Today We Outran Fire! #sol14

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My day, in a few frames.  Yes, those are flames and smoke.

This afternoon Chris and I decided to head to the local state park to walk the dogs.  It was breezy and cool, but the snow was almost all melted and it seemed like a great day to get outside.  The park was a bit crowded when we pulled in, but nothing out of the ordinary.  I set up the hiking app to keep track of our mileage, and we set off.

Monmouth Battlefield State Park is a protected archeology dig and a beautiful park all in one.  As we made our way past the visitor’s center and down the hill I pointed out to Chris that the water was high under the bridge and reminded him we couldn’t take anything we found.  (There are signs all over and I always laugh at these reminders).  As we were talking, I thought I saw something orange through the trees to our right.  But I kept talking, assuming it was just a dog in a hunter orange vest, a fairly common sight around here during hunting season.  In fact, we have a few for our dogs.

But then we got across the footbridge and saw the state park fire trucks.  On the other side of the park we could see flames and smoke.

“Ohh, they must be doing their controlled burn,” I said to Chris.

“Kind of weird to do it on such a windy day.”

We agreed on this and decided to head in the opposite direction.  Nothing was blocked off and there was not sign of any trouble, so we figured we would just stay out of the way.

About a quarter of a mile later we heard a noise behind us and realized one of the fire trucks was headed down the trail behind us.  Wanting to avoid the dogs barking their heads off at the strange trucks, we moved off the trail.  The truck followed.

“You folks goin’ far?” the fireman yelled out the driver’s side window.

“Nah, just heading this way.  Do you need us to move?” we asked him.

“Well, it might be a good idea.  We’re doing a controlled burn see, and it’s probably safer to stick to the area back up the hill, near the visitor’s center.”

“No problem.  We’ll head back right now”.  With a wave, we turned around.  It made sense, though I did point out to Chris that it was a little strange that they didn’t have caution tape up blocking the path, or any sort of warning.

No lie, as we crossed the footbridge flames lit up behind us.  When the firemen said that they were doing a controlled burn and we might be safer up the hill, they neglected to say they were lighting the flames RIGHT THERE, as we spoke.  Seriously?!

The good news is, we did not end up trapped in the controlled burn.  But really?  No warning?  What if no one had seen us walking?

We did get some nice pictures, at least!

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Broadway, Baby! #sol14

20140308-222522.jpgToday was awesome.  It’s been way too long since I saw a Broadway show and today that was remedied.  Two friends and I headed into the city to see Bridges of Madison County.  We hit a few snags when the show was almost sold out (seriously?!), but three tickets were eventually procured, though not all together.

We spent a little while walking around the city and grabbed lunch at Cosi, a personal favorite for a quick, healthy lunch.  We passed by a few other shows and let me tell you, you could not get near If/Then.  I’ve been an Idina Menzel fan since her Rent days, but I’ve never seen lines like I saw today.  I think she owes John Travolta a bit!

I’ve never read the book or seen the movie, so I went into the show without any expectations.  I actually expected it to be hokey and melodramatic (not “rapturous”, as the ads say), but there aren’t many musicals I pass on seeing so I expected a fun day out.  When we walked into the theater I was a bit worried, seeing as we were the youngest people there.  No lie, everyone else was retired.  I’m pretty sure a good number of them retired before the movie was released….

There were some uncomfortable conversations with the audience members around us, especially the women who told us we needed to read the “juicy” book, which was “the 50 Shades of thirty years ago!”.  Oh boy…

The musical, though?  Absolutely stunning.  It’s intimate, passionate, lush, and beautiful.  I loved Steven Pasquale on Rescue Me but had no idea he has such a great voice! And as expected, Kelli O’Hara was just perfection.  This is her show, through and through, and she is on-stage almost the entire length of the musical.

It’s not a traditional musical; there’s no dancing, very little action, and the cast is small.  But it’s character-driven and the music is some of the best I’ve heard in years.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house when it ended and I know I will be buying the cast recording when it comes out.  At one point I leaned over and said to my friend, “I’m way more invested in this than I ever expected to be!”  Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale make sure that you fall in love with their characters and they break your heart in the process.

When the show ended, we were wiped out.  Emotionally, it’s completely draining.  Needless to say, we needed milkshakes from Shake Shack to recover!  But now I can’t stop listening to the demos (here) on repeat.  So gorgeous!

Ready for the show!

Ready for the show!

