Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Although our holidays were good, and relaxing, I also felt a bit off. During the quiet, alone moments I feel an underlying sense of melancholy come creeping in. You see, this is my first Christmas since my very special grandmother passed away on September 24.

Grandma at home in Kentucky

Even though I can’t remember the last Christmas we spent together, the world, and especially the holidays, feel different now that I know she’s gone. Now that I can no longer call her. Or hug her. Her birthday was difficult as well; Grandma would have been 80 on December 17.

Grandma and Grandpa cira 1950 (my favorite picture of her)

We had a special bond, grandma and I. She always got me. She never judged, never criticized. She just understood.

Grandma and I.

Once you’ve had a bond like that, it’s really hard when it’s gone.

My one regret is that I didn’t adequately express to her how I felt when I had the chance. I tried, but the perfect words were not there. I did a much better job at her funeral. Somehow, I hope she could hear it, when I said these words:
Loray is my grandmother. Not only did she take care of me when I was little, while my parents worked, but she was one of the people who understood me best in the world. And, ok, she spoiled me rotten. She was the kind of grandma who wasn’t afraid to get down and play, or look silly, such as when we played dress up. She was the kind of grandma who always listened, really listened, no matter what age I was and respected my thoughts and feelings.

I was the reason she took one of her few jobs outside the home. When my parents enrolled me in pre-school so I could socialize with other children, grandma quickly became the pre-school’s cook. Which suited me just fine. Not long after, my parents relented on that decision.

Yes, grandma had a bit of a stubborn streak when it came to getting what she wanted. When my parents made a rule that she could only buy me presents on holidays, grandma soon started celebrating every holiday on the calendar and some that were not, including Groundhog Day, and the opening day of hunting season.

Grandma never met a stranger, because within a few minutes of meeting someone she would somehow have charmed their entire life story out of them.

When I think of grandma there are many other adjectives that come to mind: strong, feisty, caring, hard-working, and loyal are a few. She was an accomplished cook who made, among her many specialties, legendary lasagna that her family devoured even though she didn‘t eat lasagna herself. She always had time and patience to bake cookies with her grandchildren, even when we were so little we needed to stand on a stool to help.

Grandma Ray, as I called her, taught me many things. She taught me the importance of making time for family, friends, and to do our part to help make the world a better place. She taught me that it’s okay to have strong opinions and that you should stand up for what you believe in. She taught me the value of setting an example through your daily actions and how much more important that can be than the words you say.

Perhaps most importantly, grandma and grandpa taught me what true love really looks like, and that even after 61 years, it’s possible to still have and be in love with your best friend.

Loray is my grandma, and for that I am forever thankful. Her presence and love touched many lives and she will be dearly, dearly missed, but she will live on in our hearts. I love you Grandma, and I always will.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Review: The Non-Toxic Avenger

I greatly admire what Deanna Duke has done with this project and book, The Non-Toxic Avenger: What You Don't Know Can Hurt You. After being dealt two difficult blows, a son diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and a husband with a rare form of leukemia, Deanna didn't crumple into a ball of grief (which is what I probably would have done), she took action.

The book description sums it up best:

After coming to terms with the fact that the autism and cancer which had impacted her family were most likely the result of environmental toxins, author Deanna Duke undertook a mission to dramatically reduce her family's chemical exposure. She committed to drastically reducing the levels of all known chemicals in both her home and work environments, using the help of body burden testing to see what effect, if any, she was able to have on the level of toxins in her body.

I was surprised by how readable this book is; I finished it in only a couple of days. I mean, a book that discusses toxins in everyday life and their potential effects on our health isn't exactly my idea of fun reading. Duke somehow manages to make this an easy, yet still informative read, without leaving out the important details.

Duke really does examine many of the items we come into contact with on a daily basis, way beyond the amount of items I've even thought about having toxic potential, including jewelry, sun glasses, potato chip bags, and dental floss. The magnitude of just how prevalent toxins are in our modern lives are quite disturbing. But through testing Duke shows that it is possible to make a difference in our personal levels of toxin exposure.

It would be easy for me to become overwhelmed by the process of learning more about toxins in every day life, and not know when to make changes and when to let go. It would definitely be easy to let yourself get carried away. Although Duke is thorough, she is willing to let some things go, both for the sake of others' feelings, as well as the sake of her own sanity.

This book inspired me to make several changes, or plans to change, including:
  1. Ditch my teflon cookware.
  2. Ditch the PVC shower curtain - done!
  3. Switch to non-toxic deodorant - done!
  4. Switch from body lotion to coconut oil - done
There are a couple of changes Duke made, which albeit simple, I just can't make myself commit to yet: cutting out body wash and using bar soap to wash my face. While I know I don't need body wash (and as Duke points out it uses a lot of unnecessary plastic, not to mention the energy used to make and transport it), I enjoy it. I've switched from my once-loved Bath & Body Works brand of body wash, to Trader Joe's Tea Tree body wash which doesn't have any SLS or parabens. Still, I continue to use soap even with body wash, so it really is a waste. A waste that smells great and creates delish suds, but a waste nonetheless. I've tried using my Trader Joe's tea tree body soap on my face as well, but am not of the fan of the way it feels. Plus, whether it's my imagination or not, the Say Yes to Cucumbers face wash just seems to work better.

I do have one tiny criticism, which is part of the reason it's taken my so long to write this review. It's hard to say anything even slightly critical about someone I admire, especially considering what she is dealing with. I read Duke's blog and enjoy her writing style, which is why I was surprised that her tone was less spunky than I've come to expect. Some of the advance praise comments included in the book also mentioned how funny the book is. I don't know if I somehow missed the humor, but I wouldn't describe this book as funny. Nonetheless, it's still an enjoyable read, and I hope Duke lets more of her personality shine through in her next book.

Rating: 4.0/5.0

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Adventures in Coconut Oil

photo: SingChan

Well Internets, I've survived my first week of using coconut oil as a moisturizer and as a major component of my homemade deodorant. I've yet to send small children screaming at my pale flaky skin, nor have my co-workers been avoiding me any more than usual. I consider that a success. But let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

Oil Me Up, Baby
I have to give two giant thumbs up to using coconut oil as a body moisturizer. My skin feels softer and more smooth than ever. Plus, there's just something I enjoy using a moisturizer that is so non-toxic it's actually edible.

