Diapers and Dragons

Friday, October 28, 2011

My Mind is Smushy. Much Like Pumpkin Puree.

I haven't done one of these in ages, but it sounds about right today. Quick takes are about the only kind I have energy or time for, and hang the dangling preposition too.


My brother, DorkMaster B, turns 25 today. This is impossible, as he is still 8 years old. At most, 9. Of course, there are compensations for his annual flaunting of my increasing decrepitude. He's much more useful than he was--erm, is?--at 8. Not to mention much more fun with which to play games (take that, preposition!). Still. A quarter century? Next thing you know I'll be turning 40 or some such sh*t.


My Daddy will be spending the weekend with us. The children are all in transports of joy--well, at least the three younger ones. The Padawan is being very cool about it. He is thirteen, after all. I am quite happy about it, and hope that his puns and gentle humor will help shake both me and MTL out of our funks.


You know what it's like when you know you're partially at fault for something but don't really want to admit it because dammit you also have a bit of your own point, but at the same time if you keep being stubborn about it you'll never come to peace with the person you love most, but at the same time you are miffed that he's being a stubborn--um, something--himself, and mostly you just want to curl up in his arms and forgive and be forgiven but stupid responsibilities like work make it impossible and you know that it's a conversation that needs to be made in person rather than over gchat or email?

Please tell me you do. Because it sucks. Par for the course for October this year, though.


I am not good at admitting to faults and hypocrisy. I do not like being Wrong about something, dammit.


I made pumpkin muffins last night, and they were delicious. The Padawan was delighted. The Widget was delighted. I was delighted. I don't know if anyone else is delighted or not, since I have not witnessed them eating any as yet. Here's the recipe (as I made it, properly modified for a Food Sensitive Household, adapted from Allrecipes.com):

  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups raw sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 cup sorghum flour
  • 1/3 cup tapioca flour/starch
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line muffin tin with muffin papers.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, oil, sugar, and eggs. Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; stir into the pumpkin mixture until well blended. Fill muffin tins.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes.

OR double the recipe above, grease and flour three 9x5 inch loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The top of the loaves should spring back when lightly pressed. 


We keep saying that we're going to save money towards a minivan, and each month somehow there's no money to save. We need to figure this out. I suspect the children. It's always the children.


I have so much grading to accomplish this next week that I feel like my head is likely to explode and my hands be worn to stubs. My students keep pointing out that if I wouldn't assign work, I wouldn't have grading to do. They have a point.

And if you want to read something more interesting than my fatigued babble, go check out Jen!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Weak and Weepy

I've never been particularly good at admitting my weaknesses. The sorts that can be deprecatingly laughed about, like my lack of self-control when it comes to shoes or dark chocolate with raspberries, my obsession with the numbers on radio volume control, my tendency to twitch when I see apostrophes used for plurality...fine. Those are the sorts of weaknesses we fondly call "foibles," those little quirks of personality that transform us into special little snowflakes, possibly just a touch flakier than the next one over.

But real weaknesses? The sort that require trips to therapists, medication, incredible patience on the part of those who live with us?

Not so much.

I spent at least three years mired in high-functioning postpartum depression because I couldn't bring myself to ask for help. I was so good at hiding the despair poisoning my soul that most people made all sorts of admiring comments on how Together I was, what a SuperWoman I was...Ha. It didn't help that the one time I did tell The Ex that I thought I was depressed and in trouble, he told me to suck it up. I kept my mouth shut for another six months after that, and by then I had fallen so much further that I almost didn't make it back out.

I've come a long way since then, but I still struggle to admit that I'm, well, struggling. I have the few individuals who are "safe": DraftQueen, Heidi, Amy, and of course MTL. I don't fear judgment from them, in part because they have all Been There in one way or another, and because they love me for who I really am rather than who I would like people to think I am.

And...I just realized I'm doing a very good job of avoiding what I came here to say. You see what I mean?

Enough stalling.

I struggle with anxiety and depression. It's nothing like what I once experienced, especially the depression aspect, but I deal with anxiety on a daily basis. I'm even (gasp) medicated for it (shh, don't tell anyone) (because we all know that people who have to take medication for that mental crap are nutjobs and shouldn't be trusted), because panic attacks have a nasty way of interfering with one's ability to get through the day.

I have a feeling I always will. For one, it runs in my family, on both sides. For another, studies have shown that highly intelligent women are also highly prone to anxiety, because we overthink EVERYTHING. Mother Nature giveth and she taketh away with the other hand, the stingy bitch.

