Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Stop Being Nice!

Check out this very interesting view. You have to admit she's got a great point, and she's not at all nice about it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Moment When Faith Triumphs Over Pain

Update on Husband: I have good news! The cyst is NOT basal cell carcinoma. It's just a cyst, and as a cyst, it's on its way out. I got the call from the resident doctor a few days ago, who told me that though it looked just like basal cell carcinoma, it was nothing. She also said, "He [Husband] was right. He's never going to let us live that down, is he?" She was laughing when she said it, so I guess she understands that while he will never let them live that down, he'll lord it over them with humor.

Thank you to those who were sending prayers his way! Who knows? Maybe those prayers created a miracle. I can certainly believe that.


I had to do something today that I was not looking forward to. I attended the viewing of a tiny baby, who died a couple hours after being born. I have been to viewings before, but they've always been of adults, and I did not think I would be able to get through seeing that tiny form lying in a casket without dropping to my knees and sobbing.

I didn't know the parents of this baby girl. They live in our stake, and as I have just received a new calling in the stake Relief Society Presidency, the new president felt it was appropriate that we go and support this family in the hour of their need, so I met the other women at the church. None of us felt ready, but we finally entered the room to speak to the parents.

It's amazing the power of faith. The parents had known since the third month that their baby would not survive birth for very long. An ultrasound showed that the baby girl's brain was not developing, so the parents had some time to come to grips with the news that their littlest one would not survive. They also were able to spend time preparing their older children. Because the parents had been sealed in the temple for time and all eternity, they knew they would be able to see their little one again. During the time that we talked to them, they gently comforted us instead of the other way around. The little girl lying in the casket looked like a tiny doll. The photos and digital slide shows on display were images full of joy and love instead of grief and pain. The room was full of peace.

All the same, I really don't want to do that again. As we left the room where the casket lay and walked back out to the foyer, all of us let the tears finally fall. I hope that if I had to undergo an ordeal of that magnitude I would have the strong faith, grace, and joy that those parents did. Still, I am not asking for that kind of trial.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Have One Cancer When You Can Have Two?

Update on Husband: I'm making this an official update because there are developments. Husband's drug reaction did get worse, as far as the itching was concerned. I'm happy to report he did not succumb to insanity, but it was a little touch and go for a while.

Yesterday we went to the dermatologist to get the cyst on the bridge of his nose checked out. Thirty minutes into our visit, we were still discussing his sudden allergic reaction to penicillins and what the doctor could do to ease some of the horrible itchiness. The resident doctor, a lovely, vivacious woman, prescribed a strong hydrocortisone cream (which didn't work, in the end. In fact, the itching got worse, much to Husband's dismay) and some strong antihistamine pills to knock him out so he could sleep at night (the pills did work, and Husband finally slept very soundly for the first time in four nights).

We finally got around to the problem of the cyst. Husband had put a bandage over it for a week to keep it from being irritated by his glasses, and it had shrunk down remarkably. The resident took one look and said, "Basal cell carcinoma." Husband said, "No. I would really rather it was not." The resident, however, was not swayed. The attending doctor came in for a minute, looked at the cyst, and said, "Basal cell carcinoma." The resident took a sliver for a biopsy, and we now await the news. Basal cell carcinoma is not by any means lethal, but it will be annoying to have to get it removed. I told Husband that now he can brag about surviving two different cancers. Because he was itching so badly, he didn't appreciate the humor of that.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

I'm the Best Mom Ever! (until I'm not)

Husband had two teeth pulled yesterday and three cavities filled. He hasn't been all that thrilled about going to the dentist, needless to say, so to add insult to tooth-pulling injury, he managed to have a reaction to the 2 mg dose of amoxicillin his doctor prescribed to be taken an hour before the extraction. By the time I came home, he was beet red all over and felt awful. Even after the pain killers kicked in and his jaw wasn't aching so badly, he suffered from massive chills and bad nausea. Today, he's still a deep shade of red and is starting to itch everywhere. It's not as bad as the last time he had a drug reaction, but we thought he was allergic to the sulpha drug he was taking. He's never had a reaction to a penicillin before.

