Thursday, April 26, 2007

Messing things up

Derrick and I made quite the mess this evening. We decided last weekend to make orange chicken, and made it this evening, along with broccoli stir fry. Both of the dishes were wonderful, but the mess at the end of the cooking portion of the evening was the most spectacular part of the whole process. We had broccoli leavings and onion peels in the sink; orange juice all over the counter and spots of various sauces all over the floor; just about every plate in the house had some kind of goo on it, as did almost every bowl. Derrick decided as long as I was taking care of the dishes (silly me) it was a good time for him to consolidate a bunch of duplicate spices, so soon enough a dusting of coriander, black pepper, and cumin coated several previously not too dirty surfaces. Derrick poured the cinnamon over the sink, but when the final level of the spice was millimeters above the lip of the jar, he blew a fine spray all over my head. And yet, everything is all clean and I am satisfied and at peace as I'm getting ready to go to bed, although it's too late--I'm sure to be tired and cranky tomorrow, but hey, it's Friday. Somehow making a mess like that makes the clean feel that much better. The fact that just a few hours ago the counters were sticky and gritty with spilled juice and spices makes their current smoothness that much more remarkable. I think sometimes my life is like this--I make a mess of things, or get behind in my work, or just somehow create some discomfort in my life; then, when the stress is resolved my life feels amazingly blessed and I can't help wondering how I am so lucky, or why my life is so good.

(I'm not quite so manic depressive as to call today a wonderful day after the spectacular mess that was yesterday, but I did accomplish a couple of things at work today that take enough of the edge off my stress that I can maybe see a positive ending for this semester.)

I have so much fun cooking with Derrick. I think it's my favorite way to spend time with him. We're definitely going to have to remember the orange chicken recipe--it was a winner.

Orange Chicken
3-4 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch or smaller cubes
1-2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp cornstarch

Marinate chicken pieces in remainder of ingredients for at least 1 hour. Add:
~ 4 tbsp flour, or enough to make thin batter.

Deep fry chicken pieces in medium (~350 degree) oil.

For sauce:
1/3 c molasses
1 c orange juice
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp garlic
1 tbsp ginger (can't cook without ginger and garlic!)
1 tbsp cayenne (or other hot) pepper--or to taste
1/2 tbsp - 1 tbsp orange zest

combine sauce ingredients and simmer until thickened. Pour over fried chicken pieces and stir to coat.

Derrick suggests brown sugar in place of the molasses for a lighter, more orangey flavor.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

it's a beautiful day

for running away and hiding under the covers. I want to end today right now. I've managed to accomplish nothing that needed to be done (like the, oh, more than a month overdue paper for Stable Isotopes), I misplaced the food I need for a class experiment, broke a plate during dinner, burned the beans for tomorrow's dinner, and just generally made a mess of things. I threw a tantrum in front of derrick because I was so frustrated I couldn't find my cell phone (fortunately, he's pretty understanding of my occasional bouts of severe frustration). It's just a sucky, sucky day.

I'm going to bed.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

He Sent His Son

Sunday was my last day in Primary. I am now a ward "communications specialist," which essentially means I print the program for Sunday. I can't say I'm entirely happy about the change in calling, but neither am I really sad.

I am incredibly grateful for the last few weeks I had in Primary. It's taken, what? almost two months for them to replace me after I asked to be released, and those have been the best two months of the calling. Pretty much the week after I asked for the release I started feeling comfortable in the calling, where before I'd felt like it wasn't really mine, like I was just a place-holder, or a stand in for the president and my pianist, who both seemed to know "how things should be done."

When I first stepped in to the calling, I could sort of understand that. It's pretty normal to have to acclimate to a new teaching style, and to figure out how things are done within a group. I started shortly before the primary program, too, so it was a pretty high-stress time additionally. But a couple of things happened that I think made it nearly impossible for me to find my footing. Preeminent among them was the injudicious use of me as an example of bad teaching by the pianist during a talk on how to become better teachers. Not quite the way to make one feel welcome.

