problems with easy solutions

I’m working on a piece right now for this event–an essay that started out as being about something else entirely, but now seems to be about guns and the media. On top of that, we’re (that’s me in my other capacity) working on the issue of guns in our own community, and the conversation is getting murky. Not unlike the national conversation,  I guess. I’m not sure anyone out there is actually having a clear cut conversation about guns–although the 2 hours I spent in a gun store this morning certainly was one of the closest things to it that I’ve experienced. It just feels good to have a little bit of knowledge about all this as I make my way through all this. I know it’s a tiny amount, but it’s a start.

I have to think that problems have solutions, and that if we can just sit down and talk about our common goals, we’ll find the way forward. I still think that’s true.

I keep sane by dealing with the little issues. I know this must sound like a terrible segue, but in all honestly it’s how my brain is working this week. Because for every unsolvable problem, there’s got to be one that can make us cheer at our own ability to fix it so well. What size container fits in the lunch box? How do I stop losing socks in the dryer? Where do I set up the dishes in the kitchen so that it’s REALLY easy for Sadie to set the table? How do I get my dish towels to smell good (or just not smell bad) when I wash them? Oh the triumph at solving a little problem! It gives me the strength and patience to try to think about the bigger problems, the ones with harder solutions we haven’t found yet.

For example–the straw problem.

We are a smoothie-loving family. We own the empress of blenders (the cheap model, but STILL) and it gets a huge workout. Most importantly, my child (the little one with the cheeks) will consume nearly anything if it’s in smoothie form, and, picky as she is, that means I do a lot of blending.

But she’s particular, and if the details aren’t quite right, I find an untouched cup on the table with all that nutritional gold in there, abandoned. Most importantly, if there’s no straw, that smoothie ain’t getting drunk. So many straws. So much plastic. So much garbage. I tried to wash them, but she chews on them as she drinks, and those are single use straws for sure.

It’s a tiny problem. Really small. I know. But like I said, it’s a problem with a solution, and I take those when I can get them. And when I learned that there were stainless steel straws, I thought, Of course there are stainless steel straws! But they must be riddled with problems, or else we’d ALL be using them. They don’t work, or the girls will hate them, or they’re strangely expensive.

None of these things are true. Stainless steel straws are a small miracle. We like them better than the plastic ones, they’re inexpensive, and they’re washable. Problem solved.

Feels good, doesn’t it? Now let’s solve the abortion debate. Or maybe immigration. Perhaps congress just needs more household chores to help them work their problem-solving muscle.

Back in December, I worked with Mighty Nest on a giveaway (with all that great baking conversation– remember?) Mighty Nest is something of a master of all these wonderful little satisfying solutions, and so I wanted to find a way to bring them back here for this post. Because of course they sell stainless steel straws. (Also BPA-free food storage! Beautiful boxes in which to transport pies! Cotton napkins! Snack bags! My favorite compostable sponges!) Every little problem has solution right here, and they’re curated in a such a great way.

My favorite of the straws are the bent ones above in the picture. Those are my own (I bought them myself a ways back), but Mighty Nest carries the very same beauties, and they were very happy to join in when I asked if they’d be willing to give a set away.

So I’ll ask–do you have a little problem looking for a solution?  Get it down here, and we’ll all work on it together. Or if you have a problem that you’ve solved and you’d like to share it, that’s good too. Any piping up will enter you in to win the miraculous straws, and I’ll announce the winner on Tuesday.

In the mean time… a recipe.
This is my fancy shmancy foodie smoothie. It has all sort of ingredients in it. A friend of mine handed me a cup of something similar years back, and I laughed at the foodiness of the ingredient roster. But alas, it’s my favorite, and it’s been getting me through some hard thinking.









  1. Jennifer says

    Stainless steel straws, who knew! My son is a straw drinker. He even wants hot chocolate and hot tea through a straw. These would be a great solution. I’ll have to look for them. Thanks for bringing them to my attention.

    • april says

      just a little fyi,i wouldn’t want to drink anything hot thru a steel straw,it could cause serious scalding on the lips and in the mouth,but im sure these are great for eveything else.

  2. Casey says

    Oh man straws are one of my problems for sure, and I like them in all glasses not just smoothies. I solved that for water by getting a bottle with a “sipper” but I still have a need for them for sure.

