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.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Arctic winds

I arrived at work this morning to an arctic breeze and the news that the furnace was on the blink. We started the day at 55 degrees and managed to reach a lofty 60 by the end of the day. We keep the house at 55 at night, but goodness, the cold can really seep in when you're sitting at a computer all day, even wearing a heavy coat. There are days I feel completely touched out with small children climbing on me, but today, I would have happily held a nice toasty toddler in my lap to stay warm.

The printer also decided to stop printing in black and the older desktop decided it no longer likes to work with any keyboard. It was not a good day for technology today.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Over the years, it's become apparent to us that B has a touch of colorblindness. For excample, our bedroom is painted a somewhat ugly greyish-brown. But he sees it as an incredibly ugly grey-green. We've had a number of arguments over the color of objects over the years, but it's become generally evident that I can see colors he cannot, so we don't really argue any more, because what's the point when we're seeing different things?

Interestingly, Katherine seems to have a touch of colorblindness as well. Her bedroom is a light tan, but she's been thrilled since we moved in because she sees it as pink. I can see how if you subtract some green, it would look pink. She definitely knows what green is, but apparently can't see all shades of it.


We started singing "Do-Re-Mi" last week (it had come up in conversation - we're not actually given to Sound of Music singalongs or spontaneously breaking into Julie Andrews medleys) and B initially got the order wrong, singing the "mi" line where "do" belonged.

So here's a fun exercise for you if you have a decent sense of pitch (unlike B, who is cheerfully tone-deaf): try to sing the lines of "Do-Re-Mi" in the wrong order. Because I couldn't do it. I associate each line with the note it starts on, and I can't sing a line if it starts on the wrong note. I think if I wrote it down and sang it while reading the lyrics I could do it, but I can't just rearrange the song mentally.


We used to live with a friend who is a supertaster. He has four times the normal number of taste buds, and is very sensitive to strong tastes because of it, particularly bitter. I developed quite a bit of sympathy for that problem during my first pregnancy, when my sense of taste suddenly became much more acute. Tomatoes, in particular, just became overwhelming. Conversely, when Katherine was a toddler, she would happily eat lemons without the slightest sign they might have a strong taste until the day she bit into one, made a face and never asked for one again. She couldn't taste sour until one day she could.

It's so fascinating, seeing what a natural variation there is in what we perceive. There are days I wonder if any of us truly see, hear or taste the same thing as anyone else.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dylan Thomas

At 18 months, James is still a devoted breastfeeder, and has been generally polite enough about it that I haven't had a problem continuing. But then last night he spent literally all night nursing. Not just that he nursed a lot, but that he wouldn't sleep without being latched on the entire time. Suddenly nightweaning, which I've been contemplating for a while now, seems a lot more attractive. I'm pretty sure that he was sick last night, possibly a sore throat or he's been grabbing ears today. But I'm pretty sure that at 18 months, he can make it through the night without a couple snacks and as lovely as it is to cuddle a nice warm baby, I'm willing to endure missing him if it means he'll sleep all night.

The only question is as to when. There's no point right now, since he's in the middle of the 18 month developmental spurt and he's going to sleep like crap no matter what we do. But by the he's over that, it's going to be close to the holidays and travelling, which may well screw up anything we accomplish. There's also the small detail of finding at least a couple days where we can afford to go without sleep. The main reason we haven't attempted nightweaning before now is because James sleeps just well enough that continuing to be a bit tired seems more attractive than a few days of utter exhaustion. And while he will accept cuddling from to go back to sleep for a while, at some point in the evening he decides it's nursing or nothing, and if we try to delay that too long, even if I do breastfeed him, he'll have woken up enough that he's going to be awake for the next two hours. This is... unattractive at 1 AM. I've tried putting him back in his crib on a few of these occasions and he would eventually go back to sleep after much crying, only to wake up after half an hour. At which point I would just pull him into bed because it was usually 4 AM at that point and his never-say-die attitude was just stronger than mine.

Which is all to say that I am quite confident night weaning is going to be a painful, sleepless process and I have no idea how we're going to find a couple days when we can afford not to have any sleep.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pod people

Although we're a lot closer than we would have been before we moved, it's still about a 20 minute drive to Katherine's school. Add in dropping Alec off at preschool two days a week and taking B to work and I've been doing a lot of driving lately.

Since listening to the news lately makes me want to swerve into oncoming traffic, it's to all of our benefit that I bought an mp3 player for the car this summer. I've been enjoying being able to carry a large percentage of music collection around in one tiny package again, something we haven't been able to do since we bought the Vibe 8 years ago, with its one disc regular cd player made in Outer Mongolia. In the fourteenth century. Anyway, I've been reacquainting myself with a lot of music I haven't listened to in a while, which is nice, and also discovering some new music. But I'm also missing the NPR news shows I used to listen to, before all they talked about was news that makes me want to drive the car directly into the ocean. The solution? NPR podcasts. My favorites are:

Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, which is probably the only palatable way to hear the news these days. It's a very funny panel quiz show about the week's news. It's also been around for 15 years, so I have a hard time imagining anyone who listens to NPR on the weekend at all hasn't heard of it, so I won't waste more time describing it beyond that.

Ask Me Another is a much newer NPR quiz program which is brainteasers and trivia, plus Jonathan Coulton providing music. I read an article about it recently that said it was part of a new breed of NPR program where they were developing experimental programs on the cheap, and it certainly doesn't sound like they're spending much money on it. The grand prize for the winner at the end (there are a bunch of quizzes between two contestants, then the winner of each quiz goes to the final round for a spelling bee-style playoff) wins a custom Rubik's Cube, plus whatever prize furnished by the g-list celebrity of the week, which has included things like "the things we found in his bag."

Anyway, if you like brainteasers like, "Add the chemical symbol for copper to the chemical symbol for boron to get a bear's child," plus Jonathan Coulton, this is the program for you.

Pop Culture Happy Hour is four NPR writers sitting around talking about pop culture. They're all geeks in the best possible sense of the term - people who enthusiastically analyze things with thoughtfulness, humor and passion. Listening to them brings back the best memories of sitting with friends at our table in the college dining hall. And I've added all sorts of new tv, music and books to my list of things to check out when I have the time because of them.

The Alton Browncast isn't as much of a favorite, but I do enjoy it more often than not. I had some hesitation about this podcast, because while I love Alton Brown's tv shows, he strikes me as the sort of person (usually male) who is very... firm of opinion in a way that I find very irritating after a while (here's a sign: if they end some declaration with "Just my opinion," which is usually an attempt to inject faux-humility into an arrogant, narrow minded rant). And while the format of his tv shows haven't lent themselves to general opinionating, an hour-long podcast leaves a lot of room for bloviating.

