Friday, August 18, 2017

Why I Don't Teach Summer School and Why I Am Going To Kansas

Every summer I get asked some version of, "Why don't you teach summer school?" especially if it is known that summer school pays well relative to college teaching overall.

There's a practical work-related reason: As a field biologist I need to do research in the summer should I want to publish original science and have a chance of advancement in my field.  But anybody paying attention knows that I have not been spending most of the summer analyzing data, and in fact have steered clear or my office even when I have been in town.

Sometimes I'll mention needing a break, and anyone who has taught will relate to this, and more so if I mention the other kinds of activities (like re-painting my cabinets or going to the dentist) that I can only do in the summer.

If I mention my kids, most people will gently nod, "Oh, of course, your kids won't be little forever." That's completely true and I love traveling and baking and experiencing day-to-day life with Aster and Dianthus, but honestly I took off on an 8 week road trip (after a two week trip to Ecuador) in the summer of 2007, long before I had kids (and yes, you can read about those trips on this blog), so it is not just my kids.

Part of the reason I don't work in the
summer is my parents and my in-laws.  All four of them are healthy people around whom it is fun to be (that awkward sentence brought to you by my parents' voices in my head who still believe in not ending sentences with prepositions) and that won't always be the case (the healthy part).  As I was weeping about aging the other day, The Mister pointed out, "That's why we aggressively spend time with our parents and make sure that the boys really know their grandparents."  The ability to meet family in Yellowstone or Vancouver or Hilton Head or Tuscon (not to mention at their houses in Kansas and Colorado)  is a great reason not to teach summer school.

But kids and parents are not my main reason not to teach in the summer.  My main reason is because, much as I love my job (and most of the time I do), it is not all I want to do with my life.

I'm still surprised by the surprised reactions I get when I go out of my way to have fun rather than to work more.

My friend J, undergoing chemo to keep ovarian cancer at bay, and her new husband JR, undergoing radiation for cancer all over, get similar reactions when because they have a costume box and dress-up at the drop of a hat.  Some of their relatives act confused by how willing they are to have fun.  Based on conversations with them, they dress up, try new artistic endeavors, re-paint furniture with bright colors and explore herbal cocktails because it is fun.

I'm confused as to why this surprises people.  It's not a secret that our time here is limited and that possessions do not lead to happiness.  That seems to be repeated in most every thoughtful self-help book I've ever seen, not to mention religious practices and, well, common experiences. I am very fortunate to be in a position where I do not need to spend every moment working for survival.  I've been given an opportunity.  I'm not going to squander it.  

My family is driving 389 miles tomorrow in order to see a full solar eclipse on Monday and drive 389 miles back on Monday evening.  I'm really really hopeful that it will be an amazing experience to watch the stars come out at one in the afternoon.  But even if clouds obscure the dark side of the moon as it passes between us and the sun, and there will be another total solar eclipse closer in 2024, it will be worth the craziness of making alternative assignments for the first day of class, because it will be an adventure with friends, and if we are all here in April 2024, then I'll be up for a second once-in-a-lifetime eclipse adventure.

Just today I asked someone to cover my classes then.

[Waterfall images are completely gratuitous, by the way, and since I am up late writing disconnected thoughts, I should mention that they Mississippi kites were lining up and acting very unsettled this morning  (and very loud this evening) perhaps they are leaving early this year.]

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Not being silent

I want to write about cake and pie and squirrels and books I've read, and to brag, just a little, about how great our kitchen looks* now that we've removed, sanded, primed, painted, and re-hung all of our cabinets with freshly toothbrush scrubbed hardware. I still have thoughts about Aster's surgery and a back log of flower images, prairie, garden and mountain.

I don't want to write about racism, violence, and people acting deplorably.  And just because someone shares a nationality, Northern European ancestry and allegedly a religion with me, does not make me responsible for his actions (any more, than say, one of my Muslim students is responsible for ISIL terrorism).  But somehow some expect an Imam to call out every gunman, and the Black Lives Matter organizers to make statements that it is not okay to shoot a cop. If so, then I, a white, Christian, native-born American (as with most of my readers) must publicly and loudly proclaim that it is not okay to drive a car into a group of people intending to murder them.  It is not okay to celebrate slavery (nor is it a slight to your ancestors to suggest that neither they, nor the society they created, was perfect).  It is not Christian, American, or "okay" to proclaim that hate is the way forward to a supreme white society.

