Category Archives: married life

Wildcard Wednesday: A Panera letdown

When I first met my husband, the Panera around the corner from his apartment was one of our favorite places to go. I liked that it was fast-ish food where I could get fresher, healthier options without completely breaking the bank. Although I had a full time teaching job at the time, I was living on my own paying rent at an apartment that was probably a bit more than I should have afforded, but I was already in the complex when my roommate deserted me and I was just thrilled they technically let me break the lease to move to a significantly cheaper one bedroom place right across the hall, so I didn’t complain.

As time has passed, our lives have gotten more stable and we’ve added kids to the mix, I find myself at Panera less and less. Tonight, my daughter had a Girl Scout meeting and although I’d had time to get a quick dinner for her, there was not enough time for me to eat and get her to her meeting on time. Since I had a ton of grading to do, I thought I’d take advantage of Panera’s soup and free wifi.

From the moment I walked in the door it was a series of unfortunate events. First there was quite a long line and only one person behind the counter. Of course, the moment it was actually my turn to order, another cashier came up to take orders.

“Just my luck,” I thought. But, I was in a pretty good mood and had time to kill, so who cared, right?

Then I tried to place my order. My squash soup was no problem, but the flatbread I wanted to accompany it was nixed. Apparently the panini press was broken, so no hot sandwiches were available. I tried not to be snarky when I asked, “so are there any sandwiches you can make?” It was a legit question as the only sandwiches I ever eat at Panera are always warm. I know there was an edge to my voice and I tried to push it down. The manager listed a few off and I picked the chicken salad.

When I went to pick up my order, the next snafu occurred. They were also out of baguettes to go with my soup. One of my favorite things about Panera is the ability to dip bread into my soup. It’s way better than crackers! I sighed and took my chips with a heavy heart. I tried to joke with the woman handing me my food, “it’s not a good day to order at Panera, is it?” She gave me a half-hearted smile and moved on.

I shrugged, resolved to still enjoy my meal and get some grading done. I went to fill my cup with diet Pepsi (blast!) and although soda filled my cup, my entire hand got sprayed with water that appeared to be leaking from the front of the diet Pepsi button. Try as I might to maneuver my hand so I could get soda in the cup and not ice water all over my hand, it was no dice. I calmly mentioned it to the manager (who’d heard all of my woes to this point) and he told me he knew of the problem and that he’d called Pepsi to get it fixed.

I tried to joke with him, “it seems like it’s a day where 5 million things go wrong, huh?”

In what I think was an attempt to make something go right, he came over and tinkered with the machine. He got it to stop spraying water, but not before my cup was full and my hand was drenched. He finally joked back, “what was that you said, 5 million problems? Well, I have one less now, so what does that make it?”

We jokingly did the math together, laughed a bit and then he went back behind the counter as I headed to my table.

The soup was good, the sandwich ok. My husband will like the chips. The meal was saved by the Kitchen Sink cookie, which I probably should not have eaten by myself, but I went to Zumba today. And damn…it was good!


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Throwback Thursday: Thanksgiving

Seasons 52 dessertLast week my family celebrated Thanksgiving in a way that was a bit of a shock for everyone. Well, everyone except me: we went out to a restaurant to have Thanksgiving dinner.

This was not my idea. I have been dutifully cooking Thanksgiving dinner for my family as well as 8 of my in-laws for the past decade–ever since my son was born. Every year we have pulled out my grandmother’s ancient, but still very useful, portable electric roaster to cook our turkey in. Every year I have pulled out my recipe book, filled with my husband’s family Thanksgiving recipes for stuffing, sweet potato casserole, orange cranberry sauce and hollandaise sauce. Every year I have stood with my mother-in-law as she gives me tips and suggests about how to cook her Thanksgiving feast (while she helps, of course).

And every year when I talk about making the stuffing, my mother-in-law and I have the exact same conversation about it.

Me: I’m going to start on the stuffing
MiL: Oh honey, you’re not going to stuff it in the bird are you?
Me: No MiL, I’m not. It’s your recipe and I’m going to cook it exactly like you do. I just call it stuffing because my family has always called it stuffing.
MiL: Oh good! Here’s the cornbread you’ll need to make that dressing (heavy emphasis on the word dressing). 

