Looking Back at 2020 with The Earthling’s Handbook

As each year draws to a close, I look at the statistics and report what were my most popular articles.  It’s always interesting to see which of my new articles drew the most readers and which of my older articles continued to attract attention.  This year has been different in many ways….

Although none of the top 5 most-read articles were new this year, they show new trends in what Earthlings want to read–that article on blood types which topped my list for 8 years in a row dropped to fifth most popular, as Earthlings turn to these pieces of practical guidance for using resources wisely and keeping their sanity while staying home:

  1. How to Salvage Over-baked Brownies
  2. Make a Soap Saver: neat, clean bar soap with no waste!
  3. What to do when a baby repeatedly drops something
  4. Can you scramble frozen eggs?

I like the idea that I’ve guided thousands of Earthlings toward responsible conservation of chocolate, soap, parental patience, and eggs!

Only 30 new articles were added to The Earthling’s Handbook in 2020, so rather than make a Top 20 list (to match the number of the year, as I did in recent years) I’ll just look at the highlights within general categories.

bowl of Simply Balanced Yellow Curry Simmer Sauce, vegetables, lentils, and riceThe most popular new article of the year was Simply Balanced curry sauce review (2 flavors).  These handy sauces make it easy to turn your random vegetables into a delicious Thai-style curry bowl!  Ironically, moments after I published it in January, Target decided to switch these products to its Good & Gather brand name–same sauces, new labels.  I’m impressed that the article was so popular despite its partial obsolescence! Quick Coconut Curry from Leftovers is a similar meal without a pre-made sauce.  My 14-minute Homemade Lunch and Simple Soy-Ginger Salmon Bowl are other new-this-year ideas for quick meals to make at home.

My most popular book reviews this year were Old Books I’ve Been Reading in 2020 and What to Read During a Pandemic.  I also explained How playing Gollum can boost reading skills.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic affected a lot of what I wrote this year, and it also cut into my writing time with kids’ remote learning, more cooking and dish-washing, assorted worrying, obsessive news-reading, and a seven-week illness that began right as everything shut down.  Oh, and in December, I managed to get into a car accident and then to get a second-degree burn on my arm, so things have been especially hectic lately.  I have so many articles I’m planning to write any day now….

At least I managed to write some of the things I wanted to say about life on Earth in this unique year!  It makes more sense to list these articles in chronological order than in order of popularity:

  • The Longest Lent.  Holy Week, from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, is normally a hectic time when I spend hours and hours at church, serving lots of food as well as worshiping, praying, and hugging!  This year, it was a painfully lonely time in which it became clear that our “fast” from social contact was going to last more than six weeks.  Look back at this article for startling reminders of just how little we knew, in April, about how the pandemic was going to play out!  Also, learn how a singing Disney bear can motivate you to carry on.
  • Enduring Easter.  The liturgical season of Easter lasts 7 weeks after Easter Sunday.  Surely this plague would clear up by Pentecost or Memorial Day….  Meanwhile, I was thinking about how odd it was that people arguing to be allowed to “live our lives” seemed to believe their lives took place entirely in public, while I was discovering that my life at home felt mostly normal and was still a lot of fun.
  • Pandemic Perspective: A Pail of Air.  A science-fiction short story my father had read to me as a child turned out to be perfect for this season!  It’s available to read free online, and I wrote up some study questions for home discussion.
  • Spring Flowers and Ex-boyfriends.  This reflection on love and permanence and the nature of “home” had been brewing in my mind for years and finally came together as I walked past a place I’d lived for a short time, thinking about someone I’d loved for a short time and how wonderful it was to have seen him again shortly before the world shut down.
  • Finding the Right Herbal Tea for This Moment.  Being invited to share an infographic led me to reflect on the importance of tea in the midst of chaos.
  • School Lunches for Distance Learning.  The spring and summer had shown me that the way my partner and I eat lunch at home was not effective for feeding either of our children consistently and calmly.  We needed a new system for the fall.  Here, I explained how to assess individual kids’ needs and formulate a plan.  You’ll notice I haven’t followed up with an article about our awesome system; we’re still trying to work out the kinks, but I still think my advice in this article was sound!
  • Get Out of the Car! Pandemic Edition.  Taking walks for exercise has been more important this year than ever!  Here’s some scenery for inspiration.
  • I’ve been enumerating the Census in a pandemic.  This was the best, most interesting thing I did in 2020!  This article only scratches the surface of the fascinating experience of visiting people all over the East End of Pittsburgh to complete their Census questionnaires.

