Tuesday, July 31, 2007

time keepers and villages

Oh my god, I love this . Not for me, mind you - I regard mornings as a not-entirely necessary evil which, should the universe work the way I think it should, would not require any intervention from me. But the idea of this going off on the Eldest's bedside table (not that he has one, not that one would fit in the boys' shared room) just makes me delighted.

Maybe it would make waking up fun. For him, anyway.

For all of you lactating mums out there, past or present, biological or otherwise, here's to you:

And for myself, a deeply heartfelt thanks to everyone who made it possible. Nursing the Eldest was a group effort, spearheaded by the Grandmere (my personal lactation consultant), and bolstered by any number of people, from the ER attending who told me to keep nursing and gave me a pump while the Eldest went into surgery at 8 days old, to the lactation consultant at the children's hospital who helped me ignore all the tubes sticking out of the kid, and to find peace, cuddled up to him. The nurses who listened and agreed with the Grandmere, and showed me how to nurse a baby through an IV shot, making it nearly painless. And above all, to the Man, who swore before having kids that he was bottlefed and it was good enough for him, but stood by me and my night-feeding, co-sleeping parenting - to the point that, when I was ready to end the co-sleeping, he loved snuggling his little one too much to stop.
You done good, o village of mine. Very, very good.
P.S. try this site (among others) for some information on the benefits of nursing the kid within the first hour of life, the theme of this year's B'f'ing Week. I didn't get to do that for the Eldest (emergency c-section), but did for the Toddles (stubborn natural VBAC), and oh but it was just the right thing to do.
for those lactating mamas with their hands full, a quick and allergy-friendly (and yummy) recipe!
Rachel's Roasted Rice
(adapted, but the alliteration was too good to pass up)
Serves 4-6 as a main course
1 cup of basmati rice, rinsed, + 2 cups water and a sprinkle of salt. Stick this in the microwave and cook it. On my microwave, that's 5 minutes on high, then 35 minutes on 50% power. Read your manual or just risk it.
1 yellow bell pepper
2 handfuls green beans
1 onion
1 eggplant
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled
olive oil
herbs de provence, or rosemary, black pepper and thyme (dried), 1 tsp or less
1 lemon, juiced
1 can small white beans/equivalent, rinsed well with cold water
salt (1/2 tsp)
2 Tb reduced fat coconut milk
Preheat oven to 450F. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil, then spray it with cooking spray.
Cut veggies (except for the garlic) into 1-2 inch strips/chunks. Spread over tray, spray and drizzle a bit of olive oil over them. Sprinkle with herbs and 1/4 tsp (more or less) salt. Roast for 30 minutes, but yank the garlic out after 15-20 minutes.
Toss garlic, remaining salt and lemon juice into a food processor/blender. Carefully add olive oil so that you have just a little more oil than vinegar. Add coconut milk and blend until frothy - that's important, it helps keep the dressing from separating.
When rice finishes cooking, add beans and dressing. Toss with roasted veggies and serve.
Note: veggies are flexible here. You can use zucchini instead of the green beans, different peppers, squashes, etc. I'd go for a range of colors and textures, making sure to keep the onions, which add a nice rich mellowness to the recipe. And if you try this with sweet potato, you are an absolute carb hound and I really, really want to know how it comes out. Also, consider adding a little cumin and ground coriander (in equal amounts) for a more Middle Eastern flavor, or chili powder and paprika for a more Southwestern cookery effect.

refusing to argue

Overheard today:

Nice one!
pause, then a small voice says, nice two!

In case anyone was wondering, the electricians are here. After two years of debating, changing our minds and scraping together yet more funds, changing the plan again and putting needed funds elsewhere, we are finally getting overhead lighting. No, really.

Buh-bye Mister Halogen. The boys were getting pretty good at the Bang the Halogen Into the Wall percussion bit, and I'm sure they're going to miss you. But I won't.
En route home from San Diego , we were stopped by TSA. Now, mind you we'd come and gone through various airports to and from Australia, we've flown within and without the US of A, and each time, this is how it goes.

Excuse me, sir/ma'am, but you should know that this bag has needles and medication, and that bag has food for medical purposes. I have documentation for all of it.

TSA person looks up from the scanner. Okay, they say, and wave us on through.
I'm almost disappointed, the Man muttered as we sailed past one especially aggressive checkpoint. Shhh, I said. You'll wake up Murphy.

And so he did.

Excuse me, sir, you should know that I have needles, medication in that bag, and food for medical purposes in the other bag. I have documentation for all of it.

The TSA person looks up. Okay, he says absently. But at the other end of the belt...

Ma'am, is this yours?
Surprised, I look up. I'm almost excited to get the chance to use my documents, my notes from conversations with TSA showing that we have permission from this exalted group to do as we have done.
Yes. Can I help you with something?
(pointing at the bag labeled 'Medical Supplies') Ma'am, do you have liquids in here? They'll need to go into ziploc bags.
Well, now, yes we have liquids. (thinking of the Benadryl, the Tylenol)
The TSA guy points to the boxes of factor, in which the nifty scanner thing found vials of diluent, used to mix the factor for use. Would you remove those, please, ma'am?
(pause, while adrenaline makes the back of my neck prickle) Those vials are part of medication. They are currently sterile. Before I change that, we need to be very, very sure that this is necessary.
The TSA dude takes a step backwards. I'll go get my supervisor, then.

