The Kitchen Painter’s Tape Trick: The Next Level

Last year, there was a lot of fuss online about a Food52 blog post that revealed an old trick that restaurant chefs use to manage their kitchens. They use painter’s tape to label every container in the refrigerator with what’s inside and the date it went into the fridge. We started doing this last fall with our fridge and it’s been a game changer.1

Before that we often had to guess at how old some leftovers or partial ingredients were and many times we’d discover some old broccoli or other food that had turned long ago.2 But ever since, we now put a piece of tape on all leftover containers and we no longer have to guess when we had pork chops for dinner (“was it last Thursday or before that?”).

However, we were still having a problem. Our fridge is always full and there’s a tendency for stuff to get lost inside. (I call it the River of Food, where natural currents and rhythms tend to push older or less used food items to the back and down while newer and more frequently used items come to the front and eye level.)

So I had to take the hack to the next level. As you can see from the photo above, now whenever we make a label we make two. One goes on the container and the other goes on the front of the fridge, giving us a running tally of leftovers. When I notice something has gotten old, I hunt it down and toss it, without having to do the sniff test. When I’m looking for something for lunch, I’ll look to the older leftovers first. And when the list gets long, we know it’s time for a “Leftovers for Dinner” night.

Is it more time-consuming to make two labels for everything? Sure, but we’re also throwing away less food (good for the wallet and for the planet) and I may never have to smell rotting broccoli again. I’d pay a lot of money not to do that any more.

  1. Incidentally, we don’t obsess over the tape like the chefs do. We don’t care if the edges are ragged and not folded over.
  2. And by we I mean me because I am the official food smeller and tester. I have smelled some awful things in my day, wheezed the old-timer.

Christ’s Resurrection Shook 200 Billion Galaxies Down to Their Atoms

The boys have been studying astronomy for a Cub Scout achievement and one of the facts that came up was that the Milky Way galaxy has 300 billion stars and that there are 200 billion galaxies in the observable universe. So huge.

And as I sit here contemplating the Resurrection, I think of how on one tiny planet, perhaps alone of all the trillions and trillions of planets around the trillions of stars bearing life made in the image and likeness of God, the Second Person of the Trinity was Resurrected.

That event, that amazing, historic, stupendous event shook the whole Cosmos right down to its foundations. Every atom, every subatomic particle, every string of dark matter, every neutrino was shaken … and CHANGED.

The Resurrection wasn’t just a big event. It was THE event. I can become so blase about it. Yes, God died for me and rose from the dead.

No, wait, listen: God … Died! He … Rose! And changed everything.

Scientists studying the Shroud of Turin say that the image was placed upon the fabric, not by paint or dye, but burned into the top layer of each strand by an unknown form of radiation that emanated not from the surface of the Body it contained, but from every cell of that body at once.

And that radiation carried more energy than that output by our sun in its lifetime. Then the cloth collapsed because the body within had moved elsewhere.

Why? Why would the Resurrection take place in such a spectacular manner, especially no one was in the tomb to witness it? Why not? Why would God create a universe of 200 billion galaxies for a people who would probably never travel beyond orbit of one star? Because it requires no drain of resources on Him, because creation is an act of His Will. And so the Resurrection would carry such power as an act of His Will and as a sign. It’s a sign for us today, 2,000 years later with our scientific understanding to begin to grasp the event.

This awesome spectacular event that shook the foundations of the universe and leaves me in awe. But also in joy.

Thank you, Lord. Praise you, Lord. Christ is Risen. He is Risen, indeed.

Looking for Real Solutions to Congested Commutes

Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that Boston has some of the worst commutes to work in the country and that it has gotten exponentially worse over the past decade.

In 2017, drivers spent 2 hours more in traffic than in 2016, up to 60 hours. I’m above average because I spend more than 30 minutes in traffic every day I have to drive to the office, which is 90 minutes per week times 50 weeks, which is 75 hours. And I only have to drive in 3 days a week. I also drive off-hours. I work in the office 7:30am to noon, then drive home and work the rest of the day there. When I was leaving the office between 3:30pm and 5pm, it would take 1 to 2 hours to get home, peaking on Fridays in the summer.

The article notes that bus schedules are being changed to reflect the reality of more traffic. Real estate agents have to allot more time for clients to get from property to property. Cost of housing closer to the city has skyrocketed and now even the very wealthy can’t find places they can afford.

Some people complain that the Big Dig—the massive, decades-long construction project in the middle of Boston—didn’t fulfill its promise, but the truth is it took so long that the fix it promised was overtaken by time. More people moved in. Imagine how much worse it would be without it. Census estimates tell us that 250,000 more people live in Boston since 2000 and unemployment is so low that 300,000 more people are working since January 2010. They’re all commuting to work in and around Boston.

