Enjoy the journey.

Tag: how-to

On the Boil: The Awesomeness of Soup

 

By Gem
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Now Australia is beginning to settle into autumn, and the spring days here in Japan maintain their chill… Now, it is time to sing the song of soup.

O Soup, the nourishing
Soup, the tasty
O, Soup, ye friend of the poor and saviour of the lazy…

… not to mention, Soup, the best way I know of getting rid of whatever’s going leggy in the garden, or leaky in the fridge. Or, Soup, how you can get five serves of vegetables into one meal, let alone one day. Or even Soup, a really good way of impressing lunch guests without really doing anything. 

But none of those really rhyme so well, do they?

Soup and Scheduling

I’ve spoken before about the importance of planning when you’re trying to keep your diet properly balanced. If you’re generally lazy (I am!), busy (I am!), or just someone who can’t always be trusted to make decisions like a grownup (I am!), but you still want to keep everyone properly fed during the week, then you need to organise your kitchen ahead of time.

Soup is central to my day-to-day organisation. If you always keep a jug of soup and a bottle of salad dressing in the fridge, you will always have a lovely, vege-ful meal half organised before you even get home from work.

This is great for those days when you just plain don’t feel like cooking or discover you have unexpected guests on a night you were planning to make scrambled eggs on toast. With about three minutes extra work, your scrambled eggs become an omelette, and you have soup, salad and toast ready to go with it! Salads and soups travel quite happily to work with you and will turn your lunchtime sandwich into a real meal. It also helps you feel better about those days when you haven’t prepared, but you’re already exhausted and just buy a barbequed chicken and some bread rolls on your way home from work. You’re still giving everyone a decent, balanced meal, you’re just not killing yourself to do it at a time when you just don’t have the energy.

Soup is also another arrow in my quiver against the Healthy-Food-Costs-More brigade.

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Getting Organised

Soup and salad dressing are both very simple to make. I shake up my salad dressing in an old squeezy-top mustard bottle that Kin washes out each time we empty it (about every month or so) and store it in the fridge. Just find an old jar, dump in a couple of tablespoons of a nice vinegar (we like a very acidic red wine vinegar), about double that of oil, salt, pepper and any additives that take your fancy (I often add about a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, crushed garlic or some parmesan shavings), shake it up and boom; vinaigrette dressing ready whenever you want it. Just give it another shake when it’s time to squoodge some out.

(Here are some rather more precise recipes if you’re nervous about that sort of thing. Or you can simply buy a nice, low kilojoule salad dressing to keep on hand).

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On the whole, though, it’s even easier to construct a soup than it is to make a salad dressing, and it’s a lot more impressive to visitors.

Basic Soup No 1: Green Velvet

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This soup is Kin’s favourite; it’s also the easiest soup I know! A basic soup like this just needs vegetables and stock. I usually use a liquid chicken stock for my soups, but there are no real rules when it comes to soup. If you are vegetarian, use vegetable stock. If you can’t make liquid stock (I’m not very good at it, either) or afford to buy it, use cubes from the supermarket. Don’t fret too much about getting things right; it’s soup. Soup will forgive you for just about anything.

Ingredients:

1 head of broccoli, divided into small florets, stem chopped
1 bunch of spinach, washed
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
2 largeish potatoes, peeled and chopped into cubes
1.2 litres of stock (or whatever. If you like a thicker soup, use less. If thinner, use more)
Splash of olive oil
Herbs or seasonings (see variation). Today’s herbs for us are oregano, thyme and rosemary.

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Method:

Heat the oil in a saucepan and brown the onion and garlic over a low-medium heat until softened (probably more than five minutes, probably less than ten. Again, it’s soup; don’t worry so much). Add the potato and stir fry for 2-3 minutes (if adding dried herbs, this is a good time. This is also when I add hard herbs like rosemary), then pour in the stock. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for about fifteen minutes, or until the potato is tender. Add the broccoli (and any other fresh herbs), simmer for about four minutes or until broccoli is tender, then add spinach. Stir through and turn off heat.

Liquify soup using a stick blender, food processor, or whatever you have on hand. If you don’t have any of those things, go to an op shop or a pawn shop and buy one. I don’t care how broke you are. Being able to make soup is going to save you more money than a second-hand stick blender could possibly cost you.

Pour soup into bowls and serve, or into containers to store in the fridge. I sometimes pop a swirl of cream in each bowl, but it isn’t necessary. This soup reheats quite happily in the microwave and keeps for over a week in the fridge.

