Public Transit and Convenient Commuting

It’s getting harder and harder for me to believe that the majority of Americans who work outside the home commute by car.

I understand that many small towns and suburban and rural areas have no public transit at all, and that many cities have inadequate public transit providing infrequent service to just a few neighborhoods.  What I don’t understand is why so many people put up with it!  Of course there are situations in which people have good reasons for living and/or working in remote areas.  But there are millions more who just seem to be taking for granted that, as a grown-up, every day you get into your car.  It hasn’t occurred to them to try their local public transit or to ask why there isn’t any.

What really staggers me is when I hear people who live and/or work in the very same neighborhoods I do, talking about driving to and from work–especially if they’re employed by one of the local universities whose every employee/student ID card functions as a bus pass!  Seriously!  You don’t need a special card; you don’t need to sign up for the transit program; as soon as you get your ID, you can hop on a bus, tap it against the card reader, and get a free ride to anywhere in Allegheny County the transit authority goes, any time buses (or light-rail trains or inclines) are running!  You can use it all weekend, not just for commuting!

Pardon all the exclamation points, but I’m excited to be working for the University of Pittsburgh now.  None of my previous employers offered free transit, so I’m accustomed to paying slightly over $1,000 per year for an annual bus pass giving me unlimited rides all year.  It was convenient even when it was a series of monthly passes arriving by mail, even more convenient with the ConnectCard that lasted all year.  It cost much less than paying cash fare for my workday commute, with the additional bonus of free rides for other travel.  But it was a substantial expense each year, which I don’t have now, whee!

It took me until last week, my fourth week at the new job, to realize just how staggeringly convenient my new commute is: Read more of this post

Peek Into My Pantry!

This rare glimpse into an actual Earthling habitat shows you what foods we keep on hand and how we organize them!  Get all the details in my article at Kitchen Stewardship!

Exclusively in The Earthling’s Handbook, play “Find the differences between these two photos!”  The one on the left was taken first, but then I noticed a few organizational flaws and made some small adjustments before taking the photo at right.  How many differences can you spot?  Let me know in the comments!

p1030408 pantry-version-2

This practical pantry isn’t slick and beautiful, but it’s functional.  We are able to

  • keep extra stuff on hand
  • save money by stocking up at the sale price
  • buy bulk foods and big packages that wouldn’t fit in our kitchen cabinet
  • plan menus using mostly what we have
  • reduce the temptation to eat poorly by having healthy ingredients handy
  • save time and gasoline by shopping less often
  • be prepared if weather or illness stops us from shopping

Our pantry’s basement location also helps us to stay fit and resist unnecessary eating!  If you have to walk across the dining room and down a flight of stairs to get a box of cereal, either you burn some calories doing it or you decide you’re not so hungry after all.

This is the pantry that works for me!  Visit the Hearth & Soul Hop and Real Food Friday for more food-related posts!

GAME SHOW!! with math practice

My third-grade son and I came up with a game that was a lot of fun and valuable math practice and physical exercise for him, while being very easy for me and using only a few basic supplies that were easy to set up and clean up.  This is a perfect activity for families in which all available parents are still recovering from viral bronchitis (or similar debilitating illness) while one or more kids are fully recovered and going stir crazy, but it’s too cold to play outside.  It could easily be adapted for multiple players.


  • large supply of fake money, such as from a Monopoly or Life board game.  If you don’t have this, you can keep the kid busy with a preliminary activity of making fake money!  You want at least 20 bills in each of several denominations.
  • stopwatch.
  • area of clean floor.  Have the child sweep the floor before playing.  If possible, use an area at the foot of a staircase or outside one end of a hallway, near a couch or bed where the parent can be comfortable.
  • two receptacles of some sort, which can hold a handful of fake money or a small trinket.  I grabbed some Christmas stockings that are still waiting to be put away.  (We got sick right after Christmas….)
  • a few small trinkets.  These do not have to be anything actually exciting–you’re just going to pretend they are.  Another option is to cut some photos of desirable items out of an advertising flyer.

