Friday, August 31, 2012

There's More Than One Way To Slice An Onion

I've never thought of chopping onions as a task that lends itself to a display of  individual style, but recently I noticed that each person seems to have her (or his) own preferred method.  A while ago, Peter recounted to me one method that he'd seen on the food network. Turns out it was the same technique that I've adopted. I've been doing it that way so long, I hardly imagined that there could be another way. Then more recently, I was observing as two of my friends were cooking dinner, and each of them had a unique way of slicing and dicing. Then there's that infomercial darling, the chopper, which I could never quite get to work for me. Chopping of onions may seem too trifling to consider, yet I find myself doing it nearly every time I prepare dinner. Chopped onions seem to be the ubiquitous ingredient, so having a good method as been important to me!

Here's the way I do it: 

cut off stem side

slice in half through root side

peel each half

make several slices horizontally (in relation to the cut half on the bottom) towards the root, but do not slice all the way through the root side

next, make several vertical slices, do not extend slices through the root

now, chop!

You can adjust the size of your slices for coarser or finer pieces.

If you only want onion slices, this baby might come in handy:  


Do you have a mandolin? 

A few Thanksgivings ago I was trying to go all Martha and make this ridiculous carrot cake wrapped in carrot ribbons.* (Tasted great, did not look like the picture.) My carrot slices, which I had sliced with a mandolin bought expressly for that purpose, were too thick to do the fancy bow tying that Martha had managed. I thought I'd purchased an inferior mandolin. I put it in the back of a drawer and forgot about it. Then, one winter I was trying to make some marmalade (that is a whole other post), and the recipe recommended slicing the lemons with a mandolin. I pulled it out to give it a try thinking that, since I wouldn't be doing any fantastical gift wrapping with these lemons, thick slices would not be a problem. It was then I learned, as so often turns out to be the case, it was not the mandolin that was inferior but the mandolin operator. (This is more or less the story of my life.)

The tool can be adjusted to regulate the thickness of your slices from paper thin to bulky. I had it set on too large of a setting while slicing the carrots into ribbons. Maybe I'll give that carrot cake another shot (after all, if Martha can do it...). When I adjusted it to a finer setting, I was amazed at my paper-thin lemon slices. Nevertheless, I can't say that I use the mandolin a lot. That is because I end up doing more chopping than slicing. But if thin slices are what you want, then a mandolin is what you need. Recently I was making a chicken salad which called for thinly sliced cucumbers so I pulled it out and again was amazed at it's efficiency and quality of results. Those cucumbers were paper-thin, and not even regular paper, Bible paper-thin. It turns out the mandolin is a great tool to have. But you must be careful because before you can say Martha Stewart, it can slice your fingers into paper-thin ribbons, which is much less helpful from a crafting perspective.

 slicing onions

paper-thin slices

*Carrot ribbons. Yes. I know. What will she think of next? An entire garden cake? You've got to be kidding. No, you're not kidding. Martha! You've got to stop this ridiculousness! I love Martha, but I kind of also want to throw some tiny marzipan vegetables at her. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Unfortunate Misnomer

Over the years of hearing my friends discuss potty training, I caught wind of something called the "one day" method. I was hooked long before I'd even had kids. Accomplishing potty training in one day?! Sign me up! There's even a book called Toilet Training In Less Than A Day that was recommended to me. Had I read it, surely I would have been better informed. Nevertheless, I spoke to several friends who have done variations of the "one day" method, and with their advice I got started. 

Idiotically enough, this being the "one day" method, I assumed that the bulk of the training could be done in one day- perhaps a few days since potty training is never without hiccups. At the end of day two when John peed all over the floor, I thought our training had been an abject failure. 

Thankfully a good friend intervened before I gave up completely. No sooner than I had published my last post, I received an email from her explaining that I may have expected too much out of that "one day". 

It's not that I expected perfection. I knew there would be accidents. I did expect, though, that I'd have a better understanding of when he needed to go. I thought he would be able to tell me. I do know some toddlers who did accomplish this in one day. Though, it seems for most toddlers, the "one day" method is something of a misnomer. 

