SOP for microwaved potatoes

Ike_crosscountry_01This standard operating procedure was an assignment for Isaac’s biotech class, and I asked him if I could share it here because I loved it. (We couldn’t get the numbering system from his document to transfer over in a cut-and-paste, so just imagine a better numbering system than this one.)


    1. To delineate an exact method of baking red-skinned potatoes in the microwave.

  2. SCOPE:

    1. This applies to anyone who desires baked red potatoes, whether it be for dinner, a snack, or any other such time of consumption.


    1. Red potato: a variety of Solanum tuberosum with a reddish skin and round shape; usually approximately 3 inches in diameter.

    2. Fork: an instrument frequently used in connection with food; has a long, thin handle and four sharp tines on the other end. Usually between 5 and 8 inches in length. May be made of various materials: plastic or metal, usually.

    3. Eyes: in the context of potatoes, the beginnings of sprouts which would grow off of the edible tuber. Given enough time, these will become full-blown sprouts; the size and number of eyes increase slowly over time.


    1. Clean up after yourself. If necessary, refer to SOPs 7-10 through 11-10.


    1. Take care when using a fork not to stab oneself.

    2. Always be very careful when handling anything which has been heated. This applies here.

    3. If using a knife, take care not to put any appendages in the knife’s way when applying any force at all.


    1. Red potatoes, in whatever quantity is desired. Ensure that they are new enough not to be rotten.

    2. A fork; preferably metallic, although plastic will work.

    3. A functioning microwave (including a power supply).

    4. A tool with which small chunks of potato can be dug out. Many potato peelers have a sharp enough tip to do this; if nothing else can be found, a knife will serve well enough.

    5. A microwaveable plate. (If unsure whether a given plate is microwaveable or not, ask someone else who has more experience in the lab/kitchen being used.)

    6. A hot pad with which one can grab hot objects. Usually made of textiles; some may be made of plastic.

    7. A water supply; preferably a sink with a faucet. Must have enough volume of water for washing one’s hands and all of the potatoes to be used.

    8. Hand soap.


    1. Wash hands with water and hand soap. Refer to SOP 14-10.

    2. Rinse surface of potatoes thoroughly with water.

    3. Use sharp tool (6.4) to remove any undesirable parts of potatoes. This includes any eyes on the potatoes, as well as any especially dark-colored areas (which frequently indicate rotten areas).

    4. Rinse potatoes once more.

    5. Spear potatoes in several equivalently-space places  with the sharp end of fork (6.2). This ensures that the potatoes will not explode from the force of expanding steam while being baked.

    6. Put potatoes on plate (6.5). Arrange in a circle on the plate, leaving the center empty and spacing out the potatoes equally. Do not put more than 7 potatoes on plate. If more than 7 potatoes are being baked, split them equivalently among enough batches to ensure that no batch has more than 7. Set only one batch on plate at once.

    7. Open the microwave door. Put plate in microwave. Make sure that the potatoes stay roughly in place as arranged. Close the microwave.

    8. Set the microwave to bake for 2 minutes for each potato on plate, e.g. for 5 potatoes, cook 10 minutes. Consult SOP 30-11 or experienced technician if unsure of how to operate microwave.

    9. Once microwave has finished cooking, open microwave door. Using hot pad, remove plate and potatoes from microwave. Take care to ensure that the potatoes do not fall off of the plate. Put the plate on a surface which will not be damaged by heat.

    10. Give the potatoes at least 15 minutes to cool off. Once this time has elapsed, they may be relocated to wherever is appropriate given the circumstances.

    11. If potatoes will not be consumed for more than 3 hours, refrigerate them until time of consumption.

    12. Wash or otherwise clean up after anything used as appropriate.


    1. Anyone with prior experience in lab/kitchen; may or may not need to be consulted.

    2. SOPs 7-10 through 11-10.

    3. SOP 14-10.

    4. SOP 30-11.

  9. REVIEW AND APPROVAL (Signature required by the person who tested the protocol for clarity and

correctness.) _____________________________


    1. Potatoes may optionally be salted or otherwise seasoned at time of consumption. When seasoning, take care not to put an overly large amount of seasoning.

