Never Wear Them????

As you know, Bob, I’m a knitter and my favorite things to knit are socks and sweaters. Mostly because then I wear them.

I’m knitting the first thing I’ve knit in a good eight months. A Life-Eating Project seems to have sucked away my mental energy to the point where it was beginning to worry not only me, but my family. I needed to do something at least moderately creative and soothing that would make me feel good without long-term commitment. That meant knitting and it meant a small project.

So, socks…

I’m knitting some basic toe-up socks out of leftover yarn I have around. I have special sock yarn, but this stuff isn’t it. It’s Wool of the Andes Sport that I have left over from various knitting projects. It’s a bit thick, but I live in Northern New England and it’s cold. Thick wool socks are nice.

I took the risk on this yarn when my LYS owner commented that she doesn’t really bother to buy special sock yarn, but knits them out of leftovers from the truly extraordinary Nordic sweaters she knits. They are thick, but about like hiking socks.

Which, after nearly two hundred words, brings me to the main point of this article.

I ran across a sock-knitting block post by a knitter who cannot bring herself to wear socks often. After cost of the materials (she quoted $20 for a pair of socks) and the time put in, she didn’t want to wear them out.

The comments got to talking about how yeah, you can buy a pair of socks at a department store for five bucks, so hand-knit socks are so expensive.

I don’t knit to save money. It’s a hobby, but a not-too-expensive one for me. I spent less than $100 in yarn last year planning to do a mess of knitting for Christmas presents that never panned out, so I still have a larger stash than is usual for me. The socks I’m knitting now are from leftovers from the two sweaters I did knit and used about two balls of yarn, totaling five bucks to buy.

But if I bought those 100% wool socks, I’m still looking at between $8 and $10 for an inexpensive pair of wool socks. L.L. Bean, my preferred winter gear go-to, charges more.

But after I’ve gone to all that trouble, expensive or not, darn right I am going to wear the socks I made. Will they wear out? You bet. Socks do. It’s the nature of the garment. I’m easy on my socks – wearing slippers in the house rather than just the bare socks, and hand-washing the hand-knit ones. But, I’ve been knitting socks for eight years. Of course I’ve had a pair or two wear out.

I wonder why someone would go to the trouble to make them then not use them. What’s more of a waste, keeping them in the sock drawer, or enjoying them after you make them?

Does Cooking in Advance Save You Money?

My primary motivation for prepping freezer to crock pot meals is not to save money. Please don’t faint.

I do it to save time during the week.

It does save money. It saves a lot of money.

I did not do much in the way of freezer to crock pot cooking this November and December. In looking at my budget book, I spent an embarrassing amount of money on groceries. Yes, yes, it was the holidays. Yes we cooked things we don’t ordinarily. Yes, we ate out more. But when I looked at what we spent on food for December 2013, I cringed. Even with the inflation factor, I’ve fed four adults and two kids on less, and my household only has three adult appetites at present.

The problem was two-fold. I didn’t make bento as often as I ordinarily do, so we bought lunches more than we should have. I also did not have any freezer meals ready. We were busy, so that meant more expensive convenience food items and more eating out.

You see that picture? That’s going to make about 20 dinners – meals for weeknights and some leftovers for various lunches. Let’s say five meals person per crockpot full. I spent $200 on the food. This wasn’t cheating by shopping from a semi-stocked home pantry. That sucker was bare. I even had to restock my spices.

Friends, when I do the math, I find it comes out to $2 a meal for people who are not light eaters. Please understand that I’m not claiming I’m feeding the family on $200/month. We’ll spend another $150 or so on food for breakfast, lunches and weekends if we’re not feeling excessively frugal.

That’s still significantly less than I spent on food for December! So yes, doing the prep-ahead thing saves money like you would simply not believe until you do it.

I would also like to point out the picture on the right. My artist husband likes to draw illustrations on the family calendar. He is gently needling me for pointing out that bento are really just food in a box.

I suppose I should have said meals in a box. Doughnut holes are breakfast, right?

Tights Aren’t Pants

Apparently it’s a Thing to analyze people’s garments (okay women’s garments, and we all know women aren’t quite people and need a bit of extra scrutiny to make them fit to exist) and decide whether or not the bifurcation is tights or pants and then get all up in a fit if somone is wearing tights with a shirt.

My take?

I don’t care.  Not because I don’t care about fashion or personal adornment.  I care a great deal about it, enjoy adorning myself to my personal tastes and have a hobby of making clothes, for pity’s sake.

I don’t care because unless someone walks up to me and asks me for a critique of their outfit, I don’t need to spend mental energy analyzing their clothes.   Few people dress to my personal tastes, and I’m okay with that.  The world doesn’t owe me a consistent esthically-pleasing view.  I mean, sure, I’m arrogant and entitlement-minded, but there are limits. 

I have Views on dress appropriateness, oh very yes.   But if you don’t ask me, I’m going to presume my opinion doesn’t count in that instance.


(This post contains language that is not drawing room fashion at all. At all.)

