I am a person who gets acupuncture now, apparently

How about I follow up some legit science with some eastern medicine? I mean, I mentioned this on twitter today, and enough people were like WTFBBQ that I guess I should post about it. I had my second acupuncture appointment last night. Nicole talked me into trying it, despite what can only be called EXTREME SKEPTICISM, with perhaps even a side of DISDAIN, because she was sick of hearing me complain about my near daily severe headaches and frequent migraines.

I normally get about three migraines a year, and few annoyingly bad headaches every month. Not awesome, but definitely manageable. When I’m pregnant? I apparently exist in a land of unremitting headaches, and of course can’t take ibuprofen for them. (This makes some sense physiologically, and is likely the result of rapidly increasing blood volume during pregnancy – starting around weeks 6-8, and peaking around weeks 32-34.) With Eliza, it started early and lasted, I shit you not, at least four months. I got one god awful, middle of the night migraine, and a couple other doozies, but mostly just had a constant, ever present, all day, all night, moderately bad headache. For FOUR MONTHS. This time around, the headaches set in around twelve weeks. I’d have maybe one headache free day a week, but the other days I’d have moderate to severe headaches, and at least one or two migraines. The migraines started happening more often over the holidays, culminating in a week where I got them EVERY. DAY. I have a full time job. I cannot function like that. I was basically coming home from work and taking a unisom and a phenergan and going to bed. Terrible.

So, at that point, I’m basically willing to try anything, even something ridiculous (in my mind) like acupuncture. I mean, whatever, it’s legit enough that my insurance covers it, and there have been a number of good scientific studies supporting its efficacy for a variety of ailments, but I am a mechanism person, and the mechanism is far from clear. When I take medicine, or undergo any medical procedure, I look up what it is, and more importantly how (and how WELL) it works. I usually start at Wikipedia and delve further from there, and the section for mechanisms for acupuncture is one sentence long, basically boiling down to “we have no fucking clue.” So this is way, way outside my comfort zone. But, um, so are migraines? And also, considering that when I have a migraine, I have actually considered SMOOSHING MY SKULL, signing up for a few needle pricks seems less irrational.

Nicole found a place for me to go to, because I am so damn skeptical that even looking it up myself would have ruined my tenuous acceptance of the procedure (and in fact, this isn’t a sciencey run down because I still won’t look up the literature – stay with me, possible placebo effect!). I went in last week with a headache, told the (very nice!) woman that I was super skeptical but willing to try, and she jabbed me with a bunch of teeny tiny needles. And my headache went away. WHATEVER, NICOLE.

Ok but seriously, what was it like? I have no fear of needles whatsoever, which I know a lot of people do. I didn’t have my glasses on, and couldn’t even see the needles – they were TEEEEENY – 38 gauge. The diameter is 0.16 mm (about that of a human hair). For comparison, a flu shot is usually administered with a 25 gauge needle, 0.5 mm in diameter. I don’t find the actual shot part of the flu shot to hurt much – a teeny pinchy feeling – as opposed to the achy arm afterwards. Acupuncture hurt less than a flu shot. Some of the needles I didn’t even feel going in. She placed them all (about 20 total?) in my forearms, wrists, lower legs, and ankles. Some of them she twirled around a little once they were in, which didn’t hurt really, but did ache a little bit, and was a little weird conceptually. I also made the mistake of flexing my lower legs at one point, which ached similarly. I asked about the aching, and she said that the froofy answer relates to chi or chakra or some shit, but she assumed I didn’t want to hear about that, and said it was muscle fibers moving. Once placed, she let the needles sit for about half an hour, and I just laid on a comfy bed in the dimly lit room, dozing. Then she pulled them out and I was on my way. She recommended a few follow up appointments, and then we would reassess to see if it was working or not.

When I went in for my appointment, I had a headache – it was mild but ramping up quickly. I walked out with no pain, and uh.. haven’t had a headache since. I cancelled my remaining follow up appointments. So, score one for you, eastern medicine.

Posted in ephemera, gestating | 11 Comments

Fluoride: worse for you than aspartame (but still fine)

Diane and some other folks asked me for a run down on fluoride in drinking water, so here I am, several weeks later, and more incoherent than I’d prefer. Blame my fetus.

Some background info (mostly from Wikipedia, which has a good, albeit long, run down): Fluoride is added to many public drinking water supplies in the U.S. (72% of them) and elsewhere to help prevent tooth decay. Evidence suggests that fluoridated drinking water prevents up to 40% of cavities. Fluoride also naturally occurs in ground water (and the environment in general), often at concentrations higher than what is added to water for cavity prevention (in these areas, it … is not added to the drinking water, because it’s already there).

