Things Not To Do: Fiction Writing Edition

Well, I was really hoping to write a nice long post for the What I’m Reading series at Modern Mrs. Darcy, where Anne and her readers talk about the books they’ve read recently, on the 15th of each month.  I’ve read a whole lot of new-to-me books this year, because having viral bronchitis for the entire month of January, then having a new baby in May and doing lots of breastfeeding, gave me plenty of time for reading–and it seems that a new baby makes me want to read books I haven’t read before.  But now that I’m back to work at my full-time job, as well as taking care of my baby and 9-year-old when I’m at home, I don’t have a lot of time for writing!  Maybe next month…

Meanwhile, I’m going to rant about two things that happen far too often in the novels I read.  (I won’t rat out specific books, though, because both of these are late-in-the-plot twists, thus spoilers.)  If you are an aspiring author, please avoid these irritating cliches! Read more…

Easy Dental Health Tip for New Moms

When you’re taking care of a little baby, it can be hard to get around to doing basic things like brushing your teeth–you seem to always have your hands full, and then when you finally get a moment, you forget or you’re too tired! It’s still important to take good care of yourself, though.

One thing I have learned is that I am more likely to do something if I can reach it quickly when I get a moment to set down the baby. It feels like a big deal to go do something several rooms away or on another floor of the house. Keeping supplies near me makes me more likely to use them.

With this baby, I’m sleeping in the dining room, on a different floor from the main bathroom where I would normally brush my teeth. At first I just brought my toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste downstairs. Then I decided to give myself a new upstairs toothbrush as well. Now I can brush my teeth when I get the chance, no matter which floor of the house I happen to be on! What convenience! I wish I had thought of this with the first baby.

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I keep my downstairs toothbrush in this little Corningware dish that we have. It sits on one of the shelves in the baby’s changing room, above her clothes. To brush my teeth downstairs, I pick up the dish and carry it to the kitchen sink. It’s a little easier than picking up the toothbrush and paste separately.

It works for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more motherly wisdom.

Tetrazzini

This rich, filling casserole is a wonderful comfort food for chilly days!  It’s made with real ingredients–no canned soup–yet it’s fairly easy to put together.  Turkey Tetrazzini is traditional, but my family usually doesn’t eat meat other than fish, so we most often make Tetrazzini with canned Alaskan salmon.  We’ve also made it with cubes of tofu.

I started with a recipe that I copied out of a magazine (I think it was Redbook) when I was in college.  I’ve made a few modifications to the seasoning and rewritten the instructions in an order that I can follow confidently, instead of finding that I’ve forgotten crucial steps so that the sauce gets lumpy while I race around insanely.  I’m a person who usually avoids making white sauce, but it’s worth it for this recipe.

This recipe is easily modified to use odds and ends that you happen to have on hand.  Only the sauce ingredients really need to be measured; all the other quantities are approximate.  If you don’t have peas, cauliflower or broccoli or some other vegetable can be substituted. If you don’t have as much salmon (or alternative protein) as the recipe says, throw in more vegetables.  Use up pasta, fish/meat, cheese, or vegetables left over from another meal–it’s a great way to make Thanksgiving turkey taste different!–or purposely cook extra of these ingredients when making another meal and then make Tetrazzini a day or two later.  The quantity of bell pepper in this recipe is less than a whole pepper, so it’s perfect for using up a random leftover chunk. Read more…

Is email better for the environment?

Paperless systems are very popular these days.  Paper is made from trees, and although trees are a renewable resource, they take a long time to grow compared to the amount of time we might use a sheet of paper.  Recycling paper uses a lot of chemicals, energy, and water, although it is still less wasteful than making new paper.  Getting away from all that paper use into a nice clean electronic system is better for the environment, right?

