Gone Away for Now

With the need to focus on the academic close of what’s been a year no one will ever forget in addition to a few specific projects demanding all of my attention, I will be stepping away from the blog for the foreseeable future.

Drawing courtesy of Noah Vicencio, one of my truly best students

A million thanks and a million more for all of your support, even the spam.

Be safe, look out for each other, and never give up your fight.

Bye for now, not forever,

Andrew

Taking the Time To Remember

I recall this shot, which is the beginning of our trek. Photo courtesy of Jim Rapp

If this self-isolation has granted us as humans anything, it’s time. Time to remember, time to reflect, time to reconnect – time, the one universal commodity that nobody ever seemed to have enough of.

Until now.

Now, we have more time than we know what to do with, and with so many fewer activities to actually do.

Gone are the days of commuting.

Gone are the days of brunch at your favorite local spot.

Gone are the days of social obligations (and being able to make up excuses to get out of them).

Yet, all of that has been replaced, time giving way to time, just now consumed in different ways.

Longer phone conversations or FaceTimes.

Longer scheduled Zoom calls with friends and family you’ve never talked to so much.

More and more emails and chats with people you haven’t thought about in years, yet people who at one point in your life were important for whatever reason.

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Quarantine Weeks 7 & 8 Consumption Recap

The Quarantine Weeks 7 & 8 Consumption Recap continues my push to stay sane chronicling our food and entertainment consumption habits as we embark on Week 9 of self-isolation.

What’s really been a game-changer has been the air fryer. How have we lived without it? It’s worth it just for the homemade french fries alone!

Here’s a look back at some of the highlights:

Saturday, May 2 Breakfast – Bacon, egg, and cheese on a hard roll & ham, egg, and cheese – eggs over medium, pepper and ketchup, just like at plaza deli, though not as good without that filthy griddle.

Monday, May 4 Lunch – Chicken salad with cranberries – Kirkland canned chicken for the win, with chopped onion and celery, some frozen cranberries, basic seasoning, and a little bit of mayo (you just need get over that it’s chicken in a can and if you eat tuna fish, you’re not above this)

Sunday, May 10 Lunch – Homemade falafel and chicken pita – hit the chicken with heavy garlic, parsley and cumin, which was all I had to work with from a spice standpoint – coriander and sage would’ve been helpful. As for the falafel, they came out like little dry cakes since I tried to roll them in bread crumbs without first rolling them through an egg first – straight foolish, I know better.

Sunday, May 10 Dinner – Air-fried chicken wings – olive oil, rosemary, and garlic and that’s it!

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Teaching Humbled

I’ve certainly been humbled by this pandemic and gained a new respect for anyone who works from home on the regular, engages in video conferences for multiple hours, has to jump from one task to the next, and generally has a hectic schedule every day of their lives. Much respect!

Teaching from the other side of a computer screen neither offers the same fulfillment or the same type of progress you see teaching in the classroom – far from it. Yet, it’s given me some useful insights into myself:

I’ve noticed that my eye is SUPER lazy, so even more power to my wife than I gave her previously!

My widow’s peak is also getting deeper and deeper as my hair gets grayer.

My voice and delays and word fumbles, simply put -woof!

And, I already knew this, but it’s further confirmed that I talk far too much.

So many teachers have had to reinvent themselves to connect with their students, learning new educational platforms and applications and making videos like the one above that only a fraction of your students actually can access and teaching LIVE lessons to so many blank screens.

That’s the job, though, right? Figuratively, there are blank screens when we’re in the classroom. You just have to keep trying and trying and trying and every one in a while, another screen turns on.

One stupid, humbling YouTube video at a time.

That New New Normal

Nearly eight weeks since I’ve seen my students in the classroom.

Nearly eight weeks since I’ve had a social interaction with someone.

Nearly eight weeks and who knows when we will be able to sit down and have dinner with people we love who don’t live with us.

Or grab a cocktail anywhere but in front of a computer screen.