At first, I missed the creamy texture of lotion, but that was soon replaced with awe at the magic of coconut oil. Look, it's a solid! But wait, with a quick rub of my hands--presto, chango--I present you with, a liquid. Yes, I'm easily amused.

And, bonus, whatever was causing me to have a mad case of the itchies, has vanished since I started using coconut oil. I was concerned the oil might leave me feeling a little too slick, but that hasn't been an issue either. Application is simple, after drying off from the shower, I apply the oil one limb at a time. By the time I get dressed two minutes later any added oil has been absorbed. Easy, peasy.

Minty Fresh Pits
The homemade deodorant, on the other hand, has been slightly less successful. I used Crunchy Betty's recipe and smooshed it into an old deodorant container a' la this tutorial, which works great.

The good news is that I don't stink. The bad news? The new concoction stings a little. Using less baking soda might help with that. Or perhaps if I shaved my pits less than every day (sorry, not gonna happen). I'm still hoping the stinging will fade, but if not, I'll try reducing the baking soda in the next batch.

Another thing I'll be tweaking next time is the scent. Since I only had eucalyptus and spearmint essential oils on hand, that's what I used. Then for the next 24 hours I wondered why suddenly the entire world smelled like toothpaste. Finally, it clicked (genius!) and I sniffed my pits. Yup, they were minty fresh. I don't know about you, Internets, but I find it disconcerting to have armpits that smell like freshly brushed teeth. It's not bad per se, just disturbing. Like Pat from SNL. Or Lady Gaga.

Wussed Out
I did however wuss out on using coconut oil on my face. I've tried it twice, but since I've read opposing arguments on whether CO is comedogenic or not and I'm prone to breakouts, I've been loathe to push my luck.

I'm still waiting to see just how long the 16oz. jar of
Dr. Bronner's coconut oil I bought for $10 will last. Since CO has soooo many uses, I've been going through it more quickly than expected. I even went wild and crazy and actually cooked with it. It does pop up some might fine popcorn, let me tell you. I'll keep you posted on the cost-effectiveness situation.

What's your go-to natural beauty product?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Decking the Halls

Like many things in my life, we're fairly mediumist* about Christmas around here. As I mentioned before, Christmas is the only holiday I enjoy decorating for. After years of trying to spread things out around the house, I finally realized that confining the decorations to just the living room suits me best.

The tree is three years old now, a bargain that the Boyfriend found. I love it because it provides that touch of Christmas, but doesn't clash with the usual color scheme.

My ornaments are pretty much the same every year, consisting of ones I've had since I was a little girl (including some my mommy made, like this wreath ornament, thanks mom!), to ones I bought more recently to add some color, to gifts received more recently.

While most of the decorations are confined to the tree and mantle area shown above, there are a few small other touches here and there, which generally consist of me adding a little something to the usual decor, like these ornaments in the vase.

But no room is complete without the most important accessory, a happy cat. The cats LOVE the tree, Alex (shown above), most of all. They don't bother anything, but rather use the tree as one giant kitty scratcher. It's hilarious.

Do you enjoy decorating for the holidays?

*mediumist = My new term to define my lifestyle, which is somewhere in between your typical consumer-oriented American and your hardcore minimalist.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: The Story of Stuff

Piggy gives this book high marks for comfort

If you're at all like me, you may have assumed that since you've seen The Story of Stuff video, reading the book would be redundant. But, friends, that couldn't be further from the truth. Annie Leonard's The Story of Stuff is probably my favorite so far in the green/environment genre.

First, let's talk about Leonard's writing skills, shall we? Tackling the consumer product life cycle in detail, and being able to do so in an entertaining way? That takes skillz people. Yes, that's right, she's so badass she has not just skills, but skillz! I mean I actually wanted to read this book every night; I looked forward to it even.

Reasons to like this book:
  • You like stats? This book is chock full of them. Like, for example, did you know it takes 98 tons of materials to make a single ton of paper? Yikes! Here's another one, in the US alone we consume more than 80 million tons of paper. We consume 1.6 million metric tons of paper, or 30 million trees, one our books alone. All joking aside, that's pretty sobering.

  • Need some motivation for your next green step? Maybe I'm just a slow learner, but Leonard manages to explain our current environmental crisis more completely and more accessibly than in any other book I've read. No, I really never thought about, or learned about the mind-boggling number of resources and energy it takes, not to mention the pollution created, to make a single aluminum can. Understanding the full scope of the problem makes me even more motivated to do something about it. In fact, after I read this book I finally ditched my PVC shower curtain for good.

  • It's accessible. Want an easy-to-read, entertaining way to explain climate change and our environmental crisis to your mom, your kid, your grandma or crazy uncle Lou? This, I would say, is your book. If this book doesn't motivate people to care, nothing will. Everyone in the United States, and heck, anyone who buys stuff should read this book to make sure we all understand the full impact of our present unsustainable lifestyles.

  • You like solutions? Leonard's not claiming to have all the answers, but she definitely lays out ways we can and must collectively change every step of the production cycle, from extraction to disposal, and beyond that our entire lifestyles and values. Leonard notes that while such huge challenges such as changing our entire lifestyle and economic model, aren't things we can tackle through individual action, greening our personal lifestyles can be a motivational force for us and others. For this, she includes some green steps we can each take. Most of these you've probably heard of before, but reminders are always good. I personally need to ditch the teflon nonstick pans (I'm hoping Santa will help with this). She also recommends investing in the economy you want by buying local, union, fair-trade, etc. Definitely something I'm trying to get better about.
The final ruling: 5.0/5.0

Obviously, if you've read this far you know I'm a big fan of this book. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you're only going to read one book in the environment/sustainability genre this year, this should be the one.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Frugal Inspiration From the Felines

I could learn a thing or two about frugality from an unlikely source: my cats. Sure, they may be freeloading bastards, but they are also surprisingly green.

They are great at reusing and re-purposing things. Why bother buying them a fancy commercial pet bed, when they prefer to sleep on piles of dirty laundry, in baskets of clean laundry, or even in an old box covered with plastic.

Seriously, I haven't been able to get him out of that box since I brought it out yesterday afternoon. But this is an improvement from not being able to get him out of the basement laundry basket, at least I see him more these days.

