Friday, November 28, 2008

In Which I Am Thankful and Also Make the World's Worst Mashed Potatoes

Happy Thanksgiving (belatedly)!

What are you thankful for today? I'm thankful...

...that I'm not a vegetarian.
...for pajamas.
...for a day when I don't have to wear a bra.
...for pumpkin pie.
...for Thanksgiving Day parades.
...for freedom.
...that Mr. Peevie has a job.
...for elastic-waist pants.
...for presents.
...for mental health professionals.
...for good story-tellers.
...for forgiveness.

In other news, I totally ruined the mashed potatoes this year. It's like they were cursed or something.

I had asked Mr. Peevie what he'd like to see on the Thanksgiving Day menu, and he made only one request: the hugest mountain of mashed potatoes ever seen by man. So the big day comes, and I start cooking. I pop my bird in the oven using this recipe. It turned out fabulous, BTW.

But the bird was done about an hour before I expected it to be done, and I was caught with my mashed potatoes down, so to speak. I quickly quartered a bunch of white new potatoes, skin on, and briefly debated with myself whether I had time to boil them on the stove.

The microwave won. Quick and simple, or so I thought. I pulled them out after three minutes, but they were still hard. Two more minutes later and they barely winced when I poked them with a fork. Three more minutes. By this time, I was thinking, I could have had them boiling away on the stove--but you know what they say about hindsight. It's for whiners.

Finally, they're ready to be mashed. Or so I thought. I dumped some sour cream on them and started squishing with my hand masher thingie--but they refused to submit. I can't get the right angle, I thought to myself, so I dumped them into a different bowl and tried again. This time, the bowl was too shallow and they squirted away when I pressed down with the masher.

The beaters! I'll try the electric portable beaters, I thought. When I started mixing, the electric blades started flinging potato chunks all over the kitchen. I got out still another bowl, and tried again. The beaters chased the tough little clods around the bowl without leaving a mark. These spuds were determined not to become mashed potatoes.

Maybe they're just not soft enough yet, I thought stubbornly. Back into the microwave they went, and I decided that I just wouldn't think about what microwaving would do to the sour cream that had already turned soupy on the hot, hard gobs of potato. Two minutes should do it, I estimated.

I pulled them out, and they seemed to be in a more cooperative mood. I went back to the hand masher and started pounding and hollering, "DIE, SUCKERS! MASH! MASH!"--but to no avail. They remained chunky and hard, but by now there was also a layer of paste that had formed in the bowl from all the attempted mashing.

C. Peevie strolled into the kitchen, and offered to give it a try. He pounded until his bicep was sore, and made a tiny bit of progress. I looked into the bowl and saw what looked like chunks of quartz sitting in a sticky pool of paper mache. I gave up.

I served those damn potatoes anyway, and they were just as horrible as they looked: pasty and gluey, with rock-hard chunks. My poor family. They were so sweet and kind to me--they said things like, "That's OK, Mom; they don't taste too bad. Remember that macaroni and cheese that you made on Monday? Now THAT was bad."

Even Mr. Peevie, who doesn't ask for much, was incredibly gracious. "It's OK, honey," he told me. "Everything else is really, really delicious." And it was. In fact, I think the mashed potatoes were so bad that they made everything else taste even better--so in a weird way, I'm thankful for ruined mashed potatoes.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Eleven, Part Deux

Darling A. Peevie,

So where was I? Oh, yeah: Standing next to your hospital bed, crying.

At 2 a.m. we sat down in a conference room with the chief of pediatric cardiology at Lutheran General Hospital, Dr. Ira DuBrow. We got a short but thorough course on complex cyanotic congenital heart defects (CHDs). I can't even remember your initial diagnosis--it's changed a half dozen times since then as the specialists got more information--but the first issue was a coarctation, or narrowing, of your aorta. It would need surgical repair as soon as you were stable.

I had tons of questions for Dr. DuBrow. I wanted to know why a level II ultrasound at 20+ weeks wouldn't have picked up on these issues. They only check for four heart chambers, he told us. They wouldn't have seen A. Peevie's issues unless they were trained and instructed to look for them.

And of course I needed to understand why this had happened to you. Was it something that I had done while pregnant? Was there an unknown genetic cause? Nope and nope. Turns out most of the time doctors
don't know why embryonic hearts develop structural defects--even though heart defects are the most common birth defect, affecting nearly ten percent of all newborns.

