Monday, April 30, 2007

Trying to keep up with my kids

The girls change in leaps and bounds every time I blink, it seems.

It's easy to tell that AJ reads a lot, because she talks like she just walked out of a classic book. A day or two ago she threw a bean bag into the window sill of an upper window, where it lodged out of reach. As M&M squealed in horror, AJ smiled serenely and said, "Actually, I'm rather proud of my act."

She has decided she wants to be a doctor when she grows up. This was cemented (at least for this week) by this week's visit from my college friend who shares her name, Dr. A the Pediatric Endocrinologist. Dr. A will be doing her fellowship at Fabulous Children's Hospital, and came to look at apartments in preparation for her move.

AJ said, "When I become a doctor, Dr. A and I can identify ourselves by the same color, because we both share the same name. Then we will both be Doctor A, and our color will be purple." (Purple is Dr. A's favorite color, as well as mine.)

Both AJ and M&M are reading a lot. Right now, AJ is reading the Grandma's Attic series (after finishing Alice in Wonderland and The Trumpet of the Swan) and M&M is reading Stuart Little. They both become so engrossed in their books that it's hard to pull them out to do other things, and they enjoy retelling the stories over dinner or reading us excerpts throughout the day.

Last week M&M (age 4 1/2) decided she wanted to write down all the names of animals on a puzzle we have. So she did, in large red letters:

animal names, by M&M


Later, Baby E (age 20 months) got a green pen and added her own postscript:

Baby E's version of animal names

Baby E was looking at this:


When she wrote this:


If you look at the larger photo of her writing above, you can make out other G and O shapes, and an S as well.

She loves to write. Baby E is a consummate imitator (one of the reasons she picks up sign language so quickly and easily), and she watches carefully every detail of what we do.

So when she writes, she doesn't just hold the pen in her fist and scribble. She holds it carefully in her right hand, just the right distance from the tip, between her thumb and first finger, the other fingers resting underneath in perfect curvation. Then she puts her left hand on the paper, leans over with a look of concentration, and makes small careful shapes in ink.

As she slowly moves the pen in controlled motions, she'll say "E - A - M - D - 3"--one letter for each shape she makes on the paper. At this point the letter or number names and the shapes don't necessarily match, but they are becoming more and more recognizable. She nearly always says "L" or "One" when she draws a straight line, for instance.

She's not terribly interested in drawing pictures at this point; she's more interested in writing letters and words. She never has been much of a scribbler, but writing recognizable letters and numbers at 20 months has got to be a tad unusual.

AJ and M&M, along with writing letters to anyone and everyone on scraps of paper, are making drawings that are more realistic each day. I'll have to post some pictures of those soon.

I wonder if parents ever get to a time when they don't feel like dropping everything and staring open-mouthed in amazement whenever their kids do something new. It's so much fun to watch them develop and grow.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Picture This:

Baby E standing on a toy to reach the shelves in the family room, pulling everything off the shelves while singing, "Happy, happy, happy . . . happy, happy . . . "

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Never (Eleventy-One Things #40)

My ankle is so much better. It's still sore, but other than being slow I'm not terribly hampered by it currently. I could hug whoever invented ibuprofen.

Of course, Baby E having a bit of a reaction all day and M&M biting Baby E made for an interesting day, anyway.

In the vein of Ten Things I've Never Done (hmm, I've done a few of those things since that post), Liz wants to know three or four "things I have never done or wanted to do that other people do".


1. Been "under the influence"--I've never had the desire to smoke cigarettes, try drugs or get drunk. I can't stand the smell of cigarettes; it makes me sick. As for drugs and intoxication, the hallucinations and disorientation from the seizure-like migraines I used to experience gave me enough of a taste of that sort of thing to make the idea of being "high" not even tempting. Those feelings are distinctly unpleasant.

I like being alert and in control too much to find the idea appealing. Plus I've seen too many people struggle with addiction, hurting themselves and their families in the process.

2. Worn high pinpoint heels. Ouch. Just ouch. Might as well be hobbled and hamstrung. Beauty isn't worth that much pain to me. Besides, I can't keep my balance and keep from turning my ankles even in flats.

3. Played tackle football. Again, ouch. I can't even stand to watch it on TV--I just sit there and wonder how many of the players are going to end up with brain injuries from all those head-on collisions. I gained enough injuries just playing things like basketball and soccer.

However, I was never afraid of doing other dangerous things like climbing higher than the house in trees (to the point the top of the tree was starting to bend), so I'm not sure why football always seemed scary to me. Maybe because you're hurting people on purpose instead of injuries being incidental to the game. Boxing never appealed to me either. But things like fencing, horse jumping, vaulting, archery, skydiving, spelunking, scuba diving, mountain climbing, skiing, hang-gliding and even bungee jumping sound fun to me. Go figure.

4. Wear my fingernails really long (or wear long false fingernails). Mine drive me crazy when they start to get just a little long; they get things stuck under them, get in the way, catch on things and are uncomfortable. I can't imagine having them long on purpose, although I don't dislike the way they look on other people.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I got used to keeping my nails short because I grew up playing the piano. Long nails and playing an instrument don't go well together.