So, we’re all agreed something has to be done. The problem is that nobody seems to be thinking realistically about it.

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Don’t Delete Facebook

Actually, delete Facebook if it will make you feel better, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter at this point and it won’t do any good.1 Here’s the backstory: A big news story broke this week about a British company, Cambridge Analytica, that used data harvested from a Facebook quiz by an academic researcher to compile profiles on millions of people that it then (maybe) used to target political ads. And because those ads may have been for Trump, everyone lost their minds and said they needed to save themselves from Facebook.

The fact is that you’re closing the barn door after the horse is gone, but you can take control of some of what Facebook knows and shares about you.

I say the horse is out of the barn because this harvesting of Facebook data for political purposes is old news. In 2012, the Obama campaign was openly bragging about the Facebook data it collected on the young users of its app. It’s the same data that Cambridge Analytica was seeing. And keep in mind that the data that Obama got six years ago is still very useful and has probably been dispersed into a bunch of successor organizations. They’re also been collecting all this data for however long you’ve been signed up and they don’t delete it when you quit. They’re also not the only one. This kind of Big Data harvesting is happening every day through Google’s ad networks and Amazon’s sales records and your music playlists and your brick-and-mortar purchases. This is the reality of the world we live in. So deleting your Facebook profile is just one drop in the bucket.

However, as I said, you can take back some control. For Facebook, you can limit what data it shares. For one thing, stop using your Facebook or Google profile to create logins on other sites. It is so tempting to do so because it makes life easier not to have to manage more passwords. For that I say, get a password manager.2 But you should know that if you do use your Facebook or Google profiles (it’s often OAuth or Open Authorization login), you are giving both Facebook and the site you’re signing into access to more data about yourself. In fact, that other site can pull in all kinds of data from your FB profile like your friends, your likes and dislikes, contact info, birthdays and more. This is all Big Data gold.

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Skip College, Go to Trade School

I’ve been beating this drum for years. More young people should consider skipping college, learn a trade, and start life without a crushing burden of debt for a degree you never needed. The Wall Street Journal has now noticed a trend, profiling the new generation of students who don’t opt out of college because they don’t have the grades, but because they want to take a different path.

In 2009, the last year for which data is available, 19% of high-school students were concentrating in vocational subjects, down from 24% in 1990.

Even as more students enroll in college, “40% to 50% of kids never get a college certificate or degree,” said Tony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. And among those who do graduate, about one-third end up in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

Why go into tens of thousands of dollars of debt (in some cases, hundreds of thousands), to end up in the half that don’t finish anyway or the large percentage who don’t end up using all the expensive “book learning”. And let’s not forget the crazy classes and ideological indoctrination and crazy bacchanalian libertinism.

Meanwhile, the kids who apprenticed or went to a trade school or got vocational training are out there earning good salaries and getting their lives started without crushing debt.

My older brother Bernie never went to college, but he owns his own business driving a tractor trailer and is quite successful, much more than I will be having gone to 4+ years of college. That path will be one of the options my children will explore.

Of Nor’Easters and Surgery and Temporary Homelessness

When the weather forecasts last week started talking about a potential nor-easter by the end of the week, I wasn’t paying much attention. That’s because my focus was on Melanie’s impending surgery on Wednesday and everything that would be required of me. First, I wanted to support and help her. It was a day surgery that featured the laparascopic1 technique, which is routine, but it was also general anesthesia, which is not. At least for Melanie.

On Wednesday, my mom came over to watch the kids and I took Melanie to the hospital where I waited all day. It took longer than we expected because she had a hard time coming out from the anesthesia, which is part of Melanie’s difficulty with it. We headed home and I had to go back out to find a pharmacy to her prescription for pain medications. Because of the opioid epidemic, they are no longer prescribed electronically, but must be filled with a paper scrip. And for some reason all the pharmacies were busy and so I had to find one that could fill the prescription that night so Melanie would not be in agony all night.

Then on Thursday, I worked from home because she was still woozy from the medicine and still in pain. That was when I started paying attention to the storm forecasts. This is New England. Nor’easters are expected in the winter and this one was going to be mostly rain, they said. Rain instead of snow? What’s to worry? It turns out there was plenty to worry about from the rain and the wind.

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Solar Power is in Reach, But the Old Dinosaur Still Stands in the Way

Men installing solar panels on a roof

We finally have an installation date for our solar panels from Solar City/Tesla. As you may recall, we started this odyssey at the beginning of last summer (2017) and signed the paperwork in July. But our local electrical provider, National Grid, had told us that we couldn’t put them on their grid because their local connection equipment wasn’t up to snuff.1 They said that an upgrade would take 16 to 20 weeks!