Fortunately, the format of his podcasts haven't lent themselves to that either. He answers questions through both phone and e-mail and a large portion is given over to an interview. As it turns out, he's an excellent interviewer. There have been some unfortunate moments, like the first podcast where he was interviewing the maker of a particular Southern delicacy and decided to eat a bag of them throughout the interview, SMACKING AND CRUNCHING INTO THE MICROPHONE THE ENTIRE TIME. By the end, I wasn't sure if I wanted to punch him in the nose or just claw my ears off. There's also been the rant about how the solution to industrial egg production is for everyone to have their own backyard chickens, and the occasional somewhat misogynist comment (so the reason you like the movie 2001 is because you've never met a woman who likes it? Do you and Calvin watch it together in the G.R.O.S.S. clubhouse?). But he does give good advice, is usually spot on when talking about food and has done some very interesting interviews, so I'm still listening.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Long week

* It has been a long, long week. Alec didn't have preschool on Tuesday and Katherine didn't have school on Wednesday, which shouldn't have been so horribly taxing but somehow made life feel very crowded. I've gotten spoiled by having a kid in full-time school awfully quickly.

* Today was the first day in a week James and I had alone together, and we celebrated with a lovely nap together. At some point soon, we really need to work on getting James to sleep independently, but in the meantime, it's lovely to sleep cuddling a nice warm toddler who is finally taking a nap of decent length because he's being cuddled.

* This weekend, though is something I'm looking forward to so much I can practically taste it. Sunday is the first day off together B and I have had in nearly two months aside from Columbus Day (I never dreamed that I might find myself looking forward to Columbus Day...). But then Monday is Veteran's Day and another day off. Two days off together in a row! I don't think we've had that since our vacation last June.

* I've been doing a Bible study on Romans at church for the past few weeks. I've been hesitant before to sign up for these classes because with the sheer number of college and graduate level Bible classes I've taken, I worried that I would either be too bored or be an obnoxious know-it-all. The class last spring, for instance, was on I Corinthians, on which I did my senior thesis. But I've been pleasantly surprised at how well the class manages to be intellectual enough that I'm not bored, but focused enough on spiritual aspects that we're really talking about different things than we did in academic Bible classes, no doubt helped by the vagaries of my memory from it being nearly a decade since I took a Bible class. Mostly, it gets me out of the house, talking to other adults and engaging my brain. All the rest is pretty much gravy.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


* For the Sondheim-inclined among you, you might be interested to know the recent production of Company starring Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert is showing on Great Performances this weekend.

* My children spent the afternoon bringing fallen leaves into the yard from the yards of neighbors more tree-rich than us so they could make a leaf pile to jump in. I always feel a little weird when they run through other yards, but 1) the neighbors could hardly object to having fewer leaves to rake and 2) our entire block of houses has small backyards completely open to one another and all of their children run over them freely. If they objected to that, they would have built fences by now.

In any case, my children built a nicely large pile in an impressive display of industriousness that I'm sure I could never harness for my own nefarious purposes. Then they took turns sliding down the slide into it in a display of idyllic childhood. Then we found the dead rabbit, which put a bit of a pall over the entire afternoon as we had to put the frolicking on hold to await dead body removal. But they did fall asleep remarkably easily from the exercise tonight.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Poor James. He didn't nap nearly enough today, then was kept up an hour past his bedtime because we had to pick B up from work in the evening. Add to that the fact that his body was under the impression it was an hour later still, and the poor child didn't know whether to run riot or simply lie prone on the floor.

On the plus side, he was so easily frustrated that he figured out how to fling himself on the floor in despair without hurting himself. The first couple times he had to express how the world was ending because I wouldn't let him play with the window blinds, he hit his head on the floor. But he soon figured out how to sit down first, then carefully lay himself down so as to avoid undue pain while expressing his deep woe over the great injustice of the world and mothers who won't let you pull an entire shelf of cds onto the floor.

I'm impressed. At this age, his brother was deliberately banging his head on the floor to express his pique. Clearly James is made of more practical stuff.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The longest day

About halfway through grocery store this evening, I found myself thinking that it seemed like it had been a very long, moreso than I would expect from reasonable night of sleep and a not terribly onerous Sunday afternoon of child care. Then it occurred to me: well, it has been a long day.

This is the easier end of the Daylight Savings Time switch, even if you have small children. It mostly consists of parents of small children whining that they don't actually get the extra hour thanks to kids getting up at the same time, then having to chivvy your children through the evening so you can get them to bed at something resembling the normal time. James was climbing up in my lap and plastering himself against my chest at 6, but a bath managed to get the boys through to their normal 7pm bedtime. Now we'll see when they get up tomorrow morning.

For perhaps the first time, I'm seeing a little bit of the benefit of our government's sadistic desire to let us experience jetlag without ever having to leave the comfort of home twice a year. The increasingly late sunrise has been making it harder to wake up in the morning, and combined with last week's toddler insomnia fest, Katherine was late to school twice. We're not in the habit of needing an alarm clock because 1) I rarely need an alarm to wake up on time and 2) James is typically up by 6:30 and the wakeup call of a toddler running across your head is usually pretty effective. But when said toddler decides to be awake for hours in the middle of the night and then lie down on the job by sleeping in the next morning and I've only had two hours of sleep, suddenly I find myself waking up at about the point when we should be leaving.

Obviously we're going to start using an alarm clock, but I also think that more light in the morning will make the morning up and at 'em rush and drive easier.

I am scintillating tonight

Mostly very tired and grumpy, really. The last day off B and I had off together since the middle of September was Columbus Day, not counting the days when one of us was sick enough for B to take a sick day. Since we have absolutely no help, that's a lot of days of solo childcare, especially when Alec brought a fever home from preschool to give everyone, then got better enough to go back for one day and bring home a cold.

Aren't you glad I decided to post every day? It's far too early to be tapped out, but I just don't have it in me tonight. So, um, here - have a picture of a messy baby:


You know you want him to hug you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Bloggus Interruptus

So I never write, I never call - what's been going on around here lately?

- James has turned 18 months, one of my less favorite ages, and hit the massive sleep regression that comes with it. Our little Dylan Thomas (Do not go gentle into that good night, rage rage against the dying of the light) has made for an utterly exhausting week, which featured one night of only two hours of sleep for me and last night, when he decided to wake at 2am and nurse and doze until he was up for the day at 5. Not coincidentally, Katherine has been late to school twice this week.

On the other hand, last week he climbed into my lap, wrapped my arm around himself and said "Hug." So maybe we won't put him out on the corner with the recycling just yet.

...And now James is awake for the second time after I spent an hour getting him back to sleep. I give up. I'm going to bed so he can spend another night sucking me dry and will try to write more tomorrow. Sigh.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Whither NaBloPoMo?

Given my rate of posting over the past year, it seems foolish to attempt NaBloPoMo this year. And yet I truly want to post more, so I'm going to try it anyway.

I've actually been meaning to post for most of the past week, but instead, I've been working on Katherine's Halloween costume:


She's a musketeer. I'm a little conflicted about it, because she got the idea from a movie she watched. Afterward, she was asking me about historical Musketeers, practicing her fencing and even told me she thought she was over princesses. Great, right? The problem is that the movie was Barbie and the Three Musketeers, and she may be over princesses, but now she's into Barbie. Something of a lateral move, I think.

