Top 10 New Articles of 2016

This isn’t really a blog.  It’s a constantly expanding reference book.  Every year, when I look at the statistics on which articles drew the most readers in the previous year, all or most of the popular articles are more than a year old.

2016 was an unusual year for The Earthling’s Handbook.  Losing my job in June, after working reduced hours since March, meant that I no longer had lunch breaks sitting in front of the computer writing new articles and promoting the site by leaving comments on other blogs.  I’ve found it much harder to work writing and blog-reading time into my schedule while I’m at home, often distracted by my two-year-old’s needs or my twelve-year-old’s desire to use the computer himself, and using a lot of my computer time to look for a new job!  I wrote fewer new articles in 2016 than in past years, but more importantly, I was less active on other blogs.  (By the way, Facebook has not brought me the incredible increase in traffic that “everyone” said it would.  Linking my articles to blog carnivals and commenting on other blogs brings in far more readers.)

Also, in 2016 I became a contributing writer at Kitchen Stewardship.  Each of my monthly articles includes a lot of links to The Earthling’s Handbook–often to articles that are more than a year old.  That causes a surge in overall traffic for a few days after the publication of each new KS article, but a lot of it is going to old articles.

I’m not surprised to see that 2016’s top 10 most-read articles overlap heavily with 2012’s.  All the suspense lies in seeing which of the new articles got the most readers–and the short answer is, book reviews.  If I just gave you the top 10 list, 6 of the articles would be book reviews! See, this is what I mean about the effect of linking to blog carnivals: Quick Lit, hosted by The Modern Mrs. Darcy, brings me a lot of readers every month I can get my act together for a book-review post!

So I’m just going to tell you that the most popular new article of 2016 was Book Reviews: Good, Bad, and Coincidental and that you can read all my book review posts here, and then I’ll get on with

Top 10 New Articles of 2016 That Are NOT Book Reviews

  1. The City of Slim Shadies.  This essay on my experience of working for 17 years with data on the lives of 1,517 high-risk boys is probably the most introspective writing I did all year.
  2. A Person Who Deserves to Wear This Dress.  Cleaning all the way to the back of my closet, I found a surprise that served as both a Halloween costume and a self-esteem boost.
  3. Homemade Halvah: A sweet, nutritious, energy snack!  This is my easiest new recipe of the year.  Vegan, gluten-free, and perfect after a long walk.
  4. Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan.  Here I horrified some of my readers by explaining how I keep my coffee consumption down to a level they would never attempt.
  5. 5 Fish-Free Family-Friendly Meals.  Annoyed by “meatless” menus for Lent that all involved fish, I promoted these vegan, gluten-free ideas: Gallo Pinto, Green Ribbon Lentils, Black Bean Soup, Sloppy Joes, and Masoor Dal.
  6. A Really Real-Life Meal Plan.  When life gives you 7 weeks of craziness, make a blog post based on a photo of your so-called meal plan that hung on the kitchen cabinet…and give yourself some credit for having come up with any healthy, home-cooked meals during that time!
  7. Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?  I was surprised to learn that splitting everything 50/50 doesn’t necessarily result in feelings of cooperation and harmony between parents…so we did it differently with the second baby.
  8. How to Clean a Blackened Baking Pan.  When I made the batch of Honey Baked Lentils and butternut squash that provided the photos for my Kitchen Stewardship article about this tasty, thrifty, nutritious meal, I managed to get one of the pans totally encrusted with burned squash-juice…thus creating an opportunity for photographic documentation of my best pan-cleaning technique!
  9. Cooperation, Communication, and Consequences.  This is one of the few parenting/discipline articles I’ve written lately, featuring examples from a discussion board as well as from my own family.
  10. Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!  This photo tutorial explains how to turn your random bits of stale bread into useful breadcrumbs and how to freeze them for later use.

There really was more to life than books in 2016!  But I’m grateful for all the excellent books I enjoyed last year–and looking back on it, I’m glad I wrote so many reviews because they help me to remember what I read, what I liked about it, and where I was in my life when I read it.

