Monthly Archives: December 2009

Infinite Monkeys

It’s the day before Christmas and I ask Josie what she wants Santa to bring her. She says toys. I ask what kind of toys. She says she wants boo (blue) toys. Fair enough. Turns out Santa does have a few blue toys in his sack, and Christmas morning, her stocking is filled with, primarily, small tubs of Play-doh (including blue) and markers (also including blue).  Of course, and I knew this would happen, she loves Play-doh so much that she can think of nothing better. All morning, all she wants to do is play with Play-doh.

She gets what she wants

We manage to manipulate her into opening more of her presents. She gets two toys that come with USB cables. Let the love (or hate) of technology begin. One of the toys is a digital camera that takes real pictures. Even though it is not blue in any way, she’s smitten and spends hours wandering the house taking pictures of her own belly, dusty corners and, sometimes, Mommy sitting on the toilet (awesome).

Are you familiar with the infinite monkey theorem? It says something like: a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will eventually type a given text, such as the complete works of Shakespeare. It seems I should be able to apply this to my two year old taking pictures, right? She’s bound to take a few good ones.

Nope, as it turns out, not really. I did find this little gem:


And this:


The first reminds me of the photos my friend takes on her old-school, vintage camera. I’m guessing that Daddy took the second and a few seconds before or after, she uttered a firm statement telling him that this was her camera.

The only thing I really got from looking at all 150 photos was a good, solid, case of vertigo. But, fear not, I’ll stay vigilant in my quest for genius and I’ll be sure to share it with you when I find it.

The Trouble With Ham

Paul likes ham. I mean, he really likes it. Every day he has at least one ham sandwich. He’s been making the same lunch for about fifteen years – a cookie, a carrot, a baggie of pretzels, and ham on sourdough with mustard on both pieces of bread and cheddar cheese. Every now and then, if he really wants to stir things up, he adds a piece of roast chicken or turkey. But there is always ham. You can be sure of that.

He’s a utilitarian eater and in general, I’m in favor of his lunch-making ham-eating habits. After all, it has got to be better (for the bank account if nothing else) than eating out every day.

But the other day I was in bed, listening to some morning disc jockey talk about a study that followed 120,000 men for 6.3 years and identified a significantly higher risk of stomach cancer for men who ate more than two servings of processed meats per week.

Uh-oh. I walked straight from our room to the computer in the kitchen and Googled the study. Nothing. Paul stood at the counter, making his death sandwich. I reminded him how good a tuna sandwich could be. He slapped a slice of cheddar into his mouth and looked at me suspiciously.

Later, when I was dressed and sitting at my desk, I resumed the search. I still couldn’t find anything about this study but I did find a bevy of other ham-related information. I’m guessing the evil of processed meats has something to do with nitrates but I’m not sure what. Here’s what I learned. 

Sodium nitrate is added to meats in the curing process to delay the development of bacteria, rancidity, odors and, to bring out the meats flavor and color. The American Cancer Society states that “Nitrates and nitrites are substances commonly found in cured meats. They can be converted by certain bacteria, such as H. pylori, into compounds that have been found to cause stomach cancer in animals.” (link to study)   

I guess there’s some common sense to be applied here. Too much of any one thing can be bad. A ham sandwich every day for fifteen years can’t be right. Even too much broccoli can be bad (makes me gassy, sorry, TMI, anyhoo…).  

One study of 175,000 men conducted by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that over nine years, 20 percent of men with the highest intakes of processed meat were 12 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer. When the researchers broke the men’s diet information down further they found that white processed meats, like poultry cold cuts, were not linked to a higher risk of prostate cancer. (link to study)

This is the point where I officially become not okay with the ham-sandwich-every-day program. I’ll sing the praises of tuna salad (I know, mercury) or almond butter and apple butter mixed with miso paste. Or, if that’s too weird for him, which it is, why not just a plain PB&J? It’s not just for kids. I’ll offer to buy his favorite jam. Notice, I offer to go to the store but that’s all.

