Friday, August 30, 2013

Home from the Hospital and Ina's Easy Tomato Soup

Sam's been home for a few days now. He spent a full week in the hospital. It would have been longer, had we not fought to be discharged (with our oncologist on our side). I swear, the hospital has a way of turning me into such an unpleasant person. I guess this is something I should consider working on, since we seem to be there on a regular basis. The upside is that we have a renewed sense of how wonderful our everyday life is and how much we truly love our home. It's so easy, even after everything we've been through, to get bogged down in the everyday stuff. Oh, but when that stuff is gone. You miss it. The meal planning, the bath time, the "what do you feel like doing this weekend?". The little things. Like cooking this soup.

I've been making this soup from Ina's latest cookbook Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust for a while now, and every time I do, it's a huge hit. I'll never forget the first time I made it. I followed her recipe exactly, topping each bowl with the adorable grilled cheese "croutons" she makes to go with it. I wish I had taken a picture of Sam and Jack staring at their bowls. Finally Sam asked, "Babe, this looks amazing, but where's my sandwich?" and Jack spent the next ten minutes trying to fish them out with his fingers. Needless to say, we are not a grilled cheese crouton house. Lesson learned. Now I serve this up in bowls with a big platter of sandwich halves in the middle of the table and everyone's happy.

grilled cheese croutons. never again.

Ina's Easy Tomato Soup

*Note: Out of sheer laziness, I've tried to skip the step of cooking the orzo separate and just add it to the soup. This never works out, and always results in haphazardly cooked pasta- some crunchy, some complete mush. If you think it's your lucky night, go ahead and try it and be sure to tell me exactly what you did. I'm not sure what it is, but some nights I read the step to get out an extra pan to boil water and equate it to being ordered outside to run a mile. Ridiculous, I know. And the spinach is my addition. Great way to "sneak" in some cancer fighting greens. 

3 Tablespoons olive oil
3 cups yellow onions, chopped (2 onions)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 cups chicken stock
1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup orzo (or other tiny pasta shape)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2-3 handfuls of fresh, chopped spinach (optional)

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then until golden brown. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Stir in the chicken stock, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, fill a medium pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Add the orzo and cook for 7 minutes. (It will finish cooking in the soup.) Drain the orzo and add it to the soup. Stir in the cream and spinach, return the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.  

*Like most any soup, this can be made a few days in advance. You could make it on the weekend, cool it down a bit, and stash it away in the fridge. Tuesday night dinner now consists of making grilled cheese sandwiches and reheating a pot of delicious, homemade soup. Just a suggestion.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Pneumonia and RSV

The tests have come back, and Sam has pneumonia. They also told us this morning that he tested positive for Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). This can present as the common cold in most adults and children, but can make babies and the immune-compromised very ill. I know many of you have asked about visiting Sam, but we'd really like you to think twice about it, especially if you have small children at home. Also, if you're sick or feel like you might be getting sick, I'm asking you to please be cautious when you're around Sam for the next few months while he finishes these last rounds of chemo. I know we can't control everything, but since I have Sam, Jack and now this new baby on the way to worry about, I'm sure going to give it my best shot.

Sam has been feeling a little better today. He hasn't had a fever yet, and he actually ate some bites of toast for breakfast. We had to tease him last night when his night nurse came in with his Coumadin as I was trying to get him to drink his chocolate Ensure. Poor Sam. Thank you again for all of your wonderful support (especially Amelia Graves for the Chelsea's delivery and Sarah Starr for the delicious risotto- wow, I need that recipe!)