There’s a housecleaning method that many of you may heard of called Unfuck Your Habitat. You could say it’s FlyLady, only not as twee, but that’s not entirely so. It’s really meant for people whose lives may or may not fall into the Husband’n’Kids scope that is most of Flylady’s demographic. This works as well for a teenager living at home as it would for a middle aged woman with that prescriptive Husband’n’Kids.

It’s also not quite as organized. Yes, yes, yes, there are routines that UFYH encourages you to follow, but they’re pretty basic.

Having tried out both methods, I’m going to say that I like one over the other depending on how much time I have to devote to the house. Flylady is for when I am working from home. I can do housework on breaks, I’m devoting more time to home care and in my Suzy Homemaker mode. It’s mode I enjoy, as I like doing the homemaker thing a lot, but it’s not nearly as good for my bank account as some others.

Unfuck Your Habitat is much, much better when I’m 40-50 hours a week in an office. Why? The routines are considerably more scalable to how tired I am one day or another. It’s based on the idea that you should work for 20 minutes, then take a ten minute break – Lather, Rinse and Repeat as desired until you’ve worked as much as you need/want to. UFYH calls this a 20/10.

There’s more of an element of random in it, especially if you buy the app. It’s been available for a while in iTunes, and was just released in Android format. Being an Android user, I was excited to try it out.

As I said, this is not housecleaning app for when you want a Master Plan. =Oh yes, I have and like them, but sometimes you’re too damn tired to think much, and want a little motivation to do a little something.

The app takes this into account with a choice of times for different random challenges.

For instance, you’re wandering around your cluttered, messy house, feeling yucky and low energy – not really into thinking, but really wanting to do something.

Random Timed Challenge to the rescue!

Friends, you’d be amazed at how much you can get done in a paltry five minutes and how motivating it is to see things finished.

And it gets better!

If you do five of these challenges, you can get a star!

Can this be a little silly and childish? Of course. Ideally, the Real Grownup sees what needs doin’ and does it, right?

Yeah, fine. You’re probably right. But deciding I wanted a star and doing five challenges in my kitchen got me a star and a clean kitchen without feeling overwhelmed about it, so who cares? The kitchen is clean.

But suppose you want to make a plan. There might be specific things you want to do on a given day. The UFYH app does take we planners into account, too, with My To-Unfuck List.

Yes, I really do intend to do these things today. And when you do everything on your list, yes, you get a star, too. Goofy, but it does kind of motivate.

The reality is that while a clean house is satisfying, if you’ve got a big mess, you can be overwhelmed. Both Flylady and UFYH have methods to cope with both the overwhelm and keeping it from getting too bad in the future. It really depends on what appeals to you. I like both and think both are worthwhile.

Oh, and buy the app if you’re into UFYH and have a smart phone. You’re supporting female developers. The development team, from the project manager down, were women.

Great Literature

Now, I read a lot.  I know, big secret.  But, online social media being what it is, there are websites that will quantify that.   I tend to track my reading through Goodreads, where you can track your books, list what you’ve read and when you’ve read it, and interact with friends online about what you read.

I try to read about a book a week.  Call it fifty books a year.  More than the average for an American, but I know several people who read more. That’s cool.  I’m happy with how much I read.

Fifty books a year is a lot.  Well, it looks like a lot until you look at what I’m reading.  Some of it is Serious Literature, or Serious Non-fiction.  That tends to be history, biography and cultural analysis, with a bit of self-help and motivational thrown in.

Otherwise?   I read all over the place.  Science fiction, fantasy, sentimental late 19th century stuff that probably had yellow covers when it came out, children’s literature, YA, classics, men’s adventure, horror, you name it.

With that experience, I find myself impatient with people who are necessarily proud of themselves for only being into Great Literature.  Is there such a thing?  God, yes.  But it’s simpler than people think

Great Literature is Great Literature because a lot of people over a long period of time read it, loved it and took it to heart.   Can we analyze why this is so?  Again, God yes.  Can we predict if something new will become such?

Not so much.  It takes time.  Harry Potter is a great example.  People have loved it and it’s a phenomenon.  Will people love it 100 years from now? Dunno. I would say I doubt it.  A lot of its charm is the juxtaposition against late 20th century life.  I could also be dead wrong. People still love Dickens, and a lot of his work requires an understanding of the times.

It’s about the love that people put into it over time that makes Great Literature.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.


Waffling on the LunchBlox

Okay, so bento are becoming more of a thing in the US as we move away from brown bagging it.* To that end, Rubbermaid has come out with some containers called LunchBlox. The one to the right is the sandwich version, but they made a salad-style one and another that’s flat and meant to fit into tall insulated lunch bags.

I do like the idea and think it’s cool that they’re being made. I’m all about bringing your own lunch to work or school, reducing waste with reusable containers and all that smack. And hey, bento is my hobby, so of course portable meal containers are going to be of interest to me.

I’m also not going to buy it.