    My other problem is the weight of packing food in glass containers. I find my lunch box or purse becomes a monster with all those jars and containers. Any idea on good bpa free light weight ones?

  3. Amy says

    Stainless steel is IT. Stainless tiffins are great for lunch boxes (oh so much more portable than glass)! My problem revolved around brewing coffee and tea without plastic. Lo and behold there are french presses made entirely of stainless steel, not a piece of plastic in sight, not even the filter at the spout. That was a revelation, and it made a nice Christmas gift to myself to boot.

  4. sarah says

    Casey, for not-too-wet foods, I like cloth snack bags. My kids aren’t allowed to bring glass to school, so we mostly use cloth. I do have a couple of small bpa free plastic containers for when they want yogurt or applesauce, but even cut fruit is ok in a lined cloth snack bag.

    Love the stainless straws! I definitely need to order some if I don’t win. :)

  5. Liz says

    Henry is a bit afraid of the dark, so was waking us up in the middle of the night by yelling to us to walk him to the bathroom. It took the impending new baby and thoughts of sleeplessness to force us to come up with a better solution, which turned out to be: a flashlight! We got one with a lantern setting so he could set it down when he got to the bathroom. Best $7 ever spent!

  6. says

    School papers and artwork. My arch-nemesis! I am sentimental so it’s hard to toss my three daughters’ masterpieces, but there are so many… I’ve tried a few solutions; portfolios, frames that are easily changed out, refrigerator magnets, etc. but shucks if there’s still not a flurry of paperwork every afternoon that finds it’s way to EVERY FLAT SURFACE in the house. Any super ideas out there for taming the paperwork herd?

    • Caitlin Hotaling says

      I’ve got the same problem and the only answer I’ve seen, but not implemented, is to take digital pics of the art and use the art as wrapping paper. Then there are all those pics, ugh. That still leaves the worksheets. I’ve started reusing the one sided ones for note pad/to do lists. I’ve only got one kid, if there were multiples I can only imagine the piles!

    • alana says

      Okay, between my two very artsy girls and my preschool-teaching husband who feels like every single piece of art must be saved, I am VERY familiar with this one. The best solution we’ve found so far is to have one of those filing boxes that holds file folders in an easy and prominent place in the living room or kitchen. One file is marked “Sadie” and the other “Rosie” (and in all honesty, Joey has one, too). So then- all art goes right into that prized folder. Every so often, I go through it and save the super prizes that must be saved for all eternity- the rest goes in the recycling.

      • Michelle says

        We made art portfolios out of brown paper bags and pretty duct tape. They are large and so skinny they can be slid behind a shelf or along side the fridge. I too cull through for the best ones and toss the others into the recycling bin when no one is looking. The larger samples do make great wrapping paper.

  7. Neena says

    I love coffee, but I suspect that it doesn’t love me back nearly as much. My problem – I drink too much of the good stuff, and then suffer terribly with jitters and hyperactivity. My (probably false) belief – decaf just doesn’t taste GOOD, plus it has really strange chemicals that eject the caffeine from the coffee bean. My solution – drinking less has not worked. Any other ideas?

    • Karey says

      Have you tried green tea with caffeine? I found during my pregnancy that it was enough caffeine to keep me happy, but less than a “normal” cup of coffee. (I would ice it, because I loved iced coffee, and then put in mint and honey. It was wonderful and rivaled something similar I bought at a local cafe.)

      • says

        Try sitting down when you drink your coffee – I was suffering the same thing and I made it a rule to only drink coffee while sitting down and relaxing rather than to keep me going throughout the day – drinking green tea the rest of the day is a great idea Karey. It won’t cancel out the effect of the coffee jitters but maybe it will at least help compensate a little so you can keep loving your coffee.

        • sue says

          My friend buys equal amounts of regular and decaf and mixes them. In that way you drink the same amount of coffee but get only half the caffeine.

    • alana says

      I was having the same problem, and a friend suggested that I make sure I was drinking water ALONG with the coffee. I don’t know if it dilutes the caffeine or something, but it helps!

