Snapshots and snippets

A sick kiddo and poor sleep left me with little time for writing the past two weeks.  I had a mild version of whatever Gabriel had originally (not the pneumonia), but I think I’m almost back to good.  Whenever I have respiratory-type illnesses, my already not-too-high appetite for sugar plummets.  This was particularly annoying over the weekend when Matthew made chocolate chip cookies . . . .

Speaking of the kitchen, we’ve had some upgrades over the last few weeks.  The end goal is having an externally-vented exhaust fan for the gas range and oven, but the project is happening in steps (more details on that in another post).

Anyhow, our landlord opted to install an over-the-range microwave (with an external venting option), instead of just a hood.

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Step two, microwave installation, is now complete.  The final step is getting the duct work to direct the exhaust outside.

The work in the kitchen forced me to confront our egg carton problem . . . .

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We save the cartons to return to the farmers, but we’re clearly much better at the “saving” part than the “returning” part.  At this point, it’s just ridiculous and embarrassing.  Anyone have a use for lots of cardboard egg cartons???

Leaving the kitchen, let’s talk about nail fungus.  I mentioned my toenail problem almost a year ago, in this health post.  I started applying medicated chest rub (like Vick’s), because the thymol (thyme oil) has been shown to be effective against fungus.  I wasn’t getting results, so I decided to go for the hard stuff — straight-up thyme essential oil.  I’ve been using it [almost] daily for about six months, and I’m happy to report that the fungus seems to be on the way out!

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I used the oil straight, not diluted — dilution is recommended for most applications, this included, probably, but I was tired of messing around.  This is the most healthy toenail I’ve had in eighteen months!

Moving right along . . .

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We spent a little bit of time over the weekend scoping out Properties of Interest (POI), i.e., properties that seemed promising based on location and lot size.  In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be writing letters of interest/inquiry to the current home-owners.  Likely nothing will come of it, but you never know when someone might be hoping to sell!

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Diagnosis and drugs

After some debate mid-week last week on whether or not Gabriel needed to see a doctor, I decided to call our pediatrician’s office and run things by the nurse.  It turned out they did want to see him.  I hesitated, expecting I would spend a decent bit of money and time (sitting in a place full of other sick kids) just to be told that it was a virus and would clear soon.  But we were headed into a weekend (a 3-day weekend at that), and I didn’t want to end up in the E.R. if we were dealing with a secondary infection, so I made an appointment for that afternoon.

I arrived with a rather chipper little boy who had not had a fever all day.  When we finally saw the doctor (I really like our pediatrician, but I really dislike the wait times in that office!), he spent a loooooooooong time listening to G’s lungs.  Or, rather, trying to listen to G’s lungs, while the patient squirmed and wriggled.

In the end, the doctor couldn’t get a great read on things, due to patient non-compliance (in retrospect, the behavior might have been partially due to pain he experienced while taking a deep breath).  After coughing, G’s lungs mostly sounded good, except for one spot in his lower right lung, which was maybe okay, but maybe not.  Based on that, our ped made a “soft diagnosis” (his words) of pneumonia and sent us home with a prescription for azithromycin (Z-pac, except the liquid, kiddy version).

[When I had pneumonia in middle school, I’m pretty sure the diagnosis was confirmed with an x-ray, but an x-ray was never raised as a possibility here.]

I was less than thrilled with the uncertain diagnosis and the prescription of a pretty hard-hitting antibiotic, especially given Gabriel’s seemingly-improved state.  I filled the prescription, but we decided to take a wait-and-see approach.

All was good for the next 24-hours: no fever, improved mood and energy, and improved appetite (still a runny nose and a cough, but coughs often linger for quite awhile).  We were able to get outside and take advantage of the beautiful weather on Saturday morning, and I thought we had dodged the antibiotic bullet.

Not so fast.  Late Saturday afternoon, Gabriel’s temperature spiked again, and we decided it was time for the drugs.   He spent the evening on the couch, feeling rotten, and ate next-to-nothing for dinner.

