Friday, March 28, 2014

The care and feeding of young geeks

(It has occurred to me that one of the downsides of not posting much is that four of my last five posts have involved vomit. At least until the last two weeks, our winter hasn't actually featured much puking, so I'll attempt to rein back the discussion of it to be in proportion to actual amounts in our everyday life)

(Although guess what I did Tuesday night. Sigh)

One good thing that came out of the massive amounts of school Katherine has missed due to weather is that I tried to convince her to watch Star Wars. To my great surprise, she agreed. To my even greater surprise, she loved it, mainlining A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back the first day and champing at the bit to watch Return of the Jedi the next (I'm sure it helps that I told her there were living teddy bears in that movie)(I'm not sure I will ever forgive myself for selling my Ewok village playset at a garage sale now).*

The way I convinced her was through Angry Birds, which the older kids and I started playing last fall (which makes me all hip and up to the moment for like, 2010 or so). We had worked our way to Angry Birds Star Wars, and Katherine was begging me to get Angry Birds Star Wars II. So I finally said I would if she actually watched Star Wars, and she said okay. It was a spur of the moment whim on my part, mostly as a way of putting her off a little because I try to avoid putting new games on the tablet too often. Even when they're free, I would rather the kids not get accustomed to a constant stream of novelty and have to actually spend some time playing through the games they ask for before getting a new one.

So we watched Star Wars. And she loved it. I came home from work last Sunday and discovered she had asked to watch it again. She's never been much of a science fiction kid (well, except for Wall-E), but clearly this is a hit. I wish I could think of more PG science fiction to show her. This trend needs to be encouraged.



*We had been pondering since before we actually had children in what order we would show them the Star Wars movies. I finally came down on the original trilogy first because they aren't remotely old enough to handle Revenge of the Sith. And because the original trilogy is actually good, of course.

Monday, March 17, 2014

I am getting very tired of vomit

We had another puketastic weekend - this time, Katherine threw up once and was sick all of Saturday, B felt sick but never threw up, and James has been throwing up multiple times a day since Friday night.

He's been throwing up for two weeks now, and it's hard not to worry. We took him to the doctor today, which I wouldn't normally do for what's almost certainly a virus, but two weeks calls for further investigation. And the diagnosis was... probably a virus. Or I suspect two viruses back to back. But the doctor did say he looked well-hydrated, so we just need to wait it out. It's just hard to see our skinny baby lose weight. He was 22 pounds, 8 ounces at his 18 month appointment, which is the 8th percentile for weight. Today, he was 24 pounds, 6 ounces, which is a net gain of less than two pounds in five months. That's not really adequate weight gain for a toddler. I'm going to have to concentrate on calorie-loading for him once he's consistently keeping food down, whenever that blessed day may come. And meanwhile, we will continue to do massive amounts of laundry.

***

Katherine hid the fact that she had thrown up from us on Saturday, and spent the day protesting that she was fine! Absolutely fine! Despite spending the day basically lying prone and motionless and not eating at all. The reason was that she was desperate to go to a local nature center.

So I took her the next day. It was actually the right day to go because we got there right before a program was right about to start. It was supposed to be for members only, but they let us attend if we promised to consider joining. So we got to meet the new animals of the nature center - an opossum, two rats, two snakes, a bearded dragon and a turkey vulture (we didn't actually get to meet him since he was far too shy of humans to do programs yet, but we met his cute stuffed stand-in). We got to pet them all, then the children made toys for the rats and opossum. The environmental educator gave a very entertaining program, so we'll definitely have to try to go back. I think we'll join as well. There are certainly larger places to go in Philadelphia, but this place is very close to us and doesn't require driving across three quarters of our egregiously large city. And as an employee of a small museum, I know how much more difference every single membership makes.

****

And, as always, an observance of the holiday:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Not a method I actually recommend

I discovered the secret to an easy Daylight Saving Time transition: stay up most of the night with puking children! The next day, everyone will be so exhausted that they have no problem falling asleep when their bodies think it's an hour early.

