Saturday, September 15, 2018

One Man's Trash

It was about 11:00pm, 

and I was on the verge of a meltdown. Jack was in graduate school at the time, and consumed with his dissertation. We had a two-year old and newborn, no money, and lived in a tiny, old apartment without a washer, dryer or dishwasher. I was tired, had just put the baby down to sleep, and the combination of all of it suddenly caught up with me as I confronted a pile of dishes in the sink.

Jack, finding me in tears, did what good husbands do. He listened patiently to my laundry list of complaints, rational and otherwise, and then he offered solutions.

Now normally when I'm in such a state, offering solutions is the worst possible thing he can do. Normally all I want is for him to tell me that I'm absolutely right about everything, and then offer to go buy me Ben & Jerry's. But this time, I was all ears.

He brainstormed a number of time-saving ideas. Among them, he suggested, "What if we didn't have to wash dishes? What if we used paper plates and cups instead?"

He may as well have offered to hire a full-time housekeeper. With that one suggestion, the clouds parted and life seemed manageable. We went to Costco the next morning and stocked up on disposable bliss.  "Don't worry about putting those in the sink after you eat," I would announce dramatically at dinner.  "JUST THROW THEM IN THE GARBAGE." As though I was referring to my problems, and not the dishes.

A couple weeks later, 

I attended a gathering for mothers in our student housing complex, and decided to gift everyone with my new life hack.

"So you know what's made a huge difference for us?" I said, as I buckled the two-year old into a swing. "We started using paper plates and cups, like all the time, and it's just really simplified my life."


Until, I swear on my life, one mother burst out laughing. "Wait, are you serious?" she asked. "Like, every meal? All that garbage!"

The next couple minutes were so awkward I started to second guess whether I had accidentally said, "So you know what's made a huge difference for us? Every night when the kids go to bed, we pull out a ouija board and use it to summon Satan! You guys it's the best!"

In retrospect, I understand that my declaration was a bit naive. These were graduate students and spouses of UC Santa Barbara. Our complex boasted a community garden, extra recycling bins, a center for exchanging used clothes and furniture, and weekly rounds made by a cloth diaper truck.

I was instructed that morning on sustainability and environmental impact and and couldn't come up with a single intelligent response. I just smiled, and nodded, and confessed to what I hadn't realized was a sin. And then I went home, and Jack once again found me in tears.

Now, I mentioned before that Jack is a good husband. Jack is also an economist. To his core. He sees the world objectively, in terms of opportunity cost and competing preferences, and it is from this perspective that he absolved me of my guilt.

The decision to use paper goods, he explained, is simply a choice between disposable and reusable. It is not a choice between good and evil.

During an overwhelming time in my life, those stacks of paper plates and cups were like towers of support. We were choosing to sacrifice the extra money they cost in order to have extra time for sleep and children. My critics on the playground, on the other hand, were choosing to sacrifice their time and dishwater to fulfill what they felt was a moral obligation to the earth.

But what about the earth? 

The earth can handle my paper plates. According to New York Times science columnist John Tierney, all of the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on 1/10 of 1% of land available for grazing. And much of that will be covered with grass and converted to parkland, like beautiful Freeman Park in Idaho Falls.  Did you know that the US Open is played on the site of a converted landfill?

But what about the trees? 

The trees will also survive my plates. Jack explained that this is a simple matter of supply and demand. Paper products come from trees, many of which were planted for the purpose of becoming paper. The more paper that we use (and throw away), the more trees that are planted. As more trees are planted, more carbon dioxide is absorbed, thus making the air cleaner, a concept known as sustainable forestry

Jack also drew a parallel to beef, and cows.  The reason we have so many cows is because we eat so much beef. More beef consumption means more cattle, just as more paper consumption means more trees.

In fact, he said that scientists are now able to produce cultured beef - meat produced synthetically, in labs, and that if this were to take off, it would cause the population of cattle to go down, and not up. So, recyling paper may actually reduce the number of trees. I think I just wrote a new verse of Ironic for Alanis Morissette.

But what about recycling? 

The best reason for recycling that I've been able to find is that it makes people feel good. Aside from that, it doesn't make a lot of sense.

