Categories
Books Parenting

Reading the Caldecott Medal Winners

My oldest child turns 10 this month. That means I’ve been reading children’s books for most days over the last decade. Not to her, anymore; now she reads herself Harry Potter. I still read picture books to my 6-year-old and 2-year-old.

I recently realized (a) that most of my children’s book reading is now behind me (b) I like reading these books (c) there must be many great ones I’ve never read. I spend most of my reading time now on children’s books, not grown-up ones. I ought to make the most of these next few years while that remains the case.

To that end I thought I’d start with the Caldecott Medal winners as an easy entry point. I was reading Where the Wild Things Are and A Sick Day for Amos McGee and explaining the gold sticker (Caldecott medal) on the front covers to my youngest and thought: these are great books. The other Caldecott winners are probably good too, right?

Categories
DIY How-to Making Parenting Repair

DIY non-slip soles for footed pajamas

I’ve handed down a few pairs of cozy footed pajamas between my kids. Along the way the soles lost whatever non-skid properties they had and became very slippery. We got them out this fall to keep my two-year-old cozy. He was cozy … and he slid all over on our slick floors, wiping out a few times. Neither slips nor cold bare feet would do. It was time for DIY non-slip soles.

I outfitted two pairs of Carter’s footie pajamas. Both attempts turned out great:

Try to slide in those!

Materials: I used a discarded bike inner tube that could no longer be patched. If you don’t have one, you might be able to score them from a bike shop or repair co-op. I also used heavy-duty Sashiko thread and needle, but I expect you could do this with any needle and thread.

Process:

Categories
Local reporting Parenting ruminations

Let’s plan now for COVID-resilient school next year

In July I predicted that there would be no in-person instruction for Ann Arbor Public Schools this entire school year. Unfortunately, that prediction is looking accurate. Let’s start planning for September 2021.

The discussion among the district, board, and parents seems focused on reopening this year. At what level of disease activity, and which safety precautions, would be enough for kids to begin going to school? At least, that seemed to be the discussion a month ago, when disease levels were lower and other districts in SE Michigan (including some in Washtenaw County, like Saline and Dexter) were sending kids to school.

Especially with the current COVID surge now shutting down those other districts, it seems likely that reopening this year is not in the cards for Ann Arbor Public Schools. Given that, I fear we’re wasting precious time and energy debating possibilities and metrics for reopening this year. It echoes what happened this summer, when time spent considering possibilities for in-person instruction would have been better used on improving systems for remote instruction.

Categories
Cooking Parenting

An Ode to Bean Soup

Fall in Michigan means it’s soup weather! I make a lot of bean soups (and related soups). I think I’ll write some of them up on this blog. It’ll be a reference for me, at least, when I can’t decide what to cook next. Maybe others will find it useful, perhaps even my kids someday.

Bean soup is the best genre of food. It’s not close. It checks every box:

  • Tasty. My reasons below are practical, but they would be for naught if the soups weren’t delicious.
  • Easy. They usually involve little or no chopping, few ingredients, and a single big pot. Add an easy carb like bread/rice/ pasta and a vegetable side and it’s a meal.
  • Kid-friendly. My kids like or love most of my bean soups and they make a great early food for babies.
  • Scales up. Because there’s little chopping, it’s as easy to make 2, 3, or 4x as much at once. That gives you 1, 2, or 3 bonus nights where dinner is already in the fridge, ready to go. And it…
  • Keeps well. It’s as good days later as fresh, and freezes perfectly. When I want to bring a meal on short notice to someone ill or grieving or celebrating, I grab a couple of quarts of frozen soup.
  • Healthy. They’re low in fat and carbs and high in fiber and protein, which is nice because they’re also..
  • Vegetarian or vegan. These are protein-heavy, savory, rich dishes that won’t leave omnivores feeling like the meat is missing.
  • Gluten-free. If you’re serving a crowd whose dietary preferences you don’t know, like at a potluck, it’s inclusive to make a dish that is vegan and gluten-free without compromising.
  • Made from nonperishable ingredients. Most soups are made from things that last indefinitely in the pantry. And when you don’t have something, they’re..
  • Forgiving. You can skip a vegetable, use powder instead of fresh onions, and change spices or even the legume. And the cooking techniques are hard to mess up – it’s hard to burn a soup, even if you’re not paying attention (though I’ll tell that story when I get to that soup).
  • Cheap. About as cheap as good healthy food gets.
  • Local. I can get Michigan-grown beans and lentils. And even if beans aren’t local to you, growing and transporting dried beans is very climate-friendly.