Why bother buying cat toys when they have more fun chasing a dropped piece of paper?

So in the spirit of homemade being better than store-bought, I'm trying a couple new green steps of my own this weekend.

I'm almost out of moisturizer, but instead of forking out big bucks for non-toxic store-bought brands, I bought a jar of Dr. Bronner's coconut oil, and have already been enjoying it. According to my web surfing coconut oil has a million different uses, including homemade deodorant, hair conditioner, treatment for athlete's foot, makeup remover, lip balm, cooking oil, etc.

I'm also diffusing essential oils instead of buying more scented candles or those toxic plug-in air fresheners that I've been trying to wean myself off of.

Going greener has sometimes been a very slow process for me, but at least I'm moving forward, step by step.

What was your last green step?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Finally, a New Rug

ye old rug

My living room rug has taken a beating in the four years I've owned it. Three cats are hard on a rug, especially an off-white one. Why would someone who has three cats even buy an off-white rug in the first place? I wanted a rug with a pattern that would hide any messes the cats, or boy, might make. But none of them worked and the off-white rug was the least offensive option I could find at the time.

We shopped for rugs online, in every store in the city for years but nothing quite worked. In the meantime, I tried DIY cleaning (major fail) and professional cleaning, but the rug was beyond saving.

Then I finally found what I was looking for at IKEA: cheap, easy to clean (compared to off-white wool anyway), and in colors that don't clash with my living room.

IKEA Skoghall

Suddenly my living room feels much more complete. I was surprised to discover how cozy the rug makes the living room feel, and, it's really comfortable to walk on, despite not being as thick as my old rug.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: Affluenza - The All-Consuming Epidemic

I've been continuing my anti-consumerism/eco reading extravaganza, this time with Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2nd edition) by John De Graaf, David Wann and Thomas Naylor.

I almost didn't pick up this book because I was less-than-impressed with the documentary with the same name that I watched on Netflix streaming. While the message of the documentar y is just as good, it's dated 1997 wrapping and kitsch was a bit too much for me to enjoy. The book however, is an entirely different story.

See, not long ago, I could barely make myself begin a nonfiction book, let alone find one that capture my interest long enough that I actually finish it. Affluenza is not one of those books. In fact, I'd put it just behind The Story of Stuff in being a rare nonfiction book that tells what could easily be a dry story in a very entertaining way. Far from being unable to finish the book, I hardly wanted to put it down.

Affluenza, as the authors define it, is "a painful, contagious socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."

The book examines America's consumer-oriented society and its many downsides. It also reminds us that our lives weren't always this way. The authors tell how Americans went from working to live, to living to work, and give strategies of how we can--and must, for the sake of the planet and our own happiness--transition back to a more sustainable way of life. Other countries, like Europe, are already leading the way to do just that, the authors point out, and their citizens are consistently ranked happier and healthier because of it.

The book includes a lot of eye-opening stats about just how large, and quickly, our consumer obsession has grown and its negative effects on our lives, such as
  • In 1981...the United States ranked thirteenth among 22 leading industrial nations in income equality. But today we're dead last.

  • 90% of the waste we generate never even makes it into the products or services but remains at the point of extraction or manufacture.....Of the materials that do become products, 80% are thrown away after a single use.

  • Americans spend nearly seven times as much time shopping as we do playing with our kids

  • The rate of clinical depression in the US today is ten times what it was in 1945.

  • American college students now spend nearly $6 billion a year on booze, more than they spend on all other beverages and their books combined.

But while the causes and pervasiveness of affluenza are enlightening, I'm more concerned with how to stop it. The book offers some suggestions, many of which you've probably heard elsewhere. Still, repetition is helpful, afterall studies have shown we need to hear a message seven times before we act on it. Some of the tips suggested include:
  • The YMOYL Solution. The book talks a lot about the solutions promoted in Your Money or Your Life, such as (1) calculate how much money you've made in your lifetime and what you have to show for it (net worth). (2) Calculate your real hourly income by adding hours spent in commuting and other work activities and subtracting money spent on things needed for work. (3) Track income and spending for a month. (4) Evaluate whether the life energy spent was worth the value received.

  • Downshifting/Voluntary simplicity: To me these terms are rather interchangeable, though the authors discuss them separately. The basic idea is to slow down, cut back your consumption and reassess.

  • Spend more time learning about and experiencing nature.

  • Eat less meat

  • Drive less

  • Use energy efficient appliances

But, while individual action helps us feel involved and is worthwhile, group action is critical. We need new laws and tax systems that make it hard to impossible not to make the right individual choices. We need industry to produce more efficient, repairable, longer lasting products. Industry should be made accountable for the entire lifecycle of products. Redirect government subsidies from actions and organizations that harm the earth to better ones. We need to redefine our concept of work to set it at more sustainable levels which could mean less production and less pay. We need to educate our children--both at home and in schools--about advertising's effects and the difference between needs and wants.

Mostly importantly, we need to redefine what constitutes success, for the nation and ourselves.

I highly recommend Affluenza and give it a 5/5.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Black Friday Gone Too Far?

This morning I read Michelle Singletary's column, "Early Black Friday Idea Is a Turkey," and heartily agree with her message, to stay home with your families this Thanksgiving, so that retail employees have the chance to do the same.

Black Friday sales hours have been getting more ridiculous for years, but now starting in the wee hours of Friday isn't enough. Retailers are opening as early as 9pm.

Let's face it, the holidays are a horrible time to be a retail employee. Not only are the malls and stores packed with moody shoppers, but their holiday time with family is cut short so that we can shop during ours. And why? Because we all truly need more clutter to add to our overstuff houses? Let's stop the insanity!

My first time venturing out for Black Friday sales was horrible enough to make me never want to experience it again. Although, I have caved to peer and family pressure and gone out again. But not this year.

If we all spent our Thanksgiving's celebrating our many blessings with family, and make Black Friday a Buy Nothing Day, the madness would eventually cease. Oh, there would still be sales, but they might be pushed back to more reasonable hours of the day. That's why this year, I'm pledging to not shop on Thursday or Friday, no matter what last-minute deals may entice me.

Won't you join me?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Downshifter or Slacker?

