Monday, December 29, 2014

Pinterest (and Food Network Magazine) - I am impressed

For the past week or so, I have been deeply enjoying my vacation with no where to go and a minimum of grown-up pants.  The amount of time I've been spending in my pajamas in almost obscene, and I've accomplished virtually nothing.  I have, however, taken some of this time to experiment with some of the many Pinterest boards I've collected in the past couple of years.

From time to time, I do scroll through my boards and pick out recipes to try and the occasional craft project to tackle.  This week, I decided to amp it up a little bit and try a few different things.... mostly sweet things, but I must admit that I've been impressed by the results.  Here's the wrap-up (to date)


 Delicious homemade toffee.  It called "salted dark chocolate almond toffee" and reported to be the most delicious toffee in the world.  I have not been everywhere in the world, but it is pretty delicious. The blogger has gone through the trouble of screwing up toffee about a thousand times and has written about the potential dangers and places where one could go wrong.  She probably saved me a lot of time and headache.  It tasted a lot like Almond Rocha, which I like a lot.  I wasn't sure about how much salt to use, so I think I missed out on the full "salted toffee" experience.  While the toffee was delicious, it made a lot less than I expected.  I planned on giving some in holiday gift tins and keeping some for us.  Once I gave some away, there was very little left.

Peppermint Bark Puppy Chow.  I like Puppy Chow.  A lot.  We ate this a lot when we were younger and it seems to have suddenly caught on in the past couple of years.  In many ways I like all of the interesting twists on the traditional concept (chocolate, peanut butter, powdered sugar), but sometimes I just like the original.  This was fun for Christmas.  It's white chocolate and crushed up candy canes.  They claim you don't need any powdered sugar, but I disagree.  The candy cane bits didn't prevent the white chocolate from smearing all over everything, so I added some powdered sugar.  Not a lot -- maybe 1/2 cup.  I'm not 100% sure how much candy cane dust I had, so perhaps if I would have had more, it would have worked out better.  Either way, it's pretty good.  Not my favorite, but pretty good.  Mine looks almost identical to the photo.

Chocolate spritz cookies.  This was maybe the closest thing I had to a Pinterest fail.  I followed the recipe exactly, as I'd never made pressed cookies before.  I can't believe I'm saying this, but they were almost too chocolatey.  They are nothing but flour, sugar, butter, vanilla extract, eggs and cocoa powder.  The texture is good and they pressed out ok (not great), but the flavor seems a little off.  I don't love them, and no one else in the house seems to either.  The color is also a little off.  They look a bit like dog cookies.  If it wasn't for all the cocoa, I'd give them to the pups.  

4.  Caramel Chex Mix

This is not the exact recipe I used.  I can't figure out where I found mine.  The caramel I made was made on the stove and had baking soda in it (1/2 tsp if anyone on earth actually wants the recipe), but aside from that, it seems to be the same thing.  I'm always leery of microwave caramel.

Nonetheless.  It's delicious.  Super delicious.  I don't have any photos of it because I ate it all.  Amy, I'm sorry.  I should be "healthier" over the break, but I'm not.  I ate a bunch of caramel Chex mix.  

I also made traditional Chex Mix - but I don't know if that's even worthy of its own entry, because I make it at least once a year and there was no surprise that it turned out as expected.  It's Chex Mix.  It's tasty.  

Last but not least, caramel corn.  This is another something I make every once in a  while, but I'm also always on the lookout for a new recipe.  So, this year, I tried a new one.  I made popcorn on the stovetop and then a stovetop caramel.  It is delicious.  It is not my favorite caramel corn ever, but it's pretty good.  I gave most of this batch away, so I might try a different recipe and make a new batch when my mom comes.


While not from Pinterest, I did make my entire Christmas dinner from Food Network Magazine recipes.  My plate looked virtually identical to that.

I bought pretzel rolls from Costco instead of baking bread (because I'm terrible at bread) and added some roasted brussels sprouts as a green veggie... but aside from that, same meal.  It was incredibly delicious.  I'm a little sad that I didn't make more prime rib.  