Usually, yes, it’s somewhat better.  It bothers me, though, to hear people talking virtuously about all the stuff they do on their computers or smartphones, often via Internet, as if that has no environmental impact at all.  If I nudge, usually they’ll acknowledge that their device uses electricity and therefore contributes to pollution from power plants.  For most people, though–including myself, on a typical day–the Internet is kind of magic; it’s just there, or you might be aware of connecting to it but not think of it as having any physical existence.  Dude, the Internet is an enormous collection of enormous server farms using an enormous amount of electricity!  Every time you use it, you’re zapping a little energy all around the world, not just on the device in front of you.  It’s a lot harder to see than a bag of garbage, but your paperless activities do create some waste.

The article “How Green Is Your Tech?” thoroughly explains the environmental impact of email and how you can reduce it.  Here’s the basic staggering fact:

Basically, each year the average person emails an amount of carbon equal to the exhaust of a 200-mile car ride. Looked at from a different angle, all the emails sent scurrying around the Internet in a single day generate more than 880 million lbs. (that’s 44,000 tons!) of carbon per day.

The impact of a single email is 4 grams of carbon, about as much as a sugar packet.

After reading this article, I began to visualize my emails as little black packets thrown on the grass.  It’s gotten me to send somewhat fewer emails and avoid CC-ing to people who don’t really need to be in the loop.  Learning that attachments add weight to those black packets motivated me to put documents my boss needs to see on the Local Area Network and email him the location of the document, instead of saving the document on my hard drive and attaching a copy to the email.

The bigger change I’ve made, though, is to unsubscribe from mailing lists that I wasn’t reading.  I realized I was in the habit of simply deleting, unread, the messages from that hotel “frequent guest” program I apparently joined when I stayed in their hotel once, that charity whose petition I signed four years ago but whose day-to-day activities don’t fascinate me, that blog where I posted one comment last year and it automatically started emailing me every comment on every article on her site including all the spam, and so forth.  Now that I see every one of those messages as a black packet tossed on my green grass, it feels worth the effort to scroll down to the bottom of the message and click “unsubscribe”.  Yes, that action loads a Webpage, tossing another black packet or so, but once it’s done that particular entity will stop throwing packets at me.  I was horrified by just how many sources were junking up my inbox, once I started paying attention.

And now that I’m on fewer annoying mailing lists, a larger proportion of my email is stuff I actually want to read!  That makes me happier about the email-checking experience and saves time.

As for other “paperless” things that a lot of people do by poking the PocketFox or computer, I do a lot of those things on scrap paper, giving that paper another use before it hits the recycling bin.  Unless I use tape or staples, this has zero environmental impact, and I can do my stuff during a power failure without worrying about using up my charge!

Reducing my email and thinking twice about paperless systems works for me!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more waste-reducing ideas!

Cloth Diapers: What Works for Our Family

Our first child was already out of diapers when I wrote about why we use cloth diapers and all the details of our cloth diapering equipment and procedures.  Some of the specific products we’d used were no longer being made even when I wrote the articles, and others have changed or become unavailable since then.

Now that we’ve been cloth diapering our second child for almost five months, I’m going to explain what equipment we are using and loving this time–and a few things that haven’t worked out so well.  This is not a sponsored post.  I did not receive any free products in exchange for writing this.  All opinions are my own.

Our basic diaper system for Lydia is the same as what we used for Nicholas: We use fitted diapers with snaps, waterproof diaper covers, doublers as needed, cloth wipes that are flannel on one side and terrycloth on the other, small wetbags for transporting used diapers, large wetbags for lining a stainless steel trash can with foot pedal that stores the diapers until wash day, and environmentally friendly laundry detergent.  Click here for all the details!

Roasted Tomatoes

Late last summer, we took a tip from our CSA farm‘s newsletter and converted some of our surplus tomatoes into roasted tomatoes, which we froze and later used in a spaghetti sauce.  This year, when I’m not pregnant and feeling weird about food, I am even more excited about delicious roasted tomatoes, and some experimentation has shown us that they’re even easier to make than we’d thought.

Roasted tomatoes are very flavorful, kind of sweet.  If you season the oil in which you roast them, they can serve as pasta sauce all by themselves.  They’re also delicious in omelets.  Roasting reduces the volume of tomatoes so that you can freeze them in less space than diced raw tomatoes–and freezing doesn’t really change their texture and flavor.  Roasted tomatoes also last longer in the refrigerator than fresh ones.

