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Friday, September 29, 2006

Country Come to Town

The bug and I went to Atlanta, stayed overnight with her dad downtown and everything. Yesterday started at the usual 5:15 and, well, it ended a little while ago when dogs, bug, and I all went down for a nap. Happy exhaustion. The city! First thing I did (after loading up the car, dropping Cooper and Wagner at the kennel, and taking the bug in for her six-month checkup, where she didn't cry at all when she got her shots) was stop for horchata and two excellent tacos—homemade tortillas with barbacoa and al pastor—at El Rey del Taco on Buford Highway. I shopped. I put semiperishables in a cooler in the car. Here's what I got at Ranch 99:

Thai-type stuff: green curry paste, Chaokoh coconut milk (the best brand,
and I love these half-size cans!), fish sauce, chile-garlic sauce (not Thai, but I
use it in everything), palm sugar.

Chinese-type stuff: hot pickled yard-long beans and sour
mustard cabbage, two packages of each.

The first is the main ingredient in my absolute favorite Chinese dish, a Hunan (I think) stir-fry with ground pork, scallions, and hot pepper oil. The second I stir-fry with marinated very thinly sliced beef.

Here's what we got at Your Dekalb Farmer's Market:

Mormon-type stuff: coarse yellow grits, Arborio rice, steel-cut oats
(the price was excellent, and the mornings are getting awfully chilly),
jasmine rice, couscous. Yawn.

More standard foodie-type stuff: ginger, kielbasa, cave-aged Gruyère (which may be my
all-time favorite cheese), crackers, roasted unsalted cashews (the Super's favorite),
fino sherry (in which to preserve fresh ginger so it lasts forever and I always have some
in the fridge), amontillado (my all-time favorite sherry for drinking), sherry vinegar
(yes, I have a favorite vinegar).

We met Mr. Chalmers at his hotel. I set up an impromptu sleeping area for the bug, with a thick blanket and pillows, and sat down on the floor to feed her in the hopes that she'd take a nap before dinnertime. Well, they must've been goofy shots she got that morning, because she was so nutty! She just kept laughing and laughing so hard she couldn't even eat—giggles and belly laughs and screeches of delight. She was delirious. Maybe she just liked being out and about all day long, or maybe it was lack of sleep, but she and I had the best time sitting there on the floor doing nothing but laughing every time we so much as made eye contact. She didn't go to sleep until half an hour before we were to meet a friend in the hotel restaurant—Trader Vic's!—for dinner. We had to wake her, but she got to gum a big wedge of Mai Tai–infused pineapple throughout the meal.

When we got home this morning it looked like there'd been a huge storm here: lots of big branches down, cellar doors blown open, and even more pecans than usual on the ground. In the afternoons for the last week there've been virtual hailstorms of pecans coming down on the metal roof. It sounds like guns going off. Unfortunately, I don't think any of the pecans are good to eat: they're either dried up already or too green when they fall to the ground. Maybe the trees are too old.

Might not be many posts for the next few days, as I have a big rush copyediting job to work on, plus two other copyediting jobs on the docket. We want to spend some time at the Madison County Fair down the road, watch the UGA game, make something with that kielbasa . . . And Concord grapes are in so that means pie, pie, pie. And cobbler. I want to try to freeze some containers of grape pie filling, see how that works. No time to can anything this year I don't think.

Monday, September 25, 2006

New Project

Our anniversary is coming up, and I was inspired to start a huge new knitting project (huge for a person who can't even be bothered to put fingers on gloves), which may be finished in time to give to Mr. Chalmers for next year's anniversary. I can't say much about it here, except that it's my first time trying to do Aran knitting, it's in Wool-Ease worsted so I didn't break the bank (thank god for acrylic!), and it's going to look like a crazy person knit it because I can't fix the mistakes I'm making—it's hard enough to knit a right twist with purl or a left twist, I certainly can't be expected to know how to unknit them.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Going Andouilless

The Super came home from a very long day at work (he was up with the bug at about five, and because he's apparently sharpest in the ay-em he went on in to the office early)—he came home and looked in the skillet and said, "Where's the sausage in that gumbo?" That's right: I had no andouille, but nevertheless I attempted to make gumbo in an effort to use up some of the huge bag of okra a colleague of the Super's gave us. I didn't even have any hot sauce, so all the heat is the high-pitched heat of ground cayenne. It was pretty darn good last night (I'm told—I've been too stuffed up to taste much), and it's pretty good warmed up with a pile of rice for breakfast, too. I basically used this recipe from Epicurious, cooking the roux at a lower temperature for much longer than indicated.

