UFYH

(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! :)

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*Except for the curry.  The curry is awesome. 

 

 

No Wonder I Love Bento

It’s no wonder I love bento.

To the left was my lunch box when I was in 7th and 8th grades. I don’t remember if I asked or it or if my mom, knowing my tastes, just got it for me.

I loved this lunch box so very much. You could put a sandwich in it that wouldn’t be all squished at lunchtime, and there were these little containers you could put other food in — a salad (which I often did. I like salads), cut up fruit in the little container, but best of all, you could freeze a drink in the cup and have it be cold with slushy bits come lunchtime, even in an un-airconditioned Virginia June.

But I also loved it because it was a little gadgety. All the pieces fit into the box perfectly, and the tops seals so the food wouldn’t mix. I was a picky little heathen as a youngster, and would have found the food mixing in my bento of my middle age horrifying.

I was once pondering with my husband whether or not I would have made bento had I known about them when I was a teenager. I think, in the 1970s orange Tupperware goodness of my youth, I have an answer.

I would have made bento. I would have adored making them, been proud of them and found them just as much of a respite in the middle of a difficult day as I do now. In fact, I can recall those neatly-organized lunches and the pleasure I found in them quite clearly.

Truly, it’s no wonder I started making bento as soon as I encountered the concept.

Back to School Bento, Bento Back to Basics

These bento boxes were the family lunches yesterday, as my son went back to school for his senior year.

The rolls weren’t really sushi, but tiny onigiri rolls. Tasty as onigiri always are, but bite-sized. I suppose at some point this year, I’ll make a bento-friendly maki roll, but this wasn’t it.

The yellow box has hot dog octopi as the meat, per my son’s request. The other boxes have chicken bits cooked in garlic and wine.

Then, I filled in the corners with various raw veggies and fruits I knew the family would like.

Is this a particularly special bento? Nope. Just lunch, though hopefully moderately attractive and appetizing when one opens the box.

And that’s the point.

A friend of mine bought his daughter a bento box recently. His wife (also a friend, though we’ve not met in RL yet) was looking for bento recipes, which kind of prompted this post.

Bento recipes are fine, but to make bento, you don’t really need recipes so much as you need to have a bit of a philosophy about how to make the food.

So, here my personal bento principles. (If you like them, awesome. If not… I’m not cooking for you, and you’re dealing with your food, not mine).

  1. 4:3:2:1

    Like everything else, this is a basic guideline. My usual bento meal is about four parts carb (rice, bread or pasta), three parts protein (most often meat or eggs, but sometimes beans), three parts veggies (usually raw, unless I’m making a leftover bento) and one part sweet (this means fruit).

  2. Fresh is best

    Most of my bento use fresh veggies, preferably in season. Yes, I know apple season hasn’t started yet. But fresh veggies taste so very good, don’t they?

  3. Lots of color from the food, itself.

    I like a colorful bento, but I like the colors to come from the food. Bright red peppers, sweet yellow tomatoes, lush green broccoli… I’ve heard it said the more colorful your meal the more nutritionally balanced. I have no idea, but bright color contrasts make it easier to do the next step.

  4. Arrange it to look nice.

    Yes, the elaborate bento that are animals and rock stars and video game characters are awesome. I don’t generally go further than octopus hot dogs and apple bunnies, myself. But I do give a little (very little) thought to presentation. It doesn’t have to be much. Just try to think a little about symmetry, color contrast, and shape. If you do this, usually something will suggest itself to you as you arrange your food.

  5. It must taste good at room temperature.

    Ideally, one does not refrigerate or reheat bento. It behoves one, then, to go heavy on the salt and spices. There’s a reason traditionally-made Japanese bento are very salty! Salt is a natural preservative. However, cold chicken is tasty, especially if strongly flavored. Onigiri (rice balls) tend to be an acquired taste, but are all the better for a strongly-flavored bit of tasty morsel at the center. Pasta? You’ll want to use a little oil and flavoring to make something pasta salad-ish. You can’t go wrong with raw fruits and veggies. If you’re worried about food safety, Maki over at Just Bento has a great article about bento food safety.

  6. It should be food you like.

    I love onigiri and lots of other Japanese food. You may not. In that case, just don’t make bento with rice balls. It’s no big deal. Do you like burritos? A burrito is a great basis for a bento, and a big family favorite at my house. What about wrap sandwiches? If you make a wrap rolled tightly enough, you can cut it into slices kind of like maki sushi rolls, which fit great into any box you’d use for a bento box. (And no, you don’t have to get the Japanese boxes!) Any casserole type dish you’re fond of can be baked in a muffin tin, which also fit well in most bento-sized boxes – meatloaf, mini quiche, or a mini shepherd’s pie, they all do well in bento.

     

The point is, though, that making miniature lunch boxes, which by the way, if packed right really are filling, don’t have to be complex. Nevertheless, they can be a lot of fun!

Immersion Reading

Amazon has this new thing called “Immersion reading” for some of its books.  The basic deal is if you buy a book, you have the option of buying an accompanying audiobook for a very small fee and then reading along with the book as it is narrated.  The syncing mechanism will sync the narration with the text, so you can switch between audiobook and written word with ease.

Me?  I like the concept but it’s more of a way to get cheap audiobooks than it is a different way to read a book.  I read, quite literally, over ten times faster than people speak. To follow along in a book with a narration would be a serious irritant.  I’m more likely to use it switching between listening and reading.  Or would, if I didn’t download audiobooks and physically add them to an iPod that doesn’t use an Audible app, and won’t sync in any case.  Listening to a book on my smartphone means a heavy device that has too little battery.  I listen for hours at a time while I’m doing housework and stuff.

I still like the concept.  A book in French?  It’d help immensely with my language comprehension.  For someone trying to bring reading skills up to scratch (child or adult), it’s a great idea.  But since it works on Kindle Fires and the smartphone apps, I’m dubious that it will be used much except among the affluent, and maybe I’m wrong, but I’m going to have to assume that most adults who can afford to buy this stuff read just fine.

Has anyone else tried this and what do you think of it?