Thursday, December 25, 2008


Merry Christmas!

We have been very busy, like most everyone we know. There was quite a bit of shopping, some wrapping, the annual writing out of cards (along with the apparent mis-sending of checks!).

Here's a recap...

We've had an Advent Wreath for several years now, but until this year, it was just a decoration. I found some simple daily prayers and we enjoyed lighting the candles each night before dinner. On Christmas morning, the wreath is supposed to be transformed into a Christmas wreath with white candles and festive decorations; I was all set on the decorations but could only find two white candles! That will have to wait for next year, but this year we had a lovely daily reminder of the meaning of Advent, and the children learned how to safely light and handle matches.

DD had a "holiday culture" project, and she wrote about The Christmas Pickle, charmingly. The kids had the opportunity to earn extra points if they brought in a treat or snack to share, so she prevailed upon me to make a Christmas Tree cake. Our family tradition is to make a tree cake for Epiphany, and I didn't really want to have to make a cake in the middle of last week, but I caved (as usual). We ended up making a simple white cake from scratch (it was delicious, even though we had no cake flour and the King Arthur flour I use has too much protein to make a truly delicate cake), and instead of frosting or anything complicated, I topped it with my new fast favorite, vanilla glaze. I later used that same glaze on the cappuccino cakes I made for DS1's teachers, using up the extra on the gingerbread cookies we made just yesterday. (Yes, there has been a lot of baking. I made pumpkin spice muffins, too. There's more to come, as I have everything on hand to make fruitcake. Yay!)

DS2's class performed the charming Christmas at the OK Corral. While he didn't have a part, we all enjoyed the show tremendously, as the leads had both talent and enthusiasm, and DS2 loved dressing up for the occasion and really got into the songs and dances he did as part of the chorus. DD also had a performance of sorts, as Amelia Earhart, at the "dinner party" conclusion of the biography reports her class had been working on. I made her an aviator helmet from brown paper and goggles from pipecleaners wrapped with masking tape, and with my old white satin scarf, it was obvious who she was. She wasn't too happy with the helmet until she saw how everyone else loved it, but she did a great job on her presentation.

Sadly, we were rained out of Luminaria last week, so Tuesday night we dashed over to the Phoenix Zoo to see the Zoolights (video at the link). The Zoo lot was full, so we grabbed the free shuttle at the Muni parking lot, and enjoyed the light show. I have a video of synced-to-music tree lights that I'll upload if I can ever get my account on YouTube straightened out -- for now, this not-great shot will have to do. My camera has a night setting and I was using my mini tripod, but obviously my skills need work. I was impressed with how well-organized the zoo was; the shuttles were coming one right after another, and I think the kids enjoyed the bus rides as much as the lights. As usual, I ended up piggy-backing either DD or DS2 about half of the time, and my hip was really complaining by the end of the night.

Last Monday was our final RE class before Christmas break, and the teacher whose classroom I share had these huge paper snowflakes hung all over her room. They were so gorgeous I wanted to make some myself, so I googled "giant paper snowflake" and found this terrific set of directions via tings wot i have found on teh intarweb, a great site in itself. I love crafty things like this! It wasn't difficult or time-consuming to make at all, you just have to take care as you curl the pieces together. The boys have been using it for target practice with their Nerf dart tag guns (Santa brought a set for each of them; there was a minor blizzard of orange foam darts in here earlier) a good part of the day, and it has stood up to the abuse pretty well.

Last but not least, a good part of Christmas Eve was getting our webcams installed and trying them out with our family in Pennsylvania -- the kids are having a great time chatting with their cousins, and I'm thrilled they're not using up cell phone minutes. You can see we're not taking Christmas too seriously around here. We went to Mass last night, then out to dinner as usual, so today was very low key.

It is, in fact, even more low key than usual, since DH is en route to Connecticut to spend a few days with his parents. He was here for presents and breakfast, arguably the high points of the day anyway. (sigh) Since then, we've found that the XBox 360 does not come with wireless internet capability and that Dance Dance Revolution is hard! The Nerf guns remain a blast, however, and I think the kids are as happy with their Christmas as could be.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Domperidone, day 17

It's working!

