Thursday, March 26, 2015

And....Done!

The longest week of the school year (aka the week before spring break) is finally over.  Well, not just yet, but parent/teacher conferences finished up tonight.  All that's left is one half day with kids, and then spring break is here! That makes me feel like this...
Happy Friday!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Saturday 9

This week's Saturday 9 is linked to Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual".
1) In this song, Tom sings that "it's not unusual to go out at any time." Will you be "out and about" this weekend? A little bit...I've got a few plans, but after the first week of parent/teacher conferences just being "in" sounds pretty good too.
 2) Before his music career took off, Tom supported himself and his young family by working as a vacuum cleaner salesman. Could the room you're in right now benefit from a thorough cleaning with a vacuum?  With a light-colored dog who sheds her body weight in hair onto my carpet on a daily basis, every room can ALWAYS use a vacuum.  Luckily vacuuming is the one and only chore that doesn't make me grumble.
3) You can purchase a verified Tom Jones autograph on eBay for $299 (or the best offer). When you were growing up, did you collect signatures and sayings from your friends? (Autograph book? Yearbook? Cast?) When I was 9, I broke both bones in my lower left arm.  It was a severe break, so I was cast from just below my shoulder down to my knuckles (and my thumb was cast as well) for about 3 months.  After that time, it was reset into a shorter, less inhibiting cast.  Both were covered in messages from my friends and family.  I don't think they do plaster casts like that anymore, but I remember back then they were such a status symbol...everyone wanted a cast to get signed, minus the broken bones of course.  Having never been into getting autographs from actors, I do have some hockey programs and player cards that we'd get signed after the Kings' games.  They're packed up in the garage somewhere now.   
4) At the height of his popularity, female fans would throw their panties onstage at Tom Jones. Sam can't imagine doing this, and not just because she's not that crazy about Tom Jones. She'd be embarrassed because her underwear drawer could use a serious refresh. If you could choose one new article of clothing to add to your wardrobe today, what would it be?  That whole underwear thing always sounded like such a strange idea.  I've been to a good number of concerts and not once have I felt the urge to fling my knickers at the band nor have I ever seen anyone do it for that matter.  Is it even a thing anymore?  I'm pretty particular about my bra and underwear and their needing to match, so I'd be hard pressed to give up a pair, even to a crooner.
5) "Tom Jones" is also the name of character in a famous 18th century novel. Tell us about a character from a book you wish you were friends with in real life.  Lily Owens from Secret Lives of Bees and Liesel Meminger from The Book Thief are favorite characters of mine.  So I guess them.
6) When this song was popular in March 1965, Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City fame was born. Do you share your birthday with anyone famous?  According to the website "Famous Birthdays" no one has my exact birthdate.  However, I share a birthday with Bruce Springsteen and Ray Charles.
7) Also in 1965, when this song was a hit, Americans were riveted by the Gemini space program and children all over the country wanted to be astronauts. Think back to your childhood: When you were in first or second grade, what did you want to be when you grew up?  veterinarian 
8) Fifty years ago, the most popular headache reliever was aspirin, and you could buy a bottle of 200 tablets for just $1. Do you have any aspirin in your medicine chest right now?  I do!  And it cost about 8 times more than the original bottle which is about a quarter of the original size.  I can no longer justify buying a large bottle when those bottles are date coded to barely last a year.  There is debate whether the aspirin really loses its effectiveness.               
9) Random question: You've just entered a public restroom. Would you rather find a paper towel dispenser or hot air hand dryer? As much as I try to be conscious and engage in earth friendly practices, the answer is a paper towel dispenser.  Most of the dryers take forever (who wants to stand in a public restroom waiting to get their hands dry) and even if you do wait, your hands are still be somewhat wet.  Towels are quick, dry, and to the point.  
Happy Saturday!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A No Win Decision

