Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 top 10

Every year we get a Christmas card from one of DH's old college friends, and every year, it includes the prototypical "holiday letter", the kind that sets my teeth on edge with its description of the happy perfection of their charming lives.

This year, though, there was twist! Instead of a letter, each family member (dad, mom, 3 girls) got a column, and each got to list their "top 10" for the year. The youngest girl's list was kind of charming, including as it did "starting kindergarden" and "learning to read", but I suspect that Mom actually drew up the list because it also included learning Spanish. That's OK, though, my teeth weren't grinding, yet... then middle girl's list included selling more cookies than anyone else in her Girl Scout troop, and I found my jaw tensing. By the time I read that the high school freshman won her soccer championship, Mom's starting grad school, and Dad loved the "Body Works" (sic) show -- actually Gunther von Hagen's Bodyworlds,the ones with the plasticized human cadavers -- enough to include it on his Top 10 list along with the (many!) dinner parties they've attended, I was ready for my splint and a dose of ibuprofen.

In contrast, here's my quite personal and humble Top 10 of 2006:

Going to Houston in February and not needing surgery

Going to Houston in August and not needing surgery

Having the breast lump biopsy come back benign

Getting effective treatment for my TMD (the aforementioned splint, plus physical therapy)

Spending the summer on the Cape

Being substitute storyteller at Border's

Getting my "quick tip" published in Cook's Illustrated

Getting our kittens, Alice and Cooper

After 30 years, finally figuring out how it works (this item intentionally vague)

Having the best family, both near and far.

I must also mention that I'm a co-facilitator of the Phoenix Thyca group, but at the moment that's not Top 10 material, but I'm hoping it will be next year -- and I finally got my certification to be a substitute teacher, but I haven't done anything with it yet. If I could add one more thing, it would probably be that I went on a number of "thrill" rides at Disneyland this time, and I totally loved them all. So now my kids know I'm not a total wimp, at least when it comes to amusement parks.

rookie mistake

I just opened the washing machine to be confronted by a multitude of formerly white, newly pink, socks.

I can't believe I did that.

Good thing socks are cheap...

Thursday, December 21, 2006


I've been short on breathing time for the past few days, but not today. DS2 came down with something last night and was not well today. If this persists tomorrow, we'll be off to the pediatrician, because we would really, really like to go on our Christmas trip and of course we can't do that if he is not well.


Eragon well illustrated the perils of the journey from page to screen, and I'll have more to say about that later. In short, the kids enjoyed it for what it was, and as far as that goes, it wasn't the complete Star Wars rip-off that many people are saying it is.

Aside from movies, there was a lot of baking, several rounds of physical therapy, and attending various holiday parties at school. Miraculously, I managed to get all my student (RE class) and teacher (the kids', of course) gifts in order, on time, and delivered. And I sent out all the Christmas cards and presents last weekend, too, although that took three trips to the post office (it's not worth explaining.)

What else? Laundry, it seems like piles and piles of it. I should clean the rest of the house but I haven't... maybe tomorrow, we'll see. Tomorrow is shaping up busily, since I have PT at 7, and then will be taking the car over to the tire shop. Apparently the pulling we've been seeing is not from the alignment, which was fine, but from uneven tread wear; the Honda folks suspect tread separation since there is still quite a bit of tread left. Whatever. Those tires are barely 14 months old and the car sat, undriven, for 7 weeks over the summer. (Perhaps that is the problem?) Whatever the reason, though, it's ridiculous to need new tires again, and so soon, but if we're driving to CA there's no way I'm going on defective tires.

Still have lots of sorting and wrapping to do so that Sunday night isn't too crazy. I have a sense, most likely wildly inaccurate, that there's more than enough time. We'll manage, though. We always do.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I was sitting here thinking, What did I do today?

It seemed like an empty day, but contrary to my feeling, it was a full day. I accomplished a number of somethings, the most significant being getting the Christmas cards ready to mail, some 46 of them. I began that task with good intentions of writing little notes on each, but that flew out the window with the passing time and the realization that the kids have only two-and-one-half days of school this week. Panic! I do not have as much time to do stuff as I thought. Isn't that always the way?

