TBR List Declutter, Issue 43

Tangent: Attachment Parenting

My daughter is considering residential camps for this summer. She’s done day camps since she was five years old, but sleep-away camp is uncharted territory for us, and we’re all kind of feeling our way around with this one.

When we were expectant parents, my spouse and I made a conscious decision to embrace attachment parenting. There are a lot of different ideas attached to attachment parenting, but for us it meant ensuring that our daughter had a primary attachment figure in her life (I tacitly accepted the unspoken nomination to the position). Her father and I would both do our best to anticipate our daughter’s needs and either meet those needs or be there to support her if we couldn’t (or chose not to) meet them (i.e., it’s not our job to stop her from crying, but it is our job to be there with her while she does). As best we could, we viewed our family as a unit, an integrated whole greater than the sum of its disparate but complementary parts. The goal was and is balance, respect, and a base of support from which our daughter—and later our son, as well—can feel confident moving into adult life.

The data aren’t all in yet, but so far it seems to be working as advertised. When they were little-little kids, they would toddle away from me and do their own thing for a bit, but they always looked back to make sure I was there, always came back for that physical reassurance of my presence before venturing out again. As they’ve grown, it seems like our relationship has continued to be a variation on this theme. They test out their confidence, and I stay attentive to determine when they need a nudge, when they need reassurance, when they need a hug, and when they just need me to stay our of their way. I’m there to listen to their questions and sometimes to answer but mostly to ask questions back. And when they don’t need me, I’m still there, off-stage, but always ready.

Sleep-away camp feels like part of this progression, but it also seems different, more like a leap than a step. In my discomfort, I’m finding it necessary to be careful what I say. It’s important to me that I help my daughter identify her fears and find the answers she needs to feel comfortable—or comfortable enough—without projecting my own fears onto her. It’s important that I reflect back her feelings, not tell her my own. My experiences with sleeping away from home, whether positive or negative, are irrelevant to her experience. Moreover, my experience of her going to sleep-away camp for the first time is for me to work through, not something in which I should involve her. I am the one who supports; she is the one supported, and even then only to the degree that she needs/wants to be.

And there’s the dance: knowing when to step in and when to wait in the wings and watch her live out her experience. I hope I’m up to the challenge. I expect there’s much more of this sort of thing to come.

Visual Interest:

IMG_20180217_154746 (1)

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Titles 571-590:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 42

Tangent: Social Media Prune

The title of this tangent is inspired by (stolen from) a recent podcast by Katy Bowman (episode #101: Social Media is (Still) Shaping Your Body), but I’ve been thinking about making a change in how I engage with social media for a long time.

There are a few things driving this desire:

  1. Social media helps me keep in touch with friends and family, but I am unsatisfied by the nature of these relationships as they exist online. I want to find a deeper alternative.
  2. Social media doesn’t always bring out the best in me. I find my pulse racing just as I read comments, and I break into a sweat when I consider commenting myself. Assuming positive intent is one of my goals (yes, my Happiness Project goals are still alive in my today-life. I should probably blog about that sometime), but I tend to assume the worst intent when I read comments. It doesn’t help that I feel like I need to guard against being taken in by Russian bots.
  3. My phone is affecting me physically. There are a couple of little things—weird eyesight stuff, pain in my fingers—that get better when I move away from my phone. Social media isn’t the only thing I do on my phone, but it’s the least important (with the possible exception of some of the podcast listening I do). If I’m looking for a way to spend less time on my phone, scrapping the least important things i do on my phone would probably be a good start.

I don’t really have that many social media accounts. I got rid of Twitter several years ago, and I’m on LinkedIn and Nextdoor.com, but while they’re technically social media, they don’t demand the same level of maintenance that Facebook and Twitter do. I guess a blog is a form of social media, but it doesn’t feel like a problem to me. If it takes over, I take a break.

That leaves my two biggest social media vehicles: Facebook and Instagram.

