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$Monday: The Life-Preserving Magic of Hunkering Down

Here I am trying to show off the new silver streak in my hair that matches all my cozy gray loungewear. There's no banishing the gray this year--the hair, the clouds gathering outside, the moods of quarantine, the mental fog--so we might as well embrace it with as much warmth and compassion as we can. In a dreadful and lonely time, my anxiety tells me I need to get out and do more, to do people favors, to keep someone company, to reach out, to find a change of scene, to earn more money in case of financial disaster, but my rational mind knows that the most helpful thing I can do for my family and community during a pandemic is to hunker down.  Settle in, simmer down, think small and simple and safe. Make smart, long-term investments of time, attention, energy, and resources for the next year. This is not the season to hustle and produce more, it’s time to wait patiently and conserve. The best most of us can do right now is damage control. A pandemic is no time for big risks or gamb

$Monday: A Room of Her Own (Pandemic Tween Bedroom Makeover)

Before the pandemic struck, my family had planned to use every last bit of our spare time and cash in 2020 on badly needed updates to our deteriorating kitchen and main bathroom. We were going to start the work in the spring or summer, when we could have windows open for ventilation (just for the dust and fumes! ha!), and then the pandemic came along and shifted our priorities. We spent part of our stimulus check on an electric log splitter, a new fridge and dishwasher to replace our breaking-down old ones, and one professional plumbing fix. We postponed all cosmetic and non-emergency kitchen and bath work, made ourselves a temporary pantry in a torn-out hole in our kitchen, and invested the rest of our renovation funds (and my year's worth of vacation time) into a bedroom makeover for our nine-year-old daughter. The pandemic made it less important (because we aren't having guests inside the house) and more dangerous (because of the likely need to bring in professionals) to co

$Monday: Grant Her Your Clearness of Sight

If you have a daughter, you may recognize this excerpt from Neil Gaiman's picture book Blueberry Girl .  Ladies of grace and ladies of favor and ladies of merciful night, This is a prayer for a blueberry girl. Grant her your clearness of sight. Words can be worrisome, people complex, motives and manners unclear, Grant her the wisdom to choose her path right, free from unkindness and fear.  This week, I took my daughter to the optometrist for her annual new pair of glasses. Unfortunately, she has inherited my severe myopia. Fortunately, she has access to comprehensive vision care , which has a huge return on investment (ROI) across the lifespan, allowing her to succeed academically. (America, maybe soon we can finally achieve comprehensive health, vision, and dental care for all children!) While I never would have chosen for my daughter to inherit my nearsightedness, there are always unique experiences available to those who perceive the world differently. My daughter receives the a

$Monday: Make Space for Survival

Never underestimate the value of empty space. To stay virus-free, you need literal breathing space. To stock up your pantry, you need shelf space. To stay physically flexible and strong, you need workout space. To do anything meaningful, you need space in your schedule. To stay sane, you need personal space and the time to enjoy it. To eat something wholesome, you need space in your belly. To save money for the next emergency, you need a sustained, negative space between your expenses and your income--no matter how much you earn. This is a critical time to avoid extremes. Invest in efforts to protect balance wherever you can in your life, because the national crises of pandemic, economic and supply chain disruptions, natural disasters fueled by climate change, and the rise of fascist ideologies are all continuing to ramp up. This winter, aspire to be a metaphorical fat bear with a den big enough for you to hibernate in. However, literal human body fatness should be neither a goal nor a

$Monday: Priceless Travel Preserves

In my teens and 20s, I jumped on a few personal and educational opportunities to travel to places I couldn't afford to just go and visit as a tourist. I wondered what it would be like to book vacations at international resorts like the rich kids at my private high school and college, but now, looking back, I'm grateful that I didn't have the means to treat the world like a safari or a theme park. I couldn't be a tourist, so I went places as a student or an invited guest. Now I appreciate that I was able to access deep, rich, immersive experiences that I had to pay for with pride, innocence, and comfort rather than a lot of money. My travels weren't consistently pleasant or fun or easy, but they were meaningful. Visceral challenges mixed with ecstatic thrills to make me feel more alive and human than I ever had before. They changed me, made me grow, and infused my memories with a store of what Till Lindemann calls "travel preserves." Till likes to go on sur

