You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘100 ways to slightly improve your life’ category.

Don’t be weird about how to stack the dishwasher.

Patience above! Where to begin with this one?

The adage of the one hundred is to slightly improve your life. At first glance how one stacks the dishwasher doesn’t seem greatly correlated to this goal. But let’s look closer. Putting the wrong things in the Maytag, or in the wrong way, can lead to disaster (trust me on this), so learning what proper stacking (and what to wash by hand) can improve domestic life. The word ‘weird’ implies something more about how to stack the dishwasher. If you live alone or with someone with a laissez-faire approach to dishes then it doesn’t much matter how ‘weird’ are your stacking skills. The trouble arises if you live with another who either knows better or (worse) knows the way to stack. Woe onto you if you do it wrong. I am interpreting #18 as the sensible advice to find out from your Significant Other how they want you to stack the dishwasher and do it, thus slightly improving your life.

Another solution to avoid being weird about stacking the dishwater is the delegate all dishwashing stacking responsibilities to your S.O. or someone like them.

At La Casa de Spo Someone is far better at stacking dishes than Urs Truly. Many times I have entered the kitchen to see him rearranging what I have already put in. I put things in as they become dirty. Someone, who is expert at packing, prefers to let pans and dishes accumulate in the sink until there is enough to fill the dishwasher via one thoughtfully-planned stack-job. He hasn’t gone so far as to banish me from stacking the dishes at all, worse luck. If I had patience I would let him do it his way, but I can’t abide seeing dirty dishes in the sink piled high as Fafner’s hoard. Mercifully there has been no blows or savagery over the situation.

Spo-fans:

Who stacks the dishes in your house?

Who does it better?

Has anyone threatened murder or divorce if the other dares to do it wrong?

15. Keep your children’s drawings and paintings. Put the best on in frames.

Urs Truly doesn’t have children, so I am bereft of such works of art. All my brothers followed this advice that their kitchens and offices are full up with objects d’art from the early periods of their children’s artistry. These are usually done in the genera of crayon or magic maker: they are framed or tacked up onto activity boards. Overall I prefer The Old Masters. To my untrained mind, all kiddie-art looks alike, resembling ersatz Pollacks but done in primary or neon colors. How one goes about determining ‘the best’ must a tough one. The House Manager at work seems to have avoided this task by putting everything up; her office is covered in her children’s drawings.

I imagine parents regularly receive the bounty of their child’s oeuvre and what to do with it all must be a challenge. I suppose one cannot become an art critique and tell Junior you’d hoped the monster works would have been a limited series and you shouldn’t waste your talent but move on and let’s throw this one out shall we. Rotating the works, like they do in the art museums, is an option as kitchen wall space is limited.

I don’t recall my late Mother putting up my early works, but discovered she kept several of my drawings which she put in an accordion file which I got when she died. I have memories of drawing only some of them. I am not sure what to do with these. Out of whimsy, I thought to put a few up on the fridge or at the Mesa office, but they are painful to look at; after all no artist likes to look back on his or her early works. “Did your children do them?” I hear patients asking me, which is a dumb question really as who else but a parent would do such a thing? I would have to explain I don’t have children but I drew them in kindergarten which would probably get odds looks and serves me right. Oh the pain.

What I remember vividly is Mother framed my first attempts at painting, which were done in acrylics. My parents were quite fond of them. In contrast to see them drove me to distraction as the errors in them were blatant and embarrassing. I did keep one of them though. It was attempt to draw some boats and seagulls on a gray foggy day. I suppose it wasn’t bad for a first timer; it was the best of the lot Mother got framed and were still in the house when we closed it. The painting now stands in the Phoenix office on top of the bookshelf, far enough away I can’t see the awful details. I suppose this is as close as I am going to get to the mentioned advice ‘put the best in frames’. It has slightly improved my life to do so. Mother certainly improved me life slightly to keep these early Spo works. Would any one like one? I have heaps.

Spo-fans with children in their lives: do you put up their artwork, and where?

#14: Buy a cheap blender and use it to finely chop onions (it saves on time and tears).

Urs Truly isn’t very good at chopping onions. This is probably a combination of using not-sharp-enough knives and he being an A-1 Schimel. I’ve watched all the videos of the cooking pros on how to properly cut onions; they all manage to take an unpeeled onion and turn it into homogenous diced bits as fast as lighting, but it hasn’t helped honed my skills. No matter which great expert’s advice I take my grates aren’t so great. So the notion of a mechanical device sounds attractive.