Instagram I’m not sure about, but Facebook is a constant struggle for me. I am almost certainly giving Facebook more than I’m getting from it, but there are still positives I’m afraid of losing by dropping Facebook entirely. For example, there is a local homeschool group that only exists on Facebook. Okay, it also exists in the real world, but all real-world activities are scheduled through the Facebook group, and I wouldn’t know about these if I weren’t on Facebook. And I have friends who have almost entirely replaced e-mail with Facebook messenger. If I scrap Facebook, I cut off myself—and my children—from these ways of communicating, something that’s particularly concerning as recent transplants. Will my children miss out on social opportunities because their mother can’t engage with social media in a healthy manner?

I don’t know how to reconcile my need for connection with my need to separate from social media. In the short-term, I’m planning a social media fast for either July or August (my spouse doesn’t believe I’ll actually do it. He might be right, but I’m still planning it). There are fewer homeschool activities planned for the summer months, so hopefully a summer break won’t cut my children and me off from too many opportunities to meet potential friends. Maybe a month or two off will help me reevaluate both what I give and what I get from social media and maybe even yield some insights about how to meet our needs for connection outside of the social media framework.

So, my question for you: How do you meet your needs for making and maintaining connections, particularly outside of social media?

Visual Interest:


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Titles 551-570:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 41

Tangent: The Best Defense

My cat, Owen, turned eighteen this past February. He’s starting to look like a bit bony and a little scruffy, he sleeps even more than he used to, and sometimes I’m sure either his eyesight or his reasoning power aren’t what they once were. But he also plays enthusiastically with the laser pointer and wakes us up by racing up and down the hallway at 2:30am, sounding a lot like a tiny horse on our wood floors. He’s elderly, but he’s spry, and even veterinarians are surprised when I tell them Owen’s age.

At his age, Owen has had a lot of adventures. He’s lived in four different states and ten different houses, he’s traveled cross-country by car thrice, and he’s been both a sidekick and an only cat. San Diego, with its ample sunshine and mild temperatures must have seemed to him an ideal setting for a quiet retirement.

Until he met Fluff Face.

Fluff Face is a big Maine Coon that, from our perspective, belongs to one of our neighbors. From Fluff Face’s perspective, however, it’s the neighborhood that belongs to him.

For the first month we lived in this house, we saw Fluff Face lounging on driveways, skulking around bushes, strutting atop fences. My children tried a few times to befriend him, even giving him the name “Fluff Face,” but he preferred to keep to himself.

During the same time, Owen got into the habit of walking around our new house, yowling mournfully. It was an awful, deep-throated sound, different than the noises we’d heard from him before. He would yowl late at night or in the early morning, wandering through each room. He would also yowl while eating his canned food in the late afternoon. Most times I could call to him, “Owen, you’re okay, buddy!” and he would respond with a plaintive meow and then go lie down to sleep. We couldn’t figure it out. Was he in pain? Did he miss the old house? Had he just lost his marbles?

Then the other evening we heard a awful caterwauling coming from outside. I found Owen with his tail puffed out, staring through the glass patio doors into the darkness and making a kind of coughing sound. I turned on the patio light, and right on the other side of the glass sat Fluff Face, growling and hissing at Owen.

Owen’s wandering and strange behavior suddenly made a lot more sense. He was trying to defend his territory against this external threat. Thank goodness he’s long-neutered and did so by yowling rather than by spraying. Knock on wood, of course.

After that, we’ve let our formerly indoor-only cat out on supervised visits into our fenced backyard. We make sure neither Fluff Face nor rattlesnakes are out there beforehand, but then we let Owen mosey out so he can sniff every inch of the perimeter, sit on the cement edge of the flower bed staring regally into the middle distance, and then fall asleep in the sunshine.

It must be a good defense. Since Owen started going outside Fluff Face hasn’t been back. My spouse and I have also been squirting Fluff Face with vinegar water every time we see him in the yard, but I’m sure it’s Owen’s diligent defending that’s keeping our yard safe from Fluff Face.

Visual Interest:


IMG_20180502_060843 (1)

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Titles 531-550:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 40

Tangent: Friends and Flatterers

During lunch, my children and I have been listening to Stephen West’s “Philosophize This!” podcast. Recently we heard about Plutarch’s distinction between friends and flatterers. A friend, Plutarch (via Stephen West) says, is someone who will tell you the truth even if it’s not something you want to hear. They bank on the relationship being strong enough to stand up to the challenge of pissing you off because that’s what friendship is: a relationship that can withstand the challenge of honesty.