Prerequisite: Child should have at least one experience of watching a typical television game show, such as “The Price Is Right”, to learn the appropriate ridiculously enthusiastic behavior and when to deploy it vs. when to listen carefully to the game show host’s instructions.

Set Up: Scatter the fake money in a big, festive pile on the clean floor.  If desired, decorate the staircase/hallway/approach to the pile with some of the money along the edges of the path and/or with whatever tinsel garlands or anything you happen to have lying around.

How to Play:

  • Contestant [child] runs down the stairs/hallway while game show host [parent] enthusiastically announces, “Come on doowwwwnn, Nicholas!!!”  Contestant bounces next to the money for a moment of imagined applause.
  • Host announces, “Your challenge is to pick up . . . exactly . . . ONE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED FORTY-SIX DOLLARS!!  Go!!” and starts the stopwatch.  (Choose a number you’ll easily remember, like the last 4 digits of a familiar phone number.  You don’t want any confusion over what the number was.  If this is difficult for you, use a phone book or other printed source of numbers, and check off each one after use.)
  • Contestant scrambles to pick up the correct amount of money as quickly as possible.
  • Host stops the stopwatch and announces the time: “He did that in just twenty-eight seconds!  But . . . is it the correct amount?”
  • Contestant shudders in suspense while host counts the money.
    • If amount is correct, host announces, “Congratulations!!  You are the winner of one thousand two hundred forty-six dollars!!  YAAAAYYY!!” and tosses the money over the contestant’s head while the contestant does a victory dance.
    • If amount is too large, host is very shocked: “One thousand two hundred sixty-six dollars?  How greedy!”  Contestant shrivels in shame and pays a penalty equivalent to the difference ($20 in this example) from his previous winnings.
    • If amount is too small, host is sympathetic: “Aww!  One thousand one hundred forty-six dollars!  You are not a winner.  Better luck next time.”  Money goes back to the pile while contestant walks away sighing.
  • Repeat over and over and over again for as long as contestant and host can stand it.  (Of course, each round uses a different amount of money.)
  • About every tenth win, host announces, “You’ve unlocked the Special Bonus!!!  Which of these hidden prizes will you choose?”  Host holds up the two receptacles in which she has hidden the prizes.  Contestant chooses.  Host reveals the prize, for instance a card depicting Mickey Mouse: “You’ve won . . . free admission to Disney World!!  YAAAAYYY!!”  Contestant hyperactively celebrates.  Host then reveals the other prize: “But look at what you could have won!  This fine bottle of hand lotion!”  (You might want to make one prize really exciting and the other something of a dud.)
  • If anybody needs to get a drink, go to the bathroom, etc., host announces, “We’ll be back after these messages!”  (Set up the next Special Bonus when child is out of the room.)

Because Nicholas was the only contestant, we weren’t keeping score; he was just enjoying the challenge.  He made only three mistakes in nearly two hours of play; usually, he was able to scoop up the correct amount, even though he completed every challenge in less than 40 seconds and some in as little as 7 seconds.  I’m impressed!

With multiple contestants, you could set aside the winnings–or add up a running total on a scoreboard so that you can return the money to the pile, as well as getting addition practice–and see who gets the most money.  You might incorporate the time in the scoring, too.  If contestants are at different ability levels, give the younger one simpler rather than smaller amounts of money, like $3,000 while the older one has to find $2,917.

This homemade game show worked for me!  Visit Mom’s Library for more activities to do with kids!  Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more low-cost do-it-yourself activities!

Gradually Expanding Range for a Child Walking Alone

Welcome to the September 2013 Carnival of Natural Parenting:
Staying Safe

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared stories and tips about protecting our families. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


“It’s a different world than when we were kids.” I often hear parents say this when they are talking about how they don’t allow their children–or even teenagers–to go anywhere alone, to walk anywhere, even to play in their own front yard.