Or give someone a hug and a kiss (other than my wife, of course).

Or take a subway.

Or go to a movie.

Or not have wipe down our groceries.

Or do anything and feel safe again.

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Quarantine Week 5 & 6 Consumption Recap

Quarantine Week 5 & 6 Consumption Recap combines two weeks for two reasons: 1. There really were no particular highlights for any consumption – besides maybe red wine – but seriously we didn’t make anything of note and we certainly didn’t watch anything; and 2. I simply did not have the motivation last week. I swear I felt like I was walking around backwards though we started a puzzle, which is something.

Anyway, I remain committed to chronicling what we’re doing. At the very least, it has given my wife some appreciation for the cooking I do each day (in addition to the planning and food shopping).

Meals of the Weeks:

Monday, April 12 Dinner: Lemon Chicken – butter, parsley, white wine, garlic, lemon juice, pepper, chicken stock with a little corn starch to thicken the sauce; side of homemade macaroni and cheese with mixed green salad.

Friday, April 16 Lunch: Pork wrap – Hot sliced pork chop in Tony Chachere’s original creole seasoning, sliced onions, cheddar cheese.

Monday, April 20 Dinner: Sautéed shrimp over black bean pasta – lemon zest, fresh tomato, butter, white wine; romaine, tomato, bean and corn salad.

Tuesday, April 21 Lunch: “The Dirty” – Breaded chicken cutlet (air-fried, what a revelation), roasted red peppers, lettuce, cheddar, mayo on a toasted hero.

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Feeding Our Kids

So, as I wrote in last week’s “I’m Going Hungry,” I had a brief moment where I couldn’t get groceries. Freaked out, I struggled to focus on anything but securing food. And that got me thinking about our school children who go hungry each day.

I know, tough life. The guy who has always had some money in his pocket and has never had to worry about where his next meal was coming from or how he would pay for it couldn’t order his Whole Foods delivery because there were not any available delivery times due to increased COVID-19 demand.

I acknowledge my privilege – I have plenty of it – but that’s not the point. Instead, the real issues are what are we doing to provide our children with food in school and are we doing it in the most effective ways possible?

Full disclosure: I think school breakfast and school lunch programs that guarantee every student a meal even if they do not take it and it goes in the garbage are inherently wasteful. Still, I understand why programs like New York City’s 2018 Free School Lunch for All program are crucial. No child should experience hunger, especially not 20% of them.

Systems like this are not perfect. Namely, the amount of food that is wasted is staggering: across the country, schools are wasting roughly $5 million total per day, which is $1.2 billion – BILLION – dollars per year.

Going beyond schools, the problem is a national one. According to a December 2019 Education Dive article that cited the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, “About 40% of food made in the U.S. is wasted, resulting in a loss of $160 billion per year.”

That’s the kind of waste where you just shake your head and feel hopeless. How does throwing away food benefit anyone – the hungry or the taxpayers? How can we help so many, yet waste so much? And that’s just from a food-availability standpoint. I’m not even going to get into the environmental impact of all this.

No, I will accentuate some positives. And, like any change, it starts with education.

In Oakland, Nancy Deming is making an impact. Deming is the Oakland school district’s sustainability manager for custodial and nutritional services, Deming is proactively trying to reduce waste through a variety of measures:

  • Designated share areas for unwanted food that students can leave for others to consume.
  • Teaching students how to use it properly and remaining consistent with the practice.
  • Allowing students to take unfinished fruit and vegetable packets back with them to class.
  • Posting reminders about milk cartons to only take if you want it.
  • Pushing for staff to clean up items to prepare them for donation or redistribution.
  • Donating excess food to local pantries and homeless shelters.
  • Teaching into being less wasteful as well as how to dispose of our waste properly.

These all seem like simple steps. Yet, for a number of reasons, they do not gain traction in many school districts for a number of reasons. Namely, poor food quality, USDA guidelines that force students to take certain types of food they might not like, and the extra work on both the teaching and operational side to ensure waste is reduced.