Your severe congestive heart failure triggered a systemic shut-down affecting most of your other major organs. You were in such bad shape, Dr. DuBrow told us much later, that they did not think they could save your life. The beeps and alarms kept the intensive care team busy while you struggled to stay alive, and Daddy and I watched helplessly.

I told God in no uncertain terms that I was very angry at him for allowing this to happen to you, and that I could not lose another child.
Caitlin was very much on our minds as we held your tiny fingers and watched your fluctuating oxygen saturation rate on the monitor.

We called both sets of grandparents the next day. "We" meaning "me." Daddy's emotions choked his words in his throat, and he could not speak. Grandmom and Grandpop M. cried and got on their knees to pray for you. Grandmom and Granddad B. drove all the way to Chicago from Florida to stand with us in your hospital room.

Finally, after four days, they stabilized you enough for the first surgery to repair the coarctation of the aorta. As they wheeled you out of the room and down the hall, surrounded by a dozen doctors and nurses, the four of us cried and held each other.

We met with the pediatric cardiology team, including the surgeon, to find out exactly what they'd be doing, and why. From that point forward, every time you faced another surgery or a new procedure, I asked three questions: What was the worst possible outcome? What was the best possible outcome? What was the expected outcome?

In an earlier report, Dr. DuBrow had written, "Because of the complexity of the abnormalities, the prognosis is guarded; however, I have reason to be cautiously optimistic that the baby can be brought through with reasonably good result."

Now, eleven years, three heart surgeries and dozens of procedures later, I watch you run, play, draw, read, imagine, climb, ride and generally experience a happy, healthy childhood--and I am grateful beyond words that you have been brought through with way better than reasonably good results.

Happy birthday, A. Peevie. I love you with a passion unfettered by reason.


Sunday, November 23, 2008


Darling boy,

You are eleven. Daddy and I are so in love with you, so enraptured with your unique you-ness, so crazy happy that we get to be your parents.

Also: sometimes you frustrate the shit out of us.

But mostly, we adore you; and we're grateful that you are here with us. When you were born, Daddy brought C. Peevie, age 2.5, to the hospital to meet his new baby brother. He ran into the room, totally ignored me, and commanded, "Baby A. Peevie! Me hold him!" He's been warm and nurturing to you ever since.


On day ten of your ex-utero existence, we noticed that you were too sleepy to nurse. Daddy and I went Christmas shopping, and when we stopped for lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant, I tried again to wake you up to nurse you--but you would only latch on for a minute before falling back asleep.

By late afternoon, we were concerned. Ignorantly, we decided to wait until the next day to call the doctor if you were still abnormally lethargic--but then at 5 p.m. Daddy said, Let's just call the doctor to be safe.

He saved your life.

The doctor told me to pinch you to wake you up. You didn't respond. He said, pinch him again, HARD. I didn't want to hurt you, but he said, Pinch him HARD. So I did. You didn't even squeak.

"Bring him in to the ER right away," the ped said. My heart felt cold with fear.

At the ER, the in-take nurse said, "How long has he looked yellow?"

"Since birth," I said truthfully.

"Well, you should have brought him in sooner. He's very jaundiced," she said helpfully.

Fortunately, the rest of the ER staff was appropriate, kind, and professional. I do not know the name of the doctor who put his arm on my shoulder and told me as gently as he could that you were in very serious condition with and needed to be moved to a hospital with a Level IV trauma center--but I will never forget that he was as kind and gentle as he could be under the worst of circumstances.

By this time, your tiny chest was heaving, and you were struggling to breathe. The ER staff debated whether to intubate you right then and there, or to wait for the ambulance trauma team to do it. Meanwhile, Daddy called Roseanne, who was keeping C. Peevie for us.

"A. Peevie is very sick," he managed to choke out, before he burst into tears.

The first ambulance that came to pick you up was not equipped to handle a tiny infant in heart failure. There was a flurry of phone calls and conversations; we considered the possibility that you might die because of a failure to communicate. When the second ambulance came, at least 10 emergency transport personnel surrounded you as they rushed you out to the waiting vehicle.

