Archive for November, 2009

Our Favorite Potato Soup

November 30, 2009 @ 8:35 pm | Filed under:

Mamalion asked for my potato soup recipe. I’ve been making this soup since college; my aunt gave me an old cookbook she’d had since the 50s and this was pretty much the only recipe I ever tried in the whole book. Easy and oh so yummy.

Peel and dice one small onion* and 5 or 6 big potatoes (more if they’re small; I think we used about 10 small potatoes last night, maybe 12).

Put in your soup pot and add just enough cold water to cover potatoes.

Pause for ten-minute discussion with husband about why the water should be cold. (Answer: because the book said so.)

Salt the heck out of it, bring water to boil, and simmer until potatoes are soft. Pretty standard potato cookery here.

Mash the potatoes right in the pot. Don’t drain the water! I use a potato masher because we like this pretty chunky, but you could use a hand mixer if you want a smoother soup.

Add a big chunk of butter and a can of condensed evaporated** milk. Or, as we did last night, dump in a lot of cream.

More salt! Pepper. Cubed ham if you have it. We always make potato soup a day or two after we bake a ham.

You could add parsley or other herbs if you like, but we never bother. It’s so flavorful with just the salt and pepper. I like lots and lots of pepper.

Sometimes I grate some cheddar cheese to sprinkle on top, but Scott considers this an abomination. I will concede that cheese is completely superfluous in this perfect, perfect soup. But I’m not budging on the cold water. So there. (She says maturely.)

Potatoes, onion, water, butter, milk, salt, pepper, ham. Doesn’t get much simpler than that. When we eat it we have to talk about it a lot in a redundant and emphatic fashion. Oh man, this is SO GOOD. I know, it’s really good. Can you believe how good this is?

* Edited to add the onion. I forgot it until Phoebe reminded me!

**Edited again! I meant evaporated milk, not the sweetened condensed stuff. See why I seldom post recipes? LOL. Pioneer Woman I am not. Many thanks to Linda for the discreet inquiry. 🙂

Our Life (Together) Is So Precious (Together)

November 30, 2009 @ 8:54 am | Filed under:

A few happinesses for a Monday morning…

Alice is back!

Lesley’s new calendar is in her shop.

This piping hot cup of cawpy I am sipping. (That’s hot cocoa to those of you without a Wonderboy.)

Candles on my kitchen table.

Small folk in footie pajamas.

Shower gel that smells like fresh oranges.

That bunch of My Folklore fat quarters I bought eons ago and recently rediscovered.

Potato-soup-with-ham in the fridge for tonight’s supper.

Goldfinches perching on the spires of that basil plant I let go to seed.

Chubby baby feet sticking out of the dollhouse. (Again.)

John Lennon’s “Starting Over” on iTunes and a dance in the hall with my husband, while kids at the breakfast table put empty cereal boxes on their heads for no particular reason except that they’re there.

’Cause when I see you, darlin’,
It’s like we both are falling
in love again…

From the Archives: Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009 @ 8:22 am | Filed under:

Originally posted Jan. 25, 2005. This was one of the first posts I wrote for this blog. At the time, Jane was nine, and Wonderboy was just a few months older than Huck is now.

In March of 1997, Jane was 21 months old. I took her to a friend’s birthday party in Prospect Park. It was my first time driving in Brooklyn. I remember zooming around a curve on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and seeing downtown Manhattan across the river, and feeling so empowered—if I could handle New York City highway traffic, I could handle anything. Jane piped up from the back seat, “Bus!” and I was excited because she was rather a late talker and had only a handful of words at that point.

The next day, the birthday boy’s mother called to warn me that Tommy had awakened with a stomach virus that morning. Uh-oh. Every kid at the party came down with a really nasty flu—except Jane. She was legendary for her vigorous good health.

A week later, Jane and I flew down to North Carolina on a house-hunting mission. Scott was going to apply to grad school at UNC-G. Our plan was to move down in May and spend the summer freelancing before Scott started classes. Jane and I tooled all around the Greensboro area, and to my utter delight I found a cute little rental house—a former train depot, really—on a farm just outside the city limits. $500 a month, access to the whole farm including the sheep, the donkey, and the duck pond, and there was another family on the property with a little girl whom they too intended to homeschool. Seemed too good to be true. I returned triumphantly to NY and told Scott I’d found the perfect place.

