The Dishwasher Ladybug

Many things in our home previously belonged to our relatives.  I claimed many books, dishes, pieces of furniture, and framed artwork from my grandparents’ homes after they died.  Daniel’s parents and grandparents have given us household items that they don’t need anymore but that are still useful.  Making use of these things in our home is a way of running them into the ground while also triggering memories of old times in another house and, in some cases, of people who aren’t with us anymore.

Daniel’s cousin Mike and his wife Barbara hosted the extended family for Thanksgiving for many years.  Barbara had a flair for decorating and a fondness for ladybugs.  In the breakfast nook of her red-and-black kitchen were shelves displaying the ladybug-themed gifts people kept giving her.  After Barbara died, Mike offered us our choice of ladybug stuff.

One of the items we brought home was a plush ladybug with a magnet in its belly.  It’s cute, but we found it didn’t work very well for holding shopping lists and so forth because it covers such a large area that you can’t see the paper.  It was just a decoration hanging on the side of our refrigerator for several months.

Meanwhile, we were using our dishwasher, which has an LED that illuminates when the cycle is complete and stays lit until you turn it off or you open and close the door.  It’s a convenient reminder that the dishes in the dishwasher are clean and need to be put away.  If we opened the dishwasher to grab just one spoon or something, we’d carefully push it almost closed but not latch the door, so the LED would stay lit.

This worked just fine until our daughter Lydia started walking.  She would grab the edge of the dishwasher door as a handhold, and if it wasn’t latched, it would swing down and bop her on the head!

ladybug magnetNow we needed a different visual cue to show us that the dishes were clean.  Many people use a magnet…and we happened to have this magnet that needed a useful role!

Over the past two years, Daniel and I and our 12-year-old son have adapted to this new house rule: When you open the dishwasher to take out a clean dish but not put away all the dishes, put the ladybug on the door.  When you have put away the clean dishes and the dishwasher is ready to collect dirty dishes again, move the ladybug back to the refrigerator.  Simple!

Of course, the plush ladybug hanging near floor level proved irresistible to our toddler sometimes.  We had to teach Lydia that it’s okay to play with the ladybug, but you need to put her back in place when you are done, because she is doing her job.  She is a helpful insect, not unlike the real ladybugs we see in the garden.  Lydia gradually became so responsible about keeping the ladybug on duty that I can’t recall when I last reminded her.

Using a cue like this helps us conserve water, energy, and money by running the dishwasher only when it’s full.  Because we eat different things from day to day, we have different amounts of dishes, so it’s hard to predict when the dishwasher will be full.  Many people have told me they run the dishwasher every night after dinner so that they can put away the dishes before bed and always have clean dishes in the morning and no confusion about what’s clean or dirty–but that’s so wasteful!  It’s also more total work to put away a smallish number of dishes every day than to put away a larger number of dishes every three days or so.

(I’d just like to mention that last summer, I proved to myself that I usually do, too, have time to empty the dishwasher now and get it over with: I put on the Genesis song “Abacab” and emptied the fully-packed dishwasher and even scrubbed that one dish that didn’t get clean before the song was over = 7 minutes, 2 seconds!)

Lydia just turned 3 years old.  The evening after her birthday, I filled up the dishwasher after dinner and turned it on.  Daniel told me that when he and Lydia came into the kitchen a while later, she immediately noticed the sound and said, “The dishwasher is washing.”  Then she took the ladybug from the refrigerator and put it onto the dishwasher.  She has learned the rule!

Our ladybug is very helpful in the household routine, and it also brings a little bit of Barbara’s ladybug-loving legacy into our daily lives so that we remember her fondly.

Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party and To Grandma’s House We Go! for more home tips!  Visit Be Clean Be Green With Kids for more ideas for family cooperation to save the Earth!

Darwinian Gardening

Tomato plant and squash plant in a pot, in the garden among morning glories, irises, spearmint, etc.

I’m writing a 3-part series on composting over at Kitchen Stewardship; here’s how to get started with my composting system using 3 ordinary flowerpots, and I also mention two FREE composting systems my family members have used. Here, I’m explaining my general approach to the garden I nourish with my compost.