Today, I actually felt hungry and was able to eat. I had "lunch" at DD's 4th-grade cultural fair, which was mostly carbs and a ton of sweets, but I didn't feel horrid afterwards at all.

One side effect, which may or may not be from the medication: any alcohol at all knocks me right out. I had a glass of wine this evening after dinner, and within an hour I was asleep on the couch. A 30-minute nap at 8PM isn't optimal, but it's not the worst thing, either. The question is, is it just me being exhausted from all the running around I've been doing, or is it the meds? I'd like to be able to have a drink every now and then without a sudden attack of narcolepsy.

In other news, everything hurts, everything still's drier than dry, and I'm worried that my gums are going to get diseased because my mouth gets so dry. The rheumatologist appointment can not come quickly enough. I have to accustom myself to the idea of going back on meds for the RA, and I want to make sure I'm using the best products to keep everything appropriately moist. This has been going on long enough that I don't think it's going to go away on its own, so it's good to ask for help.

The weather's not helping -- we're on day three of cold, gray downpours. Not what I signed up for, moving here, but I really can't complain. Tomorrow's supposed to be better.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The goal of my life is not to know myself perfectly. It is to serve and love as Jesus did. -- Amy Wellborn

Part of discerning a vocation, and accepting it, is realizing how unproductive excessive self-discovery is. We can never know ourselves (or anyone else) perfectly and should recognize the diminishing returns that constant introspection yields.

We come to know ourselves best through the good work that we do.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

insanely delicious soup

It's really too late to be writing this up, but I don't want to forget this recipe, and it's already fading.

On Thursday, I put about 12 pounds of pork butt (one of the big packages from Sam's Club, two big hunks of meat) into the counter top roaster oven. I slathered them with a generous amount of salt, Hungarian sweet paprika, and molasses, poured in a little water, and slapped the cover on. I set the temperature for 275 degrees (not a typo) and let it cook undisturbed for 10 hours.

That's how I make my version of pulled pork, which it turns out is much closer to carnitas, although carnitas aren't made with paprika and molasses. I don't care, it tastes great. It takes me approximately 5 minutes of prep time, and then DH spends about an hour "de-goo-ing" it, because he doesn't like the fatty globs or particularly tough bits of connective tissue that may be left. I don't, either, but I'm not as gung-ho about getting rid of it as he is. We get about 5 meals out of it, so there's a very good meals-to-work ratio.

By the time the meat is done, there's about 8 cups of dark brown cooking liquor in the bottom of the roaster. We pour that off into a large container and refrigerate it over night, to make disposal easier.

Friday morning, I was cleaning out the fridge and hauled out that container. I skimmed off the 2-inches of pure white fat from the top. (I pitched it, lacking anything productive I could do with it.) Beneath that layer was a cola-brown aspic that smelled too delicious to throw out, so I didn't. I made soup with it.

Now most Green Chili Pork recipes start with raw cubed pork and work from there. I already had this fabulous liquor that I wasn't about to squander, not to mention plenty of pulled pork. So I made a few notes of the spices most recipes had in common, and came up with a soup that uses the same method as my Easy Chicken Soup.

Green Chile Pork Soup
(could be a stew if you don't add as much liquid)
8 to 10 servings, depending on appetite

Pot liquor from pulled pork, about 8 cups, de-fatted
1 small onion, diced (we are not big onion people. You could definitely use more onion if you like that taste)
6 garlic cloves, whole
1 large bay leaf
4-6 stalks celery, chopped into bite-size pieces
3-4 carrots, chopped into bite-size pieces
~ 1-2 tsp ground cumin (to taste)
~ 1 T Mexican oregano
~ 1 T chili powder
2 4 oz cans green chilis
6-8 Campari tomatoes, quartered
12 oz cauliflower florets, bite-sized (I used a bag from Trader Joe's) (you could use potatoes instead)
12 oz carnitas (pulled pork)
optional thickener: 2 tsp xanthan gum OR 6 T flour or cornstarch

Prep note: when preparing the onion, carrot, celery, and cauliflower, it doesn't matter how big (or how small) you make the pieces, just be consistent. You want all the carrots to be the same size so they'll cook at the same rate, ditto the onion, celery and cauliflower. The onion, celery, cauliflower, and carrots do not have to be the same size as each other, just realize that bigger carrots are going to take a longer time to cook, and if you have small pieces of celery or onions, they may disintegrate into the soup entirely. For some of us, that's not a bad thing at all.

