Wednesday, August 29, 2007

juggling ice cubes

I love spicy food. I love hot, spicy food. The "fire" rating at Thai restaurants, extra-hot salsa, enchiladas swimming in red chili sauce...I can't get enough, (though both my brother and my husband's brother can dump on enough habañero pepper flakes to make steam come out of my ears without either one of them breaking a sweat. They are both just soooooo macho.)

So why am I sitting at the computer juggling ice cubes with a napkin in my lap to catch the drips?

Because the skin on my hands is extremely sensitive to jalapeño peppers and tonight, despite my best efforts, I have once again fallen victim to those little green bastards.

More than once I've made the mistake of handling jalapeños with my bare hands and paid for it dearly with hours of pain. (I think I've mentioned this before.) I have learned to wear rubber gloves every time I dice jalapeños or handle them in any way. I have outsmarted them...or so I thought. Tonight I made black beans and rice for dinner, and threw in a few chopped j-peppers from last weekend's farmers' market. I was wearing gloves, but I still felt a bit of a burn even through the rubber latex! It wasn't bad at first, but it got worse later on as we were eating, and right now, as I type this blog entry in between tossing an ice cube back and forth between my burning fingers, I am in some serious pain. It feels like I put my hands into a raging hot fire and roasted them like a well-done hot dog. I expect this will last most of the evening. I was planning to wash the dishes while Stuart takes Daniel to the park (so we wouldn't have to do them later), but I'm afraid to put those gloves on again, and putting my bare hands in hot soapy water would be excruciating.

I think it's time to admit defeat. I can never again touch a jalapeño pepper with anything other than a fork or tortilla chip unless I have some ultra heavy-duty gloves, like those virus-proof metal mesh kind scientists use when they're dissecting animals that died of mad-cow disease.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I know this sounds crazy

I know this sounds crazy, but I wish I could put off my due date for a couple of months. No, I don't love being pregnant so much I wish it to last longer. GOD, no! (And I feel bad saying that because pregnancy is relatively easy for me. No barfies or high blood pressure or anything else debilitating...I just like being able to see my toes and have a guilt-free beer once in a while.) It's just that I am over halfway through - 22 weeks out of 40, to be exact - and I'm really starting to feel the pressure to get this degree finished. I'm feeling nervous that I've got approximately 18 weeks to do it.

I think the panic started when I got an email from one of my committee members with some feedback for my dissertation proposal. He had some really good suggestions, but I turned this sucker in over a month ago, and I think he read it right away, made a bunch of notes, and then forgot to tell me what he wants me to change. Meanwhile, I've started a lot of the work, because time is absolutely of the essence here, and I'm feeling somewhat discouraged that I'm not going about this the right way and quite anxious about finishing everything before I go into labor. I'm not under any delusion right now that I can do the defense before Christmas. I'm okay with that. I don't want to have to enroll and pay for tuition (just part-time as a dissertator, but still) for the sole purpose of showing up for a two-hour defense, but that certainly wouldn't be impossible. But if I'm still writing and revising with a squalling newborn plastered to my chest and a jealous nearly two-year-old clamoring for my attention...I don't know. I just don't see how that could happen.

I guess this is why a lot of people don't finish their doctorates.

I guess this is also why most people wait until they're done before having kids (not that we planned it this way, but it doesn't make it any easier.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

what's on my mind this weekend

1. Daniel and I had an appointment with a nutritionist on Friday to discuss his bizarre eating behavior. I won't go into more detail about how peculiar he is with food, but just trust me, it's somewhat outside the realm even of normal toddler behavior (hence our dr's suggestion to visit a nutritionist in the first place...). Anyway, the nutritionist was great, very reassuring, and had some good suggestions, which already seem to be working. She's also one of the only people to offer me advice who managed to do it without making me feel defensive and inadequate as a parent. We were astonished the other night when he picked up a corn cob and actually ate a few bites of corn off of it. We've got a ways to go before I can give up sneaking things into mini-muffins, but now we've got a plan, and that's a good thing.

