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I’ll take Hawai’i, for 500…

May 4, 2013

A few weeks ago C came home with an announcement.

“We didn’t get Germany,” he said. He has been in the process of reenlisting, 1) out of his deep sense of duty to our nation and 2) hoping the Army would send him someplace more fun than Afghanistan. Germany was high on our wish list, to the point that I was already dreaming about what little bakery in Kaiserslautern I would waste my days in when we got there.

I was crushed.

“Where did they say we could go?”

“Fort Hood,” he said. My heart sank. “Or Fort Bliss.”

“Texas?”

“Or Hawai’i.”

I swear to you all… my jaw hit the floor like a cartoon character. And then I started laughing. We get to PCS  to Hawai’i??

No way, I thought to myself over the next few days. No way was this happening to us! But C kept coming home with more news about how the paperwork was progressing, and that sure enough we would be getting Hawai’i (Oahu to be specific) for our next duty station. His report date is late in the fall, giving us only about 6 months left in Tennessee. Woo hoo!

This is what my dreams look like now

This is what my dreams look like now

We posted cheesy pictures of us with leis and coconut cups on Facebook… I started combing through travel sites looking at all the amazing things to do and see…

And then reality hit. Major move. Major disruption. Major headaches. Ahh… our first PCS.

A quick look at any milspouse blog will tell you that a PCS can either go smoothly or it can be the biggest waking nightmare you’ve ever had. So far things have been going smoothly, but we haven’t actually started moving yet.

I have now visited probably every resource that exists about executing a PCS move, and all I can say is that I’m more confused than ever. The fact that I work full-time doesn’t help, either. I have learned over and over this year that Army Life and Working Spouses do not mix. Want a doctor’s appointment? Day-of scheduling only and the clinic closes at 4. Want to be part of the FRG? Meetings are at noon on Thursdays. The upside is that about 3 weeks from now I will be technically unemployed, and able to launch into full “move us across the country” mode.

The day that I went in to tell my Principal that I would be leaving at the end of the year was the day it all became real to me. I sat in his office and cried, because even though Hawai’i is exciting and I am looking forward to the adventure I have LOVED this year of teaching.

Every day at my job has been a blessing, and I will miss my coworkers, students, and the satisfaction of doing what I love immensely.

I have no immediate plans to launch into a teaching career on Oahu, for lots of reasons. So I am trying to treasure these last few weeks of an experience that has been incredibly special for me. I’ve had a lot of jobs since I became old enough to work, but this is the first employment that I have had where I really felt like my skills and the demands of the position intersected perfectly. I have a GROOVE going on here! I’m not sure that I’m mentally prepared for being a housewife again, but I just keep reminding myself that when I married into the Army I knew that things like a PCS were a possibility.

I am overwhelmed by gratitude for the 2 years that I’ve had here in Middle Tennessee. In Clarksville I’ve found a community of friends that I will keep for the rest of my life, meaningful employment, an appreciation for a region that I’d had only stereotypical thoughts of before I moved here, and a deeper sense of what a neat country we live in. I got back into acting, I got back into writing, I adopted a cute little kitty… ok, he adopted us, but still. Tennessee has come to feel like home, and I will miss it when we’re gone.

In the next 6 months, in addition to getting ready to move, I will be going back to all the places that I have loved here. Starting with H&S Farms next week when those strawberries get ripe! Last year C and I picked 2 quarts of the most gorgeous berries I have ever seen in just minutes, and I am looking forward to a similar experience this year.

Other things on my Tennessee bucket list include:

  • Seeing a Prairie Home Companion at the Ryman Theatre (next weekend!!)
  • Seeing the Lion King at TPAC in June
  • Going back to Land Between the Lakes to hike, visit the bison, and catch a show at the planetarium
  • Eating at the Looking Glass (the restaurant where we got married) and having another slice of our wedding cake
  • Walking on the Greenway
  • Seeing another show at the Roxy
  • Lunch at Silke’s bakery

There are other things, but maybe too many to list now. I am looking forward to the challenge of trying to both live in the moment and uproot at the same time. But, since I’m the type who likes to put down roots, I know that by the time the end of summer rolls around I will already have one foot on Oahu, and be just about ready to make the leap.

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Baking Bucket List: English Muffins

June 11, 2012

If I had known how easy it was going to be to make these…

But hindsight is 20/20, and there’s no use crying over unbaked crumpets.

