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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween

And I thought this tree couldn't get any scarier. I hope we get a trick-or-treater before I eat all the candy.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Whew! The bug and I are just back from our adventure in the interior Northwest, the Inland Empire, the heart of which (to us) is the Scotia Valley in far northeastern Washington, where my folks live. (My dad's entry in the county motto contest was "Got meth?") As fun as it was, it's sure good to be back home with Mr. Chalmers et al.

I have lots to say about our trip, especially the hog butchering, the sausage making, and the wild elderberry pies my mom made, but I'm still trying to get some pictures onto my computer. Until I do, here's what my parents did with and got out of the hog (dressed weight about 175 pounds, I think, without the head; unfortunately I didn't get the weights on all of the parts):
  • Bunch of thick pork chops
  • Thinner pork chops
  • Two slabs of ribs
  • Two nice loins
  • Two hams, which are in a Pennsylvania-style brine for curing (as opposed to a Southern-style dry cure)
  • Lots of stew meat from one shoulder, and I think two larger roasts from the other
  • Liver's in the freezer waiting to be made into liverwurst or braunschweiger
  • Lots of andouille, which Dad smoked over hickory
  • Lots of very spicy fresh chorizo
  • Lots of plain breakfast sausage made with just brown sugar, salt, and pepper
  • A ton of pann haas (that's scrapple to eastern Pennsylvanians) made with the heart plus scraps and the meat from the head—we had some every morning with maple syrup
  • A quart or so of leaf lard for pie crust
  • Several tubs of regular lard for god knows what—there's a lot of it
  • No bacon: my parents figured why bother curing what is essentially a slab of fat when you can get bacon for a buck a pound at Costco
  • No blood: the slaughterer didn't save it for them, so there'll be no blood sausage (this time)
The guy who raised the hogs charged my parents the cost of the piglets, plus the cost of their food (all-natural grains and fermented something-or-other, no scraps), plus twenty-five bucks. The slaughterer charged one or two hundred bucks, but I'm sure they made out really well for all the meat they got. And it's good pork, too.

The bug saw fourteen wild turkeys up close; my dad called them down from the mountain behind the house so she could see them. She also saw a Great Blue Heron on the Little Spokane River, which runs through my parents' property, and some sheep, some llamas, and one dog. She was too strapped into her high chair to see the deer that came by the house around suppertime, but we told her about them. She got to play with my cousin's three kids—aged six, four, and two—and my college friend's two-year-old daughter, Ava, who at one point in their visit from the O.C. asked her mom, "Mom, are you my conscience?" Mostly, though, the bug liked crawling around on the five thousand–plus square feet of pristine wall-to-wall carpet in her grandparents' house and climbing on their big floor pillows and soft footstools, and wriggling underneath dining chairs and tables to get to the heating registers my mom cleaned just for her. In a week she went from tummy-crawling with some real crawling to completely real crawling, and she will now pull herself up to stand, holding on to something, and then take a few shaky steps.

She did amazingly well on the four-hour flight to and from SLC and the two-hour flight to and from Spokane: she slept well on the plane, the changes in pressure didn't seem to bother her at all, and she had big smiles and laughs for everyone around us, which was a good thing because all of our flights were totally booked. It wasn't easy traveling with her on my own, but it wasn't as horrible as I thought it could've been. The hardest part (though it was fun in its own way) was changing her diaper in the airport family restroom, because she kept crawling around and activating the automatic soap dispenser, filling the sink with unused liquid soap.

I spent our first full day home trying to baby-proof this old house and get the floors semi-clean for her. Long way to go yet.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Bug News

Here's what's going on with the bug these days.

At least 25 percent of her floor movement now is true cross crawling (on hands and knees, tummy off the ground), and the rest is the funny lunging crawl she's been doing for a couple months (she gets up on all fours, then pitches herself forward onto her tummy and pulls herself along and up with her hands). Either way, she's fast enough to get across the dining room and overturn the dogs' water bowl in the time it takes me to change my T-shirt.

Yesterday she pulled herself up from the floor to a full standing position by holding onto Wagner. And then she stood up in her crib.

She usually does not like to be in her play yard paddock thing, and will do everything she can to push out the opening (or she'll complain until we take her out ourselves).

If I start reading or reciting "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" to her while she's having her prebedtime meal she'll stop eating, look up at me, and laugh her head off.

She opened her first kitchen cupboard the other day, so I guess it's (past) time to move all the dangerous stuff out of the lower ones. She also has an unhealthy obsession with cords, wires, cables, electrical things in general. Also heating vents in the floor.

She's now eating solid foods at least once and sometimes twice a day, all of it made by us except the rice and barley baby cereals. I think I've given her a couple things babies aren't supposed to eat, like a bit of raw peaches, and a wedge of lemon I gave her to keep her from taking everything else off my own plate as I ate supper (she enthusiastically gummed the lemon until almost all the flesh was gone, and suffered no discernable aftereffects). For the first two months, she needed a bath after every meal she made such a mess, but recently she's gotten better about just eating the food and not grabbing for the spoon so much, which makes the prospect of twice-a-day meals less daunting.