Anyway, I'm absurdly proud of the costume, because the long skirt is detachable and can be turned into a cloak, while there's a short skirt underneath more suitable for swashbuckling. Here's a very bad picture of it:


With the amount of work that went into Katherine's costume, I didn't have it in me to do any other sewing, so the boys got store-bought costumes. James was an elephant:

IMG_0771 IMG_0774

James currently has a passionate love affair with elephants, and aside from dogs which bark properly, all animals trumpet like an elephant as far as he's concerned. Meanwhile, Alec loves clothes with monkeys on them, so his costume was a natural fit:


And now I'm going to save the rest of my words for tomorrow, when November begins. More anon.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

School vignettes

* Katherine's school had a Parents' Night on Tuesday. We went and saw her large, comfortable classroom that she shares with a class of eight other children. We learned about their daily schedule, where they intersperse individualized academic instruction with ample breaks, group activities and physical exercise. We listened to how all of the students came up with the values they want the school to promote (honesty, kindness, etc.) and came up with rules based on those. We heard about the PTO, which has plans to raise money for things like a new swingset and field trips that don't turn our children into miniature Willy Lomans. Heading home, we retrieved Katherine from happily socializing with a group of kids ranging from 6 to 12.

* Last week, at pickup Katherine's teacher met me to tell me about a meltdown Katherine had had over wanting to be able to pick a partner for a schoolwide game when everyone's partner was randomly assigned. She eventually got with the program, but to my surprise, I wasn't being told this to report misbehavior, but simply to let me know why Katherine might be upset (she was fine by that point. While Katherine's need to work her way through dealing with the fact that things aren't going to be the way she wants them with the emotional equivalent of a force 10 hurricane is... aggravating, she at least has the virtue of getting over it when she's done). My reaction to these fits after weathering a few thousand of them is more along the lines of "Suck it up, Buttercup," but I'm glad she has a teacher who cares so much about her feelings.

* Over the past several years, Katherine has had some health problems that can result in embarrassing side effects. While they aren't the reason we chose to homeschool, it was a factor in not sending her back to school. I had absolutely no faith that the public schools would do anything to protect her from the potential social fallout. We were willing to risk sending her to camp because we had faith that a Quaker school would protect her from bullying, and we were lucky enough that there were only minor issues.

Well, after a year of only a couple infections, Katherine has managed to develop an infection that has made it through three rounds of antibiotics, and the side effects are definitely there and quite noticeable. And while I'm grinding my teeth with frustration over how rotten our luck has been (really, we haven't dealt with anything this bad in over two years), the school is dealing with it just fine. We've had several concerned conversations where it's clear their concern is her wellbeing and that they've been doing their best to keep the other kids from noticing.

When we were telling people about this school this summer, I was cautious, saying that we had liked everything we had seen so far and that they were saying all the right things. Because, of course, the gap between what an organization says and their execution can be wide. It's only been four weeks, but so far I can say we're extremely happy with how they're living up to their ideals.

Saturday, September 14, 2013


School started for Katherine last Tuesday. Nearly two weeks in, things are going very well. Katherine really likes her school and her teacher and she's made a couple friends. She has another uti, and her teacher is taking the issues that come with that in stride. Better yet, while in the dropoff line last week, her assistant principal told me how well she was doing and how loveable she is. Hearing that your kid's school really likes her is a major plus.

And she has art, music and gym, plus her teacher is teaching them yoga, none of which she would get at her local school. I feel very conflicted about the fact that by sending her to a charter school, we're actively taking money away from the school district that's so desperately in debt. But I don't think anyone who's paid any attention to the national headlines on the condition of the Philadelphia School District would argue that we should be sending our child there if we can find an alternative. At this point, there's so little staff to provide even basic supervision that even the schools that had a low violence rate aren't safe.


Last week, at the end of the excruciating two week break between the end of Alec's summer preschool and the beginning of fall preschool, I told Alec we were going to preschool the next day to see his new classroom. In the past, he's been reluctant to leave for preschool, although he always happily runs in once he's at his classroom. But that day, he cheered and insisted we needed to pack his lunch and his backpack. So he put two pieces of bread, a cut up cheese stick and a juice box in his lunch box, grabbed his backpack and insisted on putting them in the car, no matter how many times I told him we were just going to pick his father up from work. I was amused but pleased at this new enthusiasm.

The next day, we dropped Katherine off at school, I told him we were going to preschool and the chorus of "I don't want to go to school" began. It only got louder as we arrived and I had to practically drag him inside, mentally cursing my premature optimism, until he finally collapsed on the hallway floor and finally managed to get out "I WANT MY BACKPACK!"

Oh. Well, we could do that. We went back out to the car, he put on his backpack and grabbed his lunchbox and practically ran into his classroom, ready to stay for the day.

He had his first full day in the four-year-olds room on Tuesday. Wednesday morning, he got dressed, packed his lunch, put on his coat and backpack and appeared in my bedroom, announcing he was ready for school. Sadly, he only goes to preschool Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think he's having a good time.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

James at 16 months

You know, I can totally understand how people wind up with children a little over two years apart. It's this early toddler stage. They're just so delicious and adorable; they still have that baby sweetness and even the meltdowns are cute. But they're also getting more independent and self-entertaining and aren't nearly as much work. I can completely see how you can look at your 16 month old and think, "I could handle another one."

Then, of course, 18-23 months hits and if you're unlucky, you're already pregnant and stuck with morning sickness, a constantly tantrumming, bucking toddler and a feeling of dread because you're not sure you want the kid you already have, let alone another. But 16 month olds? It's easy to want a dozen of them.


James is at that ideal state of sweet and inquisitive. He's at the "he thinks he's people" stage of imitative behavior; he tries to put on his shoes, pretends to comb his hair, chats on the phone and tries to change his baby doll's diaper (well, diapers. Baby requires two diapers for some reason, which I am required to change. A mother's work is never done). He digs happily in his sandbox for a long, long time. He demands books be read over and over again, and then sits and pages through them on his own. He loves dolls and stuffed animals. He also loves the cats, who sadly don't share his devotion. My days feature a lot of "Be gentle with the kitty James. Gentle. Yes, very nice. No, we don't pull the kitty's tail. Yes, gentle. Gentle. GENTLE. GENTLE JAMES, GENTLE! Oh, for God's sake, Sonya, just run away already."

Long-suffering Sonya

In the visual spatial realm, he can stack cups (although he much prefers knocking them down), correctly order nesting cups and sort shaped blocks into the correct holes of the shape sorter.

His communication skills are coming along very nicely. He's adding new words almost daily: Mama, Daddy, Alec, Katherine, kitty, doggy, egg, duck, dino, peekaboo, hi, hello, thank you, bye, night, uh oh, again, woof, milk, shoe, please, where's James. He just mastered the world's cutest elephant trumpet. He's also remarkably good at getting across complex desires. Recently, for instance, he managed to communicate to me that he wanted to wear his shoes but not his socks.


His walk is still at the "drunken sailor" stage. He's not running, per se, but he can still get up a good speed. He's mastered getting down off the bed feet first. Hilariously, when we started putting him to sleep in a crib recently, he would try to use the same method to get out of it. He still hasn't caught on to the fact that the little matter of the bars on the crib are keeping him inside, no matter how many times his legs go through the bars. He hasn't figured out yet how to apply this technique to going down the stairs, although he's been crawling up the stairs for several months.