Are you on the fast track or nap track?

I recently stumbled across David Robert's great, five-month-old article on Grist, "The Medium Chill." If it's new to you too, you should go give it a read, like, stat. Go ahead, I'll wait.

This article touches upon something I've been realizing over the past few months (maybe longer?) that would surprise my younger self: I no longer want to climb the career ladder. In fact, I think I'm pretty happy at the level I'm at. I'm thrilled to know that others are thinking along these lines and want to have these discussions, not just for the sake of our planet, but also for the sake of our sanity.

In my college days I used to daydream of being so busy and important, that I too would need to have my cell phone glued to my ear as I drove (my expensive luxury sedan) into the office. There would be important notes from my secretary that couldn't wait, and vital decisions that only I could make, NOW! I know, major eye roll, right? I mean, who dreams of being a yuppie? Me, apparently.

Ah the folly of youth. Now those long-lost dreams make me laugh and give thanks that they never came true. The stress of a job that required me to be constantly connected would be agony. While I wouldn't turn down more money if my bosses decided to give it to me (I'm no dummy), I've realized that moving up would almost undoubtedly require more stress than the requisite bump in pay would be worth. I want to spend more time away from work, not less. And supervising others? Total pain in the tookus.

A year or so ago I had a networking lunch with a friend of a friend who is doing extremely well in his career. A long-time VP of a large organization, this guy is about as close to the top as someone in my industry gets. I was sweating this lunch big time. First, I'm not great with meeting people in general. I get nervous, freeze up and can't think of anything to say. Plus, this was someone almost twice my age, definitely twice (and then some) my income bracket, who was levels above me careerwise, and who's favor I wanted to earn.

I need not have worried. This very successful man is the nicest, most-down-to-earth guy you'll ever meet. He was a pleasure to chat with. At the time I was having some career angst. I was debating the need for a change and wasn't sure how, or if, to go about it. This gentleman was a great listener who provided great advice and went out of his way to offer his assistance. I was at that point in my career, he advised, where moving up gets more challenging. Among some of the less-personal advice he gave me was to pursue a master's (since I was thinking about it), join a professional organization in our field, and volunteer in a capacity that was resume-worthy. But what I remember most about our conversation, is what happened after he finished telling me about his action-packed summer, which was full of meetings, work travel and major projects.

"Isn't it hard to have a work-life balance with all the responsibilities you have?" I asked, mostly because I was struggling with the same issue, with a schedule that was less than 25% as full as his.

He laughed, oh how he laughed. There is no work-life balance in this job, he said, it's all work, no life.

Umm, I want to have a life outside the office. In fact, I want more of a life outside the office, not less.

In the days that followed that meeting, it hit me. I didn't want to invest even more of my time to a career, that while it can be creatively rewarding, can also sometimes feel like the bane of my existence. I didn't want the extra hours of my life energy drained, and certainly not the extra stress involved with climbing the career ladder.

Sometimes I feel out of place for thinking these things. I have many co-workers who are always worrying about getting ahead, bettering themselves, and getting the next promotion. I have a friend who made disparaging remarks about a neighbor who retired young and "wasted his time" not working or achieving. I want to argue with these people, to tell them I admire anyone who has managed to retire young, or thrive on less, but I generally take the easy way out and keep my mouth shut.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not talking about being stagnate. I still want to learn new skills, I still want to grow, to be challenged. But moving up and dealing with the politics, meetings, stress, demands, etc. that come with it? No thanks.

I think the view from here is just fine.

What about you? Is downshifting more your speed? If so, do you openly discuss this with friends and family, or do you keep your quest for less to yourself?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: A Material World

I recently finished A Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel, Charles Mann, Paul Kennedy. Not only does this book have a great concept--which involves the team photographing a statistical average family in each of 30 nations outside their home along with their possessions--but it's also great inspiration for minimalists and budding minimalists.

At first, I just flipped through page after page taking in the vibrant photos of the amazingly few possessions that most families around the world own. Bu really made an impact was when I went back through the book and read every chart, every story, and studied the pictures again. The heartbreaking story of the Russian family who lost so much after their photo was taken. Families whose soul wish was a cow, or a goat, or a bicycle to improve their lives. The statistics about how little income families around the world exist on.

This book provided excellent inspiration for my continued decluttering efforts. More importantly, however it has inspired me to do what little I can to help people in other countries.

Get a taste of the book in this feature on the PBS website.

Rating: 5.0/5.0 Highly recommended!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Energy Audit

Bonus: Now I know I never want a red front door!

One of the most popular tips one reads when deciding to go green is to seal and insulate your home. But how do you know where to start or which jobs provide the biggest payoff? Two weeks ago I had an energy audit that helped answer these questions. Getting the audit was something I had been thinking about for some time, especially given the fact that my house is just shy of 70 years old. Since Columbia Gas has a program for their customers to get a complete audit for just $50, I finally took the plunge.

What happens during an energy audit?
Well, first the contractor (for lack of anything better to call him) took a tour around the house and asked about any problems or concerns I had. Were any of the rooms hotter or colder than the others, etc. Then he started the safety check. This was the part of the program I wasn't expecting, but I find it comforting to know that my gas appliance are drafting properly and not leaking. He checked the hot water heater, furnace, stove and dryer; all were working properly. While everything was running, he checked for carbon monoxide, and again all was well.

Then came the part I was most excited about: the blower door test. With all the windows and doors shut, a fan was placed in the front door to create negative pressure. Then we walked around, the contractor armed with an infrared camera, in search of air leaks.

Surprisingly, my little old house is pretty well sealed, especially considering its age. There are two big areas which could be improved: sealing around the rim joist in the basement, and sealing the attic and adding insulation to the attic floor. The contractor also pointed out some smaller fixes, most of which I can handle myself with just a tube of caulking.

One area which wasn't on the upgrade list is my original, single-pane wood windows. I was delighted to hear the contractor say that the need to replace old windows tends to be majorly over-hyped when it comes to energy efficiency. Now, I do have--and use--the original storm windows that came with the house, which makes a big difference.

"Many people spend thousands to upgrade the efficiency of 5% of their house, when it would be way more cost-effective to spend hundreds to seal and insulate the other 95% of their home."

