Friday, January 28, 2011

Paying it forward, casserole style

We all know that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but what happens when you miss an apple?
The answer: casseroles.
They say that time heals all wounds, but what gets you through before time comes?
You guessed it: casseroles.
The word “casserole” according to Web sources is derived from the Old French word “casse” and the Latin word “cattia,” both referring to a frying pan or sauce pan. We know it as a one-pot meal, baked in none other than a casserole dish, a name that surely had great influence on what we call the food inside.
However, I beg to disagree. I’m pretty sure it comes from an Old French word “casse” meaning “make you” and “role” meaning “feel better.” Because there has never been so much love and usually cheese in one portable baking dish. The best part about it is that the casserole delivers love not only to those who eat it, but also to the ones who make and deliver it. I now know this to be true.
I admit spending the majority of my life living in a place where the sharing of meals was not an ordinary thing. I cannot remember a single time in my childhood that someone actually made a dinner, packaged it up, and delivered it to my family. Even in the worst of circumstances, my mother was a pro at digging through the freezer and whipping up a four course meal, or at the very least a Steak-Um sandwich. So you could imagine my surprise when I became an adult and moved into a new community and suddenly, so suddenly, there was food!
Real food. Hot food. Food delivered right to my door in my hour of need! When my children were born, there was food. When my family moved, there was food. When I recently endured the super jolly good time that is an adult tonsillectomy, there was food. Lots of food. Friends came from everywhere delivering meals for my family (and popsicles for me) while I lay in bed with my neck and face covered in ice packs. (It’s hard to cook covered in ice packs, or at least I’m assuming that because I didn’t have the energy to get up and try.)
My family dined on fabulous foods, including more than just casseroles, all handmade by my dear friends who stepped in for me. They filled my fridge with their specialties and filled my heart with joy.
I couldn’t have been happier.
But I have figured out exactly why they did it. I think it’s a gut instinct that truly good people have, to take care of the ones they care about. And what better way than to do it through the gift of a full belly? For every pot of chicken soup I’ve made for a sickly husband or every glass of ginger ale I’ve poured for an ailing child, I know precisely what was going through their heads when they were stirring and baking and packaging.
It all just makes me want to rush out and stock up on aluminum baking dishes and gather up a few good casserole recipes because sooner or later, I want to pay back and pay forward the gift of a warm meal upon a friend’s table.
Said author Norman Kolpas, “Food, like a loving touch or a glimpse of divine power, has that ability to comfort.”
Said author Karrie McAllister, ”Show me a good friend, and I’ll show you a person who rings your doorbell with her nose because her arms are holding a 9x13 dish of chicken and rice and plate of chocolate chip cookies balanced on her head.”
Thanks, Friends.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

*Fart fart fart fart fart fart fart f and un-stuffed cabbage

It was a total coincidence, I swear, that I learned the best fart statistics in the entire world the same day I made a delicious un-stuffed cabbage dinner.
Seriously.
It started when I picked up a fantastic book at our local library entitled "Do Sparrows Like Bach?: The Strange and Wonderful Things that Are Discovered When Scientists Break Free" (found here on Amazon.) Flipping through while my daughter attended story hour I came across a story on farts.
Here's a bit of background: I love farts. Well, not smelling them, but I admit to having the sense of humor of a fourth grade boy. It all stems from two things:
1) Farts have been funny in every culture throughout the history of mankind, and
2) When I was little I was not allowed to say the word "fart" which made it all the more fun to sneak into my room, close the door, and say repeatedly into my pillow. (This is sadly true.)

So coming across this article brought absolute tears of joy because I have now added some of these fabulous farting factoids to my collection of useless knowledge.

According to a study done in Australia in 1993, men fart more than women and their farts are smellier. How did they achieve these results? This is the part that I fell in love with.
60 men and 60 women, for FIVE MONTHS, had to live with a "FARTOMETER" in their pockets (I am not making this up, but I really wish I was) and had to record not only how many farts they made each day, but also had to rate how badly they smelled.
Research concluded that men fart an average of 12.7 times per day with an odor quotient of 0.86 and women fart a meager 7.1 times per day with a less smelly quotient of 0.54.
Research also concluded that although there was a direct correlation of farting and fiber consumption, nothing conclusive was revealed about the relationship of farting and beer. This tells me only that my grandfather was not involved in the 1993 Australian study.

It all leaves me wondering, just what would life be like with a fartometer in your pocket? And what would have happened if those 120 people would have come over for my slow-cooker unstuffed cabbage dinner?

Perhaps I need do a study of my own. Making the meal is easy enough, but finding a good deal on fartometers might be a little more challenging.

Unstuffed Cabbage for the slow-cooker

1 lb. ground meat
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup instant rice
1 can tomato soup, undiluted
1 small jar (14 oz) spaghetti sauce
1/2 head cabbage, sliced

Brown ground meat and saute onions in skillet. Remove from heat and drain. Stir in rice and add a bit of salt and pepper to taste.
In a slow cooker sprayed with cooking spray, add cabbage. Top with meat mixture.
Pour tomato soup and spaghetti sauce over top.
Cook on high for around 4 hours or until cabbage is soft.
Tell your 3-year old that the cabbage is really noodles so she'll eat it. Tell your older children the cabbage will give them special powers.
Later that night, hold a farting contest. (optional)

*That was my best attempt at 7.1 farts. I am, after all, a lady.
:)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pee-Pee on the Potty

I’d like to say that it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but pretty much it was just the worst of times. While the rest of the world went on their merry way, we have been fighting the gravest battle of all parenthood: potty training.
If you have ever attempted to potty train a child or even a pet, you know the frustrating misery it will put you through on a daily basis. A constant (and I do mean constant) struggle and perpetual asking the same six words over and over from the moment the child wakes up until the child goes to sleep, and then you even find yourself waking up in the middle of the night questioning the darkness and the random characters in your dreams all the while you yourself have become at one with the phrase and the same six words are forever burned upon your lips: Do you have to go potty?
Having gone through two successful completely toilet trained children, I was sure the third would be the easiest. People told me that she would just want to copy her big brother and sister, that she would practically potty train herself. I, of course, was elated because I thought I really deserved a break and also because I really don’t enjoy doing laundry, mopping floors, and buying diapers priced as if they were lined in gold. Better days were coming!
Alas, they were all wrong. This child decided she would rather not mimic her siblings and instead has proven to be the most difficult to break of the golden diaper habit. Naturally I consulted friends for advice, and among the responses I got was the ol’ “potty train in one day” method. This seemed too good to be true, but so many people swore by it that I gave it a whirl.
There I sat, completely camped out in the bathroom. The basic theory is that in the morning, you and your child potty train a doll, watching the doll mess its diaper (ooh…raisins) and then teaching the doll the correct way to do things. In the afternoon, your child is rewarded with REAL BIG KID UNDERWEAR (worthy of all caps) and magically he or she will have matured into a non-disposable land.
This sounded fabulous to me, and so there I was with a Strawberry Shortcake doll, a stack of books a mile high, juice, reward candy and stickers, and of course some raisins. And while the first 20 minutes were easy, I soon realized that I would have to sit on the bathroom floor for hours on end, reading the same books and flushing perfectly good dried fruit down the toilet. My back started to hurt, I got thirsty and anxious. I was a prisoner in my own bathroom, trapped on the linoleum floor and surrounded by enough kid-friendly happiness to make my head spin.
It goes without saying that I quickly canceled the one-day potty party. Part of me wishes I had really stuck with it, though, because now we’ve been at it for weeks. Also because I have said “do you have to go potty?” somewhere around four million seven hundred thousand and eighty two times. The whole thing has become such an engrained part of our life that I don’t think my husband is even capable of calling it a bathroom anymore, which could be less than desirable during a business luncheon if a potty announcement is made.
But as all good parents know, this too shall pass. There are very few children who don’t eventually learn to dump the diapers and become fluent in flushing, and I know someday we will have that grand breakthrough and my last child will be officially potty trained.
That will be a definite reason for a potty party. Bring your own undies.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Today, we dance to Zydeco

I was reminded that my previous post was less than pleasant, and I couldn't in good conscious leave it at the top of this page.

So today I present readers with my new most favorite quotation:

“Without music, life would be a mistake...."
-Nietzsche
I believe this to be true, as today in my weariness, dragging my recovering self out of bed, I prepared for a music lesson I am giving. Because singing is still painful from my lovely surgery, I'll be introducing preschool children to different types of music. Bluegrass, Classical, Jazz, Ragtime, and Zydeco. And I was reminded as I went through and chose my songs that even in the weariest of moods, a little Bill Monroe or anything Cajun can do nothing but make you smile.
There is a second part of Nietzche's quote:
"...I would only believe in a God who knew how to dance.”
Interpret that as you will, but I have a feeling I'll see a little bit of a higher power when there's a roomful of beautiful children two-stepping to accordion music.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Dirt don't hurt...but tonsillectomies do: My Tonsillectomy Story

This is not your typical post. This is the post meant for the person who late at night types "tonsillectomy story" into the Google window and really wants to know what another person went through.

