7 Things I’m NOT Good At

Regular readers of this non-blog may be getting the impression that I’m an exceptionally competent person who is good at all kinds of things, packed with brilliant ideas, and highly successful at using every minute effectively.

This is not true.

The Earthling’s Handbook is supposed to be a guide to doing things right if you happen to find yourself living on Earth, so I write mostly about things I feel I’m doing well, things that go well when I remember to do them, things I’ve figured out how to do well after realizing I was doing them wrong, and like that. It’s not a chronicle of the ups and downs of my daily life. In fact, one thing I’ve learned in the past two years (since getting this blog software that lets me add articles easily, even during my lunch break at work) is that when I’m feeling frazzled and incompetent, thinking of something that I am getting right and writing an explanation of how to do it makes me feel so much better!

However, reading all these chipper articles about How to Do Things Better Just Like Me, you might get a skewed impression or even feel like I think I’m just wonderful and perfect. Therefore, for 7 Quick Takes Friday, I have come up with a list of 7 Things I’m NOT Good At. This is by no means a complete list! I had some trouble deciding which 7 things to admit. Read more…

Swinging for Fitness

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Those are the opening lines of a poem from one of the My Book House books that I loved when I was a little girl. It so vividly captures the simple joy of swinging, which was just the same in 1920 as in 1977 as in 2009. I still think that swinging in a swing is one of the pleasantest things to do!

It’s also great exercise! Pumping a swing up nice and high increases your heart rate and works your abdominal muscles and loosens your hamstrings. Swings are available free of charge at most playgrounds. If you have kids, you can exercise while they play. Read more…

Seven Reasons Not to Circumcise Your Son

by Daniel Efran

Well, I figure if my girlfriend and my parents are discussing my penis on the Internet, I’d better chime in!

The subject, specifically, is routine circumcision of infants–whether it should be routine, whether it should have been done to our son (which it wasn’t), and whether it should have been done to me (which it was). Becca’s article and my parents’ reply reflect many of my opinions so eloquently that I have little to add, but I’d like to go on record with my opinion about circumcision. Read more…

Spam’s Spinach-ghetti

Don’t worry, this recipe does not include that horrible canned meatlike product!!

Way back in 2001 (whoa, I feel so old every time I say that!) when we bought a share in a CSA farm for the first time, we were baffled about what to do with so much spinach–the first few weeks, we received a pound or two of spinach every week. We’ve since learned many yummy ways to fix spinach (all of our kale ideas, except the crispy one, also work with spinach) but at the time, we were struggling.

Then our friend Spam (his real name is Steve, but we call him by his initials) taught us this easy, tasty way to use spinach:

Start cooking some spaghetti and heating up some sauce. Meanwhile, put a lot of spinach into your colander in the sink–really, a lot of spinach, twice as much as you think you could eat if it was your entire meal, because it’s going to shrink dramatically. Wash the spinach and remove tough stems and any other yucky parts.

When the spaghetti is ready, drain it onto the spinach. The hot water will cook the spinach just the right amount!

Put spinach and spaghetti back into the pot. The spinach will be sort of matted together. Use a pasta claw or a fork to separate the leaves and mix them into the spaghetti.

Serve spinach-ghetti onto plates and top with sauce.

Donating Dish Detergent

Do you ever want to help an organization, but feel like you can’t spare enough money to make a real difference?

Are you an environmentalist, wishing that everybody would switch to plant-based cleaners to help conserve our irreplaceable petroleum, but feeling like nobody ever listens to your ravings about how great these cleaners are?

Buy a bottle of your favorite earth-friendly dish detergent and leave it next to the kitchen sink in the church, office, fraternal lodge, union hall, secret hide-out, or whatever is the headquarters of the organization in question. Don’t ask permission. Don’t point it out and tell everybody how much they’re going to love it. Don’t even tell anyone it was you who brought it. Just place it there for all to use, and when it starts running low, bring another one. Read more…

Send campers home with a bag lunch!

One very useful idea I’ve learned from Linda May, Girl Scout leader and camp director extraordinaire, is to serve bag lunches as the final meal of an event. Linda does this at the annual winter camp she organizes for our service unit, and my troop has done it at several troop camping weekends.

It’s wonderful because you can prepare the meal a few hours in advance and then clean up completely. Not only are there no dishes to wash, but you can have the girls clean the entire lodge or tent unit while their lunches are waiting on a table outside or near the door. Then they grab their lunches and eat outside or in the car on the way home, so there are no crumbs scattered on the clean floors. Dole out the lunches, fold up the table, and you’re done! Read more…

Circumcision: The Earlier Generation

My article on why we didn’t circumcise our son mentioned that when my partner Daniel learned more about circumcision, he felt “that he was mutilated without his consent simply because of tradition and ignorance” and was so upset that “he wouldn’t speak to his parents because he feared he would yell at them.” As I tried to make clear in the article, we knew that Daniel’s parents had made that decision using the information they had at the time, working from within a culture in which routine infant circumcision was rarely questioned, so it wouldn’t be fair to blame them.

Daniel’s parents wrote a response. It’s so well-written and such a clear presentation of the difference in perspective between 1971 America and 2004 America that, with their permission, we are publishing it as a guest post. Read more…

The Guest Nest that was the Best Nest

I have a home-improvement book that poses an important, well-worded question in its section on one-room apartments:
“Do you want to sleep in your living room or live in your bedroom?”
In other words, do you want your one room to look and function primarily like a daytime living room but also have a place to sleep, or do you want the room to look and function primarily like a bedroom but also have places to eat and do daytime things? This is a wise question to consider before choosing furniture and so on.