My dad made the wooden spoon, must've been twelve or fifteen years ago.

The bug has been talk-talk-talking the last couple days, and it really seems as if she's trying to tell us something very serious and complex: she goes off on these long monologues, strings of sentencelike sounds, on and on, expecially when she and I are lying in the hammock looking up at the deep blue fall sky. She hasn't learned that it's easier to make speech sounds if you clear your mouth of drool first, so as she talks her mouth recalls the exploded laundry room in Mister Roberts. She's also been waking up at night every three hours on the dot to be fed. My pat explanation, as usual, is "growth spurt." She's half a year old today.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Pulling Out

After a nearly sleepless night of reflection and consideration (sleeplessness that for once was not bug-related), I've decided to pull out of the baby sleep book project. I want to thank everyone for all their advice, tips, strategies, and stories, though, because I really did learn a lot in this whole process (the process of researching and writing sample material for the publisher). Here are a few things I got out of it, for anyone who's interested:

1. Routine, consistency, and structure are important in helping the bug sleep well at night. The bedtime routine doesn't need to be long, and it doesn't need to happen at the same time every night, but it definitely helps to give her lots and lots of cues that bed is going to happen. I haven't had a lot of day-to-day structure in my life since I left the regular workforce to freelance full-time, but I've learned that for most babies it does help if their days follow some sort of pattern, and the bug seems to respond to the little advances I've made in that direction.

2. For some babies (the bug is one), at certain times in their development (last week), it makes a lot of sense to put them to bed slightly awake one night after a long wind-down period, kiss them goodnight, tell them you love them, and leave, closing the door behind you and not coming back until after they're asleep. The first night was hard, but I came to realize that the bug is so interested in things, and so keen to engage everything she sees and hears, that her parents' presence at her bedside only makes sleep less appealing to her—it's not comforting, it's distracting and it makes it difficult for her to get the sleep she needs.

3. Babies almost always sleep better at night if they've had plenty of long naps during the day. Ours is no exception.

4. Keeping a sleep log, while dorky and lame-sounding, has helped me figure out when the bug tends to get sleepy naturally, and has helped me realize how much sleep she actually needs during the day. If you're not inclined to watching the clock or keeping to a schedule or routine yourself, as I'm certainly not, a log can reveal things you might have sensed vaguely but didn't know for sure. Plus it's a good excuse to buy a pad of graph paper. I kept a log for about a week, and if I squint hard I can see some patterns:

5. It's okay to let your baby fall asleep at the breast, but it's better if you let her disengage just before that point, then carefully transfer her to bed so she can continue falling asleep on her own. I think the bug might be learning to put herself back to sleep better when she happens to wake up at night because I've started doing this.

6. An early bedtime may mean waking up one more time at night, but it's worth it: the bug gets more sleep overall, she's happier the next morning, and her parents are happy because they've had some down time to devote to each other (and Project Runway, and last Sunday's Times, and the new road atlas . . . ).

We've entered a little Golden Age here at the homestead: content and well-rested bug, no more hack writing to do at the moment, and fall's in the air at last.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Monday, September 11, 2006

Please, Baby, Sleep

As many of you know, I've been hired to write a book about helping your baby or toddler sleep. It's going to be sort of a collection of parent-to-parent advice, tips, strategies, and general thoughts on the subject, so I wanted to solicit my (several) readers for contributions. (I've posted on a couple of "parenting" message boards but have gotten very little response so far. If any of you know about any online parent groups whose members are thoughtful and active and at least marginally articulate, I'd love to hear about them.) Here are some questions to get the ball rolling; please feel free to answer any or all of them, or suggest other topics, or go off on your own tangents. You can email me at or just write comments here. And of course, please pass along my request to anyone you know who might be interested—I need all the input I can get. Thank you!