Fluoride is controversial for a few reasons. Some people claim that it is mass medication without individual consent, while others claim that because dental health issues disproportionately affect children and those of lower socioeconomic status, it would be unethical to withhold such simple and effective treatment. From a water treatment standpoint (I asked an engineering friend who designs water plants), the chemicals can be a bit nasty to work with (obviously at an occupational level, they are dealing with highly concentrated fluoride, while we get very diluted amounts coming out of the faucet). It’s also one of the more expensive aspects to engineer and implement when building a water treatment plant, and frustrating because of how little drinking water is actually imbibed, versus used in other ways*. From a toxicological standpoint, there are issues of variable, uncontrolled exposure: fluoride is in the water, and water intake varies quite a bit person to person.

But, people were curious mostly about whether it was a scary chemical or not, so let’s focus on that. Right up front: Not worth worrying about, but worse than aspartame [the safest chemical in the world].

Optimum concentrations of fluoride in drinking water for dental health are 0.5 – 1.0 mg/L. The WHO guideline says the maximum concentration in drinking water should be 1.5 mg/L. The maximum contaminant level (highest amount allowed from an EPA regulatory standpoint) is 4 mg/L. Let’s look at the possible and actual effects of chronic fluoride exposure, one by one (primary source):

Dental fluorosis is a cosmetic issue – greying of the teeth. It can occur in a small portion of the population at recommended fluoride levels. If your teeth are too grey for your liking, I suppose you could get an expensive filter. It’s plausible you’ll get some cavities, or that your personal biochemistry means you need less fluoride, or none of the above. Verdict: Not worth worrying about.

Skeletal fluorosis is THE serious effect of chronic overexposure. Typified by chronic joint pain, calcification of ligaments, deformity, muscular wasting, and neurological effects. This really does NOT occur in the U.S. It is endemic in certain parts of India and Asia, where fluoride levels often range up to 8 mg/L. Though many areas have concentrations comparable to those in the US (<4 mg/L), these areas also have rampant malnutrition, which exacerbates the effects of high(ish) fluoride. They also drink a lot of tea, which is naturally high in fluoride**. Verdict: not worth worrying about unless you move to Asia, or are that guy from that one movie, or drink several gallons of tea every day for your whole life.

Increased Bone Fractures might occur at upper limits of allowable concentrations. Data suggest a dose dependent increase in fractures, but it is not statistically significant. However, populations getting no fluoride also had elevated fracture rates – this effect where an adverse outcome is seen at low (0ish mg/L) and high (4 mg/L), but not moderate (1.0 mg/L), exposure levels is called hormesis, and it is totally cool. Typical for vitamins and essential nutrients – you see toxicity with too much, but also with too little. The sweet spot is called the “therapeutic range.” All of this fracture business doesn’t really matter until you are old, and then being a post-menopausal lady, or being inactive, or way too skinny, or taking corticosteroids for a long time are a much bigger deal than your drinking water. Verdict: I’d like some fluoride, but not too much, please. I’ll still drink all the diet coke, though.

Kidney stones might be related to overexposure. In epidemiological studies in India of populations getting 3.5 – 4.9 mg/L fluoride, those with obvious skeletal fluorosis were 4.6 times as likely to get kidney stones. But again, exacerbated/confounded by malnutrition, and they have bigger problems at that point. In studies of populations in developed countries getting 1.5 mg/L, there was no effect on rate of kidney stones, or actually lower rates. It is plausible mechanistically that folks who drink a lot of water (3 L/day) in areas with high fluoride (4 mg/L) could see increased kidney stone rates. If I were getting recurring kidney stones, I would personally look into local fluoridation levels (after taking a hard look at my diet, and also crying a lot, because ow). Verdict: don’t worry about it until like your third kidney stone.

Lower IQ might be an effect of chronic fluoride exposure. Only a few small, poorly described studies exist, all centered on comparisons of flouridated and non-flouridated villages in China. Villages with higher levels of fluoride (~2.5 mg/L) had about a 10 pt reduction in IQ of kids compared to those with low levels (~0.4 mg/L). There was a high prevalence of dental fluorosis in the kids with lower IQ scores. Verdict: This is actually kind of interesting, but I’d like to see a study done at U.S. levels (1.0 mg/L).

Alzheimer’s is unlikely to be related. There was a mechanistic study in rodents that suggested a plausible link, but data in humans has actually suggested that fluoridation may reduce the occurrence. Verdict: Not worth worrying about at all.

Cancer is NOT an effect of fluoride exposure through drinking water. In animal studies, there was a tiny (significant) increase in risk of osteosarcoma in rats fed 175 mg/L for two years (i.e, their whole lives). That’s… a really freaking high dose. Here, let’s do some math. A rat drinks 10-12 mL/100 g body weight/day. For a svelte rat (250 g), that amounts to 25 mL (0.025 L) water per day. So, 0.025 L/day * 175 mg/L = 4.375 mg fluoride per day. Normalize to body weight, that’s 17.5 mg/kg/day***. A 70 kg human with average water intake (1.05 L/day) at average fluoride levels (1 mg/L) gets 1.05 L/day * 1.0 mg/L / 70kg = 0.014 mg/kg/day. At upper allowable exposure (4 mg/L) and upper water intake (3 L/day), it bumps to 3 L/day * 4.0 mg/L / 70 kg = 0.17 mg/kg/day. These are not even comparable, at 100 – 1000 times lower. Human epidemiological studies support this – no increased cancer risk from fluoridated drinking water. Verdict: Ridiculous.