I don't have good words for this.
I don't think that is a bad thing.

Here are some other words from fellow, white, Christian, native-born Americans who could not stay silent as they preached this morning: This is a link to a recording of the sermon at our church this morning, "Christian, Get Out of the Boat" and the transcript of the sermon from a former pastor of our church, "It's Time to Break-Up"

Don't be okay with racism.  It is not okay.  Okay?

*Except it doesn't yet look great because we are still rearranging as we return the cabinet doors.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Birthday Pie's da Bombe*

"A" Pie
Aster is now 6 and Dianthus is now 8 (and this blog is 10 and a half!).  Aster requested a lemon meringue pie for his birthday and Dianthus wanted a version of a charlotte royale after we told him that it was sometimes called "brain cake".

New 6 year old expression?
Rolling his own cake




Extra whipped cream and chocolate served sauce on the side


Baking notes:  The lemon meringue was from Kate McDermott's The Art of Pie using the Magpie pie crust.  I've settled on both as excellent.
The charlotte royale was inspired by the Great British Baking Show (here's Mary Berry's recipe and lots of images).  I had a recipe for "Scarlet Empress" in the charlotte section of the showcase cakes of Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible, which Aster and I started to follow.  However, we did substitute cherry preserves for the raspberry in the exterior jelly roll.  Then we filled it with cherry ice cream instead of making a Bavarian cream.  The chocolate cake (from The Cake Book, my go-to cocoa and hot-water based chocolate cake) was an addition after we realized that there was no way that one recipe of biscuit roulade would be enough for both the side rolls and the base.  This was my first rolled cake, and the very light dry cake (eggs beaten separately, no butter) made for easy rolling (it is included in the cookbook just for that reason) but was not the tastiest cake (unlike the chocolate base, which is).

*This clever title is probably not funny unless you know that 1) a bombe is a term for a molded layered ice cream or cake and ice cream dessert (see Brownie Bombe  and Ina Garten's Ice Cream Bombe) and 2) in the mid 1990s, "da bomb" was used to indicate something great.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

All roads lead to cemetery

In rural Oklahoma and many parts of Kansas, the smaller roads off of the small roads have an official road sign pointing the way to "CEMETERY".  In our travels the last few years, the Mister and I have joked, over and over again, "All roads lead to cemetery." [In Colorado, similar roads are similarly labeled, but "All roads lead to sanitary landfill," doesn't have quite the same profundity.]

Great Sand Dunes, June 30 2017
As with most years, we've been travelling a great deal this summer, although we covered a smaller swatch of the country.  Unlike most years, death was more on our minds, even when we weren't passing the cemetery signs.  I visited with two friends with hard-to-treat cancers, and I'm going to meet another tomorrow (the new husband of my good friend J whose "chemo crew" I am serving on).  I may very well not see them again.  I certainly hope to see them again, and life is full of uncertainties both miraculous and dreadful. Still the 44-year-old has a death doula and the 73-year-old has outlived an early prognosis already. The father of another dear friend is in palliative care and one of mom's long term friends has moved to a memory care unit for the rest of her days.  All roads lead to cemetery.  Visiting such friends it is hard not to see those roads and remember that the cemetery roads are not just for them, but for all of us.

Cheap nachos not nearly as exciting as the $1 ice cream
Or the final score Grand Junction 17, Orem 8
I was in his sights and his father was soaked
And somehow the travels were still amazing.  Dianthus learned to swim.  I baked nine pies. Dianthus and Aster added 5 new Junior Ranger badges to their collection (Great Sand Dunes, Chimney Rock, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon and Colorado National Monument).  We saw both sets of grandparents at their homes and in the mountains, the German cousins, a minor league baseball game, a professional soccer game, quite a few rodents, three waterfalls, one bear, and a lot of stars.

All roads lead to cemetery, but there is sure a lot to see on the way.