Well, he's had worse, I guess. At least there's that. The last time he had a reaction, he itched constantly and intensely all over for an entire week after the horrific rash faded. It nearly drove him crazy. This time it's annoying but not inducing near-insanity. There was no rash, and his jaw's feeling pretty good.

Is it bad that I am glad I am well and can take care of him instead of feeling sympathetically ill? If I could take the pain and itching for a while, I sure would, but I guess it's okay to be glad that I'm feeling just fine. Someone has to feed the three-year-old, after all, and yell at the kids (again) to get their chores and dishes done.

Husband is actually better at jollying the kids into cheerful work than I am. I come down like a drill sergeant, especially when I've asked them and asked them to get their stuff done and they can't seem to find the time in their busy schedules of looking for funny YouTube videos. I start barking out orders when it's painfully apparent that me being nice is me being ignored, and they immediately get that hurt look on their faces like I am being both unreasonable and unfair. "You're mean, Mom," they say, and I mutter, "Yeah, I'm mean because I don't want you living in filth." They don't hear me, and if they did, they probably wouldn't appreciate my scathing wit and spot-on accuracy.

For the record, I'm also the Best Mom Ever! It just depends on the circumstances.

Other news:
Sian has had two triumphs lately. First, her short story won first place for fiction and a guaranteed place in her school's literary magazine. Second, she placed second in the school talent show. She played her own version of Suzanne Ciani's "Butterflies" on the piano.

I didn't mention to my children the fact that the theater company that put on "Annie" is having auditions for their next production, "The King and I." There are children's parts, but I just couldn't fathom the idea of all those hours of rehearsal again. I was tempted for about five minutes to try out myself for some part in the chorus or something, but logic soon set in. I got over that little bit of theatrical desire pretty quickly.

I'm off to the grocery store for chicken noodle soup and gummy worms. Husband decided he wants soup and ginger ale for dinner, and I'll get gummy worms just because. I bet I'll be The Best Mom Ever! when I get home. At least the house is somewhat tidier.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Home Decorating Progress

You've seen them in magazines and you've wanted one for yourself.


I've been loving this. It's the wall right next to the garage door, and it isn't visible unless you walk all the way into the kitchen. Yes, there are other chalkboard paint colors, but I liked the classic black. We were going to paint magnetic paint underneath, but it's $20 a quart (!) and you need three coats to make it magnetic enough to stick anything to it in a serious way. We figured if we want magnetic, we'll frame a piece of metal and hang it on the wall. What's more likely is that we'll just keep using the front of the refrigerator. The chalkboard is easy to clean with a wet cloth.

With a chalkboard wall, anyone can express him- or herself. Considering the little smart-alecks I've been raising, that may or may not be a good thing.

Here are the two shorter shelves. We put them up in the dining area near the back door, and they currently hold the piano books (of which there are not enough, in my opinion). They're IKEA shelves -- pretty but not sturdy -- so we put brackets underneath them to ensure stability. We did that in the kitchen, too.

Finally, I have a photo of the color swatches we put up for the wall going down the stairs. There are three of them. That might surprise you. The third color is so light it's hard to see at all. None of these colors made the cut. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thoughts on Being a Mutt

A friend sent me a subscription to Latina magazine. It was a joke because my maiden name is Spanish, though I have no Spanish blood whatsoever pumping through my veins. My paternal grandfather (that's my dad's dad, in case you're tired and don't want to think that through) was my father's step-father, and his family came from Spain, stopped in Mexico for one generation, and then moved on to California in the early part of the 1900s. If my grandpa hadn't adopted my father, my maiden name would have been a lot more Irish.

