Some Plants Are For Eating

Happy Earth Day!  Before I get to my main topic, I’ve got some special offers to tell you about…

  • First, instead of buying anything, check out the beautiful photographs in the Capture Conservation photo contest sponsored by the Student Conservation Association!
  • UPDATE: The sale on PlanetBox stainless steel lunchboxes has ended, but check out our review of PlanetBox–Nicholas is now finishing fifth grade and still using the same PlanetBox he got at the beginning of kindergarten!
  • Grove Collaborative is having a one-day sale on 42 different Earth-friendly cleaning and hygiene products.  UPDATE: The sale is over, but if you’re new to Grove (formerly ePantry), you still can start your order here to get an additional $10 discount, and I’ll also get a bonus!  Here’s my article explaining what Grove Collaborative is all about, with reviews of many of the fine products they carry.
  • GreenLine Paper Company will donate ALL profits from today’s orders for paper products toward the planting of trees.  UPDATE: That special is over, but still, check out their wide selection of office paper, household paper products, and janitorial paper products.  Buy by the case and save!  (If you live in Pennsylvania, like I do, or nearby, note that GreenLine is in York, PA, so the shipping distance is short–better for the environment than shipping a long distance.)

As spring settles in and you begin to spend more time outdoors, you may have access to some edible plants.  It’s fun to graze on fresh food that happens to be growing right there in your yard!  But if there’s a young child with you, doesn’t that set a bad example?  You don’t want the kid to think that we can just grab parts off of random plants and eat them–he might eat some nightshade berries or poison ivy and get sick or poisoned or itchy!

P1020014Here’s my daughter Lydia on her first birthday, last spring.  Our yard was at just about the stage it is now, with spearmint poking up through the mulch of autumn leaves as the tulips, lilacs, and dandelions are blooming.  Lydia was very interested in all the new, colorful things, and once she had seen me break off some mint leaves and eat them, she wanted to do that, too!

I was surprised how easy it was to teach her that some plants are For Eating while other plants are Not For Eating.  In our yard, spearmint, chives, sourgrass (yellow oxalis/wood sorrel), dill, and purslane come up every year.  Lydia was very pleased with the mint and chives, which are abundant, and within a month was showing us that she recognized “mihtt” and “hifes” as she named them while picking them.  She was rarely incorrect in her identifications, even at first.  Apparently recognizing a particular leaf shape is not so difficult a skill as we might think.

Being able to recognize some plants that are For Eating didn’t stop her from wanting to experiment with others, though!  We did have to watch her carefully and redirect her many times.  It’s a lot like learning to stay out of the street–which has required surprisingly fewer reminders than I expected, actually.
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The X, Y, Z Method of Child Discipline

We thought Becky Bailey’s book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline was a mixed bag that contained a few good techniques; this is one of them.  Bailey talks about it in a more long-winded way, but I boiled it down to this formula, which I’ve found easy to remember and therefore to actually use in the heat of the moment sometimes!  Almost 8 years after reading the book, this is the one tip that’s really worked well for me.

This simple sequence can be used in any situation in which your child has done something he shouldn’t and you’re pretty sure you understand what he was trying to achieve with that behavior.  If you have no idea why he would do such a thing, use another method or (if you have time) ask him to explain what he was going for and then use this method.

“You wanted X, so you did Y. You may not do Y. Instead, when you want X, do Z. Try that now.”

This method achieves several things, efficiently:

  • You start by showing your child that you understand what she wanted.  This helps her feel like you’re on her side instead of attacking.
  • You show that you understand the connection of the motive to the action.  Then you condemn the action without condemning the motive.
  • You make a clear statement of what it is that is not allowed.
  • You explain what your child can do that is allowed.  It’s okay to want X, but she has to get it a different way.
  • You encourage her to practice the good behavior immediately.  This helps to reinforce it, as well as helping her to get what she wants.
  • The clear structure gets you to make your point quickly instead of going into an extended harangue about how bad the behavior is.

Examples: Read more of this post

Did you find Jesus anything to eat?

Eleven days ago, I launched a challenge to my readers to prevent food waste in some way, big or small, and report back after Easter.  Now it’s the Tuesday after Easter, and I haven’t heard from anyone yet.  Did you accept my challenge?  Tell me about it in the comments, or link to your own post on conserving food.

