#704 Urawaza by Lisa Katayama

Urawaza by Lisa Katayama Urawaza by Lisa Katayama

Urawaza is the Japanese art of finding a way to make more of what you have. If you have rice water, figure out something to do with it.

Lisa’s book is a list of Urawaza. Each Urawaza has an illustration, but it also has a scenario(sometimes unlikely, sometimes very realistic) for why you would need an Urawaza, how to do the Urawaza and why it works. For example, you can lessen the shock you get from getting out of a hot tub and into the cool air before sucking on a couple of ice cubes beforehand. You won’t experience quite the same shock because you’ll have cooled down at least a little.

You can get coffee stains out of carpet with spinach water and another ingredient.

What I liked

I lived in Japan for almost three years so I like to learn things about Japan. I have never heard of the concept of Urawaza, but it definitely makes sense. You take a problem and you solve it with the things you have on hand, or the things you might have thrown away. The rest of us would call these “life hacks.” There are entire websites dedicated to life hacks. Urawaza is simply the Japanese way of life-hacking, although, Japanese people do take life-hacking to the extreme, especially space wise. Apartments and houses aren’t very big. How are you going to do everything you need to do in that tiny house?

An Urawaza, that is essentially Japanese culture, is having your entire bathroom be the shower. I wish I had that. In actuality, Japanese bathrooms tend to have a toilet room, often with a small sink, or a built-in sink( you have special toilet slippers), an area with a sink/counter/mirror whatever, then the shower area. The shower area generally holds the tub and the shower. You can get the entire room wet. Sometimes, there are entire bathrooms that you can get wet. This concept is a way of making the bathroom a little more space efficient, but also making the bathroom more useful to more people at once. If somebody ate too much curry, the person in the shower doesn’t have to hurry out of the shower as a result.

I love little things that are useful. I like to know how to do things with little. For example, did you know that you can use just vinegar, water, and baking soda to get some pretty terrible stains out of your carpet? It really works. I’ve been attacking the carpet at my house with a vengeance since I moved in; baking soda and vinegar performs quite the trick.

When I was getting my first degree, an art degree, I had a professor that often said that being an artist was being a problem solver. As an artist, you thought about something, and you figured out a way to make it happen, which invariably involved solving a lot of problems. I think we should all strive to be problem solvers. We should all look at what we have on hand and decide how to better use it, or give it new life, or spend less money trying to do something.

Oh, and, I also loved that this book explains a bit of the science behind why certain things work the way they do. These things aren’t just magic; there’s science behind them.

What I didn’t like

The book could have been longer. The Urawaza could have been more detailed. I know for a fact that there are all kinds of interesting Urawaza that the Japanese people use that could have been in this book. For example, you want to grow yellow squash and goya, but you only have a five foot by five foot garden space. What do you do? Well, if you were an enterprising Okinawan, you would erect a scaffolding over your garden space. There would be four posts and a wire frame would be spanned between the posts. You would plant your plants that like to stay put in the garden plot, then plant your goya near the posts and let it trail up the posts and then grow across your wire frame. Your goya would hang down from your trellis in its bumpy glory and your squash would be all happy on the ground. I can’t tell you how many times I saw this very thing in Okinawa.

Notice, I didn’t pluralize Urawaza when I used it in what could have been a plural sense–Japanese doesn’t have plurals. You just infer from the context of the sentence if the word is meant to be plural or not. おいしいすし could be that you’re speaking of one piece of delicious sushi, or multiple pieces of delicious sushi.

In case you’re wondering what goya is–it kind of looks like a cucumber with a bad case of acne, technically some sort of squash. It’s bitter and very high in antioxidants, so it’s very good for you; it’s one of the reasons cited for why Okinawans live so long.


Urawaza–life hack–whatever you want to call it–it’s a good idea.

Weigh In

What’s your favorite life hack/urawaza?

Did your family pass down interesting life hacks to you?


#573 Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich

Made From Scratch by Jenna WoginrichMade From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich

Jenna moved from the mountains of the Appalachians to northern Idaho, where it’s incredibly cold. Jenna made a conscious decision to return to a simpler way of life. Her dogs could pull her on a sled. She bought household items from antique stores. She learned to can items, raise chickens, grow vegetables, and play the violin. Jenna is something of a woman after my own heart.

Jenna tries to homestead, a bit in Idaho. She learns the pitfalls and joys of raising chickens. They’re great for pest control, but they might wander into the neighbor’s yard or get eaten by the dogs. Jenna learns to bake bread. She extols the virtues of mountain music.