A flatterer, on the other hand, is someone who agrees with you no matter what to give the illusion of friendship. This is someone for whom the genuine strength of the relationship is less important than what they can get out of the relationship, be it emotional validation, financial gain, or just not being fired from the president’s Cabinet.

Plutarch suggests that you can tell if someone is a friend or a flatterer by testing the relationship. This rings true to me. All of the people I consider friends are people to whom I’ve made strident and/or boneheaded comments. They call me on it, we work through it, and our friendship is stronger for the challenge. At least it is from my side of things, but you’d have to ask them to know if they agree.

But isn’t there something between “friend” and “flatterer,” some stage of acquaintance that might or might not become either friendship or flattery? If so, how does one tell when a relationship has become a friendship or not?

Is brutal honesty from the outset a valid and efficient method of screening potential friends, or could it sabotage a nascent friendship that might have weathered the test after a foundation of mutual respect had been established? Not that it’s good to prevaricate, but maybe there’s a time in the development of a friendship when diplomacy is necessary just to get the relationship over the first hurdle. But then, how would you know you’ve gotten past that first hurdle without testing it?

Visual Interest:


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Titles 511-530:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 39

Tangent: Physical Education

None of us had any clue what field handball was, and my children had never taken a P.E. class before, yet here we were on a sunny San Diego winter afternoon on a field in the bottom of a bowl made of hills all around.

We approached a woman holding a clipboard, clearly the person in charge. She greeted us marked the boxes on her sign-in form next to my children’s names.

“You’ll be in this group,” she said to my son. He looked up at me for assurance. I smiled and gave him a little nod. He turned and walked over to the group she’d indicated with a sweep of her hand.

The woman-in-charge looked at my daughter and hesitated. “The older kids are over there,” and she pointed at a group of teenage boys warming up across the field. “But if you feel more comfortable over here with the younger—”

“I’ll go over with the bigger kids,” my daughter said closing the gap between us and the group of boys before the facilitator could finish her sentence.

I set myself down at a nearby picnic table, took a deep breath, and tried not to think about the P.E. classes of my childhood: the time I complained, shaking with fear and indignation, to the principal about the gym teacher’s blatant sexism; always being chosen last for teams (it was always me and Anthony Wong, the two shortest kids in class); a classmate growling in my face until I dropped the basketball that had somehow found its way into my hands; the time two of the biggest boys ganged up during circle soccer and kicked the ball into the solar plexus of each of the smallest students, leaving us sucking air on the periphery while the student teacher leading the class looked on, oblivious. Or at least I choose to believe she was oblivious.

Now I looked on as my long-limbed nearly-thirteen-year-old jumped into the group of boys. She ran hard, chasing after the ball, and when she got it, ran harder still, evading the boys on her way to the goal. She wasn’t particularly skilled, but she was enthusiastic, fearless in a way I never expected from the girl who had hung back during soccer games, watching the other players in the scrum.

It reminded me of how she cowed the boys in physics class, asking and answering questions faster than any of them.

It reminded me of the disorientation I felt while holding her when she was a baby and watching her move her hand and for the first time recognizing that she was a being separate from me, moving through the world with my comfort and support but with her own will.

At the end of class she and her brother ran to me, red-cheeked and breathless, talking over one another while reaching for their water bottles. “I wish the class would never end!” my son exclaimed while my daughter proclaimed that it was the “best class ever!”

We walked to the car, my children strategizing for next week’s class, and me smiling at their joy and their strength and their headstrong individualism.

P.E. was a success.

Visual Interest:


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Titles 491-510:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 38

Tangent: On Letter-Writing

For the past year, I’ve been exchanging letters with a prison inmate through the letter-writing ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Church of the Larger Fellowship. Because of the circumstances, this is necessarily a pen-and-paper conversation, and for reasons of privacy, it’s one that takes place via a kind of postal game of telephone, my letters going from me to the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston to the prison, and with the return letters taking the opposite route. In the end, though, the letters get through, and we are each holding a piece of paper that the other held in their own hands.

In the meantime, I am connected via social media to friends and relatives who live thousands of miles away from me. We share an emotional closeness, a closeness born of shared blood, shared experiences, and shared friendship, but we rarely connect in the real world.