Two supervisors later, it becomes clear that the problem is not the diluent for the kid's clotting factor, nor is it the food we're carrying, the empty sippy cups or fruit salad - it's the icepacks keeping it all cold.
Icepacks are only for medical purposes, ma'am, I'm told as the supervisor's supervisor leafs through my documentation, but I'll make an exception for you. This time. (stern look from on high)

I swallow the explanations: I'd specifically discussed food and icepacks with TSA, a conversation with TSA on this subject is documented among the papers she's shuffling, she's mistaking food for food, and not recognizing its role in this circumstance, oh what the hell let's go.

And we do.

Ducking arguments is high on my priority list right now. The Eldest is a match lit, looking for tinder, and I spend as much time as I can with alternately bland and loving expressions plastered on my face. It takes astonishing amounts of energy to make the expressions seem more than paper-thin. The rest of the time I spend with my eyes closed, breathing carefully, letting tension drop out of my shoulders, my face, my hands.

There's factor still on the sill - did you give him different factor?
The Man, midstride, stops. He's racing out the door, the Eldest in tow.
No. He said he got factor yesterday.
I pause. Yesterday, the Man was in Maine, the Grandmere was helping me juggle kids and school events, and there was absolutely, definitely no factor.
Every so slightly nastily, I ask the Eldest: When did you get factor?
yesterday, he hollers up the stairs. He's putting his shoes on, ready to sprint out the door.
Before or after Grandmere left?
After, floats back the reply, not a whit of hesitation in it.

The Man and I look at each other. We will spend the rest of the day debating what we should have done, how we feel about what we did do, and worry about implications. The one thing we did do is avoid the argument, refusing to be drawn into what all too easily could become a power struggle made nasty by chronological urgencies.

The Cat's Away Pineapple Salsa
Dad's going away, I said, so let's have a chocolate fest! (The Man is allergic to chocolate.) We did, and yet this was the favorite new recipe of the weekend...go figure.

Most of 1 pineapple, diced
1 diced apple, very crisp and sour
2 Tb cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tb mint, finely chopped
1 cucumber, diced
2 limes, squeezed

combine and serve. Excellent with this supremely easy, make it with a spoon Olive Bread recipe, courtesy of Gluten A Go Go. My suggestion: make the bread with good kalamata olives. Oh, and thanks to Karina for the GF blog logo! Fun.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

dead or alive? Depends.

This is mostly a post of assembled bits of thought that have popped up or arrived in my inbox over the weekend:

First, this: in this post, I note that Hain Celestial seems to be everywhere, and that the customer service folks who respond to me about food allergies and ingredients (Hain has lousy allergy labelling practices) all seem somehow similar... Well, they are. See here for helpful diagrams. Big Organic (to quote Michael Pollan), indeed.

Knowing who makes your food is important, as Pollan points out in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma. Knowing how is also important, he says. But when can you trust them? When they're on the phone? My experience with the various Hain-owned companies has been less than enthusiastic. What about labels? These days, it seems as if everybody is putting 'may contain X' warning labels on, or obviously not putting them on, leading you to wonder...are they trustworthy? When do you trust - the people who admit to manufacturing peanuts somewhere, somehow - or companies like Tofutti, who clearly do process nuts and peanut products, but keep mum about it? The Washington Post has a suggestion: "tested 179 products that bore a variety of accidental-peanut warnings, and found 7 percent did contain peanuts _ some of them traces, but some enough to seriously sicken." Sigh. Back to square one: don't buy from those who are responsible enough to label, don't buy from those who are irresponsible enough to not label. Dang.
P.S. It's a good book. Read it.

Also, ever wonder about lead in your soil? Funky somethings in your water? The Wall Street Journal offered these sites: from the government, there's this, searchable by zip code. My zip code looks a little nerve-rattling, actually. I next looked here, and found that my county is, apparently, quite filthy. The scorecard.org people sneer at my county. They pity the poor souls who live here, and drink the water. So why on earth are housing prices so high? Bah, humbug - I shake my fist impotently and stomp my foot.

Who trusts Fox News anymore? Not me - but this appeared in a couple of different places, of which Fox is one. Sigh. The things we do in our insistence on perfection, the ways we seek revenge - it all makes me sad. So the lives of the children, the individuals are taking second place to revenge? There's nothing but pain here, people. At the same time, consider this case - take vengeance out of it, and you have a certain pragmatism: how are they going to be able to support this child?

Our society barely appreciates the mothers of the healthy children, while mothers of the more demanding kidlets simply have to run harder to keep up. Okay, so parenting these kids, parenting any kids isn't valued - in cash money, at least - by society. What I do (because you knew I was going to talk about ME, no?) is a luxury. Um, except not. Except yes, and the Man and I are honest about this: my ability to provide a safe home, to go to schools and advocate for our kids, help make classrooms friendly to our boys, prepare a balanced diet while walking our immunological tightrope, go to doctors' visits and oh yeah, do the laundry, is a luxury. Don't kid a Mama, people, this is the life. Putting it that way, I can understand the lawsuit. I can even respect the pain driving it. But I can't get around the damage being done to anyone who might grow up cognitively able to process the bare facts: their parents went to court to punish people for their children's lives.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

assimilating imperfection...perfectly

The crickets are chirping.

Not on the blog, mind you, but downstairs, where they wait the morning and their date with a pair of geckoes. Ah, the glamour of being a class parent: there are freakin' bugs in my house.

I'm laughing at myself tonight, for writing things like 'motherfucking' about the boys' allergies. Am I truly the only one getting screwed over here? So self-centred am I. But what the hell, this *is* a blog. And yet, even so.

