Thursday, February 25, 2010

I attempted new frontiers in synergistic cooking multi-tasking last night. It started with my finally figuring out the secret of getting bread to rise well. Regular kneaded, no-knead, it's never managed to make a difference in my producing bread only slightly more elevated than matzoh. Most of the problem lies in the fact that between my miserly heat conservation in the winter and intolerance of high heat in the summer, our house is usually 65 during the winter and never more than 78 in the summer, causing the poor yeasties to move with a reptile-like torpor. I know you can use the oven to help dough rise, but somehow I never have any luck getting it to stay the right temperature. I'm given to understand that if you have a good oven, little things like a temperature goes up to where you set it and stays there is something you can count on. But I don't have one of those creatures. I have an oven that behaves with the delightful predictability and reliability of a two-year-old who has just eaten a package of pixie sticks. One day when my ship comes in, I'm going to get an oven with a proof setting, and I will be very happy indeed.

But I finally found the right dough-raising device - the crockpot. I turn it on low, balance the bowl on top and the dough pops up happily. I've been using a no-knead recipe here, using a cast-iron pot acquired cheaply from Target. And last night, as I looked at the bowl of dough over the empty crockpot, I decided that I might as well use the heat to try out the crockpot yogurt recipe here.

The bread came out of the oven and was absolutely beautiful. I made took a bullet for everyone by taste-testing the first oven-warm piece with butter melting over it (the terrible sacrifices I make for my family!), and it's delicious.

This morning, the yogurt was huddled, shivering, sullen and still entirely liquid, at the bottom of the pot. So I turned it on to "Warm" for a couple hours and it firmed up very nicely. When adding the starter, I also added a bunch (1/2 cup?) of agave syrup and a couple tablespoons of vanilla extract, which made for a lovely, mild final product. It will blend very well with fruit, but is tasty enough to eat on its own. Hopefully I'll be able to get myself to do this more often, so we don't have to buy quite so many individual yogurts for our children who would eat their weight in it if I would let them (and in addition to being cheaper, it would alleviate a small point of environmental guilt for me).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Abscess makes the heart grow fonder

You would think that the amount of free time I had during our snow week would have resulted in more writing, but I got distracted.

Wednesday, I was tired for reasons I couldn't quite explain, especially since I had gotten to sleep in.

Thursday, my sinuses and throat hurt, and the glands under one side of my jaw were swelling. So apparently I was tired Wednesday because I was getting sick. I assumed I was in for a bad cold, since that's usually what it means when my glands swell.

Friday, the glands under my jaw were insanely swollen, but my nose was only mildly sniffly, making me wonder what was up. My research turned up the panicking possibility of a tooth abscess, but I dismissed it because of the many parts of my head that hurt at that point, my teeth were not among them.

Saturday, B went to work because I thought I was okay. Then I made the mistake of attempting to chew my breakfast, sending pain through my entire head and realized that there was swelling under my tongue, which made me start to think this was bacterial, not viral. So I called him home so I could seek out medical help. My doctor recommended a Minute Clinic, so off we went (capsule review of the Minute Clinic: pretty good. Quick service for a reasonable price, and while I wouldn't go for a complex medical problem, if you have a weekend bladder infection or suchlike I would definitely recommend them). My sinuses hurt, but not when the nurse pressed on them, so a sinus infection was ruled out. The rapid strep test was negative as well, so while she took another swab to send to the lab, she said it was probably a virus, sending me away with the usual useless advice for salt water gargling and ibuprofen or Tylenol. Meanwhile, I spent the evening researching how much ibuprofen was considered an overdose and finally took some of the leftover painkiller from my c-section so I could get some sleep.

Sunday, things finally came to a head quite literally when a boil suddenly swelled up on my gum and then popped, draining quite a bit of nasty stuff and giving me almost instant relief. Aha! Not a tooth abscess but a gum abscess, where a pocket of infection decides to take up residence in your gums. I suppose I should have realized that sooner, because the inside of my mouth and my jaw did hurt, but everything hurt at that point. It was hard to distinguish what might be caused by an infection in my mouth versus what pain was coming from the sheer bulk of swollen, painful glands under my jaw putting pressure on everything else. And of course, there was the sore throat, which didn't seem to jibe with anything else.

So Monday, I went to the dentist and the gum abscess was confirmed, which was a relief because the best-case scenario treatment for a tooth abscess is a root canal, but for a gum abscess that was draining on its own, I got antibiotics. And on Tuesday, I got a call from the Minute Clinic telling me my strep test was positive, slotting the other piece of the puzzle in place. That would explain the sore throat and the fact that gum abscesses often come along with gum disease, which I don't have. I guess the bacteria from my throat travelled into an opportune place in my gum and decided to party.

