Wednesday, February 29, 2012


For the past couple of weeks I haven't felt like doing ANYTHING.  Not blogging.  Not crafting.  Barely getting dressed in the morning, and if I do, it's mostly sweats, or jeans, if I have to work.  This is pretty typical for me at this time of the year.  It's February in Seattle - grey, raining, dreary, cold, dark.

I have a suspicion that this slump is directly related to my spectacular dive off the Paleo wagon.  First it started with one muffin, since we baked them at home.  Then a few crackers that my daughter didn't eat.  Then I bought bread to make her lunch, and started eating it myself.  The truffle mac 'n' cheese at The Keg. (OK, that was totally a worthy cheat. The rest, not so much.)

But I do best with rules.  Not "everything in moderation".  So I'm getting back to it.  No more sugar.  Lots of protein.  Fruits and veggies.  Wish me luck, and hopefully this will bring my mojo back!

In another observation, BabyT has been having trouble napping for the past couple of weeks.  She's very hyper in the afternoon, less attentive than usual, and talks literally nonstop for the entire time she's in her crib "trying to nap".  Part of me thinks she might be giving up her nap, or requires a bit less sleep (12 hours at night + 2 hour nap couldn't last forever, right?) 

But part of me wonders if this is due to her diet changes too.  Since we started the "baked milk" daily, she's been eating a lot more sugar and empty carbs - muffins, cupcakes, bread.   We've been interspersing chocolate and vanilla soy milk with the plain we usually buy.  Not sure why we started that, except that the vanilla makes damn good hot chocolate for the adults in the house, and T LOVES it.

It's not like she's *requesting* a change from her usual ultra-healthy diet, but somehow we've made our not-so-great habits her new ones.  And that's not good.  Sure we can brush everything off as "everyone needs a treat now and then" but as a country, look where that's gotten us, nutrition-wise.

No more flavored soy milk.  I'm going to take a break from the baking while I research other ways to get some baked milk into her diet.  More eggs for all of us.  Fewer trips to Starbucks.  (Did I mention she recognizes the logo everywhere?!) 

I'm optimistic about this.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My fake Lenten sacrifice

I grew up in a predominantly Catholic town, so at a very early age I learned about my peers "giving something up for Lent".  Among 7 year olds, it's usually something like candy or chocolate.  I was intrigued by this idea, but figured it wasn't for me because I'm not Catholic (or even Christian).

But a few years ago, I realized I could participate too.  Not for a religious reason, but because the structure is perfect to try to stop doing something not-so-good.  It's timebound (40 days), has a specific beginning and end date, and a bunch of other people across the world are also giving something up at that same time.

One year I gave up Mexican food because I found myself eating repeatedly at the same amazing taqueria while on a consulting gig, and it was doing me no favors health-wise.

This year, after several days' worth of aggravation on Facebook, arguing about things I feel strongly about but in general should just keep to myself, I realized I was wasting A LOT of time there.  I sit down to catch up with friends, and then look up and realize it's 4 HOURS LATER.  FB is not any better for me than TV. 

So it was pretty clear.  I gave up Facebook for my fake Lent, and it's been easy.  A relief, actually.  I don't feel like I need to obsessively check it.  I don't get notifications so I have no idea what's going on there.  I removed the app from my phone so it doesn't tempt me or notify me.

I have extra time to craft, to cook, to read (you know, actual books), and just hang out with babyT and TJ.  Not checking Facebook has also made me less obsessive about checking email, too, which is also goodness.

It goes nicely with my One Little Word this year, 'reduce'.  I'm reducing the number of inputs, the number of sources I have to check and track and general stress/aggravation over political topics.  It really does feel like a weight lifted off my shoulders.  Hmm, I may keep this up past Easter...

What about you?  Did you give up anything for Lent?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Rules of Inheritance: BlogHer Book Club Review

OK, I'm already digging this BlogHer Book Club gig.  I've read two new books in 3 weeks.

The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith is a memoir of an only child who lost both of her parents to cancer before she was 25.  Cheery, right?  Not a book I would have chosen on my own, but I am really glad I read it.

I was wary when I started, because we too, are older parents to an only daughter and I do worry about leaving her "alone in the world" when we're gone.  I also don't do well with sad books - they tend to stick with me and I internalize more than I should.

This book is really well-written and despite the weighty subject matter, very easy to read.  I breezed through it in three days because I really did want to know what happened to her.   My big DUH moment was realizing halfway through that it was a *memoir*, not fiction.  Somehow I missed that detail, and reading the first half had me thinking that no one's life was this depressing, and that the main character just could not catch a break, and wow this book is *such* a downer.

My perspective completely changed when I realized it was a memoir.  Halfway through, the author gives you glimpses into her later (and better) life.  She finds the love of her life, gets married, has a kid.  I appreciated her slow and arduous climb out of grief.  Smith is a talented writer who pulled me right along with her during her journey.

I didn't love the way the book was organized - it was divided into parts according to the stages of grief, and then within each section was a series of "scenes" from different times in Claire's life, jumping back and forth through time.  I'm a linear thinker, so I found the timeline-jumping very distracting.  I thought the same thing about The Time Traveler's Wife, too.  I realize that this organization was very deliberate as the stages of grief are not linear either.

The Kindle version had some weird formatting issues - but I may have received a special review copy, so those may be fixed in the "real" version.

I'd recommend this book for anyone looking to expand their horizons.  It's definitely not a shiny happy "vacation book" but it is enlightening, and possibly would help folks be a better friend to someone who's grieving.

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are totally my own.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tuesday Lovin': Somebody I Used to Know - Gotye

I guess it's a surefire sign that you're old when you like songs played on the radio.  In my defense I heard this one on our new 'alternative' station so maybe I can maintain some shred of dignity. 