From what I've gathered, the only thing that they really gain in one day is the experience of going on the potty, this by dint of gallons of juice and bathroom breaks every 20 minutes. It could take days or weeks before they're able to communicate that they need to go to beforehand. In the meantime it is incumbent upon the mother, or potty trainer, as it were, to take the child frequently. 

I was advised to stay close to home for a week, take him hourly, reward him when he tee tees on the potty, and be prepared for occasional accidents. 

This I have done, John has been amenable, and things have gone remarkably well! He's only had one accident in three days! Theoretically, over the next several weeks he will learn to control and initiate the process. 

I was relieved to know that our training hadn't been a complete bust. Now that my expectations have been tweaked, I'm very pleased with the way things are going. Yet, I must protest that there is nothing "one day" about this method. 

 Not that anyone is asking me, but the only potty training advice I have so far is: be more educated than I was before you begin and have lots of vinyl pants. (These have been great for containing accidents.) I'll write a follow up post later to let you know if this truly ended up being successful or not. (Because I know you all frequently cogitate on John's bathroom habits.) 

Today, I knew John was due for a tee tee so I situated him on his toddler potty in our bathroom with lots of reading material while I nursed Isla nearby in the bedroom.  I looked over and noticed that  things weren't optimally positioned for delivery into the toilet, if you know what I mean. Before I could open my mouth to tell him to scoot back, I saw a little stream of tee tee spill over the top. We both watched as it puddled on the floor. The he declared  "I'm all done!", and proceeded to grab a washcloth and "keen up" the mess. Even though there was still tee tee all over the floor today, I'd say we're making progress! We're back on the potty train! (Please, please, let the destination be Toileting Independence!) 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Another Day, Another Diaper

I know that potty training a toddler is not necessarily considered easy. I did not know that attempting it would make me feel like I'd had a lobotomy- or possibly a complete decapitation.

There are as many potty training theories as there are children. I researched and talked to friends and decided to try to get it done over a long weekend. I know that every child is different, that some aren't ready at first, and that it might take more than one try. But I was confident because he is very sharp and catches on to things very quickly. He's also exploding in verbal ability and can now tell me that he wants to be changed, and he even asks to go potty when he hears other children asking to go potty! I thought if snacks were involved as rewards I could have him trained pretty quickly.

It wasn't all for naught. He did get a lot ( a lot ) of experience going on the potty. He learned what it feels like to try to go tee tee (as opposed to his natural state which is more or less automatic, I think). That was  really cute because I would put him on the potty and say "try to go." If he didn't have to go he would grunt and say "it's not working." But what he definitely did not pick up on over the course of our potty training blitz is that he has to tell me that he needs to go before he goes. This was evident last night, after bath,  right before bed, when running naked through the house he began to tee tee. He was well hydrated since I'd plied him with juice all day. He seemed surprised at what was happening, turning circles in bewilderment, all the while spreading a stream of urine far and wide. He looked up at me after he finished. "Did you have to go tee tee?" I asked. "No." He replied. It was a fitting end to our potty training that wasn't.

So, no big deal. We'll try again later. I was discouraged at first because I feel like two days of my life were flushed down the toilet. Unless you've been through it, you have no idea how exhausting it is to maintain feverish excitement about all things tee tee for days on end. I spent hours (cumulative over the two days) staring at the toilet (with him on it) hoping, yearning, willing myself to hear the tinkle of tee tee. It's brain deadening. I'm also perplexed because, even though  he's still on the young end of the potty training spectrum, he seems decently aware of himself and his bodily functions.  He wakes up from his nap telling me either that he "went poo poo" or that he "just tee teed." When he had accidents in his big boy underpants over the time that we were potty training, he asked to be changed. It seems that he's very close to readiness. Now I'm not sure I'm ready to jump back on the potty train any time soon. I'm pretty excited about getting back to diapers for now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Our Olympic Experience

I love the Olympics! But I'm so glad they're over because now I can have my life back. Being a devoted spectator takes a lot of discipline. You have to totally sacrifice all sorts of things like doing the dishes and going to bed at a reasonable hour. Also, it can get uncomfortable sitting on the couch all night long so you have to be sure to stretch.  I was worried that my Olympic dreams would be dashed this year because our TV does not get good (read: any) reception except for occasionally PBS. But Peter jerry-rigged the antenna and helped me realize my Olympic hopes.