The idea and the name of Darwinian Gardening come from my mom, who devotes a section of her large garden to “the survival of the fittest,” with lovely and sometimes surprising results.

You could just fertilize some soil and then see what grows there, being totally hands-off about it.  Mom and I intervene a little.  The basic idea is to plant the seeds you have and encourage the plants you like, to grow a uniquely beautiful garden that’s environmentally friendly, inexpensive, and low-maintenance.

I don’t have a big garden like my parents do.  My front yard is about 12 feet square.  My back yard (not shown in these photos) is on a cliff and very shady, so we struggle to keep anything growing there to control erosion.  One of my favorite things about Darwinian Gardening is that many species of plants intertwine, creating lots of variety in a small area.  My garden may be tiny, but there’s a lot to see here!

Morning glories, lamb’s ears, and purple vine working together to choke out “weeds.”

My garden combines things I planted on purpose with things that just showed up. Every spring, I plant whatever seeds I have, root cuttings from my potted plants, and maybe buy a few bulbs or seeds or seedlings.

A lot of my plants “grow like weeds” and are essentially invasive species, but I don’t consider them “weeds” because I like them!  I only pull up plants I truly don’t want, like poison ivy and burrs.

However, my most enthusiastic plants sometimes choke out other plants that I want to grow, so I intervene by digging them up and moving them to a bare spot.  Morning glory vines twine around other plants and block the sunlight; while I’m supervising my kids playing outdoors, I patrol the garden and carefully unwind morning glories from the other plants and wind them onto things I don’t mind them growing on. Read more of this post

Grandma, Grace, Portage, Petunias, and a Jade Green Sweatshirt

My grandma would be 101 years old today, if she were still alive.  Last year I tried to write the centennial tribute she deserved, but I was recovering from a brain injury, so not only was everything a struggle but I felt really terrible and inadequate about everything…and also, I realized, “Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.”

So here is another article with some inspirations from Grandma that have struck me over the past few months.


The school I attended in seventh and eighth grades closed this year and will be torn down.  That’s fine with me–it was poorly designed in the first place and was in bad shape when I was there 30 years ago.  I was reminiscing to my son about the bleak concrete courtyard in which we were forced to hang around until the first bell rang, and about how I was on the first bus to arrive and therefore had to sit there for 40 minutes, often getting bullied.  In particular, there was this one eighth-grade football player who made my seventh-grade mornings miserable by yelling insults at me across the courtyard while his friends laughed.

Suddenly I remembered telling Grandma about that, when she called after I’d spent the whole day wincing shamefully over what that football player had yelled when he noticed that I was sitting with my legs crossed at the knee.  I couldn’t bear to repeat exactly everything he said (the gist was that I was trying to control my urge to be raped by him); what I told her was his opening line of sneering, “Who sits with their legs crossed?!” in a way that sounded like it was a totally stupid, wrong thing to do.  Grandma said, “Hmm, who sits with her legs crossed?  A graceful, elegant lady with impeccable manners!”  That really turned it around for me.  That bully and others continued to hurt my feelings, but it did help to notice how often their insults boiled down to, “You’re behaving too well!  You think you’re better than us!” which implied that, for all their frightening volume and vitriol and violence, they actually were afraid that I was better than them–and gee, maybe I was.  It depends on what your standards are, and I’m glad that Grandma nudged me to consider mine. Read more of this post

4 Great Poetry Books for Young Children

Our two-year-old Lydia loves poetry!  Most young children enjoy hearing rhyming, rhythmic words, but Lydia is particularly fascinated.  We have many picture books with rhyming text–like the wonderful works of Dr. Seuss–but we’ve also found several longer poetry books that she enjoys and so do we.