I take umbrage at the notion of having a ‘cheap blender’. Mine is a king-sized-titanic-unsinkable-molly-brown contraption that laughs at onions. I confess I’ve never used it to dice onions (fine or otherwise) so I shouldn’t judge its efficacy until I try it and compare it to my amateurish attempts on the cutting board. On the other hand, isn’t The Cuisinart designed for this sort of thing? I have two of them: a large and a small. I will see if either is preferable when it comes to finely chopping onions and saving time.

Ah, but let’s look at the big picture on the ‘saving time” part of the equation. Perhaps a motorized chopper (blender or Cuisinart) may save time to dice, but there is also the time factor to get it out and set up the thing and more time to disassemble it for the dishwasher – and you better have a dishwasher as washing The Cuisinart parts by hand is a tedious and time-consuming job. Talk about penny-wise/pound-foolish.

I suppose I don’t bother to use the appliances as chopping onions seems to be something a budding chef like myself should be able to do. How does one get to finely chopped onions? Practice. I recall a scene in a movie about Julia Child in the kitchen is inundated by the aroma of cut onions as she tearfully cuts away at a basket of them. Oh the pain.

I tear up quickly when chopping onions. So far as I can tell all hacks to discourage this happening don’t work, other than having a sharp knife and cutting longitudinally rather than across the latitudes so as not to break as many cells. Less time on the cutting board helps too so this gets back to the pros and cons of using that cheap blender. I will keep hacking away at the alliums until I get it right enough, tears be damned. Besides, wielding a large knife is less tidy-up than The Cuisinart and jolly more fun to boot.

Sometimes improving life slightly isn’t worth the tears.

How do you cut your onions?

Does anyone do this in a blender or Cuisinart?

#13: Feeling sluggish at work? Try the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes on, five-minutes break, and repeat.

I had to look up Mr. Pomodoro’s technique. It is more or less what my late Mother made us kids do. She would say we were staying put too long and get up and go outside or (worse) go clean your room. Not that I needed much prompting to get up and move. I have never been good at sitting still; my hummingbird brain doesn’t like doing such. Happily, my work set up is a good one that I get up every twenty minutes to lead the patient in my office back to the waiting room and fetch the next one. While I often feel sluggish at work it isn’t due to inactivity.

Mother and Mr. P are correct. We are not designed to be sedentary. We are wired to be active. Much ink has been spilled on the so-called dangers of being a slugabed-type couch potato. Sitting on your backside watching reruns of “Friends” (oh the horror!) is allegedly worse than smoking. I wouldn’t go that far but concur we should regularly get up and move about.

On weekends I have the anti-Pomorodo technique: I bounce about La Casa de Spo doing things until the more sensible side of my cerebrum declares enough is enough and forces me to go lie down for Pete’s sake. I do this, but the inner-hummingbirds are already plotting their next move.

I sometimes hear nasty stories from my patients in customer-service jobs they are not allowed to get up but only at specific ‘break’ times and the mere action of standing to stretch and walk a bit is grounds for dismissal. I envision the clich√© slave ship with oarsmen chained to their oars, forbidden to stand up. These manager fools should know better.

On the opposite end of the problem are thems who feel obliged to stay at their desks working allegro non troppo and forget to take breaks. Stopping for a five minute break almost feels like shame to them. This is bad too.

So there you have it. Some folks need to be prodded to get up once in awhile and some are forbidden to do so. It seems it was a mistake for us to leave our farming environments to go work at desks or in factories. Maybe the original error goes back further when we stopped being hunter/gatherers and became farmers. It gets down to the mistake to crawl out of the water onto land. I bet fish never worry about getting enough movement.

Is your job sedentary? Do you get up from time to time?

Do I have to show up and goose you off the couch?

The Board of Directors Here at Spo-reflections announced they are closing Heorot Johnsons II for their every five years or so spring cleaning, noted more for the ceremony than the efficacy at accomplishing the task. It is good to open the portals and blow out the place, which was beginning to smell like the back end of a basilisk. The dears sent an email stating I should ‘Carry on without us’ for the next couple of days, and why not do another ‘100 ways to slightly improve your life’ entry.

