National Tempura Day


Tempura refers to the Japanese technique of dipping food (usually vegetables or seafood) in a light batter and deep-frying it. There are lots of other ways to deep-fry stuff (with or without batter), but tempura has a distinctive texture and flavor. I don’t know if I’ve ever had tempura anywhere besides a Japanese restaurant, but it’s easy enough to make yourself if you’re so inclined.

Image credit: FASTILY [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Joe Kissell

Farewell to Homeschooling

It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. After 11 years of homeschooling, it’s time to say farewell.

In light of that, I wanted to write up a post chronicling and summing up our family’s homeschooling journey, something I’ve written a lot about on this blog.

I was homeschooled for a year in high school in a very intense academic way. I was so turned off by the idea of homeschooling

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Author: Penniless Parenting

Cheap Ways to Protect Your Kids from Germs this Winter

This winter hasn’t been the easiest one for our family. First one kid and then another has been sick, and so have I been. Just today Ike got diagnosed with Strep throat when I took him in for an ear infection and puking. I need to listen to this advice from a reader on how to not keep on getting sick!!!

Winter is a special time, especially for kids who like building snowmen, learning how to

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Author: Penniless Parenting



Building a rural city

While on a business trip in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early 1990s, I took a walk down the road from the hotel one afternoon and ran into a peculiar-looking place called Cosanti. This compound, an official Arizona Historical Site, is a collection of oddly shaped concrete structures, including large domes and apses made from earthen molds. The first thing a visitor notices is the multitude of handmade bronze and ceramic windbells all over the property. These are made in the foundry and workshops on the site and available for sale in the gift shop. But Cosanti is much more than a new-agey craft center. It’s gallery and studio of the late Italian-American architect and artist Paolo Soleri (who also lived there until his death in 2013). As the brochures on the counter explained, Cosanti is, among other things, a prototype for a much larger and grander construction project called Arcosanti.

City in the Wilderness

Located about 70 miles (110 km) north of Phoenix, Arcosanti is called an “urban laboratory.” What Soleri was testing in this laboratory for nearly 50 years is a concept he called arcology, a blending of architecture and ecology. His vision was to build a 25-acre city where 5,000 people can one day live, work, and play—comfortably, sustainably, and in harmony with nature.

Soleri believed that wastefulness and urban sprawl are among the great evils of the age, and he wanted to eliminate these problems with careful design. According to arcology, well-planned urban areas can use space much more efficiently and benefit from dramatically reduced energy requirements and environmental impact. This means, for example, eliminating cars, roads, and garages by putting all buildings within walking distance of each other. It also means creating multi-use spaces for maximum flexibility, and relying on solar and wind energy for most heating, cooling, and lighting.

Beyond the issues of consumption and pollution that plague the world’s urban and suburban areas, Soleri felt that people have become too detached from each other, and that an effective community requires more human interaction. Accordingly, Arcosanti has been designed with a large amount of shared living space (such as kitchens, gardens, and recreation areas). This seemingly benign fact sets off warning bells for Soleri’s critics, some of whom see Arcosanti as an immense commune, or worse—a cult-like organization. While the project does attract its fair share of New Age types, it also attracts many ordinary people for whom privacy does not necessarily mean a single-family house in a cul-de-sac. But if anything, Arcosanti’s biggest problem is that it hasn’t produced enough converts—or, to use a less loaded term, enthusiasts.

A Time to Build

When construction on Arcosanti began in 1970, Soleri expected it to be completed in 10 years, but less than 5% of the planned project has been completed to date. Construction is done by volunteers, who pay to live and work at Arcosanti during five-week workshops. Fewer than 100 people reside at Arcosanti at any given time, though the site receives more than 40,000 tourists per year. Much of the money used to fund the work comes from sales of the windbells and other pieces of art. But the money and volunteers are not plentiful enough to move the project along quickly. Before Soleri’s death, he left Arcosanti under the control of the nonprofit Cosanti Foundation, which continues to pursue Soleri’s vision.

Even if Soleri’s experiment in the Arizona desert proves one day to be fabulously successful, it will not necessarily signal a triumph of arcology over other forms of urban planning. What works for 5,000 people may not scale up to a city of millions; what works in a hot, dry climate may fail in colder, darker, and wetter areas. But the biggest roadblock of all is not technological, it’s psychological—convincing suburbanites that the cozy, interdependent community of a rural “city” is an improvement over the self-sufficient existence they’ve worked toward their entire lives. After all, arcology assumes that everyone will more or less like, respect, and work happily together with their neighbors. Sounds like a fantasy to me.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on August 21, 2004.