Poetry is very helpful in getting children interested in books and understanding how language works.  Our first child, Nicholas, went through a long phase of pointing out “matching” words on the page–words like rough and tough that look the same except for the first letter–and he was intrigued to learn that such words usually rhyme but sometimes don’t, and that words that rhyme sometimes don’t match visually.  Poems that don’t rhyme are educational in a different way, demonstrating the power of language to express feelings and perceptions.  Both rhyming and non-rhyming poems are more memorable than prose, enabling children to quote favorite portions and to “read” their books to themselves as the pictures cue them to recall the words. Read more of this post

That Time I Drank 33-Year-Old Grape Juice

My family has an ancestral home, a place that’s been owned by our family ever since it was built in 1910.  It’s a large, elegant, three-story brick house on the main street of a pleasant town in Ohio.  My maternal grandmother grew up there, and although she itched to leave that town because of the stifling social climate, she enjoyed coming back to visit.  Her sister inherited the house and passed it on to her children.  My cousin-once-removed lives there alone now but cheerfully welcomes all of the extended family to big gatherings for special occasions and smaller visits whenever we’re in the area.

I was there for a medium-sized gathering in 1997.  My mother and her Japanese storytelling colleague were passing through Ohio on a tour and spending a weekend at the ancestral home, so my uncle and his two daughters came over from Indiana, and I took a bus from Pittsburgh.

My great-aunt and great-uncle were still alive at that time.  They were the kind of people who like to save things.  Read more of this post

Standing in the Waves with Grandma

Learn all you can now so you’ll have time when you’re old to learn the things that haven’t been invented yet.
—Louise Kirn Oguss

Louise Kirn Oguss was my maternal grandmother, and that’s what she said to me when I was thirteen and resisting the idea that I soon ought to learn to drive.  I didn’t like the idea of piloting a two-ton machine that could kill people, and I wanted to leave my small town as soon as anyone would let me and live in New York City, where I wouldn’t need a car to get around.  Grandma explained that, although it was fine to avoid driving in my day-to-day life, having that skill in my repertoire could be useful in many situations–in fact, I might even save a life by driving someone to a hospital, and if I were ever called upon for emergency driving, everyone would be safer if I knew what I was doing.  I admitted that she had a point, and although I dawdled a little bit in learning to drive, I did get my license before I finished high school.

But by then, Grandma was gone.  She died of cancer just after my fifteenth birthday.  If she were still alive, today would be her one hundredth birthday.

I wish she’d stayed longer.  I never got enough time with her, even in the summers when I went without my parents to stay with Grandma in her wonderful old house in Far Rockaway, in the southeastern corner of Queens at the very end of the A train subway line, and we had adventures together all over New York City and at Silver Point Beach just outside the city.  I wished I could live there all the time!  Grandma and I enjoyed museums and people-watching and eating exotic foods and exploring buildings and neighborhoods and parks, and we never ran out of things to talk about.  She told me stories from all eras of her life, she told me things she’d picked up from her wildly varied reading, and she truly listened to me and made me feel fascinating and fully appreciated.  She knew how to listen to other people, too, and what questions to ask, so that we got to hear the stories of pizza chefs and cab drivers and a very old lady in the supermarket who had once been the pianist for the Rockettes.  Grandma had a gift for drawing out each person’s special traits and valuing them.  I wish I were better at that!

But I feel guilty complaining that I didn’t get more time with her, because I’m her oldest grandchild–one of my cousins wasn’t even born yet when Grandma died, and some were too young to remember her well.  I’m lucky to have known her as well as I did and to have so many memories of doing things with her.

I wanted to write a tribute to Grandma on her centennial, like I did for my other grandmother but better, explaining how very special she was to me and how profound an influence she has had on my life.  Three months ago I started turning over ideas, hoping to come up with some kind of structure so I wouldn’t just ramble on but could really convey her wonderfulness.  But then I was in an accident, and too much of my time and energy went into just getting by, and I’m still not fully recovered, and then in these last few days I’ve had big mood crashes and headaches just when I thought I was going to write . . . and I know Grandma would understand; I know she would say that the specific date is not important, that the most important thing for me to do is heal, that I don’t owe her a tribute anyway . . . but still, I felt that I was letting her down and letting myself down and that I’ve spent far too much of the past twenty-seven years regretting that Grandma isn’t with me instead of taking a positive approach like hers and being a better person.