What would you tell new parents that might help the whole family get more and/or better sleep?

What is your philosophy of parenting (if you have one) when it comes to helping your child sleep? How does breastfeeding or formula feeding impact that?

Have you changed your mind about any sleep-related issue since your baby was born, have your expectations regarding sleep changed over the months or years, or have you changed your approach for some reason?

Are there any non-cosleeping breastfeeders out there who get full nights' sleep regularly (I'm one, and I don't yet!)?

I understand that "sleeping through the night" is not the same thing as getting enough sleep and that it's not necessarily a productive way to think about sleep (especially when you're breastfeeding), but has anything in particular contributed to improving the quality or quantity of your sleep and/or your child's daytime and nighttime sleep?

What happens when your baby sleeps well but you don't—do you have any advice for moms and dads who lay awake listening for their children at night?

What about bedtime rituals or routines? Do they help more at certain ages than at others?

What do you think about schedules and set nap- or bedtimes?

Take me through a typical day with you and your baby or toddler (does anyone have "typical" days with a baby?). How often does he need to nap? How long does he sleep at night? How do you know when it's time for your kid to sleep?

When did your kid start to sleep through the night regularly, if she has yet?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Game Day

Mr. Chalmers's brisket, which he got special at the Danielsville Ingles, before smoking:

After smoking five or so hours with mesquite, pictured in context:

And closer:
Brisket rub: 3 parts onion salt, 2 parts ground cayenne, and 1 part granulated garlic.
It's brilliant. For dessert we have chocolate chip cookies, and I might make some retro-style artichoke dip, god help our hearts. The bug liked the taste of spicy beef she got, but it made her drool so much we had to take her shirt off.

I Actually Did Write It Up

Here's the pixie-type bonnet pattern; for some reason I kept track of everything I did. The pattern written out looks much more involved than it ought to: it's just seed stitch, then stockinette, then a decorative row if you want, then stockinette, then some shaping, then sew it up (mattress stitch for the shaped part, then fake grafting for the rest), and that's pretty much it. While I very well might be off by a row or a stitch here or there, it shouldn't matter too much. I mean, it's for kids, and what do they know? For the larger size, I cast on 97, and added a few rows before the shaping and two at the end of the shaping. In any case, be warned that all measurements and numbers are, shall we say, approximate. [See edit (9/10/06) in green below—I can't even count. For seed stitch, k1, p1 all the way across (I think I p1, k1'd), then on the way back you purl the knits and knit the purls.]

I didn’t know how to do cable CO correctly when I did the bobble things, but the right way will probably work too. What I did is this—let’s call it a modified cable CO: insert right needle into next st as if to k, but don’t slip the st off the needle; insert left needle front to back and right to left into new st, then slide it off the right needle, creating a new st on the left needle. To make the next modified cable CO st, insert right needle into new st as if to k (i.e., not between the two sts, as for real cable CO), and proceed as above.

Let's say 3–6 months or so; the larger size would be about 6–12 months

Top to bottom along brim: 7.5 inches
Front of brim to nape of neck along bottom edge: 4 inches

Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino [55% merino wool, 33% microfiber, 12% cashmere; 125m per 50g skein]; 2 skeins
1 set US #3/3.25mm straight needles
tapestry needle

