I laughed until I cried

The ancient Greeks believed in a concept known as the “wandering womb.” It sounds like the title of a horror B-movie, but it’s actually the (disturbing?) notion that a woman’s uterus could travel throughout the body, and depending on where it decided to hang out, it could cause all sorts of different “female” issues. Because of this, women were prone to bouts of “hysteria,” which is kind of a catch-all phrase for any mental or emotional problem that the medical community declared to be “uterus-induced.” Fun fact, the Greek word for “uterus” is “hystera.”

Also, I’m just going to throw this in for kicks, this is an actual passage from a document written by a 2nd-century Greek physician named Aretaeus:

“In the middle of the flanks of women lies the womb, a female viscus, closely resembling an animal; for it is moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks, also upwards in a direct line to below the cartilage of the thorax, and also obliquely to the right or to the left, either to the liver or the spleen, and it likewise is subject to prolapsus downwards, and in a word, it is altogether erratic. It delights also in fragrant smells, and advances towards them; and it has an aversion to fetid smells, and flees from them; and, on the whole, the womb is like an animal within an animal.”

Now I’m not going to say that physicians have believed in the “wandering womb” concept in recent times (because that’s insane), but the concept of “hysteria” as a legitimate medical diagnosis existed until 1980. That’s crazy to me.

So why am I bringing this up? Oh, boy. Pull up a chair, and I’ll tell you the story.

When I was pregnant with my first child, Emmett, I had several bouts of what I’ve self-diagnosed as “hysteria.” The first time was truly terrifying, and after that moment I lived in fear that it would happen again at work, or in front of someone who wasn’t my husband. So what happened? I laughed until I cried. Except not like that. I laughed until I CRIED. But not like that. Like, I CRIED while laughing. But that’s not it either.

There’s no good way to explain it without seeing it, but just imagine a sobbing woman. Her dog just died and she’s heartbroken, holding his limp body. She’s devastated. Except her dog didn’t die, she’s actually laughing. But no, she’s sobbing. Clearly someone died to justify this level of emotional anguish. But she’s insisting that she’s actually laughing. But she can’t stop. A pool of tears are soaking through her shirt, and the tissues aren’t helping. She’s laughing? No, she can’t be…. but she’s insisting that she can’t stop laughing… but… the heartbreaking sobs are making everyone uncomfortable… it’s not stopping.

What could cause this level of emotional outburst? Aaron showed me a video on YouTube of a pony that was picking its feet up a little higher than normal when it walked. It was the kind of video that a normal person sees and says “Hehe, that’s cute.” Not this pregnant lady. I started to laugh, and then I felt something happen… like an emotional dam broke… and I started… crying? I didn’t know what was happening, I think Aaron thought I had gone insane, and I just kept repeating “No, I’m laughing, I don’t know why I’m crying,” but I literally couldn’t stop. I think it honestly went on for a good 10 minutes before I was able to turn off the faucets of insanity (aka my eyes) and stop laugh-crying. It was intense. It was frightening. It was, I assumed, pregnancy-induced momentary madness. It was hysteria.

There were a few other times it happened when I was pregnant with Emmett. Once time, Aaron was filling his cup from the freezer door ice-dispenser, and an ice cube fell on the floor. It was an “oops” moment. Maybe worthy of an under-your-breath brief chuckle. It became a 15 minute melt down of hysterical crying that I insisted was actual laughing that I couldn’t stop. The fact that I couldn’t stop actually made it more funny to me. And the fact that it was so funny that I couldn’t stop made the sobbing sound even more insane.

It got to the point where I could actually feel the moment a laugh “snapped” inside me, and I would just cry “OH NO” as I dissolved in a fit of sobbing (I swear I was laughing). My worst nightmare came true when it happened in front of my family. We were playing some sort of game. Catch Phrase, I think. And one of my brothers said something silly about one of the former presidents having a brother with a weird name (it wasn’t funny, I swear – Like, Jimmy Carter and his brother, James Carter), and I giggled and then cried “OH NO! AARON, PLEASE TELL THEM WHAT’S HAPPENING!!” because I knew I was no longer in control of my body. Of course, he didn’t say anything for a while, because he thinks it’s funny (it is), but my poor family probably thought I had finally snapped (I had).

The worst instance happened when I was in the hospital. I was still pregnant with Emmett, in my 7th month, and it had been determined that Emmett wasn’t growing anymore. It wasn’t dangerous for him YET, but blood-flow in the umbilical cord was sporadic at best. It was a terrifying 2 weeks as I worried that my baby could die at any moment while my husband was slowly dying next to me (it was a bad year, but all 3 of us thankfully pulled through). So I was hooked up to 2 fetal monitors, along with machines measuring my own pulse, oxygen, heart rate, and all that good stuff, for a solid 2 weeks while on hospitalized bed rest. And then something was said (I don’t remember what), and I had “an episode” and the nurses lost their shit. My heart rate was insane, my oxygen dipped, the baby’s monitors got weird… but I couldn’t stop! I finally calmed down, baby was fine, but it was scary for all parties involved.

After Emmett was born, I didn’t have any more episodes. I was so thankful that nothing ever happened at work. I told coworkers about it, just in case it ever happened and they thought they needed to call 911 or something, but thankfully nothing came of it.

When I got pregnant with Madeline, I thought “Maybe it was a one time thing,” but I was wrong. It happened again! And again! I can’t actually remember any of the reasons, but it was really something. After she was born, I thought I was good. There was no longer reason to fear public places. Everything was fine. The uterine curse was over.