James continues to be an excellent eater, happily eating most of what we put in front of him. Despite this, he also continues to be a skinny guy. He continues to be a very very devoted nurser as well. I don't foresee weaning any time in the near future, not with the giant grin he gives me every time I start to lift my shirt. His hair is coming in thicker, but is so blond that it's hard to see. It's also starting to show some curl, albeit in a very wispy way.

And of course, he continues to be absolutely adorable:


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The horrifying Mommy blogger

*We went to see Despicable Me 2 Tuesday evening. Fun! And that's just about the extent of my review. It was as funny and utterly predictable as the first movie, didn't scare the kids too badly and was a decent way to spend an hour and a half.

Although there was one bit that was much more funny to B and me than it really deserved. The homicidal chicken kept making us think of this episode of the hysterically funny Monster of the Week, a webcomic retelling of the X-Files (which frankly I find much more worthwhile than watching the series ever was). We just kept whispering to each other "Eaten by chickens: think that happens."

* I have not historically been given to discussing the contents of my childrens' diapers, for which I hope you are duly grateful. So it should say a lot that after 8 years and three children, I changed the most colorful diaper of my parenting career today. It wasn't just the blueberries he had eaten; it was more the multiple crayons he had managed to consume on the sly that gave it that spectacular rainbow edge.

Kudoes, James. I thought I had seen everything the toddler alimentary canal could throw at me, but you proved me wrong with your Amazing Technicolor Dreampoop.

* Heck, as long as I've strayed into stereotypical Mommy blogging overshare topics, here's a conversation Alec and I had this weekend. I was trying to get him to put on underwear by being silly: does it go on your nose? Does it go on your elbow? And so on. Finally, I finished up with, "So where does you underwear go?"
"On my head!"

And so it did. He put his arms through his shorts for good measure too. I hadn't thought about it before, but there's a definite resemblance between the sense of humor of a four-year-old and that of the sort of drunk who finds it hilarious to put a lampshade on their head.

* And finally, James has become the horrifying Uh-Oh Baby:

If he is in fact portending our doom, at least he's doing it cutely.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Gone fishing

* We got back from a two-week trip to Michigan last week.  Goodness, vacations in Michigan are much more pleasant in the summer.  Instead of ice and sub-freezing temperatures,  we had lovely weather in the mid-70s and low 80s, and lots of time at the beach.

We started out stopping in Ohio for the night, went up to my mother's for a couple days and saw 75 percent of the Champaign gang, went up to B's parents and saw lots of family there.  Then we vacuumed approximately 2.5 beaches worth of sand out of our car and reversed the trip - back down to my mother's for a few more days, another night in Ohio, then home.  It was a lovely vacation all around.

* Unfortunately, we got back to a house that was 90 degrees, which is particularly unfortunate because I set the thermostat to 80 before we left.  Hello, broken air conditioner!  Hello, hellishly hot weekend where the indoor temperature never went below 90 degrees!

This is where moving has paid off, because our new landlord had a repairman out the next day and the ac was fixed by Sunday.  But it was awfully sweaty until that blessed event happened.  It's been over a decade since I've lived through high temperatures without air conditioning, and I didn't miss it one tiny bit.

* We saw Monsters University in Michigan.  It was cute, and for a movie where scaring is the main plot point, it was remarkably non-scary.  Even our resident scaredy-Katherine was unphased for the most part, only having to cover her eyes a couple times.  I will say that I like that it didn't follow the typical collegiate sports underdog plot and resisted the easy ending, but mostly it was an entirely unremarkable, inoffensive Pixar movie that didn't break any new ground.  GORGEOUS animation though, natch.

* One lovely part of being back is that camp has started.  Three days a week of only one kid!  This is giving me a preview of what the fall is going to be like when Katherine is in school.  I have to say, I'm liking it a lot so far. I love my daughter, but I've always said I'm a better mother when I'm given the chance to miss my children.

To sweeten the deal, I've been contemplating looking for Friday daycare again.  Of course, I'll have to figure out how to pay for it, which I'm still investigating.  There are legitimate ways to make a supplemental income on the Internet, but I need to find out how much work for monetary return they would require and whether it would be worth it.  The sanity points gained from getting more days off together won't mean much if I spend every evening working feverishly.  So we shall see.

Monday, June 10, 2013

James at thirteen months

If you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have said we had another month until walking. James had cruising down, and was occasionally standing without holding onto anything for a few seconds but honestly, he just didn't seem that interested when crawling could get him where he wanted to go.

But then last week he started standing independently for longer and longer. He figured out how to stand up without using anything to pull up (something Alec didn't figure out until after he learned how to walk - if he fell, he would have to crawl over to something he could pull up on). He started squatting with a clear gap between his butt and the ground. This past Wednesday, I saw him do deep knee bends without holding onto anything. It's like suddenly two weeks ago he decided mobility was his new job. So it wasn't really a surprise Saturday morning when I saw James stand up and then take three tiny steps before landing on his butt. Walking at thirteen months! What a prodigy! Well, compared to his brother (14 months) and sister (16 months!) he is.

Speaking of prodigiousness, our baby who disdained all forms of spoon feeding like we were trying to feed him lukewarm library paste? Started feeding himself with a spoon last month, remarkably neatly. Even Katherine, who was a fine motor skills fiend needed to have baby oatmeal added to her applesauce to keep it on the spoon at that age, but he happily spoons the slippery stuff up without a problem. On the not-so-prodigious self-feeding front, he is finally successfully drinking from a straw cup. You would think that a child who has spent literally his ENTIRE life sucking on things to get liquid would, when presented with a straw, think to do more than just look at it dumbly and then try to bite it, but not our special snowflake. I wasn't sure how to deal with this, since the older kids both took to straws naturally and instantly, but (for anyone Googling "How to teach a toddler how to use a straw") finally I switched from the fancy spill-proof strawcups to the cheap Take and Toss type where I could squeeze the sides and push some liquid up through the straw. Once the flow got started, he would instinctively suck to keep it going and got the idea of sucking to get it started pretty quickly. He still can't hack the fancier cups with longer straws, but I found a compromise in the form of these cups, which are small and cheap, but have a screw-on lid that can't be pried off by an enterprising toddler. If only I could find more than the one pack of four, I would switch all of our kid cups over to them.

On the cognitive end, it became incredibly clear when James had passed the 55 week developmental spurt and not just because he started sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a time. He started becoming very interested in putting his nesting cups together instead of seeing how far across the room he could scatter them. He started grouping like things together. He added three new words - okay, baby, bye. He started getting very interested in baby dolls and stuffed animals and now has a cloth baby doll who is becoming his lovey (I'm so pleased - he chose a doll that's easily commercially available and simple to replace, unlike Katherine who glommed onto a mother and baby bunny pair from my childhood. Not merely irreplaceable, but with a small part that's easy to lose!). He's less likely to freak out when he wants something if he can see me in the process of getting it since now he's starting to understand sequences.