      • says

        That’s so funny. I was diagnosed with a condition that prevents me from eating most acidic foods, and gave up coffee and a lot of other things for about 3 months (and was an awful beeyatch in the morning in the process). I finally started drinking a glass of water along with my coffee when I started drinking coffee again, and am back to my 2ish cup/day habit.

        I do think you’re right, Alana, that it dilutes the caffeine. If you think about it, it’s basically the same thing as pouring that glass of water into your coffee and drinking the whole thing straight away, the caffeine in the solution itself should be reduced by half. (I failed science miserably in high school, but this is related to food, so I think I get it? ha.)

        good luck, Neena!

  8. Erin says

    You can also buy glass straws! Which are beautiful, but so not going to happen in a household with little people. Which brings me to my problem: A toddler who is not interested in, nay, resistant, to potty training. Period. The simple solution: Be patient, she will decide in her time. Maybe the actual problem: I have been patient for quite a while (she’s almost three) and my patience is starting to wear thin “Go in the darn toilet! It’s not that hard!” <–My thoughts, not aloud words. But a simple solution: Keep being patient. Complex problem: Growing more patience. :)

    • April says

      My bean took forever to get trained too – she was three+ before she was finally totally there. We ended up having her sit on the closed toilet and go in the pull-ups for a while. That seemed to make things work better for her. Hang in there!

      • mom of many says

        One of my littles was insistent it was the potty that didn’t work. he took his tool box and tinkered with it and voila-in time it did work! m&m rewards were a big plus until they actually ‘get it’. the advantage of an older child learning is that you will have fewer accidents once she does begin…trust your gut and your child!

    • says

      We have been trying to potty train our 3 year old boy with little success for a while now. What has seemed to catch on, though, was a sticker chart! If he even TRIES anything (communicates his need to go, gets on and goes, has a dry diaper when he willingly gets on…) he gets a sticker for the day. At the end of the week he gets to choose a special outing.

      He is all over it! We have been to 3 kid’s museums and a bouncy house place in the last month, and he loves to choose the sticker too. We plan to up the ante once he gets consistent, but keep the stickers going.

      Keeping our fingers crossed…

      • Erin says

        Sue, do the stickers translate to something actually happening on the toilet? We tried that for a while, until it became clear that sitting on the toilet was a vehicle for stickers and the end result was the sticker. It never progressed beyond that.

    • Susan says

      My son was 3 1/2 before he really was interested, but one recommendation I heard at the time was cloth diapers because disposable ones are “too good” at keeping the wet away and cloth diapers are a lot more “uncomfortable” (if more inconvenient for the parent) :)

      • Erin says

        That is a great idea. We did cloth diapers with this one, but she literally outgrew them (we used an one-size all-in-one). They simply wouldn’t fit! But I wonder if I could get them on her, something would click…thoughts…hm.

        • Susan says

          Would “big girl” underwear be an incentive??? If she picked them out?? (and maybe if she wore them, they’d serve the same tactile purpose as cloth diapers???) Or plain ones – with pretty ones as “the carrot”???

  9. April says

    I love the stainless steel straws :) My problem is getting my child to eat lunch. The school lunches are not super healthy, so I try to pack things from home. I have tried everything – getting her involved, choosing foods she likes, and at least twice a week it comes back uneaten so I have to throw it out. Any thoughts outside the box would be much appreciated :)

    • Karey says

      I look to weelicious and 100 days of real food for their lunch box section. They offer ideas for healthy options you can include in the lunch.

  10. Rebecca kenwick says

    How do these wash up? We use to have reusable plastic straws but the smoothie would get dried in the straw if we didn’t rinse immediately and was impossible to get out!

      • Liz says

        Oh, that’s a great idea! I have the problem with gunky iced coffee straws over the summer and was looking into straw brushes, which can be a little pricey.

      • says

        PIPE CLEANER! That is a genius idea. I was put off by the whole idea of not being able to get them clean, and some sort of special tiny instrument, but this I can get my head around — thanks for the tip!

    • alana says

      I find that the stainless steel straws wash up great. I just rinse them out shortly after we use them- they always get clean.