And every year, after having this conversation, I bite back my tongue and keep myself from screaming: Good GOD woman! You know what I mean! I will never call it dressing so let’s just move on with life!

But as usual, I digress.

Back in August, my father-in-law suggested that instead of having me spend hours in the kitchen and have everyone try to squeeze into our not very big living room and dining room, that we go out to eat, their treat. Since it was going to be the same group of about 11 of us, I immediately said YES! My husband was far more reluctant. He emailed his dad back about his disappointment over breaking tradition and how important it was to me and the kids. He CC’d me on the email of course, so I could immediately write him back and say, “As the person who is going to spend hours and hours in the kitchen cooking with your mother, I fully endorse this restaurant idea…now you email your dad back and fix this mess you’ve made!”

After an actual discussion between us, my husband completely saw it from my POV and agreed that a meal out might be fun. For him it was a big step out of his comfort zone, which is not something he’s used to. For me, not only did it mean NOT having to cook for a cast of way too many and still having leftovers for days and days, but it was actually a throw back to my childhood.

Even though my mom is a perfectly good cook, she has never actually enjoyed cooking. Whenever we could eat out, we did. And since I grew up in California, thousands of miles away from any family members who did not live in my actual house, my mom thought it was a waste of her time to make a huge Thanksgiving meal for four people. Especially when two of those people were kids who didn’t eat much. Plus, we lived in apartments with fairly small kitchens most of my life, so it’s not like it was easy to have tons of dishes going at the same time.

So every year my mom and step-dad found someplace that was not our own dining room for us to eat. I have very vivid memories of Thanksgiving dinners eaten at Sizzler, which up until I wrote this post, I thought was defunct since all the ones in Indiana had shut down. Turns out they still exist! Just on the West coast. This made me blissfully happy as my dream to once again eat their Malibu chicken, which was the stuff my childhood dreams were made of, is still a reality! Thank the Lord for mediocre steak houses and our love of them!

I also remember having Thanksgiving at church sponsored events where each family would contribute something to the meal. My mom would pick stuffing, but several boxes of Stove Top stuffing, make it quickly before we left the house and then we’d get to sit down to a full Thanksgiving meal at a huge table in some sort of cafetorium and eat with people we sort of knew from church. Those meals were a bit dicier as aside from my favorite, the stuffing, you never knew what strange ingredients people would add to their version of mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce.

One year we went to some super fancy place near Disneyland that was rather darkly lit and had some sort of ocean theme to it. I swear it was called something like Pirate’s Cove or something oddly similar…probably without the word pirate since I do remember it being nice. I was like 8 though, so really anything that wasn’t Bob’s Big Boy or Del Taco was pretty nice to me.

I do have to say that despite years of eating Thanksgiving dinner in restaurants, today’s trip to Season’s 52 for our family celebration was probably the nicest, tastiest one I’ve had at a restaurant. I do have to admit that the one we had aboard the family cruise we took two years ago comes a close second, but that was more for the whole being on a cruise bit than anything else.

To me where we ate wasn’t nearly as important as family being together. Although the fact that I spent no time in the kitchen and currently only have one bowl in my sink (from last night’s popcorn and movie watching), is the real holiday blessing!

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Teaching Tuesday: Thanksgiving break

My first teaching gig definitely spoiled me when it came to Thanksgiving. Since I worked at a university laboratory school, things worked just a little bit differently.

For those who aren’t in the know, let me explain what I mean by a laboratory school. No, we didn’t have the students penned up like lab animals, but yes, we did experiments on them. Sort of. Laboratory schools, which are few and far between these days, are linked to universities with particularly strong teacher’s colleges. They exist in part to help train would be teachers. They also exist to try out new ideas in education. It’s because of experiments in laboratory schools that different types of scheduling like block 4, block 8, trimesters, balanced calendar, etc exist. Laboratory schools also exist for professors and student to conduct educational research on a wide variety of educational topics.

Don’t worry, everyone who sends their children to laboratory schools does so voluntarily (in fact there is usually a high demand and limited space in them) and with complete knowledge of the experiments, research, etc that goes on in them.

There are tons of perks to both teaching at and attending a lab school. My students were easily able to audit college classes (at almost no cost to them, but only for high school credit), take college classes for credit (at a cost to them, but some of my students graduated from high school with enough credits to be college sophomores), they were able to attend lectures from experts in a variety of fields (I got to take my high school freshmen to hear Elie Wiesel speak before we read his book Night) and, we got extra vacation days.

