Book reviews coming in 2016

I’ve been very busy this year so far, but I’ve been reading anyway!  Here is a hasty iPad photo of the wonderful stack of books I received for Christmas, all of which I expect to read and review over the next few months.
stack of books

  • Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, translated by Dorothy Britton
  • Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells
  • The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, translated by Rod Bradbury
  • The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
  • The Dance of Anger by Harriet G. Lerner
  • Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell, translated by Laurie Thompson
  • Cut Me Loose by Leah Vincent
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman, translated by Henning Koch
  • The Girl Next Door by Ruth Rendell
  • The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
  • The Natural House Book by David Pearson

I’ve already read three of them and parts of two others!  Can you guess which ones?  Which would you read first?

Having new-to-me books to read works for me!  Stay tuned for reviews, coming soon! Meanwhile, visit the Quick Lit linkup for other writers’ book reviews!

Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!

Did you make a new year’s resolution to waste less food, to do more cooking from scratch, or to buy less over-packaged food?  If you did, or if you have ever bought a canister of ready-to-use breadcrumbs, this article is for YOU!  And if you don’t fit into any of those categories, but you do eat bread and there is any chance that you’ll ever make a recipe that uses breadcrumbs, you should read this, too!

The thing is, breadcrumbs are just bread, made into crumbs.  It’s easy to do!  When you buy breadcrumbs, you’re paying to have machines crumble the bread for you and pack it in a container.  Crumbs are much more expensive than the number of slices of bread required to make that many crumbs.  Furthermore, when you buy crumbs as a separate product, you’re buying different bread than what you already have at home (some of which likely goes to waste from time to time, when it gets stale before you can eat it or because nobody likes to eat the bread heels) and you’re buying whatever quantity comes in a package–so after using the amount you need in your recipe, you’re likely to have some left, and if you can’t think of a use for them quickly, they’re going to go to waste, too.

bread in fridgeHere’s what was on the bottom shelf of our refrigerator one Saturday last fall when my son Nicholas (then 10 years old) decided to document in photos our process of converting unwanted bread into useful breadcrumbs.  In the center is an entire baguette that my partner Daniel bought, planning to make a specific sandwich–but then he got sick for just a couple days, and a baguette gets stale very quickly!  You also can see other bread bags, one with the current half-used loaf of bread but most nearly empty.  We took the heels out of that half-loaf bag but left the rest of the slices for our fresh-bread uses.  (Also on the shelf are tortillas, a jar of olives, and some kind of parsley or something, which you can just ignore.)

The first step is to inventory your breads and sort out what is no longer good for fresh eating but could still be used for crumbs.  Discard any bread that looks or smells moldy.  But bread that is damp from being in the refrigerator can still be salvaged! Read more of this post

Top 10 New Articles of 2015

This isn’t really a blog.  The Earthling’s Handbook is more like a reference book.  Most years, the 10 most-read articles are very similar to the previous year’s 10 most-read, because over time more people link to them and their increasing popularity makes them rank higher in search-engine results.  My #1 article this year is the same as the past 3 years: Important Information on Blood Types of Parents and Children got 73,800 unique readers this year!  Eight of 2012’s most-read articles are still popular, along with some of the greatest hits published in 2013 and 2014.  That’s why my year-end review lists the new articles I wrote this year that got the most readers–just in case you missed them!

  1. ePantry and Earth-Friendly Cleaning Product Reviews.  In the spring, I decided to grab a good introductory deal and try out a new subscription service that sends plant-based cleaners and similar products directly to your home.  I am skeptical of “club” buying schemes, but ePantry has no member fee or cancellation penalty, and it’s very flexible about what you receive and when.  This article explains how ePantry works and gives detailed, unbiased reviews of 11 products we bought from them–and for the ones that we didn’t like as well as a competing product, we tell you what we recommend from our 18 years of plant-based cleaning experience!  Over the course of the year, I’ve watched ePantry expand its offerings and open a second warehouse closer to me (reduced shipping distance=less pollution!), and I’ve tried some great products that were new to me.
  2. How to Get Kids to Behave in Church.  My firstborn behaves so well that people have been asking for my “secrets” for years!  I wrote this when my second child was only 9 months old, not running around yet–and in the 10 months since then, she’s forced me to admit that my techniques work better with some kids’ personalities than others–but all of my advice is helpful even with a more wigglish child, and I’m still able to have Lydia with me for some portion of the church service every week.  In the past few months, she’s been eager to go into church and loves to point out “Jesus!!!” in each place he appears in the paintings and stained-glass windows, so I must be doing something right….
  3. The 4-Day Laundry Plan.  This strategy is the linchpin to keeping my life as a full-time-employed, clothesline-drying, cloth-diapering mama running smoothly!
  4. A Day as Mama and Data Manager.  This day-in-the-life post gives you exhaustive (and vicariously exhausting) detail about what I did in a typical day as data manager of a social science research study and mother of a 10-month-old and a 10-year-old.  I’m planning to write another of these sometime next year because the routine has changed so much as they get older!  I’ve been rereading this post as I prepare to resume full-time work, after several months of disability leave and part-time work while recovering from a car accident, to remind myself that I can do it and that it’s actually easier now that I don’t have to pump milk and wash bottles every day.
  5. Things Not To Do: Ingredient Chopping Edition.  Don’t worry, this is not a gory story!  It’s a tale of how things can go wrong when you buy a nifty gadget and refuse to admit that it doesn’t work as well as you’d like.
  6. Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review.  I bought two alternative feminine hygiene products and gave them honest reviews before I signed up for the company’s affiliate program, which will give me a bonus when you get a 10% discount on your first order!  As with the green cleaners, I have many years’ experience with alternatives to disposable pads and tampons, so when I tell you that this is the best reusable menstrual cup ever, that means something.
  7. Four Weeks of Pesco-Vegetarian Dinners (winter, with a baby).  Here, I answer the questions, “But if you don’t eat meat, what do you eat?” and, “What’s your approach to feeding a baby?” and, “How do you manage dinner, as a working mom?” with 28 nights’ real-life experience, including recipe links!
  8. DIY Deodorant: Pros and Cons.  It sounds so great to make your own deodorant from ordinary ingredients, but does it work?  Not only did I give you all the details of my experiment, but several readers chimed in explaining how to improve the recipe for more convenient, year-round spreadability.
  9. Books I’ve Been Sharing with My 10-Year-Old.  Reviews of 7 assorted books that I read aloud to Nicholas or recommended to him–fantasy, realistic fiction, historical fiction, and historic comic strips!  This is just one of 9 book-review posts added to The Earthling’s Handbook this year, including 2 sets of reviews written by Nicholas; read them all here.
  10. My Father Taught Me How to Be a Working Mother.  I grew up with a mother who “stayed home” until her kids were in late elementary school and a father who always had a full-time job, yet I felt that my dad was an important presence in my childhood–how did he do it, and what can I learn from him that applies to my busy life now?

Honorable Mention

These were published toward the end of 2014 and read frequently in 2015:

Happy New Year!!!

Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to see what other writers have been learning as we wrap up 2015 and move forward.

Books for Adults, Preteens, and Toddlers

I’m starting a new “preteen” tag with this post because my son Nicholas, as he approaches his eleventh birthday, has started to ask for “more young-adult-type books” and has been appreciating most of what we’ve been finding for him, including a book I picked up used and read aloud to him without having read it myself–a potentially risky move, but it worked out fine.  (Don’t miss the book reviews Nicholas wrote last month!)  My recent reading includes books I’ve read to myself, a book I read to him before his dad and I switched who’s doing the bedtime reading, and books I’ve been reading over and over again to 19-month-old Lydia.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

This novella, translated from Japanese, is a sweet and perceptive story of two Generation X college students who have more in common than the narrator, Mikage, initially realizes.  She doesn’t understand why Yoichi is being so kind to her after the death of the grandmother who raised her–they are only acquaintances, and he already has a girlfriend–but by giving Yoichi a chance, Mikage finds something she didn’t know she needed and eventually is able to help him in return.  The prose is so vivid and absorbing that I felt like the story was happening right this minute, until Yoichi walked in with a new word processor–the book was published in 1988!  Taking that into consideration makes Mikage’s acceptance of Yoichi’s transgendered mother all the more interesting.  Mikage and Yoichi’s relationship and working-out of their futures, combined with the very Japanese details of their daily lives, made Kitchen just the kind of parallel-world experience I was looking for when I picked up a book from Japan.

The book also includes “Moonlight Shadow”, a short story with some similar themes but a more magical style.  It was a little too heavy on the wistfulness, and some ideas were repeated too many times, but I liked the way it reminded me of Japanese folktales about mysterious young ladies who turn out to be something else in disguise.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Read more of this post

Coffee Hour at Midnight (how to host on short notice)

Real Food FridayMeatless MondayHearth & Soul HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

I’ve written before about hosting church coffee hour.  The people in my church are willing to eat packaged coffee-cakes and things of that ilk, but most of them prefer healthier snacks, and so do I–our coffee hour begins just before noon, so my stomach is ready for lunch, not just simple carbs! I try hard to avoid making the excuse that I’m too busy to serve healthy, basically “real”, vegetarian food with some nutrients.  This article explains how to be prepared to serve real food for a snacky gathering on short notice, and gives one example of the specific array of food one might serve.

My church’s coffee hours are coordinated by a volunteer called the Hospitality Chairperson.  I was Hospitality Chairperson for three years, started to feel burned out, and turned over the position to the awesome Barb Curlee, who did it for nine years but finally decided it was too much work for a cancer patient–and nobody else wanted the job, so I took it back!  It was something of a leap of faith, since at that point I was newly pregnant and starting to feel queasy, but for a long while it was easy to recruit volunteers and I only had to bring the food once every few months.  But then we hit a dry spell.

Every Sunday, I set out the coffee hour sign-up book on the table next to the food.  It’s a nice little binder that another parishioner fills each year with pages listing the dates of all the Sundays and special events, with Bible quotes chosen to inspire generous food-sharing!  Ideally, people notice the book, sign up for a Sunday, remember to bring the food, set it up, and clean it up–and all I have to do is thank them graciously and keep an eye on whether or not they remembered to put out the napkins and fill the cream pitcher.  Sometimes, though, everyone’s busy or not paying attention, so I spend coffee hour begging people to sign up, and then I fill in for the Sundays nobody wanted.

