Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Christmas! (Cough, snort, barf)

Well, it took leaving France for the traditional "gastro" to find Dr. B. For the Americans, this is what we would call the stomach flu--when it's coming out both ends. Not pleasant. He's feverish, exhausted, and has slept most of the day.

I am getting over the cold that I "caught" (not really caught, it was pretty much forced upon me), though I am still coughing up a lung and dealing with daily nosebleeds. I am praying I don't get the flu--just what I would need during MagE's wedding in a few days.

But other than these things, which are so typically holiday fare, we have had a wonderful vacation.

After leaving Lucy at Jeff's parents, we spent Friday, Saturday, Xmas Eve and part of Xmas Day at my Dad's, where my "steps" (step sister, brothers, wives, husbands-to-be, neices and nephews) could be described as a hurricane on the Great Plains. Just sitting and watching them swirling around us playing with the toddlers, cooking, running around, working out, playing pool, playing Guitar Hero 1, playing Guitar Hero 2, watching movies, eating, drinking, fetching and carrying completely wore me out. I asked my dad, "is there a TV in your office? I just want to veg on the couch." Which in English means, "I am so exhausted and tired of all of these people being everywhere, I really need some peace and quiet for a little bit." He answered, "Yes, I'll show you how to work the remote." Which in English means, "Me, too. Let's get outta here." We snuck up to his office for a while on the 23rd and just talked in peace and quiet on the couch--it was lovely.

The next day, Dr. B and I assembled and wrapped presents (which were very well received), and then spent time going through the closet that's full of my Mom's things. We pulled out baby things for us, including my baptism dress, coat, bonnet and blanket, a Batman sweatshirt that is really, really cool, and some tiny leather booties with rabbit fur that I just couldn't resist. We left behind the book "Teddy Bear of Bumpkin Hollow" which Jeff is convinced is the reason I have a complex about him leaving me alone for any period of time. (This book seriously scared me when I was a kid. If it weren't an antique, I'd probably burn it.) We also found some wedding things and Christmas stuff for my sister, and seeing her tear up as I placed Mom's veil on her head was worth the dust up our noses, stretching and contorting into odd positions, and banging our head on the low ceiling that had been finished with swirly, pointy, pokey plaster.

My Grandparents visited Christmas Day, and we enjoyed the Skarphol Family Tradition of sitting around the kitchen table with coffee and food and talking, punctuated by bathroom breaks. Grandma is so excited about the baby, and even offered to let us use the dresser that my Grandfather had built for her first baby (Aunt Carol) 60 years ago. It was used by all my uncles and my dad as well, and will be treasured. Grandma knows I'd rather use something old with a history than something brand-spanking new.

We left around three, and hightailed it for Grand Forks, stopping only for gas and terrible coffee and Peanut M&M's (have to keep the sugar level up during the holidays). We made it in plenty of time to greet Jeff's parents and Lucy, who waited at the door for us. (Jean and Dick said she "knew" we were coming, even though they thought we'd be much later.) We ate a delicious meal after opening presents, and listened to my Mom's Xmas albums (taken from the closet) in their newly-finished basement over drinks. (Mine being cranberry juice and 7up, my favorite Preggo cocktail). Jean was tickled to see Mom loved Elvis, Andy Williams, Glen Campbell, Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason. Now I just have to find another copy of the Oak Ridge Boys' Christmas, because that was the only one my sister said she wanted.

So it's been a busy holiday, and except for the illnesses, it's been good. I am getting stronger, and am hobbling a few more steps without crutches each day. I will be walking, at least down the isle, on Dec. 31. And, I am starting to not be able to hide the fact that there is a little "B" on the way--or else I've just given up on sucking in. Blame it on the Christmas cookies.