Yes, that is my mother zip-lining with no hands


Creek playing at 9,000 feet-- cold.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Pie Party

Last weekend was the annual croquet party at my parents' house.  As per recent tradition, we didn't actually play croquet.  In keeping with longer-running tradition (this is the 30th year of the party), we had great food.

The theme of the party was PIE (in all caps) and I baked a great variety: coconut cream, plum, lemon meringue, beet, chocolate chess and a gluten and dairy-free plumberry meringue.  My mother baked a key lime and other friends brought strawberry rhubarb, fruit pizza, ice cream pie, another key lime and rhubarb with a crumble top. It was my kind of event.

Plum prior to baking
For those following recipes-- the chocolate chess, an overall hit, is from the first or second recipe that pops up on google (the one that calls for 5 Tbs of cocoa).  The lemon meringue from Art of Pie is slightly easier (no double-boiler required) and slightly more lemon-y than that from Susan Purdy's As Easy as Pie (which my mother had baked a week prior to almost instantaneous devouring from my family).  The beet, which was a beet-forward rich custard with lots of beets, from Martha Stewarts early 1980s Pies and Tarts, was the best sweet beet pie I've ever had, but it wasn't great and I'm not that interested in beet pie to figure out how to make it great. The coconut cream is from the Magpie book, as were my crusts. The plum was made following the basic recipes in Art of Pie and the Plumberry included all sorts of fruits left in my parents' kitchen, cooked with some sugar and folded with microwaved marshmallows and placed in an almond flour-coconut-pecan-date crust.  Indeed, I made that one up.






As I am keeping records, I should add that I baked a rhubarb-blackberry with a twisted lattice earlier in June while we were still in Oklahoma.  For it I made the cream cheese crust from Rose Levy Beranbaum's Pie and Pastry Bible.  It was flakier than the Magpie crust while warm, but didn't necessarily taste better and the texture did not hold to the breakfast leftovers.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pulling out of the environmental discussions and other books

As regular readers know, I agreed to host a discussion of Rachel Carson's pivotal work, Silent Spring, here on the blog.
I'm pulling out.*

I did not read Silent Spring this spring.

The reasons have far more to do with me than with Silent Spring.  I finally realized that I wasn't reading anything because Silent Spring was sitting there and I couldn't bring myself to learn how long we have known about the connections between environmental pollutants and human health, particularly cancer, as multiple friends in their 40s are battling cancer and people elected to represent me suggest that I am an enemy of theirs, or the country, or progress, or the economy, because I think that environmental protections should be cherished. Silent Spring hits a raw place.  That this is raw 55 years after publication makes it more so.  I couldn't.

Fortunately I began to read again after I stopped trying to get through Silent Spring and started picking up children's novels.  Also fortunate, my streak of picking a depressing book did not extend to everything I read recently (but extended to enough that, during the most recent book, the Mister asked, "So, do these ghosts have cancer, too?).

Some things I have read:

Nick Hornby A Long Way Down  This is a one of those great books that I have no idea to whom I would recommend it.  The premise is that four people meet as they are attempting to commit suicide.  It is funny and very well written.  Nothing gets resolved and it is unsentimental and reading it for pleasure (and it was pleasurable) makes one question one's taste.

Anne Lamott Hard Laughter  In one of her wonderful non-fiction books (probably Bird by Bird), Anne Lamott describes her father's cancer diagnosis and searching in vain for a funny book about cancer.  Being unable to find it, she decided to write it and it became her first successful novel.  I came across Hard Laughter recently and was expecting a funny book about cancer.  If that was the intent, Anne didn't fully succeed.  Most of the time I was wondering, "Just how old is this?" (it was written in 1979) and "I am so glad that Anne Lamott is sober now," because, while this isn't supposed to be autobiography, it clearly is, and the main character uses a lot.  Another book that made me wonder, "Now just why is reading this pleasurable?"