This one snuck up on me.  It has a very 80s vibe, and the guy's voice is oddly familiar, but he's not actually someone I heard before.  The first time I heard it, I liked it enough not to change the station but wasn't sure I LIKED it.  By the second time I was hooked.  I finally bought it yesterday on Amazon MP3.

I'm not crazy about the video, but it's the easiest way to share the song. I listened to some of the other tracks by Gotye, and they're ok (definitely an 80s vibe) but I don't LOVE any of the others like this one. I love the Peter Gabriel/Sting sound to his voice.

You may have also seen this version performed by a Canadian band Walk Off the Earth, using just their voices and *one guitar* for the whole thing. It's really fun to watch. I like the original best, though.

What do you think? Like it? Meh?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cooking Fail x2: Cucumber Agua Fresca and Cornmeal Carrot Biscuits

I had grand ambitions for cooking this weekend - no fewer than 6 dishes.  But I'm not feeling well, so I only made two, and unfortunately they both sucked.  Totally disappointing.

I get a biweekly produce delivery to encourage us to eat more fruits and vegetables, and so I can avoid a separate trip to Whole Foods to buy the organic stuff, since Trader Joe's produce section is not very predictable.  (Though I just discovered they have bagged cut kale  - OMG, it's like a Paleo dream come true.)

This week I got some cucumbers.  I found a neat-looking recipe for 'agua fresca' in my Bon Appetit fast, easy fresh cookbook.  It's sort of a Mexican limeade primarily made from cucumbers.  Since fancy spas are always putting cucumber slices in water, I figured it would probably be nice and refreshing.  So last night I blended up the peeled and seeded cucumbers, lime juice, sugar, salt and water.

I was also supposed to put ice in it to make it slushy, but our ice maker was off, so we didn't have any.  I figured I could serve it over ice later, or reblend as needed with ice. 

But ewwww.  Upon blending, the mixture was a not-unexpected bright green, with all that cucumber goo.  It tasted ok, but I just couldn't get past the texture.  I'm a "no pulp" girl when it comes to orange juice.  I dislike unfiltered juice.  I hate bubble tea, because drinks are not supposed to have chunks in them.  So this cucumber agua fresca?  No bueno.

do not make this agua fresca at home, for it is BAD.

I figured I'd try filtering out the cucumber pulp, which made it only a little better.  Some of it still managed to escape into the juice, enough to bother me texture-wise.  Oddly, the dogs ate up the filtered-out pulp like it was a special treat.  Who knew?  Also, Peanut loves raw cucumber.  So I guess all was not lost.

I put the filtered agua fresca in the fridge, and it turns out T LOVES it.  She drank an entire cup of it today.  So maybe the problem is just me.  But when I look at that bright green, I just can't bring myself to drink it.  Maybe I can convince her to drink the rest.  TJ won't go anywhere near it.

And if that weren't sad enough, our big biscuit adventure today fell flat as well.  I wanted to bake something savory for T's daily dose of baked milk, so I chose cornmeal-carrot biscuits from my Pillsbury Essential Baking cookbook.  We skipped the raisins and added 0.25c flaxseed, since you know how I love my flaxseed.  But that might have been a mistake.

The first challenge was "cutting" the butter into the dry ingredients to make it look like small crumbs.  I don't have a pastry blender so I tried both a fork and a potato ricer before I just gave up and used my hands.  The dough was pretty dry but the recipe seemed like it was supposed to be that way.

We baked them and they looked fine, but they taste like cornbread-flavored dirt.  They have that nice sweet corn taste, and held together reasonably well during baking, but they're really dry and crumbly.  They would only be tolerable with a LOT of warm honey and butter.  I can't figure out if all drop biscuits are supposed to be like this, or if I did something wrong.  But, yuck.  And T didn't even finish her whole biscuit.  I think it might be a hard sell this week.

I'm not even going to bother to leave you the recipes.  But I'd love your sympathy :)  It's so disheartening to spend a bunch of time cooking, only to find that the result is downright yucky.  Sad.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Why I Hate Pinterest

I know, shocking, right?  You'd think with all the crafty stuff I do, I'd love it.

My hatred of Pinterest has reached an all-time high because *everyone* in my Facebook feed is raving about xyz they found on Pinterest, how much time they're spending on Pinterest, and "OMG Guys!  Have you seen Pinterest?!"  Scratch that - it only seems to be women who are using Pinterest.

I. Can't. Take. It.

I was "lucky" to get an invite to a year ago.  I had no idea what it was but some of my crafty friends were trying it out, and raving about it.  I logged in, pinned a couple of things and promptly forgot about it.  It just wasn't fun or useful to me.

Fast-forward several months, and it's starting to become "a thing".  There are little "pin it" buttons on websites.  Anytime you ask someone about a cute craft or yum food they made, they say "I found it on Pinterest."

Why I hate it:

1.  It's visually overwhelming

I'm not a visual person AT ALL.  So a grid of pretty pictures is nice enough but does nothing for me.  I capture projects I want to tackle in OneNote and make copious notes in addition to grabbing a photo and a link.  In fact, when I see a page full of those pinboards, it's overwhelming to my brain to see that many photos together.

2.  It encourages a culture of "pinning just for the sake of it"

People seem to want to create pinboards for other people to appreciate and "follow", or whatever the appropriate term is.  Who knows if it's really a list of things that speak to their soul - it just seems like one of those pointless games on Facebook, like managing your virtual farm.   I feel the same way about the Etsy Treasury - people make them with a certain "look" to try to get selected for Etsy's front page.

3.  It discourages action

It encourages its users to waste more time pinning and wishing.  I feel this way about TV and Facebook, too.  Junk TV is fun to watch and balm for the brain, but at some point you have to switch it off and get the heck off your couch.  At least with Facebook I am getting *some* marginal use, because I'm strengthening friendships.  But you know what's better?  Taking a walk, cooking, or hanging out *in person* with someone you like.  LauraC blogged about this a few months ago.

