Monthly Archives: May 2009

Death by Pine Nuts

ttar_pinenuts_03_h_launch “Do you ever have a day,” I asked Matt casually during dinner, “when everything you eat or drink leaves a horrible, bitter taste in your mouth?  That doesn’t go away?”

He stared at me in disbelief.

I started to dismiss my own claim as silly until I took a small bite of plain bread and a sip of wine and grimaced.  “Like, really, really, disgustingly bitter?”   He shook his head no.  I began to panic.

Assuming I was probably dying, I Googled “everything tastes bitter” just to find out what my exact cause of death would be.  Because it might be nice to know so that I could warn Matt about it.  You know, “Well, first there’s the bitter taste, honey, and then my nose will turn inside out, and only then will my heart fly out my right ear – so now you know, and Dr. Google says there should be time to get out of the way before that heart thing happens – just watch the nose.”

Imagine my surprise when one of the top hits was this blog post by a Scottish botanist who experienced the  very same thing – and his research into the problem implicated those most innocent-looking of legumes: pine nuts.  Yes, that’s right.  Pine nuts.   Further, he linked to this paragraph of a Wikipedia entry that mentions the “risks” involved in ingesting pine nuts, which “can cause serious taste disturbances” (but do not pose a serious health hazard, thank goodness).  Now, I don’t believe everything I read, and I know that neither a blog post nor a Wikipedia entry are considered solid primary sources.  However.  If you read that blog post, note how many comments there are as of today: 256, people.  256.  Since last October.  And that’s before I’ve taken the time to leave my own response.  Having read through the first two pages of comments, I see that many people have experienced all the same symptoms as mine, so I have no doubt whatsoever that this is the problem.

This would be a good time to mention that I had quite a few pine nuts on Saturday night.  I made capellini with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, feta cheese, and pine nuts.  I had forgotten the little nuts existed until this weekend; I don’t think I’d had any in 2 years.  I just might’ve dipped my hand into the container once or twice while I was cooking (because OH YUM!) and also sprinkled them liberally on my pasta dish.  I’ve been known to snack on almonds while cooking and I suppose I just substituted the pine nuts because they were there. Turns out that backfired.

So, according to what I’ve read tonight, my symptoms of this bizarre reaction are typical, having emerged 1-3 days after eating the pine nuts.  I have a constant bitter, metallic taste in my mouth.  At first I thought a cavity had cracked, until I remembered that I have no more silver fillings.  All food or drink tastes absolutely disgusting, except water.  It has gotten increasingly worse through the day, as others reported.  I tried one commenter’s suggestion and drank tonic water with lime before eating tonight and it did seem to help as I ate it, but the taste came right back afterwards.  At least I got to enjoy the food for a few minutes, though.

The best part?  This will last 7-20 days.  You heard me.

But at least I’m not dying.


But Now I Feel So Young

So I’m at Target with my cart loaded to amazing new heights with 100% “Mom” stuff, what with a couple of big plastic storage bins, two new pillows, carpool snacks, dry erase markers, a few $4 clothing items for the boys, and scads of stuff for work and home stuffed in every crevice of the big red cart.  Oh, and my almost-5 year old son sitting up front.

Imagine my surprise when the bored young cashier asks for my date of birth so that I can legally buy – are you ready for this? Robitussin cough medicine.

Naturally, I start to giggle.  I haven’t been carded at a bar in ages, let alone Target.

“How old do you have to be to buy Robitussin?” I ask between spurts of muffled laughter.

“12,” she mumbled.

Only in America.

Spring Day: Lyle

A few photos of Lyle today that leave me wondering:  Where has my baby gone?




Suspension of Reality


Remember Lassie?  The dog who guards Baxter’s bed against monsters every night?  Well, he’s now been renamed Hobbes by my Calvin & Hobbes afficionado.  Hobbes goes everywhere in the house with him and is placed by the front door when he leaves for school with the warning, “Don’t pounce on me when I get home this time, you hear?”  (Which of course “Calvin” makes him do with much gusto when he gets home every day.)

Out of the blue today, Baxter – the 8-year old Harry Potter-look-alike who in the past week alone has been on a personal quest to research such topics as Bose-Einstein Condensate, the meaning of ethics, the science behind the Venus Fly Trap, and the nitty-gritty details about what exactly Nixon and Agnew did wrong –  asked,

Was Hobbes ever real and then stuffed when he died, or has he always been a stuffed animal?

Which to me is a perfect reminder that they really are kids for a long time, aren’t they?  And also that Baxter is living proof: even the most scientific of minds can suspend reality as easily as the next person when he has a little faith.


One Lucky Mama


You know, this crew of guys over here – they are really amazing.  I don’t know how I got to be so lucky, but I really just am.  For one thing, Matt had the good sense to ask me what I wanted the most from my Mother’s Day a few days ago.  I wish more husbands thought to do this – it doesn’t all have to be a big surprise, guys!