This particular coffee hour was in late September (I just now found the photo and remembered I’d planned to post about it!) five or six weeks after I’d been in a car accident.  I was doing kind of okay, but I needed a lot of rest and was having trouble remembering and/or getting around to all of the things I usually do.  It was Thursday or Friday morning when I suddenly grabbed my ten-year-old Nicholas and gasped, “Did anybody sign up for coffee hour?  Did we even put out the book?!”  He couldn’t remember, either.  Luckily, the church is on my way home from work, so I stopped by and tiptoed around the AA meeting to check out my little binder.  Alas, Sunday’s sign-up space was bare! . . . and then I forgot all about it until Saturday morning, when we were shopping in Trader Joe’s and Nicholas said, “Can we try Eggplant Garlic Dip?  We could serve it at coffee hour!” and I agreed  . . . and then I forgot all about it until Saturday night at 11:22 p.m. when I had finally gotten my toddler to sleep and was tidying up the kitchen and noticed the jar of dip sitting randomly on the counter. Read more…

24 Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers–Not Just Turkey!

My partner Daniel’s cousin Mike has just concluded a 25-year tradition of inviting all the extended family to Thanksgiving dinner at his home in upstate New York.  We’re planning to get together next November, too, but it’ll have to be somewhere else because Mike is selling his house and moving to Florida.  As one of only a few family units living close enough to New York to travel there by car instead of airplane, we’ve enjoyed a generous portion of leftovers each year–this time, we brought home a big cooler and two small ones and a couple of grocery bags of surplus food!  Here are our tips for using up the kinds of goodies that tend to be left over after a big celebration like this.  (Thanks for all the great food and happy memories, Mike!!)

  • Freeze stuffing, mashed potatoes, and cooked vegetables in quart buckets.  On a boring weekend toward the end of winter, defrost them, bake some fish, open a can of cranberry sauce, and have a Fishgiving Feast!
  • Chop up leftover turkey and use it in Tetrazzini.  This recipe also absorbs mushrooms, peas, bell pepper, olives, cheese, and butter, if you have any of those left over.
  • Use leftover baked or roasted sweet potatoes or squash to make New England Yam Bake or Butternut Squash Burritos.  (Both recipes work with either vegetable.  Squash that has been baked with the skin on, rather than diced and roasted, usually needs to be drained so that it isn’t too wet.)
  • Add leftover corn to your burritos or other Mexican meals, such as Mexican Pizza, or to Cheesy Zucchini Casserole (using that zucchini you probably froze in the summer when there was too much of it around!).
  • Here are 4 ways to use extra bread, even if it’s stale!  Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding also accommodates assorted bits of vegetables and cheese.
  • Crackers from the appetizer tray can be crunched up along with bread to make breadcrumbs for use in recipes like Cheesy Walnut Burgers.
  • Most types of vegetables work in High-Protein Vegan Pasta Salad, Pasta Prima Becca, and/or Flexican Cornbread Pizza.  If you have at least 1 cup of a raw vegetable, shred and freeze for later use.
  • Shred excess carrots and onions and make Apricot Lentil Soup or Masoor Dal or Grildebeen Burgers.
  • Serve extra desserts at church coffee hour or a similar event.  Thanks to Mike’s generosity with desserts–he always buys some cheesecakes and ice cream, in addition to the pumpkin and apple pies that come with the catering package and a couple of homemade desserts–we brought home two complete apple pies and one pumpkin pie and a big chunk of cheesecake!  Because nobody had signed up to host Sunday’s coffee hour, and we were due home Saturday night, I’d sent email to the parish announcing a “share your Thanksgiving bounty” coffee hour, and thus we disposed of one of our apple pies.
  • Stuffing is a delicious side dish to sauteed mushrooms–which have been our Thanksgiving protein the years we didn’t go to Mike’s house.
  • Leftover nuts from making pecan pie, or from appetizers?  Make Nutshroom Burgers!
  • Make leftover fruit–even if it’s bruised or past its prime–into a pie filling or a versatile fruit sauce.
  • Puree leftover cranberry sauce, apples, sweet potatoes, squash, and/or other fruit and use in place of the applesauce in Raisin Bran Bread.  You don’t have to cook the fruit mixture before adding it to the dough.  I did this shortly before Thanksgiving with some excess baked buttercup squash and the good parts of a few old apples, and the bread is really good!
  • If you have 2 or 3 extra raw sweet potatoes and a bunch of greens, make this amazing soup!

We’re mostly vegetarian, but we do eat turkey at Thanksgiving when it’s the main course…but we’re nervous about taking leftover meat on a 10-hour road trip, and anyway Mike usually has estimated the group’s turkey appetite more accurately than most of the other dishes so that there isn’t a whole lot of turkey left.  That’s why only one of our tips involves turkey.  Oddly enough, most of the “using Thanksgiving leftovers” articles I’ve seen focus on the turkey–which is why I’m hoping to write a helpful resource for people who have other foods left over!