Some of what she's eating: asparagus, avocado and guacamole, minted peas, green beans, summer squash with garlic and basil, zucchini, acorn squash, sweet potatoes, stewed prunes with rice cereal, salmon, curried tilapia, gobhi aloo (without the potatoes), plums, and so on. She's liked everything except chicken so far. Whenever I'm making something for us that she'd be able to eat too I just puree some in a mini food processor, push it through a sieve if it has tough skins or seeds or whatever, and freeze the puree in ice-cube trays, like this:

Then I throw the cubes into bags:

When we feed her, we just thaw one or two cubes in the microwave, and if it's too runny we stir in some rice or barley cereal to thicken it up. It's super-easy.

For the last week or so, during the day she hasn't seemed as interested in nursing as in eating from a bottle, so I've been accommodating her while trying to keep the old milk supply up. This may be the start of all-out weaning or it may be temporary.

Suddenly, changing her diaper or her clothes has become the hardest thing I do in the course of a day. She won't lie or sit or stand still for it. I've resorted to putting the changing pad in the middle of the floor just so I at least won't have to worry about her leaping off the table. It still takes all my strength and dexterity to get the job done. I wonder if there's a better way to do these things.

She's sleeping like a champ. Last night she went right to sleep after a briefer-than-normal feeding at 7:30, woke up for another at 4, then slept till 6 and woke up in a great mood (as did we all).

Still no tooth.

I think she knows what "No" means (takes Wagner's tail out of her mouth), but doesn't care (puts it back in).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Historic Couch Is History

One night last week, we'd just managed to get the bug to go to sleep for the night (the first two hours of it, anyway) and settled in on the orange couch for some TV watching when Wagner got sick all over the old couch and I decided I'd already cleaned it for the last time. This was the couch I'd had in college and taken with me to Queens, the one my dad took the bed out of so it'd be easier (for the Israeli-army mover guys) to carry up to my fifth-floor walkup at 666 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan, the one that still had the worn-out remains of two (2) sets of slipcovers my mom made underneath the set I made myself, the one I sawed the legs off of during a bout of spring cleaning years ago, the most comfortable couch that had ever been made in the whole world. It's gradually making its way to the dump.

Here's the couch (and me, and a very small Cooper)
in Florida a year or so ago. You can tell it's Florida from the mint-green walls.

The next morning I said I'd be sad if we gave Wagner away but I'd get over it. Since then he's been good. Model pet dog. He's only eaten one board book (it might've been I'll Teach My Dog a Lot of Words) and one Beanie Baby in that time—which for him is good beyond all expectations. Everything would be easier without him, but maybe a little less interesting.

The bug, like Wagner, tends to escape from enclosed areas. Still, this new
baby paddock is pretty good at slowing her down.

The bug learned to drink water ("water: the main drink," her dad explained) from a sippy cup this morning. Before, she'd just chew on the spout, not realizing you have to suck on it to get anything out. To be honest, I didn't know this either until I tried to show her how it was done—I mean, it's not called a sucky cup.

Last week was the big Elberton 12-County Fair. We went on Thursday night with our friend Andrew to see the demolition derby, which was exciting, thrilling, loud, and wonderful. The bug fell asleep on my shoulder in the middle of the second heat. We also saw a whole wall of nice-looking canned goods and one or two sorry-looking flattened pies, and a barn full of every kind of domesticated fowl imaginable, most of them raised by someone named Jesse. I had a styrofoam cup of trolelotes (white corn kernels in a thin broth, topped with mayonnaise, Country Crock, and crumbled queso fresco—or maybe it was cotijo) from a booth selling goat tacos, among other Mexican street-type foods.

I just sent in the second of the three freelance jobs that've been hanging over me, so I'm feeling home free right now. The one-time house cleaning service Mr. Chalmers arranged (at my request, made the day after the couch died) helps a lot too: having the floors clean and the plastic dry-cleaner bags folded and stacked neatly on the bed is a great start; it makes ridding up the rest of the place seem a lot more worthwhile. Some things I'm looking forward to: going the Pig Jig in Vienna, Georgia, this weekend; finishing that third freelance job, a book about Huntsville, Texas, the execution capital of the world; coming up with some decent cookbook ideas; seeing the two minutes of Adam Brody in Thank You for Smoking; mildly rooting for Jeffrey at Olympus Fashion Week on Project Runway; putting in some good hammock time before it starts to get too cold; taking the bug on her first plane ride (to Spokane via SLC—wish me luck) to visit my parents and help with a hog-butchering.

Finally, because no blog entry is complete without a meat-in-the-skillet picture, here's the Chinese dish I love so much. I think I'm slowly getting closer to the Ninth Avenue Grand Sichuan International version, though theirs is much hotter and more sour than mine was, which is hard for me to understand because I always make everything too hot and too sour for normal people. At least this time, as Mr. Chalmers pointed out, the sour long beans were more like just another ingredient than "something from another planet." (They can be a little, um, squeaky?)

This is, let's see, ground turkey (in place of pork; for the heart), hot pepper oil,
hot pepper flakes, diced sour yard-long beans, scallions, a little garlic and ginger,
a splash of soy sauce, and some Chinese black vinegar.