According to William Shughart of Utah State's Hunstman School of Business (among many others), the cost associated with the process of recycling almost always outweighs the benefits. He says that it is actually more expensive and resource intensive to recycle paper, than it is to cut and replant trees. It is also cheaper to make new plastic containers than to recycle old ones and again, we have more have enough space to bury them and convert the land.

John Tierney also says that, according to environmental author Chris Goodall, the simple act of rinsing cans and bottles before putting them into the recycling bin can actually release more carbon into the air than recycling itself.

A few years after the paper plate incident, 

we moved from California to Virginia, and learned that the school our children would be attending was "Green Flag Certified," an honor bestowed for their eco-friendly efforts. In addition to learning to read and write, they also sang songs about recycling, participated in composting, environmental poetry contests, and learned to associate guilt with their carbon footprint. Sometimes we wondered whether we had registered for a public school or private religious institution.

The kicker came late one October, when we received a notice form the principal requesting that children wear green to school on Veterans Day, where they would honor our veterans...with an assembly celebrating recycling and the environment.

We scratched our heads, gathered every red, white and blue article of clothing that they owned, and explained to them that one thing veterans fought for is our freedom from participating in rituals that we don't agree with.

To be clear, I love the earth. 

I am in awe of how beautiful it is, and what it has to offer us. I try to teach my children to love the earth. We hike mountains, explore deserts, swim in oceans, and follow the Scout law of leaving no trace when we do.

We also fill our green recycling bin every week, but we do it as a matter of economic preference and not morality, and we don't judge our neighbors if they don't fill their recycling bins, or compete with them to see who has the smallest bag of trash.

And when my friends have a new baby and are feeling overwhelmed, I always bring them dinner, a stack of paper plates and cups, and permission to use them without feeling like they've done something wrong.

Friday, September 7, 2018

D I Why

A new Del Taco opened a mile from our house, and it's been a game changer. On Tuesdays their tacos are three for a dollar, so basically free.  Every week I order fifteen of them, which in Utah is actually considered a modest request. Once in fact, I said "Fifteen tacos please," and the guy thought I said "Fifty tacos please" and I swear he didn't even flinch.

Now, I'm perfectly capable of making tacos myself on Tuesdays, but certainly not 15 of them for $5 in under 5 minutes, so I keep going back every week and plan to for the rest of my life. I'm an American after all, and we pride ourselves on thrift and efficiency.

Which is precisely why I found it curious, while scrolling through Pinterest the other night, when I came across a recipe for homemade sprinkles.

Fascinated, I tapped on the link,  The instructions call for powdered sugar and powdered egg whites (whatever those are), pastry bags with couplers and collars (whatever those are), food coloring, a full two days to complete (!!), and includes the warning that it "may leave your arm aching from all the beating and piping."

Would you like my recipe for sprinkles?

(1) Go to Walmart. (2) They are $0.98.

Maybe homemade sprinkles are your thing though, and if so I say go for it. In fact, after you've finished the 48-hour backbreaking process, Pinterest suggests that you continue your party preparations with homemade confetti.

Unlike the elaborate ingredient list of homemade sprinkles, the only thing homemade confetti requires are colored paper, a hole punch and an increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Can't you just imagine the doctor of this poor person, as he wraps their aching wrist in a bandage, leaning in and compassionately asking, "Was the $0.79 prepackaged kind really outside your budget?"

Let's keep going!

Are you sitting down for the next one? Sitting down for breakfast perhaps?

Homemade. Cheerios.

Not many things surprise me, but I was pretty shocked to learn that there are people out there making homemade Cheerios.

Instructions for these include extracting hundreds of tiny circles from rolled dough with a tiny cutter, then carefully punching a hole in each one with a lollipop stick and removing the microscopic center before baking.

What the instructions don't tell you, but which as a mother of four I can add with scientific certainty, is that only 8% of Cheerios given to children actually end up in their mouths. The rest find their way onto the floor, or highchair or carseat, or smashed into the motherboard of valuable electronics. I say it's hard enough to yell at kids over these kinds of incidents without having to also add, "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LONG IT TOOK ME TO MAKE THOSE!?"

So maybe not homemade Cheerios. But how about homemade Cinnamon Toast Crunch?

Just add milk!