Yesterday was baking day at my house. That meant sourdough bread this week because I’ve been neglecting my starter since the summer weather started, and it needed some care and feeding. I love my sourdough starter and the resulting bread, but I am always left with the dilemma of what to do with the cup of starter left over from the feeding. That problem was doubled yesterday, due to the fact that I had fed my starter twice for robustness. Two cups of starter– ee-gads!

One cup was taken care of by my old standby, sourdough pancakes. I have a lovely recipe that involves an overnight sponge and yields a slightly sour pancake that is fluffy yet toothsome, and perfect with any concoction I have come up with to top them, from strawberries and ricotta to good old maple “slurp”, as my family always called it. C devoured a good solid dozen of those pancakes for breakfast yesterday… how that boy is not the size of a house is completely beyond me, but I pray our future children get his metabolism!

That left me with a second cup, which sat patiently on the counter while I daydreamed about what it would be when it grew up. Pretzels? Eh… C is going to be in the field for the next four days, so who would eat them? Another batch of pancakes to freeze? One batch already makes an obscene amount of pancakes (2 1/2 dozen!) so my freezer didn’t really need that. Another loaf of bread? See comment about C in field above. What the heck was I going to do with it??

Then I remembered a conversation that C and I had awhile back in which I commented that I hadn’t eaten an English muffin in ages, and wouldn’t it be nice to have some for breakfast sometime soon? I wondered if sourdough starter could be used to make English muffins…

It is times like these when I am grateful for the existence of the internet, and more grateful still for the fine folks at King Arthur Flour, who have posted on their website a plethora of tested recipes, including one for… wait for it… Sourdough English Muffins! I could have kept looking for another recipe, but I had already found my Holy Grail. Oh. *groan*

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Waiting to go on the heat

The recipe calls for dry milk, but I almost always ignore that and substitute fresh milk. I’m sure dry milk has its advantages, but I just prefer what I have on hand… dry powdered milk ain’t it. If you have a recipe that calls for dry milk and want to substitute liquid as I do, the ratio is 1:4. As in, a cup of dry milk powder will make 4 cups of milk when mixed. This recipe calls for 1/2 cup of dry milk, so I know to substitute 2 cups of fresh milk and eliminate any water called for in the recipe (in this case, also two cups).

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I love the way they puff up in the pan

The recipe, as I said at the beginning, is sooooo easy. It is not, however, quick. Especially if you want to develop the tangy flavor from the sourdough, which requires letting the dough chill out in the fridge for up to 24 hours after it’s mixed. I let mine rise on the counter for an hour an a half and then tucked in the icebox overnight for a total rise time of about 16 hours. So if you’re craving English muffins NOW this may not be your best option. But if you have a day and a half that you’re willing to devote to the process, I can assure you that the wait is well worth it. These muffins are delicious straight from the pan, and divine when split and toasted with a touch of butter and a dab of jelly.

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It would be a better picture, but I was too impatient to finish my breakfast…

Salud!

Amanda

Sourdough English Muffins (adapted from King Arthur Flour)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups lukewarm milk
  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 7 to 8 cups (1 pound, 13 3/4 ounces to 2 pounds 2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick, 2 ounces) butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon sour salt (citric acid), optional
  • approximately 2 tablespoons cornmeal or semolina

*I used less flour than this, and I think you should too. I mixed the dough by hand, and started kneading it when it was still fairly “shaggy” looking and dry. I incorporated more flour while kneading, which resulted in a springy, elastic dough that was very soft and smooth. Use your judgement, and err on the side of less.

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm milk. Stir in and dissolve the yeast, and then mix in the sourdough starter and 1 cup of flour. Let this sit for a few minutes, until the mixture begins to bubble.

Add the butter, salt, sour salt (if you’re using it; it’s a nice flavor-booster) and a second cup of flour, and beat well. Add 5 to 6 cups of flour, one cup at a time, to form a dough that holds together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. I got C to hold the bowl so I could mix with both hands. If you don’t have an assistant, I suggest you use a stand mixer!

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it until it’s smooth and springy, but slightly on the slack side, about 8 minutes (5 minutes if using a mixer). Add flour only as necessary to prevent sticking. Clean out and grease your bowl and place the dough in the greased bowl, turning it so that a thin film of oil coats all sides. If you want muffins with just a hint of sourness, cover the dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel, let it stand until it has doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours, and proceed from * below. If you want muffins with a more pronounced sour flavor, be sure to add the sour salt to the dough for extra tang; then cover the finished dough with plastic wrap or a damp towel and let it sit overnight, or up to 24 hours, in your refrigerator.

* When the dough has risen your chosen length of time, punch it down, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface, cover it and let it sit for a few minutes (to relax the gluten). Divide the dough into two pieces and roll each piece out separately to a 1/2-inch thickness. Cut the dough into 3-inch rounds; re-roll and cut any remaining scraps. Place the rounds, evenly spaced, onto cornmeal- or semolina-sprinkled baking sheets (12 or 13 rounds per sheet), sprinkle them with additional cornmeal or semolina, cover with plastic wrap, and let them rise in a warm place until light and puffy, about 1 hour.

Carefully transfer the rounds (as many as a time that will fit without crowding) right-side up to a large ungreased frying pan that has been preheated over medium heat. Cook them for about 10 to 12 minutes on each side, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of a muffin registers 190°F. Remove them from the pan and cool on a rack. If you find you’re having trouble getting the muffins to cook all the way through in the pan, cook on both sides as directed, then finish in a 350°F oven.

Yield: twenty-five 3-inch English muffins.

The Next Chapter… Figuratively

May 13, 2012

Yesterday I got the formal acceptance package from Teach Tennessee in my mailbox.

!!!

I had been waiting for it anxiously ever since my phone call from the Director of the program letting me know I was in, and I have C as witness that I did a happy dance when I pulled it out of the box and saw what it was.

Then I started reading it, and my excitement at being a part of this really cool program has been tempered somewhat by realizing what I have to do this summer: two separate weeks of the Institute (one over the 4th of July), with programming that goes from 8:30-5:30 every day covering everything from Standards to Classroom Management and then involves intensive homework. First week in Nashville, second week in Knoxville. I have homework before the Institute even begins, in the form of a book written by a former participant in Teach For America (the program on which this program is modeled), which I am to read and absorb before attending Week 1.

And all this before I even have a job!

The bright side is that C gets to come with me to Week 1… he’s going to play in Nashville while I’m in class because it happens to be one of the weeks we get Block Leave. Can anyone say Honeymoon (finally)? Yeah, it’s a working Honeymoon, but it’s better than nothing! You can bet that I will be booking a hotel with a pool ^_^

I’m a little nervous about all this just because it’s a fairly large financial commitment without any guarantee that I will get a job at the other end. C reminded me that even so, it’s still less expensive than going back to Grad school right now, and that’s true. I know I can always continue to Sub if I don’t find a classroom position right away, but I really have my heart set on being in my own classroom come August. I’m focusing on taking deep breaths and reminding myself to be patient; to remember that the job postings I’m seeing now (or lack thereof) are nothing compared to the flurry of hiring that happens right before school starts. My job at this moment is to put together the best package I can and then send it to EVERYONE.

I will be a teacher.

*Happy Dance*

 

In 2011 I…

December 31, 2011

…Became part of a child’s “village”, celebrated many weddings and births, missed someone more than I ever thought possible, attended a Military Ball, met fabulous people that I am thrilled to have in my life, married my best friend and the love of my life(!), watched my family grow, moved away from NH, felt the thrill of coming home, rediscovered my Gypsy Feet, learned to work with animals of all kinds, returned to the stage after 8 years, continued practicing the art of letting go, learned to play House of the Rising Sun on the ukelele, finally saw ‘Wicked’, sang my heart out at karaoke and every other place I could, wrote the first 35,000 words of my novel, celebrated my niece’s first birthday, and had C with me on my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, his birthday, and New Years for the first time EVER.

Needless to say, 2011 was a banner year for me in many ways. I’m still trying on new hats and figuring out what it means to be me, and I hope that 2012 will see me beginning to find my path!

Thanks to everyone who has been a part of this amazing year, and to everyone who has been a part of my amazing life. Happy New Year to you all!

Fighting the Fear

December 6, 2011

Anyone who has ever undertaken a creative endeavor has, at some point, stopped themselves and asked… Who Am I Kidding?

It’s that niggling little voice at the back of your mind, whispering “Who do you think you are, doing this? Who do you think will care? Everyone knows you’re a hack. Even you know that this song/poem/cake/novel/etc. is a piece of garbage that no one will ever look twice at. Why don’t you put it down and go watch some television instead?”

