Squirrel Appreciation Day

It's Squirrel Appreciation Day!It’s a real holiday!  It’s today, January 21st.  Keep an eye out for squirrels as you go about your day, and appreciate their resourcefulness, climbing ability, and cuteness.  (Photos are from http://squirrelworld.lincatz.com , a site for squirrel appreciators.)

I live in a solidly urban area of a major city, but even so, the neighborhood where I live is a major squirrel habitat.  Even on the busy street of high-rise buildings where I work, I typically see at least one squirrel along my four-block walk from the bus stop to my office.  A squirrel can live happily in an area so small you wouldn’t even know it was a forest, like a seven-foot-wide strip of lawn with a couple of trees. Read more…

Books I’ve Been Sharing with My 10-Year-Old

I wrote Great Chapter Books for Kids when Nicholas was four years old, thinking I’d add to it later or make it the first post in a series…and I keep meaning to get around to it…but meanwhile, I’m going to use the Quick Lit Linkup as motivation to write about what I’ve read to Nicholas, and recommended that he read, just in the past couple of months around his tenth birthday.  Some of these will eventually make the “great” list, while others might not.

Although I don’t spend as much time reading to Nicholas as I did when we commuted by public transit to his preschool, I still read to him for about half an hour at bedtime; we have been firm about keeping up that tradition even now that baby sister Lydia is on the scene!  My father continued to read bedtime stories until I was 14, and I think it’s a great way to experience books together.  Nicholas also gets to read a different book to himself in bed for a while after 8:30.

These are some of the books he’s heard or read since November:

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

This is one of the less-well-known Chronicles of Narnia, but I think it deserves more acclaim. Read more…

The 4-Day Laundry Plan (How to use cloth diapers and have a job without losing your mind)

Welcome to the January 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Household Chores

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, tips, and tricks on tackling household chores. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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I have an eight-month-old daughter who wears cloth diapers all day and night.  I have a full-time job outside the home.  I’m a naturally chilly person, so I wear layers of clothes, including two to four pairs of socks, every day in the winter.  I use cloth handkerchiefs, cloth personal wipes, and cloth menstrual pads.  I hang-dry almost all my laundry instead of using the dryer.  How the heck do I get all that laundry done?!?

I worked out a good system when my first child was a baby, and I’ve been working my way toward getting back onto that system; with the addition of a few more diapers to our stash, it’s finally starting to work really smoothly.  Here are the key components of my laundry routine. Read more of this post

Flexican Cornbread Pizza

Meatless MondayTasty TuesdayHearth & Soul Blog HopWorks-for-Me Wednesday

This recipe has a history.  It started with my mom’s trusty recipe for Mexican Pizza.  Then came my serendipitous discoveries that (a) it can be adapted to a non-Mexican-flavored version, which my family loves just as much as the Mexican version, and (b) it can be baked in a toaster-oven.  More than a year ago, I opened a contest to name this recipe…but none of the suggestions really grabbed me.  Meanwhile, my life-partner Daniel has referred to it at least once as Flexican Cornbread Pizza, which I think is a pretty good name, and he’s been kind of depressed lately, but he really enjoyed this meal when I made it last night, so…

THE WINNER IS DAN EFRAN, CREATOR OF COOL STUFF TO BRIGHTEN YOUR DAY!!!  YAAAYYY!!!

Absolutely no nepotism was involved.  It’s really more about my fondness for words that combine two other words.  This recipe is flexible and can be Mexican in flavor, and it’s like a pizza with a cornbread crust, so Flexican Cornbread Pizza is a perfect name.  Unless we come up with something even punnier.

This recipe can be adapted to the vegetables and herbs you happen to have on hand.  You could even use leftovers!  That makes it very frugal.  Here is the Mexican version, and here is an Italian version I made on a hot summer day, and below is the recipe with general guidelines plus specifics on last night’s cozy January dinner.  It’s vegetarian and can be made vegan.  From start to finish, you can make it in 30 minutes or less, even if your onions or other vegetables are frozen shredded–they’ll thaw easily in the first stage of cooking.