We hope you and yours are enjoying some time off, and don't catch anything. Happy Boxing Day!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Ma Cousine

My cousin, Amanda Engen, is in the National Guard serving in Iraq. She works as a paralegal, and her husband Chad is serving in Fallujah, searching for bombs. (I can't remember the letters for those--all I can think of is "IUD" and I know that's not right.) Tomorrow, on CNN between 7:00 and 7:15 Central Daylight Time, Amanda will be featured in a discussion about Troop Morale.

If you get a chance, and are up early, please tune in! She's a neat lady and I'm sure will have some interesting things to say. If I can find it on Youtube afterwards, I will certainly post it here.

CNN 7:00 CDT (8 AM Eastern, 6 AM Mountain, 5 AM Pacific).

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Procrastination, Holiday Style

Well, tomorrow is my last day of school, we are leaving for the holidays, I have a job interview (for subbing after Xmas), I haven't wrapped a single present, most are unassembled, I haven't packed anything, I have a bunch of maternity clothes that I ordered ready to try on, and what am I doing?

A meme. I am such a dork.

But, Chelee did it, and it looked like fun, and since I've been laid up and haven't been able to do any of the usual holiday shopping, decorating or baking (though the eating of other people's treats I have excelled at), I consider it Christmas therapy. So, here goes.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Neither, too sweet. Cider, but without cinnamon. (I'm allergic.) Pre-baby? Wine.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just set them under the tree?

Santa puts them next to the fireplace. He's busy! He's gotta jump back in that sleigh, and quick!

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

I love colored, but when some burn out and you buy more they never match. My tree is usually white, while outside is a mix. This year? Doodley squat.

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Yep! I'm all for kissing under poisonous plants! What a wonderful tradition!

5. When do you put your decorations up?

The weekend after Thanksgiving. One year I got excited and did it the day after Halloween, but I got really tired of them by Christmas, so I learned my lesson.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?

I love to eat, so just about everything, but I really love cranberry sauce. I love the sour stuff.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child?

One year my uncle Randy dressed up as Santa Claus (though the reindeer were "resting" and he took the SnoCat Snowmobile). He brought me and my cousin Angie big walking dolls, and his sack was a Hefty bag.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

I think I figured it out around age 6 or 7, but I didn't let on to my parents. I didn't want to burst their bubble. (I'm thoughtful like that. They still don't know. Ssshhh!!!)

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

We open all of them except the Santa gifts Xmas Eve. Both sides of my family do, so maybe it's Norwegian? My husband's family does Xmas Day (with one Xmas Eve). I hate waiting. We haven't decided which we'll do with our kids. He's very adamant about this one, so I don't know if I'll win this time. Maybe we'll switch off from year to year.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?

Full of lots of ornaments (gifts, mostly--mixture of lots of things), white lights, dark red wooden beads (they look like strung cranberries), and some icicle tinsel (I hate tinsel rope.) I also do a smaller "scrubby pine" with pinecones, straw ornaments from Scandinavia, and bright red wooden beads. Both have white lights.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?

I'm a North Dakota girl and I love it! One of my favorite sights is the moonlight on the snow out on the prairie. (Viewed safely from a warm car, of course.) Snow is great: it covers all the ugly dirt, looks clean, and when it is cold, my pores disappear!

12. Can you ice skate?

Very badly, and not often. Last time was high school, I think.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

My Dad coming out of quadruple bypass surgery with flying colors. I also seem to remember loving a doll I got when I was 5 so much that I insisted on sleeping with the box she came in, too. (Not comfortable, by the way.)

14. What's your favorite thing(s) about the holidays?

I love choosing gifts for loved ones, decorating, baking and cooking, and the parties. I love seeing people forget their daily troubles, put on something cute and eat shrimp while smiling, laughing and having fun. I love watching people open gifts and knowing that what I chose was just right. And I love sleeping in!

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?