Do you have more ideas for Thanksgiving leftovers?  Please share in the comments!

Visit the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop and Works-for-Me Wednesday and Real Food Friday for more great tips!

5 Must-See Environmental Documentaries

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos. Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

Without positive human intervention, global climate change could lead to horrific catastrophes, uninhabitable regions, mass immigration, and global societal reconstruction. A large portion of human activity that has damaged the environment is a result of ignorance and apathy, but fortunately that is easy to reverse if enough people become more educated and environmentally conscious! Below are some incredible documentaries aimed at increasing environmental awareness about one of the most pressing issues of our times.

Chasing Ice (2012)

This film strives to document the direct effect of global climate change on the large volume of ice located on our polar regions. Read more of this post

Book Reviews and Giveaway!

The silver lining of being mildly disabled for months after a car accident is that I’ve had lots of time for reading!  I’m grateful that I had the type of concussion that makes computer work difficult but isn’t hampered by reading on paper.  Here are some of the books I’ve read.

I’m giving away my copy of Last Call in the City of Bridges because, although I mostly enjoyed the book, I don’t feel like I’ll need to read it again.  [UPDATE: Laura Reu is the winner!]

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Two infertile couples each adopt a little girl from Korea.  They meet at the airport, where Bitsy Donaldson has an elaborate plan for enthusiastically welcoming her new daughter and capturing every memory, while the Yazdan family has a quieter approach.  Bitsy sees this other family as connected to hers by the shared experience and organizes annual shared celebrations of Arrival Day for years to come.  The gradual accumulation of Arrival Day traditions is very sweet and realistic, the interplay between various members of the two families is fascinating, and the eventual romance between two of the grandparents is superbly poignant and unique.  One of the most interesting things about this story is that, while the Donaldsons are typical white Baltimore natives, the Yazdans are Iranian immigrants, so they have their own non-American culture in addition to the daughter from Korea.  Anne Tyler’s long marriage to an Iranian-American surely helped to inform and inspire the Yazdans’ customs and attitudes.  This wonderfully immersive story of very real people gives Saint Maybe (reviewed here) some serious competition as my favorite Anne Tyler novel!

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

Read more…

Book Reviews by a 10-and-11/12-year-old

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran.

Key:  =1 star     ⭐︎=1/2 star


The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This is a book about a mouse who gets sent to the dungeon for being different.  He is in love with the princess in the castle he lives in.  Then he discovers that a rat and a girl named Mig are planning to trap the princess in the dungeon.  Go read the book to find out what happens next!☆☆☆☆☆

Woof by Spencer Quinn

This is a book about a girl who adopts a dog, and the dog tells the story from his point of view.  WARNING: I did not finish reading this book because it’s not the best of mystery novels, in my opinion.  Her relative’s prize fish plaque has been stolen!  That’s the point I read up to. You can read the book to find out what else happens.☆☆⭐︎

Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary

The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary is about a girl named Ramona and her adventures with her sister Beezus and her friends, including Howie, her neighbor.  In many of the books, Howie has a sister named Willa Jean.  In Ramona and Her Mother, Willa Jean is given a box of tissues, which all in all she throws around the Quimbys’ living room.  In this book, Ramona has many other funny adventures, and I don’t want to spoil it all for you…so read the book!  WARNING: If possible, buy an older edition of the book with less snooty illustrations than the current one.☆☆☆☆☆

I Survived: The Attacks of September 11th, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived series is a series that I have heard about for a long time, but this is the first book I have “read”.  (My teacher read it to the class.)  The book is about a boy who loves playing football.  Then one day he sneaks out and takes the train into New York City because he wants to talk to his uncle about a serious event that may prevent him from continuing to play football.  His uncle and father are both firemen, and they rushed to the scene after a plane hit one of the twin towers.  It was very good, and you should read the book to find out what happens next!☆☆☆☆⭐︎

The Earth Dragon Awakes by Laurence Yep

This is a book that we read together as a class at the beginning of fifth grade.  It is about the tragic events of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. There are 2 main families that are focused on in the book and you follow these families through the struggles and happenings of the many days in the struggle. Read the book to explore the wonders of this tragic day.☆☆☆☆☆

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

Delicious Roasted Broccoli Leaves

Real Food FridayMeatless MondayHearth & Soul Hop
The past few years have taught us what Earthlings really want to know, and we are pleased to be spreading the word that cauliflower leaves are edible!  In that spirit, we’d like to tell you that broccoli leaves are edible, too, and explain a slightly easier method of preparation.

Our local organic CSA farm has had a good crop of broccoli this year, and they give it to us with leaves intact.  Fresh broccoli sold in supermarkets often has had its leaves trimmed, at least the larger ones.  What do you suppose happens to them?  I hope they don’t just get thrown away, because broccoli leaves are highly nutritious, with a slightly different nutrient profile than broccoli florets or stalks.  They’re particularly high in beta-carotene, an antioxidant that our bodies convert into Vitamin A.  I wasn’t able to find a nutrient analysis for cooked broccoli leaves, but a one-ounce serving of raw leaves contains 43% of the Daily Value of Vitamin C, 5% of folate, 3% of potassium and manganese, and some Omega-3 fatty acids–and less than 8 calories!