So nearly six months after that, the upgrade has been done and now our solar panels are scheduled for installation in mid-March. But that doesn’t mean they will be running by then, because after the installation we have to wait for National Grid to inspect them to make sure they are connected to their grid properly. The current wait time is running 10 to 11 weeks. When all is said and done, we’ll have waited almost a year to get up and running on solar, nearly all of that time due to National Grid’s foot-dragging. And because they’ve dragged their feet, they will have sucked an extra $3,600 out of us.

Of course, the electric utilities don’t like everyone going solar because not only do they lose the money for the electricity they were selling us, they also have to buy back any excess electricity we generate. But it didn’t have to be this way.

In fact, they could have avoided all of this if they had been a forward-looking innovator instead of a backward, too conservative monopoly more interested in the status quo. Imagine if the electric utilities themselves had gotten into solar leasing instead of letting companies like Solar City and Vivint take over. National Grid already owns all the infrastructure and has relationships with all of its customers. They could show up one day and say, “Hey, let us put solar panels on your roof and cut your bill in half. It won’t cost you a dime.” Sure, on the one hand, they get half of what they were getting. On the other hand, half is better than none. Even better, they don’t have to buy back the extra electricity: It’s already theirs. And they can then sell that electricity to other customers, having created more capacity in the grid without having to build expensive plants or buying from a regional cooperative.

But old, comfortable companies, especially those with monopolies, don’t think like this. No cable company could have invented Netflix. No bookstore chain could have invented Amazon. No record label could have invented iTunes.

So now, I’m left waiting to get my solar panels up and running as National Grid runs out the clock on their monopoly, squeezing every possible cent out of the system. And no one will mourn them when they are gone someday.

  1. We’d actually tried connecting with a different solar company before Solar City, but National Grid said their local transformer that serves our neighborhood needed an upgrade to serve more solar panels. So they had so many solar customers already and before more could be added, they need to upgrade. They told us that we would have to pay $3,500 for the equipment upgrade. No thanks! I’m not subsidizing giant corporations so they can then serve more customers because once the equipment is upgraded any neighbors who want to go solar in the future would benefit too. When I went to Solar City they agreed to pay the upgrade. I wrote about this last September.

Social Media Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Men in business suits boxing in a ring

The latest tragedies grabbing the headlines and especially the ensuing bluster on social media have reinforced for me why I have lately decided to stop engaging in discussions about these things there.1 In fact, I have been using a browser extension called FB Purity to block any updates that contain certain keywords from appearing in my timeline.

It’s not that I’m a heartless ogre who doesn’t care about making our country safer or protecting it from dastardly forces. Nor does it mean I don’t care about the Catholic Church and her doctrines and teachings and whether some of her leaders are undermining them.

It’s that I don’t believe that bluster and acrimony on Facebook and Twitter are going to change a damn thing. No, wait, it will change something: It will make me more bitter and angry and sinful.

Much of what passes for discourse on subjects like gun control or Donald Trump or Pope Francis consists of straw man arguments, emotional venting lacking in rational thought, failures to engage charity or to give the benefit of the doubt, silly memes that usually contain falsehoods and/or that mock others without engaging them. Then the comments on these posts devolve into shouting matches and insults that drown out anyone trying to make rational, intelligent responses.

Shakespeare could have been describing these “antisocial” social media debates when he wrote in “MacBeth”: “It is a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

And in the end, no one ever has their mind changed about a single thing. I’ve never seen one of these shouting matches result in someone saying, “You know what? You’re right! I’ve been wrong all this time. I’ve changed my mind.”

So what’s the point of it all?

Now, you may ask me why I haven’t just deleted my social media accounts, like so many other people have. For one thing, social media is part of my job. I need to be there to administer and monitor several social media sites associated with my work. For another thing, once I’ve excised the vitriol from my timelines, I can engage with my family and friends in uplifting and fun discussions and share news of our lives and share articles about interesting or uplifting topics. Social media doesn’t have to be a wasteland. It’s what you make it.

I choose not to make it a place of anger and falsehoods and cheap ideological grandstanding.

  1. In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit I’m not always successful in staying out of them. But I nearly always regret it.

Book Review: Heading Out: A History of American Camping

Camp site near Acadia National Park

Camping has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. From before I can remember, my parents took us RV camping: in a VW microbus and then later in a borrowed Winnebago. Eventually we got a trailer camper. As I got older, I became a Boy Scout and camped with them and into my adulthood, camped with friends and family and now have introduced camping to my own family.

So, when I heard the interview with Terence Young, author of “Heading Out: A History of American Camping,” on the Art of Manliness podcast, I was intrigued to find out more about this activity that seems such a part of my life and of the American landscape. Young begins by noting that recreational camping, as such, is a somewhat uniquely American activity that has it origins in the post-Civil War 19th century due to several streams that coincided then.