Thankfully, at the school where I teach, we do rotate a share bin around the cafeteria during breakfast and lunch. Students do regularly take food from this bin. We do teach to and enforce (somewhat) proper composting and recycling practices. And we do donate excess food to our local food pantry.

New York State is trying to do its part by requiring large food vendors – sports venues, supermarkets, hotels and colleges – to donate their leftover edible food in 2022. Furthermore, “the remaining scraps will need to be prepared as animal feed or compost if a recycling facility is within 25 miles.”

Unfortunately, most “food generators” are exempt from this provision as they are over 25 miles away from a recycling facility. Still, some expect that “the language in the recently adopted state budget will inspire businesses to open organic recycling facilities in the next two-and-a-half years.”

It’s a start. We’ll see if the follow through actually happens or if it turns into the NYC plastic bag. That has more exceptions than it does rules. As I always tell the kids, when there are exceptions, there really are no rules.

There exists a silver lining to indefinite lockdown: the perspective you gain on so many facets of life you took for granted, like food availability. Gone are the days of wandering around the supermarket, picking through items you might not even need. So too are the days of being able to get everything you need, never once considering shortages or price-gouging.

It took me not being able to get bread, milk, cheese, Starbucks iced coffee, and veggies from an online grocer to realize. This is a real struggle too many experience each day, not just during a pandemic.

My hope is we learn to live with less – still working on that – and we maximize what we have. That we start to teach our kids why reducing our waste is important – not just to reduce hunger, but also to help our environment. My hope is that this experience humbles us to donate more of our food and our time to help those experiencing hunger.

Still, I can’t help to dispel a troubling thought. Whenever this pandemic passes, people will return to their daily lives and forget what it felt like not to be able to get whatever you want at the grocery store. They will forget even what it felt like to be a little hungrier or a little less satisfied than normal.

Don’t.

To learn more about City Harvest.

To learn more about New York Cares.

Quarantine Week 4 Consumption Recap

Each week, I intend to post what we’re consuming – food and media – for a couple reasons:

  1. To chronicle our actions
  2. To provide ideas for others
  3. To take our attention from the news
  4. To stay sane (see #3)

Meals of the Week:

Monday, April 5 Dinner: Pork tenderloin rubbed down in ras hanout seasoning, root vegetable and chickpea side, and roast corn on the cob.

Wednesday, April 7 Lunch: The Romano – roasted red peppers, chicken seasoned in rosemary, oregano, garlic, and salt; red leaf lettuce, muenster cheese, balsamic.

Thursday, April 8 Dinner: Pesto chicken, black bean pasta, kale/romaine caesar salad – Kirkland pesto sauce (broken up into six servings and frozen in sandwich bags); use one of those packets, over three thick and pounded out chicken breasts, cook for 15 minutes while a quarter pound of black bean pasta boils. Drain and throw it right in there with the chicken, mix around, bake for a few minutes and you’re all done.

Friday, April 9 Breakfast: Avocado toast – secret ingredient: everything seasoning on a toasted hard roll half.

Friday, April 9 Dinner: Shrimp (marinated in soy sauce) over whole grain rice, frozen Asian medley vegetables (microwavable), and chicken/kale dumplings (not made from scratch).

Saturday, April 10 Lunch: The Emilie – chicken caesar salad wraps – caesar substitute: Ken’s Parmesan Peppercorn dressing.

Sunday, April 11 Dinner: Easter Sunday Feast (although it ain’t the same if you’re not with your loved ones) – Lobster ravioli, grilled ribeye, mixed lettuce salad, and garlic bread.

Regular TV Watching:

Schitt’s Creek – Although I did take a shot at this season being boring and putting me to sleep, the last five or so episodes were as funny as they were heartwarming. Farewell to an important show for so many. LLL – Long Live the Levies!

Modern Family – Amanda and I have cried a lot this season. We will cry again as we prepare ourselves to watch the final episode that we DVRed and have been putting off watching since Wednesday.