2. We've had six times the normal rainfall this August. Usually, our part of the state gets about 3" in August, and so far we've gotten 18". If you pay attention to the news at all, you may have heard that some counties in Wisconsin have been declared federal disaster areas because of flooding and mudslides, and three people were electrocuted at a bus stop in Madison when a live power line was knocked over into a flooded street. We're lucky we don't live near a river or creek and that our house is well-sealed; we didn't even get water in the basement. We're also very lucky our livelihood doesn't come from agriculture. My few tomato plants in the front yard are drowned and rotting, but that doesn't compare with the guy at the farmers' market yesterday who said he's lost 75% of his tomato crop ($50-60K worth) in fields with 8 inches of standing water.

3. I've spent the last two Sunday afternoons going to chamber music concerts. Seeing as I'm a so-called "professional" musician, this shouldn't strike you as odd at all, but since Daniel was born, it's rare that I have the opportunity to see my peers perform. (There are just so many responsibilities at home, and it's not fair to dump everything on Stuart on evenings and weekends.) Last Sunday was one of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival concerts. Not only did I get to see a dear friend perform (and he did so brilliantly), I was pleasantly surprised to see James Primosch there. He was one of the composers in residence at SongFest this June, and some of his music was featured at the concert. And I finally met John Harbison, who wrote that piece I premiered at SongFest; he runs the Token Creek festival and has lots of ties to Madison, so I knew he'd be there. The icing on the cake was that I finally got to spend some time with my friend Rob, who I hadn't seen in months. Kid-free social time with other adults is a precious, precious commodity, one of the few things I truly miss about my life before I became a mom.

Then today, a violinist friend presented her final DMA recital with my teacher as pianist/fortepianist on two of the pieces. Of course it was great, and they both played brilliantly. I need to get out and see concerts more often, to support other musicians and hear good music, and also for my own inspiration and morale.

...which brings me to #4: Next week Pam will be here for a whirlwind three days or so to record part of my dissertation project. I love working with her (and I'm not just saying that 'cause you're reading this, Pam!) and I'm excited about the music we're doing. But damn is one of the pieces kicking my ass. Sometimes I just stare at the page and whimper. Hearing other musicians perform good music well and being able to call them my "colleagues" is what makes me grit my teeth and convince myself that I really can do this.

5. 18 weeks from my due date and I'm wondering just how this doctorate is going to get done on time and just how big I'm going to get before it's all over and done with. I actually have a good friend here who is expecting a baby the exact same day (what are the odds?) and she doesn't look nearly as preg-preg as I do.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Madtown Mama's Vegetable Stealth Muffins

I credit Stephanie for the name of this recipe, courtesy of her comment on my last post. There's a story behind these muffins, a story about a little boy who has the most peculiar eating habits ever.

I'm talking about my own little Daniel. I referred to his eating issues in another post not too long ago. Almost every parent I've ever met yaks on about how his or her kid gave up mushy baby food well before the age of one year and just started grabbing whatever was on Mom or Dad's plate. These other children, whom I have labeled "normal," like to eat with their hands, might try using a spoon, and usually make a mighty big mess while they're at it. At some point or other, they try just about everything they're given. Not my Danimal. He just doesn't pick up food to eat it. I might add that as a baby he very rarely put anything in his mouth except his own fingers and the occasional plastic spoon. I knew this was unusual, and for a while it was great because he never tried eating crayons or sand or toilet paper or anything like that.

Now, though, it's a struggle to get him to eat because he'll almost always ignore whatever you put in front of him unless it's a graham cracker, a piece of bread, a chunk of banana, or a mini-muffin. Not even goldfish crackers and cheerios, people. I mean, what toddler doesn't love goldfish crackers and cheerios?!?!?! Until two weeks ago, he happily ate whatever purréed concoction of legumes and vegetables and yogurt I made for him, so I wasn't worried about his nutritional intake. Lately, though, he's gotten impatient with anything served on a spoon (except his breakfast oatmeal and the occasional helping of yogurt), and I feel like I've reached a dead end.