I struggled with forgiving her for that, which is not one of my spiritual gifts, by the way. I can hold a grudge with the best of them. I found myself, after that, doing subtle things to annoy the president and the pianist--refusing to comply with proscribed teaching methods, working on songs other than those designated for the program, even bringing in outside materials for singing time (my favorite was bringing in a bunch of different pieces of classical music--from Mozart to Samuel Barber and Carl Orff--and then discussing what emotion the music was conveying). Even though the teaching ideas I was using were good ones, and ones I was excited about, I knew part of the reason I wanted to do them was because of the annoyance I could incite in my leadership. I also knew they would criticize my methods. Between the criticism and the knowledge my motivations were not pure, I felt uncomfortable in front of the children until I asked to be removed.

I wanted to leave the children with something, so when the opportunity came up for us to perform in sacrament meeting I decided we should work on performance. After a comment from one of the teachers shortly before the last program that "it doesn't really matter how well the kids do, everyone will think they're cute anyway" I decided it was time to focus on performance and time to raise the expectations of the kids when it came to their performances. I believe if we focus only on the gospel, and not on practicing the principles of the gospel--including magnifying our talents as far as we are able--we do those we teach a disservice. Anyway, even though we could have performed a song from the program for the theme of that month, I decided we should work on "He Sent His Son" (one of my favorite primary songs). It's got a wonderful message and the music is beautiful and reinforces the poetry very nicely, so I thought it would be a good choice for practicing performing.

We worked very hard on that one song--in fact, we neglected all the songs we're supposed to work on for the program--much to the chagrin of the president and pianist. And then, when we performed it on Easter, nothing went right. The pianist didn't start well, the kids didn't come in at the right moment twice, and we completely forgot about dynamics. I was displeased. The one thing the kids did well was sing loudly enough through the whole thing that they could be heard in the back of the room, which I will admit is an accomplishment for primary kids.

That was Sunday before last. This Sunday I was released, so it was my last week in primary. Sunday the normal pianist was not in attendance; instead, the woman who is normally the organist in sacrament meeting played for primary. She is an awesome pianist and we work together much better than I do with the regular pianist (I've never really figured out how to communicate effectively when I want songs to start, or sometimes even which songs I want to sing). Anyway, it was a wonderful day--probably the best I've had. I love going out on a high note, and I'm so grateful the Bishop left me in long enough to have this experience. The best part was that we sang "He Sent His Son" again--at the request of one of the kids, no less, and while the Bishop was in the room--and it was powerful. It may have been the best performance those kids gave and, if I were more of a crier, I probably would have been sobbing by the end of it. I wish now I had said something to that effect to the kids, but I will say it here and now--those kids are awesome, and they did an awesome job. I was so impressed!

The kicker, of course, is that the same week I was released, the primary presidency was released. I'm not sure how much of that was my doing. I wonder if they had to reorganize to find someone to put in my calling, though the woman who is replacing me didn't have another calling as far as I know. I wonder if my complaint is what led to the release of the presidency, though that seems incredibly self-centered as I write it. And then I wonder, if I'd just held on a few months longer, would I have grown into the calling? Would the president and pianist eventually accepted my slightly unconventional way of doing things? Or, would they have been released even without my complaint, leaving me in a position I love, working with people who potentially might have been more accepting?

Questions never to be answered. Eh, I'm happy.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Death to Sea Monkeys

They've died again. And again... And again.

I think they're telling me something: I shouldn't have a project that involves living things. Ever.

I know this is just a part of grad school--failures make the successes that much sweeter and all, and it's all a part of the learning process. That said, I don't understand why it is I can grow sea monkeys just fine last summer when I wasn't trying to experiment on them and this summer they're dying on me like flies. Little aquatic flies.

This is so irritating.

Maybe they know when I'm going to experiment on them and they all get together after seeing a few of their comrades in arms sacrificed in a shower of ethanol, and decide to commit hari-kiri to avoid the death I plan for them.

I've asked at the pet store how to keep them alive, but most people just hatch the little beasts and then dump them into a fish tank with some veracious, crustacean-eating fish. Argh.

So, it's on to the next set of sea monkeys, with the hope these ones will prove hardier, or the test I set up (this time I'm varying the quantity of food I'm giving them) will turn out to be the last step between me and a successful equilibration experiment.

Here's to hoping.