Real Cooking

“Bina, Brown, D’Albini, Fast, Heinrichs, Jennings, Jost-I’m in Mr. Oelke’s class, Mom.”

Alex and Meghan were scanning the class lists posted on the middle school front doors. Even though they had already learned who would be their teachers a few days earlier, they both wanted to see the list that would make their placements official.

And there it was in black and white. Alex would spend his first year in middle school in Phil Oelke’s homeroom while Meg would be a part of Collette Burton’s class. Both had located the names of friends who were assigned to each respective group so, at least for the time being, all was right with the world.

Middle school. How have we gotten here so fast? Somehow, it seems like the space between 3 a.m. feedings and learning the combinations of their first gym lockers has been compressed into a very short time.

It’s funny. Time seemed interminable when we were in the midst of potty training two toddlers. In retrospect, it was just a blip on the radar screen, here and gone.

Now the kids are ready to enter a new stage of their lives. They and their classmates have had the tour of their new school and have met the teachers and other staff members that will guide them through the next three years of their education.

Their principal, Evan Yoder, has made every effort to make the transition from elementary to middle school as simple and as welcoming as possible.

And maybe that’s why my kids seem to be so eager to get back to school. At this writing, the book bags are labeled and loaded and waiting by the front door for their first day back at school. The gym locker combination locks that seemed so daunting at first have been mastered, our bus driver Dale Winter has given us the heads up on what time he’ll be by, and the school cafeteria’s menus have been studied and approved.

Well, except for the peas.

But other than that, we’re ready. Ready for the challenges. Ready for the change.

And we better be because Meg and Alex aren’t the only ones heading back to school this Wednesday. After 22 years, I’m going back to work.

Well, let me clarify that. I’m going back to work at a job “outside the home,” as they are want to say these days. Well, let me clarify that further. I’m going back to a job that I have to show up to on an every day basis.

Why don’t I just explain?

Before I was married, I was a working woman with a real-life 9-to-5 job, but when I came to Hillsboro and the farm, I only worked on a part-time basis. And that was long ago before the kids came along.

But for the past 13 years or so, I have been what I like to call a “hired cook,” someone who would come in to help you out with a church banquet or your daughter’s wedding reception. I’ve never mentioned this work in my column before because I didn’t want to use this forum as a contrivance for self-promotion.

And I really didn’t want any more work than I had already.

The cooking business has been good. I’ve met and worked with some wonderful people over the past years, but my schedule for these cooking dates and the schedules for my kids have become increasingly difficult to blend. Evenings and weekends, when most clients wanted me to work for them, were becoming more precious and something had to give.

So when a position became available working under the supervision of special education teacher Kathy Koop at the Hillsboro Elementary School, I was interested in applying for the job.

Long story short, the Marion County Special Education Coop hired me as a para-educator. I’ll be working with some of the youngest children at the elementary school and I’m looking forward to helping these kids get a good start on their road to learning.

From time to time I might come out of “cooking retirement” to help with one function or another, but right now I’m looking forward to hanging up my apron and putting on something that isn’t stained with tomato sauce or grease and going to work.

If I had any doubts about the new job, I was reassured I had made the right decision when I told my masseuse, Carolan McFarland, of the change in occupation. She let out an audible gasp and said something about how wonderful that would be for my shoulders and back. The heavy lifting and the repetitive motion of cooking in large quantities can really take its toll.

Maybe in time I’ll actually lose the pain I’ve been living with. The pain in my shoulder, I mean-not my husband.

(I need him around to finish the building project that, no, is not completed but will-I’m assured-be done by Christmas.)

So it’s a time for change around the Jost house. My kids will leave the elementary school and I will enter. I’ve met my teacher and the other staff members who will help to guide me through the next year; I’ve had a tour of the building and have learned the passwords that will allow me to enter the classroom computer.

My principal, Pat Call, has made every effort to make the transition from home to elementary school as simple and as welcoming as possible and the cafeteria’s menu has been studied and approved.

They aren’t serving peas at the elementary school this week.

* * *

Even though I’ll be working every day, I’ll still be at home when my kids leave for school in the morning and on most days I’ll be able to beat the bus home in the afternoons. It will be interesting to see what changes this new job will bring for our family, but one thing isn’t going to change. I’ll still be here every week with stories and perspectives that I want to share with you.

So, get the cookies and milk ready, Mommy. We’re going back to school.

Caramel Walnut Brownies

1 (14 oz.) package caramels

2/3 cup evaporated milk, divided

1 package caramel flavored cake mix (Duncan Hines makes one)

3/4 cup butter, melted

2 tsp. vanilla

3/4 tsp. cinnamon

11/2 cups chopped walnuts

Unwrap caramels (duh) and melt together with one-third cup evaporated milk. Combine remaining milk, the cake mix, butter, cinnamon and vanilla. Spread half the dough into greased nine-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Cool for five minutes.

When crust is cooled, pour caramel mixture over brownie layer. Sprinkle with nuts. Divide remaining dough into nine portions patting each into three-inch circles. Place circles over walnuts. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Cool and then cover and chill before cutting. Makes 15 brownies.

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