Friday, November 30, 2012

Big Plans

It's official--we are in the thick of the holiday season! Matt and I kicked things off by putting up our Christmas tree, sipping sparkling cider, and sharing a beginning-of-holidays-but-not-quite-at-midnight smooch.

And this weekend it's home again, home again for us as we head back down to Bountiful to celebrate the holidays with my entire extended family. It should be a fun (not to mention LOUD) party.

Have your holidays plans started?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

His/Hers: Christmas Decorating Attitudes



But in the end, it all gets done.

How do you react to the idea of Christmas decorating?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Here's What's Cooking . . . Arctic Orange Pie

What with being squashed between all the holidays and rushed at work, I just KNOW that you're on the lookout for a perfectly delightful, perfectly quick, perfectly easy pie recipe. Am I right, or am I right?

Well, I've got you covered. I came across this recipe in Taste of Home's Most Requested Recipes (which is now on my I-must-have-or-I-die list), and was seriously impressed after making it with both its refreshing taste and refreshing simplicity (not to mention the fact that it has barely 200 calories a serving).

So do yourself a favor--whip up this little concoction, buy yourself some sparkling cider, and have yourself some early Christmas cheer.

Arctic Orange Pie 
1 package (8 oz) fat-free cream cheese
1/2 can (6 oz) orange juice concentrate
1 carton reduced-fat whipped topping
1 reduced-fat graham cracker crust (9 inches)
1 can mandarin oranges, drained

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the cream cheese and the orange juice concentrate. Fold in the whipped topping. Pour mixture into crust, and freeze until solid (about 4 hours). Defrost for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving. Garnish with mandarin oranges.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday Tell-All

*I finally got on the scarf bandwagon. I have avoided it for years because I just couldn't get over how a piece of cloth with strings pulled out of one side cost as much as an (affordable) pair of jeans. But, when I was able to get a couple of those suckers for about $3/apiece at Old Navy, I decided to take the plunge. And you know what no one tells you? That a scarf makes it harder not to dribble food all down your front since it's basically expanding my front parts by about 7". To fully enjoy my turkey and gravy on Thursday, I had to take the dang thing off. Am I the only one with this problem?

*Almost every morning, I make myself a Carnation instant breakfast shake with one green-ish banana and pour it into my Wonder Woman glass (or my Batman glass, if Wonder Woman is taking a bath). It's a small thing, but it kind of sort of makes me feel like a rock star.

*So apparently the students are giving me a second honeymoon. And by honeymoon, I mean that blissful stage right at the beginning of the school year where kids are on their best behavior and trying to impress you. Apparently, the kids do the same thing when a new trimester hits and their schedules are all juggled around (even if I have all the exact same kids, just in a different mix). Yesterday was the most blissful day of teaching I've had in longer than I can remember.

*Yesterday might also have been that blissful because by a fluke, I got a second prep hour (for now, anyway). I'm sure it won't last, but it was AMAZING. I was ready to kick off my shoes and sip a mug of cider, I was so relaxed.

*Matt and I started putting up Christmas decorations last night, and we got our whole tree decorated. I always forget how much time that takes...and how much Matt dislikes it...

*I'll be posting pictures of it anyway, though :)

*I finished another book yesterday. I'm on fire! I feel like it's been years since I've read this many books so close together. Thank goodness for donating plasma since it's the thing that forces me to read for at least 4 hours a week.

*This new trimester seems like it's going to be a real breath of fresh air, mostly because I basically have the next month planned out for me (since all of us Language Arts teachers are doing the exact same unit). I mean, I left at 3:30 yesterday. THREE-THIRTY, people! It was like Christmas had come early.

*I had a new student tell me yesterday that I was the nicest teacher she had ever met, and it totally made my day! Of course, then I made her come to country swing dancing and dance with boys, which obviously terrified her. So...she might not think that anymore...

*I've officially started running again. I feel better than I have in months, and much less stressed out. Correction: my innards feel better. My legs are killing me.

*I'm trying to think of a more thoughtful gift I could do for Matt for Christmas this year. Last year, I wrote him a letter almost every day in a journal for almost three months, and I put in pictures that showed everything we'd done together in that time. But this year, I'm at a loss. Any ideas??

Monday, November 26, 2012

Preview - Holiday Pics

So the day after Thanksgiving, I decided to drag Matt and his mom (our photographer) out so that we could get some nice pictures of the two of us, thinking we would have some good Christmas card material (if, of course, I ever get around to actually doing holidays cards this year).

Later this week, I'll give you more of a full sampling, but for now, here's a short preview.

Are you taking pictures for your upcoming Christmas card?

Happy Monday!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dia De Gracias

Since I figured everyone else was doing posts with titles like, "Happy Thanksgiving" or "Day of Thanks," I decided to be a rebel and say it in Spanish.

Cuz I'm cool like that.

(Not that I have anything against generic titles, of course. I just feel this inexplicable need to be different all the time. Maybe it's the fact that I teach at a middle school.)