Thanks Ben & Courtney Ellis for the delicious strawberries from Sheri's Berries!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Back in the Hospital

Sam started feeling bad Tuesday afternoon, and when he spiked a 102 fever we headed to the ER. He has been getting chemo again to help offset some of the gvhd complications that have been becoming more and more of an issue over the past few months. He's still in remission though, still completely cancer-free, but his doctors thought he would benefit from 4 rounds of Rituxan. He handled the first round OK. His counts dropped, but he rebounded fine. His second round was two weeks ago, and all was going well until late Tuesday. They're fairly certain that whatever is going on is the result of his suppressed immune system. We keep reminding ourselves we've walked through much worse, and whether it's an infection of some sort or viral meningitis- we've been there before. We should know more over the next few days. IRMC may not be Sloan-Kettering, but we thank God for Dr. McGarry and an awesome team of nurses. And thank you so much for all of your prayers and words of encouragement. It definitely makes a world of difference when you're stuck in a hospital room. Hopefully I'll have more to report soon.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Adventures in 3 Day Potty Training

It's been two weeks now since we made the decision to start potty training Jack. He's 2 1/2, some say this is way too early, some crazies say I'm already too late, but for our family- the timing was perfect. Honestly, I wasn't going to even venture into this territory until he was 3. I don't mind diapers. They're convenient and easy. No searching for clean restrooms or toting a potty along with us wherever we go. But it was time. He was ready. He had been ready. And by the time he's 3 we'll have a newborn in the house. I wanted to make sure I set him up to be as successful as possible. For me, that meant not only being sure he was up for it, but also making sure I was capable of being fully present and well rested to give him the attention and patience I knew would be required.

Since I had no idea where to start, I researched several methods. I knew this would be a major milestone, and I didn't feel comfortable just winging it. We had purchased a potty chair a long time ago, and he'd been playing and sitting on it for months with no pressure to actually use it. After talking with several friends and reading several blogs, I decided on Lora Jensen's 3 Day Potty Training. She has potty trained her 5 boys and 1 girl with this method, and helped thousands of other parents do the same. Her plan is detailed in a $25 e-book which I highly recommend. Along with the e-book you get complete access to her HelpDesk where she answers any and all of your potty training questions and concerns. Apparently, this is supposed to be a universal method and can work for most any child, but I can't speak to that claim. I can say for sure though, this method worked for us. We had a highly motivated, 2 1/2 year old boy, and by late morning on Day 1, it "clicked". Of course, there were accidents. But we've been completely diaper-free for two weeks now (both day and night), and we're not looking back.

Like I said, if you go with this method, purchasing her e-book is a must. Here are some highlights from our experience.

Prepare! I chose a time to start potty training when I knew we wouldn't have much going on. We were back and settled from summer vacation. Sam wouldn't be gone on any out of town trips. I made sure to completely clear out a block of 3 days. No classes. No play dates. No errands. I planned simple dinners (make ahead, take-out, husband cooks). I put workouts on hold. I spent the weeks leading up to the "big day" talking up the whole process like it was going to be the highlight of our summer. "Pretty soon, we're going to start potty training!!! We're going to throw these baby diapers away, and you're going to go pee pee and poopies on the potty!!! Doesn't that sound fun!?!? And when you go on the potty, we're going to get special treats!! We'll have M&Ms! And stickers! And coloring pages! And even some special surprises!!". All in the same voice I might use to describe an upcoming trip to Disney World. He would always say "Can we do that now, mama!?" which I would follow up with, "Not right now, but soon when we start our potty training". Seriously, this went on for weeks. Meanwhile, I was gathering supplies- special prizes, underpants with his favorite characters on them, juice boxes and special snacks, mattress covers and extra sheets, and lots of activities we could do together during those 3 days. Also, I was psyching myself up. That pep talk wasn't just for him.