Or it's also for my mother, who I know will read the whole thing...

So at the age of 33 I got my tonsils out. It was time, my doctor said, after having case after case of strep throat for the previous three years. I was on so many antibiotics that by the end they had to give me more than double the normal dose just to ward off infections.

I had it done on a Tuesday morning, bright and early. I told the doctors I'd be a mess and I wasn't laying in the hospital bed 10 minutes before I started weeping, scared of what was to come. I have had three major surgeries in the past (and three lovely kids to show for them) and each one came with some sort of complications. Good endings, but complications. I'm just prone to being special, I guess.

The surgery itself was a breeze. I went nighty-night and woke up attempting to ask my husband about his day at work before I realized that a)he wasn't there and b)I couldn't talk. Eventually he came in and told me that the surgeon said the procedure went fine. My tonsils were full of debris (ewwwwwwwww) and holes, and that my adenoids had seen a lot of infection. This is special because as an adult, you shouldn't have adenoids -- you're supposed to grow out of them. Lucky me, lucky me.

Day one was pretty much a fog. My tip for anyone going through this is to remember not to slug your first dose of liquid pain meds like it's tequila. It will hurt really, really bad. I learned throughout the next 2 weeks of recovery, to SIP the meds along with water, mix them up in your mouth, and take little swallows. Trust me, sounds gross but it got me through.

Day two was a disaster. Drainage from the surgery made me so nauseous I couldn't take my pain meds. Or if I did, they'd come right back up. Puking after throat surgery is rates very high on the unpleasant scale. I don't recommend it. I do recommend asking for anti-nausea medicine. It saved me.

Day three through seven sucked more than I thought it ever would. Not only does your throat hurt, but your tongue will feel like someone has sliced it along both sides with a knife. Your ears will feel like someone took a hot metal rod and shoved it from your ear all the way to your throat. Your teeth will hurt-- I don't know how, but mine ached like I just had them all extracted.

And so some tips for the pain:
-Keep up on your pain meds. This is more crucial than you could ever imagine.
-Keep hydrated. I lived on ice chips for the first week. If your throat dries out, it's a death wish.
-Ice. I even slept -- literally-- with ice packs.
-Sleeping is dreadful, horrible, terrible. You can't sleep on your back because your swollen tongue will choke you. I found it best to sleep on your side, on an ice pack, on two pillows.

Here are some things that happened to me that I hope don't happen to you:
-Weight loss. Over the recovery I lost almost 10% of my body weight. The food thing is really hard, and you will learn to hate Jello and Popsicles like you wouldn't believe. It will be a long time before I ever slurp chicken broth, too. Blech.
-Thrush. Disgusting, but it's a yeast infection in your mouth caused by antibiotics and lack of swallowing. Your tongue and roof of your mouth will be so nasty you won't even want to look at it. Just a thick white coating. The good news is that there was no pain-- or if there was, the handy pain meds never let me know. This bit of unhappiness is taken care of by a medicine that is a "swish and swallow" kind of stuff that tastes like, and I wish I was exaggerating, vomit with a dirt chaser. Seven lovely days of it.
-Bleeding. Nothing like sitting at your kids' piano lessons and having to barge in on the teacher because blood is flowing from your mouth. Scabs fall off and occasionally expose a blood vessel. If you are so lucky, you too will have blood pouring from your throat. It is another quite unpleasant thing I went through. It did, however, earn me my first trip to the ER. If this happens to you, call your doc asap. (I survived. My bleeding stopped.)
-Loss of taste. Once I started feeling semi-human and could bare to swallow something semi-solid, I realized that everything I ate tasted terrible. Very bitter, and its almost it "feels" bitter but has no taste at all. Very strange. Diet Coke was the absolute worst. Coffee tasted like I was licking a rusty, used ash tray. (Nice visual, eh?) I read that this heals over time, that your taste buds can be crushed during surgery. I am still waiting. Food smells so good now, but tastes so bitter it's not worth eating.

So that's the negative side of things. Or most of them.

The positive side is that tomorrow will be two weeks since my surgery. I am pretty much fully functioning, although it hurts to yawn and I still can't rip roaring yell at my kids. I have faith that this will be good in the long run, that I'll stay healthier after having gone through all of this.