But anyway, hope you are having yourself a happy Thanksgiving, complete with too much to eat, too many relatives around (just kidding), and too little worrying about Black Friday tomorrow.

As for us, we've already gotten our mandatory Thanksgiving exercise in (almost 2 hours of tennis), stuffed ourselves more than the turkey, and now all the men are outside playing four-square. It's a great day.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! Were you able to get your exercise in before the Big Stuff?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fun with Argument Essays

Greetings from the middle school, where I am currently in the middle of a very LOOONG Teacher Prep Day. You know what's sad? That I first rejoiced when I heard that we were having a Teacher Prep Day (because when I was a student, that always meant no school). Of course, the second it dawned on me that, DUH, I WAS the teacher, my day immediately got a little gloomy. And now here I am, buried to my ankles in creative writing final projects and argument essays just waiting patiently to be marked up all over with my glaring red pen.

So, to give you a little entertainment this chilly Wednesday, I've decided to share with you some of the more colorful lines from my students' argument essays. (Just for some background--for the argument paper, I gave my students a scenario depicting what quite obviously was going to be a crime scene involving a bank robbery, and they had to argue what they thought was going to happen next and why).


***Disclaimer: all mistakes are theirs, not mine :)

[Talking about the suspect wearing a hat as a piece of evidence]
"If that man has a hat on he does need to take it off before he goes in to the bank. That is not nice just to go in to the bank with a hat on. You should at least take it off before you go in to the bank. So the man is a Robber."

"The man has a green baseball cap and he keeps walking and then he lowers his head down. He is up to something right now. When somebody comes in with a hat on and lowers his head down, run away because he is a robber."

"He could've been wearing that hat because he has a skullet and was embarrassed by it."

"He found that green baseball cap in the garbage it used to be white but then somebody threw it in the trash and it got fungus and mold on it and eventually turned green and he grabbed it out of the trash so people couldn't see his face"

"Sure maybe he has a ugly face and maybe that mite be it, but you never know, maybe if the bank clerk wont give him the right amount of money then the guy who is in the brown jacket will freak out."

[Talking about keeping the car unlocked as a piece of evidence]
"If you do not lock your car what does that mean. What would you do if someone stole your car whose fault would it be? not you're Dads or your mom's fault it would be your fault. If you like having your car stolen then keep it unlocked and running."

"This guy didn't lock his car when he walked in, he also parked it right in front of the bank and those are true facts. Then you might say that, that is not suspicious, but if you hide your face as you walk in that is a whole new kind of suspicious."

[Hand in pocket as evidence]
"He is putting one of his hands in his pockets. That can only mean one thing: he is holding a gun in his pocket."

[Redundancies & Cliche Mix-Ups]

"As a rule, people don't walk with their head down unless they are sad or not happy."

"Before he committed the crime, he checked his surroundings to see if the ghost was clear, then he walked on ahead towards the bank."

[Other theories of what is happening besides the man robbing a bank]
"The boy could be getting bullied. This boy dresses like a teenager, and teenagers aren't very smart."

"The man is a baseball player and earlier he lost his job as a baseball player then he drove to the bank and will cash a check."

"The man is a hobo and stole a guys winning lottery ticket. The evidence that this is true is: his clothes, the paper he is holding, and where he is going."

"The man is a spy for the bank he is entering. Some people might argue that the small paper in his hand could be a death threat. Though that may be true, usually a threat is very big and bold. In fact, something that big would not fit on the small piece of paper in his hand."

[Random Funnies]
"He is a spy so  he doesn't want anyone to know he's a spy. No he's not a spy he is trying to rob the bank! Because he was wearing Baggy Slacks and only like gangsters wear like baggy clothing. Also spies wear nice Church like clothing."

"Some people might argue that lots of people wear baggy pants/shirts; lots of people have depression so they keep their heads down, and he forgot to lock the door. That doesn't matter because how often do people have that many problems?"

"As a rule, people don't normally carry little pieces of paper into a bank, unless they're trying to rob the bank. This means the man is going to rob the bank the "easy" way."

"The guy in the brown jacket will rob the bank. He will shoot everyone, and then steal all the money, and last, he will drop the note on the ground. Then he will get plastic surgery and move out of state."

"This man, let's call him Bill, is going to rob the bank. Guess that means we need to have a conversation."

"How to Rob a Bank:
Step 1: Go in and act normal.
Step 2: Hold up the gun and tell everyone to get down on the ground and fire two shots.
Step 3: Ask for the money once you have it get out of there as fast as possible.
P.S. Don't let anyone see your face."

Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday Tell-All

*After losing my "cool teacher" status within the first two weeks of school (mostly because students consider my class to be so stinkin' hard), I think I earned back some of those cool points back today by showing A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I debated whether to turn it into an assignment that tied into our unit, but let's be honest--we were all in need of a break. Plus, it doesn't add anything new to my "To-Be Graded" pile, which is already starting to resemble a small hill in Montana. So a win-win for everybody, if you ask me.

