The Routine of Clean

Who likes cleaning? That’s right, a whole lot of nobody. At least, not me. Has anyone else had the amazing realization, after moving out of their parents’ home, that the consequences of not cleaning can literally pile up? They pile up on the dining table and kitchen counters, they pile up on the bathroom floor, the bedroom floor, and they start piling up on all available surfaces…

I moved out of my parents’ house in college, and I had some roommates. I never got the hang of doing laundry regularly, but I was pretty on top of the dishes. Because old dirty dishes… gross. But my roommate was also good about doing dishes, so our kitchen never spiraled out of control or anything, even if I got bogged down with something else.

But once I got married, I realized just how quickly the entire house can get out of control. And for five years now I’ve really really tried to keep it clean. And at some point removing dirty dishes from the table, washing pots and pans, running the dishwasher, all became part of a mindless routine, instead of out-of-the-way tasks I would put off as long as possible. That’s what I realized last night when I came home from a full-day Toastmasters conference.

It’s not like I left the place impeccably clean, but there weren’t any dirty dishes laying around, no dirty pans, and the dishwasher was empty. The dishwasher was still empty… but the sink was full, the stove was covered (with used pans), and there were plates and bowls in every room, on side tables, ottomans, chairs, and the dining table.

I was a tiny bit annoyed at all the dishes I was just about to have to clean up, but it took just a couple of minutes to get everything washed and put away, and I realized that I do this every day, and for the most part keep the dishes under control. So hooray! I’m a success!

A Halal Meat Home

Even after converting to Islam, I still followed an opinion that largely allowed meat even if it wasn’t dhabihah or halal, which is to say properly slaughtered according to Islam. But my husband insisted on hand-slaughtered halal meat, so after getting married, my home became a halal meat home; we only buy and cook halal meat.

It’s not a huge deal–we buy our meat from a local butcher shop, which does limit selection a little bit. And there are very few prepared meats or frozen meats we can buy. I guess that’s just more encouragement to eat healthier food at home, and avoid processed foods.

If Butterball does indeed sell certified halal turkeys (according to the video), or someone else does, then it means I might get to try making a turkey myself this Thanksgiving. (Is Thanksgiving halal?) Normally I’ve spent the day with my family in North Carolina, but this year I won’t be able to travel home. If I decide to celebrate it here, and invite some friends over, bring on the turkey!

When Recipes Aren’t Enough

My husband has told me many times how much he wants me to ‘get into cooking.’ When I first got married, I could barely cook only a handful of dishes. And most of what I could easily cook already or from a recipe was not healthy–cookies, cakes, etc. I really had very little experience cooking–and it’s taken a long time before I’ve been able to make any real progress toward being a better cook.

I really feel cooking is a responsibility I should be able to cover, most of the time. And especially recently, I’ve wanted to be able to prepare meals at home because they are healthy. And it works well with the recent healthy eating mantra, to “Eat real food,” because if I’m cooking myself I can control the ingredients. Thus I can avoid processed foods, added sugars, artificial ingredients, and even GMOs if I wish.

The challenge is learning how to cook. It seems like it should be simple, because cookbooks are everywhere. Cooking blogs are everywhere. There are blogs devoted to cooking, TV shows–entire channels!–and now even movies (Julie & Julia, anyone?) on the subject. But the abundance of recipes does not make it simple, not for a beginner. I need a bit more help.

For instance, I have wanted to learn how to cook a butternut squash soup. I’ve tried it a few times, different places, and have always enjoyed it. So I look up a recipe, like this fairly simple one, and set about collecting the ingredients. But for even such a simple recipe as this soup, I had two big problems on the ingredients list: (1) cubed butternut squash, and (2) chicken stock.

For the butternut squash, I obviously expected this to be an ingredient–but having never cooked it before myself, I didn’t know anything about it. Specifically, I didn’t know how to pick it, peel it, cut it, or even what to do with the seeds. That’s where Youtube came in very handy. I don’t always like to learn an entire recipe from Youtube, but something when it comes to something specific like how to cut a butternut squash, it’s the perfect solution. And sure enough, I found a short video explaining just that!