28 sts/34 rows = 4" in stockinette stitch

CO 92 sts.
Work in seed st until work measures 1.75 inches from CO edge.
Next row [RS]: Work in seed st as set for 3 sts; k to last 3 sts; work in seed st as set to end.
Next row [WS]: Work in seed st as set for 3 sts; p to last 3 sts; work in seed st as set to end.
Rep last 2 rows until work measures 3.75 inches.
Rep last 2 rows 1 time.
Next row [RS]: Work in seed st as set for 3 sts, k3; * CO4 using modified cable cast-on method, BO4, k5; rep from * to last 6 sts; k3, work in seed st as set to end.
Next row [WS]: Work in seed st as set for 3 sts; p to last 3 sts; work in seed st as set to end.
Next row: Work in seed st as set for 3 sts; k to last 3 sts; work in seed st as set to end.
Next row: Work in seed st as set for 3 sts; p to last 3 sts; work in seed st as set to end.
Rep last 2 rows 6times.
Begin shaping:
Next row: K1, [sl1, k1, psso], k to last 3 sts; k2tog, k1.
Next row: P.
Rep last 2 rows 2 times.
Next row: K1, [sl1, k1, psso] 2 times, k to last 5 sts; [k2tog] 2 times, k1.
Next row: P.
Rep last 2 rows 2 times.
Next row: K1, [sl1, k1, psso] 3 times, k to last 7 sts; [k2tog] 3 times, k1.
Next row: P.

Buttonhole Flap
Pick up and k 13 sts along bottom of one side of hat, between end of seed-st brim and bobble row. Work in seed st until flap measures 1.25 inches.
Next row [RS]: Work in seed st as set for 5 sts; BO 3; work in seed st as set to end.
Next row [WS]: Work in seed st as set for 5 sts; CO 3 using (real) cable CO method; work in seed st as set to end.
Work 2 more rows in seed st.
BO in pattern.

Cut about 35 lengths of yarn about 7 inches long and lay them flat in a pile. With a 12-inch length of MC, tie the bunch of yarn in the center. Fold in half and wrap one end of the yarn tightly several times around the bundle about 3/4 inch from the top. Thread the end onto a tapestry needle and secure it by passing it down through the center of the tassel.

Fold work in half. Sew back seam starting at beginning of shaping and ending at the point at the back of the crown.

Sew the tassel to the point of the hat.

Sew 3/4-inch or slightly larger button to bottom of hat opposite buttonhole flap.

Weave in ends.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I Actually Knit Something

I finally finished a little bonnet for the bug to wear when we go visit grandparents this fall and winter up north. These are the best pictures I could come up with—she just moves too fast. It's DB Baby Cashmerino, soft and cozy, and it buttons with one large button under the chin. It's the first thing I've made without a pattern, so it's somewhat awkwardly done. I also made a dark blue one a bit larger, for later in the winter. Next time I'd do it without the silly bobbles, and just embroider a simple design on the corner of the folded-back brim. I might frog the dark blue one and do just that. Because I like to knit but don't like to buy yarn.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Our Dirt II

I hadn't made bread in several years, and mine was never that great anyway (except for one particular loaf of sourdough rye that took something like seven days to make—that was good), so I went back and read the recipe again, in Julia Child, and it paid off. This bread is excellent, maybe the best I've ever made. First time using White Lily unbleached bread flour, and I like it. Chewy-crisp crust with fine blistering on the surface, good flavor, and a light but chewy and holey crumb. The best part, though, was how the bread made the house smell all homey while it baked. On a cool, drizzly day—almost fall!—after driving the bug around for an hour and a half as she tried to sleep, it sure was nice to come home and put bread in the oven and pour a glass of wine. Supper last night was bread with a weird sort of ratatouille, and sausage.

The collards survived the lawnmower (we don't have one ourselves, so we hired a service to do it these last few times before fall takes care of things).

The fig tree did not.

Maybe it'll come back from the roots.

Adding to the list of fruitless projects, right after training Wagner to be a better dog so we don't have to give him away, here's the latest. I promised the bug (although, what does she know about promises?) I'd have all the glass and broken pottery and shotgun shells cleaned up out of the side yard before she learns to walk. The only way I can see that happening—there's so much trash out there, and it's mostly buried in the top (I assume) few inches of dirt—is if I treat the midden as an archaeological dig, and do one quadrant at a time.

I've laid out a portable grid that I can move around as I work. It's a start, anyway.

I didn't get any actual glass up yesterday because it started to rain on the bug and me, and Wagner escaped and ran across the road to the neighbor's chicken coop.