Broccoli leaves could be substituted for spinach or kale in many raw or cooked recipes.  When we cut up broccoli from our farm to steam as a side dish or use in High-Protein Pasta Salad or Broccoli Casserole, we typically include the leaves, but we think they don’t taste as good in those contexts as the other parts of the broccoli do.  Roasted leaves, though, are an addictive snack food or yummy side dish!  They have the crispy crunch of thin potato chips and a tasty, toasty flavor that is quite different from the flavor of steamed broccoli. Read more of this post

Why My Toddler Doesn’t Watch Sesame Street

I remember, when I was 3 or 4 years old, sitting in front of the television watching the test pattern waiting for my local public television station to begin its broadcast day.  I liked the pretty colored stripes.  Finally they would disappear, the station information would be displayed along with a drawing of a scissor-tailed flycatcher (the state bird), and an authoritative voice would announce, “This is OETA.  Public television for all of Oklahoma.”  Then I would hear that cheerful song about sweeping the clouds away and going where the air is sweet, and for the next hour my television would show me a wonderful world in which fuzzy monsters and real people of all colors live side-by-side in a place where you can find a friend just by stepping out of the house.

My daughter Lydia is 18 months old and has never seen an episode of “Sesame Street”.  Why do I deprive her of this experience I loved so much??  There are two reasons.

One is that children under 2 years old should not watch any television at all.  The American Academy of Pediatrics still says this and has updated its statement to include the use of computers and tablets–no screen-time for toddlers.  I know, a lot of my parenting peers think this is simply impossible.  I agree that it’s impossible to avoid any screen exposure at all, in a world where electronic screens are incorporated into many public places and most adults are constantly poking some kind of PocketFox.  (Just yesterday, I was in a hospital elevator with a wall-mounted screen relentlessly playing hospital publicity videos!)  Still, it’s worth the effort to save our babies’ eyes and hearts and brains by keeping them away from the screens as much as we can and certainly not encouraging them to watch TV.  I’ve explained how we kept our first child off the screens until he was 2 and phased it in carefully after that.

Everybody told me it would be harder with the second child.  Yes, it is, because her big brother loves to play computer games, and our computer is in the living room.  It’s true that Lydia sometimes toddles over to watch what he is doing, so she’s probably had more total screen-time than he had by this age.  But when we rearranged before she was born, we placed our L-shaped computer desk such that the screen is turned 45 degrees toward the wall, instead of facing the center of the room; that makes it less eye-catching.  Our television set faces the couch, but we hardly ever watch it when Lydia’s awake.  Neither parent has a smartphone, so she’s not seeing a screen while we’re holding her.  I try to keep my iPad out of her sight; if she climbs into my lap while I’m using it, I finish up as quickly as I can.  Most importantly, we never turn on a video for her or let her play with the iPad herself.

But “Sesame Street” is so sweet and charming and a rich source of cultural references in our family and the wider society!  As I said in my previous article:

But then, when I was 7 months pregnant, an odd sound made by the elevator at work reminded me of the “Rubber Ducky” song from “Sesame Street”, and I suddenly felt devastated–how could I deprive my child of the joy of knowing Ernie and Big Bird and…and LOVABLE FURRY GROVER?!

Well, here’s what we learned when raising Nicholas: Read more of this post

That Time I Drank 33-Year-Old Grape Juice

My family has an ancestral home, a place that’s been owned by our family ever since it was built in 1910.  It’s a large, elegant, three-story brick house on the main street of a pleasant town in Ohio.  My maternal grandmother grew up there, and although she itched to leave that town because of the stifling social climate, she enjoyed coming back to visit.  Her sister inherited the house and passed it on to her children.  My cousin-once-removed lives there alone now but cheerfully welcomes all of the extended family to big gatherings for special occasions and smaller visits whenever we’re in the area.

I was there for a medium-sized gathering in 1997.  My mother and her Japanese storytelling colleague were passing through Ohio on a tour and spending a weekend at the ancestral home, so my uncle and his two daughters came over from Indiana, and I took a bus from Pittsburgh.

My great-aunt and great-uncle were still alive at that time.  They were the kind of people who like to save things.  Read more of this post

ePantry keeps getting better!

ePantry, a convenient subscription service for environmentally-friendly supplies delivered to your home, has become more energy-efficient for customers living in the eastern United States by adding a distribution center in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  They’ve also expanded the product line to include more of the products I recommend, and I’ve tried something new that I like a lot!

I previously explained how to decide whether a subscription service is right for you and described my experience with the ePantry service and 11 specific products they carry. Six months ago, I noted one of the downsides of ePantry:

They are located in California.  I live in Pennsylvania.  This means that my order is being shipped across the continent.  It would be more eco-friendly to order from a company closer to home.  (But if you live in or near California, this is a plus!)

I knew that ePantry staff read my post, because after seeing it they offered me an affiliate arrangement.  But I didn’t expect them to respond to my concern about shipping mileage by opening a second warehouse right here in my state!  Wow.