Isaac at a Ragnar trail race his cross-country team participated in. (Yes, there’s a watermark across his face, because I was too cheap to buy the photo.) On his forearms he’s wearing a pair of bracers, inspired by Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn books, that his talented friend Sierra made for him. Red potatoes help fuel his running.

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The perils of getting lost in a morning nap

I thought I had all my luggage: a small handbag, a larger handbag, and a very large, bulky suitcase. But I couldn’t find my plane ticket, and as I checked the dresser-drawers one last time, I found a book-bag full of heavy books. I started to panic, thinking that I needed to re-pack the books into my suitcase and that I didn’t have time. But then I remembered that I had intended to carry the book-bag onto the flight. I could wear one of the small handbags hanging in front of me with the long strap around my neck, and the book-bag with its strap on my shoulder. (I had a plan for how to carry the third handbag, too, which I don’t remember now.)

As we got in the car to leave for the airport (by now quite late to catch my flight) the father of my host family said he hoped my paquet wasn’t heavy, because I would have to pay extra if it was. I recognized the word paquet as the word for suitcase [it isn’t really the word for suitcase] and regretfully admitted that my paquet was, in fact, very heavy.

On the way to the airport, I continued searching my bags for my airplane ticket. I found many colorful collectible pins on cards that I thought my kids would like. And I found four tickets I had bought before my trip, for a concert I had forgotten to attend with my host family.

My host family dropped me at terminal 140. I struggled to thank them in my limited language skills, feeling awkward that I couldn’t offer to host them if they came to my country, since my house in the States was too small and crowded.

I tried to make my way to the gate, continuing to search through my luggage for the plane ticket. I found my photo I.D. and wondered if I could check in and get on my flight with that, without needing my actual ticket. I passed quaint shops and wished I had time to go in and buy myself a pastry. I tried to recall if I had done any shopping during my stay. I wouldn’t have another chance to shop until my next trip to Europe, which could be years away.

I looked up and saw that I was at stop 78 for the train (a metro with above-ground, indoor trains). The train stops were on the same numbering system with the airport terminals, so I had wandered very far past stop 140 and was going to have to take the train back. I urgently asked a woman if the train had left, and she said that it was still there–but by the time I’d bought a ticket, it had just pulled away.

I caught the next train and looked at my train ticket. I would have to change trains twice, with significant waits for each connection. The train agent had handwritten the numbers of the stations where I would change trains, but I couldn’t read her handwriting. By now I had almost certainly missed my flight, and would have to wait for the next day’s flight, and spend the night in the airport when I finally got there.

Then Hazel woke me up, asking for her lunch, and saving me, once again, from being stranded in an airport. (Hazel has graciously agreed to wait to have lunch until I finish writing down my dream.)

I’m just now remembering that Mabel got colorful collectible pins at the ISEF science fair in Phoenix.

And Dean forgot to bring his wallet to work with him this morning, so he won’t be able to buy himself lunch unless he borrows money.


Mabel wearing some of her International Science Fair trading pins, waiting to get into a Diamondbacks game in Phoenix back in May. I did take a wrong freeway exit on the way to the airport for that trip, but we made it onto our flight and didn’t lose our boarding passes.

I had a book-bag full of heavy books as a carry-on on for that flight. Someday I’ll get a fancy electronic book-reading device, and heavy book-bags will only exist in my nightmares.

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And they’re off . . .

I don’t even want to say how much I spent yesterday on school supplies, fees, and school lunch accounts. (Instead I’ll just imply that it was a large amount.) It’s all worth it–even a bargain–but it sure feels like a lot when you pay it all at once.