I'm also laughing at myself for what happened in the psychologist's today. She talked to me (privately) about her evaluation of the Eldest: extremely smart, very together kid, she said. Which is the problem. The hypervigilance required by allergies has been internalized, and something is heightening anxiety, causing that hypervigilance to spill over into other things, get ignited and nasty. Her solution: messiness and imperfection.


Mess? In my house? Oh, dear. Imperfection - well, yes, we do that, but not quite as she expects, I suspect. My approach has been that imperfection is being rubbed in our faces, so let's figure out systems, methods, management of the imperfect and often stress-inspiring situation(s). You had a plan, last we spoke, a friend told me tonight. Oh, I replied, I always have a plan. Which one was this?

Maybe the place to start is fingerpaint. Last week, an order of gluten-free, corn-free paints came from Discount School Supply (a company with excellent customer service in matters like these), and I broke them out for the Toddles. We had these cute bottles with sponges on the end, for making little dots and lines. The Toddles carefully uncapped, dotted, then recapped the bottles. When I tried to handle the caps, I'd get a stern 'kappy-yup!' from the child, who would hold his hand out, imperiously. Finally, he looked at the smears of paint on his hands and arms, and said, disdainfully, 'messy.' And so we were done.

Planless, dirty, late for things, we need to teach the Eldest to relax. But first, I suspect, we need to start with his mother - and possibly his wee brother, as well. I have already thought of some methods, some plans, something involving a feltboard - and yet somehow it seems wrong to develop methods for incorporating the unexpected, the messy into our lives.

That would be too...perfect.
In the airport at San Diego, I broke and picked up the latest Harry Potter book. I grabbed my credit card from the diaper bag and ran over to the bookstand (it is not a proper store). The young woman at the cash register took my card and looked at me.

Do you have ID?
Um, no. Do I need some?
[pause, as she looked me over] Is this your mother's card?
[I laugh.] No, but thank you for asking.

The young woman frowned, and called the manager who decided that possibly, just possibly, I was an acceptable risk. If my signature matched the one on the card. Ha!

Note the updated, slightly less crotchetty addition at the end of this post. It was just too miserable a post to leave alone, so I added a yummy recipe. After all, when in the depths we Jewish mamas do like to cook...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

tags, facts and leaps (and recipe!)

Note: check out By the Bay's latest post. It's a recipe roundup for another gluten-free blogger, who apparently has a range of allergies. She almost has as many as one of the boys!

Should be a rich post for folks looking for dairy free, gluten free, nut free foods - myself included. Thanks, BtB.

So, San Diego. Or, as the Toddles says, 'go Saniego? dere Saniego?' No, hon, it's Providence.

San Diego might have been beautiful - I don't know. We saw bits on the way to and from the airport, and it was lovely. I especially liked the carved out of a hill thing they've got going there. More important, though, was the people.

I remember doing this early on in the life of the Eldest, I just stood in the room full of families and individuals dealing with bleeding disorders, and my jaw hung open. Gee, they are all like us. I did the same thing when I met another mother of a kid with food allergies. Oh, there's more like us. Each new diagnosis, each complication, plot twist and curveball made us feel more isolated, more odd, harder for the doctors to predict and manage. It sucked.

Since then, I've stopped looking for for doppelgangers, but if you ever meet another family managing bleeding disorders and allergies whose list trail down your arm, do let me know. But I relish my belonging moments where I can find them, and I kinda, sorta had one in San Diego.

There we were, the Eldest and I, tired, hungry and slightly smelly in a room full of people with bleeding disorders and quirky immune systems. If I didn't push the resemblance too hard, it worked - but most importantly, these were people who the docs didn't see coming, folks whose bodies were stubborn, different, funky. I could relate, no problem.

They were also in wheelchairs, using canes, cradling bleeding joints. I couldn't relate. We haven't had a major bleed in months, just stubborn minor bleed after minor irritating bleed. The difference is to be relished.

So, what's new in the world of inhibitors? Not so very much. Lots of desperate people and worriedly guessing doctors. Off-label uses abound, people were scrounging for ideas, talks about research were rapidly unravelling into 'well, this happens to me' or 'this is what we've seen in him.' Yes, I was part of that. I was also the annoying one who said things like, 'when you say 'normal survival study,' how would you define that?' Heh.

Here's what I learned: the Eldest's survival study, or how long the clotting meds last in his body, would not be considered normal by the experts I spoke to. (When you say 'expert,' what parameters are you using to establish that status?) In fact, they'd consider him to still have an active inhibitor, albeit one operating at a very, very low level - a level so low that it's indistinguishable by the available assay. So what? The clotting meds *do* work, so who cares? Well, we do. An inhibitor (antibody to the clotting protein, see here about halfway down for the definitions) that is gone is less likely to recur than an existing one is likely to spike. Great.

No drama here, though - the Man and I have suspected and argued this for years, the Man having done so far more effectively than I, by producing models of the Eldest's various survival studies and showing how the metabolism seems to be operating. By now, we have enough data points, I'd say. So it's almost a relief to have this confirmed.

Here's the really interesting bit: there is a link between inhibitors and allergies. They are different immunoglobulins (the Eldest's allergies tend to be a classic IgE, while inhibitors are usually IgG), but the hyperactive immune system is what drives them both. Obvious, no? But not to most hematologists, who don't consider the situation from a hematological-immunological perspective. Our hematologists are more classic coagulation specialists, and tend to think inside their box. Similarly, the Man and I have argued this point for some time, and met with recognition and agreement from the Eldest's allergists, but only blank confusion from his hematologists. Well, then.