Except… it’s not. It still happens. Not as much as it did, but it still happens. I can still feel the moment a normal laugh is about to turn into an episode, and Aaron quietly says “YES!!” whenever I laugh and cry “OH NO!” and let the insanity take me. Thankfully it’s still rare, but it always makes me ask “Am I pregnant?!” I’m not, this is just my life now. It’s okay to laugh about it. I am.

So why am I telling you all this? Apart from the fact that I don’t want to be ashamed of my momentary lapses in sanity, it happened again recently. This time was the first time it happened in front of the children, and it was… tense.

We were eating dinner, and I bit my cheek. Like, really bit it. I could feel the “crunch,” and I was worried that I actually bit a part of my mouth off (it’s fine, it healed up quickly). But as I was telling Aaron why I had suddenly frozen and had a weird look on my face, a tear formed in my eye. It hurt, okay! And Madeline, angel that she is, said “Mom? Why is there water coming out of your eye?” and I laughed and felt myself spiraling and cried “OH NO!” and Madeline’s face made it so much worse – she was looking at me with a combination of horror, confusion, and despair. She was witnessing her mom’s decent into madness, and I couldn’t stop laughing. I wailed “GET HER OUT OF HERE! PLEASE!!!” because Aaron was just laughing at me and looking at her face, and it was too hilarious for me to be a part of. No child should witness that. As he ushered her away from the table to let mommy have some “crazy time,” I heard Madeline ask why I was crying, and Aaron tried to explain that mommy’s not crying, she’s laughing, but sometimes she goes a little crazy. And that was so, so funny to me. The sobbing intensified. And then he said something like “You’ve never seen mom cry, have you?” because she was so terrified of what was happening, and she said “Yes, I have, she cried on Emmett’s birthday.” This didn’t make sense to Aaron, but … …

You guys, I did cry on Emmett’s birthday. Back in November. They found his presents, and opened all of them before I even woke up that morning. I came downstairs to wrapping paper and ripped up packaging everywhere. They were so happy, but I felt a small piece of me shrivel up and die because I missed the look on his face when he opened his birthday presents. It seems silly, but I don’t care. I didn’t say anything. I just sat down on the living room floor and let the tears fall down my face as they stared at me, not understanding why I was so sad. I’m crying now just thinking about it.

But, you guys, it’s July now. I don’t think I actually told Aaron I cried about it back in November, because it seemed like a silly thing to be so sad about, but now I had to explain, while sob-laughing, what she was talking about. And reliving that moment somehow made me laugh and cry even harder. The sadness of the memory, combined with the horrified look on my daughter’s face was somehow so hilarious to me in that moment that I had a moment of hysteria like none I had experienced before. It didn’t want to stop. And as I finally started to calm down and remembered how to breathe, Emmett (who stayed at the table this whole time) whispered, “Mom, are you okay?” and that started it right back up again, because no, mommy is not okay, this isn’t normal, but I can’t stop laughing about it. And I swear to you, baby boy, that this is truly laughter, despite all sights and sounds to the contrary.

So that’s my secret. My name is Casey, and I’m a walking time-bomb of emotion. Thank you for letting me share with the group.

Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth, which is a day I never learned about in school. It celebrates the day that Union soldiers marched into Texas to announce that the slaves were free. Or, rather, that they had been free for the past 2.5 years. Because apparently we thought we could just say “slaves are free” and the southern slave owners would pass that information along on their own. It’s like when my daughter says “yes, my room’s clean… but don’t look at it!”

In honor of Juneteenth, I want to share some stories of the last slaves in America. We know slavery to be “a bad thing that happened a long time ago, and then it stopped. The end.” People (white people) want to be able to say that slavery was so long ago, why are we still talking about it? Racism is a thing of the past, what are all these whiny snowflakes going on about? You can’t blame your problems on something that happened to your great, great, great, great grandparents.

But here’s the thing – it wasn’t actually that long ago. Slave ships, which kidnapped and/or captured mostly children and teens (you could fit more kids than adults on a boat) from Africa and brought them to America, were outlawed in 1808. Obviously, that didn’t stop the ships from coming. One of the last known slave ship survivors died in 1937. Her name was Redoshi, and her owners renamed her Sally Smith. Her father was killed in a tribal war in West Africa, and she was kidnapped, sold to slavers, and brought to Alabama when she was 12 years old. On the auction block, she was paired with an adult man from another tribe who spoke another language than her, and they were sold as a husband and wife “set.” They had a child while they were still slaves, and stayed together for the rest of their lives. Emancipation came when she was 17, but she stayed working the fields of her former owner’s plantation until she died. She knew where she came from, and likely still had family members living in her village, but she had no way to go back home. We know so much about Redoshi because she was interviewed for a book, a newspaper, and was featured in a short film about the benefits of sharecropping (basically a propaganda piece to keep Black people working on their plantations and stop them from moving north).

It was discovered just this year that another woman, Matilda McCrear, was the final slave ship survivor. She was brought here as an infant, and died in 1940. She was on the same slave ship as Redoshi.

I want to pause here. There are people living today who knew someone who was brought here on a slave ship. Think about that for a second. Really think about it. People are alive today who KNEW someone who was brought here on a slave ship. How royally messed up is that?

One of the last confirmed Americans born into slavery, Eliza Moore, was born in 1843, and died in 1948. Emancipation came when she was 22, and she became a sharecropper with her husband. She spent 22 years as a slave, and she lived to see the invention of the microwave oven.

