Liebster Award: 11 Great Blogs!

Pary Moppins nominated me for a Liebster Award!  I am honored to be recognized by this perfectly practical blogger who offers such tips as a mnemonic for teaching kids to set the table and 20 very useful kitchen tools and how to make smelly shoes smell better.

The funny thing is, when I received a Liebster Award last year, the rules were different!  I smell a folk process at work–like one of those games of “Telephone” in which each person along the line attempts to repeat the same thing but winds up changing it a little bit.  Oh, well, at least this will be fun to write….

First, I’m supposed to tell 11 random things about myself.  I’ll try to make these things that aren’t already mentioned somewhere in The Earthling’s Handbook.
  1. My Myers-Briggs personality type is ENTJ.  I am very close to the center of the extravert-introvert continuum, though: I strongly prefer being with people to being alone (except in the bathroom!) but I often have various elaborate things going on inside my head at the same time.
  2. If I were suddenly offered a month off work, I would go to London and thoroughly explore it, as well as taking some trains to other parts of Europe.  I’ve always wanted to go there, but it never seems quite feasible with the amount of Paid Time Off available.
  3. I collect Sears catalogs.  Actually, some of them are JCPenney catalogs.  I have about 20 of them, from 1902 to 2004.  (I do not have one from the 1950s, if anybody wants to get me a present!)  It’s a lot of fun looking at what was available, and what it cost, in each era.  Sometimes the written descriptions are unintentionally hilarious, especially in 1902 when Sears sold medical devices and there were not yet any restrictions on the claims one could make about what a product could do for the user.
  4. From age 11 to 15, I self-published a little magazine called House on Jimae Lane and sold subscriptions.  (I also produced about a dozen issues of House on Jimae Lane between ages 4 and 11, but I drew those by hand, so there was only one copy of each.)  It was a lot of fun but also a lot of work!  Writing online is much easier.
  5. I am mostly ambidextrous.  (Brushing my teeth or using scissors with my left hand, or screwing lids onto jars and bottles with my right hand, is very difficult.)  It’s a huge advantage in my work as data manager of a social science research study–I can operate the computer mouse with one hand while writing down numbers with the other hand.  When I worked as a dishwasher, I saved a lot of time by being able to gather forks in my left hand and spoons in my right, simultaneously, from giant trays of mixed silverware.
  6. I never write in cursive, except for my signature.
  7. I detest 3/4-length sleeves and capri pants.  They remind me of sixth grade, when I grew six inches in eight months.
  8. I have been a Star Wars and Doctor Who fan since I was five years old.
  9. If I need to draw something–just to test some drawing materials or because somebody is asking me to draw–I draw a panda standing under a rainbow.  This has been my standard picture for about 30 years.  In general, though, I’m much less interested in drawing pictures than in drawing diagrams like floor plans, flow charts, and family trees–or, if I want a soothing artistic experience, I fill a whole page with colorful plaid or similar methodical patterns.
  10. I like peeling things, such as sycamore bark or old paint.  It is amazing to me that, among the many lumpy-trunked sycamores along Pittsburgh’s streets, there are some with layers and layers of old bark just hanging off them–how can all the other passersby resist the temptation??
  11. Spelling comes very naturally to me, but every once in a while I have trouble with a word, and even when I’ve double-checked the correct spelling it still just doesn’t look right to me.  See recipient, below.  I want to put another E in it somewhere.
Next, I’m supposed to answer the 11 questions the nominator has asked me.  Since she didn’t say otherwise, I’ll assume these are to be the same questions she answered.