To sum up my opinions, based on all this, I was actually a little surprised at some of this. I remain supportive of water fluoridation because I think evidence supports it doing a hell of a lot more good than any potential harm – especially in poor populations that tend to have less consistent access to routine dental care. I do think that in some cases, for some people, getting a fluoride filter (not your standard Brita pitcher – this is more involved and more expensive) could be a good decision. But generally speaking, nope. Don’t worry about it.

*Average U.S. water use per person per day is 80 -100 gallons. If an average person drinks 1.05 L/day (0.277 gallons), that means only 0.35% of the water they use every day is for drinking. Even at the upper 95% of water intake (2.9L/day) it’s only about 1% of water. That’s a lot of wasted fluoridation.
**Brewed black tea generally contains 1 – 5 mg/L fluoride. This doesn’t include additional fluoride from water used to brew the tea.
***Compared to aspartame, fluoride is the devil. 12,000 mg/kg/day with no effect, versus a paltry 17.5 mg/kg/day and increased cancer risk! The choice is clear. Drink Diet Coke instead of tea if you don’t want cancer****. Take that, hippies!
****Tongue firmly in cheek. Also tea might have some chemopreventive effects, but whatever, Diet Coke 4 Life.

Posted in Grumpy Toxicologist, Science! | 9 Comments

Hit the ground running/babbling ceaselessly

Ok, I keep wanting to write on this damn thing, but something or other is mentally stopping me. At first, I thought it was because all I really wanted to talk about was that I was pregnant, but we hadn’t told our families yes (Christmas surprise!). Then, I thought maybe it was because I was in that awkward can’t-feel-the-baby-yet phase, so I didn’t want to just write freaked out posts. Now, I think it’s just because I have too many random things I want to write about and I can’t choose, and oh some of them are ages ago now. So I’m just going to dump a bunch of little things here and hopefully that will catch me up enough that I can do this semi-regularly. In no particular order:

– there was that time our nanny found my ultrasound picture buried in a folder on my desk, and then congratulated us on it. And then we had to have awkward discussions about privacy and trust and oh that was just extra fun. BUT then our friends were cat sitting for us over the break, and they did actually make it funny, by sending us hysterical text messages. “I was sifting through your financial and other private documents, but all I found was this dried up pile of cat barf on the stairs.” “We were going through your medicines and other personal effects, but all we found was this giant bag of cat pee.” And so forth. With accompanying pictures of cat barf. I laughed, OH how I laughed. So, I am actually feeling way better about this situation, in no small part because it has become amusing.

– I’m pregnant! Woo! I mean, everyone knows that already. I told folks on twitter ages ago, but we didn’t tell our families until we got home for Christmas. We put Eliza in a big sister shirt, and waited for people to notice. It took AGES, and in fact we had to eventually point out the shirt to most people. And then there was much rejoicing and happiness and it was great. Also, then I had free license to eat everything I wanted, and also take naps on the couch every day for the better part of two weeks. It was GLORIOUS.

– Right, so I’m actually almost 17 weeks along at this point. Due in middle of June. Finally feeling the baby move, basically over the barfies of the first trimester. Onto the unremitting headaches and migraines of the second! For some reason, presumably the increased blood volume, I just get the worst headaches. Every day. And so far in January, I’ve had migraines six out of seven days. You can bite my ass, 2013. Slash, I hope this part ends soon because I have stuff to do.

– Let me tell you about our awesome travel to get to Georgia in December. We were supposed to have this lovely itinerary, two flights, leaving at 12 pm (nap time!) and an hour layover, seven hours total of travel. Amazing! Then. THEN. I get all barfy when we are packing, so I basically lay on the couch trying to hold on to my stomach contents while Kevin dealt with the child and packs all our clothes and baby gear himself. (In retrospect, this was a mild stomach bug of some sort, and not, as I assumed, the fault of my fetus.) While I”m barfing, we find out our first flight is delayed, causing us to miss our second flight. The only other option is a 7.5 hour layover followed by a red eye. DELIGHT. Then, when we get to the airport, TSA is inspecting all of Eliza’s milk, and the agent DUMPS it all over me. He does not apologize or help clean it up. There is no mechanism for helping to replace the milk. My tiny airport does not sell milk. I cried. I cried over spilled milk. It was great. Frankly, after that, even with my barfy/headachey state, the rest of the trip went as smoothly as one could hope (7 hour layover! red eye with baby!). E cried a bit, but not too badly. And, bonus, she was so confused and sleep deprived when we arrived, that she skipped jet lag entirely and magically adjusted to east coast time. None of these silver linings will stop me from whining.

