Wednesday, November 30, 2005

an exercise for the writer

Today at dinner we all had a very involved discussion about growing up and figuring out what kind of work to do. We talked about college and grad school and all the different kinds of jobs that are out there, and how important it is to find some work to do that you really like, because you'll be doing it, most likely, for the better part of your life. So: it helps a lot if like it, and if you love it, and feel compelled to do it anyway, that's the best, right? Then it doesn't feel like "work" at all, then it's something that you do because you want to.

Of course the offspring, being only 4, 7, and 8, have many years to go before any of this makes much sense to them, and before they even have to really think about it. I, on the other hand, am standing poised on the edge of something, I just haven't figured out what, yet.

I'm allowing myself to believe that I'm done with cancer. If that's true (please please let it be true!) then I am going to have to figure out what I'm doing with myself in the next school year, when all the kids will be at the same school, all day, from 8AM until 3PM.

I still think about teaching... but I need to make sure the voice can hold up, as I'm having some breathing/coughing problems that the ENT will investigate further in a couple of weeks. We'll see how that goes. If I'm having trouble talking, teaching won't work out very well. Then again, if whatever-it-is is treatable, I may go for teaching because it will take a year or so at least to get my degree and certification.

Do I really want to go back to school? Yes... and no. I don't know! I want/need to be around for my kids, that's number 1. I can sacrifice them to aftercare perhaps one day a week, but that's the most I'd be willing to do. I don't even know if the program I was interested in at ASU still exists. (Yes, it does!) Well, we'll see.

Then there's the idea that I think I want to teach high school science, but do I, really? Working with teens could kill me. That's why I auditioned for the Princeton Review, to give the whole working-with-teens thing a trial run -- that, of course, got derailed by my cancer diagnosis. I could go back to Princeton Review, though; they left with me with an open invitation, more or less. I would have more flexibility, too; they sometimes do tutoring at schools during the school day, and with DS2 in school full-time, I could do that... hmmm.

But then all that starts to sound like too much work (I am sooo lazy). I think about writing, all the ideas that are stuffed into my notebooks, all the work I haven't been doing on my websites. I can be tremendously productive when I'm not constantly interrupted -- or at least I used to be, back in the day. Of course "the day" was about 7 years ago, now. (Insert obligatory comment about how time flies.)

Writing will always be here, of course, but the pay is, let's face it, lousy. Which brings me to my old stomping grounds: programming. I've sworn more than once that I'd rather wait tables than write code again, but since I'm older and wiser and know enough not to get involved with psycho office politics, I think I'd be OK. The potential is there, people always want grunts who can grind out code. I'm good at it (at least I used to be), but I'm old and out of touch. But the old brain is still quite nimble and I'm sure I can pick up new languages/systems easily -- I've done it I don't know how many times at home just because I've felt like it (HTML is one good example.) I think I'd need to take a refresher course or two somewhere, or buy some books or something. A course would be better because I'd have something to put on a resume, LOL.

A resume! Resumes are scary. They are not difficult to write, except for the very first section some people include, "objective." I tend to leave that out: if you're reading my resume, you know I'm looking for a job. Does it matter all that much if I say I want the job to be challenging and fulfilling, when all I really want is something I can do that will pay me a respectable wage and that doesn't give me migraine headaches?

Back in high school, I thought I would grow up to be a psychologist -- never a psychiatrist since I didn't want to deal with med school (that's a whole 'nother topic.) So I expected to get an undergraduate psych degree and then do whatever I needed to do to get into counselling. But then I got into MIT, and somehow convinced myself that going there would be a really good thing for me (as opposed to what it really was: fulfilling a dream my mother had had for herself.) I started out thinking "chemical engineering" because I had loved chemistry in high school (still do), but then relationships and finances conspired and I ended up choosing a major not so different from what I had thought back in high school: behavioral science, with the added filip in management, an undergraduate degree from the Sloan School.

Yet somehow, when I graduated, I found myself working for a data processing consulting firm, writing huge, ugly CICS COBOL reporting systems for banks and insurance companies. I was paid a pittance but I learned how to code, and from there I went to a tiny consulting firm with MIT contacts, and from there I went to a mid-size software and market research firm. Oracle bought out the software end of the business a couple of years later, and I was an Oracle employee until they laid me off. I had a pretty good run as a programmer ("application developer" usually, sometimes "software engineer") and I liked being a first-line manager, too. But is that what I want to go back to?

I come around again to what I'm doing now, besides driving my children around. I have a teeny, tiny job, my monthly online column. It combines my two great loves: food, and writing. Writing about food and cooking is something I really adore, and if I could do more with it, then I could always be there for the kids, and still take long summers on Cape Cod, and not be tied down to the school calendar. (The worst would be to work at a school with a different calendar than my kids. Talk about a logistical nightmare...) So maybe I'll stick with the column, try to develop it into something bigger, put all the columns together into a book with additional content... it could work.

There are a few other possibilities: working in the school as an aide or as office help -- low-pay, but excellent accessibility to the kids, and it would be enough to fund vacations and home improvements, etc. Plus we'd all be on the same calendar. Substitute teaching is another possibility, although I still vividly recall the tremendously hard time we gave our subs, back when I was in junior high and high school. I don't know how tough I am, in that kind of a situation. I'm not sure I want to find out -- of course it wouldn't be now, it would be next fall, almost a whole year from now. But I know that time will go by very quickly, so it pays to start thinking about this stuff now.

I didn't think I'd have to do this, ever again. I'm 42 years old, and I'm trying to figure out what I want to be when my kids grow up.

December's column up

I'm happy that my date nut bread column made it into the December Low Carb Luxury magazine; I was a bit past deadline when I finally sent it off. It really is a great recipe... I should make some more and use up the rest of that box of dates I bought.

That's the problem with dates: they are so sugar-laden that I don't dare eat them the way I used to: I remember when I was a kid I used to make 2 kinds of date treats: one was stuffed with peanut butter, dipped in beaten egg white, and rolled in granulated sugar; the other was stuffed with a maraschino cherry, dipped in beaten egg white, and rolled in sweetened coconut flakes. I loved those maraschino cherry-coconut ones, but the peanut butter ones were so delicious, too. We only ever had them at Christmas, and because we had a big family, I had to make a lot. I loved having my own job to do to help get ready for the holidy. Of course I loved eating them, too.

Anyway, it's nice to have a way to enjoy dates that doesn't mess with my blood sugar. Plus with all the almonds and zucchini, it's a really great source of fiber & veggies, so it's actually quite good for you. Now that's a real treat!

Monday, November 28, 2005

for the record

I believe this is pretty typical, but I can never remember from year to year, so I figured I'd make a note of it:

We had to switch the thermostat over to "heat" this evening. We have it set at 70. It just came up a few minutes ago. First official heat of the season! (We had the heat on a couple of weeks ago when the HVAC guys came in to do the annual check on our 2 furnaces. I had no idea we had 2 furnaces, but we do; we also have 2 huge A/C machines. Heckuva lot of HVAC going on in this house.)

It's embarrassing to admit how cold 70 degrees feels to someone who air-conditions the house to 81 degrees and feels comfortable, the other 8+ months of the year.

I remember driving to work wearing ski gloves because the heater in my car was pathetic, back when I lived in Massachusetts. For 2 years when I was in college, I didn't even own a car (didn't even have my license!), and rode my bike everywhere, even in the dead of winter. Ski gloves, again the essential accessory. Maybe if I were still doing things like that, I'd be in better shape now? Nah, I don't believe it.