I remember that I had one piano teacher who would cut my fingernails until they bled. I have long cuticles, so my nails were always long enough to click on the keys even if every last bit of white was gone. It drove her crazy, so she'd keep cutting them shorter and shorter with a pair of nail scissors (they can cut closer than clippers), trying to make the noise stop. Finally I'd be leaving red smears on the piano keys. I can't stand to use nail scissors even now.

This meme will make a nice addition to the eleventy-one things about me series. I haven't posted on that for a while.

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The ankle is worse today. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do, since I can only sort of walk--if you can call my limping hesitant hobble a walk--on it this morning, even with the new boot. So far each successive day has been worse than the previous day, making this day 5 of pain.

DH already missed part of Monday and most of yesterday's work over it, and he's behind on a big important project with a deadline.

I can manage with the kids until I have to do something like carry Baby E or rush to someone who has a boo-boo, and then I'm sunk.

I'm seriously considering having DH run out and get me a pair of crutches.

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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Just" Tendonitis

After an examination and some x-rays, the Dr. L decided that I have tendonitis in my ankle. He gave me a more sturdy support boot for it and instructions to alternate heat and cold on it, elevate it when sitting, and take ibuprofen.

"It should be better in a couple of weeks," he said.

Dr. L said that sometimes tendonitis can hurt worse than other types of injuries (i.e. sprains or breaks). He wasn't kidding.

He said I won't damage it further by walking on it--it just hurts. I can handle a little pain if I know I'm not doing permanent damage by using it. With the new boot, I can even walk gingerly without more than an occasional yelp.

Dr. L was also happy to learn that I've been able to gain Eight! Whole! Pounds! That puts me at 105 lbs. 105 is a distinct improvement over 97. I am feeling so much better. I can't remember the last time I had a dizzy spell, I have more energy, and just feel better overall. I just have to eat like a sumo wrestler to do it.

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All Fours

Everyone seems to be feeling better today, illness-wise. I still have some kind of cold/sinus thing, but the kids are better.

I ended up having to call DH at work and ask him to come home an hour early yesterday because my ankle was getting so bad. After rest, ice, ibuprofen and keeping it elevated most of the rest of the day, it was a bit better last night. DH went out and got me an ankle brace and I was able to walk a bit with that to help immobilize the ankle.

This morning the girls were so sweet and helpful. They did their chores cheerfully and helped entertain Baby E.

I was hobbling around the kitchen getting breakfast ready when AJ said, "Mom, you sit down and relax. I'll take care of everything. I can get Baby E her breakfast."


She coaxed Baby E to climb up into her chair, and then got her cereal and her sippy cup. Both girls sat with Baby E and they all ate breakfast together. AJ and M&M hovered over me, bringing tissues for my runny nose, drinks of water, and anything else they could think of.

Baby E wanted to nurse a lot, so it worked well to sit on the sofa with her while I let the older girls play the computer game AJ got for her birthday. It's a historical paper doll game, with pictures and information about different people and clothing styles through history. The girls had a lot of fun putting together and coloring outfits from different eras.

Baby E went into the playroom with the older girls, and they were doing a great job of entertaining her. I limped slowly and carefully down the hall to briefly check e-mail in the next room.

Then I heard a thump and a cry.

AJ yelled, "Mom! Baby E's chair fell over and landed on M&M's foot."

I rushed down the hall, forgetting about my ankle.

Just at the door to the playroom, I stepped on it at the wrong angle and went down.

If you had asked me at that moment what the pain was on a scale of 1 to 10, I might have blurted something like "Twelve."

There I was, yelping and crying, kneeling at the top of the steps, lying with my head halfway down the flight. I hadn't fallen down the stairs, but I didn't care where or how I was positioned at the moment, as long as I wasn't standing on my left foot. I was simply prostrated by the pain.

M&M and Baby E were both sitting next to an overturned chair on the playroom floor a few steps below, holding their legs. M&M was crying outright, saying, "My foot, my foot, it hurts!" Baby E was whimpering and saying "ow"--looking slightly pleased that HER leg hurt, too. AJ stood in the middle of the chaos, sending concerned looks from one to the other of us.

I managed to sit up, rocking back and forth, still moaning. By then I could see that neither child was badly hurt, but I couldn't go to them. We all sat where we were, holding our legs and crying.

The humor of the situation struck me and I began laughing through my tears, and apologizing to the kids. They all looked so worried. I tried to move and howled again, sitting on the steps with alternating chuckles and sobs.

"Come here, girls," I said, "And I'll give you a hug. I'm sorry; I can't walk. My ankle hurts so much. Isn't this silly, all of us like this?"

AJ brought a pillow and put it under my foot, there on the steps. M&M came and nestled up to my side, showing me her sore foot. Baby E stood at the bottom of the steps saying "Mama? Mama? Ow? Mama?"