Variation: Leave out the herbs and instead add half a teaspoon of cumin at the end of cooking. Serve each bowl with a blob of natural yoghurtIMG_8409

This soup can also be made with any sort of vegies you have lying around, like carrot, beans, zucchini and any sort of leafy greens. Just simmer hard veg for longer and add leafy veg toward the end of cooking time. If you like a thick soup, add more potato. If you like a thin soup, add more stock. However you make it, it will always be delicious. It will also be cheap and give you a hefty serve of vitamins and fibre with every verdant bowlful.

What other sort of soup recipes would you like to see? Or does anyone have a good recipe of their own? I’ll be back in my garden soon and I’ll be on the lookout for nice ones.

Happy souping!

Gem

XX

Being Awesome Part II

By Gem

Part One is available here.

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Okay, ready for step two?

Stop Feeling Like A Jerk

In Part One, we discussed how a bit of self-criticism can improve your relationship with others. Now we’re going to look at how self-criticism can improve your relationship with yourself. Today’s the day I want you to take a long, hard, critical look at yourself… and love what you see.

 I’m Sorry

Oh god, I think I threw up in my mouth a little. One second….

I’m a bit jaded on the topics of self love and self acceptance just now, because of the nasty, self-adoring fetishism that’s currently passing for both online. There seems to be a real push at the moment to avoid the unpleasant, indulge all desires and cling to every flaw as a virtue; after all, it’s a facet of our totally wonderful selves!

I could not possibly agree less with this nauseating dreck, but will still happily admit that accepting and loving yourself is 100% essential for anyone with the urge to be awesome. You just have to love yourself right.

 The Bad Boss

Have you ever had a really, really horrible boss?

The kind who hang over your shoulder every minute, eager for you to make a mistake? Then, when you do slip up, insult you instead of helping you and make you so nervous and unhappy that you dread going to work? How much did you get done working under a boss like that?

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Conversely, how much more have you achieved with a good boss and a more supportive atmosphere?

The good boss is aware that you have weaknesses (like shyness and inexperience) and uses that knowledge to help you overcome your troubles. They applaud your successes and help you not to fail. In such a supportive environment, it’s easy to achieve and it’s easy to recover from mistakes.

The bad boss is also aware that you have weaknesses and loves to draw attention to them. In fact, if you don’t have enough weaknesses for their satisfaction, they’ll help you to create some (like anxiety and defensiveness). The bad boss ignores your successes, but is thrilled when you fail, rendering that failure more and more likely with every day. In such an antagonistic environment, achievement is almost impossible and recovering from mistakes becomes very, very difficult.

Don’t be the bad boss. Not even to yourself.

 Being The Bad Boss

Being the bad boss is miserable. It’s setting yourself up for self-hatred based in lies. Unhappiness lies to you about what you can do and how you’re perceived by others. Loneliness lies. Fatigue, hunger and boredom lie. And depression lies worst of all.

Being the bad boss is also impractical. People who don’t love themselves don’t get anything done! If you’re constantly focused on what’s wrong (I’m a lazy, awkward frump with no skills, bad breath and a terrible haircut”) then it isn’t really any surprise that you don’t care to do much for such a loser. What would be the point?

This is where the infuriating, self-worshipping gunk plastered all over the internet at the moment is right; you do need to love yourself. And this does include the parts of you that need improving. Where it is wrong, wrong, WRONG, is in suggesting that this is where the journey ends. Loving yourself isn’t important because of internet warm fuzzies. It’s important because of what it makes you DO. You can trumpet to the skies how much you love your scatty brain/ messy house/ alcoholic tendencies, but deep down you know better. Which means that, deep down, you’re still unhappy.

This is why your truthful self-analysis is vital. If you’re being the bad boss, dishonestly focusing your reflection time ONLY on negatives, then you’ll hate yourself and do nothing. But if the way you choose to love yourself also causes you to do nothing, that’s almost as harmful!

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 Being the Good Boss

In the past, I’ve told you not to go around assuming you deserve things. Today, I’m telling you not to assume that you don’t!

Confused? Stick with me, this actually does make sense.

The trouble isn’t really your conviction that you deserve something. It’s what that conviction causes you to do. If people think too much about their rights to things, they lose their impetus for action. They deserve whatever it is, damn it, so other people had better bloody make it happen.

But thinking that they don’t deserve things also destroys a person’s ability to act if they’re hanging over their own shoulder being the bad boss. Kick that bad boss away! This is the time where you do get to think about what you deserve. But I’m not talking about eating pizza or quitting your lousy job. I’m talking about real things, the things that get left out of the Tumblr circle-jerk.

Self-love does not mean indulging your own every whim. Self-love is recognising your desires (for example, good health, enjoyable work and a happy home) and then loving yourself enough to do what is necessary to achieve those desires!

Think of the respect the good boss gives you. They’re encouraging and supportive. They want you to be happy. But they don’t give you a book, a beanbag and a bar of chocolate and tell you to have a nice time. They expect you to work. And you should expect that too!