Even over-ripe or slightly under-ripe tomatoes roast well.  As long as they’re not moldy and don’t smell terrible, go ahead and use them, even if they’re past the point when you would eat them raw.  You can even use the good parts of a big tomato that’s gone partly bad.

Our farm advises roasting the tomatoes at a relatively low temperature, like 200F, for an hour or more.  Apparently this eventually will give them the texture and flavor of sun-dried tomatoes.  I don’t like sun-dried tomatoes, so I stopped earlier, while the tomatoes were still somewhat juicy.

We’ve now discovered that if you roast tomatoes like any other vegetable, at 400F, they are just as tasty and are ready sooner!  Just be careful not to burn them.

Here’s what to do:

  1. Trim the stems out of the tomatoes and remove any rotten spots.
  2. Take out the biggest clumps of seedy pulpy stuff.  Eat them.
  3. Cut the tomatoes into bite-size pieces.
  4. In a bowl, combine olive oil (about 1 Tbsp. per tomato) with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and basil to taste.
  5. Place tomato chunks in the bowl and toss with a slotted spoon.
  6. Scoop out the tomato chunks and spread them in a single layer in a glass or ceramic baking pan.  If you only have metal pans, you may want to line them with parchment paper to prevent the acid in the tomatoes from reacting with the metal.
  7. Bake at 400F for 10 minutes.  Stir.  If they are beginning to brown, bake another 5 minutes before you check them again; otherwise, give them another 10.  Keep baking until they look very cooked and smell delicious!
  8. If not serving the roasted tomatoes immediately, store them in a glass jar in the refrigerator, or freeze them.
  9. Make sure to eat the delicious oil left in the baking pan!  Soak it up with bread, or toss leftover cooked rice into the pan and stir it around to pick up the oil, if you don’t have any better ideas.
  10. If you have trouble removing blackened tomato juice from the pan, try this frugal scouring powder!

Roasting tomatoes works for me!  Visit the Hearth and Soul Blog Hop for more great food ideas.  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more ways to make the most of your resources.

My 9-Year-Old Architect

I love drawing floor plans–even though I failed to become an architect–so I looked forward to illustrating my article about how we rearranged our home to make space for our new baby Lydia.  I thought this also would be a great opportunity to learn to use TouchDraw, a drafting app I’d bought for my iPad months ago but had barely gotten to play with.

Unfortunately, a mere 15 minutes of attempting to make those drawings taught me that TouchDraw sucks.  As best I can find, it can’t draw an arc–so how could I draw a door?  Its lines seem to be looking for every opportunity to jump just slightly away from being perpendicular when you lift your finger after drawing.  Its help files are laughably incomplete, set up by someone with good intentions of writing the help files someday.

Rather than spend time seeking a better drafting app, I decided to do the drawings by hand and then photograph them and post the photos.  Of course, I already have a hand-drawn scale drawing of every room in our house (doesn’t everyone?) that I made as soon as we bought the house so that we could use the scale model paper cutouts of all our furniture to decide how to arrange the rooms.  (We used it again to figure out this current arrangement.)  I would simply tape that drawing to the table, roll out some of the proper architect’s trace-paper that I still have, trace the room, draw in the furniture, and make handwritten notes around the perimeter as necessary to explain details.  I looked forward to doing this some night when Lydia went to sleep before I was totally exhausted and after I’d finished all my crucial chores.

Well, that didn’t happen any night last week!  When I got up on Saturday morning, I explained the situation to my nine-year-old son Nicholas and noted that I would need to spend a couple of hours during the day working on my drawings.

“But Mama,” he said, “What about Room Planner?” Read more…

Why I’m Sleeping in the Dining Room

Welcome to the September 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Home Tour

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have opened up their doors and given us a photo-rich glimpse into how they arrange their living spaces.

