Getting ready for my teaching debut

I’ve spent a majority of the last two days sprawled out on my living room floor and standing at my ironing board surrounded by so many four-pointed orange scraps from the 120 circles of fabric I’ve been cutting out for my craft class. I may have watched more TV in the past few days than I have in a long time. I didn’t even go outside today. Hopefully all of my cutting, ironing, pinning, and packing will pay off on Thursday when I teach a group of forty adults how to make fabric pumpkins as part of the Tustin Library Craft Guild’s free craft program. I’m super nervous. On top of that, CLA ’11 is fast approaching and I will need to save some energy for that. So last night, I tried to de-stress. I put on some Lucero and made my new favorite meal, Chickpea Picatta from Post Punk Kitchen. Tonight, I inexplicably watched a 19 Kids and Counting marathon. And that is that.

For something so beige, it was sure flavorful.

Friday Reads: A longish list

I am long overdue for one of these.

What I have read since my last post:

 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Since a few people in my book club hadn’t read it yet (and by a few people I mostly mean me), we decided to revisit it. I loved it. It was hilarious, it made me think, and has redeeming messages about the way we access information today. I’m glad I revisited it later in live, because I could only get through about 30 pages when I was 11 before getting bored to tears.


Mercury by Hope Larson. My friend Viet recommended this to me when we were hanging out at the public library. It’s a graphic novel about a girl named Tara who inherits a locket that once belonged to her ancestor, Josey. In the novel, Larson intertwines the mysteries and complications of Tara and Josey’s lives until Tara makes a very important discovery about her family’s past. Go read it. It was great. And it has magical realism.

 Catching Fire [The Hunger Games #2] by Suzanne Collins. My friend Ryan’s reaction to the first installment of the series was a big ol’ “meh.” But when he heard me describe the second book to my cousin in the car one day, his ears perked up. Collins amped up the intensity in just about every aspect of this novel: violence, betrayal, rumors, uprisings, punishments. So if you weren’t sold after the first novel, give the second one a try.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami. This was my first library book on my Kindle. I became intrigued after I gathered from the description of this book that Murakami feels the way I do about the hours between midnight and 6AM: there is probably something weird going on. This is a short novel about such weirdness.



What I’m reading now:

  • Heartsick by Chelsea Cain
  • Mockingjay [The Hunger Games #3] by Suzanne Collins
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (do I even need to give that much detail? Sometimes I wonder if I could just type “HP5”)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Compassionate Diet by Arran Stephens and Eliot Jay Rosen
Author Name Pronunciation Guide with audio (you might be surprised)!
You’ve heard of Feminist Ryan Gosling, right?
If you love Maus, you’ll probably love this.

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Victorians

via How to Be a Retronaut

Meatless Monday: Veggie Chili

Let’s go in reverse chronological order. I’m sitting in my parents’ family room with my parents, my grandma, and my cousin. We’re watching Monday Night Football. Well, they are.

Before this, I took a long, luxurious nap.

Before that, I ate a bean, cheese, rice and salsa burrito from my favorite Mexican place, Las Golondrinas.

Before that, I went on a hot, quite uphill 5-mile hike with my dad and cousin at Caspers Wilderness Park off the Ortega Highway.

About a week before that, I made vegetarian chili.

I improvised this one. Let me share it with you.

  • 1 can kidney beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 1 can corn (drained and rinsed)
  • 2 cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 can veggie broth (I know, I’m sorry. But more than this and it’ll be too soupy. Maybe you can leave it out.)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 zucchini, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 8 button, cremini, or baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 or 2 tsp cumin, depending on your tastes
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 T Olive oil
Coat skillet with olive oil. Cook onion and garlic on medium high heat until onions are translucent. Add bell pepper, zucchini, and mushrooms, cook 3 more minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, oregano, tomato paste, mix and cook for 1 minute. Add beans and corn so they can heat up a little. Add tomatoes and the half can of veggie broth [hey! Maybe you can try beer. That might be good!]. Bring that up to a good boil, let boil for 3 minutes. Reduce heat and let simmer uncovered for 15 more minutes. Serve with crusty bread and cheese. 