All the various ways I've failed him as a parent have been suggested to me. If he spent more time around other kids his age, he would want to eat like they do. He breastfed too long (he's still going, actually, but just at wake-up time in the morning). We haven't offered him enough different foods to try. I didn't try this trick or that game. But dudes, eating is instinct. Right? If he wanted our food, he'd have tried grabbing it off of our plates already. That has never happened even once and I am absolutely not exaggerating. The other day he voluntarily licked a slice of cucumber and we considered it a small miracle.

One part of me figures that like talking, he'll eat more big people food when he's good and ready. His growth and development are all fine. But the over-protective mother hen part of me worried about it enough that I emailed his doctor (yes, we can email the doctor; it's part of the clinic's website and it rocks!), who suggested we have an appointment with a nutritionist. That's today at noon. I'll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I discovered that mini-muffins are within Daniel's repertoire of bready foods he will eat. And guess what? You can hide all kinds of good stuff in a batch of mini-muffins, and your little carb fiend of a toddler will gobble them up. It's a win-win, and I need a little victory now and then.


Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Approx. 2 cups combined grated vegetables/fruit. Carrot, zucchini, and apples work particularly well.
1 egg
1 cup plain yogurt
3 T. vegetable oil
1/3 - 1/2 cup brown sugar or honey (yeah, I know, but these have to be edible)

In a separate bowl, mix:
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 T. ground flaxseed (you don't want to overdo the flaxseed, TRUST ME)
3 T. wheat germ
1/2 cup white flour
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt

Mix the wet and dry ingredients together without stirring more than necessary. Add a little splash of milk if the mixture is too dry.

Spoon into muffin tin and bake until golden. For minis it takes 10-15 minutes. This makes about 2 dozen mini-muffins, maybe more, depending on how much batter you end up with.

With autumn approaching, if Daniel is still on his I-won't-eat-anything-but-carbs-but-don't-you-dare-spoon-feed-me jag, I envision making mini-muffins with the same basic ingredients, only using mashed sweet potatoes or winter squash as the vegetable base.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

This one's for the grandparents!

flour + water + Daniel = 1 colossal mess...

...and one very happy little boy!

Maybe it's time I invested in some play-doh.

Monday, August 20, 2007

I probably should've been insulted...

So I just wrote a long, blathery post on Mad Knitting that really has little to do with knitting and a lot to do with body image and ideals of beauty and such in modern culture. Y'know, in case you're interested in reading it.

But it reminds me of something that happened to me the other day. I was at a grocery store with Daniel and a woman I'd never seen before approached me and said, "I notice you have some redness on your cheeks. That's a condition called r------ [I honestly can't remember the word she used, sorry]. I have that, too, and if you get some of the cream for him [she pointed at Daniel] and rub it into your face, it really helps." (By "cream," I think she must have meant lotion of some kind; I'm not sure.)


I think that's the first time I've been given unsolicited advice from a stranger on my looks. Maybe I should have been insulted, but I was more surprised than anything else. The woman wasn't at all unkind. She was just trying to be helpful. And my complexion has never been perfect; pregnancy has even brought out the ruddy, blotchy, break-out qualities I always hoped would just disappear entirely after adolescence. (Yay.)

So what's the weirdest thing a stranger has said to you? Not that I'm trolling for comments here...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Daniel's agricultural education

Since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I've revisited the tiny, pathetic garden patch in my front yard. It's tiny because our yard is mostly shady, so there's not really enough sun for most vegetables, and it's pathetic because I've been negligent about weeding. I'm fairly unapologetic for this, actually. It just hasn't been the right summer for dedicated garden work: early pregnancy, the end of a doctorate looming large, a toddler who loves being outside but who doesn't understand the difference between a weed and something you want to leave in the ground...