These instructions are for baking in a standard oven, on a cookie sheet with sides.  See the above Italian version to adjust quantities to make a 9″ square pan to bake in the toaster-oven.

To make 6 main-dish servings, you will need:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked and rinsed beans. I used pinto beans last night; I rinsed 2 cans, set aside 1/4 cup for the baby’s dinner (she also had black olives and Cheerios), and used the rest on the pizza.
  • 1/4 to 1/2 onion, or 1 or 2 green onions.  I used the last bits left over from a sweet white onion we’d cut up for other meals.
  • vegetables.  I used 4 big leaves of kale, 8 large white button mushrooms, and a big handful of black olives.
  • herbs, fresh or dried.  I used 1 stalk dried rosemary and 2 stalks dried thyme.  (Did you know?  Most fresh herbs will turn into dried herbs if you just put them in an open-topped plastic bag in the refrigerator and forget about them.  It doesn’t work with basil or parsley because they’re too wet and will get moldy.)
  • other seasonings to taste.  I used about 1/4 tsp. each of sea salt and white pepper.
  • Optional: 1 cup marinara sauce.  We didn’t use any this time.  Another option is to leave it off the pizza but serve it on the side.
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil.
  • Grease for the baking pan. I used coconut oil.
  • 1 cup cornmeal.
  • 1 tsp. salt.
  • 1 cup flour.  I used whole-wheat flour.
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder.
  • 1 cup plain yogurt, applesauce, or pumpkin puree. I used yogurt. (If applesauce is sweetened, omit syrup/honey.)
  • 1 Tbsp. sorghum syrup or honey.
  • Optional: 1 egg.  The crust holds together better if you use egg than if you don’t.
  • Optional: 1 cup grated cheese.  I used mozzarella.

Dice onion, any fresh herbs, and vegetables.  Saute them in 1 Tbsp. olive oil, in a skillet, for a few minutes, crumbling in any dried herbs and adding other seasonings.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the cookie sheet, bottom and sides, from one end to about 3 inches from the other end.  (If you want your crust really thin, you can grease the whole pan.  I prefer to make it thicker.)

Mix cornmeal, salt, flour, and baking powder in a bowl.  Make a well in the center and put yogurt, syrup, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, and egg in it.  Mix them together and then mix with the dry ingredients; don’t mix too long or hard, just until combined.  (Over-mixing will pop the bubbles created by the baking powder, resulting in less fluffy cornbread.)

Pour the batter into the pan–start at one end and spread batter toward the other end, using a rubber scraper, until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2 inch deep.

If using sauce, spread it over the batter.  Sprinkle vegetable mixture and beans evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle optional cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into rectangles and serve with salad or fruit for a nice meal.  Leftover pieces easily reheat in the microwave or toaster-oven.

Top 10 New Articles of 2014

One of the interesting things about writing a handy guidebook for this planet is that what Earthlings want to know doesn’t vary all that much from year to year.  The 10 most-viewed articles this year were first published between 2008 and 2013 (though they’ve all had updates), and that blood-type article alone has been read almost 28,000 times this year!

Amid all those popular classic articles, you might have missed some of the new chapters added to the Handbook this year, so here are the Top 10 articles that were new in 2014.  You might notice a common theme….