I have been a life-long (at least as long as I can remember) Olympic fan. Gymnastics has always been my favorite. I grew up watching Shannon Miller. I can't believe that the last time the American women won gold was during that dramatic final in Atlanta in 1996. It seems like it was yesterday. For a few Olympics the gymnasts were my age (now they are far younger), which my dad commented on. Here are these 13 year old Olympians: "they're your age!" which begged the question, what in the heck was I doing with my life?

Gymnastics was exciting this year. However, like McKayla Maroney, we were not impressed with her second place finish on vault:

But we (okay, mostly I) were very excited about the Team USA gold!

Another name that I feel I grew up with is Michael Phelps. He's about my age but this was his fourth Olympics so I first heard of him before I'd even finished high school. It's hard not to be inspired by Michael Phelps. If you aren't at least a little impressed by him, I don't know what it would take to make it so. Maybe if he swam around the world and then came to your house and did the dishes? And then pulled all the weeds in your garden?

Despite his monumental physical accomplishments I was impressed by his humility. When he won his 19th medal, making him the most decorated Olympian ever, he thanked his relay team mates. That was  appropriate because he very literally could not have done it without them. Several of his medals were relay medals, which would have been impossible for him to win alone, obviously. But with all the self-aggrandizing common in sports, it would have been easy of him to diminish the role that other people have played in his success. His graciousness makes him a truly great Olympian.

I also appreciate how much he seems to love his mama! Because I know and am currently living the reality that no one gets very far in life, much less to the Olympics, without someone to wipe his (or her) bottom for the first few years.

John is too young to understand what the Olympics are, of course, but he was interested. Everyday he asked "watch yimpics?" And nearly every day we did. He liked the swimming and the running.

Here they are quite transfixed by the closing ceremonies :

Apparently John was overcome and reached for Isla's hand for support. I guess 80's music does that to some people. 

Looking forward to Rio 2016! 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Moments in Mothering

After John was born I had a few Moments which made it obvious that my mind wasn't in the razor sharp focus that it maintained during my single years (ha). I posted about them then. Like when I forgot to put the coffee in the coffee maker and brewed some brown water (which wasn't going to help with the obvious sleep deprivation).

We had another notable moment shortly after Isla was born that I'd forgotten to write about. This one was more of a Moment in Parenting (as opposed to Mothering) because Peter was involved. One Sunday we left the car door open at chruch. No, not unlocked. Open. The car sat in the parking lot with an open driver's side door from about 10 am to 2 pm. Thankfully no one gave our filthy, hasn't ever been washed that I can remember, year 2000 Ford Explorer with a broken driver's side door a closer look! So it was still there waiting with open doors for us to drive it home. 

I can't recall any other specific instances of brain-addled motherhood from Isla's early days. But there definitely has been some increasing addle-ment with a second child. I find my mind going blank mid sentence, I confuse words (can you hand me the post office?) and I just generally feel more like a chicken sans head sometimes. 

Or this could all be due to the brain scrambling effects of reading Fox in Socks by Dr. Seuss multiple times. Have you ever read that book?  I think it's rather fun but beware: if you're on the brink of insanity, I think it could push you over the edge. I frequently have strains of it running through my head. I don't mean to say that I've fallen over the edge. I don't think I have, but I suppose an insane person wouldn't, would she? 

"Fox, socks, Knox, box. Fox in socks; Knox in box; Fox in socks on Knox on box..."

And, just for fun,  take a look at Isla's various and myriad expressions during her shampoo:

It's not easy having hair that looks this good. 