So my book club book this month is written by an *author who was recommended to me awhile back.  Upon receiving that recommendation, I placed a hold on all her books at the library knowing that, with her popularity, it'd be awhile before they became available.  So imagine my surprise when this month's book club host picked a book by this very author.  Just before the book was chosen, I downloaded one of her other books to read.  I decided to keep reading it before starting the new one and just finished it last night.  Holy cow!  This book was a GOOD story!
But here's the thing, my book club isn't reading this book and I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT!  
The book's premise is how the lives of three women (who are simply acquaintances of each other) intersect and the effect they have on each other (unbeknownst to them).  One of the characters is a woman in her 60s whose daughter was murdered about 20 years earlier.  We find out that the one of the other women in the story is married to and has three children with the man who committed the murder 20 years before.  The murder is confessed when, after a night of drinking upon his first daughter's birth, the husband writes a letter to his wife confessing the killing when he was a teenager. The letter was hidden and not to be opened until his death.  Years later, his wife found the letter while cleaning out the attic, BEFORE he had actually died.  The remainder of this woman's story in the book was about her grappling with this information.  
Her husband, as far as was written in the book, was a good husband and father.  He worked hard, treated his family well, and volunteered his time to his daughters' school and other community endeavors.  He is written so the reader likes him.  This news was an obvious blow to his wife.  She had no idea of his crime and had to figure out what to do with the information.  She vacillated between wanting to turn him in and wanting to continue her life with the father of her children.  She was physically sick over it, rightly so.  Being an acquaintance of the girl's still-grieving mother also added to her dilemma.  
And what a dilemma it would be.  While she went through the process of digesting this news and her options, I wasn't happy with any of them.  I didn't like the thought of her staying with him, knowing what he had done, but I also didn't like the thought of turning him in and making him leave his own family.  
This silly quote came off as very powerful to me as to what this scenario would do to a person, "She pulled his plate away.  She avoided his eyes. She hadn't made eye contact with him since he'd come home.  If she behaved normally, if she let life just continue on, wasn't she condoning it?  Accepting it?  Betraying (her) daughter?  Except wasn't that exactly what she'd already decided to do?  To do nothing? So what difference did it make if she was cold towards him?  Did she really think that made a difference?  'Don't worry (grieving mother) I'm being so mean to your daughter's murder.  No lamb roast for him!  No sir!' "
People have pasts, and if you love someone you acknowledge it and then, hopefully, move on from there.  But physically harming someone is quite a different story isn't it, and killing them, well, that would be the worst thing to have your past, wouldn't it.  On the other hand, that wasn't who she married, but then again, it was.
It's quite an ethical dilemma.  I'd like to say that if it were me, I'd take the ethical road.  But I don't think it would be quite as black and white as that.  

*Being vague about the title, author, and characters is in hopes of not spoiling a fairly major event in the book.  It happens mid-way through, so it's not telling the ending, but still it's a bit of a spoiler.

On a less serious note, Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Waving the Flag

This past week one of our state universities - UC Irvine - made the news.  The initial reports told how the student government had voted to remove the American flag and other flags from the campus.  The attempt to remove the flag was seen by the student government as a way of encouraging cultural inclusion.  The blurb was fairly vague, and after reading it I was still not really sure of why and how this was happening.  And even though I'm far from being an "America can do no wrong" patriot, I was perplexed by the decision to remove the flag.  The flag is flown at all public institutions including schools that are funded by the government.  It's a law!  A student government vote couldn't change that, could it?!?!
Clicking beyond my homepage's newsfeed, what had actually happened became a little clearer.  In fact, the students legislative body voted to pass a resolution (written by one student) to remove the flags from their student government offices, not from the campus.   The resolution stated that the flag, having been flown on occasion as an act of imperialism, was not a sign of welcome to all students, and that removing it from their offices would be a symbol of becoming more inclusive of the student body.   Executive Cabinet still had to approve it, which they reportedly had no intention of doing.
This all took place on Friday.  By Saturday the story had spread across the country, and that's when the sh*! hit the fan.  The "news" outlets reported the story and posted it on their websites and social media...and cue the vile and hateful response.  Threats were and are being made to the University and the students involved in voting for the resolution, angry protests have been staged, and the comment sections on the stories are filled with all sorts of outrage.  And as I digest it all, it frustrates me.  Whether one agrees with their proposed resolution or not (and for the record this bleeding heart liberal didn't agree with the proposed resolution), the students' actions (free speech, voting on an issue, wanting to embrace all ethnicities) are the very actions the US flag is supposed to symbolize.  Threatening violence towards a group of students who are questioning the system (college students are supposed to do that) is disgusting.
And now, the state of California's legislative powers are proposing a constitutional amendment that will put a ban on banning the flag at public school.  Hmmmm, if I remember correctly, there's already a federal law requiring it to be flown at public schools, so adding this amendment will be putting our tax dollars to great (read redundant) use!
This country's biggest downfall is that we are reactive rather than proactive.  It so often seems we have blinders on to the overarching issues that are broken and/or outdated while focusing on small, knee jerk reactions.  I find it appalling that this is what outrages folks.  Where is the outrage over our mental health care (or lack thereof) in this country?  Where is the outrage over the reported yet not prosecuted violent crimes against women on college campuses?  Where is the outrage over hundreds of school teachers who were laid off this week due to budget cuts?  Where is the outrage over equal pay for equal work?  Flying a flag or not flying a flag has no bearing on the success or failure as a country.  The flag is a symbol of that success - whatever we make that out to be.
This flag ban at UC Irvine should have been a non-issue.  It was going to resolve itself.  Turning it into one took valuable time and effort away from many other more pressing matters.  Which is unfortunate.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cathartic Cooking

