Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Going through my mother's boxes I located a folder of my college papers. Looking through the pages I was struck by the fact that they were all hand typed sometimes more than once as I edited. I thought about all the work I put into those papers, not just the typing but the thought process and the creativity. One of the papers was a typed final essay with 7 different questions about Thomas Hardy's Far From the Maddening Crowd. I was struck by how easy having a computer makes all that writing a little bit different. A little easier to edit. And I thought...kids have it so easy these days.

And then I really thought about that statement and I quickly amended it in my head. We've created chaos for our children.  Gaming and social media, screen time and streaming or binging series after series. We've let them grow up too fast. Kids have far less time for just being kids; playing outside until dark kind of time. Activities keep them busy like soccer and basketball but competition is different than just play. I'm not going to get all the way on top of this soap box but I worry about our youngest demographic. 

Picking up my phone today I had an email concerning a new Iowa Senate bill being presented that would restrict schools from teaching social emotional learning. People in favor of the bill believe the ridiculous notion that we are trying to indoctrinate students into a specific LGBTQ lifestyle or critical race theory because we as educators want to help them manage their emotions.  And don't get me started on House File 8-removing any instruction about gender identity or all that Ron DeSantis is attempting in Florida. It's beyond heartbreaking as a teacher. Because we want kids to be themselves. Promoting empathy and kindness or teaching real history as a teacher should not make us criminals. 

I know the world is different than the 1970's and 80's when I did most of my growing up yet common human decency should still be prevalent. I fear in today's Republicans a return to a world long ago, one where anything different was the enemy. I read a picture book to young students in the library about a young girl wearing a Hijab as she begins 6th grade-it doesn't mean that I'm promoting the Muslim religion. So much to navigate in these waters. Our public schools are doing a great job everyday, taking care of all the students that we have and SEL has been a great help for all of us. With all that kids have to manage today helping them to understand themselves more shouldn't be threatening.


Monday, January 23, 2023

Demon Copperhead

"First, I got myself born. A decent crowd was on hand to watch, and they've always given me that much: the worst of the job was up to me, my mother being let's just say out of it." 

Barbara Kingsolver's opening line is a great introduction to Demon, our young hero, who will become part of the reader's heart and soul. It's a magnificent tale of heartache, addiction, family, and poverty set in the Appalachia Mountains. From the very beginning Demon is burdened with tough choices. His mother is young and grieving over Demon's dead father.  He and is mother occupy a doublewide trailer near another family, the Peggot's who are raising their grandson because his mother is in jail. He loses important parts of his family and gains others. He shows us the hardship of foster care. This is your cast of characters: people down on their luck trying to do their best but often failing in an area of our country that has been torn apart.  I loved the book so much I could start the first page again and as I finished the last paragraph I shed some tears. 

I'm glad I finished the book when I did because I was able to devote a good amount of time to it even reading a few pages before school and during lunch. I'm feeling overwhelmed with a too long to-do list and the knowledge that I'm on too many committees.  I'm on rotation this year for observation and need to complete my professional portfolio by March 1st. I have a book fair coming my way in March. I have a district-wide tech conference and planning for our school's literacy night both in February.  Beyond that I'm on our district's equity committee,  and our teacher's association, as well as daily lesson planning.  I spent most of my Sunday planning for Black History Month and a connected research project for 3rd-6th graders.  Whew. I need a night off.  

On the relaxing side I have kept up almost daily with Adriene's January yoga challenge and that keeps me together most days.  I'm headed there now to connect and wind down for the night. 

Be well.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Best of Elementary Fiction 2022


As a reader for the Iowa Children's Choice Award committee I am pushed to read quite a few interesting elementary chapter books. This year 9 took me by surprise and worth passing on to you.

1. Alone by Megan E. Freeman (2021) : This is a fabulous dystopian novel in verse about young Maddie who finds herself completely alone after a secret sleepover. She learns to survive on her own with only George, her neighbor's Rottweiler, as her only companion.

2. The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake (2019) : This was the perfect year for me to read this sweet novel about Sunny and how her heart transplant pushes her to figure out much about her life. 

3. Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman (2021) : Kabir has been in jail his whole life with his mother who was convicted of a crime she didn't commit. A new ruling pushes Kabir into an unknown world for him and he needs to learn to survive the streets of India on his own. 

4. Violets are Blue by Barbara Dee (2021) : Wren is dealing with divorced parents, a new stepmother, and trying to fit into a new school. She finds her niche helping out with makeup for a theatre production as her mother struggles with this new life without her husband. 

5. Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing (2021) : Maya is nervous about moving up to 5th grade and how her school life will go with her two best friends in a different class.  When she discovers a forgotten robot her life takes off in a new direction. 

6. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (2021) : Reha is tied between two worlds-school where she navigates being the only Indian American student and home where her parents have certain expectations for her.  She doesn't feel connected to her amma until Reha discovers that her mother is sick. 

7. Where We Used to Roam by Jenn Bishop (2021) : At the beginning of Emma's 6th grade year, just as she's making cool artsy friends, her brother is injured in a football game which sends their family on a whirlwind year. 

8. The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloane (2021) : I love Sloane's writing and this one was no exception. Sila's mother travels to Turkey to fix an immigration issue  and has been gone for a long time. Sila and her father have to learn to live on their own and the two discover quite a bit about each other with a few new friends. 

9. 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr (2021) : Rigel loves her life off the grid in the Alaskan wilderness until her parents get divorced and she has to move to Connecticut with her mother and siblings. Life is very different in her new surroundings as she learns to deal with city life, other people, and her father's betrayal. 

While the list is numbered it isn't in any particular order because each of these chapter books stand on their own with different stories to tell. I think fiction books help young people learn something new and unique about other people and cultures. Give any of these books a try and let me know what you think. 

Sunday, January 1, 2023

My 2022 Adult Favorites


So many good books this year. I'm sure I say that every year but last year I only picked 6 favorites and this year I have 12. I also read more this year than last which is good thing. Enjoy my brief descriptions and let me know if you enjoyed any of these as well.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (2022) : I liked The Storied Life of AJ Fikry which prompted me to read more of her writing. This one is by far my favorite book of the year. Snappy characters combined with a very interesting story line about gaming and gamers but really it's about life, love, and deep friendship. 

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles (2021): I enjoyed A Gentleman in Moscow and heard all the hype about this and it followed through. Emmett Watson's story will stick with you. Told from multiple points of view the tale takes shape just over 10 days. Fascinating.

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (2021) : This book really took me by surprise. I read it for book club and coming from the small publishing house of Milkweed Editions I was happily immersed in the story of Rosalie Iron Wing in the past and the present. I turned around and bought several copies straight from Milkweed to give as gifts. 

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich (2021) : I'm a huge fan of everything Erdrich writes and this one told the story of the pandemic and George Floyd's murder through the main character Tookie's eyes. As an ex-convict for a bizarre crime she is out and enjoying somewhat of a good life when the world seems to turn upside down. Intense.

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2022) : I was lucky enough to receive a copy of this through NetGalley and I read it fast on my iPad, which is unusual for me as I'm more of a book in hand person. I'm not even a tennis fan but Carrie is an electric character and her life struggles as a champion tennis player were intriguing. Through all the ups and downs she is a survivor and you root for her to find happiness. I like TJR's writing skills and Daisy Jones and the Six is still one of my all-time favorite stories. 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler (1993) : This author has been swirling around my radar for awhile and I just hadn't taken the time to read her many books. The story was hard to read because there is suffering but hope is ever present because Lauren Olamina is a survivor, always looking ahead to how she feels and the next path to take. Reading this book starts me on a journey to finish Lauren's story and to read Kindred. 

Nightcrawling by Leila Motley (2022) : Another tough story with an amazing young hero in Kiara as she fights for some kind of life in Oakland, CA. She is constantly chasing a way to make money to take care of her brother and her young neighbor and to stay in the apartment. She battles landlords and sleazy cops and yet things never really get better.  A beautifully written debut novel.

A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham (2022) : I heard about this on The Readheads podcast and it sounded like a perfect crime novel for me; not too scary but lots of twists and turns. I tend to be very picky about this genre and don't like it when pieces are left hanging. This was intense without scaring me and had plenty of interesting connections.

Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy (2021) : Wow! This was another book club choice that amazed me with it's rich story of Inti Flynn and her sister. Inti arrives in Scotland to help a team reintroduce wolves into the area and she has a tough time fitting in with the town characters and she finds herself mixed up in a few local problems. She is a character that will stick with me plus I loved the wolf angle. Her website lists a new book, Migrations, that looks just as appealing. 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) : Second book by Zevin on my list! I read this one because I'd heard she had a new one coming out-Tomorrow and Tomorrow...- and I wanted to read something else by her first. This one, told from 5 female perspectives, is one of feminism, forgiveness, and family. Aviva's story is about making amends and the transformative power of new beginnings. Embeth Levin, the congressman's wife, tells her story of constant betrayal with such honesty that I ended up loving her even as she snaps at those around her. Everyone is carrying a heavy weight in this tale. 

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (2020) : I've read O'Farrell's This Must Be The Place which was also very interesting. Hamnet was unique in that she takes the story of William Shakespeare's family life with Agnes and his three children and shows how the story of Hamlet is born from the depths of grief. Just so interesting!

