Posted in Environment, Family life, Uncategorized

Kicking the plastic habit

Ever since a stint living in Germany in the 1990s, I’ve tried to be thoughtful about my use of plastic. Twenty years ago, cashiers didn’t know what to do when I brought my own love_birds_2pkreusable bags to stores. One even called a manager! Could you imagine that happening in 2018? I average one case of plastic bottled water a year. I do keep some in the house (and in the car) in case of emergency, but I never drink it at home (unless there is a drinking water emergency) and I rarely buy water out because I use a refillable water bottle. I buy resealable plastic bags for school supply lists, but lunchboxes I use these sandwich bags and other refillable containers.

With China’s announcement that they will no longer accept the world’s plastic for recycling, I’m looking for more plastic alternatives.  I’ll share a few things I currently do, a few changes I’ve started to implement, and a few wishes. I’d love to know how YOU reduce plastic.

WHAT I DO (in addition to those above):hk048-sap

  1. refuse straws
  2. use glass containers for storage
  3. skip plastic in home decor items
  4. seek out clothing and other fabrics made from recycled water bottles. If you are in the market for a new purse or backpack, I love Haiku bags. I recently bought a second one – not because the first wore out, but because after 6 years, I wanted a different pattern.
  5. shop the farmer’s markets. Less packaging = less plastic.

WHAT CHANGES I’M MAKING NOW:

  1. Switching back to bar soap. This one hurts. I love body wash and hate slimy soap, but I love our planet enough that I’m giving up the bottle.
  2. Bamboo toothbrushes.

MY WISH LIST: (Can you help?)

  1. Alternative to plastic wrap in the kitchen. I want something to protect oddly shaped food (say cut avocados) from the air and to cover bowls of rising bread dough.
  2. A peanut and tree-nut allergy safe place for buying food in bulk. Every single place I’ve seen has potential for cross contamination and I won’t risk my daughter’s life.
  3. plastic free toothpaste.
  4. Lip balm in non-plastic container.
  5. antiperspirant in non-plastic container.

I would love to hear ideas and suggestions from you. How do you reduce plastic in your life? I’m on the lookout for new ideas.

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Posted in Christmas, Family life, Writing

Rethinking the calendar

Over 15″ of snow fell on my driveway this weekend, and I’m not counting the drifts. This would have been welcome and fun in December, but in April, not so much.  We barely had snow in December, the month when we sing songs celebrating the joy of snow. Something is wrong.

I blame our collective attachment to the Georgian calendar, the one predominately used today. The Georgian calendar has been kicking around since the 1580s.  Prior to that, the Roman Calendar provided dating in Western Civilizations. That problematic calendar had only 10 months and was about 60 days too short for Earth’s journey around the Sun. Adapting a new calendar is not out of the realm of historical possibility.

Change is tough and I suspect song writing is too. But something is not matching up. Those lazy hazy days of Summer are not likely to roll around until September.  We need a new system with different names. Now, I’m not a scientific expert, and I really like the handy way of remembering how many days are in each month by counting on the knuckles, so I’ll keep the dates the same, but the months get new names. Any holidays deeply tied to a specific month will move to appropriate “new” month.  Also – this is a bit North-hemisphere -entric. My brain is too cold to fully think through all the consequences, that’s because my foolish brain still associates April with Spring.

February becomes “Newano.” By starting the calendar on the old Feb first, we will better align with the traditional Chinese New Year.

March becomes “Midwinter.” I would suggest moving Groundhog’s day to Midwinter, but some of us are ready to choke the little rodent so maybe not.

April becomes “Stillwinter.” St. Patrick’s day brightens up the snow with a bit of much longed for greenery.

May becomes “Frostend.” You can begin to put out garden plants, but chances are high your crocus will end up covered in snow.

June becomes “Junette.” It’s a light name befitting long hours of sunshine and springlike warmth against your skin.

July stays July.

August becomes “Highsummer.” The temperatures soar during this peak summer month.

September becomes “Lingersommer.” The long summer has become stale. Parents are counting the days until back to school.

October becomes “Threeano.” The month has been misnamed so long, why break with tradition. School starts.

November becomes “Plantend.” Harvest the last of your tomatoes before Halloween night.

