Something I do:

I turn off my car.

In the carpool lane at school, at the drive-thru, in traffic jams, I turn off my car. There is some popular wisdom that says that turning your car off and back on again uses up more gas than leaving it on to idle. Consumer Energy says ten seconds of idling can use more fuel than turning off the engine and restarting it. I’ve always heard fifteen seconds is the rule.

Count to fifteen.

Can you make a hamburger that fast? Neither can Burger King.


Something I don’t do:

Get out of my car.

If I truly want to save gas, but I need to pick up my child or grab a bite of fast food, I should get out of my car. Besides saving gas, I actually burn a few calories.  I’ve been trying to park and walk up to the school to pick up George on nice days, but I often opt for the convenience of keeping Mabel contained in the carpool lane. Car off, of course.

Any other gas saving tips out there?

“Something I Do, Something I Don’t” are short Saturday posts about creation and waste, about making small steps to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Pilot Season continues at the Meisenheimer household. In case you are setting your DVR according to our feedback, here is the next round of pilot analysis:

Prime Suspect

A woman detective struggles against sexism in a frat house police force in New York City. This is an excellent drama—the dialogue is quick, the characters have heft and the crimes aren’t over-the-top. In one episode there was the classic “is-the-free-pedophile-guilty-of-the-abduction?” plot, but it had a surprising twist: empathy for and suspicion of all parties involved. I look forward to watching this show deal with complex crimes, without simplifying the work into a battle between good and evil.


An ex-cop can remember everything except a crime that changed her own life forever. This show is the opposite of Prime Suspect. The crime solving is as contrived as a Law and Order episode. The premise is fascinating, but the execution of the memory idea is utter fantasy. It’s Psych without the comedy, ingenuity, or fresh appeal. Also, her fake lips distract me.

Once Upon A Time

Classic story book characters are bewitched by an evil queen who traps them in present-day Maine. Judging on the first episode, this show is watchable. Incredibly watchable. The visuals are beautiful in both the land far away and present-day Maine. Although the show appeals to childhood stories, this is deceptive. There are some themes, such as a tragic adoption scenario, which could be harmful for children. The most intriguing parts of the story so far happen in the present day town of Storybrooke. If it weren’t for this portion of the show, I would not be interested in the second episode.

The Office

A bunch of people work at a paper supply company. This show has changed drastically this year, losing Steve Carell and bringing in James Spader. I think we were all holding our breaths, waiting to see if The Office had jumped the shark, once and for all. The Office has been struggling to find its footing ever since Pam left reception, but I think they are off to a good start this season. They have rescued new boss Andy twice so far (the tattoo, the picnic) and I don’t think the old “feel-sorry-for-Andy” routine will get old soon. It’s heart-warming and I like it. What I don’t understand is why they made Robert California CEO instead of regional manager. Why would a CEO work out of a conference room at a branch office? That makes no sense. Apart from that, I <3 Robert California. The character is hysterical. I want more Robert California! His speech at the garden party killed me.

Modern Family

An extended family laughs and loves through highs and lows. The best comedy on television. Sometimes the kid actors drive me crazy, but the adults are artists. I love them, especially Cam and Mitchell…and Phil…and Gloria…okay, all of them. Modern Family is the only show I know that can combine physical comedy with sitcom simplicity and real characters and create such moments of humanity on screen.

Raising Hope

A young single dad raises his daughter, Hope, with the help of his family. This show is still going strong. If you liked My Name is Earl, you will love Raising Hope. Cloris Leachman is a legend. Garrett Dillahunt is the highlight of every episode. And the ridiculous plots show more creativity than the rest of the new, canned sitcoms combined.

The Good Wife

The best for last. An attorney  leaves her powerful, political (cheating) husband to pursue her law career and chaos ensues.  Ahhh, The Good Wife. Pitch-perfect dialogue, fresh plot lines, believable characters, and a whiff of Aaron Sorkinesque humor. LOVE.

So, how about you? What are you watching? Have I missed anything so far?

Something I do:

I wash cloth napkins and rags instead of using paper napkins and paper towels. We haven’t bought paper towels or napkins in at least five years. It is easy and fun! The kids can use as many rags as they want to clean up spills and there’s no stress about it.

Something I don’t do:

I don’t line-dry laundry. Sometimes I dry my diapers outside, but that is as far as I’ve gotten toward not using and abusing my dryer. I have no outdoor laundry line and in the winter it would be impractical anyway. Any encouragement or suggestions about drying laundry inside during the winter?

“Something I Do, Something I Don’t” are short Saturday posts about creation and waste, about making small steps to refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle.


This spring I took my son to his first IMAX movie, Born to be Wild 3D. This film tells two stories of adoption and rescue. One in Indonesia with orangutans, and one in Africa with elephants. I was not expecting to see a RAD-ical depiction of how nurture and stimulation is integral to the survival of these orphaned animals. Just like a human baby, elephants must receive 24-hour care for the first 2 years of their lives. Essential to each orphaned elephant’s survival is the one-on-one caregiving and co-sleeping of a human parent. This clip shows the film crew capturing this astonishing commitment to elephant development.

