Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Trying Not to Psych Myself Out



It's happening, folks--summer is coming to its official end, a point that is proved by the fact that I've been at the school all week fulfilling contract hours and getting my room ready and trying not to freak out about my next batch of victims, who will officially be starting school next Tuesday.

On all fronts, it appears that I'll be having a bit of an easier year than last year (which shouldn't be hard, considering that last year was the year from that-place-that's-the-opposite-of-heaven). For starters, my class sizes are actually REASONABLE this time around; I mean, I actually already had desks in my room for all the students I wax expecting. Imagine that! In fact, the numbers I have in my Spanish classes have led me to shout more than one "Hallelujah!" every time I think about it.

To put things into perspective for you, my first year of teaching, I taught classes that ranged from 24 students to about 29 or 30. Last year, I didn't have a single class with fewer than 30 students, and most of my classes were totally maxed out with 34 (which required me bringing in 4 extra desks, a feat that required some seriously creative finagling of furniture). This year, I don't have any classes with more than 30 kids, and ALL of my Spanish classes have a range from 20 - 22. Hallelujah, indeed.

Secondly, this year should be a little easier because I know as of this very moment of only ONE "problem" student that I have, whereas by this same time last year, I already knew of about 11 (and really had about 45). So, using that same ratio as last year (only knowing of one-fourth of my behavioral problems), I should only have about 4 students this year who will give me ulcers and keep me up at night. Hey, I'll take that number over 45 any day.

Third, my whole schedule has been changed this year so that I'll be teaching twice the number of Spanish classes and one less Language Arts class each trimester. Basically what this means is that I'll have a MUCH lighter grading load, as I won't be having to read the 30+ twice-monthly major writing projects that would have come in as a result of having that other Language Arts class.

Fourth, everyone keeps feeling the need to reassure me that this year will be worlds different than last year, which has been kind of a double-edged sword--on the one hand, it's nice to hear so many positive things about the group coming in, but on the other, it makes me wonder if everyone thinks I'm like this bomb that was bound to detonate soon if I didn't get some reassurance that this group of kids was more manageable than the last. (And in all reality, had I heard that the incoming group was as hard as last year's, I probably would have quit on the spot.)

All in all, I vacillate between being surprisingly unemotional and neutral about the upcoming year to being in a minor brain frenzy over the idea that it might just confirm, once and for all, that teaching 7th grade is just not for me, even if the kids aren't so hard to manage as they were last year. I'm trying to stay positive, but I'm sure as next Tuesday draws ever closer, I might be a little freaked out about the endless possibilities of what could be.

Ah, how would it be to have a "normal" job where each fresh August doesn't bring a sense of panic and uncertainty and an onslaught of out-of-control nightmares--what on earth would that be like?


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Life Lately



Eating Lately: Since my clean eating challenge ended, I've been trying to figure out what to do going forward. I felt so good while on the strict diet that I knew I needed to try and sustain as many of those changes as possible, but the no-processed-foods-of-any-kind has probably been the hardest rule to strictly maintain. I also still have cravings constantly for sugar (so you'd think that that would be the hardest rule to keep), but my body completely freaked out on me the last two times I had sugar (after being on the diet), so maybe I won't be having problems keeping that one, seeing as how I've been avoiding it as much as possible for the past few days.

Watching Lately: We haven't gone to see a movie in awhile, and the only new thing I've watched in the past month was Joyful Noise, which we found in a $5 bin somewhere. I am, however, excited that the next season of ANTM airs on Monday. There are only about 3 television shows I follow and embarrassingly, that's one of them.

