Meal Planning 1/23-1/28

Updates from last time: My poor girls got hit with a four-day virus, so many of my meal plans went out the window. That root beer pulled pork was very good, but none of us noticed any actual root beer flavor. It made good sandwiches and stuffed baked potatoes, and I’ve got a chunk in the freezer now too. I also managed to make Nutella-swirled peanut butter banana bread, though I did omit the candy from this recipe and reduced the amount of Nutella slightly as well. This recipe was a massive hit. Finally, we tried these carrot waffles which were….okay? Not as flavorful as I had hoped, though maybe I should have tried the “healthy” cream cheese frosting too.

Moving forward! I leave Thursday for a chaperoning trip to Philadelphia, hence the odd dates.

Dinners:

Pretzel-crusted chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries: always looking for new ways to bake chicken, and still hunting for a recipe that will make kids enjoy sweet potatoes

Cheesy Sausage Tortellini: also always looking for new twists on pasta!

Pot roast and crash hot potatoes: it’s perfect pot roast weather, you know? And these potatoes are a family favorite.

Tacos because tacos are the working mom’s best friend. Along with breakfast for dinner. Speaking of which….

Stuffed French toast with sausage: one of Sophie’s favorites!

Breakfast/snack baking: Citrus Poppyseed Muffins, which I’ve made before and am making again per special Lucy request

Reread: The Marriage Plot

The Marriage PlotThe Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I recently reread The Marriage Plot, on the theory that sometimes my initial impression of a longed-for book by a prominent author is not quite reliable. This is especially true when I love the previous book, like Eugenides’ Middlesex, but feel lukewarm at first about the next….which is what happened when I read Plot for the first time.

Upon revisiting, however, I’m still not nearly as enthralled by this book as I wanted to be. It’s especially weird because I feel like I hit several of the key demographics who should like the book: I’m an Austen fan, don’t particularly love ultramodern fiction, have some experience with family members and mental illness, and studied enough critical theory in my time to feel comfortable with Derrida, Barthes, etc. I even knew before reading it that scandalous lit-gossip said the love “triangle” in the book vaguely resembles a similar entanglement between Eugenides himself, Mary Karr, and David Foster Wallace.

HOWEVER. I did not love this book. Madeleine never quite comes alive for me, while Leonard, her erstwhile brilliant biologist boyfriend, comes so alive he’s almost suffocating, for the reader as well as the book itself. Mitchell wanders all over Europe and India, has several epiphanies, but again is difficult to become invested in.

I think Eugenides is a complex and eloquent writer tackling issues of our contemporary culture, but this plot just didn’t hold together for me.

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SOLS: Polka-Dot Sneakers

This Friday, Lucy and I went shopping at our favorite fashionable boutique: Target, of course! We both had Christmas gift cards to spend; she was looking for something cute to wear to an upcoming mixer, while I was headed out dancing with some girlfriends that night and wanted something to lively up a closet that was feeling awfully work-friendly. She bought herself her first juniors-sized jeans; in case you were wondering who was buying those size 0 jeans you see in stores, it’s twelve-year-old ballerinas. I scored a bejeweled peacock pendant on a long silver chain that made me feel stylish (for $10!), and also picked up a pair of polka-dot sneakers: like these, but black instead of gray, though now I kind of want the gray pair too. These were not my dancing shoes, but I bought them, out of sheer impulse.

Today, I slipped on those sneakers, along with a black long-sleeved t-shirt, jeans, and a cherry red scarf. I feel so frivolous in them; at $15, not a very luxurious splurge, but certainly not the practical, sturdy, goes-with-everything shoes I train myself to select. They are not weather-proofed, or suitable for professional wear, nor do they offer enough support for extensive hikes. I may not get more than a year’s wear out of them.

They are, quite simply and only, a pair of cute shoes, and I love them all the more for it.

Come join me and many others as we share slices of our lives!

I’ll Be Your Chair

“I can’t calm down until I get to school and get my exams ready!!”

It was a busy morning at the end of a busy week, punctuated by unexpected flashes of stress and intense emotions. My girls were scrambling to get ready for their field trip, and I was lagging behind in preparing for the midterm exam my students will take Tuesday. I hate feeling caught behind the eight ball in my professional responsibilities, and midterm exams are a hard, unavoidable deadline. I know I had already snapped at them at least once as they hustled together their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but I just couldn’t stop myself.

My daughter Lucy came up to me and put her hands on my cheeks.

“Mami, you need some Calm.com.”

That’s when I heard just how frantic I had been sounding, and just how much I was winding myself up, in exactly the ways I caution my daughters and my students against.

So I opened up my laptop, there in the chaos of the kitchen, and started a two-minute guided meditation, standing at the counter, too anxious to sit down. With my eyes closed, I could hear the sounds of the kitchen dying down, both as I relaxed and also as my girls quieted to hear the words.

Sit down in a chair, and rest your hands on your thighs. Focus on the places where your back is resting against the chair, the calming voice said.

Suddenly, I felt my daughter Lucy’s arms wrap around my stomach, and her head rest against my back.

“I’ll be your chair, Mami. So you can be calm.”

