Thursday, March 27, 2014

All Quiet on the Blog. . .But Not in my Life

Wrestling with decisions and stressing over others' decisions have been occupying my time lately.  Two out of three have been resolved, and the third one may be.  In addition, there are the usual life challenges of just getting up earlier than your body really wants to, teaching antsy adolescents and hoping we're all having fun while we're learning something, coming up with something relatively healthy and tasty for dinner most nights, and then heading to bed, hoping to get enough sleep to wake up in time to do it all over again the next day.  In between of course, we're still dealing with way-below normal temperatures, snow, and a winter that just won't quit.

One decision involved the business and lots of money - Yes, we will spend that money.  Another decision actually belonged to Younger Son, - yes, he will change jobs,  and third involves a huge job decision for me.  That's the one that's still a bit iffy.  I think I know what I've decided, but I'm living with it for a couple of weeks before it's irrevocable.

On top of all this has been a huge amount of turmoil around our school budget.  Neither our proposed teachers' contract nor our regular school budget passed.  That means in addition to not receiving a very minor pay raise, we will actually bring home less money (again!  third time in 3 contracts) because of a 7% increase in our portion of our health insurance.)  Plus there are teacher cuts looming. One of the teachers who is losing her full time position is an absolutely gifted music teacher.  She has infused our middle school music program with enthusiasm and energy, doubling the size of the band AND chorus, and starting a music festival and jazz band ---all in the 2 short years she's been here.  But due to our RIF policy, she's been bumped by the high school music teacher who's also a great teacher.  His position is actually the one that was cut due to low class enrollment (which is due to the block schedule which prevents many students from being able to take music classes, but that's another story.)  So because he's been here for 20+ years he will be splitting his time between both schools, leaving her with only a half time job.  It's an absolute shame, but it IS the way the system works.  And while we're devastated that "our" teacher is affected so negatively, the RIF policy IS fair.  It takes qualifications, evaluations, and seniority into consideration.  There have been two rather contentious school board meetings which have kept us out till way past our bedtimes as the community tries to process all of this. At the last meeting on Monday night, teachers scored a victory of sorts.  Apparently, despite the failed budget, all of the administrators were slated to receive 3-5% raises.  One school board member saw the injustice of having admins get more while teachers and students were getting a less, and raised the issue.  Our association president also questioned this, and lo and behold!  The board agreed and eliminated the raises for all the administrators.  It was a drop in the bucket compared to what students are loosing, but it was a victory that made us feel a bit vindicated.

So  . . Meal planning.  I haven't been keeping up with that.

Tuesday night was a pork stirfry.  I sliced some boneless pork into very thin strips, and let them bathe in some soy sauce, rice vinegar, grated garlic, grated ginger, and peanut oil for about 20 minutes.   I sliced some carrots and onions thinly, and diced some celery.  I opened a can of whole water chestnuts and sliced those too.  I stir fried the meat in some peanut oil, and when it was almost cooked through, I threw in some unsalted roasted peanuts, toasting them slightly.  I removed the meat and peanuts to a bowl, and drizzled some Szechuan sauce over it.  Keeping it warm, I stirfried the veggies.  When the were done, I added in some leftover mixed veggies from the night before as well as some leftover grilled mushrooms. I then combined everything and after tasting, tossed in some red pepper flakes and a tad more Szechuan.  We like our stirfries on the spicy side.  I served this over rice.

Last night was what I'm calling Chicken and Artichoke Noodle Bake.  I cut up 2 small chicken breasts into small pieces and I sliced a can of whole, drained artichoke hearts into quarters.  I tossed these together in a greased baking dish and poured a jar of Prego Alfredo sauce over them.  Since it looked too soupy, I also added a can of mushroom soup.   I added a good sprinkle of black pepper and about a teaspoon of thyme.   Meanwhile I cooked some egg noodles.  When they were done, I drained them and added them to the mixture in the baking dish.  I baked the concoction in the oven at 350° for about 50 minutes.  Oh, I did pull it out at about 45 minutes and sprinkled the top with grated parmesan.  The top noodles got crusty which is what my husband likes.  Me, I could live without the crusty bits, but I made him very happy.  It wasn't particularly healthy, but it did taste good!!