December becomes “Monthopause.” The calendar year is transitioning. The linguistic gymnastics burn an extra calorie or two so you don’t need to feel guilty about that extra slice of pie on Thanksgiving.

January becomes “December.” Just because I’m reinventing the calendar, I don’t have to throw away all our mental associations with December. Let’s keep the last month the same, except with more snow and a more realistic expectation of how long we have to wait until spring.

 

Posted in Books, Christmas, Family life, First Friday Five, tween

Books to give – teens and tweens

As in years past, I want to help you give books to the children in your life. Hook ’em young, and keep ’em hooked on reading. This year my recommendations are not as organized as some years. My medical saga gave me quite a bit of brain fog, but I have a few scraps of paper collected through the year and I’ll share them here.

 

For the TWEENS in your life:

You can’t go wrong with a book by Chris Grabenstein. He taps into silliness like no one else, but also goes deeper. He understands the emotional life of tweens. Even reluctant readers will connect with his books, including the terrific Mr. Lemoncello’s Library series.

Both my kiddos (the tween and the teen) enjoyed the graphic novel Real Friends by Shannon Hale. Don’t let the cover fool you – this is a book for boys and girls. 

 

 

 

TEENS

My teen is cranky – the authors she loves are not producing books as fast as she can read them.  I think she has already marked the 2018 release of the next book in the Talon series on her calendar. Julie Kagawa is a masterful storyteller. Legion, book 4 in the saga, came out this year. Fortunately, Julie Kagawa has a number of other books to keep her busy.

 

She’s also read a lot of Michael Crichton and Douglas Adams this year. Unless there is a hidden manuscript somewhere that will magically appear this month, I have no new recommendations from them.

Do you have any recommendations for me? I need an excuse to run to the local bookshop.

Posted in Environment, Family life

I have many Egrets

My laptop faces a wall, but my office has a window that looks out over farmland, a marsh and a pond. With spring in full swing, I often crack open the window to listen to the birds and frogs sing. When I need to stretch my legs, I walk to the window and check out the activity.

Canadian Geese and Mallard ducks are standard fare. Sometimes, I see a muskrat taking a swim. Occasionally, Merganser ducks put on a diving performance.

But my favorite are the egrets. Once, five egrets waded in the shallows; most days two stop by. With their high-stepping black legs and neck that extends out of the standard “S” shape as they walk, I find them delightfully slow and awkward. When they spy a snack, they go statue still for a moment. In the blink of an eye, they snatch the tadpole or fish or insect and jerk their long neck straight. Even at a distance, I can see them swallow and pause before starting the process anew.

I may have some regrets in life, but time I waste watching egrets is not one.

Posted in Books, Career Day, Family life, For Writers, parenting

Please 2017, or Hope Springs Eternal

After a year which wore out its welcome sometime in August, I’m really hoping for a better 2017.

Sure, a few great things happened in 2016 – I took two terrific vacations with the family (Jamaica and San Diego, CA), my near two-year battle with dizziness came to an end, and the Cubs won a World Series but on the whole, hope seemed hard to find.

I grieved for the loss of human beings who inspired me – David Bowie and his art of reinvention, Umberto Eco whose pinball scene in Foucault’s Pendulum is sexy perfection, and for Carrie Fisher, who lived life with such fearlessness, wit, intelligence and honesty that for this child of the 70s at least, she was a role model of both what not to do (the drugs) and how to live. When Mohammad Ali died, I grieved once more for my grandfather who died from Parkinson’s disease 35 years ago. And I grieved for my grandmother-in-law who passed away in the spring.

I grieved for the loss of civility, and for my hometown, the City of Chicago, which seems incapable of stemming the tide of violence.

In 2016, I suffered many professional shortcomings. I expected to end the year with an agent, or at least a contract. I put forth a solid effort, but simply put, I failed. It’s not a good feeling, even though I understand that larger industry consolidations make it harder for a well-reviewed mid-lister like myself to break through that magical ceiling that divides the best-sellers from the rest of us. It’s easy to get down and think about quitting, but then something magic happens.

January first, 2017 is a new day. My calendar is not entirely blank, but it may as well be a clean slate. Today, I will do some serious exfoliation and scrub off 2016. As of this writing, no-one has died in 2017, so there is no need to grieve. No-one has teased my children or been unkind to them. No-one has told me no. Look out 2017, here I come.

