Monday, November 17, 2014

Where is Home?

At the end of class today, after reading a few more chapters of our current book, I asked the students how the setting has affected the main character.

A lot of them really seemed to struggle with this idea. I feel like it’s pretty stinking clear. It’s also very clear that I have my work cut out for me. But that’s a topic for another day.

What makes the answer to this question clearer is thinking about how the various settings of my life have influenced me.

I have always considered myself a California girl. I was born and raised in the sunshine. Heat was a part of life. I love fresh California fruit, and just about nothing beats a good (and cheap) avocado. I crave the ocean and feel anxiety when I think about how far away it is. I love the massive amount of diversity in my home state. Being in a place where every person was so different from the next helped me to learn a lot about the importance of variety, especially in learning love and compassion. I loved walking outside to go from class to class. Short shorts, spaghetti straps, and flip flops were a normal part of my wardrobe.

It feels weird to be in a transition time where “home” feels a lot less like home than it ever has. I mean, consider that I have spent my entire adult life in Utah! Nine years. That is a long time. They’ve been formative years—vital to my growth and identity.

I think often about how some of my students have never even left Kearns. They’ve never been downtown. They’ve never hiked the mountains that are 25 minutes way. They’ve never seen the beautiful red rocks of southern Utah.

And I think about how that was very much like me up until age 18. When you’re in school, you don’t really have any reason to go anywhere outside of your small area. There isn’t much beyond your tiny radius. Sure, I had gone places. I’ve been to San Francisco. I’ve been to many different beaches. I’ve gone to every amusement park within an hour. I’ve been to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. I’ve driven to San Diego a couple of times. I’ve been all over southern California. But not really as an adult.

And it’s weird that that makes such a huge difference.

My friends who have spent their adult life at home in Glendora or Covina or Azusa have spent a lot of time living their adult life really getting to know LA. They talk to me about certain places or freeways like I should know where that is. But in all honesty, I don’t.

I know Utah County and Salt Lake County much better than I know my home county! It’s strange. I feel almost a kind of guilt about it. But how many reasons do you have to leave town and do fun things with friends on the weekend when you’re in high school? And as a homebody, I didn’t exactly look for reasons to explore, either.

Nine years later, here I am, living about 15 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. I know Salt Lake much better and navigate it much more comfortably than I ever knew LA. In a sense I feel like I’ve completely lost touch with where I’m from and have started to plant my roots in Utah. In another sense, I feel like my roots never were in California, as my entire adult life has been spent up here.

The resistance I felt about leaving home was fierce. You’ve never met a more committed California girl. Really? Utah? What the heck is there to do? Everybody’s Mormon; that’s weird. What about the beach? SNOW?! No In-N-Out? I couldn’t wait to come home every single break I had from school and work.

Now, I’m not really looking for reasons to go back to California. Make no mistake, I feel at home when I roll down the windows as I head west on the 210 at sunset. I let out a sigh of relief and relaxation when I set down my towel on the shores of Huntington Beach. I jump with joy (literally) when I see the produce section at Stater Bros in San Dimas—REAL, RIPE, DELICIOUS, LOCAL PRODUCE!

The dilemma is that I also feel like an outsider. I’m between two places. I was born and grown in one state and turned into a woman in another.

Can somebody have two homes? That California girl I mentioned—the one who loves heat, diversity, the ocean, avocados, and outdoor schools—she’s not gone. She still loves all those things. (Not to mention, In-N-Out is in Utah now, in walking distance of my apartment.)

But there’s this new part of me. This part of me loves the change of seasons (even though sometimes it’s only two weeks long) and the cooler weather. I love the colors of the leaves—the red and orange and yellow hues that are magnificent and just not available in Los Angeles. I love CafĂ© Rio and all of the locally owned restaurants—not just the big chains of Glendora. The plethora of dessert restaurants is a major plus (try three different cupcake places within five minutes). I’ve learned to drive in the snow, but still struggle terribly with the six months of gloominess and cold. I have friends here, a job, a life. I know my way around here, and all the cool things to see. I miss bonfires at the beach, but I like them up in the canyon too! I love not worrying about leaving my purse in the car sometimes. I am registered to vote here. I know the best music venues in the area, and the price of gas and groceries is actually quite doable. I like having more trust in the financial decisions of my state. I appreciate knowing that if I had a car problem, someone would probably pull over to help me.

Will I ever love the snow? Or the Utah drivers (or worse, the Wyoming and Idaho drivers in Utah)? Will I ever prefer boots to a pair of flats or flip-flops? Will I ever prefer a pool to the ocean? Or Lagoon to Six Flags or Disneyland? Or Seven Peaks to Raging Waters? Will Utahns ever catch onto donut shops? Uh, no. No, guys. No, no, and more no. It's been nine years already. Some things are just not going to happen. 