  1. What to Do If Your Baby Spits Up Blood.  Call the doctor!  But while you’re waiting for a call back, read this for a reassuring possible explanation of this disturbing symptom.
  2. Why I’m Sleeping in the Dining Room.  We rearranged our home in the spring.  This is my explanation of how and why we did it, and how it was working as of September, with excellent diagrams created by my son Nicholas.  (Here are the details on how he did the illustrations.)
  3. My kid doesn’t have to wear a coat.  Throughout his ten years of life, Nicholas has been teaching me that he truly doesn’t feel cold as easily as I do and that he rarely complains about conditions I would find uncomfortable, so he can make his own decisions about how to dress for the weather.  He wishes his teachers would read this article–but I understand that they need to standardize the rules about when to wear a coat to avoid debating with every student individually so that they’d never get out to recess!
  4. Why we didn’t have a Gender Reveal Party.  Now that it’s possible to find out whether your baby will be male or female before it’s born, a lot of people not only take for granted that they’ll find out but also announce it to everyone, sometimes with a party.  Although we respect other families’ decisions and share in our friends’ joyful expectation however they decide to express it, we felt strongly that we did not want to participate in this trend ourselves.  Here’s why.
  5. Wearing a stretchy tummy band instead of maternity pants: A review.  This is another trend in American pregnancy behaviors that’s emerged since my first pregnancy in 2004, and I did get into this one.  I had mixed feelings about the band and eventually decided it worked best as a temporary solution for Weeks 10-20, followed by maternity pants.  Here are all the pros and cons.  (Until I reread this, I had forgotten all about that horrible hip chafing I was suffering at this time last year.  Wow, I’m glad that’s over!)
  6. The Towel Pull: A Helpful Childbirth Technique.  After doing it twice, I’m convinced that this is a great way to get a baby out!  Both times, I was working with one birth professional who was familiar with this technique and one who wasn’t, so I think it’s important to spread the word.
  7. Humidify Your Home the Cheap and Easy Way!  Don’t buy a new power-guzzling, maintenance-demanding, mold-harboring appliance to get water into the air, when you could just use an old pie pan and some tap water.  Read the comments for helpful tips on other ways to increase humidity without wasting energy.
  8. Four Weeks of Mostly Meatless Dinners (February).  We weren’t fasting for Lent especially; this is just the way we eat most of the time.  If you do give up meat for Lent, or if your New Year’s resolution is to eat less meat, our multi-week menus may be helpful as you figure out what to eat that is affordable, has adequate protein, fits your budget, and uses seasonal ingredients.
  9. Why I Spent My Birthday Money on Socks.  Am I really boring and impoverished, or am I tuned in to the beauty and luxury of life’s simple pleasures?  Read this and find out.
  10. Cloth Diapers: What Works for Our Family.  Here’s lots of detail on which brands of diapers and related items we are using and how we like them.  (Stay tuned for reviews of the additional diapers, 1-3 each of several different brands, that I gave my daughter for Christmas!  I’m starting early to teach her the philosophy of #9 above.)

Golly, have you guessed that we have a new baby this year?  Her name is Lydia.  She’s almost eight months old now and plans to inspire many more articles.  This isn’t the style of blog where I post pictures and gush about the adorability of my little pookums, but I assure you that she is very adorable and interesting!  I didn’t realize just how many of my new articles were about my baby or pregnancy–or that those articles had been more popular than most of my others–until I looked at the WordPress stats for the year.  I’m glad to be a resource for Earth parents!

Honorable Mention

Here are some articles published toward the end of 2013 that didn’t make last year’s Top 10 but were popular in 2014:

  • Tips for Surviving Pregnancy Nausea.  It wasn’t quite as bad this time around because of the lessons I learned the first time.  If you are a first-time mom, or you’re planning to be one, or you know an expectant mother who is too queasy to click a mouse, be sure to read these many things I wish I’d known in advance.
  • A Laundry Line-Drying System that Will Work for YOU!  You know you want to save money, reduce energy consumption, and make your clothes last longer by giving up the electric dryer, but how are you going to work a clothesline into your lifestyle?  This post collects all the helpful tips of my 24 years of laundry air-drying experience in one place.
  • Planning, Parenting, and Perfection.  This is the whole story of how Lydia happened to be born more than nine years after her only sibling.  I never planned to have a baby at age 40, but it’s turned out just perfectly–like a lot of my other plans for my adult life.

Also, I can’t resist an honorable mention of my son’s first guest post, Recycling Used-Up Pens and Markers. I’m so proud of his environmental consciousness, initiative, planning, follow-through, and emerging journalism skills!

Those are the new posts that worked for me this year!  Best wishes for 2015!

28 Book Reviews!

For some reason, growing a new life makes me want to read books I’ve never read before.  Starting last fall during my exhausted queasy phase and continuing up until now, when Lydia is seven months old, I’ve reread only a few books and read many more that were new to me.  Only a few of them are recent releases, but perhaps you missed the older books, so they’ll be new to you, too.