– Also regarding new baby: I believe we have settled on not finding out the sex. Kevin was skeptical at first (“it’s a surprise whenever we find out!”) but has decided it sounds fun. I don’t feel the burning need to know that I did with Eliza, I think because I am calmer in general this time around, and not as worried about whether I will bond with the baby. And I think it will be a nice carrot dangling in front of me during labor (I feel like there was a more artful way of saying that that might not conjure up images of dangling…. things…., but fail). And since half E’s clothes are boy clothes anyways, it’s not like we will be incapable of swaddling a boy in anything but frilly pink. Nay, most of the newborn clothes I kept are dinosaur themed, so no problem. My only apprehension is that it means we must come up with TWO names options, omg. Swistle, take the wheel!

– Kevin got me the awesomest Christmas presents this year: Eliza TV (IP camera baby monitor) and this awesome book. The monitor works over our phones, so we can check in on her antics during nap time. In fact, we aren’t really using it as a monitor so much as a source of entertainment. She falls asleep sitting up sometimes! She plays a lot more than we thought, and sleeps less! Sometimes she does in fact bang her head against the wall! I can actually see that I might have driven myself insane if I had this kind of monitor when she was teeny – being able to see, I think I would have spent a fair amount of time hyperventilating. We mostly relied on the “if she REALLY needs us, we will KNOW” method of listening for screaming. I’m curious to see if this changes my behavior with new baby (though of course, new baby will have its own temperament that will confound any legit conclusions). The book is just hilarious, and I highly recommend it for any math nerd parents you might know.

Ok, let’s call that good. I’ve also promised Diane a post on fluoride in the near future, which I am excited to work on if my head will just stop with the throbbing, pleeeease.

Posted in ephemera, gestating | 9 Comments

Yearly Wrap Up, 2012

Evidently last year was the first year I did this on my blog and not just in my email. Got it from Linda, just like everyone else.

1. What did you do in 2012 that you’d never done before?
I don’t know how to say this without being a total fucking sap, but every day with Eliza. All of them (ok, most of them) were new and exciting and different and it’s been so, so cool. And all the actual new things we’ve done have pretty much revolved around her – taking her to frisbee tournaments, on planes, camping, etc etc, as a family, for the first time. Awesome.

I also took a chance and went to meet some folks in New Orleans, and that was a good, good move.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I forgot if I’d made any last year, so that’s a no, Bob. I apparently meant to do some monthly resolutions as I usually do, but derailed quickly. I’m sure I meant to do some related to food and exercise and adventures. I’d say I did pretty well on all those fronts. I started working out regularly (paying out the nose for a personal trainer, my startling expense), and that has been really good for me. We had good weeks and bad weeks with planning our meals and eating good food, but that’s to be expected with a baby and two full time jobs. We went on a good number of adventures. I read a lot of books. It was a very good year.

This year: I’d like to make some. Let’s see, how about 25 new books again, 12 new recipes. Write here more regularly (haaaa). Other than that, I’m doing one biggie: move. Away from Richland. Inertia has been winning, and we’d like to get to the next thing, the next place. A place we might be able to stay long term.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Close to me? Not really. A lot of WA acquaintances had babies, and some internet ladies I’d count as good friends did too, but I would say we weren’t good buddies till after. I swear it’s not just because of how cute the babies are.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, thank goodness. A close friend of Kevin’s lost his father, though, and that was terrible enough.

5. Whose behavior merited celebration?
My answer from last year remains true: Kevin and Eliza. Eliza is still so laid back, making it so so easy for us. And Kevin, man. I am just so, so lucky.

6. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I don’t think I even need to answer this. Newtown is too fresh on all our minds, and people continue to appall and depress me in the aftermath.

7. Who did you miss?
My dear friends from college. My family in Georgia.

8. Who was the best new person you met?
I cannot answer this with an individual name. I met too many amazing women. So, all a y’all.

9. Where did you travel?
We didn’t leave the U.S. this year, but we went a fair amount of places inside it. LA in January (frisbee), Vegas in February (frisbee), San Francisco in March (conference), Ohio in June (frisbee), Pennsylvania in August (wedding), Atlanta in September (conference), North Carolina in October (conference), New Orleans in November (fun!!), Portland in November (conference), and Atlanta in December (family!). Man, I traveled a lot for work this year.

10. What would you like to have in 2013 that you lacked in 2012?
A decent, stable job in a city we can see ourselves staying in long term. Nothing big, heh.

11. What dates from 2012 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
Oh, none of them probably. I have the memory of a goldfish. I’m honestly thinking of getting important dates tattooed on my forearm or something. Just a little list I can check on when I need to.

12. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Hmm. I did well at work, brought in some money and helped get our grants funded. I kept my kid alive. I made new friends. I exercised regularly. Nothing special, and a million special little things. Wait! Managing to breast feed as long as I did (a measly five months). That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

13. What was your biggest failure?
Being lazy at work and in some of my friendships.

14. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I got a couple of colds here and there, but nothing in particular. Oh, but one cold made me not get to meet my cousin’s quads, so boo on that. This pregnancy made me ralph, which is a new one for me, and because I hate horking so much, I’m counting that. OH OH I suffered a new and terrible food sensitivity that is basically the end of the world – eggs, my FAVORITE THING TO EAT, make me puke. Not cool.