One of the somethings today was getting in to see the PA at my doctor's office -- I finally broke down and realized it's not going to clear on its own. She gave me a prescription for my sinus infection and this antibiotic is making me feel so sick! I had some oyster crackers, that helped, but really, this is unpleasant.

Time for bed, then. Tomorrow holds the promise, such as it is, of Eragon.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

stay tuned

I'm in for it, but I don't think it will be that bad.

What's "that"? Eragon, the movie. I'll be going with the three offspring and two of their friends, on Sunday.

I know that everyone already hates it, particularly my old friend Walter Chaw at FFC.

The thing is, I have the feeling the kids will enjoy it. They don't care how closely the story is ripped off from Star Wars; DS1 knows it repeats a lot of the same elements but thought it was a fun story nevertheless. He's 9 years old, and I think he's right: it was a fun story. It wasn't particularly well-told to begin with, so it's no surprise if the screenplay is a mess. Our expectations are set very, very low.

I find myself strangely up for the prospect of seeing this wretched thing. It will give me something very different to write about.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

important questions

I wonder when I'm unexpectedly happy.

Take today, for instance. I did housework and some writing, met DH for lunch, did a few errands, talked to the vet about Cooper's continuing pink eyelids, ran the kids hither and yon according to the usual schedule, made dinner, etc etc etc.

About 4:30 I noticed I had a headache, which was only partially alleviated by taking the clip out of my hair. (I really need a haircut; the weight of the hair is becoming a problem.)

After dinner, I was making up all the beds again with clean linens and realized that I still had the headache (not surprising, since it hadn't resolved completely earlier) when I started seeing spots. I've had floaters a few times since this whole round of TMD-related misery began, but only when I had a crashing headache already.

The things is, it didn't really bother me. Yeah, I have a headache, but it's not that bad and I bet if I had something to drink it would go away. (Maybe not) I think the PT is doing odd things to my neck and shoulder muscles which ultimately will be good but in the beginning can lead to rough spots... like today. Physically, pretty sucky, actually, but otherwise: damned happy.

I think maybe my slight increase in meds is finally kicking in? Whatever cyclical hormonal storm was raging is now past? The fact that I'm quite nearly done with the Christmas shopping? The unexpected, lovely lunch with DH today? I don't know, I just know that I felt ... light. Nothing was difficult. There are no problems when I'm in that zone.

So, how do I get back there? And why can't I stay?

Friday Night Lights: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and strange

Episode 1.9, Full Hearts

In Asian cuisines, the success of many dishes hinges on how well they balance each of the five tastes. Friday Night Lights is the television equivalent of a perfectly prepared and presented szechuan banquet.

They're toning down a lot of the early quirks that made the show somewhat off-putting: the close-ups aren't as extreme, prolonged, or frequent, and the documentary-style jerky camera stuff is reserved for travel shots, practice, or games. Yes, they've taken the edge off a bit, but if it brings more eyes to the show, and those eyes stay to watch, that would be a good thing. I'm not complaining.

I'm especially not complaining because this episode surprised me more than once, without betraying a single character or anything even approaching a wrong note*. The fact that so many stories were advanced or resolved in this single episode is a jaw-dropping accomplishment. (I contrast this program to the two "blockbuster" movies we've rented recently, which resemble nothing more than bloated fish carcasses by comparison.)

I liked that Tim and Lyla's affair came to light, and that everyone around them punished them for it. Adults (especially those without children of their own) forget how harshly judgemental teenagers are. Even if our culture glorifies adultery (Desperate Housewives, etc), these kids know that Lyla and Tim hurt Jason terribly, and deserved to catch some flak for it. Maybe not as much crap as the pair actually had to endure, but at least some comeuppance.

I was surprised, too, that Smash's big sister figured out that he's doing steroids. What a relief that someone with a brain is looking out for him, and will hopefully prevent him from self-destructing. Yes, the "daddy had feet of clay" storyline was a bit hackneyed, but I was willing to forgive it because I love the Williams as a family, and because the writers have established the characters just enough for me to buy that flight-from-the-hood story.

There's just too much to talk about. How strange is it that Buddy Garrity teamed up successfully with Tami (albeit at the mayor's suggestion -- complete with hilarious wardrobe recommendations), and how fantastic that Buddy actually took Tami's advice and didn't try to fix Lyla's problem when she finally admitted it? Please, show, don't make me like Buddy Garrity -- but I'm OK with despising him a little less.