While we did not get every day off that the university did, we got many off that our city school corporation kids did not. When there were snow days, if the university wasn’t in session or the university closed, we didn’t have to make them up. Also, unlike every other school corporation I’ve ever worked at, we got Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week off.

Although it may not seem like much, that one extra day off was so important. My husband’s family lives in North Carolina and instead of having to set off for a 9 hour drive after working a full work day (which put us in NC between 2-3 am), we could sleep in on Wed if we wanted and still be at his parent’s house by dinner time. Plus, we got to spend three full days visiting with both his family and friends. If we decided to visit my folks, who only lived 2 hours away, I had a full day to make sure all of my grading was done so that I could actually have four restful days off.

For the past 14 years I’ve taught in regular ol’ public schools and we’ve only gotten Thursday and Friday off. When our son was born 10 years ago, we made one final trip to visit my husband’s family for Thanksgiving. Despite leaving as soon as my work day was over, we rolled in way too late with a very cranky baby who had major trouble getting back on his schedule and vowed we’d never do it again. That was our last holiday visit to North Carolina.

My in-laws are both semi-retired (my MiL is self-employed), so when we couldn’t make the travel to them work, they decided to travel to us instead. While it is a lot easier when they come here, working a full day on Wednesday still makes the prep work for house guests and Thanksgiving dinner for 11 stressful and the “break” not much of a break.

Luckily this year my in-laws decided to stay at a hotel and take the entire family out for dinner, so I got a bit more of a break.

Still, I was thrilled to learn that my school just released our 2018-2019 calendar and for the first time, we will be getting Wed-Fri off. I’m not quite sure what this will mean, but it may mean a trip to NC to see my in-laws for the holiday, something my son doesn’t remember and my daughter has never experienced.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Pop Chart Lab 100 Essential Novels

Pop chart fullSome time last fall I saw a Facebook post advertising Pop Chart Lab’s 100 Essential Novels poster. I was instantly smitten.

This is the perfect gift for anyone who loves books. The minute I saw it, I knew I had to have it. I told my husband it was on my Christmas list, which thrilled him because I’m very bad at giving him suggestions for Christmas presents. I’m very bad at giving anyone gift suggestions for myself. I love coming up with gifts for others, but for some reason when it’s my turn to make the list, everything I want goes right out of my head. But I wanted this chart.

Like the wonderful human being he is, he bought it for me. I unrolled it and delighted at all the shiny gold sections I was going to get to scratch off. I didn’t start scratching right away though. As much as I love the poster, I never had any intention of hanging it up at my house. This poster was destined to hang in my English classroom, hopefully as inspiration for my students who might be looking for a challenge OR who might just need a good book to read.

When we returned from break, I immediately hung the poster in my classroom, right on my front white board. I found the prefect place for it where students could see it, but it was still technically behind my desk. I didn’t want anyone to get the silly idea that they could scratch any books off the chart. I could just see it being too tempting for a few of them.

Once it was up, I started raving about it to all of my classes. My Advanced Placement English students were a bit more excited about it than my Film Lit kids were, but that was probably a combination of knowing me longer and being a bit more enthusiastic about reading. They immediately asked me how many of the books I’d read.

I’ll admit it was with a bit of chagrin that I had to reply I’d only read 35 of them. Yes, that’s right, even though I’d read over 120 books last year, only 35 of all the books I’ve read in my lifetime were on the 100 Essential Novels chart. I’m not sure exactly who decided these were the 100 books everyone should read. It’s not like Pop Chart Lab is a known authority on the subject. Many of the books on the list were not ones I’d read, even though I’d read several other books by the authors.

For example, I’d never read Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, but had read A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, Hard Times and Bleak House. I’ll admit that a part of me wanted to scratch it off just because I felt it didn’t really matter which Dickens novel I’d read, just that I’d read Dickens. I mean, why Great Expectations and not A Tale of Two Cities (which I personally feel is the superior book)? It’s so arbitrary!

And while I may have railed a bit about this to my students, I also set a goal to read all 100 of the books on the list. I knew I wasn’t going to do it all this year. So, I set a more reasonable goal for myself: 1 book off the chart each month. That seemed completely manageable to me.

Pop Chart close upI am proud to say that with my completion of A Passage to India last night, I have officially made it halfway through the list.

That’s right, I’ve read 50 of the 100 essential novels. That also means that I’ve exceeded both my Goodreads goal for 2017 (123/100 books) and my Pop Chart Lab goal (15/12 books)…and it’s only November. Granted, I don’t know how many more books I’ll be able to get in before the of the year, but I am going to do my best to get at least 1 more essential novel and at least a dozen more books in before the new year rolls around.

I know it may seem silly, but having little goals like this, and especially ones with fun scratch off pictures, really makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something. Sure, it may take me anywhere from 3.5-5 years to read all of the novels on my Pop Chart Lab poster, but that’s ok. I’ll slog through them all. Glancing at the list I think this is completely achievable. Thanks to this list I’ve even found a few new favorite books (I’m looking at you Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao).

Of course I do know which book I am saving for the absolute last book I will read off the chart: Moby Dick. I’m dreading this tale of human frailty and whale blubber.

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Wildcard Wednesday: Stuck in my routine

Every Sunday, between 11:15-11:30, I head off to the grocery store. As soon as I park my car, I slip my headphones on, turn up the volume on my audio book and spend a glorious 45 minutes or so going up and down each aisle to make sure I have everything we’ll need for the week. When I finish, I come home and my kids unload the groceries from the car. I spend about 10 minutes unpacking the bags and putting all the groceries away and then, around 1, we all have lunch.

It’s a pretty good system for us all. I get to shop uninterrupted so I can make sure everything on the list (and not too much not on it) ends up in the cart. Plus, I get a bit of a mommy break, which is always needed at the end of the week…which is really in the best interest of us all.

This week, however, a bit of a monkey wrench was thrown into our usually scheduled program.

About a month ago I bought tickets to a special screening of some Pokemon movie. Don’t ask me what it was called…even after seeing it I don’t really remember. It’s sort of a giant blur to me. Although I had no desire to go, my kids both LOVE Pokemon. My son was actually Ash Ketchum for Halloween. Even my daughter is obsessed with all things Pokemon. Between the two of them they have a plethora of merchandise. We have cards, tins, stuffed animals, Legos, erasers, stickers, pokeballs, figurines and clothing. My son actually has Pikachu footie pajamas.

So when a friend mentioned a special screening of this movie that she was taking her son to and another dear friend also got tickets for her two kids, I knew we had to go as well. We don’t go out to the movies that often (it is so darn expensive), so I figured this was a treat that would have them singing my praises for at least a day.

But, the movie started a bit before our usual lunch time and the theater was about 20 minutes away, so that meant everything had to be juggled to make it work. The only way to ensure I’d get my child-free shopping trip was to go on a Saturday.

Grocery shopping in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday is a completely different experience than it is on Sunday morning. It was a different crowd, different aisles were being restocked, they were out of completely different items (and way more of them). There were different clerks at the meat counter (my usual guy always says hi to me and asks how I’m doing). There were different cashiers, although the same bagger who always asks me strange questions bagged my groceries.

I don’t know what it was, but it just felt off. And it made the rest of my weekend feel a little off too. I never thought I was that much of a creature of habit, but this grocery experiment may have proven me wrong.

Luckily next week my in-laws will be in town and we have plans all day on Saturday, so I’ll have to go back to my usual Sunday shopping routine.

Wait, did I just write luckily before my in-laws being in town…this shopping change really has me off my game!

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Wildcard Wednesdays: Mexican food

I’m not sure if there has ever been a moment in my life when someone has said, “Hey, let’s have Mexican food,” and I have thought, “nah, I don’t want that.” I’m pretty sure someone could poison my tacos and if I managed to survive and someone proposed getting tacos for my very next meal, I’d say, “as long as I also get a big bowl of salsa!”

I’m not sure I’ve ever met a taco I didn’t like. Sure, there have been tacos I’ve been less fond of. Some I’ve even eaten and thought, “it was ok.” But I cannot recall a single time I’ve been given a taco (or cooked one myself) and not liked it.

There was a short time in my life when I was not a huge fan of tamales–but I was like 8. We lived in Southern California and my mom used to stop at this tamale truck on the side of the road and get a bunch to bring home. She and my step-dad really liked them. I tried one bit once and it had some spices I couldn’t quite identify, so I refused to try anymore for a few years. Once I got over myself and tried them again, I realized I loved them.