15. What was the best thing you bought?
Personal training. I have muscles! I have a positive body image!

16. Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage/car, food, child care. Travel – we have spent some CASH on plane tickets. These are all good things.

17. What did you get really excited about?
Coming home for the holidays. Finding out I’m pregnant again, and Eliza being a big sister. Surprising our families with that info, too!

18. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? Happier. Every year, happier. So lucky.
– thinner or fatter? Fatter! Pregnanter!
– richer or poorer? No idea, but I think Kevin got another raise? I probably spent it at Target though, so.

19. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I… Not much. I am quite satisfied. Ok, little thing: made more time to write here, and cared less about who might be reading it.

20. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Kvetching about our messy house. Worrying about being busy. Laying around, recently, but it’s understandable given my delicate condition.

21. What did you want and get?
Another baybee. Also, apparently, a kindle (that was in the want and not get category last year, and I ended up getting myself one as a bribe to keep breast feeding). And an iPad. I’m spoiled.

22. What did you want and not get?
A magic teleporting machine. A self cleaning house. A personal chef. Kevin to cut off the cable.

23. How did you spend Christmas?
With both our families, surrounded by chaos and love and cookies and HAM.

24. What was your favorite TV program?
Uhhh. Umm. Top Chef? I guess we watched a lot of Big Bang Theory.

25. What were your favorite books of the year?
I wanted to do better keeping track and I DID, thanks to Goodreads. My favorites were The Graceling series, by Kristin Cashore. I’ve also really enjoyed the Queen’s Thief series (Megan Whalen Turner), Dublin Murder Squad series (Tana French), The Lumatere Chronicles series (Melina Marchetta), and, sorry Jonna, The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern). I have enjoyed reading so much this year, and it’s like getting a piece of my old (pre-grad school) self back, and I am so happy.

26. What was your favorite music from this year?

Mumford and Sons. I’m so glad folky music is getting a day in the sun. It’s lovely to hear it on the radio, though that has meant I make less of an effort to find and obtain new music myself. LAZY.

27. What song will always remind you of 2012?
Oh dear. It is, sadly, Call Me Maybe, by Carly Rae Jepson. This year at Potlatch, the enormous frisbee tournament we attend every year in July in Seattle, that song was the background music to I don’t know how many spontaneous sideline dance parties. It would come on the sound systems various teams were dragging along with them, and all the surrounding teams would drop everything, run over, and dance around like fools for 3-4 minutes. And it was just so fun.

28. What were your favorite films of the year?
Once again I must point out I do not watch “films” but rather terrible chick flicks. I can’t remember if it belonged to 2012, but I very much enjoyed Crazy Stupid Love. I also enjoyed Hope Springs, because it made me think and sparked some interesting discussions with Kevin.

29. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Man, I really love the Obamas. I just do.

30. What political issue stirred you the most?
My answer from last year still stands, though I am now a very proud resident of a state where gay marriage is legal.
“Ok for real, why can’t gay people do whatever the hell they want? How is this still happening? Also, could we stop navel gazing about the economy and just do some damn work? Yes, things are pretty shitty, but Jesus the news coverage is killing me. ‘Oh dear, the stock market is down 3 points, woe and disaster! Oh, wow, look at that, unemployment is going down/stocks are up/we’re up 5% for the year, but here are all the reasons that doom and destruction are still imminent!'”

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 28. I am not quite sure what we did… Ok, I just checked and we apparently had a little low country boil with our WA friends. And now I’m remembering the chefs (ahem) used waaaay too much Slap Yo Mama, and the food was SPICY but still delicious.

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Knowing what I want to be when I grow up, and being ok with the answer.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2012?
Jeans and girly shirts, once again. For about a month I tried harder and did my hair and wore make up and it was nice, but my coworkers kept commenting on how nice I looked and I just didn’t like it so I quit. I mean, I hate it when people look at me and I can’t take a compliment to save my life, so, I’ll just blend in, thanks.

34. What kept you sane?
The Internet.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2012.

Everyone is represented by the damn bell curve. You are fine, I am fine, we are all normal, and everything’s going to be ok.

Posted in ephemera, milestones, retrospect | 2 Comments

Pho Ga

I have been craving pho for something like two months, but haven’t been able to make it – until today. There aren’t any good Vietnamese restaurants where we live, which is an absolute tragedy. A packed traveling schedule the last few months has meant Kevin and I weren’t around for long enough chunks of time to eat an entire batch, and Thanksgiving meant our fridge didn’t have room for a massive container of soup. But oh, today. It has been circled on my calendar as PHO DAY for weeks now. And I am just as happy as I dreamed I’d be, my belly full of warm and spicy soup.

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I got my pho recipes from a Vietnamese friend in town, whose mother taught her to cook. We joke her house is the only restaurant worth visiting here, but I actually think it’s totally true. She taught me and a few other friends how to make both pho ga (chicken) and the traditional pho bo (beef). I actually prefer pho ga, not least because it is a little easier to make. Neither recipe is terribly challenging, but they require some ingredients that might necessitate a visit the Asian grocery store. I’m just writing up the pho ga recipe today – I will dig out the pho ba recipe one of these days.

