How To Do Your Homework

July 30, 2015

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Preface: I am a grad student during the summer, working on a Master’s in Music Education with a concentration in French horn performance. This is less glamorous than it sounds. It sounds like I’m spending a ton of money on something I should have done 10 years ago? Yeah, that’s how I hear it, too. I love horn, but I have not played lately because of health issues. All classes in the Master’s program are considered “accelerated”, cramming the usual semester into 4-5 weeks. They emphasize this ahead of time, so you forfeit your right to whine about the workload. Boo. While it’s been fun, it’s also been…”fun”. But it’s getting done. I am dead set on balancing this endeavor with the need to experience a lovely, rejuvenating summer with my family and friends. So naturally, I leave class work until the due date and do it all at the last minute.  #responsibleadult

As the expert, I will now share the important process of:

“How To Do Your Homework”

  1. Make coffee, do morning things, hug & kiss Hubby goodbye.
  2. Instruct children to please pick up their rooms and go play, because Mommy is working.
  3. Go into kitchen to get coffee mug first. Become concerned that the pile of dishes in the sink will attract ants. Do dishes.
  4. Head downstairs (split level) to office, with coffee. Scroll through Twitter, check Facebook, read The Skimm, play Crossy Road and Brain Dots on phone, because ‘all work and no play’…
  5. Break up argument between children in the laundry room. Notice that laundry needs “flipped over”. Do that.
  6. Upon returning from laundry room, look longingly at the lovely curled form of the horn on its stand, in the office. No. Not right now. Decide that it’s time to work.
  7. Play horn anyway. Marvel just a little that high C still comes out fine, after months off.  Gloat a tiny bit. Feel very happy and almost decide to text brass-people friends, but try to rein self back in and get to work. Actually open a text book.
  8. Discover that there are actually no less than five separate assignments due. Re-evaluate whether a Master’s degree is really that important.
  9. Untie, open, peel, and fix something for each kid, a minimum of 3-4 times.
  10. Realize that the correct Spotify station is essential for concentration, child noise-coverage, and ambiance. Spend 10 minutes deciding on which list and another 10 trying to find the one pair of earbuds left in the house that works.
  11. Sit down. Get back to work. Wait, where is coffee? Go find mug.
  12. Focus and complete the first of five assignments, like a boss.
  13. Play with hair. Wonder if French braiding own hair is still in personal skill set. Braid own hair, enjoying the fact that ‘dos like the popular girls at that 1992 Girl Scout camp are now finally within grasp.
  14. Swivel aimlessly in desk chair while playing with hair. See horn. Think of playing again but turn around to get back to work.
  15. Realize that coffee is cold. Realize that this whole routine has been going on for quite a while and only one out of five assignments are complete. Realize this is not ok.
  16. Respond to texts from Hubby, friend, and sister, and play new Monument Valley levels.
  17. Decide that now it’s very seriously time to do the other four assignments. But first, coffee.
  18. Heat up coffee in kitchen where the dog has found a My Little Pony toy to chew to bits. Clean that up.
  19. With coffee, half a grapefuit because breakfast never actually happened, and a new mindset to be productive, go back downstairs. Sit down, resolved to knock out those other four assignments. Right. Now.
  20. Blog about the process instead.
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So, You Want To Run For Public Office?

July 15, 2015

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Let’s pretend you want to run for a seat in government. I know. Just go with it for a second. 

Let’s pretend I’m in charge of making all the rules governing U. S. political campaigns. I think this would be a pretty cool responsibility. Congress: Call me!

*****

Yet another Facebook test crossed my path, and I liked the 2-dimensionalness of it. Instead of asking me if I’m pro-choice or anti-Obamacare, it measured your left vs. right-wingness, and your liberal vs. communitarianism-ness.  Don’t worry, I didn’t know what that last thing was either. And I will stop saying “ness” now.

Communitarianism is a philosophy that emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community… strict limits on governmental power. – Wikipedia

My results:

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I am most aligned in thought with Obama , but slightly more liberal. Or at least, my values are more liberal than the way he’s governed.