  11. Karey says

    The cloth napkins you mentioned above where beautiful! I love the tree design and I am seriously considering them for our home!!!
    I think my problem tends to be find ways to cook organic for my family without breaking the bank. I always stick to the dirty dozen, but find that more and more I feel better about organic from the store (I buy local from several farmers summer/fall, but it leaves me with a higher food bill winter/spring). Not the end of the world for sure, but for a momma that wants what she feels is best it can be alittle frustrating.

    • says

      One thing that might help is freezing/canning/dehydrating some of that organic goodness when it’s abundant at the farmer’s market. That might help you through the winter.

      Do you have a CSA in your area? That can be a cost effective way to get a lot of produce when it’s freshest and then set some aside for the cold months.

  12. Melanie says

    These straws are awesome! I would take them with me when we eat out. My small problem is keeping my cat off the kitchen counter. I hiss and tell her no: she jumps down and gets right back up there when I leave the room. And she doesn’t even flinch at the spray bottle. I think she actually likes it!

    • Theresa says

      Fill a can part way with pennies and cover the top with duct tape. When you catch her up there, shake the can vigorously. The noise is quite annoying, so Miss Kitty will associate it with being on the counter and quit. Hope this helps!

  13. Kelly Bancroft says

    I love the idea of stainless steel straws.. I also look forward to trying this recipe. I always seem to always use bananas in smoothies, which Amiel, my older son, will not touch! Maybe that will take care of the “small” anti-smoothie sentiment of the older son!

  14. Theresa says

    Love the idea of stainless steel straws! My little problem is finding the best way to store the potatoes and onions we grew to keep them good and to prevent them from being a smorgasboard for the mice. Love the idea of a root cellar, but not the price tag to put a good one in.

    • Heather Fuller says

      I have had success storing onions and potatoes in small tubs (either 7 or 3.5 gallon) filled with sand – the clean kind you buy to fill a kid’s sand pit with. I remember the sand was pretty inexpensive and once you have it you can use it over and over again. I fill each tote 3/4 full and then shoved the onions and potatoes down in there so they do not touch one another and pop the lid on to keep out the mice. The sand absorbs the moisture. Just make sure you have a separate tub for each because onions and potatoes do not live well together.

  15. Hannah M. says

    Stainless steel? That’s pretty nifty! As to my current problem-I’m a relatively recent crossover to vegetarianism, and I’m working on figuring out proteins and balanced meals right now. It’s certainly harder than I expected, but I think I’m getting there :)

  16. Amanda says

    Oh, jeez louise, the straws!! We tried the glass ones, and while they were truly awesome in their own right, they were none the less, breakable. One of five sits in the the drawer (still loved and used, but lonely and fought over). So, the idea of stainless is rocking my world! Smoothies! Sick child on the couch with watered down juice in a pint jar! Water! Cocktails! Oh the possibilities!

    Anywho, my other problem is plastic wrap. And bags. These ( ) may not solve it all, but I am intrigued enough to have just ordered a sample size set today. We will see!!!!!

  17. says

    Reusable snack bags with bikes on them! Oooo how I love the look of those.

    My only problem right now is trying to go with less cow products, not so easy when I love butter and yogurt. I’m still baking in my usual half-assed way, and sometimes the food is lovely. Yesterday’s biscuits were a dream. Tonight’s cookies, were not.

    The recipe sounds lovely, but no bananas for me, thanks.

  18. Natalie says

    We have been using stainless steel straws for a couple of years and absolutely love them. I didn’t know there is a bent option, so we’ll have to look into that.

    My current issue at home has been trying to come up with some new options for lunch for the kids, as most of what I’ve been packing lately is met with a “boring” comment. One hit, though, has been crackers with pizza sauce and grated cheese. I just need to find a few others!

    By the way, I was lucky enough to win the December giveaway, and we’ve been enjoying it tremendously. It arrived beautifully packaged and we love the cool whisk and everything else as well. A great big thank you to you and Mighty Nest!

  19. karen says

    I love straws!

    recently even my little problems seem to big to figure out, but that’s because my little one has gone on a sleeping strike. :/

  20. says

    The smoothie thing bothers me too. Most of the time, I have to drink it on the run on the way into work in the morning. I’ve tried a solid bpa free plastic cup but even that broke! I will have to check out what Mighty Nest has to offer.