1. Heat the pot liquor just until it's liquefied again. Strain it to remove the remaining bits of goo and other things you don't want in the soup.

2. Return the stock to the heat, add the bay leaf, onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the carrots are tender.

3. Stir in the green chilis and the spices. The measurements are approximate, as I just sprinkled and stirred and smelled and tasted. Also, my cumin was in one of those cellophane bags (approximate cost: 79 cents) and I wasn't so careful pouring out of the bag. (I do recommend those spice bags, if you have them in your supermarket. Spices can be cheap, little glass bottles are always pricey.)

4. Stir and taste and adjust the seasoning. I did not need to add any salt as I always salt the meat generously when I'm slow cooking it. You might start with half the smallest listed amount and go up from there. The pot liquor I used is very flavorful and can stand up to a lot of spices. If you use chicken stock, you're not going to need as much.

5. Stir in the tomatoes, cauliflower, and meat. Simmer another 5-6 minutes or until the cauliflower is tender.

6. Whisk in the thickener of your choice -- I used xanthan gum, it's low carb and as long as you sprinkle in tiny amounts at a time, it doesn't clump. (I use a tiny sifter to add it to the pot bit by bit.) You could also make a slurry of cornstarch and water, or flour and water, and whisk it in to thicken it up a bit. Or you could just leave the liquid thin. We liked it thickened up just a bit, the way Hot & Sour Soup is served.

You could grate some cheese into this, it would be nice. We just ate it straight with tortilla chips. It is spicy but not hot, and has layers of flavor thanks to the great paprika/molasses base, then the onions/garlic/celery/carrots, then the green chilis, oregano, cumin, and chili powder. It is of course loaded with veggies, and as it's based in a "bone broth" it could not possibly be better for you... or me.

DH and I have now had this for dinner two nights running, and I also had it for lunch today. I'm now kicking myself for all the other times I made my "pulled pork" and just threw out the wonderful pot liquor. At least I finally came to my senses.

Domperidone, day 13

Status continues pretty much as described on Tuesday. The bloated, nauseated feeling is no longer constant, and some mornings I haven't felt bad at all. I am trying to eat smaller meals and keep up my fluids, but drinking anything fills me right up, and I stay full for a long, long time afterwards, still -- easily three, four hours. But I don't feel like puking, so that's good.

My rheumatoid arthritis is kicking up, particularly in my hands (of course) and feet. I realized this the other day when my feet were killing me. I thought I could blame my new shoes, but they felt just as bad the next day (and the next) when I wore old, comfortable, supportive walking shoes. They just hurt. Hands, too -- I fully expect the knuckles I whacked on the doorframe yesterday (carrying a box too big to see around, oops) to be hurting, but they are no worse than the others. In the past few days I've had trouble buttoning DD's pajamas, opening a medicine bottle, and unwrapping packaging (not clamshell). I can still manage, but I'm noting that things I didn't have to think about are harder now.

I have an underlying sense of deep fatigue, and I'm not sure whether it's the new medication or just the fact that I have been running around like a crazy person for the past two weeks, getting ready for the holiday. We are in good shape now, but I still have to get the cards out -- that's tomorrow's task.

All of my mucous membranes are dry, but I still have post-nasal drip if I don't use my Nasonex. My tear ducts aren't completely shot, my eyes welled up during one of my favorite hymns at Mass this evening. I love Advent.