So... what's next?  Mike has pretty much put is foot down on the baking, so I'm going to move on to quilting.  I have tons of fabrics to make into a quilt and I think I've found a pattern.. 

I love the colors and the braid pattern.  I think I'm going to give it a shot!  We'll see what happens.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A year in review

2014 is winding to a close, and everyone is making Facebook year in review slideshows.  It's really kind of an awesome concept.  Facebook has chosen some random photo albums, posts and pictures from the year and turned them into a little presentation.  In creating and watching mine (which I've since watched a dozen times), I realized how awesome my year was!

While the year is not quite over yet -- and knowing me, things could go crazy in the next 8 days, I thought I'd take a few minutes to be thankful for the amazing year I had.  It's sort of like Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years all rolled into one... talk about crazy.

Of course, I am thankful for my wonderful husband.  We had an amazing year together & I am ever-grateful that I found him.  The adventures we had this year were unparalleled and something I never could have come up with in my wildest dreams.  While the year started on sort of a sour note (failed IVF), it only got better.

We got to take a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon for starters...

We spent a very fancy evening at the Barrister's Ball

We went to Disneyland -- In France

And we did a thousand other things that I really don't have photos of... like, we went to San Diego, saw the Zoo, went to Mexico, and we bought a timeshare -- again.  

All of this was amazing.  And I could not be happier.  We are winding down the year with our new adventure into foster care.  Every day I wonder "will today be the day we get that call?"  So far, the answer has been "no" every day... but every day that it's no brings us closer to the day that it's yes.  Mike asks almost every day if we're getting a baby today, so I know that he's just as excited.

I met new friends this year... 

I met Nancy - who lived in Shenzhen about the same time I did and totally understands the weirdness I went through.  In exchange, I understand her total bewilderment at the American system of government.

And I met Charlene, who traveled in tandem with us to Paris, Berlin, and Dublin.  It was so odd how our paths matched up for a full six weeks!  She inspired me to want to run a Disney race and dang it, I'm going to do it!

And of course, all of my wonderful law school friends - many of which aren't "new" friends, but have really pulled together to make this  year so amazing and so successful.  If only my classes were as successful as my events!  

There are dozens more people that I don't have photos of... 

Amy gets a big thank you for keeping me on the path to (relative) health and well being, not to mention some general sanity in law school.  I know that I'm a terrible person to have to coach into fitness, but she does a great job and I want her to know that her efforts have not gone unnoticed.

Molly gets lots of love as well.  We never get to see each other (damn economy), but she is still my very best friend in the whole world & hopefully she has finally found some well-deserved happiness.  

I am grateful for all of my friends and family - no matter how often or little I may be able to see them, I know I am loved and cared for.  I know there are dozens of people I could turn to in a crisis that would be willing to help and support us.  We have seen such an outpouring of affection this year, I feel truly blessed.

Aside from people -- I'm incredibly grateful that I made it through another year of law school.  It felt kind of nip-and-tuck there for a while... but oh my goodness, can you believe I'm 2/3 done... A few more credits this year & hopefully next year will be smooth sailing.  Sometimes It feels like I've been doing this whole law school thing forever; other days it feels like I just started yesterday.  Either way, I'll be so happy to be done.

I am also very happy for my job.  While it may be trying at times, I am so grateful to have an understanding boss that supports me in both my professional and personal endeavors.  I've worked with both good and bad administrators in the past 10 years and the bad far outnumber the good.  I am lucky to have found a decent one.

May 2015 be just as wonderful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The most wonderful time... to watch Law and Order & other such nonsense

I really love the holidays.  As I mentioned in my last post, it's not so much the holidays themselves, but the fact that I can hang out in my pajamas for days on end.  I shower and change into new pajamas every day, and occasionally put on grown-up pants to leave the house, but mostly it's me and my doggies hanging out watching Law and Order marathons.