So be it.

12. Sharpen your knives.

This succinct tidbit advice sounds cryptic if not downright sinister. ‘Sharpen your knives’ – for what exactly? It is a good idea to have sharp knives at the ready whether you plan on chopping onions or stabbing the hands of intruders from across the fjord. Several of the The Tube of Yous cooking gurus stress the importance of having the kitchen knives regularly sharpened.

Until recently the cutlery at La Casa de Spo was as dull as plainsong, not having been sharpened since The Punic Wars. In the kitchen gadget drawer is a long circular steel object that looks like a skewer. I am told it is for running the knives over it to get them oh-so-sharp but I can’t get the hang of it. I’ve watched demonstrations but they go so fast and I am afraid of slicing my fingers in the attempt. To sharpen my knives I am using a device with two openings in it like a pair of “Vs” (one course/one fine). This seems easier and infinitely safer than the skewer. I try to remember to sharpen my knife prior to using it.

It turns out there is a nearby family-owned shop whose service consists of sharpening knives for home and business. I want to try them but they keep impossible hours. I am also a little sheepish to walk into the place waving knives around (no matter how dull they are) lest I am taken for a crazed sterno-bum and become a pincushion for their projectiles. Oh the horror.

That’s how you walk when you are going to kill somebody.

As always I did a some research as to ‘what’s the proper way” to sharpen knives and it seems to be ‘whatever way you are more likely to do it’ wins.

Since I am on the topic of knives, another area of interest is how to chop things. Despite the videos that make dicing and slicing look simple I somehow manage to bungle it. My diced vegetables never resemble the perfectly sliced bits in the photos. I suspect the knife not being sharp is a factor but it is probably more operation error. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice – and this includes chopping onions, preferably with a sharp knife.

Someone and I have different approaches to how to chop things and in the kitchen we tend to get in each other’s way so it’s best one does the chopping while the other supervises or makes the gin and tonics or better yet scoots. “You realize you are talking to someone holding a knife” I say when he finds fault in my dicing. The threat of impalement doesn’t work as he knows the knives are dull anyway.

In conclusion I think Tip #12 is a good one. Please keep your knives sharp for efficacy sake and for that quiet satisfaction one gets slicing through vegetables cleanly with a mighty chop chop chop sound.

How to you keep your knives sharp?


I haven’t done one of these in a while, and there are nearly ninety more to go! After yesterday’s somber entry, it would be a bit fun to return to some nonsense. Spo

Get the lighting right: turn off the overhead one, turn on lamps (but turn off when you leave the room).

This one may slightly improve your life by improving your sleep. Good sleep is correlated with all sorts of health benefits from less wrinkles to less heart attacks. Insomnia is often the ‘chief complaint’ from my patients. This is problem for which my patients and I get into the most argument over what is best to do about it. They often rush to the proposal of using sleeping pills while I want them to work on what is called ‘sleep hygiene’.

The human brain is not a computer with an on/off switch, it is more like a jumbo jet that needs a slow descent in order to reach the ground right. Bright lights – particularly from phone and computer screens – mimic sunlight which tells the brain it’s still day and to don’t go into sleep mode. Looking at iPhones, iPads, Kindles, and such is detrimental to getting the brain to go into sleep mode. Turning off the overhead lights and turning on soft ‘yellow’ lights (and not too bright) helps the brain slowly go towards sleep. I make it a point to adjust all the lighting at La Casa de Spo at 830PM.

If you want to sleep better, no techie things after 9PM, but try telling folks that.

Sleep hygiene rituals are simple to do but take practice to get them going. They all point to a slow descent into sleep time with changes of clothing, the avoidance of alcohol, caffeine, and bright lights. The bedroom should be dark, cold, and bereft of distractions, like my men. I would ban TVs and cellphones from the bedroom. A good mattress is important, after all you spend a third of your life on one. There’s more, and these can be found on on-line.

Guard your sleep time over all other pastimes, like the apple of your eye. Tell the 21st century part of your brain it cannot override our basic wiring that demands 6-8 hours or there will be hell to pay. This is no fun, and one misses out on a lot but it makes the rest of one’s life better.

Turning off the lights when you leave the room? It would improve my life more than slightly if a certain someone in the house did just that.

Do you sleep well?