I’m not as sad to send the kids back to school this year as I sometimes am. We didn’t nearly do everything on our to-do list and wish list this summer–but we did do a lot of those things, and on the whole the summer was . . . satisfying. (How very unlike me to feel that way.) Of course I always wish school would start in the actual fall instead of the hottest part of the summer, but I’m also a little resigned. I’m even cautiously optimistic that I’ll get a lot done during the hours when it’s just Hazel and me at home–although I do remember, from previous years, that I’ll need to conserve energy for the crazy after-school and dinner hours.

Anyway, here are the obligatory back-to-school photos:


We can’t seem to keep up with a precise measurement to answer people’s constant question of how tall Isaac is these days, but we think he’s around 6′ 3″. With a son that tall, it’s impossible not to be constantly reminded of the poignant truth that kids do, in fact, grow up. (And up, and up, and up.) He turned sixteen just before our summer vacation. He has yet to go on a date, get his driver’s license, or get a job–but he has plans and is making progress toward all of those things. I think he’ll have a fabulous junior year of high school.

He ran a Ragnar (overnight relay race) with his high-school cross-country team this past weekend (they won handily) and then went to a multi-stake church dance, and in this photo you might be able to see that he’s still recovering. (He actually overslept, but had given himself enough of a margin that he still left for school on time.)


I think Mabel’s added a little height this summer, too–although, again, we haven’t actually measured. In the past couple of weeks I’ve found index cards with lists and schedules of outfits and hairstyles she plans for the first couple weeks of school. She says she doesn’t usually end up following the lists she makes–she just enjoys making the lists. She’s been somewhat anxious about school starting–she’s afraid she’s forgotten all the math she learned last year, etc.–but I imagine that, as in previous years, she’ll adjust quickly and thrive.


I doubt there was ever a sweeter, spunkier fourth-grader. Rose gets to have the same fourth-grade teacher Isaac and Mabel had, and they’ve told her so much about how they enjoyed his class that she’s been very excited for school to start. God bless good, kind, hard-working, fun-loving teachers!

BacksRose and Henry wanted a photo of their backpacks.

This spring Rose said to me, “I’ll bet you’re sorry you let Henry and me walk to school together, because we became such good friends!” Um, no? I’m thrilled that they enjoy walking together–even if it’s true that their rapport has led them to be collaborators in mischief.

This morning, though, they were downright saintly. The first day of school started an hour later than their usual schedule, and Rose suggested to Henry that while they waited to leave, they could say their prayers and write in their journals. Rose was also telling me how this year she plans to continue teaching Henry math while they walk home–apparently last year they worked on multiplication. “And Henry’s actually a pretty smart kid!” (Don’t let my selective reporting fool you that my kids are always this saintly–but I sure do enjoy these little moments when they come.)


Henry actually does usually act somewhat saintly at school. (He saves most of his mischief for home.) Hopefully he’ll be as agreeable for his second-grade teacher as he was in kindergarten and first grade, and will have another happy year.


Last but not least, Hazel gets to do “home preschool” with me. Right now she’s profiting from the peace and quiet to make her Playmobils talk and sing:

Playmobil 1: “Okay, um, what do you like?”

P2: “I’d like . . . nothing. I’m not hungry.”

P1: “Would you like some marshmallows?”

P2: “I’d like some marshmeanies.”

P1: “They’re not marshmeanies, they’re marshmallows.”

(And so on . . .)

Posted in Meanwhile in the real world, My kids actually are funny (and sweet and wonderful), Parenting | 9 Comments

Mabel busking in San Francisco


Mabel at Union Square

Let’s say your husband and daughter had concocted a scheme for her to do some street busking during your vacation. And let’s say she had spent a lot of time learning several songs beforehand. (Her goal was twenty songs, but she “only” got ten or eleven learned.) Would you let your daughter set up on a street corner, and sing for strangers?


I couldn’t think of any objective reason she shouldn’t do it–and I did think the idea sounded cool. But I was afraid that she’d get kicked out of a space, or get in someone’s way. But I told myself that if that happened, she could just find another spot. And I also reminded myself that some of my musician friends have made extra money busking while traveling, and that as far as I knew, nothing bad had ever happened.