Thinking about it this morning, suddenly I not-quite-heard Grandma’s voice in my mind: “But honey.  You’ve already written so many interesting things.”

She’s right.  I learned to do one of those things that hadn’t been invented yet: I write for the Internet.  I’ve published more than 600 articles!  Grandma would appreciate every one of them.  (Who knows–maybe she does?  Would it be heaven without wi-fi?)  It’s true that I’ve written almost nothing about Grandma herself, but my mission to tell people about Earth and all the great things we can do here is something Grandma would totally get behind.  She’d be thrilled to see how I can link my own articles together and link them to reference materials and other interesting stuff, and minutes later people in Australia and India and Holland are reading my words.  And in the process, I have learned to be braver about what I say and to decide when it’s good enough without calling someone else to read it for me.

Grandma meant so much to me that I can’t cram it all into one article.  Here is just one story that I hope will show you a little bit of what she was like and how she shaped me.

The first summer I went to Grandma’s alone, I was just six years old and not only shy but nervous and cautious by nature.  I didn’t know how to swim and hadn’t been near the ocean for two years.  On our first visit to the beach, I must have looked anxious as we approached the pounding surf.  Grandma said, “Now, here is what I like to do: We’ll go into the water up to our knees and stand, holding hands, and as the waves go in and out they’ll pull sand from under our feet, but we’ll stay put and see who can stand the longest without taking a step.”  We did this.  The water buffeting my legs was daunting, so much deeper when a wave came in and then sucking at me as it went out, and it was full of slimy seaweed and scratchy bits of shell–but I was safe holding Grandma’s hand.  I felt the sand being pulled out from under the edges of my feet, then more and more until I was standing on tiny narrow piles, and then one foot dropped and I was falling forward, face-first into the salty froth–and Grandma pulled me up and laughed and said, “Let’s go in two steps farther!”  Pretty soon I was in up to my shoulders and loving every minute of it.  I played exactly the same game with my son when he was six and made his first visit to the ocean.  Yes, it’s weird and wet and powerful–isn’t it great?!

Being cautious has its advantages.  Grandma never tried to talk me out of my essential nature.  She showed me how to feel just safe enough to have fun and, by broadening the range of things I felt safe doing, to work up the courage to try new things more easily.  That combined with fifteen years of her belief in my ability to do great things, and with the example of her own life, to support me in feeling able to do what I yearned to do: I left the small town for the big city (not New York, it turned out, but Pittsburgh), got a great education, had a lot of fun with some fascinating men, worked out a career and a home and a family that suit me, and found ways to help make the world a better place.  I’d still like to be kinder and more positive and better at asking people about themselves, like her–but I feel that if Grandma dropped in on me now, she’d be very glad to see what my life is like.

And she’d tell me to get off the computer when it’s giving me a headache.  Happy birthday, Grandma!  Good night!

My Father Taught Me How to Be a Working Mother

When I was born, my mother quit her paying job so she could be home with me.  She did not take another job until I was almost twelve years old.

I resumed working outside the home when each of my children was twelve weeks old.  After Nicholas was born, I went back part-time and later gradually increased my working hours until I was back to 40 hours a week when he was four years old.  After Lydia was born (when Nicholas was nine years old), I returned to my job full-time.  It isn’t easy!  Forty hours, plus commuting time, is a long time to be away from home even when you’re only taking care of yourself; when you have young children, it’s a time-management struggle as well as an emotional struggle over being apart from the kids so much.  My mother–who’s been a great role model to me for things like breastfeeding, intelligent discipline, and making healthy food–was not much help as I figured out how to balance parenthood with employment.  It’s my father whose example has really helped me understand what’s important and where to cut myself some slack.