The Earthling’s Handbook does not carry advertising and rarely partners with businesses because we have very high standards for consumer products.  Read more of this post

Standing in the Waves with Grandma

Learn all you can now so you’ll have time when you’re old to learn the things that haven’t been invented yet.
—Louise Kirn Oguss

Louise Kirn Oguss was my maternal grandmother, and that’s what she said to me when I was thirteen and resisting the idea that I soon ought to learn to drive.  I didn’t like the idea of piloting a two-ton machine that could kill people, and I wanted to leave my small town as soon as anyone would let me and live in New York City, where I wouldn’t need a car to get around.  Grandma explained that, although it was fine to avoid driving in my day-to-day life, having that skill in my repertoire could be useful in many situations–in fact, I might even save a life by driving someone to a hospital, and if I were ever called upon for emergency driving, everyone would be safer if I knew what I was doing.  I admitted that she had a point, and although I dawdled a little bit in learning to drive, I did get my license before I finished high school.

But by then, Grandma was gone.  She died of cancer just after my fifteenth birthday.  If she were still alive, today would be her one hundredth birthday.

I wish she’d stayed longer.  I never got enough time with her, even in the summers when I went without my parents to stay with Grandma in her wonderful old house in Far Rockaway, in the southeastern corner of Queens at the very end of the A train subway line, and we had adventures together all over New York City and at Silver Point Beach just outside the city.  I wished I could live there all the time!  Grandma and I enjoyed museums and people-watching and eating exotic foods and exploring buildings and neighborhoods and parks, and we never ran out of things to talk about.  She told me stories from all eras of her life, she told me things she’d picked up from her wildly varied reading, and she truly listened to me and made me feel fascinating and fully appreciated.  She knew how to listen to other people, too, and what questions to ask, so that we got to hear the stories of pizza chefs and cab drivers and a very old lady in the supermarket who had once been the pianist for the Rockettes.  Grandma had a gift for drawing out each person’s special traits and valuing them.  I wish I were better at that!

But I feel guilty complaining that I didn’t get more time with her, because I’m her oldest grandchild–one of my cousins wasn’t even born yet when Grandma died, and some were too young to remember her well.  I’m lucky to have known her as well as I did and to have so many memories of doing things with her.

I wanted to write a tribute to Grandma on her centennial, like I did for my other grandmother but better, explaining how very special she was to me and how profound an influence she has had on my life.  Three months ago I started turning over ideas, hoping to come up with some kind of structure so I wouldn’t just ramble on but could really convey her wonderfulness.  But then I was in an accident, and too much of my time and energy went into just getting by, and I’m still not fully recovered, and then in these last few days I’ve had big mood crashes and headaches just when I thought I was going to write . . . and I know Grandma would understand; I know she would say that the specific date is not important, that the most important thing for me to do is heal, that I don’t owe her a tribute anyway . . . but still, I felt that I was letting her down and letting myself down and that I’ve spent far too much of the past twenty-seven years regretting that Grandma isn’t with me instead of taking a positive approach like hers and being a better person.

Thinking about it this morning, suddenly I not-quite-heard Grandma’s voice in my mind: “But honey.  You’ve already written so many interesting things.”

She’s right.  I learned to do one of those things that hadn’t been invented yet: I write for the Internet.  I’ve published more than 600 articles!  Grandma would appreciate every one of them.  (Who knows–maybe she does?  Would it be heaven without wi-fi?)  It’s true that I’ve written almost nothing about Grandma herself, but my mission to tell people about Earth and all the great things we can do here is something Grandma would totally get behind.  She’d be thrilled to see how I can link my own articles together and link them to reference materials and other interesting stuff, and minutes later people in Australia and India and Holland are reading my words.  And in the process, I have learned to be braver about what I say and to decide when it’s good enough without calling someone else to read it for me.

Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.  Here is just one story that I hope will show you a little bit of what she was like and how she shaped me.

The first summer I went to Grandma’s alone, I was just six years old and not only shy but nervous and cautious by nature.  I didn’t know how to swim and hadn’t been near the ocean for two years.  On our first visit to the beach, I must have looked anxious as we approached the pounding surf.  Grandma said, “Now, here is what I like to do: We’ll go into the water up to our knees and stand, holding hands, and as the waves go in and out they’ll pull sand from under our feet, but we’ll stay put and see who can stand the longest without taking a step.”  We did this.  The water buffeting my legs was daunting, so much deeper when a wave came in and then sucking at me as it went out, and it was full of slimy seaweed and scratchy bits of shell–but I was safe holding Grandma’s hand.  I felt the sand being pulled out from under the edges of my feet, then more and more until I was standing on tiny narrow piles, and then one foot dropped and I was falling forward, face-first into the salty froth–and Grandma pulled me up and laughed and said, “Let’s go in two steps farther!”  Pretty soon I was in up to my shoulders and loving every minute of it.  I played exactly the same game with my son when he was six and made his first visit to the ocean.  Yes, it’s weird and wet and powerful–isn’t it great?!