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When Daniel and I bought our house 12 years ago, we made sure to choose one that had space for a child.  We planned to have one child; we thought we might consider having two, but in choosing the house we were allotting space for one.  Here’s the whole story that led to our daughter Lydia being born in May, nine years younger than her brother Nicholas.  “Everybody knows” that siblings with such a large age gap don’t share a bedroom and/or that siblings of opposite sexes don’t share a bedroom…but I’ve never quite understood how a newborn baby can share a bedroom even with her three-year-old sister: Doesn’t the baby’s crying to be fed every few hours disturb the older child’s sleep?

Besides, our experience with getting Nicholas to sleep put me firmly in favor of co-sleeping with my baby at least until she’s weaned.  It’s just so convenient to respond to those 2am whimpers by opening my nightgown and cuddling the baby closer, instead of dragging myself out of my warm bed and into a chair in another room where I’d have to stay awake the whole time she’s nursing!  Daniel fully supports my sleeping with our babies, but he isn’t all that keen on sleeping with anyone and is sometimes disturbed even by my presence; a few weeks of sleeping with the newborn Nicholas (and me) convinced Daniel that co-sleeping was something he could handle only on an occasional basis.  Therefore, we couldn’t use our master bedroom for co-sleeping with baby Lydia–and for many reasons, we’d concluded that having the family bed in the kid’s room works best for our family.

The trouble was, we didn’t have a spare room that could become Lydia’s bedroom.  Our house has three private, upstairs rooms, but the back one seems to have been built as a sleeping porch and later enclosed–it partially overhangs the back yard, and that half of the room is encased in siding rather than brick–and although we got extra insulation added when we had the siding replaced, that room gets much colder than the rest of the house in the winter.  That’s why we use it as Daniel’s home office rather than a bedroom.  It would not be a healthy sleeping place for a baby.  Also, Daniel works from home and is an introvert; he needs his own room.

We thought back to what we’d learned from the apartment where we couldn’t sleep in the bedrooms and the home-buying process that inspired: Instead of making a list of rooms we needed, we made a list of spaces we wanted to have.  When we toured a house that we thought might be the one, we tried to work out where each of the spaces would fit.  One of the things that attracted us to this house we bought was the large and versatile dining room.

Read more…

DIY Deodorant

'Becca:

I am reblogging this because the iPad makes it much easier than pinning it on Pinterest, and I realized I have never “reblogged” anything and don’t know how it will look….

I have never tried making deodorant or using homemade deodorant, but I keep thinking it’s something I will try someday. Let’s see if putting the recipe on my own site motivates me!

Originally posted on The Zero-Waste Chef:

Unlike my other recipes, you don’t actually eat this one. But because I make my deodorant (mostly) out of food ingredients and several people have asked me how I do it, I thought I would go ahead and post the recipe on this food blog.

This stuff works. When I first decided to attempt to live plastic free, I had the most trouble replacing conventional shampoo and deodorant. I tried to solve these problems simultaneously. I was a mess. The bar shampoo I bought left my hair dull and matted to my head. I found Lush’s deodorant bar difficult to apply. Rock crystal deodorant did not work. Using no deodorant did not work. I looked bad and smelled worse.

Thank goodness for baking soda. I wash my hair with it—followed by a cider vinegar rinse—and use it as a base for deodorant.

ingredients

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup baking soda (purchased in bulk)
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch (purchased in…

View original 343 more words

This regular bra works as a nursing bra!

I bought all my nursing bras from Target, and I hate them all.  Target makes great nursing camisoles (with shelf bra) which I was wearing all the time on maternity leave earlier this summer and will wear as undershirts when the weather gets colder; if you are small-busted, they have adequate support and are very comfortable.  But Target’s nursing bras, all 3 different styles I bought, are uncomfortable, stiff in the wrong places, and oddly proportioned, at least compared to my body.  One style looks really lumpy under clothes, while the others are so padded that it’s difficult to get the cup out of the way for nursing.