So almost a week later, I'm mostly better. It's really astonishing how much misery one small spot of infection can cause, but there's nothing like an infection to let you know just how connected all of the nerves in your face are. I've lost nearly ten pounds because of how much moving my jaw has hurt.* Right now, I'm down to ibuprofen every eight hours, a bit of a sore throat and one last swollen sore spot under my jaw. And thankfully, I can mostly eat things that require at least some chewing, instead of my previous staple diet of soup and pudding. However, I only have one day of antibiotics left, which makes me worry that it's all going to come galloping back as soon as they're done, so I'm calling the doctor on Monday.

So that's my sick note for the week. I had been planning to try and write every day as an exercise for Lent and I will try to actually start that tomorrow, but the first few days of Lent were hopeless, since I was fasting instead.

*It's not like this is really a surprise to me, but it's such a sad sign of how screwed up our society is about weight that I should get so much admiration for losing weight by being too sick to eat for a week, even when people know how I lost the weight. Yeesh, people. But thinner is healthier, right? Because starvation is so very healthy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Digging out

It's been a bizarre week - snow days for all of us Wednesday and Thursday, a snow day for K and me on Friday while B had a free day that day even though his library was open. Then I was sick enough this weekend that B didn't work on Saturday and I didn't work today. Tomorrow is a holiday. And of course yet more snow is forecast for tomorrow, although there isn't much accumulation expected so we have a decent chance of finally getting back to normal Tuesday.

As completely unplanned week-long vacations go, it was fairly pleasant, aside from the whole being awfully sick on my part. As I've said before, we don't get a lot of time off together, so it's nice to be able to have two parents home for multiple days in a row. It was also nice that we weren't too trapped in the house after Wednesday. We probably should have stayed home Thursday, since getting out of our alley full of snow just melted enough to be incredibly slippery required the help of four burly neighbors and half an hour of getting stuck over and over again. But once we were out of our driveway, we were committed, since we couldn't leave our car blocking the alley until the snow melted, and we had managed to get just enough past our driveway that it would have been really difficult to get back in. There was no way out but forward, so that's the way we went, in one of the most terrifying drives I've ever made, jouncing down the alley with the car shimmying the entire way and the steering wheel attempting to whip out of my hands.

And now, a couple snow-bound observations:

- Before I had a princess-obsessed four-year-old, I hadn't seen many of the Disney princess movies since I was five or six.* Having watched them all now around eight and a half billion times, I can say two things: 1, Snow White is quite possibly the weirdest cartoon I've ever seen, and given how much anime I watched, that's saying something. Fortunately, K didn't like it, because I think it could start giving me nightmares. 2, I knew Enchanted was a good parody when I saw it, but I didn't realize quite how spot-on and brilliant it was. My goodness - who knew Disney could have such a good sense of humor about itself?

- When introducing Alec to solids, I decided to skip rice cereal to try and avoid the constipation K got on it. So he's been getting oatmeal, fruit and yogurt, and has been pooping four times a day. Um, mission accomplished?

* I nearly managed to convince K to go see The Princess and the Frog by telling her about when I went to see Cinderella and Snow White as a little girl. She's been steadfastly refusing to see it (despite wanting Tiana merchandise, of course) because she's afraid of the dark theatre, and I told her how I had felt safe in the theatre because my daddy was with me. I nearly had her, and of course that was just about the last weekend it was playing around here and that's when the snow hit. Sigh. What's the good of a princess-obsessed daughter if you can't go see the latest Disney princess movie?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow day, part deux

28.5 inches of snow fell on us this weekend. It was actually pretty nice, except for the being trapped in the house. All of the city buildings were closed all weekends, so we were both home all weekend, a very rare occurrence around these parts. It was really a nice, relaxing day. We don't have many of those both parents around, nothing to do kind of days. B took K out to play in the snow, we all had hot chocolate and we watched way too many Disney princess movies. And thankfully, by Sunday the roads were clear enough for us to get out of the house so nobody was driven to Disney princess-induced psychosis (All Cinderella and no play makes Jack a dull boy?).

The benefit of the last gigantic storm is that we know the drill now. The main roads are clear and residential roads are packed down enough to be passable, and despite this, the public schools were closed today. But the benefit of the clear roads is that we were able to get out of the house for the afternoon so I wasn't trapped alone in the house with two small children all day.

And now Snow Day, part tres is arriving tomorrow evening, with 10-20 inches expected. At this point, I'm unbelievably thankful school will be open tomorrow, because I'm not sure if K will have it again for the rest of the week. I would be very surprised indeed if B will have work on Wednesday; my only question is if they will close the libraries early tomorrow evening, given when the snow is supposed to start. I should make sure to get to the grocery store tomorrow to get more milk and bread, but other than that, we are well set for food and entertainment during the coming captivity.

