Podcast 276: Design Your Summer, Solutions to Create Sibling Harmony, and How Cornstarch Can Enliven a Boring Afternoon.


We recorded this episode on Monday, June 1, and we wanted to acknowledge everything that’s been happening here in the United States. The murder of George Floyd—and also Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and so many other incidences—have sparked protests across the country.

When we see racism and violence playing out like this, it’s very hard not to despair. Events like these make us ask, “What can I do, in my own life, to help this nation fulfill its promise?

This is a question that we should be thinking about all the time, and now more than ever. I wrote a post called “With Liberty and Justice for All” about it. They seem like small gestures, but we decided to donate as a family to the Bail Project and the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund, and I’m going to educate myself by reading.

There’s a lot of soul-searching going on. This isn’t an African-American problem; this is an American problem. We all need to work to make it better.

It’s hard to talk about the kinds of subjects that we usually discuss, given the gravity of what’s going on.

Try This at Home

Design your summer. We’ve talked about this idea before, in episodes 2767118, and 224. The challenge is to design the summer to have the experience you want.

This idea was initially inspired by writer Robertson Davies:

Every man makes his own summer. The season has no character of its own, unless one is a farmer with a professional concern for the weather. Circumstances have not allowed me to make a good summer for myself this year…My summer has been overcast by my own heaviness of spirit. I have not had any adventures, and adventures are what make a summer.” — Robertson Davies, “Three Worlds, Three Summers,” The Enthusiasms of Robertson Davies

This is a strange summer, with so many plans canceled.

Elizabeth calls it “the lost summer.” Her son Jack is going to build a giant Lego town.

I’m having my Summer of Virginia Woolf, and I’m also going to read at least one book each week on the subject of racism, antiracism, or other books by a person of color—novels, memoirs, essays, policy books, history. I want to educate myself. Because I love children’s and young adult literature, I’m also going to choose books that won the Coretta Scott King award, for “the most distinguished portrayal of African American experience in literature for children or teens.” We talked about “design your summer” as a family. Eliza’s taking some Coursera courses, Eleanor wants to learn to use a sewing machine, and they’re both waiting to hear about various internships that may or may not happen. I also want to do a series of experiments related to the body and the senses. 

Happiness Hack

Create your own non-Newtonian fluid! Easy, and so fun and strange. You can get directions and a fascinating explanation from the Exploratorium museum. In a nutshell:

  • Put one cup of dry cornstarch in a large bowl. (Squeak it between your fingers while it’s dry, that’s also strange.)
  • Add a half-cup water slowly, mixing water with your fingers until all the powder is wet.
  • Keep adding water until the mixture feels like a liquid when you’re mixing it slowly (this is key). Then try tapping on the surface with your fingers or a spoon. It won’t splash, it will feel solid.

Is it a liquid or a solid? Squeeze it, pick it up, dribble it off your fingers. Put a small plastic toy on surface—does it stand or sink? Roll a blob between your palms. Bonkers.

This is a non-Newtonian fluid, like quicksand. The slower you move, the less it resists your movement.

Eliza, Eleanor, and I had a lot of fun playing with it. 

Listener Answers

In episode 274, a listener asked for hacks for sibling harmony.

A few of these ideas were new to me, some are classic solutions, but it’s good to be reminded of the options:

  • Take turns choosing a game, and everyone must comply without complaint.
  • Assign a child to an odd day or even day. Parents get day 31.
  • Give each child a number, and ask Siri to choose a number between 1 and the number of children. Siri doesn’t play favorites.
  • Each week, designate a “special person” who gets first dibs, picks a TV show, gets a favorite dinner, etc.
  • Instead of giving children a time-out, use a “toy time-out” to end a squabble about who gets to play with it.
  • Use a chore chart. (Everything reminds me of an episode of The Office, and here’s how they created a chore wheel. Hilarious.)

Elizabeth’s Demerit:  Elizabeth keeps procrastinating about getting her home office cleared out and her treadmill desk moved in. It’s one of my aphorisms: Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.

In Very Special Episode 160, we cleaned Elizabeth’s cluttered home office together. One of my favorite things to do!

Gretchen’s Gold Star: Jamie spearheaded something so important: the New York Forward Loan Fund provides working capital loans to small businesses that didn’t receive funding from the SBA PPP program. The fund is limited to truly small businesses, with 20 or fewer employees and less than $3 million in annual revenues. It’s a way to help those small mom-and-pop businesses that we’re all so worried about these days.




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