But there are things to love about the place I live. There are things to love about the place I’m from. I’m having a hard time making the transition from feeling like one is home, to identifying more with the other. Ultimately, I probably don’t have to reconcile this. I don’t need to just pick one. Both places have been my home for different, significant parts of my life. They are both a part of who I am and who I will become.

My license plate frame on my car says, “California love.” But that frame goes around a Utah license plate. I’ll claim both, and feel no shame in calling both of them my home. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Workout Wednesday: Real Talk--Gross Health Food

I have a bone to pick with the health world—healthy bloggers and Instagrammers and other people with a large following due to their healthy missions.

I’m afraid that the people who have made a habit of eating healthily have also lost their ability to taste food accurately. Don’t get me wrong, I love healthy eating. Vegetables are my favorite, and I usually don’t even need any kind of dipping sauce or seasonings to enjoy them.

The problem, I think, is mostly in relation to dessert. If you know me, you know I love cake, cookies, brownies, ice cream, shakes, and sweets in general.

You also probably know my favorite cookies are oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies. They’re made with (shh, don’t judge me) butter flavored shortening, brown and white sugar, flour, and all those things that make junk food junky. I love them. They’re delicious and flaky and fatty and so good.

It seems only natural that it would be difficult to find healthy alternatives that taste “just as good.” I think it goes without saying that if I were to substitute the white flour with oat flour, coconut flour, or almond flour, the consistency of the cookie would change entirely. It would be denser and not hold together very well. Replacing butter or shortening with coconut oil isn’t always so bad, but it’s just not doable in this recipe, or most of them, for that matter. It’s not.

Time and time again, I try to make “clean” recipes to no avail. Some I can read and just tell are disgusting, so I don’t even need to try them. Take, for example, all of these “healthy ice cream” recipes that consist of blending a frozen banana. Um, are you kidding? I don’t want BANANA flavored ice cream. That is nasty. I don’t care what any health nut says, when you use bananas to make something, that taste basically takes over the entire thing. I even ventured once to try Halo Top ice cream, which has these amazing macro counts to make ice cream a little less guilty. It was gross. The texture was gross (unless you’re into eating chalk, then give it a try). The taste was gross. Did I mention that the “healthy” ice cream was gross? Give me the Haagen Dazs at once.

In all honesty, I’ve made very few “clean” dessert recipes that were actually delicious (exception: peanut butter cookies by @jazzythings with almond flour and a ton of peanut butter—so good, even Patrick thought so). I’ve made baked (coconut!) oatmeal for breakfast and been super excited only to be let down by it. I’ve made flourless, oil-free cookies. I’ve done things egg-free. I’ve switched sugar to stevia and sugar to honey and sugar to coconut sugar. I’ve even seen people make “protein cookie dough,” and things. No. Just no. It is not the same as butter and sugar. It’s just not. Yesterday I made some baked pumpkin donuts. Nope. I’m telling you guys, for real, I’ve given many recipes a fair shot, and I will continue in search of one that is as yummy as it claims to be. 

In conclusion, I submit that after eating clean for a long enough time, all these health folks can no longer be the judge of any of these things that are supposedly “just as good as the real thing.” They need a normal junk food eater to be the judge of that. I volunteer as tribute. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Going Gray?

I always thought that when we started to "go gray," it was a process. I pictured my mom's roots before she would go and dye them. It was pretty evenly spread across her scalp.

I thought that's how it would happen for me.

But no.

I would tell you to look closely, but you honestly don't have to. It's not even subtle, folks. There it is. My massive amount of white hair in all of its glory.

Sometimes I sit in church and pull them out one at a time. I've been scolded by my mother for that since it destroys the follicle. 

Even without pulling out the hair, I don't see this situation getting any better. In fact, it's only gotten worse in the past several years. I imagine stress accelerates it. It must not help to stress about having white hair, huh? 

I think I must also be genetically gifted. Who else gets a lovely layer of completely white strands under their dark brown hair? The contrast is so discreet, huh?

The one thing that provides some measure of comfort in this process is that Patrick has a thing for white and gray hair. This must be a sign. I'm not getting any younger, after all. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Teaching Victory

She got a D-.

Now, if I had gotten a D- in school, I would have been mortified. But for this girl, I think it could have been the Congressional Medal of Honor, as Taylor Mali so eloquently phrased it.

