Monday, November 24, 2008

The Essential Twenty-First Century Mom Conflict

Things are in the saddle and ride mankind.--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Is it just me, or is everyone having the same fantasy? I find myself saying to myself several times a day, “Oh, that’s okay; when Barack Obama is president, that’ll be solved.” "That" being everything from the ever-sinking Dow to our high health insurance premiums to the mice who have taken up residence in our cupboards to my daughter’s continuing refusal to become potty trained. Now and then I remember that Obama is just a guy, albeit a smart and attractive and charismatic one, and that he probably can’t wave his hand and produce miracles, but I think it’s probably good for my nervous system to pretend he can right now.

A friend of mine sent me two articles today that stirred up my Time, Money, Calories matrix and left me panting for breath. One article was from the magazine Brain, Child and the other was her response to it. The Brain Child article is called "Eco-Housewives" and tells of a woman named Shannon Hayes who is writing a book tentatively titled Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity form a Consumer Culture. It sounded right up my alley—a sort of Annie Leonard "Story of Stuff" homesteady fantasy, and with trepidation, I started to read my friend’s response to it. My friend, the mother of three and a brilliant professional writer and card carrying feminist, took offense at the suggestion that “eco-moms” were somehow more enlightened and evolved than those who, as she does, shop at ShopRite and occasionally accept plastic bags when they forget their canvas ones. My friend raised the question “what is enough?” which to me is at the root of what I keep thinking of as the essential Twenty-First Century Mom Conflict.

What is enough? My friend was clearly disturbed and, by her own admission, thrown on the defensive by Hayes’s embrace of a completely consumer-free lifestyle: no TV, all local organic cuisine, no presents at Christmas, etc. Hayes’s stance didn’t bother me in the least: I admire her; occasionally want to follow that path; don’t (I have many an eco-sin); and figure it’s good enough that I use cloth diapers and make my own wipes and drive a biodiesel (which may or may not be an eco-sin, but that's a topic for a different post). It’s about batting averages, I figure, and I am grateful to the Hayeses of the world for allowing me to have lower ones.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have my own areas of defensiveness. I get defensive around moms who spend most of their day actually doing something that can be perceived as “playing” with their kids. I am pretty good at making up stories, but oddly terrible at engaging with my daughter around her stuffed animals or dolls. This is especially odd as that was exactly the kind of play I did as a child. The other day when I was lamenting my lack of talent and interest in imaginative play, my husband said, “You don’t like to play with her that way because you brought that part of you along with you. Now you play by writing novels and songs, and you can’t go back.”

Maybe so, but I still feel like a rotten parent when I see someone else–– a babysitter, another parent, my husband–– animating one of her dolls and getting her to giggle and shriek with joy. I have friends who get defensive––in fact, go on the offense––when it comes to a career they may have left behind. These moms speak with passion about selfishness and priorities and deathbed regrets.

Whatever. Motherhood, career, good stewardship of the planet, It's impossible to do it all. I give up. Also, I give up on trying to be enlightened. The High Priests of the Present Moment may now come and officially excommunicate me. I’ve been trying so hard to live in the Now so as not miss a single thing my darling children do or say that I think I’m seriously in danger of losing my sense of humor forever. I wish today, with all my heart, that my friend and I (and all the Shannon Hayeses of the world) could just relax and enjoy our few moments here, even if that means we are zoning out and watching Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central; EVEN if that means we are sitting around the kitchen table judging our other mom friends for watching Comedy Central. Either way, at least we will have a few precious moments for ourselves, even if they are self-righteous ones.

Today I let my daughter cry in her crib for five minutes after I put her down for her nap, and yes, I felt terrible, and yes, it was the absolute best choice I could make given how exhausted I was and how my son needed his diaper changed. Then I noticed that she stopped crying, sung herself the ABC song and fell asleep. When she woke, she was in a great mood.

“I say 'hostibal,' mama, and you say ‘hospital.’ Isn’t that funny, mama?”

I picked her up and snuggled her. “I’m sorry you were sad before your nap,” I said.

“I not sad now,” she replied. “Talk about the bear and the scary boy, okay Mama? That’s a good idea, right Mama?” and she hugged and kissed me, and perhaps I was forgiven, but at any rate, her innate, instinctive kindness allowed me to forgive myself. In this, as in all things parental, the kids are the best teachers of all.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Homemade Diaper Wipes

When I made the decision to use cloth diapers, I consulted my friend Carol on the ins and outs of the diaper pail, how many cycles should they be washed, and other sundry matters. She happened to mention her friend Frances who, she said, made her own wipes.

My eyebrows flew up in amazement. "Her own wipes!"
"Yeah," said Carol. "She's really hard core."