*If there was a "Worst Housekeeper in the World" award, it would go to me. When I was a teenager and would go to younger couple's houses that were messy, I'll admit--I was super judge-y. I would think to myself, "How hard is it to do the dishes?" And when they had kids, I would think, "How hard is it to pick up those toys that are all over the place?" I REPENT. I REPENT. I REPENT. Our apartment has been in an almost constant disarray since I started my teaching job, and I can only imagine how much worse it would be if we had a little one running around. So, for all the people I unfairly judged, I apologize. You are free to throw tomatoes at me if you'd like. (If you threw them around my house instead of at me, I probably wouldn't even notice.)

*My Diet Dr. Pepper problem has now reached epic proportions. I went to my usual Smith's yesterday to take advantage of their 5/$12 deal on Dr. Pepper. When I discovered that they were all out, I asked the friendly soda restocker if they had any more. When he told me that the only store that had them was the other Smith's across town, I only had to think about 1.5 seconds before deciding that I would go and see. So yes, I am now one of THOSE people when it comes to their diet soda. Good grief. Have you ever driven across town for just one (not necessary) thing?

*Last night, we made this new recipe for spicy cheeseburger soup that turned out to be pretty scrumptious. I know it doesn't necessarily sound super delicious, but MAN, it was good. Of course, that also might have been partly due to the fact that by the time I sat down to eat it, I hadn't eaten a square meal for 9 hours. But still. I might post the recipe just because I was that impressed by it.

*We also had an amazingly refreshing pie last night that was SUPER easy to make. I will definitely be posting about that soon. (Maybe as a Thanksgiving treat?)

*I don't think I'm doing the Black Friday thing this year. I just don't think it's worth the extra hassle and stress and lack of sleep when I don't have any super big items I'm planning on buying. How about you? Are you heading out to brave the crazies?

*Okay, official poll quesetion: What is the food you look forward to most on Thanksgiving? For me, there are two--this awesome cookie fruit salad that my mom makes, and pretty much any form of chocolate pie. Mmm hmm!!

*Even though I have to work tomorrow (Teacher Prep Day--what a bummer!), I'm still excited because we're going to take the night to start putting up our Christmas tree so that it will be there waiting for us and ready when we get back. I've even bought some Martinelli's to kick off the celebration, and we have leftover pie. Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot! Is your Christmas tree up already?

*I'm trying really hard to get back on the running bandwagon, even though it's SO hard for me to find make the time. I did run two miles last Friday, however, and I'm still a little sore from it. Yes, I did, in fact run a marathon this year. Yeah, I can hardly tell either. I'm determined not to gain the Holiday 5 though. Absolutely determined.

*It's Matt's side's turn for Thanksgiving this year (we went to my family's last year), so it will be off to my in-laws house on Thursday afternoon for some serious fun. I can't wait!

Hope this week leading up to your holiday is a festive one!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Italian Bread, Princess Bride, & Snuggles

Finally, a weekend when I finally felt I didn't need to run around and around like a decapitated chicken. I actually had time to do some real pen-and-paper writing, sleep in until 9, AND go to the temple with Matt and our dear friends The Roses. Not to mention get a little fancy with my baking, watch The Princess Bride, and get some good cuddling time with the hubby.

It's been a great weekend.

I won't lie, it was a little hard to come into work this morning. However, that pain was lessened slightly by the fact that I get Thursday and Friday off this week. Can I get a WAHOO from the crowd?

And, because this bread recipe was requested the last time I posted about it, I've decided to oblige :)

Italian Bread (from The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner)

3 cups warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons (2 packets) active dry yeast
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 teaspoon sugar, divided
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, melted
7 to 9 cupe all-purpose flour, divided

1 egg white
Sesame seeds (optional)

1. In a small bowl, combine the water, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar. Stir just until the yeast is dissolved. Cover with a small plate or paper towel and let stand until the mixture is bubbly or foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
2. In a large mixing bowl or in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, mix the salt, the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, butter, the yeast mixture, and 3 1/2 cups of the flour. Keep adding flour, 1/2 cup at a time, up to 3 1/2 cups, for a total of 7 cups. The dough should be firm and completely away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is still sticky, add more flour 1/4 cup at a time, up to the remaining two cups.
3. Knead by hand on a lightly floured surface or with the dough  hook on low to medium speed, about 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a large, lightly greased bowl, and turn it once to coat. Cover with a dish towel and let the dough rise in a warm place away from drafts, until doubled in bulk (20-40 minutes). Grease a baking sheet or sheet pan, and set aside.
4. Punch down the dough and divide in half. On a lightly floured surface, form each half into a thick baguette shape, about 10 inches long. Place the loaves on the prepared pan. With a sharp knife, make three angled 1/2" deep slashes on the top of each loaf. Beat the egg white with a fork, and brush it over the loaves. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds, if desired. Let loaves rise, uncovered, until doubled in bulk, 20-40 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. When the dough has doubled, bake for 30 minutes. For a crispier crust, spray water in the oven with a spray bottle before baking and again a few times during baking.
6. Turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack. Serve the bread hot if desired, or allow to cool. Pass olive oil and balsamic vinegar in a dish, as an alternative to butter.