Oh, and I do kind of have a stressful life, despite the many delightful compensations.

I've been struggling this week. I've been a good girl and taken my little pill every morning, and I still find myself short of breath, my arms burning, my heart racing. I haven't had a full-fledged panic attack (thank you, pharmaceuticals), but I've come close. I keep telling myself and others that I don't really have a good reason for it, but I suspect I'm lying.

I've dealt fairly well with my grandfather's death. After all, he was old and in pain and he passed so peacefully. It's the way to go, you know? BUT. He was the first of my grandparents to die. And watching my grandmother face life without her beloved...I think that struck too close to home. I can't stop thinking about what it would be like to have to keep going without MTL.

I struggled with that reality last year, when something made me realize that I had allowed MTL to get closer than anyone else in my entire life. This meant that I also had opened myself up to incredible pain, because losing him would be like losing a part of myself. I remember weeping one night and finally confessing to him that I was terrified of letting him in that much, because it meant that one day he would die and I would have to deal with that pain.

He didn't tell me I was being silly (though he would have been fully justified in doing so), rather telling me that he understood my fear, but that we couldn't allow our fear of death and losing each other prevent us from living life and loving fully.

He was right.

So I'm not falling apart over the thought now, but that fear and anxiety are finding other ways to make themselves known. And let's face it, I'm not good at dealing with this.

What do you do about your anxiety? What works? Because I'm asking for help.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Au Revoir, Grandpere

To the seeing again...

That's the literal translation of the French farewell, and it is what I say to my grandfather. He passed away quietly, peacefully on Saturday evening, traveling from this world to the next between one breath and....

The day before, my father had purchased some summer sausage and cheddar cheese, two of my grandfather's favorite foods, long since forbidden due to dietary restrictions. But what of a diet so near the end? He had barely been able to swallow anything for days due to the edema. On Friday, he ate sausage and cheese for three meals, delighting in the rich tastes he loved. He woke Saturday and had his bowl of Cream of Wheat. After changing clothing, his last traces of energy drained away and he closed his eyes and began slipping away.

I got the call from my father during breakfast. MTL came home early from work and he drove me up to Saginaw, where we joined other family members gathering to say their au revoirs. We spent the day talking and laughing over memories, watching my alma mater Michigan State University trounce their rival University of Michigan for the fourth year in a row, and comforting one another. We held vigil in a sense, gathered together in mutual love for the once-hearty, now-frail man lying under blankets in his armchair, not quite in a coma but not fully with us either. We touched him, spoke to him, assured him of our love.

Finally, knowing he could linger for another hour or a couple more days, MTL and I took our leave. I kissed my grandfather one more time, told him that I loved him, and we drove away. As we left, one of my aunts was putting on some of his favorite music.

Fifteen minutes later my father called to tell me that Grandpa had passed.

When my time comes, I want a similar passing: peaceful, quiet, surrounded by the love and laughter of those I love most. I want my ashes scattered in a beautiful place where they may join the earth from which I was formed. And I'll see my grandfather again, along with my aunt and others who have gone before.

Au revoir, Grandpere. Je t'aime.

Until we meet again.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Light

My paternal grandfather, who is 93, is in the last days of his life. We have no real idea how many days this may be, but his edema and congestive heart failure have transformed into a vicious cycle feeding each other, and the medication that was supposed to help the edema instead shut down his kidneys, so now he is on hospice care.

It's the long, dark tea-time of his life. Only less dark and more light, because if there's anything his decline proves, it's that he is wealthy beyond imagining in what matters: family and love.

His five surviving children have gathered from hither and yon, including my father, who flew back from West Africa on Sunday evening. I took the day off on Monday and drove him up to Saginaw, where he joined his siblings in caring for their parents. I spent several hours there as well, more so to comfort my grandmother, who is too frail to care for him physically but is still emotionally tied as ever to her beloved husband of seventy-one years.

I know it seems morbid, she confided, but even though I don't want him to go, at the same time I don't want it to last too long...

I understand. It's incredibly difficult to witness the painful decay in my grandfather, the more so because he has always been such a strong man. He is a fighter: he will not go gentle into that good night.

