31 January 2012

To Be, Not To Be

It seems so long ago. Nine years, ten years, a lifetime ago we were enmeshed in (in)fertility treatments. We'd waited so long, too long, not realizing that there was a problem, not realizing that we couldn't have it all. 

When all was said and done, we ended up with a real live baby, but the road there? It was rocky. There was a medicated intrauterine insemination. There were three in vitro fertilizations. Laparoscopic surgery. Countless blood draws and many early morning visits with the dildo cam.

We were so happy when the first IVF worked. Big Fat Positive! Happy day! Heartbeat! Joy! Until it wasn't - I went in for blood work and a scan, and - poof! - not there anymore. Early miscarriage, at about seven weeks. I remember standing in my kitchen a few days later, wracked with tears, in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, wrapped in my husband's arms. He and I, we shared that grief. Real palpable gasping-sobs grief, for a baby that wasn't, a miscarriage.

 The second IVF ended in a BFN - big fat negative for those of you unversed in the acronyms. My husband was out of town, I'd gone in for blood work in the morning, and then out to Long Island for a funeral. I was heading home from Penn Station, on the cross town bus, when the nurse called with the results. Tears streamed down my face as we bumped along 34th Street. When I got home, I bought a bottle of wine, a piece of cheese, and I had a little pity fest, alone. Can you grieve that, a procedure that didn't work?  Most attempts at pregnancy don't work; lots of fertilizations the "normal" way end up in early miscarriage, so early that the woman doesn't even know she was pregnant. So, yes, I was sad that it didn't work, with all those dollars down the tube to boot, but that's not really grief, is it?

And then, the third IVF - the third one was the charm, that real live baby who now knows how to scramble an egg. But, but, but - we had ten embryos, and transferred five, and only one nestled in for keeps. What about the four others transferred? I think of them sometimes, though they have an unreality about them. Did they really exist? I know they did; I have a picture of the five that were transferred. Did the four just slough off, or did the triumphant girl absorb them into herself? Then, there were the five left in the lab. Grief, no grief? Who were they?

My daughter has no siblings. That's another loss right there, another kind of loss, an intangible one, not stemming from a treatment, a pregnancy. Maybe we'd have had a second child if we hadn't waited so long and worked so hard to have the first one. Maybe we'd have had twins if one of the other embryos had stuck it out. Do I miss that? Eight plus years out, I rarely have those pangs of wistfulness. I don't flinch when I hand-me-down her toys and clothes. And, on the bright side, she's afforded us a certain lifestyle - we don't need a big house, we don't need a minivan, we only go through two gallons of milk a week.

But what it comes down to is this: without all that went before, we wouldn't have her, the ferocious and magical girl. If that first miscarriage hadn't been, she wouldn't be. If that BFN hadn't happened, she wouldn't be. But she is. She is.

[Credit Mel, the Stirrup Queen, the community connector, for this ramble. She posted a few weeks ago about loss and grief and infertility and dichotomy.]

27 January 2012

And There Are So Many

I found a diary, of mine, from ninth grade. Yes, it was kicking around under a bed at my mother's house. (Yes, the house is still on the market. Yes, it is still full of stuff. Yes, it is rather a poignant headache.)

The diary - an inane piece of gobbledygook - was a school assignment, for an English class. It's full of teachers, dreams, grades, boys, sleepovers, band, dances, "I got a desk chair, yellow" for Christmas. My handwriting changes on every page, the ink color changes almost more frequently, and the diary is called Katherine, Kitty, Kati, You, and Kathy. (Yes, my middle name is Catherine.)

In the margins, occasionally, there are notes from the English teacher. Apparently we had to hand it in - to what end, I cannot fathom. It seems like it might have been more appropriate to a psychology teacher or guidance counselor, because it's not creative writing, it's the mundane ramblings of a thirteen year old (a thirteen year old who was not smoking cigarettes or hanging out in cemeteries).

I did, though, like this passage:

Sometimes thoughts
just run [in] my head.
And there's so many
I can't write them
all down. Oh well, too bad.

Funny how not much has changed - today, instead of a diary for Miss Dissin, I'm writing here. And all day long, posts write themselves in my head - walking down the street, waiting for the train, watching the bread rise - and there are so many that I can't write them all down.

I think my grammar is usually better though.

25 January 2012

Happy Birthday, Bobby Burns!

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!

Once upon a time, we went to a Robert Burns dinner. Actually, we went to the same Burns dinner several years running, a multi-culti fest organized by a Scottish woman and her Japanese-American husband at small Catskills hotel with a French restaurant. I know, the head spins. Men wore kilts, my husband addressed the haggis, Scotch was consumed. And photos were taken, with a disposable film camera that we had kicking around for some odd reason.

Many months later, many, I finished the roll of film and had it developed.

Much to my surprise, because of course by then I'd completely forgotten having had the camera at the Burns dinner, I discovered that some enterprising gentleman had "borrowed" the camera and taken a picture of what was under his kilt.

In case you are wondering, it was uncircumcised.

24 January 2012

Gluten Free Baking With, Oops...

If you have a gluten-free friend with whom you get together for family meals, you think about gluten-free cooking and baking, at least I do, from time to time. That Deb, at Smitten Kitchen, recently posted a lovely sounding thing called "apple sharlotka", and we were having a pig roast with the gluten-free friend, and dessert was in my hands, and I thought, "oh, the apple thing will work fine with gluten-free flour".

So I made some lovely deep dark caramel sauce - another Smitten Kitchen recipe, because, well, let's put it this way, I'm totally buying her cookbook - and I chopped apples and I mixed up the eggs and sugar and flour, and just as I was about to dump the batter over the apples, I remembered the goddam gluten-free flour on the other side of the kitchen. Yup, I'd completely forgotten to use it.

But I only had two eggs left, and when I'd greased the pan, I'd used Baker's Joy, a wonderful product that combines grease and ... flour, so I couldn't have used the apples even if I did have enough more eggs, and I didn't have enough more apples, and I really should have been paying a little more attention in the kitchen.

Oh well. Gluten-free friend forgave me, and ate ice cream with caramel sauce for dessert. And the pig? The pig her husband made? The pig was hands-down awesome.

I still don't know if the apple sharlotka would work with gluten-free flour, but it is a really good and very easy thing to make for dessert, and it is divine with some deep dark caramel sauce dribbled over the top, and maybe I shouldn't try gluten-free baking anymore.

22 January 2012

The Post About Breasts. And Cancer.

A long time ago - really, more than 20 years ago - I felt a lump in my breast. I trotted off to my gynecologist, she tried a needle aspiration, and sent me to a surgeon. Both the GYN and the surgeon were pretty sure it was a benign tumor, and I sort of shrugged and figured it wasn't worth doing anything about. Then I told my mother. She freaked - "how could you even think of not having it out?" - so I had it out. It was benign, a fibroadenoma. Having it out was the probably right thing to do - it would likely have gotten bigger, and would have been harder to excise later. But I really did think about doing nothing.

Sometime last year, I noticed a dark spot in my bra - and honestly? I figured I'd dropped chocolate into my cleavage. Then I saw a couple of drops of blood on the bed sheet - I asked my husband to tell me if I had a bleeding zit on my back. Finally, I realized that there was a tiny bit of dark ooze coming from my nipple. That's when I called my doctor.

My gynecologist managed to express a drop of greenish fluid, too little to even culture, so she sent me to a breast surgeon, and the quick answer is - after a number of office visits, multiple mammograms, and several breast ultrasounds - there's nothing the matter with me. It was probably a tiny little blockage or infection, there's been no discharge since, and yeah! I don't have breast cancer.


In the past few months, two friends have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer, both cases found during routine mammograms. I've lost track of how many people I've known who've had breast cancer. Some of them have died, some of them have been successfully treated.

And Susan? Susan Niebur? Maybe you know her as WhyMommy, or as Toddler Planet. She's one of the most remarkable people I know - and yes, I've met her at several of the BlogHer conferences. She's been fighting a particular pernicious cancer for almost five years, with breathtaking grace. Send her your love - through the intertubes or in your heart - or by getting your own mammogram, joining the Army of Women, or supporting the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Love to you, Susan.

21 January 2012

Exploitation, or, Blog Posts Written By Children

I'm probably a very bad mother, very bad indeed. I mean, last year, when my iPhone was clearly on its last legs, I replaced it with a new one and gave the old one to the kid. It's not got phone service, and its battery life is farshtinkener, but it does connect to the internet via wi-fi (at home) and she can use it as an iPod and play all manner of zombie games and send emails to her friends and take picture of the cats and make lists.

After she fell asleep clutching it in her hot little hands last night, I read all of her emails, looked at all of her pictures, and reviewed her "notes". She is one funny thing.  