Being cautious has its advantages.  Grandma never tried to talk me out of my essential nature.  She showed me how to feel just safe enough to have fun and, by broadening the range of things I felt safe doing, to work up the courage to try new things more easily.  That combined with fifteen years of her belief in my ability to do great things, and with the example of her own life, to support me in feeling able to do what I yearned to do: I left the small town for the big city (not New York, it turned out, but Pittsburgh), got a great education, had a lot of fun with some fascinating men, worked out a career and a home and a family that suit me, and found ways to help make the world a better place.  I’d still like to be kinder and more positive and better at asking people about themselves, like her–but I feel that if Grandma dropped in on me now, she’d be very glad to see what my life is like.

And she’d tell me to get off the computer when it’s giving me a headache.  Happy birthday, Grandma!  Good night!

What Insurance Is For

Although I’ve managed to get 5 articles posted in the past 6 weeks, I’m actually not doing all that well, and I finally decided that I owe my readers an explanation.

I was driving, with my whole family in the car, when our car was rear-ended on August 15.  Nobody else was hurt.  I didn’t notice that I was hurt until we were back in the car after exchanging insurance information with the other driver, so it must not have been that bad, right?

Oh, it could be worse.  It could be so much worse.  Riding in cars is very dangerous!  We are lucky and grateful.

But my back still hurts.  This is my 46th day of continuous pain.  Much of the time it’s quite mild, but it wears on me, makes me tired, dulls my appreciation of every good thing in life.  Then there are the times when I try to do some ordinary thing like picking up a half-gallon of milk or my 22-pound toddler, opening a heavy door, or scooting back my desk chair by pushing with my feet–or I’m not even doing anything at all–and my lower-back muscles send out blinding flashes of pain.

I thought it was just the cumulative pain that was making me so tired that I had trouble stumbling through my daily life, so distracted that I found myself wrapping up work days realizing that I’d done only two hours’ worth of work in eight hours, so irritable that I was shrieking at my ten-year-old.  I thought it was because my lower-back muscles were yanking on my upper-back muscles yanking on my neck muscles that I was having more frequent and more severe headaches.  These things are probably true, but there’s more to it than that. Read more…

Pen and Marker Recycling: Starting Year 3!

My son Nicholas is in fifth grade. He and his friends Emma and Sadie have been running a recycling program at their school since third grade. Each year they have to make arrangements with the principal so that their recycling bins will be left alone by custodial staff and they have permission to go around emptying their bins–for which they give up their recess time twice a week.  I’m so proud of these kids for being diligent about their program, week after week, year after year!

You might think pens and markers aren’t recyclable or it isn’t important to go to the trouble of recycling them.  It’s true that most curbside recycling programs don’t accept pens and markers because the process of separating the recyclable case from the inky part, and sorting the cases according to what type of plastic they are, is complicated.  However, TerraCycle collects writing instruments and recycles them into plastic storage tubs.  When Nicholas learned that our friend Suella had launched a Writing Instruments Brigade, he wanted to help!

2015/09/img_2536.jpgAfter two years of seeing just how many ballpoint pens, dry-erase markers, highlighters, permanent markers, and regular felt-tip markers are discarded by a school of over 800 students, I’ll never again think that it would be no big deal to let all that plastic go to a landfill or get incinerated into our air!!  The kids haven’t been counting their collections (although I’d love to see them do that, to get some numbers to wow the student body and also to satisfy my curiosity) but Nicholas brings home approximately a half-full grocery bag most weeks.  We usually bring the markers to Suella at church, but when there’s an especially big haul we’ll drop them off at her house while running errands by car.  It’s easy for us, and she says her role is easy, too: Just collect markers until the box is full and send it off to TerraCycle!

The first year, Nicholas and friends collected markers in bags that they taped to the walls next to the school’s staircase entrances.  It worked, but it wasn’t as convenient for students or teachers as having collection bins in the classrooms, so they weren’t recycling as many markers as they thought they could get.  (Also, the bags were flimsy and didn’t always stay in place.)

Last year, I made an announcement in church asking people to bring in empty, clean containers that were the right size to hold about a dozen markers.  We got a great haul of plastic containers from yogurt, cleaning wipes, coconut oil, dish detergent, etc.  Nicholas and friends decorated them and put one in each classroom.  Sure enough, they got more markers that way!

Nicholas brought home all the bins at the end of the school year and planned to use them again.  Unfortunately, some kind of parental malfunction occurred: Daniel and I remember that the bins were stacked in the corner of the dining room near the basement stairs for quite some time and that we both felt they should get put away somewhere…and then they weren’t there anymore, so one of us must have put them in a better place…but where?!?  We looked everywhere that seemed plausible, but we couldn’t find them!

Thus, the bins you see at left were created last weekend.  Because we were in a hurry to relaunch the recycling program, we sprung for new plastic containers–these have the advantage of a standardized appearance that will help students and teachers spot them in the different classrooms.  They are deli food containers from Gordon Food Service (which has stores where anyone can shop), sold in a pack of 25 for $5, without lids; since we didn’t need lids, it was nice not to have to pay for them or figure out what to do with them!  The containers are made of polypropylene (#5 plastic) so when they are worn out, they can go into curbside recycling.