Oddly enough, it was an insensitive comment my father made that led me to realize his value as a role model for me. Read more of this post

Seder and Holy Week: Family Traditions, Old and New

Welcome to the April 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family History This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared stories, lore, and wisdom about family history. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. ***

My children’s ethnic ancestry is five-eighths Yiddish: All of their father’s grandparents, and my maternal grandfather, were descendants of Eastern European Jews.  We aren’t Jewish–my ten-year-old son Nicholas and I are Episcopalians, we’re bringing baby Lydia to church with us, and my partner Daniel does not practice any organized religion–but Jewish/Yiddish customs are an important part of our family background. seder plate

Daniel’s grandfather, Herschel, is 99 years old and still hosts a Passover seder in his home.  I’d never been to a seder before I started living with Daniel.  Now it’s our annual connection to our Yiddish roots, and I missed it very much the few years we weren’t able to attend.  Daniel’s mother always comes to spend Passover with her father, and she makes the dinner.  Family friends, the Feldmans, come over for the seder and bring dessert.  We don’t make it as formal and reverent as we could, but we all respect the basic structure of the ritual and try to follow the traditions.

Nicholas was three months old at his first seder.  He sat calmly in my lap and even slept through part of it.  Of course he doesn’t remember it.  He was too young to sample any of the food.  But it was very special to all of us that he could participate in this family tradition with his great-grandfather.  (An extra bonus was that my brother happened to be in town that spring, so he got a chance to attend the seder, too, and to meet Daniel’s extended family.)  Herschel exclaimed many times how glad and amazed he was to be a great-grandfather.  Although he knew we wouldn’t be raising Nicholas as a Jew, still we were welcome at the seder table. Read more of this post

Should Your Family Be Child-centered?

This is a controversial and confusing question.  Some people go on and on about how parenthood melted their selfish hearts and made them realize the importance of devoting themselves fully to making their children’s lives perfectly wonderful and completely safe.  Other people go on and on about how children are hedonistic little leeches whose spirits must be broken to show them who’s boss, and responsible parents must schedule their babies’ lives in 15-minute increments.  Then there are a lot of points of view in between.  It’s very easy, as a parent in this fast-paced society, to put a lot of energy into getting everything together for your kid and suddenly realize you’ve been neglecting yourself–or to rush around Getting Things Done and suddenly realize that you’ve been treating your child like a task on a checklist and haven’t focused on his sweet little face for days.  Where’s the balance?

Well, I can’t claim that Daniel and I have it all perfectly worked out, but in our 8 years 8 months as parents of Nicholas, we’ve done pretty well with this basic attitude: “We are all people together.  We are the same in some ways and different in other ways.  Experienced people help newer people learn how to do things.”  Nobody is the center.  This is the approach my parents seemed to be using when I was a child (I don’t know if they’d explain it in the same words) and I noticed from an early age that some other families had a different attitude.  Of course, every family is different, but I think all families could work from the basic principle that we’re all in this together and no one person is the most important.  It seems to me that whenever I wander away from this idea–either by getting dramatically self-sacrificing or by demanding that everybody take care of me–it works out badly.
Here are some of the issues parents often struggle with, and the ways they’ve worked out for our family.

Is it child-centered to allow your child to eat when hungry and sleep when sleepy?  Is it better to have a strict schedule?

Read more…

My grandmother is blogging from beyond the grave!!

My paternal grandmother wrote a lot of poetry in her twenties, some of which was published in a poetry column in her local newspaper and some of which she read on a local radio program.  After she passed away in 1991, my dad compiled her published poetry into a little booklet which he printed and gave to her family and friends.

Recently I read this booklet again, and it occurred to me that if my grandmother were still around, she probably would be sharing her poems online.  After discussing the idea with the rest of her descendants, I set up her blog:

Poems by Janette Stallings

Every time I reread these poems, I am struck by how, simultaneously, they set you right into a vivid, fleeting moment yet describe experiences that are just the same now as they were seventy years ago.  I hope that readers today will find these poems still very relevant and inspiring.

It’s a funny feeling, though, arranging a blog for someone who never saw a blog or any sort of Website and who regarded computers as a somewhat suspect newfangled thing.  I chose a background color and clip art that remind me of her personal style, and I put them into a WordPress theme that is relatively plain because all the fancier ones just looked jarring.  I tried to use the sidebar widgets she would think were neat rather than unseemly.  It’s so strange–and yet it gives Janmother her own space, like her own little magazine with pretty borders, which is something she never had in the newspaper.  I think she would like that.