Yes, this is a different world, the America of 2013 compared with the America of 1981, when I was 8 years old like my son is now–AMERICA IS A SAFER PLACE THAN IT WAS WHEN I WAS A CHILD. Every type of violent crime is significantly less common now than it was then. The thing many parents are most afraid will happen to a child let out of their sight is kidnapping, although abductions of children by strangers are extremely rare.

I’ve been working in crime research for 15 years, and that’s really given me some perspective on risk: The vast majority of violent crimes are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, not by a stranger who abruptly captures the victim in a public place–and this is especially true of child molestation. Yes, terrible things can happen to innocent people, and it is horrible when they do, but it is important not to get too freaked out about “risk”.  (I want you to see this cartoon that clearly illustrates the issue, but I can’t get it to display on my page!)

Of course, we do feel some concern about the safety of our beloved only child. Realistically, the highest risk he faces in walking around the neighborhood is being hit by a car. I’ve written before about how we taught him traffic safety skills and decided when he was ready to walk around the block alone. In second grade, he began walking home from school alone some days, and now in third grade he is doing it 4 days a week. This is a journey of 5 blocks, with a crossing guard posted at the only busy intersection. Nicholas always gets home safely and has had no problems.

This summer, he grew bored with his walks around the block and asked to walk farther, alone. We have not been letting him walk to his school alone when the crossing guard is not on duty, because of that busy street. But we thought we might allow him to walk as far as the nearest busy street in each direction from our house.  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…

Walking to School

Happy Walk to School Day!  My son and I walked to his school this morning, and his father will walk him home this afternoon.  He’s in first grade.  Sometime during his years at this K-8 school, he’ll begin walking by himself, but for now I am enjoying the walk and the time with him.  We live slightly less than half a mile (five-and-a-half blocks) from the school, a distance we can walk in 10-15 minutes in just about any weather.

Being in a walkable neighborhood was a major consideration when we bought our home, two years before Nicholas was born.  (Use Walkscore to check out the walkability of different addresses!)  Walking to a good public school was only part of it: grocery store, library, post office, our church, restaurants, many other businesses, and playgrounds all are within a mile of our home, and all the streets have sidewalks.  We also live near a city bus stop, and Nicholas and I commuted together by public transit every day while he was attending a preschool near my office.  But being able to walk the whole way to school is even nicer!  (After taking him to school, I walk another six blocks to the bus stop and go to work.) Read more…

Homemade Electrolyte Replenisher (Sports Drink)

66c471b020c1d61a519d07545084944bUPDATE in 2016: This trusty recipe has now carried me through seven summers, another low-blood-pressure pregnancy, another two years of breastfeeding (which increases the risk of dehydration), and several digestive illnesses!  Today I’ve updated some references in this post and linked up with Real Food Friday, where my recent post on using up the vegetables from a CSA farm share is featured today.

Back in 2009, thanks to The Cardamom’s Pod, I discovered the concept of Laborade, a beverage similar to a sports drink that’s easy to make at home from inexpensive ingredients.  It’s an affordable substitute for Gatorade, Pedialyte, or similar beverages, without any artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, or excessive packaging!

I now drink a tall glass of Laborade whenever I’m very hot and sweaty and draggy-feeling, or I’ve had a digestive upset but now I can keep down liquids again, or I feel thirsty even though I already drank some water, or I’m inexplicably dizzy (I’m prone to low blood pressure).  It makes me feel amazingly better very quickly!

But don’t drink it as a regular beverage.  The simple rule is, if it tastes really good, you need it; if it tastes weird, you don’t. Read more…

7 Things You Oughta Be Able to Do at Your Age

The idea for this article came from a friend of ours who is fifty-one years old and is becoming increasingly disgusted with twentysomething guys who are in worse physical condition than he is and, when he comments on it, mumble about how they can’t afford to join a gym.  They seem to be totally blind to the fact that one can exercise using ordinary household objects or simply by shifting the weight of one’s own body.  He was ranting about this one day when I was over at his house and instructed me to tell the Internet about it. Read more…

How to Do Everything!