4.  It discourages creativity and encourages copying

This is not new - there have always been people online trolling Etsy for craft ideas.  But the popularity of Pinterest has taken this to a new level.  It encourages folks to just re-use others' ideas, and by giving us such an easy way to share and store them, it squelches creativity.   Why should I figure out a cool idea for Valentines in my daughter's class when I can just troll Pinterest and choose from the many options there?  On a more insidious level, why not copy some idea I saw on Pinterest and sell it at a craft fair or on Etsy myself and make some easy cash?  I hate that the popularity of Pinterest makes this so much easier and more widespread.

5.  It makes me feel stressed out and inadequate
Yes, I realize this is my own personal problem, but I suspect it affects a lot of others as well.  As a working mom, I can imagine buying those preprinted Valentines-in-a-box, but after trolling Pinterest, how dare I?  What kind of mother would deny her child the opportunity to make handcrafted, individual treat jars with homemade baked goods for all of her classmates? 

And wow, look at all those cool home decor ideas.  Wouldn't it be awesome if I could do all those?  Oh look, here's another 20 things to add to my To-Do list.  Just what I needed.  Honestly, just *looking* at the cool projects on Pinterest makes my blood pressure rise.

Borrowed from I Love Charts on Tumblr

I'm not saying Pinterest shouldn't exist, or that it doesn't serve a real, useful purpose to many people.  It does.  It's well-designed, a smart idea, and gorgeous.  But these reasons are why *I* don't use it.  Why I haven't added a "find/follow/pin/whatever me on Pinterest" button to my blog.  Why I want to scream when another person on Facebook displays a project copied from Pinterest.

I'm all for DIY, being more crafty and doing fun stuff with kids.  But I wish people would have done these things before Pinterest, or in spite of Pinterest.  Not because of it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We Baked: Blueberry Orange Flaxseed Baked Milk Muffins

Each week I've been baking something with milk in it so we can desensitize T's immune system.  Her doctor recommended that she eat something baked with milk several times a week, and the study he cited called for eating baked milk every day.  So of course, being an overachiever, I decided we should aim for every day, too.

We had an abundance of blueberries in the fridge - in typical toddler fashion, she used to eat them by the pint, but now wants nothing to do with them.   We also had leftover butter from the sugar cookies we made last week and some milk, which worked perfectly for the Blueberry Muffin Recipe in The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh.

Because I didn't want to stuff my toddler with sugar, I made the muffins smaller (20 muffins rather than 12) and substituted ground flaxseed for some of the sugar (evil mama, I know!).  Next time I might try subbing in some whole wheat flour as well.

BabyT was a huge help, as was her friend Tubby who is visiting us for the weekend from daycare.  She enjoyed lining the muffin tin, adding the dry ingredients and the first 30 seconds of sifting.  She also ate a bunch of fresh blueberries while we waited for the milk mixture to cool.  Tubby mostly sat around and tried not to get dirty.

I couldn't really taste much orange flavor after the muffins were baked.  I'm not sure why, since the batter did taste orange-y.  The muffins are also plenty sweet, even after reducing the sugar by 1/3.  You can't taste the flaxseeds at all (which was my goal).  I think I mixed the batter too vigorously because they are a little dense after cooling. 

They are divine when warmed up, or fresh from the oven.  We'll totally make these again, and bet that frozen blueberries will work well too.

Blueberry Orange Flaxseed Baked Milk Muffins
Recipe adapted from The Bon Appetit Cookbook: Fast Easy Fresh
(makes 20 smaller muffins or 12 big ones)

1c whole milk
0.5c unsalted organic butter
Grated orange peel from a YUMMY organic Cara Cara orange, about 3/4 of the surface
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 organic eggs

2c unbleached flour
0.5c sugar (we used superfine baker's sugar)
0.25c ground flaxseed meal (we used Bob's Red Mill)
2.5tsp baking powder
0.75tsp salt
1.25c fresh blueberries

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line 2x12 regular sized muffin cups with paper liners (you'll probably only need about 20).

2.  Combine milk, butter, vanilla, and orange peel in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until butter is melted.  Cool until just warm to the touch and whisk in the eggs. (I found it helpful to beat the eggs in a small bowl separately).

3.  Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, flaxseed meal, and salt into a BIG bowl.  Add milk mixture and stir gently until just blended.  Add blueberries and gently stir.

4.  Use a small ice-cream scoop to fill muffin cups a bit more than half full.  Bake each muffin tray separately, for about 20 minutes until the tops are golden brown.  Muster all your patience to let them cool enough to shove them in your mouth.  Note:  the blueberries get wicked hot.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy. Valentine's. Day. Daddy!

I normally HATE Valentine's Day.  Stupid holiday.  You should always be nice to the people you love.  Doing something sappy on Valentine's Day just makes you a sheep, blah blah blah.

And then I had a kid.  One whose little face lights up when we I suggest just about anything.  Wanna go help me sort laundry?  Sure, mama!  Want to put away the clean silverware from the dishwasher?  YES!!  So when she asked me a few weeks ago if we could decorate cookies again, what was a mama to do?

We made cookies for Valentine's Day.  Since she was cleared to have milk in baked goods, I made real sugar cookies and they were amazing.  The recipe made around 30 medium sized cookies, with perfect sharp edges.  The dough was delightful and easy to work with.

We invited our friends C and J over to decorate them with us and had a blast.

But wait!  There's more!  We also made Valentines!  Click to see a larger photo.

This was a great project for a 2 year old (with minimal work for Mama):

1.  Raided my scrap paper for pink patterned papers to match the pink envelopes I had, cut them all to approx 4x6" and rounded the corners.

