All posts by Pepper

Pandemic Parenting

The nice thing about having agreed to write this post is that I have something to do this weekend that doesn’t involve repeatedly checking Twitter and Instagram, trying to send messages to friends but not being able to figure out the phrasing and finally giving up, and staying up too late thinking I’ll get something done but accomplishing nothing.

My kids were on spring break last week and I had four days off, but Friday was rough. To get us through the weekend, I had my kids make schedules (pictured above), which definitely helped in terms of avoiding boredom as well as giving them a sense of control in a situation that’s beyond their control.

If you're looking at the photo of the schedules and thinking they're absurdly detailed, yes, it's true. They're ending up being more of a guide to a sequence of events than something we're following exactly. A long time ago, I remember reading something about the value of following the usual routine during times of crisis. For a kid (especially young kids), the routine provides comfort and helps them know what to expect. So having a set wake-up time and bedtime, having some limits on screen time, having regular mealtimes, getting dressed every day, etc., all have meaning right now.

For those people here who have kids, I imagine the specific things you’re dealing with are different depending on the age of the kid, but it’s all stressful. And for those who don’t have kids, I know many of you still have your own parents to worry about right now.

Highlights of the past couple days include the jalapeño learning to chop vegetables with a chef’s knife and the peperoncino grating his own cheese for a quesadilla. The boys have also done a good number of household chores, and the jalapeño’s room is the cleanest it’s been all year. The jalapeño has also been having FaceTime chats with a 4th grade friend, and they've been both hilarious and adorable. Yet there were also some intense sibling fights and meltdowns.

In some ways, having elementary-age kids is great because it limits how much time I can spend reading about the pandemic. Taking care of my boys’ immediate needs gives me something to focus on and keeps my anxiety levels down. On the other hand, I dearly miss having any sort of time to myself (the boys did very little without a parent all weekend), and I envy the people who seem to be actually accomplishing stuff while staying home. On the other other hand (I have a lot of hands), I recognize how fortunate I am to not be dealing with far more serious problems.

During this next week, teachers in our school district will be working on plans for teaching remotely; we will be going to the school to get a Chromebook for each boy at an assigned pick-up time. Since Mr. NaCl and I will both be working from home (and need to be able to actually get work done), my parents are going to come help. They’re both 70 and in good health, so on the one hand I think they’re happy to stay busy and pitch in. But part of me can’t help wonder if I’m being selfish and irresponsible by accepting their help.

Over the weekend, I did do a very little bit of reading about how to talk to kids about coronavirus, and one of the key takeaways is that it's wise to filter the information they get. It depends, of course, on age of the kid and how sensitive they are, but limiting their access to TV news/press conferences and online sources of info might be wise. I've also told the jalapeño that there are things he might want to talk about that shouldn't be discussed in front of his 6-year-old brother.

By chance, I came across some wise words from a school psychologist. This psychologist said not to be surprised by an increase in behavior issues, including meltdowns, tantrums, and oppositional behavior. This is a normal reaction under the circumstances. (I was very reassured to read this.) They also said not to obsess over kids' progress in school during this time of remote learning or to put too much pressure on kids academically. As parents, our first priority is to do what we can to ensure that our kids feel comforted and loved right now. To quote the psychologist, "How [your kids] felt during this time will stay with them long after the memory of what they did during these weeks is . . . gone."

So how are you feeling?

The Footprints of the Windigo

As I mentioned last week, I've been reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. A passage caught my attention as I was riding the bus to work this morning, and I thought it might be an interesting way to approach this month's conversation.

Kimmerer talks about stories about the Windigo--a legendary monster with a heart made of ice that's insatiably hungry and is a cannibal that becomes more ravenous the more it eats. Say says, "It shrieks with its craving, its mind a torture of unmet want. Consumed by consumption, it lays waste to humankind." She doesn't bring this up, but I want to point out that while there are a number of stories about the Windigo in popular culture, they don't stay true to the stories the Anishinaabe people tell. (For more on that, check this out.)