Between USA, TNT, Bravo, Cloo, and Sundance, some form of Law and Order always seems to be on some channel.  Of course, if I ever get desperate, I do own the entire original series on DVD.  Despite the fact that I've seen EVERY episode - many of them more than once, I still like to settle down to a good marathon - especially the odd "themed" marathons.  But, I love it.  Most of the time I don't even actively watch it; I just use it as background noise while I'm doing other things around the house.  I like the predictability and patterns.  Sometimes the outcome is a "surprise twist", but the characters still behave in the way I expect them to.  And of course there's Jerry Orbach.  Between the no-nonsense attitude and the pithy one-liners, he was an amazing actor.

And for anyone that only knows him as Lennie Briscoe -- Jerry had an amazing stage career for decades before Law and Order (and don't forget that killer role in Dirty Dancing), which included one of my favorite shows - "The Fantasticks".  A few versions of the cast recording actually have Jerry Orbach!

I have a few back up shows for when I've reached my fill of Law and Order (temporarily, of course).  Since Netflix pulled Law and Order from it's streaming lineup (blast them!), I had to find something different to watch at night.  For nearly 3 years, I lulled myself to sleep with the soothing sounds of Lennie Briscoe and Jack McCoy.  Suddenly, no more Law and Order on Netflix.

Instead, I watch Criminal Minds.  Ironically, Mike used to think it was a terrible show, but then he watched a couple of episodes.  It's no Law and Order, but it's pretty good.

Of course, today, I'm wanting something a little lighter... so I'm going with my other favorite --- The Office.  I forgot how hilarious it can be.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Foster Parenting is right around the corner...

It is my favorite time of year.  Not necessarily the holidays, but it is that magical time when I don't have to go anywhere, or do anything, except hang out at home in my pajamas and watch movies with my dogs.  According to TimeHop, that's what I do around this time every year.  The sheer number of "wearing pajamas and watching movies" Facebook posts in late December is almost frightening.

This year, Mike is out of town for a few days, so I have even less motivation than usual.  Paris, Lily, Bill and I have been watching TV and baking Christmas treats for the past two days, and let me tell you - divine.  While, granted, I've been doing the bulk of the baking and the pups are mostly sitting in the kitchen and waiting for me to drop things, it all works out.

I do feel extra-justified in my mini-hibernation this year.  On Thursday night, we had our final DFS inspection in preparation for taking in foster children.  We worked and cleaned for days getting the house ready, which culminated in a 4 hour interview/inspection.  Our licensing agent is a lovely woman, but the state and county regulations are incredibly strict.  She had to take photos of every corner of our house, including inside some of the drawers and cupboards.  The entire process was emotionally and physically exhausting.  We did pass the inspection, and are now simply waiting for our licensing paperwork to be processed.  The agent estimates another week or so.

That means, by the end of December, we could theoretically have foster children in our home.  We have applied for a license that includes two beds for children between 0-5.  We have prepared a room with a crib and a toddler bed.  Our hope is to have a baby or toddler and we have space for a second child so we can take in a pair of siblings if necessary.  We do not plan on taking in two children from two separate families, as the logistics would get complicated -- two sets of legal issues, two sets of weekly visitations.  We just don't feel we would be able to do all that two families require & still maintain our own family.

So now, we are in the calm before the storm.  We could get a call virtually any day.  We are somewhere between excited and nervous and terrified.  Once we go through the process once or twice, it will probably make more sense, but in the meantime, I'm conserving my energy.

Friday, December 5, 2014

A bad teaching day

This was me today.  Well, sort of.  I don't have incredible hair or $1000 shoes.  But what I did seem to have was an unending stream of frustrations that led me to a less-than-stellar day of teaching.

Everyone has bad days at work.  Doctors, lawyers, fast food workers, everyone.  Entire literary and comedy careers have been built upon the simple concept of a really bad day.

(this by the way, was also me)

My day was no worse than anyone else's bad day.  Ironically, my husband also had a pretty rough go of it today.  Some parents complained about a new teaching method he was trying out & rather than allow him to explain, his administration told him that it was probably just better to go back to the old way.  He hadn't done anything remotely wrong, he just wanted to try something different.