While I was pregnant, I bought a few bras of the same style I had been wearing for a few years before, but in a larger size.  I am thrilled to discover that they work as nursing bras!!  They are Barely There Invisible Look Wirefree bras, sold at Kohl’s and other stores.  They have “convertible straps” which means the front end of the strap detaches from the cup so that you can crisscross the straps if you want.  The fastener is a snap kind of thing that stays together really well (never comes undone in the washing machine, even) but can be quickly undone with one hand when you want to, with a little practice.  Here I am holding it with two hands just so you can get a good look at what kind of fastener I mean. Read more…

Green Ribbon Lentils

Almost two years ago, I saw this recipe for Garlicky Lentils and Tomatoes, which is very flexible.  We have tried it several different ways, and this variation has become a favorite.

This recipe is easy, cheap, and pretty quick!  It is vegan and gluten-free.  It has lots of fiber, vitamins, protein, and iron.  It can stand alone as a meal or be eaten with bread, over rice, or even on a bun like Sloppy Joe.

It’s a great way to use some of the tomatoes that are so abundant at this time of year–but it also tastes great made with canned tomatoes at any time of year.  It’s also yet another way to use kale, a vegetable that tends to be affordably priced year-round and freezes well.

Best of all, this recipe appeals to our nine-year-old son, and it gets a lot of healthy dark-green vegetable into him! Read more…

5 Tips for Green Lunch Packing

It’s back-to-school season!  If your child brings a lunch to school, now is the time to think about how to pack that lunch.  If you bring your lunch to work, this is a great time of year to rethink what you’re packing, too.

Choosing the right lunch-packing habits can make a big difference in how much garbage you create.  Reducing waste often saves money, too. If you shift from eating out of plastic wrappers to eating out of washable containers made of glass, metal, or other safe materials, you’ll be taking in fewer harmful chemicals.  So it’s a win all around, not just for the environment!

Here are a few main ways my family makes our school and workplace lunches more environmentally friendly.  This is not a sponsored post.  All of the specific products mentioned here were chosen by my family and purchased at full price, and all opinions are our own.  These tips are written as if you, the reader, are the lunch eater, but they all apply to packing kids’ lunches, too!

1. Use what you have.

The greenest type of reusable item is one that you don’t buy new, because even the most ecologically-produced objects take resources and energy to make.  Here are some things I’ve repurposed for packing my lunch: Read more…

The Internet of 20 Years Ago

I just happened upon this article from Wired magazine, which is undated but appears to be from right around 1994–the era when the World Wide Web existed but many major corporations still had no clue about what this Internet thing was, and when most people who did use the Internet still knew what a “shell prompt” was.

If you were already online then, you’ll enjoy this blast of nostalgia for that golden age before the Eternal September and the spam tsunami.

If you weren’t online yet at that point, you may be interested in this glimpse of how things used to be.

I was going to share this link on my Pinterest page where I post assorted interesting stuff–but it’s not pinnable because there are no images on the page.  Ah, those were the days!

9 Things I Forgot to Bring After Maternity Leave

Lydia is three months old now, and I went back to working outside the home last week, back to the same job I had while I was pregnant. In fact, I still do basically the same work as I did when Nicholas was a baby nine years ago (although we have moved office buildings since then), and Lydia is going to the same conveniently-located home childcare as Nicholas did, so my daily routine is very much the same as it was then. You’d think that would make it easy to remember what stuff I needed to bring to use at work and what stuff I needed to pack for the baby.

Apparently, it wasn’t easy, because by noon on my first day I’d made a list of SEVEN things to bring the next day . . . and I’d already noticed the most important forgotten item when I arrived at childcare . . . and when I picked up Lydia, her sitter informed me of yet another thing she needed! That’s NINE things I forgot! This made me feel really idiotic and panicked, so even though my actual job-related stuff went very smoothly and Lydia is quite happy with her sitter, my first day was very stressful.

To make things easier for other moms returning to work outside the home, here’s the list of things I forgot. Not every mother and baby will need all of these things, but if you go over this list and think about whether or not you need each of the things, maybe your first day can be a little less frazzling than mine was! Read more…

Simple Tip to Ease Confusion with a Ring Sling

I love carrying my baby in a ring sling. (Mine is a Maya Wrap.) It is very comfortable, balances baby’s weight well, and can be adjusted very precisely to fit anything from a tiny baby to a big toddler, awake or asleep, in several positions.