Does this change anything? Um, no. It means that specialists somewhere agree with us, that we're not crazy worried parents. Except, of course, that we are - especially after the Toddles' dramatic allergic reaction tonight to... (drumroll, anyone?) tomato.

Fuck this, we're done. (How many times can I say that? What am I up to, three? four? seven?) Next Yom Kippur I want a word with the Big Guy, and it is going to be pithy. We are now up to four new allergies this month: soy, black bean, egg and tomato, with chicken and avocado hovering as Under Suspicion. To say that I'm feeling desperate and scared is to underrate the concept of desperate and scared. But then again, I just came from San Diego, so I have a pretty good idea of what desperate and scared looks like when it's done by pros.

And if I feel like this, imagine my poor Eldest-child.
Huh. My first tag, first meme. Luckily, it's a pretty simple one.

"The Rules:
each player lists 8 facts about themselves
the rules of the game appear before the facts do
the player ends by tagging 8 people, which means listing their names and then going to their blogs to tell them that they’ve been tagged, then going back and commenting on their lists."

The Facts
1. I don't reliably connect faces and names. Even with people I know, I can recognize face/voice and still blank. It's amazingly embarrassing.

2. I used to hold the New York state record for 8 and under backstroke, 25 meters. Dunno why - I've always hated backstroke - we control freaks like to know where we're going.

3. I can get lost on a grid. Reliably. Which you'd think would be helpful, but it isn't.

4. Sitting in its box, my wedding dress looks like it belongs on a Barbie. Which is really funny, since I definitely do not.

5. My personal haven is the messiest room in the house - and I'm a neat freak.

6. I own only one lipstick, and I don't know where it is. But I know where it should be.

7. My first boyfriend told me I was 'cute, but would never be beautiful.' I decided he was eye-candy but would never be smart, and dumped him.

8. I poke needles into my kid daily, but faint when someone draws blood from me.

And I'm tagging Mother in Israel, Rabot Machshavot, The Virtual Tourist, the Precision Blogger, By the Bay, author of a matza recipe that saved my butt this past Pesach (okay, so it was unrecognizeable by the time I was done with it, but still it tasted good), magid, Dakota (the lady who made me my first wrap - congrats to you, mama!), and my alter-ego. At least, as soon as LiveJournal starts working again.

just because I can't let this post turn into a drama queen, here's this:

Mama's Cranky Carrots (I leave it to you to decide who is cranky, the mama or the carrots?)
4-6 servings

1 bunch carrots, chopped very very roughly
1.5 inches fresh ginger, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed with the flat of a knife
2 Tb oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
2/3rd cup pineapple juice, more as needed

Toss the oil into a pot, and turn on the flame. While it's heating up, add ginger. Let the ginger saute for 2 minutes or so before adding garlic. When garlic starts to brown, add everything else. Stir.

Cover with a lid, and lower heat to medium. Let steam for 5 minutes, then uncover and let the liquid reduce until it's almost gone, forming a glaze. Take the pot off the stove and serve.

Note: pineapple juice smells very strong when it's boiling down. Do not fear - by the time you are done, both ginger and pineapple will have mellowed nicely.

Friday, July 20, 2007

on the point of departure, a kink in the road

When I grow up, I'm going to marry the Toddles.
Really? Why?
Because that's what you do.
Why is that what you do?
Because you have to get married to have babies.
[strangled sound that tries to pass for a thoughtful pause] Oh. I see.

Well, the bags are packed and the tickets are electronic, so I suppose we're heading out the door to San Diego in the morning, courtesy of Giant Drug Company XX that's been raking in the dough. See here if you like, but I'm sparing everybody the lecture on immunological misdemeanors. In this post, anyway. I miss Mary Jr right now - she'd know why I ran upstairs at 1 am wailing, Uno! Must have the Uno!

Giant Drug Company XX had promised to feed us marvellously and un-allergenically, but I suspect that this was before their lawyers heard about it. Still, this lovely lady has come to save the day! Bless Marilyn Kovach and her inability to faint from culinary fear, she has researched, cooked and is delivering in great style. Of course, I haven't eaten anything yet, but tonight I am flying high with hopes. Take that, o legal ones - it *can* be done!

Either that, or Marilyn needs a lawyer.

We're doing a lot of travel this summer, and I've just about had it. We've actually turned down a (free!) family trip to Israel for Succot (booth festival, quite chilly in the Northeast)...we've got family coming up most weekends, and are trying to meet the Eldest's schoolmates to be in every spare moment. Makes me tired just thinking about it, but it's all good stuff. Still, I booked three playdates for August this past week - August!! Criminy.

I'm glad to be going to this conference, though, because I so very much want to talk to other families about anxiety. The Eldest is just off the charts (his) with his anxieties right now, he's more explosive than ever, and I'm sure that the past two? three weeks of minor bleed after minor bleed has not helped at all. Yeah, because when you're afraid to trust your body or the big folk in charge of said body, having the damned thing go haywire on ya is really going to help.

Um, no.

It's gotten to the point that when he clutched his chest and panicked today, we all thought it was anxiety, and it wasn't until he did it again later AND HAD HIVES that I realized. Nope. Not anxiety. Allergy. Another motherfucking (and I use the term with a certain precision) allergy.

I'm not sure I even care what it's to, the point is that it freaked out my freaked out kid, and oh but he did not need that. Oh, my poor little love.

I put him to bed and told him a story about the boy with two pairs of ears, and tried very hard not to cry on him. Here is how it went:

Once upon a time, there was a boy with two pairs of ears.