Frosted sugar cookies and Scotcheroos.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Xmas Eve, my family would have homemade soups, sandwiches (build your own), relishes, salads, etc. for supper, and sit around and talk for a few hours while listening to Xmas music. Then we'd open presents (snacking in between, of course--you build up an appetite with all that paper ripping). We'd open them one person at a time, which really annoys my husband. We took time to "ooh" and "aah" and take pictures. This would last into the very late hours of the evening. Afterwards, my mom and I would sit up and talk early into the morning. I really miss that.

17. What tops your tree?

An angel. I have two, but one (that my mom gave me) is pink, so I usually put her on a table with some candles and put the white and red one on the tree.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?

Giving. Really, I do! I love to shop!

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?

I love all the obscure older ones, like the Coventry Carol, the Boar's Head Carol, What Child is This? (not obscure, but it is from the Renaissance.) But, my favorite thing is to listen to Elvis at Xmas. My mom always did, and now Christmas, to me, means Elvis Presley singing "Ah-I'll Ah-Have Ah-a Ah-Bluuuuuuuuuueee Christmas without you..." Dr. B used to think I was crazy, but after a year or two, he got to love it and now insists on Elvis for Christmas. Heh. We have two of his Xmas albums. Also Dean Martin's and the Oak Ridge Boys' Christmas albums. Again, my mom's favorite. Plus, it's my personal tradition to wrap presents to REM's Green. (Not Christmasy at all, but it's what I do.)

20. What is your favorite holiday book?

Huh? I guess I'm too busy eating.

21. Candy canes yuck or yum?

Eh. They don't rock my world, but I don't hate them. I do love that chocolate candy cane bark stuff, with the white and dark chocolate and crushed candy canes. Does that count?

21. What's number one on your Christmas list this year?

A healthy baby, a healthy family, for my cousin and her husband to come home safe and sound from Iraq, and to walk again. For our leaders to work toward peace instead of power. For people to stop being so selfish and try, at least a little, to be good to each other and good to this planet (me included). Oops, that's more than one. Call me greedy.

Happy Hannukah! Merry Christmas! Happy Solstice! Happy Kwanzaa! Happy End-of-2006! Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Cure for Lactose Intolerance*

Dr. B is lactose intolerant. And I mean really lactose intolerant. He became this way over 10 years ago, and got to the point where a pat of butter used in a pan to cook his chicken would give him bloating, gas, diarrhea, water retention, stomach cramps and a really lovely attitude. Needless to say, neither of us liked this much, so after searching the web and the libraries for information, I gave up on curing him and I began reading labels, changing recipes, cooking with olive oil, and avoiding anything dairy in our house. (Except for my ice cream of course. He ate Tofutti.) We lived this way for a decade. We didn't like it much, but what choice did we have?

We found out by reading that some natural yogurts were easier for lactose-intolerants to digest, since the natural bacteria in it digested the lactose for him. Most supermarket yogurts had killed the bacteria and re-added new, weaker strains. Those did not work for him at all (trust me, I smelled the evidence.) The greek restaurant in town, with its "homemade" yogurt from the Greek markets in Chicago, was the only place we could find yogurt he could eat.

Then, we moved to France. Dairy was everywhere, and there was no avoiding it. But there was yogurt--good quality, lots of bacteria, delicious, fresh yogurt. And it was cheap and easy to find. He began eating it every day, often twice a day. By eating it every day, he raised the level of 'good' bacteria in his stomach, and they did the work for him. (If he missed a few days, all the symptoms came roaring back.)

In France, he could eat cheese. And butter. (There was NO margarine in our house. Yay!!!) And croissants. And even ice cream. I know. Amazing, right?

Coming back here, we were worried about finding a yogurt that would work for him. Yoplait and Dannon (Danone), though French brands, were nothing like the same thing in France. We started at our local food co-op, and tried several of the more 'natural' brands--the non-commercial, we-wear-Birkenstocks-and-don't-shave-our-pits, our-cows-are-really-mellow kinds of yogurt. And we found one that not only works for him, but tastes like the yogurt did in France. We can even get it at many regular grocery stores.

