Sunday, April 16, 2017

Heart Too Full


We’re just 11 days shy of being 3 years on from the last time I wrote about my middle child’s heart condition.  Today I’m revisiting the topic because we just got some news from his doctor.  In that last post, I wrote:

The doctors estimated that my son’s heart wouldn’t last much more than a week with the stenosis.  With the regurgitation, it could last years, perhaps even decades.

It could last that long ... but perhaps it won’t.  ... your stress level goes through six-month cycles of peaking to insane levels because you dread that this time is the time when they’ll finally tell you he needs the surgery.


Well, it seems that time is drawing nearer.

That previous post was spurred by the occasion of the Smaller Animal’s first treadmill test.  This week he had his third or fourth (I’m starting to lose track, honestly).  Then he was 8; now he’s 11.  On the plus side, he finally got up to 4.2mph at a 16% grade, for the first time ever, and he still did not have trouble breathing.  When the nurse asked him why he stopped, he said his legs just got tired, which of course happens to everyone.  However, his blood pressure reading were a bit scary.  Prior to the test, he clocked in at 120 over 60, which is perfectly normal ... for a 30-year-old man.  For someone his age, it’s a bit high, although I didn’t really register that until the doctor mentioned it the following day.  But I couldn’t miss the fact that, just after the test, he was reading 112 over 38.  Now, let me stress that I’ve seen a lot of blood pressure readings in my life—not as many as someone in the actual medical profession, of course, but many more than the average, non-medical person.  I did time in the ER as part of my EMT training when I was (much) younger, and, when you’re the low man on the totem pole in the ER, taking people’s blood pressures is about all they let you do.  So I took a lot of blood pressures then, and I’ve observed a lot (in my family, I’m generally the person forced to go along because my mother taught me to speak medicalese).1  And, in all those blood pressures, I never saw a diastolic reading2 that low.  Hell, I wasn’t even really aware it ever went that low.  After resting on the table while they did the ECG,3 he registered 102 over 50, which was an improvement, but still I was mildly troubled about that 38.

As it turns out, his doctors were too.  The following day, his pediatric cardiologist called us and let us know that it was time for us to start talking to cardiac surgeons.  Just talking, mind you: it’s still possible they might say that, at his age, they’d prefer to wait before scheduling the surgery.  But it’s also possible that they might say that the risk of waiting outweighs the risk of doing the surgery sooner.  And I could go on and talk more about the advances in cardiac catheterization,4 or the details of the Ross procedure, but you’ll just have to go back and review that last post, if you haven’t already.  Right now I’m having difficulty focussing on the technical issues, even though that’s what I generally prefer to do.  The technical issues of medicine are something I can get my brain around.  My mother always wanted me to be a doctor—even though that’s primarily because her father wanted to have a boy who grew up to be a doctor and I just inherited the vicarious lifeplans—and I seriously considered it for a good deal of my early adult life.  But though I found it interesting, I didn’t have the passion for it that I would need to push me through medical school, and residency, and that whole grueling process.  But I understood the basics of it just fine, and I never minded the blood or other bodily fluids, and I always thought the idea of cutting people open and rooting around inside them was not at all gross but utterly fascinating, so the mechanics of medicine is something I understand and am comfortable with and usually try to focus on.  But sometimes it’s difficult.

When our middle child was born, we had about 48 hours to just relax and be happy with him, until the whole heart issue blew up, metaphorically speaking, and took over our lives for the next several weeks.  And then it was okay again—well, as okay as it can be, with something like that hanging over your head, but surprisingly you really can put it out of your mind and get on with life.  Which we did, for the next neary eleven years, until this week.  Now it’s very difficult not to fall back into that time of feeling like you don’t know what will happen, and you don’t know what’s going on, and you don’t know how life will keep going, and you’re just afraid.