We put him to bed, and there was some coughing in the first few hours, but he settled down to quiet sleep, and then, miraculously, 4:30am came and went with NO coughing! (He’d started coughing around that time every morning for the previous seven days, semi-asleep, but unable to stop coughing until he got up.)

Since then, he’s been fever-free and more-or-less cough-free at night.  He’s clearly feeling better overall, and his appetite is back.  [He barely ate at all last week, which is not his usual, and he wasn’t even interested in noodles (as much as he’s a great eater, under normal circumstances, he would eat noodles day and night if we let him.)]  This is enough evidence for me that there was something bacterial going on and that the antibiotic was warranted.

He took his final dose of the azithromycin yesterday (PSA: If you start taking antibiotics, finish the whole darn course).  Other than some loose stools, his body seems to be tolerating the drug.  In general, I think antibiotics are still over-prescribed, but it’s good to have them there (and effective) when you need them!

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Sick kid

Last Saturday night, I told Gabriel that the next day was his half birthday.  He very sweetly asked who was coming to his party.  I had to backpedal a bit, explaining that we don’t really celebrate half birthdays; they are just a way of marking time.  I feared that he would have a meltdown (lots of those in the past couple of months — Tyrannical Threes?), but he handled the “no party” news fairly well.

On his half birthday, he woke with a fever (after a night spent coughing), and he’s been sick ever since.  No party, and the flu?*  He’ll probably just vote to skip his half birthday next year, and I wouldn’t blame him!

He’s been pretty lethargic, with an on-and-off fever, that, other than Sunday morning, seems to appear in the afternoon and dissipate later in the evening.  In general, we like to let the fever do it’s job (the point of a fever is raising the temperature to make it inhospitable to the invading microbes), but at this point, we’re starting to feel like the fever has had it’s chance.

He also has a terrible cough, that, of course, mostly surfaces when he tries to lie down and rest.  His body seems to be able to mostly shut off the coughing for a good portion of the night (perhaps with the help of medicated chest rub), but the cough surfaces in full force around 4:30am.  One morning he coughed so hard (and probably had so much nasty phlegm in his belly), that he threw up a bit.  Fortunately (?) I was in bed with him at the time, but ever since I’ve been paranoid that it will happen again and he’ll asphyxiate.

He rejected my attempt at a homemade honey and lemon cough remedy (it had coconut oil in it, and was kind-of weird, to be fair — maybe just honey and lemon next time???).

In the past five days, G has watched more TV at home than in the past 3.5 years combined (that’s not counting what he watched at his sitter’s, which was not crazy, but more than I was thrilled about): Daniel Tiger and Curious George episodes, along with Charlotte’s Web and Cinderella.

His appetite is almost non-existent.  We’re really pushing the liquids: water, herbal tea with lots of honey, and some [usually diluted] juice.  I’m half tempted to see if I can start lactating again, both for hydration and comfort.

It kind of feels like winter break never ended.  We had one week of school/work normalcy, and now this all week.  So far, Matthew and I are relatively healthy (knock on wood).  I’m hoping that G will kick this thing in the next few days, and be ready to return to school on Tuesday.

*We all had our flu shots, but there’s a nasty influenza strain going around that wasn’t included in this year’s vaccine — rotten luck!

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Cold weather biking with kids

Baby, it’s cold out there!  Matthew and Gabriel biked to school/work the first two days of the week (coldest on-bike temps for G thus far), but we switched to the car when the bottom really dropped out on Wednesday and Thursday.  The bike ride to school takes between twenty and thirty minutes, and, even well-bundled, that’s a long time to sit still in the bitter cold.

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Layers, from head to toe: Helmet (not pictured), thin-ish fleece hat, balaclava, sunglasses, scarf (also not pictured), long underwear (i.e., cotton pajama) base layer, sweatshirt, pants, coat, insulated mittens, insulated snow bibs, rain boots.

I took this picture a few weeks ago.  We since discovered that his snow boots from last year still fit, so we pulled those out for the really cold days.  And this week we finally talked him into swapping the sunglasses for ski goggles.

If you’re thinking, “It must take forever to get out the door in the morning,” you are completely right.

There are certainly mornings where I’m tempted to say “Screw it,” and take the car instead, but so far, we’re making this work (on the non-icy road days).

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Mindful holidays

Well, another holiday season has come and gone.  I’ve seen some people use the term “holi-daze” to describe this time of year, and it can be all too easy for stress to trump peace and joy.  Thanks in part to conscious decisions to keep things simple, and to my mindfulness practice, I was able to minimize the stress this year, making room to enjoy the meaningful parts of the season.

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On Christmas Eve, Gabriel fell in love with Rudolph, the Mylar balloon that was accompanying the family Santa on his rounds.  Santa let Gabriel adopt Rudolph for a week, after which time the little reindeer was looking a bit droopy around the antlers.  Hopefully he’ll be back again next year.

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After Gabriel was snug in his bed, Matthew and I stuffed stockings and set up the doll house (another advantage of buying used: no assembly required; I just had to arrange the furniture).

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Doll house verdict: Gabriel seems to like it, though I’m having a bit of buyer’s remorse (or is it gifter’s remorse?).  My initial excitement has given way to the reality that it’s just a thing, and a rather large thing that now needs space in our apartment, at that.  Also, as I’m reminded again and again, all of the things in the world are not nearly as important of having someone to play with.

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Receiving blanket gift wrap for the win.

We spent Christmas day in St. Louis, and then headed to Iowa on the day after (a slight change in our original travel plans that made things a little bit crazy, but it allowed us to spend a few hours with my grandpa before he went back home).

In Iowa, the “lack of playmate” issue was resolved, at least for a few days.

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Cousins!

Going home (i.e., to my parents’ house) has been a bit stressful ever since Gabriel entered into the equation.  This trip was by far the nicest, least stressful visit we’ve had in over three years.  While some other variables have changed (e.g., the boys are a bit older), I attribute a lot of this to my improved mental and emotional state.

In addition to the family time, we also enjoyed some nice gatherings with friends.

As expected, maintaining my mindfulness practice during the holidays, when our regular routine was AWOL, was challenging, but more important than ever.  I had to make myself carve out the time and recruit Matthew to Gabriel duty to make it happen.  The second week (December 29 – January 4) was the trickiest, but I still managed to meet my formal practice goal (25 minutes/day, five days per week).

I’d be lying if I said things were perfect.  Two weeks of no preschool was trying, especially since Gabriel is at a stage where the littlest, most ridiculous things lead to meltdowns (e.g., I didn’t use his favorite knife for the peanut butter; I gave him a spoon when there was already a spoon on the table).  Even with my mindfulness practice, there is only so much of this I can take in a day before I am on the verge of a meltdown.

But that’s life, right?  All-in-all, we enjoyed our time together and did a pretty good job focusing on the important things, i.e., people and relationships, rather than stuff or some unattainable “ideal” Christmas.  (We haven’t quite reached the minimal gifting level of one family we know, but we’ll just call that inspiration for the future.)

With three weeks of our aerial silks class left, our experiential gift keeps on giving (fun, exercise, and couples’ bonding time).  My in-laws also gifted me with money to use for a mindfulness retreat (I’m looking at a local, weekend-long retreat in March).  With it’s impact on so many areas of my life (and on others’ lives, through my relationships), my mindfulness practice is the ultimate gift that keeps on giving!

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Making soy milk — Part 3 (Is it worth it?)

Three blogs posts out of making soy milk — I guess I’m really milking this topic!

Health effects
I was “carrageenan-free” for four weeks (somewhat ironically, I broke my carrageenan fast not with soy milk, but with heavy cream).  Aaaaannnnnnddd . . . for better or worse (better = I guess it’s okay for me to consume some carrageenan; worse = less incentive to keep making soy milk), I have seen no difference whatsoever.  Not terribly surprising, given that I wasn’t having any [known] GI problems going into this.