Day 1. So the day finally arrived. I had actually planned on starting on a Tuesday, but I opened my eyes Monday morning and thought "let's do this". I went and got him from his crib (yes, he's still in a crib which adds a whole other dimension to the process) and took off that last diaper (way more emotional than I anticipated). Then I made the big announcement. "Today is a very special day!! We finally start our potty training!!". He was so excited. The first thing he said- "And we'll have M&Ms!!!". I had a small stack of freshly laundered underpants for him to choose from, and I brought him downstairs where we ceremoniously threw out some diapers. She insists on having you and your child throw away every last diaper in the house and car for reasons both symbolic (out with the old!) and practical (there's no turning back or giving in without breaking down and buying more). I just couldn't do this. We're on a budget with another baby on the way. Any loose diapers were getting stored away for baby #2. I did, however, clear my diaper bag and purse of any beat up and misshaped stragglers, which he joyfully threw in the trash. About 15 minutes later, I took him to the bathroom where I had placed the potty (now its permanent home- no dragging it all over the house- bathroom business was to be done in the bathroom) and explained the most important lesson he would learn over the next few days. "From now on, we're going to go peep pee and poopies on the potty. We don't want to go in our new underpants. We want to go on the potty! Make sure you let mama know if you feel pee pee or poopies coming so we can go on the potty". Then we walked out. I may not be completely on board with all of Lora Jensen's thinking, but this is my most favorite part of her method. There is absolutely NO asking "Do you have to go pee pee?". You're not wrangling them onto the toilet every 15 minutes to "try". You're teaching them to pay attention to their own body signals and alert you in enough time to make it to the potty. There will be accidents. Many accidents. But once it "clicks" and you hear them shout "Mama, mama I have to go pee pee" you know you're on your way.

He preceded to pee in his underpants 5 minutes after this conversation. I was right there next to him, saw what was happening and said "Oh, we want to go pee pee on the potty now. Here we go! Let's go!" and quickly ushered him into the bathroom and onto the potty. The idea is to not leave their side for 3 whole days in order to "catch" these accidents and bring them to the potty to either finish or at least get your point across. We put on a fresh pair of underpants, and I again explained, in a very happy, upbeat voice, what I expected of him. I also added how important it was that we keep Thomas "nice and dry" (he was wearing Thomas underpants). We spent the next few hours loading up on fluids (you want lots of potty opportunities) and doing fun activities together. Every 5 minutes or so I would say "Remember to let mama know if you feel pee pees coming". This is important. They need the constant reminders. This will also drive you, and probably your child, absolutely insane. He was so annoyed with me by the end of that first day ("Mama, I don't have to!!") but I kept at it. He was doing so well by late morning (successfully peeing on the potty 3 times) that I let him play with the iPad- a very special treat. What a mistake! He was so engrossed in what he was doing he proceeded to pee right on the couch without so much as looking up. I made sure the rest of our activities during training were fun, but not that "all-encompassing, ignore the world around you" kind of fun. Thankfully that was his last accident on Day 1. I started pulling back on his fluids about 2 hours before his nap (he sleeps every day from about 1pm-4pm). Though I put on a very brave face, I didn't hold out a lot of hope for dry sheets during naptime/nighttime. I had heard and read about how hard it could be for boys to stay dry while sleeping. Miraculously, he slept for 3 solid hours and woke up dry. I couldn't believe it and made a great big fuss.

We continued our training for the rest of the day. I had given our night time routine a bit of an overhaul over the past few weeks. He was used to getting about 8 oz of milk pretty much right before bed, and I knew, for him to have any chance of overnight success, this was going to have to stop. I think it may have been harder on me than him. We hadn't changed our routine since I stopped nursing him at 13 months. Yes, he asked for milk and yes, it broke my heart to offer him a small cup of water, but after three nights of asking it was our new routine. I'm glad I did this weeks beforehand and didn't try to change too many things at once. By the time our training started, he was drinking just a few small sips of water before bed and hadn't asked for milk in weeks. I know this might sound mean. It's summer and it's hot and here I am talking about limiting a toddler's fluids. It's really not like that. Up until about 7pm he can drink whatever he wants, but to get him to bed at a decent hour and set him up for a successful night, I have to limit his fluids at some point. This worked for us.

Day 2.  I was completely shocked to find a dry crib on the morning of Day 2. Was I being punked? How was this possible? This was followed by tons of praise and a prompt trip to the potty. He peed a river and we went about our day. So far, we had two accidents in two days. Not bad at all. One thing she stresses is the importance of a high fiber diet so they can poop easily and not be in pain or straining on the potty. I may have taken her advice a little too far. Jack had been playing with his trains most of the morning and I will never forget seeing him sprint to the bathroom calling "Mama, mama, I have to go NOW". He didn't make it. That was accident #3 and it was a big one. Lesson learned. We had another dry nap that day.