Yield: 2 giant loaves

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chaos and Silence

Sometimes when I have twelve students all jabbering to me at once and I hear eight more talking loudly to their friends and the school loudspeaker goes off all at once, it's difficult for me to enjoy the chaos that surrounds me.

But something that I've been thinking about today is that without noise, there is no way we could appreciate stillness.

Today, my students got into a spirited debated over the law that put caps on the amount of calories that schools could put in their lunches (for 7th grade, school lunches cannot have more than 600-700 calories, including the milk). My teacher smile got real wide as I heard my students using their reasoning and critical thinking skills to politely (but passionately) argue their points. Today, I was able to appreciate the chaos because it meant that I had the pleasure of enjoying one of those moments when I know true learning has occurred.

But as I sit now during my prep hour in the complete silence of my classroom, my stomach full from just having eaten lunch, my mind gearing up to grade the latest batch of tests, I am grateful for both chaos AND calm, for I know that I appreciate the one so much more because I am intimately familiar with the other.

What moments of chaos and silence do you most enjoy?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book #20: Shanghai Girls

Title: Shanghai Girls
Author: Lisa See
# of Pages: 336
Genre: Historical Fiction

I have long been a fan of Lisa's See's poetic prose. I first fell in love with her writing when I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan while backpacking in Havasupai in 2008, and the love affair continued with her hauntingly beautiful Peony in Love. Lisa See has a gift for making even the most gruesome event seem poetic, and she writes about the complicated (yet very real) ties that bind us all together in such a fresh way that I'm always left deep in thought by the end.

Shanghai Girls tells the story of two sisters growing up in the wealthy section of bustling Shanghai in the earlier part of the 20th century. Pearl and May seem to have it all: beauty, education, the flirtatious energy of youth, and the backing of wealthy parents; they fight over petty things like clothes and their parents' affections, and they are convinced they will always remain at the top of their world. All that changes, however, when Shanghai (and all of China) comes under the attack of the Japanese, and Pearl and May are sold off as brides to pay off their father's secret gambling debt. Shanghai Girls tells the story of their difficult journey out of Shanghai and to the United States, and their struggles and triumphs in a new land.

Okay, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Without question, Lisa See's writing style will always get my stamp of approval. However, the ending shocked and sickened me, and I almost started crying in the middle of the plasma center as I turned the last pages. Throughout the whole book, I just wanted the main character to be able to catch a break--I mean, SO MUCH bad stuff happens to her, and by the end, I just wanted a happy ending. That said, I could definitely see the merit in the book ending the way it did because it made a poignant argument--even though Pearl had suffered so much (and no one could argue with that), she had let herself become the victim and convinced herself that she could never be happy. It is only when literally almost everything is taken from her that she loves that she finally realizes the truth that was right in front of her all along: she'd been so scared of becoming victimized that she'd never let herself become anything else.

Even though See's books aren't emotionally easy rides, they ALWAYS leave me pondering and reflecting on my own relationships and my own emotional bonds. And you know what I realized? The past few weeks, I've played the victim card quite a lot by thinking that everything was against me just because I was a first year teacher. And the weirdest thing is, ever since reading this book, I've started to actually enjoy my job again (on most days, anyway).

So, if you're looking for a paradigm shift, check this one out. It definitely worked for me.

My Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tuesday Tell-All

*I've never been a huge fan of cold weather, but there is one thing that I definitely don't mind, and that's the fact that I feel like I can get away with making soup almost every night. I try to get away with it in the summer, but it just doesn't work as well, ya know? Lately, I've been trying every recipe for white chicken chili that I have. I am simply addicted! What's your favorite soup to make?

*I've been doing an after-school club for the past 6 weeks that's all about money management, and today was the last day. And I am SOOOO relieved. I mean, the extra money will be nice and all, but it seemed like almost every Tuesday, I was turning into this crazy psycho because the kids were just so hyper during the whole thing (probably because school was out and they had all that excess energy to splatter all over). But I am FINISHED!!! woo hoo!!

*There is this kid that I have three times every day, and about four times a week, he'll say, "Hey, Mrs. Meidell." Me: "What?" Him: "Chicken butt." So lately I've started responding with, "Hmm?" To which he always gives a huge sigh. Ha ha. Outsmartin' the 7th graders, I am.