This week, I attended more meetings/trainings than I can count on my hand.  Some were after school, and some were during the school day which means my students had a substitute on more than one occasion.  Not having their regular routine, my class was as high as a kite this week, which was challenging since we were testing.  The testing, which has (so far) taken about 8 hours over two weeks, made me want to beat my head against the wall.   Plus knowing we were losing an hour of sleep this weekend...well, my mood was not good.  When I got home last night, I closed and locked the door feeling so relieved that I didn't have to talk to or be talked at by anyone for at least 24 hours.
A few months ago I posted about my new pasta rollers.  Fresh pasta is delightful and a great meal to serve guests, but it's quite time consuming.  I've made it a few more times since that post.  All those times the plan was to make it while guests were mingling and enjoying the fact that it was being made right there.  The downside though is that it always takes longer than planned for and/or I get sidetracked by conversation and lose my cooking concentration.
Bound and determined to make this process a bit easier I've done a little research and watched a couple of youtube videos about making and storing pasta.  And today, I spent my day of no talking making batches and batches of fresh pasta.
One thing that was making the process more difficult was trying to make more than a couple of servings at a time in the dry, SoCal weather.  The dough dried out so quickly, sometimes in the midst of making it, which made it difficult to work with.  That problem seemed to be solved by two solutions.  One, rather than using measuring cups, I used the scale and weighed the flour.  Bakers always say it's more exact to weigh dry ingredients, but since I'm not a baker I never took much stock in it.  Now I'm a believer.  The second way to counteract the dryness was to make it in smaller batches.  Most recipes call for one egg and 100 grams of flour for 2 servings.  If I were serving 6-7 people, I tried to make it all at once.  Today, I made the dough into smaller batches which was so much easier to work with.
 After my previous post, I tried freezing a ball of dough hoping that would be a good way to store fresh pasta for later use.  The dough worked fine after being defrosted, but the process of defrosting was a hassle and took an indeterminate amount of time.  My research led me to the nests...these pretty little nests.
After rolling and cutting the dough, it is dusted with flour and then twirled around the fingers to form bunches of pasta.  The nests are placed on floured parchment paper and then placed in the freezer for an hour or two to set.  Then they are stored in an airtight container in the freezer.  The best part?  There is no defrosting of the dough!  The individual servings can just be dropped in a pot of boiling water and cooked the 2-3 minutes as usual - maybe an extra minute longer since frozen.  
It was such a calming exercise - rolling and cutting and swirling the dough - that I would have worked on it all day had I not run out of eggs.  
Arrabbiata sauce with spicy Italian turkey sausage in planned for later this week!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pizza Delivery

 This past week I had some friends over to hang out.  It was Friday night after work, and since it was late and everyone was tired we decided to order a pizza and have it delivered rather than do any cooking (or dishes).  After placing our order and figuring how much we each owed with tip, we got back to catching up.  The time flew by because, before we knew it, the delivery driver arrived.  None of us had our money ready, so when the doorbell sounded we scrambled to do so.  I even had to go out to the garage and get my wallet out of the car.  With all the laughing and door opening/closing and calling out, "Just a minute!", I wonder if it made the delivery man feel anxious or nervous about his safety while waiting at the door.
I'd imagine that being a delivery driver of any kind would be a bit nerve wracking, especially with all the crazy stuff we hear about on the news anymore.  Driving to a stranger's house and knocking on their door, well it sounds completely unappealing to me.  I wonder if the drivers have a plan with their employer that will help ensure their safety.  A text message to someone at the restaurant that they were headed to the door of the address, and if they didn't text back in say 5 minutes to send the police immediately - kind of like keeping your best friend in the loop when on a blind date. It's important to stay safe, especially when you don't know who you're going to run into.
I apologized to the delivery guy for not being ready when I finally opened the door (what if the restaurant was calling 911 while he waited on the front porch), and we tipped him well so he probably forgot about the wait time.  But I'm almost sure that he went back to his car and breathed a sigh of relief that, yet again, the house he delivered to wasn't inhabited by some crazy person who tried to abduct him.  I'd certainly feel that way.  On the other hand, I couldn't do it.  I'd be afraid that every door would be opened by that crazy person.  It would be a very worrisome job to me.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My, What Huge Breasts You Have

Nooooo, not mine, get your thoughts out of the gutter...my eyes are up here!
I'm talking about the chicken breast I grilled last night.  Yesterday, I needed to take out some chicken to defrost before using it for dinner.
The recipe I was making listed one pound of chicken breast or 2-3 boneless/skinless breast.  I buy my chicken at Costco in a big bag, and each breast is individually frozen so I can use what I need and keep the rest frozen for later use.  Yesterday, I was stunned.  The new bag I bought last week had giant chicken breasts inside.  One frozen breast weighed one whole pound...on its own.  That must have been the Pamela Anderson of chickens!
I've read articles and other blog posts about how our chicken breasts have increased in size over the last several year for a variety of reasons - antibiotics, hormones, chicken feed, small cages, deliberate breeding.   And now I'm afraid that my beloved Costco bag-o-chicken has succumb to one (or all) of the above.
The protein in my main meals consists mostly of chicken and/or beans.  I eat red meat less than once a month, pork on a rare occasion and never cook it for myself, and can't eat seafood. So chicken is a mainstay in my diet.  The big bags are really cost effective for the amount of chicken I use.  While the organic and free-range chicken is certainly appealing, the cost and the (sometimes) difficulty in getting it prevents me from doing so.  A friend of mine who tends to shop on the organic side of things told me she also buys her chicken at Costco, but it's organic.  The breasts, she said, are definitely normal chicken breast size.  I'll have to do some comparative shopping and maybe some more research before I buy anymore, however the new bag of chicken has scarcely been used.  The problem is, after seeing that super-breast and the others in the bag, I'm a bit hesitant to use anymore.  The thought of it has given me a slight case of the heebee jeebees.