Saturday, December 29, 2007

To Show How Much I Love Motherhood

Start last night:

I hate tuna casserole, but the kids love it, so that's what I made for dinner. But then Caleb refused to eat it because it "tastes weird now" and Daniel refused to eat it because he squirted Arby's sauce all over his and tasted it and said, "Tastes yuck with sauce."

After dinner, Benjamin pulled a lamp down and broke the bulb all over the floor. Hooray! Then Daniel wouldn't walk on that half of the room for hours because he was afraid the "Fwoor is shaddered" (because the bulb shattered, and he didn't get what happened).

So then by the time I chased everyone off to bed (after cleaning and packing all day), I was so tired I fell asleep in the rocking chair more than once while I tried to get everyone to sleep. Then Benj woke me up every hour (when he had tylenol in him; every 20 minutes when he didn't), and I ended up with two kids sleeping in my bed with me. All night I thought how nice it would be to get into a nice hot shower in the morning and have ten minutes with nobody touching me and with the water drowning out the sounds of fussing.

Now, for the next part, I'll identify the boys by numbers (by who got up first, not by age) so I don't embarrass them too much.

Boy 1 woke me and boy 2 up by having a nightmare. The commotion woke boy 3, and we all got up. I immediately went to check my email and phone messages, like I do every day in case there's something pressing to handle before everyone else goes home for the day. When I looked up, three boys were looking at me. 3 had pee all over his front and down his pants. 2 was playing quietly. 1 was standing in a pool of diarrhea. So I put 1 on a pile of towels, got 3 into the shower, and came back to discover 1 was really coated with the stuff--up the front and back, down both legs, on the bottom of his feet. So I stripped him down, left the pile of stuff on the towels, and hopped him into the shower, too. Both boys protested at that. One was too cold, the other hates showers. Got 1 cleaned off and wrapped in a towel and came back to clean up the puddles and found 2 was eating toilet paper. I cleaned up the floor and linens, and then 2 approached--with poop smeared down his legs, too. So I cleaned him up and then went back to the floor, only to discover the lysol can was empty. Meanwhile, 3 was still showering, and 1 now wanted some of the beef stew from the can he noticed on the counter. So I plopped that into a bowl and went to go potty myself.

Pretty soon, 1 was following me into the bathroom, where he was crying. "What's wrong?" I asked. "My stew will melt!" he said. "Come back to the kitchen so I can eat it before it melts!" I explained that ice cream melts but stew doesn't, and then back to the other bathroom to get 3 shampooed and out of the shower. There, I discovered poop in the tub! So out came 3, and I cleaned that up, too.

I sent one kid down to dress, sent one to finish his stew, and put raisins on the floor for another and hopped into the shower myself. The water was cold.

By then Benjamin was crying, so I showered quickly and hopped out. He cried all the time I dressed, and played in the sink while I put my makeup on. Dan told him, "No Ben! You too small to use haiwspway!"

So I went to dress and discovered poop in my bed, too. Off came the sheets, and then the mattress pad, too, and then I turned around to find Boy 1 standing in the corner--more diarrhea. THis time down the legs and not on the floor. Yet. Meanwhile, Benjamin is bawling, and I still haven't eaten anything.

Now, you may think the title of the post was being sarcastic, but it's not. Look at my last 12 hours or so, and then think about it when I say that motherhood is the best thing I've ever done, and the funnest, and my favorite, and is one of the only things I never have wished I hadn't gotten involved in (and I can't say almost any of this about my mission, which I also think was one of the best things I've ever done!).

Think about it.

The good things about being a mom are so unbelievably good that they far outweigh days like this.

Now I have to go attend to more poop and a screaming baby.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Blog May be a little dark for a couple of weeks...

We found out on December 13 that Tim got a long-term gig in Las Vegas. It starts January 10. Thanks to miracles that involved a sister-in-law's sister's friends, we found a house to move into in Henderson, NV, and we're putting our house on the market and moving to Las Vegas.

Consequently, the blog might be a little dark for a couple of weeks. We're trying to move two states away by January 5, and we just got back in town on December 26, so we don't have much time for anything but moving.

We'll be back in business around January 16, and then I can give you all kinds of details about all kinds of things (how the move went, what the gig is, how it felt to drive all day and come home to 2 rejection letters, etc).

The thing I feel most sarcastic about right now is that not only do we have to move in two weeks, Tim is leaving to start rehearsals for the new show--in ORLANDO!--today. So I have to do half the work with just me and kids home!

Now, I know my kids are pretty amazing, but 8 month olds are really better at emptying boxes than filling them. So are 2 year olds. And four year olds. And six year olds. And that's all of us!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Weird Headlines

So science news is getting bizarre. The latest headline I keep running into is that someone did some research on why pregnant women don't fall over when they get big. Why is this important to know? And, for their information, pregnant women DO fall over. Lots of us have. Plus it's NOT comfortable, despite the extra vertebrae, and if it looks easy it's because we go home and sit around and don't do anything else but waddle with a baby. Sometimes one in the arms, too.

But this one tops all:

"Scientists Clone Glow-In-the-Dark Cats."

Wow. Pretty hard to clone something that doesn't exist!

If you read the article, it explains that the glow-in-the-dark-ness is a side effect of the cloning. So the headline is a little misleading. Still.... why do you need cats that glow? Do the cats want to glow? I always got the impression that stealth at night was a good thing for cats--at least from their point of view. I am imagining glowing felines creeping around the house at night. Spooky. Oh-oh-or that movie on YouTube about cats flying ( the cats can glow!

In other science news: They found Captain Kidd's pirate ship! I was checking my email and saw the headline and had a "novel" moment--suddenly I was Melora, a character in my novel, and she was seeing that headline, and somehow it connected to or led to an adventure she was having--either the catalyst for the adventure, or the catalyst for the climax.....I need to use that sometime.

How was that for a glimpse into the mind of a writer?

So now I want to know where the real science is.


Last year for Christmas, Tim went to Vegas and his business completely fell apart and we had to pick up the pieces and, thanks to the generosity of my parents, try to move on.

This year for Christmas, Tim went to Vegas again and came home with a job! A well-respected pro vocal group is putting together a show on the Strip and needed to double-cast, and they hired Tim. The details are still under wraps while all the contracts are being negotiated. But this certainly makes for a merry Christmas for us!

Except for one minor detail. We have to move to Las Vegas. It's a city that was on my list of "I'd rather not go there," along with Phoenix area and all of Wyoming. However, it's a great opportunity for Tim.

It was all rather sudden. He flew down to Vegas on Wednesday Morning, nailed the audition (they'd had auditions in New York, Orlando, and two days in Vegas--Tim was in the afternoon of the last day), and then flew home. He did such a perfect audition that they told him right there that he nailed it. How often does that happen?

Thursday, they called and told him he was the first choice for the role. Thursday night, they talked details. Friday afternoon we stopped walking in circles and wondering if we were awake and if they were going to call back and say, "Oh, we meant that other Tim Jones. Sorry for the mixup." We called and, after Tim asked a few more questions, accepted the position.

Suddenly Tim's employed--in a dream job that is such a long shot that we weren't even really looking for it (how many singers want a steady paying gig as their job and how many get one?)--and I'm flattered that they asked Tim what I thought of the whole thing--so I made homemade ice cream. This was not just a celebration. It was the beginning of moving preparation. I had 3 qts of half-and-half in the freezer that I didn't want to throw away when we move, and the closer we get, the more hectic it will get, so we got ice cream tonight!

And now? I clean the house first. If I can do a speed sort and pick up (maybe with help from ward members), then I can pack easily because we won't be tripping on stuff, and we won't be packing trash. Meanwhile, I posted bunches of stuff on Craigslist (couches anyone? Need a house?) and Tim has actually been whistling around the house. I haven't seen that in ages.

It's an interesting thing, getting a singing job with a well-established group in a music town. We know that Tim's skills, talents, interests, and experience are identical, but all his work that we've spent years justifying was, in an instant, validated.

Now when I say, "He's a musician," I don't have to justify it or blush.


Friday, December 14, 2007

Learning about Plural

Caleb's teacher had a worksheet for him about plural and singular nouns. No big deal. Except the instructions.

"Circle the plural or singular word that describes the picture."

So the first picture had three cats in it, and Caleb drew an arrow from one cat to the word cat (We were working on Word, so he used Word Draw). I said, "It's important to follow the directions." So he circled the word cat. I tried several times to explain by rephrasing the instructions, and it was clear he had no idea what I was talking about. Both words described the picture. There was one cat, there was another cat, so we have cats.

Finally I said, "Circle the word that makes the best caption for this whole picture."

THEN he got it. Had to speak on his level, I guess.

So then Anda was pondering singular and plural, and she said, "If we have zero, we have no toys. Toys." I had never thought of that before. ONE is singular. Both zero and and two are plural linguistically. I don't know how you handle that mathematically, or if you even have to. So now I'm mulling over plurals--we might have half a cat (hopefully not, but linguistically acceptable), but do we have .5 cats? It's the same amount. Do you have three-quarters of a pizza, 75% of a pizza, and .75 pizzas? How bizzare that fractional amounts are singular, but the equivalent decimal amount is plural in everyday usage. Now I'll have to go look up the rule on that one.

Leave it to a four year old to confuse an English teacher!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Multicultural Woes

An article from Reuters here:

expresses what I think about multiculturalism. It should be about accepting and tolerating ALL cultures, not just minority ones. I'm not offended when a Jew wishes me Happy Hannukah. Why is it unacceptable for me to wish people Merry Christmas?

Before I was subjected to "multicultural education" in college, I watched music videos and only noticed if the people could dance or not. After I was "educated", I noticed the races of the people in the videos. Before, it was just a group of dancers--the more talented, the better. After, everyone was defined by their race (and their "race role") in the video. Doesn't this seem counter-productive?

