Bits and Pieces/What’s Going On

by | Nov 2, 2010 | Julie | 19 comments

Oh hello, friends, do you know that I think of you often and have many things to tell you? But that, while in many ways adding a fourth kid hasn’t really added much in the work department, it has taken away much in the time department. Some days I honestly get about thirty seconds to myself. Plus there’s the problem of my computer, which has started to (literally) make a death rattle, and has generally adopted the speed of a top-of-the-line Radio Shack desktop circa 1987.

But first I want to tell you that Ramona is a total peach and generally just a happy little bubster. Though right now she’s going through some kind of five-month about-to-do-some-big-developmental-things Sleep Issue, wherein she wakes up all the time, and the last few nights has woken up at 11:00 or midnight and been AWAKE, and excited and wanting to play. Or maybe this is just a fourth kid thing, and she has already figured out that midnight is the only time when she can have her parents all to herself.

I will also tell you that she continues to have various skin issues, mainly major eczema — dry, red skin. We took her in for a blood test which came back with a possibility of allergies to (are you ready?) wheat, dairy, egg, and peanut. Which means I have had to give up those things (read: I have had to give up all the things I eat all the time). Mostly I eat rice cakes with almond butter, and salad. Her skin did get better right away, and it seemed like some great miracle, but then her skin got bad again. And then it got better, but I caved and had a piece of pizza, and it got worse again. So who knows. We have an appointment in December with an allergist, when they’ll do a skin test and determine what for real she’s allergic to, if anything. Until then I get to test out how strong my willpower really is. Ah, toast! Ah, butter! How I miss you!

There is not much Halloween candy you can eat if you’re not eating wheat, dairy, eggs, and peanuts.

And, speaking of food, I want to tell you that for years the citizens of the Portland metro area have been telling Trader Joe’s that they really should open a store here. For years Trader Joe’s said, “We have no plans to open a store in Maine.” Well! Finally! After all our rabble-rousing, we now have our own Trader Joe’s store, and it is THE LARGEST TRADER JOE’S IN THE COUNTRY. And the opening day, last Friday, was the largest opening of any store the company has ever had. The employee I talked to in the store said, “We will never doubt Maine again.” I feel foolish for being so excited about a grocery store, but it’s true, I am. What are your Trader Joe’s staples? What can’t I live without?

I want to tell you that I bought a bag of these bag clips, and I love them. Am I the only one who finds those little squarish bread-bag clips to be one-time-use items? I can never get them back on the bag in a satisfactory manner. Or the twist tie will get lost. I am very happy to have a bunch of reusable bag clips in my drawer.

I want to tell you that my camera died. Apparently it’s a common problem for my camera (a Canon PowerShot SD1200) to get this lens error that pretty much means death (or prohibitively expensive repair). I’ve only had it for a year and a half. I’m having trouble dealing with the thought of researching a new camera and actually ponying up the cash to get it. Sigh.

Besides the fact that sometimes I only turn on my computer every four days because the death rattle is so depressing.

I also want to tell you that I randomly bought a kitchen timer, and it has made such a huge difference with kid discipline. It’s like I’m suddenly able to foist the nagging off on this inanimate object. “Playroom needs to be clean in ten minutes! Timer is set!” and then I walk away. It’s also great for bedtime chapter book reading: we set the timer and when it goes off, it’s time for bed. I will say that I mistakenly bought a battery-operated timer, so it doesn’t just go “ding!” but beeps annoyingly for a minute and a half. And while, yes, it’s an incredibly irritating “time to get out of bed” kind of noise, it is helpful for proving to the children that yes, indeed, the timer really is going off. Sometimes when I time them using the microwave timer, they deny that it ever went off, since it only beeps once.

I also got this book called 365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly, to try to make our kids not so much mannerless monkeys. It’s divided into sections, with a different manner for each day. A lot of them are fairly esoteric, but hey, you never know when your kid will be going to a formal dinner or to the symphony, and plus a lot of manners sort of fit into a general idea or frame of mind about how to act in public, so I think it’s all good to know. The book has a different manner for each day of the year, but we started in the table manners section and are going to skip around as we see fit. I like the one-manner-a-day format, because just learning one small thing (we read it at dinner, and discuss) seems just enough to let it sink in and not be overwhelming.

I want to tell you that Dave and my 12th wedding anniversary is this Sunday. We will most likely have a glass of wine and maybe some wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free, peanut-free delicacy after the kids go to sleep (because nothing says, “The first 12 years were fun; let’s do it for 112 more years” like almond butter on a rice cake). But if we do somehow decide to go out to eat, where should we go? I haven’t been to a restaurant in Portland (besides Silly’s) in years, and I know there are a bunch of new ones.

Though if you want a tasty allergy-friendly dessert (besides rice cakes), I tried this apple cranberry crisp and it was amazing. The only esoteric ingredient is coconut oil, which I happened to have.

I should end this, because my window of being able to blog has opened and closed many, many times since I started typing. Let me just show you this (blurry, taken-by-cell-phone, everyone-has-redeye) Halloween photo. Henry is Harry Potter, Eli is Buzz Lightyear, Ramona is a monkey. Zuzu couldn’t decide between all the various dress-ups in the dress-up bin, so she combined some and was a pirate crossing guard.


  1. bethany actually

    So nice to hear from you!
    1. Henry makes a smashing Harry Potter, and all your kids are looking as adorable as ever. And somehow, very well-mannered. 😉
    2. I love those kind of clips; I have about 30 of them yet I still never have enough! I use them for crackers, cereal, bags of frozen veggies, everything.
    3. I’m sorry to hear about Ramona’s skin issues, her possible allergies, and your curtailed diet. I have a good friend who had to give up a similar list of foods when her daughter was about Ramona’s age; she nursed her daughter till she was two so she continued not eating those things for a long time! The good news is, her daughter eventually outgrew most of the food intolerances and the only remaining ones are mild.
    4. Happy anniversary to you and Dave! I have another friend who is gluten-free, and she has a recipe for fantastic sunflower-butter chocolate cups. I’m pretty sure they’re dairy-free as well. I asked her to email me the recipe or a link to it, and I’ll try to post it here for you when she does! That’d probably make a nicer treat than almond butter on a rice cake, no?

  2. bethany actually

    Oh! And Trader Joes, how could I forget! My hometown (Omaha) is just about to get its first TJ’s and everyone there is so excited about it. I have lived in many places where TJ’s exists already, thanks to my husband being in the Navy. I love most of their products, but especially their coffee (the peppermint coffee they have right now is excellent), their granola, their Pound Plus chocolate bars (for snacking and baking), their version of Pirate Booty (I think it’s called something like ‘white cheese puffs’), their juice boxes. I am currently completely in love with their frozen croissants and ready-to-bake cinnamon buns, which are outstanding. My daughter loves their 49-cent fruit leathers.

  3. liz

    i would like you to know that while i read your blog post, i sat here and ate half a bag of trader joe’s “crunchy curls,” which appear to contain none of your allergins. they also taste a little like cardboard, but in a mesmerizing, crunchy, kind of delicious way. my list of trader joe’s staples is a novel. i pretty much want to put everything they sell in my cart (except for meaty foods which i don’t eat and alcoholic beverages which i don’t drink).

    your kids look SO GOOD. i always used to just let mine go crazy with the candy, because then it would be gone sooner.

    happy anniversary!!! i hope you have a moment to yourselves!


  4. LoriO

    Oh Julie, that post was like a drink of water after being in the hot hot sun. So much to comment on!
    You children are adorable! I love their Halloween costumes. Henry Potter looks just like Harry! Pirate Crossing Guard! Love it.

    I can only speak to my own experiences, but as a child I had eczema. To this day I still have skin issues, but I am allergic to no foods that I know of. I had a thyroid problem diagnosed at 16, and I’ve blamed it for all my skin related problems. My flare ups as an adult are almost always caused by stress and dry skin. Anything you can do to hold moisture in the skin will help. I also try to stay away from perfumes and scented things. Also, it sounds crazy, but I love Emu oil. I use it for all kinds of skin problems and it always helps, and it can’t hurt.

    You are so lucky now you have a Trader Joe’s AND the worlds best thrift store. My TJ’s staples are: pizza dough, pizza sauce, olive oil, anything in the frozen food aisle, plantain chips, marcona almonds, low-salt cashews, vitamins, their unscented body lotion (addicted!), and their oatmeal/honey soap. Having said all that, the single best thing at TJ’s is their orange juice. It is hand’s down the best orange juice out there. I have done many taste comparisons, trust me.

    The timer solution is brilliant. My Mom always counted to 10. I never challenged it and have no idea what would have happened had she made it all the way to 10!

  5. Heather

    YAY! I am so delighted you are back, even if it’s super duper temporary and will be super duper sporadic.

    Really, you are one of my favorite bloggers — and I don’t read “mommy blogs” at all! You’re so much better than that lousy phrase.

    Thanks for the update. I was wondering. 🙂

  6. bethany actually

    My friend Bonnie (of and emailed this to me:

    “Ingredients: chocolate for melting (Trader Joe’s has a delicious dark chocolate that’s totally dairy-free, but most darks are dairy-free so it’s pretty easy to find – chocolate chips also work well), sunbutter (or whatever butter, I just don’t like soy b/c, well, it’s soy).

    “Melt about 2/3 of the chocolate in a double boiler (mine is, naturally, a very fancy glass bowl that sits on my saucepan, heh). Remove the bowl or top of the boiler from the boiling water and add the rest of the chocolate to temper it. Mix until all chocolate is melted.