I hugged M&M and checked her foot. Then I held my ankle and rocked back and forth, tears running down my face, trying to smile and look cheerful for the kids. "It's okay, guys. Everything will be okay."

"Can you get me the telephone, AJ?" I asked. "I think I need to call Daddy."

She couldn't find the cordless phone. So I scooted gingerly on the floor, down the hall to the bedroom. Baby E thought it was great fun to have me down on her level, and laughed as she followed me on her knees. Then she went behind me and "steered" me from behind. We all giggled.

AJ and M&M helped navigate: "This way, Mommy. . . careful. Right over here."

AJ got M&M and I both situated on the bed and went unbidden to bring us both some ice water and snacks. AJ says she wants to be a "missionary nurse who sings and makes music for fun and does ballet for exercise" when she grows up. I wouldn't be surprised if she does.

M&M begged to be the one to call Daddy, and I let her dial and be the first to talk to him. She told him the story of the falling chair, ending with, "Mommy's ankle hurts really bad. She needs you, Daddy."

I talked to DH, reassuring him that I was okay, but that I thought a trip to the doctor was in order. Then I called the doctor and made an appointment for this afternoon.

DH is home now, taking care of the kids so I can stay off the ankle.

Suddenly, crawling seems like a pretty good method of locomotion.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Sick Day

I caught DH's cold or virus or whatever it is, and my left ankle is acting up so that I can hardly walk on it. Baby E is tired and fussy and not feeling well. AJ is having intestinal issues. M&M says she hurts all over . . . head, legs, tummy, "everything . . . I even have a feet-ache, Mommy." Everyone is grumpy, weepy and just generally under the weather.

I don't think we're getting much school done today. We're going to finish lunch and then it's back to bed for everyone.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Summary of allergy testing methods

Someone was asking about allergy testing for infants on a forum. They specifically asked how old a baby has to be to do muscle testing.

I replied with a summary of the various allergy testing methods. I'm posting it here in case anyone else might find it helpful. I will try to go through and add more links to studies and in-depth information later.


Muscle testing, I don't know a whole lot about, though I know people who have had it done. I believe some practitioners will do it down to any age . . . I've heard of people having their babies tested by having the mom hold the baby and then the homepathic doctor tests the mother's muscle strength when in contact with a various allergen and that's supposed to tell you whether the baby is allergic to it or not.

Board-certified allergists/immunologists won't do tests such as muscle or electrodermal testing--only alternative practitioners do these tests and they are quite controversial. Some of the various controversial methods of testing are covered here. People swear this alternative testing works, but so far studies have not shown consistent or reproducible results even with the same person tested multiple times on the same type of equipment.

One method of testing that's been receiving a lot of attention lately is IgG blood testing, which is supposed to test for intolerances and delayed reactions. It's quite controversial also. Some studies seem to show a link between high IgG levels and allergic reactions, while others seem to show that IgG actually has a protective function--for example, with this study about environmental allergy shots they found that as IgE levels go down, IgG levels go up and reactions get less severe. Recent research suggests that IgG may be relevant in IBS and similar conditions. IgG testing is an area that's still under quite a lot of research and debate. Shinga at Breath Spa for Kids has been doing a series of posts looking at IgG testing and other mail-order home testing that's available--here's one, with links to others at the bottom.

There are a few kinds of testing allergists will do, that are commonly-accepted and well-supported in the scientific/medical community.

The main ones only test for IgE antibodies. A clinical reaction combined with positive IgE is your basic "true allergy" with immediate symptoms like hives, itching, swelling, severe GI reactions (many allergists only consider GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms to be allergy-related if they are seen in combination with other types of symptoms), wheezing, changes in blood pressure, etc. Allergies can range from mild to severe and the symptoms can vary quite a lot.

The most common method of detecting allergies is skin-prick testing, where they take an extract from an allergen and apply it to the skin with a tiny needle prick. Then they wait 15-20 minutes and measure the various spots to see if they developed raised welts or wheals. A wheal 3mm or more larger than the negative control is usually considered a positive (the negative control should usually not form a wheal).

With babies they usually do this on their backs (some allergists will test infants and others won't); with adults some allergists do it on the upper arm. You can test 15-30 or so different substances at a time this way, and you'll have the test results immediately. It's the cheapest, quickest and many consider it the most reliable method of allergy testing, so this is what most allergists will do.

Some allergists (one we saw included) do a different variation on skin-prick testing which involves scratching or causing abrasions in the skin. It is supposed to provide a larger wheal to allergic substances but also makes a wheal even to the negative control, which may obscure weak positive results or make results more difficult to interpret. That "push and twist" method wasn't as accurate for Baby E. Her allergies showed up accurately on tests with two different doctors with the first method, but not with this method.

There's also something called intradermal testing which involves actually injecting a small amount of the allergen extract under the skin, but it's not done much any more for food allergy testing--with a higher chance of both false positives and severe reactions, many allergists don't consider it worth it. Some still use it for testing environmental allergies.