  21. Violet says

    Great giveaway! I’ve been wishing for stainless steel straws forever.
    My little problems, 2 actually… A stainless steel version of the Laptop Lunchbox for my kids. This is the perfect system for us and even though it is bpa and lead free, I still don’t like plastic. The other problem is a leak-proof fliptop lid for our Klean Kanteens!


    • rachel says

      Violet, have you check out the Planetboxes? They are al stainless and one piece with molded compartments, so no lids! They are PRICEY but last forever, (they have magnets you can change for kids who need a “new” one every year) and I do believe my son eats more with it because he doesn’t have to fuss with any containers, can open it himself, he’s three. We have the sportcap on his Kleen Kanteen (which fits in the pocket of his Planetbox case) and that does a pretty good job of not leaking. Good luck!

  22. Kris says

    I’ve been thinking a lot about straws lately, so this post is timely for our household.
    My problem is nighttime wetting. My son is well beyond potty training, but can’t make it through the night. I don’t even dare send him to bed without a nighttime pull-up, but not even that holds it. I wish I could find cloth pull-ups made for big boys, so I could at least stop buying disposables.

    • says

      My daughter is 8 and we were finally so sick of bedwetting–we tried cloth diapers-but what a stench and we tried just having her wake up wet in the night and change her own sheets–that we bought a bedwetting alarm that our pediatrician recommended. $60 seemed pricey, but after about 3 months with the alarm, my daughter has been dry nightly for over a month, she’s proud of herself, we’re all so happy not not be dealing with the smell and the cost of Pullups.

      Since then, I’ve done other research and found that the bedwetting may have been a side effect of a medication she takes, so you may want to do a little research if there are meds your son takes. I found this website helpful (and frightening):

  23. Erin says

    you mentioned in the actual post how to get your dish towels to smell at least not bad… i would LOVE to know the secret!

    and i will definitely be checking out some of the other stuff people have mentioned, especially steel tiffins! i saw them all the time in india and for some reason never really thought of getting some for me to use here in the states…

    • alana says

      Hi Erin- Lisa mentions this below- but white vinegar is great for this! I actually just add a splash of it, along with a few drops of tea tree oil to a smelly dishtowel wash, and it helps a lot.

  24. Kimberly says

    You seem to say exactly what I’m thinking. And here you’ve done it again. The murkiness of the problem, how if we could find common goals we could find common solutions instead of remaining divided. Thank you for your voice of reason and respect of others’ views. We mostly all want the same thing. Oh, and I hear you about the straws!

  25. says

    My problem is my DH takes loads of “quick” food with him to work that he can eat between meetings and on the road. He has no problem with these foods being homemade (finally) but the packaging is driving me nuts! I hate all the plastic wrap and aluminum foil, but if I put it in a glass container he forgets and leaves it somewhere! I’d love to make do with less waste without loosing all my storage ware.

    And those straws are divine… I’ve oggled them many times :)

  26. Kat says

    The clutter that collects on the table. There’s 3 of us and 6 seats – so a good 1/3-1/2 of the table is always full of random “stuff” belonging to “not mine!”

      • says

        Love this post!
        My current minor problem is storage in my kitchen, and admittedly it’s not a bad problem to have, and I created it myself. One of the most exciting moments leading up to my wedding was when we opened our registry and I got to put mostly kitchen stuff on there, so now I have an awesome, fairly-fully-equipped kitchen. We also did a complete kitchen renovation last winter, and it is a smaller version of the kitchen of my dreams, scaled to fit our lovely townhome. The problem mostly comes in when my husband looks at this new kitchen he built with his dad, with “lots of storage,” and sees that I’ve “filled it up with stuff” inside of a year. So when I buy something new like another muffin tin (I gave my extra away, and needed a new one!), I get a comment from said husband offering creative ways to store said kitchen utensil/pan/etc. Ahem. 😉

        So – any good kitchen storage ideas or different ways to stack/store things like bakeware, appliances, etc? I’m also always looking for creative freezer storage ideas, because that freezer is starting to look like the inside of my brain — productive and full of good stuff, but somewhat cluttered and a little disorganized.