People work hard to do things like build a house, raise a child, create a business or maintain a marriage. And all of these things have made people very happy. But they also involve a lot of unpleasantness and difficulty. If you’ve thought hard about yourself and your desires, it becomes a lot easier to grit your teeth and get through the hard parts, because you understand the rewards will be worth it.

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 Expecting the Unrealistic

I know it isn’t necessarily that easy to just look at every part of yourself and love it. Most people avoid thinking about their flaws and hence, when they are forced to face them, they seem far more heinous than they would in another person. Relax. Deep down, most of us are pretty dreadful. But luckily, we’re all pretty awesome as well. You fit right in.

Your problem probably boils down to just one thing: Unrealistic expectations. There are two forms of these and both of them are bloody dangerous. There’s Form A, otherwise known as:

 I Hate Myself

Look at all of the awesome things everyone else is experiencing while I’m not doing anything. Everyone I know has a better job/ prettier children/ nicer holidays. I suck.

Form A is what happens when you have unrealistic expectations of yourself. If you don’t understand yourself well enough to know what it is you want from your life, it’s impossible to determine whether or not you’ve achieved it. In that state, it’s easiest to look at what other people are doing as guidance for what you should be doing as well.

Trouble is, all of those people are doing different things! Some of them are travelling the world, some of them are having babies, some of them are volunteering in distant places, some of them are staying home and achieving amazing things in their fields. You can’t possibly keep up with the achievements of absolutely everyone you know, so instead you wander around feeling constantly dissatisfied, no matter how many good things there are in your life.

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Or you could have Form B, otherwise knows as:

 I Hate Everyone Else

I’m an amazing person so good things should happen to me. If they don’t, it’s because society and the people around me are shallow and superficial and only care about money and prominent abdominal muscles.

Form B occurs when you have unrealistic expectations of the world. It’s not wrong to believe good things about yourself. You probably are a truly nice person.

BUT WHO THE HELL ISN’T?

Have you honestly met that many people who aren’t nice? And has the world rewarded them with riches, fame and incredible sex lives? Nope. Because being a nice person is the default setting for life in a human society. It is literally the least we can do.

On the bright side, that means we can usually depend on other people to be nice as well. On the bummer side of the ledger, though, is the fact that there are no special rewards for being nice, other than our fellow humans continuing to allow us to be near them. To get the extra goodies, we need to do extra things.

Some Form B people manage to think that far and try to do the extra things, but don’t necessarily get the goodies they’d like. That’s because their expectations are still unrealistic, like “Once I’m thin, everyone will love me,” or “If I get this law degree, I’ll be rich.” And when these things turn out not to be true, they promptly arrive at Form A via the long road, with a hearty dose of self-loathing to get them started.

Actually, I think most of us tend to combine Form A and Form B, depending on the state of our self esteem at a given time. But whichever one you pick, you’re going to be miserable, and miserable people aren’t very good at loving themselves.

Fear not! None of this is inevitable! Unrealistic expectations of any sort are caused by lack of self-understanding. And that means that you’ll be completely cured by a healthy bout of honest self-analysis (INCLUDING self-criticism). Fortunately, wiping out the unrealistic expectations makes it much easier to love yourself; and loving yourself makes it much easier to get rid of the expectations!

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 Staying Real

 When you are trying to honestly assess who you are and where you’re going, try and do these three things:

1- Look at the big picture

Sometimes we need to be gentle with ourselves. Sometimes it’s better to have a glass of wine, rather than go to an evening class. Sometimes it’s better to rest and let the dog go unwalked or the children unwashed for one day. SOMETIMES.

But please don’t be so gentle with yourself that “sometimes” starts to become “mostly”. If you aren’t moving toward the things you desire, then you’re waiting for someone to given them to you. And is that really very likely?

2-    Measure your progress against yourself

“My friend just ran a full marathon!” Well good for them! But you learned to make Pad Thai, so good for you, too. Don’t judge the worth of your accomplishments by what others do, judge them by how far you’ve come. Your achievements will make you greater, so it’s safe to take joy in those of your loved ones. They do not diminish you.

3-    Don’t make excuses!

It’s okay to not want to do things sometimes, even when those things are good for you. It’s also okay to want to do other things which aren’t good for you. What’s not okay is when you try to sell those feelings to yourself by blaming your long day, sore knee or lazy spouse!

There is no need to try and eliminate your imperfections, or hide them behind a wall of denial and shame. If you examine them in the light, there are usually ways to work with them. But if you’re nurturing your feelings at the expense of your development, that’s not loving yourself. It’s killing yourself.

Basically…

You can’t be awesome if you think you’re rubbish. Accepting and loving who you are is one of the first and most vital steps of your journey.