I have a patch of tomatoes in the front yard, the part that gets the most sun. There's no part of our yard that gets an entire day of sun, but this little patch gets enough to yield a few tomatoes. They're small and late to ripen, but we get enough that it's worth the trouble, (though the fact that I didn't even bother to put tomato cages around them this year - something that involved all the work of bringing them up from the basement and sticking them in the ground - tells you how crappy I felt in June when it was time to do that.) There are a couple more factors that have limited our already-small tomato harvest, though: rat bastard squirrels who chew on the ripe fruits, and a certain little boy who likes to pick them.

A few days ago, the Danimal and I were in the front yard. It had rained recently (a good thing, as we badly needed rain here), and the ground was soft and sort of muddy, the perfect condition for pulling weeds. Daniel, who's hit this wonderfully sweet and funny and occasionally frustrating stage of wanting to help with everything, was eager to carry the weeds I'd pulled to the weed pile I've started next to the house; he dropped most of them in the right spot. But then he saw me picking some ripe tomatoes. Of course, he wanted to be involved in that, too. The thing about my son, delightful as he is, is that his enthusiasm for certain tasks will sometimes surpass his understanding of how exactly they are to be done (see above re: the difference between weeds and pretty flowers). He can pick tomatoes, all right, but he doesn't always stick to the ripe ones. I've tried pointing out several times that the green-ish ones should be left on the vine, but that particular detail has yet to sink in. He also likes to squish them once they're picked. Fortunately, he sticks to the smaller cherry and grape tomatoes, ones that I don't mind being sacrificed for the sake of his agricultural education. I figure I should take advantage of this time before he's old enough to resent me for making him help in the garden.

Half the point of this post was to show you some pictures from this morning. Here's Daniel proudly holding his harvest:

Here's how he sorted each tomato he picked into an old seedling holder:

Here's Daniel chucking his find into the patch of thyme:

And here's just a good picture of him:

Sunday, August 12, 2007

how to practice

1. Open music to the hardest song (out of a set of three).

2. Begin to read through song.

3. Wonder what the hell composer was thinking when she wrote these funky-ass rhythms and constantly changing meters. Wonder if she really meant the metronome markings on the page.

4. Stop playing, sigh, and wander into the kitchen looking for a snack.

5. Return to piano with a dry, bland granola bar that really doesn't taste good at all, and stare hopelessly at the music for five minutes.

6. Try to find an easy section to practice for a little while to boost confidence.

7. Fail to find anything easy about song in question. Confidence remains un-boosted.

8. Look at calendar, and note mounting anxiety about limited time span between now and when it's time to record the piece.

9. Silently wish you didn't have to learn it at all. Contemplate dropping out of doctoral program.

10. Decide dropping out would make one look like the kind of person who can't handle being a parent and having a post-graduate degree. Decide this is not a good example to set for one's children, not to mention a big waste of all these years in graduate school.

11. Give self pep-talk about all the hard music you've has learned in the past, and how much more difficult it was than this silly nine-page song. Remind self that some of that was done while self was pregnant with Daniel.

12. With new determination, grab a stack of post-it notes and make a practice plan by writing down the 26 hardest measures in the song and tackling those first.

13. Turn on metronome to 1/4 of tempo of the measures in question. Learn them.

14. Feel better. Decide maybe it's worth it after all.

Friday, August 10, 2007

compassion for goldfish

Yesterday afternoon by 3:30, Daniel and I were driving each other up and down the walls so much I was about to break down and have a screaming fit to match the ones he was throwing every twenty minutes. It wasn't his fault, really. It was just that the weather was (still is) that perfect combination of soul-suckingly warm and muggy, and I just didn't want to go outside. But there's only so much you can do in a small house for an entire afternoon with an 18-month-old who only napped for an hour the entire day and who insists on Climbing Everything.

So I sucked it up and took him to the park. There were three little girls there with their mother, and they were walking around in the water collecting by the storm drain with fishing nets. Eventually, they made their way to the playground equipment, where the older two girls (they looked about 7 and 4, but I'm not sure of their exact ages) showed me their catch of the day: about a half dozen little goldfish swimming around in a large plastic container. They kept picking up those little fish out of the water and examining them. After about five minutes of this, I couldn't stand it anymore.