(After mixing the dough in a food processor and dividing and kneading and rolling it as thin as you can and cutting tiny squares with a pizza cutter and using a thin spatula to scrape them off the counter and transfer them to a baking sheet and then repeating the process three times with the remaining dough and then adding the cinnamon and sugar and then baking and letting it cool.)

Then just add milk!

How about homemade Fruit Loops instead?

Don't let the picture fool you. Those are not made from play dough. The woman who posted this recipe said she always makes a batch before vacation, to have on hand as an alternative to hotel breakfasts, and I spent a full five minutes wondering what exactly about a hotel breakfast she is saving us from. The fact that's free? Or  convenient? Or doesn't look like play dough?

If cereal isn't your breakfast of choice though, don't worry. Pinterest also suggests homemade Pop Tarts.

And I suggest that making homemade Pop Tarts completely defeats the purpose of Pop Tarts.

How about Twix Bars?

My favorite line from this recipe is that they "taste exactly like the original!" Finally. The exact taste of a Twix Bar, without the overwhelming burden of having to tear off a wrapper.

I could go all day. Down the Pinterest rabbit hole that is, not making homemade Twix.

It's an interesting paradox I think. As a society we're busier than ever, with all kinds of conveniences and automation to accommodate our nonstop lifestyles. And yet, it seems like DIY has never been more popular.

But maybe the fact that we're so busy is the very reason we want to create. We have an inherent need to be creative, and to design and construct, and I think it's filled when we paint furniture and bake cookies and photograph and write captions, and it's wonderful.

All I'm saying that if you've spent half a day cutting out tiny Cheerios, maybe leave that to the good people at General Mills, and take the time to discover what you really have to offer. It's a question I try to ask myself on a regular basis. When I'm not busy making tacos.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Shopping for Masculinity

I wasn't looking for a soapbox.

Just some school clothes for my kids. I took my girls shopping at Old Navy, Target and Children's Place, among other stores, where they were presented with an endless selection of graphic tees boasting slogans of female empowerment. "Girls Run the World," "The Future is Female," "Strong, Brave, Smart, Girl," etc.

Here are just a few examples - Shirts currently available at the aforementioned stores that I curated from their websites.

Adorable, right? The idea of empowering young girls this way. Catchy, glittering slogans that remind them and everyone they see of their strength and potential as females. These are certainly messages I hope my daughters will internalize.  I mean, who can argue with shirts like this?

Well, me, actually.

In part, because another search of the same sites resulted in the following options for my two boys. These are very typical of what they've seen in stores.

Girls are the smartest and bravest! They are the future! They rule the world!

Boys? Eh. They chill, and play video games.

Now before anyone beats me to it, I think I understand the catalyst here. Girls today have been born into a society built on thousands of years of patriarchal dominance that has favored males in realms of eduction, politics and business. This has placed females at a obvious disadvantage, and left them underrepresented in Congress, among CEOs, soldiers, scientists, etc. Girls need extra encouragement!

Do they?

A quick Google search reveals that girls are outperforming boys in elementary, middle and high school.  There are more girls than boys serving in student government and as members of National Honor Society. College campuses are 60% female. Women make up the majority of the nation's law students, and in the last several years have been awarded more doctorates than men. Dropout rates, juvenile detention and prison statistics? Girl, please.

If the intention of girl power campaigns is to compensate for the privilege enjoyed by our boys, I have to wonder. Is this what privilege looks like?

My boys are 6 and 9. I can assure you they have no concept of historical patriarchal domination. They do however, understand clearly what they see at school and in stores - a barrage of slogans, on shirts, notebooks, backpacks etc., declaring that girls reign supreme. They see commercials on a loop reassuring girls that they can be anything, hear politicians announce that the future is female, and Beyonce sing, "Who run the world? Girls." OK, I lied. My boys don't actually listen to Beyonce.

Considered through the eyes of my daughters, I couldn't agree more. How fortunate are they to be born in a time and place that provides limitless possibilities, and the assurance that they can do anything boys can do? We should remind them often.  I just wonder if perhaps by doing so we're overcompensating a bit?