One pair sat on either side of his head, where his face meets his hair, and it would listen to birds squawking, to people talking and to the sound that squirrels make when they realize you've caught them digging in your pots. (make a panicky scrapy, scrapy, scrapy noise with fingernails).

The other set of ears, though, was inside him, and he didn't know why. He asked his mother, and she said, Sweets, those ears are for listening to inside things, and someday they'll be very important to you.

Well, the boy thought, maybe. But he couldn't see how.

He went on with the business of being a boy, getting muddy, learning to kick a soccer ball, and writing letters to his aunties. Especially the honorary ones. One day, he was munching on some lunch when his stomach said to him, Stop! This is no good! The boy stopped. His throat said to him, Help! Something is wrong! And the boy listened.

The boy told his parents what his inside ears had heard, and they understood what to do to help his stomach and throat. Later, once all of the insides had settled down, the parents explained to the boy that, without his inside ears listening so well and his outside mouth explaining so carefully, he could have ended up feeling pretty nasty.

We are a team, they told the boy, working to keep you safe and strong. But we could not have kept you so without your inside ears. If we could reach them, we'd kiss them! The boy thought this over. I'm not sure the inside ears like kisses, he said, but I'll tell them you say thank you.

And he did.

Monday, July 16, 2007

defining terms

I just met a fascinating man at davening, my father tells me. He used to run a yeshiva in [ ---], where kids could get an authentic Orthodox education. My father pauses and looks at me, his heretical daughter. Assuming you want your child to get such a thing.

I barely miss a beat. Hmm. And who gets to decide what counts as 'authentic' and 'Orthodox?'

Oh. Well, he does. He's the principal.

It proves to be the conversation of the weekend, which we play in various forms.

There was almost nobody at shul! What happened to the kehila [community]?
I look up from my book. Well, Dad, it's a Hillel [college Jewish organization], so it's a little sparse in the summer, while the kids are home from school.
No. I've been here before in the summer, and it's never been like this.
I raise my eyebrows at the Man. We think about it.
Well, there's all these competing minyanim [prayer communities/groups] around these days, they might be drawing some of the Hillel folks.
He thinks this over. Orthodox minyanim?
We grope, trying to describe the egalitarian prayer groups springing up in our neighborhood, as people experiment with combining Orthodoxy and a woman's role in religious services. My husband is fascinated by them, I'm made edgy by the idea of slippery slopes and (unthinking) habits reversed. We struggle with some language briefly, but finally give up.
Not as you'd consider Orthodox, no.

Barring that, it was a lovely grandparental visit. On Friday, they took the Eldest to a municipal pool, picked herbs and lettuce at our community garden plot, and played with the Toddles. On Sunday, they worked their well-fed (if I do say so myself) tushies off in my garden with me, doing a massive clean-up job, weeding, mulching and my father heroically pounded in some trellises to replace the fence the neighbor ripped down. Bereft of support, my poor honeysuckle was looking so sad - and now it is eyeing its new digs speculatively. We work well together, my parents and I. I forget that sometimes, but my tidy garden reminds me of their energy and willing spirit.

It's a tricky thing: typically, my parents come for a visit over the weekend, which means shabbat, or the Jewish sabbath. Shabbat is the well worn religious hinge of our weeks. Which means they watch us in our religious routine, no extra frills or furbelows for their benefit, just straight up how we do it. And how we do shabbat is not so very different to how they do theirs - ours has a lot less shining silver, less glamorous dishes, and the menu is certainly different, but the ritual patterning (blessings over wine, then challah and salt, with grace after meals) is the one they follow, right down to the liturgy.

The one kicker is our gluten-free, not technically appropriate for the blessing challah, which we bless anyway, so that the boys can see how shabbat is shaped. The term is 'derech chinuch,' or 'in the service of education,' and it means that we are rabbinically sanctioned to make the blessing over our fake bread, leaving my parents the option of joining us or sneaking out the door to bless their own, wheat-based objects. That they do is a small, but only a very small, bone of contention between us, but it's hard to blame them for wanting to complete the sabbatical rituals properly, while it's easy to feel slighted in our efforts to make normal the very-much-not.

So, if we do these simple, timeworn things the same, how is it (my father muses) that we are actually so different? Well, Dad, I'd say, I suppose it depends on how you define 'Orthodox.'

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

minions at work and rest

According to the teensy counter on the blog, installed some months ago, 8,945 visits have been made to the blog. I tested it, shifting between pages, and it counted me as one visitor - not counting per page visited.

Eight thousand, nine hundred. Even including search engines, that's a whole lot of you bleaders (I've been reading Julie Powell) and you are awfully quiet.
That's not unnerving, really it's not.
In fact, it's enormously egotistical to even begin to think that number is real.

I think that if I work on it, I can make that last bit sound convincing.

I've been having a conversation with a mum to a newly diagnosed boy with hemophilia. She's also of the Judaic persuasion, also orthodox. We've been baffling the rest of the online support groups with our jargon, speaking in the short hand used by insiders. It's really a bit rude, and yet it's been a tremendous boost to, well, us both.

There's a specific challenge posed by the laws of the sabbath and religious holidays to the parent of a child with special needs - particularly one whose diagnosis involves runs to the ER. You aren't allowed to drive on the sabbath, but you can where someone's well being is concerned. A human life trumps the sabbatical legalities, so hop in your car and off you go.