  1. Favorite book?  I have a lot of favorite books!  How about, What’s the last book you read?  Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White, a novel about a bunch of quirky characters in south Georgia.  The next book I am going to read is The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis.  The floor-plan book I’ve been gazing at most recently is the Aladdin “Built in a Day” House Catalog of 1917.
  2. Cats or dogs?  Cats.  I am allergic to dogs, and I don’t care for their typical personalities, although I occasionally meet a dog I can really respect.
  3. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?  I wouldn’t be surprised if I were still working as data manager of the Pittsburgh Youth Study!  We keep getting grants for more rounds of interviews with our participants, who are now in their thirties.  One of these days we’ll have to rename it the Pittsburgh Middle-Aged Guy Study or something.  Speaking of aging guys, in 10 years my son Nicholas will be a high school senior–wow!
  4. What is your favorite form of social networking?  Gee, I guess blogging–I enjoy hopping around reading stuff, commenting, and linking things together.  I love the Web, and I find that most people who enjoy writing enough to set up a blog are clearer thinkers and better spellers than the general population that’s been online since Eternal September began.  I don’t do Facebook or Twitter.  I recently started using Pinterest for my “check out these interesting things!” links, but I’m kind of peeved with some aspects of Pinterest and don’t spend a lot of time there.  Overall, I’m disturbed by how “social networking” seems to be replacing “socializing” in a lot of people’s lives these days.
  5. What are you most excited about in 2013?  Continuing some positive trends in my life that began in the summer of 2012: streamlining some of my data management processes at work (complicated to explain, but it’s very exciting for me to be making things better) and improving my relationship with Daniel.  Also, having completed my three-year term on the church vestry means I will have some extra time available, which I hope to use for wonderful activities that do not involve taking on another major volunteer commitment right away!
  6. Favorite holiday?  Hmmm…I like each holiday in its time and enjoy the cycle of seasons coming around each year.  Over the years, the church holidays have come to mean more and more to me, especially Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday.  I also love the family celebration, decorations, and carols at Christmas–but not the glitzy advertising.
  7. Coffee or Tea?  I love both!  I drink coffee every day.  I always have a cup of peppermint tea at the beginning of my workday, and if the office is chilly (as it usually is, year-round) I drink more herbal tea during the day to keep my fingers from going numb.  At home in cold weather, I like rooibos tea to warm me up.  I like green and black teas, too, especially pineapple-ginger green tea.
  8. What do you do in your spare time?  I play a lot of number-based games–for example, I draw imaginary family trees in which birthdates and relationships are determined by random numbers, and I have many simpler games I can play in my mind without needing to write anything.  I feel weird about playing these games so much, but over time I’ve come to realize that they are a form of data management and that playing them undoubtedly sharpens my skills for work!  Also, I like to play Rambling Sprawl Estates or play other games with my family and friends.
  9. Any weird habits?  I always chew my first bite of food on the left side of my mouth, next bite on the right, and continue alternating, making it come out even.  Probably this prevents uneven wear on my teeth, but my real motivation is some half-conscious idea of “fairness” that developed before I can remember.  No, it’s not Obsessive Compulsive Disorder–if for some reason I have to chew more on one side, that doesn’t bother me in any lingering way.
  10. What’s your favorite smell?  Lilacs.  Or grilled onions.  Not at the same time.
  11. How many siblings do you have?  One brother, Ben, who has written guest posts for me about turning annoying ragweed into useful fertilizer and rewiring an old house.