Is it possible that in our crusade to empower our girls, we have marginalized our boys? Or at the least, encouraged them to compete. One of the most important things I've tried to teach our children is that men and women, boys and girls, are intended to complement one another's unique characteristics and cooperate as partners. Not to engage in a battle of the sexes.

Should we boycott these shirts? Of course not. In fact, my girls have a few of their own hanging in their closets. The only protest I would suggest is the next time you see your boy absorbing the message that girls are the best and the smartest and the future, remind them that they can be too.

Besides, who am I kidding. A shirt declaring that "The Future is Human" or "Girls Rule and PS Boys Also Have Great Potential" is going to end up on the clearance rack.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Finding Girl

First it was my car keys. It was time for school and I couldn't find them anywhere. The desk, my purse, the car itself, anywhere. Exasperated, I told the kids we were going to be late, when then five-year old Leah swept into the kitchen, looked under a pile of dish towels, and rattled them victoriously in the air. 

Next it was an overdue library book, which she found under her brother's bed, and a missing church shoe she spotted in the nick of time under the trampoline. 

"Again Leah?" Jack said as she brought it in from the backyard. "Wow, you are a finding girl!" 

And with that, her superpower was born. Finding Girl. 

Anytime something goes missing in our house, we call for Finding Girl and she leaps into action. Her siblings have been known to chant along as she races through piles of laundry, baskets of toys and under stacks of papers in search of her elusive treasures. "Fin-ding girl! Fin-ding girl! Fin-ding girl!"

I don't know whether she actually possesses an innate ability to locate things, or if her success rate stems from the confidence born of a name like Finding Girl, but I'm telling you. Behind those blue eyes is some kind of GPS thermal sensor that has never failed to hone in on a target. 

This weekend she turns 12, and we are going to celebrate. We are going to celebrate Leah, and everything she has helped us find over the last 12 years. Car keys, earrings and remote controls, but also patience.  She's helped us find humility, tolerance and compassion. 

Without Leah, we wouldn't always find the candy aisle and dessert menu, the fastest roller coaster, or the kid at school who needs a friend. She's helped us find exceptional doctors, loving teachers, and connection with parents who share similar struggles. 

Happy Birthday to the girl who has helped us find joy. Around every corner.  

Click HERE to play "Mouse or Leah?"

Friday, August 17, 2018

This is 40

40 Things About Jack 

1. His first name is actually Christopher

2. He is among the 33% of people who suffer brain freeze while eating ice cream

3. Is in the Guinness Book of World Records for being part of the largest bingo game in the world. Dodger Stadium, 2006

4. You know how, when you make microwave popcorn, you wind up with a bunch of kernels at the bottom of the bag? Jack eats those

5. The title of his doctoral dissertation was "Accurately Sized Test Statistics with Misspecified Conditional Homoskedasticity ??"  (Question marks added for emphasis)

6. His score on is 5/5

7. Has carried the same wallet for 19 years

8. Drafted his 2004 Fantasy Football team at home while I was in the hospital in labor with our second child

9. Favorite pastimes include watching injuries occur on YouTube, and controlling the sprinklers from the Rain Bird app on his phone

10. His only B in college was in Child Development. Turned out to be a remarkable father anyway.

11. Jack was quarterback of his high school football team, and the only player to get pumped up before games by listening to Lionel Richie

12. Led the team to the State Championship game two years in a row

13. Has been in the same room as Beyonce and Jesse Jackson, on two separate occasions. One of the rooms was a bathroom.

14. Served a two-year mission in Santiago, Dominican Republic for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

15. Often told he looks like Urban Meyer

16. Has seen the Big 5 Game on safari in Africa - lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo

17. Jumped off a 200 foot gorge swing without his wife's permission

18. Also done without his wife's permission - Helicopter waterfall tour, lion encounter, joining a second Fantasy Football team

19. Has the entire script of Top Gun memorized. Willing to recite upon request

20. Other favorite movies - Braveheart, Contact, Minority Report

21. Favorite books - Rainbow Six, Da Vinci Code, Applied Predictive Modeling and Elements of Statistical Learning

22. Favorite child - Jolie

23. Built an AR himself, piece by piece

24. Loves climbing. Favorites include Mount Whitney, Olancha Peak, Half Dome, Mount Timpanogos and Table Mountain

25. Can navigate to any attraction in Disneyland with his eyes closed

26. Pet peeve - Misuse of the term "price gouging" 

27. Favorite teams - LA Lakers, Chicago Cubs, Denver Broncos, Arizona State

28. Repairs successfully performed after watching YouTube tutorials - Garage door opener, oven, dishwasher, HVAC, automotive breaks and window motor