"Girls," I said, "you know those fish aren't going to live very long if you keep picking them up. They need to be in the water to breathe."

"Yeah?" said the younger one.

"Yeah, probably," said the older one.

But neither of them seemed particularly concerned about the perils of repeatedly taking a fish out of water to watch it flop.

They picked up one of the larger fish, and observed that it wasn't moving around very much, and furthermore had lost some of its scales.

"This one isn't really moving," said the Younger.

I repeated, kindly, that those fish needed to be in the water to breathe, and to live. By this time, I'm sure they'd been handled to much and too harshly to survive long, even if those girls had dumped them back in the storm drain where they had found them, but I wasn't going to say that outright.

This whole time, their mother was occupied with the youngest girl on the swingset, and probably didn't hear our conversation. I couldn't help but be a little annoyed with her and her two older daughters. There was something disturbing to me about the girls' lack of concern for the fish's well-being, and their mother's endorsement of their behavior. (If you ask me, the mom looked kind of stoned...but it could have just been the heat. I don't know.)

I know they're "only" goldfish. But they are (or rather, I'm sure I should say at this point, were) living creatures that are part of the natural environment, and they didn't deserve to be ripped away from that for no reason. These girls weren't acting out of cruelty. I think it was just ignorance and curiosity that blinded them to the suffering of those poor little fish.

Don't get me wrong. I'm SO not one of those wacko activists for "animal rights." I think members of PETA and the like are terribly misinformed (though for the most part, well-meaning). Humans are omnivores by nature, and I am not opposed to eating meat, though I am appalled by the environmental consequences and living conditions of factory-farm animals. I think animal research in science labs is necessary and justified (how else would we know what causes cancer, and for that matter, how to treat it?). I have no problem with hunting; it's actually necessary for keeping the deer population under control. (Of course, I believe hunters should only kill animals they intend to use for meat, not just for pure sport, and shooting endangered species is entirely inexcusable.) We have a couple of mouse traps in our basement for a good reason. I've annihilated many a cockroach in my day without the slightest feeling of remorse.

My point is this: while humans will always kill animals, it should never be done out of anything other than necessity, and it should always be done with respect (cockroaches notwithstanding). Those little girls at the park yesterday did not mean to be cruel to those little goldfish, but they also clearly had no idea they were harming them. I doubt that the delicate ecological balance of aquatic life in that storm drain was upset too much by missing a half dozen or so small goldfish. It sure made me think, though, about having a little more respect for life and nature. I hope someday they think about that, too.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Daniel does and doesn't

This morning, Daniel and I had a double date with the doctor. He had his routine 18-month check-up, and I had my monthly preg-preg check-up. Things pretty much went as I expected. The baby's heartbeat is good and strong, I'm growing as I should, and so is Daniel. He's way up in the height percentiles and way down in the weight percentiles, long and lanky like his Uncle Joe. His motor skills are great, he engages in all kinds of play appropriate for his age, he's getting good at throwing tantrums and he really hates having his ears checked.

But there are a couple funny things about him. For one, he's not really talking yet. I think by 18 months, he should have a vocabulary of a dozen words or so. He certainly verbalizes plenty, and he's making all the right sounds, but almost all of what comes out of his mouth is pure nonsense. Every once in a while, we'll detect a "Mama" or "Daddy" or "bah" (ball), but it's not very often. Two months ago, I got him to say "down" when we were going down some stairs, but he has yet to repeat it. A few times he's said "duh" while looking at a picture of a duck. But that's really it.