Meatless Monday: The Poor Girl’s Marinara Sauce

I tutor at an after-school learning center for students from different schools around Santa Ana. I work with kids in grades 1-5 in groups of 2 to 6. We are crammed into a little Sunday school classroom in the basement of an old church downtown.

Some days go like this:

Six kids make a beeline for my table. “Miss Leeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeigh!” They throw their backpacks on the ground excitedly. Sometimes I get hugs. They tell me about their days. On a good day, they do this while taking out their homework.

Then it begins. “Miss Leigh, I need help!” They all need help with their math homework. This is usually the most difficult subject, and we encourage them to do the hardest work first. They are from different schools and are in different grades, so they don’t have the same assignment. “OK, I’m going to help [student 1] first, so do you have other homework you can work on until I get to you?” I ask. One student will usually protest, saying, “But mine’s the hardest! UUUUGH!” I usually ignore it. From here, it’s an hour of dodging over tiny-chair-and-backpack landmines while I work my way around the table, helping them dissect each word problem or set of directions while they tune me out. (Therein lie the deeper problems of needing to improve literacy and fluency. And motivation. And focus.) When they’re done, I’ll have to do it all again for the next group of kids.

When I’m done, I’m done. I’ve mentally checked out. I’m dreaming of a mixing bowl full of spaghetti, a movie, a dark room, and a big glass of wine.

Enter cheap marinara. I hate most jarred pasta sauces, so I decided to make my own.

To continue the educational theme, let’s learn a little bit about the origins of marinara sauce from The Italian Chef: “Marinara derives from the Italian word for sailor, marinaro. Due to these origins I have seen many people say that marinara sauce must contain something from the sea, usually anchovies. Actually this is not the case, the origins of marinara sauce are that it is the sauce that they made in Naples for the sailors when they returned from the sea.”

  • 1 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (I use a teaspoon of the jarred type)
  • 2 cans diced or crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • splash of whatever wine you’re drinking
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil
Cook onion and garlic in olive oil until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, herbs, wine and bring to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. I usually cook the pasta at this point. Add salt/pepper to taste. Makes 4-6 servings. Or 2, if you’re me (half for now, half for lunches and dinners later).
It tastes better in a dark room with wine and a Hayao Miyazaki movie.

Thirsty Thursday: Drip Coffee

This Thirsty Thursday is dedicated to drip coffee, simply because for the first time in weeks I woke up in time to grab some this morning before my dad left for work (my parents leave for work when it’s still dark out, year round). Being able to make my own coffee was a perk of living alone. I lived for my coffee-making routine during the times when I lived alone. Now I drink what my parents drink, but it’s free, so N.B.D.

Let’s return to why I was awake. I have been restless and swimming in my own thoughts last night after reading the one-sentence decision from the Supreme Court to deny the request for a stay of execution for Troy Davis, who died at 11:08 PM EST. Reading about his last words and the MacPhail family’s reaction as he was executed (they smiled) was heart-wrenching. The words “pure evil” have always come to mind whenever I hear a statement from one of the members of that family. After all that’s happened, I feel we owe it to Davis to continue to pursue REAL justice in this country and fight against the proliferation of the death penalty. (Did you know capital punishment is legal in California?)

So I didn’t sleep well last night. This morning I thought about how lucky I am to be alive, warm and comfortable in my own bedroom. My current worries include: how soon I’m going to get my Kindle back from my grandma so I can finish reading my library book* that’s due in 13 days, staying within a $200 budget for the crafting class I’m teaching at the Tustin Library in a month, finding a job, and whether or not to walk home from a friend/neighbor’s house late tomorrow night in the dark because a) I’ll probably be drinking and b) we live too close together to justify driving.

Actually, the last one is a legitimate concern for my own safety for valid reasons. But that’s another day. Overall, I’m very fortunate.