I started to follow, but one nurse held me back. "You can't go in the ambulance," she told me; and I looked at her with despair. "There's no room," she explained gently. "Everyone in the ambulance has a job to do. Get in your car, go home and get your things, and meet us at the hospital."

Daddy and I just knew we'd never see you alive again, that you'd die in the ambulance on the way to the trauma center. We drove home in a daze, packed a few things, and called our pastor before heading up to the hospital.

The next time we saw you, tubes and wires stuck out all over your chest, arms and even out of your scalp. The intubation tube taped to your face kept you breathing in a regular rhythm; and for the first time since we brought you to the hospital, I started to cry.

I'll finish the story tomorrow; but let me just say for today that I'm glad you're still here, still growing, still being your own one-of-a-kind self. Happy birthday, darling boy.

Love, Mommy

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wedding Gifts, 25 Years Later

Mr. Peevie and I still have items we received as wedding gifts in use in our household--nearly 25 years later.

The most useful and still-in-good-shape gifts are in regular use in our kitchen. A block of good knives and most of a 12-piece set of Revere pots and pans see frequent action (except for the one I burned to a crisp when I fell asleep while boiling eggs, and woke up to a house filled with smoke and the fire alarm screeching). Also, stainless flatware, a cute quiche plate, and a full set of 12 every-day place settings from my former tennis partner, Sandra Dee. (Sandra Dee, had a set of dishes for every season. She generously gave us her fall dishes, which we still use for all four seasons.)

Two brown casserole dishes still pull their weight in kitchen duty out of the original batch of, I'm guessing, four or five that we received. (Brown casserole dishes were all the rage 25 years ago, apparently.) One of them is missing a lid, however, so I guess technically, we've got 1.5 brown casserole dishes.

The most worn-out wedding gift that's still in the rotation is a raggedy kelly green bath towel. Why have we not re-purposed this worn-out rag that's practically transparent in places? And by "re-purposed" I mean tossed, burned, or buried? Because we're cheap, that's why!

Actually, we have re-purposed it, from bath duty to pool duty. But our closet is also filled with about 10 beach towels, and of course no one chooses to dry off with a threadbare towel from the days of yore when bath towels were barely bigger than washcloths.

That does it. I'm putting it into the rag bin for car washes and spill clean-ups.

One of the most hilarious and still-useful gifts that Mr. Peevie and I received when we married at the not-yet-ripe young ages of 22 and 23 was a drill-and-bit set. Mr. Peevie finally felt included when we opened this one, and has drilled many times since then.

Hee! "Drilled."

Oh, and I can't forget the three or four cookbooks we received--and especially My Favorite Recipes, where I've collected 25 years worth of recipes, like sangria, baked scallops, and Grandma Moore's homemade noodles. I really should just convert all these recipes to an electronic file somewhere--but that sounds like too much effort.

When I started this post I was pondering that mangy green towel, and wondering if we had very many wedding gifts still in use. Turns out there are at least a dozen! How about you? What's the longest time you've kept and used a wedding gift? Not doilies embroidered with your names and wedding date, but things you actually put to use?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Circus Problem

The Circus is coming to town.

At church we've been hearing sermon anecdotes about the pastor's tradition of taking his girls to see the circus every year; and we're being asked to make a donation to send refugee children to the circus.

I'm all in favor of family traditions, and I'm all in favor of giving refugee children an opportunity for an entertaining outing.

However. A few years ago my friend Q sensitized me to the animal cruelty issues that accompany circus acts that involve animals, to which I had been happily oblivious. So I am here today to use the Power of the Blog to educate you, dear readers (all six to eight of you) about the issue, so that you can make an informed choice about whether to support animal circuses in the future.

You might, like me, have the impression that anti-circus activists are card-carrying PETA members, extremists who throw paint on fur-wearing socialites and wear shoes made out of bamboo shoots. And perhaps some are.

But don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Just because PETA has a reputation for extremism doesn't mean that they are wrong on every issue. To paraphrase Barry Goldwater, "Extremism in defense of the humane treatment of animals is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of the humane treatment of animals is no virtue."

PETA claims that Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus mis-characterizes its handling of animals in its marketing materials. Rather than training methods using touch, food, and praise, as they claim, Ringling apparently uses bullhooks and beatings to dominate and subdue circus elephants.