I suppose it’s possible to look at it like it’s crueler this way: if anything happens to him during the surgery, we will all be much more devastated than we would have been if we’d lost him early, as devastating as that would have been.  But back then he was mostly potential: there is a very visceral connection that you feel to your child which forms as you watch them being born, and you know instantly that you would die for them even though they’re just this sort of messy, uncoordinated, chubby, crying blob of trouble and poop and lost sleep at this point.  But you sense the potential nonetheless ... you know that, one day, this will be a fully-formed human being with their own opinions and distastes and joys, and they will look up at you, and they will resent you sometimes, and they will be embarrassed by you sometimes, and they will be royally pissed at you sometimes, but in many ways—the most important ways—you will be their everything, and they will be yours.  You sense that ... but it’s just a feeling.  By the time you’ve had them hanging around for 11 years, the potential is realized.  There’s no more wondering who they’ll turn out to be: by now, you have a really good idea.  You know their faults, and their weaknesses, and their stubborn streaks.  And you know their power, and their strength, and their love.  This child, I’ve played Rescue Heroes and Imaginext with, and LittleBigPlanet, and The Legend of Zelda, and Heroscape, and D&D.  I’ve watched him put together complex creations out of Legos, and Magna-Tiles, and blocks in Minecraft, and those electronic projects where you snap components on the board and make the fan turn on, or the speaker buzz, or the light bulb light up.  I’ve seen him off to summer camp,5 off to work with horses, off to ride roller coasters, off to swim in the ocean and countless pools.  I’ve slept with him snuggled up under me, and I’ve groaned as he continued to climb up into my lap long after he was way too big for that.  I’ve introduced him to Red Dwarf and Dinosaurs and Mystery Science Theater 3000 and even The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert’s Late Show.  Today I hid 12 eggs for him that he had a hell of a time finding and then I hugged him and didn’t have to bend down at all, because in another year or so he’ll be just as tall as I am.

So while one might argue that it’s crueler this way, I instead choose to look at it differently: I’m lucky to have had what I’ve gotten so far.  If the universe or whatever higher power runs it continues to bless me, I’ll continue to be lucky and I’ll have even more experiences that I will treasure.  But, no matter what happens, I’ve had 11 years of amazing interaction with an amazing kid who has enriched my life, and the lives of all of us here in this family, and I couldn’t imagine having missed out on that.

The next few weeks and months may end up being a scary time for us.  I can’t say for sure how everyone will get through it.  However, I’m personally going to trydifficult as it may be, I’m going to try very hard—to concentrate on all the ways that my life is better because of my son, and how lucky I’ve been to know him.  That will be my focus, if I can manage it.  And there’s a lot of it to contemplate.



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1 Not The Mother, that is, but my own mother, who was a nurse (and CPR instructor) for most of her adult life.

2 The diastolic is the second number.  The first number is the systolic.

3 That’s the echocardiogram, which you may recall from last post.

4 We will also be talking with a specialist in that along with the surgeons.

5 We are lucky enough to live in the area served by Camp del Corazon, a summer camp specifically for kids with heart conditions that is staffed in part by pediatric cardiologists.









Sunday, April 9, 2017

Saladosity, Part 8: Some Condiments, You Just Want to Buy


[This is the eighth post in a long series.  You may wish to start at the beginning.  Like all my series, it is not necessarily contiguous—that is, I don’t guarantee that the next post in the series will be next week.  Just that I will eventually finish it, someday.  Unless I get hit by a bus.]


In our quest to make the perfect salads, there’s still more shopping to do.  When it comes to condiments, we’re going to make a lot of them ourselves: mayonnaise, pickle relish, and most of the actual salad dressings.  But that doesn’t mean we’re going to make everything from scratch.  Remember: our #1 goal is to make making salads easy.  So if I tell you that you have to start growing your own mustard seed or whatever, that’s not easy.  So we’re going to make things ourselves where it’s simple to do so, and/or where it’s easier than trying to find quality condiments in your local store.  Where that’s not feasible, though, we will not hesitate one whit to just buy the stuff.  We’re eating good, and we’re eating simple.  Buying a few premade items is not going to endanger that.

Salad Dressings

Yes, there are actually a (very) few salad dressings that I like to buy intead of make.  Specifically, two: a feta cheese dressing, and a Tuscan dressing.

Now, both of these come from my local Trader Joe’s,* and they are (not at all coincidentally) the only two dressings that I’ve found there that have neither 1) soybean oil, nor 2) any added sweeteners.  If you’re avoiding dairy due to strict paleo/Whole30-ness, then the feta cheese dressing is out.  The Tuscan, however, should be good for all the nutritional tribes.

Now, remember I said  last time that, if you buy bleu cheese crumbles, you don’t actually need bleu cheese dressing?  This was a little bit of a white lie: you don’t need a dressing which is bleu cheese specifically, but what you do still need is a dressing which is creamy, and not strongly flavored so it won’t compete with the natural piquancy of the bleu cheese.  TJ’s feta dressing is exactly that.  You could try other varieties—I think a ranch would be too much, plus you’re never going to find ranch dressing without added sugars, but there could well be other options at your disposal.  Mainly you just want no crappy soybean oil, and hopefully no sugar (in any of its myriad forms).  TJ’s feta dressing has olive oil and canola oil (not the best, but better than soybean, corn, or peanut), and no sweeteners at all.  It doesn’t taste strongly of feta either, despite the name, and it’s a perfect complement for a bleu cheese salad.