New Class: Literature of the Middle East

One of the biggest impacts of my time at NCTE 2014 was the inspiration I got to propose a new course at my school about the literature of the Middle East, based on a workshop I attended that offered an incredible amount of comprehensive resources. If this workshop hadn’t been so thoughtfully planned and presented, I would never have felt bold enough to tackle designing a course in a field I am basically unfamiliar with, but the thought of educating myself and discovering along with my students is definitely an exciting one.

At this point, the course is all but approved, and I would start teaching it in almost exactly a year, the spring semester of 2016. We have to make our book orders by the end of February, so now I’m thinking excitedly about which texts I need to review before I make such big decisions. One of the wonderful aspects of my job is the autonomy we have to design courses and choose texts on our own, but since the texts can make or break the course, it’s a momentous decision.

Here are some of the texts I’m considering; please let me know if you have read any, or have any suggestions!

9 Parts of Desire: A Play

Palestine

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Essential Rumi

How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less

Iran Awakening: One Woman’s Journey to Reclaim Her Life and Country

Istanbul: Memories and the City

This list includes one play, one epic poem, a collection of poems, two graphic-novel-style nonfiction texts, and two memoirs. I’m considering not teaching any novels, which would be a new experience for me, but I like the prospect of teaching so many different genres in one class, and our 9th-11th grade curriculum features plenty of novels and not nearly as much nonfiction.

SOLS: Calm Before the Storm

Our first period classes start at 8:00 and we have no mandated teacher arrival time, but most often, by 7:15, you’ll see me sitting at my desk, working or checking email or sorting out materials, playing music softly, gathering myself for the day.

I’ve never been a morning person, but I treasure these thirty or forty minutes before the students start flooding in, after I’ve said goodbye to my own daughters. It’s a liminal space, a threshold where I have to be neither teacher nor mother, continually responding to the emotional needs of others. I could probably exercise or be more productive, but really, it’s time to ease into who I’m going to need to be all day long, responsive and interruptible, warm but strict, informative but challenging, professional but building and maintaining personal relationships. Sometimes, like now, I tap out a blog post draft, giving myself time to reflect, to check in with myself, and to put some scattered thoughts into words, bringing my life into sharper focus.

My alarm goes off at 5:30, and after a few snoozes, I start rolling, getting myself ready, waking up my girls by 6:00, checking to see what we’ve got for lunches, getting my laptop and papers and wallet and gym clothes together, making sure my girls have their sweatpants and fleeces and homework, sliding into the driver’s seat and steering us all into the day. By 8:00, I’m solidly in teacher mode, but that time where I get to shift gears and most importantly, pause between them for a small respite, is a precious part of my day.

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Meal Planning, 1/12-1/16, and Updates

Updates from last week’s meal planning: the major new hit of the week was definitely those mozzarella-stuffed meatballs, which we ended up eating as sliders on garlicky-cheesy toasted rolls, and which my girls both demanded I make again, and soon! The honey-balsamic chicken was also a hit and would have been perfection with some nice fluffy rice to soak up that good glaze, so notes for next time I make it. We didn’t get to the PB & banana quesadillas or the sweet potato fries, so those are still ahead of us.

This was a busy week for us, with several musical rehearsals for Sophie, the middle school winter concert Wednesday afternoon and a big school project for both girls, along with a field trip Friday. For me, my students are preparing to take midterms next week, and I’m staring down the Mt. Everest of ungraded work. Stressful all around! So this week’s recipes had to be time-sensitive and popular.

Dinners:

Root beer pulled pork for sandwiches: I’ve wanted to try root beer with pork like this for a long time, and good slow cooker recipes are always a hit with our busy schedule. I think in the summer, Southwest spiced corn would make a great pairing here, but to be honest, we will probably have apple slices and potato chips. Easy! Quick!

Leftover root beer pork will get repurposed into Stuffed Baked Potatoes: love baked potatoes, love serving leftovers in different ways, love meals like this on cold winter nights! Baked potatoes, potato skins, and twice-baked potatoes are also great to heat up for lunch the next day.

Parmesan Portobello Orzo: a twist on our familiar pasta noodles, plus mushrooms in a creamy Parmesan presentation–I have high hopes for this one, and it seems like it would make great lunches too, but I’ll have spaghetti and sauce ready (jarred) if this is not popular.

Finally, Tuesday waffles, tied to the final season premiere of one of our favorite shows, Parks and Recreation. More on our P&R Waffle Fest in an upcoming entry…….

Breakfast: I’m experimenting with baked oatmeal this week, because my girls like instant and I’d love to give them a healthier option. I’m going to use this funky monkey baked oatmeal recipe, but skip the coconut (none of us are fans) and try baking in a muffin pan for easier portioning, consulting this recipe for tips too. If this works for us, I’ll try apple pie baked oatmeal next and baked pumpkin steel-cut oats down the road. I’d love for them to have a quick and hot breakfast when the weather is so cold.

If you click through on these links, you’ll see I’m on a big Budget Bytes kick this week. I don’t know about you, but I like to dive deep in particular websites and sample their recipes until I trust that whatever I make will turn out well. Keeping my fingers crossed that I can add Budget Bytes to my regular meal planning rotation.