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    Ingredients

For broth:
Small whole young chicken, gizzards removed (neck is tasty though!)
1 medium white onion
Fresh ginger, whole and unpeeled
2 Tbs whole coriander
1 cinnamon stick
4-6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise…anises? No. Stars of anise. Let’s go with that.
Fish sauce
Sugar
1 mm rice noodles, like these

Garnishes:
1 medium white onion
2-3 limes
Chives or green onions
Jalapeño
Thai basil, if you want
Sriracha (cock sauce!)

    Directions:

Put a giant pot of water on to boil. Big ol’ stock pot filled up to 4″ from the top or so. While that’s heating up, you’re going to char the onion and ginger. I char the whole white onion (peeled and ends just cut off) and my ginger over the gas burner set to high. I also use metal tongs, because I melted our nice plastic/silicone pair doing this a couple years ago. You want to char them until they are pretty black – the ginger will get a bit squishy too. I usually run out of patience with the onion, so when I’m done they look about like this:

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After they are cool enough to touch, you want to rinse/rub the char off. My friend’s mom says charring amps up the flavor, but the best pho broth has to also be clear, not all gunked up with black shit. Who am I to question her, right?

Next up, you want to toast the two tablespoons of coriander seeds over medium high heat. Don’t burn them – keep moving them around until it smells delicious. Now you assemble the rest of the spices into a spice ball, or cheese cloth will work. Just stick everything – coriander, cloves, anise, cinnamon – into the ball and set aside.

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Now take you little chicken and give it a good rub down under running water. Clean it and rinse it. It’ll help with your beautiful broth. Once that’s done, check if your water is boiling. Yes? Time to dump in the chicken. It’s nice if you break/cut the wings off, just so some bone is exposed and they are easier to fish out later, but I always forget and it’s not a big deal.

Boil you chicken for 10-15 min all by itself, and then skim the scuzzy crap that’s floating on top. Get rid of that junk. As my friend’s mother says, animals are gross and now it’s clean. After that junk is gone, you can toss the onion, ginger, and spice ball into the pot, cover it, and simmer for about two hours. 30 min before its done, add about a cup of fish sauce (don’t smell it, it’s disgusting by itself) and two tablespoons of sugar.

While that is cooking, prep the garnishes. Juice the limes, and then thinly slice the onion and put it all in the lime juice in the fridge. That is my absolute favorite part, by the way, the lime pickled onions are delicious. Then chops up the green onions and set aside. Slice the jalapeño into uh.. medallions or whatever. Circles. You can leave the seeds in, it’s for spicy people. Clean, de-stem, and roughly chop the cilantro. The basil just gets used as is.

Once your broth is done simmering, fish out the ginger, onion, and spices and toss ‘em. Carefully pull out the chicken (it’ll be kind of falling apart) and once you can handle it, start breaking it down – pulling meat off the bones.

Boil some water and cook the rice noodles. This should only take a few minutes, and its easiest if you have a spider strainer.

    Assembling you delicious soup:

Get a giant bowl – pho is better in giant bowls – and put a bunch of broth in it. Then add your strained noodles. Probably it’s a good idea to cut the noodles into manageable shorter length with some scissors, now. Then add about a tablespoon of fish sauce, sriracha (I use about a table spoon, yum), and then throw a shit ton of chicken, onions, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño and basil in there. I’m telling you, the onion is the best part, so definitely a lot of that. Then give it a little stir and start shoveling it down. Worth all the effort, which looks like a lot all written out, but I was eating it within 2 hours and 15 minutes of going to the store, and I took a nap. Also, it cost $17 for what will last us a week. Make it! Enjoy!

Posted in Feed me! | 5 Comments

Quick Takes, as I try not to fall asleep sitting up

1. This week is Thanksgiving. We are hosting for the third year running, in what has become my favorite tradition. Since we live far away from family and it is prohibitively expensive to go home for a long weekend, we invite any other Thanksgiving orphans to come to our house for Friendsgiving. It is the BEST. We’ve had multiple turkeys every year (roasted, smoked, and fried), an abundance of bacon containing side dishes, and this year we are adding a HAM. So, I am obviously pretty excited about that. What I am less excited about is that I have done nearly zero prep. We have only partially cleaned the house and I have no idea what I’m making. I’m sure it’ll be fine. If nothing else I’ll get some expensive cheese and a few bottles of wine and everyone will forgive me.

2. Christmas is coming! Ok, it’s still a ways away, but commercials and twitter people have it front and center in my brain. So, toddlers and Christmas trees – bad combo? She’s going to knock it over or climb it or break everything, right? I’m finding myself both excited about a tree and presents because it’ll blow her little mind, but also apprehensive because after the initial 15 minutes of joy it’ll be weeks of “No Eliza! No!” and trying to keep her away from it. Right? So I’m finding myself torn. Maybe a teeny counter top tree?