This prison pen-pal and I share conversation, but we don’t share friendship, and yet by virtue of the paper we pass from one pair of hands to another, we have more of a tangible, physical-world connection than I have with some of the people I love most in the world. When it comes to that, I share more physical closeness with the realtor I shook hands with at the last open house I attended or the person I sat next to the last time I rode on a plane than I do with most of the people to whom I feel closest.

This physical connection is a small thing, but it feels significant to me. Through my various screens, I get information about the people who are most important in my life, but I don’t get the tangible, concrete connection I crave. To close this gap, I’m trying to connect with those I love in the same way I connect with a person from whom I am separated by cinderblock and razor wire.

I’m making a list of about a dozen people to whom I want to write a letter, and I’m setting aside time a few mornings a week to put pen to paper, lick an envelope, and drop a note in the mail, instead of refreshing e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, and around and around again in the search for something tangible. I’ll send these letters out and see what happens.

I might be following a false trail, but if it works the way I hope it will, maybe I can regain some of that feeling of connection by putting a paper I touched and onto which I put the words I’d like to say in person into the hands of someone I love.

Visual Interest:


Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 471-490:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 37


There are no obvious invertebrates in today’s Visual Interest, so it’s safe to tell you about “Chicken Casserole.” I put “Chicken Casserole” in quotes because I always think of canned soup and noodles or rice when I think of casserole, and in that sense, this isn’t a casserole. Rather than trying to figure out what it is if it’s not a casserole, I just call it a “casserole.”

This is another 100% Trader Joe’s recipe, although it doesn’t have to be. None of the ingredients is necessarily TJ’s specific except the salsa, and really, you can use whatever salsa you want. Ro-tel tomatoes would also work here.


  • 3-5 frozen boneless, skinless chicken thighs (however many fit in the bottom of the pan in a single layer). You can also use thawed if you plan ahead a little.
  • 1 bag frozen corn
  • 1 can (14.5 ozs) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 jar TJ’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa, or 16 ounces of your salsa of choice

Place chicken thighs in a single layer in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Pour corn, beans, and salsa over the top, mixing around a bit if you so desire. It seems to mix itself pretty well while cooking, but sometimes I mix it around just to make it feel like I’m doing more work than I actually am. Just make sure the chicken stays in a single layer.

Cook at 425°F for about 1 hour or until chicken registers at least 165°F on a meat thermometer. I’m paranoid about undercooking chicken, so I usually aim for something closer to 200°F, and it seems to come out fine.

And that’s it. You could probably serve it with rice or something, but we usually don’t bother with anything but a vegetable on the side.

Visual Interest:



Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.


Titles 451-470:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 36


In León, Spain, last November, we’d just eaten a meal that included a selection of cured meats—jamón ibérico, chorizo, lechazo, morcilla, cecina. On the way back through the old part of the city to our apartment, we passed a shop that advertised many of the meats we’d just eaten. According to the sign, they offered several varieties of cecina, including those made from vaca, cerdo, and caballo.

I turned to my sister.

“Caballo. That means horse, doesn’t it?” I asked, although I already knew the answer. She confirmed that it did.

“And didn’t we just eat cecina?” Yes, we had, in fact, eaten cecina.

“Gabby,” I asked, “did we just eat horse?”

We looked at each other for a moment and then turned our attention back to the narrow, cobbled streets of old León.

I was going to use my “Chicken Casserole” recipe for this issue’s tangent, but I’d already chosen the visual interest, and I can’t quite stomach the idea of posting a recipe alongside a photo of a giant grasshopper.

Other cultures eat grasshoppers and horse meat with relish (not with relish the condiment, necessarily, but the other “relish”). How do different cultures decide which animals are food sources and which are companions, which are pests and which are workers, and which are a combination of those?

Nutritionally, eating one animal rather than another makes little difference. They’re all sources of protein, fat, and micronutrients. Why, then, can eating outside of one’s cultural norms not only seem unappetizing but elicit outright disgust? We had just eaten cecina, and we liked it or not for how it tasted and for the mouthfeel and all of those other characteristics of food as it’s eaten, with little to no thought about what animal it came from. Why should it bother us (okay, me. It only bothered me. My sister, my spouse, and even my children weren’t bothered at all) that we might have eaten horse meat?