Kimmerer says the following in reference to the footprints of the Windigo:

They're everywhere you look. They stomp in the industrial sludge of Onondaga Lake. And over a savagely clear-cut slope in the Oregon Coast Range where the early is slumping into the river. You can see them where coal mines rip off mountaintops in West Virginia and in oil-slick footprints on the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico. A square mile of industrial soybeans. A diamond mine in Rwanda. A closet stuffed with clothes. Windigo footprints all, they are the tracks of insatiable consumption. So many have been bitten. You can see them walking the malls, eying your farm for a housing development, running for Congress.

We are all complicit. We've allowed the 'market' to define what we value so that the redefined common good seems to depend on profligate lifestyles that enrich the sellers while impoverishing the soul and the earth.

I'd love thought on this passage as well as thoughts on how you think about consumption in your own life.

Keeping Track

Toward the end of last year, a colleague was asking us to vote on favorite books in different categories--e.g. favorite graphic novel, favorite poetry collection, etc. After trying to recall exactly what I'd read in those categories, I suddenly became very grateful for the partial record of books I'd read within the First Monday Book Day posts.

This year, I'm using a bullet journal for the first time (because an author recommended it!), so I've got a few pages set aside at the back for jotting down book titles (and authors and illustrators). It's no spreadsheet, but at least at the end of 2020, I will have a good accounting of what I've read.

Do you keep track of the books you read? If so, how?

Food

Thanks so much to DG for suggesting this as our next topic! The good news is that it's super simple and not complex in any respect.

Oh, wait.

After spending the last week avoiding writing this post and finally deciding that the best approach would be to start by deriding DG, I finally did a little research*. Not too much, though, because one of my big frustrations with trying to make environmentally-friendly choices is that if you research long enough, the less clear everything becomes.

So here are some of the key tips and resources I found that all seem to make sense.

How You Shop
Remember last month's topic? It's back! That's because bringing reusable bags to the grocery store is a great idea. At first, this was hard to remember, but once it's a habit, it becomes automatic.

Produce
Recommendations include to eat local, organic, and in season. Sounds easy enough, but what's local and in season in Minnesota in early February? Our family shops primarily at a co-op, and a certain amount of the produce is local, even in the winter. But with kids in the house, buying things they'll probably actually eat is just as much as a consideration as what's local.

How do you balance a desire to eat flavors from around the globe with the desire to eat foods grown close to home?

Meat and Dairy
Eating local and buying organic both come up in this category as well. But along with that, eating less is also recommended. I'm vegetarian and the family eats vegetarian at home, though the boys choose to eat meat pretty regularly at school lunch. When the boys were a little younger, I worried that they just wouldn't like most of the vegetarian dinners we made, but it turns out that if you expose them to things enough times (just like the advice books all recommend), kids really do start to eat more things! That's not to say they don't have their moments, and the peperoncino still ends up having a quesadilla once or twice a week when he won't eat what the rest of us are having for dinner.

Seafood
Our oceans are in trouble, as are many fish populations. The good news is that if you eat fish, there are a couple of great resources to help you make more environmentally friendly choices. There's the Marine Stewardship Council and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.

Leftovers
Eat them!

Okay, yes, there's a bit more to it than that. And one of my ongoing frustrations in my household is seeing how much food is uneaten any given week. I try to at least talk to the boys off and on about the concept of wasting something and what we can do to not waste so much (this applies to much more than just food).

As I mentioned last month, we do have a great composting program in our community, so at the very least I can take a little comfort in knowing that what's not eaten isn't going into a landfill.

Things I'd Like to Change in My Own Home

  • Consider cutting back on dairy. We do eat some vegan meals already (which are in the repertoire because we like them, not specifically because they're vegan), but I like the idea of being on the lookout for some additional recipes to try. I had to give up dairy for a time when the peperoncino was young (because it was linked to his reflux), and I found that the best vegan dishes are really well seasoned so that they still have a lot of flavor.
  • Get some cloth napkins for everyday use. We don't use napkins at all of our meals, but some of the time they're essential, and I'd like to stop just giving everyone paper towels when that happens.
  • For cleaning up spills, use cleaning rags more often instead of paper towels. I cut up a pair of very old flannel pajamas recently, and I've been working on reaching for one of those rags rather than automatically grabbing a paper towel. Of course not having any toddlers in the house also helps when it comes to cutting down on spills...