Day 3. He woke up dry again. This was a great day. No accidents and he successfully pooped on the potty. Sam went to sit for chemo in the morning and was home for the rest of the day. It was awesome having him here with us, even though he napped most of the day on the couch. My parents had bought Jack a special toy for the first time he pooped on the potty. He was so excited and so proud of himself. At this point, I was feeling really tired. Even though he was doing amazing, it was still a very demanding three days. Any doubts I may have had about this method or him maybe not being quite ready were pushed out when I saw how he embraced it and how proud he was with himself.

Here he is after getting his special toy, Cranky the Crane (he's a Thomas fanatic).

Day 4 and Beyond. We stayed in most of the day, went to dinner at my in-laws and brought the potty with us. Jack let us know when he had to pee (twice!) and was so proud when everyone made a fuss. This was also his first nighttime accident. I almost anticipated it. The night went late and he was drinking more than usual. I went in to get him the next morning at 6am and he was sound asleep, completely dry. I could wake him up or let him sleep. I let him sleep. By 6:30, the crib was wet. Any nighttime accidents we've had since then have been under the same conditions, when we're out of our usual routine. And they always happen between 6am and 6:30am. Our whole nighttime routine, in general, has been extended by about 45 minutes which includes several trips to the bathroom. Some nights, this can be incredibly exhausting. We walk that fine line between wanting to listen to his earnest requests to pee while putting our foot down to countless potty trips to stretch out bedtime. We've gotten it down to 3-4 trips with lights out at 9pm. It's a little later than I'd like, but for now, I'll take it.

I will say, we had an awful day around Day 7. He had three accidents in one morning. This is when the HelpDesk that came along with the e-book purchase was so helpful. I sent Ms. Jensen an email explaining the situation and asking what I should do and she answered me back within 24 hours. Amazing! She encouraged me to be sure to keep up with my over-the-top praise (which I had been slacking on) and to not react in any way to his accidents, take him in the bathroom, clean him up and go about the day. No praise, but absolutely no negativity either. Worked like a charm! I had naively thought that once he was trained, he was trained and that was basically it. So, so wrong. So I'm still praising. And I will be for a while. Maybe not 3 M&Ms every single time, but certainly big hugs and lots of attention. I make it very clear what kind of behavior gets my attention. And he's doing great. It's still a process. For better or worse, we learn something new every time we venture out to a restaurant, store, someone's house or an outdoor event and each time we get a little more confident. I say we, but it's mostly me. And that mini van we just bought is definitely coming in handy. While we're driving he'll call out from his car seat that he has to go pee pee. I always have the potty with me and there's plenty of room to pass through to the back and maneuver around. We've gotten a lot of jokes, but I'm telling you, it's made life so much easier.

Anyway. Potty training is tricky business. I really hesitated to write this post since we really didn't have an awful time, as I know many parents do. But it's our story and it's real, and if I helped only one person than my business here is done. Best of luck!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weeknight Peach Crisp

Oh, I know. It's been so long. We're still here. It's been a very busy summer, and I'll catch you all up soon, but I just wanted to quickly share with you this crazy good recipe for one of the simplest peach crisps you will ever make. Forget the tedious task of peeling peaches and you mix it up right in the baking dish. I brought it to family the dinner last week and it was a big hit.

Weeknight Peach Crisp

For the Filling
2 1/2 lbs peaches, halved, pitted and cut into bite-size chunks (6 cups)
3 Tablespoons flour
1/3 to 2/3 cup sugar (depending on the sweetness of your peaches)
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the Topping
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 teaspoon salt

Position rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil.

Mix the peaches with the flour, sugar, and cinnamon right in a 2 quart baking dish. Place the dish on the lined baking sheet, to catch any drips, and bake for 25-30 minutes.

While the peaches are baking, thoroughly mix all of the ingredients for the topping in a medium size bowl.

When the peaches are finished baking, carefully remove from the oven and sprinkle the topping evenly over the peaches. Increase the oven temp to 400 degrees and bake for 15-20 more minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is nice and brown. This is delicious hot, warm or at room temperature.

recipe source: Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich