Blog Archive

Monday, January 30, 2012

Trains and Lights

This weekend was fun, productive, delicious, and relaxing.  Dave was home with Eddie on Friday...I'm not sure what they did since I was at work, but I'm sure it involved watching some Dinosaur Train, collecting the chicken eggs, eating lots of snacks, and a nap for at least one of them.

That night I finally made Buffalo Chicken Dip...sorta.  Instead of mixing chicken into the dip, we made sandwiches with sliced breast meat, cheddar cheese, and crunchy lettuce on French bread, using the dip as a sandwich spread.  Lordy, it was goooooooooood.  I didn't take a picture because we were starving and ate the sandwiches right up.  Although the sauce was spicy, even Eddie liked it!

Saturday morning baby Josh came over to hang out with us for a few hours while his parents did their taxes.  We got a late start heading off to the train museum, so Dave asked if we could keep Josh for several hours instead of just a few.  Surprise, surprise, his parents didn't mind!

First, we got corn dogs and fries near the museum and ate on a bench in the warm sunshine.  Then we headed inside...which was a little tricky since the double BOB stroller doesn't fit through the regular entrance doors.  Dave asked inside and they showed us a side double door to use.

Once inside, Eddie ran over to the gift shop entrance and played with the turn stile.  It popped up and smacked him in the nose, making him cry and bleed a little.  Hopefully that'll be the only time it happens. 

Dave has taken Eddie to the museum several times but they've never gone upstairs to where the big Thomas and Friends play tables are.  Since Josh can't walk very fast (he just learned), I figured playing upstairs would be good since he could hold onto the toy trains and the tables for support.  I don't know what it is about playing up there, but EVERY SINGLE TIME we do, Eddie poops and I have to change him there.  It doesn't bother me, but it is weird that this area makes him poop (and it isn't a "time of day" thing because we've gone to the museum at all hours of the day).  This time, BOTH boys pooped (so it's not just MY child this happens to!).  Dave and I each got to deal with one. 
By this time Eddie had missed his nap and was getting a bit cranky.  We went downstairs to check out the tunnel and the wheelbarrow (normally Eddie's favorite downstairs attraction, oddly enough).  But this time he just wanted to climb up on the displays, which is not allowed.  So we told him that if he either walked calmly back outside or let us buckle him into the stroller, we could get some ice cream.  He hopped right up into that stroller without a fuss!

We got cones for us adults and a cup of chocolate for Eddie (Josh had a pear and about 10 million fishy crackers), which we ate while meandering over to the water.  That side of the river is pretty ghetto and nasty but it was a nice change of scenery.  We let Eddie run around a bit, careful to keep him away from the steep slope leading down to the gross water. 
At about 4pm we dropped Josh back off to his parents and then headed to Home Depot to buy some lights for the living room.  I had hoped Eddie would fall asleep in the car, but he didn't and was therefore a bit of a terror inside the store.  He and I ended up hanging out in the van watching Robots while Dave finished getting all the supplies.  Like most projects, however, he ended up making a few phone calls to my dad and making another trip back to Home Depot the next morning to exchange something.

Sunday morning he installed lights on top of the bookcases and rigged them to some of those remote-controlled outlets so I can turn them on and off easily (from our holiday lights stash).  I wanted more light in the living room so I can see more easily to fold laundry and knit while watching TV.  With our TV now mounted up on the wall, the ceiling fixture reflection is smack in the middle of the screen.  It is SO ANNOYING.  And since I rarely do nothing while watching TV (like, just sit there and watch--I'm nearly always doing something else as well), I end up sitting in the dark.  We had a pole light in there, but it wasn't enough for knitting (maybe THAT's why the cabled section of my legwarmers doesn't look right??).  The light fixtures are ugly and the bulbs are bare (read: super bright when you look right at them) so Dave will cut and stain some wooden trim to put up on the bookcases to hide them.  For now I am using the cardboard boxes the lights came in.

I still can't believe just how bright it is in there now--it's like daylight.  And it brightens the kitchen considerably.  We were going install 6 canister lights in there, but this is better since we can take the lights with us when we move (and they don't require a building permit).

That afternoon I took Eddie out front with me while I weeded the winter veggie garden bed (carrots, turnips, diakon radishes, and red cabbage).  He was a good helper, emptying the buckets of weeds for me whenever I asked.  It was sooooooo warm outside in the sun that we wore hats and I took off my sweatshirt.  When Dave was done fixing the phone line in the backyard, he brought each of us a Popsicle.  Yum!
For dinner, I defrosted 3 Indian dishes from the deep freeze (butter chicken, brinjal (I added paneer cubes before serving), and veggie vindaloo, to which I added some lamb).  I used up an acorn squash by making one new dish, which was super yummy.  And of course I made naan, but tried using half whole wheat flour this time. 
Would it be weird for a while girl to open an Indian restaurant in Gualala?  Just kidding.  I'd really love to open a twice weekly cafeteria, though.  One of those restaurants that serves only one meal any given day, whatever the chef chooses to make.  So it'd be like eating in my house and I could vary the menu however I wanted...Thai one day, Indian the next, Japanese, Italian, Mexican, Southern, etc.  Dave's grandmother used to own the local hotel and operated an Italian restaurant downstairs.  It'd be fun to carry on that sort of tradition, don't you think?  (Now I just need to figure out a way to be a scientist, mother, wife, AND restauranteur all at the same time...)