A man named Alfred “Teen” Blackburn, who was born into slavery in 1842, remembered having the best job on the plantation. He got to stay inside and shoo flies from the table, serve guests at fancy parties, and take care of the children. He was given this special job because of the light skin he got from his owner-father. He is recorded as fighting in the Civil War, where he was listed as the “body servant” of his owner-father, and he served at the First Battle of Bull Run. He did not use a gun, but was given a knife to protect himself. He died in 1951.

The last American slave (though it can’t be confirmed – birth certificates weren’t given to slaves, and records were lost after the Civil War), claimed to have been born in 1841. His name was Sylvester Magee, and he served on both sides of the Civil War. He never learned to read or write, but historians who spoke to him said he could describe events from the war as only a person who had fought there would be able to do. He had four wives, three of whom he outlived. He fathered 7 children, the last at the age of 107 (no thank you). He claimed that he never drank alcohol in his life, but he smoked cigarettes for 108 years. He died in 1971.

Slavery is not some long-forgotten institution. People still live who knew the survivors. We’re hearing every day from Black people who say that the system is working against them, and the system keeps trying to argue that each individual is completely responsible for what the system does to them. You can’t tell me that we have moved past the repercussions of slavery when the people who were directly affected are still in society’s living memory. This wrong will not be righted any time soon without a decisive and purposeful decision to make changes for the better.

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that Black lives, and their stories, matter.

Yogurt – when milk goes bad, it’s good!

Yogurt is a strange food if you really think about it. It’s milk that sat somewhere much too warm for much too long and got … funky. Personally, I’m not into it. I don’t like the flavor, the consistency, or the smell. It’s a real bummer, because I love making it! And I’m going to show you how to make it, too. It’s easier than you probably think.

Ingredients and Supplies:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Thermometer
  • Pot with lid
  • Whisk
  • Towel
  • Incubation station

Yes, I recognize that it’s weird that you need yogurt to make yogurt, but the bacteria have to come from somewhere! If your grocery store carries yogurt starters (AKA powdered yogurt bacteria), go for it. Mine does, but I still always go for the single-size plain yogurt. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and I’m all about that.

The ratio of milk to yogurt isn’t SUPER important. I usually do 4-5 cups of milk with one container of Chobani, but feel free to go with a larger or smaller batch and adjust the yogurt amount accordingly. It doesn’t matter what brand you use so long as it’s got LIVE bacteria (check the label) and it doesn’t contain any “extras” (fruit, flavors, etc). Plain is best, but vanilla will do in a pinch.

What kind of milk? I prefer whole milk, because it makes a thicker yogurt. Other kinds of milk work too, but they’re going to be thinner. If you’re cool with that, then go for it. (You can add a couple of spoonfuls of powdered milk to your milk before you start this process to thicken up the end product if that’s something you keep in your pantry – and if you don’t, you should).

What’s an incubation station? It’s a warm place. Ideally, you want a location that can keep your milk around 100℉ for the entire duration of your incubation. Wrap your yogurt container (I keep mine in the pot I cooked it in, but you can also pour it into jars or something) in a towel to keep it safe from sudden accidental temperature changes. I use my oven with the light on (it stays at a perfect 100℉ until you turn off the light), but you can also use a warm room or a cooler. Before I discovered the oven trick, I used a big cooler with a tea kettle of really hot water on one side, yogurt on the other side, and towels wrapped around both for added insulation.

Directions:

  • Heat milk to 180℉
  • Cool milk to 115℉
  • Whisk in yogurt
  • Hold at 100℉ for 6-12 hours

That’s it! Couldn’t be any easier.

We heat milk until it’s really hot (but not boiling) to make sure that all the bad bacteria (from your milk, your whisk or your pot) are definitely dead. We’re going to be growing bacteria, but we want to make sure it’s just the good kind. I’ve heard that heating the milk also does something to the proteins in the milk, which makes them better for the yogurt’s final consistency, but there’s conflicting information on that. Also, make sure you STIR your milk during this process to stop it from burning on the bottom of the pan. That would be no bueno.

Make sure your milk is sufficiently cooled after the heating process so that it doesn’t kill your yogurt bacteria. Anywhere from 110-120℉ is good. We want to make sure it’s warm enough that adding the yogurt won’t drop it below 100℉.

Make sure your yogurt is at room temperature before you add it to your warm milk. Remember – we want to keep it at 100℉, and adding cold yogurt will drop the milk’s temperature too much.

How do you know how long to incubate your yogurt? I don’t have a good answer for you. I always let mine go overnight (except this last time – I set it up in the morning, and took it out and popped it in the fridge before bed). The longer it sits, the thicker and tangier it will be. It’s not really something you can check on during the process, though – each time you open it up, you drop the temperature. Stirring it disrupts the bacteria and makes them stop working for a bit, so doing that will majorly affect your incubation time. So basically, you just go until you feel good about it, and if it’s not to your liking then you do it differently next time. I usually aim for 8-9 hours. Also good to note, after it’s done incubating it’ll seem really thick – when you stir it, it thins out a lot.

Stir, stir, stir! Don’t let your milk burn, and keep an eye on your thermometer!
Incubation station! Check out that perfect temp! Please ignore my dirty oven. It’s fine.

Like Greek yogurt? Easy peasy. Snag a bowl, a colander, and a couple of coffee filters (or a few layers of cheesecloth). Line the colander with the coffee filters or cheesecloth (I like to use 2 coffee filters just in case one rips when I’m transferring the yogurt at the end), add the yogurt, and let it sit over a bowl in the fridge. If you made a lot of yogurt, you might not be able to fit it all in the colander at once – I did mine in batches. Check it every couple of hours until it’s the consistency you like. It can take anywhere from 4-12 hours depending on your preference. I like mine around the 6-8 hour mark, so I let it go overnight. Don’t worry if it goes too long and is more cream cheese than yogurt (fun fact – when it strains for a long time – 24-48 hours – it’s called yogurt cheese and is a lot like cream cheese). You can always add some of the liquid back in to thin it out if you need to. Make sure that your bowl is big enough. From my most recent batch, I used 5 cups of milk and a container of yogurt, and I strained out almost 2 cups of liquid.

The liquid strained out of the yogurt is called whey, and you should keep that if you like making stuff from other stuff (or toss it – your loss). It looks kind of like lemonade, but it’s got a slightly thicker, almost syrupy consistency. It’s full of protein, vitamins, and other good stuff, so I recommend keeping it. More about how to use whey in a future post!

And finally, unless you like eating plain yogurt (what’s wrong with you?!) you’re going to want to flavor it. I wouldn’t add regular sugar (it stays grainy and weird), but honey, ultrafine sugar (also called bakers sugar), and jam work really well. So get out there and give it a shot! You can do this!

Reluctantly Homeschooling

I’ve got a complicated relationship with the notion of homeschooling. On the one hand, I like to imagine that I could do it. I imagine my “classroom,” picture my lesson plans, and like to think about how my children would absorb the information I would teach them like little sponges. On the other hand, I have no patience for the antics of my children probably 75% of the time, I’m terrible at sticking to a schedule, and my children are more like towels than sponges (they’ll soak up the water, but need a long time to dry before you can use them again – get it?).

So it turns out that homeschooling is not for me. Unfortunately for my children, homeschooling has been forced upon us by “it-that-shall-not-be-named,” AKA “you know what,” AKA “actually-it’s-more-of-a-dolores-umbridge-than-a-voldemort virus”.

dolores umbridge Memes & GIFs - Imgflip

So now we’re stuck here, and I’m both pleased that I get to try, and horrified at how much I’m failing at being their teacher. Thankfully, Aaron is off work during quarantine (he worked from home for the first couple of weeks, but it was too disruptive taking off every time I had to work). It’s been working well to have us each take a child and do their schoolwork in separate rooms. If they’re together, Madeline “helps” Emmett by giving him all the answers (it’s great that she wants to be helpful, but please stop). The fighting has leveled off (maybe “reached its peak” is a better way of putting it), and everyone has more or less accepted that this is how things are right now.

My current struggle is that it seems like I’m drowning in a sea of schoolwork, videos, emails, suggestions, app notifications and google meetups from all of their teachers. I feel like we have a pretty good amount of coursework that we’re working our way through, but I’m getting so many emails and updates from teachers, paras and therapists that I’m struggling to sort through what is helpful and what I should ignore. Emmett’s regular ed teacher sends out a lot of homework and projects and such that I know I’m supposed to ignore (none of it is modified for Emmett – we’re strictly working with his special ed teacher – she’s amazing – but it seems like that’s not how this is supposed to work, right? I don’t even know right now). But anyway, I know I’m supposed to ignore everything from that teacher, and most of the videos and such from Madeline’s teacher hold zero of her attention, so we ignore those too, but now it’s just confusing me with the volume of information I’m getting and what actually applies to my children and what I’m not going to do, and things are falling through the cracks and I feel like I’m missing important stuff, and I think I would feel better about it all if I just printed everything out rather than viewing it online because throwing out papers and organizing the good ones would be so much easier for me and my tactile-learning brain, but I haven’t done it because it seems stupid to print things with the intention of immediately throwing them away, and this run-on sentence is exactly the way my brain feels every time I get another email or notification from their teachers. Teachers (of my children and otherwise), if you’re reading this, I apologize, this is 100% my hangup, and not on you. You’re all awesome.

While that sentence is painfully in need of revising, I’m leaving it because it feels right.

So that’s my morning rant about my jumbled brain. Let’s just let that marinate for a while and we’ll see what happens. Maybe today will be the turning point, and we’ll have an awesome day filled with structured learning, fine and gross motor skill exercises, and educational outdoor experiences. Or maybe we’ll cry about how I can’t get Emmett to count to 10 consistently and then I’ll let them veg out to TV for several hours while I stew in my frustration and self pity. It’s anyone’s guess right now, but let’s hope for the former.

DIY Coconut Milk Shampoo

I’ve been making my own shampoo for a long time. I usually use bar soap (homemade, obviously), but today I threw together some liquid shampoo just to switch things up. It’s a recipe I’ve used before, and I’ve found that it usually keeps my hair clean and soft for 2-3 days. Of course, I can’t promise what your results will be if your hair is used to being chemically stripped and then coated with silicone (or something similar) every day with traditional shampoo and conditioner. Hair isn’t exactly forgiving when you’ve mistreated it for your whole life – it takes a little TLC to bring it back from the brink.

Here’s my recipe for anyone who’s bored out of their mind in quarantine and wants to try something quick and easy.

Coconut Milk Shampoo

  • 1/2 c coconut milk (I made my own, but you can obviously buy it)
  • 1/2 c Castile soap (I made my own, but… you get it)
  • 40 drops of essential oils (I used a combination of hair-healthy lavender, peppermint and rosemary – I did not make these, sorry to disappoint) – this is optional, but I recommend it

If you have dry hair, feel free to add about 1/4 teaspoon of oil (argan and jojoba are great for hair, but olive oil is perfectly fine, too).