Plus I hate the idea of replacing old, repairable wood windows with new, cheap toxic PVC ones. Not to mention the cost factor. So my time spent painting and repairing my windows hasn't gone to waste -- they're staying!

If you happen to be a Columbia Gas customer, you should check out the Home Performance Solutions program and see if it's offered in your area. Many other utilities offer similar programs as well. The best part is that if you end up getting the recommended work done, you can be eligible for major rebates.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good Reads

my favorite reading spot of late

Some recent goods reads, in case you missed them:

  • Type A Minimalist: Occupied
    Type A said it better than I could have. Hitting companies in the wallet is a major way to make them take notice. If we want things to change, then reexamining our current non-sustainable consumption levels is essential.

  • Simple Savvy: A Minimalist's Halloween
    Yes, I know, Halloween is over, but it's always great to see someone else questioning our holiday decorating obsession. If you enjoy decorating for holidays, then by all means continue, but if it feels more like a chore than fun, then you might want to try something different. I go with a combo approach. I love decorating the living room for Christmas, but that's it.

  • Unconsumption
    I'm totally picking up what this new-to-me tumblr is laying down. I've been devouring the archives like a fiend and already found some great gems.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Buying Less

It wasn't long ago that the boy and I viewed shopping as a recreational activity. We spent many a weekend afternoon browsing at the mall or shopping center; Often buying things we didn't really need. We weren't shopaholics, or hoarders. In fact we looked like many other typical Americans. Shopping is almost encouraged as a national past time.

Eventually, I became sick of wasting so many hours shopping. More and more often I would refuse to spend the afternoon shopping. At first the boy resisted, but eventually he too was fine with the idea of shopping less.

Even though I cut down on shopping, and have never been a spendthrift, I was still buying more than I needed. When I decided to take make a concerted effort to stop buying items I didn't really need or really, really want and would use; I was nervous about going into a store. But you know what? It gets easier, much easier.

Friday night, I decided to brave the mall to get some needed heavy duty moisturizing shampoo. I was there for about 40 minutes and during that time I browsed four of my favorite stores. In that time you know what I was tempted to buy besides the shampoo I came for? Nothing. Not. One. Thing.

At this point in time, buying a bunch of crap I don't really need holds no appeal whatsoever. I even went to my favorite clothing store, but since I'd already gone though my closet and pulled out every piece of clothing I own, I knew I had more than enough clothing and didn't need to purchase more.

After trying to transition into using less toxic body products, the smells in my once beloved bath and body store were overpowering. I left after a few moments.

So if you're just starting on your journey to a less consumerist lifestyle, take heart. The longer you resist the pull of consumerism, the less of a hold it has on you. As I drove home from the mall, stuck in traffic, watched the crowds at the chain restaurants and thought about the shoppers laden with bags at the mall, I couldn't have been less tempted to be a part of any of that. I now prefer a less-consumerist life and am thankful I'm no longer one of the shopping zombies.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Last of the Flowers

Sadly, the time has come to say goodbye to this year's zinnias. I've been enjoying them since August (at least) and have become spoiled by being able to run outside and snip some blooms whenever the mood strikes. Not bad for a couple bucks worth of seeds that I planted outside in May, eh?

But alas, all good things must end and tonight we're expecting a hard frost. So tonight I made the rounds and liberated as many blooms as I could before darkness fell.

It's thrilling to see a full bouquet of flowers fresh from my own garden; I usually own snip a few at a time, never an entire vase-full. Maybe I should plant more next year so I can do this more often.

Au revoir until next year garden.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Review: No Impact Man

I just finished No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries He Makes About Himself and Our Way of Life in the Process, a book I was surprisingly engrossed in from beginning to end. Why do I say surprisingly? Well, after being a frequent reader of the No Impact Man blog, and watching the documentary, I didn't think there would be that much new content about the project that would keep my interest. Plus, at times I've found Colin's tone on the blog to be a bit grating, but I'm hyper-persnickety like that. The No Impact book, however, was a great read.

First, if you're expecting a step-by-step, nitty-gritty guide to the project, or details on what the Beavan's used instead of toilet paper during the experiment, you're going to be disappointed, because this isn't that kind of book. Yes, the basics of the project are explained, but the book, to me, was much more about the philosophy behind Beavan's environmental work. And somehow Colin manages to describe his philosophy in a way that doesn't sound so new-agey or preachy as to be a turn off, as other books I've read have.

Another plus, is that Beavan isn't too egotistical to admit his own faults and mistakes. He fully admits to judging other's "eco-sins" more harshly than he judges his own and works to correct that. He isn't afraid to point out his mistakes and "cheats" during the project.

Beavan delves into some of the problems behind the United States' current economy of consumption, if you want more detail on those issues, read the Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Like Leonard, Beavan also makes the point that it would be one thing of our over-consumption was actually making us happy, but it's not and it's killing the planet.

Beavan definitely examines our reliance on one-time use products and his family's efforts to eliminate them. This is definitely something I can improve upon, and will work to by:
  • Using a hankie instead of tissues

  • Buying recycled toilet paper, which isn't sold at the stores I frequent most (which by the way seems completely asinine to me. Why must we use virgin paper to wipe our precious asses?!)

  • Using cloth napkins and towels etc. instead of paper towels as much as possible. With three cats, I'm still not willing to give up paper towels entirely.
I already eliminated bottled water, and bring coffee from home each day in a thermos.

I also like that Beavan includes not just his notes, but also a long list of interesting-sounding books, websites and other resources for more information, including several that are new to me.

This book definitely gave me some new ideas to think about. So, if you can't tell already, I'd give No Impact man a solid 4.75/5.0 rating and highly recommend it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Duh Moments on My Green Journey

image credit: kerryvaugh

Do you ever have a realization that it so simple you can't believe it took you so long to discover it in the first place?

Case in point, despite the fact that we go through 35 cans of cat food a week, and despite the fact that I try to recycle as much as possible, I just starting recycling cat food cans yesterday. Yesterday! And I consider myself a somewhat intelligent person. At times. Although this is obviously not a good example of that.