Finally, there's a test called an IgE blood test (often called RAST) in which they draw blood and from that one blood draw they can test for many (over 100 sometimes) different allergens. They do this by mixing the blood with different allergen extracts and then seeing there are IgE antibodies that bind to the different allergens. This test is very expensive and takes a week or three to get results. Some resources say that it's less sensitive than skin-prick testing, but ImmunoLabs' ImmunoCAP test is supposedly comparable to SPT in accuracy.

Most of Baby E's allergies show up on regular skin-prick testing but not on IgE blood tests or the push-and-twist tests.

A few things to know: Some foods (especially fruits) are not as accurate when tested the typical way because the allergen extracts aren't as stable. Some allergists and researchers recommend doing a prick-to-prick test with certain foods (pricking the food directly and then the skin) rather than using commercial extracts.

Also, the size of the wheal doesn't necessarily relate to the severity of the reaction. You can have a small wheal and a severe reaction or vice versa.

Finally, IgE allergy testing won't identify delayed-reaction allergies such as the majority of eczema cases. Some practitioners will do patch testing (putting the food on the skin for a day or two) to test for delayed-reaction allergies, while others don't consider patch testing to be valid or delayed-reactions like eczema to be true allergies.

These tests also will not identify intolerances. Intolerances can have different symptoms from allergies, or can even have the same symptoms. There are things that look and act just like allergies but don't test positive on IgE allergy tests (either because it's a false negative or because it's not IgE regulated).

No method of allergy testing is 100% accurate. When I wrote this post, I didn't fully understand the difference between an allergy and an intolerance, so I need to go back and rework the post to reflect the fact that SPT and RAST are fairly accurate in diagnosing IgE-regulated reactions ["true allergies"], while not being reliable at all in diagnosing other types of reactions. With that caveat, there is some useful information about the reliablility and methods of different types of testing in the post.

The closest to fool-proof method of diagnosing an adverse food reaction, whether an allergy or intolerance, is by verifying through exposure to a particular food whether or not it causes a reaction. Depending on the severity of the suspected reaction, this may mean doing an elimination diet at home or an in-office food challenge. The "gold standard" for diagnosing adverse food reactions is a double-blind placebo-controlled food challenge. The post linked in the previous paragraph has more in-depth information about food challenges.

Both allergies and intolerances can have various causes and can vary greatly in symptoms and severity. Some intolerances are mild and dose-related, like lactose intolerance (not an allergy, but the lack on an enzyme that breaks down milk sugar). Some can even look and act like anaphylactic reactions but not be considered allergies by some allergists, because they don't test positive on IgE allergy testing.

That doesn't mean they're not real reactions to foods, but it does mean you'll have a harder time getting help from an allergist or getting some doctors to take you seriously if you have that type of intolerance. If you're interested in the difference between allergies and intolerances, I have a post with a lot more detail here.

We've run into that with Baby E . . . she has consistent, reproducible, severe reactions to certain foods (including rashes, swelling, itching and GI symptoms), but because she tested negative on IgE blood tests and doesn't get typical hives or asthma, we've had two allergists tell us that her adverse food reactions are not allergies and so they aren't interested/able/equipped to treat her.

The treatment is the same (avoidance of the food), the results are the same; it's only the terminology that's different. For Baby E's reactions, an oral antihistamine works to minimize many of them and we carry an epi-pen in case of a really bad reaction.

Anyway, that's a brief summary of some of the most common allergy testing methods. I hope some of the information is helpful to someone.


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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Pure Deliciousness

When DH got home last night, I was attempting to cook dinner and get the grease off the kitchen floor.

He had to work from home at 7, but in the hour before that he took the kids and played a game with them. Then he vaccuumed the family room where Baby E had taken a piece of bread, crumbled it into bits, and spread the pieces around on the sofas and carpet. Then he got out the steam-cleaner and shampooed the carpet where M&M had just tracked in mud.

No, I can't clone him. Don't you wish?

Baby E is still uncomfortable and fussy this morning, but better than yesterday afternoon.** Her biggest thing at the moment is that she does NOT want her diaper changed, will NOT use the potty, and does NOT want any clothes taken off or put on.


Nothing should be changed. Nothing. The only change that should be taking place today, E thinks, is switching from one side to the other occasionally while nursing. (She says, "Side" and wiggles herself around to the opposite direction in my arms, and then grins up at me--very cute.)

That and she really thinks the fact that I have one hand on the computer instead of on her needs to change. She wants both of my hands and my full attention.

The way I managed to get her into a clean diaper and her pajamas last night was to tell her everything was a hat. We put a diaper hat on her bottom, foot hats on her feet, etc. That trick turned a flailing, screaming, death-grip-on-the "sirt!" tantrum into giggling cooperation, and made me feel like a brilliant Mommy for a moment. I'm about to see if it works again.

Breakfast this morning included homemade sourdough cinnamon rolls, made with raw honey and saigon cinnamon. Wow, they're good.