My own plans went differently than expected.  I knew that Holy Week and this week would be a very busy time for me because these are my last two weeks of full-time work, so I have a lot to do and thought I might need to work some overtime . . . but I was still involved in coordinating the food for my church’s receptions after the Easter Vigil and Easter morning services, which always includes some repurposing of leftovers.  Life threw me a curve ball of digestive mayhem that initially seemed to be just a symptom of the migraine that struck on Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy Week, but then as the headache got better my stomach continued to get worse.  From Friday through Sunday, I wound up preventing food waste by not eating much!  But I couldn’t resist eating small amounts of reception food, including grapes and raw veggies with hummus–and apparently those were just the foods to anger my innards.  Instead of making an innovative Easter dinner out of leftovers, I spent Sunday night in misery, and yesterday I ate only rice and yogurt.  Blah.  I’m finally getting better today.

It wasn’t a superstar week, but I can tell you some things I did do to use food wisely: Read more of this post

Have you anything to eat? a food-waste prevention challenge!

According to the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus was resurrected from the dead and appeared to his disciples, he said, “Have you anything here to eat?”  He must have been really hungry after being dead for three days!  In that spirit, as Easter approaches, I’m challenging all of you–Christians and everybody else–to do what you can to see that all the food gets eaten and appreciated.

The only rules for this challenge are to look for food that might go to waste, make use of it, and report back after Easter (March 27, 2016).  You might start right now and do everything you can for the next nine days, or you might focus on it just on Easter Sunday.  You might serve the salvaged food at a homeless shelter, donate it to a food pantry, turn it into something for your holiday celebrations, give it to that recently-dead guy who suddenly appeared among you, or just incorporate it into an ordinary meal for your family.  You might be scavenging leftovers from huge church or family events, or you might be a non-observer of Easter spotting waste in your ordinary routine.  It might be tons of food or just that sandwich you couldn’t finish at lunch.  You might write a whole article about the food you saved or just post a brief comment here.  Whatever you do to reduce food waste, you will be making a positive difference!

For inspiration, here’s how I made use of leftovers from my church’s Holy Week events three years ago, and here are 70+ recipes and tips for reducing food waste.  Although I didn’t post about it, last year I made more than one gallon of fruit sauce by simply putting fruit left over from church into a soup pot, attacking it all with the immersion blender, and then cooking it–we had delicious fruit sauce with our yogurt and granola for breakfasts for a couple of weeks!

What will you serve if Jesus shows up at your house, asking, “Have you anything here to eat?”–fish fingers and custard?  I look forward to hearing about it!

Please share this challenge anywhere and everywhere you like!  I’m linking up to Faith Filled Friday and Real Food Friday and That Friday Blog Hop and Friday Finds and Favorites and No Rules Weekend Blog Party and Motivational Monday and Thank Goodness It’s Monday and Meandering Monday and Hearth and Soul Hop.  (I’m trying out some new ones here, so if you came in from one of these, please let me know!  And if you’re a reader who’s never clicked on one of these linkups, what are you waiting for?  Each one is like the title page of a magazine filled with articles by different writers from all over the Web!  You never know what great wisdom you’ll find–maybe some more frugal food-using tips?)

Books from Other Cultures: Japan, Sweden, Louisiana…

I didn’t specifically plan to read about foreign cultures in 2016, but the books I got for Christmas happened to include three translated from Swedish, one translated from Japanese, one set in rural Louisiana, and one about houses around the world–so these are what I’ve been reading!  I reviewed the other two Swedish books last month.

Totto-chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, translated from Japanese by Dorothy Britton

This is the best-selling book in Japanese history, but I had never heard of it until Cocoon of Books reviewed it.  Totto-chan was the childhood nickname of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, who grew up to become a popular television personality in Japan.  In the 1980s, she wrote this memoir of attending an alternative elementary school in the early 1940s.  Totto-chan started first grade at a typical elementary school but was considered an incorrigible discipline problem.  Her mother took her to visit Tomoe School, where the headmaster believed that children learn best from following their own interests and having plenty of field trips, conversations with adults, real-world projects, exercise, and music.  Totto-chan thrived in this unusual school, held in a cluster of retired train cars.  The book is a series of sweet anecdotes of childhood, many of which make serious points about educational practices and social norms.  Tragically, Tomoe School was destroyed by American bombs during World War II and was never able to reopen.  Kuroyanagi concludes the book with an essay about how the Tomoe experience shaped her into a successful person rather than a lifelong troublemaker (the core issue I’ve been studying in my work), and she gives updates on what some of the other alumni were doing in their forties.  This is a very charming book that really made me think.  It would be suitable for children over age 8 or so.