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Warning: looooooooooong post ahead!  I started this back in September and just now finished it.  I wanted to have a complete record of the experience of preparation, execution, and celebration (such as it was). Most students will tell you that they don't remember most (or any) of the questions asked during their exam. Maybe the were so overwhelmed that they couldn't remember or maybe they chose not to remember because it was a bad experience. Mine was a good experience and I know that in the future I'll want to remember what exactly happened.

Ah, the qualifying exam.  I'm glad it is behind me, but it still doesn't seem like it is behind me. Not that I'm still dreading it or anything, but it wasn't a painful or traumatizing experience like I thought it would be. For so many years I was used to saying, "I still haven't taken my exam." And now I won't have to say that anymore.  Woo!
My workspace in the office I share with three other students.
Here are some pictures of my big ass QE binder, into which I filed all my notes according to subject and sub-subject area:
I should have weighed this thing, it was heavy.
The key for me was organization (and lots of tabbed dividers).
And here are examples of my notes. And yes, these are very basic concepts--if you hammer those down solidly, then understanding bigger concepts is a cinch.
A week before the exam I wrote myself a little note (in purple chalk) on the back patio while I was playing out there with Eddie. I answered it in pink the morning after the exam when I checked on the chickens.
Two days before the exam I made a batch of flashcards for each of the "major" things I figured I'd need to know: extraction schemes, plots of isotope trends, enthalpy equations, types of chemical bonding, etc.

The night before the exam we went to Costco for some shopping and to eat pizza for dinner. Later, I had Dave quiz me using my flashcards. Remarkably, he was able to decipher what I'd written on the cards and correct me when I was wrong. For someone who hasn't take chemistry since high school, that's pretty amazing!

After that, we watched something on Netflix. I checked my phone for emails before hopping into bed. I had one from a family friend of the Bowers, wishing me luck the next day. The email ended with, "if you're reading this tonight, STOP, and go to bed! It is late!" Indeed, it was nearly 12am.

The morning of the exam was leisurely. I took a shower, made omelets for Dave and I (he'd dropped Eddie off at preschool earlier), did the dishes, then got dressed. I got to my office, dressed in the only pair of black slacks and sleeved non-t-shirt that I own.
I texted Jennifer a picture of myself a few days before to see if she approved of my outfit.
I handed the sack of snacks and bottles of water to my friend, Yumi, so she could set them out for me--in some departments it is the norm for a student to provide refreshments for the faculty members during the exam; in my department, however, it is considered "bribery" so a friend usually pretends to provide them instead.

My labmate, Garrett, whisked me away to coffee once I was sure I had my laptop, charger, projector, laser pointer, etc. all organized in my backpack. He promised we "wouldn't talk science" so I wouldn't get nervous. HA. We started talking about our home renovation projects, our adorable kids, stay-at-home mothering versus working parents with daycare, etc. But then some of his colleagues from one of his research projects walked by...and when he introduced me to them, he mentioned my imminent exam (like an hour away at this point). So of course I had to explain what I was studying, blah blah blah. Sigh. It was only then that I really became nervous about the exam. Logically, I was fine. But my nauseous stomach felt otherwise.

I'd packed a small, calorie-rich lunch to eat an hour before the exam. I knew from my three-hour long practice session a few week prior that I would get HUNGRY and tired by the end. But of course, I was too nauseous to eat much.

All too soon it was 12:40pm so I went into the room I had reserved to set up my laptop and projector, get out my laser pointer, and arrange the set of new dry erase markers I'd brought from home (how embarrassing would it be to realize all of the markers already in the room didn't work?!).

At 12:55pm people started arriving and chatting with me and with each other. Once everyone was there, it all began.

My committee chair, Randy, asked me if I had a preference for the order in which each professor questioned me. I said I didn't--but what else was I supposed to say?  "Please have that professor go last and that one go first." It'd have shown my nerves and my expectations about the difficulty of each person's questions. Anyway, next he asked me to step out of the room while they discussed a few things. So I sat in the hall for a few short minutes, and then he invited me back inside. He asked me to begin by telling them all a bit about me: who I am, how I came to be at Davis, etc.

I knew he'd ask this, so I had written something out the night before and saved the document as "Who I am.doc." Isn't that hilarious?

I am a CA native, raised in the Bay Area. After high school, I received my bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science from Saint Mary’s College.

After graduation, I worked as a “field chemist” at an environmental consulting firm where I managed hazardous waste and chemical inventories for public school districts. While working there, it became clear that I needed to extend my education in order to do something more—I needed more intellectual stimulation and to be in a situation where I could always be learning new things.

For graduate school, I was interested in applied chemistry programs. I’ve always been interested in tangible processes. The Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry graduate group here at Davis fit the bill perfectly.

I entered UCD as a PhD student in the fall of 2006. During my first year I joined the Claassen lab, which sparked my interest in thermal analysis and soils and regenerated my life-long love affair with compost.

After a series of economic and family related issues, I decided to change to the Horwath lab between my third and fourth years where I have continued to study compost and thermal analysis.

The interdisciplinary aspect of this graduate group suits be well—I enjoy taking classes from many departments and learning about other fields of science from my classmates. As you know, UCD is a land grant university, whose mission is to spread new information to the general population and there are programs on campus that help researchers do that. One example is the John Muir Institute for the Environment’s “environmental leaders” program, which I joined a few years ago and have learned about translating scientific results to laypeople.

I’m still not sure what I’d like to do when I grow up—but it will need to be a position where I am constantly learning new things. (Teach, cooperative extension, etc.)