But, can you drive home again? There's no life at risk where going home is concerned, just a question as to whether you can rescue the shreds of your shabbat, post-ER. If a doctor or nurse calls to check in with you, can you answer the telephone on shabbat? I'd say yes, since the purpose of the call is to reevaluate the patient and make sure they are doing well on the prescribed regimen. But what if the call is from a home care nurse, who is calling (on shabbat) to doublecheck the time of her arrival in your home (on shabbat)? You've made the arrangement, pre-shabbat, for her visit. Do you need to answer the phone or not to confirm?

And on and on. Parenting in such a moment is a slippery slope, balancing child against religious gray areas, picking your way through choice after choice. I think that the message here is a proud one: a person is more important than religion. And the challenge is a beautiful one: pulling person order, a sense of peace and sabbatical rest out of the beeping, whirring adrenaline of the medical world.
As the bread machine, newly arrived in our home (courtesy of the Grandmere), whirred:

Mama has a minion!

You betcha, babe. And it does good work.
Minion's Bread
Updated 8/9/07
makes 1 loaf, 1.5 lb size in bread machines

dry ingredients
1.5 cups rice flour
1 cup potato starch
.5 cup tapioca starch
.5 cup teff flour
.5 tsp salt
.25 cup sugar
2.5 tsp guar gum (non-corn allergy folks can use the same quantity xanthan gum)
1.75 tsp baking soda
1 tsp Ener-G Egg Replacer (check for nut warnings on label! One batch of Egg Replacer is at risk for nut contamination)
1 Tb yeast

wet ingredients
2 flaxgel egg subs (2 Tb flaxmeal mixed with 4 Tb water and let stand)
2 Tb honey
3/4 tsp vinegar
4 Tb margarine/butter
9 oz club soda
Optional: zest of a few oranges/lemons

For a bread machine, put wet ingredients into the pan first, mix dry ingredients in a bowl and let both come to room temperature. Layer dry ingredients on top of wet, and use a gluten-free cycle on the machine. Chuckle evilly, rubbing your hands in satisfaction as you anticipate the beautifully crusted bread to come. Pull the bread out as quickly as you can once the cycle is done, and sit on anyone who is too impatient to let it cool for 20 minutes, at least.

No electronic minion? Right, then:
Make sure all ingredients are room temperature. Prime your yeast in the flaxmeal/water mix and honey. Leave it alone for 5 minutes - no stirring!

Meanwhile, combine dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, mash the butter into the flaxgel, then stir it into the rest of the wet ingredients. Pause to turn the oven to 300-350F. Combine all three: yeast, dry, wet ingredients, and set a cake mixer/hand beater to mix fiercely for about 3-5 minutes. Grease an oven-safe bowl, and pour the mixture in.

Turn the oven off and stick the bowl inside. Ignore it for 30-40 minutes while it rises. Leisurely grease a loaf tin, make yourself a cup of coffee, consider the newspaper. Then, yank the dough out of the oven and drop it into the loaf pan. Turn the oven back on, and set it to 375F, when it actually hits this temperature, bake the loaf for 45 minutes.

Yank the loaf out and cool on a cooling rack for 20-30 minutes. See above comment about impatient bread-eaters.

Tip: combine your dry ingredients, excepting the yeast, the night before. Put into a ziploc to keep them from absorbing moisture (gluten-free flours are the very dickens for absorbing moisture and then offering up squodgy bread with the most innocent of looks).

Whole Foods is having a recipe contest - winner gets $100 in WHole Foods groceries! That's...maybe a bag full of stuff, actually. But the bag probably holds a heck of a lot of expensive gluten-free flours and fresh fish, so it's pretty cool beans. I'm tempted, and yet drawing a blank. I need to pick a recipe that I've adapted enough to call mine, that's delicious enough to tempt the non-allergic, but I do have me pride: I want to pick one that's allergy friendly, and note that in big writing somewhere on my entry.


Anyone care to vote for a recipe on this blog? I'm at a complete loss. But then again, I'm going through a menu dry spell these days.

wanted: a little bit of healing

At 2 a.m., on night five of six nights of fever, the over-heated one woke for the nth time.

knock, knock
who's there?
silly chickens.
silly chickens, who?
Aoow, aaow, aaoowwooo! (coyote howl, as per the Toddles and Mary Jr.)

Almost worth waking up for, I thought.

Yesterday, I took the Eldest to a psychologist specializing in kids with chronic illness. In the five minutes I had, I tried to explain what we were seeing and why I was worried. She tried to soothe me about things I wasn't worried, but instead of leaving, feeling frustrated, I ended up with a hopeful note: nice lady. We'll see what she thinks, two, three sessions down the road.

I have the habit of dressing carefully for doctor's visits. I heard a talk once by a psychologist that explained that children who are attractive in some fashion (appearance, behavior, etc) get better medical care than children who do not appeal to their caregivers in some fashion. It's a thought I've filed under 'nasty but probably true,' and I've always dressed the boys and myself carefully for these visits, for much the same reason.

Admittedly, years of dressing with the concept of tzniut, or modesty in mind have made me into someone who overthinks when she yanks out clothes for the morning. Different communities approach the question of modesty differently, some are okay with women wearing pants, others advocate for women in skirts. Necklines, hemlines, length of sleeves - all of these come into play in the delicate dance of what is considered appropriate. I'm usually quite happy to go beyond my personal standards to suit the community's when I visit friends more religious than I - I figure that I'd rather have people talk to me than fret about what I'm wearing. For a religion that builds sexual satisfaction into our marriage contract, we certainly get anxious about it on our streets.

The concept of appropriate dressing taken to such detail, such attempts at precision strikes me as faintly silly even as I do it. And do we get better medical care this way? Who knows - at least it makes me feel settled, which is probably worth something.

