Sunday, March 4, 2012

Basic Training

GF Glutino Pretzels, Sunrise Cereal, Lundberg's Rice Cakes, KToos Cookies, Ian's Wafer Bites, Annie's Organic Fruit Snacks, Love Grown Granola, Cheetos,  EnviroKids Krispy Rice Bars, and Lara Bars (an aquired taste).
     After serving as a teacher/new teacher mentor/summer school admin for at-risk youth for 13 years,  I lost my passion.  The factors included:  unsafe school campus (we had a closed campus, but my principal would not enforce it- even after teachers were robbed at gunpoint in the teacher's lounge of another school nearby), not having a cost-of-living increase for 5 years, health benefits getting pulled, furlough days, morale way down at work (especially every March when pink slips came out- that lasted well into June when coworkers' fates were finally determined), my principal's obsession with teaching to the test (illegally emailing us what content was on the test ahead of time was the straw that broke the camel's back for me), having the lunch ladies illegally babysit kids while we tutored other kids during instructional time, and parents who were more concerned about their child's school pictures than helping them memorize their multiplication tables, refusing to get their child eye exams &glasses (even when free or income-based fee), and habitually pulling kids out of school for multi-week vacations and on Friday afternoons to avoid traffic, my classroom and personal car getting graffiti and damaged, etc.
     It just started to feel like I was someone with a Master's Degree that was being used as a basic skills tutor,  doing more and making less, spending my own money on work stuff or my own time trying to fund basic needs like scissors through, paying CA's sky high taxes while the parents of my students worked "under the table", begging parents to help their own children get enough sleep or free eyeglasses, helping kids grow 2 or 3 years in their reading level, but it didn't matter because they still didn't test at grade level, with all the respect of a babysitter.  I was starting to regret refusing a job offer at age 22 to be a shoe buyer for a major retail chain starting at $80,000.  It was safe to say I was ready for a change.
     I shocked everyone who knows me and took a leave of absence, rented out my house, left my car in California, and spent ten months in Virginia/D.C. area with my new boyfriend while he was in a full-time Master's Degree program (paid for by the military, when I had to pay for mine and work full time while doing it).  He went to school half a day and didn't work, so I didn't work.   I rode my bicycle or the metro, volunteered at The Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (Master's degree required, you have more respect than teachers get- and you get to attend lectures and learn!- we hadn't been allowed to go to conferences or workshops in years at my job!), tutored kids at a local school, honed my cooking and crafting skills, attended gluten free groups and a dinner club, visited tons of museums, adopted cats, began a novel, moved my blog, and nurtured my relationship.  And I realized I didn't miss teaching!
     So, I started reading motivational books about changing careers while my boyfriend got his new orders- to be Commanding Officer of Recruiting Station Atlanta, a feather in his cap, but he wasn't going to Afghanistan like he wanted, and we weren't moving back to California, like we expected.
     Once settled in Atlanta, I decided to use my other degree in Sociology and thought I might become a probation officer.  I passed the Criminal Justice test, and ended up taking a job as a Parole Officer instead.  I would be using many of the skills I'd developed as a teacher- assessing and coordinating resources to meet the needs of the individual and working with a disadvantage population- but the law enforcement side (doing arrests on a daily basis, working with convicted murderers face-to-face, serving warrants at houses, carrying weapons, etc.) was going to be a new and challenging experience.
     Starting a new job, celiac has come up many times.  My first day, they threw a welcome party with donuts and my boss announced he was taking me out to lunch between jail visits, when I luckily steered us toward Chic-Fil-A and luckily didn't get cc.  The standard birthday cakes, holiday treat tables, coworkers' prodding "try this" while holding a spoon to my face, etc.  have all occurred.  And my extra challenge:  eight weeks of  cafeteria food during basic training.  Pictured above are the foods I purchased to take with me from Whole Foods and Kroger.  (Parolees clean the dorms, so everything must be kept under lock and key, and no fridges.)
     My Meal Plans:  
Breakfasts:  Sunrise Cereal or EnviroKids Krispy Rice Bar with fruit from cafeteria 
Lunches:  Lara Bar with fruit/veg from cafeteria
Dinners:  Careful considerations of rice or beef, and veg from cafeteria, supplemented by my rice cakes, pretzels, and gf bread w/peanut butter packets I bring. 
Snacks and desserts:  gluten free cookies, wafers, fruit snacks, chips, apple dipped in p.b. and granola 

     So far, I like most parts of the job.  I enjoy helping my parolees.  Once we build a rapport, they somewhat enjoy my phone calls/visits and we laugh.  They seem surprised and enjoy that I treat them like a person more than a convict.  They made a mistake and paid a debt to society, but shouldn't let their life be defined by that mistake.  It's almost all tied to drug and alcohol abuse, which is the major need area to address.
     I hate doing urine screens.  I hate working in a stark office, with bathroom stalls falling apart, with parolees cleaning it instead of professional cleaners.  (I've always wanted to work in a nice, clean office with lovely reception areas, but I hate being tethered to a desk and I'd NEVER work in a cubicle!)  I love how a day can be going along, somewhat peaceful or boring, just calls and computers, and suddenly I find out I have an absconder that got caught and I need to interview her/him in jail, or a K-9 comes to check a car, or we arrest people in our office for violations of parole, or someone runs away in hand cuffs.  Like teaching, every day is different.
     I am sad when my parolees test positive for drugs, and happier than you would imagine when they find jobs!  And, I enjoy shooting (targets, not so sure about anything else), learning, and visiting the jails and prisons.  I grew up in a bad neighborhood, below the poverty line, to a teen mom, and I beat the odds and got a scholarship, a ticket out.  I grew up with neighbors and relatives who had run-ins with the law, have always read and studied about it.  My grandfather, my inspiration, ran a community center, wore holey shoes, and brought strangers home to our Thanksgivings.  I hope I can touch lives the way he did, and that I succeed at this new adventure.  Wish me luck! 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Gluten free flourless choc dome at PF Chang's- a staple for dining out all over the US

I've had this dessert in New Orleans, California, Georgia, and Hawaii, to name a few states.  I love it, and it never fails to have a fudgy texture, but more rich and less sugary than fudge.  This dessert makes "regular" diners beg you to share!

P.F.Chang's gluten free shrimp w lobster sauce

PF Chang's gluten free shrimp with lobster sauce was not what I expected.  The sauce was like a clear-ish gravy with lots of scrambled egg (mine had an eggshell, oops!) that made horror flick liquid strings when you ate it.  I won't order this again.  I'll stick to the Singapore Noodles, Fried Rice, Spicy Beef, etc.

Gluten Free Favorites