Since I was getting the magazine, I figured I'd read it since it isn't in Spanish (I speak no Spanish. I speak a few -- like, three -- words in French and German and I remember a small smattering of Latin from high school, but I am definitely a mono-lingual gal). It's kind of eye-opening for me, a white girl living in the United States. For one thing, while most Americans can trace their roots to other countries and are proud of those roots, it seems to be a little more pronounced with the Hispanic and Latin population. Every single person who writes for or is featured in this magazine gets a blurb that identifies her roots, whether they're Cuban, Mexican, Brazilian, Columbian, etc., etc. I have never seen that in any other magazine, and that's probably because so many of us are mutts. I would have to list my Swedish, English, Scottish, Irish, early American revolutionary and Dixie South lineage, which is the abridged list.

That's what has struck me most, this strong identity with the Old Country, whichever one it is. When my Swedish great-grandfather bought himself a first class ticket to the U.S. in 1912 at the tender age of 15 (he had his inheritance and he had heard that first class passengers didn't have to go through Ellis Island, where he would surely have been sent back to Sweden because of his age), he melted into the roiling masses of New York and never looked back. Somehow, he found his way to Minnesota, which still has a strong Scandinavian population, married himself a Swedish girl, and made himself a millionaire through sheer grit and hard work. I met him a few times when I was a little girl, but I didn't know much about him until I read his autobiography, and his autobiography didn't talk much about his wives (two of them) and children. That's regrettable. I have no idea if they maintained any Swedish traditions at all. His first wife died young and he remarried, and I'm not sure if his second wife was Swedish or not. Certainly no Swedish or Scottish (or Spanish) traditions were practiced in our home when I was a kid, and I was supremely ignorant of the well-beloved traditions my Swedish mission companion held dear.

But, see, it didn't matter all that much to us. We were American. Our roots were precious, but they weren't to be clung to. That was the mindset of that era, though, during the waves of emmigration to the United States in the early 1900s: you move here, find people who speak your language and share your culture, and then try to be as American as possible so your kids will be better off than you are. I think the mindset is different now, or maybe for some cultures it has never really changed. I pass no judgment here. I merely write what I have observed. It's one magazine in a thousand, but it's been an interesting thing to read and think about.

If reading this magazine would impart to me the ability to move my hips like they were oiled, I'd read that magazine every single day. It would SO help my Zumba moves!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Coin Wars

So it's been a busy week.

First of all, to add to my list of Things I Should Have Done But Procrastinated Too Long On, I was nominally in charge of the spring PTA fundraiser for the elementary school. The problem was I continually forgot to attend any PTA meetings, so on Sunday night, I got a call from the PTA president about the fundraiser, which began last Monday. I had seen the signs up at the school and felt very badly about the fact that time had scurried along so quickly, and I apologized profusely for neglecting to be on top of it. She was very, very kind. In fact, she's the type of person who has great ideas and a die-cutter, so she'd already created the posters and all the equipment needed for the fundraiser. All I had to do, she said, was show up and do the work.

Hey, I can do that. Tell me where to stand and I can stand like a pro. Just don't ask me to be in charge of anything, obviously.

This particular fundraiser is, in my expert opinion as a mother of six former, current, and future elementary school students, genius. Sheer genius. I hate fundraisers. HATE them. Most of the time, the kids are all hyped up from an assembly by the fundraising company's spokesperson, who tells them about all the fantastic prizes they'll win for making sales, so they come home waving their packets of catalogs full of overpriced chocolates or cookies or knick-knacks, ready to hit up all the neighbors and extended family. And after all that work, the school is lucky to get 50% of the profits. This fundraiser, on the other hand, was the brainchild of members of the PTA at this school and includes no useless profit sharing. All the proceeds go directly to the school.