This list includes several books that my life-partner Daniel recommended when I was casting about restlessly with no immediate opportunity to go to the library or a used-book sale, as well as some from the stack he handed me when I said, “What science fiction would I like that I haven’t read?” a few weeks before attending Capclave.  If you are in a long-term relationship, try asking your partner for books he or she would like you to read: They’ll give you something new to talk about, which can teach you new things about each other, and they’ll give you even more in common.

Anyway, on with the books!  (They are in alphabetical order by author and then by title.)

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine

This travelogue of Earth by the author of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (and a zoologist co-author) was obviously right up my alley, yet for some reason I’d never noticed it on our shelf until Daniel recommended it to me.  Adams and Carwardine visited a bunch of endangered species in their exotic habitats and wrote about it with a highly entertaining blend of interesting zoological facts and, well, Douglas Adams.  WARNING: Do not read the part about the Komodo dragons when you are struggling with nausea and/or all alone downstairs in the middle of the night, let alone both. Read more…

The Nutcracker: music for the imagination

Ah, December, the month when the days are getting shorter and shortest as we try to pack in shopping, parties, preparations for hospitality or travel, and tranquil spiritual contemplation along with all our usual activities!  It makes a kid who persistently wants attention all the more annoying.

The December my son Nicholas turned two, I found a great way to get him to use his imagination, work out some of his physical energy, and leave me alone just enough that I could wash the dishes!  It also boosts my holiday spirit and gives me a nice feeling of being a classy, educational sort of mom.

Most of us are familiar with The Nutcracker as a ballet, a theatrical event that we might attend annually or only when somebody we know is in it.  But it’s also a musical composition by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky that is beautiful and tells a story even when you have only the music.

We happen to live just blocks away from the incomparable Jerry’s Records, so I picked up The Nutcracker as a two-record set for $4.
Nutcracker album cover
Read more…

Our Green Christmas Tree (now with photos!)

Back in 2007, I wrote about the little tree Daniel and I, with the help of former housemate Bill, made for our first Christmas together, back in 1996.  Made mostly of repurposed materials, this is a great alternative to cutting down a real tree or using a factory-made artificial tree.  It’s still going strong!  I’m finally responding to all the requests for photos of it.  Sorry I don’t have any pictures of the construction, but I’m reprinting the verbal description, and I bet you can figure it out–it was easy to make.

Christmas tree on the game cabinet

We just set it up for our 19th Christmas together.  Every year, we simply bring it up from the basement, wipe off dust with a damp cloth, and decorate!  Here’s how we made it: Read more…

DIY Instant Oatmeal: Ditch the Packets!

I love oatmeal.  It’s nutritious, with plenty of fiber and minerals and Vitamin B1, and has many health benefits.  It’s filling.  It can be seasoned any way you like.  Quick-cooking oats are really easy to make–I don’t even bother cooking them in a pot, just mix them with boiling water in a bowl–and very low-priced, especially in bulk at the food co-op or in a large canister at GFS Marketplace.  I have a favorite recipe for oatmeal that includes other healthy and filling ingredients like almond butter, and I also make fruit-flavored oatmeal whenever we finish up a jar of jam.

But in my workplace, I can’t store a lot of ingredients, nor do I have a nice counter space to assemble food.  I don’t want to be licking sorghum syrup and almond butter off my filing cabinet!  I do have a very nice electric kettle which provides properly boiling water (much better than a microwave) suitable for cooking oatmeal….

At times, I’ve bought instant oatmeal in single-serving packets.  They’re okay.  Some of the flavors are quite tasty, and a snack of oatmeal is very satisfying.  But seeing those plastic-lined packets piling up in my wastebasket makes me feel a little sick.  And a packet costs about 5 times as much as a serving of quick oats with embellishments.  The giant boxes of packets, with a lower price per serving and slightly less cardboard waste, inevitably are “variety packs” including at least one flavor that I don’t like as well as the others.  The less-expensive brands of flavored oatmeal usually include weird ingredients that might not be so healthy, plus a lot of sugar.  Some flavors contain dried fruit, but after being stored mixed into the oatmeal it is so dry that it isn’t very appetizing.