*Teaching has been full of a few more downs than ups the past several weeks, but today was a good one. Surprisingly, it was the after-school club that did it (the only time in the history of our club that that has happened). We were basically wrapping up everything we had learned from the club, and even though just two boys showed up, when they were able to explain to me clearly all sorts of things that they had learned and set financial goals for themselves, I had one of those moments where you realize that teaching really can be worth all the struggle. Plus it really helped that they absolutely loved the prizes I had picked out for them. Apparently huge chocolate candy bars really motivate students. Who knew? :)

*It turns out I only get Thursday and Friday off next week, and that I have to go in for a teacher prep day all day Wednesday. Boo.

*But, despite all that, I am still STOKED for Thanksgiving. I mean, I just can't even handle waiting anymore! (Not least because this week is insanely packed with stuff I need to do).

*I have been breaking out like crazy over the past month. I'm pretty sure it's because I've been  under so much stress, but still! Is is normal for me to have this problem when I am this far past adolescence? So not cool. Please tell me I'm not the only one...

*I'm still trying to work on my Change It Up Challenge of eating more fruits and vegetables. I have yet to hit 35 in a week, and unless I really ramp it up this week, it might be awhile before that particular milestone is met. For the goal, I basically need to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Between Sunday and Monday of this week, I ate five total. I did get 6 in today, but that's because I just had a huge salad for dinner. I guess this is why they say change is hard, eh?

*I am excited to try out all the dinner ideas everybody gave me on that post though (esp. those soup recipes!). Hopefully by the end of the month, I can make this a regular habit instead of just some goal that I try once and never do again.

*Speaking of this challenge though, I seriously have an avocado problem. I find myself craving them All. The. Time. And they're like $1 apiece! It makes me curse myself for those times on the mission that I would receive a bag of 20 or so from a neighbor's tree and only eat 3.

*Those golden fruits up in that picture that look like apples? They are pears. And they are a little strange--a bit too sickly sweet for my taste. Anyone else tried them?

*A nice side effect of me eating more fresh produce: I've dropped two pounds :)

*Who knew I could talk about produce for so long? You'd think it was chocolate or something.

*So I'm a real teacher now: I got a kid suspended from school yesterday. It makes me feel so tough. Actually the whole situation just made me mad, but that's another story...

*I get to go down to Farmington tomorrow and go to a teaching workshop, which makes me excited about two things: 1) I get an extra hour of sleep (because even though Farmington is 50 miles further than my work, the conference starts an hour and a half later, and I don't have to be there for contract time), and 2) We get to eat a catered lunch (which was perfectly scrumptious the last time I had this training). I love it.

*I get way too excited over the free-food aspect of things...

*Okay, all this talk of food has made me hungry again. Guess I'd best go grab an apple :)

(Or a piece of chocolate)

*How are you doing on eating your fruits and veggies?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Spontaneous Date, Take II: The Piano Guys

After the success of last weekend's spontaneous date night, I figured it would be pretty hard to top that (hence the reason I'd planned on staying in and baking all weekend). And I figured, "Hey, if I'm spontaneous all the time, it no longer becomes spontaneous: it becomes routine." Right?

I've got some sick reasoning skills.

However, fate had other things in mind for us this weekend. On Thursday, I suddenly realized that our 18-month anniversary was this last week (on the 7th), and I hadn't made so much as a peep about it to hubby.

(And what kind of blogger would I be if I didn't recognize and celebrate every single tiny milestone in our life?)

So I told Matt that we were going out to celebrate.

He didn't complain.

Especially when my dinner came out looking like this (and I let him steal some):

Fate continued to intervene when I got a most unexpected (and completely delightful) text from my fabulous friend Karianne, who told me that she had two tickets to go see The Piano Guys that she wouldn't be able to use. And she thought of moi when she asked herself, "Who could really use a good date night?"
So off we went to the concert hall, thoroughly stuffed with Belgian waffles and whipped cream, and prepared ourselves for an evening of (free) entertainment.
What I hadn't expected was for my mind to be Blown. Completely. Away.
I mean, I had watched some videos of The Piano Guys on Youtube (and thought they were awesome), but I hadn't thought too much of it.
Last night's concert converted me to them for life.
Seriously, go check them out.
Just the other week, I was remarking to Matt that music didn't seem to be as much of a part of my life as it used to. When I was a teenager, it seemed like music was all I had to help me express all the emotions that I had bottled up inside me. I LIVED for new music coming out from my favorite artists, and I would spend hours upon hours in my bedroom just lying down and listening to the c.d.'s in my 5-disc c.d. player. But, since getting older, it has seemingly become less and less important, and I feel like it's been a long time since I've really felt INSPIRED by music.
That all changed on Saturday night. Listening to them play, my desire to more faithfully practice the piano and violin was renewed, and I found myself singing in church today with extra vigor.
So, if you're feeling like music has lost some of its magic for you too, go ahead and check them out.

Are you a fan of The Piano Guys?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Weekend Baking

I look forward with great anticipation to the weekends (I'm sure you've never felt the same way, right?). And each weekend, I try to have something to look forward to so my week seems a little more bearable.

Last weekend, it was our little spontaneous date that Matt didn't know about until I told him to meet me at the movie theater in 20 minutes.

This weekend, it's baking.

I've been a baker for as long as I can remember. When I was 6 or so, my mom introduced me to baking by teaching me how to make "Jack 'O' Lantern Loaf" (pumpkin chocolate chip bread), which I then promptly requested to make every week for the next 11 years.

I've been hooked ever since.

I love all aspects of baking--the flour that shimmers through the air as I pour it in the mixture, the aroma of rising dough, the finishing touches of melted butter or powdered sugar, the smile that breaks across Matt's face as he takes that crucial first taste . . .

So even though our plans for the weekend might not be so exciting to anyone else, I'm just awaiting the thrill of pulling out my stack of shortening-smeared recipes and filling my home with the smells of something wonderful.

Are you a baker? If so, what's your favorite recipe? I'm on the lookout for some new ones to try :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thankful Thursday - 7th Grade Edition

In carrying with the theme of gratitude that we're supposed to be focusing on this month at our school, I made all the kids in my advisory write down things that they were grateful for. So, straight out of the 7th graders' mouths, here's a whole lot of thanks [all errors are theirs, not mine, btw]:

"I am grateful for Chuck Norris"

"I am grateful for toilets cuz without them we would have to go on the ground"

"I am greatful for school so I don't become stupid"

"I am grateful for friends because without them you wouldn't have any thing to do all you would get to do is hang out with family"

"I am thankful for me otherwise I wouldn't be alive"

"I am Grateful for potatoes"

"I am thankful for food. Without food I am gonna starve to death"

"I am thankful to have clothes because if I didn't i would have to wear the same clothes everyday until we got enough money to buy new ones"

And finally,

"I am grateful for my teachers and having the chance to get a Education. Not many people get an education or wounderful teachers who are nice and understanding like Mrs. Meidell."



Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Change It Up Challenge: Going More Vegetarian, But Not

I don't know what started it, really--maybe it was the fact that we were eating greasy pizza a lot more often, or the fact that I couldn't remember the last time I'd had more than about 2 vegetables in a day. But whatever the cause was, the result was clear: I realized I needed to eat a lot more vegetables. Correction: WE needed to eat a lot more vegetables (this became painfully clear when Matt started keeping a food journal for one of his classes).

So last week, I set out with a goal: I was going to eat 35 servings of fruits and vegetables within the week. I know that's not that much--in fact, it's barely what's recommended. But that just goes to show you how bad we've been at this.

After setting out on this adventure, I realized a couple things: first, I need more ways [read: recipes] that use vegetables as one of the main ingredients. I never realized how many of our meals are based around straight protein and carbs until trying to do this challenge. Second, if beans counted as a vegetable (they don't, right?), we would be doing just fine. Third, I'm pretty sure we didn't *quite* meet the goal last week. I stopped counting after about Day 4, but the failure wasn't for lack of trying or motivation: it was because we kept running out of fresh fruits and vegetables, and I got sick of running to the store.

So, here are my queries that I hope you can help me answer:

-What is a good recipe that is mostly vegetable-based that works as a main meal besides salad?
-How can I incorporate more fresh produce into our diet without having to run to the store every few days? Or going vegetarian?
-Have you ever tried to increase the fresh produce into your diet? How did you do it?
-Once and for all: in what food category do beans fall? Can they please just count as a vegetable?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday Tell-All

*Check out this amazing dress I got for FREE from my friend Petrice (who has an impeccable eye for style). I accidentally spilled on it the first time I wore it, so it's been awhile since I've been able to wear it again (just because yes, I AM that bad at doing laundry). Just putting it on made me feel like summer never left.

*Friday night I brought out a puzzle for the first time since moving into our apartment a year and a half ago. I used to fit together puzzles all the time as a kid, and just bringing out the pieces made me so darn happy. It's the little things, you know?

*It seems like every year, I become obsessed with a different magazine (you all should know by now of my ridiculous affinity towards magazines). My current obsession? Country Living. When the beginning of the month rolls around, I breathlessly check the mailbox to see if it's come yet. I was disappointed today, yet again. However, I just keep telling myself it's because they have a KILLER Christmas issue coming up. Anyone else into the country style of interior decorating? It's been my favorite style since I was 12 and wanted to be an interior decorator (a laughable notion to me now, but hey, I was a dreamer).

*Awesome news: they are now paying $10 more a week at the plasma center. Cha-ching! The only drawback to this--I have NEVER seen it so packed. The whole thing took me 2.5 hours yesterday (when it normally only takes about 1.5, sometimes less). But nevertheless, getting $25 instead of $20 felt pretty darn good. That's five extra Dr. Peppers from the vending machine, people. This is big news. (I mean, it's my  sanity we're talking about here!)

*Just for clarification: I do not, in fact, spend all my plasma money on caffeinated beverages. Just fyi.

*That's not to say that I NEVER spend any of it on caffeinated beverages either...