My student (we’ll call her Melissa, since I don’t have anyone with that name this year), has struggled since day one of the term. I’m not exaggerating. If I modeled an example and asked the students to copy it down, she couldn’t. If I explained repeatedly what I expected, she couldn’t do it. I handed work back to her to redo, and it never came back. I asked her what I could do to help her, and she didn’t know.

Almost every assignment I gave in class would come back to me incomplete. To add onto that, it would come back with scribbles and pencil shading all along the margins. It was like a tick. Sometimes she would do it on the desk and not even know it.

She has a low Lexile (reading comprehension) score--around fourth grade level.

Melissa had shown frustration and a lack of motivation to work on assignments, on the rare occasion she did come to class. I tried to help her, and when I came back around to her, she hadn't done anything.

She struggles with pretty basic hygiene. With the dirt under her nails and the greasy hair, plus the smell of smoke from home, it is apparent. Not that people in smoking homes aren’t hygienic—just saying she may not get a lot of encouragement for cleanliness there. 

And apparently she’s having a lot of issues at home, so that’s why she’s been absent so much.

A week before the term ended (on a day she was finally at school), I called her in to talk to her and ask if she wanted to try to get a passing grade. I told her it would take a lot of work, and that I couldn’t do it for her. She said she wanted to, but given her track record, I just wasn’t sure that would happen. I didn’t have a lot of faith in her, I guess you could say.

After a couple more absences the following week, I was just about ready to give up on her. I feel guilty for feeling that way.

Because on Thursday, the last day of the term, she walked into my room for remediation time. I hadn’t sent for her (I gave up, remember?). She came on her own. And she sat down, and I walked Melissa through the essay process. She hadn’t even finished a rough draft--due almost three weeks prior. She wasn’t going to get it typed like I had expected. But I would be damned if she wouldn’t make it through that essay—I’d even grade that as her final!

I told her in each step what I wanted her to do. “OK, I need you to give me a sentence about when this happens. Then write your quote.” After she’d done that, I’d say, “Alright, next you need to explain how this quote proves your point about bullying.” I’d walk away and come back a couple minutes later. She’d have almost a half a page of explanation written down! Who was this girl? And where had she been in the first ten weeks of school? To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I let her know I was proud and impressed that she did so well. I’m not saying she dotted her i’s or punctuated very well, and I’m not saying she didn’t write “cuz” about 11 times, even after I told her not to. But she was writing! She was writing! And that is cause for celebration, my friends.

In that half hour of remediation, she did more work for me than she had done all term. She finished that essay. I graded it. Then in class later that day, I had her redo some of her work that she had scored low on. I regraded that.

Melissa had gone from a 42% F to a 62% D-.

When I saw her grade change in front of me, nobody was in my classroom. A huge smile stretched across my face. I felt my face get hot and red with utter joy. There is no other way to phrase it. I was giddy and screeched in a really high voice. I called my mom because I had told her about this student days before, and how I probably couldn’t help her to pass.

But here she was! Passing!

After grading her things, and after I finished squealing with excitement and bouncing in my chair (it’s an ergonomic Gaiam chair), I went and found her in her next class. I informed her that she was no longer failing, that she had a D-, and that I was proud of her! I told her she could definitely do better next term, but that this was a big deal, and I was proud! I must have said it three times.

And in case I needed any more "awesome" to add to this whole experience, when I regraded her journal entries, she wrote that she "actually enjoyed writing the essay!" Let's talk about my full heart! 

This is just one student. I don’t know if she’ll remember me in a few years. I don’t know where she’ll end up. But to see that she is capable when she has willing, one-on-one help is just what I needed to see.

And it was a good reminder that we as teachers can still expect great things, even from those who struggle the most. I will continue to do just that. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Workout Wednesday: Rest Days

For today’s Workout Wednesday post, I thought I’d write about rest days.

I generally think this is something you have to figure out for yourself. I’ll tell you what I’ve found and what my general rules are for rest days. This is what works for me and may not work for you.

Typically, I reserve rest days for especially busy days. For example, on Tuesdays, I will often to go “donate” plasma (for monies, of course). After that I head home and either cook or wait for Patrick so we can go out. We eat, and we head to institute at 7. We’re there till 8:30. Tuesdays are just busy. So sometimes I skip Tuesdays for working out. I may do the same on Thursdays if I donate a second day. I may also skip a workout when I get invited to do other plans that won’t enable me to exercise and shower and get ready before the activity starts—Friday nights, for example.

I might take rest days on the days I know I just need a break from everything. Some evenings I just want to eat and sit on my couch and watch a movie with my boyfriend. It’s the days where the very thought of doing anything just makes me want to cry. These days don’t happen very often. In fact, they’re very rare. I’m more likely to WANT to exercise after a rough day because it makes me feel better. But occasionally, I take mental and emotional health days on my couch.