Suddenly, Jenna learns she has to move to Vermont. Jenna packs up her animals and instruments and goes. This is where Jenna’s other book, One Woman Farm comes into play.

What I liked

I admire Jenna so much. I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed her other book, and, yes, I know I read them out-of-order. I really like the idea of learning to do as much as possible yourself. It’s good to know how to do different things. It’s good to know how to bake bread from scratch and grow vegetables. I love that Jenna tackled all of this herself. It’s a big responsibility, but it brings joy and fulfillment to her life.

I love that Jenna learned to play the fiddle on her own. Seriously, I’m going to order a fiddle and that book Jenna recommends and learn myself. I’ve always wanted to. Jenna speaks of a music tradition that is part of my own family. I had a great-great uncle who was in the Foxfire books for fiddle-making. Some of his wood works are still around the area where he lived.

What I didn’t like

I liked Jenna’s book and there isn’t a whole lot of bad I can say about it. Go Jenna. Let’s have a visit one day.


We need more younger people like Jenna. Capisce?

Weigh In

Would you raise farm animals by yourself?

Do you think it’s a good idea to know how to do things from scratch? Why or why not?

#542 The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren

The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring WarrenThe Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren

Spring decided that she wanted to provide most of the food she ate from her small plot of land, about a quarter of an acre. Spring did not live out in the country where she had ample room; she lived around other houses. This is the story of how she lived off of her farm for a year.

Spring’s children weren’t altogether enthused about her experiment, but since they already had geese, a duck, chickens, and some other plants, it wasn’t that far of a leap. At first Spring found that eating zucchini all the time wasn’t that appetizing, but then she learned the art of zucchini recipes, a few of which are in the book.

Things didn’t always go how Spring had planned. She had more of this vegetable than she ever thought was possible, this vegetable didn’t grow right, this one got too much water, the water bill was too high, a tree fell in her salad garden, and that’s just a few events.

As the year progresses, Spring gets better at dealing with setbacks. She gets better at being a gardener and her family gets better at eating lots of vegetables.


What I liked

I liked Spring’s adventure, even though I wonder if Spring Warren is really her name. I think it’s neat that she endeavored to grow so much of her own food. It’s a worthy task. I liked that she seemed so calm about the thing. I honestly don’t know how this woman eats so many vegetables. I mean, I like vegetables, but she ate a lot of vegetables.

What I didn’t like

The whole thing was rather enjoyable. There isn’t really anything I didn’t like.


I love hearing about people’s lives and their gardens.

Weigh In

Would you grow your own food for a year?

If you had to grow your own food for a year, would you be malnourished by the end of the year?

#419 The Duggars: 20 and Counting by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar

 The Duggars: 20 and Counting by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar The Duggars: 20 and Counting by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar

The Duggar family is a much praised and also debated family in the media’s eye. Some of us love them and their ideals, while some of us criticize them for having so many children. Some people claim the problem with the Duggars is that they use up federal and state resources having a family so large, but in reality, the family is very self-sufficient having no debt at all. Of course, haters are always going to hate.

This book is about how the family came into being. We meet Jim Bob. We meet Michelle. We learn how they met. We learn how they dated. We learn how they got married. They worked their butts off. They started a car lot. They had a towing business. They had a convenience store. They did it all. At one point they had five children in a 900 square foot house, which they also ran their car lot out of. Tough cookies, people, they’re tough cookies.

The interesting thing about the Duggars is not the fact that they have so many kids, it’s why. Why do they have so many kids? They Duggars have many children based upon a religious principle called “quiverful,” but that wasn’t always their motivation. At one point Michelle did take birth control pills. They started their family out normally enough, but after having their first child, Michelle had a miscarriage. This miscarriage was attributed to the fact that Michelle had conceived the child while on birth control. While this may or may not be entirely true, it led the Duggars to where they are today.

The couple goes on to have nineteen children total, although it’s not listed in this book. The book chronicles their life. Jim Bob was in government for a while. They bought a large piece of commercial property. They’ve been very blessed to be able to live their lives without debt. That huge house they have is something they built themselves. They’re not work shy at all.

After explaining how they got to where they are, the Duggars give some helpful hints. They explain their chore system, which they call “jurisdictions.” Every family member has chores to do each morning. They explain their home school system. They explain their organization system. They explain their buddy system. Yes, the Duggars have a system for everything. What makes their large family work so well is that they are very organized, if you can imagine a family so large being organized. They dot all the “i’s” and cross all the “t’s.” They don’t simply leave their good life to chance.