I have no idea whether I'll be able to reproduce them again, though. I've been inventing a lot of recipes lately, but not the kind I can post on my recipe blog. They're less of "one cup this, two teaspoons that" recipes and more of the "Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I added some honey to this sourdough starter, and then mixed in enough spelt flour to make it into dough?" types of recipes.

I love experimenting with food. It's standardizing a recipe to make it reproducible that's challenging for me.

** I think I figured out what E is reacting to. Several days in a row she's gotten into the girls' bathroom (they are supposed to keep the door closed, but they keep leaving it open even RIGHT after I go and close it and remind them to keep it shut--argh). The moment she gets a chance, E makes a beeline for their bathroom. She opens the drawer, takes out one of the girls' toothbrushes, and tries to brush her teeth with it (a.k.a. sucks on the toothbrush--ick!). It happened at least twice yesterday.

This morning she had a tube of toothpaste, too. It just dawned on me that this is NOT the relatively-safe-for-Baby E toothpaste that I bought for the girls and put in their bathroom drawer. It is the little tube of toothpaste the dentist gave them, and which DH has apparently been letting them use. I was vaguely aware of this, but it didn't really click until today.

No wonder Baby E is having reactions, getting that in her mouth! Argh. That tube of toothpaste is now in the garbage, and I'll ask DH to get the girls new toothbrushes on his way home tonight. The girls are going to be upset, but since they keep leaving the bathroom door open I do not want that toothpaste in the house.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Good thing days come one at a time

[Updates at bottom]

Baby E is reacting mildly to something today, so she's tantrum central, won't let me put her down, screams and cries, has diarrhea, wants to nurse constantly. Her tummy hurts, poor thing, but it's so hard to get anything else done when she's like this.


At least I know it's temporary, and she'll probably be fine by tomorrow. We're re-trialing the K for P margarine. Or it could be the lentils. We've been trying the lentils off and on for about a week now, and the K for P margarine for two weeks, but neither one consistently. Whatever she's reacting to, it seems she may do all right with it in my milk, but more than a small amount eaten directly seems to give her problems. It's not a corn-type reaction she's having, and these slow-build-up delayed reactions are so much harder to figure out.

Days like this I'm just thankful it's not all day every day any more, and that we haven't had a really bad reaction in weeks. The mild, occasional reactions I can handle.

I really need to finish doing school with the older girls. Once again there's a pond of soup on my kitchen floor. I opened the refrigerator door and was trying to get the leftover lamb roast out when a BIG plastic container of soup I'd made fell out and doused me and the entire kitchen. At least this time I wasn't wearing shoes , but my jeans are wet halfway to the knees. I really need to organize my refrigerator better so things aren't falling out. What a waste of food, not to mention the time and energy for clean-up.

I ended up just throwing down towels and tending to Baby E instead of finishing cleaning it up, because she was getting so frantic. I can't figure out how to get the vent guard on the front of the fridge off--I'll have to find the instruction manual somewhere, I guess.

I just nursed her and she fell asleep while I was holding her and typing. Then I went and laid her down and of course the moment she left my arms she was awake and screaming again. I'll give her a few minutes and if she doesn't settle down I'll get her back up again. There's very little chance she'll take a nap when she's like this, even though she desperately needs one. Ideally I'd lie down with her and just let her nurse for an hour or two to soothe her stomach, but I really must do something about the soup in the kitchen.

Ah, quiet. For a moment. I don't think she fell asleep, but she's in there playing so I'm going to try to clean up the kitchen while I can. I decided it was time for the older girls to have quiet time, so they're peacefully reading in their rooms. :)

Oops, now she's crying again. What I really need is someone to cuddle her while I mop the kitchen floor. I wonder if she'd be okay to let the older girls cuddle on the sofa with her and watch a video, if I'm nearby?

**4PM Update**

Nope, not really. I also managed to spill Baby E's grape juice for her medicine on the floor and on myself, and drop the entire container of lamb roast accidentally into the garbage. Baby E seemed to feel better after a bout of diarrhea and lots more nursing, until M&M jumped off the steps and collided full-force with Baby E's head.

Meanwhile, I still haven't mopped the floor or changed my clothes. The kitchen still has just a pile of towels on a puddle of soup. We never did finish eating lunch (that would be the soup and lamb roast) and now it's almost dinner time and I'm not sure what we're having. Every time I've turned around to try to do something about the floor or dinner, someone has gotten hurt or gotten into something they're not supposed to have.

Is the day over yet?


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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Conversation with my husband

DH and I got to go on a date tonight.

Since I'm eating eggs in limited amounts again now, I even found something I could have at the restaurant: an egg poached in water, with nothing added. Simple, yet tasty. DH had an all-you-can-eat fish and chips platter, and I sipped peppermint tea while we talked. It was nice being there together, just relaxing and talking.

On our way home, I reflectively said, "I'm guessing that most people probably wouldn't try to learn how to make sourdough, kombucha and sauerkraut, all for the first time, all in one week. It's a lot, but I'm enjoying it."