Another oddity of this project is that the person whose work I’m publishing is not, exactly, the Janmother I knew.  The newest of the poems I’m going to publish was written 29 years before I was born!  My first idea for the blog background was to use a digital photo of one of her gorgeous afghans–but the poetry-writing Janette was an earlier version of the person who became my crocheting Janmother.  I’ve written about the Janmother I knew and my growing perspective on her life.  The poems, all of them, were written when she was younger than I am now.  So I’m trying to imagine that younger Janette, daydreaming with her hands in the dishwater, and what she would have done with the opportunity to create pages for the whole world to read.

I bet that if the young Janette were alive right now and browsing the Web, she’d be appreciating Works-for-Me Wednesday for the wealth of homemaking tips and the sense of connection with other women that it brings to us each week.  Take a look!

Mexican Pizza

I mentioned in my most recent multi-week menu post making Mexican Pizza, an easy and versatile meal that my mom makes frequently.  As I wrote that, it occurred to me to ask Mom if there is a recipe for Mexican Pizza or she’s just been winging it all along!  She has no written recipe, but with her input, I’ve written some guidelines for making Mexican Pizza.

To make one pan–a meal or main dish for 4-6 people–you will need:

  • 1 batch of freshly mixed cornbread batter, the amount that normally would bake in a 9- or 10-inch square/round pan.  Use your favorite recipe, but consider decreasing the sugar.  You could add a little chili powder if you want.  If you don’t have a favorite recipe, see below.
  • 1 1/2 cups (or 15-oz. can) cooked Mexican-flavored beans.  These might be left over from another meal, prepared by your favorite Mexicanating process, or  just plain beans plus 1 cup salsa.  Mom suggests this: Drain and rinse a can of pinto or red beans; combine with 8 oz. (1 cup) tomato sauce fortified with chili powder, dried diced onion, oregano, garlic powder to taste.
  • 1-2 cups grated cheddar or jack cheese.
  • Optional ingredients: peppers, olives, etc.
  • 9″x13″ baking pan, or cookie sheet with sides.
  • Grease for the pan.  I like coconut oil.
  • Optional cold toppings to add after baking: guacamole, plain yogurt or sour cream, shredded lettuce, cilantro.

Preheat oven to 425F.  Grease the pan.  Pour in the batter and spread it to cover the bottom of the pan.  If using a cookie sheet, start from one end and spread batter toward the other end until you begin having trouble getting it to stay together–it should be about 1/2″ deep and may not fill the whole cookie sheet.

Sprinkle beans and optional ingredients evenly over the batter.  Sprinkle cheese evenly on top.

Bake 10 minutes.  Check to see if you can lift the edge of the crust easily with a spatula.  If not, keep baking and checking every few minutes until it’s done–typically 15-20 minutes.

Cut into squares and serve with optional cold toppings. Read on for the cornbread recipe!

New England Yam Bake

This is Daniel’s mother Elsa’s traditional Thanksgiving side dish.  I’m posting it in July because I’m about to post a way to make a similar but non-baked dish if you crave something like this (and/or have sweet potatoes to use up) in hot weather!

We had made the original recipe many times, referencing a copy Elsa had typed long ago (with an actual typewriter!) on a small sheet of paper.  We’ve learned that it works fine in a 9″x9″ or similar size pan if you don’t have a 10″x6″, and that the “broil” step can be accomplished at the same 350-degree setting; it takes just a few minutes.

Daniel recently typed up the recipe for our recipe binder, as follows:

Elsa’s usual recipe: easy and satisfying. I’ve replaced the margarine with butter, because, butter!

1 20-oz can pineapple slices
2 17-oz cans yams (sweet potatoes)
1/4 cup flour
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp salt
3 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup chopped nuts
1 cup miniature marshmallows

Drain pineapple, reserving 1/4 cup syrup. Line sides of 10″x6″ baking dish with pineapple, slightly overlapping the slices.  Arrange yams in the center.  Pour pineapple syrup over yams.

Combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.  Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs; stir in nuts.  Sprinkle over yams.