A Lenten Dilemma #sol14

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This morning I woke up and drove to Livingston, about an hour and a half north of me (with traffic) for an amazing workshop offered by the lovely folks at Heinemann.  I spent the entire day leaning from Smokey Daniels and it was, without a doubt, one of the best workshops I’ve ever attended.

The only issue came when they released us for lunch.

I’m not a North Jersey gal.  It’s too crowded for me, with the negative parts of living in the suburbs and the negative parts of living in the city.  It’s too crowded and there’s too much traffic.  As a result, I wasn’t familiar with the area when it came time for lunch.

I hopped in the car and figured that I would stay on the highway for a few minutes until I found someplace that offered lunch.  Then I remembered that it’s Friday. And it’s Lent.  For those of you who aren’t Catholic, that means I can’t eat meat today.

Suddenly, finding lunch became a bit more difficult.  I drove for about 15 minutes and I swear I’ve never seen so many burger joints on a short stretch of road!  Smashburger, 5 Guys, McDonalds, Wendy’s, and a few others littered the shopping malls that lined the side of the highway.  And I’ve never felt the urge to grab a burger as strongly as I did today.

But I held on.

I stopped at Marshalls, thinking I could hold off on lunch until I got home if I spent a bit of time shopping.  Nope.  Fifteen minutes later I was still hungry and I didn’t find anything interesting at the store.

Back in the car.  More driving.  More traffic.  More burger joints.

Then I saw it. A glimmer of hope.  A restaurant that might have a vegetarian or non-meat based meal.

Baja Fresh.

I’m not a huge Baja Fresh fan, but I pulled in and crossed my fingers.  They must have a salad, right?  And their list of ingredients would certainly include avocado, which would fill me up.  But as I scanned the menu I saw a lot of meat.  And the salads were all bean-based, which is a problem, seeing as I don’t like beans.

So I decided to experiment.

Yup.  I had my first fish taco today.  And it was delicious.

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I decided to try the wahoo taco.  Made with ono (a Hawaiian fish, I learned, courtesy of Wikipedia), avocado, pico de gallo, and shredded cabbage, I was hoping it would fill me up.  And just in case it didn’t I added a side of chips and salsa.

I admit, I was a little leery of eating a fish taco from a fast food giant.  I’m very careful when it comes to fish.  But when my taco came out, I was pleasantly surprised.  I unrolled the aluminum foil and was struck by how delicious my lunch looked!

The avocados were fresh and smooth and the pico de gallo was just right.  But the best part was the wahoo.  Never having had that particular type of fish before, I was thrilled with how delicious it was.

Disaster averted.  Lenten dilemma solved.  And I wasn’t even hungry afterwards!

Sharing the Couch #sol14

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hThis is how I spend many nights. After everything is done for the day (including our last walk), I sit on one side of the couch, Chris gets comfortable on the other side, and the dogs fill in around us while we watch TV.  Last night we finished season 2 of House of Cards so tonight we’re catching up on some DVRed shows from earlier in the week.  Bailey was laying near my feet and eventually ended up putting her head on my ankles and falling asleep.

But Dublin?

He likes to curl up as close to me as possible.  That usually means standing in front of the couch and whining until I realize what he is asking for.  At that point I squish myself into the couch so he can jump up and curl up on the edge of the couch.  The nice thing is that during this cold weather he keeps me warm.  But he is not good at sharing!  He takes up way more space than you would think he would and he frequently readjusts his position.

It’s a good thing I like him. :)

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Breakfast for Dinner! #sol14

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Happy Fat Tuesday!  I actually forgot that it was Fat Tuesday (probably because I spent all day thinking it was Wednesday) until I was getting ready for dinner.  I couldn’t think of anything to make for dinner and then I remembered that it’s traditional to eat pancakes on Fat Tuesday.  DONE! Who doesn’t love breakfast for dinner?  I could practically taste the bacon already.

I decided I wanted something a little more interesting than pancakes and I had a loaf of French bread to use up, so I started googling.  Within minutes I was on the Pioneer Woman’s blog, an old standby for me, and discovered her recipe for Baked French Toast. The photos left my mouth watering, so I began to scan the ingredients.  Yes!  All of them were in my cabinet and refrigerator.

Mixing, slicing, cubing.  I placed the bread pieces in the casserole dish and added the topping.  Into the oven it went and I crossed my fingers it would taste good.  There seemed to be an awful lot of liquid and I feared the end result would be a soggy mess.  But I closed the oven and enjoyed the sweet scent that took over house.

An hour later, I had the most amazing dinner (complete with leftovers for breakfast tomorrow).  The baked French toast melted in your mouth and the cinnamon added a nice dose of sweetness.  The brown sugar and butter crust was divine.  The egg mixture soaked into the broad just like it was supposed to. A little bit of maple syrup and some whipped cream topped off the meal.  Perfect for Fat Tuesday!

Routines and Dogs #sol14

There are certain routines we follow in our house.  Most of them are self-imposed by the humans.  But a few?  Those were decided by the suspects below:

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Sure, they look sweet and innocent.  “But they can’t talk!  And they aren’t as smart as humans!” you might be thinking.  If that’s the case, you probably aren’t a dog owner.  Because these two have the humans of the house completely trained.

See, we feed the dogs dinner around 6:30pm.  Usually, though, it’s just that- around 6:30pm.  It’s convenient for us because the dogs are otherwise occupied while we are eating.  But our dinnertime varies depending on when I get home, when Chris gets home, and what I’m making for dinner.  But Dublin knows when it’s 6:30pm.  And as soon as the clock hits 6:31pm he is standing in front of me, barking.  He will even herd Chris or me into the room where the dog food is kept, as if he is reminding us that we have to feed him and Bailey.

“Feed me, human!  You are one minute late!”

11454297503_e27946e4ff_hBut that’s not the only nightly routine the dogs have decided.  Chris and I walk the dogs every night after dinner.  It settles the dogs down for the night and gets us another nice walk.  The time varies but we rarely miss the evening walk.  The dogs don’t remind us about this very often, though Dublin or Bailey will sometimes let us know they need to go out to the bathroom. This one is a human routine.

After the walk it’s usually time to relax.  I freeze Kongs for the dogs to have a few nights each week (smart dogs need to work for their food so they get tired!) and we supplement with bully sticks and other chews.  At some point, both of them realized that the night went like this: dinner, nap, walk, TREATANDCHEWYTIME!

Now?

As soon as we walk back in from our walk, the dogs herd me towards the closet or the freezer.  They want their treats!  And if Chris or I dare to take a moment to take off our shoes?  Oh no.  Not happening.  We get herded into the kitchen!

Like clockwork, the routine happened tonight.  The dogs have had their bully sticks and are now napping, content on the couch.  Saturday night they didn’t  get a treat, because I am trying to teach them that there is no routine (so they stop bossing us around and expecting a treat every night).  But tonight? They got their frozen Kongs and they are satisfied.

A Day of Relaxation #sol14

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Unlike yesterday, I was able to hang around and do nothing today.

And it was glorious.

Chris and I did some shopping (not food shopping, though.  Too many crazy people at the store, preparing for the snow that doesn’t seem to be coming).  We walked the dogs a few times.  I slept late.  Did I mention that I slept late?  Most Sundays I teach an SAT prep class at 9:00am so I am up and out the door by 8:30am.  Today I had a reprieve and it was much-needed.

And now I have a little more of a reprieve.  We have a delayed opening tomorrow so I can sleep a bit later (no 5:45am walk!) but we will still get a day of school in.  Seeing as we have already lost two days of our spring break, I am quite pleased that we will be in school tomorrow.  It looks like the snow was pushed further south and we will only get 2-4 inches now.  Yay!

Now I am relaxing on the couch with Chris and the dogs, watching the Oscars.  I am waiting for my girl Idina Menzel to perform and I’m commenting on student Slice of Life blogs to pass the time.  Soon I will head to bed and the week will start anew.

 

Slice of Life March 31st, 2013 #slice2013

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I have been participating in the Slice of Life challenge since 2008 and it’s always one of my favorite blog-related activities.  Thank you to Ruth and Stacey for this awesome challenge!

This year’s challenge has certainly been different.  For the first time I had students slicing with me, and many of them sliced every day!  It’s been a pleasure reading their entries and comments this month and I am so glad I challenged them to participate (even if some of them dreaded it).

But this month has also been full of ups and downs.  Chris had surgery on March 19th, and the lead up to that was frantic.  The following week was spent in the hospital and he came home last week.  He’s been home a few days now and it’s such a relief to have him recovering here, instead of in the hospital.  The SOL challenge gave me some time to focus on each day and forced me to sit down and think of the things I am grateful for each day.  And I am grateful for the Slice of Life challenge for helping me keep my sanity this month.

I can’t wait til next year!