Let's see: we want to look nice, but not as if we're trying too hard. We'd like to look presentable, but not stiff and starchy, hmmm. The Eldest ended up in a soft, pale blue t-shirt and some ever so slightly raggedy (but fashionably so) khaki shorts. A leetle preppy, but not too bad. On the way out the door, though, he snagged a bright yellow pair of warm-up shorts.

They're mine, he informed me.

We got to the car, and he plopped them on his head. It's my pants-hat! he shrieked, and doubled over in giggles. His tidy-but-boyish image was ruined, replaced by a tidy but quirky look that is all Eldest's. Beneath the awful yellow of the shorts, the Eldest's grin caught fire with delight.

It was, I mused, the perfect ensemble.

Well, she's packed and we've said good-bye.

As I noted here, our dear Mary Jr had a personal reversal sprung on her. She's gone home to, as the Eldest put it, "heal." The Toddles is wandering around the house, calling her name, asking if she's in the other room. The Eldest, suddenly realizing that he'd said good-bye to her for the last time (we meant it when we'd told you so, kid), panicked and asked to call her.

This morning, we declared her an honorary auntie, after she completed our Auntification Course, a rigorous affair including a written exam, visual identification, a visual interpretation section, and a practical exam. She passed with flying colours, and after deliberation by the committee, we awarded her a certificate of Honorary Auntieship. It was sweet, silly, and entirely appropriate. Families, after all, are as often made as they are born.

The Toddles, however, is worried about his newly named auntie. 'Mary boke?' 'He boke Mary?' Listening to our worried conversations about the situation, the Toddles is trying to fit the language he knows to the concepts we've been expressing. The Eldest, somehow a bit wiser in the ways of injuries and healing, is less worried. He knows that people can be bent, or broken, and yet heal. In the throes of healing himself from a bleed into his left hand, the Eldest holds faith.

Healing will come. But oh, will we miss her.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

customizable? Well, got Sharpie?

knock, knock.
Who's there?
Mummy, who?
Mummy's churn [turn] knock knock!
Ah. Now if only I could think of one to tell...

I hate Candy Land.

Yes, I know it's a childhood classic, and I appreciate that it's a board game designed for the pre-literate, so yay. But it's all about the candy: the peanut brittle, the candy canes, the gumdrops, molasses swamp, the ice cream sea, blah ditty blah ditty toothache.

The newer versions have Gingerbread Plums, a clear sop to health nuts like me. Gee thanks, guys. But consider it also from this angle: when your kid(s) has food allergies, candy is a problem. Dairy allergy? There goes all of the chocolate, even most dark chocolate has traces of milk. There also go most caramels, and even some of the nicer peppermints. See ya. Nut? peanut allergic? You lose so many chocolates (not to mention the yummy nougats and Turkish Delight) that there is a whole cottage industry of nut and peanut-free chocolate. Soy allergy? whoops. Soy is a major emulsifier - and don't get me started on corn, America's favorite source of all things sweet. Sigh.

So forget the dreadful disregard for good eating habits, in this day of childhood obesity and diabetes, if you have food allergies, Candy Land sucks.

Ooh, look! I got to go up Gumdrop Pass! Not for you, though hon - you are allergic to those. You'll have to go around...

The Eldest and I found ourselves in a staring match this afternoon, while the Man was off taking one of his mega-walks. What to do? Glowing from buying our first new mattress in over eleven years, I almost missed it.
Mum, let's watch the library DVD.
I started to nod, then caught myself.
Mneh? Wha? The Magic Schoolbus DVD?
The kid nodded enthusiastically. I considered: the laundry was spinning in the machine, the Toddles asleep, dinner was leftovers..this seemed to offer an opportunity too good to miss.
Hmm. We could watch it, but I'd prefer to spend some time with you.
The kid hunched into a sulk.
How about a game? I suggested
He uncurled, and looked thoughtful. We debated it back and forth, and settled on Candy Land. Evil, evil Candy Land.

I held it together for a round (he won), then broke. I need to fix this game, I informed my triumphant offspring. It just doesn't work the way it should. He stared, half horrified, as I grabbed a Sharpie.

Okay, let's see...

When we were done, you gained a turn for eating the yummy plums, you lost a turn for peanuts being in the peanut brittle, you gained a turn for careful label reading in Gumdrop City, but lost it for the dairy in Frostina's candy. And so on. We debated each change, we balanced lost turns against free turns, and we tested it out. And I won.

Somehow, it felt symbolic.

Mary Jr's Painted Rooster, Sans Chicken
Serves 4-6, quantities vary according to availability of ingredients.
Note: this meal costs an estimated $6.00, assuming that you are using some of already owned items. It pleaseth the budget and the tongue.

3 cups cooked rice
2 tomatoes, chopped roughly - or the equivalent in cherry. grape tomatoes. Fresh only, please!
2-3 scallions, or the equivalent in red onion, chives. Thinly sliced.
1 cucumber, cubed/roughly chopped
2 Tb cilantro/parsley, if not both
1 can beans (I used black, but most kinds are good)
1 avocado (if you have it)
Optional: fresh corn, bell peppers, barely steamed green beans, chopped celery

2 tsp cumin
2 limes, juiced or juice of 1 lemon
slightly more olive oil than lemon/lime juice
1.5 tsp salt
.5 tsp black pepper (coarse ground, please, if not freshly ground)
Optional: .5 tsp ground coriander (the coriander combines with the cumin for a felafel-ish flavor, I like that. Skip if if you prefer), 1-2 cloves garlic

Mix ingredients, blending in a food processor/mortar and pestle if adding fresh garlic, adjust flavors to suit you.