DH added, "AND starting a garden, AND homeschooling, AND doing a major household organization project, all at once. Most people wouldn't do that."

I chuckled, feeling a bit sheepish. "Probably not, I guess."

DH said, "That's because most people are sane."

Then he quickly patted my knee and said, "You'll do just fine, I'm sure."

Maybe I should try to pace myself a bit one of these days. Just maybe.

Jumping into life headfirst with both feet is so much more exciting. :)

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Fermentation cultures of all kinds

I'm having so much fun baking with my sourdough. The rye starter did die--it got too hot on the stovetop when DH or I turned on the oven yesterday. But the starter I converted to whole wheat is thriving. I moved half of it to the refrigerator as a backup yesterday.


The other half of the starter I'm going to try to maintain at room temperature. I really like the flavor of it and want to preserve that if I can. I'm not sure I can keep up the pace, though. Very soon I'll have to start giving loaves away. (If you live in the area and want one, holler.)

I'm feeding the culture so frequently that it is more yeasty than sour. The flavor of the baked goods is not what I would expect from sourdough at all--mild and almost sweet, with just a bare hint of tanginess. Interestingly enough, the fermentaion seems to soften the flavor and texture of whole grains. I'm beginning to believe what I've heard: that anything baked is better made with sourdough.

I've been making the loaves entirely by hand instead of using the bread machine. I like having more control over the baking process, and I'm getting better results than I used to get with the bread machine--not to mention prettier loaves.

It seems to be harder to ruin handmade sourdough bread than I expected. If I let it rise too long or not long enough, stick it in the refrigerator overnight and let it rise more slowly, or let it rise more times than recommended, the flavor and texture changes. But so far all the variations have been delicious.

DH bought me a pizza stone yesterday. The texture of bread baked on the stone is better than that of the loaf from the same batch of dough that I baked in a metal bread pan, even with a pan of water in the bottom of the oven both times. I have another batch rising now; I'm going to try baking one loaf on the stone and the other in a covered glass pot.

I doubt we'll be buying much store bought bread in the future. Making it myself is so much easier and more satisfying than I expected. I've been eating far too much bread the last few days. It's so good that it's hard to resist. It's definitely helping me gain a few pounds. :)

We're currently trialing lentils, which so far Baby E seems to be tolerating well. Tonight I made a thick, rich soup with black lentils, chicken sausage, a few colorful veggies and some herbs and spices. I served it with a plate of sliced raw vegetables (carrots, cucumber, turnip, daikon radish, red bell pepper) and a fresh-from-the-oven loaf of bread. The rich soup, cool crunchy vegetables, and warm bread made a delicious combination.

Last night I started some kombucha tea culturing. I'm brewing it in a gallon jar from loose-leaf black tea, sugar and a bottle of store bought raw kombucha. I went through all the bottles in the store to find one with lots of dregs in the bottom and a new culture starting on top, so hopefully I'll be able to grow a baby SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) from it.

Baby E just fell asleep in my arms, so I'm going to go downstairs and start shredding cabbage for my first attempt at homemade sauerkraut. Then I just need to find a way to get some water kefir grains and I'll be all set with my own personal probiotic factory.

Eating traditional fermented foods rich in good bacteria does seem to be making a difference in how well I feel, and is definitely helping my stomach problems. I'm glad to be switching from buying them to making my own, partially because of cost considerations, but also because it's fun. And the fresh homemade versions (so far, at least) just plain taste better.

Mmmm, this is the life.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Growing Sourdough and Tilling the Soil

My sourdough experiment is turning out to be great fun.

I started a batch at the beginning of the week using 3/8 cup whole rye flour and 1/4 cup bottled spring water, and after the first couple of feedings it smelled absolutely terrible--spoiled rather than yeasty. It did look a bit fluffy and had small bubbles distributed throughout the dough, though.

I started a new batch with rye flour, but rather than throw the first batch away I halved it and fed it with whole wheat flour. By the third day it smelled and looked much more like I expected.


Now my whole wheat starter is beautifully yeasty and bubbly. It's growing so quickly I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up with it. I made muffins out of it yesterday morning. They were quite good. The sourdough starter provided just enough acid to interact with the baking soda. That made a quick bread that was fluffy without added rising time.

Now I have two loaves of bread rising, and a sponge proofing to make cookies and/or another batch of muffins.

As I fine-tune the recipes I'll be posting some of them on Restricted Gourmet. For now I'm just doing lots of experimenting as I'm learning to work with this new medium. So far I'm liking it a lot.

My second batch of rye starter went through the stinky fast-growing stage too. It didn't smell as bad the first day, perhaps because I kept it warmer at the beginning (I put it in the oven with just the light turned on), but it still wasn't a proper sourdough at first.

Today it settled down and didn't seem very active. Unless I accidentally got it too warm and killed the good bugs, I expect it to be moving into the active more yeasty stage tomorrow. If that's the case I'll try baking some bread with the light rye flour I bought this week.