The Last Guest House by Megan Miranda (2019): This was another murder mystery about a small vacation town in Maine. I read it in 4 days because the characters of Sadie Loman, a wealthy summer resident and local Avery Greer are captivating when they connect and become friends. We quickly see the tragedy and learn more about each character and their families. This one, while compelling, did have one or two holes in the story but the overall feeling kept me turning pages. I have All The Missing Girls on my TBR pile. 

If you stuck with me to the end thank you! I've noticed that 10/12 books feature strong female characters.  My favorite conversation is always to find out what others are reading and which books you absolutely loved. Give me some suggestions. May 2023 be another great year of connecting, reading, and writing. 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas morning

The stockings are all hung and filled. We have an abundance of presents under and around our tree. Creatures are stirring somewhere in the house. The sunrise this morning was beautiful with shades of orange, pink, and lavender. It's a new day, a Christmas morning. I'm thankful I no longer have to pull off the ruse of Santa for the children who are now full grown adults. 

We had a lovely Christmas Eve together. In the afternoon Kaylee, Sam, Greg and I made the trek to Waverly to see my mom and play a round of Spite and Malice with her. When we returned I got cooking. I did a lot of early preparations so I didn't have to spend long hours in the kitchen. I've also gained a sous chef in Kaylee's boyfriend Sam. I put him in charge of the Roasted Squash Salad, same salad we had at Thanksgiving and it was just as good the second time around. For dinner I made Thyme and White Bean Pot Pies. Earlier in the day I created the filling and then the dough so all I had to do was assemble them and slide them into the oven. I added small florets of cauliflower and spinach to this recipe because I could imagine the flavor mixing well. I owe our dinner spread to  Dana @Minimalist Baker. 

Does everybody have a routine for their holidays? We do thanks to the Holt side of the family. We open up stockings with everyone taking a turn. It's a calm way to start the day and after we eat breakfast. I am making a vegan scramble with sweet and gold potatoes, spinach, and vegan sausage with grits on the side. Then we get into the fun of opening up the presents under the tree. Again we take turns. Japhy used to wear the Santa hat to pass gifts around to each person. 

For dinner I've made two soups I've made before and all I have to do is reheat them. I will make bread to serve with the soups. Creamy Vegan Wild Rice Soup and Corn Chowder from Natasha's Kitchen.  I made the corn chowder vegan by omitting the whole bacon step and using a combination of creamy oat milk and coconut milk. I usually don't do the bacon step but the milk switch is new. I'm pretty confident it will taste similar.

My people are all still sleeping and I'm enjoying these last few minutes of quiet time. Our family is growing with the addition of Sam and Courtney, Tristan's girlfriend and I'm enjoying getting to know both of them as we play games (a hilarious round of Scattegories last night), cook together, and chat. today we will play a round of Spite and Malice, work on the music puzzle that is spread out on the dining room table. 

I hope you have a peaceful day whatever your plans.  Take care of yourself. Happy holidays from us to you.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Quick Best Books List

 If you are looking for last minute book ideas for this holiday season I have a couple of suggestions for you!

Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards
(2016) - while not a new release this book is all about the spirit of giving. Mrs. Goldman knits for all her friends and family and little Sophia loves to make the pom-poms to top off the hats Mrs. Goldman creates. When Mrs. Goldman gives her own hat away Sophie takes it upon herself to knit a hat for her. I've read it to many classes in the last week to remind students that a simple act of kindness is gift - worthy. Directions to knit your own hat are at the end of the book.

Other children's books:

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury (2020) - Quick little zen lessons from Big Panda and Tiny Dragon arise from their simple conversations. Beautifully drawn illustrations.  Reminds me of Charlie Mackesy's book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and the Horse. 

Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing (2021) - Great chapter book for 3rd-5th grade filled with a long-lost robot, Maya, and an interesting cast of school characters getting ready for this year's science fair. I hope Ewing has more adventures planned for Maya! 

Alone by Megan E. Freeman (2021) - Dystopian chapter book story of a young girl left behind in her small town after a state of emergency is called and her entire community is relocated including her family. She has to learn to survive on her own with her neighbor's dog as her only companion. Written in verse with a strong female character. 

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs (2019) - This is a fast-paced mystery that features a smart young person who is forced to use their code-breaking skills to outsmart Einstein. This book is a favorite at school right now with all upper elementary students. There are two more in the series with a fourth one in the works. 

Adult Choices:

We were Dreamers by Simu Liu (2022) - Simu played the son in Kim's Convenience and went on to star as superhero Shang-Chi. His story as a Chinese immigrant brought to Canada by his parents is fraught with problems and trauma but also uplifting and filled with a lot of truth. I read this in one weekend. 