 

 

Posted in childhood, Christmas, Family life, First Friday Five, parenting

First Friday: Five great games!

I’m a huge fan of games, note I did not write board games, or card games or video games. I love them all. In this season of giving, whether to a loved one or to a toy drive, here are five games I highly recommend because not only are they fun, but they can also be adapted to accommodate a range of ages. I’m not part of any affiliate program. The links are there for your convenience.

  1. Labyrinth – The original German title translates as “the crazy maze.” Why? Because with each turn, the game board changes. As you race to collect treasures, you can work with or work against the other players to reshape the routes to the various treasures. It says 8 or up, but we started playing it when my son was 5 and he not only kept up with the adults, he usually beats us. This is a great game for spatial reasoning. Available at Toys R Us and other retailers.
  2. Perpetual Commotion – This is basically the card game I grew up calling “Nertz.” It’s a high-speed game with elements of solitaire that can easily be adjusted for younger players by dealing them fewer cards. You could also play in teams where one person is responsible for watching the feeder pile and one person flips the deck. It’s available at Amazon and other retailers.
  3. Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It! In this cooperative game, the highlight  is spinning a Goldbug, when sets off a timed search for objects hidden throughout the game board. Cards indicate if you will be looking for kites or hot dogs or something else in the overstuffed and often comical drawings of Richard Scarry. Unlike Hi-Ho-Cherry-O or Candyland, I have no urge to stick a fork in my eye to avoid playing this game. Available at Amazon and other retailers. 
  4. Apples to Apples – This game comes in myriad versions. I’m partial to the kids version, especially when playing with family because it contains cards such as “My mom” and “under the bed.” While the former should always be paired with “beautiful” or “nice,” the latter is best played on the person with the messiest room. Available at Creative Kidstuff and other retailers. 
  5. My last game I recommend this year skews older and is the newest one in my household, but also one became a quick favorite. Evolution: The Beginning. Even though the instruction book almost as overwhelming as those for King of Tokyo and Settlers of Catan (two other games our family loves), the card-based game play is straight-forward and fun. The artwork is beautiful and the structure of the game allows for multiple strategies to victory.  The action is low-key and it takes less than a half an hour making it a great way to wind down before bedtime. I believe it is a Target exclusive, but may be available through resellers.

So there you have it – some awesome ways to spend the time with friends and family throughout the winter. With these games, your only awkward discussions will involve what to play next.

If you have a favorite game, please share it below. Thanks.

Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, Food, parenting

First Friday: The #TealPumpkin edition

If you’ve followed me on social media or on this blog, you may have noticed I’m a passionate supporter of the Teal Pumpkin Project to ensure even those with food allergies can have a safe and happy Halloween.

My daughter has severe peanut allergies and as much as we love Halloween around my house, it is a high-risk period because, let’s be honest, how many of us can resist a Reece’s? My daughter, yes, but some kids snack on a few and then dig their hands into a bowl filled with all kinds of treats and spread that peanut-butter around and let’s not talk about school lunch the next day. Instead, I’m offering 5 ways to get your house ready for a safe, fun and happy Halloween.

  1. Don’t let the kids grab the candy in a free-for-all when the bell rings. Have the designated door opener give each trick-or-treater a generous handful instead.
  2. Keep a bowl of peanut-free treats. We give out a lot of Skittles, Starbursts and Laffy-taffy. If a trick-or-treater gets a Snicker’s bar at my house, it is only because my children have returned home and we are redistributing the stuff they can’t eat. Wondering what candy is safe to give out? My Target had a terrific display and handy list of ingredients.
  3. Remember that peanut allergies are not the only allergies. Some kids are sensitive to gluten, eggs, dairy, or others. Accommodating all food allergies can be a challenge which leads to
  4. Offer a non-food alternative. I’ve given out Halloween themed rubber ducks, Play-dough (although it’s not safe for kids with wheat allergies), pencils, bubbles, stickers, spiders and noise makers. You can buy large quantities at Oriental Trading  but since I get less than 100 kids at the door, I head to Dollar Tree. With 12 pencils or a 4 pack of eyeball bubbles for a dollar, I can offer something fun and safe without breaking the bank.
  5. Last – but not least – make sure trick-or-treaters know you are part of the Teal Pumpkin project. Paint a pumpkin teal, hang a sign at the door, post a yard sign, or do the house up in teal. And don’t be surprised if you get a few extra thank yous. The Teal Pumpkin is such a small thing to do, but your compassion makes a huge difference to those of us on the front lines of food allergies.