Tuscan dressing, on the other hand, is just a slight step up from Italian (meaning it’s not much more than oil and vinegar).  The oil in this case is sunflower (good) “and/or” canola (less good, but still not awful).  The vinegar is balsamic.  And the “step up” is tomatoes and “spices” that edge it more towards tasting a bit like Worcestershire sauce, or maybe steak sauce without the sweetness.  It’s very tart, in fact, so I advise you use it in small quantities, which means it has a built-in mechanism to keep you from overindulging.  And, if you’re in the calorie-counter tribe, it’s only 50 calories per tablespoon, so that works out well all ‘round.  When we make our Tuscan salad, I’ll show you how to balance out that tartness in a very pleasant way.

Mustard

You know, mustard is some kind of friggin’ miracle food.  It contains no sugar, no carbs, and no fat; brown mustard has 5 calories per teaspoon and yellow mustard has zero.  At least that what my mustard bottles tell me—and guess where I bought ’em?—and, if yours are telling you a different story, toss ’em out and go shoppping for better options.  On top of all that, it’s seriously yummy, and it helps things emulsify (crucial when we get around to making our own mayonnaise).  About the only thing even remotely objectionable is that some forms of brown mustard (dijon, poupon, etc) may contain white wine, which some nutritional tribes (e.g. Whole30) may prohibit.  But that’s easy enough to work around.

You will need yellow mustard for sure, and brown mustard probably.  My particular yellow mustard happens to be organic, but I’m not sure I can taste the difference there, honestly.  But I don’t think there even is a non-organic version, and it’s still cheap enough, so why not?  My choice of brown mustard happens not to have any wine, but honestly I wouldn’t care if it did—that’s one of the Whole30 precepts that I tossed out the window a long time ago.

Ketchup

Now, the first thing I learned about ketchup when I started this whole journey was that it’s impossible to make ketchup without adding something to sweeten it.  If you don’t add some form of sugar, you just end up with thinned out tomato sauce, which is definitively not ketchup.  If you happen to be really seriously into Whole30, you’re probably already aware that there’s a company out there that makes ketchup using dates, which, being fruit and technically not an added “sweetener,” makes it Whole30-safe.  I’ve never tried it, but then I’m not that seriously into Whole30, so your mileage may vary.  You can also try making your own ketchup, but trust me when I tell you that it is a) a huge pain in the ass, and b) never ends up tasting particularly like ketchup.  As far as I’m concerned, ketchup springs into existence at some magical spring, probably underneath Teresa Heinz Kerry’s house.  Just buy the stuff.  Buy only the stuff that’s made with “organic cold-pressed raw cane juice” or whatever if you must, but honestly: it won’t make that much difference.

We’re going to use ketchup to make a version of a Thousand Islands dressing, and that is literally it.  Other than that, I never touch the stuff.  But Thousand Islands is pretty crucial for many things, particularly chef’s salad.

Vinegar

Now, many people absolutely adore vinegar.  I am not one of them.  For many years, I was convinced that I hated all vinegar.  Red wine vinegar I really don’t like, and apple cider vinegar I detest.  Balsamic vinegar I tolerate, but I’m not a huge fan.  However, I recognize that some recipes really need vinegar, both for its acidic qualities and its sour tang.  And I eventually discovered that white wine vinegar is pretty decent ... I’m not about to start drinking it straight or anything, but it’ll be a crucial component for at least one of our dressings.

The white wine vinegar I buy is called “white balsamic,” which I find oxymoronic.  Also its cheap price leads me to distrust the “balsamic” part, which I believe got thrown in there just to make it sound fancy.  The ingredient list is nice and short, but it’s not organic.  Still very good though.

Honey

When it comes to honey, what you really should be doing is buying local.  Find a farm or something like that nearby that sells honey made by local bees from local flowers.  Many people believe that eating local honey helps boost your immune system, but, even if you don’t buy that, it’s still a valid point that you should be helping to keep your local apiaries solvent, who in turn keep colonies of bees thriving, and I don’t think there’s very many people who actually think the recent decreases in bee populations are a good thing.

We have a local place that both bottles their own honey and also gets some varities imported, so they have a great selection.  You can even go there and do a honey-tasting.  Different kinds of honey absolutely taste different, so experiment to find out what works for you.