The other problematic ingredient was the chicken stock. As a beginner cook, I have never made chicken stock. I still don’t know how to do it. Now, chicken stock is one of those things you can buy already made, as is chicken broth. But since all the food I cook for my family is halal, I wasn’t comfortable buying pre-made chicken stock. So I looked up a few instructional videos and guides, but didn’t feel ready to give it a go yet. I decided to go ahead with the soup by substituting a vegetarian vegetable broth.

Unfortunately, I added a bit too much pepper, which overwhelms the flavor of the squash, but otherwise the dish turned out alright. I’d like to try again with proper chicken stock, once I’m ready to learn that lesson. One thing at a time. But if a recipe alone isn’t enough–a youtube instructional might fill in the gaps.

Any recommendations for youtube channels good for beginner cooks, looking to learn some basic skills? Share in the comments!

Rule 1: Get Dressed

When I first mentioned this ‘rule’ to my husband, he was at first surprised but then immediately realized that I do this every single day!

And it almost seems silly to mention it because–doesn’t everyone get dressed in the morning? But it might be tempting, especially for someone who is staying home, to stay in one’s pajamas or lounge clothes. But even though I am a “stay at home” mom, I don’t stay in my pajamas–I get dressed every day. I get dressed like I’m going to a job, or going out shopping, or meeting friends. I have the luxury of dressing “casual” (for me that means lots of jeans) but I’m always ready to go. Once I’m dressed I feel a bit more professional, like I’m not going to just lounge around.

There’s also a system out there for would-be homemakers, from FlyLady, and the very first “baby step” she recommends, after cleaning your sink, is getting “dressed to shoes” every day. Meaning, she wants you to actually put on lace-up shoes every day. Like you’re really ready to work. And there’s a benefit to that–if you need to step outside to take out the trash or something, you’re ready. And you’ve got supportive footwear on, since you’ll probably be on your feet a while. But most people I know take their shoes off inside for cleanliness, and most of the time I just wear some Crocs slippers instead of shoes. (I have had some problems with my feet though, when I do need to wear shoes pretty much all the time.)

When I do need to step outside, I often need to add something else–a headscarf, maybe a coat, and probably shoes. I don’t normally wear make-up, and don’t have to do too much with my hair since I wear a scarf. But just getting fully dressed gets me started for the day. So that’s my first rule–get dressed.

Of course there are exceptions–when I’m really, really sick. It’s happened a couple times, I came down with pneumonia, and spent the day laying down anyway. But those exceptions, in this case, just prove the rule. Now if any little things come up–need to take out the trash, get the mail, run to the store, or take my son out to the park. He also has to get dressed every day–so I figure, I’m also setting a good example.

Rule 1: Get dressed!

Amy’s Rules

I was reminded of a funny thing–the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition from Star Trek. This race of aliens had a certain code for doing business, a code comprised of a number of rules. But I have some rules–some I live by, and others I try to.

For instance, getting dressed every morning (and not lounging in my PJ’s all day) is a rule for me. It makes me ready for the day, every day. And I try to always thank people for gifts–but it’s a real shortcoming of mine that I frequently forget to do so within a reasonable time frame.

But in the last few years, I’ve embarked on a new path–that of a homemaker and mom. I spent many years in college earning an engineering degree, of which I am tremendously proud, but it doesn’t define my life right now. Instead, I’m doing a job for which I have no experience to rely on, nor any training to assist me. So making sense of my life right now is easier with some rules. My rules are my routines and my steps to improve myself; they’re my goals and my lessons. I’m learning on-the-job, so to speak, even some of the most basic household tasks. I’m learning how to cook, how to clean, how to sew, how to raise a child, how to be a better servant of God.

I want to use the blog to share what I learn–firstly so I can reflect and continue to improve, and also for anyone else who might benefit from the same lessons. Here goes…