Do you practice ‘good sleep hygiene”?

Always bring ice to house parties (there’s never enough)

There are a few downsides to this gelid proposal, starting with Urs Truly is never invited to house parties. Even if I was invited I would probably decline courteously, out of fear of contagion. [1] When attending a house party I bring along a bottle of wine or better yet bourbon, not necessarily for immediate consumption but to symbolically replenish the hosts’ stock.[2] Bringing a bag of ice is risky, especially in Arizona, where one has to drive a long while in ardent heat to get anywhere. The ice is certain to show up in a less-than-stellar state, and there is the chance the host has heaps and doesn’t need any. I think a better way to do this is to call the host just as one is leaving and say ‘Darling! I am on my way! Can’t wait to see you! Would you like me to pick up a bag of ice on the way?’ I don’t think this especially improves my life even slightly but it seems good manners.

Back to the house parties. Gay men are – or were – notorious for their ‘theme parties’ but I haven’t heard of any lately, worse luck. That breed died out in the 80s, when everyone realized the sage statement:

“It’s like your second theme party. You realize it’s all been done before.”

Throughout the years I’ve either landed with chums who don’t throw house parties or who have them but don’t invite me. Back in the early ’90s a colleague threw a “Come as your mother party” which was amusing. 15 years ago, back when we had friends, Someone and I threw a “Pink Party” (I forgot why) where all the attendants arrived in pink. [3] The lawn was bedecked with pink trimmings making which made the neighbors wonder if there was a baby girl in our midst. We regularly attended a post-holiday hangover party that chums held every January – until they stopped having them or stopped including us. I never quite learned which was the reason; perhaps we should have brought more ice.

Arizona house parties usually involve backyard swimming pools. However, everyone is so ‘body conscious’ nowadays no one wants to take their shirt off etc. even among friends, so no one goes into them.

I suppose it is just easier to invite friend out to the pub or a restaurant so there is no preparation or washing up and no one needs to worry about bringing ice or running out of it as the wait-staff can bring more. Here in Arizona I’ve never seen a drink that wasn’t full of ice cubes. My life would improve slightly if it had less ice and more scotch.

[1] On the whole my friends are tree-hugging liberal-types who all did the right thing and got their shots and boosters, but some unvaccinated rebel is sure to show up, with or without ice, and make every one ill. Stirge.

[2] I write on the label ‘A present from Spo’ along with the date so the recipient can remember later on how on earth is there a bottle of Boone’s Farm in the larder.

[3] We still have a large bright pink plastic bowl of which Someone is quite fond. It doesn’t fit anywhere and moves from drawer to drawer never quite wanted anywhere. He uses it whenever he makes popcorn.

Keep a bird feeder by a window, ideally the kitchen. It’ll pass the time when you’re washing up.

The maternal side of my family enjoys feeding the birds. In the winter months, several feeders stood outside grandmother’s kitchen window. Beside the various-shaped feeders stood a little table of sorts upon which Grandfather impaled corn cobs to feed the squirrels. He also had a large tub of peanut butter from which he spread some on the tree trunks at eye level, so we could watch the squirrels pick it up and eat it. I think it was supposed to be a deterrent, so the birds could eat the seeds in peace. It may be he just enjoyed feeding squirrels as much as the birds.

Tip #9 has validity. I loved being indoors standing in the kitchen, which was warm and humid from the hot water emanating from the sink. I gazed out at the cold winter landscape with its feeders. It was always snowing then; all my winter memories are heavily frosted with falling snow. The feeders were capped with snow like toothpaste on a brush or fuzzy white hats. On cloudy snowy days, the snow almost had a blue/gray tone to it. In contrast were the blues of the jays, and the cardinals, bright as blood. They made a bold contrast to the white of the snow and the brown of the trees. I could have stood there for hours. I think I even found things to wash to spend more time at that window.

The desire to feed and watch birds must have a genetic component, for Father and none of my brothers ever cared for bird feeding. This was something I inherited from my mother’s side. To this day when I fill the feeders I think of her and her father.

Later in life when I had my own places I carried on the tradition of feeding the birds. I always started on the morning of Thanksgiving and continued until the spring time. My feeders were always near enough to the house that I could see them from the kitchen window or breakfast nook. Unlike my grandparents, I didn’t feed the squirrels but tried to discourage them. I learned this wasn’t possible and I gave up trying. After all, they have to eat too.