I read that sometimes when a starter seems to take off very quickly but smells bad, it's having an initial growth of organisms besides the desirable yeasts and lactobacillus. As you continue feeding it, the desirable organisms create enough acid to kill off the bad bacteria and the starter becomes usable in a few days. That seems to be what happened with mine.

Yesterday I bought enough green douglas fir to build one raised bed 6 feet long and 4 feet wide for the garden. The fir won't last as long as treated or hard wood, but it's a fraction of the price, it won't put chemicals into my garden and it will hold for a few years.

I can always reinforce the box with cedar later. Since my garden spot doesn't get much sun, I don't want to invest too much in building raised beds and buying topsoil before I know whether anything will actually grow there or not.

So far I have one layer of the 2" x 6" boards screwed together to make a box. I bought two 2" x 6" x 12' boards and two 2" x 6" x 8' boards and cut each board in half with a handsaw. With two boards per side, the planting box will be 12" deep. I cut 2" x 2" stakes angled at one end to drive into the ground inside the corners. When attached to the sides of the box, they should help stabilize the sides.

This afternoon after church, the kids and I went out in the sunshine and I turned up the ground with a shovel and then used a claw-type tool to till the soil. Tomorrow I'll rake the weeds and rocks out to make the soil smooth and fine for planting.

I tilled an area a little larger than 4' x 6' today. Tomorrow I hope to extend it so the ground is worked up in an area about 7' x 12'. I'll dig out the area for my raised bed a few feet away, finish building the frame, and fill it with a mixture of peat moss, compost and the soil I dug out for the play structure base.

It will be interesting to see whether there's much difference in ease of care, growth and yield between the flat tilled soil and the raised bed. I also plan to plant some vegetables that really need more sun in some large flowerpots on the porch, and will plant a few things in my parents' much sunnier garden also. Between all the different options, we should get enough usable produce for the summer, I think.

With all my projects this week, the only high-tech modern equipment I used was a battery-powered drill and the oven. Growing my own sourdough with no commercial yeast, cutting wood with a hand saw, and tilling my garden with hand tools gave me a sense of timelessness and wonder.

Somehow, I feel so connected across time and distance with all the generations and cultures around the world who have done things by hand in almost the same ways I am doing them now. It's all so simple, yet so miraculous.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My Pet Toe

If you owned a toe that looked like this, what would you do with it? Take it to the doctor? Treat it at home? Sell it to the zoo? Or take it out back and shoot it to put it out of its misery?

[photo below fold, to give people a chance to not see it if they so choose . . . ]


Or a slightly closer view . . .

It kinda hurts.


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Monday, April 09, 2007


I hope everyone had a great Passover and/or Resurrection Sunday. Our weekend was a little crazy, but good. DH was involved in both the Friday and Sunday services at church, acting in a drama and singing with the choir/worship team.

I got to go on a really fun outing last night. It had been a rough weekend. On Saturday DH went to take care of a friends' kids so they could celebrate their anniversary while I stayed home with our three.


For some reason all three kids have decided to test the limits to the max, with behavior that we've never allowed and I've never seen to this extent from any of them--blatant disobedience, hitting, etc. I expected Baby E to be doing her two-year-old-testing-the-limits thing around now, but I wasn't expecting to get it from all three kids at the same time. Hopefully a few more days (weeks?) of consistency will get us back to our normal sweet, cheerful, cooperative kids.

On Saturday it was nearly constant, with the kids pushing my buttons and each others' every few minutes If a child is really determined to disobey, there's really nothing a parent can do. I tried making things fun, trying to minimize the battles created in the first place, imposing consequences, lecturing, keeping them busy, everything I could think of. Nothing worked, at least in the short-term. For instance, you can put a child to bed, but you can't force them to actually sleep.

By last night I really needed a break. So DH took all three kids for the evening while I went on an exploration.

I got on the internet and, with a compilation of information from the phone listings, vegan and organic websites, and other web searches, I mapped all the stores in a particular area that carried a large selection of natural and/or organic foods. Then I started off to see how many I could visit in one evening.

It was so much fun. Each little store or co-op had its own personality and products. One carried stinging nettles in the produce section and organic free-range grassfed beef from a neighbor/friend of my grandparents. It was fun to see a name I recognized on the package--I may have to call them and see about buying some meat directly.

Another store had an in-house bakery which used no enriched bread flour in any of their products. I found all kinds of breads we could eat, both with yeast for DH and the older kids, and sourdough (free of commercial corn-grown yeast) for Baby E and myself. They also carried 100% olive oil shower gel, deliciously scented with pieces of mint and rosemary leaves. What a luxury to find liquid soap I can use. A couple of the stores also carried a line of shampoo and other personal care products that looks like a possibility for me.

The third store I visited carried my new favorite saeurkraut for a better price than I'd seen it elsewhere. They had yeast-free bread from a local artisan baker marked down to $1 per 2-lb. loaf, fresh that morning. They had a nice selection of organic produce, and they have a farmer's market one day a week with activities for children.