 

 

Posted in Family life, Photography

Renewing a hobby: Instagram

I am a latecomer to the Instagram party. I thought about setting up an account dozens of times, but the thought, “I have to learn another social media network,” held me back.

This past month, I took the plunge. I want to learn more about it, because my kids will be on there. Also, I want to get back into photography and this seems like a good place to share work. Instagram has motivated me to make better use of my phone as a legitimate camera, capable of creating artistic shots, and not simply quick snaps because I cannot reach my digital SLR before the moment passes. I have a lot to learn, but I love this shot of a grasshopper.

A guest in my reading nook. #insectsofinstagram

A post shared by Lola Karns (@lolakarns) on

I have yet to post the obligatory #authorsofinstagram post of my work space.

In the meantime, there will be cat photos. And nature shots, and food, and whatever else tickles my fancy. Follow me, @lolakarns, on Instagram

Posted in Family life, First Friday Five, Food

First Friday 5 Back to School

My kids (finally) go back to school on Tuesday. They are ready and so am I, especially since those days my husband works away from his home office, I’ll be alone and unsupervised. I’ll be free from the pressure of being a role-model. Here are five things I’m looking forward to doing, although not necessarily all on the same day:

  1. Ice cream for lunch.
  2. A two-hour power nap.
  3. Cake for lunch, possibly with ice cream on the side.
  4. Finish the manuscript I started in April.
  5. Binge watch something. Should I rewatch Firefly, Fargo, or Orphan Black? Should I try something new like Stranger Things or Mr. Robot? What do you suggest?
    With any luck, I’ll get through a couple of programs before the next school break.
Posted in childhood, Family life, First Friday Five, parenting

First Friday 5: #Summer Fun Unplugged

summer is coming

For many of us, summer means vacation and extra family time since the kids are out of school. In my house, this means hanging out with friends and being outside until past sunset. But sometimes, the weather doesn’t cooperate. For those times we are stuck indoors, we break out the games.  Here are five fun and portable games that are great to play inside or outside, at home, at the cabin or in a hotel.  And yes, these will work for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere too.

  1. Perpetual Commotion. This reminds me of the card game Nertz, which I grew up with, but could never quite explain to my husband and his family. It’s organized chaos. Although the box says ages 12 and up, my 8 yr old loves it. There are even instructions on how to make the game more equitable for younger players. It all makes sense once you’ve seen it in action, so here’s the official video.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88XOzNEfxZI
  2.  Spot It!  We have a lot of Blue Orange games in my house, but none travel more than Spot It.  This matching game has multiple ways to play and many thematic variations (NHL, Frozen, Camping & more). You don’t need much space to play it and the container is pretty small, so we often take it with us when traveling. If you see me on the floor in the airport, stop by, say hi, and I’ll deal you in.
  3. Feed The Kitty by Gamewright – This is a variation of the classic dice game LCR (Left Center Right), but way cuter because you try to get all the mice instead of poker chips. When we travel, we take the dice and mice and leave the bowl at home, but the rest of the time, we use the bowl. Part of our fun comes from making stories about the mice and what they are up to, as well as smack talk.  This is another quick paced game and great for filling in those little gaps of time while you are say, waiting for one person to get ready so you can head out to the park.
  4. Scrabble. Scrabble comes in many forms. We have at least three non-electronic versions, including a travel one that folds up to be the size of a hardback book only much lighter. For my kids, it helps keep them engaged with words and spelling. I get to think about words too, and my husband gets to correct all of our spelling mistakes. In spite of that, we still have fun.
  5. Moose in the House by Gamewright. Because Moose in the House is a card game, it’s portable but you need some space to play. The winner is the one with fewest moose in residence at the end of the game. We love to make bad moose puns and offer up false flattery as to why the moose picked one person’s bathtub over the other. We always end up in giggles, which makes this simple game a winner.
    I’ll save board games for another time, because some of the best don’t fit easily into a suitcase. Since I’m always looking for suggestions, what are your favorite travel games?