Saturday, December 22, 2007

questions and an answer

This has been the week for watching the Eldest's brain tick. The following are the three top questions of the week, as explained by the Eldest himself:

1. Why is it harder for ice to form under bridges, than on the rest of the river?

2. how do bodies make cells and factor?

3. My class got most of the way through this very hard question: who created God?

I had some answers to the first and the second, but the third left me gaping. Without knowing the details of God (how, when, where, etc), the Eldest is nonetheless very clear on one divine aspect, as we see in today's Quote of the Day:

you can't punish me - only God can punish people!

The Man, tired of his role as Human Punching-Bag, was inclined to disagree.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

reading the fine print

Between the car and my flickering, fading cell phone, I'm spending a lot of time reading customer contracts.

Try this, on my cell phone:

Our Right To Suspend Or Terminate Services
We can, without notice, suspend or terminate any Service at any time for any reason, including, but not limited to: (a) late payment; (b) exceeding an Account Spending Limit (“ASL”); (c) harassing/threatening our employees or agents; (d) providing false information; (e) interfering with our operations; (f) using/suspicion of using Services in any manner restricted by or inconsistent with the Agreement; (g) breaching the Agreement, including our Policies; (h) providing false, inaccurate, dated or unverifiable identification or credit information, or becoming insolvent or bankrupt; (i) modifying a Device from its manufacturer specifications; or (j) if we believe the action protects our interests, any customer’s interests or our network.

Translation? Tick us off in any way, and we will take revenge. Remind me not to graffiti any cell towers, hm?

Or try this, on the insurance assessment of our poor car:
car is not driveable, suggesting tow to nearest facility for repair.

Well, now, that seems sensible. But it made the tow guy laugh: you could absolutely drive this car! They're just setting you up for more fees. I thought this over. Or maybe there's a lawyer eyeing the potential liability of telling me that I could drive? The tow guy nodded, wisely.

But you've got me. The car rental guy wrote me a contract for $29.97 per day. The insurance guy says they are paying $30 per day. Who is right? Frankly, I have a contract that says I'm only paying $29.97/day, and I'm sticking with that. But oh, that fine print...

The Fine Print Dinner

At the end of a long day full of haggling, this is a fast, cheap meal that only barely meets nutritional standards. Translation: kids love it.

6 potatoes, cubed
1 broccoli crown/3 handfuls broccoli spears
1 cup pitted green olives
5 cloves garlic
olive oil as needed
1 package cold cuts (we use Empire's chicken/turkey bologna, since it's dairy/corn/wheat free), sliced into strips/cubes/small anatomically correct dwarves. You choose.
1 handful parsley, chopped up
vinaigrette dressing, very well shaken (our favorite is here)

Toss potato cubes into water and boil. Shortly before the 'taters are ready, toss in the broccoli. When broccoli turns bright green, drain potatoes and broccoli - but reserve a little potato water, perhaps 3 Tb. Dump potatoes, broccoli and water into a big bowl.

Meanwhile, saute the garlic in a little oil, and then add bologna. Sizzle together a bit - you want the bologna (or lunch meat of choice) to brown a bit. Add some coarse black pepper. (You don't need much in the way of spices, since your dressing is providing that for you.) Dump into potato-broccoli mix, and don't forget to scrape the pan for the nice brown-y bits!

Stir gently to combine (potatoes will collapse under rough handling at this point), and add remaining ingredients.

Tip: tossing potatoes with dressing while they are hot really, truly lets the dressing's flavor saturate the potatoes. By keeping the potato water, you are making the potato salad more saucy and less oily.

Optional: replace bologna with sausage. Add an onion (sauteed). Replace green olives with kalamata - really, there's lots of wiggle room here. Just remember the recipe math: starch (potaotes) plus crisp veg (broccoli) plus salt (olives) plus flavor bridge (dressing). So, you could try fresh zucchini or summer squash instead of broccoli, or green beans. You could add some fennel seeds to the garlic-bologna mix, you could, you could, you could... and if it works, let me know!

Monday, December 17, 2007

the small changes and the big bump(er)s

It's okay, I understand your confusion. You are standing on the street looking at our house (okay, our apartment) and you are just plain stumped. So let me explain.

Yes, that's the Toddles, washing windows. Someone, after all, needs to do it. And he seems to be having an absurd amount of fun, so I'm calling it Montessori-style education. Edu-tainment for the slacker, non-window washing mama? Edu-something, and I credit the ever-creative Zina with this one. So *that's* what you do with buckets once sandbox season is over! And rags - well, there's always rags around here. You might note, however, that while I provided the initial demonstration of rag and water-spritzing, that the adult begging the child not to soak the windows is not, in fact me. I happily demonstrated, collected happy child kudos, and left the ever-patient QG to the job.

And yes, that's my car with the bumper forlornly lying on the ground. Yes, and with the wires sticking out worryingly. Oh, and yes, the cute little PT Cruiser parked in front of it is also mine, courtesy of the nice folks at Enterprise and the rental coverage on our car insurance. Note also how nicely the street is plowed. Coincidence?

Oh, yes, silver linings abound. And it's awfully easy to see them from my nice, clean windows.

If you've been at our shabbat table any time in the past three weeks, you've probably eaten an adaptation of this. Here is our version of the recipe (minus zucchini/squash/peppers and simplified somewhat), with a very satisfied nod to Vanessa.

(Imperfected) Chickpea and Green Olive Tagine

2 cans chickpeas
2-3 onions, chopped small
6 cloves of garlic, smashed
olive oil as needed (about 1/4 cup)
1 large eggplant, diced (smaller is better, but I'm always in a hurry so mine are about 1 inch cubes)
1 big, big can of diced tomatoes or 4-5 medium tomatoes (corn allergic: watch out for ascorbic or citric acid! You're safer finding tinned tomatoes without those, or using a combination of tomato paste and fresh tomatoes)
2 cups green olives, or 1 can of the Beit Hashita pitted green Israeli olives (reserve a little of the liquid)
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp ground ginger
¾ tsp paprika
1 cinnamon stick
½ tsp salt
1/2 cup water (if reheating the next day for shabbat or as needed)

If you have one, this is a great time to use a wok or a good, big and deep nonstick sauteeing pan. If not, make it up - but you'll need extra oil if you don't have nonstick.

Saute onions and garlic until browning, then scrape to one side in the pan. Toss in eggplant, making sure that the eggplant is hitting the bottom of the pan and sauteeing nicely. The trick here is to only add as much eggplant as you have clear pan space for. Eggplant touching the base of the pan will get that nice seared surface, as opposed to simply steaming. If you are in a hurry, though, just chuck the eggplant in, stir a bit and move on. The dish will still be yummy and perfection is for people with extra time. Or patient children.

Add spices, and stir a bit. Then, dump in everything else. Cover and reduce the heat to low, let burble happily for about 15-20 minutes. The tomatoes (if you use fresh) will soften, the flavors will melt into each other. Stir occasionally to maintain culinary happiness and prevent burning. Stir more often if your pot isn't nonstick. Add water if the dish looks especially solid - you want a little soupiness.

Serve over rice.

Optional: in a hurry? measure your spices the night before.
want some pretty color? Toss a handful of chopped parsley, colorful bell pepper, scallion or avocado on top. Or, have prettily arranged any or all of these in bowls on the side, and let people decorate as it pleases them.

FYI: Harvard: a mom's review Heh.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

and, phump!

holy moly, but there's a ton of snow out there. And it's still falling.

The Man is out there right now, heroically shovelling the walk and steps (third time today), and trying to dig out my car. I have a steaming mug of tea and a hunk of white chocolate, and I'm off to my bed - where I doubtless will find the Toddles, determinedly hunkered down for the duration. Sweet kid, that one, and very very territorial in his sleeping habits. Want my mummy! Want my mummy's bed! I go sleep in mummy's bed! WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

Sigh. Nice kid. Good tactical sense of volume.

With luck, tomorrow will be a snow day. Which means that on a day when shabbat arrives at what? 3.55 or the like? I will not have to spend two precious pre-sabbath hours schlepping in a car. And, with luck, the closed school will camouflage nicely that the Eldest isn't going to school tomorrow regardless. The poor kid slipped in the snow today, and now has a nice muscle bleed going in his right ankle. And this is on a day when he had clotting oomph in his system, too. Oh, well.

It was almost comic, watching the child decide how he felt about this state of affairs. Here's how it went:

Eldest, wiggling his foot: ouch. (considers this, and finds himself surprised and offended) ouch!
Parent: does that hurt?
Eldest, still offended: yes!
Parent, mildly: hmm. Maybe we should keep an eye on that.
Eldest, realizing that the parent is considering the possibility of a bleed: oh, but it doesn't hurt now. It's fine. See?

The Eldest performs a small jig on the ankle, thereby proving beyond a doubt that no way, no how does he need to go to the ER. The parent, unaware that an ER run is being considered, is relieved and turns back to the dinner dishes.

Eldest, tucking his feet under him: ouch. Ouch?? (shifts position rapidly to relieve ankle)
Parent: hmmm? Still sore?
Eldest, looking for a way out: oh, no. See?
Attempts jig, finds that ankle is too painful, seeks other way to escape and fails.
Eldest: ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch
Parent: yep. Time for factor.

Eventually, the Eldest realizes that there will be dosing, but there will be no hiring of the dog-sled that we'd need to get to the ER. (There really is quite a bit of snow.) He shifts from anxiety about the bleed and the potential seriousness of the ER run, to being offended by the lack of ER. He's remembered at this point that he is admired and vastly entertained at the ER, and is now feeling shortchanged by this whole treating at home business.

Eldest: oh, no! Now my big toe hurts - so we have to go to the ER, right?

The parent who didn't escape fast enough now has to explain to the Eldest, for the seventeenth time, that in fact we poor mortals can manage this at home, with help via telephone. The Eldest, looking disgusted and bereft and somewhat pained (all at once), will manage a dramatic exit that sucessfully expresses all of this, despite lacking a door or even any real mobility. The parent will applaud. Silently.

Close curtain, time for bed. 'Night, all!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Days of headaches finally came to an impressive moment today, when I...fell asleep in traffic.

The whole drive home I felt my eyes closing, my brain numbing, and I changed my chair position, turned off the heat (cold = awake, maybe?), dug my nails into my palm (ouch - yawn), and got the Eldest to talk about the miniutae of his day. He never does that, and I only wish I'd been awake enough to appreciate it.

And then I actually started falling asleep. At one point, I was even dreaming - and let me tell you, in my dream I was not in a car.

Folks, I give you the current obvious cause behind this: the Toddles.

The Toddles has been sleeping badly, and insisting on sleeping with me - which means I sleep badly. And it's hard to argue with a child who will wail for over 30 minutes, ignoring the loving father trying to soothe him. And once he finally escapes the paterfamilias?

(leaping into the mama-bed) Hurree! Hurrah!
(pause, while the small person snuggles deep into the covers. Then, looking up at the astonished mama, he says proudly): I said that.

Yep, he did. So now I'm going to bed - and alone. For now, anyway.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

there's a light in here somewhere

Okay, okay, so I flubbed Chanuka. (chag sameach, by the way)

Partially, this was an accident of good intentions: after much discussion revolving around our lack of, um, discussions (okay, communication), I tried to sort through the household miniutae to see where I could comfortably include the Man. Chanuka presents seemed a good bet.

This is how it went:
Me (emerging from my study/DONOTENTER:working/room where we stash junk destined to go somewhere else...someday): I've got some Chanuka gift ideas for the kids. Should I narrow them down, or do you want to help me hunt?
The Man (lifting his earphones off his ears): wha?
Me (holding a fistful of catalogs and notes): do you want to look at these with me, or should I narrow them down?
The Man (recovering from his weekly Presidential podcast): um, well, ah - no, you narrow it down first. Got to go argue with Congress about insurance for children.

So off I go. I have a working budget of about $30 for the kids, plus S&H. And I have rules. No batteries, no small pieces, no cartoon/Disney/commercialized characters. No DVD/computer games. Oh, and both kids need to be able to play with it. Something that takes small hands and brains and imagination. Something that will help me reverse-engineer the perfect child. Easy, no?

Me: Okay, I have a couple of ideas.
The Man (leafing through my clippings and notes): oh, but they already have construction toys. Let's not - oh, no, not that either - nope, I can't see that working - oh, um, no. I don't think so. Good luck, honey!
Me: mumble grumble head onna stick mumble

We hesitated over this (medium small pieces, enough for both children to play), debated this (fun, but flying things in the house? how much trouble is this asking for? maybe I should loosen up?) or one of these. I lusted briefly after this (toy control!), and this (for the Man and the Eldest, both, right?) or any of these (ooooh - I do love me construction toys). But the budget and the rules prevailed, so we settled on this for the Toddles, who adores puzzles and building, and this in softcover for the number-loving Eldest, plus a set of fraction magnets.

Had I not actually ordered everything on Sunday, we might have been okay. But nope, Sunday it was, and there we were last night, present-less. That's okay, I consoled myself, we'll have Chanuka before we have the Festival of Presents. I wonder if I can figure out a vegan, gluten-free latke? Yup, I felt pretty good about that.

One bleed and one trashed day in a series of trashed and scraping-by days later, a tired and hungry mama sat down to dinner with overtired, napless and hungry Toddles and a end-of-day+post bleed=uber-fragile Eldest. Oh yes, and he was hungry too - he said so, loudly and repeatedly all the way home. ALL THE WAY HOME. (and of course I keep food in the car! This was, apparently, entirely besides the point.) The Man was in a meeting at work, and promised to make it home...eventually.

Mum, it's Chanuka today! Do we have candles? A menora?
wearily, yes. After dinner.
Mummummummum - what about presents?
Erm. Eat your dinner.

It was astonishingly clear to me: if I give the kids stuff, then they will be happy. If I don't give them stuff, then the Eldest will realize that he's missing a stuff-opportunity, and be unhappy. I found myself absolutely unable to manage even the thought of trying to console a disappointed child. I was just....too....tired.

So I did what any sensible woman would do. I poured a cup of coffee, pulled out my cell phone and texted the Man: tomorrow I am calling in sick.

And I did. Wise is the Man who heeds the Mama...


Warning: mental health day in progress.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Here, feeshy feeshy.

I know, I know, I've been silent. And naturally, in that silence many things have piled high. Big day today, big week, big pair of weeks, oh me oh my.

First of all, let me introduce the latest character at Chez Imperfect, whome we shall call Q.G. Q.G. has inherited Mary Jr.'s spot in our home, namely as one of the folks who strive to keep me sane. Luckily for Q.G., she gets to do this by playing with the Toddles, so she's fairly far from the line of fire.

I knew she's work out just fine when she emailed me the following (slightly edited):

Today, I asked the Toddles where he came from. He said, from my mummy and daddy.
Then, I asked him, well, where did they get you?
Matter of factly, he said, from Trader Joe's.

Now, isn't that exactly the kind of thing you'd want to know about the Toddles? There are many praises to sing for Q.G., but that one rather speaks for itself. As for Trader Joe's, well, their new allergy labeling does make them more food allergy friendly, but I hadn't realized that they'd reached such corporate heights...

Okay, so let's see. I've updated the cast of characters, I've given you the standard yea-but-I-have-committed-sins-of-neglect bloggish viddui, and now it's time to tie up lingering bloggish threads. Right, then.

When we last left our heroes, the Toddles was clearing an allergen out of his system, the Eldest was considering the nature of the divine and reincarnation, and there was something grumpy and useful about Bachman vs Nabisco. Nabisco's approach to food allergy consumers was repeated this past week by General Mills (yes, but what exactly do you mean by 'risk?') but we can probably move on past that.

Briefly, then. The Toddles is not allergic to fish. Hallelujah and pass the bewildered headscratcher, because this makes NO SENSE. Worse, it's a touch embarrassing.

Here's how it went: we fed the Toddles fish. Meanwhile, we're watching redness around the cheeks and chin, flaring eczema, increased nursing and reduced food-eating, clear snot. Okay, so something allergic is going on. Then, on three occasions I gave the kid salmon, and we saw all of these symptoms, bang! appear on the spot. But why?

There's something wrong with me, said the Toddles one day. Mm, hm, say I, more interested in a clear mammogram than the person in the back seat. There's something wrong with my body, insists the Toddles. I stop musing about ultrasounds vs mammograms and start paying attention. The child is red-faced and clutching his tummy...Aha, say I (mentally reviewing the week's menu), it's salmon.

I checked dates, tallied symptoms with menu, and called the allergy clinic. We have an appointment in two days - a cancellation. Can you make it? We could. But once there, we had the attending who doesn't like to leap - or look, for that matter. Sigh.