I'm seriously worried that multiculturalism has created a culture of divide in our nation. I am absolutely, 100% in favor of recognizing that not everyone is a white anglo-saxon protestant male. I'm not. In fact, most of our nation is not (so doesn't that make them a minority group? Now we're going in circles!). But I am not in favor of putting people in boxes based on racial characteristics, and I think that's what multicultural education has done to our nation. Is it possible to be an educated, happily married professional black man anymore without facing the "all black men are thugs and absentee" prejudice? I can't know because I'm a white Mormon woman.

But, you see, I never would have thought that thought before multiculturalism took stage. I didn't know that "black men are thugs and absentee" until the multicultural education folks told me so--and then blamed it on me because I'm white. I was raised blissfully unaware of anything "racial" except that people are people, and they all are born with advantages and disadvantages in their lives, and we treat them all with equal respect regardless of where they or their ancestors came from.

Sorry if I've offended someone by saying "black"--one of my good friends in high school was Haitian, so not really African-American, right? I don't want to offend anyone, but I don't know the realities here--are all "black" people of African descent and do they claim that? Or would they rather be Jamaican, Haitian, Sudanese, or Brazilian like the "Native Americans" would rather be identified by their tribal affiliation?

And am I supposed to not call myself white? Should I instead label myself of German-Anglo descent? I can't be Caucasian--none of my ancestors came from the Caucus region......but I don't really claim Anglo or German because culturally I'm neither. I'm American--the English will tell you that in a heartbeat. (Oh the troubles and circles multicultural education has put me into).

Before I was "educated", the race issue never would have entered my mind except to acknowledge that prejudice is wrong--against ANYONE. Not just asians who are underrepresented in film (is it okay to say Cambodians are underrepresented, or do we have to class all asians as one cultural group?).

I guess the solution would be to choose not to be offended, especially by the good-intentioned.

I have long thought the American approach to multiculturalism is broken, highlighting and emphasizing the differences, not celebrating one another but trying to divide. Everyone now is focused on tolerating bigotry (unless it comes from white men--except white men are allowed to be mean to Mormons lately, it seems) instead of being a unified nation that loves and celebrates all the parts that make us a whole. I love the different cultures in our nation. I love it when someone is willing to share their culture with me.

I'm just not yet sold on the concept of "diversity." It's too divisive. I'd rather focus on the concept of "unity" (which doesn't mean uniformity. I'm not in favor of uniformity--even as a white person, I have often suffered from people wanting me to be more like them. Uniformity is a bad thing when it comes to people.). Unity includes celebrating the things that make us different, because that is part of the whole that we are. The difference between unity and diversity is not the amount of sameness in the group. It is the concept us "We".

Can't our nation have a "we" with love and tolerance rather than a mass of racial boxes that divide? We--different people, different cultures, different loves and hates, but all working toward the same goals of freedom and opportunity for all people to live and grow and learn and develop their talents and contribute to the happiness of their families.

Isn't "divide and conquer" one of the oldest sayings in the book?

So, back to the Reuter's Article. I think it took a great deal of maturity and common sense for the British leaders to step back and say that wishing someone Merry Christmas is not about me forcing you to be Christian. It's not about me "dissing" muslims. It's about respecting one another and embracing one another--and isn't THAT what multiculturalism should have been about?

Multiculturalism as it should be was included in Mormon doctrine from early on. It's part of our Articles of Faith:

"11 We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.
12 We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.
13 We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
Joseph Smith"

Merry Christmas, everyone.
This is a nice quote I found scrolling across the top of my gmail account today:

Abraham Joshua Heschel - "Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge."

This is precisely why I'm homeschooling Caleb. Right now, he and Anda are full of wonder and delight and they love learning. I don't want him to learn the idiom of intelligent people because it is full of doubt, criticism, posturing, and name dropping. I remember distinctly the day in high school when I realized that many of my intelligent friends didn't think anything themselves. They just quoted and synthesized well.

Hooray Wonder!

I see as a corollary that action and change are not the results of criticism and doubt, but the results of wonder, support, and encouragement. "Helpful criticism" is an anti-motivator, just like doubt is an anti-educator.

Monday, December 10, 2007


I just read an excellent article by my brother about raising children :

Then I read this in a Reuter's artcle:

"Detective Superintendent Tony Hutchinson told reporters that Mrs Darwin was cooperating with police. "She's not saying 'no comment' to every question," he said."

Is that what we call Cooperating? Due to my upbringing (mentioned by my brother),I must have misunderstood the concept all these years....

Friday, December 07, 2007

Christmas Trees

The kids got all excited when we put the lights on the Christmas tree. I let them decorate it. The East side, middle, is the most decorated part of the tree. The West side is almost naked. There are two stars. It's truly a beautiful expression of the Children's excitement about the holiday.

And what else are Christmas trees for, anyway?

As they were decorating, though, Caleb somehow realized the tree was going to die. This was a very distressing idea to him. He loves our tree, which was a gift from the children in the ward, and he is a very sensitive, compassionate boy (when he was three, he always volunteered to take punishments for Anda when she got in trouble--"I'll go to her room for her." "I'll help clean up the spill." "I'll say sorry for her if she'll stop crying!").

Caleb begged me to hire a babysitter for the tree while we're in Utah so it can get water and won't die. I told him it still will die eventually and someone will recycle it.

The kids spent the rest of the day testing schemes for keeping the tree alive. Maybe if we buy it on Christmas, they said. Maybe if we just keep watering it.

They finally said, "Mom, from now on, we're only going to use plastic trees."

I agree.

My mother had that idea, too, that Caleb discovered all by himself as a six year old: Christmas is death for trees. Now I look across the room and see my child-decorated, child-loved tree and see tragedy sitting in the corner. Someone killed a living thing and then glorified the killing by stringing lights and colorful bits of useless glass and plastic all over the carcass and declaring it beautiful!

For us, it's plastic trees from here on out.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Searching For Bobby Fisher

Searching For Bobby Fisher is one of my favorite movies of all time. For those of you unfamiliar, it's the story of a young chess genius and his parents as they discover what it means to be a gifted kid.

It's one of my favorite movies, but I hadn't thought about it for years--until Sunday. Sunday I was in a contemplative mood, and I was thinking about Caleb, and I found myself thinking about the kid in the movie. In one key scene, he loses a competition on purpose and then can't explain to his furious father why. When they explain it later to the mother, she is also irate, but not at the son. She's mad at the father for caring too much. She says, "He's a kid!" and gets the point across that chess is supposed to be for fun, and it's not a big deal, but childhood is a big deal and we shouldn't lose that in pushing our kids to excel at their talents.

Suddenly, I felt like the father in the movie. I know Caleb is capable of finishing third grae this year. He's already finished first and half of second, and we aren't even at Christmas yet. He has this incredible talent for learning, and also for all things language arts related. He is fascinated with science and cultures. He loves math.

But what about childhood?

I realized a better approach for me to take, instead of pushing him academically, would be to say, "Hey, we finished everything that's required. Let's do fun stuff." I am legally obligated to stil do five hours of school per day--but what Caleb does for fun counts as school. He pushes himself academically just fine. Why ruin that? Why not let him have fun and just take notes secretly on the side so I can still report to the teacher? Why not go forward with math, language arts, science, etc, but without the push--just let him pace himself to a great extent? And let him continue with his research (he's read the entire wikia on pikmin, homestarrunner, and is now working on Super Mario Bros., and in the process has learned about--and tried--animation, making computer games, writing scripts, designing, art, editing, illustrating, story structure, character, dialogue, etc.).

What's more important? Jumping through the hoops for the badges, or enjoying the journey? What's the badge good for, anyway, if you didn't like getting it?

Besides, it should be Caleb's badge (and therefore his work), not mine. Unlike some moms, I don't need him to have badges to validate myself. I have my own badges in this very area (I did, after all, skip kindergarten and then leap over 2 other grades, start college on a four year, full tuition scholarship at 16 and graduate summa cum laude in 3.5 years. Without breaking a sweat or ever feeling challenged, and while I was creating a curriculum and teaching in a junior high school, and with all of my professors after me to become their teaching/research assistants. I got the badges myself.)

The other "ah-ha!" moment I had this weekend dealt with the fact that people have been telling me for months now that "there's something wrong with Caleb." They identify right away that he's not your average six year old, so they interpret that as "something wrong." And I believed them.

The "ah-ha!" was that Caleb is profoundly gifted intellectually, but he's an average six year old socially, emotionally, developmentally, in his attention span, etc. It's the thing the kid's mom said: "He's a kid." Caleb talks like a ten year old and is the size of an 8 year old--but he's six. You see how people could come to the conclusion that "there's something wrong"?

Once, when I was a tween, I was given a piece of cake with a red sauce on top. I thought it was strawberry, and I love strawberry. You can imagine my disappointment when I tasted it and it was HORRID. Then my mother, who was with me, tasted her identical cake and said, "That is the most delicious raspberry topping!". It was awful strawberry because it was raspberry.

Caleb is like that. People look at him and expect him to behave like an 8 or 9 year old. So when he acts like a six year old, they're convinced something is wrong. In reality, there may be nothing "wrong" except the expectations.

A concrete example: Caleb can read on at least a third grade level in many ways. But he couldn't stay on task during his reading test. Part of this might be ADD, part fibro, and part most certainly is that average first graders are expected to read books with 5 word sentences, one sentence per page. Caleb can comprehend more than that, easily, but he doesn't necessarily Want to. Nobody would expect an average first grader to want to read a thousand words in one sitting. Just because Caleb can do that intellectually doesn't mean he can emotionally. Emotionally, he's six.

I listened at the door of his classroom at church, and heard kids fidgeting, talking out of turn, making comments that were off topic, etc. Caleb only said, "I'm crashed out of this," which his teacher thought was some kind of emtionally tragic expression of exclusion, but which was, in fact, Caleb's normal way of verbalizing, "I'm bored." He was mildly confused by (but accepting of) his teacher's reassurance that No, he wasn't. Being excluded, she meant. Allowed to not participate because of boredom, he heard. I suspect this is fairly typical of Caleb's interactions with the world. It's like Caleb speaks in literature, but doesn't realize it, and then it never occurs to him that maybe he wasn't understood. So he's puzzled and confused by interactions with people who expecte him to be average, and he responds in ways many six year old boys do.

Ironically, Caleb may never be acknowledged as profoundly gifted because verbal talents are not as highly regarded in our world as artistic, musical, athletic, scientific, and mathematical talents. In fact, many gifted and talented programs really are "advanced math and logic" programs. Most kids with profound verbal gifts just express it by reading a lot, writing (sometimes in the closet, so nobody knows), and talking well. Nobody looks at that and says, "Gifted!" They say, "Now you're required to read a thousand pages a month when everyone else is required to read 200." That's not really satisfying to a gifted kid any more than doing extra math worksheets is. Keeping busy is not the same thing as learning.

Part of the problem, I think, is that your average family can only deal with verbal talents that way. Musical and athletic talents you can take to teachers and coaches. Science and math talents get plopped in gifted and talented programs. But verbally gifted kids are expected to sit still and attend the young writer's conference once every two years. There are few programs in place to handle them. It has to do with that talent dynasty thing I wrote about last year--unless you have a writer in the family, the tools, lifestyle, processes, etc necessary for being a good writer must be learned fresh.

But with me and Tim pursuing creative things all day, Caleb thinks it's normal to spend hours working on a novel. He knows how editing works (he edited a whole chapter of my book for me--so well that I will use most of his changes!). He knows how to get past a writers' block, and how you structure your day around writing, and how reading and writing can interact, and how to use the computer in writing, how to get and develop ideas, etc. etc. etc.

But, in fact, being in a gifted and talented program is as much for a badge as for the learning. Our house is a gifted and talented lifestyle. Home school is perfect for Caleb.

I'm not saying Caleb doesn't have ADD. I'm not saying he doesn't have fibro. I'm just realizing now that those things don't define him. He is a complex interaction of his talents, his normalnesses, and his disabilities, just like the rest of us. Taking him to a psychiatrist who specializes in average ADD kids probably won't serve him as well as taking him to a specialist in gifted children, because I think that some (or many) of his "problems" are actually just things he will grow out of as he grows into his brain and his large stature and doesn't any longer have to deal with the disconnect between his advanced mind/body and his normal interests/ emotions/self-control. I sure would hate to medicate him because he's bored and doesn't know how to handle that feeling.

Intellectually advanced, developmentally normal, ADD, fibro, and all the other labels shouldn't be allowed to overshadow this one thing:

He's a kid.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wow--why I hate English programs, by someone else

This article fully explains how I feel about literary fiction, and with more information than I knew.

I should stop saying, "I can't write because I don't write literary fiction." I've fully believed that since I was in 8th grade and had to start reading "real" books.

What made classic literature in days of yore? Staying power. People loved Shakespeare because it was good and it was cool and everyone kept rediscovering it.

What makes classic literature now? Literary criticism.

Have you read some of that lately? It embodies everything I hated about college. It IS elitist, superficial, esoteric, and false, just like Wolverton says.

And, after reading Wolverton's article, I am completely willing to admit that the seventh Harry Potter book was the most powerful, life-changing book I've read (short of the scriptures) in YEARS. Why have I been embarrassed by this?

And why should I be ashamed that I write fantasy?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Speaking in Church

I just caught Daniel tearing pages out of Tim's Bible and shoving them into the CD player. I'm not sure what he thought would happen. They didn't play. Next time Tim looks for the book of James, he'll have an unpleasant surprise. Such is Sunday around here.

It was our turn to speak in church again. We haven't been asked to speak since we moved in, so it had to come sometime.

Naturally, given the season, the topic was gratitude. I actually learned a lot preparing for the talk.

I intended to just read quotes from General Authorities for the talk. What more could I say than has already been said--and eloquently?

Apparently plenty. I found myself sharing stories from my life to illustrate the points. Usually I plan this, but I have gotten the distinct impression that my fairly traditional ward thinks we're strange. Okay, it's more than an impression. People have told me they think I'm strange. More than once. So it was a little threatening to try to speak to them, so I had planned to stick to stuff other people have said. I hadn't taken into account my love of speaking to and teaching large groups of people, or my inability to keep my mouth shut.

I don't know if the talk helped my case for normalcy much. Naturally, after hearing a talk on gratitude, a lot of people felt compelled to say "thank you." I have no idea if it was heartfelt or guiltfelt thanks. One of the junior high aged boys sought me out after the meeting and made a comment that made me wonder if I helped my case or not. He said, "I'm going to ride my bike down the stairs!"

Oh. I said that, didn't I.

So much for giving people the impression that I run a normal household.

For the record, nobody's actually ridden their bike down the stairs. Yet. I believe my comment was something like some days I'm thankful that nobody's ridden their bike down the stairs, if nothing else.

I suppose there is a tradition of literary moms having insane households and telling about it. Like in "Please Don't Eat the Daisies." And Erma Bombeck. And that lady who wrote for the Daily Herald for years whose name has two 'A's in a row somewhere in the middle (Baadsgaard?--something like that).

Maybe by hearing that I catch my kids trying to take apart the walls to fix the imaginary broken water pipes--or having full-blown screaming matches over imaginary toys, or that they end up crying about grammar and usage debates, or that sometimes I find they've taken all the bedding and mattresses off the beds, or that they've dumped all the stored baby clothes into giant pile that they're swimming in and wearing (Again.), or that they added an entire bottle of shampoo to the bathwater and are feeding it to each other--maybe other moms will laugh a little and think their lives are, at least, normal.

I like to think that other families have these kinds of misadventures too, and they just don't talk about it as much as I do.

But maybe they laugh because they never even thought of these kinds of things happening before.

As one mom said a couple of years ago, "I don't think it would occur to me to worry about riding bikes down the stairs. I'd be shocked if the bikes came in the house."

I guess that's where I'm weird. I wouldn't be surprised at all if someone wanted to take the bikes to bed with them like any other kid takes a teddy bear. I might have an issue with it, but I wouldn't be surprised.

Oh, well. At least the talk went smoothly. And hopefully it won't be my turn for another couple of years.

By then we may have moved.

Thanksgiving Report

Usually, the thing I am most thankful for during Thanksgiving is that it's over and everyone else had their "event."

I don't know who planned holidays and traditions, but it certainly wasn't a mom.

Kids see holidays as fun fun fun, food food food, presents, decorations, parties, trips, feasts, etc.

But somebody has to make all that stuff happen. And guess what? It's me.

Like I said, who planned this? And who voted me in? Where was I when all that happened?

As one of the princesses in my book said before that section was excised from the manuscript, "The better question is, since I'm stuck with this, what am I going to do about it?"

What I do about it is only as much as I have to. We don't do things in holidays that I don't like, that I don't agree with, or that just take too much work. We don't stick with tradition at the expense of sanity and health. But we do the key things that make the kids feel like they've had a celebration and that help them understand the good things (the family bonding, the yearly routine, and the "specialness") of holidays. For example, we do a Christmas tree, and lights, and presents, and stockings. We don't do a Christmas dinner (if I recall right, we mostly do the same thing we do on Sunday--tomato soup and cheese sandwiches--plus everyone eats the cereal they got). Christmas dinner is just too much. That amount of work crosses the line from "holiday" to "insanity."

We do have our own peculiar traditions. One, born of poor planning, is shopping for presents for each other that cost $1 or less on Christmas Eve, usually at a drug store because nothing else is open. (Right when most families are trying to put Christ back in Christmas by watching the nativity. Go figure).

Anyway, this year for Thanksgiving I was trying, as usual, to take the hit out of the holiday, and I thought of something I hadn't before.

Why not make everything possible for the feast the day before so that I can enjoy the holiday, too? That takes the pressure off, gives me time to fix mistakes and modify the menu, and lets me enjoy the cooking. I even got out the serving dishes the day before and put the unopened cans and boxes into the right bowls--with spoons--so that we'd have everything ready to go in that key half hour after the turkey comes out but before you can carve it when you have to make gravy, vegetables, potatoes, stuffing, set the table, deal with hungry (grumpy) kids, etc.

Just so nobody is confused, the practical (and "why is it done this way? no reason anyone can think of?") in me still was in control--we had flake potatoes instead of real ones (my kids don't care), we didn't bother with rolls at all (much less fresh-cooked ones), or a green salad, or multiple varieties of vegetables. Anything that's traditional but my family wouldn't eat, we took off the menu.

Then I went to work while the Turkey thawed instead of while it cooked. I made pumpkin and apple pies from scratch (you serve these cold anyway), starting with a whole pumkin and a bag of apples and my Dad's pie crust recipe (which beats the cold butter and ice water traditional recipe hands down--people actually eat this crust on purpose, not just because it happens to hold pie filling). I made cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. I made Georgian Sweet Potatoes from a recipe I found in a ladies' coalition cookbook published in 1920 (no marshmallows and the only sugar is the brown sugar glaze--and it's better than any other sweet potato recipe ever)--I put the assembled recipe into the fridge to bake the next day. I made this from scratch, too. I made pear-lime creamy jello from a recipe I learned from Tim's grandmother (it has cream cheese and cool whip in it, and it was the only dish we actually ate all of at the table). I went to bed tired, but ready for Thanksgiving with all kinds of fancy, home made from scratch dishes.

The turkey came out perfect (Thanks to my dad informing me that the internal temperature of the bird rises after you take it out of the oven, so take it out 5 degrees before it's "done"). And we had a fabulous feast, which the kids didn't really eat much of but enjoyed (especially the jello). And you know, from scratch does make a difference. I have always hated cranberry sauce--but the real stuff, made from real cranberries, is "so easy it's embarrassing," as my mother said, and it's good.