I haven’t lived in a one-room place since 1994, but sleeping in the living room and living in the bedroom are ideas that have worked for me in various homes, and I think that being flexible about which activities belong in which room of your home can make it a lot more comfortable and efficient. Here’s one example:

A few years pre-parenthood, Daniel and I lived in a second-floor apartment whose entrance was at the back of the living room. It was a long, narrow place with the two bedrooms (one of which was very skinny) next to each other at the back. We naturally assumed that the larger bedroom with two closets should be our bedroom, and the smaller one should be Daniel’s home office. We also needed to store our two spare twin-size mattresses someplace, ideally a place that could be used as a sleeping area for guests. Read more…

Hammer Festival

Here’s a funny story that I just found in my archives.

One day when Nicholas was three years old, we passed an art center with a banner outside depicting silhouettes of movie cameras on tripods. Nicholas saw them as hammers.

“Look, Mama, they’re going to have a Hammer Festival! I want to go!”

“Oh? What do they do at the Hammer Festival?”

“Well, they serve yummy pancakes. And everyone gets a hammer, of course, and we go around looking at the paintings on the walls. If we don’t like the painting, we hit it with our hammer. After the Hammer Festival, they throw away the paintings with the most hammerings and keep the other ones.”

 Now I know how museums cope with the fact that artists are always producing new art!


Grape-nuts Smile

This is a simple, nutritious snack or breakfast that my four-year-old has been enjoying since he was two:

Put some Grape-nuts cereal and milk in a bowl.
Use healthy toppings to draw a face on the top surface.

This started when I fixed him a bowl of Grape-nuts with sorghum syrup (huh?) and on impulse dribbled the syrup in a smiley face. He loved it and soon began requesting Grape-nuts with various elaborate facial features. Here are some other toppings we’ve tried:
peanut butter
bite-sized slices of apple
pineapple chunks
banana slices

Being artistic takes only about one minute extra and makes the food more appealing! It works for me!


Our son is four-and-a-half years old and has his entire foreskin intact.  We have never regretted for a moment our decision not to have him circumcised.

I always was a bit skeptical of the idea of surgically removing healthy tissue from newborns.  My father explained that the foreskin can’t become infected or cancerous if it isn’t there…but we don’t take out babies’ appendixes to prevent them from getting appendicitis later, even though appendicitis is much more common than penile cancer. Read more…


Daniel and I are featured in this podcast from Schell Studio, in which we discuss some of our favorite books, movies, and games, mostly the science fiction ones, with our good friend Jordu Schell and another friend, Mike. Note that this is 90 minutes long so you don’t start listening when you don’t have time.

I resisted the temptation to object that I am not a nerd; I am a geek. Someday I will write a detailed anthropological study of the distinctions between geeks, nerds, dweebs, and dorks, but this was not the appropriate venue.

Schell Studio creates monsters for movies and such. Check out the Monster of the Day feature.

Try my card game!

Many years ago, I came up with an idea for a game in which you build a map of a suburban area using cards/tiles depicting segments of street. I made a rough prototype, and then my friends the Looneys helped me make a better “alpha deck” on some extra blank cards they happened to have. The next step was to figure out what game to play on the completed map.

You see, although I and a few other people feel that just building the map is excellent (almost addictive) entertainment, most people’s reaction is, “Okay, but what’s the point? What do you do with the suburb once it’s built?” Read more…

Favorite Summer Recipes

UPDATE: I added some more recipes before linking this to the 2013 Summer Recipe Round Up and the Hearth & Soul Blog Hop!

This week’s Works-for-Me Wednesday theme is favorite summer recipes, so my post about menstrual cups isn’t my official WfMW contribution this week, but check it out because those sure do work for me!

Here’s my little index of things that are great to make and eat in hot weather:

Buttered toast with tomato and nutritional yeast flakes is my favorite summer breakfast.

Cucumber Salad is a great side dish that doesn’t spoil easily–perfect for picnics.

This versatile recipe turns a random assortment of vegetables into a yummy meal in 20 minutes or less!

Mexican Pizza bakes quickly, or you can even make a half-batch in the toaster oven to avoid heating up the whole kitchen.

Japanese Udon Noodle Soup is quick to make and works with almost any vegetables you happen to have.

Craving that sweet-potato casserole your mother-out-law always makes at Thanksgiving?  Try Pittsburgh Yam Fake!

Make spaghetti sauce with your summer vegetables on a cooler day, and you’ll have sauce for quick meals for weeks.

Salty String Beans taste amazing to sweaty, worn-out people.

Indian Red Lentils with Carrots is a satisfying summer meal that my mother has made in an electric skillet on top of her outdoor air-conditioning unit, when it’s too hot to cook in the kitchen!

Lunchbox Nachos is a meal to eat at work without pre-cooking at home . . . or just to eat at home.  Also, I sometimes make a big batch as a “Mexican bean salad” for a potluck.

Whip up an American Beanwich instead of a cheeseburger.

Spicy Peanut Dressing on tofu, over a salad of farm share vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, carrot, cucumber, and radish, is a refreshing meal after staggering home through the heat and humidity that wallop you after a day in an air-conditioned office.

This is our favorite dip for veggies or chips.

And don’t forget the lemonade!  If you’re really hot and sweaty and tired, try this homemade electrolyte replenisher.