Tuesday, November 30, 2010

my new go-to meal

In the five minutes left to me between finishing my dinner (the inspiration for this post) and Porter waking up and yelling at me again, I thought the meal that gave me such bliss deserved to be shared and celebrated.

I was suspicious of it at first. The ingredients looked wrong. But I trusted the source--another mom from my son's preschool who is unfailingly classy in every single aspect of her life. She is so nice you can't even feel resentful of her perfection. Here it is.

Because of food allergies, she subbed sunflower seed spread for the peanut butter, but I stuck with the original recipe. She told me that she mixes the rice into the sauce and then places the chicken on top. The first time I made this, I added the rice a couple of hours after the cooking process began. The second time, I added it just before it ended and found myself having to add water to ensure the rice didn't end up crunchy. I am hesitant to add the rice at the beginning as directed because my crock pot cooks this meal up really quickly and I am afraid it will burn the rice. I am not home during the day to moniter it.

I followed her advice and Brigham and I ate it over mixed greens with this dressing. I left out the egg (yuck!) and would advise you go easy on the salt if you don't have kosher. (Maybe cut in half and add more at the end after you taste it.)

This meal takes literally fewer than 10 minutes of hands-on prep and is so delicious. My crock pot, at its lowest temp and using frozen chicken, cooks this up in about 3-4 hours. Also, I think that when making more than 2 breasts I would just double the sauce recipe. But these are just small tweaks; I think the recipe is pretty no-fail no matter what.

Andrew ate so much the first time there was barely any left for Brigham and even Will ate a normal-sized meal such that I didn't even have to bolus him afterwards. It is probably breaking all the parenting rules, but I give the rice to Porter and he loves it. This meal leaves me so satisfied that I am not even going to yell at Andrew when he reaches the bottom of the stairs in about 5 seconds. And here he is.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

If life were fair, I would be gathering water from a contaminated source to lug back to my shack in a developing country. It is so easy to just take for granted so many of the things that fill our lives with joy or ease. Brigham, who has obviously lived with me too long, had the same horrific vision that I did about having a car accident on the way over to my parents' house. I had carefully prepared a bunch of items, the most choice of which were two pecan pies (I have a secret recipe). He envisioned those pies splattered all over the place, but that it didn't even make the cut of things to be concerned about. It was so weird because I had had the very thought go through my head, complete with the pie scenario. There was an accident on 66 and we were happy to see that no one was hurt.

This year has been a dificult one, but it has been a very blessed one, too. When we had to choose just one blessing to focus on, here were our results.

Alexandra: Porter was born, and despite the 25% risk of CF, he is totally healthy and happy. (The truth is that I almnst never even think about this blessing, but if he had been born sick I would trade basically any other blessing to obtain that one.)

Brigham: Will no longer throws up several times a day.

Andrew: Having a new brother, Porter.

Will: "I am grateful that I just have my button instead of my tummy tube." (His accident proved ultimately to be a blessing since he got the little mickey button a month early and no longer has to tuck that giant tube into his jeans. His relief at this change has been obvious since the day we got the button (tuesday).

Other things to be thankful for this year:

1) Will is in the 30% for weight, the first time since he was a few months old that he even made it onto the growth charts.

2) Will got in to a feeding program that we thought he would have to wait another 6 months to get into.

3) Andrew has been a wonderful and helpful child who has really risen to the occassion during this time in which I have needed so much assistance.

4) Brigham got a new job that we never counted on or planned for. He starts at Kirkland & Ellis in January and every day that I look on the mls for a house I can't believe that these are houses we could actually purchase.

5) My sister-in-law Abby was able to come out for two weeks and make it possible for us to attend Will's feeding camp. I cannot imagine having been able to do it without her. She was Porter's nanny all day, every day and she was just such a reassurance to me in every way.

6) The Brown family of Charlottesville took us into their home for the entire week (and would have put us up for two) of Will's program. They were wonderful and generous and kind and I cannot say enough good of them.

7) Alisha Lacey did an entire photo shoot of our family with her two tiny kids in tow (her husband was out of town) free of charge. She spent a lot of time editing the shots, too. I keep meaning to bring over a card or otherwise thank her, but have managed only a lame email. But I am so so grateful to have such gorgeous photos of my little family. I am still plotting a thank you.

Today's Thanksgiving was pretty low-key: a Sunday dinner, the variating being that we all contributed something for once and sang a hymn before the meal. After we scarfed down the food in 1/8th the amount of time spent preparing it, the kids went wild for a while and the rest of us relaxed in front of the fire or the football game. Eventually the kids and moms watched Harry Potter 1. I teased Will a bit about his love of Wendy on Peter Pan (worthy of its own post. I really should videotape it, too.) And we made it out to the car. Andrew only escaped and dashed back inside my parents' house once.