Ronlyn Domingue Mercy of Thin Air  I asked a literature-teaching friend from Louisiana for a fun, Lousiana-based book for my trip to New Orleans.  She suggested Mercy of Thin Air, about which I was dubious, because the first person narrator is a ghost.  I didn't manage to get it read before New Orleans, but found myself describing it to The Mister recently on the road.  "There was a plot twist that I didn't see coming.  But of course I should have seen it coming, because it made everything make sense.  But the ghost didn't see it either."  After trying to follow this, The Mister concluded, "So basically the plot twist worked the way a plot twist is supposed to?"  Overall very well-done.  Full of old people love and young people love, and plenty of death, but not too sticky sweet.  Recommended for my mothers and many of their friends.

Deb Caletti  The Secret Life of Prince Charming  As we were leaving town on Thursday, we stopped by the library to turn in Summer Reading logs (because the program ends before we return from our trip!) and as I returned Mercy of Thin Air, I realized I had no book for me to read on the road.  So I grabbed the best looking (of the three) paper backs on the sale table.  The Secret Life of Prince Charming was it.  And as far as relationship books about divorced parents and a high school girl coming to terms with the idea that her father is a womanizing loser, this was well done. I'm not sure any of my readers are exactly in the target demographic, but if you need reminding that, "porches with one leaning pole will collapse, even if the other is strong," you could do worse.

Ealier in the year, even the children's books I picked up were making me cry.  I read Maniac McGee (by Jerry Spinelli) to Dianthus and had forgotten how explicit the discussion of racism is. The book is still excellent, but I want it to be outdated.  It is not.  Aster brought home Bravemole (by Lynne Jonell) from the library.  I'm all about picture books about rodents.  Except that it is a book about the September 11th attacks and I was not ready for that, so wept unceremoniously as I read about the brave worker moles who had thought that the dragons were gone for good.

Kashmira Seth's Keeping Corner is about a pre-teen widow in India.  In itself it is not a tear-jerker, although the idea that someone can be a shaved outcast from the age of 12 is horrifying, and I would recommend it for the mothers, GK, LT and such.  When combined with the recent National Geographic project on widowhood, and profiles of Indian women dumped by their families as widows sixty-some years ago, it is sobering and saddening. [To be clear, these are currently alive women who have been shaved, begging, dead to most of the world widows for over 60 years, since they were 10 or 11].

More brief bits about books:

Gail Carson Levine Ella Enchanted  (a re-told fairy tale).  Among my favorite Cinderella re-tellings, but I have a bunch.

Jessica Day George Tuesdays at the Castle  (a book about my last name) It is packaged as a book that looks purely whimsical (the castle changes shape every Tuesday!), so when the parents die in the second chapter, I groaned to The Mister about how cursed I am with orphan books.  It turns out the book is mostly whimsical, but not nearly as much as suggested,

Shelia Turnage Three Times Lucky (a luck book!)  Also less whimsical than the cover suggests.  Another orphan.  More alcoholism and domestic violence.  Still pretty fun.

Speaking of the times not changing, orphans and unexpected domestic violence, The Mister and I watched the Netflix series Anne with an E.  I was of very mixed opinion (This is super-well done, fantastically casted and the writers respect the characters, even if they are forging their own plot lines. The tongue-in-cheek feminism thing is actually very fun, if depressing.) until the last episode, which includes character assassination and is just plain wrong.  If there is another season I won't be watching it.  Probably.  Except that I watched that horrible Martin Sheen PBS thing on Thanksgiving, and I went to Prince Edward Island for Anne tourism, so I probably will.  I am re-reading Anne of Green Gables right now, and have learned that a few of you haven't read it, and you should.

The book about obsessive birding I was reading last summer, Dan Koeppel's To See Every Bird on Earth started out with concentration camps (and if I left it at your house, let me know.  I think I made it halfway), and this year's book about obsessive birding,  Big Year by Mark Obmascik, hits failed marriages pretty hard in the early chapters.  Both left me wondering exactly what I got myself into.  Big Year is quite an acheivement-- both the concept of Big Year birding (a competition with very specific rules without known competitors or prizes), and the book that manages to make it fascinating for a book-length read (Thanks E for the book!).

I haven't seen the Big Year movie yet (I still don't get how it could be done with a celebrity cast), but I did watch a childhood favorite bird movie, Condorman, while in Kansas at the end of April.  It is slightly less cheesy and less dated than I would have expected, but I think I had really low expectations.