It's called Coin Wars. In past years, it was called Penny Wars; but this year they simplified the rules a bit. The premise is simple: each grade has a bucket into which the students deposit change and paper money. All the coins count as positive points (in past years, pennies were positive and silver was negative), and paper money counts as negative points. The strategy is for each grade to dump all their change into the bucket for their grade and all their paper money into the buckets of other grades, thereby raising their own positive points and negating positive points for other grades. The change gets added up at the end of each day (we took the money to the PTA's credit union, which has a coin counting machine) and the total points for each grade is the amount of change minus the amount of paper money. For instance, this year the fourth grade totally nailed the win by bringing in over $100 in change. The rest of the grades didn't stop them in time, even when over $60 of paper money was added to their bucket on Thursday and Friday (the Coin Wars extends over a full school week). Some kids and parents save up all year for the Coin Wars.

The winning grade gets posters on their doors and a prize. And bragging rights, of course. Last year, the prizes were collectible pennies all snug in a little plastic box and display foam for each student in the winning grade (I think it was the 3rd graders, actually, which explains why this year the 4th grade won). The price was negligible and the PTA had money to fund all the programs it puts on throughout the year. This year, the winning grade gets to pick $300 worth of new playground equipment. They're all glad the kindergarten didn't win.

It was fun. I got to leave Little Gary home two of the days because a responsible older sister was home sick from school. I also got to hang out with some of my friends, including Linnea, and meet new people from the PTA. The days I brought Little Gary with me were more trying, and I didn't plan very well by bringing things to keep him occupied. Linnea had a couple quarters so he could get treats from the machines at the bank. Everyone managed not to gag at the stench of his stinky diaper today. At least, they were very polite about it and didn't mention it. (No, I haven't potty trained him yet)

I did have to miss Thursday's mad coin collecting and run to the bank, however. Instead, a friend filled in for me at the school while I went with Husband to The Big City for a doctor appointment. All is well with his blood counts (though those platelets may never make a full recovery), but Doc was very concerned about a cyst-like thing on the bridge of Husband's nose that is aggravated by his glasses. "Oh!" she said. "I'm thinking that might be a type of superficial skin cancer!" and made an appointment for Husband to see the dermatologist. I'm thinking that she's an excellent oncologist and sees cancer everywhere and that the cyst-like thing might turn out to be just a cyst that is aggravated by Husband's glasses eyepiece. In any case, there's no point worrying too much about it until next Monday, when the derm will have a look.

The Coin Wars didn't pull in as much money this year as it has in the past. Two years ago they made over $1000. I imagine it has something to do with the sour economy. It could not possibly be that I didn't have my act in gear in order to advertise sooner. Still, it's a growing tradition with the kids, and it's free to put on. Plus, the neighbors and extended family members are thankful.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Paint and Funny Skit Ideas

I have pictures of progress!

I thought the wall behind the old cupboard would be horrid, but it wasn't too bad. Husband spackled in the dent, where it looked like someone had ferreted out the stud with a hammer, et voila! nice, smooth wall. We had shorter shelves to put on the shorter wall, but I liked the long shelves on their own. We'll install the shorter shelves in another place. Once the backsplash is put on, I'll start adding decorations and lighting. I'll also add a magnetic knife strip and a paper towel holder under the shelves and a bread box on the counter.

The living area suffers greatly from lack of sufficient lighting. Not only will we eventually install a mantel over the gas fireplace, we'll also have pictures on that wall. I want to put a couple of tall green palms on either side of the fireplace with uplights behind them to cast shadows on the ceiling. We also need a nice area rug. I have relegated the old red and white rag rug to the donation box. I never did like it. I'm not country enough.

Here is the front door area. We left the wall over the stairs to the basement white because I want to paint it in such a way that it becomes a focal wall. I'm playing with ideas. One idea was to paint that wall a deep orange with a bronze glaze over it. Another is to leave it white and put colorful artwork on it, lit by picture lights or track spots. Right now, I have a nice selection of thrift store picture frames I am going to spray paint orange and arrange on the wall in a pleasing way -- just the frames.