This article is linked to the greatest tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, where the hostess explains how to get a human on the phone when you call customer service, and more than 178 people have linked to their own helpful tips on how to do all sorts of things.  Here are my own greatest tips:

7 ways to eat less meat.

40 ways kids can help around the house.

13 ways to use less electricity for your lighting.

Toddler discipline in 3 easy steps!

7 product recommendations (NOT paid endorsements!). Read more…

Balancing on the Ball

We’ve had an exercise ball for a couple of years now–one of those large, inflatable balls strong enough to hold an adult’s weight, which can be used for lots of exercises.  Daniel and I both love it.  (Our five-year-old son loves it, too, but less for exercising than for rolling recklessly around the room and flying off it to crash-land on the bed!)  Rolling around on it is a great way to soothe our suffering spines because leaning on the ball enables us to take our weight off the usual parts of the body and shift it in different directions so that clumped-up muscles can relax.

Just recently, though, Daniel discovered an exercise with the ball that’s very simple but has a huge effect on muscle tone!  Here are the complete instructions: Read more…

How to Clean a Basement or Porch Floor AND Use Up the Last Dregs of Liquid Laundry Detergent

This technique is suitable for any floor that has either a drain or an open side where water can spill onto the ground.  I learned the cleaning technique at Girl Scout camp, and years later I realized its wonderful compatibility with those “still very soapy on the inside but with not enough soap to pour” bottles.  It’s thrifty, it’s fun, it’s safe for kids to help with, it’s good exercise, and it gets the floor really clean, so it works for me! Read more…

Knee-bouncing Games

These two games have been enjoyed by little children in my family for at least three generations.  They worked for me when I was little, they’ve been favorites of my four-year-old son since he was about nine months old, and I look forward to trying them on his younger cousins this Thanksgiving!

These are the type of game that you play by bouncing a child who is sitting on your knees.  That means that the child needs to be old enough to sit up but lightweight enough not to hurt your knees.  It also means that you can play these games anywhere you can sit, with no additional equipment.  They’re great for sitting around at holiday parties, waiting in the airport or bus stop or doctor’s office, etc. Read more…

Swinging for Fitness

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Those are the opening lines of a poem from one of the My Book House books that I loved when I was a little girl. It so vividly captures the simple joy of swinging, which was just the same in 1920 as in 1977 as in 2009. I still think that swinging in a swing is one of the pleasantest things to do!

It’s also great exercise! Pumping a swing up nice and high increases your heart rate and works your abdominal muscles and loosens your hamstrings. Swings are available free of charge at most playgrounds. If you have kids, you can exercise while they play. Read more…

The Seven-Minute Stretch

It’s amazing how just a few minutes of stretching can change everything.  Just moving around a little bit for a little while gets the blood flowing through your muscles and brain, makes you more flexible, reminds you to breathe, lifts your mood, and makes the various motions of daily life easier and less likely to strain something.  And it doesn’t require any special equipment or gym fees.

Try it!  Choose two favorite songs and play them on your music-playing device.  Read more…

Stroller Madness

Long before we became parents, Daniel and I decided we would not be transporting our child in a stroller on any regular basis.  We live in Pittsburgh, a city of steep hills, stairs, and sidewalks cracked by frost heave and tree roots.  Our neighborhood has heavy pedestrian traffic on sidewalks that are narrow in places.  We often ride city buses, which allow strollers only if folded, and we’d seen how parents struggled to fold a stroller with one hand without dropping the baby.

Recalling the various baby carriers used by my mother and her friends, I did some research and learned that carrying a baby or “babywearing” has many advantages  for child development, as well as being convenient for parents.  I bought a ring sling, and by the time Nicholas was two months old, I felt we could hardly live without it!

However, we did wind up owning a stroller. Read more…