So ends our Thanksgiving night. It was one of those Thanksgivings whose details might vanish from my mind in not too much time but for having written them down, but it was a year during which I have learned to be truly thankful for many things I had taken for granted in the past. I hope I don't have to relearn this lesson. (Did You hear that?)

Monday, November 22, 2010

ER Fun

Our trip to the zoo today ended before it began when Will accidentally (need I even add that?) pulled his tube out while clamoring around in the back of my parents' old suburban.

I will interject into my story line here to just mention that I realize I have a very strong urge to blame other people when things like this happen (see Sweet Pickles Accusing Alligator). It was all just a terrible accident, but I couldn't help but think in a very non-torts-like fashion about how if only those boys had just gotten in the van like I had asked them to, if only Will would just listen when I say no, this would never have happened, if only I were able to keep them more under control blah blah blah. Yes, if Andrew had gotten in the van, Will would have done so, as well, and none of it would have happened. But Andrew could not reasonably foresee that hiding in the junky old suburban would lead ultimately to a trip to the emergency room. I do need to get the boys to submit better to my authority, but they are also little boys who like to play and climb and have fun and his tube should not come out from a little of the typical tumbling that boys do, and that he has done basically ever since he regained, as I like to say, psychological use of his legs again post-surgery.

But I digress. It was very surreal to hear him scream, "My tube came out!" and to look over and see that it really had, anchor and all. It must have been horribly painful, yet he stopped crying as soon as my dad backed my minivan out of the driveway on the way to the E.R. Porter screamed the whole way, but Will was calm.

The doctors did not seem terribly worried about the situation, saying that the site looked good (and I could see that the bleeding was minimal, though that hole pained me). Will was content so long as someone held the gauze onto his tummy while he watched endless episodes of Sponge Bob, the worst cartoon ever, at a range of literally 5 inches.

I began to feel like I was either not in America or in a Joseph Heller novel when the doctors reported to me that they could not do anything for Will because they did not have anyone with that expertise (in the entire hospital?), but that they would call around to other hospitals to see where to send us. That took several hours. All the while, Will's wound site was healing over. The doctors had informed us that repairing this type of situation is quite simple so long as it is attended to right away, but that by 24 hours the site is healed over and things get much more complicated (maybe another surgery would be needed). I was getting anxious as the hours ticked by and we started to reach closing times. DC Children's Hospital said they wouldn't fit us in but they would admit him overnight and do it the next day. We can't even get answers from the other hospitals and I am about ready to just leave and take Will to the ER at Fairfax, where I know there are pediatric GIs, having previously been treated by one for several months. I give a call over to the old office, talk to the wonderful nurse who had helped us all summer when we were still patients there and she was paving a path for us to be seen at the hospital. Meanwhile, the doctor in our ER got my old doctor on the phone, but she (ex-dr) said that she would not help Will because he was no longer her patient, thereby permanently wiping away any doubt I may have ever had about having left her service for Johns Hopkins.

Our nurse, who thought that she could replace the tube and that therefore there had to be a doctor who could do it, took some quick action and made the doctors brainstorm a solution that would not put Will in an ambulance headed for Baltimore (the Hopkins solution). The session of 6 doctors problem solving worked: why not have the Intervention Radiologist, who replaces displaced g-tubes in adult patients at least once a day, replace Will's? And a pediatrician can come in and prescribe the proper amount of sedative to relax him during the procedure.

Yes, why the heck not. I am not exaggerating when I say that putting in a new tube literally took fewer than 10 seconds. Truly. Then they wheeled in a little x-ray machine, snapped a shot, read the results and cleared us within 3 more minutes. It was the simplest thing in the world. It was like putting a straw through the lid of a soft drink cup. I was even more astounded after having seen its simplicity that the Arlington doctors wasted hours trying to send us elsewhere, denying having the capability of performing that simple little task. I would have felt some frustration, too, but whatever anger I have that seeks ventilation through blaming/accusing/criticizing was just overwhelmed with relief that everything was fixed and gratitude to the really great doctor who put off the video games calling to him at home (such were his plans) to help us out.

I learned a few good lessons but I will focus on one of them. Sometimes it pays to be a big fat semi-polite pain in the doctors' necks. I gave them some time to get things sorted, but as the hours went by and I got the sense that we were just getting pushed off because no one felt any responsibility, I started to become more proactive about questioning the doctors about who was doing what etc.

But the stuff that I really want to remember consists of anecdotes about the kids. Some of it is funny and some heartbreaking. In the case of Will it is both since everything that little boy does and says breaks my heart.