This morning we had sourdough artisan bread with rose hip jelly. It was so delicious that we ate almost the entire loaf. But, at $1 for a huge loaf, that's okay. It's a far cry from the tough, sour, frozen yeast-free bread we usually buy at 5 or 6 dollars for 8 ounces or a pound.

This week I'm going to try making my own sourdough starter and sauerkraut, as well as making some soup to freeze and working on the garden. And, of course, homeschooling. It should be a fun week.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

What I did this week

  • Learned that some brands of barkdust (mulch) contain corn gluten.

  • Planned out how and where to build the front part of the fence (so the backyard will actually be enclosed enough to keep the kids inside). Had an appointment with a handyman to get a bid on having him build the fence.

  • Mapped out my garden (4 raised beds, 4' x 10' each). Then decided raised beds would probably be too expensive for this year and we'd better just till the area and leave it at that. Maybe we can do raised beds next year when we're not building a fence.

  • Dug the hole for the end of the slide, set up the slide and steps for the play structure, and helped DH screw them on.

  • Mowed the lawn for the first time this season.

  • Bought and laid out edging for the front flower beds.

  • Bought and planted some flowers.

  • Bought some seeds and seedlings for the garden, but didn't plant them yet.

  • Got a cute monkey backpack "leash" for Baby E. She hates it, but is beginning to get used to it after a few shopping trips. Since she often adamantly refuses to ride in the cart, be carried, hold my hand or stay close to me in the store, the leash is very helpful.

  • Visited with my sister and three friends (not all at the same time).

  • Got Baby E on a schedule which involves being asleep by 8:30 or 9 PM and sleeping until around 7AM most nights--hooray, hooray!

  • Took M&M on an outing, went on a date with my husband, and spent some time relaxing at home with DH.

  • Sent AJ with Aunt Sparrow for an evening of learning how to scrapbook.

  • Cooked lots of meals. Developed some new recipes.

  • Made headway on laundry and housework.

  • Researched and wrote posts on Passover food and the debate over defining marriage.

  • Did minimal homeschooling. We'll do better next week. We did do Bible and at least two other subjects (handwriting, math or science/history) more days than not.

  • Let AJ and M&M make their own peanut butter sandwiches for lunch most days.

  • Had a marathon day of grocery shopping today.

  • Learned that a great way to keep AJ and M&M happy during grocery shopping trips is to let them pick out produce and put it in the cart. Also, getting an extra small cart and letting them push it is not only fun for them, but helpful to me.

  • Was absolutely dead-tired by the end of each day.

  • Frequently entertained thoughts such as, "Life is good. I am content."


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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Does this sound like anyone you know?

I wonder if I would find this quite so hilarious if it didn't remind me so much of myself? I want to put it on a T-shirt.


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Wisdom of a 6-year-old

Today AJ said, "I'm already six years old. I'm really growing up. But I'm not grown up enough to get married yet. I still have quite a bit of growing and learning to do before then."

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Monday, April 02, 2007



M&M and I went shopping last night, just the two of us. We had a lot of fun wandering around the store looking at toys, trying on shoes, and enjoying being together. She is very much a "girly girl" and loves thing like flowing skirts, jewelry, shoes, ribbons, lace, flowers, dolls and anything pretty--especially if it's pink.

One of the things we bought was this bouquet of pretty posies:


You may notice, though, that a couple of the flowers are missing several petals. That's because Baby E climbed up on a chair to inspect the bouquet this morning.

No, she wasn't playing "Love me . . . love me not."

She was poking petals into her nose.

It gives a whole new meaning to the word "nosegay." I wonder what Cyrano de Bergerac would think of Baby E's definition?

E poking matzo crumbs up her nose

All of my kids experimented with putting things into their nose and/or ears around this age, but Baby E carries it to a whole new level. She doesn't just do it occasionally; it's a constant thing. It's been going on for weeks now, many times a day.

It isn't just if she is given a food she doesn't like or is full, either. Chicken, hamburger, bread, pears, cereal, broccoli, potato stix, matzo cracker--it all gets shoved into her nostrils or ears the moment I let my guard down. Then I'm getting bits of it out of her nose for the next two hours.

I wonder if it's her way of trying to relieve itching from allergies, or if it's just an obsession with trying to see how much food she can stuff into those fascinating little holes.

As she demonstrated this morning, she also stows away things other than food.

She was sneezing, sniffling and coughing occasionally all morning as the petals worked their way out. I called the advice nurse, who said not to worry about it unless the "foreign object" didn't come out, or if it was impeding her breathing, causing pain or showing signs of infection. She suggested using an aspirator to get the petals out without just pushing them farther in as any other method might do.

I managed to get three pink petals, a white petal, and a piece of a leaf out of her right nostril. The left nostril only yielded one white petal, but it appears there may be more lodged farther back.

At least it's not impeding her breathing.

I try to keep an eye on her and stop her from doing it. But I can't hover constantly and I can't exactly just stop giving her food.

E asking, Where's Daddy?

What's a girl to do?

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