Everyone was smiling and nodding the whole time. At the end, my first major professor, Vic, asked a clarifying question: "So Julie, you said you entered UCD as a Ph.D. student, right? Were you always a Ph.D. student?" Knowing Vic's supportive, fatherly nature toward me, I knew being completely honest was okay. I explained that I had switched to the masters track at one point due to "the economy, my pregnancy, and family medical issues" but that after I returned from maternity leave I realized that completing my doctorate was something I really wanted (and that it was a now or never situation).  I got bigger smiles and a silly "ta da!" type hand wave motion from my committee chair that I could begin my presentation.

So I stepped through the presentation, answering questions as they arose.  Of the five committee members present, three knew every last detail of my project by heart and the other two just didn't care.  They were there to moderate and test me on my general soil science/compost chemistry/thermodynamics knowledge.  I think it took me about an hour to get through the presentation.  My last, "thank you" slide also included two personal pictures and I explained why I included each of them.  It made everyone giggle a little.

Me in 1985, quite dirty after a day of sifting compost with my dad, asleep on the grass.
Eddie in 2010, wearing a cute shirt given to me by a friend. Hopefully he will also love compost someday as much as I do!
The chair asked me if I'd like a bathroom break, which I gladly accepted.  In the hall I saw a specialist from my lab, who gave me a thumbs up on my way to the drinking fountain.  I went back to the room and opened the door to find the committee have a gab-fest and laughing their heads off.  One of them shooed me out the door and said they'd let me know when I could come back inside.  Oops!  I didn't get the impression that they were chuckling about me, but just blowing off steam and hanging out.  My impression was actually that they weren't taking the exam as seriously as I was...which, I suppose, is perfect.

Once I was back in the room, the chair told me that he would have Professor V start (a biological engineer who works on composting projects; I'd never taken a class with her so I wasn't sure how "deep" or hard her questions would be). I admit that I was nervous and that I was worried that I'd embarrass myself in front of everyone.  (I think my biggest fear during the whole exam prep and actual exam was that I'd turn out to be an idiot.)

As it turns out, the questions Professor V asked me during our pre-exam meetings were much, much more difficult for me to answer.  She asked, "Why is doing PLFA analysis better than doing some other type of microbial biomass nucleic acids?"  I answered by saying that I wasn't familiar with nucleic acid analysis/extraction, but that the benefit of PLFA is that these membrane-bound compounds are rapidly destroyed when microbial cells die so when extracted, they represent only the living biomass.  She was nodding like crazy and then answered the rest of the question for me: "Right, things like nucleic acids remain in the system even after the living cells die so you end up over estimating the size of the biomass."  I thought to myself, "Jeez, that was easy.  I hope she asks me a harder question." Her next (and last!) question was equally easy and I was honestly quite disappointed.  She just wanted me to list each of the compound types I expect to be combusting during each of the two exotherms on my plots (which I had laid out a few times during my presentation and in my proposal).  I figured she'd contest some of my explanation and make me realize I was totally wrong.  Instead, she wanted to know why cellulose would have a higher estimated combustion temperature than simple sugars.  At first I just said it was because the cellulose is more complex so there are more intramolecular bonds that needed to break.  She wanted a little more than that, like what bonds and why.  So I drew glucose (as simple a sugar as they come) and then realized she wanted me to talk about all the hydrogen bonds between all the glucoses (which make up cellulose). 

Next up was Vic.  Ah, Vic.  I knew he'd be fun.  At this point I can only remember one of his questions (but I saw that he had a list of about 5 at the time).  He pulled out a paper with one of my thermograms on it (the heat flow through a compost sample that had been heated from room temperature up to 1000C).  He said, "Okay, so let's pretend I'm a scientist who "does chemistry" a little different than you. Let's pretend I decide that you've done YOUR work wrong and your plot really should look like this." And he shows everyone how he's redrawn the middle of my plot so the whole thing is one giant exothermic reaction, instead of two. I laughed a little because I knew where this was going (we'd had this conversation many, many times).  He wanted me to explain why his answer was wrong and why my plot was right (two exos instead of one). That was easy since I could use the mass loss to prove that there were at least two (and possibly three) classes of compounds reaction in that temperature range that each seem to produce their own thermal response to the applied heat.

He did ask one more question, but now I can't remember what it was...but while answering it he cut me off and said, "That's enough. You know your stuff.  I have no more questions." And he pushed his list away from him.

Then Randy, my committee chair had his turn to ask me some questions.  I had taken an awesome class called Biogeochemistry from him my first year.  It was a catch-all course about soil and water and the atmosphere and all their interactions with each other.  He pulled out a map of the USA's soil organic matter content. He had me explain why about 10 different locations have a given soil organic matter content (and the answers had to do with vegetation type, rain or snow fall, certain organic compounds (like terpenes), mean annual temperature, etc.).  It was a super fun question (because I knew the answers) and I wished it had been longer!  Then he asked a few soil physics questions like, "Which has a higher field capacity--sand or silt--and why?" (Answer: porosity due to particle size.)

Next was Will, my current major professor.  Ah, Will.  Whether in an exam, at a lab meeting, or having a personal meeting in his office, his questions always confuse me.  Not necessarily because they are difficult but rather because he's not good at phrasing his questions.  Often they sound more like statements instead of questions so you don't know whether he's asking something or just setting up to ask something later.  First he asked me to list each of the major plant compound types (cellulose, lignin, hemicellulose, sugars, proteins, lipids) and then asked me to estimate the percent of total mass for each one. That wasn't so hard but I went slow to make SURE that my numbers added up to 100.  Then he wanted to know which would have the most heavy carbon in them (C-13, as opposed to the much more common C-12).  So I sketched out a diagram from my notes that very roughly outlined the biochemical pathway of these compounds and then added an axis for C-13 enrichment. He was fine with that.