I come from sturdy farmer stock, German Mennonites on both sides who traveled from land to land fleeing persecution for their pacifist beliefs. All four of my grandparents are still alive, still independent, still in compos mentis, though age is taking its toll on them all. This grandfather is the oldest. Five years ago, at age eighty-eight, he re-sided their house and put in new windows. Up until a year ago, he could still be found in his basement workroom, crafting the gorgeous woodwork that graces all our houses. Picture frames, clocks, jewelry boxes, bookshelves, rocking horses, detailed classic automobile models...all his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren own beautiful pieces that will be handed down from generation to generation. That was his hobby, the work of his hands and heart at the end of his days working the land or overseeing factories and warehouses or doing Master electrical work. The delicate curves of the clock on my mantel, the enormous bookshelf against my wall, the jewelry box on my dresser, and the incredible wooden rocking horse in my children's room: they each declare all the love that my reticent grandfather struggled to put into words.

I'll admit that witnessing this final fight has struck me to the heart; even more so, witnessing my grandmother's grief and my grandfather's determination not to leave her side, this woman he has loved for longer than most people have been alive.

I don't even know how to put into words the fear that is triggered by this. I just found My True Love recently. I know the chance of getting seventy-one years with him is somewhat slim, since we met in our thirties rather than our teens, but I want as many years as I can get. And the reality is that my family is longer-lived than his. How horrible a person am I to want to go first, when my time comes? I don't want to be in my grandmother's place, facing the loss of her life companion, the one she loves best in the world.

I have hope and faith in a life hereafter, but I am a creature of this world. Each loss leaves it a dimmer place, caught in the shadows of sorrow and death.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

(Mis)Adventures in Domestic Divinity (Part One)

(Because the likelihood of there being more than one part is VERY high.)

So I mentioned that I made chicken stock this week, right? It's a fairly simple thing to do, provided one plans ahead to a certain extent. I save the peels and ends of any vegetables and greens I use in my cooking. The outer layers of onion, celery tops, carrot peels, leek greens--even apple peelings, actually--all go into gallon-size Ziploc bags and get stashed away in the freezer. Then when I have a couple of chicken carcasses, I throw it all in the largest heavy pot I have. I add a bay leaf or two, any odds and ends of fresh herbs that might need using--whatever I have on hand. I pour water over the lot, enough to just cover all the bones and scraps, and bring it to a boil. Finally, I turn the heat down to low, pop a lid on the pot, and let it simmer all night.

(You can do the same thing with a turkey carcass or any pork/lamb/beef bones you might have after a large meal. You can even blend them together. That's the lovely thing about the "recipe": it'll work for whatever you have!)

In the morning, I take the pot off the heat, let it cool a bit, and then put it in the fridge to chill. Later I take off the fat, an easy process when it has solidified on top of the liquid, and voila! I have lovely stock which can be canned or used right away.

At least, that's what usually happens.

Here's what you SHOULDN'T do, if you ever decide to try it out:

1. Underestimate the quantity of bones and scraps you have in the pot and overestimate the amount of water you need to pour over it all.

2. Realize you're going to get into trouble when it starts boiling, so pull out another smaller pot and transfer some of the makings into it, adding water to both pots to compensate.

3. Grab the first lid you can find that fits the smaller pot, rejoicing because the pots and pans cupboard has become a chaotic mess ever since KlutzGirl took over putting away dishes.

4. Go to bed believing catastrophe has been averted.

5. Wake up around 3 a.m. from a dream in which something strange is burning. Realize that the smell has not vanished with the dream. Lie in bed for a while trying to get your sleep-addled brain to process what might be going on.

6. Wonder suddenly if the stock might have overflowed or something of the sort.

7. Grab a robe and rush downstairs to check.

8. Walk into a kitchen filled with smoke streaming from the smaller pot. Realize that the lid you grabbed had a steam vent, and as a result all the liquid has boiled away. Open the lid to discover a disgusting mass of charred, reeking remnants of bone, cartilage, and vegetable scraps thisclose to bursting into flames.

9. Spend the next half an hour cleaning up the mess, salvaging the pot, and trying to air out the house. (This will not happen, and the house--and all its inhabitants--will reek for the next 36 hours or so.)

10. Crawl back into bed next to your husband, who has amazingly enough slept through the entire ordeal despite a freakishly sensitive sense of smell. Thank your lucky stars, because he will mock you enough when you tell him in the morning, without adding the extra delight of being woken by the marvelous stench of burning bone in the wee hours of the morning.


I think my halo is slipping.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Of Food and Family and Fabulousness

I seem to have drifted away from the world of blogging in recent months. I swear to you that it doesn't even enter my mind most days.

This could be, in part, due to the rather alarming number of things for which I am responsible during the course of a day now. I keep looking at my life in astonishment, wondering when I became the SuperWoman that I used to pretend to be back in the Bad Old Days of post-partum depression. The sheer level of logistical planning alone explains why the idea of sitting down and chatting with all my virtual friends doesn't have a chance of occurring.