Image credit: Carwil [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Joe Kissell

National Smith Day

Granny Smith apples

When I saw that today was National Smith Day, I assumed it was a day to honor metalworkers. But no, it’s a day to recognize people whose name (or part of a name) is Smith. Wikipedia tells me it’s the most common surname in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States. January 6 was chosen as National Smith Day because it’s the birthday (in 1580) of Captain John Smith; the person who came up with the holiday in 1994 was Adrienne Sioux Koopersmith. (I remember years ago meeting a fellow with the last name Goldsmith, and when I asked what he did for a living, he told me he was an actual goldsmith. I thought that was funny, though centuries ago perhaps that would have been the rule rather than the exception.) In any case, give the Smiths in your life a high five today. And if you don’t have any, do the next best thing and eat a Granny Smith apple!

Image credit: Max Pixel

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Author: Joe Kissell

The Right-to-Quiet Movement

Woman making the "shhhh" gesture

Shouting down excess noise

When I was in high school, I had an alarm clock that I truly hated. It was not merely loud, it was hideously, harshly loud. It sounded pretty much exactly like a smoke alarm, and had precisely the same effect: it scared me senseless every time it went off. I’d wake up, all right, but in such an anxious state that I came to associate the early morning with feelings of terror. Knowing a thing or two about electronics, I decided to perform surgery on the clock and modify it so that instead of making noise, it would flash a bright light in my face when the alarm went off. My modification worked—at least in the sense that the light flashed at the appointed time. What I hadn’t thought through was the fact that at the time the alarm went off, my eyes would be closed (and, more often than not, turned away and buried in a pillow), so while the light flashed merrily away, I kept on sleeping. My invention merely swapped the stress created by a noisy alarm clock for the stress created by being late for school.

Whether due to this adolescent trauma or for more mundane reasons of genetics or environment, I have had an aversion to noise almost as long as I can remember. My idea of a good time is visiting a library, cathedral, or desert location where the loudest sound is that of a page turning or wind blowing; my idea of torture is trying to write while someone is operating a leaf blower outside, having an otherwise quiet walk ruined by loud traffic, or trying to hold a conversation on a noisy train. If you were to plot my stress level on a graph alongside a graph of the ambient sound level, you’d probably find significant correlations. I used to think my preference for quiet was abnormal if not pathological, until one day I typed “quiet” into a search engine and came up with the Right to Quiet Society and the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse, two of numerous organizations dedicated to the promotion of quiet. There is in fact a rather large and diverse anti-noise pollution movement afoot, and being a fan of quiet, I find this notion extremely interesting.

Now Hear This

Broadly speaking, there are two main types of what is commonly called noise pollution: low-level, continuous background noise; and extremely loud but intermittent noise. Examples of background noise include radios or TVs left on all the time, appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners, computers and other devices with cooling fans, and traffic sounds. Loud intermittent noises are things like planes flying overhead, leaf blowers, sirens, vacuum cleaners, and PA systems in clubs and concert venues. Typically the anti-noise groups focus on the second type of noise, citing extensive research on noise-related health concerns: hearing damage from extended exposure to high levels of sound; sleep loss; psychological trauma; and increased stress levels resulting in high blood pressure, aggressive behavior, and even suicide. But there is also a significant drive to reduce background noises, because even though they may not result in hearing loss, the cumulative long-term effect of low-volume but persistent unwanted sounds can have significant impact on one’s mental health and stress level.

It can be tricky business drawing the line between “sound” and “noise,” and even the most ardent anti-noise activists agree that context plays a significant role in determining what should be considered noise or, more specifically, noise pollution. Very loud sounds, however sonorous they may be, can cause hearing damage after a period of time, so it would be fair to call a Bach cantata “music” at 80 decibels but “noise” at 130. Likewise, I may enjoy listening to loud music at a concert, but the very same music at the same volume would be noise pollution if it’s occurring in the next room when I’m trying to sleep. On the other hand, there are loud noises that would not be called “pollution.” I want to be disturbed by noises like sirens, back-up alarms, or gunfire when they are necessary to alert me to danger. So the generally agreed-upon definition of “noise” is sound that is unwanted or distracting, and “noise pollution” is the term used for unnecessary, excessive environmental noise.

Crying For Silence

Anti-noise pollution groups have a wide variety of aims. Some concern themselves exclusively with aircraft noise in residential areas, for example; others seek more broadly to regulate any noise (factories, motorcycles, lawnmowers, watercraft, etc.) that threatens the peace and tranquility of the population. There are also movements to regulate workplace noise, to set and enforce safe standards for sound at concerts and clubs, and to reduce or eliminate background music at shopping malls, medical offices, and other public places. The overall message is that second-hand noise is a lot like second-hand smoke: it’s one thing if you want to damage your own health, but quite another to inflict noise on other people nearby who cannot escape it, and yet suffer because of it.