Mix it all up, and that’s it! Shake well before using each time. How easy is that? I know that some people recommend keeping stuff like this in the fridge due to the fresh ingredients and lack of chemical preservatives, but I never do and I’ve never had a problem. But I also have longer hair, so I use a decent amount of shampoo each time I wash my hair. Make a smaller amount if you’re worried about it, or keep it in the fridge when not in use.

I’m not going to get into how to make Castile soap in this post (it’s super easy, but rather time consuming). But I WILL tell you how to make coconut milk. It’s easier than you might think!

Basically, you only need 2 ingredients – unsweetened shredded coconut, and twice as much hot water. The water should be hot, but not necessarily boiling (I just microwaved mine for a minute). Put the coconut and the hot water in a blender, and blend it until the liquid is white and creamy. You shouldn’t be able to see any pieces of coconut. If you’re not sure if it’s blended enough, go a little longer. When you’re sure it’s as blended as it’s going to be, pour it into a bowl through a fine-mesh strainer. The remaining coconut should look kind of like white sand. If you have bigger chunks, you didn’t blend it long enough. Press it up against the sides of the strainer to get as much liquid out of it as possible. If you want to get EVERYTHING out, put the remaining bits into a few layers of cheese cloth and give it a good squeeze (I MAY have burned my fingers just a little doing this – I’m impatient). Done! You have coconut milk! Use what you need to make your shampoo, and then refrigerate the rest to drink or cook with. I added a little sugar and vanilla to what I had left over and it was delicious.

It kind of looks like if you smash a cauliflower into tiny pieces? Or like those tiny pieces of styrofoam that never go away? Whatever it looks like, it’s going in the compost. “It’s the cirrrrcle of liiiiiife!!!!”

My shredded coconut was, you guessed it, homemade. I bought a coconut a while back because… that’s what I do?… and after I got the meat out of the shell I sliced it up into 1/8 inch slices and dried it out in the oven. You never know when you need some nice big coconut flakes, right?

So there you have it. Homemade coconut milk shampoo, made from homemade soap and homemade coconut milk, made from homemade dried coconut.

Or, you know, you can just buy the two ingredients and be done with it. Sure, you can buy shampoo, but I promise you this is better. Your hair will thank you.

The new normal

It’s been almost a month since the world basically shut down, and it’s showing no signs of starting again anytime soon. I’ve been trying to keep busy as usual, but it’s been hard to do all that needs to be done. Through all this, I’ve learned that I’m better at teaching other people’s kids than my own. Either that, or I’m only good at teaching in 25 minute blocks. Whichever way you want to put it, these kids need to get back to school. I’ve been trying to use a schedule to keep us on track each day, but, damn, I’m tired. “Recess” tends to go on longer than it should, but that’s how I keep my sanity so it’s fine.

So what else has been going on? Let’s try to keep this brief.

A rabbit killed my apple tree. I’m salty toward wildlife now.

All the bark is gone around the whole tree. My tree guy said that it’ll likely get leaves, and then promptly die.

Aaron heard scuttling inside the piano, and we discovered that our mouse problem is back. Upon further inspection, mice have been inside the piano, behind the piano, and behind and under both couches. We’ve hired a new exterminator, and if he decides to show up today (it was supposed to happen yesterday, but they were a no-show) we can hopefully actually get the mice out of our house this time. I’m so, so sick of mice. Also, food is now banned from the couch. I don’t know how an entire cinnamon roll finds its way under the couch, but the mice are very pleased about it.

Madeline carved a picture into the kitchen table with a fork in the 10 seconds it took for me to bring dinner from the stove to the table. I’m salty toward my child now.

She’s banned from her tablet and from desserts for the next week. Her only regret is that she didn’t finish her picture (her words).

There’s been so much arguing and fighting between these children, it’s ridiculous. Madeline squeezed an orange on top of Emmett’s head because he looked at her wrong. Emmett keeps shouting “Stop! You’re crushing me!” every time she sits too close to him on the couch. Yesterday they were digging a hole in the backyard and Madeline “accidentally” threw a big clod of dirt in his face. Emmett is currently touching something that belongs to Madeline (just to bother her), and she can’t handle it. Emmett is shouting “Stop following me!” because she won’t stop death-glaring a him. I’m done with them.

There’s been lots of art work. To minimize the number of pictures that Madeline insists must be hung on the wall, they’ve been drawing on a chalkboard instead of paper. It’s better this way.

Emmett’s picture is on the right (“It’s a boy, Mom!”) and Madeline’s picture is on the left (“It’s you, with me as a baby in your tummy.!”). I asked what the “xH” is all about, and neither of them claim to be able to see it.

I’ve been stocking up for a craft fair that’s SUPPOSEDLY still taking place at the end of May. So hopefully that actually happens, or else get ready for a massive sale in the store!

I’m going to cut Emmett’s hair today. I’ve been saying it for weeks, but it’s happening today. Pray for me.

And, lastly, I’ve been making a metric shit-ton (that’s the technical term for it) of face masks. Please, wear a mask in public. I want to go wander the crafting aisles of Joann, and I can’t do that until this mess is over. Stay home as much as you can, and wear a mask if you have to go out. Family is free, but I am charging $5 per mask for non-family ($10 if you want a specific fabric I need to order). Kids sizes are available. Shoot me an email at [email protected] if you want one (or ten) of your own.

And with that, I’m out. I need to break up the fisticuffs that’s brewing on the other side of the room.

Why don’t I post more recipes?