I don’t feed the birds anymore. I miss this. A lot. I tried it when I moved to Arizona but it doesn’t feel the same without a snowy blanket to wrap around the scene. From the kitchen window at La Casa de Spo the nearest tree is too far away to see much, and the mess that ensues falls not on grass but on concrete. I tried converting to feeding the hummingbirds, but found this a disappointment.

If I were ever to retire, I want it with a kitchen window outside of which I can erect and hang some feeders. I will pour in the sunflower seeds, return to the kitchen, and wait for the birds to return to me.

Do you feed the birds?

Do you do it only in certain seasons?

What do you do about the squirrels?

#8 – Send a voice note instead of a text; they sound like personal mini-podcasts.

I don’t think I have ever sent a voice note in lieu of a text – not intentionally anyway. Once in awhile I bungle or butt-dial a few seconds of something and what is sent is gibberish. I suppose I might send voice notes after careful study how to do them, but I don’t see the point. Text messages serve me well for short banter and superficial intercourse. Phone calls in comparison are for discussions needing detail and to avoid misinterpretations. In lieu of a voice note, I leave phone messages. It is said people usually dislike the sound of their own voice, and I do too. Spo-fans are blest my site is written not aural, form voice is less than sonorous. It is quite nasal and often influenced by throat clearing the consequences of allergies. Oh the embarrassment. I don’t wish to give event a bit of it in a voice note.

I don’t know if recipients like voice notes. I suspect most don’t. I know a few folks (usually the young ones) that despise phone calls. I remember watching my nephew texting with his friend, both going at the pace usually seen in an Olympic ping pong tournament. Given the rate they were writing, I inquired why don’t they just talk to each other. He rolled his eyes (as adolescents do to convey their contempt at stupid old people) to say this is better. Apparently hundreds of thousands of years of voice tone/nuances don’t count anymore.

Another reason why suggestion #8 sounds a bust is I listen to podcasts all the time and the last thing I need is another one in the form of a voice-note mini-podcast. Compared to “Your Brain on Facts” or “The Daily Stoic” or “Everything Everywhere Daily” (to name a few of my favorites) I am strictly an amateur. #8 doesn’t slightly improve my life, and I don’t suppose it does for my nearest and dearest. Shoot me a text why dontcha, or better yet, give me a call.

#7 – Plant spring bulbs, even if they’re just in a pot.

Sorry to be a Glum* about this one, but I smell a rat. Being a gardener, I nothing about gardening falls under the header ‘done without really trying’. Gardening is a lot of bloody work. I don’t know when this list came out, but mid-February is no time to plant bulbs in pots or anywhere else, and there are none for sale anyway. I have a vague memory thems in warmer climes are recommended to first put the bulbs in the fridge for a few weeks to mimic winter prior to planting them in pots. These beauties in their dry silky wrappers get pushed back behind all the jars of half-consumed what-nots and forgotten like anything else back or are mistaken by another for am exotic root vegetable and accidently stir-fried with the rutabagas (oh the embarrassment).

Planting bulbs was an annual ritual done every autumn. Like a crazy conductor, I would tell my orchestra to play louder. I could never have enough of them, especially the vintage-variety daffodils, my favorite. I loved these, but so did the squirrels. I was forever experimenting with reported means to stop the suckers some digging them up soon after I planted them. One technique was burying the bulbs with a good dose of cayenne pepper, bought in bulk at Costco.
Planting bulbs confirms our belief in resurrection that after the dead of winter there will a spring some of us will live to see. Someday I hope my own ashes go to promote a crop of redder tulips and brighter daffodils.

I planted bulbs once in a large shallow bowl like the tip says. Funny that I remember the bowl which was a Dutch-style shallow porcelain bowl on legs, but I can not remember how fared the bulbs. For all the fuss this process is, it is easier to order a pre-boxed bulb set from Harry & David, or one of that crowd. Cutting down on gardening tasks is more than slightly likely to improve your life.

*This is discreet reference to a gloomy sort of fellow named Glum, who was in a cartoon series about Samuel Gulliver of all things.

Blog Stats

  • 2,013,664 Visitors and droppers-by

Categories

June 2022
S M T W T F S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Spo-Reflections 2006-2018