Email to me and Daddy:

Subject: Periced Ears

Dear Mom & Dad,

I think it is very,very unfair that I am not allowed to get Periced Ears. I will buy my own my earrings and NEVER EVER complain about dinner. And I bet they will hurt about as much as my clip-on earrings. So PLEASE,PLEASE say yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  
Email to a friend, about a sleepover they've got planned for next weekend:
Subject: Sleep Over

Here are 9 things we could do at the Sleep Over.
1.Go on Webkinz.com
2.Watch Comedy Movies
3.Torcher George
4.Play with Barbies
5.Play Dress-Up
6.Plan Money-Saving for Goth Girlz
7.Play with American Girl Dolls
8.Play Beauty Salon(With real Make-Up
9.Play Super Model  
Notes to herself (version as of last night):
1.To have 12 inches of snow
2.To get my ears pierced
3.To have a really good singing voice  
 Notes to herself (updated sometime this morning):
1.To have 12 inches of snow
It happened!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2.To get my ears pierced
Not yet!!!!BOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
3.To have a really good singing voice
It is half-way their!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of an endless series of pictures of cats up in the ceiling of the cellar:

(In case you are wondering, we did not get 12" of snow - it was more like 6". I'm happy that she figured out how to spell "pierced" - I'd corrected her after she sent that first email to us. Of course, she spelled "torture" and "there" wrong. One step forward, two steps back. However, torcher/torture is kind of a nice homophone.)

18 January 2012

Lute Soup

Sopa - the spanish word for soup.

Pipa - a Chinese lute with four strings.

 In a world without Wikipedia and Google, how would you have known that? Well, you might be a Spanish speaking ethnomusicologist, but probably you aren't.

Right now, Congress has two bills in discussion, SOPA and PIPA - one's in the Senate, the other's in the House. Both aim

"to cut off the oxygen for foreign pirate sites by taking aim at American search engines like Google and Yahoo, payment processors like PayPal and ad servers that allow the pirates to function."

Yes, piracy is wrong, stealing content is wrong, copyright has a point. But SOPA/PIPA won't stop piracy and will quash innovation and damage the internet.

Here, go read what Sarah Granger has to say. Or check out The Oatmeal (because kitten BBQ = bad. Oprah and Jesus on a jet ski in outer space = good). Protest SOPA/PIPA via Wikipedia or via Google or via a participating site of your choice.

Let us blather on in peace.

15 January 2012


There’s a piece in the Times today that made my blood run cold. Editorial, entitled "Defriending My Rapist". Facebook had suggested that the writer "friend" someone who’d raped her nearly 40 years ago. In and of itself, it’s a strong well-written piece, a horrible story of a past event, brought back to the present by the weird prism of the social network. But the thing is? The reason I sat paralyzed in the living room this morning? I went to high school with her. I grew up in that town. I know the gates to that cemetery – it’s where my grandparents are buried. I may well have known those boys.

I don’t remember her, and her picture in my yearbook didn’t ring any bells. But I know people who know her. And despite the fact that I well understand the reasons - both hers and the editors - for not outing the rapists in the New York Times, I kind of want to know who they are.

What’s gobsmacked me is the little assault on my own innocence. There were rapists in my junior high school, or maybe they were older, in high school. There were 13 year olds drinking rum in the cemetery. Sure, kids smoked - I didn't use the bathroom in high school, ever, because it was a de facto smoking lounge. And I'll never forget the day that the school nurse made an announcement on the P.A. system to the effect that there was a bad batch of Quaaludes around, and if you'd taken any, please report to the nurse's office. But sex and alcohol? Call me sheltered, but no one I knew was having sex, or getting raped, or drinking in cemeteries. How could that be my town? Or do I just not remember? Or was I just living in a parallel utopian universe?

There is darkness everywhere, isn't there?

11 January 2012

Serendipitous Musing

1) My husband texted me at 5:13pm. The cats had caught a mouse, which somehow ended up in the clean laundry. He discovered it as he was trying to put away his socks. The working theory is that the injured mouse took refuge in a sock, and there expired.


2) Some twenty minutes later, on my way home, I was walking through the underground labyrinth that is the Union Square subway station. There, at a small table with a manual typewriter, was a poet: “Name a price, pick a subject, get a poem!!”  I walked past, considered the mouse text, and returned. I paid, and shared the mouse text with her.


3) While I waited, she composed. While she composed, many people scurried by, someone stopped to admire her "cool typewriter, dude", a couple took her picture, and an unsanctioned opera singer filled the station with an a cappella aria.


And I swear, though I asked her if I could put her poem on my blog, I never told her its name. Thank you, Abigail Mott, for your impromptu eulogy to Tiny Mouse.

10 January 2012

Slow Cooking vs. Fast Eating

Perhaps "lazy" was the wrong word to describe the slow cooker. Long cooked stews, chilis, soups, pot roasts - they're wonderful, for many reasons. It's a way to tenderize a tough cut of meat, it's how to get your beans done. And I know there's a way to put the slow cooker to use there; I just have to find my way (and maybe get up a tiny bit earlier).

