perennials in the flowerbeds around the church’s labyrinth.

There has been a strong effort lately to foster better communication between members of the Muslim and Christian faith communities here in Cape, which delights me to no end. (My favorite high-school anecdotes all start with what sounds like the setup to a bad joke — “A Muslim, a Jew, and a vegan walk into a pizzeria” — and end with a bunch of kids laughing until our faces hurt while our scholar-bowl coach tried to figure out what we were up to this time.)

Anyway, between my fondness for interfaith activities and my love of labyrinths, showing up Saturday was a no-brainer, and I spent a couple of happy hours making new friends and working in a pretty garden.

Unfortunately, the project became less pleasant for three participants who encountered a colony of red paper wasps that were nesting in one of the flowerbeds. Paper wasps are usually fairly docile, but if you disturb their home, they’ll invoke the castle doctrine.

Several church members suggested using pesticides to kill the wasps, as they presented a safety issue for the volunteers as well as anyone who might come out to walk the labyrinth.

I understood their concern, but as a beekeeper, I knew I could suit up and remove the threat without harming any adult wasps, so I suggested everybody simply avoid that flowerbed while I called Ron to bring me a protective suit and gloves.

Once Ron arrived, it took about 15 minutes to suit up, find the nest and remove it. Problem solved. I brought the nest home so the pupae developing inside the sealed cells could finish maturing and hopefully hook up with a colony in my garden when they emerged. (Sadly, the larvae and eggs were doomed the minute I removed the nest from its original spot, but I’d rather lose a little brood than destroy the entire colony.)

I’m always amazed at how far I’ve come with respect to wasps.

As a kid, I didn’t know much about stinging insects, and I was terrified of them. As I grew up and learned more about pollinators, however, fear gave way to understanding, respect, and appreciation, and today, I’m not the least bit shy about running interference on their behalf when necessary.

Funny how that works, isn’t it?

Emily

Tiny Tuesday: Capsule wardrobe

Most of what I do lately is done with my end goal — a tiny, off-grid house in northern New Mexico — in mind. (The longer this election cycle drags on, the more that idea appeals to me. Let me just vanish into the high desert and live in a way that obviates the necessity of interacting with other human beings altogether.)

Anyway. A tiny house, typically defined as 300 square feet or less, requires a certain commitment to minimalism. Items that make sense in 690 square feet won’t make sense in 300, so I’m constantly looking for downsizing opportunities.

One area I’ve downsized considerably is my wardrobe.

I’m not going to tell you how to choose the items that should go into a capsule wardrobe. There are plenty of resources online to help you with that; Project 333 is a good one to get you started. I will, however, point out some considerations that helped me make decisions as I downsized.

1. There are only seven days in a week, and I only work five of them. We do laundry once a week, so I really don’t need more than five outfits that are presentable for work and two that are suitable for whatever rough-and-tumble activities I choose to undertake on weekends. I try to keep a couple of spare work outfits on hand in case I spill something on myself (likely) and a couple of spare weekend outfits on hand in case I get sweaty or muddy or soaked with pond water (also likely). But I don’t have much beyond that.

2. I’m not willing to squander precious storage space on things I can’t wear, so anything stained, smelly, too big, too small, unflattering or damaged went out the door.

3. A couple of cardigans and a couple of hoodies take up less space than a closet full of bulky sweaters. My summer and winter wardrobes are virtually identical: black T-shirt and khakis for work; jeans and a T-shirt for weekends. Add a cardigan, hoodie or flannel on cold days, and I’m comfortable regardless of the season. I also have a couple of broomstick skirts, which store easily and work fine with a black T-shirt and cardigan for those rare instances when I need to dress up.

4. Comfort is king. I wear a pair of 16-year-old tan suede Birkenstock clogs at least 300 days a year. If it’s cold out, I wear them with socks. If I need to dress up, I wear a newer pair of charcoal wool Birkenstock clogs. I also have a pair of black Justin boots for snowy days; two pairs of running shoes (your risk of injury is lower if you rotate between pairs); and a pair of Dansko clogs I bought for a job interview one time and have worn maybe a half-dozen times since. That’s it. I’m not wasting closet space on uncomfortable heels or colorful shoes that only match one outfit.

I still have more clothes than I need, but not by much, and by keeping the inventory small, I can find things easily and don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out what to wear. If you’re trying to save space, I highly recommend giving a capsule wardrobe a try.

Emily

Make-it Monday: Safety feature

This isn’t so much a “make-it” project as a “buy-it-and-install-it” project, but it was cheap, quick and might save us a few bucks on vet bills and insurance deductibles, so I thought I’d post it anyway.

Several months ago, Ron hit a slippery spot after a rainstorm and fell on the steps leading from our deck to the backyard, earning himself a nasty bruise in the process.

He wasn’t the only one who found treated lumber just a little too slick to negotiate safely after a rain; during a particularly wet period this summer, we noticed our aging collie mix, Songdog, stepping gingerly and occasionally slipping, so the next time I was at the hardware store, I picked up some tread tape and a package of tacks and set about making the steps a little safer for my boys.

The finished project would have looked a little neater if I’d cut the strips to length instead of tearing them, but I didn’t want to dull my scissors cutting tape with the texture of sandpaper. If you’re particular about such things, you could probably use a utility knife with a disposable blade to make a neater edge.

Riggy wasn’t impressed (lacking eyes, he navigates the world with his nose, ears and paws, and he doesn’t like it when familiar paths suddenly feel unfamiliar under his feet), but I’m sure we’re all safer, and even if he refuses to set a paw on the strips, they slow him down and force him to think about what he’s doing, so he’ll be less likely to slip when he comes charging in for dinner or cookie time.

You can buy narrow tread tape for about $1 a foot at most hardware stores; wider tape will run you a little more. I think the stuff I used was about two inches wide and came with a self-adhesive backing that I spent about 15 minutes reinforcing with tacks just to be sure it stayed put. Cheap, easy project, and one I highly recommend if you’ve got outdoor steps that are prone to get a little slippery in wet weather.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring