Monday, December 20, 2010

A joke Dagi would have loved

In memory of my aunt, who died last April. This joke is so very much her style. Jokes are big in my family. I tend to only remember one at a time. This will be my standard joke for the next few months.

A mama and daughter are sitting at the seashore. A big wave comes crashing in and carries the daughter away. Mama is beside herself and beats her chest and screams, "God, how could you do that? My only daughter! I was always good, and so was she. Ai-ai-ai-ai-ai!"

Soon thereafter, a second wave comes in and brings the daughter back. The mama cries, "Oh, my God, I knew you were good, I am so happy you returned her, I will be ever grateful to you, and I am going to pray to you all the time!"

Then mama starts looking around everywhere, under the bench and in the bushes. She turns to the ocean and yells, "God? There was also a hat?"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

I love a good white elephant gift exchange

As previously mentioned, book club had the annual white elephant gift exchange (WEGE) and a toy/book/clothing swap (very successful -- only 3 little items left over that no one wanted).

The WEGE requires some back story, as, sadly, so many good practical jokes do. I wrote a note on Facebook recently entitled "Books you hated. Really loathed." Here it is:

  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Book written by a total hack. Contains plot holes you could drive a truck through.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Just hated the damn narrator. Repeatedly used all the words I hate, like "munch" and "toothsome." How I finished this piece of crap is beyond me.
  • The Firm by John Grisham. GAH. Drivel.
  • Bridges of Madison County by some damn fool who I'm not even going to look up. Worst grammar ever in a best seller. The clich├ęs are thick on the ground.
  • Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Of all the damn narcissistic, shallow, useless idiots, this one decides to write a book.

This lead to some very lively literary discussion, in which the word "crap" was, perhaps, over-used. In the comments, people added:

  • The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
  • Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
  • The Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda
  • Twilight
  • Loving Frank
  • Vanity Fair
  • Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
  • All the Berenstein Bears books
  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • The Life of Pi
  • Everything ever written by Debbie Macomber, Virginia Wolf, and Emily Dickinson
  • And ALL contemporary realist American fiction
So. Back to the WEGE. We gathered and drew numbers. When it was my turn, I picked a present and unwrapped it. It was a table-top fountain that I said I'd like to keep if possible. The next person stole it from me, as is allowed under the rules. I picked another present. The wrapped box contained 3 wrapped items. The first one turned out to be the same ugly stuffed scarecrow I got in this exchange last year. Groan! The other two looked like books, so I happily turned to them. First one? A Confederacy of Dunces! Ugh! The second one? The Da Vinci Code! Argh!

So hat's off to Margaret! Well played, friend. Well played.

The next book for book club will be
The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Progress on improving the school lunch program

So, a few weeks ago I presented the school board with the petitions that I and my many helpers canvassed around, collecting 428 signatures. Our district has about 3200 students in 7 schools, so I feel like that was a respectable amount.

Despite having my partner-in-change (Laura) with me and our friend and ally (Dana the village trustee) and one other mom who came to support the cause, I was nervous. Hate the public speaking. There were lots of other people there, though! If you've never been to a board of education meeting, I have to say there's a lot you can learn there. It was "The State of the District" presentation night, so there were teachers, the middle school principal (who I didn't know and didn't recognize, which is just as well, which you will see if you read my speech, below), some AAUW people asking for a grant, the local newspaper reporter who was there to do an article on LAURA AND ME, WOOOO, WE ARE FAMOUS, MAN - front page article! Lots of people.

So as always when I'm nervous, I had to read straight off the page. Sigh. Oh well, I am proud of the positive tone, which did not go unnoticed by the superintendent, who remarked on it and on the fact that this was the first grassroots initiative brought to him in his seven years at the district.

This evening I meet with the Asst. Superintendent for Finance and Operations to discuss who will be on the committee. I can't believe this is really moving forward!

Here's my speech:


We believe the district's wellness policy has done a great job of eliminating junk food as a teacher reward, in fundraising, and at school functions. In the latest [district newsletter] it states that the district is prioritizing wellness. It seems like the next logical step is to address the inadequacies of the lunch program.

As you are perhaps have heard, we put together a petition to show you that our community is interested in improving the quality of the lunches served at our schools. PRESENT PETITIONS and DECLARE NUMBER (428 signatures). [Read text of petition]

During discussions that were sparked by this effort, we have learned that we have a community filled with people who want to volunteer their time to improve various aspects of the school nutrition program.
  • We have an executive chef who wants to partner with the schools (chefs move to school program that Michelle Obama started).
  • We also have parents at several schools who would love to start a school vegetable garden, which would enable students to try truly fresh and local foods.

Have a committee to oversee applying for grants and other programs that would benefit the nutritional and physical well-being of the students. We propose that the committee should consist of

  • the middle school principal
  • one of the elementary school principals
  • parents from each school
  • the Food Service Director
  • and a Board of Education representative

The first set of goals includes:

  • Increase the amount of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Decrease the amount of HFCS and hydrogenated oils
  • Give input when the new lunch contract is under discussion
  • Enforce the Wellness Policy during lunch at the middle school
We are also interested in expanding the role of the school district in promoting fitness, including walk and bike to school initiatives and a district-level wellness fair to showcase ideas for healthier families.

We know that solving this problem will entail creativity and flexibility to meet the nutritional guidelines and not overshoot the budget, but we are confident that large improvements can be made without straining the district's finances.

Thank you.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday "to do" list

  • Finish shopping. (Click through my link if you need a little something from Amazon! Thank you!)
  • Help the kids make some presents.
  • Bake cookies with Tish.
  • Make some Christmas cards. Use store-bought when we run out of steam.
  • Choose photo to put in cards. Have them printed.
  • Purchase the holiday stamps and mail the cards.
  • Put together family photo calendar. Less fun this year, as two of the five recipients have died since last Christmas.
  • Make gingerbread houses. We went with the multiple mini-houses this time. I was hoping to get it over with by having the cousins make them with our kids during Thanksgiving, but the nieces were working and the nephews aren't into that sort of thing, apparently. It was a good idea, though. I thought.
  • Wrap presents.

I think I'm running behind schedule.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Book club! Wooooo! Book club!

Our selection for next month is The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield. I've already read it, but I want to read it again. There's a lot going on in this book.

Plus we'll be having our third annual (or is it fourth?) White Elephant gift exchange. I love those. Plus we bring toys and books and clothing to swap with each other. It's tons of fun, and I can't wait. I've already been weeding out some kiddie books and toys.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Yeeeah. That's not a good fit for us.

Ever feel like the world conspires against you? I've thought for awhile that Nea has something else going on other than her apraxia. Apraxia doesn't explain why it first took her forever to learn her shapes and colors (to the point where I had her tested for color blindness) and then forever and a day to learn her letters and numbers. And she is very inconsistent from day to day on what she remembers.

I'm guessing she has at least ADD (it runs in the family), maybe also a memory problem or an executive function problem. Who knows, except that she is very clearly too smart to be having this much trouble learning. And she is falling further and further behind her peers.

So I decided it was time to have her tested. Schools don't generally do this kind of testing. ADD falls in the medical realm, and schools test for dyslexia, etc. but it's not as exhaustive.

I started by asking a friend whose child just had some neuropsych testing done. Turns out their doctor is going into active military duty, so she's not taking new pediatric patients. Her office recommended another place. I called them. They gave us two appointments, but clearly didn't think one of their doctors was better suited than another other. Really? I have a 6-year-old child with a severe speech disorder and that doesn't call for a little specialization for neuropysch testing? Huh. On a whim, I googled that office. I looked at the extremely Christian mission statement and the different doctors' descriptions. One of the biographies said, "Sees adults for Biblical Conflict Resolution, etc." and "learned how to address interpersonal conflicts in a Biblically faithful manner." Yeeeah. That's not a good fit for us.

After school I saw another friend whose child was recently diagnosed with ADHD. So I asked her for a recommendation. She gave me a business card. I called them up. Turns out for only a few thousand dollars (mostly not covered by insurance) I can get my kid some very questionable woo-woo therapy! Yeeeah. No.

Who knew this was going to be so hard? Anyway, I got some recommendations from our pediatrician. I haven't called them yet, though. They'll probably end up being batshit crazy in some other unique way. I'm sort of looking forward to it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Book talk

Five books I've recently read, in the order that I would recommend them:
Books I plan to read next, in no particular order:
  • Dangerous Liaisons (Les Liaisons Dangereuses) by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (loved the movie. Want to read the book, then watch the movie again)

  • Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy (I don't remember where I heard about this one.)

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (recommended by Tish, my librarian friend, who has very similar taste to me and rarely steers me wrong, although she has a weird thing for Pete Hamill that I don't get.)

  • One Day by David Nicholls (Tish, I'm reading it now)

  • This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper (Tish)

  • The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Tish)

  • Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (Tish)

  • Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (Tish)

  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (Tish)

    • What have y'all been reading that's good?

      Friday, October 15, 2010

      World domination and subversive activity

      Sometimes there is a quote that you hear too often, yet it resonates so deeply that it never really gets old.

      Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. -- Margaret Mead

      As I mentioned, I'm heading up the PTA Wellness Committee this year. I had two big goals (Start a walking to school program and do something to improve the lunch program), and one not-so-secret goal (start a school vegetable garden).

      Our district has a wellness policy that has met with a lot of parental resistance. In part: No chips, cookies, candy, soda for daily snack items or class parties. No food of any kind for teacher rewards. No candy or bake sale fundraisers. (Although we still have a "cake walk" once a year. Go figure how that gets approved.) I have no issues with any of that.

      And yet, despite the wellness policy, the lunch program, as in many schools, is repulsive. No fresh fruit or vegetables. At all. I read in USA Today recently (I know. It was an accident.) that only schools and pet food use that grade of meat. Gross.
      There is a breakfast item called the SuperDonut that gets a lot of negative parental comments. "It's fortified," says the food vendor. Umm. Yeah.

      So, I met one of our village trustees, Dana, who just happened to stop me to chat after a school board meeting. I attended that meeting to ask whether there were plans for any lunch program revamping. While talking with her, I realized that nothing would ever happen unless all the schools start working together. I mentioned this to our school's PTA president as well. Next thing I know I'm heading up a meeting next Thursday night, and we are inviting all the parents from all seven schools in the district to attend. I hope the news is spreading well. It seems to be. All hail the God of Email.

      On top of that, Dana told me of an eco-grant program the village has. I plan to apply for a grant to start our school vegetable garden, but I probably should get the principal on board first. Also, she and I are both interested in getting foreign language instruction in the grade schools. I think I'll need to hang out with her more!

      All this world domination and subversive activity is taking away from my exercising/reading/blogging/lounging time, which frankly wasn't such a large line item to begin with.

      Next selection

      The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich. I'm half through it and loving it!

      Thursday, October 7, 2010


      I'm not dead. Just crazy busy. New speech therapist for Nea, new progress towards a school veggie garden, etc. etc.

      Did I tell you about my first-ever attempt at peach jam? It's so lovely. Five pumpkins this year! We ate our one Red Rome apple. It was crisp.

      Will update more next week. Really!

      Tuesday, September 14, 2010

      Why aren't you growing fruit trees?

      As you may remember, I predicted a good year for our peach tree. And lo, well into September, it has come to pass that 30ish peaches were saved before losing more to the varmints. And they are so damn tasty.

      The story starts nearly 30 years ago, when I first ate a peach off a tree. I fell in love. I bought peaches from the store several times after that but eventually learned that there was no point. Then I learned that peaches rank second only to celery for worst pesticide offender. Here, kids, have some chemically coated fruit! It's good for you. I mean, how can a parent hand that crap over without worrying what the ramifications are?

      So at some point I said, Hey, how about we grow our own? We bought it at a nursery. It's not very old. I have never sprayed it with anything. And the fruit is gorgeous. I think that's one thing holding people back -- thinking that if you don't spray, you won't get any useable fruit. And space. Dwarf trees are small and convenient!

      I bought two apple trees and a pear tree at Stark Bro's, and they are growing very well. Good prices, too.

      Zone 5 here! You can grow peaches, apricots, plums, pears, apples, cherries, etc. Apricots go down to Zone 4! Shame about mango trees being Zone 9B.

      Sunday, September 12, 2010

      Book group selection

      Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya, which is not available at our local library. Whatever shall I do.

      Friday, September 10, 2010

      Today's Botany Public Service Announcement

      Do not plant a Goldenrain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata). Do not encourage others to grow one. Do not buy one for a friend. If your next door neighbor talks about getting one, do whatever it takes to dissuade them. Offer to buy them something else if need be. It would be well worth your investment.

      If I never have to pull up another damn 10,000 seedlings, that would be ok. If only my neighbor didn't love the stupid thing so much. I've already pruned the hell out of it on my side of the fence. And the damn tree is technically on our property, which just pisses me off more. God, I hate that tree.

      The word "invasive" should always preface the name of the damn tree. I'm outside CHICAGO in ZONE FIVE. Winters apparently don't slow this devil spawn plant.

      If you would like to view the Goldenrain tree in a safe virtual environment, that is probably ok. Probably. Check your shoes when you're done, though. Don't carry any seedpods out with you.

      Tuesday, August 31, 2010

      I sense a trend

      Do I do this every year? Is it possible that I'm this dumb? Let's just keep a record, and we can check back next year at this time.

      • The very first day of school I heard of a different SLP who actually knows something about apraxia. This would be a welcome change from Easter Seals, so I immediately call to schedule something. And she wants a copy of the IEP and other stuff. Which is reasonable, of course, but means I have to put that together. Luckily (?) she can't see us until Sept 21st.
      • I haven't done any freelancing since I was pregnant with Nea (I remember specifically since that client wanted me to come meet him downtown for no good reason, and I thought to myself, "Well, won't this massive belly be a bit of a surprise for the yahoo."), but now I've finished one job and have another lined up.
      • It's the end of the fiscal year at my regular job, and what a quarter it's been! With the extreme meltdown in mental health of my team in India. What joy.
      • Plus I just qualified for a focus group thing, so that's nice. Except I'm supposed to cook three meals in a week with SECRET NEW THING and then report back. Sounds like work.
      • And I'm the head of the PTA Wellness Committee now, with my personal agenda of revamping the lunch vendor, if possible, and the start of a "walking school bus" program. Oh yeah, and it turns out that I'm supposed to have something in the monthly school newsletter, oh boy. As in, regularly.
      • Boo says she's "bored" at school. On Day Four of School she says this. Oof.
      • Luckily, Nea has two very very nice Girl Scout friends in her class this year. They bonded at the worst ever GS thing two weeks ago. Imagine the worst hot/humid/mosquito hell. Then add a trashy mom getting a vodka bottle passed through the fence so she can endure spending time with her daughter. And some other mind-bogglingly ridiculous parental antics. I mean, seriously. Please seek help if you can't go 24 hours without a drink, ok? There's help out there for you. Really.
      • Plus we have abandoned Saturday German school, so I'm homeschooling German this year! I'M INSANE. SOMEONE HELP ME.

      Saturday, August 28, 2010

      Update on killer tomatoes

      I normally don't use a chainsaw when harvesting my tomatoes, but it takes all kinds to make a world.

      Friday, August 20, 2010

      Veggie gardening in small spaces

      La la la. Tum tee tum tee tum. Walking to the public pool. Hmm. What's this?

      Hmm. Looks interesting.

      Ooooh. They look like they are almost ripe! No need to start a raised bed or do that awkward mowing-around-the-plants thing.

      To think some of you claim not to have enough space to grow your own food! I hope you see new possibilities opening up for you. Grow your tomatoes in an elevated garden, I say.

      Saturday, August 14, 2010

      Next book

      The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard. I read part of this book while visiting our former book club member Kate last year. So really, Kate, I think your influence continues, despite your exile in Georgia.

      And JM has missed three meetings in a row, so we should really just talk smack about her in the comments, don't you think?

      Thursday, August 12, 2010

      Literacy. I'm a fan.

      Nea will learn to read if it kills me. And it might. TBD. I said to N recently that I want her to love to read, and then I burst into tears. If there's one thing I want my kids to have it's a love of reading. Empathy? Whatever. Athletic ability? Like I care. A fulfilling happy existence? Well. That would be nice, but who's all fulfilled and happy if they aren't voracious readers? I mean, really. As if.

      Anyway. My point is. Oh, right, my newest theory on how to get this kid to read. The problems are A) kids with apraxia generally have more trouble learning to read, since they can't sound out the words. B) I think she has dyslexia, based mostly on the fact that she works so hard but retains so little. Shapes and colors took forever to stick. Letters, too.

      In case you don't have a kid who has been in kindergarten recently, the fairly new thing is "sight words." The words you should know essentially by rote repetition. Memorizing the shape of the letters forming the word.

      So, let's just hammer home the 100 most commonly used words in the English language, yes? Yes! What a great idea! Before you read any further, take this little quiz. Can you name the top 100? It's fun! C'mon, take a break! Oh, right, you already were!

      I haven't done the blow by blow to compare their answers to the Wikipedia entry. Feel free to do an analysis and report back. If you really need another reason to procrastinate something.

      Wednesday, August 4, 2010

      Profound apraxia at age 6

      Nea turned 6 this summer. I've been putting off writing this post for quite awhile. Looks like the last update I gave on her speech disorder was in the spring.

      Many times I have read "My apraxic child improved dramatically the year of kindergarten! Or at age 5!" It's a real trend. That's nice for those families, isn't it?

      Things got really hairy for a few months. I struggled to understand her as her speech attempts became much longer and complicated. Some days I was exhausted by the time she went to bed. Those of you who have traveled to countries where you don't speak the language well know what that feels like.

      But then a few things improved. One thing that helped more than you would think was that she started saying "A long time 'go". It doesn't seem like much, but CONTEXT is everything when you are trying to understand Nea. And knowing that we aren't talking about the here and now, or events of the day, helps so much.

      I don't know. She has improved so much, but she has so far to go. If you ask her where she's going later today she says, "Eat-det Deah" (Easter Seals). Spongebob is Pon-Pon. If you heard her talk without seeing her you'd think she was maybe two years old. Talking on the phone with her is very difficult, as you can imagine.

      Her handwriting is shaky. The pressure on the paper is very light. We spell things out and show her what letter to write and crawl through writing thank-you cards.

      But then, the other day she told us that no boys were allowed in her room. And she does have a green belt in karate now. Maybe she'll be ok after all.

      Friday, July 30, 2010

      The best three soundtracks of all time

      A little discussion point for y'all. I'm sure we can all agree these are excellent soundtracks.
      What are your top three? Or perhaps you are too snooty for soundtracks. Perhaps you were a music major and only listen to avant garde something something.

      Monday, July 19, 2010

      Suburban Version of OFF THE GRID

      N is once again taking classes, so it was just me and the kids for dinner. I made zucchini pancakes using a stupid pathetic onion from the garden. Wait, I mean, don't you wish you had tiny onions whenever a recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of diced onion? Ha ha! No cut open leftover stinky onion in my fridge! No. I use my single-serving size PERSONAL onions that I grow myself! How clever!

      They were served with applesauce (made from my friend's apple tree last September and frozen) and homemade yogurt (because we were out of sour cream).

      And the kids, as always, loved them. Starving the poor tykes by having them in swimming classes at the normal dinner hour had only a small influence on their hunger, I'm sure.

      I plan to bask in the glow of my self-sufficiency for the rest of the day. At least.

      Book club

      Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. A very quick read, and our first graphic novel since Fun Home, a very long time ago.

      Sunday, July 4, 2010

      Photo evidence

      You know, in case you don't really believe me when I talk about this "garden" I "work" on and "enjoy" so "much."
      The main garden, overview. In the forefront, what's left of the Three Sisters, namely the hubbard squash. Under them, strawberry plants.
      Now panning in sections from right to left...

      On the left is the red orache, at full height of four feet. In the foreground one giant massive plant, aka yellow summer squash, with zucchini next to it. Behind them, 5 tomato plants. Behind them, very successful raspberry bushes (barely visible).
      Some overlap with previous photo, but here we see the small brussel sprout plants in the left coldframe, asparagus plants (which look like wispy ferns) in the background. Insane oregano and chives in the front of photo.

      Left front, tiny basil and swiss chard. Then giant peas, with the out of control cukes behind. Another 8 tomato plants. Parsley going to seed in front right. What a wall of green.

      Container with a tomato plants and two eggplants. Behind are the windowboxes with lettuce.
      Part of compost bin on left. Potatoes and winter squash growing on the ground. Pole beans growing up side of garage. Nea ate about 15 green beans yesterday! Hurrah!

      Wednesday, June 30, 2010

      Veggie Garden 2010: a mixed bag

      The spring foods went well. We ate asparagus, rhubarb, and two whole strawberries that the chipmunk didn't get to before us. The lettuce is still going. The herbs are out of control, as usual. I wish I'd known oregano would spread aggressively. Treat it as you would a mint, people! There's an actual Red Rome apple on our new tree. We'll have to split it four ways when it's ripe, I suppose. Peaches looking good. Quince didn't set fruit despite blooming for the first time. Maybe next year.

      Almost two months since the last frost date, and things are really getting started now! We ate our first pole beans. I didn't get as many plants established as I wanted, though I started a lot of them. They didn't like all the wet weather either. Every day we have a few peapods, and the plants are six feet tall. The kids like those. The zukes and cukes should be producing by the weekend, since they are all finally setting fruit. The plants themselves are huge. I have high hopes for FRIDGE PICKLES this year, as last year we barely had any cukes. Stupid cold wet summer it was.

      This has been the best year for raspberries we've ever had. They were free, too, as they came over the fence from the neighbors. Boo is a fan and will now go out and pick her own. Success!

      I'm a big fan of orache (red mountain spinach) now and will no longer bother with normal spinach which bolts much too early. The orache is nearing four feet tall, and I use the leaves in salads.

      Managed to get two swiss chard plants going and one cantaloupe.

      The traditional Three Sisters of corn, pole beans, and squash has been a total bust. It's just the hubbard squash now. Some animal ate the corn plants. The beans sprouted and then disappeared. Pumpkins are coming up all over the yard, and I'm just letting them go. Maybe some are butternuts. I did plant a few butternuts, but I haven't seen them lately under the massive potato plants. They've been digging all the rain. I expect to get more than the 50 pounds I harvested last year.

      The onions are hiding under the asparagus, but seem to be happy. Earwigs are eating the Bok choi again. Radishes went to seed much too early.

      Tomatoes are growing well, esp. considering the cool wet weather. Well, I guess we had some heat, too. Along with the regular raised bed tomato plants, I did two containers of one tomato plant with two eggplants. Since they love the heat, I thought the containers might help them, and they seem very happy.

      There's five beets, after putting seeds down twice. One carrot. Pathetic. Boo (who doesn't want to be called Boo in real life anymore. That's … impossible. But I'm trying.) thought that the carrot plants would come back next year, and would produce more than one carrot per plant.

      The brussel sprouts are coming along slowly, but you don't harvest those until around the frost, so no rush.

      My gardening mentor, my aunt, died on my birthday this past April. I miss her advice already. It was the corn seeds she gave me (Royal Red corn) that were destroyed by pests. Sigh. But the orache seeds were from her, and that's going well, so I guess it's win some lose some, right?

      Photos to follow soon.

      Friday, June 25, 2010

      What do shingles scars look like one month after they erupt?

      So, a little health update on my shingles. The pain is gone, the itching is much better (which means I can sleep again), and my skin is less numb on my forehead. Got the bill from the hospital. In case you were wondering, the full price (pre-insurance) of a 24-hour stay in the isolation ward, where everyone has to wear a fresh face mask and a full paper gown EVERY SINGLE TIME they enter your room, is only $7100. What a deal! Of course, the infectious diseases doctor bills separately.

      If you want to know what it looked like when I was in the hospital you can go ahead and Google "shingles on face". I don't recommend it, but knock yourself out. Granted, I didn't look nearly as bad as many of those poor people.

      Doctors keep telling me that the scars generally fade entirely, but it could take up to one year. Frankly, the prospect of losing my eyesight in that eye worried me a hell of a lot more than my appearance, and I have confirmation that the shingles affected my tear duct's ability to work.

      "Look at that sad lady, Mommy. Why is she crying out of one eye?" Actually, I have this gritty feeling in my eye, whether I'm wearing my contacts or not. It's annoying. I haven't cried lately, so I don't know if it's noticeably different from both eyes. I'll get back to you on that. Maybe I can get a sad movie soon.

      Anyway, the ophthalmologist* says that other eye complications are "rare" this late in the game, so I'm starting to think about the scars a bit more. Especially that big divot-like one in the middle of my stupid forehead. Might be time for a new haircut.

      Additionally, I seem to have lost much of my sense of smell. I hope that's temporary.

      See? See how shingles doesn't cross the midline? It's like magic, except not really so fun.

      *Some other words with the "phth" sequence include phthalein, phthisis, Phthirus, and phthisiology. In case you were wondering.

      Friday, June 11, 2010

      Our house, circa quite awhile back

      Two years ago we found this photo in our mailbox. Someone was closing up a realty company, and they gave a whole lot of time to the project of returning historical photos to the houses' current owners. I called the local historical museum and whoooo whee. Were they pissed. Anyway, I finally took this photo over there and had them scan it, as I had already researched our house, and the oldest photo in their files was from the 1970s.
      We ripped off the so-called second floor (two truly awful bedrooms with low ceilings and no insulation) in January of 2001 when I was pregnant with Boo. We put on a full second floor, with three bedrooms and a bath and lots of closet space. In doing so, we converted two bedrooms downstairs into one long room, where I'm sitting right now. We used part of one of those rooms to put in a real staircase. The old stairs looked like a ship's, and were very much Not Up to Code: Not Even Close.
      House, you've come a long way, baby. Looking good for a hundred-year-old broad.

      Friday, June 4, 2010


      So, never mind about the triathlon. Luckily, I can get a medical rollover to participate in next year's event. Shouldn't be too hard to get a letter from my doctor, seeing as he admitted me to the hospital a week ago when my eye swelled shut. I stayed for about 24 hours on an IV with antiviral medication. I have shingles on my forehead, but they are now healing, and I'm not blind in that eye. Yep, that about covers what's been going on around here. Whee.

      A fact you might know. Shingles come from chicken pox virus that sit on your nerves for a few decades and then flare up. You can't catch shingles, but you can catch chicken pox from someone with shingles.

      A fact you probably don't know. If they shingles rash spreads to the tip of your nose, it's probably in your optic nerve.

      Monday, May 24, 2010

      Triathlon dress rehearsal

      Yesterday I did the full-length triathlon. Two also-competing friends, Beth and Carrie, joined me, although Beth had to run along to the airport instead of running the 5K. So, two of us did the whole thing. And I lived to tell the tale, although not on the day I did it. Yesterday I was busy putting a Bluestem-shaped sweaty mark on my floor.

      So it was supposed to hit 87 degrees. The plan was "get it over before the heat really gets going." Uh. Not entirely successful on that front. We started at 7 am (as my Sunday paper waited, sadly yet patiently, on the driveway) by biking to the gym (3 miles). We used the one lock one of us (hint: not me) managed to remember to lock up our bikes. Swam half a mile. Got out, biked another 11 miles, ending at our houses. Ran the 5K. I started running with Carrie but couldn't keep up, and finished the rest at my pace.

      The whole thing, er, took, um, *cough* three hours. But! There were very long transition times. So that's my excuse. Plus it was hot. Oh, and Carrie had to nurse her baby before the run. So, actually, seriously, it was a pretty decent time, considering all that. I'm not entirely sure, but the swim was roughly 24 minutes, the bike a little over an hour, and the run 40 minutes. Had I been doing it alone I think I could have biked it in 55 minutes. I'm thinking my previous guess of two hours is not going to happen.

      So. The other important component of this dry run was figuring out What to Wear, which sounds girly but is dead serious. I've elected not to buy a trisuit (hint:
      $$$), so this is a big deal.

      Here's what I wore:

      • Land's End tankini, as it must be a two piece (I don't have that exact one, but I'm sure someone out there doesn't know what a tankini is. And he's German and knows a lot about crystals.)
      • Champion sports bra
      • Biking shorts bought at Performance at least 12 years ago
      • Dri-Fit tanktop
      This is how it works. Start off with tankini, with jog bra on under it. Add biking shorts and tanktop, since we were biking to the pool. At pool, remove shorts and tank. Wear tankini and jog bra for the swim. After swim, take off tankini top, add tank and shorts back on over wet jog bra and swimsuit bottom. Do rest of race with that combo of items. Notice that at no point does one need a changing room for public decency! Clever, no?

      Everything worked out great, except I wanted pockets, so on future training runs I'll wear a biking top, since they always have pockets in the back. For the actual race I probably don't need to carry my phone and Kleenex and such, so it won't matter.

      Three weeks until we do it for real.

      Saturday, May 15, 2010

      Next up: a book

      A 304 page book entitled: Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression by Mildred Armstrong Kalish

      I'm hoping this one will explain all those Iowians I know. A stoic bunch, those Iowians. Quick to cook up a storm and such. Salt of the earth types. Whatever that means. Not like us flighty Illinoisians.

      Sunday, May 9, 2010

      Best Mother's Day Evah

      Sure, sure, there were cute homemade presents and cards and a family bike ride. And yummy dinner at Oma and Opa's. Kohlrouladen, mmmm. Whatever, blah blah blah.

      No, the real highlight was the trashpick of a minivan full of hostas. Big hostas. Fancy hostas. Free hostas. We filled the back. Filled it. Then after dinner we borrowed a tarp and filled the second row floor, beneath the kids' feet. We piled them in the backyard, and there is easily a 8x6 foot bonanza of hostas. A plethora.

      Note: this photo shows much, but by no means all, of today's haul.

      And now the week is pretty much planned out, I'd say.

      Friday, May 7, 2010

      Triathlon report

      With just over five weeks left before the big event (Sprint Competition = .75k swim - 22.8k bike - 5k run), training is going pretty well. I wish I could say that every week I run three days, bike three days, and swim one day, but that's really hard to fit into one's schedule. But I've been doing a lot.

      Sunday I biked to the health club, swam the half mile, biked home the long way, so it was about 12 miles. Ran a 5K Monday. Biked 12 miles Tuesday. Ran a 5K Wednesday (35 minutes! For me, a good time), and then took BodyPump that evening. Thursday I was tired. I did nothing. Today is rainy, so we'll see. But tomorrow I'll take a one-hour spin class, and hopefully run the full 5K after. Sunday I'm doing the same thing as last Sunday (bike, swim, bike).

      I'm training with three friends who are also doing the triathlon. None of them are in my age division, however, so they'll just have to pass me when they can. I believe us old people start before the youngsters still in their prime, with ages that start with a "3."

      Prediction: it's stupid to make a guess, since this is my first triathlon. If I'm doing each event alone, I would expect around 22 min swim, 45 min bike (?), 32 min run. But since I'm hoping to, you know, complete the race and do all three events in succession … ummm. I guess anything under 2 hours would mean I had a good race. A little over 2 hours would still be a decent result. But that's assuming great weather, not too hot. As long as I finish it, I'll be happy.

      Sunday, May 2, 2010

      Third Annual Giant Trashpick

      Perhaps you remember the happy items I got in 2008 and 2009. Well, it was another great year, made even better by nice weather for once.

      Here's the haul:

      Really heavy limestone blocks I loaded by myself, and some pavers

      Ice skates, metal buckets, retro Easter platter, 2 pillows for the playhouse, nice runner rug, beginner rollerblades, candles, pots, Halloween bag and decoration, rusty old pitcher that would be cute as a vase or planter, jump rope, books

      Totally cool dragon kite, clock radio and adding machine (both to be taken apart at Science Camp in June), Playmobile covered wagon, moon shoes, jumpy ball, duffle bag

      Bike basket, ball, bubble solution, game and craft, decorative buckets, Richard Scarry floor puzzle, Thomas counting game, wooden coatrack (to be used as garden accent piece) new-in-box pampered chef loaf pan, new-in-box gingerbread house mold, Lincoln Logs, 25 superballs, vase, decorative plate, nice wooden box for storing items, new napkin holders

      Sidewalk chalk, 10-lb weight, DVDs, ugly denim tablecloth that we'll use as a dropcloth, Gap hoodie, basket with more craft supplies, 3 sleds, paper airplane kit, more books

      Not shown: Electric Razor scooter, 3 jump ropes, a regular kite (new in package), football, giant ball of twine, new kid magazines and books.

      We also took photos of my friend's haul, but apparently stealing her photos from Flickr is harder than I thought. Sorry the photos are small. Here's her list of what she brought home: 2 hose reels, 7.5 ft prelit xmas tree (in box with directions, warranty card and extension cords), light-up santa and snowman, 2 adorondack chairs w/ footstool, little tykes kitchen, little tykes slide, small big wheel and push car, fire pit, 36" tv, a bronco rider, kite, box o awesome trucks, bag chair, white table and chair, wooden santa decor, skateboard, melissa and doug pizza game, box o dolls, a shop vac, the "spider of doom", little tykes shopping cart, decor xmas trees (2), another electric razor scooter, sleds, tall wooden chair, plant stand, baskets, new-in-box slip n slide, bedazzler, (4) baby gates, bird feeder and squirrel baffle, light brite, wine rack, small plastic wheeled cart, gap purse, bells, funky crayons, etc.

      Wednesday, April 28, 2010

      Odds and ends

      I'm working on my next big post (the annual amazing trashpick!), but in the meantime, you'll have to make do with a few small items.
      1. Nea read the word "look" in a new book yesterday. HURRAH.
      2. She managed to get 19 books on her "would like to purchase" book fair list, despite an inability to talk or write. That, my friends, is talent. Getting some poor older child to write down 19 book titles for you.
      3. I'm having a rocky start to the gardening season. The bad news: apparently sprouting beets and carrots is too hard for me. The good news: the Russian quince tree is blooming for the first time, and the planted-last-year Red Rome apple tree is, too. No action on the stupid HoneyCrisp apple, also planted last year. Peach tree, as previous reported, is going gangbusters.

      Friday, April 16, 2010

      Should be a good year for peaches


      IEP = individualized education plan
      ESY = extended school year
      POS = piece of shit
      SLP = speech and language pathologist
      ST = speech therapy
      OT = occupational therapy
      MIP = modified instructional program
      SID = sensory integration disorder
      SPD = sensory processing disorder

      Thursday, April 15, 2010


      The IEP was Tuesday. Nea was OKed for ESY, which I think we can agree is a POS, but it's free ST for 45 min/week for the 4 weeks, plus some OT.