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Just never forget; it is a journey. And without regular, honest self-criticism, even those first steps are going to be impossible. Don’t criticize yourself too gently; you deserve more respect than that. But don’t dwell on your failings, either. Sure critics can be harsh sometimes. But other times, they give rave reviews.

On with the show!

Gem

XX

The Horror: Repairing A Devastated Garden

By Gem

Those who’ve been Enroute for a while know that I have a decent collection of herbs and vegies potted up on the balcony to help supply our little kitchen. You’ll also know that we recently went away for five days during the peak of summer. This is what greeted me when I returned:

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Yikes! Time for a repair job!

Making a Speedy Recovery

Speed is important right now for two reasons. Firstly, I want to get us eating our own produce again ASAP. Secondly, Shiga might be warm right now, but within a few months the cold will return. To fix your garden or start a new garden at a time like this, you need to think fast and make the right decisions about what to plant.

Here are my selections:

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I’ve picked some fast-growing options for the short term and medium-length options to keep us eating until the snow flies (stupid Northern Hemisphere and its stupid “actual winters”). It’s too late to replant any of the fruiting summer crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, or aubergines. Winter vegetables do exist, but I’m not used to snow OR to balcony gardening, so winter crops are probably beyond me as long as I’m in Japan.

My speedy selections are:

1- Supermarket Herb Pots

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I bought basil, more flat-leaf parsley and two pots of salad herbs (lots of mizuna, not much lettuce from the looks. Bummer).

When money is no object, remember that the best seedlings always come from nurseries. The varieties are better-selected for home gardeners and the plants themselves are properly hardened, so they won’t curl up their little toes and die on you the second the sun touches them.

When you’re going cheap and nasty, though, supermarket herbs are a good option. These plants are intended for consumption rather than planting, so they are not even slightly hardened and will need a lot of cossetting from you. Generally, though, they cost half as much as proper plants and you usually get a lot per pot.

I gave my planters a very, very good soaking (seriously, the soil had gone badly hydrophobic, so I had to dig through every centimetre of soil and mix water through it. An easier way to do this is to simply purchase a soaking agent to help your soil absorb and retain water.) Then I planted the seedlings on an extremely overcast day and soaked them again. If the day had been sunny, I would have used pieces of cardboard to shield the plants.

2 – Asian GreensIMG_1176

Super cheap (because they grow from seed) and super-speedy, Asian greens are the shiznit. The seedlings will be established in just a few days and you can go from planting to cropping in just weeks. This speed and low cost also makes them a good option if you’re into microgreens.

These little guys are also TOUGH and will take some fairly serious abuse from you as seedlings (although you’ll want to start treating them nice when they get older, so that they’ll crop well for you). I chose Kokurakuten (or spinach mustard) as well as Pak Choi and direct-planted them. My favourites are usually Choy Sum and Tatsoi, but I didn’t find those here.

3 – Tomato CuttingsIMG_1179

“But Gem!” I hear you cry, “I thought you said it was too late to plant fruiting crops! Why are you recommending tomatoes at a time like this?”

It is too late to PLANT tomatoes, yes. But for a flush, late season crop, just when your tomato plants are getting a bit tired, tomato cuttings are brilliant (thank you, Jackie French!). The above picture is a cutting I took just a few weeks ago; it’s already flowering and even has a spray of fruit.

The best way to take a tomato cutting is to select one of your best performers of that season and then mulch it REALLY heavily, or bury the lower branches in soil. Then, once some roots have started to form, yank that branch off and replant it. Bingo, brand new tomato plant, eight times the size of any seedling you could buy and one hundred percent ready for some serious, tomato-growing action.  If I hadn’t already taken cuttings of my cherry tomato, I would do my best to find a surviving bit and do it now. They really do grow that fast!

4 – ViolasIMG_1178

Tough, colorful and fast growing violas are always a good flower when you’ve got a bare spot or two and you’re in a hurry. In Australia, my usual go-to options are huge pansy-faces and heartsease, but these look similar enough to get me by. You can plant violas almost any time at all, and as long as you take the most basic care of them, they will just keep on blooming for you. That includes the winter months of this stupid frozen hemisphere, although you’ll want to get them indoors before Christmas. The only better option I know is alyssum, but that is harder to put in a vase (also, I can’t find any).

5 – Mid-term vegiesIMG_1183

These are still reasonably fast-growing options, just not up to the insane speed-levels of asian greens.

The speedier ones are lettuce and spinach (both for salads and for cooked dishes). I’ve planted these guys in seed-raising pots and will transplant them once they’re a reasonable size.