The pies were really good. It was the best pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. I'll never eat canned pumpkin again. The kids hated it. They liked the concept, but hated the result. In fact, the only dessert they loved was the crustless chocolate mousse "pie" (I ran out of energy and just made the filling--chocolate pudding with cool whip stirred in). Mostly they just loved the cool whip. Next year I believe I'll serve a cool whip pie. Maybe fresh berries with cool whip on top and call it pie. It's healthier anyway. Maybe I'll serve the jello as a dessert.

I am now confident enough with my Thanksgiving Dinner abilities that I would be willing to let people join us, if they could stand eating at 5:00 pm or later, not having matching dishes or even a tablecloth on the table, everyone showing up in whatever they're wearing with uncombed hair, etc. The food was good. The kids had fun. The mommy and daddy were happy.

And we had enough energy left over that we rearranged the living room furniture (Now we have a toy/schoolroom with places for three desktops, two laptops, and three printers. Now everyone can do school and I can literally see the screens of four computers at once so I know what the kids are working on.--I never have been good at "this is how it's done" including living room decor).

So that's one holiday down, and it was less work and more fun for me.

Now if I can just figure out shortcuts for Christmas and birthdays...

Rocky Road "Fudge"

The original for this modified recipe came to me in a locally-printed magazine as a cookie recipe with multi-colored marshmallows. The trouble is, it's nothing like a cookie, even if you make it round, and someone forgot that multicolored marshmallows are multiflavored as well. I don't like multiflavored marshmallows floating in fudge.

The recipe itself had merit, though, so I fixed it up some. The new version can come across as quite fancy and tasty. Unless you are a fudge fanatic,it's a pretty good clone,and easy as anything I've tried.

Rocky Road Fudge

1/2 c margarine
1 1/3 c chocolate chips (I use real semi-sweet chocolate chips--they're my favorite)
1 c powdered sugar
3 c mini marshmallows (the white kind)
1 c chopped nuts (optional)

Melt the margarine and chocolate chips together (I do this in the microwave for 1 minute, stir, and then 30 seconds more). Let cool slightly (it's not reallly hot, anyway, but you don't want the marshmallows to melt). Stir in powdered sugar and then marshmallows and nuts. This gets pretty stiff, and you might want to use your hands for the last bit to be sure they are thoroughly mixed. Roll into two 1 1/2 inch rolls or press tightly into a 9 x 9" pan. Cool in fridge until stiff, then cut.

My husband (and at least one brother in law) believe nuts belong in bowls, not brownies (or anything else), so we never have tried it with nuts. Consequently, I can't vouch for their effect on the whole.

This is the easiest candy recipe I know, short of "open the bag of chocolate chips and the bag of marshmallows and have at it". And this is nice enough to take to a party and not be embarrassed.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Parents Say the Darndest things

We've all said them--those things that make you pause and think, "If someone heard that out of context...."

From our house this week, all spoken calmly:

"Please don't juggle the baby."

"Is the baby still eating that book?"
"Yes. Is that okay?"
"As long as he doesn't choke on it."

"Why is the arm of the chair wet?"
"The kids like to lick it."


A Pre-Thanksgiving Feast

Tonight we got struck by a big ol' snowstorm.

So the kids played outside and then came in cold and I grabbed the new groceries I was unloading and fed them chips and guacamole, and hot cocoa, and threw some frozen pizzas in the oven. For many moms, a typical meal. Very atypical for us.

The kids said, "Wow! We're having a real feast tonight!"

I guess it's not the quantity that makes it a feast. It's the novelty.

Oh, and my take on frozen pizzas. We like them okay. Cheaper than buying pizza from a pizza place and the kids don't seem to notice the difference. Tonight I got Tony's pizza for the first time. We don't usually get it because it's usually not much cheaper than other brands, and, while the box is big enough to hold the same size pizza as the other brands (Red Baron, Kroger, etc), the pizza is smaller (compare the weights). So you're not really saving money. But it was really on sale today, so we got a few. One was "white whole wheat crust"--Great! I thought in the store. Whole wheat is good, right?

Then I got it home and my brain turned on. Okay--we're eating frozen pizza. Has nutritional value similar to a bowl and half of sugar cereal with whole milk, only with lots more sodium and less refined sugar (but the same amount of carbs). I compared the white whole wheat crust nutritional facts with the regular crust--more fat, less protien, but not much different. The whole wheat is the fifth ingredient on the crust (or something like that), with the first being regular old refined flour.

And then I realized that wheat is brown. To get the healthy whole wheat, you get the brown stuff. What's with "white whole wheat?" Since wheat grows brown, that means it may be whole wheat, but it had to be bleached or processed somehow. Isn't the point of getting whole wheat to avoid the processing?

Then I tasted it. It tasted like someone put extract of wheat flavoring into cardboard. You could even smell the "healthy tastes like dust" flavor.

My advice: if you want healthy, make your own pizza with whole wheat crust (preferably that you ground yourself). If you want frozen pizza, just get the normal kind.

A fun website for word-lovers

I found this site addicting. I'm sending you to it through so you know what Snopes said about it--just so you don't think I'm sending you out on an urban legend errand.

Fun site, claims to do good in the world. Check it out. Go to Snopes and then click on through to

Monday, November 19, 2007

Review of

We couldn't enroll Anda in kindergarten this year because Colorado State Law says that kids have to be 5 to start school. I understand this--the schools would be overloaded with kids who really aren't ready for the structure of school because their parents wanted free daycare. Even five year olds often aren't emotionally and socially ready for school.

But Anda recently figured out reading and took off with it. I watched her successfully answering the questions Caleb was working on for school, and she is comfortably on a first grade level, even though she's only four.

I really didn't want to waste any more time with her. We wasted a lot with Caleb and then had trouble convincing anyone to let him go ahead (although his teacher is fabulous and she finally said he's working at least on a third grade level, so let's go there). Anyway, she really wanted to start school, but I didn't see how I could possibly do a traditional home school with her because I was already supervising Caleb constantly to keep him on task with the extra lessons his teacher assigned (for first grade, not the ones on his level) that he thought were boring (they were, for him. Anda thought they were great), plus I have four kids and the oldest is six. I was already struggling with balancing schooling, making meals, doing laundry, and writing my book. The house was so far down on the list that my mother hired someone to come pick up for me because I had to let something go. I can't juggle that many balls at once.

To complicate things, Anda had been watching Caleb doing the Compass Learning Odyssey curriculum online, and she wanted to do that. But Compass doesn't contract with homeschoolers.

But they did recommend a solution to me: Time4Learning. (I told them I'd be reviewing their site, and they said they'd pay me for it and if I wanted to help them with SEO stuff, could I please put multiple links to their site in? So if you find lots and lots of links, it's just a favor to them--it helps them move up in the search engines online so they're easier to find).

So we looked up

They are a company that makes the CompassLearning curriculum (plus some math logic curricula for gifted kids--'gifted' apparently means math gifted to them; my kids are profoundly gifted, but in language arts more than math). The curriculum is extremely affordable--as of this writing the subscription costs $19.95 for the first child and $14.95 for an additional child (I don't know about more than two--Dan's not ready for school yet). Plus they have a two-week money back guarantee so you can test the program (they asked me to mention that).

We were already sold on the program before we contacted them because Anda wanted to use the Compass curriculum. I like Compass--it is considered "challenging" by lots of people. I have found that it's just right. (The other curriculum Caleb uses repeats everything ad nauseum so he can hardly stand to do it for beating the subject to death in the name of educating him). We love Compass.

The things that Time4Learning have added to their access to Compass that are really valuable are the "playground" and the "Lesson Plans."

First, the playground: The Playground is a page FULL of over a hundred links to fun, non-addicting games and websites for kids, several with "one computer-two player" games that I love the kids to play together. It links to things like Brainpop (most of which is only accessible with a subscription, which Caleb's school has), PBSKids, and classic games, puzzles, and activities. The thing I like about the playground is that the link is disabled until the student has done their lessons. The parents set the timer for the amount of lessons they want done, and when the timer counts to zero, the playground is activated. There is not a ding or notification, though, so Anda actually finishes her lessons instead of quitting as soon as the playground is "open." Then, even more valuable (and what I've often wished Caleb had), the playground also has a timer on it, which the parents can set to any amount of time up to 59 minutes. Whent the timer runs out, the playground shuts off until more lessons are done. This is great--nobody gets too into their games because they know the games are going to shut off automatically!

We do sometimes circumvent the playground and just open another browser window for "recess", though, like when the kids want to go to Brainpop for recess. I personally don't consider BrainPop recess--so why would I want to stop them?

The other really valuable thing that Time4Learning provided me was the "lesson plans", which are actually the "scope and sequence", or list of activities, for the entire Compass program, from pre-k all the way through 8th grade.

This has been like gold for us. The lessons include the activity numbers. The way Compass works is the child is placed on a level. For Time4Learning, the parents can request a level and have their child placed there without justifying it. (With Caleb's public cyberschool, we have to justify everything and can't just move him up, even if he's ready.) Whatever level you are on, Compass gives you access to one level up and one level down (so Anda has Pre-K, K, and 1; Caleb has K, 1, and 2). With the scope and sequence available to us, we can skip ahead to any lesson we want, on any level, in any subject, including subjects where there are a few lessons but not a whole curriculum available yet (like Social Studies). With compass, if you have the activity numbers, you can access any lesson from the home page, so I've been able to set Anda to work on some third grade lessons, and Caleb, too.

For kids who are self-motivated and love learning, this is fabulous. I printed the scope and sequence, and I mark off activities on the list as they are finished or excused because I see no reason to do every activity Compass offers, which messes up their system of always showing you what lesson to do next.