*After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Troy Davis

On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis is scheduled to die, even though much doubt remains about whether he killed a Savannah, Georgia police officer in 1989.

Image via the Atlanta Post

I am staunchly opposed to the death penalty. For one thing, two wrongs make one more wrong than is necessary. It is stooping to their level in a barbaric manner. Secondly, the risk of innocent people falling through the cracks is too great. That is a mistake I’d wish on nobody.

Davis’ final clemency hearing is scheduled for September 16 (my stomach is already churning). In the meantime, you can sign a petition here.

Ryan Adams – New York, New York

Where I was 10 years ago

I was a freshman at Foothill High School in Tustin, California. During the exact moments it was happening, I was getting ready for my second day of school. I wasn’t watching TV or listening to the news at all. Neither was my mom, whose morning routine consisted of an hour of stressful running around and grabbing things while trying to apply her mascara. When I found out about what happened, I was walking into my painting class. My teacher was Mr. Gillette. Both of the ancient TVs were on with their usual terrible picture quality, but instead of showing the daily announcements, they were on a news channel showing footage of the towers falling.

“What’s going on?” I asked a junior named Erica who had been friendly to me on my first day even though I was wearing a heinously dorky outfit (which was kind of awesome in retrospect). “The World Trade Center just fell,” she said, kind of nonchalantly. I don’t think she meant to sound so nonchalant. Amid the din of the classroom and the chaos of what had just happened I think we were all having a hard time piecing it all together. “What do you mean, ‘fell?'” I asked. “I don’t know,” she replied, kind of nervously. Mr. Gillette looked kind of angry, or so I thought at the time. On the first day of school, I accidentally walked in on one of his classes because I had my schedule confused and he kind of grumped out at me. OK, I thought. Keep your head down. And I did until I got home later that day and watched the news. In those hours between, I faintly remember thinking the city was demolishing the building systematically (for construction purposes). None of my teachers mentioned it, probably with the intent to stay on track and remain in control. I didn’t really have friends to talk to about it at that point, having come from a tiny private school and probably also because of my proclivity for wearing overalls with holes in the knees. I was isolated. This was before the time of smart phones. Even flip phones.

Needless to say, I experienced a delayed reaction, which has always been disconcerting to me. Maybe it’s guilt, or feeling like once again I failed to connect with my classmates over something, especially something this big. But one thing’s for sure, that feeling is nothing compared to those felt by the people who were directly affected by what happened.

I’ve been listening to stories about kids who lost their parent(s) in kindergarten, who are 15 years old today. I can only imagine having to spend all those very formative years with that event looming over you so closely.

Friday Reads: Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Books I finished recently:

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (the very first book I read on my Kindle). I don’t know why this is part of the high school curriculum. I’m willing to bet that high schoolers don’t appreciate Wilde’s sense of humor. I certainly didn’t when they assigned this to me as a high school senior. But as a 24 year old nerd who is a little more aware of humanity and the weirdness of romantic relationships I totally LOL’d. I even have urges to tell people I’m Bunburying around Shropfordshire when they ask if I have plans. I think I will indulge next time.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Do you ever feel like a book was written just for you? I loved this one. There were some aspects that threw me off: Sophie’s mindset about being destined for a boring life because she’s the eldest sibling; the whole Martha/Lettie switching places thing; the abrupt ending. There were aspects I loved: Sophie throwing herself into the role of a determined, assertive, strong old lady; any part with Calcifer; the flowers they grew to sell in their shop (front). And as soon as I learned Howl’s real name was Howell Jenkins and that he spoke a “foreign language” I KNEW I loved the book because all of that means Howl was a Welshie (which he admits later on in the story in a really awesome way). This was my YA choice for book club’s September meeting. Really glad it turned out well – I toned down my enthusiasm at our meeting, though.

Memorable links:

I have a massive headache and the hiccups (this cold won’t seem to budge) but I wanted to get this published before Friday actually ends. Would you mind terribly if I just left you with this?