The end of 2020 also brings the end of my era as a contributing writer at Kitchen Stewardship, which lasted more than 4 years and motivated me to write many of my best-researched and best-illustrated articles so far.  Will giving up that gig help me find time to write more elsewhere?  I hope so!  Meanwhile, here are all my Kitchen Stewardship articles published in 2020:

  • Munch More Mushrooms! Feed Your Family Fungi!  I followed up my 2019 investigation of coffee and cocoa mixes made with “functional fungi” with this exploration of the benefits of common culinary mushrooms and some tasty recipes for them.
  • Sustainable Seafood: Can You Afford Safer Fish?  Guides to “responsible” seafood have been around for decades, along with dietary guidelines advising us to eat more of this potentially poisoned food group.  I sorted through the confusion and investigated what my local famous fish market and other stores had to offer.
  • Beginner’s Guide to Culinary Seaweed.  I’ve been enjoying seaweed all my life, but there’s a lot I didn’t know about it until I researched this article!  I especially enjoyed learning an easy, delicious recipe for wakame salad, and my family has eaten two big bags of wakame this year.
  • How to Be Eco-friendly During the Pandemic.  Because almost everyone felt that March 2020 turned our normal lives upside-down, it was easy to get the idea that we “had to” make a lot of extra garbage in order to survive.  In fact, many of our habits at home didn’t need to change at all, and many of the precautions we take when we go out can be accomplished with reusable supplies.
  • Smoky Lentil Potato Bake and 30+ Frugal Meals.  I developed a new recipe to accompany this list of meals to make with beans and lentils–which are cheap, shelf-stable, healthy, and lower in environmental impact than other protein sources!
  • Food Fix book review: This is the year to save the world!  I read a book, published just before the pandemic, about how the American food system contributes to Americans’ chronic health problems, environmental destruction, and social injustice–and I was amazed at how clearly it explained why COVID-19 was ravaging this country harder than many others!  Here in The Earthling’s Handbook, I wrote Bricks and Balloons explaining the relationship between our broken food system and violent crime.
  • Teaching Kids to Be Conscious Consumers.  This is my personal favorite KS article of the year; I really enjoyed reflecting on how I got my shopping savvy, how I taught these skills to my now 16-year-old Nicholas, and what I could teach to my now 6-year-old Lydia.
  • Do Disposable School Lunches Keep Kids Safe?  Rumors that schools were going to prohibit reusable lunchboxes and water bottles led me to look into what the health authorities were saying (by late summer) about COVID-19 transmission via dishes, utensils, and food packaging.  The insight I’d gained from working with Pittsburghers Against Single-Use Plastic and local school districts last winter, trying to help schools reduce packaging waste from school lunches, was very helpful in understanding why many school food-service programs have been using disposable items and would continue or increase them during the pandemic–but that doesn’t mean disposables are necessary when students bring their own food from home.
  • Cloth Masks vs. Disposable Masks: Our Planet and Your Budget.  The pandemic created a sudden need for a consumer product that was new to most of us, with both reusable and disposable options.  Are cloth masks more affordable in the long run, or do we need to slap instant garbage on our faces?
  • Eco-friendly Detergent: Tru Earth Laundry Strips Review.  What are these weird things that look like fruit leather made of laundry detergent, and are they really packaged with no plastic at all?!?  My family tested a free sample of this product while I researched the environmental impact of both this detergent delivery system and the detergent itself.
  • Shaping Your Family Holiday Traditions in a Unique Year.  Beginning with Palm Sunday, 2020 drew upon my past experiences celebrating holidays at home with no guests and figuring out which activities, foods, and decorations are most effective at giving my household members and me the feeling that the holiday has been properly observed.  I shared my strategies and some special memories here.

It’s been quite a year!  Thinking back on things we did in January and February, I can hardly believe that was 2020–we didn’t know what was coming!  And we don’t know what’s coming in 2021, either, but I hope it’s a time of healing and rethinking and making Earth a better place than ever before!

“There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment. The time is always now.”–James Baldwin

Visit Hearth & Soul for other writers’ perspectives on the year just past and the future ahead!

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