A Reason to Bake

Perspective is a funny thing.

I never thought I could be disappointed to hear that our district had cancelled school.  After all, snow days seem to give society a sort of common ground.  We collectively anticipate the arrival of the snow, we wrestle with the decisions of whose car is better in the snow, we watch the news to track the storm, we take pictures of rulers (or yard sticks depending on what part of the country you live in) plunged into the snow to keep a close eye on the accumulation, we bundle up to venture outside, and we drink hot cocoa to warm up when we come inside again.

Now that I’m experiencing snow days this week through the lens of a Special Education Teacher who has 2 IEPs due, I’m seeing them in a new light.  I’ve spent a good block of time on my days off figuring out how to reschedule the meetings – first for Wednesday.  Then for Thursday.  And if the weather continues doing what it’s doing, I may just have to “lock” the IEPs in the system so I can be in compliance legally, and then hold the meetings once school is back in session and do a formal revision to anything that needs to be changed once we can have a face-to-face meeting.


Today, on Snow Day #2, I’m feeling much more resigned to the fact that I can’t do anything about the snow days.  My IEP issues will eventually get resolved.  So, I’m trying to just relax and enjoy the extra time off in this winter wonderland (and not think about the extra days of school that will be tacked on in June to make up for these days that we’re sitting around at home.)

Kyle (who’s also home today) just measured and we have 5 inches of snow on our back steps. (I’m not confident that ruler is actually touching the step here.  And – the perspective is a little weird because I took the photo from floor, but it’s close enough to 5 inches. 😉 )


Once again – perspective is a funny thing.  5 inches in some of the other places I’ve lived would seem measly and wimpy for a snowstorm.  5 inches in Seattle is a big deal! It’s a big deal because of the hills and it’s a big deal because of the lack of equipment to handle it’s removal.  Even if we had more plows, they couldn’t get down our “1 lane” streets (with cars parked on both sides) or around the roundabouts that control suburban intersections.  It’s a city that I believe was not built to handle snow.

And so the city shuts down.  And the schools shut down.  I can’t hold my IEPs.

But, as any well-respected citizen would do, I’ve tried to make the most of it.  This morning, I baked muffins, and baking is one of the activities that grounds me no matter what else is going on in the chaos of my life.


Muffins are one of my most favorite breakfast foods, but I’m pretty particular about them.  They need to be big, and ideally hearty, too, because breakfast really is my fuel for the day.  On a regular workday, I have about 5 hours in between breakfast and my scheduled lunchtime.  If I have something like cereal in the morning, I never feel bad about having a double (or close to triple) portion.  And when I have muffins, I’m sure to make the jumbo size so they’re big enough to tide me over until lunch.  (Or at least get me a couple of hours through until I can inhale a snack in between classes.)

Most of my go-to recipes came from a muffin cookbook that my sister has.  (The author is Francesesca DiPaolo in case you’re in need of some breakfast inspiration.)   I almost always have some of her Applesauce Bran Muffins in the freezer.  Right now, I’m eating my way through my second batch of her Cranberry Nut Muffins.  They’re the yummiest reason I look forward to fresh cranberry season.  Her muffins are great because the recipes make 12 jumbo-sized muffins.  That way, I can stick them in the freezer and pull them out individually for breakfast and just re-heat them in the microwave.  (Of course it’s not the same as having freshly baked muffins that are warm from the oven, but it’s certainly convenient.)


This morning, I strayed from Francesca’s trusty recipes because I didn’t have quite enough ripe bananas for her Banana Bran Muffins, so I revisited a recipe that my mom makes from time to time.  I think she originally found it in their local newspaper.  (Or, more than likely, my dad – the recipe finder – discovered it and passed it along to my mom for the production part.  My parents seem to have this system worked out where my dad does most of the recipe finding and menu planning, and then my mom takes over in the kitchen.  I don’t want to give you the wrong idea, though – my dad can certainly hold his own in the kitchen!  But, after 40 years of marriage, they’ve just sort of figured out what works….  J)

The muffins are in the “easy” range of difficulty and most of the ingredients are the type that you should have on hand – especially if you consider yourself to be a baker.  The only thing that held me up when I thought about making these yesterday is that my applesauce was in the freezer, and it just didn’t want to thaw very fast.  I think it turned out better this way, though.  I thawed the applesauce overnight, and then I was able to enjoy warm muffins for breakfast today.  If that’s not a good start to a snow day, I don’t know what is!