It’s hard to predict what will happen around here in 2017.  Maybe I’ll get a new job with the same kind of lunch breaks, and my writing will really pick up.  Maybe something different will happen, but I’ll figure out how to do more writing from home.  Either way, thanks for reading, and please stick around!

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.

Oh, all right. But they didn’t Book my Face!

More than three years ago, I explained why I was boycotting Facebook.  Yesterday, I joined Facebook.  My intention was to join as The Earthling’s Handbook, but Facebook immediately responded, “You have to join with your real name!  I’m the only book allowed here!” so I joined with my own name but used The Earthling’s Handbook icon as my picture.  I did not give Facebook my face.

Why not?  Everyone else is doing it! Read more of this post

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!

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…

Top 10 Articles Earthlings Read in 2013

Just like 2012, most of my most-read articles in 2013 were classics published before 2013. Well, after all, this isn’t really a blog; it’s a free ebook to which I keep adding chapters, so the old stuff is still relevant.

Here, just in case you missed them, are the 10 articles added in 2013 that got the most readers:

  1. 10 Lessons Learned from Rewiring an Old House. Many thanks to my brother Ben for sharing his experience in this guest post, which makes the important point that while rewiring may not be rocket science, it is very hard work and takes a long time. Ben shared helpful tips on how to do it right and what not to do.
  2. Apple Cider Vinegar as Facial Toner. Here I explain how to control oily skin with a natural, affordable product instead of some weird chemical. There’s even a garbage-free way to do it, without cotton balls!
  3. Cute and Thrifty Kitchen Scouring Powder. Here’s the cheap, safe, environmentally friendly way to scrub your sink, remove tea stains from mugs, and get that dried-up pasta off the pan. I also explain how to make a convenient, damp-proof, shaker-top bottle that matches your kitchen decor, without spending a penny or having serious crafty skills. With photos!
  4. Freezing Cheese. Larger blocks of cheese often are a better value than the small ones, but only if you eat all the cheese before it gets moldy. Here’s the secret to storing cheese in the freezer without sacrificing quality or convenience–or spending money on freezer bags. Includes links to our favorite recipes using cheese, as well as information on why pre-grated cheese might not be a wise purchase.
  5. Could you feed your family on a food stamp budget? This question was raised by my pastor and led me to explore how much my family actually spends on food, and what makes our grocery budgeting different from a more impoverished family’s.
  6. Buying Bulk Food in Reused Containers. A large portion of my family’s thrifty yet healthy diet comes from the bulk department of our local food co-op. In this article I explain how this type of bulk buying works, where we get good containers, how we clean and store them, and how they’re superior to disposable packaging. I also get into detail about which items are a bargain when purchased in bulk and which are not. With photos!
  7. How I told my child the Easter story. Explaining the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus can be difficult: “He was only temporarily dead, so rejoice!! Never mind about those sins,” and somehow it all has to do with bunnies and jellybeans and tulips, and–well, it can be a bit confusing! Here’s the full story as I’ve been telling it to my son since he was very little.
  8. Why my kid never believed in Santa Claus–and why that doesn’t take all the magic out of Christmas, and how we avoid ruining it for kids who do believe.
  9. Less Acid Spaghetti Sauce. This casual experiment with my endlessly-variable marinara sauce recipe showed me that it’s possible to make a delicious tomato sauce that won’t aggravate a mildly touchy stomach.
  10. My Coupon Organizer. I used free, unwanted materials to make the coupon holder I’d owned for a long time into something that works better for my family. With photos!

I’ll also give honorable mention to several articles that were published toward the end of 2012 and were very popular in 2013:

  1. What to Serve for Coffee Hour. Would you like to provide the refreshments for after church or a similar gathering, but you’re not sure what’s the right amount or variety of food? This helpful guide is based on my many years of experience!
  2. How to Salvage Over-baked Brownies. One of the foods I made for coffee hour didn’t turn out so well! Here’s the simple strategy for redeeming both the food and the pan.
  3. What to Do with Bread Heels. Detailed recipe for Cheesy Vegetable Bread Pudding, plus 3 more ways to use the sad leftover ends of a loaf–or any other unwanted bread.
  4. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” Review. My son and I spell out all the details of why this new animated show, though hardly the worst thing PBS Kids has offered, isn’t nearly as good as Mister Rogers’ original program.

Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for hundreds more helpful articles on many subjects!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for many other ways to save money on food and use resources wisely!

11 Blogs Worth Reading

Back in February, I received my second Liebster Award and was supposed to nominate 11 other blogs for the award.  At the time, I found this difficult, because I don’t read all that many blogs, and many of the ones I do enjoy are so obviously popular that they don’t qualify for this award, and I didn’t want to overlap with the 5 blogs I nominated the first time around.  I got up to 6, used #7 to point readers to some of the funniest stuff online even though it doesn’t meet Liebster criteria, and then paused.

Now I’ve finally finished the list!  I updated the original post–which also includes a lot of stuff about myself, if you’re interested–but I wanted to put this list of great blogs in a new post, too, so nobody misses it.

  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 didn’t post for quite a while, and even her explanatory update is a few months old now–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 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.
  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.

The Temporary Fate of “Cute and Thrifty Scouring Powder”

Hello, readers!  Click here for the real article about how to make your own scouring powder.

This post exists because, five days after I posted the original article, I noticed that it had totally disappeared!!!  Because I had connected it to a number of link parties, I hastily posted an apology and attempted to give it the same URL as the original post.  The fact that WordPress would not allow me to use that URL gave me a clue that the article still existed…somewhere….

At lunch break, I poked around some more and confirmed that the article wasn’t on my Published list or my Drafts list.  I looked at some help files.  Finally I noticed a Trash folder with one item in it.  There was my article!  When I opened it up, it had a Restore button.  I clicked that, and the article reappeared!  Yay!!!

Now, how did it get into the Trash?  I’m not certain, but this is my best guess: The article originated on my iPad, which my son used to take the photos for the article; I then uploaded the photos using the WordPress app and saved the post as a draft.  I remember feeling that the process was not quite complete, but we needed to get out the door to school and work.  Later, on my lunch break at work, I logged in to WordPress via Web and found the draft post waiting for me–so obviously it had saved okay, after all–and I wrote the text and published the post.  I think it was two days later that I was using the iPad when it alerted me to a new comment, so I went into the WordPress app to approve the comment, and there was the scouring powder article–and I forget exactly what text was on the only available button, I think “Cancel”, but at any rate I thought that because the post was already published via another computer, what I was seeing there was just an artifact of what I had been doing last time I used the app, so I pressed that button and got on with what I was doing….

That’s probably where I went wrong, huh?  Anyway, I am sorry that the article was unavailable for a while, but I’m relieved that it was so easy to get it back!

Thanks to Daniel for responding to my email about the mystery by calling me at work and “threatening” to investigate this for me, thus motivating me to look again while narrating about how I had already tried all the obvious things; that is, in my experience, one of the best ways to see the thing that was not obvious enough the first time! 🙂

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!!

Top 10 Articles Earthlings Read in 2012

On New Year’s Eve, I looked at my WordPress statistics to see which articles in The Earthling’s Handbook drew the most readers in 2012.  Interestingly, 9 of the top 10 were published before 2012!  I choose to believe that this is not because my writing has declined but because my older articles have ongoing relevance and accrue more publicity around the Internet each year they exist.  🙂  I scanned down the list of articles ranked by number of readers to determine the Top 10 articles written in 2012.  Here are both lists: Read more…

Should I start using Pinterest?

I am seeking the opinions of my readers!  Please comment!

Over the course of this year, I’ve browsed other people’s Pinterest boards a number of times, and I’ve seen a small but increasing amount of visitors to my site coming in through links on Pinterest.  I read more about Pinterest in my college alumni magazine (an alumnus was involved in designing it) and thought it might be something I’d like to use.

After all, I’m constantly collecting links to assorted things that interest me that I want to share with everybody.  I post these links on an old-fashioned links page, where I can write as much text as I like to describe and comment on the things I’m linking to.  It works for me–I look up things there whenever I feel like reading them again–and it gets a few readers every time I update it, but in general I think Web users have moved on to other methods of browsing, and Pinterest seems to be quite popular.

So, one day last month, I devoted a lunch hour to setting up a Pinterest account.

I was instantly annoyed.

As best I could tell, the set-up process requires you to “follow” 5 other boards before you can start your own board–and you must choose those boards from a limited set, grouped into categories that mostly don’t interest me; I couldn’t find any way to search for a particular board or (if I found boards from some other direction, in a separate browser window) enter particular boards to follow.  I couldn’t find anything I actually liked much, so I was forced to follow 5 boards that seemed worth a brief glance, just to get this step over with.  I will now have to un-follow these boards, I assume.  (I hope that’s allowed.  I didn’t look into it yet.)

Then I found that the above step resulted in my homepage–my page, which I thought would be blank until I filled it with stuff I chose to pin–being cluttered with a huge number of mostly uninteresting items.  It felt like I had purchased a new bulletin board and taken it out of the packaging only to find that it was already completely covered with a bunch of junk!  (My perception that this means my brand-new bulletin board is already full of holes is, of course, very old-fashioned and incorrect, but it made me sad nonetheless.)

Next I had to start a new board.  Apparently I’m not allowed to have just “my board” and pin all my stuff on there.  I was required to give it a name.  Okay.  But then I was forced to choose an image for my board from another board, from among images somehow connected to words used in the title of my board.  How does that make any sense???

Finally I got to pin some things.  That part was fun, until my fifth pin wouldn’t stick into the pinboard for some reason.  Maybe my little piece of virtual cork has one of those weird hard bits in it.  Anyway, I was out of lunchtime, so I gave up for that day.

So far, I’ve been unable to convince myself to work on it any more.  Instead I updated my links page with the links I’d been saving for Pinterest.  Meh.

My questions are:

  • Is Pinterest really so cool to use (as a user pinning things on one’s own board) that I should put the time and effort into figuring out how to do it?  If so, what advice do you have for doing this, and/or what resources do you recommend?
  • As an Earthling’s Handbook reader, would you find an Earthling’s Handbook pinboard to be a valuable accessory to the Handbook?
  • Am I totally stupid and clueless, or is it in fact difficult to set up a Pinterest account in a quick and non-ridiculous way?  Do I actually have a completely wrong idea about how one is supposed to use Pinterest?

I drew the Earthling symbol for nothingness.

If you found this site by searching the Web for the phrase, “I drew the Earthling symbol for nothingness,” please post a comment explaining what you are seeking.  I am fascinated.  This phrase turns up at least once a week, sometimes several times a day, in the list of search terms that have brought people to The Earthling’s Handbook.

It makes me wish I knew the Earthling symbol for nothingness so I could draw it for you.  I mean, I’d like to be helpful, and of course I’ve tried searching the Web for this phrase myself out of curiosity, but I find that many of my pages are among the top hits, and none of the others look helpful.

I’m sorry to tell you that Earthlings use many different sets of symbols and have no agreement on a universal symbology.  But most Earthlings now recognize the concept of zero, which means basically the same thing as nothingness.  It is easy to draw and is even available on most Earth keyboards:

0

 

Does that help at all?

One of the interesting things about editing The Earthling’s Handbook is seeing what people want to know about Earthlings.  “What do Earthlings eat?” is a question I can answer.  I hope to be a helpful resource to alien zookeepers.  But I am mystified by all these searchers who have drawn the Earthling symbol for nothingness and now want to find–what?

Win a FREE e-book with over 800 helpful tips!

UPDATE: Both give-away copies have been won, but you can still buy the e-book by clicking this button: Buy That Works For Me!