Monday, August 06, 2012

Summer Reading

John and I plugged through our summer reading and faithfully logged our titles with the Houston Public Library. Neither of us have a kindle fire to show for it!  I wrote about my July books last post. For John, I had been going through the Caldecott winners list, but many of those proved to be too advanced for him. Some were long, wordy and dealt with very heavy topics, which is great but, totally over a two-year old's head. However, here are some that we really liked. They were basic enough for John but clever enough for me to enjoy:

My friend Rabbit- Fun. Lots of animals (John loves almost anything with animals.)
The Three Pigs- This one was probably over John's head but it was a clever take on a traditional story and I enjoyed it.
Officer Buckle and Gloria- This is a sweet story about friendship, and I loved the illustrations.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee- So precious, I can't even get over it.

 I switched to the Texas 2x2 list which we've now made it through. Here are our favorites on that list: 

No dogs Allowed- Very cute picture book. Lots of animals.
No Sleep for the Sheep- Great for kids. It has rhymes, animals and animal noises.
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man- Honestly, I didn't care for this one but John kept asking to read it
Ralph- Short, clever book about a "talking" dog.
The Woods- Cute story about a boy searching in the woods for his lost stuffed bunny so that he can go to sleep.
That's How- Short and imaginative, also has lots of animals.
Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site- I wrote about this one on an earlier post. It's adorable.

Several weeks after I'd turned The Woods back into the library, John woke up from his nap uttering some unintelligible words. I eventually realized that he was saying "Dragon! Stomach ache!" And indeed, we had read about a dragon with a stomach ache in The Woods. I was amazed that he'd remembered and recalled that!

I've become enamored with children's literature since I've been reading so much of it lately. The best children's books, even picture books, have most of the elements of good literature but, unlike Charles Dickens  who never met a sentence he didn't add to his final word count, children's books fit it all into just a few words and pages. I've been thoroughly impressed and inspired by many of the stories we've read this summer.

What are your favorite children's books?

Dear sweet, Isla. She's not much for smiling for the camera so I get very few good pictures of her. She does smile a lot, mostly when she's watching John run around in circles which he is frequently wont to do, but rarely for the camera. Here she is mid roll, trying to fit that elephant into her mouth. She's rolling over both ways now. 

He wanted me to take a picture of his finger. Who am I to refuse?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

July Books

I cannot believe that it is already August! It seems that as I get older life takes on the character of a hurdling freight train, and time passes too quickly to even make out all the scenery. I'd prefer the feeling of a leisurely ride on one of those kiddie trains that goes around the zoo.

Anyways, here is my July book list:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. I listened to this. It is the true account of the American Ambassador to Germany and his family in 1933, the year Hitler ascended to power. They consorted with some of the upper echelons of the Nazi party. The ambassador's daughter even dated one of the senior SS officials. It was an interesting story from a unique perspective.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I loved this when I read it in high school. I listened to it last month and I'm still thinking about whether or not I liked it after the second time. I was more dismayed with the characters and how genuinely miserable and terrible most of them are. I don't know, it's kind of a weird book. But I'll always love the Brontes because what could be cooler than a trio of sisters that managed to each write a classic novel? Charlotte is my favorite.

Lit! by Tony Reinke. This is a Christian guide to reading books. I was a little disappointed with this because  I had very high expectations. But, upon reflection, I'm glad I read it and I'd recommend it. Partly this book is to encourage people to read. I need no inducement in that direction so that angle was somewhat lost on me. What I did appreciate is that he essentially presents a theology of reading. He uses psalm 36:9 as a Christian readers's motto: " your light do we see light." . Meaning that if we hold to the Bible as our ultimate truth, through that lens we are free to interpret and appreciate the beauty, truth and experience of secular literature. He expounds on that in the first half of the book. In the second half of the book he offers practical suggestions to increase and improve your reading.

Insurgent by Veronica Roth. This is the sequel to Divergent and there is a third due Fall 2013. I liked Insurgent better than Divergent. I don't know why I'm comparing this series to the Hunger Games except for the fact that the person recommended them to me did so that seed was planted in my mind. So far the Divergent trilogy seems to be following a similar arc as the Hunger games in that the books move from an individual's story to more complex societal conflict which is what happened in Insurgent. I liked it and I'll read the third one when it is released. These books are young adult, so they are very quick to read. Since this book is part of a trilogy, I haven't formed a final opinion of it.