The other thing is Daniel's odd habits with food. Children his age normally eschew purréed baby food in favor of grown-up food cut into little bits. They like to pick up food themselves with their grubby little fingers and stuff it into their mouths. Not my child. He eats exactly three things with his hands: slices of bread, graham crackers and, if no fork is available, banana. That's right. He prefers to eat his banana slices with a fork, thanks, and if any bit gets smeared on his hand or fingers, he'll hold it out for you, the nearest adult, to wipe off. He also looooooooves purréed food, the same kind of stuff I was feeding him as an eight-month-old: red lentils or split peas cooked with carrots, peas, potatoes, squash, or whatever I can find at the farmers' market, then mixed with yogurt for fat and protein. If any little bit of it is still at all chunky, from a piece of mushy carrot to a single split pea that escaped the blender's spinning blades, he'll wrinkle up his face and hold the offending food out on his tongue and wait for you, the nearest adult, to remove it.

At first, when I explained all this, the doctor suggested that we have a specialist do some kind of "evaluation," I guess to see if there are any "oral problems" (because I need more things to stress me out like I need another hole in the head.) She changed her mind by the end of the appointment, though, after I told her that according to my parents, I was kind of late to do everything - walking, talking, potty-training, eating solid foods. (Obviously, I can do all of those things now. I can even feed myself!) Plus, Daniel's motor skills and language comprehension (if not language production) are just where they should be. I would say he's even a bit ahead of the game when it comes to climbing stairs, chairs and playground equipment, the little monkey.

Still, it makes me wonder if I could be doing more to encourage these things. This afternoon I tried to get him to say "off" and "on" (he was flipping the light switch over and over), "ball" (we were playing outside) and "cat" (the next-door neighbors have one), but it was all to no avail. At dinner, I put some shredded cheese and a piece of cucumber on his plate along with the slice of bread and split pea mush he usually eats; he ignored the cuke, then tried to feed the cheese to Stuart. I guess we have a little ways to go, huh?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Another recipe

Do the recipe entries bore you guys? I have a diverse, if limited, readership, so I realize not everything I write will interest everyone. Sometimes what I write will interest no one. That's all right, I guess, since this little blog is just a little something I do to keep myself stimulated and connected with the larger world.

So anyway, I have been fiddling with curried lentils for a while now. Lentils and rice is an ideal dish for so many reasons: it's cheap (really cheap), it's healthy, it's meatless, and it makes great leftovers. Unfortunately, I haven't found a recipe anywhere that imparts a satisfactory flavor. If food doesn't taste good, it's not worth eating, I say. Instead of giving up on curried lentils, though, I kept messing around until I hit on something really good, and now that I've made this dish successfully more than once, I figure it's worth sharing with the world at large, for those who care. In fact, I made this a few weeks ago for a friend who came over for dinner, and she asked for the recipe; I took that as a good sign.

I've learned a few things about curries from reading Indian cookbooks and old-fashioned experience, and I've learned a few things:

1. Don't overdo the spices, either by using too many different ones, or too much of one kind. They will overwhelm the palette. OMG, did I just use the word "palette"? Yes, yes I did.

2. Don't be afraid of oil. Vegetable oils aren't high in saturated fat, and some, like olive oil, have stuff in there that's good for you. Low-fat diets will get you nowhere anyway.

3. Do not add tomatoes or salt to any dish containing lentils or beans until the very end. There's some kind of enzyme that will prevent the lentils/beans from cooking all the way through and they will be crunchy. I had to learn this the hard way...several times.

4. Toppings and curry mix well. I've listed several in the recipe below.

(I don't know if this is authentic to any particular culture...I just think it's good.)

1 large onion, chopped
4 T. vegetable oil or ghee
2 tsp. chopped garlic
3/4 tsp. each cumin, coriander and cayenne (You can use more cayenne if you like it really hot)
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 cups dry green lentils, washed and picked over
2 tsp. broth concentrate (I like Better Than Bullion Vegetable broth) or 2 bullion cubes of your choosing (I would use veggie or beef)
1/2 tsp. freshly ground cardamom seed
1 cup chopped potato

1. Heat the oil in a large sauce pan, and sauté the onion until soft, 5-7 minutes.
2. Add the garlic and spices and toast them, stirring constantly, for 30 seconds.
3. Add the lentils plus 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down and let simmer until the lentils are just a little bit crunchy. Check them every 5-10 minutes and add water if necessary. (I always add the water gradually because I never know quite how much water is needed, and I hate watery lentils.)
4. When the lentils are not quite done, add the chopped potato, plus more water if necessary.
5. When the potatoes are cooked through, add the broth concentrate or bullion cubes, plus salt to taste. Sprinkle with the ground cardamom (you can leave this out if you don't like it peppery.)