At the moment, his main interests are baby dolls, the play kitchen, things that fit together, cars and anything that plays annoying electronic music. He was 19 pounds, 13 ounces last week, continuing to skate under twenty pounds and be our skinny little guy. He's silly and cuddly, and still my sweet baby.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013


* Katherine had her end-of-the-year ballet recital last night. She's been taking classes through the local rec center, and while there are many criticisms to be leveled against Philadelphia's Parks and Rec department (and I say this as an employee of said department), it's hard to beat $150 for 9 months of perfectly decent ballet lessons, costume included.

I don't think I'm just being a fond parent when I say I was really pretty impressed by Katherine's class, which was 6 and 7 year old beginners. Watching the classes, which ranged in age from 3 to teenagers, I also started feeling a lot less guilty about not managing to get Katherine in dance classes at four or five when she first started asking. There were talented outliers, of course, but it looked very much like six or seven is the dividing line between "able to listen well to instruction and learn how to dance" and "flailing around to music, sometimes deliberately in unison (or a semblance thereof)."


We actually made it out to a movie a couple weeks ago! And it wasn't rated G! It was Iron Man 3, as a matter of fact. To give a quick, spoiler-free review, I was really impressed, and think it was actually better than Iron Man 2. Rather than do the action movie franchise of simply rehashing what worked before but ramping it up by making it BIGGER! and MORE EXPLOSIONS!, they tried something different and focused on actual character development. I was also impressed that they took what was a racist villain in the comic and completely turned the concept on its head.


On a final note on the topic of performing, on a whim recently, did a Youtube search on the Not Ready for Bandai Players, the name that the Champaign crowd gave our cosplay group that competed in the cosplay contest at Anime Central for several years. And there are actually two of our performances on Youtube. Sadly, not our award-winning Ranma 1/2 / Lupin III crossover sketch, but I'm glad to see our Maison Ikkoku/Excel Saga crossover is being preserved. What really surprises me is how non-embarrassing it is to watch them. Not just that the dialogue holds up well and is still funny, but watching myself isn't cringe-inducing. And even more astonishing, all of the comments are positive. Really, a pleasant surprise all around.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Momentous, part two

So the other things we did on Mo Willems Friday was go look at a school for Katherine.

I feel like I should back up here and talk a bit about Katherine's reading issues. I've been on record in the past as saying that I felt that she could read better than she claimed - not that hard, since she claimed she couldn't read at all. And to a certain extent, I think that's still true. But while she ended kindergarten reading simple phonics stories, and made it up to the last level of Reading Eggs in first grade which theoretically would have her at a first grade reading level, this year she's been having trouble going past the basic phonics stage. I found us having to go back to Progressive Phonics and work our way through the intermediate level. I also found that 1) she's still having trouble with letter reversals at an age where she really should be growing out of that and 2), she guesses at words based on whatever letter in the word she sees first and 3) seems to have a lot of trouble with visual discrimination. She has a lot of trouble picking an individual object out of a crowded scene, and was complaining a lot about having trouble reading small print. She made dramatic improvements when I started blowing up the font on the computer when reading and starting planning assignments based on the idea that I couldn't expect her to handle recognizing small things (for example, her math assignments often represent numbers visually by using bars for the tens and teeny tiny weeny little dots for the ones. Life got a lot easier when I stopped asking her to count them).

I did get her eyes checked since her glasses didn't seem to be helping at all, this time at an optometrist who uses the spiffy machine that measures your prescription through space-age sourcery. She does in fact have a large degree of astigmatism in her left eye that the last eye doctor didn't pick up at all (in all fairness, she's not terribly cooperative, which is a big reason I wanted the machine). While the new glasses have helped, she hasn't had any great breakthroughs in reading. Now that we've eliminated eye problems, that leaves neurological issues. And here's where I get out of my depth when it comes to reading instruction.

Enter the school, which I found online through a series of links I can't begin to remember. It's like an online charter in that it's a charter licensed through the state but not affiliated with a school district (and in fact has an online option) but it has physical locations with real teachers. It has a focus on dyslexia and dysgraphia, but isn't only for students with learning disabilities, so Katherine will be able to go there whether she has a learning disability or not, and will have a teacher with training in dealing with reading difficulties. They will also evaluate her, something I had been trying to figure out how to get without having to go through our (urban, cash-strapped, somewhat corrupt) school district. In addition:

- It has multiage classes with a student-teacher ratio of 13:1
- They provide individualized instruction that allow students to move at their own pace
- They have multiple breaks in schoolwork throughout the day and spend a lot of time outside. The branch we visited had a garden and was talking about chickens in the fall.
- Their science and social studies curricula are heavily project based
- The school day is structured with the academic block in the morning and electives like art, music and clubs in the afternoon. One of my biggest worries about sending Katherine to school is what a strong introvert she is, and with this schedule, we could potentially bring her home early a couple afternoons a week if it seems like she's getting too stressed out with a seven hour school day.
- The founder's children are homeschooled (although they're going to the school next year) and in fact go to the same day program for homeschoolers Katherine attends, so we don't have to worry about prejudice against homeschooled chidren. Talking to him, he seemed to have many of the same educational philosophies we do.

Really, I think the only way I could make this is a better school is if it were Quaker, but if it were, it wouldn't be a public school, so I'm willing to accept the tradeoff (especially since they have a strong emphasis on teaching conflict resolution).

I admit, there are parts of homeschooling I will definitely miss. When it's going well, it's a lot of fun. I really love how free our days are, and I will miss being able to give Katherine hours of free time to do her own projects. She does the most wonderful, creative things (one of my favorites: when building a hotel out of blocks, she figured out how to make a functioning revolving door), and I hate the thought of her losing the time and energy to do as many of them. I worry that being around people all day will be hard on our little introvert, and how hard it will be for our shy girl to meet a school full of strangers.

But she's also expressing unhappiness with her reading abilities, so it's time to get help. And while homeschooling is great when it's going well, when Katherine is being rebellious and Alec is screeching for help with a computer problem and James is insisting on climbing all over us and the laptop, it makes me want to put my head through a wall, and that's what homeschooling looks like here more often than not. So I'm excited for a good affordable school to send Katherine to so we can get at least one kid out of the house. I'm really looking forward to see how she'll develop when she can finally read well.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Momentous week

It was a big week last week. First, there was James's birthday (30.5 inches, 19 pounds, 10 ounces at his appointment Monday. Finally managed to surpass his 9 month weight by two ounces!). Since his sister had to get to her ballet lesson by 6:30, we had a low-key party that mostly consisted of presenting him with cake, which he found quite pleasing. The sad part is this is the most elaborate party we've ever had for our childrens' first birthdays. had to leave for a conference the day of Katherine's birthday, so she didn't even get a cake until a couple weeks later when we were in Michigan. Alec got tacked onto the end of the song at Katherine's fifth birthday party, the poor middle child.