What gives? Honestly I didn't even think about recycling cat food cans at first. Then, once I did I thought, they're so stinky, smelly and gross that recycling them would be way more of a pain than it was worth. You know how much of a pain it actually turned out to be? No pain whatsoever. When a can is empty I simply fill it with water and put it in the sink. After 15 minutes or whenever I'm in the kitchen next I dump the water out, do a 2 second rinse, and voila, a clean can. Why the heck have I been waiting so long to try that?

Although I have the best intentions of being more green, I think the biggest thing that trips me up is just accepting what I've always done in the past, or seen family do, as sacred. Throwing compost in a used coffee can under the sink felt cumbersome at first, but now it feels weird not to do it. Or when I finally tried drying clothes without dryer sheets, and discovered I didn't miss them. Oh, and when I never remembered to bring reusable bags to the store until I finally started keeping them in the trunk of my car instead of in the house. Or how about when I finally tried online banking and instantly loved how much faster it was to pay bills.

Yeah, so obviously I'm not so good with change (shut up, boyfriend!), but please tell me I'm not the only one who frequently has these duh moments? What other easy green tips might I be missing?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Did I Save That?

gratuitous shot of one o' my zinnias

Have you visited the 100 Things 100 Days blog? I love it, and am also completely jealous of Christine's ability to make each clutter clearing post entertaining. That is a gift! Then there's the fact that she counts each piece of clutter. I wish I'd done that and kept track of exactly how many items I've purged, though I doubt I'd ever make it to 10,000 even if I counted every single piece of paper purged. I tried to track this with the dearly decluttered list, but alas I lost the motivation to update it.

I keep trying to do what to me is a massive purge of 100 items in a single day, but find it pretty much impossible. Unless I attack two categories of my items that are still rather massive: paper and photos. So Sunday, after spending a few days away, I came home and did exactly that.

One area I've had a major breakthrough this year is sentimental clutter. I used to save every scrap of paper that reminded me of big trips, major milestones, etc. I had dozens of letters received while I was an exchange student, many of whom from my fellow exchange student friends I haven't spoken to since. When I read them again, which was rather boring, I couldn't remember why I'd ever kept them in the first place.

And photos, oh the photos. I used to keep two shoeboxes crammed full of extra photos in addition to the photo albums full, now I'm down to less than one shoebox, and I even decluttered one of the albums. It wasn't painful at all to toss the duplicates, the poor-quality shots, and the shots of people/places I don't feel the need to keep forever. Photos I wanted to keep but didn't necessarily need in paper form have been scanned before tossing.

Here's what I decluttered Sunday evening:
  • 40 letters from my exchange student days eons ago
  • 9 cards
  • 87 photos
  • 1 red plastic notebook which housed said letters

Monday, September 19, 2011

Small Beginnings

Tonight I was thinking about small homes, and remembered something I haven't thought about in eons, the first tiny home I ever loved.

When I was growing up my family lived in the country. Our nearest village had a tiny, and expensive, grocery store, a gas station or two, my school, a bank, a rollerscating rink and not a whole lot else.

I don't remember how old I was when I first saw it, but it was on one our frequent trips to town.
There, nestled on a heavily wooded lot, located to the left of the main house was a perfect miniature replica. It wasn't tiny either, if memory serves, it was larger than a child's playhouse; larger even than the tiny 100-200 square foot homes that have become so popular today.

I can't tell you how many hours I spent dreaming (and probably jabbering) about living in that little house. It would be perfect. I could park it in the lawn right in front of my parent's home. I'd be able to decorate it any way I wanted, and since it would be mine all mine, there would be no one to yell at me for watching too much TV or not cleaning my room.

Alas my parents were not millionaires, so I never got my tiny dream home dream...until now. Perhaps my love of small started way back then?

Do you remember when you first became smitten with small?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Recognizing Enough

When I bought my little 742 square foot house I considered it a starter home. Since it was the height of the housing bubble (not that I realized it at the time), and I refused to leave my current neighborhood, I knew I was going to have to buy small. My little 1940s ranch is definitely small, the living area has a kitchen, living room, one tiny, tiny bathroom and two bedrooms. Yes, you read that right, there's no dining room and no coveted half-bath.

my teeny, tiny bathroom

There are some bonuses though. Half of the basement is finished, thanks to the boyfriend's drywall and ceiling installation skills. There's also a walk-up attic, so storage is not an issue. My mortgage payment is the same price as my former rent on a (cheap) townhouse.

There are some definite drawbacks as well. There's only room for a maximum of three people at the kitchen table, and that's pushing it. There's room for an office or a guest room, but not both. There are two closets on the main floor, and both of them combined are not able to accommodate an average American-size wardrobe. And did I mention I'd kill for an extra half-bath?

I always planned on upsizing to one of the numerous cute cape cods in my hood. Something that has a dining room, an extra bathroom, a third bedroom, and a large upstairs master. But those bigger houses have a huge drawback: more bucks for the mortgage and utilities, more time spent cleaning, more house to maintain etc.

After a few years of slowly culling some of the extra stuff from our lives, I came to what was first a surprising conclusion. My starter home has more than enough space for two adults and three cats to live in comfortably. Even more surprising, the boyfriend agreed with me.

Realizing this is enough, did require letting go of some previous notions, including:
  • I don't need an office; I end up sitting on the couch to use my laptop anyway.

  • I'm not the dinner-party-hosting type, and I rarely used a dining room when I had it anyway.

  • While having an extra bathroom would be devine, we're surviving quite fine without it.

  • Once I got rid of all the extra stuff cluttering my house, and the extra clothes cluttering the closet, the rooms didn't feel so tiny anymore.

I wouldn't want a smaller home either. While I find tiny homes charming, I don't think they'd be comfortable for me in my present lifestyle. Somehow I managed to pick just enough space on my first try.

How much living space is enough for you?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sacred Clutter: Books

I find it intriguing that even many minimalists and declutter enthusiasts have a holy grail of items that they mutually consider untouchable: books. Even Dave Bruno, creator of the 100 Things Challenge, excludes books from his list of 100 things.

Why are books so untouchable? I mean, I get it. I love books and reading. I haven't made the leap to a Kindle or Nook or any other e-reader because I prefer to curl up with a paperback at the end of a long day of staring at a screen. I read so much in fact, that I'd hate to have to pay the bill to buy all of the books I go through in a year, let alone a lifetime. That's why the vast majority of my books come from our wonderful public library. I'm lucky enough to live in a large city with one of the top-rated public library systems in the world, so finding the books I want to read for free is easy.