I figured that particular hard-coreness would never strike me. Wipes didn't even seem that bad for the environment, especially the brand I used: Seventh Generation, which is basically an unbleached kleenex with some eco-friendly suds soaked in.

It wasn't the eco-aspect that got me after living for two months with two kids in diapers. It was the cost. We were going through two or three packs at week, and at $5 a pack, that's nothing to sneeze at, so to speak.

So I went online and made my own formula, out of olive oil, baby shampoo and water:
1 cup water
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp baby shampoo

I put the formula into three squirt bottles--one for each diaper changing station. Best of all, I turned all my stained infant clothes, my puked on-and-inadvertently-dyed-pink-from-being-in-the-wrong-load tee shirts into nice long wipes. Now, instead of using five or six wipes per poopy situation, I use just one long soft rag. The new formula works much better than the wipes--it's more like a sponge bath than a toilet paper attack--and my kids prefer it two to nothing.

And we're saving $60 a month. Though I still use wipes in my diaper bag, and I have not yet instructed my babysitters to follow my suit. I'm not that hard core.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to Heal Stinky Carpets

This from the brilliant novelist Melissa Miller:

Hi Nerissa,

I thought of an idea for the How To Be An Adult site ... I have carpets in our bedrooms and they have fallen prey to both the kids and dogs in the urine department. I hate the stuff that they sell for such odors and don't think they're good for my family or pets to breathe, or for the environment. What I found works like a charm is to sop up the wetness, clean the area with a good cleanser (I use the new green series by Clorox or something by Seventh Gen.) and let it dry ... then the piece de resistance is plain old baking soda. I sprinkle it over the stinky spot and brush it deep into the fibers with a hand broom. Let it sit for the day and then vacuum it up! This also works for every day kinds of pet odors in carpets ... vacuum the carpet, shake the soda all over it, brush it into the fibres, let it set and then vacuum it up!

Nerissa says: the wonders of baking soda! We keep countless boxes of it in our pantry and in all our bathrooms. Combined with vinegar, it is a powerful, earth-friendly all purpose cleaner.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dead Car Battery Question

In some cars, you can charge a cell phone whether or not the car is running. My question is: does that in anyway hurt the car? My husband and I are in disagreement about this.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Unbelievably Good Mock Sushi Salad

I haven't had real sushi in over 10 years as I don't eat sugar, and sushi has sugar in the seasoning for the rice. Also, it is ill-advised* for pregnant women to eat sushi, so there are multiple reasons why, when Tom and I go out for Japanese, I abstain from what was once my obsession. But pregnancy cravings are pregnancy cravings. Today, I marched into my local food co-op, set down an avocado, a cucumber and some organic nori sheets on the belt and got creative in the kitchen.


-nori sheets
-one can crabmeat (the fake crabmeat, which most California rolls use, have sugar in them, so if you don't have a problem with sugar, you can substitute this.)
-6 oz cooked brown rice with a little rice vinegar shaken over
-1/4 avocado, thinly sliced
-3/4 cucumber, thinly sliced
-2 tbsp Annie's Organic Shiitake Dressing (optional; again, if you don't have a problem with sugar, go online and find a recipe for sushi rice and follow that)
-powdered wasabi (or real, if you can get it)
-tamari or soy sauce
-caviar (I didn't have this, but a girl can dream)

You might also want a bamboo sushi roller, though I don't have one and did just fine making little cones with my piece of nori.

Assemble your ingredients. The rice should be cool and easy to work with. You can either toss all the ingredients together to make a non-traditional Japanesish salad, or attempt a more roll-like creation. Either way:

-hold a sheet of nori over a gas flame or a candle very briefly. The sheet should turn from black to green.
-wet the powdered wasabi to create a paste. Leave for 10 minutes.

Then, if attempting rolls:
-lay the sheet down on the bamboo roller. Put a layer of rice on it in a square, leaving a margin of about an inch all around
-in the middle of the sheet, make a vertical line of crabmeat.
-next to the crabmeat, a vertical line of avocado
-and a vertical line of cucumber
-and a vertical line of caviar
-roll up the roll and seal the nori (wet the inside and outside edges of the nori to make a seal)
-with a VERY sharp knife, cut the roll into four-six equal parts. You may need to wet and dry the knife blade between each cut.
-with chopsticks or your hand, dip your sushi into a little dish with some tamari/soy and wasabi

OR what I did:
-cut your sheet of nori into quarters
-fold one quarter into a cone
-with a spoon (or chopsticks if you are very skillful) fill your cone with the sushi salad
-dip into the wasabi/soy mixture and enjoy!
-keep making cones till you are satiated or the sushi salad is gone, whichever comes first.