A few days later, I was changing Jane’s diaper and noticed a surprising number of bruises on her legs. I wasn’t particularly worried—she was an active kid, a big climber and jumper, and we’d been at the playground all morning. Still, I decided to run it by the doctor. Unfortunately it was after office hours, so I’d have to wait until the morning.

That night Scott and I had an argument about when he should give notice at work. I was pushing for a slightly earlier date; I was eager to get down to NC and settle in at the Depot House. (It even had a name! I’ve always wanted to live in a house with a name.) Scott thought we should hang in for one more pay period before making the big move. We both went to bed upset, with Jane zonked beside us, her fair skin luminous in the moonlight. I woke in the early dawn, those bruises nagging at my mind. I snuck out of bed without waking Scott and Jane and dug a medical reference book out of the office closet. Bruising: check for petechiae, it said—little red dots on the skin—more than a dozen means bad news.

I crept back into the bedroom and raised the blind enough to let in light from the streetlamp. I remember the cold lump of fear in my stomach. There were more than twelve red dots on one arm alone. It was Saturday, March 22nd, and life as we knew it was over.

The pediatrician had office hours that morning. He took one look at Jane and sent us to the hospital for a blood test. Ten hours later we found ourselves in the PICU watching a nurse hook up machines that would remove Jane’s blood from her body and replace it with someone else’s blood. When Scott called his mother to tell her Jane had leukemia, she thought he was joking at first. He—the guy who wisecracks about everything—assured her that he would never joke about something like this. It defied belief, but it was real.

By the end of her first week of chemo, Jane had picked up a whole bunch of new words, like “blue IV” and “med-o-tec-tate” (methotrexate). And to think I’d been impressed with “bus”! Day 8 was Easter Sunday, and she hunted eggs in her hospital room with Scott maneuvering her iv pole around the bed. We thanked our lucky stars that he hadn’t quit his job yet. I wrote a note to the owner of the Depot House, explaining that we wouldn’t be renting after all. Six months of inpatient, high-dose chemo stretched to almost nine months, because of low blood counts and complications. Jane knew more about platelets and white cells at age 2 than I did at 20. We learned how to give injections and push meds through her central line catheter. We watched hundreds of hours of Blues Clues and read picture books until they were stacked as high as the bed.

She finished the last round of high-dose chemo on Thanksgiving Day of 1997. We ate Boston Market turkey and stuffing in the hospital playroom while her meds finished running. There were two more years of low-dose chemo to go, but we expected to spend most of that period as out-patients. When we got home that night—home, where we hadn’t spent more than ten days in a row since March—it was late, a cold, clear night, with as many stars as a New York City sky can muster. I remember thinking I couldn’t imagine ever being more thankful for anything than I was to be carrying that little girl up the stairs to our apartment that night.

I was wrong. Today I watched Jane feeding Wonderboy a jar of baby food. He thought it was hilarious to have his big sister be the one feeding him, and he could hardly eat for laughing—big belly laughs that made the other kids crack up, and then the sound of their laughter, which he can hear clearly now with the hearing aids in, made him guffaw all the harder. I stood frozen in the kitchen, holding my breath as if they were a flock of rare birds who might fly away if I moved. Beanie’s curls bounce when she laughs. Rose laughs mostly with her big brown eyes. Jane is like a poster child for joy. It bubbles out of her and spills over to everyone around.

There’s a little part of me that is still leaning over the bed in that crowded Queens apartment, counting tiny red dots on Jane’s skin, slowly awaking to the fact that we had far more important things to worry about than what day Scott should give notice at his job. It’s the part of me that knows, now, never to take a minute of this for granted—to give thanks to God every hour of every day for these amazing treasures who have been entrusted to my care, and for the guy who gives his all in helping me take care of them. They are miracles, all of them. Especially that golden girl beaming at her little brother as she lifts the spoon to his laughing mouth.

Pull Up a Stool and I’ll Tell You a Tale

November 24, 2009 @ 9:48 pm | Filed under:

There are days when your own life seems surreal to you.