The Natural House Book by David Pearson

My partner Daniel picked up this used book, published in 1989, as a Christmas present for me because of my interests in architecture and environmentalism.  It’s dated but still interesting.  It explains how “natural houses” traditional in various parts of the world utilize environmentally-friendly principles and how the same ideas can be adapted in new construction.  It also promotes the idea that a more natural house leads to a more natural life that’s more comfortable and healthy.  I didn’t learn a whole lot from this book, but I did enjoy looking at it.  It’s funny how the traditional stuff is as true as ever, while some of the advice about how to avoid toxins in new construction is outdated.

Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells

This novel is related to the well-known Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, which I’d started to read a few years ago but abandoned after a couple of chapters because the protagonist seemed like such a whiner, her mother seemed like such an evil bitch, and I just couldn’t stand people with terrible names like Siddalee and Necie y’alling each other all over the place.  Daniel got me this book because, at a glance, he saw that part of it is about Girl Scouts and the author’s name is Rebecca and it seemed pretty well written.  Well, it is–there are some exquisitely vivid passages, and everything seems very real, and at times that’s sweet and wonderful.  The book is made up of interconnected short stories with different narrators, giving you a series of perspectives on a central Louisiana white Catholic family and their black maid and hired hand, first in the mid-1960s and then in the early 1990s.

I particularly appreciated the story in which Siddalee’s father, Big Shep, serves on the local draft board.  He starts off feeling inspired by this patriotic duty, but as the Vietnam conflict goes more and more wrong, he begins to have doubts, particularly when it’s time to consider the draft status of boys he’s known since they were born whose value to their families is painfully obvious.  In every debate, he’s crushed by the prejudices of the clean-handed businessmen who don’t understand his perspective as a rice farmer.  The Vietnamese peasants are rice farmers, too.  Big Shep, who in other people’s stories seems like such a tough guy, really struggles with his feelings here–and you, the reader, are the only one to hear about a lot of it.

But Siddalee’s mother is, in fact, a truly terrible and/or horribly damaged person.  There were moments when I felt some sympathy for her, but mostly she’s dreadful.  It’s no wonder Siddalee felt traumatized and fled and had years of therapy–and although the final story is supposed to be about how her healing process is working so well, now that she’s understood that God is really a woman and that she needs to treat herself like a baby forever, it mostly just made me wince.  I don’t think I’ll read this one again.

Trigger warnings: Alcoholism and associated appalling behavior.  Drunk driving.  Child abuse, both violent and sexual.  Unbearable dialect.

Shadows in the Twilight by Henning Mankell, translated from Swedish by Laurie Thompson

This book disappointed me by not being what I expected, but it’s really a very charming novel about an almost-twelve-year-old boy, suitable for reading by kids that age or even younger.  Joel lives in small-town Sweden in 1957 with his father, and they miss his mother, who left them years ago.  Joel wants to have an adventure and tries to get lost in the forest on purpose, but he realizes the foolishness of this before it’s too late.  Then he does have an adventure: Crossing a street in a hurry, he gets hit by a bus at just the right angle so that he falls between the wheels and is completely unhurt.  As the excitement of this Miracle fades, Joel begins to feel an uneasy sense of obligation: He must have been saved for a purpose; what is it?  He finally decides that he must do a good deed.  He makes the choice of what the good deed will be and figures out how to do it entirely on his own–with unintended results.  Reading, you’re inside Joel’s head, seeing things as he sees them and being talked through all his reasoning, as well as enjoying the various types of imaginative play that lure him away from his mission temporarily.