        • alana says

          Ah- as for the kitchen storage- I say, try to treat the kitchen as people talk about doing with their closet. Go through your tools and appliances, and if there’s something you never use, get rid of it. If there are things you use rarely or seasonally, do you have basement or attic space where you can store them in a rubber bin?
          AND as for the freezer- we struggle with that one too. I can’t say we always hold to this, but when we do, it helps: Make a diagram of the freezer, tape it to the outside, and keep a running description of what’s in there and when it went in. (We kept a pencil taped to the freezer, too). Try to stay on top of that process, and then things are less likely to get lost.

          • says

            Sorry about the double posting! Silly me. (or silly Internet, either way.)

            Love the freezer idea, but I especially like treating the kitchen like it’s my closet. Such a good analogy, because I’m holding onto the same spoon or bowl or whatever for the same sentimental reasons I hold onto a t-shirt from 1998, and neither one is going to do me much good 😉

            thanks, as always!!

  27. Mary says

    Finding the balance in my schedule to get through everything I need to have a satisfying by productive day.

    I’m working on being better about following my personal calendar, but also being flexible when plans change.

  28. Lisa Moran says

    I don’t have a problem to voice, but I can offer up a solution for one that you mentioned in your post. Smelly kitchen towels… I had the same problem with that and with the bath towels. Now when I do laundry, I don’t use softener anymore—it’s bad for the fabrics—I use white vinegar instead in the rinse cycle. It takes a few washes for the smell to go away, but I have the loveliest, fresh-smelling towels now. I also find that if I use the towels less days (wash them sooner), they have a better smell after the washing too. I also use vinegar in the dishwasher (with the second wash cycle). My dishes come out sparkling. With our hard water, the vinegar helps to keep the gunk deposits from forming inside the dishwasher.

  29. Monica says

    My little, relatively insignificant, problem is rolling out my crackers (your book recipe) thin enough. I think I did a pretty good job, and my husband agreed, but ever the perfectionist, he wondered if I could use the pasta maker to get them really thin. Do you think the cracker dough would gunk up the pasta roller?

    • alana says

      Hi Monica- I’ve tried this! And because the dough is so high in olive oil, it just doesn’t hold up in a pasta roller. All I’ve got for this one is to just keep rolling- anyone else have any thoughts on this one?

      • says

        I used my KitchenAid pasta roller for your cheese crackers and it worked fine. I also used it for your graham crackers and had to do a deep clean on it when I was done. I learned that running a very slightly damp paper towel through the rollers will do a good job cleaning it.

  30. says

    Love this post!
    My current minor problem is storage in my kitchen, and admittedly it’s not a bad problem to have, and I created it myself. One of the most exciting moments leading up to my wedding was when we opened our registry and I got to put mostly kitchen stuff on there, so now I have an awesome, fairly-fully-equipped kitchen. We also did a complete kitchen renovation last winter, and it is a smaller version of the kitchen of my dreams, scaled to fit our lovely townhome. The problem mostly comes in when my husband looks at this new kitchen he built with his dad, with “lots of storage,” and sees that I’ve “filled it up with stuff” inside of a year. So when I buy something new like another muffin tin (I gave my extra away, and needed a new one!), I get a comment from said husband offering creative ways to store said kitchen utensil/pan/etc. Ahem. 😉

    So – any good kitchen storage ideas or different ways to stack/store things like bakeware, appliances, etc? I’m also always looking for creative freezer storage ideas, because that freezer is starting to look like the inside of my brain — productive and full of good stuff, but somewhat cluttered and a little disorganized.

  31. Juliana says

    Bread storage. I just started baking our sandwich bread a month or so ago, and I re-use gallon ziplocs a few times, but I am a little afraid of using them for too long (won’t mold start to grow in there?). I don’t have a bread box (or, really, a good place for one), but I am starting to wonder if that is what I should do? I’ve seen that Paula’s Bread sells plastic bread bags that would be cheaper than ziplocs, but I’d prefer to avoid plastic all together. Ideas?

  32. says

    No problem or solution, but even when using a dishwasher, straws get gafungy in the inside and with stainless ones, you don’t see it. Go to your art closet and get out the pipe cleaners. Twist two long ones together and leave by the sink for occasional straw cleaning. Yay for pipecleaners!

  33. says

    I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great.
    I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!


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