This isn’t really a blog, and I’ve never run a give-away before, but I can’t resist the opportunity to give away two free copies of the new e-book That Works For Me!  This book compiles the best tips from the many thousands submitted to Works-for-Me Wednesday over the past five years.  Instead of sifting through 260 pages of weekly link-ups looking for the best articles to click, you can use this neat, indexed guide to access over 800 of the best ones.

All you have to do to win is leave a comment on this article, telling me one idea you have found here in The Earthling’s Handbook that works for you, something you learned here that has made a difference in your life.  Make sure to enter your e-mail address in the comment interface–your address will not be posted with your comment, but it will be available to me behind the scenes so that I can tell the publishers of That Works For Me! to send you a copy.

I’m not going to do anything fancy, like a random drawing, because I normally don’t get a lot of comments here.  The first two commenters who meet the above criteria will win!

The e-book That Works For Me!

If you’ve ever clicked on one of the links that say, “It works for me!” in many of my posts, you’ve found the wonderful blog carnival Works-for-Me Wednesday, where every week about 200 writers each link an article about something that works for them.  (Here are the instructions for participating in Works-for-Me Wednesday.)  This delightfully flexible premise brings together a wide array of tips and tricks, from simple to elaborately detailed, from silly to practical to profound.  Most contributors are mothers and Christians, so many of the tips are about parenting or housekeeping or spirituality, but a wide array of people participate.  You never know what you may learn from Works-for-Me Wednesday!  I love browsing the articles during my lunch breaks at work.

However, sifting through 200+ links every week takes a lot of time–I often don’t finish wandering through them before the next Wednesday comes–and sometimes people link things that just aren’t that great.  After five years and thousands of tips, the best of Works-for-Me Wednesday has been compiled into an e-book!  It indexes over 800 articles from hundreds of bloggers (including myself!), with a summary of each article and a link to the article on its original site.  This means that if there are any updates to the article, you’ll see them (you’re not buying a version that might become outdated), and you’ll see all the links within that article to other articles on the same blog or references on other sites.  You’ll also be reading each article in the context of its blog, so you can see what else the author has written and might find a new favorite blog to read.

That Works For Me! costs $8–less than one cent per helpful idea!  You’re bound to find many ideas in it that will be worth a lot more than one cent each, either in cash savings or in comfort and sanity.  As a contributing author, I will receive a portion of the proceeds when you purchase That Works For Me! by clicking on this handy button.

Buy That Works For Me!

Another portion of the proceeds from this e-book will benefit The Mercy House, a non-profit maternity home in Kenya.  Kristen Welch, who hosts Works-for-Me Wednesday, and her family founded The Mercy House after Kristen’s eye-opening trip to Kenya two years ago.  She came home broken-hearted about the poverty and suffering she had seen . . . and she did something to help!  I have been amazed by this unfolding story of the entire Welch family’s dedication to this project and the speed with which they’ve gotten it up and running.  I am pro-choice, and that means I firmly believe that women deserve safe choices in addition to abortion, even if they are young and poor.  The Mercy House gives women from desperate circumstances a safe place to live and receive health care, education, counseling, and skills training while they are pregnant and adjusting to motherhood.  It gives them an option other than abortion, in a country where abortion is very dangerous, contraception is hard to get, rape is common, and many women turn to prostitution to buy food.  I admire Kristen and her family for stepping into this difficult environment to help strangers, and I am glad to support The Mercy House.

Liebster Blog Award: 5 Great Blogs!

Despite my occasional protestations that The Earthling’s Handbook is not really a blog, it has received a Liebster Blog Award!  I will set aside my feelings about the yucky-sounding word “blog” to graciously accept this award and acknowledge that at least one-third of my readers have come here via weekly blog carnivals to which I link my articles–so in that sense, this is, in fact, a blog.

Read more…

Staying On the Ball at Work

This is an historic moment for The Earthling’s Handbook.