Could regular, low-level consumption of carrageenan have a negative, long-term (and as yet unseen) impact on my health?  Sure, but the reality is that we all consume, or are otherwise exposed to, many things that could fit in the “unknown long-term effects” category.  Life is one big long-term unknown.  So unless more research comes out, health concerns about carrageenan will not be a major motivating factor in continuing to make my own soy milk.

Saving money???

Let’s start with some cost comparisons:

  • Silk Organic Unsweetened Soy Milk: I currently pay $3.30-$3.50 per half gallon.
  • Trader Joe’s Unsweetened Organic Soy Milk (aseptic package): $1.70 per quart, if memory serves
  • Homemade, using just water and soy beans: $0.44 per quart (price based on bulk organic soy beans at $2/lb and 3.5oz [dry weight] soy beans per quart batch)

At first glance, the savings are significant, about $1.20/quart of milk.  I’d say we average a half gallon a week, so over the course of a year, that’s $125 saved.  Coincidentally (or not???) that  is almost exactly the price of a brand new soy milk maker.

Of course, that forty-four cents per quart price starts creeping up if you want a tastier product.  As I mentioned in my last post, my favorite version thus far involves using a combination of soy beans and cashews, along with small quantities of sea salt, sugar, and vanilla.  I haven’t crunched the numbers on this; I’m guessing it’s still under one dollar per quart, but it does start cutting into the savings of making your own.

Labor: Hulling and Clean-up
I discovered that hulled soy beans led to better tasting soy milk.  My searches for organic, hulled soy beans (essentially, split soy beans, because the beans split in half once the hull is removed) came up empty.   While hulling the beans is relatively easy, it does add extra work to the process.

If you use a soy milk maker, hulling the beans and clean-up constitute most of the hands-on time.  Clean-up works best if you plan to do it right away, before things cool and solidify.  The metal grinding chamber/strainer is the trickiest thing to clean.

Clean-up for the blender plus nut-milk bag method was actually easier than cleaning the parts of the soy milk machine.  However, the non-machine method requires more hands-on time for the blending, straining, and stove-top cooking.

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Start to finish, I would estimate 35-40-minutes, total, for the machine method.  That includes the 20 minutes for the machine to grind the beans and cook the milk (hands-off time), plus 15 minutes for clean-up.  For the non-machine method, I would estimate closer to an hour.  That is almost all hands-on time, but you can multi-task in the kitchen during the 15-20 minutes of stove-top cooking.  If I’m not in a time-crunch, I enjoy the process of making soy milk, but at other times, it feels like one more things on an already too long to-do list.

By-products: Using okara
The solids that are left over (strained out) in the soy milk making process are known as “okara.”  Commercial soy milk makers likely sell most of their okara for livestock feed, but this nutrient-dense by-product can be used in cooking.

In reality, most of the okara I’ve created is feeding the garden (via compost), rather than us, for a couple of reasons:

  • Most of the recipes for using okara involve relatively small amounts of okara.  Even just making 2 quarts of soy milk per week, I quickly had more than I could use.
  • I’m not really trying to increase the amount of soy in my diet.  I’m fine with my level of soy milk consumption, and we occasionally enjoy tofu and tempeh, but that’s enough for me.

In the end, I don’t feel too bad about composting [most of] the okara.  Adding it to the compost will be good for the garden, and I don’t use the okara when buying commercial soy milk.  I did enjoy this recipe for bean and rice croquettes with okara, and I wouldn’t mind experimenting with adding small amounts of okara to pancake or quick bread recipes.

If I were interested in cooking with more of the okara, I would freeze it in small, recipe-appropriate amounts (¼ to ½ cup).

Final verdict
I returned the borrowed soy milk maker to my friend.  I plan to try to continue mostly making my own (blender + stove top method), allowing myself a free, no-guilt pass to use the store-bought stuff when life gets crazy.

I’m not ready to plunk down the money for a new soy milk maker, but I’m going to keep my eye out for a used model.  The machine does make the process easier and faster, even if I don’t like the final product quite as well.