The other positive side is that I have never felt so loved in my entire life. Friends and acquaintances sending cards, dropping off food for my family. It was wonderful to be surrounded by so many caring people and I am thankful for each and every one!

And that's it-- the short version, believe it or not. If you're reading this because you're headed in soon, I wish you well. Don't be scared. There are tons of people who don't have any of these problems and have a super smooth recovery. But if you're one of the lucky ones like me, know that you can get through it with a little help from your friends, a few ice packs, and of course, Vicodin.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I was told there’d be silence

Someone actually said it was “a husband’s dream come true,” the fact that I wouldn’t be able to speak for a week. I’m not sure it was a total dream come true, though, because not being able to talk was just the beginning of it. I couldn’t do much of anything except point, wince, and make stupid hand motions that didn’t make any sense because mostly I was waving off the scorching pain that was my throat.
I had my tonsils out.
Let me first clear up the myth that says you can eat as much ice cream as you want. You can’t. They don’t let you do that anymore. However, you can have as many popsicles and Jello as your heart desires, and trust me, your heart won’t desire that much of it.
Secondly, there is the myth that when adults get their tonsils removed, it is a far more painful surgery with a longer recovery time than children. This is partly true, but in my opinion the words do not do justice to the days of suffering and agony that followed my surgery. Without going into detail, let’s just say I’ve had three children and if I had to choose between a tonsillectomy and another baby, I’d be out buying carseats.
But beyond all of that, the fact remains that I, CEO CFO and Head Cheese of this household, was down and out for a good week and was literally forced to sit back and watch the world go by. And there’s nothing I could say about it. Because when I tried to talk it felt like someone had again poured gasoline down my throat and struck a match on my tongue to light it. I had become a mom of few words.
This is very difficult for someone who is normally a mom of many words. Three young kids running in different directions, and I often feel like a cowboy wrangling them up and sound like (my mom says) a drill sergeant. Something as simple as getting up, dressed, breakfast, and book bag packing takes some serious vocal chords in this house, not to mention physically running from room to room to find lost homework and combs to make them look semi-presentable in the public eye.
But not this week! This week, daddy’s been in charge while I sit silently on a chair, working really hard just to swallow an ice chip. From the corner I yell (and by yell, I mean the faintest whisper you ever heard) “you need to go upstairs and brush your teeth.”
They all stop, look at me blankly, and continue doing what they were doing.
So I try charades. WAVE ARMS FOR ATTENTION. POINT TO CHILDREN. MAKE LITTLE RUNNING FINGERS. POINT UP THE STAIRS. MOTION BRUSHING TEETH.
They all stop, look at me blankly, and continue doing what they were doing.
My charades get louder, interspersed with wimpy little sounds and angry facial expressions. My pointing is a little more violent and my teeth have probably sprouted fangs.
They all stop, look at me blankly, and finally says, “mom’s trying to say something.”
Eventually they figure it out and I sit back and remember when I could talk, and how many times I would have had to repeat that command to my children before they actually went up and brushed their teeth. The sad realization is that they don’t listen to me, whether or not there is even anything to hear.

Note: I wanted to add that today I had the energy to actually shave my legs, dry my hair and venture out of my pajamas. Not everyone has the same experience having their tonsils out, and I can only wish that everyone else's is better than mine! Long week of recovery, but I think I'm finally gonna live. A few more days until I'm back to normal, and then let the eating frezy begin -- I've got a lot of weight to put back on and I can't wait to do it!