Now that I’m a nursing mother again, I’m especially in need of healthy snacks, and oatmeal may increase milk production–it does seem to have that effect on me.  A few months ago, Costco had a sale on Nature’s Path organic instant oatmeal with no weird ingredients…and I plowed through those 32 packets in less than 6 weeks.  Furthermore, I felt that a packet wasn’t really quite enough food for me now, so I sometimes ate two packets together.  I had to find a less wasteful option! Read more…

What Earthlings Want to Know

As a professional data manager, I still don’t get enough information to pore over, so I sometimes spend my lunch break delving into the WordPress stats page that tells me how people find The Earthling’s Handbook.  One of the more interesting features is the list of phrases typed into search engines that brought people here, including the number of people who searched that phrase and clicked through.

The top four searches are all variations of the same basic question.  The very topmost search, the question 1,126 eager Earthlings have asked, the question of all questions about life on Earth that I am best qualified to answer, is Read more…

The Common Cold and the Common Cup: Does Communion spread germs?

I’m an Episcopalian.  In almost every service at our church, we receive Communion this way: The priest tears a morsel off of a round, flat bread and places it in the palm of your hand, and you eat it.  The chalice-bearer holds the silver cup of wine as you sip from it, then wipes the rim of the chalice with the purificator, which is just a fancy name for a cloth napkin.  There are two chalices, and in our typical service maybe 30 people drink from each one.

Why would I share a drink with 30 other people?  Isn’t that just asking for trouble?

Honestly, I’ve never worried about it much, for three reasons: Read more…

One Brave Girl

This article from The New York Times was reprinted in my local newspaper.  In Afghanistan, a mullah who raped a 10-year-old girl in the mosque was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Most Americans would agree that anybody who rapes a child is a horrific criminal for whom 20 years is a light sentence, would be especially disgusted by such behavior from a religious leader, and would rally around the girl as an innocent victim.

This girl’s family considered murdering her to protect the family honor.  This girl has been raised in a culture in which that is traditional.

But when the mullah spoke in his own defense and claimed she had seduced him, the girl stopped sobbing and pulled aside her veil enough to speak directly to him. “Hey liar, hey liar,” she said. “God hate you, you are dirt, you are dirt, you are a vampire.”

Can you imagine the courage that took?

I used to be a Girl Scout leader.  When one of my girls was ten, her dad took her to an all-ages concert in a bar, where, she said, “a man, or maybe like a really old teenager, like in college” leaned over her saying she was pretty and asking for her phone number.  She did not know what to do.  Her father grabbed the guy by the collar and said, “Hey, leave my daughter alone!  She’s only TEN! YEARS! OLD!  Idiot.”  That is the kind of treatment men who hit on preteen girls deserve, and men who rape preteen girls…  Dirt.  Vampires.  It breaks my heart that this girl had to speak up for herself, but I am so very glad that she did.

This girl’s courage, and the courage of all those who are helping to bring the rapist to justice, will help to make Afghanistan a safer place for girls and women, who have been treated so badly for so long. That’s something that is working in our world. Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday to read about many other things that are working.

Knock Out a Cold Quickly and Naturally!

Last Wednesday, I felt like I was coming down with a cold: runny nose, itchy throat, ominous heavy feeling in the middle of my head.  The typical cold lasts 7-10 days.  Bummer.

Today is Tuesday.  I’m still having an episode of sneezing and nose-blowing every few hours, but otherwise I feel great!  I’ve been feeling pretty well since Sunday.  Even on Saturday, I got through a major grocery-shopping expedition without collapsing afterward.  So really, I was only sick for 2-3 days, and it didn’t turn into a lung or sinus infection like my colds often do.  It’s possible that this was just a weaker virus than some, but I think that my treatment of myself during this cold helped it to run its course more quickly than it might.  Here’s what I did:

Read more…

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.

IMG_2090.JPG
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 delicious Tetrazzini!

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.  Don’t have peas?  Cauliflower or broccoli or some other vegetable can be substituted. 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…