      She was upped in OT to 40 min/week (from 30), her SLP said ST was going well. Her MIP and mainstream teachers agreed that she's a hard worker who always puts forth 100%.

      But. The really interesting part was that the OT thinks she has a touch of SPD (or SID). Now, I read the Out of Sync Child ages ago, and just didn't see where it applied to Nea, but putting together a few things (serious love of swinging, total lack of dizziness, extremely high pain threshold, and the real kicker, a profound deficit in writing), this is starting to make sense. Her letters are still made with very light pressure, are wobbly, and she's not progressing at the rate we would expect. The OT thinks it's due to her lack of sensory input with her hands. That she has to learn visually how to form the lines and curves that make up letter formation. Which is hard.

      The good news is that she's rocking out on letter sounds. I think maybe we'll spend some time with Hooked on Phonics this summer. I have a pretty aggressive homework plan for the summer. Stupid ESY (extended school year) is supposed to keep SpEd kids from regressing over the summer, but it's only 2 hours a day for 4 weeks, and all therapies are half the regular minutes. So, although Nea receives 90 min/week ST and currently 30 min/week OT, she will only get 45/15 for those 4 weeks. And have you noticed how the summer isn't just 4 weeks long? No. It's not. It's 11. Yeah, verily, ESY is a joke. Last year I only sent her 2 days a week for her therapy days. We'll probably do the same again this year. I'd rather have her in camp with her sister. At least this summer it's closer to home again, only one town over.

      Sunday, April 11, 2010

      Wednesday, April 7, 2010

      Tonsils, adenoids, and turbinates (or how we spent our spring break)

      Nea had her tonsils, adenoids, and turbinates taken out last Thursday. She's been amazing. Didn't like the taste of the Vicodin stuff, so she went with Tylenol for all her pain management needs. She's pretty much done with that, too. Didn't take a single nap, even the day of surgery, when we were at the hospital at 6 am. Went to school for a half day on Monday. Full days since. No Phys Ed until next week, though. Don't want to jar anything lose.

      So, you know that little joke I made about tonsil removal curing apraxia? Well, it didn't work. But no one told me her voice was going to change so dramatically. And I'm sure it'll change more when the swelling completely clears up. And I received an email today from her modified instructional program (MIP) teacher that said, "She has been doing extremely well in class. I just assessed her letters and sounds and she made great leaps in progress! YAY! I know we are meeting next week for her IEP, but I just wanted to give you that good news. She still remains inconsistent in some areas, but she is progressing much faster than a few weeks ago." Huh, how 'bout them apples. I did some homework with her yesterday where I said the word, and she circled whether the sound it started with was a B,M, or T. And she aced it. You know what that means, right? She's practically reading. Nearly. Soonish!

      Oh, and the hospital was great. They made Pink Bear a little ID bracelet. They let Nea ride on the gurney to the surgery holding area … on my lap. Yep. Didn't think they allowed that. Pink Bear went into surgery with her. She was so brave! N complimented me on how well I held it together, but that's just because it was the first time he was there for a sedation. Nea's had three other anesthesia experiences (BAER test, sedated MRI, rust ring), so I'm a pro.

      So, anyway, we're all glad that's over. I haven't even mentioned the scarlet fever she had a week earlier. That's probably what Helen Keller had, which took her sight and hearing. And blinded Mary Ingalls. And killed people, back in the day. Now you just take some antibiotics, and it's no big thing. How science changes our lives, no? I like science.

      Thursday, March 25, 2010

      Spring seed starting

      Two weeks ago I started the first seeds in my window boxes on the patio: lettuce mix, spinach, and bok choi. I started some parsley and basil, too. The bok choi is coming up all cute and tiny. I can't help but look at the soil each day, even when I know there's no hope of anything coming up yet.

      Then on Monday I started some things in the cold frames: carrots, radishes, and beets. Turns out the orache (red mountain spinach) self-seeded out, which is great because I didn't have much seed left. And I started the peas by their trellis.

      Tuesday I started seeds in little pots, which are currently also in the cold frames. I did hubbard and butternut squash, three kinds of tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplants.

      I have a calendar in which I keep track of what I planted and when. Last year I counted out days and wrote down what the seed packet said for when to harvest. They all say "Harvest in 60/90/110/whatever days." But last summer was so cool that everything took longer. Anyway, knowing when each vegetable was started is useful. If it says the seeds will sprout in 10 days, and 20 days later nothing is happening, it's time to buy a fresh packet. I use old seeds all the time. Turns out carrots and onions are the only seeds I've found that don't hold up well.

      Still to be planted: swiss chard, cantaloupe, brussel sprouts, cilantro, and magic pole beans. And more tomato varieties.

      In terms of the perennials, the strawberry plants are nice and green, the rhubarb is coming up, and I've been eating chives, oregano, and sage already. No sign yet of the asparagus or arugula.We are doing a few new things this year, including the traditional Three Sisters of corn, pole beans, and squash. I can't wait until it warmed up again.