Bean soup may be the best class of food, but even it has a few limited downsides:

  • Not great in summer. People don’t want to eat hot soup when it’s sweltering out. Summer is the off-season for me, when I cook solid food. Fortunately, I live in Michigan, where it’s soup season from September until May.
  • People sometimes want solid food. I can eat soup every night when it’s cold, but I find that I can only cook soup so many consecutive days before someone in my family says they miss the sensation of using a fork and chewing their food. So I take care to throw some non-soups in the mix regularly.

Even in writing this I remembered more soups I’ve not cooked recently. Let’s see how many I can catalog as I cook my way through another busy soup season…

Categories
Biking How-to Parenting

Bike camping from Ann Arbor to Pinckney Rec Area

COVID-19 shattered my “fun aspirations for 2020” list, but one survivor is bike camping. I’m planning that trip (this weekend). It will be my first time camping via bike so I’m reading up and asking questions. In particular I’m focused on getting there and back, with two kids and our gear. Here are some notes on routes and logistics, to help me & others in the future and to see if anyone has other ideas.

Where to Bike Camp around Ann Arbor

The closest campsite to Ann Arbor that I’m aware of is Crooked Lake Rustic Campground, at Pinckney Rec Area. I’ve camped here via car several times so know what I’m getting. But I’m curious to know of other camping options within ~25 miles from Ann Arbor.

Getting There via Bike

For this post, let’s assume a starting point of Michigan Stadium. Google Maps suggests taking Dexter-Ann Arbor road to Dexter, then Island Lake Road to Dexter Townhall Road. Total 18.5 miles. This is the route I use to drive there.

Default path from Google Maps
Categories
Parenting ruminations

Prediction: Ann Arbor Public Schools will be completely virtual for the 2020-21 school year

It suddenly seems clear to me that plans for in-person instruction this year are wishful thinking at best and a distraction at worst.

A viable plan for in-person school would require (a) re-imagining how schools operate and (b) additional funding for implementation. The district probably can’t pull off the first on its own and the second is definitely outside its control. In a better world, leadership at the state and federal levels would contribute ideas and funding. In such a world, we might even contain COVID-19 to the point that kids and teachers can return to school without imaginative plans.

But based on the last few months and where things stand now, I bet kids won’t set foot in Ann Arbor Public Schools classrooms this entire school year.  Anyone want to wager I’m wrong?

Here’s hoping I can return to this post in coming months and laugh at how foolishly pessimistic I was.  But in the meantime, I’ll plan for the worst.

Categories
Biking Climate change Parenting

Motherload, a movie about people and cargo bikes

I saw the documentary “Motherload” in September and meant to write a review.  I wish I had done it fresh, but I keep thinking about it, so better late than never.

Motherload connected with me on an emotional level.  I teared up as it captured on film and described feelings and moments I’ve had biking with my kids that I’ve never heard anyone articulate.  People know I’m the crazy guy on the bike with his kids; this film told my story, our story.  In this post I’ll remark on a few parts that stuck with me.  Here’s the trailer:

Categories
Biking Local reporting Parenting ruminations

Today in cars harassing bikes

Based on what I hear from cyclists in other cities, Ann Arbor drivers are relatively kind toward bikes. But maybe they woke up on the wrong side of the bed today, as I was harassed twice while dropping my kids off on the way to work.

I hate it. Car-to-bike yelling and honking carries the underlying threat that the driver could, if they wanted, kill you instantly and likely not even face repercussions. You’re alive because they tolerate you. By virtue of their speed and windows, they dictate when an exchange will happen, when it starts, and when it’s done.

When I get harassed, my heart starts racing, I second-guess myself, I stop chit-chatting with my kids. If I was harassed more often I’d be discouraged from riding my bike, and it’s undoubtedly keeping others off their bikes now.

None of that is news. But the two incidents this morning provided a useful contrast and left me slightly hopeful.