I'm glad I live in a place now where I'll only have to wear ski gloves if I'm going skiing.

the question, every day

At some point in the day, I'll take stock of the junk-strewn floor in the family room and start ordering the kids around, very specifically, with directions to put all their stuff away. I've learned to be specific because in cases like this -- toys everywhere -- a general "Clean this mess up!" leaves them overwhelmed. You need to break it down into small, easily accomplished tasks.

So it goes like this: [DS2], pick up those legos and put them away. [DD], pick up those stuffed animals and bring them back up to your room... You get the idea.

The older kids, being older, are used to this drill. DS2, being 4-and-three-quarters, should be used to this drill, but still thinks it shouldn't have to apply to him. So, eventually we come to this question, every day:

Why do you always make me do this?!

Ah, the fury of the nearly-5-year-old, it's a joy to behold -- only not. This is getting so old. I don't know how people who have more than a few kids deal with this. I'm tired of having all these same "discussions" (arguments, really -- who needs to argue with a not-yet-5-year-old? I don't argue. He does!) I've had them already a million times with DS1 and DD when they were nearly-5... do I really have to do it again? At times I think I'm really pushing the age-envelope here; 42-year-olds should not be having to deal with this, right? Then I think of my girlfriends who are older than me who have children younger than mine, and I shut right up. Except they're not dealing with The Cancer Thing, which could have something to do with my emotional exhaustion, and DS2's unwillingness to live by or with the Rules.

Here's what I don't get: DS2 is an extremely bright kid. He knows the Rules of the House, and yet he'll still throw that question-every-day at me for things like pick up your toys; put your shoes away; wash your hands before eating. Things he has been doing since before he was 2 years old! Actually, when he was 2, he was a lot mellower about doing all this stuff.

For the record, the answer to the question is: Because it's my job to make sure you grow up to become a decent human being. "Decent" encompasses all sorts of things, including being respectful and responsible, and being able to take care of yourself by washing up properly, and knowing where your shoes are.*

DS2 doesn't like it when I confront him with his own behavior when he's behaving badly, but I just tell him I'm doing my job. I know this is just a phase. The it's just a phase mantra has sustained me many times in the past, and I'm sure it will help me through this one. I just wish we could get through a day without that question being hurled at me.


* Remember his shoes being lost last week? They were missing from Tuesday evening until Thursday night, when I found them in the hamper. When he put his socks in the hamper, he spaced out and put his shoes in there, too. I don't know what inspired me to look there, but I was very happy to find them! We went to ZooLights on Thursday night (perfect for walking off all that turkey and pie),and it was a little too cool for sandals, even when worn with socks.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

tv on dvd: a very good thing

Over the past five nights, DH and I have watched the first 19 episodes of the first season of Lost. (If you've been wondering where I've been...)

I can see why my friend Tom bailed on it; it's definitely silly -- beyond silly, even.

But I like it. I'm completely engrossed by the characters, and I'm enjoying how they're all finding ways not to go crazy.

The last episode we watched tonight was Deus Ex Machina, which gave Terry O'Quinn (Locke) a chance to really show off his acting chops... but I think I enjoyed Sawyer's needing, and getting, glasses, even more. I appreciate the balance of humor and drama on this program. I like how each character has good and bad traits; no one's wholly a saint or a sinner. The characters all seem compellingly real as a result. However, I still don't get why Sayid would ever have anything to do with Shannon, but maybe that's just my little Sayid crush talking. I also think Boone is too stupid to live; apparently so did the writers.

Anyway, 5 more episodes to go and we're caught up. It's a bit weird being in mid-Season 2 and already knowing certain things, like who's not around anymore -- we're left wondering, "Is this when [someone] dies?" Stuff like that. It's good to fill in the blanks.

Generally, I think it's fantastic that they are making current series available on DVD quickly. For us, it allows us to catch up on shows we didn't get into when they first started -- like "The Sopranos" and "24" -- and then continue with new seasons whenever they begin. We are slowly, slowly evolving to an all-on-demand entertainment distribution system. Things are going to be very interesting in the entertainment industries over the next couple of decades. The old networks have to do something or they won't survive; they are starting to figure that out. I'm sure it will be a bumpy ride for a while, but I have faith that the market will figure out a good solution for us all.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

question of the day

"Mom, how do they know that infinity is the biggest number?"

She's only just turned 7.

A lively discussion ensued, involving the almost-9 and almost-5-year-olds as well.

UPDATE: Tom gives a mini-lecture in the comments. Here's a paraphrase of my answer (since I can't remember my exact words): "Infinity is not a number, it's an idea." That was the basis of the lively discussion.

burrowing in

Today felt like winter.

I don't know why, it was in reality a gorgeous day out there, but I didn't go out in it. I slept in and stayed in my pajamas all day. I'd say I did nothing, but that's not true at all; I actually started my Christmas shopping and I talked to some of my long-distance family members, too. A little cooking, a little cleaning, quite a bit of eating (pie, mostly.)

But I didn't want to go out today, and there was nothing that had to be done, so I stayed in, feeling snug.

It's weird how the feeling of winter can have no connection whatsoever to the actual weather conditions outside. Here, the oranges and lemons are finally ripening, after hanging on the tree for what has seemed like half a year. The golden lantana are in full bloom and look spectacular, and the winter Rye grass has come in, a cleaner, greener green than the blue-gray-green Bermuda grass we have in the summer. It doesn't look anything at all like winter out there, but some unreachable dial in my brain has ticked over to "winter," and so it is.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Cheesecake Tart, Apple & Pumpkin pies

Seriously flaky pie crust, very blurry photo.

Turkey's in the oven, the house smells fantastic. And thanks to the vent fan over the stove, the house will remain a livable temperature. It's worth putting up with the noise.

There's nothing we have to do today: perfect!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

such a yahoo

A friend from college -- he was from Michigan -- once told me I was a yahoo: someone who waited until it was almost too late to start working. So here's typical me: I stayed up until 2AM last night, for no good reason -- got sucked into the tail end of National Treasure (audio at link) while doing my exercises, and then was too wound up to go to bed, so ended up blogging and bouncing around the 'net for way too long.

Today, of course, I had to get up at 6:30 for physical therapy at 7AM. Yikes! So all of today I've been running on about 4 hours sleep, since you know going to bed at 2AM really means getting ready for bed starting at 2, and there's just a lot of ... stuff that needs to be done, like tomorrow's meds, the 4-step teeth cleaning/retainer process, the cleaning of the face, the moisturizer, the foot lotion (I'm trying to save my heels, for some reason over the past two weeks they've been splitting, ouch). It's ridiculous, but necessary, this process of going to bed. More than anything else, it makes me feel old, because the young can just fall into bed and sleep in their clothes and wake clear-eyed and ready to face another day. At least that's how I seem to remember it, but it's not true for me anymore!

So. P/T went fine (I can do a lot of that stuff with my eyes closed, which is restful, even though I'm working my neck/arms/shoulder muscles.) Then home, breakfasted the kids and myself. A little cruise around the blogosphere, checked the movie times, then hauled my butt upstairs to inventory all the kids' clothes to be donated, the spoils of last weekend's wardrobe review with all three. There were also a few things of mine, like last year's jeans that I will never, ever wear again: 120 lbs just does not look good on me. I can't believe I ever could wear those things. I distinctly recall at one point they were really loose, too. I must've been skeletal. Net: 3 huge garbage bags full of clothes and some toys I culled from the kids' rooms weeks ago; they've never missed any of them, so out they go!