The USDA has frequently cited circuses for animal welfare violations. Here's a link to an FDA Inspection Report from a circus in Florida (not Ringling) that cites problems with veterinary treatment, animals with untreated lesions, and unacceptable caging. It's not an isolated situation.

The Humane Society of the United States "opposes the use of wild animals in circuses and other traveling acts because cruelty to animals is inherent in such displays" (italics mine). They bust the marketing myths about the care and welfare of circus animals in this article. Surprise! Wild animals do not do their tricks out of love for their trainers. Elephants don't balance on tiny chairs for their own enjoyment. They do it to avoid pain.

We don't have to answer here the philosophical questions raised by the Circus Problem (i.e., What is our responsibility to animals? What does the ethical treatment of animals look like in a humane, civilized society? What should animals be used for?), even though those are excellent questions. It's enough to assert and affirm that animals should not be treated with cruelty. That's the law.

It's also a stated principle of the American Veterinary Medical Association: "Animals should be cared for in ways that minimize fear, pain, stress, and suffering." (Read the other seven principles of animal welfare here.) Circuses just do not meet these criteria, especially the part about using "thoughtful consideration for [the animals'] species-typical biology and behavior." A bear riding a bike is definitely not species-typical behavior.

So before you take your kids to the circus, think about the messages you're giving them about how we should treat animals.

Sorry to spoil your fun. Blame it on Q.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

On Being Eight

I cannot believe it. Another whole entire year has gone by, and now I am eight years old. A lot has happened since I told you what it was like to be seven.

First of all, back then I was only in first grade, and now I am in second grade. Second grade is a little harder than first grade, but not much. My mom and my teacher, Mrs. MiPi, teamed up against me to make sure that second grade would be "challenging" for me. (Pretend I said that word "challenging" while making quotes in the air with my fingers.)

But guess what? It's still not even really that hard. I take a long time to do my homework so that my mom will think that I'm getting enough "challenge" (I did that finger quote in the air thing again), but I will tell you a secret: second grade is easy-peasy.

Today was my birthday, and my friend J0jo could not come to my birthday party, and I told my mom it was just not a birthday without Jojo. I cried and cried. And then my friend Juju got sick and she could not come either, and I was very extremely sad because how can you have any fun at a birthday party unless you have lots and lots of your best friends there, and now two whole friends could not be there.

You will be surprised to learn that I had fun anyway with my friend KK, my twin friends J1 and J2, and my extra friend Trixie. We painted ceramics at Paint-N-Party, which was fun even though it was not messy. (My motto is, the messier things are, the more fun they are.) I painted a beauteous picture frame and I'm going to put a picture of me and Jojo in it because I miss her. She moved away and goes to a different school now.

We all ate at a restaurant with a giant pretend elephant by the door. KK's mom Bella took a picture of all of us girls. She had a camera in her purse--but my mom did not even bring a camera to her own daughter's birthday party. Humph.

I had a corn dog and french fries, which I ate all of. My mom says I will eat anything, even a raw steak, but she is exaggerating, as usual. I do, however, like many kinds of food. I love to eat crouton salad, raw red peppers, and grilled asparagus; and I'm pretty sure I like every single fruit in the world. When I come home from school and I want a snack, my mom says to get some fruit, and I will eat a banana, an apple, a pear, and some grapes--and then I will ask for something else.

For my birthday my mom and dad gave me a pink DS, which is like a Gameboy, only better because it has two screens. I like to send messages to my brother A. Peevie, who also has a DS. I have only had the DS for about one day, and already my mom is telling me that I am playing too much DS. I can tell that this is going to be a problem for her.

My mom asked me what my goals for my life are now that I'm eight, and I told her my goals are to expand my vocabulary; become a better reader; and become better at art. Also, when I grow up I will plant trees and flowers to take the place of dead trees and flowers in public parks and gardens. I am very civic-minded, you know.

Anyway, I think I am going to enjoy being eight. I am happy most of the time because A. Peevie makes me laugh and he makes clubs with me. Also, C. Peevie wrestles with me, and my dad is funny. My mom is mean and horrible most of the time, but sometimes she is funny.

Oh, I'm just kidding around because I know she is reading this.