This is a large recipe. It keeps well for leftovers for a couple days, and is usually better on day two, so if you think ahead enough (and I rarely do), you can make it several hours ahead of time or the night before and just heat it up when you're ready to eat.

Serve with rice of your choosing (I like steamed basmati, myself) and any or all of the following toppings:

Dry roasted peanuts
Chopped fresh tomato (if this isn't available and you really like tomato, add a can of diced tomatoes to the lentils when they're done cooking along with the broth and salt)
Plain yogurt
Shredded coconut
Chopped banana
Boiled eggs, chopped

Friday, August 03, 2007

Random Friday

1. Good news, everyone! I had an ultrasound Tuesday morning, and everything is fine. The specialist looked at everything and confirmed that the baby's major organs are developing normally, there is blood flowing everywhere it should, and while the cyst is still there, it's within a normal size range and shouldn't cause any problems. (The genetic counselor told me that choroid plexus cysts show up in 50% of adult autopsies when cause of death had absolutely nothing to do with brain function, so they are quite common and almost always benign.) In fact, when I got to the perinatalogy wing of the hospital, the first thing the technician said to me was, "You know these cysts show up all the time, right? And that they almost always go away, right?" So that was reassuring. Jelly Bean also has 2 arms, 2 legs, a spine, and all the other stuff you would want your child to have. (We didn't ask about the sex because we don't want to know, but we're assuming all the right parts are there for that, too.)

2. Tomorrow is our sixth anniversary. Yes, we got married young (I was 22, Stu was 23.) No, we have never regretted it. At least, I haven't. I'm pretty sure Stuey hasn't. We're celebrating by hiring a babysitter (for like, the third time, ever) and going out to eat at a fancy schmancy place downtown that features locally grown food. They've been listed as one of the best 100 restaurants in the country. I am very excited about this.

3. I think I'm getting the "nesting" syndrome a little early. I find myself taken over by the urge to clean the house. This, of course, is in direct conflict with Daniel's constant cluttering of various toys and household objects. It's also in direct conflict with the fatigue I have experienced of late due to the 90+ degree heat here (unusual for Wisconsin). Thus, my house isn't cleaner than normal, but it bothers me more.

4. Since reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I'm inspired to try making my own cheese. I checked out Home Cheese Making by Ricki Carroll from the local library. There's a recipe in there for 30-minute mozzarella. I think I'll need to get some proper cheese cloth and culture before I make any...but when the time comes, I'll let you know how it goes.

5. I spent the better part of two days this week in recording sessions with my friend Julia. We recorded three songs for my dissertation project, plus several arias for her audition CD. It was really fun, and everything went so well that we're not even going to have that much editing to do: just a couple of splices, and there were some takes that were so good we won't have to do any cut-and-paste at all! I hope the rest of my project goes this well, seeing as what we just did is maybe 1/6 of a whole CD. And it's August already. Cripes.

6. We were on vacation for a little over a week. Basically, we did a lot of driving to Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska attending a wedding, visiting family, visiting more family...this is really the only kind of vacation we ever take. (One day we'll win the lottery, drop the kid[s] off at some willing relative or other, and go to Italy. One day.) We had a good time, despite the Kansas heat, and Daniel did very well with all the new environments and new people. He even did okay in the car.

7. It's been a while since I've put pictures up. Here are a few from a one-night camping trip we took last month at Devil's Lake.

(As you can see, Daniel has a little ways to go before appreciating the great outdoors. He preferred playing in the car to being outside, and checked out for most of our early morning hike.)