First, there was the Romantic movement that in America idealized nature and natural landscapes, creating a spiritual connection to the land that was unlike what existed before. Thoreau and Emerson are prime examples of this in writing, along with Thomas Cole and the Hudson River school in painting. You also had the rapid urbanization of America, as what had once been a predominantly rural and agricultural society began streaming into the mechanized and industrialized cities where there was more wealth and opportunity, but also less privacy, beauty, and nature. There was the closing of the American frontier along with the Centennial of American Independence that recalled the once rugged character of the pioneers and frontiersmen that many people thought was being lost in modern urban hustle and bustle. Finally, there was a critical mass of Civil War veterans who all experience with roughing it in the outdoors who could act as guides and who enjoyed the outdoors themselves.

There was also a religious element to the rise of camping as well. For centuries, Catholics in Europe had headed out in spiritual pilgrimages, especially the Camino Santiago de Compestela, in which they walked hundreds of miles in a journey to bring them closer to God. Protestants, meanwhile, did not engage in such a Catholic activity, laced as it was with popish “saint-worship”. But there was still a felt need to make a spiritual connection by getting away from every day life. This coincided with Romanticism to create a new kind of spiritual pilgrimage, a communing with God with took place in nature, away from cities.

Into this mix walked a Boston Protestant minister by the name of William Henry Harrison Murray, who published a book in 1869, Adventures in the Wilderness, that described camping in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state in such colorful and accessible terms that it was a huge hit. If it were today, it would by a NY Times bestseller and an Oprah book pick. And because it also described the hows and whys—where to go, what to bring, who to hire as a guide—it ignited a massive rush of people into the woods that continued for years.

As National Parks were set aside those also became destinations, as people traveled West by train from the Atlantic states to spend weeks in Yosemite and other places they read about in magazines and newspapers and books.

That was followed some decades later by the next big leap in camping provided by the automobile. Once the car could transport people to all manner of destinations, auto camping became a big push. You could load a full set of gear onto the car or even attach a trailer and set off in relative comfort. No riding a train and then a horse-drawn wagon provided by a guide. Instead, you traveled on your own, by your own itinerary. By the late 1930s, camping had become a huge national pastime, all impelled by the desire to get out of the urban rat race and into the tranquility and authenticity of nature for a spiritual reconnection with the true American spirit, at least that which people thought was true. Read More and Comment

The Trash and Recycling Our Family Generates

Recycling center

I am consistently amazed by how little landfill trash our family of seven generates. Our trash company gives us a 96-gallon barrel for trash and two 96-gallon recycling barrels, which they pick up every two weeks. The basic level of service is usually one of each, but we eventually discovered we needed two recycling bins. We could also get weekly pickup if we wanted, but it hasn’t been necessary from a volume standpoint (although in the summer heat, I sometimes wish it was every week) and there is a substantial savings if we go every other week.

And while the amount of trash and recycling varies, in general the amount of landfill trash (i.e. what can’t be recycled) is about one or two 13-gallon kitchen trash bags per week. Meanwhile, I’m often left trying to jam in more and more recycling into the two recycling bins by the day of pickup.

I usually divide our recycling between the two barrels1, with one barrel holding just cardboard boxes and the other holding all the various household paper and metal and glass, mostly from the kitchen. It often works out to about even amounts in the barrels. The cardboard is mainly Amazon boxes because we do so much shopping there, including Subscribe and Save on things like large boxes of paper towels.

Of course, there’s a third kind of trash I have to deal with, namely all the things that I can’t put in the barrels, like broken bicycles and a broken wheelbarrow and very large cardboard boxes that have to be broken down before they can fit in the recycling bin and even then only in pieces over time so as not to monopolize it. For that stuff, I think I will begin to do an occasional Bagster pickup, as needed. I had one last year when we had our floors redone and I managed to put a bunch of other stuff in there too.

A valid question is how we manage to divert so much from the landfill. Certainly, our trash has changed over the years. For one thing, we no longer (for now anyway) have lots and lots of diapers as we did for almost a decade. We also don’t subscribe to a paper newspaper (I’m iPad subscription only now), which took up a ton of space in recycling.2 We also try to re-use food waste in other ways as well. We save chicken bones and vegetable ends for making stock and put other kinds of vegetables and food in our compost. Melanie even saves orange peels for making marmalade and old bananas (so many overripe bananas) in the freezer for smoothies, breads, and chocolate ice “cream” for Lucy.

We are by no means perfect at this. Nor are we especially militant about it. And there are recent questions about whether household recycling makes as big a dent in the landfill problem as we think. But it makes me happy anyway to do what I can to show that big families are not necessarily the resource hogs that some people say they are, that in fact big families can have a light environmental footprint compared to, say, a twenty-something childless couple living in a hip downtown loft.

  1. This is not a requirement of the trash company; just something I started doing on my own as an experiment.
  2. Although junk mail continues to be a substantial amount of recycling.
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