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (2021) - I read this for book club and simply adored it. The story shares the struggle of a Dakota family attempt to preserve the old traditions. Rosalie is the last remaining relative in her family and raised by a foster family after her father dies. She learns later that she has living relatives and as she seeks them out she learns what she needs to about herself and her family. Beautiful written. 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) - Years ago I read and loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by this same author and I wanted to read more of her books. This one has a lot to do with how women are treated by society, in social media, and the press. Jane Young is just trying to get beyond her past and a mistake she made years ago when the details slowly come out. Told through 5 different women each story connected and sharing with us the struggles we all face. I am currently reading her latest Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022) and two chapters in I know she's written another favorite of mine.

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2022) - Competitive and uncompromising Carrie is a force to be reckoned with as she comes back to professional tennis after a short retirement. I love every book I've read of Taylor Jenkins Reid's book with Daisy Jones and the Six another top choice.

Whether you buy this as gifts or get them from the library for yourself enjoy each of these titles as the weather here gets chilly and perfect for reading. Be merry and kind...

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Beautiful Books

I've struggled with getting back into writing over the last few months. I'm tired after school, I don't feel like I have much to say, or I can't think of what I wanted to say...

There is such a thing as surgery brain and I feel like I still have it. I've been reading some very good books and cooking a lot especially for tomorrow's family day. We are having a full vegan spread with Tristan and Japhy. I'm in the middle of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz which is so interesting.

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2022)  : This was an intense story of competition and family connections. Carrie is a not some cute little tennis player that you adore. She's fierce and not interested in making friends on the tennis circuit or in life for that matter. I read this book awhile ago but Carrie has stayed with me. I loved Daisy Jones and the Six which had a different style but just as interesting. Reid goes all in for her characters.

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell (2016): I just finished this for book club and enjoyed the story. O'Farrell wrote Hamnet which I loved and so we picked another one of her offerings. This story has a crazy amount of characters but the story of Daniel is well-told and traverses continents.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (1993): I've wanted to read this for quite awhile but I'd read a few reviews of how real this one was so I waited until I was in the right space. Election time seemed to be the perfect time! It freaked me out and I was fascinated with the main character Lauren and how right Butler was about the direction our American society has gone. I want to read the rest of the series when I have time.

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley (2022): This was beautifully written but so glaringly real and heartbreaking. It's a tough story about Kiara and her brother Marcus who are trying to live their lives in East Oakland after their father's death and their mother's arrest after a terrible grief-driven crime. This story was hard to read but well-worth it as it shined a light on how deep the lack of privilege is for young women.

If you are in need of a good story any of these will do very well. This week I also found a beautiful Native story Keepunumuk; Weeachumn's Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten. This is such a great story for understanding the real story of tomorrow's holiday celebration. I've decided we are going to forever more refer to it as our Harvest Festival. Enjoy...

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Fall Cooking

Two weekends ago I stayed with my mom while her husband traveled out of town. My goal is always to get her out and about which for her can be as simple as a drive thru coffee shop. On Saturday morning we did just that. She’s fallen in love with her local Scooters and it’s about the only choice in her small town. We picked up pumpkin spice lattes and two cinnamon rolls and  sat on her patio to bask in the sun. Because the day was so gorgeous we were able to stay out there for about two hours! We have to hold on to days like that as cold weather approaches. 

The next day our adventure was an Apples on the Avenue about 20 minutes north of her. Another day filled with sunshine but very windy. We were happy to enjoy the weather from inside the car. We picked up two bags of apples and headed home. I used some of those apples to make a delicious dessert to serve at two different events. I would make this again. And eat it again and again. I went to a small pre-Halloween party on Saturday night and we shared this with Grandmother's Sauce (recipe below) and then I served it again on Sunday when I made a birthday lunch for Kristin and Travis. I did give my mother some of the bread pudding as well to celebrate our Sunday outing.

Here is the Honey Apple Bread Pudding recipe by Melissa Clark on New York Times Recipes.  Hopefully you are able to click the link and look at the recipe. I know the whole subscription thing prevents this sometimes so I made a Google copy for you. I used a chunky French loaf instead of the Challah bread. I served delicious "Grandmother's Sauce" over the top and it took this recipe next level.  Also sometimes the sauce is perfect dipped on your finger straight out of the jar!

Grandmother's Sauce (from The Cottage; Casual Cuisine from Old La Jolla's Favorite Beachside Bungalow by Jane & Michael Stern)

2 cups whipping cream
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip the cream in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl beat the egg with an electric mixer until thick and lemony colored. Gradually add the sugar, beating until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Chill at least 1-2 hours so the sugar is fully dissolved. Makes 5 cups. 

I think you could substitute any fruit for the apples but at this time of the year the apples I picked up were tart and perfect in this dessert.  Enjoy!