Today, for example, there is a full day of teaching, after which I shall rush home and cook meat for chili and then rush off for my bi-weekly hour-long tutoring gig, and then I shall battle the horrendous afternoon traffic that turns two-and-a-half miles of driving on one road into a fifteen-minute ordeal so that I can pick up The Widget from daycare. We shall then battle our way home, where he will be shoved off to change clothes while I hurriedly put together the rest of the chili and plop it on the stove to simmer. We shall then rush off to The Widget's new dance class (5:30-6 pm on Thursdays) so that he can learn to shake his booty even more adorably than he did at our wedding (though there may never be anything so adorable as a tux-clad Widget doing the Chicken Dance). Then we can finally return home and collapse in the bosom of my rather large family.

I should confess that when I was planning the menu for this week, I completely forgot that I had tutoring today and would be so rushed. My True Love and I were therefore kerflummoxed about how to feed The Ravening Horde tonight until I realized that I could most likely manage the chili in stages. When I announced my realization to MTL, he (bless him) simply said, Just do what you can without killing yourself.

I think that may become my daily mantra.

Oh! But tonight I also need to pressure can the homemade stock that is chilling in the refrigerator after a long night of simmering into golden glory, and I should probably make some bread or something, since I have nothing to feed The Widget this weekend other than the fabulous and oh-so-simple roast chicken that was our meal last night.

I didn't mention that I've transformed into a Domestic Demi-goddess, did I? I know. I'm as astonished as you are. My only real online interaction with the outer world is on Facebook these days, and I keep posting statuses about all the amazing things I have baked/cooked/canned, partly out of a craving for jealous adulation and partly because seeing it in print makes it suddenly real and explains why I'm so exhausted All The Time.

You see, The Widget has inconveniently developed a host of food sensitivities, much like his older brother DramaBoy did at the young age of one. The Widget's are simultaneously less and more inconvenient than DramaBoy's were: on the one hand, he can have eggs and yeast and tomatoes and citrus fruits and canola; on the other, he cannot have corn or millet or buckwheat or legumes. The rest of the inconvenient items on the (long) list is rather similar. No bovine dairy, no soy, no garlic, no rice, among other things. Oddly enough, watermelon and cantaloupe are high on the reactive side, which makes us feel rather guilty about the enormous quantities of watermelon that disappeared down his throat over the course of the hot summer.

The big No-No, however, is gluten, and unlike the other items (which we should be able to reintroduce to his diet after a period of cleansing and rebooting his system), this will likely remain permanent. One of the tests indicated that if he continues to have gluten in his diet, he is likely to develop Celiac Disease and/or another nasty anti-gluten syndrome.

So. Our new reality. Since we have the boys every other week now, I spend every other weekend baking interesting breads and muffins and cookies, all with Funky Flours like sorghum, tapioca, quinoa, almond, and arrowroot. At least I can MAKE real bread: DramaBoy could not have eggs or yeast, so it was impossible to create anything other than fruit breads for him.

We also are making and canning all sorts of things like spaghetti sauce and stock and apple butter and various delicious jams (though to be fair we had started making our own jam before we had The Widget tested).

And the entire family has begun drinking almond and coconut milk rather than dairy, since MTL and The Padawan are lactose-sensitive anyway, and we discovered (to our surprise) that the Silk brand of both is cheaper than Lactaid, and contains less fat, more calcium, and the same or more vitamins than dairy milk. We're also doing much more gluten-free and homemade food in general, since it's simpler to cook for everyone rather than making two separate meals, and we want to start eating more healthily anyway.

So, much to my surprise, we are becoming alarmingly Crunchy, and I am discovering that I actually rather enjoy being domestic. Mind you, it makes all the difference that MTL does some of the work too, and that I have a horde of children who are all assigned chores and responsibilities. Who would have thought that having four children at home would actually be easier than having only two?

Also, we have a wonderful lady who comes and does all the deep cleaning every other week. I may have transformed quite a bit, but I'm perfectly content to leave the toilet-scrubbing and floor-mopping to someone else, thankyouverymuch.

Well, there you are. MTL is thinking of getting a second Xbox at some point so that he can have his own and play games online with his friends and The Padawan (who monopolizes and technically owns the one we have now), and if that happens, I may find myself with time in the evenings to chat with you all in this space while keeping him company.

All my snarky love in the meantime,
Mrs. MTL
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