Oh, I also read LaVyrle Spencer's Hummingbird for bird year, but can't shut off the "rape culture should be called out" part of my brain long enough to enjoy such silly historical bodice rippers anymore.

What have you been reading?

And if it is Silent Spring, how can I facilitate conversation without having read it?

(*Once again I hope me of the future doesn't get any of the allusions to current events)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Funky Pie and Progress

Blue cheese, kale, onion and a little bacon
Old blue cheese smoldering in the fridge and some vague recollections of a blue cheese kale tart recipe, led to this umami bomb of a dish, which I somehow insisted on calling a pie rather than a quiche.  It was full of caramelized onions, kale from our garden and lots of blue cheese.  I was pleased.

The other half of the pastry dough went toward a blackberry blueberry pie with a crumble top.  While it was delicious fresh out of the oven, it was actually better chilled the next morning with time to set, and, of course, blackberry pie makes a fabulous breakfast.  Blackberries were from the farmers' market and blueberries commercially frozen.  Pastry was the Magpie recipe (butter and stick form Crisco) with one cup (of the 2 1/2 total) of the flour whole wheat.  Filling was mostly from Art of Pie (tapioca thickened) and crumble top was made up on the spot.

Blackberry blueberry cut while it was too hot
In other pie news, I know my mother-in-law loves me because she baked a peach pie (using the last of last year's frozen Colorado peaches!) for my birthday celebration with them.  (True, my mother-in-law has never been anything but open and loving and has expressed affection with words and deeds, but peach pie with Colorado peaches is my language).

The Mister's extended family has an annual pot-luck after a gathering at the cemetery on Memorial weekend.  There were several pies available-- goopy cherry, goopy strawberry, goopy cherry cream (which I later learned was cherry cheesecake, but if you are going to bake it in a pie crust and top it with a bunch of pie filling, I am going to consider it a pie). and mincemeat.  I ate the mincemeat because I am sure it must be a family specialty of one is serving mincemeat in May.  I had a bite of Aster's strawberry, which just reminded me that whole strawberries don't make a great pie, and I avoided the other's because I have become a cherry pie snob (I love a good cherry pie and I have no interest in pre-prepared cherry pie filling.  I was like this before MiL further spoiled it for me by sharing pies made with the rare tart cherries from her trees.)

On the way back to Oklahoma from Kansas, we bought convenience store  Moon Pies.  They needed more moisture and more flavor, but I suppose they were okay.

Yeah, we melted a plastic tray, but baked some great cookies
Every batch had issues, but every batch was tasty
In other baking news, during finals I baked macaroons (the delicious French sandwich cookies, not the delicious balls of coconut) with Aster, Dianthus and some college students.  They were tasty although disasters ensued.  Dianthus and I have since made macaroons from a mix and Friday night he rolled sushi as he is practicing for competitive cooking, and both macaroons and sushi trays were challenges on the recent season of Master Chef Junior.  I made not-quite-macaroons for the Mister Family Pot-Luck and for friends in Kansas, where we covered them with chocolate ganache, while chocolate coconut cream and strawberry-rhubarb sauce.







Rolling sushi
Yes, someone has shorter hair now, too.



Pies Baked Year of Pie (Continued)
June
Blue Cheese Kale
Blackberry Rhubarb
May
Coconut Chocolate (sweetened condense milk base.  Just fine.).
Rhubarb
April 30
Dairy free coconut custard (invented at the last moment.  Just fine.)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Herons and more

I have seen my "spirit animal", the great blue heron, a great deal recently.

It makes me feel like my life is on the right track, even if so much else isn't.