Growing up in the lake effect zone of Lake Michigan, this is a large, but not unusual amount of snow for back home. We would get a couple of storms like this every year, and I'm not even sure if we would have gotten a snow day out of this in my school district (we didn't bus many students from rural areas, the normal reason schools closed for snow in our area. We were actually most likely to close school for ice). The difference was, of course, that we got steady snow all winter long and were well equipped and practiced with dealing with this amount of snow. I really don't blame Philadelphia, where last month a local news program had an entire segment on how it was so unbelievably cold that people had to bundle up to go outside and were staying inside (cold weather in January! How shocking!), for not being quite so prepared and we're doing pretty well all things considered. People further south of us are having a much harder time with the same amount of snow.

I suppose snow is all a matter of perspective. I was re-reading some of the Little House books at work the other week, and if you want perspective on winter - WELL. Leaving aside The Long Winter, I remember a passage in These Happy Golden Years where everyone was outside happily playing because the cold snap had broken and it was only -20 F. And when you think about living through temperatures colder than that in a wooden house with no insulation heated with a single wood stove...brr, is all I can say. There was also the passage in an earlier book where they had moved to town for the winter but Pa hadn't finished the roof yet, where everyone woke up covered in snow. Oh my. This would be why I don't live in North Dakota. And why I enjoy forced air heating. Being stuck inside with two small children for the rest of the week seems like a small thing when we have a functioning furnace, plenty of varied foods, electricity and ample entertainment.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Alec at seven months

My baby is seven months old now. He's energetic, busy, cheerful and GIGANTIC. I'm not sure exactly how much he weighs, but I recently had to move him up to large size Bumkins diapers covers because the mediums were juuuuust barely stretching to fasten, and they go up to 22 pounds. Given that he was 21 pounds 4 ounces three weeks ago, I think 22 pounds now is a pretty good guess. As far as I can tell, he's storing ten pounds in each thigh and five in each cheek (the observant will note that adds up to thirty pounds. My baby scoffs at the laws of space/time and basic arithmetic). He is firmly in 12 month clothes, as my last attempt to get one last wear out of his 9 month clothes this week resulted in freezing his meaty little shins, off the should shirts and onesies that when snapped under the crotch endangered our future granchildren. Unfortunately, since it is now February, he may have to spend the rest of the winter in swimsuits, given the current offerings in the children's clothing section.

In gross motor milestones, he can stand for a while holding onto something, and it trying very hard to pull himself up. Unfortunately, the thing he pulls up on most is the long, low plastic toy that is only eight inches tall, so he pulls himself up and then topples right over it. Given a while, I'm sure he could pull up to standing if he was doing with something taller, but he would have to figure out how to get over to it first. He has absolutely no interest in rolling around on the floor or doing any of the inchworming that's usually the precursor to crawling. Which makes it really inconvenient for him that he really wants to be on the move. He can sit in one place and play indefinitely, and I wouldn't be surprised if was one of those babies who got around by scooting on his butt. Every once in a while, he enthusiastically flings himself forward (optimally, when this would catapult him right off the bed) and does his best on-land Esther Williams impression, and he will also periodically lean forward until he winds up on his hands and knees, completely at a loss as to what to do next, but mostly he's a sitter.

He has taken enthusiastically to solid foods and is up to two solid meals a day, usually yogurt for one and fruit and cereal for the other. I've been more cavalier about the rate at which I introduce new foods than I was with K - partly because I'm not dealing with known food allergies like I was with her, partly because the rules we set up around babies and food seem unnecessarily arcane and the actual research is mixed. So far, no problems. He's even enthusiastically eating finger foods - little cereal puffs that melt down to nothing in the mouth, which he scoops up in his fist, but then holds between thumb and forefinger to put in his mouth, showing off his developing pincer grip. As of today, he has six teeth, two on bottom and four on top, which aren't yet very effective in eating but quite effective for taking wicked painful bites out of his parents.

He is a colossal flirt, tilting his head and smiling winsomely at us when we aren't paying enough attention to him. When we do interact with him, he beams with pleasure and babbles enthusiastically. Tonight, when I came into a room and he heard my voice, he threw himself backwards off of B's lap so he could greet me upside-down. The flip side of this is the galloping case of separation anxiety he's developed in the past few days. He'll still play independently for quite a while, although not nearly as much as he used to, but if we walk into sight, he immediately realizes how desperately he's missed us and needs to be with us. And his woe when we leave the room is epic.

This is such an energetic, happy age, and we have such a sweet, happy boy. If only we could keep him this way for a while longer:


(More pictures in the usual place)