That voice can be very mean, and very persuasive. And right now, it is YELLING at me.

The worst part is that it always seems to speak up the loudest at the precise moment that you are needing to summon every ounce of perseverance you have in order to keep going. Because the other truth about creative projects is that they are often tests of endurance. I don’t know many people anyone who has worked on a project that they care about for one day and then decided, “Hey that’s pretty good! Guess I’ll go do something else now.” Truly great work requires planning, revision, and endurance.

Honesty time: I’ve never been so good with follow through. Super honesty time: I’m still the kind of person who will drop something in a heartbeat if I don’t find it to be fulfilling. Okay, sometimes I drop things because the ADD fairy runs up behind me and yells SQUIRREL! through her bullhorn and I’m like WHERE?, but I’m getting better about tuning her out.

I justify my tendency to drop things that aren’t doing it for me by invoking the ‘Life Is Too Short’ clause. As in, “No, I don’t think I’ll stay at this minimum wage job that is overrun by adolescent drama… life is too short.” Now that I think about it, most of the things I’ve walked away from have been unpleasant work environments. This is the aforementioned invocation of the LITS clause coupled with my belief that money, even good money, doesn’t justify dealing with crazy co-workers or whoring my integrity out to sell crap that’s made in China (read: every retail job I’ve ever had). But I digress, somewhat.

My point is that walking away from a bad situation takes a different kind of courage than persevering through something that is emotionally difficult but necessary. I know that I possess both kinds, but the latter skill is a tad rusty. I have millions of abandoned or squirreled projects, here and in NH. Just last night I was telling my mother that I need to scour their home for the box of notebooks and loose papers that I know I left there somewhere, so I can start thinking about picking up those threads. I have a million ideas, few of which have ever come to fruition, because I’m afraid of what that nasty little voice in my head might say if I decide that I care about one of them.

But here I am, facing down that voice, because I’ve decided that I do care about my novel, a great deal. So much so, in fact, that I have just made arrangements to significantly clear my schedule to give myself more time to work on it. So much so that I have set up an office in which I can barricade myself and snarl like Gollum at anyone who dares to disturb me (Sorry, C). I have a room of my own, as Virginia Woolf so eloquently argued was necessary for women to write fiction, and I am not afraid to use it. I desperately want to be able to call my self a Novelist, with a capital N and without having to couch it with the word ‘aspiring’. I am sharpening every tool in my mental toolbox, that I will better be able to do battle with that little voice. I am prepared, as they say, to give her what for. Fair notice to my inner editor to also be on alert, because I have turned off the spell check and I MEAN IT.

I am afraid. I am SO afraid, of writing something that is awful, or insensitive, or vulgar. But the time has come to embrace those fears, and use that energy to feed my fire instead of running around trying to stomp out the sparks that might offend someone. Who knows… there may very well be people on this earth who would find those same sparks inspiring.

What I am writing matters, even if it only matters to me. Being secure in that feeling is where I will draw my strength from as I muddle through this first draft… this first idea that I will nurture from the womb of my imagination to that inevitable day, maybe years from now, when I will send it out the door with a kiss on the forehead and a pat on the behind to meet its future.

 

 

Little Rhino Update

December 2, 2011

Well, here we are! December. I hope that everyone enjoyed Thanksgiving and is settling into a nice holiday season.

NaNoWriMo is OVER, and I am proud to say that I didn’t hit my 50,000 words. Wait, what? Proud not to finish? Darn skippy! Because I still have 36,542 words that I wrote that never existed before November first.

That’s 122 pages… roughly a third of what I would like the page count of my manuscript to be.

So hurray! I have learned that if I progressed at this rate, I could finish a novel in three months. The best part is that I could probably do it even faster…  despite my best intentions I wasn’t able to write every day, or even every other day (oh, life) so I have a theory that if and when I am able to dedicate more time to my writing my output is going to be right where I want it!

I would like to thank everyone who supported me during the past month… I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me to have so many people express interest in my work, and I hope that in another month or two I’ll be in a place that I can share some of the manuscript as I polish it up.

It helps tremendously that my parents gave C and I a desk for Christmas. I have an office! It’s going to be lovely to have a place where I can let the creativity run free… or at the very least, close the door while my husband is playing Skyrim or watching The Daily Show.

Finally sitting down to write a book has been a very interesting experience for me. I write a LOT, but writing a novel is kind of like running a marathon, and the writing I’ve been doing is more along the lines of a 5k. Writing 300 pages takes stamina, and dedication, and planning.