*perhaps falsely, but that's another story--see Trevor Corson's wonderful essay here:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

What to Do If You Break Your Pinky Toe

Nothing. Okay, not nothing: tape your broken pinky toe to the nearest other toe, ice and elevate and take some ibuprofen or Tylenol. If you go to the doctor and they confirm it's a broken toe (by X-Ray), the doctor will tell you the same thing.

I broke one of my pinky toes when I was a teenager by banging it against a chair as I was whizzing around my bedroom. I broke the other one last Tuesday when I was whizzing around my kitchen, trying to make yogurt. In order to make yogurt, you have to monitor the heat of the milk very closely so as to keep the probiotics healthy and happy. So I was whizzing. Also, being pregnant, I am extra clumsy these days, forgetting I have about 22 extra pounds on me and that my center of gravity is a bit off. So now I have an impressive dark purple streak running down the center of my right pinky toe. I figure it's just another way my body is telling me to slow down and quit the whizzing already.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


In my book, I confessed that I bank at Bank of America. I also wrote about how I learned from my friend Melissa Scott all about compound interest. As far as I can tell (and this from talking to a rep at my local branch) Bank of America doesn't give compound interest if you just open a simple savings account, only if you open a CD (which involves locking up your money for a specified period of time, usually 6 months minimum.)

So my questions are:
1. Is there a better local bank than Bank of America? (Florence Savings Bank, Easthampton Savings, etc.) Or national branch?
2. Is it unusual for banks not to give compound interest on simple savings accounts?
3. Where Would Jesus Bank?

Monday, June 16, 2008


A reader told me that I have it wrong about the compost jar by the kitchen sink. I had written that you should keep the lid closed because compost stinks! She corrected me, saying that compost only stinks when you keep the lid closed and let the smells fester. If you leave it open, it airs itself out. I've been trying this for a week, and she's right. BUT--now we have a fruit fly problem. Any suggestions?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Question About Health Insurance

This might vary state by state, so please indicate which state you are writing from when posing responses.

If you have a pre-existing health condition, and are currently in a good (okay, not necessarily "good"; safe--not fun) job with benefits, how terrifying would it be to quit your job and seek a new one? I have heard awful stories about women who are in the middle of a pregnancy and lose their insurance when switching jobs.

Please share your experience and knowledge below!

Poor Woman's Air Conditioning

RIght now, it's still in the 90s, even though it's 7:30pm. According to the downtown Northampton Silverscape clock, the mercury hit over 100 today, so today isn't the best day/night to try this. This works best on moderately hot days with coolish nights (even low 60s will do).

1. When the sun goes down, open all the windows in the house.
2. When you get up in the morning, resist the urge to listen to the birds, and instead close all the windows again.

Your house will stay remarkably cool this way. It is, I admit, much more high maintenance than turning on an air conditioner, but much much cheaper and better for the environment. Plus, some people hate the quality of air produced by air conditioners.

Other a/c free suggestions:

-take many many cold showers throughout the day
-put ice packs on the back of your neck
-put up curtains or blinds in the windows of rooms that get a lot of direct sunlight
-eat Gazpacho and watermelon

Katryna and I played at the Sustainability Festival in Coventry Rhode Island last Saturday. It was very hot, and a good day to be convinced that we should install solar panels to the roofs of our houses. Our friend and heroine Cheryl Wheeler has done just that, and in summer months, her household generates so much extra energy that it spills over to their neighbors (and they get the credit on their electricity bill!) Right now, the government pays half of the costs, so if you have an extra $12000 hanging around, this would be a great use for it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Patty's Starbucks Contribution

[Eidtor's note: This is from our manager, Patty, who was forced to become employed at Starbucks, all because people started burning our CDs instead of buying them.]

Now that you are out on your own and mom is not brewing your coffee, you will likely be spending more time at Starbucks getting your caffeinated beverages. Firstly, be nice to your barista. They usually have been studying Latin till 2:00am or working at your local restaurant the evening before, serving yummy Mexican food, or managing your favorite band. Also, once they know you, your drink might be ready when you get to the counter and you will not be late to work.

The Barista’s don’t expect you to speak perfect “starbuckees” but as they say, when in France…. Here are the basics on how to order your starbucks beverage.

1. If you would like an ICED drink, mention it first.

2. SIZE…Short (very, very small) Tall (small), Grande (medium), Venti (large)

3. Milk Type ….Starbucks uses 2% milk as the standard. If you don’t mention anything, this is what you will get. If you would like non standard milk (something other than 2%), now is the time to mention it. Would you like fat free, whole milk, soy milk…

4. Drink Type….. Latte, Cappuccino, Americano, Mocha, Frappaccino

Of course there are many other options and special requests like adding syrup (Katryna likes the caramel), extra shots, extra hot, no foam, energy boost etc. but if you get 1-4 basics down in that order, you should get the drink just the way you like it. If not, don’t be shy about asking the Barista to remake the drink.

Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Pee by the Side of the Road

You might thank me for this someday.

It's broad daylight, you're on the highway driving at 60mph and the urge strikes. You crane your head looking for signs for the nearest rest stop, the nearest exit, only to discover there IS no exit for 50 miles! You can't hold it! You consider your options. You even look for receptacles to pee into, only to have your partner nix that idea (though I know plenty of rock bands who put an old Big Gulp cup to good use without blinking an eye.) You look for trees, shrubs, bushes, ANYTHING you might hide behind (and I am assuming, by the way, that you are a woman--men just seem to hop out of the car, turn their backs and let fly, so to speak.) But there's a fence along the guard rail and miles of ankle-high weeds--that's it.

Ah, the simplicity of the solution! I wish I could say I thought of it, but I didn't. I wish I could give credit where credit is due, but I can't--I don't remember who taught me this trick, but here it is.

1. Travel with tissues and a plastic/zip lock bag (or a baby who has a diaper bag with container for gross bodily-fluid-contaminated items)
2. Pull over by the side of the highway
3. Open your door
4. Open the door behind you! (Warning: this only works if you drive a four-door vehicle that isn't a van with those sliding doors)
5. You now have privacy. Sit on what would be the bumper of your car, if cars still had bumpers
6. Keep your tissue in the glove compartment, along with the zip lock bag--do not litter!
7. When you stop at the next rest stop and see a line full of women waiting to use the ladies room, smile and refrain from shouting "Suckas!"

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Introducing: Question of the Day

Katryna and I officially launched How to Be an Adult yesterday at Broadside Books in Northampton, MA. It was pouring rain and so hard to find a parking space that Katryna didn't arrive until about 40 minutes into the reading. She had a good idea (she's full of good ideas): to sing a song that went along thematically with the section I was reading. The book is divided into an introduction and five parts.

1. Vocation and Avocation (everything from figuring out what you want to be when you grow up to how to put together a resume to the importance of failure)
2. The Vehicle that Is You (the life-coachy section of the book, all about self care)
3. Bloom Where You Are Planted (how to rent an apartment, choose and get along with housemates, keep your place clean, shop for groceries and cook yummy healthy food-recipes included)
4. Money, Cars, Insurance and a Bunch of Other Boring Stuff (just that)
5. Other People (includes a section on democracy, voting with your pocketbook and all sorts of relationship advice)

I read the section on Voting with Your Pocketbook before Katryna arrived; then I read the section on dating and we sang "Tailspin." For the preface to Vocation and Avocation, we sang "Night Rider's Lament" and for "Carpet Therapy" and "Smile Yoga" (in "Eight Cheap Forms Of Therapy") we sang "When I'm Here." Someone at the reading suggested we put together a play list to go along with the book. As soon as someone explains to me how to do that, I will!

We asked for questions and answers (since we need answers as much as we need questions) and didn't get many (or any). So I am extending this invitation to you readers to please ask us questions. We will research until we find answers. And we will ask YOU questions too.

Question of the Day: How hard is it to find a neighborhood bank that gives you compound interest on a savings account?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey

I was doing an interview with Monty Belmonte today on WRSI in Northampton, and he said, "Do you have 'righty tighty lefty loosey' in your book? Because you should. That's probably been the most successful navigational tool I've had in adulthood. But tell your readers, it goes for everything EXCEPT propane gas knobs. I found that out the hard way."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

How to Be an Adult

Greetings, readers, and welcome to our first post!

The book came out on May 3, 2008 and we are keeping our publishing partner Collective Copies mighty busy trying to keep up with demand. So far, we've sold over 100 copies and are getting great feedback from our readers. We are glad. This is the book we wish we'd been given fresh out of college and wet behind the ears.

A word about eggs: our friend Gay Daly wrote a blurb for the back of the book which says, A friend of mine once said, “In college I studied Shakespeare, calculus, molecular biology. What I really wish I had learned was: How long do eggs keep in the refrigerator?” How to be an Adult is packed with information required to make it in the real world where a person needs to rent an apartment, vote, set up a 401(K) and buy those eggs. If you know anyone who is graduating soon, buy them a copy of this book. It might be more useful than a car.

However, we neglected to include this important information in our first edition. So how do you know if an egg is okay to eat? Katryna says:

Fill a pot with water. Put the questionable egg(s) in. If they float to the top, throw them out! If they turn on their ends, eat them immediately and throw out the next day. If they stay placidly on the bottom, they're good for weeks!

More to come--please stay tuned!

Love, Nerissa and Katryna