Midnight in Peking by Paul French. This is the true story of the shocking murder of a British expat living in Peking in the late 1930's and the investigation to find her killer.The author used the murder as a metaphor for the state of Peking at the time which was shortly to fall to Japanese occupation and then endure something of a civil war. This was a fast read. It was very intriguing and I liked it, but I wanted it to turn out differently. It's a true story so obviously it couldn't have turned out any differently than it did, but I would have liked more resolution. Nevertheless it was an interesting tale of a city and group of people in a dangerous and interesting time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Two Well-Traveled Babies

Peter and I have made it a tradition to take very long road trips with very small children. When John was two weeks old we moved from Salt Lake City to Houston driving through the west, and seeing sights along the way. This time we took a tour of Dixie from Houston to Savannah. I had never spent much time in the southeast, but from what I saw on our trip, I am charmed, I'm sure!

Unfortunately we took precious few pictures to indicate that we actually left Texas, so  you'll have to take my word for it.

Here's one of them, New Orleans, Jackson Square:

We stayed in New Orleans the first night, and went to the aquarium the next morning. The aquarium, while interesting, was over priced. John had just as much, if not more, fun looking at the ships traveling the Mississippi just outside. We headed to Destin that afternoon where we visited its lovely beaches. We didn't get any pictures there. My appalling grasp of geography was on display the whole time. I continued to be amazed at the geographic surprises that our trip yielded. Did you know that Mississippi and Alabama both have coastlines? You did? Oh.

We stayed in Destin one night and then continued onto Birmingham, Alabama where we stayed with some good friends that we knew in medical school. Here we are on a little hike:

Birmingham was a big surprise for me. I don't know what I thought it would be like, but it's a big city! And it's gorgeous! It's green and hilly. It's in the foothills of the Appalachians. Did you know that the Appalachians run through Alabama? This was news to me, as was the fact that Alabama is just south of Tennessee.  I was trying to understand how the Appalachian mountains, which I know run through Tennessee, were all they way down in Alabama. This was all explained when I realized that Tennessee is Alabama's  northern neighbor. All of these mysteries would have been solved by simply looking at a map. But, I don't know how to work an iPhone. And, do paper maps even exist any more?

Finally we arrived in Savannah which, I was shocked to learn is practically on the East Coast! Yes, we'd been driving for 4 days at that point and I only vaguely knew where we were going. What can I say? My job was preparing snacks and crying control not navigation. We stayed in Savannah for three nights for a Christian Ophthalmology Conference that Peter attended. They had spouses' and children's programming as well, which was nice.

On Saturday we high-tailed it back to Houston in two days. Over the course of this journey our standards for how many movies John was allowed to watch fell considerably (we borrowed a portable dvd player from Peter's parents.) On the way there we would only pull it out towards the end of the drives when everyone was tired and some among us were prone to screaming. On the way home we tolerated considerably more movie-induced brain rottage:

Can you see his IQ dropping? 
(Luckily he's so smart to begin with, I'm pretty sure his IQ is at least 1,893, that he should still have plenty of  points left over.)

What with all the sitting and TV watching and snacks we let him have, you'd think we really want him to have type two diabetes. But we tolerated a lot of things that we normally wouldn't normally tolerate. We were in the car for 10 ish hours each day for two days straight. There were some stressful moments which drove me to eat a (small) box of fudge, but overall it was a great trip! The kids actually did really well. Isla was a veritable ray of sunshine at every stop. But she morphed into a dark thundercloud each time she was strapped back in her car seat. And who can blame her? Starting at the backseat for 20 hours of driving is not my idea of fun either! 

I had planned to blog while we were gone but free time was scarce. We were all staying in the same room which meant that we had to shut things down when John went to bed. This was all very fun and yet something I really don't want to do again for a long time. 

It was a great opportunity for Peter to network with other like-minded doctors who are doing really great work in the states and abroad. Next year the conference is in the Woodlands. I think we can make that trip, no problem.