Nicholas and his friend Ashlyn covered the bins with paper from his craft supplies, clearly labeled with marker and attached with tape.  It took them less than two hours to prepare 50 bins. Read more of this post

National Drive Electric Week: Events Around the Country!

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos.  Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago.  She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication.  She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

National Drive Electric Week is an annual event designed to educate the public about electric vehicles and the benefits of driving them. The event, taking place September 12 – 20,  2015, highlights the increasing availability of electric cars and the accompanying infrastructure. While electric vehicles, including motorcycles and trucks, face their own battery-related challenges, they are significantly better for the environment and can ultimately be less expensive, compared to their gasoline-dependent counterparts.

The concept of National Drive Electric Week originated in 2011. It was initially called National Plug-In Day, but the idea remains the same: to hold simultaneous events all over the United States to promote the use of electric vehicles. The first National Plug-In Day took place in a humble 26 cities, but come 2013, the event proved to be a monumental success.: The day’s events attracted 36,000 attendees to examine 3,000 electric vehicles in 98 cities. Inspired by the event’s success, its organizers decided to expand it, and the first National Drive Electric Week was held in 2014.

So far, over 160 events have been announced for 2015. Read more of this post

Book Reviews: Guys and Womanhood, Grown-ups and The Child’s Child, and Tripods!

Different kinds of people and their different ways of living are among my main interests, and I’ve been reading about a variety of demographics in the past two months.

The Book of Guys by Garrison Keillor

I remember really enjoying this book of short stories the first time I read it, several years ago.  This time around, I didn’t like it as much–too many of the stories spin off into excessive absurdity in a way that kind of stops being funny to me.  Still, it has some really great lines, some vivid, some silly, and some philosophical:

It was one of those ugly and treacherous springs in the Midwest, when winter refuses to quit, like a big surly drunk who heads for home and then staggers back for another round and a few more songs that everyone has heard before.

“Try dessert substitutes, such as erasers. A plate of erasers served on a slice of sponge contains less than two calories.”

After all, he cared for her, she was his wife, and when your wife has an affair, don’t you want it to be a good one, a great experience for her?

And the overall premise, that guys (males) sometimes struggle with their identity and that it isn’t the same struggle for all of them, is a fine one.  I enjoyed hearing from some of these guys again.

The Long Shadow by Karl Alexander, Doris Entwisle, and Linda Olson

This book summarizes a longitudinal study of almost 800 people who started first grade in Baltimore public schools in 1982 and were interviewed for the last time at age 28. Read more of this post

Two Healthy Breakfasts for Late Summer

Tomato season is in full swing and apple season has begun here in Pennsylvania, so I’m alternating between these two delicious breakfasts!  Both are quick to prepare, with minimal dirty dishes.  They make good snacks, too.  You get plenty of vitamins and fiber from the fruit, plus protein and fat to keep you feeling full.

We planted two tomato plants in our front yard this year and had another tomato plant come up by surprise, and they’re all producing well.  We also get both tomatoes and apples from our CSA organic farm share.

Tomato Toast is simply buttered toast with nutritional yeast flakes, a nice thick layer of sliced tomato, salt, and dill.  (Cilantro instead of dill makes a different flavor, also tasty.)  If you’re really hungry, add a scrambled or fried or sliced hard-boiled egg.  An affordable gluten-free variation is a bowl of warmed-up leftover cooked rice or other grain, with butter, nutritional yeast flakes, diced tomato, salt, and dill.

Easy Fresh Apple Yogurt is simply a diced apple quickly cooked with seasonings and stirred into plain yogurt.  Sometimes I add granola or other cereal.  This morning, I made this with a pear instead (because we were given a bag of home-grown pears) and that’s good, too.  This recipe is ideal for people who get an itchy mouth or upset stomach from eating raw apples–a problem I had only while pregnant with Lydia, which is when I developed this recipe.

Enjoy the season, and check out all the great ideas at Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Works-for-Me Wednesday!

Sckoon Menstrual Cup and Cloth Pad Review

WARNING: People who are offended by graphic discussion of menstruation should go read something else.

I first tried a reusable menstrual cup in 1997 and reusable cloth menstrual pads in 2001.  Over the years, I’ve tried a number of different brands, and I’ve written about why these alternatives are better than disposable pads and tampons and lots more about how great they are, with details about how to use them.  This article is about one specific brand whose cup and pad I’ve tried in the past year.  This is my new favorite cup, and the pad is very good, too.

Sckoon is primarily an organic-cotton company.  They make lots of baby clothes and some other cotton items, including cloth menstrual pads.  Recently, they also started making a menstrual cup out of medical-grade silicone (and it comes in an organic cotton storage bag).  Their organic cotton is grown and processed in Egypt, but their menstrual cup is made in USA.  They use recycled materials in packaging.

What I haven’t been able to find out about Sckoon is how to pronounce their name.  They didn’t answer my question, choosing instead to maintain an air of mystery…so I’m going with “Skoon” unless I learn otherwise.

I have joined Sckoon’s affiliate program, so you can click here to get 10% off your order (or manually enter the discount code ER01HG) and I will earn a 10% commission! Read more of this post