Top 10 New Articles of 2015

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

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

Honorable Mention

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

Happy New Year!!!

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

Books for Adults, Preteens, and Toddlers

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

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

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

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

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

Read more of this post

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers–Not Just Turkey!

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

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

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

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

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