Bake at 350 for 25 min. Top with marshmallows. Broil until lightly browned.

Serves 6 – 8.

Kirn Family Kale

More than three years ago, I posted many ways to eat kale, beginning the article with an acknowledgement that many people think it’s just a garnish and that, personally, I grew up knowing kale as a notorious vegetable used by my maternal grandmother’s family, seasoned with cloves and cayenne pepper and cooked “until the wallpaper peels,” to frighten away people unworthy of joining our family.

Last week, a friend pointed out to me that, although I have posted many kale recipes, I never have shared that one.  I hadn’t noticed!  I don’t actually make it very often; traditional though it may be, it’s very . . . intense.  With only three people in the household, we prefer to convert a big bunch of kale into something we can eat in large quantity, whereas this recipe makes the kind of side dish of which most people want a few tablespoons alongside blander foods.

Anyway, here is the recipe for my family’s hazing vegetable.  The quantity depends on how many people you’re serving, but for a whole onion you’ll want at least 1 pound of kale.

  • Fresh kale
  • 1 onion
  • 3-4 cloves
  • 1 tsp. salt per pound of kale
  • 1 tsp. bacon drippings per pound of kale (can be omitted to make a vegetarian version)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar per pound of kale
  • cayenne pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash the kale and remove tough central stems.  Cram it into a pot.  (The leaves will wilt, so you can cram in as many raw leaves as will fit.)

Peel the onion and poke the cloves into it.  Add it and the other ingredients to the pot.  Add enough water to fill most of the gaps.

Bring to a boil, then turn down heat.  Simmer, covered, a long time, while you are making other foods.  It will have a very strong smell, sure to drive away unsuitable suitors.

To quote my mother, “The result should look like what washes up on the beach after a hurricane.”  That is, it should be very dark, very soft and floppy, like seaweed.

Set aside the onion.  (Maybe you can use it in a soup or something?  I did this once.  A lot of the flavor will have cooked out of it, and a lot of kale juice will have soaked in.)

Pile kale in a serving dish and place on the table in a calm, matter-of-fact fashion.

Breastfeeding While Working Outside the Home

My only child weaned 5 years ago this month, and I’ve been meaning to write this article ever since!  I finally got inspired by a recent magazine article arguing that the whole concept of breastfeeding being any kind of good idea is A PLOT TO KEEP WOMEN DOWN!!! and supporting this argument by quoting outdated materials from La Leche League and a few carefully selected over-zealous Websites.  It was so silly, but it was promoting an idea that I’ve heard in lots of less-silly contexts: that feeding a baby nothing but breastmilk until he’s ready for solid foods is horribly difficult unless the mother is willing to be trapped in her home with the baby 24 hours a day.  That just isn’t true!  In my experience, it is entirely possible to pump milk at work and put it into bottles for someone else to feed your baby, even if you work in a non-private cubicle and get only 12 weeks of maternity leave.  To me it seemed hardly more difficult than preparing bottles of formula would have been.  So I am writing this article to share the details of what worked for me.

But first, the disclaimers, Read more…

Don’t Save Room for Dessert!

One habit I am very grateful my parents taught me is this: When you finish your dinner, stop eating.  If you get hungry again before bedtime, you may have dessert.  In my childhood home, “dessert” was often canned fruit in syrup, homemade yogurt with jam, tapioca pudding, fruit crisp, a bagel, or something else that tasted sweet but also had some nutrients.  I have continued this habit into my adult life and taught it to my son Nicholas, who’s now seven years old.  Most of the time we don’t plan for “dessert” specifically but eat what we feel like eating for an evening snack–chips and salsa, a bowl of cereal, Raisin Bran Bread, or leftovers from a different night’s dinner are as likely to be “dessert” as are sweets.  At times we don’t have any real sweets (like candy) in the house at all, and when we do all three of us may forget to eat them for days at a stretch because we just don’t have a niche for super-sweet foods in our daily lives.