Wildlife adventure before even putting in the boats
Besides a heron that didn't stay around for a photo, and a great egret, on Cane Bayou May 18 we saw a diamondback watersnake eating a catfish, eyes of several alligators, a gray snake in a tree, a cricket toe in the kayak smaller than the Mister's toe, a green tree frog, several red eared sliders and possibly some other turtles, a squirrel that didn't move (in a tree, mid-day.  We stayed away from that squirrel), a parent osprey feeding two chicks, and a dragonfly that ate a damselfly while I was explaining the difference to the other groups.  While out with the excellent Canoe and Trail Adventures (Canoeandtrail.com-- source of these photos) we also heard bronze frogs and pig frogs that we did not see.  Our guide told us we might see a Mississippi Kite soaring if we were lucky, but we certainly wouldn't be so lucky as to see one perched.  And in Louisiana we didn't see any, but we must be really lucky in our small town in Oklahoma, for there seem to be even more patrolling our skies this summer.

Cricket Frog. Not The Mister's foot.
Canoeandtrail.com photo
While I'm listing birds, I should add that on the recent trip to Kansas, besides the herons, we saw eastern kingbirds (lots of westerns here in Oklahoma, along with scissortailed flycatchers), large families of Canada geese with goslings of different ages, shrikes, hummingbirds, cardinals, blue jays, hawks (mostly red-tailed), cattle egrets, nighthawks, bluebirds, house finches, gold finches and oriels.
My shins (only) sunburned.  They are peeling now.



OSPREY BABIES!




Witty watching caption goes here.
Photo also by Canoe and Trail Adventures.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Because sometimes politics is personal

A small part of the reason I have not posted so much about pediatric stroke survivors this month is that talking about support for pediatric stroke survivors immediately becomes political.  It's hard to talk about special education without mentioning Ms. DeVos and IDEA; in-school services without Medicaid payments; medical treatments without how they are paid for; or future job prospects without discussing the limitations of pre-existing conditions.  Besides not wanting this to become a political blog, I am hardly an expert and enough of a rationalist to point out that 1) I haven't read the relevant bills and policies and 2) even if I had I would have no real idea about what they would mean in practice 12 years down the road when Aster will be finishing high school.  So I've stayed quiet here, knowing that my congressman is not intentionally voting to limit my career options and Ms. DeVos's purpose is not to prevent kids with disabilities in rural Oklahoma from becoming scientists.

But maybe that's part of the problem.  Silly as it sounds to suggest that some of this legislation is about me, a healthy, wealthy, educated, employed white woman, maybe some people need to hear more personal stories about how things affect "us".

Three out of the four members of my household have pre-existing conditions.  My pituitary adenoma is not currently being treated (for medical reasons) but is being monitored.  I really don't want to return to the time when I make medical decisions not to seek advice based on knowing I'll be changing jobs.  Yes, before the ACA people with cerebral palsy and pituitary adenomas did get jobs and insurance, but I know of many people relieved not to make major life decisions (marriage, sticking with a bad-fit job, starting a business) based on if they are insurable or not.

With too many parts it is hard to focus
Aster's long term health and vocational outcomes are greatly increased by regular and early attention.

Because of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Aster is assured a free, appropriate public education.

There are no other schools within 50 miles better equipped (or equipped at all) to educate Aster.

Special Education services (and sometimes school nurses) are largely funded through Medicaid reimbursements.

So, yes, these things are personal.

[I almost started the second rant about how science education and higher ed funding are personal, too, but I am getting to angry as I sit here.  Ugh.  For the record, I must point out that I have no problem with my children coming home from public schools with high quality coloring books and teaching materials produced by oil and gas companies.  However, I can't help but feel perplexed (at best) that 1) my son's second grade teacher told us that they had no time for science in second grade (and she doesn't like it anyway) but they had time for a whole Petro Pet curriculum 2) nowhere on the Petro Pete curriculum does it say who funded it 3) at the same time my son was coming home with Petro Pete coloring books, the state capitol was being surrounded by oil and gas vehicles as some legislators threatened to raise drilling fees  to balance the budget. So 4) the state legislature passed a budget that does not raise any revenue from the oil and gas companies that have funds to make curriculum, coloring books and pay for field trips to the science museum while the budget dictates continuing to underpay K-12 teachers and further cuts higher education.
By the way, the only way that my institution has stayed solvent during multiple years of significant budget cuts from the state has been to 1) increase tuition and fees [not pleasant when the mission of the regional institution is to provide opportunities for people in the (economically struggling) region and 2) increase enrollment from international students.  Yes, because the state legislature can't bring themselves to raise revenue, the economy of my small town rests precariously on welcoming Muslim students to my overwhelming Baptist and sometimes intolerant small town.]