Jason and Lyla, Jason and Coach, Jason and Tyra -- who is on pace to take over Julie's number two spot on my favorite female characters list -- Jason and his O-line; every scene a struggle of one kind or another. The guy is not a saint and he's not a jerk, either. I do hope that he can forgive Tim soon, but I'm hoping he freezes Lyla out permanently. Or at least for a good long time.

Coach Taylor didn't have a single sustained scene, which highlights yet again the essential ensemble nature of this program. It's not a Kyle Chandler vehicle, although he is very much the lynchpin of the proceedings. And even though he didn't have any extended dialog, the words the writers do give him say plenty: You don't have to be alone with this, son, for example, or the fantastic sarcastic You want a beer?

Which brings me to, at last, the lovely beginnings between Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor, and the awkward perfection of their first disasterous date, and the even more glorious, yet still somehow awkward, first kiss: (sigh). I love these two kids. Saracen caring for his grandmother really is the "real Matt Saracen," and how weirdly lucky it was for Julie to get to see that. Saracen sucks at bluster and can't pull off the "QB1" schtick no matter how much he tries -- for once Landry's advice (ditch it, play up the vulnerability) was spot on.

Coming right round again, though, I have to say I think that Landry was my favorite in this episode; how can anyone resist a guy who exhorts you not to blame the couture?

Thank you, writers and producers, for making this show about more than a football team and their coach. The surrounding characters round out all the flavors.

(*) Lyla putting a supposedly hot-from-the-oven pan of muffins directly on the laminate counter -- which in real life would scorch -- was the kind of gaffe I'm quite willing to forgive.

Monday, December 11, 2006

micro movie reviews (2 bad movies)

Well, not exactly bad, lots of people seemed to like them, a lot. I can understand that, I just don't agree. It's true that each had redeeming qualities, but not enough to overcome their essential off-ness:

Superman Returns, Bryan Singer's love letter to the Man of Steel. Unfortunately, Singer missed the whole point of Superman being, you know, super, and was both cavalier about the perils of kryptonite and widely off-the-mark in his characterization of everyone, including Perry White, but perhaps most egregiously Lois Lane. You can't re-write the canon, Bryan. It doesn't work that way.

Miami Vice: all atmosphere, no story. Looks great, less filling... OK, I'll stop, the same way I stopped watching the movie about half-way through. B-o-r-i-n-g.

Come to think of it, Superman Returns was also boring. There's no reason at all for these movies to be as long as they were with the amount of story they had to tell, and especially the small number of characters they needed to portray. They were both extremely flabby.

Flab's bad enough around my hips, but it's inexcusable in a film. Oh, for an editor who's not in love with the long, long, long shot!

mechanical difficulties

I'm doing OK, I tell myself.

I started physical therapy for jaw/head/neck issues, and, as usual, it hurts. It always hurts in the beginning, but I do feel as if I'm being pummeled during the massage sessions.

The weirdest "exercise" so far is the one where I lie on my back with my shoulders just at the edge of the table (at home, the bed), and let my head hang down, to stretch the muscles in the front of the neck.

The hardest is a variation of a Locust pose: lying flat on the stomach and lifting the head, chest, and shoulders while keeping the chin tucked. The smallest movement takes great effort and concentration because I'm in such lousy shape. It will get easier.

I thought I was doing fine before I went in for the evaluation, but over the course of that appointment I could see myself the many problems that are feeding, one into the other.

I must conclude that I am poorly put-together, or perhaps just prone to malfunction. My musculo-skeletal system sucks. Why does some tiny insult have to flare up into some painful condition that requires expensive and lengthy treatment?

Oh, why ask why, what's the point? Just deal with it, and move on.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

damn you, Jonah Goldberg*

Jonah has a long-running tradition of posting "time wasters" over in NRO's The Corner. From time to time, I'll click through and enjoy some mindless diversion. Never before this one -- Atari Nirvana -- was I ever compelled to go back more than once or twice.

It's the Tetris, you see.
It's even on cell phones now!