This morning Matt jumped out of bed the very second he heard the boys stirring, to keep them out of our room so I could sleep.  If you know Matt, you can appreciate how challenging this was for him!  Lyle had remembered our bagel breakfast on Mother’s Day last year (which is stunning, since neither Matt nor I remembered it!) and so my guys left at 8 to go to the incredible New York Bagel & Bialy to get the most amazing bagels in all of Chicago (and unbelievable fresh chive cream cheese – to die for).  They were home at 9 and brought me a bagel, strawberries, and a delicious cup of coffee in bed.  In fact, as is our tradition, we all ate breakfast in bed together.

I was presented with the most adorable homemade cards from the boys.  First came Lyle’s dictated card:

I love Mommy because she’s so nice.  She keeps me company in the bathroom and sometimes she makes us breakfast.  I like to ride bikes and play and read stories with her.  I love my Mommy past the Milky Way.

And then I had the pleasure of Baxter’s annual acrostic:

Mother is best.

Ours is.

Milky Way of love.

Monkey business is fine with her.


I guess they’ve been listening when I’ve told them every night that I love them all the way past the Milky Way and back.

Matt bought me the much coveted Capresso burr grinder (damn, that thing grinds some delicious beans!) and I received a gift card from my favorite coffee shop from my in-laws, so it was a coffee-themed Mothers Day (what could be more perfect, really?).

The day continued to be completely lovely, what with a walk around the neighborhood with the boys on their roller skates/scooter/bike/pogo sticks and our good friends coming over for lunch and an afternooon of fun.

No doubt about it, I am one lucky Mama.

Little Boy Smooches


When I had my first son, a woman I worked with in California (who had two sons of her own) told me it would be like having a little boyfriend.  I found that very odd and mildly disturbing at the time, but I have since found her to be 100% correct.  I have a husband and two boyfriends here under my own roof.

Last night at bedtime, after cuddling with Lyle for a few minutes on his bed, his little arms wrapped around my neck and his cheek against mine, I gave him his last kiss and said good-night to both boys. Within seconds there was a panicked cry: “MOMMY!!!”

I stepped back into the room.

“I need to give you one more really big smooch!!”

I leaned down to receive those arms encircling my neck once again and he planted one of his hugest kisses on me ever (and believe me, there have been some doozies – I’ve had to rein him in).

As I extracted myself from his grip, I told him, “I’ll hang onto that smooch all night, don’t worry.”

He pointed his little finger at me and warned, “Do not put your lips on anything all night.  You don’t want it to wipe off!”

Watch out, ladies, here he comes.

In My Backyard


Winter in Chicago is harsh.  There’s the cold and ice and, well, that wind you hear so much about.  Our alleys and side streets are unplowed, the main arteries often poorly plowed, and the public schools in the city never close due to weather.  I mean, never; as in, it’s been decades.  We live a 20 minute drive from school in good weather, so I have many driving adventures every winter, particularly as our car (which is parked outdoors at all times) is positioned in such a way that the below-zero winds freeze the doors closed fairly often.  I have become a de-icing expert.


It’s no wonder people have a hard time believing that I don’t miss beautiful, temperate San Francisco, but it’s true.  There’s the abundance of warm, friendly people here, our wonderful local extended family, and the sense of a tight-knit community; those are the greatest assets of our new life, for sure.  But there’s also Lake Michigan.  If there’s one gift the winter gives us, it’s an appreciation for spring and summer when they arrive.  For our family, what that really means is that we are back to our beloved lakefront every day.


I started a new habit this past winter, having learned my lesson our first winter in this house when I nearly allowed myself to forget about the lake during those long dark months: I now drive by the lake all winter long,  every day.  Rather than turning into our alley in the evening, I drive to the cul-de-sac at the end of our block and just pause for a few moments to take a look, to remember that it’s there and notice its incremental seasonal changes.  Sure, we go down there and play sometimes in the winter, climbing the snow dunes with snowshoes, but it’s often too windy.  So the rest of the time the kids and I look out our frosty car windows and observe the changes –  it’s completely frozen! look at how the waves froze in mid-crest! now it’s partially thawed! hey, the seagulls are back! I point out how it’s a different shade of blue, green, or gray every day and we gaze in wonder. I talk to them about summer memories and remind them that on Memorial Day the lifeguards will return with their tall white chairs and little dinghies, the sand will be cleaned and raked by huge farm machines, and before too long we’ll be swimming again.


And so here we are in May, riding our bikes along our beach path to the playground again, and I notice how short the distance is this year – the boys are such good riders.  Baxter can ride all the way ahead down the path with confidence and I find him waiting at the playground for us.  This morning I woke up early and headed out to the path for a sunrise walk and was mesmerized all over again by the sight of our urban neighborhood meeting the natural beauty of the lake here in my own backyard.