As a kid, my favorite fast food places were El Pollo Loco, Del Taco and this hole in the wall local chain (now defunct) called Pup ‘N’ Taco. To this day, if I go anywhere that has a Del Taco, I lose my mind and must eat there. Sadly, since I moved to Indiana as a teenager, I’ve only been able to have my beloved Del Taco three times: once when I went back to SoCal to visit my sister, once when my husband and I were visiting Las Vegas and once on a road trip from Georgia to Tennessee when my best friend and I randomly passed one in some tiny nowhere town. When I saw the tiny Del Taco logo being advertised on the highway exit sign, I nearly lost my mind and begged my best friend to stop so we could eat there. Despite being a vegetarian who is not a huge fan of bean burritos, she gave in to my madness and we had lunch. The fries made it a little better for her, but only a little.

Now, I realize none of these fast food chain Mexican restaurants are authentic in any way. That doesn’t matter to me. I love Mexican food in all of its glorious forms. I am equally happy eating at one of the locally owned places like La Piedad, El Rodeo, El Camino Real, or Los Agaves. I’m also perfectly ok with the slightly more upscale national chains like Abuelo’s or On the Border. And don’t even get me started on my love for the now defunct, and horribly named Chi-Chi’s. I also like the slightly nicer than typical fast food joints like Moe’s Southwest Grill, Chipotle, and Qdoba. I love me some Qdoba. I also love the tiny places around our town where the menus are only in Spanish and they get very authentic.

And I can pretty much eat my body weight in chips and salsa. Or chips and guacamole. Or chips and queso. Or chips and refried beans. When I was in high school and my parents were both working the evening shift, which left me on my own for dinner, I cannot even begin to count the nights that my dinner was just a pile of chips and a HUGE bowl of salsa. They used to buy both at Sam’s Club because they disappeared so quickly.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of my family members. I sometimes wonder how we can share the same DNA. They like Mexican food just fine, but they don’t LOVE it. Whenever we are trying to decide where to go for dinner and I suggest Mexican (which despite my undying love for it I am careful not to suggest too often), they always throw out several other counter options. Unless I put my foot down and make a big deal out of it, I usually get talked in to something else.

Tonight, however, I put my foot down and demanded my Mexican food. I had to remind them that it was part of our compromise from last time. I gave in with the promise that our next meal out would be Mexican. My daughter was really upset. She likes chips and queso just fine, but is not an adventurous eater, so every time we go out, she always orders a cheese quesadilla, which she likes…to whine about. At least until it shows up at the table and then she likes it just fine. My son is far more adventurous and has even tried tongue tacos (he was not a fan as he found them too chewy), but he gets attitude because we make him order off of the kid’s menu and there’s not much variety there. He also likes Mexican food and once he’s at a Mexican restaurant, he enjoys his food.

My husband is the real problem as he hates cilantro and most places, at least of the Tex-Mex variety, use it pretty liberally. He’s one of those complete weirdos who thinks cilantro tastes like soap. Ok, so it’s genetic and he has no control over it (his dad has it too). but in my opinion it does not make him any less strange. The man does not like salsa! I don’t understand how he can go on living without it. So, whenever I want Mexican, it’s always a rather large concession on his part for us to get it.

Although I am fond of just about every cuisine I’ve ever tried (not huge on Chinese food, although as I get older I’m finding more and more dishes I like), Mexican is, without a doubt, my favorite.


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Throwback Thursday: Another friendcation

As much as I want to write a full blog, I will hopefully be on the road before this blog even publishes, hurtling down the highway at a speed just fast enough to shave some time off of my trip, but not fast enough to get me pulled over, on my way to visit my best friend.

Due to an unforeseen incident with my husband’s job, our fall break plans had to be put on indefinite hold. Since my kids and I have two weeks off, and I definitely need a break from this town, we are going to visit my best friend in Georgia.

I’ll have plenty of great pictures and no doubt some travel stories to share when we return. For now I am just super excited about my fourth friendcation this year. Even if my kids have to tag along on this one, I get 6 full days (and two partial days) with my best friend and that is one of my greatest joys.

So, TTFN. Look for me when I return!

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