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.