I, on the other hand, had one of those days.  It started too early because of a scheduled before-school training, which I never like.  I tutor at UNLV on Thursday nights, so Fridays can be kind of rough.  I generally schedule quizzes and such on Friday because I'm often tired.  Kids tend to be a little stir-crazy on Fridays anyway, so a quiz will kind of force them to focus all of their energy on their work.  But, today started extra early.  I was at work almost an hour before I'm typically there.  I didn't realize I was out of gas, so I didn't get a chance to stop for coffee.

As you can see, it already started poorly.  My administrator was out with a family emergency, so he'd asked me the day before if I would come in a few minutes early to make sure the training lab was set up for everyone.  No problem.  I got to work (without coffee), set up the training and was ready to go.

Since some of my co-workers were less-than-excited to be at a  before-school meeting... especially since the administrator wasn't there.  While the training itself was useful and something that me and most of my co-workers could put into use almost immediately, but many people had the traditional reaction to staff development... 

Since our principal was not there, I got the brunt of the complaints - even though the complaints were well above my pay grade and largely just some generic bitching.  I told people over and over that they should give specific feedback to the principal, but it didn't make a difference.  It's really frustrating.  I take on a lot of responsibilities that are pseudo-administrative, but I don't have the administrative authority to a) solve problems or b) tell people to shut up and stop bitching.  If I had even one of those powers, my life would be a lot easier.

Then - school started.  Remember -- all of this nonsense happened before school even started.  School itself wasn't terrible; a friend with first period prep brought me a cup of coffee, for which I was incredibly grateful.  

I then slugged though 5 incredibly tedious periods of stir-crazy students.  Kids were grumpy, which made me grumpy.  I tried to keep a positive attitude, but that fell by the wayside somewhere around third period when I had to send a kid to the office for not shutting up -- ever.  I had redirected him for the 10th time today, which is the 10th day in a row I've had to redirect his behavior.  That means I've redirected him over 100 times in the past 2 weeks.  I moved his seat, I called his mom, I kept him after class to have a one-on-one chat about his behavior.  

So today, I was at the end of my rope.  I didn't yell.  I gave him a warning - "If you disrupt class again, I will send you to the office."  Big surprise, he disrupted class again 12 seconds later.  I sent him to the office.  He then proceeded to throw a fit about how he deserved a second chance and how I was a horrible person for not giving him said second chance.  Seriously.  That happened.

I mercifully made it through the rest of the day & came home the second I was allowed to leave.  

I should have spent the evening working on my law paper.  I did not.  I watched TV, baked muffins and ate a gloriously delicious steak.  It's 9:30pm and I'm actually wondering how I'm still awake.

Now that I have all of this off my chest, I can pretend that school doesn't exist for the rest of the weekend.  Law school exists.  If I ignore that, terrible things will happen... but I can pretend I'm not a teacher for the next 48 hours.

Monday, will be another story.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Things I learned from my mom

(I actually started writing this nearly a month ago... but finals happened and it didn't get finished until just now... for a better explanation of the insanity of finals... see my other post.  :) )

I'm linking up with Jen from Ramblings of a Suburban Mom today for Thursday Thoughts

Today, I am going to write part two of my ode to my mom.  After I posted yesterday, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to say.  So, I'm going to continue part two of my ongoing series... honestly, it might only be a two-part series, but I want to keep my options open.

I'm going to start off by telling you the things my mom did not teach me.  She did not teach me how to cook, or bake, or sew, even though she was great at these things herself.  Not for lack of effort, mind you, but because I had ZERO skills.  I'm going to give her credit for attempting to teach me those things, but I don't think Martha Stewart herself could have imparted any homemaking knowledge onto me during my teens and early twenties.

However, my mom taught me the importance of knowing how to cook, and bake, and sew.  It took me quite a while, but I have learned how to do all of these things on my own (not withstanding the baking/hostage plan I outlined in yesterday's post).  According to my husband, I'm the most Amish person he knows (granted, his bar is pretty low).  I've made him a couple of quilts, I jar and preserve produce, I've been known to make my own jam.  My mom did all of these things and I was able to recognize their place in the world -- even a 21st century, iPhone and fast food world.