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

None of it Hubig's

The Mister and I prepared for our recent excursion to New Orleans by watching Anthony Bourdain talk about food in New Orleans which led to watching the HBO series Treme*.  From Treme I learned about Hubig's Pies, little fried hand pies available at convenience stores, which helped everyone feel back at home after Katrina, and immediately added them to my list.  Alas, the Hubig bakery burned down in 2012 and is not being rebuilt, so I did not have a Hubig pie.  But I did have some great ones.

Our first night we ate the best piece of pecan pie I have had (and I don't say that lightly) at Brigtsen's  (actual pecan pie recipe here).  Somehow placing the slice of pie in a pool of caramel sauce enhanced it and didn't make it too sweet.  It was the perfect conclusion to a near perfect meal including sweet breads, soft shell crab, rabbit, and oysters.

Our third night we had a disappointing chocolate pudding pie after an otherwise phenomenal meal that included head cheese, crawfish pie, boudin balls, and oysters at Cochon.

Somehow the day in between included neither oysters nor pie, although it did include two variations on sno-balls (not the same as a snow cone), one after kayaking on Cane Bayou and one as a bonus course in the homage-to-foods-New Orleans tasting menu at Coquette.

I did not see them until the airport (and after I had bought the boys over-priced pralines), but once I identified them, I knew I had to carry home the Haydel's New Orleans Hand Pie Hubig replacement (although Haydel's are baked and not fried).  We split the cherry and the coconut cream six ways when we returned, and they were tasty enough, although nothing for which I will return to New Orleans.

7, 45, 5  May 20, 2017
Also, upon our return, Aster and Dianthus presented me with a birthday chocolate tart with a pistachio crust baked by my mother and then my mother and I celebrated Mother's Day together a week late by baking a rhubarb pie (following the Magpie crust and the Art of Pie filling thickened with a little tapioca).

So I'm another year and seven pies wiser (and experienced in all kinds of things, from packing by candlelight under a tornado watch to kayaking to changing transportation plans because of the Lee statue coming down in Lee Circle) than I was last week, and my small basement tornado shelter has now been used (by my parents and my sons).

It's a good adventure.
Rhubarb from Colorado May 2017
I plan to use this photo of my lovely mother
for the People of Pie series, but just in case I never
post that series, you can see how great my mother is.


*I am aware of the irony/condescending privilege/silliness of learning about tragedy, resilience and  and soul from watching an HBO series before a three day trip with every meal planned out. None the less, I appreciated the town a great deal more from having watched and learned.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Altogether lacking replication

Much of the discussion on the CHASA Facebook group (Children's Hemiplegia and Stroke Association; chasa.org) centers around expectations and behavior.  All of the parents want to know what will happen with their children-- will they walk?  pee in the toilet? pass third grade?  fall in love? play an instrument? keep a job?

Hunkering down with grandparents and stuffed animals
as tornado sirens roared
Every time their child does something unusual, they want to know if it is, in fact, unusual, and if it is a result of the brain damage.  And every time someone asks, "Does your hemikid* do X?" a bunch of parents respond, "Hey, wait, my kid also does that.  I thought he was the only one," and after a bunch of similar responses, someone will invariably add, "but my neurotypical child also does X.  I don't think it has anything to do with hemiplegia."  And the thing is, we don't know.

Aster has some unusual behaviors.  Sometimes I look at him and think, "your are one weird little dude" and when a CHASA parent posts a link to a British list of frustrating behaviors of kids with hemiplegia (found through HemiHemp here) I can read through the whole list and nod because my kid is exactly like that.  I can point out that the adult I know with mild cerebral palsy has always had unusual behaviors.  But then she is a PhD biologist and the child of academics-- there was no way she was growing up normal.  And there are my "neurotypical" son, husband, brother, and brother-in-law: "Whoah, there are some weird dudes**"  "Insult to brain" in infancy-- genetics -- environment-- we are never going to tease those potential causal factors apart.

So I guess I have two points.  One is that unusual behaviors, especially regarding impulsivity, moodiness, and challenges with social cues are common in children who have survived strokes.  These behaviors may be caused by, or in addition to, issues they have from physical problems (more pronounced fatigue, spams, pain and lack of sensation, constipation, poor balance, early arthritis and joint issues).  You might not think that a long ago brain injury that only seems to affect movement in one limb would have anything to do with outbursts after dinner-- but if somebody has been working harder just to walk, struggling mightily to keep up because they can't write quickly; holding pee all day because they are embarrassed to ask for help with the snap on their pants; and have an itchy foot from sand that got stuck in the brace; it's not terribly surprising whether or not the brain damage affected executive function.

The second is that we don't need to know causes of behaviors in order to treat each other compassionately.

If all life is an experiment, it is a really poorly designed one with no control and poor replication.


*"Hemikids" was the original name for the organization, and children with hemiplegia are still sometimes referred to as hemikids.  It still makes me giggle because, while I know they are half goat, I do want to know what the other half is.

**Mother and mother-in-law-- your kids and grandkids aren't exactly normal. I, for one, think that is a very good thing.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Moms have strokes, too

Regular readers already know that I have a fabulous mother and mother-in-law, and don't need me to repeat how lucky I am in this regard.  But I still feel that I should acknowledge Mother's Day and somehow tie it in with pediatric stroke.

Probably most in utero stroke victims are not survivors (my speculations based on information about miscarriage rates and stroke rates, not something that I have read as such).  Stroke is one of a great many causes of miscarriage, which, along with infertility in general, is still very under-understood and too little discussed.  If you want to better understand and acknowledge the pain associated with these conditions, I highly recommend Elizabeth Hagen's Birthed and the guest posts on her blog about infertility and other dreams seemingly denied.

Also way underdiscussed in this country is maternal mortality.  Pregnancy and childbirth are still high risk endeavors for mothers, and as NPR reported this week, numbers of women who die in pregnancy are poorly tracked and rates are increasing in the US*.  If you haven't cried enough recently, you might want to read the whole piece on ProPublica.  Most of these women are not dying of strokes-- but some are.  Heart conditions and blood clots and strokes; with many of the deaths preventable with awareness, rapid diagnoses and treatment.

Kids have strokes.  And so do adults.  Act FAST: if you notice anyone with Face drooping, Arm weakness and Speech impairments, it is Time to call 9-1-1 (This from the American Stroke Association).

*Slight aside: Of course, pregnancy increased chances for domestic violence and, despite the numbers, the CDC cannot track this if it involves gun violence.  Because clearly the forefathers wanted to protect us against knowledge of people killing their family members by not infringing on our rights to a well-regulated militia.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Unable to Put His Foot Down

Last spring at White Sands, these tracks stunned me.

Of course I'd seen Aster walk, so I knew how much time he spent on his toes.  But there was something about seeing the trail of evidence that stunned me.  The kid did not put his right heel down.

This time last May I was in Colorado for his gait analysis.  They hooked him up to fancy computer equipment and had him walk with electrodes on in front of a blue screen.  They concluded that he didn't put his foot down.  I refrained from mentioning they could have just laid out some mud or sand.
White Sands "Gait Analysis" March 2016


Before gait analysis, May 2016
Purple Flower 

May 2016


Monday, May 8, 2017

Rocket Man

A diagnosis of hemiplegia, stroke, or cerebral palsy brings lots of unknowns  (Aster has all three, as defined back here).  For the parents, one of the greatest is not knowing if your kid will be able to do X-- with X being walk, read, ride a bike, keep a job, play an instrument . . . you name it.

March 2016
Alamagordo, NM March 2016
Of course, worrying about any individual's future is futile (within the last two weeks, four friends in their 40s have learned that cancers in their bodies have returned or are worse than expected); we can't know anyone's fate.  But Aster, like other kids, takes it all in stride.

He announced recently.  "I can't be an astronaut because of my paralyzed right side.  So I'm going to build my own rocket to go to the moon."

I like his thinking.


Ironweed Vernonia baldwinii Summer 2016