This coming week will be very busy, too. The kids have all kinds of stuff going on at school, we have RE Monday and the Luminaria on Wednesday, Friday the kids start their winter break. It's a blur, and I'm worried that I'm forgetting something, so when I think of anything, I write it on my list, which has so many items scratched off it and new things wedged in, it's pretty funny. Keeps me sane, to a certain extent.

I've registered for courses and exams! The Plan gets underway mid-January.

Chihuly in progress

This week, we'll be going to the Desert Botanical Garden to see their Luminaria, and the new Chihuly Exhibit. We got a sneak peek a few weeks ago when we went so that DS2 could see the Native American dwellings on the Desert Living Trail. Here are photos from the parts of the installation we were able to see. Be sure to click on each photo (and then click again to zoom, at least in Firefox); there's a high(er)-res version of each photo which shows a lot more detail.

The first piece in the installation is along the entrance road to the Garden itself, a little taste of what's to come. The form mimics a saguaro but also evokes cholla cacti with its all-over spikiness.

This piece is part of an installation that is right by the Garden entrance. In the upper right you can see a worker on a ladder working on another piece in this grouping. These pieces evoke agave beautifully.

The next four pieces are installed in and around the cactus house.

This last one reminds me of a bunch of Christmas ornaments glued together.

Here's a shot of a crane putting up an orange and blue piece:

And here's a magnificant piece that dominates the space around it completely:
I love the way it's colorful, twisty tendrils contrast with gray-green angularity of the desert life around it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I have a plan


I talked to some of the teachers today about when they took their state licensing exams. There are three tests that all AZ teachers have to pass, namely:

1. Professional knowledge: demonstrate you know how to be a teacher, and specifically, a teacher in AZ. (This explains the excruciating parts of my recent SEI course.)

2. Subject knowledge: demonstrate you know the material you say you want to teach.

3. US and AZ Constitutions: who said civics is dead?

Consensus is, the professional knowledge exam is part educational psychology (took that already), part AZ legal requirements (ditto), part classroom management (again, ditto), and lastly, some part (what should be) common sense. Since I have some classroom experience as a substitute, I should be able to take this test and not embarrass myself.

Subject knowledge tests are hard, and people do fail them. I have no clue about the Constitutions exam, everyone takes an exam prep course for it. You have two years after you start teaching to take the test, so everyone ignores it until the more important exams are well past, and passed.

So here's the plan:
I'm taking
1. the Professional Knowledge test in January
2. an accelerated (8-week vs 14-week) biology class staring in mid-January
3. the Subject Knowledge (Biology) test at the end of March.

Assuming I pass, which isn't much of an assumption, I'll be good to go with the rest of my program at Rio Salado -- or even to get a teaching position if I wanted to, which I don't. At least not yet. But once I've passed the tests, I'll be eligible to teach. It would be good to have the option.

Domperidone, day 8

I started taking the double-dose (20 mg) on Sunday. With just about 3 days of that behind me, I'm seeing substantial improvement in my symptoms and no apparent side effects. I'm not sure which is more surprising to me, but I'm not complaining.

I still have that bloated/gross feeling a lot, but it's not nearly as bad as it was. The mornings were particularly bad and now are pretty much like the rest of the day. I can eat without difficulty usually, although I vaguely recall feeling so gross I couldn't eat a few days ago.

Generally, the condition has become more manageable. Yesterday, I had a couple marathon phone calls in the morning, then spent three hours with a girlfriend, both of us trying to finish up our Christmas shopping and having some success. Then I taught my religious ed class, after which we went to Mass for the Holy Day. Today, I worked in second grade, and then taught the circuit class, and uncharacteristically worked with all three kids (in turn) on their homework. Incredibly busy days when it was easy for me to ignore whatever was happening (or not happening) in gastroparesis-ville.

The dry eyes/mouth thing is the same, or worse, depending -- while I'm at school I tend to forget to use the eye drops, even though I have them with me. The artificial tears drops don't seem to do much good, anyway, and if anything, the desire to find a more effective eye drop may get me in to see my rheumatologist. I really don't want to deal with this now, though -- although the new calendar year and the resetting of all deductibles should be more persuasive. It's not, but still -- could I get in to see her before the end of the year? Hmmm.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Domperidone, day 5

This isn't going so well. I'm not having a bad reaction to the medication, it's just not working at all.