Jeopardy – I usually can’t stand it because I HATE feeling stupid and Jeopardy makes me feel stupid, but Amanda is a HUGE fan. We’re both on hot streaks, though I’m still kicking myself for missing a final Jeopardy question the other night.

Blacklist – Quarantine ensures we continue to watch, which is saying something about the quality of the show.

Chicago PD – See Blacklist above.

What’s up for this week?

I’m going to read something, I swear. Doing the robotic routine is rotting my brain. We’re going to watch one of Uncut Gems, Rocketman, 1917 and Ozark.

Keeping It Together

We’re keeping it together. I think.

This week was LONG. And I say that while acknowledging I only worked three days. It’s strange.

The workday flies, who know where the time goes. Then, you’re in bed feeling like you just woke up. And then you’re doing it all over again. What’s draining is how robotic the process is; I’ve certainly gained new respect for all who work from home and conduct their business digitally on a regular basis.

How effective this work from home format is, I can’t say, though I want to believe that my students who are participating in online learning are, in fact, learning. I mean, I kind of have to believe that if I want a reason to get out of bed each morning. This week, our fourth in self-isolation, we tried our best to be productive, but I think we each had to adjust our expectations of what exactly productivity is in the time of Corona. I try not to indulge the fleeting suspicion that we’re just doing work to fill the time. Our work does have a purpose even if we do not know when we will return to work or what our jobs will look like post-COVID.

I experienced for the first time this week the urge not to get out of bed. I just didn’t want to. And that’s so foreign for me since I’m usually like a little kid on Christmas each morning, restless the minute I open my eyes, shooting out of bed to get my day started. Amanda probably thinks I’m more like a dog greeting her when she gets up with overwhelming (and probably overbearing) enthusiasm, yapping about what we’re having for breakfast and what I’m going to do all day when she probably just wants to wake up. I did eventually get out of bed, so go me!

I still have not gotten into reading, which is disappointing. I guess there’s a reason why the Cormac McCarthy trilogy has been hiding on my shelf for so long. I’m hoping the arrival of Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility and Kelly Rimmer’s The Things We Cannot Say will kickstart my reading. I just have not had the mental energy to read each night after reading off a computer screen from morning to night.

I’m realizing just how critical movement is for my mind, both inside and outside of the house. I’ve begun to break the day up by grabbing a snack or a seltzer or doing a task like getting the mail or cleaning the dishes during the work day. Amanda and I are maintaining an hour of recreational time nearly every day, where we walk through some local parks and along the East River and get some sun and fresh air.

Sure, this time block makes us feel like we’re in prison and having to wear a protective mask is disconcerting. Yet, it’s probably one of the few freedoms we still have in this time of lockdowns, self-isolation, and closings that still reminds us we’re humans. Something to look forward to, something to break up the monotony of sitting at the same desk each day looking at the same screen essentially doing the same thing (even if you switch up your work space like we did this week).

As I’ve become more comfortable with my new routine, I’ve started writing blogs again and working on new nonfiction material about the characters I’ve met in my career. I’m also editing Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up again because I can’t quit on a decade-long project.

And we have been cooking, my God have we been cooking. Amanda even made breakfast one day! I’ll take that as a win. See our Quarantine Week 4 Consumption Recap for the latest on what we’re eating, watching, and reading (eventually).

Overall, we just need to find little wins wherever we can as we settle into our boring routines of work, eat, exercise, entertainment, sleep, rinse and repeat. Whether that be the movie you’ve wanted to see or that series you haven’t had the time to watch or the closet you’ve put off cleaning or the restaurant you’ve been waiting to order from or even the book waiting for you on your shelf, just accentuate the positives.

Because what’s the alternative? Watching the news, feeling completely powerless, and going crazy? It’s not like any one of us can do anything about what’s going on in the world. Be thankful for your health if you have it and for all those who are working to ensure we survive this.

Know that everyone is bored with you. And remember that this is temporary even if it doesn’t seem like it now.