Even I, avid library user that I am, own books. Sentimental books from my childhood and beyond, a few classics (Jane Austen, anyone?), and books purchased to take on vacation or when I couldn't wait for my turn to read a popular title from the library.

In fact I was surprised to discover that I owned 212 books when I counted them earlier this year. Since then I've purged quite a few especially after the boy agreed we could lose the extra bookcase in the spare room is I shared some space in the large bookcase, which I had previously considered untouchable. So I did.

I don't consider books untouchable, in fact, the library is like our collective free storage space for all the books we're only going to read once, or once every few years. Why take up space in my home to house those copies?

After purging the books I didn't love, wasn't going to read again, or could easily borrow from the library, I find I'm left with 120 books. Once I finish reading my large collection of unread books even more will go.

Do you want to purge some of your book collection? Tips that helped me:
  • Be realistic about your book collection. If you're not going to re-read or refer to a title let it go.

  • On the fence about purging a book? Check and see if your local library has it, that way you can borrow it whenever you get the urge! Checking this is simple; most library catalogs are searchable online.

  • Stop the inflow of books, borrow books from the library instead of buying them. You'll save money and avoid future clutter.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reused Beauty

My birthday is at the end of this month and the Boy keeps pestering me for gift ideas. I can't think of a single thing I really want. Oh what a terrible problem to have, right?

There's always my hunt for some new ballet flats that actually fit my ginourmous feet. Or maybe some new clothes. But both of these items would have to be carefully selected by me and merely paid for by the giver; not the most exciting idea to either party. Surely there's something I want, even during my quest to be greener?

I tried suggesting the Boy give the gift of labor and restore an old window or two (as if he doesn't do enough of that stuff anyway), but he quickly nixed that idea.

I do want reusable produce bags so I can skip more plastic at the grocery. Besides that not being the most exciting bday gift, I'd rather try my hand at making these bags I saw on Itty Bitty Impact this week. Unfortunately, this will require a sewing machine, which I do not have. As it happens, my mom recently purchased a used sewing machine for me but in my usual delicate fashion I scoffed and refused it because a) I don't sew and b) I'm purging, not acquiring, silly! Maybe it's time I buck up and learn how to sew? I'm sure my mom still has the machine, but asking for it will require some groveling on my part.

t-shirt produce bags from Delia Creates

A few weeks ago the boy and I spent a few Saturday hours unsuccessfully hunting everywhere online for the perfect daybed for the spare bedroom. We ended up deciding to just purchase a simple frame for his queen size mattress that currently lives in there. A much cheaper and greener solution. But if I still wanted a daybed, this one featured on Design Sponge this week would be perfect.

If only I was creative and inventive enough to figure out how to reuse the items I have rather than always going out to purchase a new solution for my wants.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Things We Keep

I live in one of the many states experiencing a heat wave last week (this week it's a mere 88-90) and have little motivation to leave the comfort of AC. We did manage to get up early enough Sunday morning to go for a bike ride and have breakfast outside with friends, but other than that I've been hiding out in the cool inside air.

This weather is perfect for inside decluttering, which continues, albeit slowly. I managed to add the following to my outbox: a large glass bowl, a decorative cup I've had since junior high (sad I know), three books, four pins and a magnet. I also spent a few hours last weekend scanning papers and photos and purged over two pounds of paper from my files. Although dealing with paper clutter takes forever, it's amazing how far I've come.

My decluttering has slowed because I've already purged most, if not all of the easy stuff. You know, the stuff you're not really attached to that you can get rid of without a second thought. I had been mulling over the idea that maybe I was actually done decluttering; maybe I've reached my enough. But I didn't feel done. This post by Brooks Palmer confirmed this, especially this bit

Where do I feel the most out of sorts in my home? What areas do I avoid? In the same way you would notice some tension in your body, you're focusing your attention on, "Where's the tension in my home?"

Where do I feel tension is an excellent question to ask myself. While none of the rooms in min hus make me tense right now (except perhaps the attic, and manland depending on how messy the Boy lets it get), there are still hidden areas that bother me, whether it's a drawer, a closet, a cabinet, etc.

There are also certain items that I can't manage to make myself part with yet, even though I feel like I should. These are all items that still have a sentimental hold on me, even if they no longer serve a purpose, or that I spent a lot of money on at one time and may still use...someday.

Things like:
why yes, these are my actual childhood toys that I still have, pathetic, I know!
  • Old toys (Barbies, dolls, stuffed animals) - Doesn't every thirty-something still have a toy or two lying around? Whaddya mean no?!?

  • Video games (PS2 and original gameboy, I'm looking at you!)

  • Clothes that are a little too big or too small - My size has been changing so much lately that I feel the need to hang on to a variety of size options if I really like the clothes in the first place

  • Old Domino magazines

  • Books I haven't read yet, but want to read before passing them on (except that new books from the library look way more interesting)

  • Movies I haven't watched yet, that really don't look all that appealing at this point
What items are lurking in your home that you no longer love or use but can't quite get rid of yet? Or if you did manage to part with those tough items, how did you do it?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Harvest Time

Last Wednesday's harvest

It's been a pretty good year for the vegetable garden. The zucchini and cucumber plants have lasted longer than they ever have, although they are about kaput for the season. Now the tomatoes and peppers are beginning to ripen and our favorite season of the year, the time of homemade salsa, is almost upon us.

So far this season we've harvested:
  • 14 zucchini
  • 15 cucumbers
  • 7 tomatoes
  • 19 jalapenos
  • green onions (I didn't start keeping count back then)
How's your harvest? And how long do your cucumber and zucchini vines last? Am I just vine challenged?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Old, New and Blue Kitchen Inspiration

I love, love, love Michael Penny's kitchen spotted today on House of Turquoise. First the gorgeous shade of turquoise chosen for the cabinets jumped out at me but then I noticed an even bigger turn on... old cabinets. Old cabinets just like the ones in my kitchen that blend well with newer additions like the marble countertops and white subway tile.