If cultural norms are so strong that they can induce such a basic physical response as disgust, what other things that repulse us viscerally are equally based in culture rather than a quality inherent the thing itself?

Visual Interest:

IMG_20180212_125557 (1)

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Titles 431-450:

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Bookends: January and February 2018

We started January with a cross-country road trip, and ended February with the sale of our house in Massachusetts and are only a few days away from closing on a house in California. No wonder I missed posting January’s Bookends. Never fear: Here’s a two-for-one post to catch both months at the same time.

Books I read in January and February:

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TBR List Declutter, Issue 35


We’ve been living in temporary housing for nearly eight weeks, courtesy of my spouse’s relocation package. When we moved to Massachusetts in 2011, that meant living in an extended-stay hotel for two months. Here it’s a little nicer. We’ve got digs—a furnished two-bedroom apartment—in a luxury apartment complex in a neighborhood in which we wouldn’t be able to afford to live if we had to pay the rent ourselves.

The kitchen is stocked with the basics: dishes, utensils, skillet, a couple of pans, coffee maker, toaster, a set of dull knives. It’s enough to get by, but not enough to do any involved cooking, so we’ve been eating the same five meals since we moved in:

  • Turkey burgers with sautéed green beans
  • Roast chicken drumsticks with roast potato slices, baked sweet potatoes, and steamed broccoli
  • Tostadas, which are actually burritos because for some unknown reason the corn tortillas I get here fry up into tooth-breaking disks rather than light, crispy tostada shells, so we wrap the filling in flour tortillas instead. But we still call them tostadas.
  • Breakfast for dinner (pancakes from a mix for the children, steel cut oatmeal with thawed frozen berries for me, sandwiches and leftover pancakes for my spouse)
  • “Chicken casserole” and sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts

Then we start all over again.

We supplement these with lots of fresh bell peppers, cucumbers, romaine lettuce, and ice cream, all of which my children will eat by the heaping bowlful, thank goodness (at least for the veggies), because after eating sautéed shaved Brussels sprouts every week for more than seven weeks, only my spouse can stomach them.

To stock items for this limited menu, we only shop at Trader Joe’s because they have so many ready-prepped options. “Chicken casserole” is one meal that is made entirely with TJ’s-specific ingredients, and I’ll probably tell you about that one in a later post, but for this tangent, I want to tell you about a Daily Special success story: Veggie Rice Salad.

For those poor souls unfamiliar with Trader Joe’s, the stores all have samples available that they call the Daily Special. My children love the Daily Special. Sometimes it’s a hit, and sometimes it’s a miss, but, like playing the slots, it’s the possibility of winning that keeps my children coming back. I never have the Daily Special. I just let the person serving know that my children have carte blanche to eat whatever is on offer while I browse the bagged greens and scrutinize the citrus fruits. So a couple of weeks ago when my children came to me raving about the Daily Special, I was surprised to learn that it was essentially a raw broccoli and cauliflower salad. They had the recipe on little pieces of paper, so I took one and we’ve been making it ever since.

Here are the ingredients:

  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s cauliflower rice
  • 1 bag Trader Joe’s broccoli rice
  • 1 jar Trader Joe’s roasted red and yellow peppers, drained and chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped (we’re starting to leave this out because it’s a pain to prep and because I read an article that said recent samples of fresh herbs have been shown to contain Listeria monocytogenes, E. coli, and/or Salmonella. It’s just a small percentage so the chance of illness is very, very low unless you get one of the bad bunches, and I’m not a gambler)
  • Trader Joe’s Green Goddess dressing (the one from the produce cooler), to taste (the original recipe says to use Trader Joe’s Cilantro Salad Dressing, but that has dairy in it, and my kids like the Green Goddess just as well)

Just toss everything together in a big salad bowl, if you have one, or if, like us, you don’t have a big salad bowl, just put it in whatever container you can find that’s approximately the size of a big salad bowl. We use the largest cooking pot we have (but don’t cook the salad). Then make it every week until you are completely tired of it and move on to some other vegetable dish.

Visual Interest:

IMG_20171126_135637 (1)

El Parque Nacional de Picos de Europa, Spain

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Titles 411-430:

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