One problem, though, is that it can be difficult to recognize which edge of the sling fabric is which. It’s important to put the correct edge underneath the baby so that the fabric is not twisted behind your back–that’s uncomfortable and can injure you if you keep carrying the baby that way. When you reach for the fabric below the rings to adjust the sling, sometimes it’s hard to find any edge, let alone the one you’re looking for, because the fabric is layered in a way that may not be immediately obvious, especially to a busy parent trying to make a quick adjustment while walking.

Luckily, in just a few minutes you can mark the edges of your sling in a permanent way that is easy to understand!

Read more…

Cleaning Carpets the Green Way

This is a guest post by Sarah Smith. Sarah is a small business owner and is currently learning about the environment, using the Internet. Aside from working on her own business, she likes to use social media and read travel books.

Many common household cleaners are full of harmful chemicals, and carpet-cleaning products are no exception. It is probably easier than you think to keep carpets clean and fresh without resorting to unhealthy cleaning products that can harm you and the environment.

Vacuuming

Carpets should be vacuumed at least once a week. Even if your home is very clean, dust will settle on carpeting and should be removed. The longer dust or dirt is allowed to sit on carpet, the more it settles into the fibers and the harder it is to remove. Choose the best vacuum cleaner you can find. It should have great suction and attachments for getting to hard to reach places. Read more…

Refreshing Herbal Iced Tea from Loose Leaves

In this hot weather, it’s important to drink plenty of water…but plain water gets boring. Soft drinks and juices are expensive and bad for your teeth, unless they are sugar-free and sweetened with weird chemicals.

Here is a calorie-free, caffeine-free drink that tastes great without any sweetener and even has health benefits!

I make herbal tea by the pitcher, using a combination of red raspberry leaves and peppermint leaves. I can buy both of these inexpensively in bulk at my local food co-op, but sometimes my mom gives me peppermint from her garden. Raspberry leaves do not taste much like the berries, just sort of leafy and mildly fruity. They are high in Vitamin C and healthy for everyone, but they are especially good for women about to give birth, postpartum, or menstruating because they help the uterus contract smoothly. I use peppermint mainly for its delicious flavor and cooling effect, but it may have health benefits, too. Both herbs are supposed to be good for digestion.

Here is my technique for making the tea: Read more…

Centerpiece

Our nine-year-old Nicholas has been interested in home decorating since he was about four years old. I often get frustrated with his desire to set up things that are merely decorative, have no useful purpose, and just get in my way! I am even more irritated when he wants to buy things just for decorating. I like our home to look clean and pleasant, but I feel we have enough stuff around without cluttering up the place with decorations.

However, I have learned that sometimes decorations help to motivate the family–myself included–to keep a space cleaner and neater, so that we can appreciate the decorations instead of losing them in the clutter or letting them be obscured by dust. The dining table centerpiece is a good example.

Read more…

Water Saving Devices for the Home

This is a guest post by Sarah Smith. Sarah is a small business owner and is currently learning about the environment, using the Internet. Aside from working on her own business, she likes to use social media and read travel books.

Saving water saves money and reduces the energy used in water treatment, but I have never been all that great at saving water, so I am pleased to have this guest post explaining how to do it painlessly as you upgrade your plumbing.

Latest Technology

If the water bills for your home are increasing drastically, then it is time to install new fixtures in the laundry room, kitchen and bathroom. One of the best ways to understand the most appropriate water saving devices to install in your home is to consult with a plumber. A knowledgeable technician from a plumbing company understands the latest technologies available to reduce water usage while also providing an attractive appearance. Read more…

Why I Spent My Birthday Money on Socks

My partner’s grandfather, Herschel, has a tradition of giving everyone a birthday gift of the number of dollars that matches her age, so he gave me $41 last month. I used it to order 8 pairs of socks from Maggie’s Organics.

What a boring gift! It brings to mind the 1980s “Saturday Night Live” skit in which Hanukkah Harry, the Jewish counterpart of Santa Claus, brings a good little child a big box of…socks. Why didn’t I spend this money on something luxurious and fun?!

Read more…