On the ride over to the ER, Will was mostly quiet. But he did look at me and say sadly, "I wish I only had my nose tube. I wish I never got a tummy tube."

At the hospital, Will received a sticker which at some point somehow got lost (I don't know how since he never left the little bed). When asked my one of the many passing medical professionals about whether he liked stickers, he responded in the affirmative and reported that he had one, in fact. When he saw that it was no longer on his shirt, he said, "But where the hick is my sticker? Where the hick is it?"

When they gave him a sedative, Will proved himself to truly be beyond the reach of typical human frailty. They gave him 1 cc of sedative. We waited. Will watched tv and acted totally normal. The doctor remarked that he himself would be knocked out by 1 cc. They have him anouther 1/2. Nothing. Another 1/2. The nurse expresses her anxiety about giving such a little guy that much. Will continues to interact iwth us and respond to Sponge Bob. Another 1/2. Will is in a wonderful, mellow mood. He smiles and talks with us. I consider how handy it would be to have emergency access to this medication from time to time. It is at this point they decide that the underweight three year old who has not napped is not going to fall asleep and they do the procedure. Will is nice and mellow for it. I begin thinking about the ways in which adults self-medicate, as those who unwind with a glass of wine at the end of a long day. I feel deprived. If it is true that women in Utah have higher rates of anti-depressants/anxiety meds use than women in other states, it has got to be because they don't drink.

We get back to my parents' house and Will retires to my parents' bedroom with a bowl of popcorn. My mom tells me that Andrew had a great day. After dinner she asked him whether he was ready to go up and take a bath. "Yep!" When she turned toward him she saw that he had spilled chocolate milk all over the table. "Andrew! You said you were ready to go up but you spilled milk all over the place! Why didn't you tell me?"
"Mmmmm. Scared, I guess," he replied. I love Andrew.

Brigham was offered (and accepted) a new job. We have been very excitedly anticipating the future and looking into buying a house of our own. I have felt really lucky. But today, after Will's accident, I realized just how lucky I really am and it has nothing to do with Brigham. Just kidding. With Brigham's new job.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Porter at 6 months

photo by the super-talented Alisha Lacey

Porter, this has been the fastest 6 months of my life. I keep calling you my newborn, but newborns don't seal-drag themselves around the house as you do. You are even getting up on all fours and slapping a pace or two before collapsing back into seal position.

You love taking baths with you brothers. You start lunging and kicking your feet as soon as we enter a bathroom with a filling tub.

You are a terrible sleeper. I am so weary.

You are a terrific eater, though, and if I had to choose, I will take eating over sleeping any day. You like to sit in your chair and pick up noodles or smashed veggies and feed yourself.

Your favorite song is Adel Weiss. I have tried out so many, but that is the only one that settles you.

The pitch of your cry has actually driven me to the doctor for prescription-level headache medication. Even four advil can't touch what you do to my brain. Sometimes I feel that I have given birth to a baby ring wraith.

You love to rub noses. You are also very ticklish.

You really adore Andrew. Sometimes he will be what I deem rather rough with you, but when I move to reprimand Andrew and put a stop to the violence, I find that you are laughing and smiling.

You hate riding in your carseat. You never ever fall asleep in there. I avoid driving when possible.

You love to be upside down (an Andrew trait). When you cry or fuss, sometimes the only solution is upside-down pineapples.

Aside from the seal-drag, which is a distinct Will trait, you remind me a lot of Andrew and make his babyhood seem so recent.

Even if you wake up every hour and demand that you eventually make your final resting spot in our bed, nestling your head right up into the small of daddy's back and forcing me to sleep in an L-shape in the lower quadrant of the bed (actually quite comfortable), you have our whole family totally charmed. I guess our sleeping conditions demonstrated how wrapped we are around that tiny, puffy, cream-white finger of yours.

Please stay tiny.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


"Some people live an entire lifetime and wonder if they have made a difference in the world. The marines don't have that problem." Ronald Reagan

For all the criticism and self-criticism unleashed upon our country and our military, there is one thing that is undeniably true: the world is a better place because of the United States, and wherever our soldiers have landed people have been liberated. The places they stopped fighting mark the places that freedom has ended. (Just ask North and South Korea.) (ok,so that is two things, and I can imagine people disagreeing with at least assertion #2.)

Thanks go to the fighting men and women who have purchased with their lives the freedom of basically all on this planet who are free.

And now, some uplifting poetry:

Disabled, by Wilfed Owen

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.
About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light-blue trees
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,
— In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls' waists are, or how warm their subtle hands,
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now he is old; his back will never brace;
He's lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race,
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.
One time he liked a bloodsmear down his leg,
After the matches carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he'd drunk a peg,
He thought he'd better join. He wonders why . . .
Someone had said he'd look a god in kilts.