I’ve been asked, on more than one occasion, why I don’t post more recipes. The answer to that is simple – I’m not good at following them. I have my go-to recipe for sandwich bread, and I usually follow recipes for other types of bread and baked goods (they tend to be finicky that way), but most of the time I like to wing it. I usually spend a lot of time looking for recipes, but I mostly use them for inspiration and approximate cooking times. I like to sub out ingredients for whatever I have on hand, and sometimes I’ll throw in a little more or less of something just because it sounds good.

Tonight, I made meatballs. And, because I’m feeling like a good neighbor, I’ll give you my recipe. I wrote this down immediately after making it, so all the proportions are correct.

Meatball Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs ground beef
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 good-sized handfuls of breadcrumbs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 big splash of milk
  • 1 small handful of parsley, chopped (stems included)
  • a scant palm-full of garlic powder
  • a good palm-full of Italian seasoning
  • a “til you feel good” portion of shredded parmesan
  • a few cracks of pepper
  • a good sprinkle of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400℉. Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix with your hands until just combined. Make sure you’re squeezing it between your fingers so you don’t end up with chunks of plain hamburger. Don’t mix it more than you have to, because meat gets weird if you get too overzealous with it. If it seems too wet, add some more breadcrumbs. Form into balls the size of golf balls, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until a thermometer in the center measures 165℉.

That’s it! Now, I know you have questions. How much is a “handful,” how do I know if I “feel good,” and do I have to use 2 egg yolks? The answer to the final question is that I have a lot of egg yolks in my fridge because I’ve been making macarons. Feel free to use 1 whole egg instead. As to your other questions, just go with it. It’ll turn out.

If you want more of my not-recipes, leave a comment!

My baking sheet isn’t dirty – it’s well seasoned.

There’s something going around

I’m a pharmacist (among other things), and the number one question I get asked at work is “What can I take for that thing that’s going around?”

Here’s what people don’t seem to realize – everything is always “going around.” People are always sick, but not always with the same thing. Just because you have a sore throat and you know someone else who had a sore throat for a few days last month doesn’t mean sore throats are “going around.” Even if you have a bunch of close friends or family who all came down with the same sickness around the same time, it just means that it was “going around” your home or work – it doesn’t mean that your local doctor or pharmacist is going to know anything about your symptoms or what illness you have. So, no. I don’t know what’s going around. Except STDs. Those things are rampant. Did you know that 1 in 4 sexually active young women are currently infected with an STD? Many don’t even know it – they just go around infecting people. But that’s a topic for another day.

That said, if you remember my Christmas post from last month, there definitely WAS a sickness going around that house, and I still have it. My lungs have decided that this is their new normal. Every cough feels like it’s coming from the deepest part of my lungs, and my throat is very displeased with the situation. A normal person might go to the doctor, because 6 weeks of a constant chest cold does not seem normal.

Unfortunately, I’m not going to the doctor because I happen to know that post-viral cough is definitely a thing, and can last for many weeks after recovering from a respiratory infection such as the flu (which I’m 90% sure I had). I also happen to know that the vast majority of doctors would prescribe me antibiotics if I went in, because that’s what the vast majority of doctors do. And here’s the real source of my angst, and the reason I’m writing this:

You probably don’t need antibiotics.

We’ve been trained since the invention of penicillin to believe that illnesses need to be treated. If I’m sick, I need to take something. If I have an infection, I need to take an antibiotic. WRONG.

Currently, it’s estimated that between 30-50% of the antibiotics that are prescribed in America are unnecessary. So if you’ve been given an antibiotic, there’s a reasonable chance that it didn’t do anything (or made things worse). But how can they make things worse?

On the small scale, taking an antibiotic when you really don’t NEED one can cause all sorts of problems. First, it kills off your internal microbiome. We’ve evolved to live in a symbiotic relationship with all sorts of bacteria. The bacteria in our intestines produce essential vitamins that we need to live, assist in digesting our food, and take up all the available space so more nasty infections (such as C. difficile – a bacteria that is very difficult to treat once it takes root) can’t get a foothold and wreak havoc on your innards. In 2017, 223,900 cases of C.diff were reported in hospitalized patients and 12,800 of those patients died. It’s not something you want to mess around with.

Women also have vaginal bacteria that help to regulate pH and keep everything in tip-top shape. Killing off those bacteria is the reason why many women get yeast infections after taking antibiotics. It’s so common that many doctors prescribe antifungals at the same time as antibiotics. So now the one medication you may not have even needed has become two medications. Because you didn’t feel sick enough already, right? But these issues (while very unpleasant for the individual) are small potatoes in the big picture. So what’s the real issue here?

Antibiotic resistance. It’s real, and it’s a problem. More than 2.8 million antibiotic-resistant infections occur in the U.S. every year, killing more than 35,000 people. This is preventable! Antibiotics are meant to save lives (and don’t get me wrong – they definitely save lives), but their overuse is responsible for the deaths of thousands of people every single year.

Antibiotics kill bacteria (they’re anti-biotic — biotic=life — get it?). They don’t treat viruses (which are not actually “alive” – they’re actually a lot like a computer virus – they can’t do anything outside of a computer/cell, but they make that computer/cell do bad things). But antibiotics only kill certain kinds of bacteria. The only way to know which antibiotic will work is to determine which type of bacteria you have and what it’s already resistant to. When’s the last time you went in with a sinus infection or ear infection and they took a swab, waited a few days to culture it, and called you back to say which antibiotic killed the cells in the Petri dish? No. We don’t do that. Even if they do a test (such as a swab for strep), they don’t actually culture it in most cases. They send you on your way with whatever random antibiotic popped into their head first. Each doctor has their own favorite antibiotic that they prescribe to pretty much everybody, and you can almost tell which doctors are staffing the local ER each day with what the most popular meds are for that shift. Sure, there are guidelines, but with most infections there’s no easy way to know what will ACTUALLY work, so they just pick one and see what happens.