People have been recommending Henning Mankell to me for years, so I picked up this title when I saw it cheap (and let my one-year-old daughter give it to me for Christmas) without realizing that although Mankell is generally a writer of suspenseful crime fiction, this isn’t an example of it, despite the promisingly creepy title and cover.  I started reading it when I was in the mood for a mystery, and that’s what made it seem painfully slow, as if nothing was happening.

I’ll read this again sometime when I’m in the mood for following an eleven-year-old on his mild but really rather entertaining adventures.  I mean, he gets to wander the steam tunnels under his town, masquerade as an aspiring saxophonist, and sneak into the telephone office in the middle of the night–what’s not to like?

Visit the Quick Lit linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!

Seeking the Greatest Sliced Bread

Like many families, we don’t bake our own bread.  We make quick breads sometimes, like Raisin Bran Bread, but baking with yeast is not something that any of us finds soothing or fun or worth the time.  We really appreciate the convenience of buying bread that’s already neatly sliced and ready to use!

The only trouble is that many of the breads sold in stores contain corn and/or soy, and most of these are not organic or labeled non-GMO, which means that they probably contain genetically modified organisms–92% of all corn and 94% of all soybeans grown in the United States in 2015 were GMO.  We don’t trust GMOs to be safe for our health or the environment, so we’re trying to avoid them.  It can be difficult.

Trader Joe’s store-brand products are GMO-free (except meat and dairy) so we’ve often bought bread there . . . but they don’t make any variety of whole-grain bread that all members of our family like!  (They have a white bread we all like, but white is not as nutritious as whole-wheat.)  We end up buying multiple varieties of Trader Joe’s bread to please everyone, and that’s confusing, and whoever runs out of acceptable bread first starts agitating to buy new bread while we still have the other kind.  Furthermore, the nearest Trader Joe’s is several miles away, so we only shop there about once a month, but we use about a loaf and a half of bread per week.

Last time the kids and I went to Costco, we tried a free sample of Angelic Bakehouse Sprouted 7-Grain Bread.  We all liked it!  My 11-year-old Nicholas was begging me to buy it, but I figured it would turn out to contain some kind of crappy ingredients and/or to be really expensive.  But the 3-loaf pack is just $7 ($2.33 per 16 slices, similar to Trader Joe’s or most whole-wheat supermarket breads) and it contains no GMOs, no corn syrup, no soybean oil, no weird chemicals, no refined sugar–just real food ingredients!  The fiber, protein, and iron levels are just as good as most other whole-grain breads and better than some.  It’s lower in sugar and sodium than a lot of breads, yet it tastes just as good.

The package says you should refrigerate after opening and freeze any bread you are not going to eat within six days.  That’s the downside to not using preservatives.  Still, six days is a decent amount of time for food to stay fresh, and we always keep our bread in the fridge anyway.  Also–while I would never recommend that you disregard a manufacturer’s instructions–our three loaves lasted two weeks without being frozen and didn’t show any sign of spoilage.  (If your bread gets stale, here are 4 things you can do with it!)

Why sprouted grains?  Well, they’re supposed to be more nutritious and easier to digest.  I don’t see a difference in the Nutrition Facts between this bread and most other whole-grain breads, as I said.  I mainly bought this bread because it’s crap-free and tastes good!

What about packaging?  Like nearly every bread you can buy in a store, a loaf of Angelic comes in a plastic bag.  Like nearly every bread sold at Costco, it’s multi-packed inside a larger bag.  Yes, that’s a lot of plastic.  Yes, it is recyclable–but let me take this opportunity to remind everyone that most curbside recycling programs do not accept plastic bags, that you probably need to take plastic bags to a bin outside a store such as Target or Giant Eagle, and that it doesn’t matter how recyclable an item is if you don’t actually recycle it properly!  Before you recycle, see if you can find another use or six for your bags: Put a bowl of leftovers inside a bag instead of covering it with cling-wrap.  Use an old bread bag to carry a snack.  Use it to hold vegetables or cheese that you’re freezing.  Use the large outer bag to carry your muddy shoes.  You could even save up a lot of plastic bags and make an awesome crocheted thing!

Buying bagged bread that’s been trucked from Wisconsin to Pennsylvania does have an environmental impact greater than baking my own bread at home.  But realistically, I can’t do everything, and baking bread is one of the things I’ve decided not to do.  I’m glad to have a new option in healthful, real-food sliced bread!