3. I used to hate the holiday season, was a total grinchy jerk about it, but I’ve come to love them the last few years. I think it’s because we’ve started our own traditions (Friendsgiving, New Year’s Eve’s Eve party with college friends, etc.) rather than just participating in our parents’. Not that I don’t enjoy the family aspect – I do, especially now that we have our own kids. But when I was growing up, it felt like I was being dragged along, made to spend dreaded quality time with people I wasn’t sure I had a ton in common with. In retrospect, it’s obvious I was just a moody teenager, pushing boundaries and trying to step out of the shadow of my family (who, it turns out, are some of my very favorite people). Now I appreciate the time I spend with them a lot more, and I also dearly love the things we’ve started doing ourselves. Right, so that was pretty sappy, sorry for this whole bullet.

4. I am working on a post about what over the counter medicine can be taken at various points during pregnancy, as that is something I am asked about a lot. It’s taking even longer than I thought it would (I mean, aside from the obvious hurtles like free time and being awake ever) because it’s kind of a fraught subject. I don’t want it to be misused, and the disclaimer at the top is getting intense (“Ask your doctor before you take anything! Everyone is a special physiological snowflake! More words about how this isn’t gospel!”). I think I end up not posting a lot of things because I worry about them being misinterpreted and used for evil, which is sort of ridiculous. OF COURSE a 1500 word blog post cannot cover every eventuality, Susie. If someone thinks it does, well. Hmm.

5. Oh, right, I went to New Orleans the other day, and it was AWESOME. Except for the part where I got a terrible awful cold and didn’t get to meet my cousin’s Four! Babies! which I am still super bummed about. BUT, aside from that, it was just wonderful. I should probably post something just about that. It is on my to do list, which y’all probably shouldn’t hold your breath about, but I have just the best intentions ever, I swear.

6. I got some good work news recently, but it won’t actually become legit good news for another oh, five months, so I’m not sure how to feel about it. Basically, a grant that is one of my main funding sources was reviewed very well and got a really good score. BUT, we don’t know how the competing grants did, and won’t know if we are actually getting funding until the end of March. This is a primary determinant of my continued employment, so it’s a really big deal. Everyone keeps asking me if I’m excited, and I’m not sure how to respond. Yes, I am, definitely – but I can’t count my chickens, you know? And five months is such a very long time to be in limbo. I almost wish I didn’t have the preliminary good news – it’s a little much for my brain to process, this early in the game.

7. Since I’m no longer doing monthly updates, a few Eliza things for the record books: She loves getting rolled around the living room floor, and thrown up in the air. She’ll sign more more more while we are doing these things, and often start wailing if we stop. Despite that, still adorable. She’s mostly sleeping wonderfully (5 nights out of 7, or so), still taking two naps. Starting to voluntarily give up her night time bottle. Eating ok, but drinks a hell of a lot of milk (still like 30 oz a day). She is learning words and signs out the wazoo, but also kind of regressing to saying the same syllables for everything most of the time (ma/mo, ba, na.). She understands so much though – she will retrieve particular books and objects, and follow simple command. Really neat, but I can’t wait till we can get her to clean up her toys (pipe dreeeeams!). Oh, PS, she stopped eating cat food! Huge parenting win right there, folks.

Posted in ephemera, Miss Bear | 8 Comments

Parenting Milestones Not Yet Experienced: a Life List

1. Cough Barf
2. Sleep Vomit
3. Car Puke
3A. Middle of Nowhere with Inadequate Supplies
3B. Rush Hour Traffic
4. Inescapable Public Tantrum
5. Inconsolable Airplane Baby
6. Baby’s First ER Visit
7. Baby’s First Scar
8. Baby’s First Broken Bone
9. Inappropriate Commentary on Stranger’s Physical Appearance
10. Unassisted Diaper Removal
10A. Full.
10B. Artistic.

Posted in ephemera, milestones | 11 Comments

Tweetaleetle tweet

Well. Now that that is over and done with, what else is new? As you may have gathered on the last post, E was a dragon for Halloween. It was adorable, though of course she wears the costume pretty regularly. She took her giant pumpkin bucket to the next door neighbors’ houses and said nothing, because she really can’t talk yet. They gave her candy, because they are suckers (MINE). Then she greeted trick or treaters all evening, like a champ.

This weekend, our frisbee team hosted a frisbee tournament. We had 32 teams come, over 600 people, to benefit Special Olympics. It was pretty fun, and involved a lot of bagels and candy. Also, me dressed like a flapper. Kind of. (Our team’s theme was Roaring Twenties.) Frisbee (which, for those who don’t know, is kind of a cross between basketball and football and soccer) was great, I think I spent about 14 hours of the weekend running though, and now my legs hurt like whoa. It’s the last tournament of the year, though, so definitely worth it.

Ignore the laundry piles.

Lots of secret booze on this team

I’m heading to New Orleans this week, and I am So! Excited! to see people. AND I get to see my cousin, who recently had QUADRUPLETS. So I get to play with four adorable babies, AND eat beignets. Wooo!