29. Number of times I've taken him to the ER - 3

30. Concussions sustained - 5

31. Still wears his BYU Intramural Championship 2002 shirt

32. Met his wife in second grade

33. Sole annual birthday request is a no-bake cheesecake

34. Refuses to share his straws. Willing to share his life with me, but not his straws.

35. Invented the word "Wowsted." Only his teenage nieces and nephews can explain exactly what it means.

36. Did you know that celery is the most hated vegetable among adults? Also among Jack.

37. Can play Journey's "Faithfully" on the piano

38. Surprised me once in high school with a doll he sewed out of a pillow case, on the condition that I not tell the baseball team.

39. Happiest when he's playing ball in the front yard with his kids.

40. Is 40. And we adore him.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Scissors Certified

I was emptying my first grader's backpack this morning as he got ready for school, and came across this vital document.

"What does this mean, buddy?" I asked him.

He took a bite of his toast. "It means I can can cut stuff," he said. And then, like a well-trained soldier, "But ONLY paper."

Well sure you can cut stuff, I thought. We can all cut stuff. But according to this you can't just cut stuff. According to this, you are SCISSORS CERTIFIED.

It seemed so monumental that I made him take it upstairs to show his father, then hung it on the fridge. I texted the news of his achievement to his aunts and grandma so they could congratulate him, though I did excuse them from feeling obligated to purchase gifts.

Should I order a bumper sticker to brag about this, I wondered? Or maybe have it framed? He's not just scissors certified, I would tell the employee at Michael's. He is first generation scissors certified.

Oblivious to the significance of his achievement or my pride, he and his brother hopped on their bikes and left for school, leaving me with the breakfast dishes and so many unanswered questions.

What exactly does scissors certification involve, I wondered as I put the cereal back in the pantry. Are applicants required to consent to a background check? Is the training performed at their desks, or does the school provide some kind of cutting range?

And what about advanced certification? Maybe some kids are content with the typical first grade safety scissors, but what about those who wish to wield fabric blades or even guillotine trimmers? And what about those who want to conceal their scissors, or take them outside of the classroom to, say, the library or playground?

As I moved from dishes to laundry I imagined the training, and in my mind it was intense, and competitive. "THUMB IN THE FRONT HANDLE!" the teacher shouts, as she marches up and down the aisles. "Elbows close to your body. Index and middle fingers in the back, ring and pinky fingers on the outside. The outside Matthew. OUTSIDE!! For heavens sakes Matthew how will you ever make a paper snowflake with that kind of form?" She gets in his face. "Do you plan to lick and tear for the rest of your life!?"

The thought of little Matthew in tears had me wondering about all the other kids who failed to receive their scissor certification. Where exactly did they go wrong? Did they hold them backwards? Upside down? Buckle under the pressure of their evaluation and cut the leg off a gingerbread man? Maybe they twitched and ended up impaling the kid sitting next to them. Yeesh, I hope there aren't any scissors-uncertified thugs running around MY neighborhood.

I moved the clothes from the washer to the dryer, and onto proof of status. In this scenario, I imagined Eddie sitting in front of a worksheet filled with shapes. They have all been counted and colored, leaving only one thing left to do. Slowly, he reaches into his desk for the pencil box and opens the lid to retrieve his cutting apparatus. Just then, the principal walks in. Spotting the move, he runs toward his desk as though in slow motion, racing past cubbies and over lunch boxes in a desperate attempt to thwart the potential violation. Children gasp. Pencils drop. Breath is held, until the teacher heroically throws her body between them. "It's okay!" she shouts. He's SCISSORS CERTIFIED."

Eddie presents his one-dimensional neon green trophy as proof.

It's okay. It's all going to be okay.

One Man's Trash

It was about 11:00pm,  and I was on the verge of a meltdown. Jack was in graduate school at the time, and consumed with his dissertati...