Finally, I’m supposed to nominate 11 bloggers with less than 200 followers to receive the Liebster Award.  Eleven!!  Last time it was 5.  At this rate, not only will everybody in the world receive a Liebster Award, but a few years from now just one recipient will be forced to nominate all other blogs in the universe….

After mulling over this for a while, I decided I will nominate 11 blogs that I feel are worth a look that are not to my knowledge wildly popular–I will not bother looking up exactly how many followers they have–and that have not received a Liebster Award already from me or from anyone else so far as I have noticed.  (For a research professional, I seem to be a bit lazy at doing research sometimes….)

  1. Click Clack Gorilla is an American-born musician, writer, and mother now living in a Wagenplatz (kind of like a hobbit-style trailer park) in Germany.  Here’s a recent day in her life.  She also writes about interesting things like gender differences in country-music ballads about murder and who’s better than Harry Potter.
  2. This (sorta) Old Life is the story of Rita and Cane fixing up the house where they live with their children from previous marriages.  It’s part how-to manual, part eye candy, part philosophy, and always grounded in the uniqueness of these particular five people and the things they find to make their home.  I normally find home-improvement blogs pretty tedious.  Here’s what makes this one different.
  3. My Sister’s Pantry is written by two sisters who like to cook healthy, frugal, mostly vegetarian food, working from the basic principle that keeping a variety of good ingredients in stock makes it easy to cook good meals.  They cheerfully talk us through the process of improving kitchen habits, with plenty of encouragement and recipes.  We recently tried their Mac & Cheese Without the Box, and it was every bit as easy and tasty as promised!
  4. Green Idea Reviews evaluates various ideas for reducing one’s environmental impact.  Victoria, who is employed outside the home and expecting her third child, finds time to try a lot of little things that make a difference, and she writes them up in a consistent format that’s pretty objective while also giving her personal opinions and experiences.
  5. Small Steps on Our Journey is Rachel’s story of her family’s ongoing efforts to be good stewards of God’s Creation while still enjoying good food, fashion, and fun!  She has an even easier way to use up the bread heels than any of my unwanted bread tricks. (I think her kids must be a little less annoyingly observant than mine is!)
  6. Unintended Housewife was a woman who was unemployed and working out how to be a housewife, when I first saw her blog.  Now she has a baby and is in more of a typical stay-at-home mother role, but I still really enjoy her perspective on life, especially her Are You Freaking Kidding Me?! series.
  7. Hyperbole and a Half is a dead blog–the author is no longer posting to it–and that’s why I’m not linking to the homepage.  But if your sense of humor is anything like mine, you’ll want to read every post in this hilarious collection of personal stories, many of which are illustrated with the author’s own cartooning.  [WARNING: Some posts contain effusive profanity.  Some are unsuitable for children in other ways.]  These are just a few of my favorites:
    • Sneaky Hate Spiral: A hilarious yet perceptive explanation of how a few little annoyances can add up to overwhelm you with rage.
    • This Is Why I’ll Never Be an Adult: An excellent depiction of the relationship between responsibility and morale, complete with graph.
    • The Alot: A handy strategy for coping when you see terrible grammar and punctuation on the Internet.
    • Skeleton Man: Unusual temporary school building + inappropriate Halloween story = months of torment for a second-grader.
    • PLEASE STOP!!!: An extremely effective strategy for controlling children’s behavior…and the work-around.

    Oy. You know what? In order to list 4 more not-so-popular blogs that I really think are really worth reading–overall, not just for one or two specific posts–I’d have to browse around for a while, and I honestly don’t have time–it’s already taken me weeks to write this post, a little at a time, and I have a deadline approaching at work, and I’ve just got to accept this award already! I will come back later, as I discover new blogs or rediscover good ones I’d forgotten, and fill in the rest of this list. I promise not to give any awards to blogs that are not worthy.

    UPDATE: Okay! Nearly six months later, I am ready to finish this list!

  8. Tell Me Why the World Is Weird is the musings of a female math nerd, raised in the United States and now living in China, who is still a Christian but questions many of the popular ideas of fundamentalism on such subjects as love and modesty.  She also posts some great collections of links to other interesting things on the Web.
  9. Kate’s Apartmentsteading is about a single mother’s efforts to “homestead” in an apartment.  Kate is an interesting vegan Muslim hippie artist who writes about all sorts of topics, from how she repaired and repainted a yard-sale rocking chair to the disturbing effects of a common cereal preservative on her child to why she quit wearing a bra.  She’s even taken on the difficult topic of how Muslims contribute to anti-Muslim bias in the United States–complete with funny ironic graphics.
  10. Amber Strocel has been writing her site for a decade and still has only slightly over 200 followers, so I think she deserves this award for her supposedly unfocused collection of writing!  Many of her articles are about raising her children, but her name isn’t Mommy.  She also thinks critically about Earth Day and shares 10 Things to Love About Canada and explains why she’s willing to walk alone at night.
  11. Stuffed Veggies is a food blog written by a Greek Orthodox vegan who shares helpful advice for coexisting with omnivores.  She posts lots of recipes for interesting salads, variations on traditional Greek foods, and even breakfast ice creams.