Toss salad with dressing, serve over rice. Delicious! All the flavors of summer.

Monday, July 02, 2007

games and markers

Summer is now here. Except in the shady bits, and when the wind blows. Still, sunscreen is on the kids (most of the time), and we're off to the playground.

A notorious slacker as a playground parent, I found myself unexpectedly at loose ends one day, with the Toddles staring wistfully at a playground full of happy kids. I gave in, we went.

It was actually rather fun. The other kids were fascinated by the Toddles, some patting him gently and murmuring, 'baby, baby,' others hugging him, some completely ignoring him and shoving past on their way to exciting heights on the climbing structures. Watching the Toddles stagger back on a high platform, as a bigger kid whisked by, I muttered, 'I'm not cut out for this. I'm just not.' But the Toddles recovered his footing and failed wholly to fall to a terrible fate on the woodchips below. So maybe he's cut out for this, even if I'm not.

It seems that there's a happy ignorance in illiteracy. Though able to competently count to eleven (don't ask me how, I can barely do that myself), the Toddles breezed right past all the signs saying 'This structure is designed for children ages 5-9 years' and started climbing. Fearless, he attained great heights, and calmly surveyed his options. He chose one slightly less nerve rattling (my nerves, not his) than the rest, and whoosh! down he went.

A small boy came up to me, and asked for help with his wristwatch. I spotted the Toddles on the ground nearby, then turned to help. Moments later, I looked up and saw empty air where the Toddles had been. Well, okay, no problem. I scanned the rest of the playground area below my knees: no kid. I walked around, refusing to be the sissy mom who panics, and eventually found the Toddles, staggering slightly at the base of a slide. I looked up: it was the biggest, twistiest of the slides, from tippity top of the school-aged children structure.

Hi, I said, determined to be calm.
He looked up at me, wavering slightly. Side! he informed me.
Slide? I asked, really? Slide?
The Toddles, drunkenly righted himself and pointed. Slide. Big. He explained.
I looked up. Oh, my. Yes, it *is* big. Time for mommy to go get that valium, I told him. Nearby, another mom heard me and laughed, as the Toddles managed to fall over his own feet.

As the Toddles blooms and becomes daily more delicious, the Eldest is passing an emotional milestone - the prickly kind. I'm spending a lot of time throwing my hands in the air, and saying to him, I just don't know what to do here. I don't know how to explain this to you as he stares at me blankly, stubbornly.

Right now, my sweet boy is primarily interested in the question of power. He'll play with his brother, but mostly just by having the Toddles sit and watch him. He'll do things to help around the house, and enjoy it, but at the first sign of parental insistence, will balk. A reminder of looming consequences only makes things worse, as parental threat breeds youthful threat, and tempers flare. If we provide consequences (that being the currently in-vogue term for 'punishments), we only prove our power over him, and demonstrate that the strong exercise power over the weak. He then turns around and tests this theory on his sibling...snatching toys, and occasionally casually clouting the Toddles. He doesn't behave this way at school, he doesn't treat his friends so, it's a glory and wonder saved for we at home. Joy be ours.

Power breeds power? Power breeds envy? All I know is that, right now, the exercise of power breeds the exercise of power, and it's making everybody miserable. I'm reading books, looking for ideas, looking for wonderworkers and magic wands, while secretly hoping that time will do the trick, and that haplessly we will watch the Eldest complete this particular transformation into whatever comes next.

And that whatever it is, doesn't go around roaring and whacking his brother.
Today, the Man and I have been married for eleven years. We got married young, so young I'm faintly astonished that our families didn't flatly forbid it (not that they could have), so young that I'm persuaded that we just got lucky that we grew up into the kind of people who still love and cherish each other. Eleven years. It's hard to explain what that means - it's a combination of love and the ordinariness of that love, of taking each other for granted and appreciating each other, of trust and small irritations and did I mention love? Oh yes, and a lot of work.

Thanks to a heroic effort by Mary Jr, we spent a good part of the day at Marblehead , a little New England town that I happen to adore, complete with phenomenal toy shops (because what adults-only outing is complete without the guilt toy?), some cute and inventive craft/oddment shops, and a lovely park bench, placed solely for the purpose of eating takeout and having the Man explain 'pull hitting' to me. Apparently, Big Papi is a pull hitter, and how could I live in the Red Sox Nation and not know this?

Mysteries abound.

We returned to collect our children, cook dinner and lavish them (briefly) with affection before Mary Jr returned and we disappeared again for dinner and a movie. Oh, the luxury. Eleven years apparently comes with some perks, hmn?

Smug, that's me. And I suppose that I get to be a bit self-satisfied - if you'd asked me four years ago, if we'd have made it this far, I'm afraid I would have laughed at you. Bitterly. We've worked for our eleven years, and I'm glad to be here.

Oh yes, and the movie? Our first in many, many moons. Knocked Up was fun, I laughed a lot, and the Man didn't think it was that funny. But then again, he didn't read the baby books, either...

Meanwhile, a dear friend was being told that her partner wants out. I'm appalled, and I want to be furious for her, but am badly hampered by actually liking and (less now than before) respecting her erstwhile partner. I keep talking, trying to find the words that help me to understand what's happening, to believe it, to say something that will help her. Really, I should just shut up and listen. Really, I should stop trying to fix this. But mostly I just want things back the way they were, and I truly, ruly (as the Eldest says) ought to know better.

Next post: rewriting Candy Land