2.  Cut a bunch of smaller rectangles from solid paper and asked T to stick them to the patterned paper (for that random look!)

3.  Cut many hearts from white cardstock with my Silhouette SD machine, and asked T to decorate them.  She used oil pastels, stickers, crayons, rubber stamps and colored pencils. 

4.  Asked her to pick hearts for each card and helped her adhere them to the cards (this was mama directed so that we didn't have any overhanging hearts).  When T got bored, I did the rest by myself :)  Wrote a short note on the back. I had fun using my "new" typewriter to address the envelopes.

We sent them to close relatives and a few friends.  She insisted on choosing one specifically for TJ, and I told her she should say "Happy Valentine's Day Daddy!" when she gave it to him.

I got a blank look.   She refused to try saying it.  So we broke it down, and practiced. 

Me: Happy
T: Happy Birthday!
Me: Valentine's
T: Happy Birthday Valentine!
Me: Day
T:  Happy Birthday Valentine's Day!
Me: Daddy
T, after several tries, sounding like a robot and trying very hard to get it right:
Happy (pause, thinking hard) Valentine's (pause) Day. (pause)  Daddy!!

TJ was suitably impressed and was surprised to learn that we practiced saying it.  Just like the pumpkin farm, I'm all in on Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cultural observations around parenting, maybe?

Of course by now everyone's seen the latest Wall Street Journal article about how French culture's parenting is SUPERIOR to Americans.  Seriously, WSJ, didn't that get old last time?  Then again Tiger Mom and French expat mom are probably laughing their way to the bank, as people snap up copies of their books. Those sensationalist titles bug the crap out of me.

I mentioned previously that we have an anonymous forum for parenting questions at work.  It's a great idea for people who might be too timid to post a question to the 1000+ people on the list, or for things you'd rather not have attached to your name.

One of the questions/responses that I read last week has been bothering me so much I need to write about it and get it out of my system.  (I've changed some of the small details just to anonymize it further, though I have no idea who had the original question.)

The query came from a parent who works full time and his/her two toddlers are in daycare.  S/he has about 3 hours with the kids after daycare pickup to get home, eat, spend quality time and get ready for bed.  S/he treasures this time with her kids and laments that it's not enough. 

The issue is with Grandma, who randomly picks the kids up from daycare and takes them out to shop, to McDonalds, and often doesn't return them before bedtime because "they were having too much fun and didn't want to go home yet".  This happens at least weekly.  Parent is frustrated by the loss of  precious evening time with the kids, the delayed bedtimes, the junk food, and the randomness.  (Presumably Grandma alerts the parent before she picks up, so they don't have a wasted trip to daycare and don't freak out that the kids are gone.)

Her question was how to approach this with Grandma, who obviously means well.

So my first response to this was "yikes, what a tricky situation".  I totally sympathize with this parent, who genuinely misses the kids while s/he is at work.  I can't imagine working full-time and then also having to regularly deal with this kind of random schedule disruption.  I also wouldn't want my toddler to be eating at McD's on a regular basis, but that's minor.  I see that it's rough - obviously having a close relationship with a grandparent is such a gift, and how great is it that Grandma wants to spend that much time with little kids after a long day at work herself? 

I started reading the responses from my (also anonymous) colleagues, and I could not believe my eyes. 

80% were variations of these:
  • Parent should be happy to get some alone time
  • Grandparents deserve respect and to spoil grandchildren whenever, however, and wherever they want
  • Parent will be sorry when s/he gets old and her own kids don't let her see her grandkids (I wish I were kidding)
  • Get over yourself, parent, not everyone has grandparents alive/nearby/engaged
I was really confused at this point and went back to re-read the original question, because I had no idea what was going on - did these people read a completely different post than I did? 

And then it struck me.  I work at a company with a high proportion of folks from Asian cultures, specifically Chinese and Indian.  I don't know anything about Chinese culture, but I know a lot about Indian culture.  So I can only assume these answers are true to the culture these folks were raised in - that elders always know best, and deserve deference and gratitude no matter what.

I was also really irritated by the way many of the answers were phrased - they were so judgmental, antagonistic, and preachy.  I mean, this parent is reaching out anonymously for advice with a problem she is having trouble tackling.  Can we get a little compassion up in here?  And really, the parent doesn't want alone time - she wants that precious time with her babies at night.  Why did alone time even come up at all??

And then of course, there's the fact that I *completely* disagree because the responses essentially amounted to "She's the Grandma, her needs are the most important, suck it up".  Mind you, I don't think s/he needs to put the smack down and remove Grandma from the daycare pickup list. 

But I do think s/he can handle this gently - maybe pick a day just for Grandma-toddler evening so that it's more predictable and get agreement from Grandma to bring them back by bedtime (or a little earlier for parent snuggle time).  Or make arrangements for the kids to spend lots of time with Grandma on weekends.

But I keep coming back to the fact that 80% of the responses see no problem with the scenario and basically dismiss the original questioner.  Really? 

Lay it on me, peeps.  What do you think?  Asian friends, did I correctly interpret this as a cultural difference?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

4 tenets of living with a toddler's dairy allergy

A few people at work with kids recently diagnosed with a milk allergy asked me how we deal with it, so I figured it would make a good blog post. 

BabyT, right around the time we discovered her dairy allergy

The simple summary, to borrow a phrase from Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter series, is "constant vigilance".  There is food everywhere and we need to be extremely careful about reading labels and asking questions.  Here's the basic outline of what we do regularly:

1.  Pay attention.  Just yesterday we went to a new Spanish class, and the teacher tried to hand BabyT some cheese-flavored goldfish crackers, which we intercepted.   This has happened more than once at the playground, too - well-meaning parents offer cookies or goldfish crackers (what is it with the fish?) without asking first.  Good thing I was paying attention and not far away.  At 2, T is old enough to *say* she's allergic to dairy, but doesn't realize that means she needs to check the things she's given to eat.  This means I can't zone out and check my email, or get lost in conversation with other parents.  Food is everywhere.  On the bright side, most organized classes are good about asking and tracking food allergies, so if there is a regular snack, there's nearly always something for her to eat.