So, there are 7 blogs, anyway, 11 blogs that work for me for lunch-break reading! Uh oh, it’s 2:00…back to work!!

Could you feed your family on a food-stamp budget?

Food on Fridays linkupIn her Ash Wednesday sermon, my pastor mentioned someone’s suggestion to fast for Lent by eating only what you can purchase with the amount of money allocated by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“food stamps”) to needy families–approximately $4 per person per day.  The suggestion had been to do this for just one week, not for the full 40 days of Lent, implying that just one week would be enough to show you how very meager that amount is and how difficult it is to be adequately fed while spending so little.

Hmmm.  Well, three years ago I read this blog about a couple who ate on a food-stamp budget for Lent.  I remembered that they found it was not as difficult as expected.  Even at the outset, the author explained “What we’re going to do, and why it’s not so humble.”  Their budget was $6 per person per day, and she already knew that wasn’t much less than their normal grocery spending.  They ate pretty well.  BUT!  They were aware that they were coming into this experiment from a privileged position (jobs that allow them time and energy to cook from scratch, easy access to a variety of stores, a full range of kitchen appliances, a pantry already stocked with basics like spices, knowledge of cooking and budgeting) and that the exceptions they were allowing themselves (occasional restaurant meals, wine not included in food budget) would make it easier.

Of course, upon hearing this fast idea again, my data manager’s brain immediately began crunching numbers to estimate how much money per person per day my own family has been spending on groceries.  When I read the above blog, I had just begun tracking our grocery spending for a full year, and since concluding that experiment I hadn’t thought to compare it to a food-stamp budget.  Now I will: In 2010, my family of 3 people spent a total of $3,850.85 on groceries, which works out to $3.52 per person per day.  The current maximum SNAP benefit in our state for a family of 3 is $526 per month, which works out to $5.76 per person per day.  Food prices have gone up since 2010, but not that much.

Gee, those needy families are just rolling in benefits, huh?  Well, no, wait a minute! Read more…

3 Good Books on Civil Rights

I happen to have read three books that deal with the rights of African-Americans just before Black History Month.  Two of them are bestsellers I hadn’t read before, but the one I’ll mention first is a less-well-known book I’ve read a couple of times before and suddenly felt inspired to reread.

The Dismissal of Miss Ruth Brown by Louise S. Robbins is the story of a white librarian who was fired in 1950 because of her personal involvement in advocating equality for African-Americans.  The official reason she was fired was that she had provided “subversive materials” in the library–books and magazines that were thought by the most paranoid conservatives to be advocating Communism–but that was greatly exaggerated.  Really, the people running the town were afraid that her pro-integration activities would embarrass them and/or threaten their status.  There was a long and convoluted campaign to get rid of her, complete with a sudden replacement of the library’s board of directors, outrageous rumors, secret after-hours sneaking into the library’s storage room to photograph books (which, in fact, had been removed from general circulation), and so on.  It’s a great story!  For me, it’s especially interesting because I grew up in that town (Bartlesville, Oklahoma) and this story is both a reminder that things were worse before I was born and a spookily familiar tale of “community leaders” who make policies based on their own stupid prejudices and force out everyone who disagrees with them, and of honest citizens afraid to speak up for what’s right in a culture where personal choices can have mysterious, gossip-driven effects on people’s employment and social lives.  Most of the institutions and a few of the people who are major players in the story are familiar to me.  But even if you know nothing about Bartlesville, small-town politics, or that part of the country, this is a really interesting story!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Read more…

Shovel snow with a broom!