I had a serious Tetris problem back in the early '90s when work slowed to a crawl, pending contract renewals and what-not. We were literally told not to work; I asked my boss, "So, what, I'm supposed to play Tetris all day?" He said, "That's all right with me." So I did.

Admittedly, you can find other, much better versions of Tetris, and some of them are probably even free, too. But I didn't go looking for them because I didn't need the temptation. Now I'll get to see how good my self-discipline really is.

(*) by which, of course, I really mean, "Thanks, Jonah!"

cabin fevered

After a very good day yesterday, DD spiked a 101.3 degree fever in the late afternoon.

Both she and I are praying that she makes it through today without a fever so she can go to school tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


DD came down with a fever last night after RE, and slept through dinner.

Today she was fairly miserable in the morning, slept, and felt well enough this afternoon that she was hoping to go back to school tomorrow. After her late nap, though, her fever spiked to 103, so school is definitely out tomorrow, and most likely Thursday as well.

I, of course, am home with her. All day. I hadn't planned on spending all day at home today. In fact, I cancelled errands on Monday to have lunch with DH, expecting to do them today. The only place I went today was to pick up the boys at school and drop DS1 at the Y for swim practice. We were out of the house for the grand total of 42 minutes, coincidentally the exact length of the High School Musical soundtrack, our road music du jour.

Tomorrow, I've got PT in the morning and my girlfriend M will come by and stay with DD while I'm gone. I hope to get a few errands in after PT if it doesn't run too late.

I hope most of all that DD's just got a little virus and gets over the hump tomorrow, poor thing. I want it for my own sake as much as for hers. I have too much stuff to do to hang around home all day. If I'm going to be in for the rest of the week, you might as well shoot me now.


My substitute teaching certification, along with my plastic FBI fingerprint card, arrived in the mail today... one day after I scheduled myself for physical therapy, three times a week, over the next 5 weeks. (Skipping Christmas week)

I suppose it's for the best. I don't know how many times this has happened to me, but I appear to have a permanent mental block when it comes to admitting that I need physical therapy. I think I'm doing fine, and I'm certainly managing everything, but I get in for a consult because the doctor is really, really nagging me to go, and then I find out that I'm not doing fine.

Things are way more screwed up than I thought they were. So, PT for the next five weeks, absent Christmas, all upper body/shoulders/head/neck/jaw stuff. Whee! A lot of this is necessitated by my neck dissection surgery, but some of my problems may go all the way back to that car accident I was in when I was a kid and my head broke the windshield. Hmmm.

Sadly, the PT will not be working on my hip issues at all, even though she was appalled at how unstable my hip joints are. I am, too, but apparently not appalled enough to actually do the exercises that will help the muscles stabilize them. The problem is when I do the exercises it increases the pain substantially. If I knew that was temporary and that the exercises would ultimately pay off, I'd stick with them. I'll ask the therapist about it and see what she says.

In the meantime, she has me massaging my rock-hard jaw muscles for 3-5 minutes on each side, once a day. It's remarkable how the smallest muscle seizing up can cause so much trouble.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Friday Night Lights: bread, meat, and cheese

Episode 1.8, Crossing the Line

Friday Night Lights is a terrific example of new-era dramas, because stuff happens, a lot of stuff, in every episode. So, in "Crossing the Line," we have Jason confronting Riggins and dumping Lyla, Riggins hooking up with Tyra and having a knock-down, drag-out, up-end-the-big-TV fight with his brother, Smash sweet-talking customers and his mama, and continuing the 'roid fest with the help of a female bodybuilder with as much muscle as Riggins... and Saracen somehow in the middle of a lot of this, wanting a date with Julie. And Julie thinking about it, and her parents having those typical parental moments trying basically to talk her out of it, so that when Julie says yes they radiate a sense of both failure and resignation: I knew this day would come.

That's the bread and meat of this show, the real reactions, the impeccable sets and costuming, the looks and pauses that say so much more than a line of dialog would. And all that's good, but sometimes I wonder.

I wonder about the cheese -- I mean, does Smash have to literally be shifty-eyed? Wouldn't he be smarter than that? No, I guess not, hence the steroids. But sometimes this show makes me cringe, like when the congregration at Smash's small, obviously not-well-off church passes the collection basket to pay for Smash's "SAT prep course," which is another code name for steroids. And then I have to cringe again when the kid actually uses the money to buy the drugs. What, four weeks of steroids are going to be enough to make a change? Or is it just that four weeks of steroids will see him through most of the football season? I can't figure out Smash's logic, probably because there isn't any.