Embedded in the DNA of creation is the cruel and beautiful reality that without love, nothing will grow. In the place of growth we find failure to thrive, underdevelopment, malnourishment, and death. Much of the offspring of the animal kingdom relies on the instinctive love of mothers and fathers to survive. And the mothers and fathers do it. Unless they can’t.

This morning I took Mabel into the doctor for her 2-year-old check up. We have only been parenting her for about five months, so I wasn’t surprised that her height and weight hadn’t changed significantly. But then the nurse measured her head circumference. (This measurement determines brain growth. There is a wide range for “normal” head measurements and parents should not read too much into the numbers if their babies are reaching developmental milestones.) Mabel’s head has grown from the below average range into the normal range.

When I heard this I thought of the elephants.

I will never know if our love and daily stimulus is growing Mabel’s brain faster than it would have developed in her former institutional setting. But the idea that five months at home has nourished her inner being testifies to the healing powers of love. Little neurons and pathways are connecting in ways that are only possible in the caring arms of a family. I mourn for the children who still languish in cribs and corners of stark rooms across the world, but I celebrate that one little baby, my little elephant calf, is finding her way.

This week I threw out the rest of the Easter candy that my son had been saving. Only peppermints remained in the bag and I was tired of seeing them around the house. When he discovered what I had done, he was upset.

“But those were important to me! I wanted to eat them!”

“Don’t worry about it. We’ll just buy new candy.”

A week ago my son accidentally melted one of his toys against a lightbulb. When I realized that my son was performing this dangerous melting experiment, I told him that he had ruined this toy, a little police officer.  Sergeant Murphy’s face was now a black hole of melted rubber. My son had no idea that he was causing real damage during his experiment, so I felt empathy for him.

“Can you take it off!?!” He sobbed, wanting to peel off the melted face.

“No, son. It’s ruined. But we’ll just get you a new one.”

I use this phrase to comfort my son when things break or are lost because I imagine that I am helping him not to put too much emphasis or concern into things. If I tell him not to worry when things break, then I’m teaching him not to be materialistic, right?

I am convicted that the opposite is actually true.

First of all, I am teaching him that when something breaks, it can and should be replaced, as long as we can afford it. Only in a privileged, wealthy place could this possibly be relevant. In most of the world when something breaks, it is gone. There is no next time, no second chance. When I “just get a new one” I am teaching my son that everything is replaceable. Not to steward his wealth. Just to consume. If we consume this item again and again, it is okay.  What’s one more Sergeant Murphy if we can afford him? But Sergeant Murphy or a bag of peppermints cost more than the $1 per day that many people earn in this world. Would I spend a day’s wages to make my son feel better?

I am convicted that it is just as unethical to spend someone else’s dollar wages to make my son happy again as it is to spend my own. Why should our family purchase two bags of peppermints instead of sending one bag to someone else? Yes, we earned the money, but is it truly ours to squander?

Secondly, when we “just get a new one” I am teaching him to avoid pain and suffering. Don’t cry, just look forward to the new one. When I do this, I presume that I am teaching him not to worry about physical possessions, but this cavalier attitude actually reinforces the material value of the item. The message I am sending is that possessions are so important that we won’t spend a minute being sad.  We will replace the item immediately to avoid that pain.

I am convicted that I must teach my children to mourn and grieve well.  This means material possessions as well. As they learn to mourn, they will also learn that some items are worth mourning more than others. If we want to use our time and resources wisely, we will mourn for a moment and then find joy elsewhere — not “just buy a new one.”

Thirdly, when we “just buy a new one” we are robbing our children from the opportunity to confront the chaos and danger that is inherent in a material and spiritual world. Things fall apart. People make mistakes. Stuff breaks. Other kids don’t take care of your precious toys like you would. Moms throw out candy. Experiments can end up with a melted mess. Actions have consequences.

I never would buy a toy for my son to replace one that he had deliberately broken, but I have often replaced toys, food, and clothing that had succumbed to chaos. Our dogs eat whatever falls on the floor.

I have replaced dropped food countless times. Rubber balls deflate. Balloons pop. Paint fades. Plastic deteriorates. Batteries lose power. Music stops playing. Toys die. That is a reality that cannot be fixed or replaced or bought or borrowed or put on a shelf to mend.

I can see my son having a good old car someday. He pulls out of our driveway and accidentally totals it, backing into a tree. Will I run outside, dry his tears and say, “we’ll get you a new one?” Probably not. And most people in the world can’t make that promise for something as small as a peppermint candy or a toy police officer.

So why do I rely on that option whenever my son is sad?

It’s time to make a braver choice whether I can afford to buy something or not. The comfort is in the grief and mourning, not in the promise for a replacement.

Son, we can’t get you a new one, but we can mend your broken heart.