This is a simple tip that I can see is familiar to a lot of the natives here in Pittsburgh, but it took me many years to catch on.  I grew up in Oklahoma, where winter precipitation tends to involve freezing rain, so a lot of what you have to clear from your sidewalk is ice.  Here in the land of picturesque, Christmas-card-like winter weather, however, the sidewalk is typically piled with fluffy snow.  It looks so pretty until you have to shovel it, right?

Wait!  There’s an earlier step that will make the shoveling so much easier, and you might not have to shovel at all!  You might be able to get your pavement completely clear and non-slippy without using hazardous sidewalk salt!

Simply sweep off the loose snow with an ordinary broom.  Keep the broom near the door so you can sweep the snow before anyone has stepped on it.  That way it’s not packed down, and it easily sweeps right off.  If you are going out while it’s still snowing, consider leaving your broom by the end of the walk so you can sweep your way back to the door when you get home.  You’ll want to use your “outdoor broom” or at least keep the broom outside until it dries, because it’s hard to get all the snow off of it, and if you bring it inside it will drip.

Depending on the depth and density of snow, you may still need the shovel to scrape the last of it off the pavement.  Alternatively, if the snow is more than a few inches deep, start by shoveling off most of it and throwing it to the side, then sweep the pavement before you walk on it to get that area completely clear before you move on to the next section.  (Ever walked on a sidewalk where the deep snow was shoveled off, but there’s a thin layer of ice across the whole thing?  That’s the result of leaving behind a little snow that was too hard to scrape up with the shovel–the sun melts it, and then it freezes.)

Sweeping is particularly useful for clearing outdoor steps, especially open-tread ones–just sweep the snow down between the steps!  My epiphany about the usefulness of brooms on snow came when I visited a friend’s hillside house during a snowstorm, and before I left I watched him completely clear his 30-some open-tread stairs of about 3 inches of snow in about 5 minutes.

This technique is so easy, a child can do it!  Nicholas proved this two days ago, when both parents were too sick to pick him up from school, so he walked himself home, responsibly using his new wristwatch and house key on a chain.  When he saw that we had not been able to clear the sidewalk, he swept it, then used the shovel to pry up the packed snow from his own footprints and others’ steps on the public sidewalk.  What a great kid!  (He is 8.)

Visit Your Green Resource for more articles on responsible living!

Emergency Creamy Tomato Soup (healthier!)

Okay, it wasn’t really an emergency.  It was just that our eight-year-old Nicholas really wanted creamy tomato soup for dinner when both parents were recovering–more weakly than we’d hoped–from a stomach virus that the kid had several days earlier.  Daniel and I both were very sick Monday, a little better Tuesday, and then I went back to work yesterday but regretted it by mid-afternoon.  On the way home, I was dizzy and gurgling ominously in the lower abdomen, so instead of stopping to buy the chicken soup Daniel had requested, I went straight home, thinking I would go to the store later.  Nicholas was excited to go to the store and had decided he wanted tomato soup.  We even had a coupon for new Campbell’s 100% Natural (the existence of which makes me want to stop buying their other soups, because you see what they’re saying there?).

But I never got better enough to leave the house.  An hour past our usual dinnertime, I was still lying around moaning and had just added heartburn to my list of woes.  I didn’t even feel capable of heating up and stirring canned soup if we’d had some available.

Daniel to the rescue!  His first step was looking at a recipe for creamy tomato soup in the Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook, which he describes as, “where I look when I want something classic and American.”  The recipe called for a large can of diced tomato.  What we had was homemade marinara sauce.  Since Nicholas is a fan of the creamy tomato soup at Panera Bread, which is Italian-flavored, we figured this would work.  Daniel cut the recipe in half and used it as a guideline for how to combine milk and tomatoes without curdling.  The result was this recipe: Read more…