2.  Evangelize and speak up.  Food allergies are a lot more common now than when I was a kid but folks not living with one don't think about it.  I'm an introvert and it sucks for me to always have to speak up, but I think of it as developing my mama-bear skills.  At restaurants, we ask about *every dish* even when it seems like things shouldn't have dairy in them.  For example, sweet potato fries are sometimes covered in a batter containing milk.  An aioli sauce, which seems like it should be just mayo, actually had yogurt in it.  Even the pretzel-flavor goldfish crackers have dairy in them.  I also have to ask how things are prepared - do they add butter to the grill?  It takes us twice as long to order food, but I'd rather have that than hives and puking afterwards. 

This is especially true for daycare, where we're leaving our kid in the care of others all day.  Ours is a large corporate daycare so they have specific procedures and paperwork for allergies - they have Benadryl and epi-Pens on hand, detailed instructions from T's allergist, and a list of food allergies in the kitchen.  They have a lot of kids with different allergies, and they do a great job of feeding everyone.  But even with these precautions, we still need to be proactive.  Everytime T gets a new teacher, we make it a point of telling them directly about her dairy allergy.  We try to do the same thing with the "floater" teachers who come through the rooms to relieve the main teachers.  The daycare has lists in each classroom, with photos, but we want to make sure they understand what her allergy is and what it looks like when she has a reaction.

We've had two minor slip-ups at daycare - once where T grabbed food from another kid, and once where we think she was served cheese, but it was at the end of the day when her regular teachers had gone home and the "floaters" claimed they didn't know about her allergies, and weren't sure what she had eaten (yikes!).  In both cases we had a discussion with her teachers and the daycare director, and put plans in place so that T would eat at a table next to a teacher (to prevent grabbing) and reconfirmed that allergy lists and photos were in each classroom and re-reviewed with all the teachers.  I hated being confrontational about it, but if I was going to continue to leave my child there, I needed to be sure they had a plan in place for how to prevent these things in the future.  (And they did, so all is well.)

The same is true for going to others' houses for playdates.  I always ask to read the packaging for any snacks, and if they don't have it, I just don't feed her.  I'd rather be safe than sorry.  Which brings me to my next point.

3.  Always carry "safe" snacks.  I don't need to feed my child all day long.  We have a "no food in the car" rule.  I'm more a fan of 3 meals and 1-2 snacks and T is growing well, so I don't have to stress about "getting food into her".  But if we're at someone's house or at a class and a snack is served, I make sure I have alternate options for T in case there isn't a non-dairy choice.  Our diaper bag is always stocked with Trader Joe's fruit leather, Larabars, and granola bars.

Something else I plan to do once T starts getting invited to birthday parties, is bringing our own dairy-free cupcakes so she doesn't feel deprived.  Her new preschool alerts parents to the next months' birthdays so we can bring in alternate treats in case the one being served is not okay.

4.  Educate yourself about ingredients.  Especially for dairy, milk-based ingredients come with a variety of names.  Luckily, many American packaged foods have an "allergy statement" under the ingredient list that says something like "Contains: Milk, Soy, Wheat, etc..."  This makes it really easy for me to *discard* a food if it states milk, but isn't quite good enough for me to automatically include it if it doesn't mention milk.  Here's a list of ingredients I look for to disqualify an item:
milk, cream, butter, cheese, yogurt, lactose, lactate, casein, lactase, milk protein, nonfat dry milk, whey, dairy solids
Since T's reaction was not life-threatening (at least not the few times she's been exposed to milk), we were ok feeding her things that stated "Made in a facility with" or "Made on shared equipment" that also processes dairy.  Factories are required to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) that state they need to wash all equipment between runs.  And to be honest, we don't buy a ton of processed food anyway.  But for a life-threatening reaction, those would be ones to avoid as well, just to be safe.

And it's not just food that I need to look out for - it's also health and beauty items like soap, shampoo, and lotions.  A lot of them incorporate milk proteins, which irritate BabyT's sensitive skin.  I've bought a few baby lotions that I had to keep for myself because they contained milk.

It gets easier over time.  As a family, we eventually gave up dairy at home, so nearly everything we buy and cook is ok for BabyT to eat (but not quite, so I always check before feeding her something.)  Asking questions at restaurants got easier, and we found a few that we can rely on to have good choices for her and us.

As I mentioned earlier, we received the good news that T is now cleared to have milk in baked goods, so some storebought breads and cookies might be fine if I can confirm they were baked at least at 350 degrees for 30 min or more.  But we are still vigilant about dairy ingredients, especially when I'm not sure how the food was prepared.  In this case, it's actually easier for me to bake stuff like this at home.

Are you living with a kid's food allergies and have other tips to share?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Something to hold on to

43/365 Friends
Friends by Vinni123 on Flickr
I've been thinking about friendship lately.  I'm very lucky to have developed friendships recently with other Caltech alums (mostly women) over Facebook and email - folks I knew in school and may have been friendly with, but didn't know well.  I love that, but also hate that NONE of them live in my city.   We have awesome deep "conversations" via email or IM and keep up with each others' lives on Facebook, but I crave that in-person connection, too.

What I really want is a close group of friends to hang out with on a regular basis.  I don't know how to get that without unleashing my inner cruise director and driving myself (and everyone else) crazy in the process.