I continue to adore Jason's story and his development, heavenly choirs sang when he dumped Lyla, but I wonder how long that will last. I wonder what will happen to Lyla now that Jason has rejected her, since she has spent her entire adolescent existence planning on becoming Mrs. Jason Street, wife of the football star. Clearly, the latter half of that identity has been off the table since Jason's accident, and now it's looking like the former isn't gonna happen either. This is exactly the kind of pressure that a girl like Lyla should thrive on, though. If the writers have her crumble, I will be most ticked. I won't be surprised if she crawls back to Tim for "comfort." I hope he kicks her ass to the door.

The Taylors had much reduced roles in this episode, but that was OK. I adored the Coach's speech to his daughter during their ping-pong not-game, so brutal and so honest and so "Ohmygod, Dad, shut up!" The chemistry between the Taylors and their daughter is fantastic, which was spectacularly contrasted with the barely functional relationship between the two Riggins brothers when they all sat down to dinner. The Riggins were like aliens wandering an extraterresterial landscape in the Taylor home.

Which brings me to Saracen, who'll mumble and stumble over every word when he's talking to a girl but can lay it on the line for Smash: If you lose this job, I lose my job, too, because I put you in for this. I thought we were friends. Saracen may not be the most articulate guy, but he's clearly not stupid, either. I wanted to shake him and say, "Don't listen to Smash, he treats girls like trash! You know better than that!" But I have a sense that he already knows that, and if he even thinks about telling Julie "what she wants," Julie will either a) laugh at him or b) walk away, or possibly c) a), then b). Julie can hold her own.

Can't wait for the big date! I suppose it's ridiculous that the Julie-Saracen thing is what has me most engaged, for now. I'm looking forward to seeing where Jason goes now, and what happens to Lyla, Tim, and Tyra. But the Smash storyline seems the most rote -- I foresee 'roid rages, fallout, consequences of bad decisions. Maybe the writers will throw us a curve and Smash will get away with it. I doubt it, though, way too policially incorrect to show illegal drugs actually benefitting someone, even though everyone who uses that type of drugs does so specifically to improve their performance. Come to think of it, that's about the only thing they could do that would redeem this story. We know steroids work, and we know hundreds, if not thousands, of athletes use them and get away with it every day. Maybe Smash will be one of them, but he'll still have some consequences to deal with.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

December's column

The most recent issue of the Low Carb Luxury online magazine is out, with my recipe column featuring low carb rugelach.

I am very, very psyched about that recipe, it's absolutely every bit as delicious as its high carb version.

For some reason, the LCL folks also re-ran last December's date bread column, which would be OK if they made a point of saying it was a repeat, but they didn't. Odd.


You know, when you have a baby, you're overwhelmed with all the responsibility. They are such needy little things, after all, and can't do a thing for themselves. Sometimes it feels as if you can never do anything right, and there is always some other thing they need, something else you need to do for them. And you can feel like it's a grind from which you will never escape, because sleep deprivation tends to shine a very harsh light on any situation.

Then they get a little older, and you get more sleep, and life falls into a pattern, and you think, OK, I can handle this. Because when they're dressing themselves and feeding themselves and looking after themselves in the bathroom, it's all so much easier, right?

That's when you smack into the brick wall of parental expectations: It will get easier as the kids get older.

Of course it's true on one level -- the feeding, clothing, bathing, and toileting aspects, and after a few more years, even the "reading to" part is mostly covered. But that's when we are hit with the most vicious turn of the screw, because just as all those daily life tasks fall into place, we get to deal with all of the other developmental areas that have been percolating in the background.

Things like anger management, impulse control, and over-sensitivity.

It's like this: when you have a child who is very serious and very sensitive, with an over-developed sense of fairness, you're going to run into situations where his peers play on all of those traits and work him up into a right lather. So, for example, if the boy doesn't let someone cut in front of him in the lunch line because it wouldn't be fair to everyone else behind him, it's completely inexplicable to him that other boys would call him mean for preventing the line cut. And when the other boys pile on, that's not right, either, and it hurts and it makes him angry, and then... he talks way, way too much and says the kind of things that get you sent home from school.