Time4Learning makes homeschooling easy--even with my four kids under 7 years old. The thing I like about the system is I tell Anda what activities to do (I stick a post-it note on the screen each day with the activity numbers), and the computer does the teaching. I keep an eye on things (and you can get reports on the child's progress to help this) and answer questions, and we re-do activities where she doesn't get 4/5 or more on the quiz at the end, but I don't have to teach every lesson to both kids. I don't have to come up with worksheets (they're included as printables) if they need more work on something, it's easy to repeat lessons, and the kids can go as fast and as far as they want.

I don't have to teach, I don't have to be the bad guy, I don't have to decide what to do next (other than to say "yea" or "nay" on each activity--I'd suggest you skip the level 2 lesson on hygiene that openly teaches that you get colds from dirt and worms, which just plain isn't true, but that's the only really awful lesson in the three grades worth of lessons we've done), I don't have to wonder if we are meeting State Standards, I don't have to keep the attendance records and portfolios required by Colorado law (it's automatic!), and I don't have to worry that we might not be covering the stuff other kids that age are supposed to know.

It's also comforting to me that this is not a Colorado program, so no matter where Tim gets a job and we move, one or both kids can get a good, self-paced education. And, since Compass is used by 90% of schools in the nation (or so they say), if the kids do decide to go public eventually, I can take the reports in and prove that the are on an advanced level using something the teachers can accept, since they don't like to take my word for it.

Most of all, the kids love it.

I know a lot of homeschool moms think I'm nuts for going cyber(when you have only one kindergartner, and they are functioning close to grade level, homeschooling is easy and the materials are cheap), but Time4Learning is worth checking out. There are even free sample lessons on the website, and a forum for parents for support.

The only downside to the entire system that I've found so far is that the website is designed poorly so that instead of looking classy (and, therefore, trustworthy), it looks a little like a scam--too many words per page, too many testimonials, just like ads for nutritional supplement snakeoil and chiropractor ads in magazines. But my experience with the site has been good, the curriculum is so fun we have to stop the kids from playing, and the parents forum and scope and sequence are great resources (and accessible, at least partially, even if you don't join).

Review of Diapers-a post for mommies

We recently from Huggies (provided for us) to Parent's Choice, my usual favorite diaper. Then Daniel got a whole-body sandpaper rash, and started scratching around the top of his diaper constantly, and pushing it down to get it off his skin. So we assumed he was sensitive to diapers.

So now I've tried several kinds in the last week, and thought I'd give you the rundown.

Previous Experience: I have used Target, Albertson's, and King Soopers/Smiths store brands before and found them fine. The Comforts Plus (King Soopers) were a Pampers clone. All three store brands worked great, were fairly decent clones of national brands, and didn't become my diaper of choice because they cost more than Parent's Choice, the WalMart brand. That was the only reason, though, and they are cheaper than the national brands they clone. Also, Albertsons offers "Double Ups", a pad you put into the diaper for long trips or nighttime that really does stop the leaks by making the diaper twice as absorbent. I haven't seen these elsewhere. FMV diapers (a generic brand) are cheap--in every sense of the word. They leak, they fill quickly, they tear when you put them on, they fall off. They are a classic case of not worth the savings. The cost of diapers should be judged by the day: how much per diaper times how many you use in an average day. FMV diapers cost less per diaper, but you have to use so many per day that they end up costing more. I haven't used Costco brand that a lot of parents love because I don't find I save more by shopping store sales and stocking up than I do buying national brands at Costco's discount price, especially when you consider you have to save more than the membership fee before you've actually saved any money.

This Week:

Parents' Choice diapers--the WalMart brand, these really are cheaper than anything around ($10.50/bag vs Pampers $20/bag). These are also usually the only diaper that doesn't leak on my kids. The absorb quite a lot before they fall off (don't criticize--most Moms who have more than two kids and more than one in diapers know this). They have no scents, no colors, no additives (lotions, etc), so I personally am not allergic to them. Despite this, some kids are sensitive to them for some reason, but my kids mostly haven't been. The disadvantages: the tabs. The tabs are horrid. Two or three diapers per bag has tabs that tear off while you're diapering your child. This sounds like no big deal, but when you've hand to wrestle the kid down in the first place, the room stinks, and they are rolling around while you're diapering, this can been worth swearing about. Also, the tabs stretch and slip, making the diaper less tight (and therefore more leak-prone) the longer the kids wear them. And the tabs roll when active kids wear them, eventually becoming unstuck completely. The tabs are newer (last 2 years), and I need to complain about them because they're ruining the best diaper out there. Whoever designed them tried to jump on the "stretchy sides" bandwagon without understanding that the lack of stretch in the sides is what makes it possible to tighten a diaper enough that it doesn't leak. Oh, and they don't print the diaper size on the diaper like the other brands do. This is no big deal if you only have one in diapers, but I'm a Mormon mommy. I have two. All the time. Oh, and they sag when wet.

Luvs--have a strong "baby" smell that walks around with your kid. They don't leak, but they do get saggy. Also, the outer cover becomes translucent when wet, so you can see the pee in the kid's diaper. I find this unacceptably disgusting. There are tabs on the front and back of the diaper, which makes it go on and stay on better. Plus, Luvs have the old-fashioned velcro plus sticky tabs that are the best tabs that were ever made. They stay put. Daniel actually prefers the Luvs, but it's purely because of the picture of Blue (from Blue's Clues) on the front. I know this because he won't wear the ones that have Magenta, Green Puppy, or any of the other characters on them.

Huggies--I hate Huggies. The tabs are so stretchy that you have to overlap them to get the diaper tight enough, but they aren't fuzzy tabs (the kind made to overlap), so you have to do them up off-set, and there isn't enough panel for that, and the tabs won't stick off the panel. They leak up the back if the kid's in the right size diaper and out the legs if you go up a size. Or both if the kid makes a big mess. They don't get saggy or yellow when they get full, and if you want your kid to pee on Disney characters, these are the ones you need.

Pampers--My sister swears by these, but the cost twice as much as Parents' choice (literally), so I can't afford them, even when I have extra cash.

White Cloud--A good Pamper's clone, and the next-cheapest diaper at WalMart. They cost about as much as Luvs, but are a far superior diaper. We used these when potty training Anda, but only as night diapers because they can hold a LOT and not leak. They don't sag. The tabs stay put. They have the stretchy sides that don't stretch out (if that makes sense) so they don't restrict the kid, but actually stay tighter in place than non-stretchy-side diapers (and this is rare; stretchy sides have generally been a disservice to diapers because you tighten the legs by tightening the sides). The only problem we've had with them is Caleb was allergic to them--they made everything they touched turn bright cherry red. I think these are my choice as diapers, but they do cost more, so when I'm buying, I still buy their cheaper little sister--PC.

As for wipes, we swear by wet paper towels. They are cheaper, more absorbent, significantly bigger, and better for the kids' skin. More than one doctor has told me that kids get rashes from baby wipes, and then the rashes exacerbate the situation. And when a kid gets a severe diaper rash, the wipes hurt them (they scream and try to get away). When your kid gets a rash, the first thing a doctor says is stop using wipes. Even hypoallergenic wipes gave Benjamin a cherry-red bum when he was a baby. Plain water doesn't put chemicals on your child's skin, dries better (thus preventing yeast infections, which kids get all the time), is good for cleaning with, and is readily available. And if you are really concerned about having a wet wipe available on the spot, you can keep a few damp paper towels in a plastic baggie. They do mold if you try to keep them indefinitely, but, really, in America, water is available everywhere. Even when you're traveling. How many of you don't have a water bottle around almost all the time? (Oh, me. I don't. But I still find water easily when I need it. I suppose, in a pinch, I could spit on the paper towel, but I've only ever done that to clean faces, not bums). I usually carry a pile of dry paper towels in a baggie or in one of those diaper wipes cases and then wet them as I need them.

We have used Scott paper towels as wipes happily because they are so good at picking up messes and they're really cheap. Lately, we are using Brawny Pick-a-Size because little bums only need a half a paper towel anyway, and big ones need one and a half paper towels, so this is a perfect way to not run out as often. Even the scratchy cheap paper towels get soft when they're wet, but the really cheap ones don't pick up messes, so they tend to smear the stuff around rather than wipe it off (just like really cheap baby wipes). They also shred when wet, so you can't wet them, squeeze the excess water out, and then shake them open again to wipe with. The worst are restaurant or gas station paper towels (you know, those brown ones?). They hardly work at all, but we end up using them when we're traveling because they're there. You just have to use five or six instead of one or two to clean your kid, and wring them out well before using them.

So there's the rundown. My experiences with diapers (and I have a lot of experience--I've had someone or two in diapers for six years straight.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007


So I got a very nice rejection from an agent who read 100 pages of my book. She said I write well.

That was really nice to hear.

She said it starts too fast.

Maybe my first instinct of how it should start--with a rather lenghty (2 pages) description of Kate through a description of her relationship with books was the right thing. The agent said she needed to feel more connected to Kate before the action started. I have been concerned about this.

She said the constant references to fairtyales were relentless. I can't change that. That's the point of the book in some ways.

So we'll have to see.

At least I know it's not because I can't write.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Problem With Being Smart

Caleb finished a math lesson on rounding and took the quiz. He only got 3/5 correct, so I asked, "Why did you miss some?" I was anticipating some details about what specifically he didn't understand.

What I got was:

"Because in my case the answers were different."

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Trying to Understand Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia has always been one of those "nobody understands it, nobody can cure it, mostly it's untreatable" kind of diagnoses. So explaining it to people has always been a chore. So difficult, in fact, that I usually don't bother, and then they wonder why I sometimes just don't get things done.

Eczema is better understood. It's an overreaction of the skin to imaginary or minor stimuli. For Daniel, his skin looked like it had been burned and was as itchy as poison ivy rash if he touched clothes that had been dried with average, run-of-the-mill dryer sheets.