Slower-growing, are beans and chrysanthemum greens. In warm weather (which this still is), the beans will shoot within a few days of planting and should crop for at least a little while before the weather gets too cold. The chrysanthemum greens take a moderate amount of time to grow, but are very cold-resistant and should survive the first part of winter, even if they don’t get much bigger once the weather turns cold.

Luckily, despite heavy fatalities, there were some survivors, which means that my selections were probably a little different than if I had had no remaining assets in my garden.  My tomato cutting, some herbs (thyme, oregano, rosemary, chives, flat leafed parsley, lemon balm and sage), some flowers (pink cosmos, morning glory and New Guinea impatien) and, surprisingly the zucchini, although the early crop has been sacrificed. All of these plants look like hell, but they’re already on the way to making a recovery.

I still weep for the fallen (especially the lettuce and my beautiful little miniature sunflowers!), but at least the damage has been repaired as far as I’m able and we won’t have to wait until spring to have fresh food!

What are your speedy go-to crops?

Gem

XX

Being Awesome Part I

By Gem

You ready? Step one:

Stop Acting Like a Jerk

“I do not act like a jerk. I am a very nice person!”

Was that your response to that heading? Well you probably are a very nice person. But you may still act like a jerk. Acting like a jerk is easier than you think and it’s a condition that both Lazy and Busy People are likely to suffer from.

To illustrate:

Do you ever feel as though no matter how much you give, people still want more?

“But I worked so hard cleaning up the kitchen this morning, I DESERVE to relax for one afternoon!” Really? Maybe that’s true. But why was the work so hard, O Lazy One? Was it because you were doing an extra thorough job (skirting boards, windows, under the fridge) after a big cooking event like a party? Or was it because you left the dirty dishes for almost a week and hadn’t mopped the floor since January?

Guess what? Other people won’t reward you for completing a difficult job, when you are the reason it was difficult.

Do you ever feel as though people don’t appreciate your efforts?

“But I always work later than everybody else! I don’t DESERVE to be hassled about one late report!” Possibly that’s the case. But why do you stay later, O Busybody? Do you have too many tasks to complete during your working hours (despite everyone else managing just fine)? Or do you spend hours on pointless activities with no aim in mind? Activities like creating seminars with no learning outcomes? Writing 1000 word emails to colleagues, when one line with a link would have sufficed? Spending two hours smearing a grubby cloth over every window, so that someone now has to re-polish EVERY-SINGLE-PANE?

Guess what? Other people won’t credit you for work they can’t see the relevance of. Especially if you haven’t completed work they do see as relevant.

Perhaps you feel as though people aren’t trying to understand the real you?

“But I’m a good person. I shower every day, remember my mother’s birthday and feel really bad about third world problems. I DESERVE to have people like me/sleep with me/talk to me at parties.”

This one could be Lazy or Busy, but either way, guess what? Other people won’t credit you for your virtues until they’ve seen some evidence.

If you are someone who tends to think about what you deserve, there are two things you need to know. The first is that “just one” never means just one, and the person you are talking to knows it, even if you don’t.

The second is that you are acting like a jerk.

I’m… I’m what?

It’s okay. Acting like a jerk doesn’t mean you ARE a jerk. It just means that you’ve been a bit too focused on yourself up to now. Don’t feel bad about it; you didn’t know any better and from here on in, we’re going to work on that. Okay? Deep breath.

Not acting like a jerk: 101

Basically, not acting like a jerk means accepting and fulfilling your responsibilities; including your responsibilities to yourself. This is the first step toward awesomeness, but unfortunately, it’s not a fast or easy one.

To accept your responsibilities you first have to work out what they are. And that can be hard. It can be especially hard to dissociate responsibilities from the tasks you need to complete to fulfill them.

For example: You may have the personal responsibility of making certain that your clothes are clean. You can achieve this in several different ways. You could:

  1. Keep a limited wardrobe and do your washing every couple of days
  2. Purchase a more extensive wardrobe and do your washing once a week
  3. Keep a limited wardrobe and go to extra lengths to keep your clothing fresh
  4. Arrange a washing service to pick up your dirty clothing and deliver it after washing

You get the idea? I’m sure you could come up with even more ways to discharge this responsibility, depending on time, disposable income and personal inclination. In each case, though, the task you complete (washing your clothing, calling the washing service, buying new clothes) is not your final responsibility. It is merely the means to fulfill it. And that brings us to the next (possibly most important) point:

Effort doesn’t matter. Results do.

Actually, that isn’t 100% correct. Effort is very important in terms of your personal development. But the key word there is personal. It is unfair to expect other people to give you credit for effort the effort you put in, if the results they see are unsatisfactory.

That is why no-one is impressed with you for organizing the stationary drawer, even if it did take you two hours. No one asked for that. What they did ask for was for you to serve customers and wipe the sink in the break room. Which you didn’t do. Because you were expending so much effort on something else.