All of which is what happened today, and to be honest I still haven't recovered from it. What my boy did was beyond the pale and he deserved to be sent home, but what was clear is that the other boys played him. I know adults who wouldn't retain self-control in a similar situation, but that doesn't mean the kid gets a pass for flipping out.

I feel bruised. Part of me (albeit a very small part) wants to tell him, It wasn't your fault, because in some ways, it wasn't. But I'm not going to -- I can't -- give him a pass like that, because he is responsible for what he did, and he has to learn this. Of course we thought he learned it last year, and the year before, and maybe even the year before. Lord knows this lesson gets repeated often, and he's not a dumb kid, so when is it going to sink in?

And when is it going to stop hurting so much? It's a dagger to the heart to your child say things like I'm a bad person.

Because that's not it at all, I tell him: You are a good person who makes mistakes. Why doesn't he believe that, so that when some idiot kid comes along and starts pushing his buttons by saying he's mean, he can just blow that kid off and not let it get under his skin?

I think that has been one of my mistakes (I'm sure there have been many which will be revealed with the unfolding of time) with this boy, not repeating that idea often enough for him to internalize it. I'm not talking about unearned self-esteem here, I'm talking about being able to look (relatively) objectively at the kid and say, Yeah, he's a good kid, or as any number of people would attest, He doesn't have a mean bone in his body, unless of course you've pushed him over the edge.

The other trick is to help him recognize when he's being pushed that way, so he can get up and walk away, or get help.

Repetition should help with these lessons, I hope, just as I hope that with time this heartache will subside.

Friday, December 01, 2006

in which I am unexpectedly (but still not gainfully) employed

Have I mentioned that I am now co-facilitator of the Phoenix ThyCa thyroid cancer survivors' support group?

Maybe not, or not in a while. I have been going to meetings whenever possible since shortly after my diagnosis. I can't remember when my first meeting was, but I do remember that I was freaking out about having cancer and worried about all the local metastases I had. I was basically a basket case. The group helped enormously.

So I kept going back, because I always learned something and sometimes I was able to help other people, too. At the end of the summer, the facilitator asked me if I would be willing to co-facilitate with her, and believe it or not, it's just now becoming official. (I've noticed that sometimes all-volunteer organizations can be great with the volunteer aspect and not so great with the organizational aspect. Note that my contact information is, as of 12/01/2006, still not listed on the website.)

On a day-to-day basis, it's not a big job: answer some e-mail, maybe, or make a phone call; attend the monthly meetings. No big deal! But there is a big deal, which I didn't really think about when I said "yes", and that big deal is the workshop we're holding (sponsored by the Virginia Piper Cancer Center) this March. There's a lot of work to be done in arranging speakers, the facility, printing services, you name it.

Today we met with one of the social workers at the Piper Center who went over the resources they have available to us, that was great. Then we brainstormed over other organizational issues. I left the house at 9:30am, got to the kids' school at 2:30, and didn't get home until 4:30. That was like a regular work day, almost. I'm not used to being out of the house so much, but I think it's good for me.

This week I've already done more real work than I can remember doing in a long time, even though all I did was design some letterhead and write a letter to a doctor, and attend a couple of (very productive) meetings. But productive meetings always lead to greater task definition, as well as set goals. Now I have more things to add to my list!

I like doing this sort of thing, though. My mom dragged me along every time she had to put together a reception at the conservatory or anything similar, so planning an event for 100 people isn't exactly totally strange territory. (For a few years running there, I worked with my mom on the CCCM&A's annual dinner: you try managing a pot-luck for a jillion people.)

This is work I feel very good about doing. Screw programming, I'm never going back.

(The workshop is scheduled for March 3, 2007, at Scottsdale HealthCare on Shea Blvd; details to follow, but topics we'll be covering include a thyroid cancer overview, nuclear medicine, surgery, and the low-iodine diet. We'll also have a speaker covering all of the many, often unknown, community resources available to cancer patients. I think it will really be great. Even better, all ThyCa workshops are free, so all you have to do is show up!)