The other big social thing we did was go to Mo Willems reading on Friday night! Katherine is passionately devoted to the Elephant and Piggie books and has been begging to meet him for over a year. One of her earliest coherent stories was "Piggie Breaks Her Leg," written in kindergarten. Baby's first fanfic. *sniff*

Anyway, I highly recommend trying to go to a Mo Willems book signing the next time he's touring if you have a young Willems fan in your life. He gives a great presentation that is as appealing to children as you could imagine from reading his books. In the q&a, he gave one of the best answers to the question all artists hate, "Where do you get your ideas?" His was "Every month, an envelope comes to my house, and reading the papers inside gives me all sorts of wonderful ideas. That paper is my mortgage." He reiterated in several questions that it isn't about ideas, it's about the work you put in, I think because he wanted to remove the idea that art is something only special people who receive magical idea seeds can do. He started out by introducing himself as an author/illustrator, then asking the children how many of them drew and wrote stories (all of them), and told them that meant they were author/illustrators too. He got his start copying Peanuts comic strips, so he's tremendously encouraging of children using his characters to develop their own stories. Despite the fact he had been signing for nearly two hours, he was very kind and encouraging to Katherine. And he finished his presentation by having teachers and librarians raise their hands, then having the audience clap for us because we're so underappreciated.

So needless to say, we thought it was a great evening with a great author. Totally worth keeping the children out way too late. I would highly encourage you to go to a signing of his, but he just announced that he's taking a year-long sabbatical, so there isn't going to be an opportunity for that for over a year. Well, poop. I can't blame him, since he's been publishing 3-4 books a year for a long time, but I'm not sure how to break it to Katherine that the next couple Elephant and Piggie books coming up are the last for quite a while.

We did something else even bigger last Friday, but I think I will save it for its own post. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


One year ago today, we got up and went to the hospital at the remarkably civilized hour of 9 to have a stubborn baby curled in a ball at the top of my uterus extracted. At this point, it was all pretty much old hat: the coldness of the operating room and the lovely warmed blankets, the sting of the numbing shot before the odd but not painful administration of the spinal, followed by rapid numbness, the weirdness of having your innards jostled. Really, the only real difference has been when the numbness would reach the nerves in my chest and make it feel like it was hard to breathe, and when I would throw up. In this case, it was after the baby came out. I was lying there after the spinal, feeling a little worried because I still had some feeling around the edges and hoping they wouldn't start before I was completely numb when I smelled something burning and realized - oh, cautery. They've already started. It wasn't too long at all before James appeared and expressed his displeasure at his eviction. We were shocked at his weight - 6 pounds, 15 ounces, a good two pounds lighter than his siblings, and he was wrapped up and given to B to hold. Then the breathlessness and nausea hit, so I closed my eyes and thought very hard about breathing until it eased. Eventually, the jostling of my digestive system stopped, which relieved the nausea and after a while longer, they closed me up. B told me later it took longer to close me up because they were having trouble finding all of the sponges, to the point that they had to empty the waste basket onto a mat to recount them. Thankfully, it was found on the floor, but I don't really mind them taking the time to make sure they weren't leaving anything behind that didn't belong there.

At that point, I was transferred to a gurney, had James tucked in next to me and was taken to recovery, and actually got to get to know our new baby. He was a lot like he is now - calm, cuddly and a good sleeper. He was long and bony then, and while he has a nice layer of fat, he's still pretty skinny now. He has just about the same amount of hair too.

I can't believe how fast this year has gone. There have been parts of having three children that have been very hard, but as babies go, James has been a dream. He gave me a chance to finally get breastfeeding right, and he remains passionately devoted to nursing. He wasn't planned or expected, but I wouldn't give him back for anything.

Happy birthday, baby boy.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

James, 9 to 11 months

My tiny newborn baby is turning one in less a week. I refuse to acknowledge this as any sort of reality. He's still a baby, dammit.

It's really no wonder 9 month olds don't sleep. They're far too busy developing skills in all directions, from crawling to eating finger foods to making detailed macrame sculptures. Most of the past two months can be summed up as acquiring new skills, then enhancing them:

At 9 months, James started crawling, in a hesitant and awkward sort of way. At ten months, he suddenly discovered speed and we actually had to start putting up gates to keep him from getting away from us. He still does a hilariously awkward crawl when he's on tile though, because he doesn't like the cold on his shins. So he attempts to crawl by putting his weight on one knee and the opposite foot, which doesn't really work at all.

9 months, he started pulling to stand. At 10 months, he started travelling.

At 8 months, he started clapping and waving. At 9 months, he suddenly found the entire world applause-worthy and felt the need to greet everyone like the Queen of England (he also discovered separation anxiety at 9 months, so while he's always been friendly when approached but not outgoing, he's turned into our shy guy. He's still quite adorable when he hides his face in my shoulder and coyly smiles at people though). At 10 months, he added to his fine motor/social skills with pointing. He also started trying to scribble on paper (specifically, his sister's schoolwork) or the Magnadoodle.

At 9 months, he got interested in peek-a-boo when we played it with him. At ten months, he started playing with us, by standing at the coffee table and lowering himself until his face was covered, then standing back up, or by covering his face with a handy blanket. Cutest milestone ever.

At 9 months, he started occasionally saying "Mama" and "Dada" to us as appropriate. At ten months, he started waving to us and saying "Mama!" or "Dada!" whenever we came into the room.

At 9 months, he was 29 inches tall and 19 pounds, 8 ounces. Since then, he's had two week-long bouts of stomach flu, in addition to an ear infection, so I'm desperately hoping that he turns out to weigh more than that at his one year appointment. Fortunately, when he's not puking for a week at a time, he's an excellent eater. He was even begging me for bites of lentil soup the other day and flapping his arms in excitement between bites. Apparently our baby likes soup with kale.

He acquired four more teeth in the space of about three days at 8 months, bringing the total to 8. He hasn't produced any more since, but he's clearly working on some. He still has very little hair. What little hair he has looks like it's going to be blond.

He's still a baby for another week. Our sweet, happy baby.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


So we moved over the weekend, four weeks ago. And then into the week, pretty much like, forever. That was fun. And then we all got sick! The good times, they just keep coming, I tell you.

But we're completely out of the old house and slowing shoveling our way through the new. I am no longer at the stage where I begin to wonder if a box of matches might be a better solution. Mind you, looking at our garage still gives me heart palpitations, but hey! We have a garage to shove our shit into again! That's almost worth moving for in and of itself.


So I've been working on the above opus for two weeks now. And then poor James got sick and threw up for an entire week, and then our sadistic bastard government took an hour away from us. And I have several posts I want to write, but none of them seem to append well to what I've written out so far. So let's see, here are a couple random tidbits before I finally shoot this post and put it out of its misery:

- We did our annual corned beef and cabbage dinner Sunday, but this year we roasted the vegetables. Wow, what a difference. I've had various roasted vegetables for years, but they've never seemed worth the time it took to do all of that chopping and then the two lifetimes you go through waiting for them to be done just to get slightly crunchy potatoes anyway. But recently, I discovered the joys of cruciferous vegetables roasted at high heat until they blacken around the edges and caramelize. Bonus if you roast them with some garlic and put on some parmesan cheese in the last five or ten minutes. Doing that to brussels sprouts recently had Katherine and I standing over the pan filching sprouts to eat with our fingers because it seemed like putting them on plates would take too long.