Effort doesn’t matter. Results do.

That’s also why your housemates still want you to wash the dishes, even after you’ve spent the entire day finally cleaning your crap out of the living room. The mess was yours. You have now cleaned it. Congratulations. You have now achieved the state that the room would have been in had you never entered it. You are NOT in positive credits for that. You are not even at neutral, since they had to live in your mess for a week. The net result of you living in that house is still a negative one, even if today’s cleaning did take a lot of effort.

Effort doesn’t matter. Results do.

Okay, those two were pretty extreme examples. But if you are someone who tends to feel unappreciated, overworked or misunderstood (remember the first three examples?) then I’m afraid it is quite possible that you are actually the one acting like a jerk.

Turning effort into result

This is why you need to negotiate your responsibilities, with yourself and with those around you; spouses, colleagues, parents, whoever. Not specific tasks (e.g. Put away the magazines) but responsibilities (e.g. Keep the coffee table clear). If you make it clear that you are negotiating on that basis, people are much more likely to leave you to complete tasks in your own way.

This makes it easier for you to set conditions (e.g. I will wash only those dishes which have been properly scraped and rinsed) and delegate tasks (I will grow sufficient potatoes for household consumption, if you deliver two loads of cow manure to the back yard every winter). This also makes it easier to say “No,” to new responsibilities that others may want you to take on, as well as protest when another person does not fulfill their own.

These discussions are not a one-off event (particularly the ones you have with yourself). As well as negotiating new responsibilities, you will sometimes need to renegotiate or discard old ones (e.g. I used to make your lunch, but you’re seventeen now. Make your bloody own.). And yes, there will be times when you’re unable to fulfill all of your responsibilities. So long as we take it one day at a time, and develop a long enough history of good results (rather than just “doing our best”), people will excuse our off days.

But what do I get?

“You’ve told me how to make other people happy, Gem. But what’s my reward?”

You know you deserve a kicking just for asking that, right? But I guess you need to know. Your reward will actually be 100% selfish and, I guarantee, the best thing ever.

Your reward will be getting what you want.

If you’re a Lazy Person? No more guilt. Ever again. No shame, no avoiding people. And you’ll never be afraid to ask other people for things because you will know that you’ve earned them.

For the Busy? No more stress. Appreciation of your efforts, rather than work piled on work, without getting ahead. No more sudden demands that seem to come out of nowhere.

Not being a jerk is a difficult road. But it’s the only one that, in the long term, will actually let you have what you want. Remember, jerks think about what they deserve. Awesome people think about what they can achieve. If your goal is a free afternoon to spend drinking tea and eating biscuits, stop worrying about how much you deserve it. Start thinking about what you need to do to get it.

I’ll put the kettle on!

Gem
XX

Coffee Body Scrub

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WE-ARE-SO-TIRED!

Kin can’t sleep at night because of the heat so, of course, I can’t sleep either. In the morning, when it is a little cooler, I can’t sleep because of the bright sun so, of course, nor can Kin! We’re a very sad and weary pair right now and have been for about a month.

On the other hand, our next-door neighbours have a new baby that, no matter which one of us is awake, at whatever time, we always seem to hear crying. That’s put our problems into some perspective; at least we’re getting some sleep! That couple must be so exhausted, I’m sure they’re close to crying as much as the baby.

So, after a bad night’s sleep and a hard day’s work, what better way is there to rejuvenate myself than with a lovely, home-made coffee (thank you, Kin!) and a lovely homemade coffee body scrub?

Recycling Coffee Grounds

Usually, Kin’s used coffee grounds end up in the same place as my used tea leaves; fertilising our leafy greens! Recently, though, I’ve started swiping them for a different purpose. I don’t know if it’s a Japan thing or just my local area, but I have searched far and wide for a body scrub with no success at all. I DID find one tiny little tube of salt scrub which, not to mention how expensive it was, would be an absolute nightmare for my dry, cranky skin. So I’ve started making my own!

To start with I just scoured myself with the plain grounds, but after a bit of thinking, a bit of Googling and a bit of experimentation, I’ve come up with a recipe that makes me fairly happy.

Coffee Body Scrub

I’ll do this in ratios, because not everyone uses Australian measures:

– 1 part coffee grounds

– 1 part brown sugar (what they call “brown” here is more like the stuff we call “raw” in Oz)

– 1/3 part olive oil

– Cocoa powder and vanilla essence.

I just mix all of these things together in a bowl, pop it into a little bathroom pot with a lid and voila! A gorgeous, extremely cheap scrub that works really, really well.