In other news, after three night of nocturnal vomit in the past week, I'm not a fan of this particular stomach bug.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Almost

We were so close. After a week with four snow, the next week with two snow days and for the killing blow, the next week starting with a holiday and a teacher's inservice day, Katherine was finally going to have a full week of school. And then she got sick, and so much for that.

Yes, yes, I know she used to be home all the time. But we had a routine based on that then. Children off their routine are not a pretty sight, and when you mix it with being housebound by the weather for days on end, starts to get grisly. Children start pinging off of walls like heated molecules and household civilization crumbles into decay. By the second week, I was practically sprinting out the door to work when the weekend came.

And now there's six to twelve inches forecast for Monday. Sigh.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Sigh


I had all these plans to write about cheerful substanceless things this month, like tv. But instead, my mother went back into the hospital two weeks ago and I had to go back to Michigan.

When I got the call on a Monday, her aide had good reason to believe it could be near the end. She had just finished the antibiotics from her last bout of pneumonia and was having symptoms that suggested it had come galloping back. She also had a hemoglobin of 5, when you want it to be at least 11. She was grey, confused and had easily agreed to go to the ER, which she had been fighting hard all week. I didn't quite get the impression that I was rushing to her deathbed, but it clearly wasn't good.

By the time I got there on Thursday, she was doing much better. By Saturday, she had gotten a transfusion, the infection was under control and the doctor said that most of her problems were actually her congestive heart failure and pulmonary hypertension acting up and they were responding well to medications. She got home last Tuesday.

I, meanwhile, got to figure out how to get home on a day that the latest polar vortex was dumping 13 inches of snow on my fair snow-plow impaired city. After an hour on hold with United while meanwhile seeing online that my best choice was to pay $1000 to switch my flight to 5am on Thursday, I decided, "I have a rental car. I'm going to drive." And so I did. I had James with me, but thank goodness he's an excellent little traveller (a terrible sickroom visitor, but a great traveller). We spent the night in Columbus and by Wednesday, the snow had stopped and was cleared on major roads by the time we got home Wednesday night. There was a point I was convinced that the Pennsylvania Turnpike was actually some eternal road stretching through purgatory, but we made it home in the end.

So it's all good again for the moment. I'm experiencing some major emotional whiplash though. I've been prepared for it to be the end twice in the past six weeks. You can't be constantly ready for something terrible without starting to lose it after a while. Life is too busy to fall apart though, so I'm just trucking on.


Monday, January 6, 2014

And a wet New Year

* Today started with a bang, or more precisely, something of a wet blort as James decided to throw up in our bed at 6am. This followed Katherine throwing up last night, Alec throwing up the night before and B and I experiencing it lower down the digestive tract last Thursday.

It's a mild virus, thank goodness, and I hope to goodness this means that we're done with it. Katherine was supposed to go back to school last Thursday, but we didn't feel up to driving her. Then Friday was a snow day. She's been making noises about maybe still being sick tomorrow, but after two full weeks of full family togetherness, I'm ready to carry her the entire ten miles to school on my back tomorrow if need be.

* I talked to my mother last Friday and she sounded a bit better. Her chest tube is out, which I can imagine would make anyone feel better. She wasn't leaping up and kicking her heels by any means (she in fact has been using a lift again to transfer between bed and her chair because she can't stand any more), but she sounded more like herself, which is encouraging.

* So we had a whole two inches of snow on Friday, which had ended by 6am. By 8, a bright sun shone over the snow that anyone half trying could have cleared in time for a two-hour school delay. But no, another snow day. The insane cold currently in the Midwest is supposed to hit us Tuesday, and if Alec misses another day of preschool after the number he missed to sickness and snow days last December, I may start typing repetitively about all work and no play, and possibly size up axes for their door-opening capabilities.

I am not up for another winter like the one we had 2009/2010, I tell you what. To be honest, I rather like not having Michigan winters here. The whole get an occasional snowfall which melts in the next couple days is pretty convenient when you have small children. Although I don't mind Michigan winters either. When they're in Michigan, that is, where they have adequate plows, know how to drive in the snow and don't panic and close the schools over every half inch of snow. This whole being perpetually snowed and/or iced in the way we have since the middle of December is getting old.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mixed Christmas

We are in Michigan, enjoying a low-key Christmas. All of the presents were well-received, the Christmas fondue was lovely as always and 's parents came down to Grand Rapids so we got to have a good time with them (and got to go see a movie!). But what made Christmas best is that my mother was finally able to come home from the hospital Christmas Eve.