There are more examples of noise pollution than I can possibly list here; more appear every time I turn around. The problem is that most people have become so accustomed to constant noise that they simply don’t notice it anymore. You’ve probably seen signs asking you to turn off your phone in a museum or refrain from talking during movies—these requests must be made explicitly because otherwise it would simply never occur to many people that such sounds might be offensive. The biggest aim of the anti-noise pollution organizations is therefore simply to bring the dangers and annoyances of noise into the public awareness, at which point, they hope, a majority of people will be outraged enough to do something about it—either voluntarily or through legislation. I wish them, of course, the best of luck, though I can’t help noticing the irony of the squeaky-wheel effect: those who complain the loudest tend to get heard, and loudness is precisely the opposite of what anti-noise pollution activists stand for.

Epilogue: The Noisy American

I have traveled to many parts of the world, and based on what I’ve witnessed, I have developed a nearly foolproof metric for identifying Americans: the volume of their voices. English is not intrinsically louder than any other language, but Americans, as a group, tend to speak more loudly than any other nationality I’ve encountered in my travels—even if they’re speaking the local language. I’ve asked people in several other countries if this has been their experience as well, and so far, everyone has agreed with me. This is, of course, a gross overgeneralization, a completely unscientific and unfair one. But I have to wonder: could it be a simple matter of habitually compensating for what has become an incredibly high ambient noise level? How’s that? Oh, I said, “I HAVE TO WONDER…”

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on July 7, 2004.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Author: Joe Kissell

National Whipped Cream Day

A bowl of whipped cream

When we lived in Paris, there was a restaurant we went to occasionally that had a curious item on its dessert menu: a bowl of whipped cream. (In French, whipped cream is either “crème fouettée” or “(crème) Chantilly,” Chantilly being the name of a town near Paris.) I didn’t order it; at the time, that struck me as quite odd, because I’d only ever conceived of whipped cream as a topping, not as a standalone food. But I eventually came around, and I now frequently eat bowls of whipped cream (perhaps with chocolate chips or nuts or whatever). It’s much lighter than ice cream, and yet still satisfying. (For bonus points, I make my own whipped cream, and I use a calorie-free sweetener instead of sugar.) That’s not the only way to celebrate National Whipped Cream Day, of course, but it’s a pretty fantastic way.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Author: Joe Kissell

Our Holiday Season This Year

As the holiday season is wrapping up, I wanted to reflect upon how it was for our family this year and what we did. December is such an awesome time of year with so many holidays, some for pretty much everyone, no matter what religion you are, and even if you don’t celebrate any religion, with the holiday spirit in the air and the beautiful lights and happiness all around, it is still amazing.

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Author: Penniless Parenting

Divorce Day: is it just a media myth by Julian Hawkhead

It’s a sorry admission to make but my Twitter feed is full of family lawyers and family law commentators so inevitably I have read again that Divorce Day is set to dawn.

A term coined by the press, Divorce Day refers to the first working Monday in January after the Christmas and New Year festivities when, apparently, lawyers must brace themselves for a spike in people enquiring about a divorce.

For many family lawyers, including me, this day is a myth. Granted, we have peaks in enquiries, September is often a busy month, but on no one day in the year do the floodgates open and people queue down the street desperate to get divorced. This is not Black Friday (another media-created phenomenon) or the first day of the Harrods sale or even the 6 am start Next sale.

Films, television, celebrity news and social media have all played a part in the transition of divorce as a taboo subject to a much more casual topic of conversation. Now, don’t get me wrong in many ways this is fantastic progress. Nobody should be stuck in an unhappy or abusive relationship. However, to trivialise divorce, to make marriage seem as returnable as your unwanted Christmas presents only serves to destabilise a cornerstone of our society.

The idea that spending too much time together at Christmas arguing over family politics or “New Year – new me” triggers a call to your nearest divorce lawyers only skates over the emotional internal wrangling those individuals are going through as they think about the impact on their spouses, their children, the grandparents and the wider family and friends.

The fairy-tale celebrity weddings that abruptly end within the year with a (fictitious) “quickie divorce”, sends a message that marriage is dispensable and show nothing of the hurt, pain and upset a divorce can cause.

Most of the clients I advise do not decide to get divorced because it’s a Monday or because it’s the new year. If I sensed that they had, I would urge them to look at options to try to save their marriage. Instead, most have been considering it for a long time, sometimes years. Making the final decision to speak to a family lawyer and get legal advice is part of a process. It’s a huge step and not something that is or should ever be dictated by seasons, by the time of year.

Behind the media coverage on Divorce Day are people and families dealing with a relationship breakdown and all the emotions that this brings. Let’s not condense that down into just one day.

This year, I hope that Divorce Day has had its day.

Julian Hawkhead
Senior Partner

The post Divorce Day: is it just a media myth by Julian Hawkhead appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: Julian Hawkhead