I’ve been eyeing these damn things for months, contemplating getting one. What finally decided me was a comment I made when I was examining the little containers (stop laughing at me, it’s no worse than stamp collecting) on shopping trip yesterday. I was examining one, and my husband asked me when I was going to stop doing this every week or so and buy the darn thing.

“I want one. Thing is, if I buy it, I’ll use it twice, then go back to my usual bento box. They don’t fit in my laptop tote and wouldn’t fit in a purse, either.”

They have a volume capacity of nearly twice my usual bento –4.5 c to the 2.5c capacity of the bento. (1135ml to 591ml). Sure, if you’re going to have a sandwich for lunch, you’re going to want that. Bread is fluffy and isn’t well suited to the small-capacity bento boxes I use. Salad? Yep, lettuce takes up a lot of room.

But for me, part of the whole appeal of bento is that it is a small, filling meal that doesn’t take up much space. It’s not even necessarily a fascination with Japanese food. I mean, I love rice and all, and onigiri are delicious, but the example of a bento I’m using here is actually has two muffin tin Shepherd’s Pies. The tiers stack on top of each other and are about six inches by three inches when wrapped up to be tossed into a tote or purse.

So, while I applaud the idea that the bento concept is becoming popular in the US, I am still going to be using my more compact containers.

* I can’t recall ever putting a lunch in a brown bag unless we were on a field trip. It was considered wasteful when lunch boxes served perfectly well. Was that more of a thing than I knew?

Ten Bags o’ Dinner, One Hour, and Serious Savings

2013-09-15 11.11.25My husband, son and I took about an hour to make dinner for ten weeknights.  Yep, that’s right.  We were able to do that in an hour.  How?

Well, certainly teamwork counts, but it is also because when we’re really busy and we rely on the crock pot most weeknights. None of us really wants to come home after a long day and cook, and all of us have busy days.

So we take an hour an prep a few Bags o’ Dinner on various weekends.  To make this go smoothly, what we will usually do is choose five recipes that we like and work well in the crock pot, then double them so we’re doing two bags of each.  Spend two or three weekend mornings doing that, and you’re all stocked up with an adequate meal variety for a long time.

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Candles help when chopping onions.

When we decide on meals, I will often make a list of what goes in each recipe so that we can streamline prep work.  Ferinstance, every meal we chose to make had onion in it.  It just made sense to figure out how many onions those ten bags needed and do ‘em all at once.  While this sort of prep work does use up all your various bowls to hold chopped and prepared ingredients, it makes it a lot easier when it comes to assembling those gallon freezer bags.

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Ten Bags o’ Dinner, all in a row

Once everything is chopped, any hamburger is browned and drained (I tried it without the browning step once and found the meals far too greasy), you can start adding ingredients to the bags.  I go with heavy things first like beans or meat.  It helps the bags stand up and makes adding other ingredients much easier.  Ideally, I try to make meals with several ingredients all of them will have, so I would do a hamburger session, then a chicken session.  I didn’t do that this time, and just made two meals based on hamburger and three based on chicken.

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Taco stew and White Chili

Some people use crock pot liner bags and freeze their meals in the shape of their crock.  If that’s what works for you, I see no reason not to run with it.  I don’t do that, though.  I freeze my meals flat.  Since I don’t use a chest freezer, I need to be able to fit all the meals I make in the freezer on top of the fridge.   Flat works better for that.  I am very careful to label what we do.  After it’s frozen, you’ll have a devil of a time telling the difference between three or four tomato-sauce based meals.    Don’t try. Label them.

I usually take a meal out to thaw the night before, then dump it in the crock pot before work in the morning, turn it on low and forget about it until I get home.  Lately, if the meal needs to be served with rice or pasta, my son will take care of making that in time for his father and I get to get home from work.  If you don’t have someone to make these things for you, yes, a little prep work will need to happen before dinner.  Just not much.

So, how do these meals taste?

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Spaghetti Sauce and a Malaysian Chicken Curry

They’re good.  Are they like the most amazing gourmet treats you could possibly sink your teeth into? Of course not.*  Don’t be foolish.  This is basic, everyday dinner -peasant cooking that’s stewed all day, and that’s what it tastes like.  Then again, ratatouille is a peasant dish, and so are many meals that taste pretty damn good when they’ve cooked a long time.  If you insist on gourmet cooking every night, this is not for you.   This is your guardian against fast food because you’re too damn tired to cook.  This is when you don’t want to (or can’t) spend a lot of money on restaurants, but just don’t have the time to make something every night.  For my family, we really either do this or have a rota for who wears the chef’s hat that night. We’d all rather just take an hour and get it done than have to cook every third night.

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Coq au Vin

People keep asking for recipes and the link has a couple.   But really, anything that works in a crockpot will work with this.  Some people say that potato-based recipes don’t work well when you freeze them, but my curry has potatoes in it and does great.  So does the beef stew we made last week.

However, if you need recipes or shopping lists, you can check these links out.  The taco stew came from one of them, though I forget which.  Happy hunting! :)


*Except for the curry.  The curry is awesome.