(Chocolate Chip) Banana Muffins

Yield: 1 dozen standard size or 6 jumbo size muffins

(Oddly enough…I’ve never actually had them with chocolate chips because my mom always used dates instead.  I’m partial to the dates, but if you can’t resist chocolate, I’m sure they’re equally delicious that way.)

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole wheat flour

(or 1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Pastry flour)

½ cup wheat bran

(or oat bran, which is what my mom hand wrote in, and I have always used)

½ cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 eggs, lightly beaten

¼ cup fat-free milk (although, I’m sure you could use whatever you have on hand)

1 ⅓cups mashed ripe bananas (2 to 3 medium)

⅓ cup unsweetened applesauce

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ cup miniature chocolate chips

(or chopped dates, which is what I’ve always used)

⅓ cup chopped pecans (this is probably optional, although I’d highly recommend including them!)

In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients (through salt).  Combine the eggs and milk; stir in the bananas, applesauce and vanilla.  Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened.  Stir in chocolate chips or chopped dates.

Coat muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or use paper liners; fill three-fourths full with batter.  Sprinkle with pecans.  Bake at 375° for 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.  (If you’re making jumbo muffins, plan on the longer end of the time window.  I needed close to 25 minutes.)  Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack.

Greek Salad for lunch on a Wednesday

I usually bring pretty straight forward lunches to school.  It’s usually something like a yogurt or soup or a PB&J for my entree.  My side dishes usually consist of a vegetable (carrots) and a fruit (apple or grapes or a banana or something simple.)  Occasionally I’ll have crackers or a granola bar or something.  But today I had this:

Picture 074

Amy's Greek Salad

I made a decision to get a substitute and work from home today using one of my IEP days.  IEPs are the Individualized Education Plans we write for students who receive special education services.  It’s not typical to receive an allotment of IEP Days; it’s just something that my district does as a nice benefit to being a special ed. teacher.  They actually give us the option of choosing extra pay as a stipend for the additional work it takes to manage our caseload of students or choosing the release time.   I always take all the release days because there’s no requirement on how we use these days.  We could use them as mental health days if we want to.  We can work at school or work from home if we choose to actually be productive on an IEP day.  And – we don’t need to concentrate our efforts on IEPs; we can work on whatever we want to.  There’s no one checking in on us when we use these days.

So, today I’m using an IEP day to do a little bit of everything.  I’m working from home on IEPs and other random school things.  I’m also taking advantage of working from home by getting some home projects done, too (like laundry).  (I’m also home so Mr. Appliance could be here to come and fix our fridge.  And, the best part of being home today is that I had time to make a little bit more of an exciting lunch, which is definitely good for my mental health. 🙂

Vocational stress

I just told Kyle I’m experiencing vocational stress.  He replied, “You mean you’re stressed out about work?”  While the quick answer to his question is yes, I told him it’s more like “vocational calling” stress.

Depending on the degree that you know me (or my family members), you probably know that I had an incredibly emotionally overwhelming first two years of teaching.  I ended up seeing a counselor each fall to help get through those tough patches.

This year I’ve felt more emotional stability as the school year has started, which has been really helpful.  I haven’t been feeling that hopelessness that I felt the past two years, but I am still quetioning whether it’s the right job for me.  Right now, it seems silly to change jobs, but philosophically, or rather, emotionally, I don’t know if this is the right job for me.  (Or…at least I don’t know if I’m working in the right area of Special Ed.)

The thing that is getting to me most right now is that I constantly feel out of my element.  I feel like people look to me for answers that I really don’t know.  I feel like there are limited aspects of my job that bring me pleasure .  And that is precisely what I wonder about.  How normal is that?  How many of you wake up looking forward to going to work?  How many of you go to sleep at night without a worry about your job?  Is it rare to be a person like me who is overly sensitive to the question of whether my job is a good match for me?

My mom once described me as an intense person.  And she’s absolutely right.  I do everything with intensity, or I don’t do it at all.  That is, I intensely don’t do it.  So, right now I’ve reached a point of having been intensely over-involved in my work thus far (because it feels like I’ve had to be involved to that degree to even stay afloat), and now it’s catching up to me.  Now I’m feeling like, “How in the world is this worth it?”  Why spend 9+ hours of each work day and several other hours emotionally invested in something that isn’t bringing pleasure to me?

Do I continue to just do the job with the mindset that I am completing a challenge?  Or do I continue on my search for a more personally satisfying use of my work time?

Is this typical?  Do any of you struggle with the same type of “vocational calling stress”?