I was glad Dean was completely in favor of the idea. I’ve heard that dads are often the ones to push their kids to try new things. Hooray for dads.

So, during one of our afternoons in San Francisco, after we got lunch in Chinatown, Mabel found a corner at Union Square, set out her ukulele case for tips, and started singing. She was pretty nervous at first, but she warmed up to it after a while.


This lady was one of Mabel’s biggest fans–she said her dad was a blues singer, and she was, too. She joined in with the chorus on one song, and then asked Mabel to keep playing while she did some freestyle rapping.

Lots of people walked by without stopping. Some did double-takes. One girl who looked like she was about Mabel’s age was staring at her with a look on her face of, “You can DO that?!”

Dean and I wanted to give Mabel space so we kept a bit of distance, and people would look relieved when, in response to their questioning glances, Dean would nod that, yes, he was her father.

At Union Square it was very noisy, but some people did stop to listen. Tourists stepping off buses would take their picture with her. Many gave her small change, and some were more generous. After a little more than an hour, she had a pretty big pile of cash.


A couple of days later, we let her have another go of it at Fisherman’s Wharf. She found a bench near Pier 39.


This time was even more crowded than at Union Square. I stayed nearby while Dean took the younger kids to see the sea lions, and although I still felt a little nervous on Mabel’s behalf, I also had a great time people-watching.



It’s so interesting to see how crowds form. Twenty-or-so people will walk past without stopping, but as soon as one person decides to stop and take a picture, others will stop to see what they’re taking a picture of, and soon there will be a group. A few women who looked like college students were about to walk away, but stopped to listen for a moment, and one said, “She has a good voice.” They ended up listening through several songs. When Mabel would finish a song, the whole crowd would applaud.


It’s also interesting to watch people make the decision to donate some money. Some drop a dollar or two in a swift, practiced motion. Others, even after they’ve gotten a dollar out of their wallet, take time to work up the courage. Often families will send the smallest one in the family to do it.



The cute toddler in the newsboy cap had just finished putting a dollar in Mabel’s ukulele case–which he had had to chase after it blew away on his first attempt.

At Pier 39 in only about 40 minutes Mabel made nearly the same amount as previously, this time all in one-dollar-bills and coins.


Tithing and putting half in long-term savings still left Mabel with plenty of spending money.

It turns out to add quite a bit of excitement to a vacation when, for a little while, someone in your group becomes the tourist attraction. And it’s also fun to know that from now on, if Mabel ever runs out of cash while traveling, she has an easy recourse.


Posted in My kids actually are funny (and sweet and wonderful), Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Thanksgiving Recipes: Tracy’s Ginger/Lime Yams; Cheese Pumpkins and Carrots



Hazel, Henry, Rose, and a cousin–Thanksgiving 2012

Why am I posting Thanksgiving recipes in June? Because that’s how long it took me to get around to it.

(If you really want to know, I got the yam recipe from Tracy after Thanksgiving of 2010.)

I haven’t tried the yam recipe yet, but I’ve eaten the ones Tracy makes, and they’re by far my favorite way to eat yams (which I usually don’t care for). Unlike the various traditional sweetened yams that use marshmallows or sugar, this is essentially a savory recipe–and it’s very, very good. You should try it.

Tracy’s Ginger/Lime Yams

1/2 stick of butter

2-3 large yams*

one large yellow onion

small hand of ginger

1/4 cup olive oil

dash of salt

one lime

turbanado or brown sugar

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees F. In a glass or porcelain baking dish, almost melt butter in the microwave. Peel and slice yams lengthwise into quarters, and then into 1/4 to 1/8 inch slices; dice or ribbon the onion; and finely dice a small hand of ginger by pulling it apart, scraping off the skin, cutting lengthwise into strips, and slicing across the grain as thinly as possible.  Place all three root vegetables in the butter, and mix in 1/4 cup olive oil and a dash of salt.