Costco is also a once-a-month shop for us, but it’s in the opposite direction from Trader Joe’s, so we tend to visit the two stores at different times.  Being able to buy good bread at both stores might make it possible for us to avoid GMO bread completely.

If you’re having trouble finding GMO-free food, check out this directory!

Visit Real Food Friday and the Hearth & Soul Hop for more thoughts on food!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for other ideas as great as sliced bread!

Coffee in Moderation: The 7-1-7 Plan

When I was in college, in each September’s first meeting of my social organization, a few people would get up and make an earnest speech entitled, “Caffeine Is an Addictive, Psychoactive Drug” in which they tried to convince the new students to respect the power of caffeine by saving it for times when they really needed it.  They were right: If you get too accustomed to caffeine, it quits working, and if you routinely consume too much caffeine you’ll get irritable when you’re on it (but won’t realize that you’re irritable, thus increasing the irritation to everyone around you) as well as experiencing withdrawal symptoms whenever you miss a dose.

Mindful of their admonitions, I got through a very demanding educational experience on one cup of coffee most days!  If I felt drowsy on my way to an afternoon lecture, I’d get a caffeinated soda from the famous 35c pop machine.  If I had to pull an all-nighter, I’d drink a cup of black tea after dinner.  (Sodas and tea have less than half as much caffeine per serving as normal coffee.  Note that Starbucks is not normal coffee, and beware!)

I kept up similarly moderate habits throughout my twenties.  Then I became a mother.  Nicholas was the kind of baby who wakes frequently in the night and sometimes stays awake screaming for an extended period.  I went back to work only part-time, but I did have to get to work at a predictable time, and my work is the kind that requires intense focus on tiny details.  Some breastfed babies react badly if their mothers drink coffee, but Nicholas didn’t.  For a long time I stuck to tea at work (because I can drink it without milk in it, and also it has less caffeine), but I kept having days when I would decide to go out to lunch at a place with good coffee and free refills . . . and then my office moved to a building across the street from a mini-mart with affordable coffee, just before I was assigned a big proofreading task . . . and then Nicholas weaned and I started having migraines again, and with the freedom of being alone in my body with no worries of harming my baby, I started just drinking coffee whenever I felt like it.  (Is caffeine a headache treatment or a headache trigger?  It can be either.  The National Headache Foundation summarizes the science.  It was reassuring to find that on days when I stayed home sick and didn’t have any caffeine at all so that I could nap, I didn’t get a headache unless my illness was one that causes head pain–so my headaches weren’t caused by caffeine withdrawal.  Here’s some information on caffeine and health in general.)

After Lydia was born, I had to come back to work full-time.  She’s a somewhat better sleeper than Nicholas at the same age, but she did wake for nursing several times a night, and fitting in baby care around a full-time work schedule is stressful, so I was tired and tempted to slug down coffee constantly.  However, I’ve discovered a simple system that limits me to 3 cups a day by spacing them 6 hours apart.

I drink one cup (10-ounce mug) of coffee at 7:00 a.m., one after lunch at about 1:00 p.m., and one after dinner at about 7:00 p.m.  This system keeps me consistently alert enough but rarely jittery.  If I need to be awake until 1:00 a.m. to finish all the stuff I’m doing at home, I can manage it, but I can get to sleep as early as 11:00 p.m.  What I really like about the after-dinner coffee is that I stay awake while reading Lydia’s bedtime stories and then nursing her to sleep, so I’m able to get up afterward and finish the laundry or whatever.  It’s a big improvement over the frantic “Please go to sleep before I do so I don’t run out of time!!!” feeling that I used to have while lying next to Nicholas struggling to keep my eyes open!

The other crucial component of my system is a hot drink without caffeine.  I drink a cup of peppermint tea when I get to work every day, around 9:15 a.m.  Usually I feel like I “need more coffee” at that point, but if I have some water I’ll feel more alert.  Peppermint may serve a perking-up function, too.  I’ve started buying peppermint tea by the case to save money and time.

The exact spacing, times of day, and amounts of coffee that work best for your body might be different.  If you feel like you’re drinking too much coffee for your health, or you want to drink less so you can afford to drink only fair-trade organic coffee, try my plan and make adjustments until it suits you.