I am grateful for winter, for without it there would be no spring.

Now, then.  Who’s coming to visit us this summer?

Why Twitter?

twitter-logoI’ve been wanting to put into words what I love about Twitter for a while now, but have found it difficult to articulate.  Particularly when faced with friends who aren’t engaged in any social media at all and stand there scratching their heads, I’m at a loss about where to begin and generally don’t even try.  But with all the media coverage about Twitter lately, I’ve felt more compelled to say my piece about it.  It started with Maureen Dowd’s snarky op-ed piece in the NYT in which she suddenly shifted in my mind (temporarily, I hope) from a witty, on-the-mark writer to a cranky, bitter older woman who’s ready to be permanently left behind by the younger generation.  This led to some excellent rebuttals, which ranged from serious to sublimely funny. I highly recommend you read all three of these articles.

Let me start by saying that I first joined Twitter sometime in 2007 and it was incredibly lame: there was almost no one there, which led to a complete lack of interesting conversation.  When prodded by my husband and our friend to rejoin last summer, I reinstated my account on a lark and found a very different world.  All of a sudden, tons of people were on Twitter and its existence made sense.  (I did the same thing with Facebook, by the way; social media is not necessarily a realm worthy of one’s early adoption.)  So I understand why people on Twitter who aren’t connected to friends who use it often would say they just don’t get it, because I was in that boat the first time around – it seemed really dumb.

Next, I will say that I probably use Twitter differently from a lot of people. I use it for three main purposes: 1) social interaction with friends; 2) sharing info links and resources, primarily relating to special needs topics and politics; 3) tracking breaking news (i.e., I get feeds from a lot of news sources such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, Windy City, NBC Chicago, NPR Politics, Slate, and Barack Obama); this is where I get headlines throughout the day that keep me in touch with the world.

I keep my account private (no one can follow my “tweets” without my consent) and am very picky about who I follow.  Most of the people I follow are relatives (my husband, sister- and brother-in-law, cousins, and father are on Twitter), old school friends, newer friends, or those whose blogs I have followed for a long time.  This keeps my Twitter stream pretty intimate. I’m not in the market to grow my follower list.

Having ongoing mini-conversations with a group of friends on Twitter reminds me of 20th century party lines on telephones.  A few of us can reply to one friend’s comment or question at once and all see each other’s answers, which leads to further information, jokes, and comments.  At times, we pick up the line and everyone is talking at once and it’s so hard to follow we put it back down quietly.  Thankfully, there are a variety of Twitter applications that will show us an entire string of tweets so that we can catch up on a conversation.  I’m sure the folks on party lines would’ve appreciated that feature.

Sure, what we are talking about may not always be fascinating to the outside world, but do you enjoy having to listen to the person next to you on the airplane talking to her best friend about last night’s work party before take-off?  No, it’s irritating and trivial as all get out, unless you are on the other end of the line and you actually care about the person and are interested in what she’s saying.  As Matt pointed out, the things people complain about being so “boring” on Twitter are the exact same things we chat with our friends about on a phone call: where we had lunch, something funny one of the kids said, a frustration with a friend or relative, losing one’s lab coat on the first day of the phlebotomy program.  It’s the small successes and challenges of life that friends talk to each other about, no matter how we choose to communicate them.

Personally, I have gained huge value in getting a sense of the flow of other women’s lives.  Thanks to cell phones and smart phones, many of us can use Twitter from absolutely anywhere, even attaching a photo of something we want to share and sending it in mere seconds, which personalizes the interaction that much more and can’t be accomplished in a phone call.  I have friends near and far with whom I’m in contact throughout the day, every day.  I can tell you whose child didn’t sleep last night, who’s planning for her child’s 1st communion tomorrow (and the fact that they’re low on gin!), who is playing music at a cafe tonight, and whose husband is late getting home – again.  We know each other very well.  For me, as someone who has been through a major transition over the past couple of years and has been working like a crazy woman, it’s useful (“regulating”, as we’d say in the business) to be in contact with people who are keeping a different pace.  Over time, it has come to seem normal to me that people might be able to go to the grocery store in the middle of the day, write a blog post after preschool drop-off, or have a chance to read a book on a rainy afternoon before the grade school pick-up.  Sure, my fellow travellers are tired and busy and often stressed, with a few working long hours outside the home like I am, but I am also able to connect consistently to a different pace of life and it has had a positive effect on me.  I even attribute some of my desire for changes to my own routine and pace next year to the contact I have with woman doing other things with their days.  I see the full range of possibilities;  I don’t think that truly happens in any other way.

So to those curmudgeons who scowl and ask, “Why wouldn’t you just pick up the phone and call your friends?” I can only say that I do that, too, and I enjoy chatting with them.  But being able to pick up my cyberphone and find myself on a party line at any time of the day with funny, smart, and supportive friends?  That’s pretty great, too.