What is it about our lives (especially with kids) that makes us so busy that scheduling a Girls' Night Out takes a level of planning ahead and coordination that is so complex I'm tempted to draw up a schedule in MS Project?  I've had several occasions in the past few months where getting together with good friends took 3-4 weeks to finally come together, after rescheduling on both sides.  I'm blaming my own life as much as everyone else.

I find this really depressing.  It's just SO MUCH WORK.  I want to be able to call or text someone and see if they can grab dinner or coffee.  And believe me, I've tried.  But no one can ever make it on short notice.

So I've resorted to setting up "events" a few weeks in advance - booking something on a calendar and sending around an invite.  The sort-of-monthly Crafty Nights I've been holding at our house since last year.  A monthly-ish night out with some of the mamas from T's toddler group. 

But I want both more and less.  I want to see my friends more often, dammit.  I want to just grab coffee or drinks and chat.  I don't want it to be a THING.  Which is how I feel when I send out invites.  It makes me so tired to do all this planning.

I know we need to coordinate with our partners, find childcare, and schedule around our work, gym time, toddler naps, and the other 9000 things we cram into our days.  But really, is it supposed to be this hard? 

I know some folks who are actually friends with their neighbors.  So popping over for coffee or an unscheduled  (gasp!) playdate is not unheard of.  But we don't have that in our neighborhood.

I've met several women locally who seem like they could be friends, but I just don't have the energy to do all the planning it requires for us to get together regularly enough to actually *become* friends.

I feel really disconnected and overscheduled lately.  I want laid-back, fun time with friends without complex strategic planning.  How do I get that? 

What do you do to "feed your soul" with friend time?  Is it enough?  How can you avoid making it just another appointment on an already packed calendar?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

BlogHer Book Club Review: The Weird Sisters

Every now and then, I get the urge to find a book club to join.  Then I remember that making a monthly commitment to something new is exactly what makes me feel overscheduled and stressed out, so I sit on that urge until it passes.

I think I might have found the perfect opportunity, though, in the BlogHer Book Club.  I can opt in when I have time to read, and it gives me something to blog about.  Win!

When The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown showed up in my mailbox, I was totally stoked.  It was the first free thing I've gotten as a blogger.  It had a gorgeous cover, that familiar smell of brand-new, unopened books, and the promise of a window into someone else's life for a few hours.

It did not disappoint.  The prose was *lovely*.  So lovely that I stuck little Post-It flags all over it to capture phrases I thought were particularly beautiful.  It's rare that I feel moved to do this, so I knew this book was special from the start.

In summary, it's about three sisters who go back to live in their childhood home with their parents, ostensibly to help care for their sick mother, but really because each of their lives is in turmoil.  Their father is a professor of literature who specializes in Shakespeare, so there are plenty of references to the Bard's works sprinkled throughout.  This took me right back to 11th grade English with Mr. Maurer, and the two fabulous classes I took in college from Prof. Jenijoy LaBelle.  Apparently I have been taught well, because most of the references were familiar to me.

The book is written in 1st person plural voice -  "we" - as though the sisters are narrating as one entity.  It was a little odd at first, but I got used to it quickly, and it's a charming way to tie together the story about three very distinct personalities.

I didn't identify with any one of the sisters, but could relate to parts of each of them.  They all frustrated me to some degree, but not so much that it hampered my enjoyment of the book - I liked that they seemed real, with complexity and flaws, rather than being easily assigned as "the good one", "the wild one", etc.

I finished the book in a few days (record time for me lately!) and was truly sad when there was no more to read.  The characters stuck with me afterwards, and I find myself re-reading parts of it just to enjoy the writing.

There's a "Dumbledore moment" at the end, where one of the ancillary characters is counseling one of the sisters.  I don't think it's giving away too much by sharing the wisdom with you.  It's one of my favorite passages:
We all have stories that we tell ourselves.  We tell ourselves we are too fat, or too ugly, or too old, or too foolish.  We tell ourselves these stories because they allow us to excuse our actions and they allow us to pass off the responsibility for things we have done - maybe to something within our control, but anything other than the decisions we have made.
How awesome is that?  I wholeheartedly recommend this book if you're looking for a fairly quick and easy, high quality piece of fiction inhabited by interesting female characters.

I was compensated for this review by BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

My toddler bosses me around a lot

Maybe this should be a topic series called "Things I Don't Like on Wednesday".  That list would probably be too long and not that fun to read.

But seriously, someone replaced my sweet toddler who used to spontaneously say "I love you mama" with one who tells us what to do ALL.THE.TIME.  Since we love her and she is ridiculously cute, it's really more funny than annoying. 

Just today she told me:
  • Stop talking with food in my mouth (ok, she's got a point)
  • Zip up my jacket (seriously?  is she my mother?)
  • Kidd Valley is my favorite restaurant (even when I told her it definitely was NOT)

TJ and I joke about this all the time.  We maintain a very intense look on our faces, hold out one hand like we're Diana Ross singing "STOP in the name of love", and say, in all seriousness, "No, you should like 3." 

This came about because we were asking each other our favorite number, and when I tried to tell Trillian I liked 26, she said "No mama, you like 2."  TJ tried to pick, and he got "No, you should like 3."  Case closed, I guess.

She doesn't have tantrums, thankfully, though we do get impulsive bursting into tears when she doesn't get her way.  She has gotten surprisingly good at putting words to her feelings (thanks to daycare), so I get statements like "I am mad at you Mama."  I guess I'd better get used to hearing that for about the next 16 years, right?

you SHOULD NOT put your hands in the fountain.  It's wet.

She also told a little boy that "It is NOT NICE to throw things" at the toy store train table today, when he accidentally knocked a train off a ramp and it went flying.  I tried to explain that it was an accident, all the while hoping I don't have *that* kid who needs to tell everyone the rules.  Sigh.