Doing Lately: I've been trying to take advantage of these last few days of summer while I still can, but it hasn't amounted to too much. We had a fun family reunion last weekend and we've had friends over a few times for games, but we have yet to go on our monthly adventure for August. (Although now that I think about it, we DID try stand-up paddleboarding for the first time on Monday, which was AWESOME.) And just in case anyone was wondering, I've gone into my classroom exactly one time since school let out on May 30th. When I went in (on Tuesday of this week, as a matter of fact), I was delighted to find out that my room had apparently gotten re-carpeted, but then I noticed that my computer was missing, my cable connecting me to the district server had issues (as well as the outlet it was supposed to plug into), and that I have to have my printer re-installed yet again. There are few things I dislike more than getting my classroom ready for the new year---there always seems to be something that's gone missing or that's somehow gotten broken, and I am NOT one to go for cutesy decor on the walls. Anyone want to go in and get the room ready for me?

Growing Lately: Although our garden has overall gotten off to a slower start than it did last year (a fact we attribute to the fact that we only water twice a week now instead of every day), we have been enjoying a lot of fresh produce lately: green beans galore, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, basil, parsley, and I used our very first onion from the garden just yesterday. Things that are close: our corn and possibly some of our watermelons/cantaloupe. It's a great time to be a gardener!


Freaking Out About Lately: Grad school applications! Matt and I are neck-deep in applying to PT school for the second year, and because we'd gone through the whole process last year (and I knew that the system saved a lot of your information), I was mistakenly under the impression that the whole thing would be easy-breezy-summer-squeezy and that we'd be finished in under two hours and drinking celebratory glasses of sparkling cider in no time. Ha! Apparently, ALL the stuff that took the longest last year to do (the verification of his volunteer hours, the letters of recommendation, etc.) do NOT, in fact, carry over, so we now have to do all of those sections all over again. Plus, I thought that we were already way ahead of the curve because the application process just opened up last month, so I thought we were totally on top of the game this year. Turns out that one of the schools we have the best shot at has a deadline TOMORROW. Applying for grad school is the perfect blend of panic-inducing chaos for me because it combines all sorts of things that cause me intense anxiety---a lot of technical details that involve many phone calls and emails, fast-approaching deadlines that seem to come out of nowhere, a lack of control over what will happen, and the biggest factor of all--the fact that I can't do much of anything about it since the application process is for my husband and not me, so there's only so much of the burden I can take over. One day when he's a licensed physical therapist, I'm sure we'll be able to laugh about this, but now I just feel like throwing up whenever I think about it.

Running Lately: Even though I'm keeping up my thrice-weekly running regimen, I'll admit that a lot of the passion has gone out of it for me lately. Maybe it's because I'm not training for any race right now, or maybe it's because I've always hated running in the heat, but I'm hoping that running will regain some of its joy when fall hits (partly because of the cooler weather, partly because I'll have teaching stress that needs to be exercised off).



Photographing Lately: Last weekend, I did a shoot of our good friends, the Majors. We took a hike up to the Wind Caves here in Logan near sunset, and I was really pleased with how a lot of the shots turned out. (Of course, it always really helps when your subjects are as gorgeous as these two!)

Reading Lately: A Prayer for Owen Meany (which I've been slowly making my way through for weeks), I Dare Me, and A Year of Living Biblically. I finally finished up the Divergent trilogy last month (and BOY, do I have opinions about that ending), and right after I was finished with that, I devoured The Fault in Our Stars in under 24 hours (and loved it, although I think the disappointing ending of Divergent might have impacted my affection for Fault). The 3 books I'm in the middle of right now though have been taking me a long time, so I kind of can't wait to be done with them just so I can get to something new already.


And, to end this post, a picture of one of our gorgeous melons, which just looks so delicious and crisp I just want to cry because it means that summer is coming to a close.

Unlike the rest of the blogging world, I myself am NOT ready for fall to begin.

As always, thanks for reading along! And if you could all send positive thoughts about grad school applications our way, that sure would be appreciated!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Clean Eating Challenge: Report


Well, I made it through---even if there were several close calls involving hidden amounts of sugar, processed-food temptations (like cold cereal), and my brain rebelling against the idea of so many banana peppers in one week.

Just for a refresher, here were the rules:

For seven days, I challenged myself to avoid processed sugar in all its forms (honey and 100% fruit juices were okay), eat only whole wheat breads/pastas, eat foods that only had readily recognizable ingredients in them, and eat only lean cuts of minimally processed meat. I allowed myself one cheat meal and one small treat in the seven-day span.