(jarred peaches)

(a lovely quilt)

My mom taught me two things that I think are more important than anything else.  She probably taught me hundreds of things, but I'm going to stick with two, mostly because it's late and I think all of the important stuff can be boiled down into these two.

1.  My mom taught me the importance of reading.  As far back as I can remember, I had almost unlimited access to books of every level, in every subject.  I saw her reading very regularly.  My mom bought me more books than I could ever count.  I wish I still had some of them, because they were amazing -- especially the sesame street series.

(If anyone has these, let me know!)

Because of my mom's encouragement, I read all the time.  I know that gave me a leg up when I started school, and I know that I would not have been nearly as successful in school if I wasn't such an avid reader.  I read non-stop, something that continued right up until I started law school, which requires endless reading of another, less exciting, sort.  While she didn't know it at the time, research has proven that a child's success in school, and life in general, directly correlates to the number of books they have access to at home.  There must be a limit to this, because if there was a direct dollar to book correlation, I should be a millionaire.  

2.  My mom also instilled a moral obligation to care about others.  Realistically, 90% of the good things that I have done in my life come directly from this morality.  Probably the most obvious manifestation of this is my career choice:  I am a teacher in one of the highest risk schools of the nation.  My students are struggling academically, socially, emotionally, and in every other way you can imagine.  I choose to work in this type of school year after year because I care about my students and the education they receive.

I gave away a kidney because of this moral obligation.  No one forced me to do it.  When I learned that Mike's mom needed a kidney donor, it seemed absolutely natural to offer my kidney.  I think I did this shortly after our second date -- long before we got married and a couple of years before the transplant surgery. I had two of them, science says I only need one.  Easy answer - give up a kidney.  Part of me still does not understand how in a self-proclaimed Christian nation, more people do not subscribe to this theory.  People need organ donations.  Other people have organs they aren't using.  In the spirit of Christian charity, people should give them away.  Problem solved.

This is also where the foster-care thing comes into play.  Really, it's sort of the same logic I used with the kidney.  Children need homes.  We have a home.  We want, but cannot have children.  Bam.  It all seems so simple when we look at it that way.

Maybe all of this is over-simplified.  Maybe I should spend more time thinking through the consequences of my choices and what all of this really means... blah blah blah.  But, I don't think I will.  So far, my life has been enriched by the choices I have made.  Granted, giving away a kidney completely killed my dreams of becoming an MMA fighting champion, but you know, give a little (kidding!).  In a weird way, my kidney donation got me into law school.  (I'll tell that story another time)

What is Law School like? It's kind of like the Hunger Games...

I am on the cusp of finishing my 7th semester of law school.  For a full time student, that would mean I was done and waiting for someone to confirm my diploma so I could get on with this whole "being a lawyer" thing.  I however, am a part-time student and have 4 more semesters to go before that whole "being a lawyer thing" kicks in.

People ask me all the time what it's like, or just shake their heads in amazement when I tell them what I do, but I don't know that anyone outside of my law-school friends, and other lawyers really understand.  Being a part-time law student is maybe the most difficult thing I have ever attempted.

Let me explain:

First off, I have my "normal" life.  I have a full time career teaching middle/high school English (this is my 10th year), as well as a family and friends.  My husband and I have been married almost four years; I've actually been in law school for most of our marriage & it won't be until we've been together a full decade that time will start to balance out.  Nonetheless - like many of my classmates, I don't have children.  I do have a step-daughter in college and we are getting ready to embark on our foster-care journey, but until now, I've done this without having to share my time with anyone other than my husband.

I do have friends, but I'm not a great friend... more about that later.

My job, career rather, takes up 50+ hours per week.  Between teaching classes, writing/answering emails, lesson plans, grading, and all of the other nonsense that I'm responsible for, I think 50 hours per week is a fair estimate.  That doesn't include my drive time to/from work because I don't think it's fair to include that.  A lot of people have an irritatingly long commute.  I hate driving.  I hate it a lot.  But, that's part of what I signed up for.  People argue all the time about how teachers don't do any "real" work, how they just "babysit"... blah blah blah.  Largely, I ignore those people.  My job is hard.  Any teacher that tells you otherwise is doing a terrible job.