Driver #1: I was biking up Seventh Street north of Huron with two kids on the back. There’s decent room to pass here and cars often do, as they’re unable to on the previous block. A man in a pickup pulled up alongside me and drove parallel to me while he shouted, “that’s seriously unsafe, bro!” Then, not sure what else to add: “Seriously unsafe!” and sped off.

I didn’t have a snappy comeback, and don’t have one now. Bike safety is more complicated than a soundbite. My kids and I were quiet. They were rattled like I was. To the extent our trips to school are dangerous, it’s because a man like this could kill us. So it’s disconcerting to hear a warning from him.

I’ll just note here that the underlying issue is Ann Arbor’s terrible transportation infrastructure. We should not have to share a lane with this truck. In fact, the city just last year considered installing a bike lane on this stretch, but decided to use the space for storage of private cars instead. Yeah, the guy shouldn’t yell at me, but the City of Ann Arbor takes the assist on this one. I used to get harassed on North Maple Road, now there’s a buffered bike lane there.

Driver #2: having dropped the kids, I headed inbound on Miller toward downtown. The bike lane was pure ice so I took the lane. A Pontiac Vibe laid on the horn as it passed me – then had to step on the brake as the light at Seventh turned red. I pulled up alongside the car and told the driver, “the bike lane was full of ice so I had to drive in the car lane, sorry.” He rolled down his window, fumbling for words: “Sorry. It’s just hard.” Pause. “I get too pissed off, I’m sorry.” I smiled, and told him no worries, we are all trying to get to work. “Have a great day!”

His contrition buoyed my spirits and offset the incident with the truck. He was a normal human: a decent person on foot and an impatient, unkind one behind the wheel. This near-universal transformation applies to me, too, and it’s been widely acknowledged since before this 1950 Goofy clip, where driving a car transforms him from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde:

I was lucky to catch Driver #2 at the light for this moment of redemption. It left me optimistic about the power of people to get past differences, see each other as humans worthy of respect, and come together – once we log off our devices and get out of our cars.

Categories
Parenting

Kids, cash, and understanding money

Last night my family dined out at Seva, a stalwart of Ann Arbor’s plant-based restaurant scene. The big kids nibbled quesadillas, I enjoyed the “Veracruz” tostada, and the baby toddler gobbled everything including the crayons. It was a nice treat on a Sunday night. The kids noticed that they were the only children in this upscale restaurant.

I paid in cash. Normally I’d use a credit card, but I’ve grown more concerned about Capital One skimming a several-percent cut of each transaction from local businesses. And I had exact change so we could make a speedier getaway, always good with kids.

The big kids were shocked to see the cash I plunked down (there were a lot of ones, so the fat stack caught their eyes). “How much money did you put in there??” They started counting it. “Wow that is so much money!” The 8-year-old gets $2/week as allowance and it would take her over half a year to pay for this meal.

Correct, kids: it was an expensive dinner. That’s part of why it’s a treat to dine out. We’re lucky we can afford it. But if I had charged it, they wouldn’t have realized this or asked questions.

I didn’t expect to spark a conversation by paying cash. It’s conventional wisdom that paying cash makes cost more salient to a purchasing adult, but I’d not seen it apply so clearly to kids too, who are still learning about money. I realized how my paying by credit card abstracts the cost of goods and services to children. Airplane tickets are expensive, but do my kids know that?

This may be a phenomenon of affluence, to have the luxury of charging everything and having kids blissfully unaware of cost. But for those lucky enough to be in that situation, perhaps paying in cash – especially for things the kids consume – will help them appreciate the value of money and be grateful for their good fortune.

Categories
Parenting ruminations

Dumb kids movies mimicking violent cliches from dumb grownup movies

Most TV and movies are trash, whether for adults or kids. The grownup material loads up on mindless violence or sex to compensate for its underlying dullness and unoriginality. Kids media sells stuff. None of this is news.

But twice this fall I’ve bumped into disheartening synergy that I felt merited a lament: the endless recycling of violent grownup-movie cliches had jumped the track into movies for small children. This seems like the worst direction this could go, though maybe not surprising.

Here is my n = 2 of complaints. I’m sure if I had the misfortune of watching such movies in increments of more than 45 seconds I would have more to rant about.

Toy Story 3