Time to go, I need to go to the supermarket for molasses. (How could I have forgotten the molasses during all yesterday's errands? I have no idea.) Dilemma: DS2's sneakers are nowhere to be found, and I mean nowhere. I make the kids all get out of the van and come back in to look for them, both upstairs and down, but they are still MIA. DS2 wears his sandals over his socks. He looks like an adorable little geek.

Drop off the stuff at Savers, then head over to the supermarket where I buy the molasses and a new, blue Pyrex pie plate. I needed a 10-inch one, but this will have to do: 9.5 inches. What is up with that? I have never seen a recipe that called for a 9.5-inch pie plate. Ultimately, it worked out OK, holding much more of the pumpkin pie filling than last year's -- I only had one leftover custard cup, as opposed to last year's 3. So OK. (I got the blue one because it was on sale. I really don't care what color it is, but the blue is pretty on its own, even if it looks a bit weird under a pumpkin pie. However, since I have no plans to display the pie or even serve it to guests, who cares?)

Home: lunch time, by now, unbelievably. Fix the kids 3 different lunches (hot dog, tuna sandwich, mac&cheese), eat a quick lunch myself (the rest of the tuna), then jump in the shower.

Time for the movie! DS1 is moving strangely slowly. He has read the book, so I can sort of understand his reluctance: he has always been freaked out by Lord Voldemort. I convince him to go anyway. The movie ROCKED. DS1's assessment: They kind of screwed it up, but I liked it anyway.

Home, 4:15-ish. I should be baking, but I'm not, I'm doing I-don't-know-what, decide to check the mail, notice my neighbor is out putting up her Christmas decorations already; decide to visit with her for a while and see her recently remodeled kitchen: gorgeous, but not my taste. I don't like black countertops, even if they are granite. They do look super luxe, though -- just not my thing.

Now it's 5PM and I finally get moving: crusts for the pumpkin pie and the cranberry tart are done first, with cranberry sauce and cranberry jam going more or less concurrently. When the 2nd crust comes out of the oven, in goes the fish for dinner, which is not a leisurely affair for me, as I'm prepping the pumpkin custard to get ready to go in as soon as the fish comes out. I manage that, somehow.

After dinner, cleanup of all previous messes, including the dishes; DH has gone to fetch a mystery FedEx package (turns out to be something completely inconsequential; we were expecting something from the IRS [cue scary music].) Strain the cranberry jam; assemble the cheesecake filling.

Damn: my new pie plates are not as deep as my old pie plates. Either that or I've gone and made the crust too thick for the tart, which, come to think of it, is more likely. This crust is basically pecans, and butter, so it's not like a rolled-out crust. The cheesecake layer would overflow the pie plate if I poured the whole thing in, so I don't. Another ramekin of cheesecake. DH will like that, he can have it any time now (hee!).

While the cheesecake bakes: prepare the apples, Cameos again this year. They are smallish and not as firm as I would like. I give them a good shot of lemon juice to brighten them up, and grate a huge amount of fresh nutmeg in as well. Clean up again, as counter-space is limited, and I like to roll out the pie dough on my silpat.

I make the pie crust. I am a complete failure as a baking parent because all 3 of the kids come over to ask me what I'm doing. I'm standing there with a rolling pin, a bowl full of apple slices, and an empty pie plate, just waiting to be filled, and they ask me what I'm making! Yikes. Obvious solution: make pie more often! Sounds good to me.

I'm using the organic shortening again this year and again this year I forget to just screw the recipe guidelines and use as much water as I think I need. The dough is slightly dry and tears along the edges, but I know it will taste wonderful, flaky and light because I've scarcely had to work it at all. Bottom crust done, in go the apples, on goes the butter (I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten the butter!), on goes the top crust, and into the oven it goes.

It's in there now, I've just reduced the heat and I'm keeping an eye on it so the apples don't cook down to a mush. I've done that many times in the past. Tastes great, looks great from the outside, but when you cut it, there's the huge dome of crust with a big hollow underneath: weird. Overcooked apples, that is. It's embarrassing how long it took me to figure that out -- I guess I never really cared because it still tasted very good.

Photos at this point are doubtful, because nothing is looking especially pretty. The pumpkin pie cracked (I need to revisit those baking instructions; it seems to me the heat is too high initially). The cranberry tart is awaiting final assembly; I'm hoping as the cheesecake filling cools it will contract enough to let me put the top layer of cranberry jam on. It looks so pretty and tastes good! I could always serve it on the side, but that's rather a pain and doesn't look nearly as neat. So I have my fingers crossed.

Just checked the apples, still too firm. The pie looks marvelous though, so maybe I'll post some photos after all.

DH is snacking on the mini-cheesecake with a little cranberry jam. He declares: Good!

That's enough for tonight.

foray into network tv land

DH and I have done something unusual this fall. We've started watching network television series other than 24! How odd. I don't even remember how it started. But for some reason, back in September, we set up some season passes on the TiVO. Now after we tuck the kids in, we snuggle on the couch and watch... whatever.

OK, not exactly "whatever", since it's not all that many shows, and one of the ones on our short TiVO list has already been axed (the Nightstalker remake, which was inexplicably both pretty and grim, and didn't have the guts to come out and assign supernatural characteristics to anything, which was a betrayal of the basic premise of the show. It deserved the ax.)

So here's what's left (for now):
[Warning: audio on most links!]

Surface, NBC Mondays: I'm not sure how much longer we're going to keep watching this. We only watch this because we can TiVO it; we would certainly never schedule around it. There is not one single likeable character on this show, and most of them are either stupid or obnoxious or both. Lake Bell has a great body but needs an eyebrow wax and a brain implant: for a PhD scientist, she's awfully stupid, not to mention rather cavalier about her kid. The only characters I detest more than Lake's are the parents of the kid who hatched Nimrod, one of the "Surface" critters. They're completely vile, and with parents like that, it's no wonder the kid himself trusts no one except his best friend, and would never consider confiding in an adult. Then there's the mysterious bad guy, who seems to know what's going on but doesn't really, and then there's the guy in the greenhouse, who really does know what's going on... and do I really care? No, I do not.

My Name is Earl and The Office, NBC Tuesdays: I'm amazed that I'm watching sitcoms. "Earl" just cracks me up completely. I find Jason Lee tremendously appealing. He reminds me of guys I hung out with in high school. My parents' house, while in a fine location for a summer house, was kinda-sorta on the wrong side of the tracks for year-round residents, and I hung out with a flannel-shirted stoner crowd. Oh, those boys were not as recklessly stupid as Earl and his brother, but they were just as amotivated to do anything real with their lives. Earl has a great supporting cast, too, with Crab Man (aka The Rubber Band Man) being one of my favorites. In tonight's episode he did a completely unexpected riff on the Electoral College that stunned both Earl and Joy into momentary silence. It was a beautiful scene.

"The Office" is something else altogether, approaching too painful to watch at times, as Steve Carrell's Michael is such a complete idiot. The budding relationship between Jim and Pam draws me in every time; their attraction for each other is palpable, and yet they keep dancing around it (sometimes literally). Then there's Dwight, and you have to see Dwight to believe him... I think perhaps to really find this funny you have to have worked in an office at some point, otherwise you just think it's too bizarre. The thing is, it's completely realistic, because people really are that weird.