As I recall, the last thing I said about my mother and the hospital was that she went in Thanksgiving evening. I'm not entirely clear what was initially keeping her there (I could rant for a long time about the poor quality of information I've been receiving over the course of this hospitalization, but I think my unhappiness has been adequately expressed to the right people and it's been straightened out, so I'll let it go for now). But that Saturday at midnight(!), I received a call that she had been moved to a higher level unit because of a prolonged run of atrial fibrillation. I called the next day and she was doing better, then another ten days went by, she developed pneumonia but was sent home with antibiotics. She was home for less than a day when she went back coughing up blood. From there, things started going really badly. She couldn't get off of high levels of oxygen and she kept having spells of atrial fibrillation, which made the breathing issues that much worse. At some point during that week, I realized I was starting to assume that she wasn't going to come through this and was just hoping she could last until I could get there for Christmas. But then her pulmonologist did a bronchoscopy and pulled out a lot of fluid from her lungs, making it a lot easier to breathe and giving hope that she might make it home for Christmas. Then they did a CAT scan and found more fluid around her lungs, necessitating a chest tube and taking home Christmas off the table. Then two days later on the 23rd, we arrived in Michigan and discovered she was, in fact, coming home, chest tube and all.

She's clearly much happier being home, being able to wear her own clothes and have some privacy. But oh my, she's so very very weak. She lost a lot of weight in the hospital, and her aides have been running her food through the blender and feeding her so she doesn't have to expend more energy than necessary lifting a spoon or chewing. She spends a lot of her day dozing in bed. Maybe the hardest thing is that after a year of extreme hoarseness, her voice came back right before this illness. I got one good conversation with her and now she can barely talk at all.

To be honest, while we got this Christmas with my mother, I am not placing bets on whether she'll be here next Christmas.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The remains of the day

Thanksgiving, in bullet points:

* Dinner, on the whole went well.
* However, it turns out it's quite difficult to sufficiently mash potatoes when your toddler has hidden the potato masher. Katherine was looking forward to mashing them, so she washed the masher and was keeping it next to her, then I saw James running past brandishing it while I had pots on all four burners and couldn't give chase. And that's the last we saw of it.
* As it turns out, a wooden spoon just does't cut it for mashing. They tasted good anyway.
* I forgot to set the timer for the pumpkin pie and at some point sat up and realized I hadn't heard the timer go off after an indeterminate amount of time had passed. Miraculously, it was fine.
* Fortunately, it is nearly impossible to screw up cranberry sauce. You just put it in a pan with liquid (I highly recommend using cider, but for goodness sake reduce the sugar if you do) and sugar, let it boil and at some point it goes "Bloop" and all of the cranberries pop and turn into sauce. It's magic.
* We went to see Frozen earlier in the day and it was just great. Funny and well-animated.
* It had an excellent sense of place, by which I mean that instead of the standard generic medievalish European background, it had a very Scandinavian look and feel, as befits something based (loosely) on a Hans Christian Anderson story.
* And in the end, (highlight to see spoilers) it turned out to be about sisterly love, not getting the guy. What a refreshing concept for a Disney princess movie.
* Unfortunately, the day ended with a call saying my mother was going to the emergency room because she was having trouble breathing. Sigh. I really hope we manage to make it through Christmas without any hospitalizations.

Monday, November 25, 2013

No love, Rite Aid

Sigh. I keep trying to post, I really do. And then every night I fall asleep on the couch instead. I'm still plugging on though.

***

Our prescription plan switched a while ago, so instead of using Express Scripts, we go to Rite Aid if we want a three month supply of prescriptions. In general, I'm happier with the arrangement, since I can get a refill the day a medication runs out and don't have to wait for it to meander its way to our house in the mail, starting in St Louis and apparently occasionally routed through Swaziland. But I have a couple big complaints about their web site, and what is the Internet for but rants about petty things?