Change of subject:

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you need a funny, easy skit, "Janie Gets Hit by the Bus" is perfect. Unfortunately, I don't have video to embed here, as I'm not sure who recorded us performing this in a highly skilled manner (ha ha ha) a couple weeks ago.

The story is this: "Janie Gets Hit by the Bus" is a movie being filmed. The parts for the movie include Janie, Janie's friend, the Bus Driver, several Rowdy Kids on the bus, Janie's Mother, and the Doctor. All parts are onstage during the entire performance. The movie director is in charge. Here's a very rough script idea, but you can ad lib or write your own more structured script.

Director: Okay, people! You all have your parts. Please find your places and we'll start filming.

(All players go to their places without much enthusiasm or emotion)

Director: "Janie Gets Hit by the Bus," take one. And...action! (exits stage)

(During this run through, none of the players exhibits emotion. It is very flat and undramatic)

Janie: Catch the frisbee. (mimes throwing a frisbee to her friend)

Janie's Friend: I caught the frisbee! I'm throwing the frisbee.

(Janie and her friend continue miming playing frisbee while the Bus Driver and Rowdy Kids come from an upstage corner toward Janie. The Rowdy Kids are silently fighting in the "back" of the bus.)

Bus Driver: (turning to face Rowdy Kids) Shut up, you kids. (Bus Driver runs into Janie)

(Janie falls down. Janie's Friend, the Bus Driver, and the Rowdy Kids crowd around to look)

Bus Driver: Oh, no. I hit Janie with the bus. I better call her mother. (holds hand up to ear like a phone.) Ring, ring.

Mother (center back): (picks up "phone") Hello?

Bus Driver: Janie's been hit by the bus.

Mother: Oh, no. I'll call the doctor. (hangs up. Picks up "phone" again) Ring, ring.

Doctor (backstage corner): (picks of "phone") Hello?

Mother: Doctor, Janie's been hit by a bus.

Doctor: I'll be right over. (whirls hand above head like an ambulance light and makes a siren noise while walking to Janie)

Director: (rushing onstage) Cut! Cut! No, no, no! That was a good run-through, but there was no emotion. I want emotion! I want drama! I want people crying in their seats because Janie's been hit by the bus! Back to beginning places, everyone, and this time, give me some emotion! "Janie Gets Hit by the Bus" take two! And...action! (exits stage)

(This time, the players follow the same basic script, but they overdramatize everything. I mean, in this take, it goes beyond emotional to Shakespearean tragedy in the umpteenth degree. This take is absolutely hilarious if done well. Playing frisbee has never been so fraught with emotion. The Bus Driver is in a rage. The rowdy kids are beating each other SILENTLY! to a pulp. You get the idea. Ham it up!)

Director: (rushing onstage) Cut! Cut! Wow! Very emotional. Thank you. But that was a touch too slow. I want people to be bowled over with the strength of it. Speed it up just a bit, please. Places, everyone. "Janie Gets Hit by the Bus" take three! And...action! (exits stage)

(This time, of course, the actors go incredibly quickly, racing through the entire script in less than 20 seconds. What's really funny is when Janie falls down in fast motion. The fourth time, the director tells them to slow down, so they go in ultra-slow motion. I usually yell "cut!" about halfway through to spare the audience sitting through the entire thing. The fifth take we chose to do opera, which resulted in a hilarious impromptu duet between Mother and Doctor. The more the actors ham it up, the funnier the skit is, of course. No one can be afraid to be foolish.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Secrets of Tortillas

Here are the secrets for making tortillas: practice, a good recipe, and buying a rolling pin. I bought a tortilla press, but the one I bought was made of cast aluminum, which turns out not to have a lot of strength. The lever snapped off the second time I used it. If you're going to buy a press, spend a little more and get a good cast iron or heavy-duty aluminum one. I found that the rolling pin got better results with the flour and wheat tortillas. I like thin tortillas, and the press can only flatten a tortilla so far. A press is almost essential for corn tortillas, however, as they don't hold up well to the rigors of being rolled.