The butter and oil combined should just coat the mix, and ideally the pan should be large enough that the yams are only a few layers thick (otherwise, cooking time will increase).  Halve and thoroughly squeeze out the juice of the lime evenly over the yams, followed by a light sprinkling of turbanado or brown sugar, a scarcely visible amount.

Cover pan with foil and bake at least 45 minutes, until the yams are quite tender and the onions are translucent and soft.  The last few minutes of cooking are optionally broiling (no foil) with a fresh sprinkling of sugar.

*Apparently true yams, an African staple, are hardly available here. American grocery stores use “yam” to mean the softer varieties of sweet potato with a reddish peel and orange flesh, which is what this recipe calls for.

Tracy_Hazel_Thanksgiving_2010I thought I had a photo of the yams, but I don’t, but here’s a picture of Tracy with Hazel–who wasn’t feeling very well two-and-a-half years ago, on Thanksgiving of 2010. (Curiously enough, this past week she was similarly sick–she had a fever and would put herself down for long naps every day. I think she’s all better now.)


These pumpkins and carrots were a tradition in my mom’s family. They are a little messy and time-intensive to do. (And the scale is a little funny, with the carrots as big as pumpkins.) But my kids think they’re fun to make, and they do taste good on a cracker.

I lied about having a recipe for them. But this is more-or-less how we make them:

Soften one or two 8 oz packages of cream cheese, and beat the cream cheese in a mixer. (A food processor would also probably work well, if I had one.) Grate a comparable quantity of sharp cheddar cheese, add it, and blend it in. Add seasonings to taste–Dean’s usually in charge of this task, and likes to add things such as onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, and Worcestershire sauce. He also sometimes adds a little red food coloring for a darker orange color.

When you’re happy with the flavor, put the mixture in the fridge to firm up before shaping. Then roll pumpkins into balls and draw lines on them with a toothpick, and roll cylinders with one pointed end for the carrots. Use fresh parsley for the leaves and stems.



Rose always thinks it’s weird to see photos of herself from before she wore glasses; she thinks she doesn’t look like herself. I just feel sad she lived in a blurry world for so long.

And as long as I’m posting Thanksgiving stuff, here are some pretty leaves we made this past fall, using the instructions and template that you’ll find here.



Rose, Henry, and Hazel performing “We Want Underwear For Christmas,” an original song composed and choreographed by Mabel. Unfortunately, Mabel hasn’t granted a public license for the performance.

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Mama’s little helpers

Several years ago my sister passed this vintage dress on to my girls. The skirt was tattered, but I liked the bodice with its tiny covered buttons, so I sewed a new skirt onto it.


About a week ago I noticed that the tiny french-bound neckline was starting to fray. I came up with the idea to fix it by whipping two colors of embroidery floss around the binding. Hopefully the floss will help hold the binding together.


Then today I noticed that of course I would have to do the bindings on the sleeves, too.


Now that’s done, and hopefully we’ll get a few more good years out of the dress–or at least a few months, until Hazel outgrows it.

Meanwhile, GLORY HALLELUJAH, summer has begun. My kids had their last partial day of school last Thursday, Friday night Dean took them camping, this morning they had swim lessons, and now they’re doing chores.

I love the summer break. I look forward to it all year. It is by far my favorite time of year.

Some of my kids think I just like summer because I want to make them my slaves. They are partly right–but they don’t realize that before I had kids, I didn’t need slaves, because my home didn’t get messy.

Anyway, besides the slavery, I am also looking forward to lots of fun and relaxation over the next few weeks.




A few candid shots of my slaves. (Mabel and Rose fled from the camera.)

Posted in Meanwhile in the real world, My kids actually are funny (and sweet and wonderful), Sewing | Tagged | 3 Comments

Sunday on the porch

Mostly I took this photo because we found black-and-white outfits for all three girls this morning. And because Hazel’s foam-curler 30s hairstyle is so spectacular, and hard to photograph (usually she runs from the camera).


Isaac’s not in the photo because he was gone collecting fast offerings, and I was afraid if I waited to take the photo later, I would forget.

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