The scratch testing showed positive for trout, tuna, and negative for salmon. This makes no sense, said I. We almost never eat trout or tuna, and the troubles have all corresponded to salmon. What gives? The attending leaned against the door, confident in the face of my perplexity.

Note: major negative points here for not sitting down. A doctor who remains standing is sending the silent message that s/he's got one foot out the door. A doc who sits is telling you that s/he's focusssed on you, and listening.

Well, said he, those tests are 90% accurate. So it comes down to this: who do you trust, the tests or you?
I stared at him, a little flabbergasted. Yes, it's true that this is exactly the question. But did this guy realize the kind of power politics he'd just invoked? I fought the urge to bop him upside the head, and said, evenly, Not to sound egotistical, but I'd go with me.

The allergy fellow (sitting down) raised his head at this and looked me square in the eye. I'd go with you, too, he said.
And that, I replied silently, is why we booked this appointment with you. This shmoe is a... bonus.

Thanks, I said out loud. I do appreciate the vote of confidence, but I would truly like to be wrong, as well. And it might be nice to have my nose rubbed in it - shall we do the RAST testing?

Nodding, familiar with the Imperfect way, the fellow started pulling out a lab slip. But the attending intervened. He offered arguments about avoiding unnecessary tests, insurance costs, and generally feeling that we already had the evidence we needed. Finally, he tried to explain about statistical variance, trying to warn me about what was a statistically significant number versus what was not. I smiled, pointed out that I was married to a statistician, and promised to play nicely with the lab results if we could only, please, have them.

He folded, I marched off in triumph, and the Toddles tested negative to fish. Ooops.

Oddly, the Toddles also tested very, very, very high for wheat (far higher than ever before), much higher for rye, barley and egg white, and just when I was about to say things about falsely elevated results, I saw that he's still very, very, very low for oats. Which means he's probably been exposed to the heightened allergens. How?

My money is on cross-contamination. We buy our fish mostly at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, both of which offer crumbed and stuffed fish options. I spoke to the fish dept. manager at WFM, and he explained that fish comes ready for sale in big tubs, one type per tub. If the person helping me changes their gloves and gets fish from the tubs in the back, we avoid the cross-contamination of the display case. So we shall try this - once we stop the Great Cow Bonanza over here, brought to you courtesy of a successful food challenge last week.

The Eldest, it seems, is no longer allergic to beef. And how lovely is it that his kindergarten class celebrated with him (as they did when he passed his chickpea challenge), with the shehechiyanu blessing. And that appears to have silenced our Mr. Nietzche for the nonce.

Today's favorite babywearing photos: a free trade baby carrier, which is nice in and of itself, but nice yet is the relaxed mama and baby in the pic.
Oh, but I'm eyeing these - the toddler design is lovely, though the baby design's fabrics are especially splendid - and plan to lust over them quietly for a month or so, before moving on.

Meanwhile, my thanks to Melissa of Lemon Balm Essentials, who came to the Eldest's school craft fair, and did a long and patient babywearing demo. She showed me the joys of the shortie wrap (3.5 m for back-carrying me) and the ruck (here's a splendid video of three ruck-style wrappings, plus footage of real babywearing!), a mei tai with nicely padded shoulders, talked about hybrid (mei tai meets ergo or other carrier of choice) carriers like the BabyHawk or the BBB linked to above. Yep, going to lust quietly. But enthusiastically.

Translation for the non-carrying: baby carriers come in a range of options. I started the Eldest off in a Baby Bjorn, and was in real back pain by three months. By four months, I was done and found a nice stretchy fleece sling. Babywearing is for folks who like to have their hands free, and will trade free hands for a snuggled close, non-strollering baby. And there's about three major ways to go: a wrap, which is a long piece of cloth that you wrap around yourself and the baby in any of a million ways (font? back? hip?) - customized to you and the kid each time; the structured carrier, like the backpack frame carriers you can get at wilderness stores; the soft-structured carrier (SSC), which has no frame or metal, but has straps and buckles. Faster and easier than a wrap, but somewhat less customizeable and definitely less pretty/funky. I think a mei tai is a SSC, and my ergo carrier is definitely one. Love my Ergo, but I find it a little bulky. Sooo, this week I'm happily using a plain, undyed wrap. The Toddles and I are ruckin'!