Ok, so on top of this job thing, I go to school.  Believe it or not, law professors actually expect you to show up to class most, if not all, of the time.  I'm in a better place now, where my schedule is slightly more flexible, but for my first two years, I was in class Monday-Thursday 6pm-9 or 10pm.  I would spend about 15 hours a week at UNLV sitting in a classroom - approximately 11 hours per week "learning", plus another hour or so per day finding parking (ha!), chatting with friends, going to club meetings and other "stuff".

For the most part, law school uses the socratic method, wherein students have read the material ahead of time and professors spend the class period discussing the details of the material and trying to tell us what we were supposed to get out of it.  "The Paper Chase", while an incredibly scary and extreme example, is pretty accurate as to what law school classes look like.  Mike made me watch it for the very first time the night before my first law class.  I'm still kind of upset by it.  Also, I hate property.

Oh, wait... that means we're all supposed to do the readings outside of class.  Figure 100-150 pages per week, give or take.  Most people that like to read look at that number and say "hey, no problem!  I love to read, I can knock that out in an hour or two."  No, you can't.  No one can.  Pull up a random Supreme Court case - ideally a very boring one about things like jurisdiction or environmental statutes.  Reading these cases, while taking notes is tedious, and at times, completely mind-numbing. At my best, I can read about 30 pages per hour... and I read incredibly quickly (about 500 words per minute when I'm reading something fun and interesting).  So, reading, plus notes, plus the occasional review session... figure another 10 hours per week.

Keeping track?  That's 50 hours per week for work and 25 hours per week for school.  Most of the year, that leaves me 93 hours a week to drive all those places I need to go, eat, sleep, watch some TV and spend time with my husband.  Granted, I can multi-task.  But, once we factor in the sleeping and the driving, I'm down to about 25 really good hours per week... or about 1 hour per night on weekdays, 4 hours on Friday and 7 or 8 hours each on Saturday and Sunday.

But wait, there's finals.... most of the year it's a fine balancing act.  I don't completely ignore any aspect of my life, but no one gets a lot of attention.  This is why I'm a horrible friend.  My personal relationships are in sort of a triage situation.  I make sure my husband gets enough time first, then my family, then my friends get to scrape up what little time is left.  I'm ashamed to admit I can probably count on one hand the number of hours I spend with friends every month...

But during two magical times a year, there are final exams.

Law school final exams are like the Hunger Games.  Your grade for the entire semester is based on one exam on one day... and it isn't even based on how well you do... it's based on how well you do compared to the other people in the room.  You pray that somehow, half of your classmates get the flu and start violently vomiting so they have to leave.... because that makes YOUR grade better.

So, what do we all do before we enter the arena?  We train.  We study like we have never studied before.  We review every word of our notes multiple times, we make up possible exam questions based on weird things the professor once mentioned in passing + insane stuff we have seen on the internet.  I would study 5-7 hours a day for some of my exams.  I'd study by myself and with my study group.  We would study in person, online, over text.  Everything.

Essentially, before exam season, we wish our loved ones goodbye and tell them the date of our last exam.  Social media goes kind-of dark (no one completely gives up Facebook), we set our DVRs for every show we like and plunge head first into the abyss, hoping we live to see the other side.  I will typically tell my boss when exam period is starting and explain that I'm going to be doing the bare minimum for the next couple of weeks (this year, my students are doing a writing project for 3 weeks), but I'll make it up to him when I'm done.

This year, I only had one exam.  Bankruptcy.  Even the thought of it makes me cry.  It was incredibly difficult and I didn't know nearly enough about Bankruptcy.  So, we're not going to talk about that anymore.

In addition to that one exam, I have to write 3 papers.  Two of them are essentially the same thing, so we'll call it 2 papers.  Again, two papers... no big deal.  In my academic career, I write hundreds of pages.  Remember those boring court cases I pointed out earlier?  Now imagine writing a paper emulating that style.  Very, very boring.  And I've got to come up with 75 pages worth of it...

Instead, I blog.  :)