IMG_5634This scrub is honestly a bit too rough for the face (although I have no choice, so I’m using it anyway, just very gingerly). But for the bod, it’s perfect and it smells absolutely divine. I chuck the cocoa and vanilla in there just to add to the scent (it stays on the skin so nicely). I know that cocoa flavenoids are supposed to be beneficial for skin health, but I’m pretty sure you need to ingest the stuff, not just slap it on yourself and hope. Ditto topical caffeine from the coffee; I’m pretty sure it needs to stay on the skin, not just get rubbed on and rinsed off.

This scrub would probably be really luxurious if you had sweet almond oil, or glycerine or all sorts of other things that I wouldn’t be able to get here. But even with plain old olive oil, I’m happy.

For those manly folk who are scoffing at my recipe, I have one word for you: Solvol. But home-made, recycled-ingredient Solvol. Interested now? Every bearded eco-warrior needs something to get the bicycle grease or planting dirt off their hands. It’s also good for beard dandruff or product buildup in your hair (although warning to blondes; we also discovered it will stain pale things, including hair!).

IMG_5636I love finding new ways of using things and this scrub has been a real winner. And even if I’m taking some of the lettuce’s coffee grounds away from them, as long as this weather keeps up, Kin will keep producing plenty more! Are there any other uses for coffee grounds or tea leaves that I’m missing?

Gem

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The Wonderful Weekend – and – Gem Gets Bossy

EDIT: Up until this point, En Route had been a forum for Gem to complain bitterly about the school lunches provided in Nagahama. This entry marks the point at which the two of us started journal-keeping; the complaints are still available at Kyuushockers.

By Gem

Kin and I wound up doing some fabulously exciting things in May. Clubbing in Osaka, parties on boats, capsule hotels and trips to Gifu, not to mention lots and lots of travel to all sorts of wonderful festivals.

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Trouble is, we’re just not fabulously exciting people. We had a fantastic time at all of these events (which is why we keep getting invited, heaven help us) but we tend to need a bit of time between parties to recharge. This weekend, we did hardly anything… okay, we did go to the firefly festival in Moriyama  and we also did a four-hour bike ride yesterday, but that was just the two of us and was strictly local. This weekend has been recovery time. Time to do our housework, time to exercise (hence the bike ride), time to spend together. And we’re both feeling so much better for it. I’m about to plan our menu for the week, Kin is making me a pot of tea and the breadmaker is grunting contentedly to itself in the corner (it’s name is Oinky; when it starts kneading, it sounds like a relaxed truffle pig). When the time comes to go back to school tomorrow, I’ll be ready.

This Week’s “Awwwwww”

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This girl’s writing practice sheet might be the cutest thing I’ve seen this year. My favourite is the one in the pool.

This Week’s Nightmare Creation

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From the same fourth grade classroom. I’m not 100% sure who’s responsible for this one, but I have a few guesses.

Time at home this weekend has given me a chance to do something else; something I’m about to become demanding about.

Starting Out in Summer – Or – Do Some Gardening, You Lazy Tossers

Southern hemisphere friends can ignore this (although if it’s anyone from my Newcastle, I KNOW you can still get some broccoli and herbs in, not to mention English spinach). I’ve been bossy about this before, as I recall and I’m about to get bossy again. Whether you’re a lazy person or a busy person, there is something all of you need to do with your time:

Grow some bloody herbs

Do it!

There.

For a Lazy Person, having a few herbs and greens about the place takes so much stress out of the “Oh crap, people have come over and I have a loaf of bread and two tomatoes. What the fuck am I going to give them?” supply situations our people are so prone to. Toast that bread, chuck some chopped tomato on top with a bit of torn basil and some black pepper and BOOM! Bruschetta! (of sorts…) 2013-06-09 14.12.56

For the Busy Person, it makes even more sense; the investment-return ratio for gardening is better than anything I can think of except regular exercise and the biggest cost will be your time (which you always have too much of anyway).

But I Don’t Have A Garden!

Location isn’t that important for either group; I’m one of the laziest people I know, and I’m still sprouting seeds indoors and bunging stuff in scavenged pots on a balcony where my watering can freezes in winter and the surfaces scorch in summer. If you have anything outdoors at all, a courtyard, a wide windowsill, a veranda, you have NO excuse not to grow a few things to make life easier, no matter how lazy you are.

(Unless you don’t ever cook, in which case you’ll get me started on a whole new naggy lecture).

In the Summer Time…

Most of the northern hemisphere has warmed up bee-yoo-tifully by now, which means that it’s the perfect time for a lazy entrance into the world of gardening. Anything you plant now will grow like the blazes, giving you that nice, speedy bit of positive reinforcement so necessary for we lazy folk beginning an endeavour. 2013-06-09 14.22.28

My pots are filled with an assortment of winter survivors (like chives, that lurk underground and don’t seem to mind freezing) and spring additions, although I have a lot of work to put in for the summer veg in the near future. The spinach, broccolini and lettuce are producing, we should have our first zucchini and beans this week and I have a new batch of seeds ready to pop in any time. My summer garden is well underway. Let’s start on yours!