The past 3 days I've ended up not eating breakfast at all because I feel so sick in the mornings. When I actually eat I feel better, but the bloated, gross feeling I have is the exact opposite of hunger.

I can eat reasonable quantities of food when I do eat, so I think the medicine is helping in that one respect. Then again, "reasonable" quantities of food are rather smaller than I was eating before the gastroparesis flared up again. There's something amiss when I'm eating as much (as little) as my 10-year-old daughter. And I feel OK while I'm eating, but within 20 minutes of stopping, I'm back to that bloated-gross feeling again.

I think 5 days on one pill per dosing is enough of a trial; tomorrow, I'll start taking two at a time. The prescription was loosely written: 1-2 pills before meals and before bed. We'll see if upping the dose improves the situation at all. It would be nice to be able to eat normally again.

I see the g/e doctor in early January. If the domperidone isn't working for me by then, I wonder what other alternatives exist. The fact is, I could live with this. I have been living with this for a while now. But for most of this time, I haven't been working, and I do want to have my own classroom someday. I wonder how I would hold up if this condition persists.

Other persisting conditions: dry eyes oddly come and go, as does the other dryness. At Mass this evening my mouth became so parched that at one point I had to stop saying the responses. It's weird when you try to swallow and there's literally no saliva. But it only lasted a few minutes and then I was OK. (whew) That hasn't been happening as often. I'd hoped it was going away altogether, but I guess not. Again, this is something I can deal with as an occasional substitute teacher, but how would it be, dealing with this while teaching every day?

Even the days I've subbed lately I've noticed I'm not as resilient and patient as I like to be. It's easy to think you can just ignore these low-level irritations, push them to the background and just shoulder on. But that takes some effort, which leaves less energy for everything else. I'm getting way ahead of myself in thinking "What if I can't teach because of this?" but I can't help it, it's the way my mind (such as it is) works.

No point in freaking out prematurely. I'll jump off that bridge when I come to it.

school's out!

My instructor finally graded my final exam, huzzah -- I ended up with 100%, which gives me 100% for the course. As I said, huzzah.

You may be sensing a lack of enthusiasm, which would be correct. It was a frustrating course, a combination of too much learning about laws and regulation and not enough learning about the practical application of them. There were some good lessons, certainly, but I'm still coming away more frustrated than anything else.

And now, I'm stuck, because I have to take my subject matter test before I can continue in the program. The plan now is to take biology starting in January so I can test at the end of March. Or maybe I'll just get an AP study guide and spare myself the bother -- as if I have the discipline to do that.

Right now I have no enthusiasm for much of anything. I'm glad I'm finished with the classwork but wish I had a better sense of where I'm going.

Friday, December 05, 2008


What do you mean, No?

At ten years and one month, exactly, DD weighs in at 55 pounds and is 55 & 3/4ths inches tall. As always, she's at about the 75th percentile for height, while hovering between the 5th and 10th percentile for weight. She's remarkably consistent, and remarkably healthy, now. Ten years ago she was putting me through the wringer.

After her painless and pleasant well-visit, she begged me for Starbucks. It was a damp, chilly morning, and we were out of the doctor's office before 8:30. I could have had her back at school by 8:45, but I caved. We took the Starbucks detour (I got her the delightfully low-priced kid's hot chocolate, only $1.10) and got her to school just before 9AM. I figured an extra 15 minutes wasn't going to make much difference.

At the time I felt some anguish: what signal am I sending my daughter, what am I teaching her about school, that it's OK to blow it off for a while to get a nice hot beverage? I don't know -- I rationalize by reminding myself she's effortlessly getting straight A's and the entire staff loves her.