The brand we buy is Mountain High Natural Yogurt. It's in a navy-blue tub, with a black and white cow on it. We like the plain, but they do have some flavors. He eats about 8 oz. a day. I am sure there are other brands that will do the job, too. We just really like the flavor and texture of this one, and it really works.

And now, we get to watch movies over a bowl of ice cream again. Together.

Yay, Bacteria!!!

*I use the term "cure" very unscientifically. But it worked for us!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

A Foodie Regresses

Before pregnancy, I was what was known as a foodie. My olives came whole from Spain with fresh herbs, not pitted from a can. My breads were whole grain, hand fashioned, and crusty. I refused to eat beef cooked beyond à point (medium rare), and I could identify which fishes could not be eaten due to overfishing and the effect on the environment. I own and use parchment paper, Silpat silicone baking sheets, and Wusthof Trident knives, which I keep well-sharpened. I could identify and expound on the differences between a pinot noir, cabernet, merlot, gamay, and zinfandel (and NEVER the pink stuff). I grew 14 different herbs outside my door, and I was more likely to have canned artichoke hearts than canned corn in my pantry.

Then, baby. And morning all-the-time sickness.

And so? I find myself regressing. Yes, I admit it. All this baby seems to want is the food I ate as a child.

Which means, rather than chicken à la dijonnaise, Zizou wants chicken strips.

With ketchup.

Rather than steel-cut oats with natural yogurt and real Canadian maple syrup, Zizou wants cereal.

Lucky Charms, to be precise.

And rather than Pesto pasta with fresh tomatoes, pine nuts, parmigiano reggiano and prosciutto?

Zizou wants Hotdish.

The North Dakota Lutheran girls who read this will know exactly what I mean, and are probably cringing with embarrassment. I know I was, when I had to ask Dr. B to make it for me. But, hotdish is one of the few things that always stayed down, and was a fairly well-balanced dinner in itself. Plus, it was easy enough for the former-novice in the kitchen (Dr. B) to attempt by himself. (Note: his breakfasts are unbeatable, but he usually avoids cooking after noon.)

Hotdish is the ultimate one-dish meal for a Norski from Fargo. For those who don't know, Hotdish is what those in the "snooty" states would call a casserole. But in North Dakota and Minnesota, we call it hotdish, because we're not snobby like that. Hmpf.

Dr. B started with his favorite, "Red Hotdish" (named so because it's, um, red.) Macaroni noodles, cooked way past al dente, mixed with hamburger meat browned with onion and tomatoes and tomato sauce, baked until bubbly. We then followed that with Tuna Noodle Hotdish, my personal favorite (I even like it cold for breakfast the next day), with the same noodles (mushy, please!), tuna, cream of mushroom soup (Dr. B buys organic) and milk, parmesan cheese, peas and crushed potato chips on the top. Mmmmmm...

I asked for "Yellow Hotdish" (the noodles or sliced potatoes, hamburger/onion, corn, cream of mushroom), but was denied. I didn't even attempt "Tator Tot Hotdish" or "Hamburger/Minute Rice Hotdish", which I knew would both get a resounding "NO!"

As my pregnancy has progressed, the nausea has backed off a bit, and I'll have weeks now when I can eat pretty much anything. But, I still find myself wanting those foods which remind me of home, of being a little kid, of meals cooked by my mom, always on the table at 6:30, served with carrot sticks, pickles, buttered white bread and a cold glass of Kool-Aid.

Maybe this is Mom's way of letting me know she's watching, and helping to take care of her first little grandchild.

With some good, hearty hotdish for supper. Just like she always took care of me.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Show is Over

We made it. The concert finished, and all 88 kids played fairly well, had very happy parents, and even helped clean up. Of course, the cookies and chips were the thing they cleaned up the most of, but at least they were helping.