So what about you? What are you doing well when it comes to food and would you like to do differently?

*Here's the main article I used for reference when writing this post if you'd like to peruse the full list of tips.

Reuse, Reuse, Reuse

In 2020 we'll celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, so it feels like a good time to start up a conversation about the environment. Specifically what we're doing, what we're not doing, what we wish we were doing. I often get overwhelmed by reading about the current situation on our planet. So for this feature, I'm planning to break things down into manageable bits. In that way, my hope is that it will also be easier for all of us to take part in the conversation--and to swap ideas for what we can all be doing. The idea is to keep this very much on the small (or smallish) things that we as individuals can do in our everyday lives.

First up, let's talk about things we reuse. This may not sound all that exciting, but I think that's kind of the point--while I'm as susceptible as the next person to buying shiny, new stuff that's going to magically fix the environment, we can't really just buy our way to a healthier planet. We also need to keep on using what we already have.

I grew up in a pretty frugal household where we were expected to bring home our brown paper lunch bags and the plastic bags within them. And I'm now that person who washes all the ziploc bags because goshdarnit, they're still good and we can use them again!

One thing I've not done that I'd like to try is to find a substitute for plastic wrap, which I use fairly often when baking.

A few years ago, I got some reuseable grocery bags and while it took a little while for the habit to kick in, it's now second nature to grab a bag (or a bunch of them) before heading to the store.

Last week I took a couple pairs of shoes to my favorite shoe guy (who delivers fascinating mini lectures on shoe care). One pair was just starting to show a few signs of wear, and thanks to the new heel caps being put on, they should last me a good long while longer. The other pair turned to be too far gone, so now I'm trying to figure out if there's anything I can do with them besides throw them in the trash when I finish wearing through the sole (which I'm well on my way to doing).

So please share any thoughts you have on reusing stuff! And please share thoughts on future topics you want to see covered (transportation, water, plastic, food, and clothing are all on my mind) as well as any ideas for a name for this feature, which I'm hoping can be a monthly thing!

First Monday Book Day: Discoverability

I love a good book review. I read far more reviews of adult books* than I read actual books, though I do occasionally request books from the library based on a particularly intriguing review. Sure, I hear about books in other ways, but I like to browse through review in the New York Times over lunch, and a review is most consistently what gets me interested in a book.

However, my final read of 2019 was a book I came across by accident. I was searching the library website for Japan travel guides, and an intriguing book called The Sakura Obsession by Naoko Abe turned up. I read the description and put it on hold, and it came in just before my end-of-year time off started.

Translated from the Japanese by the author, who is from Japan and now lives in the UK, the book explores the significance of the cherry tree (sakura) in Japan and how an eccentric British guy named Collingwood Ingram came to be a proponent of the cherry tree (and lived to the age of 100). Particularly interesting to me was information about how the cherry tree was used in WWII propaganda within Japan to link the idea of blossoms falling with the idea of dying gloriously for the emperor. For a little more detail about the book, check out a review here.

Throughout the year, I read a lot of books that I feel like I "need" to read for various reasons and that's not to say I don't generally enjoy them, but it was wonderful to read a book just because I'd stumbled across it and became curious.

So how do you find out about books to read? And what have you been reading lately?

*books for grown-ups rather than children, thank you very much

Martha Wash – It’s Raining Men

As best I can tell, this song hasn't ever been played 'round these parts, and it feels like an appropriate way to close out my guest DJ week.

In all seriousness, thanks to everyone for voting and commenting and just generally making this week far more fun than I ever expected. 😘

Book pairing: Weather Words and What They Mean by Gail Gibbons

2 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 102 votes, average: 9.00 out of 10 (2 votes, average: 9.00 out of 10)
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