Lost and Invasion on ABC Wednesdays: We missed "Lost" last year (just started renting the S1 dvds, we'll be caught up soon) but had heard so much about it that we decided to start watching, and we caught the last 2 episodes of the first season. Fortunately the format is such, and the internal pace of the series is so slow, that we could drop in after a year and pick things up pretty quickly. The show is beautifully filmed, and I love the large cast's interactions, and I love how the flashbacks fill out a different character for us each week. Too bad about Shannon, huh? (No, not really.)

Where "Lost" is primo, even if it has lost some luster, "Invasion" is, well... not as irritating as "Surface," let's just say that for starters. At the center of everything is a divorced couple, both remarried. The ex-husband is a park ranger now married to a TV investigative reporter who is first-trimester pregnant. The ex-wife is a doctor who is married to the sheriff, who is definitely a pod person or alien clone or something. (He may just turn out to be a useful idiot to the aliens, but he's definitely on their side, it seems.) The sheriff has a teen-age daughter from his first marriage, and the divorced couple have a teen boy and a little girl, about 5 or 6, I'd guess. This is another show in which time seems to go by very slowly. After watching Rome, in which entire years go by between episodes (no joke), it's weird to be stuck in a show in which not much happens over not too many days. What can I say? I'm spoiled.

Anyway, I like "Invasion" OK, I guess. It has more internal consistency and fewer stupid characters than "Surface." But I'll still wonder about how smart a doctor is when she thinks she can come home from work at 5 and serve pot roast for dinner, unless they eat dinner at 9 o'clock? Or maybe she boils her pot roast and it's like shoe leather, and that's why the boy doesn't like it? And who serves baked potatoes with pot roast? The whole point of pot roast is to cook the vegetables with the meat so everything tastes good together. Yes, it's weird for me to talk so much about pot roast, but it has come up at least 3 separate times so far! Someone on the writing staff has a pot roast fixation. Still, the characters are interesting, particularly the doctor, who has (most likely) been killed and cloned by the aliens but hasn't quite figured that out yet; she's getting there, though.

What I like best about these shows are that they give DH and I a chance to unwind together in the evenings. I'll make some coffee or tea and we'll nibble walnuts or chocolate and it's just nice. The shows themselves -- no big deal if I miss them. I missed them all that week I was in Houston. The networks run repeats frequently, so I'll catch them eventually, or I won't. This month we're enjoying the new episodes but I know once December hits, that will end, as "sweeps" month will be over. That's OK, too.

Hockey's back this year, and there's basketball, too. And in January, "Jack's back!" as the ads say -- but back where? I admit, I'm interested to see where they take this season of 24.

Full disclosure: we sometimes TiVO both MadTV and Saturday Night Live and fast forward through all the junk... which is oftentimes the entire program on SNL. I suppose those count as network TV shows.

(Of course I still watch What Not To Wear and Clean Sweep when there are new episodes, and I've added a new transformative show, too: Ballroom Bootcamp. It's a hoot.)

Monday, November 21, 2005

wheels, turning

I don't know where these last few days have gone. Well, actually, I do: they've been consumed in a typical flurry of kids-school-errands, all the "normal" stuff. Laundry, too; there was a lot of laundry. I really need to do laundry more than once a week.

Anyway: I ground out a column today which simply did not want to be written. The recipe was done (the date nut bread, still delicious), and I even finally toted up all the nutritional information, and the info for the Cranberry Cheesecake Tart thing, too. Usually that's my sticking point, and once I get the numbers down I can just whip up a few paragraphs and be done with it. Not today -- too many distractions, insufficient attention span. But it got done, and will be published on December 1.

After we put the kids to bed, I made 102 mini pumpkin muffins for DD's First Grade Thanksgiving Feast tomorrow. It was only 4 batches and didn't take too long, it was just a process: every 12 minutes, take a batch out of the oven, put a new one in, reset the timer and relax. I'm fairly sure that fewer than 102 will make it to the feast tomorrow, but any that get eaten between now and then surely won't be missed. I'm thinking I'll mix up some honey butter for the kids to spread on the muffins. I think that would be a nice combination.

If I didn't have physical therapy, exercises to do twice daily, and this weird feeling that there's a bandage around half my throat, I'd feel almost normal. Tomorrow will be a busy day but Wednesday less so, as the kids are off school. We'll cook and go see the new Harry Potter movie. I'm really looking forward to it.

I'm enjoying this sense of forward motion I have after standing still for so long. It's nice to be moving again.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

past tense

I'm getting used to the idea that I can now say this: I had cancer.

I'm astonished at how feelings of near-joyful relief keep washing over me when I don't expect them. I tried not to fret about the situation consciously too much, but it was always there, weighing on me, from the afternoon of September 2 when my endo first told me she wanted me to go Houston. Two solid months' worth of uncertainty and stress are slowly, slowly lifting, like fog evaporating in the morning sun. It's awesome to recognize a surprising feeling and have it be happiness.

It's going to be an excellent Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2005

work in progress

I have an experiment baking in the oven right now, and I am having a hard time cooling my heels, waiting for it to be done. It's a reduced-carb date nut bread, and it really was a bit of a bother to put together -- but when I took a taste of the batter before I popped it into the oven, it tasted like dates. mmmmmm

Dates are problematic for low-carbers because they are approximately 75% sugar by weight. Seriously. 40 grams of dates has 30 grams of carbohydrates (sugars). [Note that's net the 1 gram of fiber also found in the same 40 grams of dates.] How many dates do you think you need to get up to 40 grams? Here's a hint: that's about a tenth of a pound, give or take, and it works out to 2 large or 3 smaller dates.

The typical date nut bread recipe calls for an entire cup of chopped dates! I think that must be at least 6 or 8 ounces. When the dates are chopped, they're very sticky and they clump together like mad. I'm sure no one packs his "one cup chopped dates" loosely. (It's not like the recipe says "one cup dates, chopped," which is an entirely different thing.) So I'll go with 8 ounces as an estimate, which would give the typical date nut bread recipe 150 grams of carbs from the dates alone. (whoa)

I needed a way to get the flavor of dates into the bread without all the carbs, so I used an almond-flour zucchini bread recipe as my launch pad. I shredded the zucchini, and then chopped a mere 4 ounces of dates and threw them in the same bowl. Then I added some unsalted butter, and some sugar free vanilla syrup (actually, Torani's Vanilla Bean, this time.) Nuked all that for a good 3-4 minutes until the zucchini softened, then stirred it like mad and let it cool for a bit. Then pureed it in the food processor, adding the eggs. Then did the whole measure/stir/sift the dry ingredients into the wet, chopped the walnuts and tossed them in, and poured it into the pan.

I'm thinking it will take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to bake, because low-carb baked goods tend to bake more quickly than traditional flour/sugar quick breads would. Twenty-five minutes to go -- I guess I should go clean up the kitchen, huh?

Later: It's delicious! The date flavor is more subtle than in a traditional date bread, though. As a base recipe, this is fine, but I think in my write-up I may suggest adding more dates for those who really want to splurge. I'm very pleased with the texture, too!

shopping on

Last night I was up stupid-late (as in: how stupid was it to stay up that late?) puttering around on the computer. I got sucked into the vortex of cyberspace when I went over to the Disneyland website and started looking at restaurants, trying to figure out if we should make some reservations before we get there. While checking out the Disney site I had this nagging feeling that there was something else I should be doing, and it finally occurred to me: finish up the shopping for the kids. Since the Disney trip is the present this year, I didn't have to do much, but I still wanted them to have a few stocking-stuffers to open on Christmas morning.

In this house, that means books, DVDs, and music -- so off I went to Overstock. Shopping at Overstock is a trip, but you can come away with significant savings, so it's worth it if you have a little patience.