For the most part, things went well. The day concert was definitely rough, but the teachers were impressed, and the kids were scared enough to try harder that evening. (Always a good thing.) I waited after school, eating cold pizza and enjoying a visit with Dr. B, until it was time to get dressed and do it all again. The kids came in, dressed up in their best, excited and ready to go. Aside from some trouble calming them down enough to get them tuned up (I can't stand on a chair when I'm in crutches, and music teachers generally don't carry whistles), they followed directions well and were eager to start. (Well, except the "SSSHH!!" direction--that one is still difficult for them.)

The Beginners played beautifully, and their eyes shone as they performed each tune. The Intermediates climbed on stage, and we had a little more trouble than we expected. Our trumpet section, rather than counting four measures of rest, counted four beats. Woops. Then, several other sections jumped on the bandwagon (har har) and came in early, too. I didn't quite know what to do, so I just beat a four-beat pattern until we had a general consensus, and went with that. Not a success, but we made it to the end together. Mostly. Their second piece, a much harder one, went really well. Sometimes it pays to have a scare.

The Advanced group played better than they have in a long time, and it was fun to see the excitement in their eyes, which is often a rare occurrence from Middle Schoolers, unless we are talking about food. They even told their teachers the next day how well they had done the night before--I guess they were proud.

We all joined the parents for a reception, and I made my way to a chair. The parents were very gracious, and I received many compliments, thanks, gifts and even a gorgeous giant poinsettia. Seems this sub job was a definite success.

Unfortunately, my knee took a beating, and is sore and throbbing today. Plus, my foot swelled up, and even now, 24 hours later, it looks like a baby foot, size 8 adult version. I guess I overdid it. (7:30AM to 9:30PM. You think?)

Dr. B made me a cheese sandwich and a glass of milk, and I climbed into bed, exhausted, at 10:30. Though I was proud to have been off the pain meds for 3 days, he insisted I take one before he took Lucy out for a walk. He came home about half an hour later, and walked in the bedroom. I hadn't drifted off to sleep yet, but I guess the reality of our success, and the pain pill, had both kicked in.

My eyes were shut tightly, and there was a big grin on my face.


Just one more to go...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Future is in My Hand

Today, I arrived at school with a knot in the pit of my stomach.

The concert is Thursday, and I haven't seen some of these kids in two weeks, since before my surgery. I must have been insane to not postpone it. How will I be ready in time?

The day began as a whirlwind. Tuesdays are for beginners, and they arrived at their lessons on time, with big smiles, ready to cross off skills on their "Superstars Band Notebooks" (a blackout by the concert earns them a prize), practice their solos, and learn the ropes for the day concert and the big night. They were enthusiastic and eager to help out.

We began our group rehearsal on the stage, and they listened carefully (well, mostly) as I gave instructions. I announced my pregnancy, and they cheered and clapped (gotta love Catholic school.) The stage lights twinkled in their eyes, and they performed 'Go Tell Aunt Rhodie' with the skill of professional musicians (albeit 10-year old ones.)

We motored through our tunes, practiced introducing their solos at the 'phoney-baloney microphone' (a cymbal stand with the cymbal removed stands in for the real deal). They played admirably.

I might just pull this off. I thought. Well, at least with this group. This is a good sign. Phew, so much less to worry about. Thank you, God. You really do love me.

Time was running out, and we had 3 tunes left to play when Gina* came up, holding her clarinet at arms length. Her alternate C# key had gone wonky. I grabbed it, looked quickly, and handed it back to her, saying I'd fix it at her lesson because it wasn't affecting her playing now.

As we launched into "Hard Rock Blues", I noticed a, well, funny smell coming from my left. Hmmmm... that's odd. We're having pizza dippers or a meatball sub for lunch, and that smells kind of, um, corny. And poopy. Corny poopy. That's really weird. I don't know of any lunch that smells like corny poop.

I conducted on, noting as the percussion carefully performed their rim shots, and reminded them to not play louder than the entire rest of the band (difficult with 9 beginner percussion in a band of 33.)