I’m 33 years old and except for making fun of it on the Daily Show, I’m burnt out when it comes to politics. Granted, I live in New Jersey (insert mob corruption joke here), but that’s just sad. And I’m part of the problem! It’s not that I particularly like or even know much of Hillary Clinton’s voting record. I just really want to see her in the powerful position that her husband had when his actions caused her to be very publicly humiliated. Not that THAT whole situation with Monica had much to do with his decision-making abilities as president, either. Or… did it?  😉 But these are superficial, ill-informed reasons to vote for someone!

*****

Entirely willing to ignore my own naiveté and ignorance in this matter, I decided that this test thingy should really be the basis for all political campaigning. No ads. No question-dodging. I can’t watch political debates anymore – I just talk angrily at the TV. The talking heads don’t answer any questions and I just want to hear what the guy in the blue tie would do about Veteran’s affairs, or something.

My “system” would go like this:

So, you want to run for public office?

  1. You should probably have to pass a physical and mental evaluation, background check, and blah blah blah ‘details’. Then:
  2. You complete the comprehensive 100+ questionnaire regarding your public policy.
    1. Yes, you must answer every question on a sliding scale of 1 “Completely Disagree” to 5 “Completely Agree”.
    2. Yes, your answers must be published. Be happy I haven’t decided to identify you as “Candidate Alpha” or something, so nobody can be racist or sexist when reading names.
  3. Your answers are published. Explanations of the questions are included to help the public understand the issues.
  4. Voters can decide on their hot-button issues, or seek out a general profile like the one on the test above, to see where they lie in relation to you and the other candidates.
  5. You will pretty much be expected to vote in alignment with your questionnaire answers.
    1. Life and situations can change your mind about some issues. If you end up voting in a way that is not consistent with your pre-stated values, you can always publish a statement explaining your choice.
    2. If people don’t like the way you vote, they can just vote you out of office next time. You know, the way it’s “supposed” to work now?
  6. No campaigning or fundraising. No public funds used for anything other than collecting and publishing this information. If you want to make appearances, they have to be benefiting a charity or school. Go home and raise your family and/or do your actual job. Those things that make you who you are, and a decent enough person to be trusted with the extra responsibility of governing? They’re more important. 
  7. Did you get more votes than anybody else? (There will probably need to be elimination elections, and people can still vote for who they most agreed with each time.) Congrats! You’re now a politician. No baby-kissing required.

I realize this is an extremely simplistic system and would probably only be accepted in a 6th grade Social Studies paper. But something like this plan is literally a fantasy of mine. Please comment! Tell me why you hate or love this idea. Tell me what won’t work and what will. Tell me if Donald Trump is for real or just stays in character as a well as Andy Kaufman, to amuse me. Cause that would be awesome.  

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This is: Spicy Chipotle Salsa with Pan-Roasted Tomatillos

July 11, 2015

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This is a tomatillo with the husk on it:IMG_20150708_111535385

This is a tomatillo without the husk:IMG_20150708_111451795

This is how you roast them in a pan with garlic:

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This is how you blend them with two chipotle peppers:
IMG_20150708_113124271_HDR

This is the other goodness that your sister makes while you make the tomatillo salsa:IMG_20150708_112345879

This is the fruits of your labor (chipotle tomatillo, red pepper pico de gallo, mango cilantro salsa, guacamole):

IMG_20150708_114146430_HDR

This is how you eat it (adorable children not necessary):

Capture

What we have learned:

  • You cannot screw up salsa.
  • You do not need to have salsa music playing while making salsa, but it helps.
  • A tomatillo is actually an armadillo-like tomato.

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Spice, Pain, and Ventilation; Chipotle Beef Tacos with Carmelized Onions

July 6, 2015

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Who doesn’t love spicy? Lots of people, including my husband, but we won’t talk about how I married a flavor wuss. 

This recipe in Everyday Mexican by Rick Bayless seemed very straight-forward and easy, so I figured it would be no-stress way to start the book. There was even an accompanying tomatillo salsa recipe with like 4 ingredients – how could I screw that up?

IMG_20150702_180556198
Skirt steak on sale from Walmart (#dealwithit), corn torts, one onion (it was supposed to be two but apparently I can’t count that high and shop at the the same time), hot sauce for garnish, and fresh cilantro.