Earlier, in my presentation, I had shown some "very, very preliminary" isotope data.  He wanted to know why each of the exothermic regions had certain values, given the biochemical pathway thing I'd drawn previously.  Some of the numbers (well, the order of the values) didn't make sense.  I reminded him that the analytical method doesn't capture individual compound types, but rather compound classes, so there was sure to be some overlap and that the blending of real (but unmeasurable) values could lead to the measured values that we see in my novel method. 

Next he wanted me to explain something about nitrogen availability to microbes versus plants (based on something I'd said during my presentation).  I can't remember exactly, but as I started to answer I decided to draw out the nitrogen cycle so I could step through my answer.  I guess he didn't want me to take the time to draw it out so he told me to stop!  I asked him if I could keep drawing it because it would help me to see the cycle, so he finally let me.  And thank goodness he did, because I recall not really knowing what he was actually asking until I had finished the diagram--and then it clicked.  Whatever the question, I realized that my statement in the presentation had been backward so he accepted my corrected explanation. 

And then he said "You know the Maillard and Browning reactions..." and his voice trailed off.  I thought, "Crap, is that a statement or a question?"  I didn't say anything so he said it again and I realized it was a question.  I admitted that I know of those reactions and that I did learn them in organic chemistry and again in his soil carbon class years ago but that I couldn't remember them.  "Not even the gist?" he asked.  I think I said that I know they have something to do with protein and sugar and that they occur in soil and are what makes toast taste caramelized and delicious compared to untoasted bread (now how's that for fumbling?)  He asked me to draw the reactions.  "I don't remember them at all and I can't draw them for you," I said probably a little too firmly. After an awkward silence he shook his head and said, "Yeah, okay. I'm done asking questions."

I know that sounds awful, but that's a totally normal conversation between us.  Him not being clear, me not understanding what he wants, and one of us eventually realizing we need to look something up (or that it isn't important to the issue at hand anyway).

Last to question me was Joy, the administrator of my fellowship at the time.  She immediately said, "All right. I want to go back to something Will asked you."  I glanced at the whiteboard where I'd draw out those diagrams during Will's turn. And I hear her say, "Now just back up."  So what did I do?  Yes...I'm embarrassed to say that I did actually back up.  As in, I took a big step backward.  I was so ready to do whatever they wanted me to do that I took her literally.  I can laugh about it now, but it was embarrassing.  She wanted me to give another explanation for my "very, very preliminary" isotope values (around -30 ‰). I didn't know exactly, but she egged me on until I realized it was because my reference gas value was, in her words, "plucked from the sky."  

Next she wanted me to discuss whether my compost system was open or closed from an isotope perspective (answer: open since the respired CO2 is able to leave the system through holes in the jars during decomposition). She wanted to know what effect that would have on the residual substrate delta values (the compost material left to decompose in the jar).  So I explained about how delta values are calculated as a ratio of ratios and that there is a linear relationship between delta values and % C-13 within a certain enrichment level.  I also drew a graphical comparison of open versus closed systems' product versus residual substrate delta values.  While explaining all this, she eggs me on to realize that the region in which using open versus closed equations matters is not within the scope of my experiment (I'm not using materials that are that enriched).  After that she said she was done asking questions.

At that point, Randy told me that they'd like to have a few minutes to talk while I waited outside.  So I grabbed my water bottle and sat on the couch in the hall.  After about 5 minutes Joy asked me to join them inside.  I walked in and Randy said, "Congratulations, Julie.  You have passed."  He explained that I should "work with Joy to brush up on my isotope knowledge" and that Professor V wanted me to take a decomposition course with a particular professor.  Everyone shook my hand and then Randy gave me "the" form with his signature, proving to the Office of Graduate Studies that I was "qualified."  Woo!  He told me I'd have to pay a $90 fee to the accounting office (seriously?!) and then submit the forms to Grad Studies to make it all official. I looked at the clock and it was only 2:20pm. I finished 40 minutes early!

Once everyone left I gathered up the juice, water bottles, cheeses, and berries I'd brought (I mean my friend brought...) and then returned the projector to the main office.  Then I texted my brother with "Woo!!!!!!"  I went back to my office and got a reply text of "Does that mean you passed?"  (Duh.)  I walked into my office just as Will was walking out.  Garrett jumped up from his desk and said, "So...did you pass???"  I looked at Will, who shrugged and smiled and left.  Garrett said that Will told him to ask me if I'd passed.  As soon as I said, "Yes!" Garrett and I walked downtown to get a much needed drink (and food...I was starving since I'd not had lunch due to nerves).  I called Dave and Edward to meet us at a Thai bar and restaurant.  It was hot on the walk so I took off my sweater blouse thing and just wore my camisole.  Trashy, but I did NOT care at that point.

We got to the bar and Yumi was already there waiting with tables.  She took my driver's license and went inside to order us some drinks.  About a minute later she came back out with a disappointed look on her face.  The bar tender realized that my license was expired (back in March!) and therefore couldn't give me a drink.  Phooey.  So I said I just wanted a coke and some food, I was starving.  Since it wasn't 5 yet they weren't serving food.  Ahhhhhhhhhh, agony!  About that time Dave showed up and then Edward and Jennifer, too.