The 7:00, 1:00, 7:00 system works for me!  You can see it in action (actually 6:52, 1:55, 6:45) in this day in my life a year ago.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop for other life-improving tips!

The City of Slim Shadies

On days like this, when the sky is so heavy with clouds that we never glimpse the sun, and the wind is cold and damp, and it seems like winter will never end . . . I think of Eminem.

I guess I don’t mean the rapper himself so much as the character he played in 8 Mile [plot synopsis], which I saw when it came out in 2002 mostly because I was so impressed with the rap “Lose Yourself” [lyrics].  It very strikingly captures a young man’s desperation to escape the life he’s always known by seizing a fleeting chance to express himself in a way that will be heard and magnified to bring his family a better future.  The film amazed me with its very consistent, insistent pull, bringing me right into Rabbit’s story that he was not only telling me but making me see and feel.  I left the theater and had to walk around in the cold drizzle for a long time letting him speak to me some more.

And I thought, I work for that guy.  I work for 1,517 guys, a lot of whom are a lot like that.

Disclaimer: This article is not in any way an official statement by the Pittsburgh Youth Study or any of its funding entities.  This is a statement of my personal opinions and feelings.  For information about the Pittsburgh Youth Study, see our many publications.

Now, most people would say that I “work for” the principal investigators of the study, or that I “work for” a psychiatric hospital that is part of a corporate health-care system, or that I “work for” a research study that is funded by federal grants.  Yes, those are the ways my work is organized and paid.  But who have I been working for in my 17 years of data management and analysis of a longitudinal study of Pittsburgh’s at-risk boys?  I’m working for them.  I’m doing what I can to help us as a society understand why some boys break laws and hurt people and often wind up dead at a young age, while others somehow find their way to a stable and responsible adult life. Read more of this post

5 Fish-Free Family-Friendly Meals for Lent

It’s the third week of Lent, and if you observe the custom of fasting from land-animal meat on Fridays (or on all the days of Lent) but you normally eat lots of meat, by now you’re probably getting tired of fish sticks and macaroni-and-cheese!  It’s time for something different–and less expensive, too.

Here are 5 legume-based meals my family really likes.  Our kids are 11-year-old Nicholas and 21-month-old Lydia.  Most of these meals also have been eaten happily by Nick’s elementary-aged friends at some point.  If someone you’re feeding doesn’t like spicy food, though, you’ll want to be cautious with the pepper and ginger–maybe try half the amount the recipe specifies, or just leave it out, depending on your sensitivity level.

My family could eat all these meals in a week.  If you’re unaccustomed to eating legumes, don’t start out with too many as they may upset your digestion–but one meal a week should be fine.  Why not legumes on Friday instead of fish on Friday?  (Is it just because legume doesn’t start with F?)

All of these meals are gluten-free and vegan, unless you choose some of the optional embellishments or side dishes. Read more of this post

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

It’s been a difficult year for me so far, but you know what I can do when I’m sick, when I’m hanging around the hospital waiting for things to happen, and when I’m recovering from surgery and have to rest a lot?  I can read!  And it happens that I received a lovely stack of new-to-me books for Christmas!  Here are my reviews of the ones I’ve finished:

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

For the first half of this book, I was enjoying the story well enough, but I was a little disappointed that this book wasn’t grabbing me like Morton’s The Distant Hours (reviewed here).  Then it started to do things that really impressed me structurally as well as making the plot more exciting!  The most amazing thing I can explain without giving you any spoilers is that a conversation between two main characters which starts around page 30 appears again around page 440 but from the other character’s point of view; the third-person narration giving you the viewpoint character’s unspoken thoughts and perceptions of the action, combined with the fact that background noise prevents each of them from hearing some of what the other says, combined with what you’ve learned about the plot in the intervening 410 pages, gives the conversation an entirely different meaning!  Wow.