Lastly, I did the questions Jennie wrote up for the Blathering, so here I am, being a nerd, on video. And I am still incapable of properly embedding this, apparently, so.

Sadly, I make this face 95% of the time.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Eliza is one, and other things

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Eliza turned one two weeks ago. Two and a half weeks ago. I continue to be in denial. It’s been a very fast year, and she is a wonderful and hilarious little person. We didn’t have a birthday party, partially because Kevin and I traveled so much individually this month (Kevin was actually out of town on her birthday), and partially because we aren’t party people, I think. My mom was in town the weekend of E’s birthday, which was lovely. We went to the pumpkin patch, which I’m sure will become an annual tradition. I made some pumpkin cupcakes and let E go to town on one while we talked to Kevin on facetime. She loves sugar, that is for damn sure.

Developmentally, she’s both miles ahead of last month, and probably approximately the same to the casual observer. She’s added more words (hi, banana, and belly button come to mind, but I know I’m forgetting), and has picked up some animal noises. No cows or dogs here though, it’s all dinosaurs, horses, monkeys, snakes, and goldfish. The best part is that she picked up the dinosaur noise (roar!) seemingly all by herself, with no instruction. She also roars when playing with dinosaur toys. I consider this my first significant parenting achievement. She has also started mimicking the cats, so instead of a typical “meow” she makes legit weird cat noises. She’s walking more confidently, and falling more spectacularly. She’s starting to climb, but isn’t very good at it yet (thank goodness).

This month has brought new challenges, and I’m sure that’s a harbinger of more to come as we enter the realm of the toddler. She’s pickier about her food, or maybe it’s just that most of her words have to do with food, so she uses those even if it isn’t what she wants. So, she’ll say milk and more and banana, but when you get her in her highchair, she gets frustrated and throws everything on the floor. If we take away something that she wants, or won’t give her something (e.g., computer, plastic bag), she balls up her fists and scrunches up her face and makes a noise a bit like a tea kettle boiling. I have no idea where she gets that from (she gets it right from me).

For a few weeks surrounding her birthday, our normally magical sleeper was having a terrible run. Up multiple times every night, totally inconsolable or completely perky and ready to play. The only thing I found that worked was to let her sleep ON me. This, for our baby that had never, not even once, co-slept (and not for lack of trying). Once I felt comfortable that I wasn’t going to ruin her and never sleep again, and that I could actually just enjoy the snuggling, she stopped waking up.

The newest challenge has actually been ongoing for about a month now. She’s had terrible diaper rash – sometimes to the point of having open wounds, other times just incredibly red and angry skin, with an almost papery bumpy texture. We’ve been using disposables for close to two months now because of this. At first, switching seemed to help and I assumed I just needed to strip her diapers (future me: 1 Tbsp dawn, 1/2c bleach in hot wash water, followed by several hot washes without detergent). But the rash got worse and worse, and the flares turned into a consistent terribleness, and then one day she wouldn’t move her legs without crying. So we took her to the doctor, and he prescribed an antifungal for what he thought was a yeast issue. It helped briefly, but then flared again, angry as ever. We got a stronger antifungal with a steroid, which also helped briefly, but then her GI tract revolted. Now we are stepping up the butt armor – yeast meds, covered by max strength desitin, covered by a thick layer of baby powder, and diaper changes constantly. It seems to be helping, but I figure we’re stuck in disposables until her GI tract rights itself. We also tried maalox mixed with aquaphor or baby powder, but that seemed to hurt, so we abandoned. My friends insist that the faint scars on her once-adorable tush will fade, but until then, I’ll just be over here weeping during traumatic diaper changes.

Ok, this is perhaps the least sappy baby’s first birthday post ever in the land, but we are in survival mode round these parts, and I figure I’ll likely forget some of the gruesome/useful information should we find ourselves here again. Also, and I’m just going to run with this because it’s already terrible, but I think I’m just never going to be one of those bloggers that manages to have a coherent narrative arc. And if I wait till I can come up with one, this space will change rarely. I have a lot of things I want to say, so screw that.

And with that, having made my sweet baby’s birthday post all about her butt, and meeee me me, I bid you good night.

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Posted in ephemera, milestones, Miss Bear | 8 Comments

Crickets

So. Soooooo. I figured maybe if I just sat here, reeeeal quiet like, and didn’t say anything, bear wouldn’t ACTUALLY turn one.

Didn’t work.

I’m still not feeling like writing her birthday post, which I think makes me mom of the year, but I swear I will do it before the month ends.

I’m in North Carolina on business (haaa, like I’m a grown up, pffft), which means I’m in the time zone my brain prefers. I just got here today, and it is aaaalmost 9 pm EST, and I could definitely go to sleep. Instead, I will read the Night Circus and finish a dinosaur hat for Eleanor.

Oh, and whine about how the Internet costs TEN EFFING DOLLARS per DAY at this fancy hotel, I mean honestly.

Posted in ephemera, Miss Bear | 3 Comments