The part that I really wasn’t expecting was the amount of research that I’ve had to do. Before I started this process, I’d imagined that I really didn’t have to do anything except some plotting and character mapping. After all, I’m writing a fantasy… I just get to make things up, right?

No. No I don’t.

The other thing that caught me off guard was how the story develops as I’m writing it. You can plot until the cows come home, but sometimes things just happen when you’re putting the words on the page. These two things combined in ways that I didn’t expect, which is why I found myself investigating the history of Indian schools in the United States, the topography of Lake Champlain, and what exactly a social anthropologist does.

Now I know you wanna read my book 🙂

I feel like I’m starting to tap back into the creative reservoir that I have, that’s been closed off to me for several years now. Someday I’ll probably write about that too, but for now fiction is a little easier to access. I’m being careful, though, not to craft a story that is devoid of emotion or tough questions. I heard someone say recently that writing should cost you something, and that reading should cost you something too. It’s a contract between the author and the reader that what we’re sharing is not a waste of time, and that is has the potential to help us grow.

Like everything else in life that costs us something, in this case I believe that it will be better to take baby steps (no confessionals here, thank you very much). I respect my writing, and I respect my readers. So am I going to write a Young Adult novel that doesn’t condescend or pander? Yes! Even if it takes me awhile to get there.

So, as I carry on along this path I’ve set myself to I hope to resume a semi-normal posting schedule on this blog. And as always, I want to thank you for sharing this experience with me.

BAH-Humbug

November 5, 2011

I am pleased to report that we have survived both our first major financial crisis and my first major “I’m Not in Kansas Anymore” moment.

The financial crisis first: November 1st came and went and our housing allowance (BAH) still has not kicked in. In the meantime we have been scrimping and saving and living like little church mice, but it reached the breaking point this month, and we were officially broke. It would be a major understatement to say that I am irritated like you wouldn’t believe with the people responsible for getting this going.

For the past few months, C has been locked in a losing battle with the Training Room and S1 (the paper pushers who are the gateway to all things financial). These are the fine people who get paid too much to make miserable the lives of those just trying to go about the business of living, say… by getting their housing allowance? Yes, that would be us.

After they had ‘lost’ his paperwork for the 3rd time (and I had a hissy fit because we were going to have $15 dollars left for the month after paying bills) I finally broke down and asked one of the Army wives I work with what on earth we should do.

I told her what had happened, and lo and behold– the same thing had happened to her and her husband when they first got married and were trying to get BAH started. Then she told me about a little something called an AER loan, which in short is a program designed for exactly this situation… as in, there is a no-interest loan program specifically for this because the Army screws it up on a regular basis.

I would sigh, but the truth is I wasn’t really surprised to learn this.

It took two rounds of paperwork to get the loan approved, because naturally the first paperwork that we filled out wasn’t the correct paperwork, but long story short is that the loan was approved and we don’t have to eat our shoes.

*phew*

This compounded with the more complex issue of my emotions this week. We found out about the BAH (or lack thereof) on Monday, and the rest of the week was just a downhill slide into yesterday, when I finally lost it. At work.

This is an approximate representation of me at 3:24 pm on Friday November 4th

God bless my boss, is all I can really say here. As I sat in her office sniveling and seriously considering quitting, she helped me talk it out and finally realize that the sadness wasn’t coming from being low-man on the totem pole… or at least not entirely. It’s more about the fact that I have (once again) uprooted my entire existence to go start a new one somewhere else.

New state, new marriage, new apartment, new job, new friends, new hobbies, and my support system 8 states away…That’s a lot to ask, even of someone adaptable like me.

I’ve been playing along, enjoying the bright spots– time with my husband, work, play rehearsals, my novel– but I hadn’t let myself grieve yet for the life I left behind.

And so I cried. For about 4 hours, total. And I got hugs from my boss and my hubby, and then I did what all good Southern women do and called my Mama for a chat.

She helped me put it all in perspective, and then promised to send me a box of the Bell’s stuffing mix that you can’t find outside of New England (it’s the little things).

Thank god for Mothers.

Today I feel like a cloud has lifted. I had a fabulous morning at work, and I’m ready to dig back into my novel and pour myself out. I’m trying to hit 15,000 words by the time I go to bed on Sunday evening. Pens up!