So what if they chose wrong, and your bacteria was resistant? What if it was actually viral, and the antibiotic did nothing? Well, usually you get better anyway. Because (get this) most infections clear up on their own. Hear that? I’ll say it again. MOST INFECTIONS CLEAR UP ON THEIR OWN. So why do we treat everything when it’s not necessary? Because it makes us happy to feel like we’re doing something. Nobody wants to get a sinus infection (or a cough that won’t go away – just kill me already) and just sit, waiting for it to go away on its own. We want to take something! We want to be cured! Well, tough noogies, sometimes you just have to wait for your own immune system to step up.

I’m making this sound like I’m anti-antibiotics. I am, but only in the sense that I’m anti-anti-biotics (remember – “biotic” means life!). What I’m trying to say here is that I’m pro-immune system! I’m one of those weird people who thinks that medicines should be saved for the people who actually need them (like people who won’t get better without them). Drug-resistant bacteria are becoming a bigger problem every year, and this over-prescribing trend shows no sign of slowing down in any meaningful way. Doctors are a big part of the problem, but they’re not the only ones. Don’t go to the doctor if you’re not actually seriously ill! This “I’m going to urgent care because I’ve been coughing for a week,” or “I can feel like a sinus infection is starting, so I’m going to call my doctor to ask for the antibiotic I had last time” thing needs to stop. I’m looking at you.

I captured a picture of Emmett sneezing as an infant and saved it for some reason – little did I know at the time, this post was that reason.

https://www.cdc.gov/std/stats18/adolescents.htm
https://www.cdc.gov/features/antibioticuse/index.html
https://www.cdc.gov/HAI/organisms/cdiff/Cdiff_infect.html
https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0225-clostridium-difficile.html
https://www.cdc.gov/drugresistance/biggest-threats.html

Things you need to know

These “top 10” lists are so overdone, and I hate the term “musings” because it sounds pretentious, but here is a top 10 list of my random musings, in no particular order, that I think everyone should know. I hate that sentence more than you’ll ever know, but it is what it is.

  1. You don’t need to peel carrots. There. I’ve said it. Now stop wasting your time with this unnecessary step. Wash it, yes, but there are a lot of nutrients concentrated in the peel, and it honestly tastes exactly the same as the rest of the carrot. You won’t even notice it’s still there.
  2. A pharmacy is not a fast food restaurant; it’s a healthcare facility. Stop comparing your wait time to McDonald’s, and start comparing it to your local ER. Oh, and swearing at me will not make me help you faster. In fact, you might wait longer out of spite.
  3. Your armpits don’t smell bad – bacteria smells bad. So stop covering it up with perfumed deodorants and start killing those bacteria. Treat the cause, not the symptom.
  4. Spelling, grammar, and the words we use while speaking and writing MATTER. That shouldn’t have to be said. Try learning a new word each day. Those “vocab words” from school should actually be a part of your day-to-day vocabulary.
  5. Children are smart. You don’t need to dumb things down for them. Speak to them like they’re real people, and they’ll ask questions if they don’t understand. And if they’re too young to ask questions, speaking to them like they understand what you’re saying will help them to be more articulate when they’re older. Please, for the love of your child’s brain, stop with all the “baby talk” and cutesy nonsense words.
  6. Throwing things out is therapeutic. Try it. Just find something in your home that you don’t use, don’t need, or doesn’t (I’m going to say it) “spark joy,” and THROW. IT. OUT. It’s strangely freeing to realize that your stuff is just that – stuff.
  7. Composting is not difficult. If you have a yard (or I used my deck for years), just pick a spot and start throwing your food waste into a pile. It doesn’t smell, and it doesn’t attract animals (keep it to fruits, vegetables, and egg shells – meat/dairy products are what stink and pull in animals). You don’t need a fancy composting barrel or anything – just make a pile. I made a ring with chicken wire to contain it when it was on my deck, and have it contained in an open box shape with three old pallets now that it’s in my yard. It’s also a great place to throw leaves, sticks, grass clippings, you name it. Bonus – your kitchen garbage will smell better, too.
  8. Water is gross. I know I’m in the minority here, but it tastes disgusting and I won’t apologize for saying it.
  9. Don’t go to the gym – make bread without using a mixer. The result is the same, plus bread.
  10. Raking leaves is a waste of time and energy. Why rake up all the fertilizer and then fertilize your lawn artificially when you could just be mowing up your yard’s natural fertilizer. It’s like washing all the natural oil off your face and then slathering it in moisturizer. Or shampooing out all your natural protective oils, and then coating your hair in “conditioner,” whatever that is. Seriously, just stop fighting nature. She knows what she’s doing.

So that was fun, I guess. Anything you want to add?

A Christmas to remember

While my family is originally from Green Bay, we’re now spread all across the country. I’ve stayed put, but my parents have moved to the Chicago area, my sister is down in Memphis, and I have brothers in Virginia, Colorado, and another is … only about an hour south of me, actually, but I see him about as often as I do the rest of them.

Because we’re so spread out, we rarely see each other in person, and almost never get to see everyone together. This is all resolved at Christmas. Each year, my family picks a different location to spend the holiday together. My own little family doesn’t always join in, because I like for my children to have a Christmas tradition at home, but this year we decided to go for it.