First of all, you need to accept that Overstock's user interface is weak and sometimes downright difficult to use. Unlike the glamorous, easy-to-navigate, Overstock is not streamlined and is barely categorized. Also unlike Amazon, Overstock has a weird assortment of products with lots of certain things and none of others -- on Amazon, you can find just about anything. So if you approach Overstock expecting an Amazon-like online shopping experience, you're likely to be frustrated, but you don't have to be.

Before you start shopping, search for a deal. I did a Google search on Overstock online coupon and found one for 10% off for everyone, plus $1 shipping, at Usually the "coupon" is programmed into the link that opens the window for you, so don't use a bookmark to get to if you can get there from a coupon site.

Ready to shop? It helps enormously to know what you're looking for at Overstock. Because of the relative lack of organization, browsing on Overstock for any length of time can be extremely tedious, even if you have a high-speed internet connection. So use the "Search" box and be as specific as you possibly can to limit the number of items you have to browse through.

If you're just curious about what they're offering, you may be presented with hundreds of pages in any particular category. When you start to drill down on any particular item, you're likely to be underwhelmed with the amount of product information, and the lack of user reviews. Here's where you can take opportunistic advantage of all the other online shopping sites, leading to my third suggestion: open other windows to search for more information about any product you're considering, without interrupting your shopping.

For example, I shopped for new calendars for my kids -- they each get one to hang up in their rooms every year. You might not even realize Overstock offers calendars, because it's not obvious on the main page; they're folded into the "Books" category. There are 42 pages of calendars, with 24 shown per page -- far too many to browse through! So I used the search feature for specifics like "dinosaur calendar" and was able to limit the number of choices I had to consider. But -- many of the calendars had "no image available," and I won't buy a calendar that I haven't seen! That would be ridiculous! What if the pictures were ugly?

So here's what I did, and what I recommend: for each calendar I seriously considered, I copied the ISBN number into the clipboard. You can easily do this by double-clicking on the ISBN number to highlight it, and then using Ctrl-C, Edit/Copy, or your computer's keyboard shortcut to put the text in your clipboard. Open a new window and in that window, search for the ISBN number you just copied: in the search text box, type "isbn " and then press Ctrl-V (or whatever your shortcut is) to paste in the ISBN number you just copied. For products that don't have an ISBN, they usually have a UPC or other unique product identifier; use that instead, substituting "upc" in your search string for "isbn." If there's no number at all, use the entire product name as your search string.

Invariably, many results will come up, on Amazon,, or All of these sites contain more information, and often more photos, than does. Choose a likely candidate and see what that source has to say, and use that information to make your buying decision.

When browsing through a huge category like books or music, search by author or artist to narrow the field. If you want to know whether or not a particular CD or book is any good, use the technique above to find reviews. I wanted to find some new books for the kids but didn't want to just blindly order something based on cover art; the editorial and member reviews at Amazon were very helpful. (Do keep in mind that you shouldn't take any reviewer's word as gospel -- look at the entire body of reviews to try and get a balanced view or understand different likes and dislikes.)

Over the years I've had very good experiences with for everything from books and music to toys and bath towels. Perhaps the most important advice I can give is to use restraint when shopping! Browsing around Overstock, you are sure to see some fantastic bargains -- that's what the site is all about, after all. But do your research and make sure what you're buying is really what you want. One example: be wary of inexpensive cashmere; it's likely to be single-ply and disappointing.

I've never had to return anything, so I have no knowledge of or experience with the return policy; if you're wondering whether or not you'll like something, check the return policy before you buy.

Last but not least, shop early and allow time for shipping, because media-mailed items can take more than 2 weeks to get to you.

I've saved a lot of money buying just the right gifts on It takes a little work, but I come from a long line of bargain hunters. Why spend more when you don't have to? You know you want Overstock.

catching up

I'm twiddling around with a few things here and there on the blog. I'll also be posting some stuff with photos from the summer that I meant to do ages ago. When the whole cancer/Houston thing blew up in my face, I just couldn't deal with it.

Feeling better now. Scar looks good. Went back to yoga classes this week, but still too chicken to swim -- maybe tomorrow. I feel an odd sort of fatigue these days, but I'm not getting as much sleep as I had been (no more naps, sigh.) I'm also getting used to my lower dose of thyroid meds. I had become accustomed to being literally hyper (as in hyperthyroid) all the time, and now I'm having trouble distinguishing between being not-hyper and being fatigued.

Physical therapy is thorough, exhausting, and time-consuming at 3x/week, but necessary. Daily exercises are going well even if I feel very oppressed sometimes because I have to do them, and will probably have to basically forever. Same goes for taking what feels like a jillion meds every day.

I feel a little silly now about how freaked out I was before the trip to Houston, and the surgery. Everything has turned out so well that it would seem like there was no reason for all my turmoil. I don't deal with uncertainty very well, especially when it's uncertainty about my health. I'm sure no one blames me for being a bit freaked out then, but I hope that if I'm ever in a situation like that again, I won't let myself get (or stay) so upset. Whatever it is, we'll deal with it.

In the meantime, I've racked up close to $2K in bills at MDA according to our benefit statements from the insurance company; it will be interesting to see what the final tally is... and I'm perversely hoping we can pay the bill in this tax year because next year I'm not planning on having nearly so many medical expenses! (So there!)

In other news: DS1 swam in his first swim meet last weekend. He missed his first race because, frankly, it was very confusing and no one was there to help him find his way. He did well in the other race, though, especially considering it was his first meet ever. We were over at Mona Plummer Aquatic Center at ASU and there were literally hundreds of people milling around. And this was a small event. We have another one in 4 weeks. Whee!

What else? DH, DD, and DS2 are all doing fine as usual. Already the kids are planning what to pack for our trip to Disney! They crack me up. Other than that, gearing up for the big holidays, of course. Expect lots of cooking and shopping related posts as a result.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

my favorite mushrooms

The weather is marginally cooler here, and since I'm flying solo now (the in-laws left last weekend), I'm back to cooking again. I made this awesome soup tonight, but last night I made roast pork with my favorite mushrooms. These mushrooms are so simple and delicious I was inspired to write about them.

Ideally, these mushrooms begin with a roasting pan, in which a hunk of pork or beef has been roasted on a bed of vegetables. Last night, it was pork loin on a bed of baby carrots. Please, don't roast (non-poultry) meats on a rack -- such a waste! Spray your roasting pan with no-stick spray first, then rough-chop carrots, celery, onions and toss them in the bottom of the roasting pan. Spray the veggies next (or, toss them in a light coating of olive oil before you put them in the pan), and then plop the meat on top. Season and roast as usual. You will be happy with the awesomeness of the pan drippings, and depending on the veggies you choose and the size of your roast, you might be able to use those veggies as a side dish. The baby carrots that support the little pork roasts I make are delightful.

Anyway, on to the mushrooms:

My Favorite Mushrooms

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
(use of these things if you have one, it really works! Also good for strawberries.)
2 T butter
1/2 tsp beef base/beef bouillion (mmmmmm)
2 cloves garlic, minced
(I use this, have for years, the thing is a tank -- yeah, I know, bruised garlic, blah blah blah. I don't care.)
1/2 C white wine, more or less
roasting pan, from which meat and vegetables have been removed, with drippings
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Set the roasting pan on your stove top over medium-low heat and toss in the butter to melt. If it's huge and covers 2 burners, that's OK, just turn both burners on. As the butter melts, use a silicone spatula to scrape up the cooked-on bits around the bottom of the pan. Stir in the beef base and the garlic. Cook over gentle heat, stirring to combine, for 3 minutes -- don't burn the garlic!