That's why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts,
He asked to join. He didn't have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years.
Germans he scarcely thought of; and no fears
Of Fear came yet. He thought of jewelled hilts
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then inquired about his soul.
Now, he will spend a few sick years in Institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
To-night he noticed how the women's eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don't they come
And put him into bed? Why don't they come?

Current Veteran's Benefits for the 100% Disabled Soldier:
unmarried, no kids: $ 2,673/mo or $32,076/yr
married, no kids, two parents: $3,063 or $36,756/yr
unmarried, with one child: $2,774 or $33,288/yr
married, with one child: $3,172 ($75-$240 extra per multiple child depending upon age) or $38,064/yr

Doesn't seem like much to me, considering what they gave and considering the entitlements enjoyed by others in this country.

Happy Armistice Day!

Sunday, November 07, 2010

old friends

when i discovered the concept of college majors (i was about 12) and learned that there would come a time when i would no longer be required to endure math courses, when, in fact, i could select a course of study in which all i would have to do would be to read books (and write stuff about them), i was floored. i had discovered the biggest boondoggle ever. why would anyone major in anything but English lit? my decision was made. of course, when the time came, i majored in international development under the reasoning that i wanted to learn something in college. while my intentions were honorable, i chose my alternate major poorly. i would have been better off in the english department where i belonged.

but my love of reading has never left me, even if i have found it harder and harder to keep up with in the way that my soul really needs. my dedication to reading reached unhealthy levels, something i recognized early on, since they substituted for real life and real friends. as a result, i remember which books i was reading during certain periods because they were so inculcated into my thoughts and days. i was thinking about the books that have most stayed with me over the years and i thought i should like to have a list of them somewhere, sort of like an old yearbook or address book, really. so here they are: not necessarily the finest books i have read, but the ones that have really stuck in my mind.

1) The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy Series. I was drawn to the cover while spending my lunch hour in Feb 1993 in the library. The series never let me go and I was devastated when Douglas Adams died.

2) The Remains of the Day. I thought this books would completely bore me (an English butler reminisces about his life over the course of a drive into the country to see if a former manor employee will return to her post) but it haunted me and I think about it a lot.

3) Never Let Me Go. Same author as above. This guy gets under my skin. His books aren't so cheery. His first one is about a woman who lives in the apt in which her mom committed suicide or something. Have to get my hands on that one soon.

4) Harry Potter. Five years of reading it every night before bed will do it, but Harry could have even if I hadn't had that ritual.

5) Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. The historical account of a family's experience during the Comm Rev in China and then under Mao. Read in 1998 for a poly sci class, but it was so long and so complicated that I kept going back to it over the years. Was my bedtime ritual the semester I got engaged.

6) Pride and Prejudice. It isn't my favorite of Austen's books (I think I like Persuasion the best) but it has stuck with me more. Maybe because of the movie.

7) 9 Stories is true. One of my favorite books of all time. Funny and sentimental and sad and relatable. My first copy, now lost, was the one that my mom had stolen from a Camp Lejune library in 1966. If you read the book, you will understand that that history is simply the perfect setting for the whole novel. It is a book of short stories all centered around the same family and it keeps me coming back.

8) Raise High the Roof beam, Carpenters and Seymour, an Introduction.

9) Do I even need to mention Catcher in the Rye? Yes, this puts me in a certain category for some who deride the book but all I have to say is that if you don't get it, you don't get it. Salinger speaks to me and I mourn him and his lost New York. How strange it must have been for him in those last years to be one of the only survivors of his generation and live in a world so changed, so moved on from the people he knew and loved.

10) John Updike short stories. Another author who felt like a friend. Maybe he was misogynistic (though I don't think so) and perhaps I would be embarrassed to be associated with his novels, but his short stories connected with me. Poems, too.

11) Emperor of the Air.

12) The Edible Woman. When Margaret Atwood isn't getting into dystopia writing, I love her. Speaking of which . . . number 13

13) The Blind Assassin, of course. Read it in the summer of 2002 while living and hating my job in California, deciding to transfer law schools, single.

14) Interpreter of Maladies. The Third and Final Continent seals the deal on this one, though I love most of the stories.

15) The Dead, or rather, the last page of it. Read it on a cold, dark wintery day and it will stick with just about anyone.

16) John Cheever stories, by which it is possible that I am being influenced by The Death of Justina, which happens to be one of my favorite short stories ever.

I am sure I am leaving many off, and I haven't even touched the childhood books that have stayed with me (the Babysitters Club, for ex. I used to (still) track their ages from time to time. Those babysitters are on the far side of 35!)

I would love to hear any recommendations!