Slice of Life March 30th, 2013 #slice2013

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I spent a good portion of my day trying to get ahead (and caught up) before going back to school on Monday.  That means I graded a lot (trying to get caught up, to what feels like no avail), cooked a lot, and completed a lot of food shopping. Those tasks, coupled with getting Chris out of the house for a bit and watching Wreck-it Ralph resulted in a very tired Sarah.

Baked ziti

Baked ziti (Photo credit: dolescum)

Chris has a few more weeks of recovery at home so I wanted to get some meals in the freezer that he can use for lunches while I am at work.  Because he loves pasta, I decided to make my first baked ziti.  I know, I know.  What can I say?  I’m Irish, not Italian!  But I ended up making a double batch of ziti, so we have one pan in the freezer and one in the refrigerator.  I think we are set for a while!

Then, I made some baked eggs that we can use for breakfasts this week and some frozen crockpot meals.  That way, I can just toss the meals in the slow cooker before I go to work and I won’t have to waste time cooking when I get home.  As an aside, I can’t tell you how much I love Pinterest.  All those recipes I have been pinning for months have finally come in handy!

I’m not really a cook, but I can follow a recipe, so Pinterest has been a lifesaver.  And while it was tiring, I am glad that we have a bunch of meals already completed for the week.  It should make the transition back to school a little easier!

Slice of Life March 29th, 2013 #slice2013

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Yesterday it was announced that Amazon will be purchasing Goodreads next quarter.  I’m not sure how to react to this news, because I love Goodreads.  I loved its independence, the community, and the interface.  While I am an Amazon customer (no independent bookstores closer than an hour away), I don’t need Amazon taking over every website I use.  They already own all or part of Shelfari and Librarything, which is one reason I don’t use either site.

But what upsets me the most about the sale is that I encourage my students to use Goodreads.  It was independent and not tied to any major retailer, so I was comfortable recommending it.  It also allows my students to grow as they move through school and eventually graduate.  The few other book social networking communities I tried out were aimed at kids and my students would eventually age out of them.  While this may seem like a silly thing for me to worry about, it’s important that my students find a community of readers that can stay with them as long as they are willing to participate.

When I taught 6th grade, I always shared Goodreads with my students and encouraged them to join (with their parents’ permission).  Many of them did.  It’s been over 6 years since I first started recommending the site and I still hear from many of those students.  There is an ebb and flow to the site, allowing members to pick up where they left off, without any pressure or judgement.  In the last few months I have been contacted by 5 former students, ranging from 8th grade to current juniors in high school, who have become active on Goodreads again.

 One of those students told me she was looking up a book her friend was reading and the search results included Goodreads.  She remembered using the site with me, clicked on it, and soon she was adding books to her “want to read” shelf and reminiscing over the list of books she last updated in 7th grade.  I now see her adding books a few times a week and she even recommended a book to me!  The power of a reading community is stronger than most people realize and too many students (and adults) lack access to one in the flesh.  Too many of my former students tell me that they haven’t heard a booktalk since leaving my classroom, haven’t had a teacher recommend a book that wasn’t canon since being with me, and no longer remember how to find books on their own.  And how can we expect them to keep reading if no one is providing them with the opportunity to find and read books?

That’s why I love Goodreads.  I love that current and former students can message me about books.  I love that our school book club can have conversations between meetings.  I love that I can model my reading life and passion for all of my students (current and former) in an unobtrusive manner.  And I love that there is no commercial tie-in.  We are surrounded by ads all day and Goodreads was a welcome respite from that.  Sure, there are banner ads and such, but they were book-related and usually lead to a publisher’s official site or an author’s blog.  They didn’t lead me to an Amazon order page.

Goodreads is about community and passionate readers.  It’s not about making a buck.  At least, it’s not about making a buck for me.  Sadly, it seems to be about money for the founders.  I can’t blame them for that, of course.  But I do wish they had offered the users of Goodreads an option.  Maybe we would have been willing to kick in money to keep the site independent!  I’d even be ok with publishers buying into the site.  But a single retailer?  That’s harder for me to digest.

We have a while before anything changes because the sale doesn’t close until next quarter.  I’m not going to stop using Goodreads and I hope I won’t have to in the future.  But I will be watching carefully.  And in the meantime, I think I will be doing what author Kate Messner suggests.  We can support other retailers, especially indie bookstores, in the reviews we post.  But my students and I will keep using Goodreads, while crossing our fingers that the community isn’t destroyed by Amazon.  Because the community is what drew me to the site and it’s why I share it with my students.  Losing that would be a shame.

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