Now, if your roasting pan is large and you're using two burners, it's going to be easier to push all the scraped-up pan dripping and beef-butter stuff down to one end of the pan and work there. So turn off that other burner so that end of the pan doesn't burn. It'll be OK. Trust me. One burner gives plenty of heat to prepare this amount of mushrooms; if you try to stretch them out over the entire pan, they'll probably get too dry.

If you don't have a roasting pan to start out with, you can of course do this in a saute pan. Start out with about tablespoon of olive oil and proceed from there; if the 'shrooms seem too dry, add more butter.

Once the garlic has mellowed, dump in the mushrooms and stir them to coat. Increase the heat to medium and cook the mushrooms, stirring occasionally so they don't stick, until they just start to soften, about 3-5 minutes, depending on how thick the slices are.

Now add the wine, and crank the heat up to medium-high. Stir briskly while the sauce reduces. Turn the heat off as soon as it has achieved a lovely, velvety texture -- not too thick, not too thin. If it's too thin or you have very dry mushrooms, you might add another tablespoon or so of butter. (Yes, I love butter. It's good for you. Alton Brown says so,too.)

Finish with fresh ground black pepper to your liking.

* * *

These are just delightful with the meat, of course, but are also excellent on mashed potatoes or pureed cauliflower. It's not exactly a side dish, and not exactly gravy, although I suppose you could call it that. I find them irresistable. I keep a bottle of cheap-but-drinkable white wine in my refrigerator at all times precisely so I can make these whenever the idea appeals.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

happy happy happy

After what feels like two solid days of playing travel agent, I can finally say: We're going to Disneyland! (warning: audio) A couple of months ago I broached the subject of taking a trip over the holidays instead of giving the kids a million presents they don't need this year. DH was onboard with the idea, but we kind of let it drop while the Houston/surgery situation played out. Now all that is over and I'm recovering well, just in time to get off my butt and book us a trip!

Even at this late date (Christmas is less than 6 weeks away!), I was able to get us there during Christmas vacation. We were flexible with the timing, which opened up a few more options for us.

God bless the Internet. I can't imagine being able to do anything like this even ten years ago. I used GetAwayToday to book a hotel and park tickets package, but I did extensive hotel research at both TripAdvisor and Travelocity before making my final decision, the Holiday Inn Express Garden Grove. There wasn't a whole heck of a lot available at this point, but this place looks solid, is not too far from Disneyland, and they give you breakfast. When you're travelling with 5 people, "breakfast included" is a definite selling point -- not to mention the free parking.

Our neighbors went to Disneyland last year at Christmas and absolutely loved it. Ever since we went in April, leaving DH at home, I've been wanting to go back and share it all with him. I am so excited about this trip, I'm like a little kid myself! I know it will be crowded but we can deal with that, DH is much more disciplined than I am so he will keep us on track. Oh! This is going to be so much fun... I wonder if DH will let me drive to CA?

happy happy happy happy happy happy happy happy happy

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

the spoils

I know, not much going on around here lately. One reason? The most recent episode of the fabulous HBO series Rome, The Spoils.

I think I've watched it four times now, and could easily watch it four more times. The characters are absolutely fascinating, and the actors who portray them are uniformly fantastic. Ciaran Hinds' Caesar just blows me away, but my fan-grrl heart belongs to Kevin McKidd's Lucius Vorenus. (Why, you may ask? It's simple -- he reminds me of my own DH!)

At any rate, "The Spoils" shows that "Rome" isn't just a big costume drama, they know how to wield gory special effects with the best of them -- the forum "battle" scene (it's much more than a fight) is just phenomenal -- and the implications for our dear main characters are quite dire. Just how are they all going to get out of their respective troubles?

Well, one of them, we know, won't -- next episode encompasses the Ides of March, so we'll only have Hinds to enjoy for one more episode.


I comfort myself with the knowledge that Season 2 is a go, and with any luck it won't take them 3 years to get it on-screen.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Lileks evokes my alma mater

James took down his gazebo and put away his patio furniture this weekend, which led to this brief rumination:
[...]it looked sad. Bereft. Windswept. Could have doubled as a 1970s civic plaza. I should get a large ugly sculpture and place it in the middle, preferably something rusty and inhumane that symbolizes man’s inhumanity to fellow man. Specifically, the men who must walk across the plaza every day in fear that a sharp wind will throw them against the Art and require a tetanus inoculation.

Damn, I thought. Sounds just like MIT and Calder's Big

La Grande Voile is strategically placed along that plaza so that students have a prayer of getting into Building 10, also known (although not on campus) as the I.M. Pei building. AKA (on campus) as a royal pain in the ass since you have to go up two steep flights of stairs to get to the main level of the building, and one of the most-frequently-used large lecture halls, 10-250.

I've always liked the Big Sail. It is not ugly, nor does it symbolize man's inhumanity to man. I've always enjoyed the fact that Calder admitted right up front that the sculpture was intended to be a pretty wind-break. But Lilek's riff on a strong gust leading to the need for a tetanus booster brought back memories I didn't realize I had.

Friday, November 11, 2005

cancer update

I got a call this afternoon from S, the nurse in Houston. For some reason she had just received another copy of the same labs that were faxed over two weeks ago. Neither one of us could figure out an explanation other than the lab, for some reason mailing the results after faxing them over immediately, but hey, no big deal.

Since I had her on the phone, I took the opportunity to quiz her about my pathology report. The details as best I recall are: 25 nodes were removed, 9 were positive. Most of the positive nodes were at Level 3 and 4 (I'm not sure what that means.) All of the cancer was encapsulated. There was no vascular invasion. The muscle tissue that was removed showed no invasion. The diagnosis on the cancer itself continued to be standard metatastic papillary thyroid cancer -- not an aggressive variant or anything weird.

The bottom line is, there is good reason to believe they got it all.

For my trip in February, it will be a quick in-and-out, diagnostics on Monday, doctor's appointment on Tuesday, can fly home Tuesday evening. We're not expecting any surprises, S said drily when I asked her about whether other tests would be necessary.

So I don't have to worry about LID or Thyrogen or nuclear scans or any of that stuff. I know I've said this before but there's a good chance that this really is the last treatment I'll need. I'd really like never to have RAI again. That would be so cool.

At physical therapy this morning, Elf was raving about my scar. She couldn't get over how great it looks. Now if I could just get the feeling back in my neck, everything will be cool.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

the neck dissection experience: 3 weeks post-op

Three weeks ago at this time I was sitting in pre-op in Houston, nervous and thirsty, and just wanting to get it all over with. I think if I had known how weird my neck would feel afterwards, I would've spent a lot more time enjoying the fact that I could move it so freely! I can't believe it has been three weeks. That doesn't seem possible.

For the record, the procedures I underwent were: a complete right neck dissection, a bilateral paratracheal dissection, a central compartment dissection, and a superior mediastinal dissection. Here and here are links that explain some of these terms.

I finally removed the steri-strips after my shower this morning. It wasn't at all painful, although it was a little nerve-wracking because I expected it to be. Now I have a lovely wrap-around scar. Since this photo is a lot less grim than the first one I took, I'm posting it. It's certainly no worse than a lot of stuff you'll see on TV, so I hope nobody gets too upset about it.

