Friday, December 28, 2012

A merry little Christmas

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We had a nice Christmas at our house. No one was sick, most events went as planned, and the children felt like it was a special day. We're now in toy and sugar detox mode. I'm trying to keep the 3 year old from dumping his new blocks out on the living room floor. He doesn't play with them; he just feels the need to dump them out every single time they get cleaned up. The novelty will wear off eventually, right??

Leading up to the big day, we had a lot of events. There were school plays, various Santa events, and parties.

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My daughter loved being part of the Nutcracker production put on by her ballet school.

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She grinned ear to ear the whole weekend, even though the production meant some very long days and some very late nights. She wanted to go early each time just so she could hang out and soak up the excitement. I don't think she understands the concept of stage fright.

On Christmas Eve, we had barbecue hamburgers at the request of my 6 year old.

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There was a break between rain storms, so the little guy got his wish.

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The calm before the storm....

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I made the kids wait to go downstairs in the morning until I was up and ready to go. Poor, tormented souls!

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"But Mom, we can SEE the PRESENTS! Can we go now? Can we go now?"

"...Aaaaand, go!"

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This one said "Awesome!" and "Totally!" (or, rather, "totawy") in what I call his scary monster voice after he opened each gift. I think he was trying to say "totally awesome," but he doesn't quite understand how to correctly use the phrase. Here's a little video example that I like to call "Fire truck! Awesome!"



While we're looking at videos, here's another short clip of the baby interacting with his little robot.




I love how his fingers and toes can't help but wiggle in his excitement!

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My 3 year old loves necklaces because they're little chains that are just his size. He wraps them around his blocks and makes truck noises as he repositions the lumber.

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I love his instinct to hold things up at arms length to fully appreciate them. I wonder why we do that.

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The big present at the end of the treasure hunt was tickets to Six Flags. I don't think the kids even remember this, they haven't mentioned it since! Too many other things to be excited about. That, and the break in the rain didn't last long. We had a very wet Christmas.

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Now it's time to think about taking down the decorations and reclaiming the house. As I was putting this post together, the boys took all the toys downstairs and dumped them on the living room floor again. Apparently the novelty hasn't worn off  just yet!!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Deck the halls with boughs of cypress

Well, we're almost there, Christmas is just around the corner!

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Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas!

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As usual, I ended up not being able to do half of what I had planned over the course of the last four weeks. I have a decorative tabletop tree project, two actually, that I've been planning on doing for 2 years now. I think those projects will have to wait until next year.

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We did manage to trim the two cypress trees in our front yard when we hung the outside lights. I used the boughs for decoration in the house.

I like the cypress branches, they're very drape-y. And pokey. Ouch.

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Also, they're very flammable. Roman candles, as my firefighter calls them. The oils in the cypress trees are so flammable, in fact, that we've made plans to run out with the chain saw and cut them down if a brush fire ever makes it to our house.

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I've been hesitant to use the fireplace. I'm sure the house will be okay once we do, in spite of the branches. They're up out of the way. But what if a loose twig fell on the hearth, and then an ember from the fireplace flew out and landed on the fallen bough? (I excel in over-worrying about worst-case scenarios.)

Actually, the main reason why we haven't used the fireplace since I put the cypress in there is because my wood pile is incredibly soggy and mossy right now. Another project — bringing up the wood before the rains hit — that didn't happen.

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It will be less busy next year, right? (You can stop laughing now.)


Sunday, December 16, 2012

How my first responder processes traumatic experiences

How do our police, EMS, and fire personnel process the tragedies that they witness from time to time? How can they see such horrors and then drive away, go to the store to pick up supplies for dinner and go about their day? How do these events affect them?

The answer is going to be different for each person.

I can't give you the full range of reactions and processing techniques among first responders. But I can tell you how my husband deals with these heart-breaking events.

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My husband seems to be custom-built for a job such as this. He has seen his fair share of sad, gruesome events in his relatively short career. But somehow, it doesn't weigh him down.

I'm different than he is. I'm a worrier by nature, and sad things seep deep into my sinews and tighten my limbs, making me feel immobilized. I have to slowly stretch out the worries and work on regaining my full range of emotion over time. I can't watch depressing movies; they make me feel too sad. Then I'll spend the rest of the evening wishing my overactive imagination would JUST FREAKING STOP coming up with worst-case scenarios for my own family.

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But my husband doesn't have this problem. He can process traumatic events quickly. He has the ability to somehow not dwell on it and not internalize it. Here's how he does it.

Let me preface this by mentioning that the man doesn't remember his dreams. I think this is a tremendous gift. My dreams make the impossible worst-case scenarios possible, then those dreams force me to live through terrible events for a night. My husband doesn't have that problem.

As for how he deals with the trauma as it is happening, he separates the calls into two categories — situations he can do something to fix, and situations where there's nothing he can do and the person has already gone.

If someone is already gone and there's nothing he can do, he leans on his faith and takes comfort in knowing that the deceased has passed through a doorway and continues to exist on the other side. It's not emotional for him, since he doesn't know the person and therefore isn't going to miss them. He's just a visitor who happens to be there when the transition to the next phase happens.