Asthma, closely related to eczema, is the same kind of overreaction, but of the respiratory system.

Allergies, closely related to asthma, are the same kind of overreaction, but of the body's histamine system.

Fibromyalgia is the same kind of overreaction, but of the body's nervous system. All of it.

For example, everyone gets a sore bum from sitting on a folding chair for several hours. I get achy and sore from sitting on a folding chair for five minutes. It's like my nerves send the "it's hard" signal to my brain, and my brain says "It's HARD. I can't sit there. I'm dying!" Overreaction.

Lots of the symptoms of fibro can be explained this way. Look at Devin's Diagnostic list and you'll see what I mean.

Most people get tired if they hold their arm straight out for ten, fifteen minutes. I am in agony after about ten, fifteen seconds.

Caleb and I both can't stand to watch movies or read books unless we know the story (at least the ending) beforehand. What comes out as intrigue, intensity, or touching, emotional situations for most people is unbearably intense for me and Caleb. Unless we know the ending is happy, the emotional overreaction we have to the situation isn't worth it. Caleb handles it by running, crying, or turning the TV off. I've learned to enjoy movies second-hand and read only non-fiction unless someone can tell me the ending first. I read the last page of murder mysteries right up front, right after the first chapter, because otherwise my brain overreacts to the story, putting my body in an uncomfortably tense, fight-or-flight kind of response to the words.

People with fibro tend to cry easily. Overreaction of their brain and emotions to the situation, usually.

Caleb actually verbalizes this overreaction sometimes. Yesterday he said, "If my teacher doesn't call on me next in this class, I'll shut the computer down and never do school ever again ever!"

You see? Every kid feels put out when they don't get called on over and over. Caleb thinks it might just be the end of the world. Or at least his ability to handle school for the day.

The overreaction leads to hypersensitivity to light. What is comfortably bright to you is like staring into a lightbulb or the sun to me. Multiple bright lights lead Caleb to complete, whole-brain overstimulation so that he ends up running around in circles and literally bouncing off the walls unless we can get him focused on something calming--like playdough. It also leads to the characteristic hypersensitivity to smells (your body says, "Oh, perfume!" My body says, "AACKK! Poison! I'm going to die! Close the airways, quick!"; your body says, "somebody burned the dinner," my body says, "throw up now.") and sounds (what is moderately loud to you is agonizingly loud to me--it doesn't just hurt my ears, though. It puts my brain into panic mode, so that I can't think and emotionally start into the same response Caleb expresses by running through the house) and other sensory stimulus. (This has led some of our friends to wonder whether Caleb has a sensory integration disorder, but I don't think he does. It would be the sensory equivalent of multiple personality disorder and schizophrenia--easily confused on first glance, but opposite disorders in many ways).

The inexplicable moodiness and irrational irritability characteristic of fibro, as well as the tendency to suffer from anxiety and depression, are the same kind of overreation. What might put you out for a minute might ruin my day, despite my best efforts for it not to. Someone kicks your ankle and you say, "ouch." Someone kicks my ankle, and I'm miserably angry for an hour and have to consciously relax my body and force myself to calm down. And it's not just that it hurts. It's that my body overreacts to hurts. If a sad thought occurs to me (like "someday Tim might die"), I cry. And worry about it for hours. These kinds of thoughts occur to everyone. I just overreact to it and have to decide not to let it take over my brain and emotions.

I spend quite a lot of time during the day calming myself down, staying calm, and reminding myself that "it's not real"--whatever is bothering me isn't as bad as it looks. This ISN'T a psychiatric disorder. This is part of fibro.

The overreaction explains the fibro body's sensitivity to sugar and blood sugar swings, too. Blood sugar spikes put the body on a physical and emotional high, followed by a crash. People with fibro do so much better with everything level all the time. Otherwise, what makes your body say, "Take it easy" makes their body say, "You're killing me!" A blood sugar spike is easily misinterpreted by a fibro body as a feast and then a famine (so store up some fat for next time!).

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

Explaining it this way has opened up doors of understanding for me about myself and my son.

Explaining fibro to Caleb, though, has taken some careful thought on my part. A few weeks ago, I was talking to him and he said, "I know. My brain doesn't work right. I'm just a little bit crazy." It broke my heart. My six year old isn't even a little bit crazy. And I don't want him to grow up thinking he's weird or broken. I didn't want him to feel like he can't or shouldn't do anything. I want him to feel normal and try everything and then deal with life, not run from life just in case it might hurt or be hard. So I sat him down and explained that he probably has a hypersensitive nervous system. I told him this is like a superpower--he can probably enjoy softer sounds than most people, probably gets more pleasure from color and sights and gentle scents and soft touches than most people, probably can see better in dim light than most people. It also means that the opposite is true, but we didn't dwell on that. I explained ADD in the same way (since he likely has that, too)--his brain has a special ability to think many thoughts at once, and to skip from idea to idea quickly, and think of new things in new ways ("think outside the box"). That means he might have to take medicine some day to help him stay focused when it's time to stay focused, but it also means he'll probably create wonderful ideas in his life. When we got done talking, he said, "Do I have both?" I said, "Maybe." He said, "Oh."

Later, I heard him tell Anda, "Mom says I'm extra creative." He was bragging. I was glad.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spudnuts (Donuts-revisited)

I posted a cake donuts recipe some time ago. This, on request of a friend, is a Doughnuts (includes yeast, makes a dough instead of a batter) recipe that makes REALLY GOOD doughnuts. They don't end up heavy, or too sweet, or greasy. They actually are quite a lot like fresh doughnuts from a doughnut shop. And they have less sugar than bread. Nutritionally, these doughnuts are the equivalent of cinnamon toast--almost all the sugar comes from what you put on top.

The original recipe, as I received it, made 9 DOZEN doughnuts. Since nobody I know needs that many or wants to stand and make that many, I have scaled the recipe down to make just a couple dozen. Just quadruple this recipe for the original.


1/8 c + 2 tsp sugar
1/8 c shortening, melted
1 tsp salt
1 egg
1/2 c mashed potatoes (made fresh or from flakes)
2 pkts yeast (if you quadruple the recipe, use just 7)
1/2 c hot water (for yeast, so not too hot)
1/8 tsp nutmeg or cinnamon
1 c milk, warmed to just hotter than room temp (for the yeast) or baby bathwater temp
3-4 c flour

Mix hot water with sugar. Add yeast and let it get active. Add salt, cinnamon or nutmeg, shortening, egg, potatoes, and milk. Mix well. Add flour until you get a heavy, slightly sticky dough. It should be very soft. Put dough in a large greased bowl. Microwave for 10 seconds. Turn dough over. Microwave 10 seconds more. Then cover lightly and let rise in warm place "until double"--30 minutes. Punch dough down and then roll out on a well-floured board to 1/4 - 1/2 inch. Cut into doughnut shapes using a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, or canning jar ring and a water bottle top (these work well because you can blow through the top to get stuck doughnut holes out). Place doughnuts and holes on well-greased wax paper and let raise 30 minutes. When they are double in size, slip a greased spatula under them and carefully slip (or tip) into hot oil Fry until lightly browned. Flip once and fry until golden. Cool on paper towels. Shake in sugar or cinnamon sugar while hot, glaze while warm, or frost or shake in powdered sugar when cool. If you shake them in powdered sugar when they're warm, they'll look and act sort of glazed the next day. Sort of. Best if eaten right away, like all doughnuts.

Note on oil temps: I test the oil with bits of leftover dough. When it pops up bubbling almost immediately and turns golden fairly quickly, it's ready for doughnuts. They should cook fairly quickly. It's tricky to get it just right without an electric frying pan (which I don't have) or fryer (which I just got but haven't used for doughnuts yet). If they cook too quickly, they'll brown before the dough is cooked through. If they cook too slowly, they'll absorb grease.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

CNN--Comedy News Now?

I read articles on CNN occasionally and often get lost clicking links to other stories when I do. Bad habit. Anyway, has a screen format where every article is summarized at the top, right next to the headline, so you can know the whole story without reading it. I've always seen it as some higher-ups way of shortcutting the writers and moving right on. It seems kind of counterproductive from a writer's standpoint: why write it if someone is going to give everyone the important info without having to read your words?

Anyway, today I was following links and found this summary at the top of a lifestlyes article:

"Story Highlights
Funny and busy writer Lisa Kogan details her hectic day
Offers Miss Cuckoo Pants $260,000 for extra hour of sleep
Pulls strand of ketchup-coated spaghetti out of bra"

A news summary of a comedy piece!

To me, this was much funnier than the article.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Enchiladas--sauce and all

Another recipe--I have started to store my creations here on the blog because then I can access them anywhere. And I think they're good, and, like every cook, if it tastes good I want to share it.

I've been searching for a good enchilada sauce recipe for a long time. Canned enchilada sauce is costly and often doesn't taste good. And I wanted a "throw together" recipe that uses what I usually have on hand, is easy as easy can be, and tastes great. We've tried canned. We've tried sauce mixes. Still not satisfied. So I have been using the "from mexico" sauce recipe from the Lion House International Cookbook. It's good, but not quite right somehow and it was time consuming (you have to brown flour in oil, then add water--which made a lot of steam and had to be stirred constantly while you were pouring it in...scary...and chili powder and stir while it thickens and add tomato sauce get the idea).

So I was reading one of my "recipes from our school" collections and found a recipe for cheese enchiladas that I had ignored before (who wants cheese enchiladas? We need meat!). Today I realized there was no "1 can of enchilada sauce" in the recipe, so I read it and found it was a recipe for sauce with instructions on how to use it to make cheese enchiladas--but the recipe was for the sauce. And it had the easiness factor right. But the spices were all wrong (1/4 c minced onion _doesn't_ equal 1/3 c fresh onion--1 tbsp minced dried onion equals one whole onion) and, true to form for these recipe collections, there were ingredients listed that were not anywhere in the instructions. Go figure. (It's either that or they say, "Add the sugar" and there's no sugar listed in the ingredients so you ahve no idea how much to use).