Just so you know, that "lovely" up there wasn't at all sarcastic. This is a really nice-looking scar, as scars go, especially given that I'm only 3 weeks post-op. Comparing the two photos, you can see how the swelling has gone down considerably.

Now, as to the rest of it: the numbness persists with no discernible progress, except that my right ear lobe feels itchy now and then. I suppose that is progress! I get the itchy feeling also sometimes under my jawline, but for the most part, the "novocaine hasn't worn off yet" feeling persist in the ear as mentioned, under the jaw, all the way down the front of my neck along the right side. It's very funny (weird, not ha-ha) in that there is a definite line of demarcation right down the center of my neck, sensations registering on one side, while none do on the other.

My head, neck, and shoulder mobility are very good. Certain stretches, like tilting the head so the ear goes to the shoulder, are more challenging than others, but even those are working out. I am trying to massage those very tight muscles during some stretches and that helps, too. I am religious with the exercises and with my physical therapy. Elf really makes me work! But it's good.

I would feel very comfortable driving today if I had to; the main issue with driving is being able to turn my head far enough and without hesitation -- that's something I find myself doing constantly just in dealing with the kiddos while I'm sitting at the computer. I'm sure I can turn my head farther now than a lot of non-surgically-impaired drivers can, so it's not an issue.

One thing that pops up from time to time is right-sided weakness in the arm and shoulder. Last night I made a pot of sticky rice to go along with our sesame steak, and I had a very hard time holding up the pot with my right hand while I scooped out the rice with the serving spoon in my left. Since I am left-handed I often use my right arm for the steadying/holding role in situations like that, and whenever I do, now, I notice how much weaker it is. PT will continue and hopefully it will improve. It's no fun to have such an imbalance.

I still don't do much lifting, although I did carry a laundry basket upstairs a few days ago. I do carry DS2 to bed every night now, and toss him in when we get there. He only weighs about 35 pounds and I'm not even supporting his weight with my arms; he wraps arms and legs around me and holds on like a koala. Adding back this part of our routine has made him a very happy boy. I haven't noticed any aches or tweaks from carrying, but I'll continue to be careful.

One twinge I've noticed is a kind of "crunchy" feeling right in my shoulder joints, both left and right, when I'm doing the shoulder lifting exercises. Elf says I need to be sure to keep them back while I'm lifting, and that has helped a lot, but I do still feel it from time to time. I'm wondering if that could be from my RA.

Med-wise, I'm taking Aleve twice a day, and Tylenol as necessary. I haven't had a really bad headache day since Tuesday, but I'm pretty sure that sitting at a computer all day will contribute to a headache. I get brutal muscle tension along my shoulders and the back of my head; Elf showed me some new stretches that really help a lot to relax them and reduce the headaches.

I get tired easily, and admit to being down more than up these past few days. I forgot to take my Prilosec two days in a row and having acid churning around in my stomach didn't help at all. I'm trying not to be on edge regarding my pathology report, which I still don't have, or my prognosis, which I have no idea when I'll get, in spite of emails I've sent, asking when I could expect it.

It does no good to think about these things; there's nothing I can do about them right now, anyway. Even though I'm doing very well and am a long way back to normal, it will take a long time to really recover from this surgery, both physically and emotionally. For now the thing that bothers me most is how weird my ear feels -- it calls attention to itself whenever I tuck hair behind it, for example, or else it just feels cold. I suppose I should be happy that I'm feeling something but it's ennervating.

I'm glad I can ignore it for the most part. The plan now is to continue to focus on regaining both strength and mobility.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

a couple of old favorites, and one new

I haven't been cooking much lately, since first my mom was here, and now my in-laws, helping out with the kids and the house while I recover from the surgery. I did spend (what seemed like) all day Friday on DD's birthday cake, but that was more like a art project rather than cooking.

Making the frosting was kind of like cooking: I had to find a new recipe that would produce good results using trans-fat-free organic shortening. (I use Spectrum). I was very pleased with this one: Snow White Buttercream Icing from the Wilton site. As is typical for me, I tweaked it the very first time I made it, ditching the almond extract and doubling up the vanilla, and substituting powdered egg whites (Just Whites) and 1/4 tsp cream of tartar for the meringue powder. (I had some, just very very little -- how annoying to see the container and think that there was a useable amount in there! I have to remember not to do that again!) The frosting has a very nice flavor, plus excellent texture and stability for decorating even with the organic shortening, so I'm sure I'll be using it a lot in the years to come.

Anyway, on Sunday I did do some cooking, but just a little, as DH and I went out for a nice Thai dinner and left the kids home with Nana and Papa. To sweeten the deal for them, I made my version of Kay's Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms from Dana Carpender's 500 Low-Carb Recipes book. They are awesome, and everyone loves them:

Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

1 pound fresh white button mushrooms, cleaned
1 can (6+1/2 ounces) flaked crab (Trader Joe's is very good)
2 ounces cream cheese
1/4 C mayonnaise
1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the stems from the mushrooms. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with foil and spray the bottom with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the mushroom caps, open side up, in the baking pan.

Put the cream cheese in a small mixing bowl and microwave for 15-30 seconds to soften it. Add the crab, cheeses, pepper and at least one dash of Tabasco, more if you like things a little spicier. Mix well.

Spoon the mixture into the mushroom caps, trying to put roughly the same amount into each cap so they will all cook at the same rate.

Bake for 45 minutes to an hour at 325, or until the mushrooms are cooked through. Serve hot, but they taste fine even when they've cooled off.

These freeze reasonably well after they've been cooked. Leftovers can be successfully reheated briefly in the microwave.

Note: Dana's original recipe called for an ungodly amount of scallions -- 10 to 12, finely sliced, and double the amount of pepper. We're just not into scallions that much around here, and would rather have more Tabasco than all that black pepper. But I've heard raves about the original recipe, too, so give it a try if you like think you'd like all those crunchy scallions in the nice crabby, cheesy pouf on top of the mushroom.

* * *

While we were out to dinner, I remembered that I had volunteered to make playdough for DS2's pre-school class. They have a different color every other week, and there's a sign up sheet that goes around periodically asking the parents to step up and make it for the class. I usually like to make green playdough in December, and have more than once added peppermint oil so it smells really good. This year someone else signed up for that week, so I took this week's, which was yellow. No big deal. Anyone who is around little kids much should know how to make this. The ingredients are cheap and it's a fun rainy-day activity to make the playdough.

For DS2's classroom, I doubled the recipe and needed DH to finish the stirring for me. For a regular size batch, you'll still need to do a fair amount of stirring, but it's not too athletic. I have found through the years that using olive oil instead of vegetable oil helps smooth out the lumps more quickly and gives the playdough a really nice texture, so now I always use it.

Cooked Playdough

2 C flour
1 C salt
2 C water
2 tsp cream of tartar
2 T oil
food coloring

Add the food coloring to the water, first; use a lot or the playdough will be a very pale color. Then mix all ingredients together in a sturdy pot. Stir until very few lumps remain. Cook over medium heat until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan and achieves that playdough consistency. Do not undercook or it will be very sticky and unusable. Turn out of the pan onto a clean surface and knead it until it is cool. Store in an airtight container or ziploc bag. Keeps 3 months when covered; do not refrigerate.

You can add a packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid drink mix (I added lemonade to the yellow I made) to the water in the initial step to give the playdough a nicer smell. You can also add extracts or flavored oils for fragrance towards the end of cooking, or knead in glitter to make the play dough more interesting.

The only downside to this recipe is that you get rather a large quantity of one color. But don't try adding the color afterwards, because it just doesn't work!