This year’s Christmas was held in a 100-year-old ranch just outside of Santa Fe, NM. While the rest of the family decided to fly, we were reluctant to take a plane due to previous experiences (these children don’t sit still). Instead, we decided to take a train. Because, surely, a leisurely 24 hours in the sleeper-car of a train would be a better (or at least more interesting) trip than a relatively brief, stress-filled airplane journey.

The trip started decently enough. We arrived at the train station, and only had to wait a few minutes before we were able to board the train. This is important, as it left less time for Madeline to try to get kidnapped. I’m not sure if this is something that other parents have to worry about or not, but Madeline is all about finding the perfect kidnapper. She’ll chat up any stranger, invade their personal space, and ask a wide range of personal questions (supposedly to determine their suitability as alternative parents) until she’s stopped. She knows she doesn’t have long before one of her actual parents intervenes, so she’s learned to act quickly. She’s a tricky beast.

The train ride itself was …. long. Incredibly long. We brought activities for the kids to do, but they blew through those in the first couple of hours. “Bedtime” was one long game of musical beds. Madeline couldn’t decide where she was sleeping, so she kept everyone else awake while she tried out all the available (or not-so-available) beds.

They mostly played nicely

Eventually, we made it to New Mexico. The house was nice, the company was great. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that my sister and her child brought the plague with them – she brought a 24-hour stomach bug, and he brought influenza. These illnesses slowly traveled through each of the 12 people staying at the house, only sparing one or two of us. Despite that, our vacation was delightful.

Because at least one person was sick for the entire trip, we didn’t do much. Aaron and I went to Meow Wolf, which I highly recommend. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a crazy interactive art exhibit. Part haunted house, part mystery adventure, all trippy dream. Questions were asked like, “Is the floor shaking?” “Did you see that? Look at this mirror,” and “Should we crawl through the fireplace or the fridge first?” There was a giant neon mastodon skeleton where the ribs could be played like a xylophone. There was a playable floor-to-ceiling harp made out of lasers and smoke. There was a lion/witch/wardrobe style closet that kept going until you were suddenly in a room that was upside down. Or maybe we were upside down. Nothing made sense, stairways led to the sky, mushrooms changed color, tree houses were swanky, and a hamster was missing. It was brilliant. If you’re ever in Santa Fe, you should check it out. (Denver and Las Vegas locations are coming soon, apparently)

In between all the fevers, vomiting, sleeping, and general malaise, we had a great time. My sister and I educated the childless among us in the importance of the “wow” factor when entering the room on Christmas morning, and spent way too much time placing the presents in just the right configuration.

They were very pleased with their Christmas crafts (sparkly garland), but my dad was less than pleased with the glitter trail left in their wake.

The kids (mine, anyway) stayed healthy up until the day before we left. At that point, Madeline developed a fever and opted to sleep in my bed. Over the course of the night, she used her super powers to suck the life force from my body into hers. She woke up, the model of perfect health, and I woke up slightly feverish and unable to speak. Truly, she has magical powers.

The train ride home started much the same as the ride out there. However, that evening things took a turn. We were just about to enter the dining car for dinner when Emmett got that “look” that said “something bad is about to happen – pick me up.” Not two seconds later, he was vomiting down my shirt.

Now, if you’re not familiar with train anatomy, let me give you a brief description. Each car has a top and bottom deck. The top decks on all the cars are connected by a series of doors, so you can travel between the cars quite easily. The top decks of the sleeper cars have rooms on either one or both sides of the car, with a narrow hallway to walk through. Only one person can walk through the hallway at a time, which can make for an awkward “who was here first?” moment.

This hallway is just his size.

Now, if you think that two adults staring each other down at either end of a too-narrow hallway is awkward, picture this. I’m carrying a child who’s gone limp as a noodle and is slowly slipping from my arms. He’s got his head buried in my shirt and is actively vomiting on my chest. Now picture you’re in the middle, or even near the end, of one of these too-narrow hallways as I come barreling through. You are a rat, and the ship is sinking. Scurry! Scatter! Jump overboard! It doesn’t matter how you do it, just get out of the way! Their terror was palpable.

We finally got to our car, and I locked us in the shower (yes, there are showers on the bottom deck of the sleeper cars). Thankfully, my bra caught all the vomit, so I only had to wash our top halves. Grossed out yet? And you’re only hearing about it. I’m just glad I’m not a sympathetic puker, or we would have had a real problem on our hands. So that was fun.

When we got back to our room, Emmett just wanted to snuggle. We slept near each other, and he used his super powers to transfer health from my body to his. He woke up, fully healed, and I spent the night in a feverish haze of sweaty shivering. I’ve raised a couple of wizards, and they only practice dark magic.

We spent the following day in our room, just waiting to arrive at the Chicago station. I tried to sleep off the sickness (it didn’t work), and the kids were mostly well behaved.

Enjoying the scenery.

When we finally made it to Chicago, we had to walk 0.2 miles to get to our car. Doesn’t sound like much of a walk, except that Madeline thinks she’s a Chicago native and tried to lead the way, I was barely mentally present as my body attempted to fight off what I’m now sure was the flu, Emmett seemed to think that the ground was lava, because he didn’t want to move, and I was unable to yell at either of them because my voice didn’t work. Yay!

Finally, we had the 3 hour car ride back home. In a blizzard (well, blizzard-lite). So it was more like 4 or 5 hours. I don’t know. I was dying.

And that was Christmas. I’m still sick, by the way. Thanks, sis.