I just love seeing pretty, renovated kitchens where the original cabinets weren't ripped out and replaced. They provide great inspiration for my maybe someday kitchen renovation which I've been mentally planning nonstop since I first saw min hus. I think my old cabinets add character. Plus, my reno would definitely be done on a budget and replacing the cabinets would easily double a tiny reno budget. But sometimes I worry that my old, but still in great shape cabinets, will look out of place in a renovated space. This kitchen helps quiet those fears!

This one is definitely going in the inspiration file. In fact, the entire house is pretty inspiring. Check it out including great before and afters at House and Home. Awesome job Michael Penny!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What's the Goal Anyway?

Today I'm taking a break from cleaning, purging and simplifying to just rest and reflect on my journey so far. What exactly am I taking baby steps toward, anyway?

I'm not even sure how to classify this change I want to make in my life. It's a combination of a little minimalist, a little green (certainly more green than I am now) and a little more frugal. All of which feels very connected to me.

In the minimalism realm, my goal isn't to get rid of all my stuff and travel the world, living only out of a suitcase. I just want to look around my little home and only see things I use and love.

I'm also not aiming to be the greenest of the green, but I believe we, as a planet, are using way more resources than is sustainable and it bothers me tremendously that we're not rising up as societies to demand change. There are some changes I'm not willing to make yet (riding the bus, I'm looking at you!), but there are a lot of things I can do differently.

I've always been pretty frugal. I don't like wasting money, heck, I don't really like spending money. But even here there are things I can do to stop wasting money, stop being such a consumer, and save more with the goal of eventually working less.

I love seeing what steps other bloggers have taken along these lines, and in the interest of returning the favor, here are my goals and recent progress since I last posted about my small green steps.

  • Reduce the amount of waste I produce using the golden rule: reduce, reuse, recycle. I've been recycling and composting for years now, but occasionally I get lazy in those areas and throw away things I shouldn't. I'm trying to fix that and go farther.

    Next step: Use fewer paper towels and other disposables and try buying from bulk bins to reduce packing waste.

  • Reduce my consumer activity. I'm trying to buy less and avoiding shopping for anything I don't need or really, really, really want. This is a challenge, although I can't really think of anything I need right now. Recently we switched to a simple homemade dishwasher detergent, which is working great and replaces my old, bottled detergent, as well as the need for commercial rinse aid. Vinegar works just find.

  • Continue to pare down items I don't need and love. I took another giant garage bag and box to our local Volunteers of America yesterday, but there are still items in the attic, basement, and garage that can be purged.

  • Reduce the amount of energy I use. This is a tough one for me. What can I say, I hate to be hot, and haven't had the greatest experience using our local public transportation system.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Voila, Painted Bottles

I completed the bottle painting project last week and am fairly pleased with the results. The finished vases look much better than I expected, but are they functional as vases?

If you didn't see my original post about this project, I've been wanting some blue glass vases to display on my mantle, but I didn't want to spend a lot. A Martha Stewart craft project provided the perfect solution and inspiration. Here's how it went down.

The good:
  • It's an easy, fun project, perfect for impatient people like myself.
  • It's cheap and semi-green. You can reuse old paint, bottles, etc. Or buy bottles cheap at a thrift store. My entire cost for the project was $7, for four bottles of craft paint, which I used to tint some latex and white craft paint I already had, and $3 for six bottles purchased at thrift stores. I made a lot more bottles than shown here.
The bad:
  • I wondered how well the latex and acrylic painted bottles would hold up with water and today I found out the answer, they don't. The paint started streaking and separating right away. So unless you want to fork over bigger bucks for real glass enamel, which might hold up better, plan to use these bottles as non-functional decor only.
This week I also ran across another easy craft project along these lines, food-colored bottles, for those who want to try something different.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Quick Tip: Photograph Your Mags

Once again my trusty digital camera is proving itself to be the best decluttering tool ever. Not only does it allow me to avoid having paper copies of photos, but it's also great for snapping shots of sentimental items before you purge them, for those who prefer to keep a reminder of special items. Now I've found another use for my camera.

Over the last few years I've gone from keeping every issue of every magazine I ever subscribed to, to a single stack of Domino mags plus a few random issues. I was quickly able to purge eight more mags today by using a quick tip I picked up at Hei Astrid: take a digital photo of the pages that inspire you, then purge the magazine.

I've scanned inspirational pages in the past, but it took forever. And patience is not my strong suit. Taking a quick pic or two is much, much faster. Though the picture quality isn't as great as a scan, it's perfectly fine for a simple inspiration reminder.

  1. Be honest, how often do you refer to old magazines anyway? If it's seldom to never, keep the inspiration you like and purge the rest.

  2. Shoot twice: If you're not the world's best photographer (like me), take a couple shots of each page to ensure you end up with at least one great one. Keep the best shot of each page and delete the rest.

  3. Download your pics and check them before you get rid of the magazine.

  4. Be ruthless about which pages you'll really want to see again and only shoot those.

  5. Try again: If at first you can't bring yourself to purge some issues, cut yourself some slack and try again later. (Provided you have a place to keep them, of course, and they're not piled on your floor or something. No hoarding kiddies!) This is worked for me with everything but my preciousssss Dominos....I know it's stupid, but I can't quite let them go yet.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Kitchen: Then and Now

Once upon a time, when I first toured my house the kitchen looked like this. On a good note, it was larger then most kitchens in the 1940s and 50s houses in my neighborhood and had plenty of counter space. The design was also something I could live with until I had the funds to fix it up. On the downside it was rather, meh, and each of the appliances were different colors.

The kitchen also has the only room for eating space in the house, and as you can see it doesn't leave much space to squeeze a table in.

This is what my kitchen looks like today, courtesy of some paint and two new appliances that match the stove.

The most recent updates we've made is to paint the ugly blue and off-white fake tile backsplash a lovely white. Scroll back up to the first picture to see the before (go ahead, I'll wait) and I think you'll agree that the white is a vast improvement.

This view is also much improved, thanks to a recent hallway makeover, which added shoe storage and more hooks, and brought the blue color of the kitchen into the staircase, which serves as the only "coat closet" in min hus. We also removed a bi-fold door which was never used to block off the basement. It's amazing how much more open this area feels now.

Of course I have grand dreams of a kitchen renovation that would include new countertops, a slight layout change and a pantry, but until then it's nice to have a kitchen that makes me smile.


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