The family is very religious. Their home-school education is based largely on religious principles, which isn’t a bad thing, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a great thing either. They attend church in their home. They look at each opportunity they come across as an opportunity to further God’s work. For what it’s worth, they seem to be doing really well.

What I liked

I liked looking into the lives of the Duggars and learning more about them. They’re interesting people.

I do like how Michelle takes the time to lay out her organization. It goes to show people who read the book that she does this all herself and she’s not frazzled all the time. She manages it quite well.

I have known families with similar systems in place in their homes. They don’t have anywhere near as many children as Jim Bob and Michelle, but they have their systems. They have the chore system and the organizing system that keeps all of their stuff in place. They home-school. Life isn’t always easy, but to the outside it looks like they’re full of happiness, but great suspicion is never far away. People always believe that there is some deep, dark secret lurking behind the happy family who constantly praises Jesus and doesn’t play video games.

Look, there are people who make it work. They don’t need TV. They don’t need video games. They don’t need public school. They don’t need the newest Transformers movie. They don’t need the newest fashion trends. They don’t need a ton of personal space. They make their lives work. People think they’re lacking, but they’re not. They have everything they want and need, more so, than many of us do. Could I live their lifestyle? No way. It’s not for everyone. It takes a certain type of person to make life styles like Jim Bob’s and Michelle’s work.

For the matter, I don’t think there is a deep, dark secret. I don’t think the family is secretly drinking special “kool-aid.” I don’t think there is a gambling addiction. I don’t think there is a secret illegitimate baby somewhere. This is just their life. Sure, it’s different, and, sure, they have their troubles, but their troubles pale in comparison to the type of troubles we face in our lives. They live good and they get good back. It’s pretty simple.

What I didn’t like

While I was finishing up this book, my husband was pulled over by  North Carolina state trooper for speeding. Don’t worry, he didn’t get a ticket, but I think that’s what I’m going to remember about reading this book, “Husband gets pulled over,” maybe I should write it in the book somewhere.

I have defended Jim Bob and Michelle. I think they’re pretty awesome, but the cynic in me wonders where all the dirt is. I don’t think there is dirt, but there is still this little inclination that wants me to think there is.

These kids are raised a certain way. It’s a way in which a lot of people I know would love to raise their children. These kids don’t turn out bad. The oldest boy of the Duggars already has his own business and is married with two or three kids of his own. He’s become this model citizen and child. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but it does make me a little sad. I’m kind of sad that he never really got to screw up. It’s not that I wish him to screw up, I don’t, it’s that he’d be more realistic if he did screw up. He’s too perfect. There is also a lot that can be said about the effect screwing up has on your life. Sometimes you screw up and it makes your life suck, but sometimes you screw up and it makes you this awesome person because you learned from your mistakes. I don’t know that these kids get to experience the world enough in their lifestyle. I don’t know how much they know about the world. I don’t know how naive they are. Obviously, at least the oldest one has sex figured out because he’s got a couple of kids, but how naive are the rest of them about it?

This is a minor concern though. The kids are all raised very well. They are successful and well-mannered. They can deal with some things in life that others could never deal with. They may be a little naive as to the ways of the world, but since they’re all religious that fits in perfectly with their beliefs. Jesus said to come unto him like a little child. This family is definitely child-like in their mannerisms and lack of some of the more disappointing ways to live your life.


If you’re one of those people who just love to stick your nose into other people’s lives, you’ll love this book, but sadly, much of this information is relayed via the television show, so if you’ve watched it at all, you already know all of this.

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Comical true life, Cooking, Duggar-Jim Bob, Duggar-Michelle, Health, Home, How To, inspirational, Memoir, Non-Fiction

Spotlight: Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Collection

I have been a fan of this book series since high school, not because I spent all my time in the bathroom, but because this series is full of lots of interesting information. I’ve lost track of how many of these books exist these days. Each book is rather thick and has nice digestible bits of information that span one to three pages, usually. There are some items that are several sections long.

One of the more interesting articles I have read in an Uncle John book was about how to teach your cat to use the toilet. I wish my cats knew how to do that. I have the instructions somewhere.

I have over ten of these books that I do like to peruse from time to time. Sometimes I just need to ready wacky court transcripts or read silly laws in various states.

So if you’re looking for something to read that is full of large amounts of easily readable information pick yourself up one of these.