$Monday: Take a Holiday from the Holidays

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to skip all the obligatory family gatherings and parties associated with the fall and winter holidays? This is your year to NOT shine! Know that you are not alone in your wish to be left alone through the end of the year--and that this is the chance of a lifetime to try out opting out. The United States is under siege by a mishandled, uncontrolled pandemic, which is a perfect excuse--because it's actually a very good reason--to pull in the welcome mat and lock yourself inside. Don't feel like celebrating? Then don't! Shut all your lights off on Halloween and bury yourself in a sleeping bag shaped like a shark. Eat a bag of candy and watch the scariest movie you can find, to slash through the numb despair of 2020 and feel alive again for the length of a jump scare. I recommend making sure your viewing experience is ad-free, even if you have to resort to dusting off the old DVD player and rifling through the selections that variou

TBT: Backyard Goats

Ah, youth, when all the world is a buffet of dreams and you can just as vividly imagine yourself running your own organic farm as inhabiting a high-rise apartment in a glittering city with rent as high as your Manolos. Last night, from the snug warmth of my fluffy bed nested inside my humble but cozy house within a spectacularly October-festooned Michigan woodsy suburb, I dreamed of stepping onto a plane to Australia, about the longest trip I could possibly take on a flight. I remember the thrill of flying itself and the excitement of visiting a place I have never seen, smelled, or tasted. Then I woke up and remembered that we're in a pandemic and Australia is now pretty much constantly on fire like California, and I am very, very lucky to have a healthy little family in a humble little house in this sleepy Great Lakes suburb during what feels like an apocalyptic time to raise a child. I also have a more realistic understanding of what it takes to raise livestock responsibly. Backy

TBT: Tandoori-Style Cooking With or Without Electricity

Rolling blackouts! Mass unemployment and utility shutoffs! Shuttered restaurants and cafes! Social panic! This is not the 2020 I wanted, but I guess it's the apocalyptic time my husband and I have been preparing for since our mid-20s. I don't mean that we adopted "prepping" culture as seen on TV; rather, we studied climate change and sociology and did our best to brace ourselves for when we couldn't rely upon the comforts and conveniences of a reliable electrical grid. We shared a few experiences in countries where you can't take electricity for granted, and we practiced confronting power outages in the United States as adventures rather than catastrophes. It was all fun and games back in our child-free "extended adolescence." Then we became parents and survived an epic two-week power outage during a cold-record-breaking ice storm that spanned Christmas and the New Year, while caring for a three-year-old. It was tough, but we managed to keep our wood

$Monday: Forget Adulting, Try Hermit Crabbing!

Adulting is for squares. You can live your life according to a generic set of milestones if you want to, but if you don't, contorting yourself into someone else's goals and values isn't a sign of maturity, it's avoidance of doing what real grownups do: take responsibility for personal decisions. Being an actual adult is great once you achieve the inner freedom to own what you want to do with yourself. Instead of "adulting" by some middle-to-upper-class,cis/het, straight, white millennial model, especially if you are not all of those things, try "hermit crabbing"--choosing what fits you at each stage of life rather than trying to cram yourself into the shape of someone else's ideal carapace--and changing it as soon as it stops working for you. It's easy to derive your self-worth from your current circumstances, but it is possible to reverse that flow and, to some extent, manifest a higher net worth by working on your feelings of self worth .

TBT: How the Patriarchy Infantilizes Men; or, Notes on Arthur Miller's Notes on The Bicycle Thief

I finally got around to reading Min Jin Lee's family saga novel Pachinko , and it reminded me just how far patriarchy extends around the world as well as how far back it goes in time. In the scheme of human evolution, the dominance of patriarchy is new and unusual, but for us individual humans with lifespans that max out in about a century or less, patriarchy has come to feel like human nature. That's unfortunate, especially for men. The patriarchy works to transform most people into slobbering, dumb dogs trained to lie submissively at the feet of kings and oligarch masters, and ordinary men suffer the worst of that burden. While women are at least free to build resilience in the face of their oppression, men are tricked into believing that the skills that build true inner strength are for girls, which ironically makes them fragile, infantile, and dependent upon the constant approval and support of an employer. In many White and Asian cultures, in particular, men are taught tha