How did I do?

Confessions first---due to an unexpected dinner out with friends, I did end up having one extra treat and one extra cheat meal. Also, while in the process of making some recipes, I realized that there was sometimes one minor ingredient (a couple tablespoons or less) that didn't quite meet one of the rules. In cases like that, I made substitutions where I could and just used it anyway when I couldn't.

In other words, I tried to follow the plan as perfectly as possible, but because I myself am not perfect, I had a few minor slip-ups.

Here's what I learned from the experience though:

1. I quickly realized how many times per day before I had been reaching for sugar-laced foods without stopping to think twice about it. I mean, no wonder I've gained almost ten pounds over the summer---I was giving into sugar cravings almost every 2-3 hours. When I took away that option, it was at first really hard to stave off the craving for more than about an hour, so I ended up eating a LOT of fruit (which is always a good thing in my book).

2. I had NO idea how many foods wouldn't meet my "no processed foods" rule--until I started religiously looking at the ingredients list on labels, I didn't know that even the most innocent, "wholesome" foods often contained some chemical I didn't recognized. For example, I had planned to make a buttermilk rosemary chicken dish that sounded divine. Problem? I couldn't find any buttermilk at the store that fit the bill. Two of my recipes called for sour cream and the brand I'd always bought had multiple processed ingredients in it. Even Greek yogurt--that superhero of dairy products--was difficult to find when shopping by the rules. Sometimes I was able to find a suitable candidate (like Daisy sour cream, which only contains cream), and sometimes I just went with the least objectionable choice (like the soy sauce I found that had only one ingredient I didn't recognize).

3. Even though a version of clean eating this extreme would not work for my life personally on a long-term basis, I do think the experience will change the way I eat from here on out. I feel like my sugar craving mechanism has been re-set so that I'm not feeling like I need it every three hours, and my digestive health hasn't been this good in YEARS. (Fact: I've had serious digestive problems since living in Central America for a year and a half. Although I've seen a doctor about it and tried various things, nothing has seemed to make too much of a difference. But this last week, I felt good. REALLY good. That reason alone is enough to make me eat more like this on a regular basis.)


4. I didn't lose as much weight as I thought I would. In fact, I only ended up losing a pound. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised though because while I set limits on the types of foods I could eat, I didn't set limits on how much. Plus, since the challenge still allowed me to eat high-calorie foods like cheese and butter (and I did!), I can see why the weight didn't just melt off.

5. A wise friend (thanks, Shelley!) left me a comment on Facebook that urged me to focus on more than just the numbers--she encouraged me to focus instead on how I felt inside by eating this way, and considering that she just finished a clean eating challenge herself (and one lasting 30 days and that also excluded dairy, at that!), I figured I'd better listen to her. I'm glad I did. Even though I'm a little bummed that I didn't lose the 3 pounds I expected to, I noticed that I just FELT better all week. Sure, the cravings were hard to ignore for seven days. Sure, there were several times it really stunk that the people around me were inhaling cookies and Costco potato rolls and lunchmeat while I was eating a "sandwich" of tomatoes and cheese between lettuce strips, but for the most part, I really felt a difference. Not only did my GI health improve drastically from the change, but I felt more alert, less sluggish, and more rejuvenated overall. And when I did indulge in a cheat meal or treat, I really enjoyed it (without feeling any guilt about it either, because I knew I'd truly eaten well the rest of the week).

(Side note: That's got to be one of the hardest parts about following a strict diet is the backlash that tends to come at large social gatherings when you're not loading up your plate like everyone else (because of the lack of healthy options in general). Have you come up with any strategies for eating well when out at social potlucks or other such gatherings? I'd love some advice with how to politely deal with people who keep telling you your diet is too extreme or that one cookie this one time won't kill you.)

6. Vegan "ice cream" SAVED me this week when it came to sugar cravings that just didn't want to let go. Wanna know how to make it? Blend two frozen bananas with a tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder and about a half teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. That's it! It's surprisingly scrumptious and made it so I definitely didn't feel so deprived. (See pic below for inspiration!)


Although I'm easing up slightly on the rules, I'm hoping that this experience will help me permanently more aware of just how I'm fueling my body and what really makes it feel the best.

Also, I know some of you were also going to try and eat clean this week (or had tried it before). How did it go? Any tips that made it easier or more manageable? I'd love to hear your experiences!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Financial Friday: 4 Ways to Use Zucchini



One thing I love about late summer is the abundance of fresh produce everywhere, whether you have your own garden or not. One key variable to saving money on food is to buy it in season (or to accept free vegetables whenever they happen to come your way). And, as I'm assuming is the case with most of you, one free vegetable that always seems to be coming your way is zucchini.

You've heard the jokes---don't leave your car unlocked during late summer, not because people might break in and steal, but because they might leave you a huge pile of overgrown green zucchinis on your front seat. You've seen the signs on front lawns offering piles of the stuff, at absolutely no cost. For anyone who actually has a zucchini plant, it is a constant battle to try and stay on top of the production (while at the same time leaving enough room in your freezer for things like ice cream and hash browns).

While I can't promise that these recipes will solve all your plethora-of-zucchini problems, I can promise you that they have been tested and deemed delicious not only be me, but also by my husband (who is MUCH more picky about vegetables in general than I am, especially the ones of the squash variety).

Without further talk, here are 4 main-dish selections that all feature zucchini:


1. Chicken & Veggie Roast

I wish I could take credit for this delicious (and totally) simple recipe, but I can't---I got it from the minimalist blog Slow Your Home, which I'll direct you to for the recipe. We just tried this one out yesterday, and the blend of fresh basil, roasted sweet potatoes, and zucchini really make for a meal that's as scrumptious as it is easy. (Plus it meets ALL of the rules for my clean eating challenge!)

Note: Even though the recipe only calls for one zucchini, you could easily slice up a second (or even third, if you were cutting out the mushrooms or the sweet potatoes).

2. Zucchini Enchiladas

I have this friend who I admire greatly for her eating habits. Since she was eleven, Ruth hasn't touched a single drop of processed sugar in any form, and she's been eating as a vegetarian for years. She is basically the poster child for clean eating, and she's become quite the sensational cook while she's at it. In fact, she's even creating her own cookbook, which this recipe is taken from:


one small zucchini, grated
1 ½ cups grated cheese of choice (use mozzarella or Monterrey jack for a more mild flavor, or cheddar for a stronger flavor)
1/3 cup cream cheese
Dash of garlic powder (optional)
1-12 oz bottle green enchilada sauce
8-10 tortillas (depending on size and how much you like them stuffed)
1 avocado, chopped
Beans of choice and sour cream (on the side; optional)

1.      Preheat oven to 350°.  Spray an 8 x 13 pan with cooking spray.
2.    Mix grated zucchini and cream cheese in a large bowl, then add the grated cheese and about half the bottle of salsa. Add garlic if desired. Mix all ingredients thoroughly together.
3. Warm tortillas so they don’t crack or break.  Spoon cheese and zucchini mixture into tortillas, roll them up, and place them seam side down in the pan.  Pour salsa on top of enchiladas. 
4.    Bake 25 min.  Enjoy with avocados and/or beans, sour cream, and more salsa. 
 
Photo via Tea & Cookies


3. Zucchini Quesadillas

If you want the easiest, quickest zucchini recipe of all time (that will become your new go-to meal staple), then look no further than these zucchini quesadillas from the Tea & Cookies blog (click here for the recipe). Seriously, these quesadillas take all of ten minutes to make, and they're completely addictive.

Note: I like to add half of a jalapeno pepper to mine to add a little zip. Or any kind of peppers, really.

4. Zucchini Breakfast Burritos

Finally, a recipe I can (semi) take credit for. Basically, while I was making the zucchini quesadillas mentioned above, I decided to add several different kinds of peppers, a fresh tomato, and 3 eggs. What did I have? Breakfast burritos! 