*I have had these red peep-toe shoes forever. I mean, we're talking probably almost ten years. And I still love them as much today as I did when I first bought them. The only problem is, one is missing the little rubber thing on the heel, which has got to be one of my biggest pet peeves...I mean, I already clack enough down the halls as it is, and it's just plain embarrassing to be walking along and have two different-toned clacks. Mortifying, really.

*Last night I busted out for the first time this winter what I affectionately have dubbed my mom suit. Basically, it's a baby blue cotton/polyester tracksuit-type thing that just looks like I should be taking a leisurely stroll around the perimeter of the mall while pushing a stroller. (No offense intended--I adore my mom suit!). Pretty much I want to live in it.

*Daylight savings = YES! Seeing the sunrise for the first time in who knows how long these past two days has been a little piece of heaven. It just warms the soul to not have to drive to work in the pitch black, you know? I mean, it makes me think that there are actuallly other human beings out there, awake and alive (besides, of course, the truck drivers who are constantly going 40 in a 60 in the one-lane highway on my way to the school).

*Today I have my after school club that's all about money, and this will be the first time I've held it since a student stomped out last week after I told him to be quiet. I already have to get a Dr. Pepper every time to just get me through, so we'll see if I'll need to scrounge up some chocolate as well . . .

*We don't have access to Youtube at my school, and it DRIVES ME CRAZY! I never realized how much I used Youtube as a teacher until I no longer could use it. Just today I was thinking, "I should look up a country swing dance video for my kids" (since that's what I'm teaching today in the little ballroom/swing class I do). But alas! I guess my students will just have to put up with me trying to remember how to do moves that I haven't done in about 3 years. . .

*Even though I said in yesterday's post that we went and saw Wreck-It Ralph, I never said anything about how I felt about it. I'll sum it up in two words: Hilarious. Heartwarming. What more could you ask for in an animated feature? Have you seen it yet? If not, what other good movies have you seen lately? We're in the market to see some new ones...

Happy  Tuesday! What's going on in your world today?

Monday, November 5, 2012

On Being Spontaneous

As mentioned in my last post, Friday was a day of much pondering. I don't know what it was, but I just kept finding that my mind was drawn back to the past, which is something I don't do much. After I thought of that perfect day of horseback riding so many years ago, my mind was drawn to a different memory with that same person. This friend had been particularly down in the dumps, and he had texted me one Friday afternoon to see what I was up to. I responded with something to the effect of, "Working on homework. Won't be done for hours."

We ended the text conversation, and as I turned back to my homework, I sighed a bit within myself. I wanted to be there to comfort my friend, but I had way too much I "just had to get done." All of a sudden, I recalled I quote I had often heard in church. The quote went, "Never let a problem to be solved be more important than a person to be loved."

The principle took on new meaning as I finally saw how it applied to the context of my own life. I grabbed my car keys, abandoned my homework, and I went to go find my friend. We went to a movie, had a bite to eat, and ended up talking for hours. Needless to say, we BOTH felt better by the end.

Last Friday, I was having a bit of deja vu--I had hours and hours of grading to do, and Fridays have historically been the day that I've worked the latest. Matt has come to learn to not expect me until at least 7 on Fridays because I'm trying so hard to wrap up my grading for the week and prepare my lessons for the upcoming week. Even though I didn't get a text from Matt asking what I was up to, my mind went back to that other Friday long ago, and I made a decision right then and there:

I was going to be spontaneous. I was going to let a date night with my husband take precedence over the mountain of stuff I had to do.

I started bustling around like a maniac in my classroom, tidying up some last-minute things and getting my stacks of papers ready to be graded on Monday. I shut and locked my door, and I shouted to a fellow teacher, "I'm just going to do it! I'm leaving here early."

She laughed and wished me a good weekend, and I gleefully sped off to my car to surprise my hubby. I'm sure Matt was a bit taken aback when I called him at only 3:30 in the afternoon from the school. I bet he was outright shocked when I told him to meet me at the movie theater in 20 to go catch Wreck-It Ralph, a movie we've wanted to see ever since we saw the trailer.

I felt like a teenager again as we walked in the movie theater, giggling as if we were playing hooky. We found the movie to be delightful, laughed through the whole thing, and decided to splurge on a Pizza Hut pizza on our way home (something we've never done before seeing as how much cheaper Little Caesar's is). And instead of just zoning out in front of the t.v. for the rest of the night after, we stayed up and played games, fit a puzzle, and just enjoyed those extra hours of time together we don't often get.

It was a perfect night. And you know what I realized? I have the tendency to focus more on things to be done than on people sometimes. It's something I need to work on. The good thing is, last Friday gave me a pretty good jumpstart on that.

What have you done that's spontaneous lately?

Can't think of anything within the last month? Well, as a fully-certified teacher, I'm officially giving you a homework assignment: do something totally spontaneous this week--something that puts people ahead of tasks and relationships [with yourself or with others] ahead of things. And then you need to either send me a comment about it, or you need to do a blog post about it.

