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Making Our Lives Easier. It’s the Little Tricks that Count

June 18, 2021 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

When Covid-19 initially invaded our lives, suddenly and unexpectedly everything changed and shut down. It made our lives lonely and difficult while we quarantined behind closed doors. We were overwhelmed by having to make many new decisions, scramble for ways to gain control and decide how to make our lives easier. We’re still doing that. We’ve learned there is no blueprint; it all comes down to each of us and our ingenuity. In the process, we’ve discovered it’s the little tricks that count to simplify our everyday lives.  

Password protections. Margaret’s dozens of passwords, which she uses daily, were all smooshed in a disorganized and scribbled fashion in a notebook. When she needed a password, she could never find the one she was looking for. A friend suggested a password protection program; however, she’s neurotic about being hacked (once an attempt was made).  

How safe was a password protection program? She signed up for a one-hour session on scams and use of password programs. The takeaway: she learned that nothing is 100 percent safe from spying eyes. She chucked the idea of an online program and went old school, buying a small, alphabetized phone book and listing all passwords in alphabetical order. The book is small enough for her to carry around just in case she needs a password, which she did the other day at a Verizon store. 

Command performance. Consider a voice assistant device such as Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana or Samsung Bixby. As we work at our computers, especially for those of us who live alone, we look for ways to fill the white space with noise. How convenient to be able to ask Siri to set an alarm or shout at Alexa without moving from our chairs, “Hey Alexa, play Brahms Symphony No. 3 in F major, please.” However, voice assistants have reached new heights going from simple music and question-oriented devices to having the capability to control home automation devices, manage email, create to-do lists and set calendars, to name a few tasks.

A different kind of platform. Heard of a Bunkie board? Margaret had never heard of it, either. However, after purchasing a queen-sized platform bed with slats for her new New York City apartment, she needed more mattress support. Her sister bought her a Bunkie board from a family-owned mattress firm on New York’s Upper West Side. The board sits on the slatted base to provide additional support and, because the mattress rests on a solid base, it makes changing the sheets a breeze. It also prevents mattress sag, which ultimately prolongs the life of the mattress. Who knew. Not us?

It’s not a crock. It’s a slow cooker. What could be easier? Throw in all the ingredients and let them simmer for hours. Voila! Dinner is ready. One pot slow and long-simmering recipes mean more flavor and the lower temperatures reduce the possibility of burning food on the bottom. It also frees your stove top for other uses and when you serve the meal, you can just put the pot in the center of the table on a trivet and let guests help themselves. Best of all, the one pot eliminates having to scrub multiple pots and pans.

One-stop (pan) cooking. The worst part about cooking, for those of us who like to do so, is clean up. Enter a hot trend, which the New York Times newspaper’s food sections tout weekly it seems. It consists of a sheet pan dinner where everything is roasted together on one rimmed baking sheet. Not only do meals taste as great as any complex meals you’ve spent hours prepping using multiple pots and pans, but with sheet pan cooking you get delicious contrasts in texture and flavor and the presentation can be lovely.   

Digital dump. Papers, papers everywhere and not a spot to spare. Both Barbara and Margaret can relate to this. Barbara describes herself as a paper piler; she puts printouts and notes for different stories and books in different piles when working on them rather than filing neatly away. If you’re not one who likes to pitch anything, go digital. It’s a great way to declutter as Margaret did before she moved. She photographed certain papers with her phone and put them in appropriate files on her computer. She also went digital with her newspapers now reading them online. Barbara, on the other hand, still relishes holding a newspaper, magazine and a book but is good about pitching after she’s read articles. Any favorite story can be found online. Digitize photos, too, if you’re flooded with boxes and boxes of them. It can be time consuming but there are professional photo organizers and digitizers who can help.

A piece of cake. We both love to bake cakes, especially coffee cakes. We’ve been particularly prolific during the pandemic. However, Margaret and Barbara both live alone so who is going to eat a whole cake? Leaving leftover cake out means it will soon spoil and refrigerating it ruins the taste. What to do? Well, we came up with a solution. Margaret cuts the leftover cake into slices and freezes them. To bypass this step, however, Margaret found online a mold of individual cake slices. Instead of pouring the batter into a cake pan, this mold has individual slots. The batter is poured into each and when baked comes out as individual slices. How easy is that?

Singing in the rain. Getting outside each day during the pandemic to walk has been a lifesaver for us. However, the weather can change in a New York minute. Margaret is now in the market to buy a water repellent backpack (in lieu of carrying a purse or tote bag) with a hood in case the elements surprise her when she’s out and about. No need to schlep an umbrella that in a windy rainstorm tends to invert or makes you feel like you’re being lifted off the ground Mary Poppins style. Barbara has several raincoats with hoods and only takes along her keys and a charge card. She leaves a purse at home, which might get ruined, and she’s also bought boots designed for puddles.



Hair raising scheme. Many of us were skittish about going to a salon to get our hair cut, styled and colored during the pandemic. So, we went DIY. Accumulating the gadgets and having a place to put them can become an issue. So, a friend of Margaret’s bought a holder that latches onto a bathroom sink to contain the hair dryer, curling or flat iron and other hot styling tools.

Cheap therapy. It’s called laughter. Nothing is as healthy as a good deep belly laugh. Put on a funny movie such as “Caddyshack” or an old Marx Brothers film, the TV series, “Schitt’s Creek” or read a David Sedaris book. Norman Cousins, who was a journalist and professor with crippling and unhealable arthritis, believed in taking massive doses of Vitamin C and laughing to cure illness. In his book, Anatomy of an Illness, he suggests that laughter activates the immune system and makes you feel oh so good—our body’s natural form of warm soothing chicken soup.

Related to this, learn to cut people more slack. Ask them to do the same for you given we all have been more stressed, anxious, even sad at times. Sometimes, we must speak up through email, text or even on the phone or phase to face, trying the gentle approach first when a person reprimands us for repeating ourselves or asking the same question. You can try our method: “I’m so sorry, but I’m not back to normal, yet. Forgive me.” Sometimes, we must be more forceful: “Come on, cut me some slack. I’ll do the same for you.” Knowing the importance of being kind is one of the best lessons of the pandemic we’ve found.

Seeing clearly now. Having trouble reading the small print? Margaret experienced this recently. However, she didn’t want to go to the eye doc—Covid-19 you know—to improve her vision.  She had another kind of clear vision when early one morning she hoofed it to the drug store and bought a couple pairs of cheaters or reading glasses. To be safe, she brought along disinfectant wipes and wiped down each pair before and after she tried them on. The drugstore glasses are inexpensive and do the trick for now. Also, if you lose your readers, which happens to most of us (umm–where did I put those?)—the investment in another pair from the drugstore won’t break the bank.

For Barbara, who has good eyesight and has never needed glasses, she’s found of late that she can’t read the tiniest font on many food packages to check ingredients. When she recently was at a store buying items for her soy-allergic daughters, she had to ask a young-looking shopper standing nearby if he could. She realized then and there she needed to have a small pair of magnifying glasses in her purse for those just-in-case moments and another set at the computer.

Odoriferous. If you have a nasty smell in your dishwasher or washing machine, here’s a simple way to neutralize it. If you have white distilled vinegar and baking soda on hand, mix the two and pour into the smelly appliance or funky drain. Baking soda is also great for cleaning shower heads and vinegar can be the best solution to clean glass shower doors and mirrors.

Nutcracker. This is Margaret’s sister’s trick. If you cannot open a bottle cap because it’s on too tight, use a nutcracker. Put each side of the nutcracker against the cap and twist. It never fails and you don’t have to yell, “Honey, can you please come open this screw top bottle of wine?” You also won’t hurt your wrist or hand.

Hot trick. If you dislike ironing like we do, it’s especially tricky to iron certain items like button down shirts. Well, we have a solution to make this task a bit easier with smoother results. Turn the shirt inside out and go for it.

Measured response. If you’re going to cook a complicated recipe as many of us tried with time on our hands and stuck inside during the pandemic, measure everything before you begin. This makes the task easier without interruptions to find a tablespoon or measuring cup and stop to measure. It’s all there. Measure, then clear the counters of all the devices, wash them, then cook and continue to clean up as you go along so you aren’t overwhelmed with a huge mess after. Another reason to do so is that as we age and get distracted—maybe, talk on the phone or watch TV as we cook, we may wonder, “Did I really add the baking soda?” Adding double isn’t the solution but leaving all out to visualize is. All you need is one flopped cake to know the importance of this rule.

Get your exercise done early. It’s so easy to make excuses why you don’t have time to exercise once you’re up, dressed and busy with work or other activities. Instead, get up, grab your coffee, breakfast and get going whether it’s a walk in your neighborhood or a class via Zoom or soon back at the gym or outdoors. Yoga on a lawn is delightful. If you have time, take another stroll or do more Yoga later in the day. Now is time to take advantage of the glorious weather and temperatures.

Paying bills. Who wants to do this? Not us, again, especially since it’s so easy for the bill to get lost in our piles. So, Barbara’s trick is to pay any bill, whether online or via a stamped envelope, as soon as it arrives. “Get it right out the door” is her philosophy. Margaret does the same.

Birthdays and anniversaries. So many have said to Barbara, “You’re so thoughtful to remember my birthday (or anniversary).” She smiles but it’s really so easy with FB reminding her daily whose birthday it is. And before FB, she referred to her little red “The Shakespeare Birth Book,” where she had listed friends and relatives’ dates (often with the year). She checked at the start of a month. People really seem to appreciate being remembered, especially because Barbara tends to send a “real” card rather than just an email greeting.

TV shows. Many of us have become addicted to TV during the pandemic with so many shows and series bombarding us. It’s hard to remember what was suggested and why. So, Barbara’s beau keeps an email list on his computer that they occasionally refer to. He has written down which platform it’s shown on, what category it falls into, what it’s about, who’s in it and any reviews. When looking for a new series the other night, he realized they hadn’t yet watched “Your Honor,” which they became addicted to. They also have a list they happily share with friends, which includes having their own Hugh Grant, Nora Ephron and Steve Martin film festivals and rewatching all their old films.

These are easy fixes. What are yours? Please share. 



1 comment

  • Lynn Lyss

    Jun 19, 2021

    I loved this post!


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