- I'm not sure why, but after nearly four years of sewing, I'm getting the urge to knit again. This isn't a problem, except that I have a bunch of sewing projects in the hopper that I also really want to do. Fortunately, we're getting into the stage of advanced babyhood where I have both more time for projects again AND the brainpower to accomplish them. I think maybe I'll try making each of the kids a new sweater for next winter. Child-sized sweaters are small and quick, so they're not too much of a commitment. Now I just need to do things like try to remember the password to my Ravelry account and reassemble my modular knitting needle kit, since it has proven to be irresistible to small children who like to pop the needles out of their spaces and scatter them about the room.

- And finally, I will leave you with what Katherine told me yesterday: "You know my dance teacher? He doesn't know anything about undersea volcanoes! That's a little bit upsetting." Why yes it is. Why are we paying for dance lessons if we can't even find a dance teacher with an adequate knowledge of oceanography?

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Updates, part 1

So here's something hysterical - at the beginning of the year, I was contemplating trying to write here every day for the entire year. Heh. That's one of the problems with going to Michigan at the turn of every year - I put off New Year's resolutions until we get home, then we're all tired and discombobulated when we get home, and then suddenly it's February. That, of course, isn't why I flaked on any semblance of writing regularly - it has a lot more to do with my falling asleep on the couch every evening - but it doesn't help.

Anyway, lots of stuff is happening. For starters, we're moving. There are two main reasons: 1, we hate our landlord and 2, I do an insane amount of driving between Alec's preschool and Katherine's homeschool program. It's looking like Katherine is going back to summer camp this summer, so I'll be driving the same distance five days a week instead of two. And we managed to find a house that would take three miles off of a 9 mile drive, which is significant when it comes to city driving.

I also like the way the house is set up better, even if it's a bit smaller than our current house. Our current house is three stories with living room, dining room and kitchen on the first floor, bedrooms on the second and a family room and extra bedroom where the garage used to be on the ground floor. The drawback of this is that there's very little storage space, and while there's lots of living space on the ground floor, it's cut up in a way that makes it inconvenient to use. So instead, we shove all of junk down there and live on the upper two floors. I liked it a lot better in our last house, which was all of the significant rooms on the first floor and then a large family room in the basement, along with a utility hallway and the garage, which is where we shoved all of our junk, keeping it nicely out of sight (see, I don't care so much what we do with our crap so long as I don't have to look at it). We spent our most of our time in the family room, but the living room was there as a nice place to sit without toys all over the place.

The new house is a similar configuration, but larger. It has a large family room downstairs, along with an extra little room that I think would be a good place to set up school stuff, and a very large utility hallway big enough to serve as overflow toy storage and a place to set up messy art projects or ride tricycles on rainy days. The kitchen and our bedroom will be smaller than our current house, but I can live with that if the places where we spend the majority of our time is larger and if we have more storage space, which it does in spades. Another advantage is that we'd like to move James in with Alec, but currently Alec is in the smallest bedroom. It wouldn't be feasible or fair to have two kids in there when Katherine is alone in a bigger bedroom. Moving gives us an organic way of shifting her to the smallest bedroom (and she, in fact, highly conveniently declared entirely on her own that she wanted the bedroom we would have chosen for her).

So I anticipate we'll be pretty happy in the new house once we're in. Of course, we have to survive to that point, which is a dicey proposition. I'm theoretically looking forward to packing as a chance to do some purging, but mostly I dread the entire moving process. It's likely we'll be able to get some people from church to help this time, which is such a lovely prospect. I even have a friend from church that's going to come over and help pack, for which I'm so grateful. That still doesn't change the fact that moving is hell.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

At the movies

We saw The Hobbit when 's parents were visiting for Christmas. I was both looking forward to it, because it was my favorite Tolkien book, and a little afraid to see it, because it was my favorite Tolkien book. I had a hard time figuring out how they were going to stretch it to three movies and was very afraid of what violence they might do to the plot to achieve that end.

Well! First, it's been years and years since I've read it, so I had a comfortable vagueness about the actual event of the book going, which I think helped a great deal. Periodically, a scene would pop up that I remembered from the book and they always went about how I thought they should. A lot of the extra stuff is showing what Tolkien was telling, which is just fine with me because it makes no sense not to take advantage of a visual storytelling medium. I'm told the rest of the additions were from other Tolkien, and they all seemed to fit the movie pretty well.

I can see all the reasons that people didn't like The Hobbit - too long, boring, shifts in tone (well, except for the accusations of making extra plot up out of whole cloth because all of the additions were drug up from some portion of Tolkien) - but I loved it anyway. I wasn't bored, I thought they did a great job of capturing the humor of the book, yet giving the plot and the character development a great deal more weight than the book does.

So did anyone else wonder if Radagast the Brown started out brown, or if he just became that after too many centuries of not bathing?


Speaking of movies, I've mentioned more than once Katherine's sensitivity to scary things, and my indecision on how much to push her on the issue. I finally decided to leave her alone, both because I don't remember seeing scary things as a child doing anything other than give me something new to terrify me in the middle of the night (I still have nightmares where I'm stuck in a theatre and Sweeney Todd is about to start) and because I decided her life will not be any poorer for not being able to watch horror movies.

And in one of those rare moments, my parenting strategy has proven to be the right one! Over Christmas, Katherine asked to watch The Nightmare Before Christmas and the first two Harry Potter movies. We gave her space and lo and behold, she matured enough on her own to be able to handle more scary stuff, probably much faster because we didn't make her watch anything traumatizing.

We're so excited. This might be the year we can introduce Star Wars!

Friday, January 18, 2013


Every baby we've had has had different songs sung to them. Katherine heard a lot of Lydia the Tattooed Lady. Alec heard Union Maid, Alice's Restaurant turned into Alec's Restaurant, and Alouette, sung as Alexander. Nothing says love to your baby like singing about plucking them. For James, rather than something pedestrian and cliched like Sweet Baby James (mostly because I don't really know the lyrics well), lately he's been hearing variations on the Harvey the Wonder Hamster theme song from the short-lived Weird Al tv show:

Jamesy, Jamesy, Jamesy the Wonder Hamster,
He doesn't bite and
He doesn't squeal,
He just runs around on his hamster wheel,
Jamesy, Jamesy, Jamesy the Wonder Hamster!
Hey, James!

It's a big hit, plus The Wonder Hamster is a good baby nickname. Then Katherine came up with the dog variation:

Jamesy, Jamesy, Jamesy the wonder doggie,
He doesn't bite and
He doesn't bark,
He just runs around all day in the park,
Jamesy, Jamesy, Jamesy the wonder doggie!
Hey, James!

Finally, to avoid species confusion, I came up with a proper human baby version:

Jamesy, Jamesy, Jamesy the wonder baby,
He doesn't bite and
He doesn't poo,
He just jumps around in his jumperoo,
Jamesy, Jamesy, Jamesy the wonder baby!
Hey, James!