That's a front, though. The truth is, I love to spoil my kids, just a little bit. It's not the food or the drinks, it's the time spent together, talking about nothing or just being quiet with each other. It's a rare thing for me to have such one-on-one time. Who could blame me for wanting to stretch it out a little? (Is it my daughter who is spoiled, or is it me?)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Domperidone, day 3

Having now completed three days of treatment, I'm still seeing little-to-no improvement in the gastroparesis symptoms. Tuesday's crushing fatigue subsided with a decent (more or less) night's sleep, but I'm not exactly peppy these days.

It's good for me to be busy because then I don't notice how crummy I feel -- a sign that my symptoms are not bothersome enough, for the most part, to get in my way. Wednesday I completed my last assignment, wrote up my study guide, and took the final exam for my ESL class. Today I ran around and looked at a bunch of potential investment property and did several other errands as well. By five o'clock I feel like collapsing but don't, and then I get a second wind and find myself staying up, alas.

Eyes are dry, tummy hurts, RA is kicking up and that weird flank pain comes and goes. I'm still trying to discern whether or not it's muscular. I have figured out a stretch that seems to help, which points towards a muscularity issue. (The main problem is that my core remains weak in spite of all the exercising I do.) I've decided to just let all this apparent auto-immune stuff go until after the holidays. Two reasons: 1) I don't want to deal with it (maybe it will resolve on its own) and 2) diagnosis isn't going to change anything, since treatment involves using appropriate products to keep everything ... moist. Eye drops, saline nasal spray, Biotene dry mouth toothpaste, mouthwash, mouth spray, etc. It's a bit ridiculous, and if I thought there were any treatments that went to the root cause and didn't just try to alleviate symptoms, I would be at the doctor's tomorrow. Perhaps I should be less pessimistic. Weight's down around 138 in spite of eating things like Dark Chocolate Covered Shortbread Star cookies from Trader Joe's. Overall I can't eat too much at any given time because then I feel really horrible, even with the medication. I'll give it a few more days at this dosage before I try doubling. (I was given the option of 1 or 2 tablets before meals and bedtime, so far I'm just using one.)

I've got laundry in the dryer, which sounds like it's about to give out at any moment. It may be time to bite the bullet and get new machines. Our current set is about 12 years old and I do experience twinges of guilt whenever I use it, since I know that the newer machines are much more water- and energy-efficient. Any impulse towards shopping for new ones has so far been stifled by the realization that the old ones still work, so why go to all that expense? It's that thought process that will someday leave me with a broken down washer/dryer and piles of laundry accumulating. It really shouldn't take 2 hours to dry one load of laundry.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Domperidone, day 1

DH estimates an 86.3% chance that any new medication I take will 1) not alleviate the symptoms for which it was prescribed and 2) manifest at least one if not more unpleasant side effects. He's an optimist.

After 24 hours of treatment, there is no perceptible change in my gastroparesis-related symptoms: I still feel gross. (No change in my Sjogrens-like symptoms, either.)

I am experiencing crushing fatigue, however, inconsistent with the amount of sleep I've been getting, between 6 and 7 hours a night lately. (Not too bad, for me.)

It could take a few days for the meds to kick in, right? If I get a good night's sleep I'll feel fine tomorrow, right?

I have no idea, but I'll give this another few days and see what happens.

Interestingly, domperidone at 10mg 4x/day has apparently been available OTC since 1998 in Canada (or is that from the UK? Can't tell.) If it has been available OTC for ten years just north of our border, I wonder what the hold up is with the FDA approval down here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


The new medication finally arrived from Canada today. I feel as if I have done something not-quite-right, when that's not the case at all. My doctor prescribed the drug for me legally, and I paid for it legally, and it's all above board. It just doesn't feel that way.

Now I'm waffling on whether or not to even take it.

I didn't take any before dinner, when I could have. Maybe even should have. I'm thinking about taking one before bed.

The question is, what will it do? Will it work? Are the side effects of the drug worse than the bloated-gross feeling I get from the gastroparesis? I won't know until I try it.

The scared/stupid combination state I'm experiencing now is really annoying. Decision: take one, and go to bed. Worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.