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.

Sunday Self-Care: Jonathan Livingston Seagull

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“Look with your understanding, find out what you already know, and you’ll see the way to fly.”
— Richard Bach

As longtime readers of this blog know, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull has had a profound impact on my life — so I was pretty excited a few weeks ago when I became aware that Richard Bach had released a revised, expanded edition.

Bach claims he wrote the novel in four parts but initially published only three. If this is true, this fourth part — published in 2013, more than 40 years after the first three were released — is downright prophetic.

Without giving away too many details, I’ll say that Bach delves into the tendency of worshipers to become so focused on dogma, tradition, and remaining firmly ensconced in their own comfort zone that they miss the underlying message of their chosen faith.

I’ve been increasingly frustrated with the Christian Establishment in recent years, for this very reason. Too many faith leaders seem to conflate spiritual truths with cultural traditions — or worse yet, political expediency.

In 2012, after watching error in the form of politics infiltrate the absolute last place I expected to find such nonsense, I walked away from organized religion altogether and tried, with varying degrees of success, to maintain my faith and my connection to God on my own.

Absent the structure and accountability a church provides, I found it slow going, though perhaps not as slow as it might have been had I been hampered by increasingly uncomfortable conflicts with people who seemed less interested in facilitating my spiritual growth than policing it.

Throughout my life, Jonathan Livingston Seagull has been my touchstone. The first edition of the book feels like an allegory for my own spiritual journey, and I tend to reread it whenever I find myself at a crossroads. It’s never disappointed me.

I suspect it’s not a coincidence, then, that I learned of the expanded edition around the same time I began visiting a local church that seems more inclusive and open-minded than some of the congregations to which I’ve belonged in the past.

My broken wings finally seem to be healing — and just as I’m attempting another flight, lo and behold, here’s Jonathan, as relevant now as he was the first time I encountered him 30-odd years ago, offering a new chapter that mirrors my experiences as well as the first three always have.

I don’t know yet whether I’ll join this church I’ve been test-driving. I’m still carrying baggage from the last go-’round, and I don’t trust as easily or commit as quickly as I did a decade ago. But even if I don’t, it’s reassuring to know, after all these years, that I’m still not flying alone.

Emily

Eco-Saturday: Safety razor

About a year and a half ago, I posted some rather pointed observations concerning the hair-removal industry’s environmental impact. If you want to read it, click here, but the tl;dr version is that razor companies create a financial disincentive for people to make environmentally responsible choices, and even the best modern options use an unconscionable amount of plastic.

I wasn’t quite willing to give up smooth legs, but I decided there had to be a better way, so I bought myself an old-fashioned safety razor for $20 and learned to use it.

A year and a half later, I haven’t severed my Achilles tendon in the shower, and I can’t say my legs are any more prone to razor burn than they’ve ever been; if anything, I do less damage because using a safety razor requires me to slow down and pay attention to what I’m doing, which invariably results in fewer injuries.

The pros:

1. Minimal waste. Instead of throwing away a big plastic cartridge or an entire razor every time a blade gets dull, I’m just throwing out a single blade (which could be recycled if I could find somebody willing to take a potential biohazard), and the packaging — which consists of a small cardboard box and tiny paper envelopes like you see above — is completely recyclable.

2. Minimal expense. Instead of paying the better end of $20 for five cartridges, I can buy 100 double-edged blades for the same money. I don’t necessarily recommend this right off the bat (you’re better off buying a sampler pack from Amazon so you can try several brands first), but once you’ve found your brand, you’re looking at 20 cents to replace a blade instead of $4. That’s like getting your razor to buy you a cappuccino every time the blade gets dull.

3. Durability. Reusable plastic razors are good for about a year. Meanwhile, I’ve heard of guys using safety razors they inherited from their great-grandfathers.

The cons:

1. The term “safety” is relative. Safety razors were so named because they were substantially safer than straight razors. Slip while shaving with a straight razor, and you could sever an artery. Slip with a safety razor, and you’ll end up with a cut about a millimeter deep. You’ll bleed, but you won’t bleed out. Avoiding bloodshed altogether takes a bit more patience, skill, and attention to technique than that Venus you’ve been using, but don’t let that scare you off; I am hopelessly clumsy, and I’ve cut myself maybe a half-dozen times in the past 18 months. The trick is to read the directions, watch an instructional video or two on YouTube, and take your time.

2. Time. It takes at least five to 10 minutes longer to shave with a safety razor than with whatever you’re accustomed to using now, so plan for that.

Given all that, after 18 months, I’ve come to the conclusion that safety razors are like stick shifts: Once you get used to having one as your daily driver, it just feels awkward and uncomfortable to use anything else.

Emily

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

Sustainability on a shoestring