Introducing Metal Mouth

Forget those people who pull stunts like biking across the United States or walking from pole to pole. We are venturing on our own incredible journey in this family, one that I’m sure will involve pain, suffering, success and defeat. And while some of us are going to take it lying down, the rest of us will take it sitting up. In a waiting room.
My happy little family has entered the world of orthodontics.
We knew it was coming when my daughter started getting teeth before she started losing them. They came from all directions and headed in all the wrong directions, like someone got tired of lining them up and just threw them in there willy nilly, hoping for the best.
Unfortunately we didn’t get the best, we got the willy nilly catawampus version. Our dentist once told me, “it’s probably no surprise that she’ll have braces in her future,” to which I had to hold myself back from saying, “which is why I’ve thought about getting a few extra jobs and selling off everything I own just to pay for them.”
Those tiny pieces of metal they put in there are not cheap. I know this because every time I even come close to mentioning teeth position my parents kindly remind me of my beautiful and expensive smile. Then I remind them how I spent my childhood being called “Uncle Miltie” because of my Milton Berle-style bucktoothed grin, and how that wasn’t very nice and the least they could have done to make up for it was shell out the bucks to fix the genetics that wasn’t really my fault.
But I digress, although it’s good to know that I suffered through more than my fair share of headgear, braces, and retainers. Not only that, but I also put up with the long, long hours it takes to get all of that stuff fitted, placed, and cemented into place. I remember laying there, my eyes brimming with tears while just feet away lay another patient who I’m absolutely sure was making fun of me, the smell of drills and teeth and the taste of blood and glue in my mouth. I can tell you exactly how many lights were in my orthodontist’s room (seventeen) and the specific shade of wood paneling that lined the walls because I spent the better part of my early teens being tortured, er, adjusted, in those chairs, including one birthday when they had to chisel some awful apparatus out of my mouth. It was horrible.
But I’m never going to tell my kid that.
Instead, I take her to her appointments which I swear are an evil game called “let’s see how many times we can get the new people to come in” and hold her tiny hand while they stick their entire arms into her mouth. I see the tears welling up in her eyes and like tragedy recall, I know precisely what she is feeling when the doctor tells her to bite down, open up, and bite a little harder so that the sheer force of her tiny jaw can bend metal into place. I hold her hand and tell her to squeeze it when it starts to hurt and watch as her feet jiggle around wishing they could run away.
Part of me wants to cry right along with her, to pick her up and whisk her right out of there because no parent ever wants to see their child in pain.
The other part of me shakes my head and silently chuckles, knowing that everything she’s going through is a twisted rite of passage into the next stage of her life that we lucky ones get to endure.
Maybe someday she’ll thank me for the countless hours I will spend in the waiting room, not to mention the countless dollars I will spend. If she’s really good, she’ll thank me for doing all of it for her without giving her scarring nicknames. And then just smile.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Thank you's and a writer's resolution

Writing this column doesn’t always have its advantages. If I’m being honest, mostly I find myself sitting on the couch with a laptop, a cold cup of coffee, and the drone of the latest cartoon craze in the background. A cracker will fly across the room, hit me in the head and stick in my hair and I have to do my very best to avoid jotting down 650 words about why motherhood and insanity should really be the same, interchangeable word.
But other times, pouring out my feelings on life as we know it feels really good. Especially when I know someone is actually listening.
Every job has its perk. Teachers get summers off, office workers get the occasional free pen. Sunglass salespeople always have the latest and greatest eyewear. Columnists don’t get any of those things.
We get letters.
This past year I have heard from a number of readers, but a few wonderful occasions have really made me smile, and I can’t think of a better way to thank them than to actually put it into words, on actual paper. (You’ll see why later. Keep reading.)
To the man who read about my love for corn and then helped fill my freezer and my belly with the sweetest corn I’ve ever eaten, thank you. I will be grateful throughout the long, cold winter each time I set a bowl of late summer on my family’s dinner table.
To the lady who wrote a lovely hand-written letter (and then a second because she forgot to include something in the first,) thank you. Your kindness touched not only me, but I know it touches the hearts of all of the people to whom you write. I think you also touch their funny bones with your comical cards, all of which I have saved in a neat pile somewhere on my desk, ready to be pulled out when I need a smile.
To the people who sent hand-signed Christmas cards, I couldn’t be happier that the tradition lives on! I wish I could thank each of you personally, but instead I’ll pass on something genuinely perfect that I also received.
A reader emailed me after I whined about the lack of holiday greetings and had a piece of advice to offer. She suggested that people should send hand-written letters more often than just Christmas, but all times of the year and especially to elderly people or people in nursing homes. She added: “Those that may have limited memory or who just like to peruse, touch and yes, even smell (spray a light scent on the card) their mail time and again will so much appreciate a card or a simple note that they can read or share. Just something younger people may not have thought of when they make a phone call and feel that they have done a good thing. A card would be a better and must more lasting thought.”
And we all know she’s right. There is something special about actually holding something that came from someone else’s hands. If you’re holding a newspaper right now, you know what I’m talking about. (If you’re reading this on a screen, stop squinting.)
So it is my New Year’s resolution this year to not only increase the volume of mail going out of my mailbox, but to also listen closely to what others have to say. To my readers, I thank you for your kindness. I wish I could send each of you a separate note, but instead just clip out these words and know that I wish they were hand written, lightly scented with just a hint of freshly cooked corn, full of funny jokes, and most likely cracker crumbs and coffee stains.
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