How long does this bossiness last, y'all??  And when do I get "I love you mama" back?  I miss those days.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tuesday Lovin': Spanish

when i was pregnant with T, I
dreamed that she would look
like Dora.  She does, sort of...
Today I decided to sign up for a parent-child Spanish class.  I considered it a year ago, but thought it was too expensive and chose Little Gym instead.

But in September, BabyT started learning Spanish at daycare.  She only has "class" 15 minutes a week, but damn, she is picking it up like crazy.  My baby can count to 10 in Spanish, sing a song about chickens (?) and knows Hola, Adios, and Gracias.  I think she knows other words too, but since neither TJ nor I speak Spanish, we have no idea what she's saying.

On Tuesdays, her class starts at 9am, so I try to get her to daycare on time so she doesn't miss it.  One day we were late, so I walked her to Spanish myself, and was absolutely shocked to notice:

1.  Ms. Lupita speaks *no* English to the kids during class.  It was rapid-fire Spanish, as though she was speaking to a bunch of native speakers.

2.  The 2 year olds were sitting quietly in a line paying attention and singing along when asked.

I remembered my high school French class on the days when Mrs. Hunkele decided she would speak no English to us, and how *physically* uncomfortable that made us.  People would squirm around in their seats, look at the floor, mumble in English they had no idea what was going on, or just shut down and stop paying attention.

But the toddlers in Ms. Lupita's class?  Rapt attention.  It was like they thought if they listened, they could figure it out.  Amazing.

Learning Spanish is on my Mondo Beyondo list.  I'm not really sure why, since I don't really have the desire to visit a Spanish-speaking country (though of course, I wouldn't turn down a free trip to Spain...).  I just like the way it sounds.  It seems like it might be more useful here than French or Japanese.  Plus I don't have to learn a new alphabet.

Since we're moving T to a Montessori preschool next month (more on that later), she won't have weekly Spanish class any more.  My hope is that the parent-child class we take together will get us on a path where we can both learn it.  I have no doubt she'll pick it up quicker than me.

Adios, amigos!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Project Life: Week Four - A Whole Month!!!

Woot!  I've gotten into a great rhythm with Project Life:  take pictures throughout the week, download sort through and edit them on Sunday, submitting my finalists to be printed at Target before I go to bed.  Then BabyT and I make our weekly trek to Target around 10am Monday morning, where we buy coconut milk yogurt, some soy milk, diapers and wipes as needed, and pick up our photos.
It used to include a stop at the Starbucks inside Target to get me a soy chai, but I'm not allowed those anymore on my recommitment to Paleo eating.

Each week, I think I don't have a story to tell, or enough good photos. Invariably I end up printing more photos than I need and have plenty to write about.  Ordinary details become worth recording when I keep up with it weekly.  I love it!  (Click photo for a bigger view)

Project Life, Creath 2012, Week 4

The last week of January was pretty run-of-the-mill.  We went to Little Gym, Ella came over to play (and share a gluten-free, vegan cupcake, which was about as tasty as it sounds), and we lounged around the house.  I finally made a bound book of our holiday cards

What I've noticed while doing Project Life is that by capturing the "ordinary", I'm painting an accurate picture of our day-to-day life.  Looking at the pages from the first weeks of the year, I'm reminded of stuff I'd ordinarily forget about.  I think that's pretty neat.

It's also reminded me on more than one occasion to ask TJ to get a picture of Trillian and me, since I'm always the one behind the lens.  I've also remembered to take my good camera with me on most outings, so I can get some nice shots if we have a chance (especially with the welcome winter sunshine we've had the past week!)

I've actually got Week 5 nearly done, but need to do the journaling and put the date marker card in.  I get to use some fancy paper this week as well, to commemorate our Valentine card-making and cookie decorating adventures.  It's funny how easily I can create a new habit if it's something I *enjoy* doing!

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The glory of homemade mayonnaise

There are two things I prepare weekly to plan ahead, now that I've committed to eating (more or less) Paleo regularly:  6 hardboiled eggs and homemade mayonnaise.  It sounds crazy, right?  I mean, grocery stores sell HUGE jars of mayo that will last months.

Whole30 advocated making your own mayo so you could use high quality oil and avoid all the mysterious ingredients you find in storebought mayo.  (Stabilizers, emulsifiers, preservatives, sugar, etc etc.)  At first it seemed like a lot of hassle, but once you get it down, it's pretty easy.

But the HUGE payoff was the taste.  *That's* why I continue to make it.  It's so much better - creamy, light, and fluffy.  It makes a mean tuna salad, and I'm usually not a tuna salad kind of person.  It tastes amazing by itself on a baked sweet potato.  In short, it makes eating Paleo a heck of a lot easier.

staring down the barrel of the blender

Shalini says brown people don't like mayo, and totally dissed homemade.  To that I say BOO!  I'm brown and I love me some homemade mayo.  :)

The recipe I use is from Melissa Joulwan's site (also included in her excellent Paleo cookbook Well Fed.)  So far I've made it four times, and only had it fail once.  But when it failed it was EPIC. Nasty looking and all separated.  She says you can still use it, if you stir vigorously, but it was just too gross, so I threw that batch out.  Life is too short and the ingredients too cheap.

Getting the egg-oil emulsion just right is a bit tricky but not as delicate as you might think.  Problem is, if the emulsion breaks, you can't go back, so it's both stressful and rewarding to get it right.

Here are some additional tips, besides the excellent ones on the recipe:
  • I've made it successfully with light olive oil as recommended, grapeseed oil, and even canola oil from Costco (I know, a Whole30 no-no but we had a ton of it in the house)

  • It's pretty lemony, so use less (or no) lemon juice if you prefer.  Also be careful with the salt - I find that using less works better for me.  **Note:  Melissa (Queen of Mayo, *squee*!) left me a comment indicating that you need some acid to help the emulsion along, so you can sub apple cider vinegar instead.