I cannot advise anyone on how to adopt this habit midway through life, since I’ve always had it.  My point is that this is a great habit to get into as a very young child, so if you are raising a very young child or planning to do so, try to establish this habit for your child.  Just by setting an example while your child is awake (planning to break out the sweets after his bedtime!) you might be able to wean yourself from dessert, too!

There are three main reasons delaying dessert is a good habit: Read more…

Adventure in the Forest Across the Street

A few weeks ago, I explained how we appreciate the little forests within our city.  During our Thanksgiving trip, Nicholas (almost seven years old) and I found a much larger forest to explore–in a place where we never knew there was a forest.

Cousin Mike hosts Thanksgiving in his home near Albany, New York.  I’ve been there many times over the past 15 years.  It’s in a very suburban area, on a loop of roads lined with houses about 20 years old; the loop connects to a highway that leads to many similar residential developments and some businesses, but typically you have to drive several miles to do any errand.  His house is far enough from the highway that you can’t hear traffic.  Vehicles pass by only rarely.  There are no streetlights or curbs.  It feels rather remote to us city mice–but on the other hand, from every window of Mike’s house you can see at least one other house, so it is an obviously human-settled area.

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My grandmother got a few things done.

My paternal grandmother would be 100 years old today, if she were still alive.  She died in July 1991, when I was 18.  Her name was Janette, so we grandchildren called her Janmother.

Janmother was an outstanding high school student but never went to college.  She married just after turning 20, and at times she helped my grandfather with his work, but primarily she was a homemaker.

My dad and I were able to spend the final week of Janmother’s life staying in her house and visiting her in the hospital.  The last time I heard her speak coherently, she said, “I’ll never cook another meal.” Read more…

Our Neighborhood Public School Works for Us!

Today is my son’s last day of kindergarten!  This has been his first year in public school, and we are very pleased with our neighborhood public school, Pittsburgh Colfax.  It’s a great example of how an urban school can thrive when faculty encourage parent involvement.  On “Take Your Special Person to School Day” last month, I spent a whole day immersed in the experience of being one of the 700+ Colfax kids and never once felt like just another brick in the wall.  Sure, there are some systems in place to keep everybody organized, but none of it is harsh or disrespectful.

Daniel and I always planned to send our child to public school.  We feel strongly that public schools are important.  Every child deserves to learn both academic and social skills.  That includes our child.  We believe that our public schools, supported by our tax dollars (and 1% of the money I spend on my Target Visa card), are good enough for our child.  Read more…

Practical Stocking Stuffers

In my family, Christmas stockings are not just for children! Everybody has a stocking, and we play Santa to each other by stuffing the stockings with little treats when nobody’s looking. It’s no fair to peek into your stocking before Christmas morning–when we open stocking gifts first thing, before breakfast or even coffee!

For the holiday gift tips edition of Works-for-Me Wednesday, here are some ideas for inexpensive gifts that fit into stockings and are useful things, not just cheap junk. Read more…

The Bluest Blue

A year or so ago, my church‘s assistant pastor began a sermon by saying, “You may never have really noticed our stained-glass windows.”  My jaw dropped.  How could anyone not notice our stained-glass windows?!  They’re beautiful!  They’re very colorful, they depict a variety of Biblical characters and saints and symbols from obvious to obscure, and they have a lovely old-fashioned style.  I’ve spent many hours gazing at them.

Even if a person never gave much thought to what’s depicted in the stained glass, how could anyone fail to notice the colors? For several years I always sat near the St. Patrick window so I could soak in the jade green of his cloak and the velvety purple of his robe.  The wings of most of the angels, and the robe of St. John the Evangelist next to the pulpit, are a glowing ruby red.  And the blue! Many of the windows have backgrounds or borders of bright blue glass, a shade both intense and deep, the bluest blue there is!  I don’t see how anyone could spend one minute in that room during daylight and not notice that spectacular, brilliant, bluest blue!

Well.  Unless they were blind.  At first that was a brush-off sort of thought, which I was going to use to set aside my astonishment and focus on the main topic of the sermon.  But it turned out that I never did resume listening to the sermon (sorry, Jared) because that first sentence opened a door through which I was snowed under by layers and layers of gratitude: Read more…