Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful for Babies and Doctors

Like most expecting parents, Daddy and I often wonder out loud what baby-to-be will be like. Our kids are all so unique, with such strong personalities, that we spend much of our time shaking our heads in amazement (or amusement).

In fact, it is usually at those times that we look at my belly and ask that question.
I'm beginning to think this will be our "It's all about ME" child. He gave us a bit of a scare at 6 weeks, and since then has doubled every pregnancy symptom I experienced with his siblings. The first time I felt him kick, he was trying to kick S. off of my lap. He is very food-oriented, and lets me know exactly what he thinks of whatever I have eaten (or not eaten). He also lets me know exactly what positions I may or may not sit/stand/lay in. He has been known to interrupt conversations with sudden backflips, and staff meetings with hiccups.
His due date has been January 1. You would THINK the possibility of being the New Year Baby would appeal to my little narcissist. Unfortunately, he must have heard me say that I would actually prefer the tax deduction - just so long as he comes after Christmas. You know, so everyone can have a nice, relaxing holiday at home, before the hustle and excitement of welcoming him into the world.
Which brings us to the ultrasound we had back in August. Not only did he insist on being a boy, rather than the twin girls I had requested,
the prenatal specialist in Albuquerque expressed concern that his left ventricle looked slightly smaller than his right. If I squinted really hard at the picture the doctor showed me, I could kind of see what she meant. The important thing was, it meant another ultrasound! One of the perks of being of "advanced maternal age" is that you get the fun 3D ones, with lots of pictures.
So, a few weeks ago, we headed in for a rather longish ultrasound. We saw his fat little cheeks,
his objection to being poked,
and his perfect little fingers.
What we did NOT get a clear view of was his heart. He was not exactly cooperating with the tech, and finally fell asleep and refused to move at all.
The specialist decided she needed to see him in action herself, so we were back again just a week or so later. This appointment took two hours, and when the tech got a clear view of his heart, there was no squinting needed to see the difference. The left ventricle is quite a bit smaller than the right, and what is more important, the aorta (the artery that comes out of the left ventricle and takes oxygenated blood to your body - see, I did listen in fifth grade science!) is proportionately narrower.
This is known as "coarctation of the aorta", and if you want to google it, you can really freak yourself out. This is one of those things with a wide range of seriousness, however, and both the prenatal specialist and the neonatal cardiologist who saw the images later seem to feel it's somewhere in the middle. Not serious enough that he should need surgery (pretty please, God), but serious enough that we will be delivering in Albuquerque, at UNM. Exactly how bad it is/what needs to be done won't be known until after he is born (insert here, if you wish, long explanation about valves that close after birth and Mr. All-About-Me screwing up blood flow measurements with his constant practice breathing).
We're hoping to have the baby on a Friday, spend the weekend watching him eat, sleep, and poop, and be told, "Meh, you're good - come back for a check-up next month." A more serious possibility is an angioplasty - a little balloon inserted and inflated. Not fun to think about, but better than actual surgery! Either way, we feel very good about him being born at UNM - excellent hospital with fantastic staff.
Now, we are just waiting on a new due date. December 27 would be the optimal choice gestation-wise, but there's the minor matter of making sure enough of the team is actually going to be there, and not on vacation! So, we may be looking at earlier - and spending Christmas four hours away. I have the feeling Mr. Me will be pushing for the latter, in an attempt to keep our focus on him, and not on some other little baby born in less than perfect conditions.
We appreciate your prayers, and I will try to keep everyone up to date. I hope this will help excuse my lack of posts this month - and, if there's a bright side to being stuck away from home for a stretch, maybe it will include time to write reviews! Hope everyone has a fantastic Thanksgiving, spent whatever way you wish!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Bountiful Baskets Haul - End of October

Feeding my cheap produce addiction this week:

Two regular baskets and four root pack add-ons. Check out those mammoth sweet potatoes!

We could hollow them out and sit in them!
I also got 75 pounds of Roma tomatoes (at approximately 57 cents a pound). They came in very underripe, thank goodness, so I didn't have to process them immediately. The kids helped me sort them by color:

(and, for some reason, my pictures have disappeared completely...I am leaving the boxes in case they spontaneously reappear...if not...imagine!)
and, after I put together a basket to share with Grandma, I tackled the potatoes. Full disclosure: this didn't all happen in one day!
I decided to just wash, cube, and can most of the brown potatoes, and ended up with 13 quarts. I boiled them briefly first just to get some of the starch out.
Any cloudiness you see here is on the outside, because I forgot to put vinegar in the canning water.
I saved a few out to eat now, and decided to try one of those recipes that is all over Facebook. You just slice a potato most of the way through,
sprinkle with oil and seasonings, and bake.
I have to say, I wasn't terribly impressed. They took FOREVER to cook, and ended with the skins being very tough. The kids were especially unhappy with the chewiness. We finally chopped them up and added baked potato toppings, and ate them that way.
I used one of the pears to freshen up a mix I made from the last basket's fruit - kiwis and persimmons - and layered it with Greek yogurt for parfaits. I topped it with BB granola, which is DIVINE, and told the kids we were having dessert for lunch.
While all the chopping and canning was going on, I was also roasting the Halloween pumpkins we had just decorated, along with the seeds:
I like the seeds best when they have soaked in a mix of lime juice and chili powder, and are roasted just shy of burning. The pumpkin I just roasted, cubed, and froze for now. I have enough food saved up for the first part of maternity leave, now I want raw ingredients so I can cook when I'm up and around!

After a few days of waiting, I had about 25 pounds of ripe tomatoes. These I peeled, chunked, and canned with a little garlic and oregano. To peel your tomatoes easily, dunk them in boiling water for about a minute, then ice water. The skins should slide right off. If they stick, you can toss them back in the hot water for another 30 seconds. Don't you wish everything peeled that easily?!

Another few days, another 25 pounds ready. I made 14 quarts of a spaghetti sauce that made my house smell like Heaven!

Your basic tomato sauce recipe with tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, and spices. I also threw in some of the parsley pesto I had made and frozen after an earlier basket.
Then I started experimenting, and ended up with what I am calling "Sweet and Sour Chunky Salsa". This is roughly the recipe (there was little to no measuring going on):

About 15 pounds of tomatoes in varied stages of ripeness, diced (I like chunky salsa). The greener they were, the smaller I diced them.

Diced tomatoes - three small purple, and one large yellow.

Three cans of diced jalapenos that someone gave me, and which are too mushy to use in anything else, but hey, they were free.

2 cups of cider vinegar. This turned out to be way too much. I was going by proportions based on another recipe (7 lbs tomatoes to 1 cup vinegar), and I didn't want to skimp since I was water bath canning, but - sour! So, I had to add more sugar - about 3/4 cup in all - now both sweet and sour! Oops.

Salt, cumin, pepper, oregano, cilantro.

Five Anaheim peppers I froze from an earlier Bountiful Basket pack, sliced and diced. I had cut the tops off and partly deseeded, but these aren't hot peppers, so you don't really need to.

Bring to a boil and then simmer about 20 minutes.

Hot pack into prepared pint jars (there were 14 in all) and water bath for 25 minutes.

There was a LOT of liquid left, and I can't throw anything away, so I funneled it into an empty bottle to save!

I was eating through leftovers in the fridge as I cooked, and spooned some of the salsa in with some corn. Yummy! Any other suggestions for using a salsa (pico de gallo, really) that is a bit on the tart side?
The remaining tomatoes have been ripening slowly, and I have been peeling, dicing, and freezing them every couple days. This is what I have left of the original 75 pounds, 2 weeks later:
There are several was to encourage your tomatoes to ripen faster, but I have been happy with letting them get ready in stages. I really need to win the lottery so I can just stay home and cook all day! Well, and maybe do a few other things. I suppose that means buying a ticket first, though...


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Picture Books for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving does not seem to have as many preschool-appropriate read-alouds as, say, Christmas or Halloween. It also has the handicap of being a historical holiday surrounded by both myths and controversy. These reviews are unapologetically personal - I love going into this season with a focus on thankfulness and good food, but C.'s heritage and my own beliefs make me a little more sensitive to historical and cultural inaccuracies.
Pete the Cat: The First Thanksgiving
We have a love-hate relationship with Pete the Cat. Loved the first few books by Eric Litwin, hated the subsequent junior readers. This lift-the-flap is, unfortunately, leaning towards the second group. The cover bugged me right away: Pilgrims did not wear buckles on their hats, and they did not dress solely in black and white. The Native Americans (they only get that generic title) did not garden in feathered headdresses (do you pull weeds in your church clothes?) While small children do not need to be inundated with the conflicts between Native American groups and European settlers, a little historical accuracy would be nice. Pete's final comment, "I am thankful for the brave Pilgrims that started this free world,", not even going to touch that one.
Thanksgiving Day Thanks
Sigh. Buckles and monochrome and headdresses again. The Wampanoag are at least mentioned by name, with a few tidbits of culture and language, and the only feathers past the front cover are on the turkey. The overall focus is on being thankful, and an author's note includes some less-than-perky details (the reason Squanto knew English is that another group had held him captive), as well as a list of foods that would or would not have been included in the original feast. Munsinger's illustrations are always adorable. This is one I would feel good about reading with my children, and would recommend to any teacher ready to follow up with age-appropriate discussion.
Honestly, my favorite Thanksgiving read-alouds continue to be older titles:
10 Fat Turkeys
Out of print in hardcover, you can't beat the goofy illustrations and sing-song rhymes of this counting book. Whenever we see wild turkeys on the side of he road, my kids automatically call out, "Gobble gobble wibble-wobble!"
Thanksgiving at the Tappletons' by Maryann Cocca-Leffler is completely out of print, but kids always enjoy the comedy of errors that result in every traditional dish going missing. Again, the focus is on family and being thankful for what we have.
I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie
This one is just plain funny, in both text and pictures. I read it every single year, and so far, it is still available in both paper and hardcover! The only problem is, it always leaves me hungry...

What books do you like to read during this season?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Nonfiction Monday: Hands-On Science Fun series from Capstone Press

Back when I was a public school teacher - more than ten years ago - it was already hard to fit science and social studeis lessons in. With more and more required reading and math programs in the public schools, I am hearing more and more parents complain that those subjects aren't included in their child's school day at all. Some teachers point to the nonfiction requirements of their reading programs as the sum total of their sci/soc curriculum. While that's like saying you can learn to be a heart surgeon by reading a paper on it, I can't blame the teachers - you have to do what your district requires of you, whether you think it's the best choice or not.
As a result, however, we are seeing a huge upswing in parents wanting to supplement those areas at home, and elementary-level science kits and books are very popular right now. I ordered this set with high hopes, and took half of them home to try out with my own kiddos.
How to Make Slime     How to Make a Mystery Smell Balloon
My only disappointment came in the form of my audience. They love both reading and experimenting, but the day I picked as a "Science Day" turned out to be one of those I'm-not-listening-or-following-directions days. You have those at your house, too, right? Good! I mean, not good, but...okay, moving on. This is the only one we actually got through:
How to Make a Liquid Rainbow
I remembered doing similar experiments when I was younger, and it had plenty of steps to divide among three kids. After looking at the book together, I showed them various liquids I had set out with drops of food coloring in them:
Photo: Ignore this pic...having computer issues...
(Please ignore potatoes - this was also a Bountiful Baskets Day!)
We took turns mixing the food coloring in, and immediately noticed how much thicker some liquids (like this ancient corn syrup) were than others:

 Ami Segna Jones's photo.

Everyone had to take a turn with that one!

Ami Segna Jones's photo.
Again, please ignore produce in background.

We also sniffed each liquid first to see if we could guess what it was:

Ami Segna Jones's photo.
Just water!
I wondered why they didn't add food coloring to their oil, so I put some red in ours:

Ami Segna Jones's photo.

Oh, that's why.

We also tried milk, which we made blue.

Ami Segna Jones's photo.

Unfortunately, that just mixed with the water:

Ami Segna Jones's photo.
In the end, though, the point was made, and we got to see how everything went into layers:

Ami Segna Jones's photo.

This was after about ten minutes. By the next morning the layers were more pronounced, although it never looked as pretty as the book cover!

All in all a fun experiment with easy instructions and explanation at the end. It's not Ms. Shore's fault that we squabbled over the stirring, or that certain individuals wanted to pour things we weren't ready for yet, or that partway through I realized that a certain young lady's fingernails were black because she had taken the PAINT MARKER out of my desk, which she KNOWS she is not supposed to get into, and we had to launch an immediate investigation of where exactly she had been when she painted said nails and did she paint anything ELSE black, like, say, a floor or wall. I do intend to try the other experiments out.

Some other day.

For more great nonfiction, head over to Wrapped in Foil!


Friday, November 8, 2013

Picture Book Review: Dot, by Randi Zuckerberg

Waaaaaaaaaaait a minute...Zuckerberg? Yes, she's his sister. Also, it seems, a quite capable writer. Here we meet Dot, who is as tech-savvy as many young children these days (even S., who is quite happy to play in the mud or sort buttons for hours, quizzed me the other day on exactly how and why you tag people on Facebook).
Dot knows how to tag, and surf, and tweet, on any number of devices. Her mother finally says, "Go outside, Dot! Time to reboot! Recharge! Restart!" There, Dot and her friends remember more interactive ways to tag, surf, tweet, etc., all adorable illustrated by Joe Berger. This one will be hitting story time before it even hits the shelves (loosely fitting next week's already chosen theme of...dots!)  I hope we will see more of both Dot and Ms. Zuckerberg in the future.
As promised, an easy and obvious gift suggestion - include a coupon good for one day of exploring outside with Mom or Dad! Maybe even offer to bring some friends along, pack a lunch, and head somewhere you aven't been before.
Thank-you to HarperCollins for the review copy!