Anyway, knowing what I know about flavors we like, I made up my own spice combination to add, and played with the recipe, and it worked.

So, with no more blabbing: Enchilada Sauce

appx 30 oz of tomato sauce (2 big cans or 4 small cans)
1 tbsp minced dried onion
1 tbsp chili powder (don't worry--it's not 'hot' when it's done)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp garlic powder (or salt--I have a single bottle that has both mixed)
1 c water (or so)

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan. Add water until it's the consistency you like. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15 minutes.

Use it straight for beef enchiladas. Add 1 c sour cream and 8-10 oz (1 can for most cans) cream of chicken or mushroom soup for chicken enchiladas.

It came out really really good. Finally.

Filling for enchiladas:


Brown 1 lb ground beef with onions (if you want to use them--in any form). Add 3/4 c sauce and 1 c cheese. Stir well. Fill tortilla with a line of this and a handful of cheese. Or layer beef mixture, cheese, and tortillas and pour sauce over all to bake.


Dice cooked chicken (1 whole chicken makes about 1 13X9 pan of enchiladas if you pack them tight). Add 1 can olives, sliced (or use sliced olives), 1/2-1 1/2 c sauce, and 1 chopped onion. (The onion part has been a sticking point for me because I don't like biting into onion. You can sautee the onions first so they aren't crunchy, or use minced dried onion or onion powder, or you can use the above sauce, which has onion in it, and skip the onion in the filling). Put the chicken mixture and a handful of cheese into a tortilla and roll it up. Or layer tortillas, chicken, and cheese. Pour sauce over all and bake. Tonight I skipped the olives and just put in the chicken with a little sauce on it and the cheese, and it was great!

Baking instructions
Put filled enchiladas (or layers) in a pan "greased" with some of the sauce. Cover with remaining sauce. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes at 350 if you don't use onions or pre-cook them (45 minutes covered at 350 if the onions are raw). Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven for 10 minutes uncovered, until cheese is melted and edges of pan are bubbly.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Halloween Gum

Anda ran in today and said "Are peas a fruit or vegetable?"
"Vegetable," I said.
"Oh," she said."I like them anyway."

Later, Daniel came over with a half-eaten piece of halloween candy.
"Can I have this?" he said.
"Yes; it's yours," I answered.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Gum," I said.
"Oh, gun?"
"Oh. Dumb."
"OH! Gum. Not dumb. Not dumb. Halloween gum."

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Poison Spindle and custard creme

I'd better get that manuscript spell checked fast. I just got two requests for FULL manuscripts, (never mind the partial), "please send ASAP" from well-established agencies. One is from one of the top top agencies in the nation.

That's not why I logged in to blogger, though. I initially intended to post my "mostly perfected now" recipe for easy creme brulee for one.

It is thus: One-Serving Easy Creme Brulee (any flavor)

1 egg (or 1 egg yolk--yolk comes out better, but whole egg is easier to use)
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 c liquid dairy product (don't laugh; I have successfully used milk, evaporated milk, and sour cream and milk mixed. Most recipes call for heavy cream. I am anxious to try cream cheese blended with milk. Creamed cottage cheese and milk would work, many options)
1 tsp vanilla (or other flavoring--I like 1 tsp vanilla plus 1 tbsp lemon juice)

Whisk it together. Put it in a ramekin (or other single-serving glass baking dish). Put the ramekin in a pan of hot water (water should come about half way up the side of the ramekin) and bake it at 300 for about 45 minutes. It's done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. It will still jiggle, though. Cool before eating. You can torch sugar on the top to make it official, but ours hardly ever lasts long enough to cool!

First Lines Revisted (again and again and again)

An agent requested the first hundred pages of my novel, and I was just getting ready to send them (Oh they were so perfect!) when I happened to reread chapter 1.

And I hated it!

Back to the drawing board.

The only first line I come back to over and over is the one I started with 2 years ago. The one that precipitated the cascading out of the rest of the novel.

"Kate hated to read."

But but but....I protest to myself. But I can't get away from it. The purpose of the first page, I tell myself, is to introduce the characters and setting, primarily. I'm not even going to try to introduce the entire problem on the first page because it is a complex issue--princess is missing, witches have taken over, and only Kate can fix it. (Funny that I haven't been able to distill it to that before, and now it was so EASY!). That comes within the first few chapters, anyway. I introduce the "urban fantasy" part's setting on the first page (used bookstore in the fall). So that leaves me with the character for the first paragraphs.

And "Kate hated to read" is a good way to start an introduction to this character, who says she hates to read but it well versed in both literary convention and the details of the literature, and who is sixteen but is just moving into an apartment above a used bookstore.

So I rewrote the beginning. Again. Back to square one, but with different words and not so long. Back to an introduction to all of Kate through an explanantion of her relationship with books. Back to possibly boring, but back to where I started and where I keep coming to.

Hopefully that's because it's actually the right beginning instead of being "like a dog to his vomit", as they say.

Rewrote that beginning twice, getting it just right and polished, and am now reading for typos in the 100 pages, which I thought were perfect but needed some tweaking (that resulted in the whole book being 6000 words shorter), and I'll send the partial off tonight.

I know you aren't supposed to query until it's all perfect. My problem is I always think it's perfect. And then I can always find something to fix.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Juvenile Primary Fibromyalgia Syndrome

Editor's note: I'nm not coming up high on searches anymore, but I'm glad I wrote nonetheless. I fixed the link below, if you want to look at Devin's list.

When I discovered that I am the second link you get on a google search of Colorado Juvenile Fibromyalgia, I decided I'd better write this all down.

We went to the doctor about whether or not my son has JPFS, and she belittled me and referred us to a psychiatrist--and wanted to send someone over to evaluate our son in our home to be sure it's not the home environment (read "his mother") that's causing the problems. The answer is no. You can evaluate what happens when he tries to handwrite just as easily in an office. And nobody is going to want to sit up until 6:00 am with me just to prove that he really can't fall asleep, even though we're doing everything right at bedtime (yes, I've fixed our "sleep hygiene").

So I did more research and discovered that mostly JPFS is diagnosed in teens.

I am not a doctor. I'm a mother. And a person who has lived with fibro in myself and my family all my life. Here are my thoughts on the issue:

The basic foundation of my ideas is simple. IF fibro is genetic (which the studies are saying is true), then it is something you are born with.

That means that you have it when you're a baby, and when you're a kid, and when you're a grownup. This is something nobody is denying.

IF fibro really is a hypersensitivity of the central nervous system (cause: genetics), THEN anyone who has fibro, regardless of age, should have the symptoms of a hypersensitive central nervous system.

SO I've looked at "Devin's List" (here)(, and those symptoms of just fibro, not of myofascial pain, should show up in children. The pain maybe not because mostly they haven't had a chance for the myofascial pain to develop until they are teens. This is why kids are not diagnosed until they are teens.

The problem is the diagnostic criteria for fibro for adults have been applied to kids, and the pain is one of the diagnostic criteria. But the pain is a side result of the fibro, not an actual symptom of it (see Devin's book and website for more on this). So to diagnose fibro in children, you would have to go with some core criteria rather than the adult diagnotics. The hypersensitivity of the CNS would be there, even if the pain is not. This is not an unsupported statement. A quick review of the abstracts of studies on JPFS (using Google Scholar) makes it clear that studies have established this already. The pain, dizziness, headaches, etc. are not any more frequent in children with fibro than they are in children without. Those are actually symptoms, according to Devin, or myofascial pain that accompanies fibro.

So to properly diagnose children with fibromyalgia, the researchers indicated that the only diagnotic criteria that are reliable are sleep disturbances (not "not refreshing sleep" that some people use, but just disturbances) and tenderpoints, which JPFS sufferers have. If you carefully read Devin's diagnostic list, you'll see that other symptoms of FMS could occur in children, but they would be attributed to other things.

Notably, those symptoms could easily be attributed to ADD. And sometimes the treatments would work, since both disorders affect (or are caused by--nobody knows for sure) both the dopamine and serotonin systems in the brain. Some people, apparently, have even had success treating fibro with L-tyrosine (a fairly effective home remedy for ADD) because it increases the amount of dopamine in the body (it's a dopamine precursor)--and ADD and Fibro have dopamine receptor issues (different dopamine receptors are affected in the different disorders, but increasing dopamine available wouldn't be selective in that matter).

ANYWAY, I think it could be tragic for a kid with Fibro to be diagnosed with ADD because then you're treating a very physical disorder with psychiatric drugs (not to say ADD isn't physical--I think it's also a physical disability). Psychiatric drugs are good things--if you have a problem that they help. But kids, especially who have still-developing brains, don't need their development messed with haphazardly.