Now I have to go finish my "challenging" homework.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Meta-Poll Seeks Voters

By the way, don't forget to vote in my meta-poll in the sidebar.

The results of the last poll, which asked if Sarah Palin would help or hurt John McCain's chances: Voters were almost evenly divided, with 52 percent saying she'd help him and 48 percent predicting that she'd hurt him.

I think after a brief bump, she hurt him. If McCain had picked someone with more experience and more moderation, he would still have kept his more conservative supporters (who would not have voted for Obama even if he really did walk on water); and he would not have alienated the undecideds and others who found her to be, to put it kindly, not quite ready for prime-time.

Anyway, thanks for voting.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The "Yes We Can" Moment

Last night, my family and I and our friend The Professor ate salsa-baked goat cheese with pine nuts and watched the election returns. Talk about reality TV!

From the comfort of the living room we felt the energy from the mobs standing shoulder-to-shoulder in Soldier Field and Grant Park. Part of me wished I was there, seeing the faces and living the excitement and optimism. But my motto is "don't stand when you can sit," and my other motto is "Have a glass of wine!", so I definitely made the right choice by staying home.

As the electoral votes inched steadily toward the magic number--270--the talking heads got more anecdotal and less objective. Warner Saunders recalled seeing young Emmett Till in his open casket, his 1955 murder catalyzing the civil rights movement which opened the doors for Barack Obama's presidential bid. By the end of the evening, Allison Rosati was wiping away tears. I think Mr. Peevie was stoic, but The Professor and I were both a little verklempt.

Chicago celebs were on hand to participate in the history-making, and we snorted and ridiculed the reporter who actually said to Oprah something outrageous like, "This wouldn't have happened without you." I can't find a story about this anywhere on the web, but that was some seriously ridiculous Oprah-worship. She pooh-poohed him, and changed the subject.

(It turns out that a social scientist dude interviewed on NightLine tonight attempted to quantify the Oprah Effect. Oprah's endorsement, he concluded, added 1.15 million votes to Obama's tally, giving him the advantage over Clinton in the early primaries. That's just one guy's math--but who knows? Maybe I jumped the gun with my snort.)

As Obama was making his acceptance speech behind the walls of bullet-proof glass, I'm sure I wasn't the only one wondering: Can they protect him?

The most mysterious images of the evening were the signs held in the crowd in New York City reading, "Cassoulet" and "Cassoulet forever." Why were they holding up signs for soup? Yahoo Answers has a few ideas, but none have floated to the top as the definitive explanation.

The unhappiest outcome of this election is the increasingly bitter division between right and left. Even though John McCain gave the most gracious and eloquent concession speech I have ever heard, I wonder whether his supporters will join him in
offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences and help restore our prosperity, defend our security in a dangerous world, and leave our children and grandchildren a stronger, better country than we inherited.

It's going to be hard for many of them. My dad, for example, a one-issue voter who suggested to me that if Obama became president, it would be God's judgment on our country for the abortion holocaust. And my friend who told me she is feeling impending doom. I'm sure she's not alone.

I feel the opposite of impending doom. The celebrations that spontaneously erupted across the nation last night, the fact that Obama very nearly claimed a landslide, the emotions and tears of so many Americans--I am totally swept up in it all. I feel hope and optimism.

I cannot imagine what it would feel like to experience this election from inside a darker skin, from the perspective of people who have never seen a president who looked like them; who never expected to see a person of color become president in their lifetimes. I love that McCain acknowledged this hugely historical accomplishment: "This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African-Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight."

I do feel hope and optimism; but at the same time, I'm a realist. Obama is a politician, and by definition, a politician is a deal-maker, a compromiser. He can't make everyone happy. He's also human, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't walk on water--so he's going to make mistakes.

But we can be caught up in the "Yes We Can" moment, for a little while at least, can't we?

Yes, we can.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Inadvertent Prophecy

Mr. Peevie pointed out this unfortunate juxtaposition of politics and seasonal fun in our neighbor's yard.

Can you read the sign on the right, on the tombstone? It reads, "R.I.P." Right next to the John McCain sign.

Apparently Officer Friendly's seasonal decorations are tracking the most up-to-date polling data, which give Obama a 96.3 percent chance of winning tomorrow.

My seasonal decorations tell the story in a different way. Ain't it awesome? I carved it myself.