Then I felt it. Something, um, strange was on the palm of my left hand. I kept conducting, my baton firmly gripped in my right, and looked down.

That's weird. It's kind of... brown. Huh. What could that be? I sniffed it. It smells like...

Then it dawned on me.


There was poop on my hand. POOP ON MY HAND, on a random Tuesday morning. How the heck did I get poop on my hand? I was completely bewildered. I thought back, but couldn't think of any time when I would have come in contact with poop in the last 24 hours. I kept conducting, trying not to let it brush the music stand, leading the kids through "My Dreydl" and "Jingle Bells", and fighting the urge to projectile vomit across the flute section (this would not be easy to clean out of the keys).

Whispers began coming from the clarinet section:

"It smells bad, really bad." "I think it's poop." "Who would poop on my clarinet?" "I think it's dog poop!" "How did you get dog poop on your clarinet?" "Ew, it really stinks!"

Gina came back up, with Julie* by her side. I looked down at her shoe, and saw the offending matter, sitting on the tip of her pink suede tennis shoe. The same shoe she rested her clarinet on while she stopped to turn the page of her lesson book between songs. Mystery solved.

"Great Job, Everyone! You can clean up!" I announced, and dismissed them. The two girls looked at each other, then met my eye, and started to try to explain.

"Julie, run to the bathroom and get me some paper towel with lots of soapy water on it, right now." Julie took off at lightening speed, hopping over my crutches and making it down the three steps in one leap. Gina looked sheepish. "It's OK, Gina. I understand." I said, not wanting to embarrass her further. "It happens to everyone. In Paris, it happened to me in the rain and I slipped in it and fell on my butt." She smiled a little. "And a bird pooped on my head. Twice. Now, I'll fix your clarinet in your lesson, but you need to go clean it off and wash that shoe! Wash it really good!"

I scrubbed my hand clean, and when kids asked, just answered their queries with "you don't want to know."

And later, in the bathroom, I scrubbed my hands with even more soap and hot, hot water.

Three times.


*Names have been changed to protect the easily embarrassed.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Happy Holidays, Everybody!

(Wanna make one, too? You can design your own gal from head to toe! Check out their site, here. Free ecards and a plethora of printed and printable items, designed by you. And proceeds go to a very good cause. What more could you ask for?)

*PS this doesn't violate their terms of service, because I asked if I could do it, and Jeanne from Designhergals helped me. Designhergals are super cool!

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Well, tomorrow is it. The day I go back to school. I admit, I am dreading it. This is Band Concert Season, which means as soon as I get back it will be in the midst of a hurricane. Since my knee is still quite painful, I'm not looking forward to running around like a chicken with my head cut off, but I don't really have much of a choice.

And of course, I haven't spent this week diligently preparing for the onslaught, rather waiting until the last possible moment to do everything I need to do to prepare. I realized I forgot to schedule this week at one of the schools (and with the school concert and dress rehearsals, I really should have given the teachers more warning), forgot to tell the kids about concert dress and what they should bring for the reception after the concert (and since I only see them once a week, it's not like I can just tell them tomorrow and have them know for Thursday), and I'll have report cards and clean up to do. At the end, we have Christmas, with traveling galore, and a wedding, which I am a bridesmaid in. Then I get back, and... nothing. No job lined up, my long-term sub is over, and here I sit, hoping for the phone to ring.

So, rather than be productive, I am fiddling with my new blog and template--looking for buttons to install, messing with fonts and colors (I still can't get the text in Century gothic. Grrr!), and generally wasting time.

So if you're anxiously awaiting tons of new, hilarious, life-affirming posts...well? You probably won't find them on this blog for a little while. In the meantime, go play with this. It's the ultimate tool for enjoyable time-wasting.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


I spent a year in Paris, but the blogging bug didn't leave me when my feet left French soil. You're welcome to join me here, or go back and read the archives of Mrs. B in Paris.

Glad you're here! Pull up a chair! Want some lemonade?
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