So, tomorrow we are finally supposed to get some spring-like temperatures.  I would dearly love to be able to put my heavy coat, scarves, and gloves away.  And next week it's APRIL!!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Car Wash for the Soul

Yesterday afternoon when I left work, the sun was shining, the thermometer hit a whopping 39°F, and my once-white Honda CR-V was covered in a coat of gray and brown. I also needed gas.  As I punched in my credit card info at the gas pump, I was asked if I wanted to buy a car wash.  And so I purchased the $10 "The Works" option.  After filling my tank, I pulled around behind the gas station and was confronted by the sight of 7 other drivers lined up at the car wash entrance.  Since my husband usually does the car-washing duties, I didn't know if I could use the car wash code on my receipt another day or if I had to use it right then, so I made the decision to wait it out.  And wait it out I did.  First, I thought about getting out of my car to dig out my iPad which was nestled in the bottom of school bag on the back seat, but I decided I was too lazy to do that.   And it was too much trouble to do the gymnastics necessary for one of small stature and large girth to grab the bag from behind the driver's seat.  So instead I turned on the radio and listened to "All Things Considered" for a bit.  But I was tired of listening to reports from the Ukraine, so I turned it off. Then I started calculating how long each car wash took... average car wash 4.5 minutes!

 It wasn't until I was next in line that it crossed my mind that I could have been using that time (almost 30 minutes) to do some prayer and reflection.   I punched in my car wash code, and thought about the line from Psalm 51 that I've been using as a prayer focus,  "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and put a new and right spirit within me."     As the door to the car wash opened, and the powerful jets of water bombarded the undercarriage of my car, I thought about the power of a real-soul cleansing.  The car rocked a bit from the power of the spray, and as I went further into the car wash, torrents of soap and water completely engulfed the car.  Layers of salt, sand, mud, and road dirt streamed off the car.  A blast of laser-driven air dried my car. leaving it dry, sparkling, and spotless.

A real soul-cleansing is not going to be calm and peaceful.  It will rock me, and knock me about.  It will hurt as the layers of sin and hurt are peeled away.    It won't be over in 4.5 minutes either.

"Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and put a new and right spirit within me."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

I went to our Ash Wednesday service tonight. And I am glad I did.  I have just started going back to church after a year of self-imposed exile.  I won't go into the reasons as to why I stopped going to my church's services, but in mid January I knew it was time to go back.  It wasn't the easiest thing to do . . . just as church-going can get into a habit - going because it's what you do, NOT going can also become a habit.  I had grown accustomed to my lazy Sunday mornings or my "date" with my husband as we did the weekly grocery shopping.  I will miss that.  But it was time to go back, for many reasons.

The big reasons why I stopped attending have been resolved; however, there are still some other issues I need to work on.  But now I can work on them through my church.

Tonight as we sat in silent prayer, the only prayer that I could pray was "I'm here, God, I'm here."  So that will be my Lenten prayer, my Lenten practice.   To sit in silence, to acknowledge that I am ready to be present again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Catching Up

It's been a bit since I posted.

The big freeze continues. It's hard to believe that it's March and we're still experiencing single digit temps on a daily basis.  The weather people say we're running about 20° below average for March.  

We took advantage of our February school vacation and flew the coop.  We headed down to Miami for the week to soak up some temps in the mid 80s°.  We also had a chance to visit my aunt and three of my cousins.  The last time I saw my aunt was 2 days before my father died, in 2002. She and her son had flown north to say goodbye to her brother.  She is the last sibling alive, and she's in her 80's.  My cousins are all around my age, and I hadn't seen two of them since 1977!  We had a lovely visit and enjoyed some down-home Cuban cooking!

We enjoyed our exploration of Miami and points south.  One day we drove down to Key West, and another day we explored part of Everglades National Park.  I loved the birds! And it was fun spotting alligators.

Now we're back in the deep freeze, and back to school.

I tried a new recipe tonight that I found on Pinterest.  It's called Tuscan Chicken Skillet and it was delicious!

photo from Pinterest