Almost 15 years after we started this Website, almost 5 years after we set up blog software so that I could write articles on my lunch break and post them easily, we have never posted any photographs.  I’ve explained my reservations about photos but also said it isn’t a strict rule.  I always thought that someday, I might write an article that really requires a visual illustration to show what I mean.

This is that article.

For a couple of years now, Daniel and I have been improving our “core strength” (abdominal and lower-back muscles) by sitting on an exercise ball and balancing with feet off the floor for a few minutes a day.  We keep a big red ball wandering around our bedroom for this purpose; it’s constantly rolling eagerly into our path to remind us to use it!  Read more…

Where’s the Facebook “like” button?

This question was asked of me in a spam comment, but I thought it was worth addressing.

As best I can tell, in order to have a “like this on Facebook” button on a WordPress site, I would have to have a Facebook account.  I am boycotting Facebook.

I tend to be skeptical of anything that “everybody” is doing, such as cell phones.  While I’m pretty sure Facebook does not cause brain cancer, I’m seeing on an almost daily basis that it has negative effects on people’s ability to socialize normally in real life or to do what they’re doing without being detrimentally distracted. Read more…

How to use old tofu and turn ramen noodles into a full meal!


The trouble with tofu is, if you don’t use the whole block in one meal, you’re supposed to store it in a container of water and change the water every day.  That is pretty annoying!  It’s easy to forget it for a couple of days.  Then, when you remember, it doesn’t smell so good.  I mean, plain tofu doesn’t smell very good to me even when it’s fresh, but when it’s old…ewww…even a thrifty, waste-avoiding person could easily conclude that it’s not food anymore.  Well, there is a point when it’s no longer safe to eat, but it takes at least a week to get there (even if you forgot to change the water at all) unless it’s visibly moldy, so follow this handy 4-step process to give new life to old tofu! Read more…

Get your Dawn Scarab T-shirt today!

Daniel recently started using a small digital picture frame as an alarm clock, to help him slay the snooze-button sloth by awakening him with a glowing image as well as music.  (Yes, this picture frame plays an MP3.  As a picture frame, it’s absurdly fancy.  As an alarm clock, it’s pretty cool.)  It’s working!!!  He gets up by 6:20 and makes the coffee every weekday now!!!

Of course, if you are being awakened by a glowing image, it’s important to have the right image to set your mood.  Daniel made his own.  It is an Egyptian scarab beetle with rainbow wings, holding up a globe of light.  He has now made this beautiful art available on T-shirts, tote bags, and mugs.  Anybody who likes Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album cover will love it!  Also scarab lovers, rainbow lovers who don’t mind beetles, and people whose favorite shirts were purchased at science-fiction conventions.  (I’m not being silly; I like the T-shirt selection at cons and wish I had more use for T-shirts in my wardrobe!)

If you don’t like the Dawn Scarab, how about the mysterious Double Cat?  This one is, of course, also available on a mouse pad.

Post comments here.

NOTE ADDED 2/24/2011: Over time, I’ve gradually opened more articles to comments, so this post is somewhat outdated–but feel free to post here with comments about The Earthling’s Handbook in general.

NOTE ADDED 10/16/2009: What’s going on here? The blog software tells me lots of people access this article (47 people in the past week, and that’s been about typical for the last few months), yet hardly anyone posts a comment. Are you trying but finding it too difficult? If you have tried to post a comment but couldn’t, please e-mail becca[at]earthlingshandbook[dot]org and tell me about it. And feel free to e-mail me if you like my articles but don’t want to comment publicly, too!

This is not a blog! It’s really not!  But I can’t stop wondering whether I have any regular readers outside my inner circle of friends and family.  I only rarely get e-mails from readers, which may mean those are the only readers, but then again it may not.  Also, I’ve never seen what the comment interface of this software looks like, and I’m curious.

Therefore, I decided to set up one post that’s open to comments.

If you are a regular reader, or if you’re here for the first time but have something to say, please comment here.  How did you find The Earthling’s Handbook?  What is your favorite article?  Are there any topics you’d like to see addressed here?