Anyway, about the story: Laurel was hanging out in her treehouse, being an angsty teenager, when she saw a strange man approach her mother and heard the few words he said before her mother fatally stabbed him with the birthday-cake knife.  The official story is that her mother was defending herself against a dangerous vagrant, but Laurel isn’t so sure…but (for rather weakly explained reasons) she doesn’t attempt to figure it out until fifty years later.  The story of Laurel’s investigation is interwoven with flashbacks to World War II London, when her mother had all the interpersonal drama that she then left behind to become Laurel’s wonderful, nurturing mother at Greenacres Farm.  Twists and turns galore bring us to a roller-coaster ending in which it all finally, astoundingly, makes sense.  There are some dragging moments in the first half, but it was well worth reading carefully in order to appreciate the rest!

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson, translated from Swedish by Rod Bradbury

Allan Karlsson is alone in his room at the old folks’ home and doesn’t feel like going to the party that’s about to begin celebrating his 100th birthday, so he climbs out the ground-level window and shuffles off in his slippers.  Read more of this post

Diaper Changing Duties: What’s Fair?

Our daughter Lydia is 21 months old.  Since she was born, almost all of her diaper changes at home (rather than childcare) have been my job.  I also launder the cloth diapers myself.  Unfair, right?  Daniel is just as responsible as I am for the existence of this messy little human, so he should take charge of 50% of her sanitation needs, right?

Well, that’s the way I saw it 11 years ago when our first child was born.  I spelled out to Daniel what sounded like a perfectly reasonable plan: Whenever we were both home, we would split diaper-changing 50/50; when one of us was alone with the baby, of course that parent would change diapers; when we were together in public, Daniel would take him to the men’s room for changes (because a male should use the males’ restroom, when feasible) unless it was a place with a nice changing table in the ladies’ room and no suitable area in the men’s.  Daniel agreed that this was fair.

We had our first shouting argument about diaper changing before Nicholas was a month old, and it was often a touchy topic thereafter.  Why?  Read more of this post

Book reviews coming in 2016

I’ve been very busy this year so far, but I’ve been reading anyway!  Here is a hasty iPad photo of the wonderful stack of books I received for Christmas, all of which I expect to read and review over the next few months.  [UPDATE: I added links to the reviews when I posted them.]
stack of books

I’ve already read three of them and parts of two others!  Can you guess which ones?  Which would you read first?

Having new-to-me books to read works for me!  Stay tuned for reviews, coming soon! Meanwhile, visit the Quick Lit linkup for other writers’ book reviews!

Get FREE Breadcrumbs for All Your Recipe Needs!

Did you make a new year’s resolution to waste less food, to do more cooking from scratch, or to buy less over-packaged food?  If you did, or if you have ever bought a canister of ready-to-use breadcrumbs, this article is for YOU!  And if you don’t fit into any of those categories, but you do eat bread and there is any chance that you’ll ever make a recipe that uses breadcrumbs, you should read this, too!

The thing is, breadcrumbs are just bread, made into crumbs.  It’s easy to do!  When you buy breadcrumbs, you’re paying to have machines crumble the bread for you and pack it in a container.  Crumbs are much more expensive than the number of slices of bread required to make that many crumbs.  Furthermore, when you buy crumbs as a separate product, you’re buying different bread than what you already have at home (some of which likely goes to waste from time to time, when it gets stale before you can eat it or because nobody likes to eat the bread heels) and you’re buying whatever quantity comes in a package–so after using the amount you need in your recipe, you’re likely to have some left, and if you can’t think of a use for them quickly, they’re going to go to waste, too.

bread in fridgeHere’s what was on the bottom shelf of our refrigerator one Saturday last fall when my son Nicholas (then 10 years old) decided to document in photos our process of converting unwanted bread into useful breadcrumbs.  In the center is an entire baguette that my partner Daniel bought, planning to make a specific sandwich–but then he got sick for just a couple days, and a baguette gets stale very quickly!  You also can see other bread bags, one with the current half-used loaf of bread but most nearly empty.  We took the heels out of that half-loaf bag but left the rest of the slices for our fresh-bread uses.  (Also on the shelf are tortillas, a jar of olives, and some kind of parsley or something, which you can just ignore.)

The first step is to inventory your breads and sort out what is no longer good for fresh eating but could still be used for crumbs.  Discard any bread that looks or smells moldy.  But bread that is damp from being in the refrigerator can still be salvaged! Read more of this post

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!

5 Must-See Environmental Documentaries

This is a guest post by Maria Ramos. Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles.