Fitness Tracking: Motivating Myself

This week was the official beginning of our workplace fitness tracking challenge, so while I’ve been wearing my vivofit all through the winter break, this is when we’ll start keeping track of our weekly totals and reporting them to our team captain.

Quick Garmin Vivofit review: I love my vivofit! I like being able to check my steps, progress, calories, and the time during the day, and I like that the battery should last for a year so I don’t need to worry about charging it. It is definitely water-resistant; I’ve showered and washed dishes and noticed no change in the tracking.I would definitely recommend it.

Even just in these past few weeks, it’s been fascinating to learn more about myself through watching my steps. There were days before the break when I cruised past 8,000 steps without noticing, and there were days over the break when I didn’t reach 1,000. This week, I’ve been to the gym four times because I know that without the treadmill, I have no hope of hitting even 5,000, and while I’m there, I end up doing a few circuits of weights and strength training exercises. I know it’s definitely helped get me into some better habits; I think more about taking the stairs or running extra errands because it will increase my step total, and I think it will nudge me towards the gym even when I don’t feel like it. I stocked up on gym gear for Christmas so I would be more prepared, and I’m thinking of weekend walks and hikes I can do to replace the treadmill time.

But in thinking about the challenge, winning or beating other teams is not what motivates me to have a respectable total each day–it’s my fear of being the weak link on the team, the one who lets the others down and keeps our performance on the lower end. I have no idea yet whether I’m keeping pace with my teammates or fellow employees, many of whom are very active athletes, runners, dog-owners, etc, but the idea of disappointing them is definitely a motivating factor, and I’m not sure I would have predicted that before starting the challenge. My hunch is that workplace wellness initiatives works better in environments where employees like and respect each other better, because I know when I think of my teammates, I feel an urge to make sure they know I’m pulling my weight.

I knew that having a fitness buddy was good for me, after training last spring with my sister before we did the Warrior Dash, but now I’ve gained new insight into what motivates me and could potentially keep me pushing myself on other kinds of journeys as well. I know that not wanting to disappoint others has sometimes caused me emotional stress, so noticing this pattern as a positive force in my life is a very welcome insight into my own personality.

SOLS: Snowy Drive

6:49: My daughters and I open the front door and see a snow-crusted sidewalk and street, glittering with the reflection of those Christmas lights that are still up, and absolutely silent, the silence snow always seems to bring with it.

“Ooooooh! Do we have a snow day?!?!” my daughters asked, but I checked all the known sources, and not even a delay. So we eased out the door, and I began the tedious clearing of the car, grumbling under my breath that today would not be a glorious reprieve, already wishing I was back in bed.

Of course, my gas light had come on yesterday on my way home from work, and of course I had forgotten my wallet that day so couldn’t fill up then. So we inched slowly up and down several gentle hills and slid carefully into the gas station. “If you ever wonder why moms are superheroes, think of this morning,” I laughed to my girls, and pumped my tank full of gas, flakes falling all around me, the quiet progress of other cars swishing up and down the city streets.

“You look like a snow monster!” they said when I got back in, my coat and hair dusted with crystals of ice. We began the rest of our journey, which usually takes about 15 minutes, but today would take 45. I was surprised and dismayed to see that some of the major roads along the way were blanketed in snow, not even touched, and when my car began a slow semi-spin two blocks from school, I crossed my fingers, held my breath, and steadied myself–and the car–as calmly as I could.

Pulling into the snowy parking lot, I felt myself exhale deeply and said aloud, “I am so glad we’re here!” I gave myself a little pat on the back for making it, for not spending the whole drive raging at the injustice of not getting a snow day, for keeping a level head and calm presence so my girls wouldn’t know quite how terrified I had been of crashing along the way, and for knowing at least that I had made it through the snow to do a job I love.

“Let’s go!” I said, and we stepped out into the cold.

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Meal Planning, 1/4-1/10

Here’s the meals I’m planning to make this week, getting back into the meal planning game and hoping to start the year off right.

Dinners:

Lemon and garlic roast chicken and Parmesan-Ranch Potatoes: a winter comfort favorite for sure, with leftover possibilities for lunches, and I’ve always had good luck with Ina Garten

Mozzarella-stuffed turkey meatballs with marinara sauce, pasta or garlic bread on the side, with salad: I’ve made cheese-stuffed meatballs before, but would like to start using turkey instead of red meat when possible, and this recipe looks promising

Pumpkin waffles and bacon: a classic breakfast-for-dinner favorite in this family!

Honey-balsamic chicken tenders and guaranteed crispy baked sweet potato fries: if I can master making sweet potato fries that are crispy, not soggy or mushy, then I may finally be able to add sweet potatoes to our veggie rotation, which would be a long-awaited health/foodie victory for me.

Breakfast/Snack:

Pumpkin muffins with mini-chocolate-chips: can’t even count how often I’ve made these muffins!

Lunch:

My girls are going to try Peanut Butter, Banana, Strawberry Quesadilla with some Nutella added to the PB, which I’ll make ahead for them. I’ve also made some macaroni and cheese that they can take and reheat at school.