Can't wait to hear your responses!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Journaling for a [Different] Reason

   Matt and my in-laws enjoying the moment while on our Alaskan cruise

I have a lot of time to think in the quiet of the morning--5:30 A.M, and no one is stirring but me. This morning, my mind was strangely pulled to one particular autumn day when I went horseback riding with a friend. This was years before I got married, and I remember thinking over and over again on that golden fall day, "This is what a perfect day looks like." Aside from longing to experience that kind of perfect day again (and soon!), I found my mind wandering to the journal where I had recorded that particular memory.

Over the years, I've kept many different kinds of journals. In 8th grade, I kept a journal of all the compliments I received so that my struggling self-esteem wouldn't take a total nosedive as I struggled to accept my emerging adult self. In high school, I kept a journal with several of my closest friends, and we all took turns writing in it and passing it on. In college, when I was in the thick of dating, I kept a journal of moments I didn't want to forget--getting asked out by a crush, how it felt to ace a particular exam, building on a new friendship. (It was in that "moments" journal that I'd recorded the perfect autumn day story). And then I realized something.

I don't think I've ever kept a gratitude journal.

Maybe it's because everyone is always talking about gratitude journals (and I like to be different), or maybe it's because I think I already try to find gratitude daily anyway, but the truth of the matter was this: I had never actually made a habit of sitting down every day and writing what I was thankful for.

At least not that I can remember.

I started pondering this morning while I drove through foggy fields and passed farmhouses just waking up that I needed to give this whole keeping-a-gratitude-journal thing a try. Lately, I've found myself vacillating between constant anxiety and/or constant busy-ness, and those moments when I've had some time to unwind, I've often used them to complain about everything under the sky that's stressing me out. And I've been beating myself up a bit too because I had all these big goals for myself at the end of this year--I wanted to do NaNoWriMo (write a novel in the month of November), take the GRE, get ready for grad school . . . and with everything going on with my job, it became bluntly transparent that there was NO WAY I was going to be able to do any of those things if I was wanting to keep even a shred of sanity.

So I guess this is my compromise: I know I need something that will help me to relax and better appreciate this time of my life rather than simply stressing out all the time and wishing for summer to be here already. I know I need some kind of personal goal to work towards (because that's just how I function and how I tend to get fulfillment). So there you have it then: I will be keeping a gratitude journal. And I haven't hammered out all the details yet (like whether this will just be a mostly-on-old-fashioned-paper thing, or if it will be a new-fangled-keep-myself-accountable-on-the-blog thing. Either way, it's something I'm going to try out.

My gratitude journal for today (I'm cheating a bit because some of these are events that happened yesterday):

*I had a student bring me in a bag of homemade caramel popcorn for a late Halloween gift. I am thankful I have students who want to show their friendship towards me with food.

*Since I was absent on Wednesday, I had many students come up to me yesterday concerned with why I missed school. Many of them, upon hearing that I'd been sick, wished me a speedy recovery and gave appropriately sympathetic remarks. I appreciate the fact that my students notice when I'm not there, and that many of them prefer having me to a substitute   :)

*I'm grateful that my mind was in a pondering mode this morning. So often, I find that my thoughts are just endless playlists of to-do lists and worries, and I am thankful today that my mind was well-rested enough to peacefully meditate on the past and the present.

*I ate 1.5 avocados yesterday for dinner (lightly salted), and both were the perfect ripeness and texture. Each creamy green bite reminded me of my mission, when I would receive great sackfuls ot fresh-picked avocados from my friends' trees. I am thankful that I still have access to many of the foods that remind me of El Salvador.

*Last night, my husband waited after our activity with the youth at the church to make sure that I had a ride home, even though the young men got finished quite a bit earlier than we did. I am grateful to a husband who always considers my needs.

What about you? What are you grateful for today? And have you ever kept a gratitude journal?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book #19: Penny From Heaven

Title: Penny From Heaven
Author: Jennifer L. Holm
# of Pages: 288
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

After weeks (okay, months) of reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was in need of something, well, fluffy. Of course, it's pretty rare that anything I read is TRULY fluffy, but I considered young adult lit the next best thing. Since this book is an award winner AND on one of my to-read book lists, I considered it to be the perfect novel to pick up. And I wasn't disappointed.

Penny From Heaven is the story of 11-year-old Penny, an Italian-American girl growing up with some pretty typical tween woes: a bad perm (and haircut), an overbearing single mother, and a desire for more excitement in her life. However, when her mother starts dating the milkman and her favorite uncle (who lives in his car) moves away unexpectedly, she has some real woes to start dealing with.

All in all, Penny From Heaven is an endearing read that's all about appreciating your cultural roots, dealing with the difficulties of growing up, and finding the positive aspects of each trial that comes your way.

And, for a bonus--even though it's 288 pages, it reads like it has 150.

So, if you're looking for a lighter read that will remind you of the joys and sorrows of being a little different than the people around you, go ahead and pick up this little winner.

My Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)

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