In case you're unfamiliar with the concept of breakfast burritos, you basically take the hash mentioned above, stuff it inside a tortilla, add salsa and sour cream to the top, and enjoy!

Hopefully these recipes give you some fresh inspiration for those eight zucchinis taking up residence on your counter (without resigning them all to zucchini-bread status). 

What are your go-to recipes for zucchini? 
 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Books: to Borrow or to Buy?


I feel bad for anyone who had to help us move back in June--not only did we have a piano that needed to be moved up a flight of stairs, but we had at least 25-30 boxes of books that had to be hefted up to the new apartment as well. Additionally, some of those boxes probably weighed at least 50-60 pounds and required the combined strength of two individuals to cart them anywhere.

Every person, I believe, has his/her financial kryptonite---for some, it's electronics, for others, it's the home goods section of Target. For Matt and I, it's books. 

I've had a lot of people ask me over the years, "Why don't you just borrow books from the library?" They then usually launch into a monologue that sounds suspiciously like a bragfest about how every week, they take their families to the library and can get everything they ever want--from books to DVD's to magazines--for absolutely no cost at all. And then they usually rush to add that they save so much space in their house as well since their shelves aren't "cluttered" up with books and movies.

I get it. I really do. Ever since participating in my "50 Weeks to Organized" project last year, I REALLY get the argument that books--as great as they are--take up space. (And in our case--lots and LOTS of space.) Plus, when I log into Mint.com and see how much of our paychecks each month usually end up going towards books, I totally get the financial argument as well. (Consider this fact alone: since summer started, I personally have bought over 15 books---in just two months!!)

The argument for borrowing books is a sound one--it saves money and time, plus it teaches accountability and time management (so that you don't get slapped with late fees every two seconds).

But I will probably almost always buy my books rather than borrow them.

Here's why:

*I have this quirk where I can't just read one book at a time--I must be reading at least 3-4 books simultaneously (if not more). This habit assures me that for whatever mood I'm in, there's a book I'm in the middle of that will fit that mood. While you might not see the immediate connection between this habit and my book buying problem, there definitely is one---you see, because I don't focus on one book at a time, it takes me longer to read any single book because I'm in the middle of so many at once. Thus, when I try to borrow books from a library (as I do every few months or so), I inevitably find that I'm usually not able to finish all of them (or even one of them) before the due date. This has led to me having read many halves of library books, but very few wholes.

*I like to mark my books. Some bibliophiles think it's heresy to write in books (or to alter their appearance in any way), but not me--I often read with a pen or highlighter nearby so I can mark passages that I particularly like or that strike me in a powerful way. 

*I hate having to wait to read books that everybody else is talking about. I've discussed before about how I have issues with feeling left out of the current book crazes, so the library just usually doesn't cut it for me. If I want to read The Fault in our Stars, but the waiting list at the library is about 3 months out, there's no way I'm not going to buy that book. Especially if there's a movie out and people might accidentally give away the ending before I've had a chance to get through the book first. (I have read The Fault in our Stars, btw, so have no fear when mentioning the ending around me.)

*I'm kind of a snob when it comes to book quality. I'm mildly obsessed with the smell of new book glue, and I love the look of pristine pages that have not yet been marked with grubby fingers or food stains. Because I generally do not have grubby fingers and have developed the skill of not spilling food when books are present, I don't have to worry about my beautiful books getting dirty. But library books? Gross. I feel like I have to wash my hands every time I pick one up.

*Sometimes, after I've read a book, I want to go back and locate a particular section or passage and re-read it. (Note: I don't actually want to re-read the book, I just want to look at a small piece of it.) In such cases as this, it is invaluable to own the book--not only am I spared the trip to the library, but because it's my copy and I've likely already marked the passage, I will probably find what I'm looking for within ten minutes.

*I like the decorative look of bookshelves. I'm not one to struggle with buying new decorations for my home (in fact, I kind of avoid doing that altogether it seems), but that's one thing I love about books--they are practicality and beauty all in one. Sometimes when I'm having a bad day, I'll just go sit in front of our bookshelves in reverent silence, basking in the glow of the written word. True story.

I'm sure there are many more, but all this talk of books makes me want to go pick one up and read already. 

Are you a buyer or a borrower when it comes to books?


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

An Awkward Introduction to Me


Welcome, Life of Bon readers! Supposedly, according to all the "blog tips" out there, I'm supposed to have some kind of introduction to myself whenever a new crop of readers comes through. Considering that I'm awkward enough for introductions in real life, I figured I'd spread the love and do an awkward introduction here on the blog.

So here you go---

5 Awkward Facts about Me (Torrie):

1. I had parasites for over a year while I lived in El Salvador, so I often make reference to my parasite babies while eating around strangers. (Note: my doctor assures me they've all been flushed out, in case you're overly concerned for my gastrointestinal health.)

2. We currently have a massacre site right outside our door that's been there for almost two months (ever since I took out the Raid Max and let the box elder bugs have it). Seriously, there are piles of red and black curled-up insect bodies all over the place, and I'm too wigged out by them to vacuum them up or sweep them off our porch.

3. I hate talking on the phone so much that I will often avoid making necessary phone calls (like to my doctor or dentist), and I'll sometimes even avoid taking calls if I'm not in the mood to have awkward ten-minute conversations with people I don't know well.

4. I own the movies Bride Wars, John Tucker Must Die, She's the Man, and A Cinderella Story. And I LIKE them.

5. Little children kind of freak me out. While my husband is great with children and will go out of his way to make kids like him, I usually just ignore them after giving the obligatory, "Oh, he/she is so cute and has gotten so big!" to the parent. (This rule does not extend to babysitting, of course---I mean, I'm not HEARTLESS.)

(You know what's awkward is how dirty our car's side mirror is)

If you're up for more reading (which you'll get a lot of with this blog---I tend to be long-winded), go ahead and check out some of these other posts:

Job-Oriented:


Marriage-Oriented:


Simplicity-Oriented:


Running-Related:


Reading-Related:


I've got lots of other interests, but I figure that will tide even the eagerest new reader over until the next week or so.

By the way, I'd love to get to know you---if you're new (or even if you're not-so-new), leave a comment telling me a little about yourself and a link to your blog (if you have one). I'm always looking for new blogs to read!

Welcome again!
 

 

 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Challenge #1: 7 Days of Clean Eating


While I've still got the fire of motivation burning within me, I figured I'd better start a 7-day challenge, and stat. Because I'm trying to provoke a lifestyle change with these challenges, I wanted to start with a diet change that isn't TOO drastically different from what I'm used to, which is why I decided to start with a "clean eating" challenge.

"Clean eating" can be defined in many different ways, but for this particular challenge, I'm going to abide by these particular guidelines:

1. No processed cane sugar (which includes granulated, brown, and confectioner's sugar, as well as any sugar under a different name, like high fructose corn syrup). Natural sweeteners like honey and 100% natural fruit  juices are acceptable.

2. Any food bought from a store or other vendor must have an entirely recognizable ingredients list. In other words, no foods with preservatives, additives, scientific-sounding compounds, etc. (Also, it is preferable if the ingredients list can be kept at 5 items or fewer.)

3. All grains must be 100% whole wheat.

4. Meat must consist of lean cuts and minimal processing (aka, chicken and fish are okay, meats like bacon, sausage, and most lunchmeats are not).

Basically, I'm going to try and fill my plate this week with foods that are close to their natural state, have mostly been prepared by me (or by another human I know), and that are free from sugar.

I will allow myself one cheat meal, which includes one small sugar treat.

In case you're curious, I've assembled a pin board on Pinterest of meals I intend to make (and any adjustments I'll need to make to them). If you want to see that board, follow this link.

I will post on my progress in one week (yikes!).

I'd love it if you'd like to join me! Also, I'm open to the sharing of any clean eating posts, ideas, and recipes---so send 'em on over!


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