My hunger disappeared for a few moments when I suddenly saw my DADDY walk into the bar!  It was awesome, he came up as a surprise.  Edward and Dave were working all afternoon on hiding it from me and figuring out a way of getting him to the bar without me knowing about it.  Having my dad in a bar is one thing, but having him there when HE got to have a beer while I did not was just plain weird. I was literally counting down the minutes until 5pm, when I promptly ordered some appetizer plates.  Later on, the Schwinds came by with their was nice but also sad since they were moving the very next day.  

I'd rather not post these pictures here because they are terrible, but I want my future self and kids to see a picture from this day.  I was so tired and hungry and mentally worn out from the exam that I look awful (and sleezy in that camisole!).
Eddie spent that night with Cassie so we could go out to celebrate.  Normally your major professor will take you out to dinner, but Will had to take care of some family business instead.  He told me he had to go pick up his mother's ashes (!!). It had been a year since she passed away and the funeral home needed him to finally come pick them up. Later I checked my email archives and saw that my exam was exactly one year after her death.  Gah, I felt bad that I didn't realize earlier--I would have scheduled my exam differently if I had known.

So Dave, Edward, Jennifer, my dad, and I went to see The Help that night.  It  had just come out so the theater was packed full and we had to sit in the front row, meaning we had to lean our heads way back to view the screen.  The movie was great, even in that crappy position, so I imagine it'd be even better seen from a normal vantage point.  After that we decided to get some food, but since it was late our only option was Applebee's.

It wasn't until two months later, a full month after Dave had taken his water distribution exam that we got to have a celebratory drink.  We went on a date during one of Cassie's "parents' night out" events to an Asian noodle bar and got some amazing ginger cocktails. 
Overall, the exam was a good experience.  The fear and anxiety was highest before I ever set the exam date, and then it steadily dwindled down to nothing as I studied and got myself and my notes organized.  If you're about to take your exam and are worried, trust me: childbirth is way, way, way more work. And you can opt for an epidural when in labor. Unfortunately, you don't get one during your exam.  But trust me, you won't need it.  =)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Year's Eve

I realize this post is a little late...

We went to the bay area to celebrate the new year.  We started our trip with a visit to Dyani's new apartment in Palo Alto.  Her parents, brothers, and aunt/uncle were there so it was a very full house.  Eddie and Batiste were like two peas in a pod: munching on chips, following each other around, and checking out Batiste's new big boy bed. 
Eddie insisted that I sit in Batiste's bed to read them stories. Unfortunately I don't speak French so I couldn't read most of the books he picked out.
Batiste is such a sweetie--he was content just to sit on my lap in his little bed.
Donovan made a scrumptious pot roast dinner for all of us and I brought pecan shortbread cookies with some jars of lemon curd for dessert. That night we headed back to my parents' house full and contended.

Since Edward and Jennifer had been in New York visiting her family over the holiday, we waited until NYE to "do Christmas" (i.e., exchange gifts) with the Levies. They arrived in Livermore on the morning of December 31 so we got to hang out with them all day.

The neighbors across the road got some new horses in their pasture so we took Eddie over to see them.  He thought the stray kitty following us around was much more interesting...but I loved petting the horsies and feeding them carrots and apples.

Once we got back inside, Eddie was suddenly interested in "riding the horsey."  So we pretended that the dog crate was a horse by adding a reins (dog leash) and plopped Eddie right on top.  I don't have pictures of it, but later that night we strapped his booster seat on top to act as a saddle so he wouldn't fly off when we pushed the crate around on the carpet.
I don't know where this fits in time-wise, but we did make some bread at one point. Eddie helped Grandpa with the kneading and was rewarded for his effort when Grandpa fashioned the dough into a choo choo train for him!  We didn't bake it that way, but we should next time.  How cool!
That evening we did our gift exchange.  Eddie got some fun books and a fish tank from Uncle and Auntie!  (His mama may have asked for it so she wouldn't have to clean the old bowl quite as often...)  He spent most of his time going from person to person helping them open their gifts. 
After exchanging gifts my parents and us Bowers went to see the lights at Deacon Dave's while Edward and Jennifer drove over to Dyani's house for her party. I don't think Dave had ever been so Deacon Dave's lights so was nice to share that experience with him.  Eddie liked it so much that we went through a few times...and then stopped to play on the cement lions outside the gates!
That night Edward and Jennifer took off to Palo Alto to party with Dyani while we bedded Eddie and then headed to my friends' house down the road.  I got to wear a new Stitch Fix dress and the gorgeous bead-and-crystal necklace my mom gave me for Christmas. Sorry, these are terrible pictures but they are all I have from that night.

Of course we got to the party way later than everyone else, but we still had some delicious cocktails and chatted with some seldom-seen friends until the ball dropped.  Being lame parents, we scooted back home around 12:45am so we wouldn't be zombies the next morning when Eddie woke up.

Edward gave my dad a new landscape rake so we put it to the test before we drove back to Davis.  Eddie insisted that he also get to use a rake, so my dad dug through the barn to find the old rock rake he'd cut down to kid-sized back when I was a tot.  

And what's a trip to Grandpa's house without a ride in the wheel barrow?
 It was a nice trip to Livermore that was just the right balance of fun and relaxing.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Icelandic Lamb Soup

Kjotsupa! It pairs nicely with buttered, toasted bread.
For my dad's birthday meal we made a leg of lamb but had about 1 cup of meat left on the bone. So I Googled "lamb soup" and discovered that Iceland is known for a soup called Kjotsupa.

You can Google the recipe (there are hundreds since this soup is much like chicken noodle in that everyone has their own favorite proportions). Most recipes I found call for using water but I made stock from the remaining lamb bone so you'll see, below, that my measuring bowl if full of lamb stock.  It is very plain soup, in my opinion. Everything is boiled so there aren't levels of flavor from browning the onion or anything. But it is still pretty tasty and is very inexpensive and easy.

I used purple potatoes and leeks since that was I had.
And turnips instead of rutabegas since I had some mature ones in the front yard garden.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Kairos Time

A friend shared this via Facebook, and I wanted to put it here, too. I thought it was insightful and hilarious.  I'm glad I'm not the only one whose favorite time of day is bedtime. And someday I, too, hope I will remember the toughest moments when I see a stressed out mama and be able to afford to help make her life a little easier.

Here's the link:

And here's the article (copyright

Don't Carpe Diem
Glennon Melton | Jan 14, 2012 11:57 AM EST

Every time I'm out with my kids -- this seems to happen:

An older woman stops us, puts her hand over her heart and says something like, "Oh, Enjoy every moment. This time goes by so fast."

Everywhere I go, someone is telling me to seize the moment, raise my awareness, be happy, enjoy every second,etc, etc, etc.

I know that this message is right and good. But, I have finally allowed myself to admit that it just doesn't work for me. It bugs me. This CARPE DIEM message makes me paranoid and panicky. Especially during this phase of my life - while I'm raising young kids. Being told, in a million different ways to CARPE DIEM makes me worry that if I'm not in a constant state of intense gratitude and ecstasy, I'm doing something wrong.

I think parenting young children (and old ones, I've heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they've heard there's magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it's hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.

And so I think that if there were people stationed, say, every thirty feet along Mount Everest yelling to the climbers -- "ARE YOU ENJOYING YOURSELF!? IF NOT, YOU SHOULD BE! ONE DAY YOU'LL BE SORRY YOU DIDN'T!" TRUST US!! IT'LL BE OVER TOO SOON! CARPE DIEM!" -- those well-meaning, nostalgic cheerleaders might be physically thrown from the mountain.

Now. I'm not suggesting that the sweet old ladies who tell me to ENJOY MYSELF be thrown from a mountain. These are wonderful ladies. Monkees, probably. But last week,a woman approached me in the Target line and said the following: "Sugar, I hope you are enjoying this. I loved every single second of parenting my two girls. Every single moment. These days go by so fast."

At that particular moment, Amma had arranged one of the new bras I was buying on top of her sweater and was sucking a lollipop that she must have found on the ground. She also had three shop-lifted clip-on neon feathers stuck in her hair. She looked exactly like a contestant from Toddlers and Tiaras. I couldn't find Chase anywhere, and Tish was grabbing the pen on the credit card swiper thing WHILE the woman in front of me was trying to use it. And so I just looked at the woman, smiled and said, "Thank you. Yes. Me too. I am enjoying every single moment. Especially this one. Yes. Thank you."

That's not exactly what I wanted to say, though.

There was a famous writer who, when asked if he loved writing, replied, "No. but I love having written." What I wanted to say to this sweet woman was, "Are you sure? Are you sure you don't mean you love having parented?"

I love having written. And I love having parented. My favorite part of each day is when the kids are put to sleep (to bed) and Craig and I sink into the couch to watch some quality TV, like Celebrity Wife Swap, and congratulate each other on a job well done. Or a job done, at least.

Every time I write a post like this, I get emails suggesting that I'm being negative. I have received this particular message four or five times -- G, if you can't handle the three you have, why do you want a fourth?
That one always stings, and I don't think it's quite fair. Parenting is hard. Just like lots of important jobs are hard. Why is it that the second a mother admits that it's hard, people feel the need to suggest that maybe she's not doing it right? Or that she certainly shouldn't add more to her load. Maybe the fact that it's so hard means she IS doing it her own way...and she happens to be honest.

Craig is a software salesman. It's a hard job in this economy. And he comes home each day and talks a little bit about how hard it is. And I don't ever feel the need to suggest that he's not doing it right, or that he's negative for noticing that it's hard, or that maybe he shouldn't even consider taking on more responsibility. And I doubt anybody comes by his office to make sure he's ENJOYING HIMSELF. I doubt his boss peeks in his office and says: "This career goes by so fast...ARE YOU ENJOYING EVERY MOMENT IN THERE, CRAIG???? CARPE DIEM, CRAIG!"

My point is this. I used to worry that not only was I failing to do a good enough job at parenting, but that I wasn't enjoying it enough. Double failure. I felt guilty because I wasn't in parental ecstasy every hour of every day and I wasn't MAKING THE MOST OF EVERY MOMENT like the mamas in the parenting magazines seemed to be doing. I felt guilty because honestly, I was tired and cranky and ready for the day to be over quite often. And because I knew that one day, I'd wake up and the kids would be gone, and I'd be the old lady in the grocery store with my hand over my heart. Would I be able to say I enjoyed every moment? No.

But the fact remains that I will be that nostalgic lady. I just hope to be one with a clear memory. And here's what I hope to say to the younger mama gritting her teeth in line:

"It's helluva hard, isn't it? You're a good mom, I can tell. And I like your kids, especially that one peeing in the corner. She's my favorite. Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime." And hopefully, every once in a while, I'll add -- "Let me pick up that grocery bill for ya, sister. Go put those kids in the van and pull on up -- I'll have them bring your groceries out."

Anyway. Clearly, Carpe Diem doesn't work for me. I can't even carpe fifteen minutes in a row, so a whole diem is out of the question.

Here's what does work for me:

There are two different types of time. Chronos time is what we live in. It's regular time, it's one minute at a time, it's staring down the clock till bedtime time, it's ten excruciating minutes in the Target line time, it's four screaming minutes in time out time, it's two hours till daddy gets home time. Chronos is the hard, slow passing time we parents often live in.

Then there's Kairos time. Kairos is God's time. It's time outside of time. It's metaphysical time. It's those magical moments in which time stands still. I have a few of those moments each day. And I cherish them.
Like when I actually stop what I'm doing and really look at Tish. I notice how perfectly smooth and brownish her skin is. I notice the perfect curves of her teeny elf mouth and her asianish brown eyes, and I breathe in her soft Tishy smell. In these moments, I see that her mouth is moving but I can't hear her because all I can think is -- This is the first time I've really seen Tish all day, and my God -- she is so beautiful. Kairos.

Like when I'm stuck in chronos time in the grocery line and I'm haggard and annoyed and angry at the slow check-out clerk. And then I look at my cart and I'm transported out of chronos. And suddenly I notice the piles and piles of healthy food I'll feed my children to grow their bodies and minds and I remember that most of the world's mamas would kill for this opportunity. This chance to stand in a grocery line with enough money to pay. And I just stare at my cart. At the abundance. The bounty. Thank you, God. Kairos.
Or when I curl up in my cozy bed with Theo asleep at my feet and Craig asleep by my side and I listen to them both breathing. And for a moment, I think- how did a girl like me get so lucky? To go to bed each night surrounded by this breath, this love, this peace, this warmth? Kairos.

These kairos moments leave as fast as they come- but I mark them. I say the word kairos in my head each time I leave chronos. And at the end of the day, I don't remember exactly what my kairos moments were, but I remember I had them. And that makes the pain of the daily parenting climb worth it.
If I had a couple Kairos moments during the day, I call it a success.

Carpe a couple of Kairoses a day.

Good enough for me.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eight Things

1. Jennifer got a job at an advertising agency...something like account associate?  I can't remember but I keep imagining Mad Men and just hope there'll be less infidelity and smoking.
2. Edward and Jennifer got their very own apartment.  This is great for them since they've only ever lived together but with other people (roommates, a grandmother, us, or my parents). I can't wait to see Jennifer's decorating style!
3. Because they are moving into their own place, it means our house will soon be empty of a couch, a bed, some housewares, and linens (we basically absorbed Edward's stuff when he moved back here).
4. Eddie has been sleeping on Edward's queen bed, which has been in his room since June of 2010. So we ordered Eddie a twin bunk bed with a trundle.  It is quite awesome, with a staircase instead of a ladder (that doubles as a dresser with drawers under each step).  Because Eddie is so young, Dave didn't feel comfortable with the ladder and opted for the stairs.  UPS tracking says it'll arrive on Friday and since Dave bought the mattresses at Costco yesterday, we'll be ready to assemble it as soon as Edward hauls his queen bed away.
5.  I ordered a solid colored, king sized bedspread that I plan to cut into two and hem to the exact dimensions of the twin mattresses (as opposed to making them bigger, as most spreads are, so they can hang down over the edge of the bed).  I might even sew one side of the flat sheet to the fitted sheet so it stays in place, too.  I don't want to have to deal with the hassle of making a bunk bed (tucking in the sheets and blankets). I bought a set of "trains, cars, airplanes, and tractors" sheets and a jungle animal set, too.  I think cartoon character bedspreads are tacky so I'm hoping he'll be satisfied with fun sheets and a plain top blanket.
6. My family will be visiting next weekend so we can celebrate my dad's birthday. I've already planned out the meal and I can't wait to eat it.  I won't say what it is here on the blog because I don't want to ruin the surprise for my dad.
7. I love that Dave has today off.  It made for a wonderful weekend that was so jam-packed full of fun and relaxation that it has felt like he's been here a whole week.  Once I've offloaded the pictures of our weekend getaway I'll post about it--the food, wine, hotels, shopping, and childlessness.  It was glorious.
8. There is a "hard freeze" weather advisory in effect for tonight and tomorrow so I just wrapped towels on the above ground irrigation line in the chicken house and plugged in the lights on the lemon tree and threw a sheet over the whole tree.  I should probably bring the chicken waterer inside, too, once it is dark (and they are asleep) and bring it back out in the morning so it won't freeze solid.  It'll be so cold tomorrow that it might take a long time to melt and I don't want them to be thirsty. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Operation: Playgrounds!

Growing up, our family didn't have many traditions (beyond, perhaps, getting cans of smoked oysters in our stockings every year at Christmas/New Years). I've always been a little jealous of my friends who had sentimental or even quirky traditions.

Vacations, for example, were something done only with my mom and perhaps the Joneses.  It wasn't really a "family" vacation, more like a trip with our moms.  In college I was a geriatric caregiver to this woman named Georgia.  She and her husband had a daughter and I loved listening to her stories about all their family traditions.  One in particular was that each year the choice of the destination for the "big family vacation" rotated amongst the three of them.  I thought that was awesome, so no one ever had to feel like they didn't get a say in what was "fun" or not.  (I'd love to adopt this tradition in our family.  Eddie's not old enough for that, obviously, but he will be in a few years.)  

Along these lines, I thought I'd start a new tradition for our little family.  The plan is to go to every single park in Davis for play time and a picnic of some sort.  Davis isn't a big place, but it is in sunny California and is very family friendly so there are a LOT of parks--forty three parks, actually, according to this handy parks map I found online.  Since I try to make everything educational, I did some reading about the "father of playgrounds and recreation," Joseph Lee and found a book I will try to read about parks, too.  Lucky for Eddie, he's too young to get anything educational out of it so it'll be all fun for him.
On a see saw for the first time! At Whaleback Park, January 10, 2012.
He opted for the "big" swings (instead of the baby swing seats) at Whaleback Park.
Ideally we'll be able to visit all the parks in Yolo County before we move away after I graduate.  Our county includes the cities of (and respective number of parks with play areas for kiddos): West Sacramento (14), Davis (43), Woodland (22), Esparto (0, sad), and Winters (1). I'm basing the last two cities' parks only on Google Maps since I can't find anything on their municipal websites.
Having a snack at the Mace Greenbelt Park on January 3, 2012.
He really liked climbing this fake rock at the Mace Greenbelt Park, January 3, 2012 (we stayed until it was too dark to see).

As of yesterday (when we went to Whaleback Park during our Tuesday afternoon off), we've been to only 10 parks in Davis.  Considering we literally live next door to a park, it is hard to justify biking or driving across town to a new park so we visit "our" park many, many times a week.  Hopefully Eddie and I will get to go to a new park each week that it isn't raining (in which case we'll go to the tractor museum, train museum, bounce place, or something else indoorsy).
Poor kid, I'm ruining him for our move to Gualala where there's only ONE park.  I've always want a geodesic dome play structure...maybe we can get one for our kids when we move, to augment the recreation experience up on the coast?  And a tree house, they'll definitely need a tree house...with a slide and a bucket pulley system to haul goodies up.  And a trampoline.  Can you tell I miss childhood?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Holiday Foods

We ate some pretty tasty things this holiday season.  Unfortunately, I didn't make everything on my list, in part because we weren't able to visit Gualala for a week as we intended so I had less cooking time.  My in-law's were sick (and "run ragged" by their new puppy) so they didn't want us to visit last week.  So I was back at work and away from Dave a week sooner than I'd hoped.  I was seriously disappointed that we didn't get to visit...I don't think we've been up there since October!

So I'll just finish up my list over the next couple of weekends when Dave is home to eat with us.  But here's what I did make over the holidays:

A couple of days post-Christmas we had cheese fondue, using whatever random foods we had left in the fridge for dipping (purple potato pancakes, broccoli and cauliflower, chicken, and bread). 
 For breakfast on New Year's Eve, my dad and I made Eggs Benedict.  I'd never poached eggs the "real" way (swirling, barely simmering water, etc.)--mine are always more like "coddled" eggs when I nestle them into the ramen noodles when I make Asian soup.  We made the Hollandaise sauce the night before and it was pretty easy.  Like Julia Child says, once you master the egg yolk nothing can stop you in the kitchen!  Instead of using English muffins, I made a loaf of rosemary French bread and grilled it in butter before topping it with the egg, ham, and sauce (a la Cafe Bernardo, my and Dave's favorite breakfast eatery here in Davis).   We also just used some ham my dad had bought instead of Canadian bacon.

Eggs Benedict will be one of those educational meals to engage Eddie when he's older: learning about French sauces, why Hollandaise is named after Holland, the use of English muffins, Canadian bacon, etc.  Quite the European and (colonial) English lesson!
Edward and Jennifer arrived later that day from New York so we had a feast ready for them: roasted trout, paella (with chorizo on the side since my dad doesn't like spicy stuff like that) and jalapeno poppers (Daddy didn't eat any).
It was very yummy...and particularly enjoyable since we adults ate our feast without Eddie, who was napping.  Meals are so much easier (and quieter) without him around.  
I stuffed the trout with fresh bay leaves, parsley, and lemon and it was daaaaaaaaang good. 

Before roasting. 
After roasting for 20 minutes at 375F (and cut in half).
Just yesterday I made donuts for breakfast.  It was quite simple, really, but once you start frying it goes pretty fast.   
That lumpy thing at the back of the stove is a half-pumpkin from our CSA that I roasted the night before. I think it'll become curried soup.
 I made a half batch of dough the night before and let it do the first rise in the fridge over night.  On Sunday morning I simply took it out, rolled and cut it, and let the second rise happen in a warm oven.  To prevent the dough from deflating when I transferred each piece into the hot oil, I put each ring on a small piece of waxed paper and then sort of "dumped" them into the oil, as suggested some a reviewer of the recipe.  Excellent suggestion!  
I used a maple syrup glaze that I sort of made up...and it wasn't wonderful (didn't harden) so I need to work on it.  But overall, the donuts were super delicious--more cakey than raised donuts from a proper shop, but more delicious I think.  I fashioned ours into rings, holes, and one braided cinnamon-sugared "twist" for Dave.  The boys certainly approved.
This coming weekend I'll make the buffalo chicken dip for an easy junk dinner on Saturday and mussels and fries on Sunday for dinner (perhaps I'll be able to make a Moroccan preserved lemon pilaf for Sunday lunch?).  Having a quick, fun dinner dish like the dip on Saturday evening will be nice since we'll have just come home from a night-away date.  More details on that later!