I don’t typically take rest days due to soreness. Why, you ask? You’ve probably read all kinds of information about how your body “has to have days to recover.” I think this applies if you lift heavily or run long distances. Since that is usually not the case for me, I can’t justify taking a rest day. I find that when I exercise (usually some kind of cardio), I actually decrease my soreness by mobilizing my stiff muscles. I feel better when I exercise sore than if I were to take rest days. In other words, exercise usually helps me more than resting would.

Let me clarify that I DO take rest days if my body absolutely cannot handle any more. For example, after I ran my half-marathon in 2013, I basically didn’t do anything for a couple of weeks after that. My knees were shot from the downhill portion, and my body just needed a break. So I took one. If you are in PAIN, you’re injured, or your body just cannot do any more, then take a rest day! Listen to your body.

The ideal version of me would do low-impact things like stretching, yoga, or foam rolling on my rest days. Walking is something I also try to do on my rest days. I think that’s a great way to relieve stiffness, and improve mobility. Unfortunately, I rarely do those things.

I’ve noticed one of the benefits of rest days is the amount of energy I have the next day. It is kind of interesting. I sometimes can run longer and faster after a rest day. It’s like my body is renewed and is showing me appreciation for that rest day. Granted, this isn’t always the case, but it definitely has happened for me, and it strengthened my confidence in rest days.

Overall, figure out what works for you. Listen to your body, because it will always tell you what it needs.

How often do YOU take rest days? Do they help you personally?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Baking Up a Storm

I've spent quite a bit of time in the kitchen this weekend. I sometimes forget how much I enjoy making things and trying new recipes.

First, I wanted to make some pumpkin granola with what was left of a can I opened. I found this recipe and kind of botched it. I'm pretty sad because it smelled so dang good, then burned pretty quickly.

I think what got me was the 23-33 minutes. That's a big span of time there. So I went for the middle and did like 27 or 28 minutes. I did stir in between. But that was too long, and then I noticed at step 5 of the recipe, she said 25 minutes. So that would've been good to read beforehand.

Anyway, it's not totally burned. The pecans are kind of burned probably because I broke them up. Forgive me, but I didn't want enormous pecan chunks. So they burned. I also used almonds instead of pepitas because... pepitas? I still plan on eating this stuff. Probably with some milk, and I'll try it on the yogurt I bought.

Recently, I bought a can of Blue Diamond almonds in the Toasted Coconut flavor. Because coconut. Everything coconut!

It made me get an idea that I wanted to try to make my own coconut almonds. So I tried that out last night while I watched The Raven. Keyword: tried. And it didn't come out how I had planned. I used this as my base recipe because I've used it so many times.

The issue is that I used a full egg white on only one cup of almonds because that's all I had. I just think there was too much liquid. I'd have used less if I had a carton of egg whites like I usually do, but I didn't have any! I added a bit of coconut flavoring (like extract) to the egg white mixture.

I adjusted (decreased) the sugar amount, and I used coconut sugar instead of white sugar.  And I ground some coconut flakes in my Magic Bullet to coat the almonds. So they were covered in coconut and coconut sugar. I thought I had the right idea.

While the Blue Diamond almonds are lovely and cute and powdery white, mine are brown and chunky and visually unappealing. They weren't what I was expecting, but they are still dang good. Besides, it was worth a try.

I also had one single over-ripe banana to use, and thankfully @jazzythings on Instagram posted a recipe which called for precisely that! I love when that happens. So I made her banana walnut blueberry muffins this morning.

They're OK. But as with any clean recipe, it just never tastes like the unhealthy version. It calls for almond flour, banana, baking powder, eggs, coconut oil, vanilla, almond milk, blueberries, and walnuts. So they were really easy to make. The problem is always that almond flour makes such DENSE treats. They're heavy. I had three, which was way too many. I'm horribly full. Like, super stuffed. I'll be able to finish these in a couple of days, but they're not as awesome as I was hoping. I even added honey and cinnamon that she said she forgot to put in the recipe.

Another thing I made this morning while watching Frozen was this pumpkin cake I like to make every year. I found it on a box of spice cake once. It's super easy, and delicious. I made it last week for a ward mingle, but I made it again today so I could actually have some. And my mom and grandma are coming to dinner tonight, so dessert!

I should probably try to do some lesson plans now before stake conference at 1. Also, our water is out. And my boyfriend's power is out. So I basically have no way to smell good or look good for church. #Jesusdoesn'tcare