The thing is, the crock pot business has a bad name - there are too many recipes out there where a jar of this and a can of that are dumped on top of an indifferent piece of meat, which is then left to stew all day in its industrial food complex juices. Yes, Virginia, you too can make Sweet & Savory Brisket with only five ingredients: ketchup, grape jelly, onion soup mix, ground pepper, and a poor unsuspecting beef brisket.

Really, people, that is lazy ass cooking. Besides the fact that it probably tastes disgusting, do you even want to think about the high fructose corn syrup and MSG involved? When pressed for time, my inclination is to eat a slice of cheese, three radishes and a piece of bread for dinner - standing over the sink so there aren't any dishes to wash.

What's your favorite fast meal?

08 January 2012


For some time now, I've had a secret hankering for a slow cooker, despite the fact that they scream "lazy" and "cream of mushroom soup" and "not real cooking". The idea of prepping something in the morning, leaving it all day, and coming home to a finished meal is what appealed to me, even though slicing and sweating onions is not my idea of 7:00am fun. Besides, who needs another appliance?

Well, I got one for Christmas. I poked through books, and memory, and the internet, and remember a particularly delicious and easy goulash that had once been in the Times. One of the distinctive things about that goulash - one of the reasons it stuck in my head - was that there was no browning of the meat. All of the ingredients were layered into the pan, and it was cooked on top of the stove, and it was wonderful.

I dug up that Transylvanian Goulash recipe on the Times website, and then stumbled upon a somewhat similar thing called Kapusta* Pork that actually was meant to be done in a slow cooker. Remember, I'm a slow cooker novice - I was looking for instruction. I kind of combined bits out of both recipes and ended up with something thoroughly delicious, if I may say so myself.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Pork Goulash**
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 big clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1-2 T. bacon fat or olive oil or butter
  • 3 lb boneless pork, in 1-2" chunks (I cut the meat off of a picnic shoulder)
  • salt and pepper
  • 4 cups cabbage, shredded (about a half a medium cabbage)
  • 1 1/2 cups of sauerkraut
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 2 T. sweet paprika
  • a 12 ounce bottle of beer (I used Sam Adams Winter Lager)
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
Saute the onion in the bacon fat, in a frying pan. Add the garlic after a couple of minutes. When it looks and smells nice, scrape it into the bottom of the slow cooker.

Put about half of the pork on top of the onions, and add salt and pepper. Add the chopped cabbage. Add the remaining pork, and some more salt and pepper. Spread the sauerkraut on top and sprinkle over the caraway seeds.

Mix together the tomatoes, paprika and beer, and pour it all. Cover and cook 8 hours on high.

Serve on egg noodles, with a blob of sour cream on the side.

*Yes, I googled Kapusta. It's cabbage. However, according to Wikipedia, "it also is representative of eternal power." I noted, though, that the sentence about eternal power did not have an initial cap, leading me to a conspiracy theory that someone grammatically challenged was working his way through Wikipedia adding "it also is representative of eternal power" to every entry.

**Adapted from Linda Cifuentes and Joseph Wechsberg

04 January 2012

Always Work In Pencil

Wolves are not as bad as we think.

Snakes could be posinos.

Antelope run very, very, very, very, very fast.

I think I need to write in pencil insted of pen.

(Shamelessly scanned out of the 8yo's "reader's notebook")

03 January 2012

2011: A Year In Books

The very deep irony in my railing about the elementary school book logs that my daughter has to do is that I love keeping track of my own reading via GoodReads. I just looked at my “stats” for 2011, and am happy to report that I read 60 books.

33 were non-fiction, and 27 were fiction. Five of the non-fiction books were cookbooks read cover to cover. I read four books as ebooks, five books from the library. [I don’t keep track of whether books are borrowed or bought used, or whether they’re hard or soft cover.] Fifteen of the fiction books were read aloud to my daughter. I read two books by each of two authors (Eleanor Estes and Peggy Orenstein), and three books by people I know (Melissa Ford, Emily Rosenbaum and Peg Tyre). And I simply didn’t finish one book, because it was tediously banal.

Not included in the total of 60 read are eight books which I’d begun but hadn’t finished as of midnight on New Year’s Eve (not that I was up that late).

My favorite piece of (grown-up) fiction was Wolf Hall – a dense, complicated, fascinating novel about King Henry VIII and his first two wives and a whole lot of other people, all through the prism of Thomas Cromwell. The runner up was a book of short stories by Michelle Latiolais, called Widow.

The four most satisfying non-fiction books were:

And the fifteen books I read to my girl were, in no particular order:

(Oh, and I read other books to her, but they were re-reads upon re-reads of picture books, and I had to draw the line somewhere.)

So, what'd you read last year? Oh, and happy new year!