I am one of those people for whom cilantro makes everything better. There are people who are genetically pre-disposed to hating the stuff, and I feel very, very sorry for them. NPR Cilantro/Genetics article here.  No cilantro was called for, probably because it’s not authentic or whatever. Sorry, I am HUNGRY, not authentic.

Oh yeah, and most importantly, one can of Chipotle peppers, in canning sauce.

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I have to apologize, I got a new phone that is wonderful and takes absolutely crap pictures.

The book said to choose a “heavy skillet”, so I grabbed the cast iron one with two hands and didn’t drop it on my bare feet. Already, I thought I was winning. I cooked the onions in oil in this skillet, and didn’t burn them. Life was good.

IMG_20150702_184817334_HDR
This is all the onions I made, because I can’t read.

Then I used a “food processor” (tiny round chopper machine I use only when it’s 9 AM and I don’t know where my salsa is) and I processed the chipotle peppers and their sauce. The mixture looked slimy but delicious. After spreading a “thick patina”, #douchey, on the steak and prepping the pan with oil (nobody said this was healthy), I had leftover chipotle sauce. It looked like salsa. It smelled like Heaven. SO, naturally, I ate a big spoonful.

And almost died.

Now, it is believed that there is a connection to loving spice and loving pain. Wall Street Journal writer John McQuaid visits the masochistic concept here. I pride myself on not being a spice wuss. I also pride myself on having a high tolerance for pain. I had completely natural childbirth with my first. It was stupidly unintentional, but now I crow about it like I’m Wonder Woman, or something.

I’m not into pain any more than anybody else, but I was in paaaaaaaiiiin, after that bite. No, really. I was not ok. Tongue, nose, and throat all cried out in protest. I was blinded, my eyes welled up so fast.  Who knew taking a big bite of pure ground peppers would be so hot? DUH, Meg. Just… DUH. After chugging some half & half (milk products fix spicy, not water), I realized that the steaks were going to offend my mild-loving husband and children’s tongues. I scraped most of that “patina” of my skirt steaks, figured it was fine now, and put them in the hot skillet.

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“Steak?” “Money’s too tight for steak…” “Steak?” “Suuuure…’steak’…”

And then the smoke bomb went off. When you cook in a cast iron skillet, it apparently smokes a little. Or a lot. It would also seem that I did not remove enough of the chipotle “patina”, or else it has patina’ed its way into the meat already.  The cloud of smoke that arose from the pan threatened to melt my eyeballs. My kids in the next room started coughing and complaining. I turned on the whole-house fan, sent kids and dog outside, and wondered if hubby keeps a gas mask under the sink for emergencies.

This was supposed to be a safe, easy meal, damn it.

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Mmmmm, steak. And with two fans on, nobody died.

This dish actually turned out beautifully, and the steak was not too spicy for the family. I cooked it to a medium pinkishness and, after letting it rest, cut some off for the girls and cooked that a little longer. I will teach them to appreciate a medium steak someday. Right now we’re still working on everybody remembering to flush the toilet.

Important Factoids:

  • Cilantro makes everything better and the people who think it smells like stink bugs are genetically inferior unfortunate.
  • Pain and spice receptors are closely linked in your head.
  • Chipotle peppers are hot.

What we have learned today:

  • You should remember to make the tomatillo salsa recipe with this, because I forgot, and it sounds wonderful.
  • If it gets a chance, spice will kill you and everyone you love.
  • “Patina” is not the Spanish word for a baby duck.
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Why I Don’t Miss Church, But Also Really Do

July 3, 2015

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We don’t go to church anymore.

Let me attempt to explain the morality, silliness, and probable hypocrisy of our decision to stop being “church people”, as if I am solidly decided about any of it.

Background: We were very churchy people a few years ago. Hubby ran groups at the same Presbyterian church he’d gone to since high school. (He’d been pulled in by the music program there.) We had the girls baptized there. We felt very welcome and safe with our kids there, trusting the nice people around to keep half an eye on them, if we were in conversation or performing with the music department. Our kids’ first social interactions were in the church nursery. We were practically God-cheerleaders, running music for vacation bible school. I did the (I’m sorry, deadly dull and not particularly meaningful) membership classes. We met friends there.