Katherine would like to point out that he does in fact poo, copiously. To which I can only respond that he bites too, but I've included the biting line in every version to try and get him to take a hint.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

James at 8 months

So we have this baby, and he keeps growing. And then he develops more physical skills. The nerve, I tell you. Doesn't he know he's supposed to be my tiny baby?

This is such a gross motor age. James can: stand at a table, go from lying down to sitting up, creep across the floor, occasionally in the direction he wants to go in and has pulled himself up nearly to standing at least once. I think he will be crawling next month.

In fine motor skills, he can: pick things up in a fine pincher grip, wave and is working hard on clapping. He uses his pincher grip on the two or so solid meals a day he's eating now. I had to laugh - we were so careful about introducing solid foods to Katherine (although there were food allergy issues there, to be fair). And after a month or so of lackadaisically trying different baby foods to indifferent success, we found James eating Cheerios off of the floor and started giving him Cheerios. As it turns out, the boy just doesn't like mushes. He's also thrilled with apple and pear slices, orange slices cut up small, broccoli*, buttered toast, graham crackers and corn flakes.

Cognitively, he's babbling away like a little brook (the small body of flowing water, that is, not his father). And while visiting my mother, several of us heard him say something that sounded quite a bit like "Hi" in response to people greeting him. I'm pretty sure I've heard "Mama" and "Dada" a couple times, but they don't seem to be repeated too often. Separation anxiety has started to take hold, which means he's not quite so happy to go to other people any more if I'm there.

No matter how big he gets, he's still my sweet little love muffin. He's such a happy, happy baby, who smiles all the time and rarely gets upset. My happy little lovey.


*It's bizarre - I have three children who all love broccoli. Goodness knows I haven't done a thing to deserve such good eaters. They get plenty of junk and sweets. And yet last night, out of a meal of chicken, roasted potatoes and broccoli, the only thing either of my older children ate was the broccoli.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Well, that was a ...memorable trip

We are home! My mother is home as well, as of Monday. We left last Sunday, because it was clear she was on the mend and while I hate to abandon her on her sickbed, she needs to be a lot sicker for us to justify missing work. We went through Lafayette and had dinner with friends there, stayed in Columbus for a day and saw various friends and family. We made it home without incident on Tuesday and got to spend a couple more days off before getting back into the work grind.

That said, there was a point driving to Columbus when Katherine was absolutely sick of the car and starting moaning, "Worst trip ever." And I had to think, well, I've had worse trips. Going to South Dakota after my mother's accident, or home for my father's funeral, or to B's grandfather's funeral, where we arrived to discover his great-uncle and cousin had been killed in a car accident all come to mind. But this trip is starting to rank right up there in the top (bottom?) five. I had to give up our plan of a long weekend in Columbus seeing my best friend for two entire days in favor of visiting my mother in the hospital while she had unpleasant things done and only being able to see my best friend for an evening. And as a bonus, we got to go through the colossal hassle of getting James to a doctor in a strange city because he was running a fever and deeply unhappy, and we didn't think it was a good idea to take him on a 9-hour car ride over the mountains if he might have an ear infection (he didn't). It wasn't all bad, of course. We did get to see everyone we wanted to see. But the level of stress involved, and the knowledge that my mother's body is continuing to malfunction, made it a bad trip indeed.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Some progress, little news

I spent much of the day at the hospital today. They did a cat scan on my mother today, so tomorrow we should have an answer as to whether the blockage is caused by either a physical blockage, requiring surgery, or an ileus, which is when a portion of the intestines decides to poop out, or rather not poop out, which basically takes time for the intestines to start working again. An ileus is pretty common with quadriplegics, so it seems likely that's it. It's certainly what we're hoping for. Meanwhile, they're doing some grody things that are helping to relieve the pressure in her rather hard, distended abdomen, which is making her feel better.

So most likely, this is something that won't kill her but is yet another part of her body not working well.


We just watched Brave again on dvd, for the first time since seeing it in the theatre last June. Much as I remember, the animation was exquisite and the story bugged me. Not that it was bad, per se, just that it was full of tired stereotypes, ones that were particularly disappointing in Pixar's first movie with a female protagonist. Basically, it wasn't a movie with a female protagonist, it was a movie about being a girl. And how girl stuff sucks. Until the very end, when being a woman is what's needed to save the kingdom from the idiot man-children who pretend to run it. As far as I can tell, all of the male characters are just ids running around, while Merida would like to be that (and why wouldn't she?) until she finally sees the benefit of being an actual mature person with some semblance of self-control. Really, Pixar? This is really the best you can do? It's like the video game companies that think they should try to capture the girl market and put out a game about dating or makeup, because that's the nerdy guy idea of what girls are like.

Maybe the next time they decide to make a movie starring a girl (some time in the next decade, one hopes), they can resist the urge to simply have the plot stamp "girl" on her forehead and just do a movie about a person who is female.

(Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed the movie. It was funny and absolutely beautiful. But only by firmly tamping down my inner feminist)

Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year

I had an upbeat post planned yesterday, about my plans for the new year and the things I thought we could pretty realistically get accomplished. And instead, my mother is in the ER tonight with a bowel obstruction (her oh-so-useful doctor this morning phoned in a medication for gas. When I have more time, I have a doozy of a rant about the various stories of my mother's medical care make me suspect that people see an elderly woman in a wheelchair and don't try as hard as they might otherwise). Her aide is with her; I am not because I am James's main food source, and a baby in the ER is not a good idea. If it had been something that could have been resolved in an evening, I wouldn't have been needed. Since she's being admitted, we will go over tomorrow morning once she's in a hospital room, away from the ER germs. This all makes perfect sense and does absolutely nothing to assuage my crippling guilt, but the fact remains, a baby in the ER is a bad idea, so here I am.

So now I'm looking at two different years: the one where my mother remains relatively stable and I keep on with my plans, and the other one, where she isn't and I need to figure out how to manage our family while possibly having to be in Michigan often. I'm rapidly starting to think that planning for crisis management is going to have to be the way to go, although I will do my best to not live as if we're in crisis mode when we're at home in Philadelphia. Non-crisis mode involves things like more exercise (B recently got a hefty raise that we're deeply unhappy about (that's another doozy of a post all on its own), which mean we should be able to afford joining the Y), keeping up with our improved cooking habits, continuing to be more involved at church and keeping a better school schedule. Crisis mode preparations, on the other hand, involve making sure bills can get paid and the house kept together if I'm not there, coming up with child care plans, and quite probably looking for a school for Katherine. We haven't been accomplishing more than the minimum since James was born, and the "She's in first grade, it doesn't matter so much if we don't get a lot done this year" starts to wear thin as it stretches throughout second grade as well. I had plans for getting lot more done starting next week. But now I'm not sure if we're getting home next week. I think she needs a teacher less distracted and stressed than I am, and we need to be able to continue her education throughout any upheaval. I was commenting last month that we need some sort of groovy experimental school that gives her a lot of autonomy and fun projects, but is still academically rigorous. We'll see if that's possible.