For our purposes, we’re going to use it to make our own honey mustard dressing.  For the most part, the crap that you have been buying—probably to give to your kids for their chicken nuggets—is not very good.  If you’ve found anything that tastes good (like, say, Ken’s), then it’s full of crap (like, say, soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup, which are the first two ingredients on that delicious bottle of Ken’s).  Contrariwise, if you found anything whose ingredient list delighted you, you almost certainly were insanely disappointed by the underwhelming taste (like, say, the Sprouts store brand).  Well, as it turns out, making your own honey mustard is not so hard, plus you get to tweak it: perhaps you like yours sweeter, or tangier, or creamier, or whatever.

So start by buying yourself some nice honey.  I prefer a sweeter variety for this purpose: perhaps an orange blossom, or a nice clover.  But get whatever you personally like.



Next time, we’ll finish  up the refrigerated portion of our shopping.



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* You may recall that I’m pretty much a walking TJ’s commercial.









Sunday, April 2, 2017

Birthday movie reviews


It’s the second (and final, obvioiusly) installment of our March birthday season, so you won’t get a proper post from me.  But I thought I would treat you to a few brief reviews of my cinematic adventures for the weekend.  Without further ado, here’s my

Reviews of Movies for 5-Year-Olds

The Secret Life of Pets  We saw this back when it first became available to rent from Amazon, and both my then-4-year-old and my then 10-year-old watched it nearly continuously until our 48-hour rental was up.  So naturally we had to buy it for the little one for her birthday.  So naturally we had to watch it again.

I have to say it held up pretty well on second viewing: a lot of these sorts of movies don’t.  But I still laughed in several spots, even though I knew what was coming.  Good voice talents, good animation, interesting storyline.  I object to a bit of species-ism—you know exactly which breed of dog every canine is, but all the lizards are some weird amalgam of whatever saurian traits the animators felt like that day—but that’s a minor nitpick.  There’s really only one musical break, and it’s so highly amusing that I let it slide.  Gidget (voiced by the ever-funny Jenny Slate) is my girl’s new hero, and she not only got the DVD but also a physical manifestation of the sassy buttkicker.

Birthday girl’s review: I liked it.

Sing  So let me stress right up front that I despise musicals.  The vast majority of even the best Disney movies are just very short stories with lots of extended bathroom breaks.  So I was a little leery of this one.  However, interestingly enough, Sing is not really a musical.  A musical is a movie where people randomly break into song for no discernable reason.  However, Sing is about a singing contest, so every single time someone broke into song in it, there was a perfectly logical reason for it.  That said, it is true that not all the music was interesting to me—I don’t particularly care for Katy Perry, or Lady Gaga, or Taylor Swift—but there was enough to keep my mildly entertained: Frank Sinatra is tolerable, and I don’t hate Elton John.  And the punky stuff sung by Scarlett Johansson’s porcupine was pretty decent.  I found it weird that, of the five main singing animals in the film, four were voiced by actors, not singers (and the fifth was a singer that I personally had never heard of), and a bit disappointing that all of them were very extremely white.  But the story was engaging, the emotional notes were fairly restrained, and the acting was good, even Matthew McConaughey.  I felt some of the comedy was a bit over-the-top, but it was passable.

Birthday girl’s review: I liked it also.

The Boss Baby  Finally, the one movie we actually trekked out to the theater to see: Boss Baby was easily the best of the bunch.  Perhaps it was just that I wasn’t particuarly expecting much, but I really enjoyed it.  The commercials make it appear to be pretty much a one-joke movie, but it really wove a lot of different elements together and presented a story that was funny, fantastical, a bit of a caper story, and surprisingly touching at the end.  Also, no musical breaks, which is always a plus.  The voice acting was also the best of the three.  Alec Baldwin has this reputation for being a giant pain in the ass to work with, but I always find his comedy roles to be so good ... I mean, how much of a douchebag can he be and still be that funny?  Okay, sure: most of his funniness comes from overplaying douchebag characters, but, even if he’s only playing himself over and over again, at least he can laugh at himself, right?  Also, the unheard-of voice actor doing that Ian McKellan impression was spot on.  I really enjoyed that alarm clock.

Birthday girl’s review: I also liked it.  I liked everything that we watched!

Bonus review  The birthday girl also specifically wanted me to mention “the demons.”  This weekend she embarked on a rewatch of Crazyhead.  Which I definitely do not recommend you let your 5-year-old watch, just on general principle, but perhaps yours is as precocious and atypical as mine.  My little girl particularly digs kickass women taking down monsters with equal parts funny and creepy, such as the new version of Ghostbusters (which is another thing she watches over and over again), and Crazyhead certainly hits that note.  I can hardly wait to introdue her to Buffy.  So, while you might not want to let your kids watch it, you might find it pretty enjoyable for your own viewing.  And she specifically asked me to mention it, so now I have.


Next week, back to our regularly scheduled blogcast.