I mentioned the G/I doctor has ordered a bunch of tests for young Wonderboy. For some of the tests, we needed to deliver a stool sample to the Children’s Hospital—between the hours of 9 and 11:30—within one hour of, er, the sample’s production, if you know what I mean. The first hour of the day was filled with suspense. Would he or wouldn’t he? When would he?

Suddenly, at 8:15, there it was. Cue instant frenzy of parental activity, gathering lab slips, notating the time on the side of sample containers, barking out prepare-to-travel instructions to various children. It was downright cinematic, like the scene when the transport team flies into motion to get the liver or the heart to the desperate patient on the other side of the country. You could almost hear Ride of the Valkyries playing on the soundtrack.

I’d been given three separate vials whose tops unscrewed to reveal tiny, pointed spoons with which to scoop the precious commodity. Gross. Seriously gross. Scott put his own life at risk by saying, as he watched me maneuver a loaded (so to speak) spoon into the vial’s narrow opening, “It takes a very steady hand…”

What kind of crazy man messes with a woman armed with poo?

With astonishing rapidity I found myself in the minivan, large brown bag of samples stowed in the passenger seat (ew), boy and baby buckled in behind me. Before backing out of  the driveway, I invested thirty valuable seconds in tucking my Bluetooth into my ear and dialing Alice‘s number because, you know, we share everything.

“Houston,” I crowed, “we have liftoff!”

Alice happened to be at a Dunkin Donuts drivethrough window and I’m sure she was just really super happy to hear all about my adventures in poop-collecting. Sorry about that, sweetie. I hope you hadn’t ordered the chocolate cream-filled.

I could go on with this, but frankly the rest of the day was a bit anticlimactic. We made it to the lab with twenty minutes to spare, happily relinquished the brown bag to the care of gentle lab techs, waited in a line that materialized out of thin air at the stroke of nine for my poor boy’s turn in the bloodletting room (more tests), and returned to our happy home in plenty of time for an early lunch.

Not that I felt much like eating.

Later in the day, believe it or not, there was yet another doctor appointment (at the ped’s office this time, not the hospital), and then I braved the waiting-until-almost-the-last-minute crowd at the grocery store to buy cream for our Thanksgiving dessert (Scott’s famous grasshopper pie) and thirty or forty other small items I suddenly remembered I needed for turkey day. (On which, as it happens, we eat ham.)

Then I cooked and cooked and cleaned and cleaned (tomorrow is Shakespeare Club), and—dare I say it?—I’m pooped.

Why This Blog Has Been a Trifle Slow of Late

November 23, 2009 @ 2:49 pm | Filed under:

It’s because I’m too busy having conversations like the following…not to mention chasing after the scattered fragments of my sanity afterward.


G/I Dr.: We think it’s possible your son has Condition X. There is no conclusive test for this, but here’s this list of expensive and time-consuming tests I’d like you to have done. They might give us some glimmer of an idea whether my diagnosis is correct, even though he doesn’t actually have the main symptoms of Condition X.

Me: If it IS Condition X, what’s the treatment?

Dr: A 10-day course of antibiotics.

Me: (stunned silence)

Me: Is it a special antibiotic? Because he’s been on antibiotics lots of times for respiratory infections and stuff.

Dr: Oh yes, this would be a different drug.

Me: If the tests are so inconclusive, why not just try the antibiotic and see what happens?

Dr: Because we mustn’t prescribe antibiotics without some evidence the diagnosis is correct, because of resistance and stuff.

Me: But you said the tests might not show evidence.

Oh yes, I’m not even sure your son is capable of cooperating with the main test. It may not work at all, given his other issues.

Me: (stunned silence)

Me: But if the test fails, then what?

(Cue sound of crickets.


SCENE 2. Three days later.

Oh dear, your son’s eardrums are all red. Let me do a tympanogram. Yup, no response at all. He must have an ear infection. You need to take him to the pediatrician.

Pediatrician’s office:
The doctor will call you soon.



(Cue sound of no phone ringing.)

(Cue phone! But it’s not the ped’s office.)

G/I dr’s nurse: Hi there! The doctor asked me to call and schedule the Test Deemed Most Likely to Fail.