Another study of 200,000 men and women conducted by biochemist Ute Nothlings found that those who consumed the greatest amount of processed meats had a 67 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic cancer than those with the lowest consumption. A diet rich in pork and red meat also increased pancreatic cancer risk by about 50 percent. The American Meat Institute claims that this study has not been peer-reviewed. (link to study)

By now it’s clear that Paul’s long-standing ham-eating habit must be broken.

When I told one of my HMN friends about all this she said, “Well, the good news is that he’s clearly a creature of habit. You can be sure he’ll never leave you – at least not alive anyway.” There’s always that.

Maybe I’ll even start making his damn sandwich.

An Area of Expertise

Clear and Cold

It’s almost Christmas and my friend, D, posts a Facebook status update that involves the words “needle aspiration.” He doesn’t use the word biopsy but I know immediately what he means. I send him an email. The doctors think he has metastatic thyroid cancer or lymphoma. One doctor in particular is sure of it. It’s Friday. He won’t get the results until Tuesday (enjoy those holiday parties!). He’s having a hard time not thinking every little ache or pain is cancer. Every twinge could the quickening of a tumor.

This. This cancer hypochondria is something I am very familiar with. Would it be too much to say I’m an expert in the field? At the very least, I consider it an area of expertise.

I did the same thing. Did? I mean, do. I do the same thing. That tickle in my ribcage. Is it a tickle or pain? If I’m asking this question then I know that it isn’t a tumor. A recurrence would bring persistent pain that would not go away. I know this.

While I was in treatment for a type of breast cancer that shows on the skin, I convinced myself I could see the cells spreading from my left breast to my right. I insisted on seeing my doctor. She told me they were stretch marks. I didn’t believe her.

Sometimes it’s even less tangible. Sometimes it’s a feeling in my bones or in my blood or at the core of my body that reminds me how I felt just before I was diagnosed. Sometimes I just have this sense, this intuition that I’m hovering on the edge of blackness. Then, well, I usually get my shit together, get some sleep, eat something healthy, get some exercise and hope it all goes away. Sometimes this works.

There is no cure for this cancer hypochondria. I wish I had better news for him or a solution, but the best I can come up with is this: I’m doing everything I can. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. One of my friends has these same words written on a note and taped to her mirror. I’ve adopted them as my own. I repeat them to myself. I write them on scraps of paper. I carry them in my pocket. For me they mean that I’ve had the strongest treatment and I take care of myself. Worrying will do no good. There is nothing else I can change because I’m doing everything I can.  

My sister told me just before my wedding to expect one major thing to go wrong. She told me to count on it. That way, when the catastrophe came I would be prepared. I would be able to look at it and see it for what it was.

Perhaps we should apply this to cancer scares. Perhaps we should prepare ourselves. Think of how many people are diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime (I won’t share the statistics because they’re too depressing) then think of how many others have biopsies that prove to be benign. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance that almost every person will have a biopsy in their lifetime.

Maybe we should expect it. Maybe we should count on it. Maybe we should start telling ourselves now, that we are doing everything we can and that we hope that is good enough, because that’s all we’ve got.

Dryer Lint and Earwax

Here’s a little excerpt from Real Simple Magazine that I just couldn’t help but post. They’re recommending you collect your dryer lint and sculpt it into an elephant. Really? Seriously people. What’s next a basset hound made from ear wax?

modelingdoughDryer Lint as Modeling Dough

Original purpose: Clogging up a dryer vent.
Aha! use: Making homemade modeling dough. Simply mix the lint with water and flour (and, if you prefer, food coloring), as directed below.
Reward: An ear-resistible sculpture of Dumbo.

To make the modeling dough:

  1. Place 3 cups (shredded) dryer lint into a pot.
  2. Pour in 2 cups water.
  3. Stir in 1 cup flour.
  4. Add ½ teaspoon vegetable oil.
  5. Stir continuously over low heat until the mixture binds together and is of a smooth consistency.

Pour onto a sheet of wax paper to cool

I Apologize in Advance


I come from a long line of pasty people. You know, people with skin so white that it glows a little blue, skin so white that you can see right through it to the veins. If there is even a hint of pink, say a little sun, or fever, or diaper rash, it screams at you – look at me, I’m red! There’s absolutely no denying it. It must be noticed.

