Tag Archives: WGOM featured

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?

At The Movies: Quarantine Edition

It's been awhile since we've done one of these. Seems appropriate to do one now though; lots of relevant topics.

Now that you've got the time, what titles long in your queue do you hope to unearth? Now that everything has shut down, how are your viewing habits/methods changing? Are you rationing your TV time even with little else to do?

And of course, what have you been watching lately?

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?

Thinking About The Good Place

After finishing The Good Place a few days ago, I’ve found that it hasn’t been far from my mind. Obviously the show has some appeal for me, what with all the philosophy talk and such. But I wanted to say a few words, specifically in response to something Nibs said earlier.

Heads up, spoilers may abound. You’ve been warned. Also, this is a bit rambling. Again, you’ve been warned.

Anyway, here’s what Nibs wrote:

I really liked the horror of infinite wish fulfillment as a kind numbing negative thing. I'm not sure that I'm totally sold on their solution to the issue, but it was vastly better than "everything perfect forever" as an ending.

This question – and the whole show really – touches (embraces, encircles, confronts directly) one of the great questions in life: what do we want the afterlife to be?

It’s no secret that I’m a person of faith. I believe in an afterlife. But even if you don’t, I think this question really captures something fascinating about human nature. If you had infinity time, what would heaven be? Can anything infinite even really be called heaven?

The Good Place captured this succinctly, with the happiness zombies in the Good Place, where people were completely numb. Infinite wish fulfillment is, frankly, crap, according to human nature. We crave challenge, growth, improvement, variety, etc. That’s just in our nature. And it is precisely why traditional notions of heaven are so… depressingly boring. Harps and clouds and sitting around with nothing to do. Blech. But even if heaven is infinite wish fulfillment… is that really better? According to The Good Place the answer is clearly “no.”

So what would we want the afterlife to be? It’s actually a topic I’ve spent a long time thinking about, particularly since my sister passed away. Now, I believe in a Heaven and a Hell, and that, in some form or another, what we do on Earth directs what our afterlife might be. But I also don’t super-subscribe to traditional notions of afterlife and that somehow sitting quietly in a church your whole life is what gets you to heaven.

In fact, that notion is part of what helps me think about the afterlife. See, I think life is meant to be lived, not hidden away from. If you want to be a good person, in the truly virtuous sense of the word, that probably means getting out in the world and living life to the fullest. Being a positive influence in people’s lives. Loving. Laughing. Crying. Suffering. There is beauty in struggle. There is something human in pain. If we could just infinitely waive away all unpleasantness, we’d basically be those happiness zombies of the Good Place.

So for me, the test of whether you would get into heaven at all turns less on traditional notions of “good” and more on notions of whether you’ve lived life the fullest in a virtuous way. Did you seize your opportunities to make the world better? Did you push yourself to grow? Did you suffer loss because you had things worth losing?

And I think to some extent, this approach helps address the “problem of infinity.” A person who lives fully is going to be less likely to be bored with the afterlife than a person who just seeks the pleasurable ends. Ultimately, I think the true answer to the problem of infinity is that time doesn’t exist in the afterlife – we’ll all experience it the way Janet does (or maybe as the dot over the ‘i’?) – but I think the notion of an afterlife that fulfills human nature is a heck of a lot more appealing than the traditional notions.

I also think that there is one final smart move that The Good Place made: in having characters walk through that final door, they left the ultimate afterlife as an unknown. Which, of course, it is. But they showed that essence of Eleanor drifting back to Earth and landing on that one guy, who was influenced to bring Michael his mail. That influence itself is a huge part of the afterlife: namely, the way we live on here on Earth, after our lives. We want to have a lasting impact on the people still here (note: the absence of children for all the characters makes perfect sense, but I’d love to see what they’d have done if any of the main 4 had had kids on Earth).

In this regard, too, I think that “living life to the fullest” approach is essential. How many people have impacted your life for the better by sitting quietly and avoiding their own temptations? Probably very few. But how many have impacted your life for the better by either seizing opportunities, living their lives fully, or helping you do the same? And, maybe somewhat depressingly, how many more times could our lives have been better if we’d seized those chances?

Anyway, I’m officially rambling now. But I wanted to get some thoughts down, because they’ve been burning a hole in my head. These are fun questions to think about. And for me the conclusion to be reached – and, the ultimate takeaway from The Good Place – is this:

Life – and the afterlife - is an opportunity to be seized, and Good is in the struggle.

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.

Super Crispy Chicken Wings

With the Super Bowl* right around the corner, I've got finger foods on my mind. As far as I'm concerned, there's no better snack for watching a football game than chicken wings. There's a whole national restaurant chain built around this idea, so I've got some company. A couple of weeks ago I came across a recipe for crispy wings that turned out to be pretty awesome. You start with the wings, of course, about 8 or 10 of them unless you expect company, then multiply the recipe as you see fit. I can easily eat half a dozen of these babies myself, so keep gluttony in mind when planning. I like to start by looking over my wings and making sure all the little feathers are gone. Take some kitchen shears and cut off the wingtips. You can throw them away, or if you were raised during the Great Depression you can boil them up with some onion and celery to make a small batch of stock. If you like, you can cut the remaining wings in half at the joint, but I don't bother, they pull apart nice and easy after cooking and cutting them can be a chore. Once prepped, you dredge your wings in a mixture of baking powder and salt. For a basic recipe, use 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. You can get creative at this point and use seasoned salt or add some spices of your choosing. I used Cajun seasoned salt in mine, but let your taste buds be your guide. One important note. Some baking powder is made with sodium aluminum sulfate, and you want to avoid that at all costs as it give the wings a bitter flavor. We use the Rumford brand which is free of aluminum salts, so no worries. Mix your baking powder and seasonings in a bowl, then dredge your wings to give them a thin coating of the powder. Place the wings on a baking rack on a cookie sheet (cover your sheet with foil for easy clean-up) so the hot air will circulate around the meat and pop them into a 250 degree oven for about 30 minutes, then crank the heat up to 425 and cook for another 40 to 50 minutes. In phase one, the low temps combined with the baking powder dry out the skin and start the fat rendering. In phase two, the high temps crisp up the skin, seal in the juices and cook the meat to tender perfection. You will want to have a vent fan running during the high heat stage as the fat dripping onto the cookie sheet can generate a surprising amount of smoke, enough to set off a smoke alarm if you aren't venting (trust me on this). Once the wings come out and cool a bit, you can eat them as they are (that's my preference) or toss them in some barbecue or hot sauce of your choosing. I've tried several different ways of cooking wings over the years (grilled, deep fried, pan fried, pan baked, etc.) but this is now my favorite method and I'm going to stick with it until something better comes along. Enjoy.

*Yeah, that's right, NFL, I said Super Bowl, not the Big Game or some other such nonsense. You don't own language, you insufferable pricks.

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!