The first is my experience today, when my web browser forgot my previously saved password and I didn't have any memory of it. So clicked on the request to have my password reset. Normally, when this happens the website simply sends a password reset link to the e-mail address you have on file. This prevents people from casually hacking your account, since they would need access to your e-mail account as well. Rite Aid's website, however, sends the reset link to an e-mail account you enter on the spot. !!! You then have to answer a security question, but those only go so far, since several of my friends and family could probably answer them correctly. I'm not worried about any of them attempting to hack into my prescriptions, but some people have insane family members who might. You also have to fill out an insane number of Captchas, which again wouldn't deter the humans who could answer my security questions. And perhaps most aggravatingly, if you don't answer a security question correctly because perhaps you can't remember if you put "Elementary" at the end of the name of your first school or you like a bunch of tv shows so you can't quite remember which one you said was your favorite, you're not given the option to try to answer a different question. So to reset my password, I had to answer two security questions and fill out three Captchas, none of which would be more than aggravating to someone who knows me trying to hack my account, and definitely not as secure as simply sending the reset link to the e-mail account they have on file for me, without any of the rest of that mishegas.

Petty complaint 2: When I log into my Rite Aid account and look at my prescription, they have assigned me a "Prescription Score," their assessment of how well they think I'm doing taking my medications. I can't say how strenuously I object to this. I'm an adult and it's none of their damn business whether I take my medications or glue them to a paper plate in the pill version of macaroni art. It's infantilizing and demeaning.

They can't possibly know whether or not I'm taking my meds anyway; all they can know is how often I refill them. Which leads to the thing that really chaps my hide: the scores they assign make absolutely no sense. I've been faithfully refilling one medication every 90 days for ages, and despite that, this summer the score for it was 65 percent. It's since risen to 100 percent. Another medication, which I've been refilling just as faithfully, is currently at 95 percent and falling. If they're going to engage in infantilizing and intrusive behavior like grading me on how well I take my medications using nonsensical criteria, the least they could do is do it accurately. Like any good nerd, I want the grades I've earned, dammit.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Food notes

I was making tater tot casserole for the first time in several years last week. I couldn't remember whether I used to put the hamburger and sauce mixture on the bottom with the tater tots on top or vice versa, so I started looking through cookbooks to see what they might have to say on the subject. But despite having multiple Sunset and church cookbooks, I couldn't find a recipe.*

I did, however, find the large compilation of recipes my friend Dena put together several years ago, collected among our group of friends. I had lost track of it over the course of our various moves, so it was a pleasure to look through it again and rediscover a number of recipes I haven't been able to make in a while. Our family recipe for a supposed Afghan recipe called Sulizi Pilau, for instance, which I have never been able to find on the web (it's basically a beef and rice dish spiced with turmeric, served with plain yogurt. The only actually provenance I know for it is that my aunt acquired it in the 60s, that golden age of authenticity in ethnic cooking, so I feel justified in my doubts). I copied my mother's recipe several years ago, but can't find it now for the life of me. But now I have it nicely bound.

* I did finally find a recipe in a kid's cookbook from the mid-80s. The answer is that you put down the ground beef, layer on the tater tots and then pour the cream of mushroom soup over it. The problem with that is that I don't use canned soups for casseroles when a basic bechamel sauce is so easy. Really. I'm not at all the sort of person who turns my nose up at packaged foods, but this is just so easy. Brown the ground beef and put it in a pot (or keep it in the skillet if it's lean enough), sprinkle three tablespoons of flour over it, stir to coat. Pour in two cups of milk, or a cup of milk and a cup of broth, simmer for several minutes until it thickens. Et voici, no need for gloppy salt lick in a can. However, that left me with nothing to pour over the tater tots, so I just stirred them all together. Which is what I thought I should probably do in the first place and would have saved myself all the trouble of searching through cookbooks.

*****

Something Alton Brown mentioned on one of his podcasts is that he no longer brings a gallon of water to boil for cooking pasta. Instead, he merely covers the pasta with cold water and simmers it for a few minutes. By the time it's come to a boil, the pasta is done, and as a bonus, you have a pot of starchy water useful for sauces. I can't speak to the sauces, but I've tried this technique and it works just fine. It's faster and less wasteful of water to boot.