Then one day Hubby gave them plenty of notice one day that he would no longer be running the programs that he’d run, so they could get replacements, and suddenly we were free on Sunday mornings. (I am an earlier church drop-out than Hubby, having stopped going most Sundays in favor of using that time to clean and/or spend time with my kids. I could do neither of those at church.)

Here are my reasons, and why they’re not quite right:

Reason: “Does God really send people to Hell?” “Can men marry men or can women marry women?”  “Were men really made first?” Oh, I should mention we’re liberals, and there is no way in Hell that ‘man is made like God and woman is a side project’ crap is being preached as truth to my daughters. Our big kid started to ask questions and understand the answers, and we weren’t sure we would like what she’d hear if she asked them of a church leader or Sunday School teacher.  I visited my grandmother’s church once and was told that TV was a tool of the devil and I was going to Hell if I watched Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles again. I was 8.  

But: There were some great people there. I honestly have no idea what they would have really said to my kid. A couple of them, Sunday School teachers – I could guess.

Reason:

Gaymarriage1

Gaymarriage2

I feel like this is such a ‘duh’ issue, but I know it’s still coming about for half the country. We knew people who weren’t comfortable letting church friends know some pretty important things about them, for fear of judgement. The official view of the Presbyterian church may be acceptance, but we strongly doubted that ran throughout that particular church. A lot of that had to do with the general age of the congregation; civil rights for the LGBT community is really an age issue. More about that later.

But: The Presbyterian church of the USA (general governing body) voted to allow ordination of pastors regardless of sexual orientation in 2010 and voted to allow marriages in 2014. (Very late to the party, guys! But better late than never. We were already gone at this point, though.)  I don’t know for sure how individual people would handle this at any church, I shouldn’t presume to know.

Reason: We felt pulled in many directions, with work and family. I didn’t want another commitment. I also wanted more time with my kids. Yes, I joke about sending their butts outside constantly for “Don’t Bother Mommy” time. But on weekends, I didn’t want to be shipping them off to a nursery while I sat, not really interacting with my husband, in a church service.

But: I realize how selfish this sounds – Oh, I know how I sound . This cut a generally positive social situation from my kids’ lives. This is why I finally agreed to sign them up for soccer. I miss the social-ness of church too. We met some really great people who we would totally still hang out with, if not for feeling very awkward about leaving. Having places to go and people to see is a good thing in my book, usually!

***

We did try going to several other churches. For a about a year, we were “church shopping”, mainly Episcopal and a couple Lutheran. You get wooed really hard, when you walk into a new church with your little kids in cute dresses. The cookies come out very quickly. We spent six months going to one church that was great as far as the concerns I listed above, but had so few children that some days nobody would show up to teach Sunday School. And eventually stopped going there too, and relished the quiet Sunday mornings with nowhere to go and time to sit around, drink coffee and juice, and play and talk with each other.

I really miss the music of church services. Music and God just go together. I got most of my musical experience at the Lutheran church where I grew up. Some quality music education reached me there, and well as some good friends. It’s for this reason that I feel like my kids are (going to be) missing out, and I should probably do something about that.

You’ll notice I said nothing about actual theological beliefs. Or God. Every one of us could write a giant essay about whether they believe in God (I do, kinda) whether they pray (I do, kinda), and whether they are down with that whole no-wearing-two-different-cloths thing. (Really, Deuteronomy?)

I said something about this vaguely back at Christmas, but I’m basically not presuming I know anything, other than the fact that we should be as good as possible to each other and to trust that everything is going to be ok in the long run. I feel like that didn’t change for me, while going from one church to another, to going to no church. I’m good.

Would we go back again? Sure. If we found the right place for us. But we’re in no hurry, and we don’t think it’s bad that we’re choosing not to go at all, at this point. I would really love to hear some thoughts on church, choosing one, or your thoughts on religion and social issues, including the above. Please comment! If it’s too personal, use the contact info on the left sidebar over there, or message me. Ha! Look at me pretending people read this who don’t have my cell # or fb contact info. Hilarious!

But seriously, I’d love to hear your ideas.

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