  • Meyer lemons make it a nice bright yellow, and provide a slightly different taste (YUM!)

  • If you have a crappy blender like mine ($30 Target Osterizer), the blender will have a hard time mixing it once the magic emulsion happens.  Have patience and DO NOT crank the blender to top speed - this is what ruined my last batch.   I use it on medium to medium high speed, but once the emulsion forms, I DO NOT change it.

  • You may have a bit of oil that doesn't get incorporated.  That's fine.  Better to stop there than try to get it all in, and have it FAIL.  I find that just tipping the blender slightly will help the oil get down to the blades and get incorporated.  Don't shake vigorously or bad things will happen.

  • This is good for more than the normal applications for mayo.  You can also use it as a base for salad dressings and sauces, too - Melissa's site has tons of options.

I know there are a bunch of you out there reading this skeptically, like it's way too much work for just *mayo*.  But if you typically like mayonnaise, try this just once, and experience the bliss.  You may never go back.

Friday, February 03, 2012

My new (vintage) baby, the Royal Quiet DeLuxe

Paper crafting blogs often post "craft porn", photos of some papercrafter's perfectly organized, purpose-built craft room that's bigger than our master bedroom. In one I noticed a bright pink vintage typewriter, tucked in a corner for the crafter to easily type titles on small pieces of paper.

That's when I started coveting a manual typewriter.  Yes, I have a printer and laptop in my craft room.  But I wanted something I could use quickly and easily to add words or phrases to a card or an embellishment.

I forgot about it, until someone in my Facebook stream posted a photo of typewriters for sale at an office supply store.  So I went out to Craigslist to see what I could find.

There were some truly gorgeous specimens in bright colors, orange with racing stripes (!) and bright blue, posted by a typewriter restorer.  But they were way out of my price range.  I wasn't willing to drop over $200 on a unitasker that I'd use only occasionally.

Then I saw an ad, in my area, for a 1940s Royal Quiet DeLuxe typewriter in good working condition for $45.  Score!  I made arrangements to meet up with the guy at a local Starbucks.  He explained that helps his mother sell antiques on Craigslist so she can make a little money and fund her estate sale hobby.  Cute, right?  I don't even care that she probably got this machine for $5 at a yard sale.  I've seen similar ones selling for $200, $300 and even $575 (!) online.

My new (old) baby

It's a gorgeous machine - clean, shiny glass topped keys, matte black, all metal, and works well.  There's no key for the number 1 or an exclamation point.  I guess I have to make do with a lowercase L and an apostrophe and a period together.  Apparently it was one of Ernest Hemingway's favorites.  You know, like the Moleskine notebooks I'm also so fond of.  (Good marketing foo, anyway.)

It's small, but it's *solid*.  Most of it is made out of metal.  I'm surprised at what good shape it's in - no dents, pieces missing, and all the keys still work.  Even the selector switch to toggle between red and black type works!  (And how cool is it that it comes with a red/black ribbon?!).

I ordered a couple of extra ribbons today for $8 each to make sure I don't run out - they're really easy to replace.  I love this thing!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Let the baking begin!

When you read the title, what did you think of first?  Cookies and cake, or smoking something aromatic?  Just wondering ;)

Today BabyT had another oral challenge to baked milk at her allergist's office.  This required me to bake a bland coffee cake last night.  Which turned out to be a mad scramble at 9pm because we didn't actually *have* any fresh milk in the house. 

We feed it to her at the office while watching for signs of an allergic reaction.  She gets another "dose", aka cake snack, every 20 minutes.

I have no idea how parents of kids with anaphylactic reactions go through this - it must be nervewracking.  As far as we know, T's milk allergy is not life-threatening - she does react pretty strongly right away but we mostly see hives and itching, and sometimes puking.  Thankfully it doesn't affect her breathing.

This is the third time in 18 months that we've tried the challenge.  She failed the first two after the first tiny "dose" of cake.  This time she ate one piece (with great enthusiasm!) and was fine.  Then another.  Still fine.  Two more, and *still* fine.  So after a final 45 minute observation they sent us home with a "prescription" to feed her baked goods with milk (equivalent of 2 oz or less per serving) several times a week.  Who doesn't love that?

We went to Blue C Sushi to celebrate afterward.  I thought about buying a Trophy cupcake for her to eat tomorrow, but realized that:

1.  The buttercream frosting is definitely *not* approved - she still can't have any unbaked dairy.
2.  I have no idea how much dairy is actually in their cupcakes. 

I ♥ Cookies
by yvestown on Flickr
Which means for these first couple of months at least, I need to bake the goodies myself.  The first batch is easy - we are going to decorate heart-shaped cookies for Valentine's Day, so instead of making vegan sugar cookies, I'll just make regular ones.

But after that?  I need some suggestions!  I'd prefer not to stuff my 2 year old with sugar, so relatively healthy recipes would be great.  Savory recipes are also appreciated, like muffins or quick breads that aren't sweet. 

After about 6 months of eating a little bit of baked milk, they think her immune system will get used to it, and in the summer we'll try a challenge with uncooked dairy.  At this point, we've been living dairy-free with relative ease, and will probably continue for our own health, but it will be nice to free BabyT from having to carry Epi-Pens, and being so vigilant about whether there's some dairy ingredient lurking in whatever she eats. 

Today I'm still keeping an eye on her, and we've got our fingers crossed that we don't have a recurrence of the "8 hour Delayed Vomiting Incident" which we've seen on multiple occasions.  Her doctor said that's happened only once after a good challenge in the 20 years he's been practicing, so I'm hoping not to double his stats ;)

Bring on the yummy milk-containing cake-cookie-muffin-cupcake-bread recipes!

sharing is nice

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