When Josie was a baby, I was shocked when the sitter pointed out that Josie had a fierce diaper rash. Really? When I looked closer, yes, indeed, there were little red bumps but because her skin is darker, I had to actually look for them.

So I consider it a promising sign for my development as a mother when I notice the red blotches on Josie’s cheeks as we’re headed to my favorite Christmas party of the year. (Sorry to all you other favorite parties but this one is really tops.) I put down the bags of gifts and toys and touch her forehead. Damn. I take her temperature – 100.8. Double damn. She’s been fine all day. Well, actually, the previous night she stayed with Grandma and Grandpa and when my mother told me that Josie sat in her lap for a whole 30 minute movie, my first reaction was to ask if she was sick, because sitting is not something my child does.

I couldn’t argue with a fever so I call my friend and cancel. Then I go to my room and bawl my eyes out.

At the grocery store the next morning Josie has a screaming fit because I will only let her have an orange (which she eats) and not a banana, too. These days when she doesn’t get what she wants she hits. Actually, it’s more like a swipe than a hit. I can’t push the cart or even really go near it because she’s screaming and clawing and even though I’m meticulous about keeping her nails short for precisely this reason, it hurts when she gets you. I should be horrified by this scene she’s making but I’m just glad we’re at our neighborhood co-op. They know us here.

Let me take a moment to tell you how much I love my grocery store. While I was in the checkout line a different day Josie threw a tub of hummus on the floor and shattered its plastic bottom. Then she bit into a block of cheese right through the wrapping. (She really likes cheese.) When I got up to the counter I pushed the cart into the middle of the aisle so she couldn’t reach anything. I mentioned to the checker that she was really on fire that day. He said something like, seems like she’s on fire every day. But he wasn’t criticizing or complaining or pointing out that my kid was ooc (out of control). He gave me a sympathetic, knowing look that said – its okay my friend, we understand. This is why I love them. Oh, and because they have the absolute best rotisserie chicken in the world.

Finally, we’re done at the store. I’m buckling her into the car seat when she swipes at me again. I hold her hands and get down in her face and look her right in the eye like I’m training a puppy. I tell her it’s up to her whether we have a good day or a bad day. My rules will not change, I tell her, you can follow them and we’ll have a fun day or you can continue to hit me and we’ll have to sit at home and not have any fun at all. What will it be?

I know this sounds a bit advanced for a two year old but desperate times, people, desperate times… She gives me a kiss. We’re the only ones at the park. She chases me. I chase her. She goes on the swing even though it’s wet. It’s a good day.

She’s in bed early that night but keeps waking up coughing. I rock her. It’s almost 10:00 and she’s draped over my shoulder when she throws up. Sorry, this is the part I apologize for telling you. I pull her blanket up and put in front of her mouth just in case. She swallows. Eeew! I run to the kitchen and grab the magnet that unlocks our supposed-to-be-so-easy-to-unlock-but-are-actually-impossible-to-unlock childproof cabinets. I fumble. If I can just find the exact right spot then maybe I can get it open and grab the plastic bowl (why I didn’t just lean her over the sink, I do not know). And then she lets loose. I duck, dropping my shoulder. It flies across the kitchen and lands on the floor. Again. I have the bowl now and place it directly in front of her mouth. Finally it is contained. Poor girl. When she’s done she seems confused and surprised and relieved. She doesn’t cry.

She’s started this recently – not crying when she really really should. Like last time we went to the doctor. She got a shot in each thigh and she hardly even whimpered.

I ask Josie if she feels better after throwing up and she says “yeth” with a sharp nod like the little soldier that she is. Yep, that’s my kid. She’ll claw at you, throw the hummus on the floor to see what happens and bite right through the plastic to get to the block of cheese. She’s fighting for something. I don’t know what. Maybe she wants unlimited free produce for everyone or cheese for the masses. I do not know what her cause is or will be, but I do know that she is passionate; she insists that her voice is heard. And I hope this is a rule that does not ever change.