    “Drop a dollop in a paper-lined muffin tin (I like the mini ones for this, it seems to fit the cups better and sunbutter is quite rich). Spread around, creating a well. Fingers work best. Chill for 10ish minutes. Add a dollop of sunbutter and cover with more chocolate. Chill until firm. These melt pretty quick, so I usually keep them in the fridge until time to eat so they are less squishy.”

  7. Julie

    Thank you all for so much info! Bethany, I will definitely try that recipe. I did, of course, by the “pound plus” chocolate bar at Trader Joe’s, and felt completely glutenous, especially also because I have to attack it with a cleaver to get off a reasonable piece for snacking, which somewhat hinders my normal sneaking-in of chocolate. Also I had to hide it on top of the cabinets so the kiddos didn’t see, but that also means that I have to get stepstools and such to get at it myself. I feel a bit like Augustus Gloop.

    The children have finished all the Halloween candy, of course. It suddenly occurred to me that I was making it more delicious-seeming by forbidding it. So I just let them have at it. Their behavior has been, well, awful, but now the candy is gone and I just have to move into the time of year where I threaten to email Santa.

    Liz, that is totally how I was at Trader Joe’s. Everyone else there had, like, a bottle of wine and a container of frozen rice (why??? what is the deal with TJ frozen rice? How hard is it to make RICE?), and I had so much stuff they actually had to get a second cart after we went through the line and have an employee help me out to the car. I got a ton of chippy things, frozen stuff, sauces, and god knows what else. Coconut milk. Chili lime cashews. Some kind of edamame crackers. Coffee. Lots of chocolate. Oh, and lots of salad mixy things, and a giant bag of pre-washed greens. And organic Fuji apples for 69 cents a pound!

    Bethany, I actually looked for fruit leathers there (and granola bars) but they don’t have them yet. It was sort of like being on an amusement park ride, because you would get carried along the aisles with all of the other million people who were shopping, and you’d just have to grab at stuff as you went by. Then you’d get to the end of all the aisles and take a breath and think, “Um, did I miss fruit leathers?” and have to find a helpful person for helping. It will be even more fun when the craziness dies down and you can get a parking spot without having to have a showdown and you can actually take time to contemplate items before the throng of shoppers forces you along down the aisle.

    Lori, how do they fit all those poor Emus into a de-oiling machine? 🙂 Sounds intriguing though, I’ll check it out (as well as the TJ lotion!).

  8. LoriO

    It’s TJ’s “A Midsummer Night’s Cream” for extra-dry skin. I have several bottles around the house, and one at work (and always keep a few hoarded, in case they stop making it!). The poor Emus… I know. They are farmed for their meat, skin, and the oil off their back. It seems a little crazy, but I was desperate for relief from a skin problem I had, and it really worked for me. I haven’t had Eczema to try it on yet, but If I did, I would use it first before going to any type of cortisone.

  9. Lisa van Oosterum

    Trader Joe’s is so freakin amazing. I have no words…

    I want to help you find a restaurant!! If anyone deserves to get out for a meal it is YOU! I have many suggestions…it really depends on what you are looking for…try to describe in a sentence what would be a good anniversary dinner.

  10. Robyn

    Darling! So good to read you on a night I can’t settle down.
    Get thee an issue of Living Without. Look for the Halloween Muffin cover (Oct/Nov), it’s got all the thisandthat-free basics covered for you.

    Make your gluten-free pb cookies with almond butter. A little lacier, just as delish.

    TJ’s staples, mostly all within your new parameters:
    Savory rice crackers (don’t get multigrain…wheat; and to be truthful, Blue Diamond makes much better nut-flour crackers, but TJ’s are cheap and just fine), brown rice pasta, olive oil, canned tomatoes, indian food (packets and jars of sauce), coconut milk, nuts, candied ginger, olives with herbes de provence (oh, yum, don’t get me started), veggie burgers, frozen fruit, chevre and goat gouda (the only outlier…but when R’s skin calms down, try a bite of goat cheese…might be okay!), salsa (fresh and jarred), and nutty bits (nuts and dark chocolate and a bit of salt…should not be a staple), choc chips.

    Big fan of Burt’s Bees Shea Butter Hand Cream (purple box).


  11. Julie

    You’ll all by pleased to know that the Martha Stewart Holiday Cookie magazine (which I have to buy every year…it’s such cookie porn) actually has a few allergy-friendly recipes. Plus some that aren’t at all allergy friendly but that look incredibly amazing. And some classic Martha Stewart ones where you have to, like, build your own stove out of hickory before making the cookies, and then you need to find locally-sourced sorghum, or whatever.

    Lisa, I don’t know about the restaurant. At this point I think I’d like to spend our anniversary putting siding on our house (we’re halfway up the driveway side, and if we can finish then we can take all the scaffolding down, which will make snow removal a lot easier). I’m such a curmudgeon about restaurants — I feel like they’re so expensive and I could often make the thing better myself. And now I have this stupid allergy criteria. So that leaves, what? Sushi? In years way past, we always went to Street & Co for our anniversary, and loved that. I guess it would have to be, you know, amazing, something I couldn’t make at home, and not be pasta or pizza. I honestly don’t even know what’s out there anymore. Which is pathetic, with Portland being the Little San Francisco of the East or whatever they call it. And with the New York Times doing an article pretty much every week about how awesome our foodie culture is.

  12. Lisa van Oosterum

    Julie! I knew it! I think it is REALLY important that you go to a restaurant on your Anniversary just to remember that a big part of the enjoyment of dining out, especially to celebrate an occasion, goes beyond just the actual food! Being served on so you can spend 100% of your focus and energy on the company you are with in a different environment than your own home which is a constant reminder of all things going on/need to get done. And I don’t even mean high end service, just NOT YOU. You guys have a lot to celebrate, so why not make it an occasion that is different from other days?

    The last meal I had a Street & Co was indeed amazing, but if you are looking for more cost effective here are some options:

    El Rayo Taqueria (Mexican with super fresh ingredients)
    BODA (Thai Tapas, very unique and delicious menu)
    Blue Spoon (East End location, intimate, well priced local based menu)
    Green Elephant (Vegetarian gourmet, yet well priced)

    There are tons more…so let me know…I am going to stalk you about this….

  13. Sutswana

    Welcome back!!
    Ditto Lisa on the restaurants and may I add, about you maybe preferring to do siding instead, CUT IT OUT. And go out.
    Also would like to vouch for the nut-flour crackers as mentioned by Robyn. Just had some for the 1st time this week and they’re great. Probably you already own stock in them.

  14. Lisa van Oosterum

    WOJ Intervention, a new reality show coming soon…..

  15. Julie

    Ugh, so we ended up doing nothing for our anniversary, because I randomly managed to sprain my foot in the middle of the night Saturday night (only I could sprain my foot while NURSING) — I fell asleep nursing Ramona and when I got up I found out that my foot had fallen asleep too…though didn’t realize until I stepped on it all sideways. Sunday I spent in bed with ice on my foot, while Dave finished putting on the siding (though we did manage some Together Time putting on siding on Saturday).

    Lisa, you’ll be pleased to know that I have actually eaten at El Rayo Taqueria. More than once, even. Always with kids, though. Totally want to try the others. Oh! Wait! I think I’ve even eaten at Blue Spoon. Maybe 6 years ago though. With my mom and baby Henry.

    And I have had those nut crackers — the smokehouse ones. They were awesome.

  16. Kate

    Boy, was I glad to see this post (to be honest, Miles checked the site and alerted me)! I’d been having WOJ withdrawal and had almost given up looking to see if you’d posted something new. I love the Halloween costumes – you have a great little gang there!

    I love most everything at TJs but I have two particular recommendations to make: the Harvest Grains Blend (found in the pasta section)and the Spicy, Smokey Peach Salsa. Harvest Grains Blend is a pantry staple here. It’s delicious and easy to make and acts as filler for so many meals. It’s a mixture of orzo, Israeli cous cous, baby chick peas and red quinoa. It takes only ten minutes to cook and is particularly delicious when cooked with half a cube of vegetable bouillon and some butter. I finish it off with parmesan as a side dish or serve it with vegetables as the main course. I realize this conflicts with your new diet but the kids may enjoy it and I have high hopes that this allergy thing will work itself out for the better soon!

    The salsa is addictive. I use it when making black beans and it’s simply delicious with just chips. I usually buy three or four jars at a time, just in case.

  17. sarah

    Julie! I am so happy that the Trader Joe gods have finally decided to smile on Portland! You must try the mediterranean hummus – you will love. Paired with their low-fat pita chips. Also the boxed pumpkin bread mix is so good, and you know what a purist I am when it comes to baked goods. Can you do nuts right now? The thai cashews – AMAZING.
    Also, just found a recipe for olive oil cake w/ spelt grain and bittersweet chocolate – need to get to you!! Totally Julie.

  18. Cindy

    You live in Portland ME! I love that town. I wish I could live in the kitchen store on Commerical. Last year my husband and I escaped there for a few days and ate ourselves silly. Congrats on the TJ’s. I didn’t know it was the biggest in the world. Go Maine.

  19. Julie

    LOVE that kitchen store! It’s totally dangerous. I go in there for a whisk, and come out with some giant appliance. Or, well, at least some expensive chocolate and a new dishtowel. You’ll have to come back now to see the new giant Trader Joe’s!


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