Monday, November 07, 2005

two animated flicks

This weekend we rented Batman v Dracula on Saturday, and we went to the movies on Sunday to see Chicken Little. One sucked, the other was a lot of fun. Can you guess which was which?

Batman v Dracula was a blast, if you like this sort of thing. Flat, somewhat angular, shadow-laden animation that is just one notch better than Saturday morning fare, but a decent enough story and reasonable script that kept things ticking along at a lively pace. This is one of the newer incarnations of Batman, The Batman, and he seems to have a good balance of brooding, Dark Knight moments along with lighter Bruce Wayne stuff, and this version of Alfred is a lot more stuffy than has been seen since the original TV series. I liked the connection of The Batman's mystique to Dracula's; it was an angle I hadn't thought of before. The Batman series plays up a nearly Spider-Man like question of whether The Batman is a good guy or a bad guy -- most every other incarnation I've seen (except for the recent Batman Begins, which I quite enjoyed) plays the Batman as a straight, unambiguous good guy, no questions asked. There has always been that element of vigilantism, of course, but in previous versions, the ordinary people have been grateful for his efforts. This time, there are just too many questions, and the answer to many of them keeps pointing towards the Batman, so...

Anyway, I liked it. I liked it a lot more than Chicken Little, which featured a host of really, really appalling messages. Like never go to your parents when something you don't understand is happening, because they won't listen to you, and couldn't help you figure out what to do even if they did listen to you. Or how about, just disappear and pretend you don't exist after you make a mistake? Whatever happened to, Hey, we all make mistakes, we need to learn from them? Then there's also the idea that to get your parents to pay attention to you, you have to do (or be) something really extraordinary -- something other than yourself.

One the whole, it's enough to turn anyone's stomach. That so much garbage is wrapped up in a number of cutely drawn animal-characters doesn't make a bit of difference. The main characters are fine, sympathetic and funny, but Garry Marshall's character, the Dad, should never have made it off the storyboard. Gahhh! There is one genuinely scary scene in the movie, but the suspense that it generates is rapidly unravelled. It's too bad because if it had played out the way it seemed to be going, it would have given the movie some much-needed gravity and would've shown the serious consequences that miscommunication and lack of trust can cause. But that doesn't happen because, ya know, it's Disney and they (frankly) suck.

The one good thing about this movie is that there were no weird or inappropriate in-jokes for the adults involving things like wife-swapping or gang rapes or breast-ogling. I'm not at all sure what was going on with the pig character's love of show tunes, Barbra Streisand, and pop anthems ("I Will Survive", "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"), but that stuff just came across as funny to the target audience (the kiddos), even if it does leave me with the impression that the adults are supposed to understand that the pig's gay, wink-wink. Honestly: what's the point?

You've been warned. I don't want to hear any complaints about this one in the future.

An addendum: I watched the fairly wretched Blade Trinity this weekend as well -- the same night as I watched Batman v Dracula, and let me tell you, The Batman was far better. As much as I love watching Wesley Snipes kick ass and weild that sword, this movie was just ridiculous. Way too much pointless fighting, especially when all the vampire hunters had to do was shoot a vampire with one of their special bullets and the blood-suckers would just evaporate. If you have weapons that good, why would you ever bother going hand-to-hand with anyone? Clearly, the writers and director never thought that particular point through. Snipes looked great, but sadly Dracula (yeah, he shows up here, too) is badly miscast and has no charisma -- fatal! He doesn't have to be gorgeous, but he does have to be compelling, but this version simply wasn't. Also, not too bright for someone who has supposedly been alive for thousands (don't ask) of years. And I won't even go into how stupid the denouement was. If you must watch this, put the mute button on and supply your own dialog; you'll be a lot happier. One cool thing: the mutant vampire Pomeranian was a hoot. Again, I say: you have been warned.

"Schultzie" moments

I know nothink!

Seriously. I haven't heard a peep about my pathology reports, and I'll be sure to update everyone as soon as I hear something, OK?

I love my family dearly and all my friends, too, but en masse they achieve a sort of serial relentlessness: Have you heard anything yet? What's the news?

No one pesters me more than once a day, and no one person even pesters me two days in a row. But every single day, at least one person, often two or three people, will ask me. And all those kindly-meant questions add up to one me just wanting to get through a day not being reminded that there is news out there that I am not particularly eager to hear.

Doesn't matter. Elf, my physical therapist (my blog-name for her, and I'm not sure she'd appreciate it, so it won't ever make it out to the Real World) has declared me OK to go to back to yoga class. If the steri-strips ever detach themselves (this is a particularly tenacious bunch, it seems), I'll be able to get back into the pool. Can't wait. Elf is very happy with my progress: You're only two-and-a-half weeks out of surgery and look at you! You're doing great.

I am. My head/neck mobilities are much improved, some are nearly normal, and the rest are coming along. I can sleep lying down now. I do keep getting killer headaches but I'm doing all right with Aleve + Tylenol -- although I'm still feeling it keenly whenever either one wears out. The numbness/nerve weirdness on the right side of my neck and along my right ear are persisting with no recent changes, and that is very annoying, but hopefully that will subside over time, too.

Friday, November 04, 2005


It was a very good day, even though 4-and-a-half hours of it were dedicated to making that cake. DD designed it, I just executed the design. And my dear mother-in-law did all the clean up, for which she should be showered with many blessings.

been busy

Today is DD's 7th birthday; I've been running around all week to get ready for it.

Last night DH and I assembled this cute desk and hutch from Target. They'll look perfect in her room, and it will spare me having to do the re-fit of the table that was in there. That project was better in concept than in reality, anyway, and in my current post-op condition, who knows when I would get around to starting it? So now she has her very own desk and more storage, which she desperately needs. She's psyched to have her own space for drawing or other projects.

Yesterday I baked her cakes; today I get to decorate them. Slight variations: the overall cake will be pink, with white borders, and blue flowers. But that illustration (minus the bride & groom, of course) is not too far removed from what she's hoping for. It's kind of scary that that cake feeds 124 people -- but I used the 3 smallest size cake pans, not the three largest, and we all know that a "serving" is some bizarre idea of how a nutritionist thinks we should eat cake (four bites with a demitasse spoon?), so I'm not worried about it. It's all about the effort.

Earlier this week I helped Nana shop for DD's present, too. We scored beautiful bedding for her in a bright pink flower print that goes perfectly with what she already had. Now she can switch between pink flowers and lavender Hello Kitty. Lucky girl.

This morning I let her open one present early, her charm bracelet from Lisa Maynard Designs. (Choose "Collections" and then "Fairy Princess"; it's Flash so I can't link to the page directly.) Lisa did a beautiful job on the bracelet and made a special trip over on Wednesday to drop it off so DD would have it this morning.

Tonight we're off to the Elephant Bar for an early dinner, then home for happy birthday and cake. Now I'm off to make several pounds of decorator icing, and commence coping with the various lopsidedness of each of the layers.

(Recovery continues apace. My physical therapist is pleased with my progress. I still get killer headaches when my Tylenol wears off, like right now, and I'm not sleeping as well or as much as I would like, but other than that, I'm OK. No word on the pathology report from MDA, either, but I'm trying not to think about that.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

November's column

The column I wrote en route to Houston has been published in November's Low Carb Luxury Online Magazine, Creating Our Own Traditions. It features a recipe for a killer Cranberry Cheesecake Tart that I shamelessly cribbed from last year's Thanksgiving issue of Gourmet magazine.

I'm looking forward to having it again this year!