Step One – PLAN

What do you want to grow? Of course, everything; but when you consider the time and space you have available, you might want to start limiting your options a bit.

Things to consider are:

–          Ease of growing (which is one reason why I recommend starting with herbs; they don’t make unreasonable demands about sunlight, water and weed-free soil AND they grow much faster than many vegetables)

–          Ease of access (is this something you can buy cheaply and easily anyway? I’m not growing aubergines, because they are one of the cheapest vegetables available here)

–          Availability of space (not just in your garden, but in your food-storage. To me, it is very much worth growing lettuce, just because my fridge is too small to always keep it on hand. Ditto green onions, because they wilt in the crisper. A potato crop, on the other hand, would give me a HUGE storage problem)

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Storage is easier in the garden than the fridge; and it’s always there when you need it!

So plan, review and, for the love of Inari, START SMALL. If you get over-enthused and fill up every bed or container you have in the place, it’s likely to all become a bit much the first time you have a bad week and can’t water. A couple of basil plants and some thyme in a pot is a perfectly reasonable beginning and you can keep building from there. I started Spring with chives, lettuce, basil, thyme, oregano, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, broccolini, cucumbers and beans. This has expanded to include zucchini, cherry tomatoes, lemon balm, dill, sage and pak choy and is likely to expand still further.

The other reason to start small is for continued cropping. If you check my balcony photos, you’ll notice quite a few empty pots, or gaps in the current ones. These are for future crops of lettuce and beans, which will be planted a few weeks from now, to ensure a continued supply. If you’ve already filled up all the available space, you’ll have one big harvest, then nothing for a couple of months.

Step Two: PURCHASE (or scavenge or whatever)

The major things you’ll need are containers and soil. (People who have some actual ground to garden in can ignore this bit, but you’d better go out and start preparing a bed. More on this in future posts, if anyone’s interested.)

Containers are fairly easy; if you’re cashed up you can buy some really lovely ones, but even if you’re broke, acquiring containers is as simple as going to your local fruit and vegie shop and requesting their used Styrofoam boxes. Broccoli boxes are best, but don’t forget to cut drainage holes in the bottom! Soil is a little more tricky; if you’re lucky enough to have gardening friends, they may be kind enough to share their compost with you (although don’t bet on it; compost is precious) but to be honest, you’re probably just going to have to buy some. Yes, it’s expensive, but if you work one container at a time, it shouldn’t murder your budget too badly and you will soon start saving grocery money. I purchased the two classy-looking green containers, but scavenged the rest from a neighbour’s large trash pickup.

Fertiliser could also be useful, but isn’t essential. A nice organic liquid one is good for pots, but there are some good granule-types available too, which have the added advantage of being slow release. If you can’t afford fertilisers to begin with, don’t worry about it. Herbs are also lovely and undemanding about nutrition, whatever the label on their seed-packet tries to tell you.

If you’re really broke, apparently human urine can be a good fertiliser for balcony plants, but it needs to be VERY dilute; one part urine to ten parts water. You also need to be sure that there aren’t any nasties in your urine; not simply diseases like hepatitis, but any bits and

Saladcat

There’s WHAT on the rocket?

pieces left over from what you ingest. For example, I use hormonal contraceptives, so there’s no way I can try this out.  To be honest, it’s probably safer not to pee near plants you plan to eat, just to avoid the gross-out factor if you realise halfway through your salad that you forgot to wash the lettuce. This method should be fine for flowers and other ornamentals, though.

Step Three: PLANT

The fun bit! But what should you plant, seedlings or seed?

Growing plants from seed is far, far cheaper and can often give healthier, better-growing plants, especially for ones prone to transplant shock. It’s a good way for the experienced or time-rich gardener to go.

HOWEVER: if you’re a first-time grower, I recommend starting with seedlings and potted herbs. You’ll see much faster results and gain much faster satisfaction. We’re lazy people, remember; we need quick rewards to keep ourselves going, especially in the early days.  A couple of herbs and a punnet of lettuce and you’ll be eating your own salad in under a month, which is a wonderful bit of positive reinforcement.

I’ve gone with half and half; the beans, cucumber and a lot of the lettuce have been grown from seed, while most of the herbs, the broccoli and four lettuce plants were purchased.

There you go. You’re ready. Omelette aux fines herbes is within your grasp within the next month; IF you get started now.

Get growing!

Gem

XX

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