Without positive human intervention, global climate change could lead to horrific catastrophes, uninhabitable regions, mass immigration, and global societal reconstruction. A large portion of human activity that has damaged the environment is a result of ignorance and apathy, but fortunately that is easy to reverse if enough people become more educated and environmentally conscious! Below are some incredible documentaries aimed at increasing environmental awareness about one of the most pressing issues of our times.

Chasing Ice (2012)

This film strives to document the direct effect of global climate change on the large volume of ice located on our polar regions. Read more of this post

Book Reviews and Giveaway!

The silver lining of being mildly disabled for months after a car accident is that I’ve had lots of time for reading!  I’m grateful that I had the type of concussion that makes computer work difficult but isn’t hampered by reading on paper.  Here are some of the books I’ve read.

I’m giving away my copy of Last Call in the City of Bridges because, although I mostly enjoyed the book, I don’t feel like I’ll need to read it again.  [UPDATE: Laura Reu is the winner!]

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Two infertile couples each adopt a little girl from Korea.  They meet at the airport, where Bitsy Donaldson has an elaborate plan for enthusiastically welcoming her new daughter and capturing every memory, while the Yazdan family has a quieter approach.  Bitsy sees this other family as connected to hers by the shared experience and organizes annual shared celebrations of Arrival Day for years to come.  The gradual accumulation of Arrival Day traditions is very sweet and realistic, the interplay between various members of the two families is fascinating, and the eventual romance between two of the grandparents is superbly poignant and unique.  One of the most interesting things about this story is that, while the Donaldsons are typical white Baltimore natives, the Yazdans are Iranian immigrants, so they have their own non-American culture in addition to the daughter from Korea.  Anne Tyler’s long marriage to an Iranian-American surely helped to inform and inspire the Yazdans’ customs and attitudes.  This wonderfully immersive story of very real people gives Saint Maybe (reviewed here) some serious competition as my favorite Anne Tyler novel!

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine

Read more…

Book Reviews by a 10-and-11/12-year-old

This is a guest post by Nicholas Efran.

Key:  =1 star     ⭐︎=1/2 star


The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

This is a book about a mouse who gets sent to the dungeon for being different.  He is in love with the princess in the castle he lives in.  Then he discovers that a rat and a girl named Mig are planning to trap the princess in the dungeon.  Go read the book to find out what happens next!☆☆☆☆☆

Woof by Spencer Quinn

This is a book about a girl who adopts a dog, and the dog tells the story from his point of view.  WARNING: I did not finish reading this book because it’s not the best of mystery novels, in my opinion.  Her relative’s prize fish plaque has been stolen!  That’s the point I read up to. You can read the book to find out what else happens.☆☆⭐︎

Ramona and Her Mother by Beverly Cleary

The Ramona series by Beverly Cleary is about a girl named Ramona and her adventures with her sister Beezus and her friends, including Howie, her neighbor.  In many of the books, Howie has a sister named Willa Jean.  In Ramona and Her Mother, Willa Jean is given a box of tissues, which all in all she throws around the Quimbys’ living room.  In this book, Ramona has many other funny adventures, and I don’t want to spoil it all for you…so read the book!  WARNING: If possible, buy an older edition of the book with less snooty illustrations than the current one.☆☆☆☆☆

I Survived: The Attacks of September 11th, 2001 by Lauren Tarshis

The I Survived series is a series that I have heard about for a long time, but this is the first book I have “read”.  (My teacher read it to the class.)  The book is about a boy who loves playing football.  Then one day he sneaks out and takes the train into New York City because he wants to talk to his uncle about a serious event that may prevent him from continuing to play football.  His uncle and father are both firemen, and they rushed to the scene after a plane hit one of the twin towers.  It was very good, and you should read the book to find out what happens next!☆☆☆☆⭐︎

The Earth Dragon Awakes by Laurence Yep

This is a book that we read together as a class at the beginning of fifth grade.  It is about the tragic events of the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. There are 2 main families that are focused on in the book and you follow these families through the struggles and happenings of the many days in the struggle. Read the book to explore the wonders of this tragic day.☆☆☆☆☆

Visit the Quick Lit Linkup for more book reviews!  Visit Works-for-Me Wednesday for more great tips on many topics!