Some random thoughts, now, about the specific symptoms and the kids (and the ease of misdiagnosing this):

According to Devin, fibro can include a tendency to cry easily. Also a tendency to become overstimulated. How many kids are labeled "sensitive" or "emotional" when it might actually be fibro? This tendency to be overstimulated can show up in newborns--even parenting manuals discuss it. At least in my kid, the overstimulation is expressed through hyperactivity--making him look like he has ADHD in public places with bright lights and lots of other people or new things to look at (like medical equipment or books or new toys). Likewise, the common fibro symptoms of anxiety, mood swings, unaccountable irritability, and difficulty concentrating would automatically point to ADD in a kid to most doctors, teachers, and parents. Add that to the fact that, by the time a fibro kid is school aged, they are struggling with the common side effects of sleep deprivation (because they are forced to get up even if they haven't slept and get to school), which mirror ADD too, and the discomfort sitting, which makes them squirmy. I suspect that "fibro kids" are inclined to not stay in their seats in school, not because they have ADHD and can't sit still but because the chairs are so unbearably uncomfortable that they eventually have to hop up and move around quickly to relieve the pain, just like adults with fibro do. Likewise, kids with fibro might have the common tendency to "space out" (like some ADD kids--especially, you might note, girls who have been diagnosed with ADD)(significant if you remember that fibro is more often diagnosed in women than men), the inability to hold their arms up (and therefore raise their hands in class--and therefore participate in classes at all), the very common avoidance of handwriting anything (giving them the "standard add" bad handwriting because they can't stand to hold the pen long enough to practice to get good handwriting). The physical and emotional sensitivity, along with a tendency to bruise and scar easily, that go with fibro would make it difficult for a kid with fibro to join in the regular sports and playground activities that a "normal" kid would have fun doing (for example, they would get hurt easily by being hit by a ball, and then they would be embarrassed because, no matter what they tried, they would cry about it). Not to mention they are often diagnosed with "growing pains" that exacerbate everything. And the muscle twitches that look like you have a motor tic, especially if they're on your face. Plus they've always got a runny nose (that's fibro) and are "allergic" to not just common allergens but also to changes in the weather (like rain or snow), and there's that annoying post-nasal drip that sometimes interferes with how clearly they can talk. And the sleep problems...I hardly want to go there. Suffice it to say that inability to fall asleep is often seen as a symptom of ADHD.

And, to make it all worse, fibro "cycles"--the kids have good days and bad days, just like adult sufferers, so sometimes they focus just fine and can do things, and other times they can't, so nobody would ever believe there might be a problem.

Even being in school would be difficult for JPFS kids because of weird things you'd never think of: getting up in the morning is hard for JPFS kids because of lots of aspects of fibro; wearing anything in their hair is painful for girls so they can't ever really be "in style" with their hair; they space out; inability to hold up your arms would make it hard to write on the chalkboard, hold a book, raise your hand to answer a question, participate in PE, get lunch in the lunch line, etc; difficulty sitting would make it hard to even be in class for the legally mandated 5 hours of learning a day.

Add to that the complication of not ever realizing you might be in pain (because you might not be--you just can't stand to hand write anything or raise your hand for some reason). Many adults with fibro block out the pain or simply aren't conscious of it until they think about it. Instead, they simply avoid certain activites but can't understand why. If you were a kid, this would be hard. You could never explain why you don't participate or hold still. You just can't, and trying harder makes you feel tense and that makes it all worse. So you can't tell someone why you didn't get your homework done (because you had to write a full page, and you just can't make yourself do it), but you can't say that anything hurts or that you feel out of the ordinary. Everyone (parents, teachers, friends)would be upset at you all the time. You would constantly hear "Why can't you just get it done?!" and you would wonder, yourself, "why not?" Just like I wondered for years why I couldn't just wash the dishes and pick up the toys.

How would that be for your self esteem? It's hard enough for grownups...imagine if you're six!

And nobody, of course, is pointing out that a senstive central nervous system isn't all bad. We just focus on the bad because it can be debilitating. But that's another blog post for another day. One about how fibro is one of those "superpowers" that also had handicaps attached (I can hear softer sounds than most people--oh, that means that moderately loud sounds are unbearable!)

Anyway, I'm sure there will be more on this soon. I just am starting to think I need to find out who to call to get this better known as a problem.....

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ups and Downs

Got a partial request--and then a nice rejection with a personal note. My novel is not high concept enough.

I had to look that up.

High concept, as far as I can figure, means "You can explain the plot in 10 words or less and it has broad appeal."

You know, none of my novels are high concept, I guess. They do have very intriguing premises. The trouble is, they aren't written for your average, everyday teen. They are written for 13 year old girls with IQs over 120 who are widely read but who are still a little sensitive for full-out adult situations and language in literature, although they can handle the complexity and length of an adult novel. Like Adult Lite--complex, well-thought-out, exciting, long, not really about high school (because girls like that really think high school is dumb--why would you want to read about it?)--but no sex, all off-screen or bloodless violence, and no swearing. In other words, squeaky clean.

I can see why an agent might not pick that up--there might not be a big enough market. Smart LDS girls?

So I know now that I don't write adult lit--too sweet--but I realized tonight that "Young Adult" lit is all that stuff I hate--coming of age, teen angst, etc. It's what chick lit was based on. It's set in the high school. It's gaggy.

So how do I search for an agent? What search terms do I use? "Smart?" It's like literary teen fiction, except literary has as strong (and unpleasant to me) connotations as "Young Adult". It's that genre question again...It's fairytale fantasy, but who reps that?

Sunday, October 14, 2007

happy birthday to me

For my birthday, Tim arranged it that I could go get ice cream with a couple of my friends, while the men watched the children (10 children in all). This ended up being really fun. I haven't hung out with a bunch of girls I'm not related to in years. Maybe since high school--maybe even since junior high--except on my mission.

What I realized, hanging out with a couple of very intelligent women who I respect a great deal, is that I am a smart person. I already knew this. It's just that kids don't care if you're brilliant--they just want dinner and a hug. So I don't get to show off my brain much. Instead, i spend all day facing things that I'm failing at, like keeping house. It was nice to have a chance to do something I'm really good at--talking with brilliant people who also happen to be a writer (her book's under contract at Galludet University Press right now!) and a musician (just ready to submit a song to a publisher). So that was really edifying and satisfying, although I missed Tim. He still is my best friend anywhere, and, while talking to girls is fun, talking to couples is even more fun. I married Tim because he's my best friend, and it's still true. (And he does care that I'm smart, and doesn't care that I'm a terrible housekeeper).

Then, when we left, Tim suggested we get pizza. I had scrounged ten dollars to get ice cream and then one of my friends treated us, so I still had it. Enough to get just one pizza and share it. But we got to the pizza place literally two minutes after they closed. So I knocked on the door. And the kid there gave me the armload of pizzas he was going to have to throw into the dumpster. For FREE! So we came home with five pizzas. This was a huge fun thing for us. We all love pizza, but lately there's no spare money for such luxuries. So it was a nice birthday present.

It rained all day--and now it's totally, irretrievably fall. I had to turn the furnace on, finally.

I found a new, cool recipe from a "recipes from our students" fundraiser cookbook (I collect those old fundraiser cookbooks with recipes regular people submit--my oldest is from 1920). The recipe is labeled "Grandma Brownies." This is a stupid name because there's no chocolate in them at alll, and they are a kind of foamy-topped bar cookie that's really good. As is the norm with the non-professional recipes, you have to assume a lot in making them and make adjustments as you go. They never have good instructions. Plus, since the recipe says, "brownies" but there was no cocoa in the ingredients, I added just a touch. So here is the fixed up version, which ought to be called "River Foam Bar Cookies" Or "Muddy Water" or something related but more appetizing because that's what it looks like. Maybe Albino Brownies, or Inside Out Brownies because the merengue topping is brown but the cookie/cake part is white. It comes out similar to Ooey Gooey Butter Cake

Foamy Bar Cookies (maybe Brown Merengue Cookies?)

1/2 c shortening
2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 more egg, separated
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cocoa powder (optional)
1 c Brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Cream the shortening and sugar. Add two eggs and one yolk and vanilla. Beat well. With the mixer off, put in the flour, salt, and baking powder, in that order, and then put the mixer on low and let it mix thoroughly.

At this point, the original recipe says, "spread mixture on floured cookie sheet." This is easier said than done. First of all, either use a smaller cookie sheet (not the jelly-roll size, but the 11x15 size) or don't expect it to reach the edges. Secondly, you might try just greasing the cookie sheet or just leaving it untreated or it's almost impossible to spread the stuff. It makes a very thin layer.

Now, in a clean dry bowl, beat the remaining eggwhite until it forms stiff peaks. Add the brown sugar a little at a time, beating well after each (just like you do for white sugar merengue). Beat in the vanilla last. Spread in a thin layer over the mixture already on the cookie sheet. Bake 35 minutes at 350. Remove from the oven carefully because the mixture will still be soft and the merengue will shift and break if you tip the tray (I learned this from experience).

This stuff is really good. It just needs a better name. I'll take votes in the comments, if you want to comment.

Other really great recipes from this book that I can email you if you want: icebox cookies (like home made cinnamon cookie dough tubes--fun and honestly the tastiest dough I've ever tried) and a mexican meat dinner torte that was fabulous and easy. I call it "Taco Stacks" because that's what it really was.

One of the things I've learned lately is that being poor forces you into a healthier diet. I can't afford to buy salad dressing lately, so I finally learned how to make my own. It's just as good as the original, there are millions of great recipes online, and it doesn't have any chemicals or preservatives in it--just herbs for flavor and, usually, mayo and milk for substance. I also (thanks to the Desperation dinners Ladies) can now make my own taco seasoning that tastes just like the taco seasoning packets from Western Family (1 tsp chili powder, 1/2 tsp each cumin, garlic, and onion powders, 3 tbsp ketchup, and 1/3 c water, and a dash of pepper for 1 lb meat). Cheaper, easier, and I never have to worry about running out--and, again, no preservatives added (other than what might be in my spices).

So why am I spending so much time cooking? I think there must be two reasons: One is that I hadn't turned the furnace on yet and so I think I was cooking to warm up when it got cold outside. I've always been sensitive to the outside temperature so that even when the house is plenty warm, if the temp drops outside, I'm freezing. The other is that by nightfall, my body aches even when I'm sitting in my rocking chair, so I find myself wandering the house, too achy to sit or to clean up, and baking (specifically--not cooking) is a pacing kind of activity, so I bake. The moosebutter guys used to laugh because I made a cake every night at midnight when we lived in Provo. Now I am tempted, and often resist, but not always. So, I guess, I'm a good cook, at least partially, because of fibromyalgia!

What a strange life I lead.