Chewy Flour Tortillas

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vegetable oil
¾ cup lukewarm milk

Stir together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and vegetable oil to the lukewarm milk and whisk briefly to incorporate. Gradually add the milk to the flour, and work the mixture into a dough. It will be sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with flour and knead vigorously for about 2 minutes (fold and press, fold and press). The kneading will take care of the stickiness. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rest for 15 minutes. (This dough will not rise, but it needs a rest.)
Divide your dough into 8 balls of equal size, cover them, and let them rest again for about 20 minutes. Avoid letting them touch if you don't want them to stick together.
Dust your work surface with flour. Working one at a time, remove each piece of dough and pat it into a 5-inch circle. With a rolling pin, roll out the tortilla, working from the center out, until you have a 7- or 8-inch tortilla a little less than 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the tortilla to a hot, dry skillet or griddle. It will begin to blister. Let it cook for 30 seconds, turn it, and let the other side cook for 30 seconds. Remove the tortilla, place it in a napkin-lined basket and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat for the remaining tortillas

Whole Wheat Tortillas

2 cups whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
2 Tbsp olive oil
½ cup warm water (or more)

Mix flour and salt. Add olive oil and stir to combine. Add warm water, 1 Tbsp at a time, until mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead dough on a floured board for 3 minutes (20 folds). Shape into a sausage and let rest for 15 minutes (cover with a towel). Cut the dough into 10 – 12 parts [I like making about 8 parts]. Roll each part from the center out. Heat a griddle or skillet on medium heat. Put each tortilla onto the dry griddle and cook for 30 seconds on each side, longer if you want more crisp tortillas. Keep the cooked tortillas warm in a tortilla keeper or with kitchen towels.

For corn tortillas, buy a bag of masa harina and follow the directions. Masa harina is corn flour mixed with lime, which removes the skin of the kernal and allows the corn to release niacin, which is a useful nutrient. Corn tortillas are probably the easiest thing ever. I like to make them a little on the wet side so they spread more thinly. Put a piece of plastic wrap on both sides of the tortilla press and place the ball of dough so that the tortilla will be sandwiched between the plastic. This step makes it simple to remove the tortilla.

In my next post, I promise two things: pictures of our newly painted main floor and an overview of "Janie Gets Hit By a Bus."

Friday, March 4, 2011

I Heart Patrick

Husband ordered the newest Patrick Rothfuss book, which I have been waiting impatiently for for a very long time. When it arrived on Tuesday, I made the mistake of reading the first few sentences. Today, I have finished the book and can now reclaim 100% of my brain for other things, like washing dishes, vacuuming floors, and general housely maintenance that got severely neglected while I lived in Kvothe's world. Sick kids managed to get in the way of my reading or I would have finished the book earlier, and Sophia has had a LOT of days absent from school now, but most of them seem to be doing all right now aside from hacking, asthmatic coughs.

I was thinking about the experience of severe physical pain and how that changes you. I was also thinking that I have experienced severe physical pain but never severe emotional pain -- the kind that can buckle your knees and leave you weeping to the point of exhaustion at odd moments. I have come close a few times and it was mercifully brief, but I know I don't know what that kind of pain truly is. I'm good with missing out on that, of course, but if I ever had to go through it, I was remembering what a friend of mine said after his beloved wife died: that the only way past is through. He said that he has to experience each moment of pain fully because it's the only way he can find a way to the other end, where the pain dulls a bit and he can find joy again.

Strangely, that's often true of physical pain, too. When there is no relief, no way to hide from it, physical pain must also be embraced in order to be controlled and subdued. Oddly, too, the experience can be a blessing after it's over, a crucible of learning.

Phew! Enough of that! I'm not in pain, no. Not even a headache. I was just musing.