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For people he CAN help, he has the ability to separate himself from the situation and approach it in an analytical "this is what needs to happen next" manner. He's not focusing on the emotional impact of the trauma on the victim or the family; he's focusing on being a good medic and fixing the situation for them.

My husband takes comfort in knowing that he literally has done all that anyone could in the situation. He is there to help. He helps, and then he moves on to the next puzzle. In some ways, this endless line of trauma of various intensities helps him become analytical since it's so frequent.

I think it helps that he's only one small piece of the story, too; he doesn't stay with the patients in the hospital. My husband's interaction with a patient is 40 minutes, at most.

What does get to him and haunts him more than anything else are the rare cases where he perhaps should have done something different. In those cases, he learns from his mistakes and tries to move on.

The rest of us learn about these events through the news. Maybe we know more information about the people involved — the motives, the relatives, the story behind the events — than the first responders do, at least, initially. Maybe that's why we can't fathom being in those situations. Maybe our emotional ties to the deceased form in a different way. I'm not sure. But whatever the reason behind it, I am thankful that there are people in the world that CAN deal with these situations, remain level-headed, and do what needs to be done — especially in situations that would stretch the limits of even the most seasoned first responder's ability to cope.

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In the end, I hope that my husband can easily return to the station, do his shopping, and joke around the dinner table to help ease the tension at the end of a tragic day. I hope he is a little less sensitive to the sadness than I would be. I am glad he has his coping mechanisms already in place, just in case a terribly difficult day comes along, so that processing the grief is second nature to him. On most days, that's exactly what he does. But if all of those defenses fail, I'm glad he has family and friends and counseling to support him, should he need it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Pomegranate Kiwi Ice Cream

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My grandparents, as the story goes (or as I remember the story going, at least), used to meet up with their friends to make ice cream. Each of them would bring an ingredient and they would add them together on hot summer days. I seem to remember this being done on a tennis court, but that part is pretty shady as far as memories of passed-down stories go. See, this is how false information seeps into legends. But it's my legend, so I get to decide what I remember. And I remember the making of the ice cream being on a tennis court!!

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So, after years of legendary ice cream making on the tennis court, my grandma passed on this tradition down to me. She used a pan of ice frozen just for the occasion and then had us sit on her front step and shatter it with an ice pick. The cold shards would go into the oversized ice cream machine with the rock salt and we would wait impatiently until it solidified.

These days, I use an iceless, saltless electric machine. I don't think that my ice cream making will leave nearly as strong of an impression on the minds of small children as hers did. I just can't compete with ice picks and flying shards.

Here is her base vanilla recipe, the stuff of legend, with a pomegranate twist.

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(Photo by Keith Williamson)

Yeild: 1 1/2 quarts

Ingredients:
3 cups whole milk
1/2 can evaporated milk (6 oz)
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 pint whipped heavy cream (whip to the soft peak stage).

For the pomegranate sauce:

3 pomegranates
2 kiwis
3 tablespoons sugar

Directions:

Begin preparing the pomegranate sauce by seeding the pomegranates. I didn't take any photos of the process, so you'll have to settle for some quick drawings by yours truly.

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Seeding can be done by cutting the poms in half, and then scoring the skin at about 1 inch intervals, allowing the skin to fan open a bit but still hold together. Take half of a pomegranate and hold it over a big mixing bowl that has a couple of inches of cold water in it. Whack the back of the pomegranate with a large ladle or spoon and let the seeds fall out into the water.

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A word of caution, this is a messy project and that pomegranate juice splatters very red! Many of the seeds will pop out this way, but there are always some strays that I have to dig out with my fingers. The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the water. The unwanted bits of skin and seed and membrane will float to the top and can be skimmed off. When finished, drain the seeds.

Prepare the kiwis by cutting them in half, then use a spoon to scoop out the flesh from the skin.

Add the pomegranate seeds and the skinned kiwis to a blender and pulse until well blended. This separates off the juicy part of the seed.

Thoroughly press and scrape the fruit mixture through a strainer into a sauce pan. Add 3 tablespoons of sugar, more or less, depending on how tart you want it. Gently boil the juices, until the mixture is reduced by about a third and starts to thicken. Watch it carefully to make sure it doesn't burn. Place the sauce in the fridge to cool it down a bit while preparing the rest of the ice cream.

For the ice cream base, stir together the whole milk, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir in the cooled-down pomegranate sauce. When your ice cream maker is ready to go, fill your container about half way. Leave some room for the ice cream to expand during freezing, and for the whipped cream.

Mix until the ice cream is at the loose slush stage. Add the whipped cream (in proportion to the amount of ice cream mixture you poured into your machine — for mine, I do half at a time), then continue to let the machine run its course. Then wait impatiently while it solidifies in the freezer.

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I'm on a baby weight loss diet (I know — during the holidays — what was I thinking?) So, I cherish my occasional pomegranate ice cream indulgence. I add a spoonful to my sugar free hot chocolate. It makes me feel fat, and happy.
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