 

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Greening Christmas: Trees and gifting

The Tree
The last time I wrote about a Christmas tree, we were using an artificial number that I found abandoned in our building’s basement.  That tree served us well, but for the past two years, we’ve had the real deal (the artificial tree is still hanging out in the basement, just in case there’s a year we aren’t able to get a real tree).

On Saturday afternoon, Matthew and Gabriel headed out to PaPa’s (Matthew’s grandpa) to cut a field tree (i.e., a tree growing in an unmowed field where it would eventually be cut down anyway).  These field cedars are not what you find at a tree lot (or a Christmas tree farm — we saw lots of those in Oregon!).

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They all have a sweet, Charlie Brown Christmas vibe, and I’m totally good with that.  Of the few that were about the right size, Gabriel picked this one, and Matthew cut it down with the “chainsaw.”

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Bicycle rack?  Christmas tree rack?  Same difference!  Not quite as cool as hauling your Christmas tree by bicycle, though (the distance to Matthew’s grandpa’s rules out that option for us).

We had a bit of a debacle with the tree last year, due to an inferior tree stand.  My MIL came to the rescue with a much better hand-me-down, and we had no problem getting the tree in place this year.

We didn’t have time to decorate it on Saturday night.  Gabriel waited very patiently until after breakfast on Sunday morning, and then we got down to business.

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We have a nice assortment of kid-friendly (read: sturdy) ornaments for the lower branches.  (Tip: if you run out of ornament hooks, unbent paperclips work very well.)

Tree, trimmed!

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Official tree-trimming dance?

 

Green wrapping
I swear I started a post on this topic a year ago, or at least took some pictures, but I cannot find said pictures anywhere.  My strategy last year involved using pages from the December issues of our [free] local foodie magazines (Sauce and Feast).  There were lots of festive pictures to go around (think cute cookies, candy canes, etc.), and it worked well.  I’m planning on doing more of the same this year.  Receiving blankets also make great reusable gift wrap!

Experiential gifts
This type of gift requires no wrapping.  Remember that time I wanted to be Pink?  Specifically, the high-flying, aerial artist on display at the Grammies (and throughout her 2013 ‘Truth About Love’ Tour).  Well, it turns out that there are aerial arts gyms in St. Louis.  We looked at classes at Bumbershoot Aerial Arts last spring, but the timing wasn’t right.

When Matthew brought it up in November, there was an “Intro to Silks” class that worked for us, and I suggested we do it as our Christmas present (in addition to taking care of Christmas shopping, this route made it a bit easier to swallow the price).

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We’re doing pretty basic things, but our instructor didn’t waste any time getting us on the silks.  The above photo is a bit deceiving — my legs are in a wide V-shape, and NOT straight out to the sides.  Our third class is tonight, then we break for two weeks, and finish with three more classes in January.

Pre-loved gifts
I’ve been thinking about getting Gabriel a doll house since his birthday this summer.  Though he doesn’t know he wants a doll house, I think he would enjoy playing with it (and I would enjoy doing it with him).  I didn’t want to break the bank on this purchase, but I also wanted something decent.

I’ve been checking Craigslist off and on since mid-November.  I had my eye on a Plan Toys model with an asking price of just under $200, complete with furnishings.  That was still really more than I wanted to spend (especially since I don’t know if G will enjoy it), and so I waited.

Two weeks ago, another option popped up, also made of wood (brand is Ryan’s Room, which I’ve never heard of), asking $100, and very close to where we live (it would have been tricky on the longtail, but I could have easily biked it home, if we had a flatbed bicycle trailer).  It’s not perfect, but it’s in pretty good condition (I negotiated $20 off the asking price).  I’m really looking forward to watching his reaction on Christmas morning!

Gabriel is very into playing doctor.  We have a pieced together “doctor’s kit,” and I love seeing the creativity he uses in creating doctor instruments.  I didn’t want to undermine that creativity by running out and buying a plastic play doctor set, but I liked the idea of adding to his medical kit, so when I stumbled across an awesome, real (I think — we’ll see!) stethoscope at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, I snatched it up.

That about does it for us.  I’d love to hear about other great experiential or pre-loved gifts — please share your ideas!

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