Me: Yes, I have questions about whether that’s a smart idea. Also, the audiologist says my son has an ear infection. He will likely need antibiotics. Could we use the same antibiotic that would treat Condition X?

Nurse: Oh, goodness no. But you need to inform us ASAP if the ped puts him on antibiotics for the ear infection, because in that case we cannot administer the Test Deemed Most Likely to Fail for at least six weeks. The antibiotic will skew the test results.

Me: (stunned, incredulous, mystified silence)


(for now)

The Star of Christmas

November 22, 2009 @ 8:59 pm | Filed under:

angled_bookFans of Maria Wilkes’s Caroline books will be interested to know Maria has a new picture book out, a sweet holiday story called The Star of Christmas. Published under Maria’s maiden name (Maria T. DiVencenzo) and illustrated by Elaine S. Verstraete, this gentle and golden-hued tale is going to make a lovely addition to our Advent book basket. I know Beanie especially is going to be enchanted by the story—a Christmas Eve conversation between all the ornaments on the tree. Which one of them is the real star of Christmas?

Read the book online at the Winterlake Press website.

Computer Programming for Kids

November 16, 2009 @ 9:39 pm | Filed under:

I tweeted a request for computer programming tutorial recommendations (for Jane), and a number of useful suggestions came pouring in via Twitter and Facebook. We’ve not had time to investigate them yet—we are busy enjoying a grandparent visit for a couple of days—but I thought I’d post the list here for others who may be interested.

Alice (object-oriented programming, creating animations, video games)

Lynda (wide range of tutorials)

Snake Wrangling for Kids (learning to program in Python)

Scratch (via MIT—several friends recommended this)

A few more links in this post at Family Online

Your suggestions are welcome too!

Housecleaning and Babysqueezing

November 14, 2009 @ 7:25 am | Filed under:


Things I did this week:

• Spring cleaning. I know, I know, I’m six months late. Or six months early: maybe that’s a better way to look at it. Besides, I once heard a chaparral expert mention that Southern California’s true spring is in November (going by plant dormancy cycles, I think, or maybe it had to do with the timing of our rainy season). At any rate, I spent the entire week attacking closets and cupboards, purging bags and bags of stuff, and it feels marvelous. Oh my. I keep opening the hall closet just to admire it and then I’ll realize I have a big dopey grin on my face.

• Had a fabulous discussion of dramatic irony in the Scottish Play with my Shakespeare Club.

• Cuddled a feverish baby. Poor glassy-eyed boy.


Jane’s turn for a babysqueeze.

Things I did not do this week:

• Sleep much. See aforementioned feverish baby.

• Spend much time online. Sorry, poor neglected blog. Even sorrier, dozens of nice people to whom I owe email.

• Finish the book I have been reading foreeeeeever. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. I tore through the first two thirds, completely captivated, making mental notes (now all forgotten) of the zillion quotes and thoughts I wanted to share here. And then…what happened? The plot took a turn that dampened my enthusiasm a bit. That was part of it, but I’m still dying to know how things turn out. I guess mainly it was just that my attention turned elsewhere. Such as: I spent all last week (pre-cleaning frenzy, but undoubtedly related) reading my way through NieNie’s archives. Like Kristen and Sarah and Ellie and Lesley and Jenn and Alice (when Alice was blogging regularly, sob), NieNie writes posts that make me want to spruce up my home with color and fabric and blossom, and also to squeeze my children a lot.


A most squeezable miss.

NieNie’s posts even make me want to cook—almost. But I let Costco do most of my cooking this week. Too busy cramming miscellany into garbage bags. And (since Wednesday night) wiping noses and patting backs and dispensing cough medicine to two pitiful little boys. Because it isn’t just the baby who’s sick; Wonderboy got zapped with this thing too. Sorry, crowd of Shakespeare enthusiasts who spent the afternoon in Germ Central before we knew anyone was sick. And sorry, grandparents who are coming for a visit tomorrow…

Speaking of which,

Things I plan to do this weekend:

Briefly abandon my parents with germ-riddled children and sneak away for a meal with my husband, who has had to work some long hours this week. But not for too long, because I’ve got children to squeeze.

mybookendsStill Jane’s turn. Now give him back!