Sunday, September 25, 2022

What should I read next?



I have book stacks all over my house as many bookish people do. I use the library quite a bit but I also buy books; sometimes it's because I want to support an author or because multiple members of my family will enjoy the book as well. I am always able to grab a good book of my choice from random places around my house. I use ThriftBooks a lot because I don't care if some of my books are used and I subscribe to Book of the Month Club because I was craving a curated selection of new titles.  I am way behind in reading my book-of-the-month choices. because I have so many other books to keep up on. I read books for my elementary school library and I have a book club with friends that meets once a month. 

I thought this spring and summer I would read a ton of book from my TBR (to be read) stacks but I was caught up in reading a ton of elementary fiction for the Iowa Awards list.  And I read about 27 on their list for next year but that left little time for my own stacks. Right now I am reading Emma Straub's The Vacationeers because I read a review that said it was good - it is.  Next up I have Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley and A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham.  I bought Nightcrawling during the summer because I was interested in this author and I requested A Flicker...from the library because it was featured on the podcast The Readheads Book Club. It's almost (but not quite.) exhausting how many good authors and titles I can find.  What do your shelves look like? Any suggestions on what I should put on the top of my list?  Scan the stacks in the photos; is there a favorite I should read soon?  Advice? 


Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Book Talks and a road trip...

 I finished two fabulous books this week both with stand up female characters. One book is an adult fiction, the other an elementary fiction and both celebrate a life worth living!

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) is about a young woman, Aviva Grossman, who makes a mistake as a 20-year-old by flirting with the congressman she interns for one late night in the office. Even though he turns her down in the immediate he begins an affair with Aviva his intern and former neighbor. They are very private for a long time but one night after a car accident the affair comes out. This idea sounds so cliche like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy but it is how Zevin changes the trajectory of this young Aviva as she reinvents herself. There is a comment on the back that says this is the best slut-shaming  book around. While it's frustrating to read the mess her life becomes because of this affair (an how his life continues on as a congressman) it is also powerful to see how she transforms that makes this book soar. I really want to read Zevin's new book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow but the holds are long so I thought I would try another one of her books. Highly recommend. From the public library. (2017)

The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan (I'll be There & Counting by 7's) is the story of young headstrong Sila as she impatiently awaits her mother's return from Turkey. Her mother has been sent back to her home country to retrieve some mis-filed paperwork or risk deportation. She misses her mother a great deal but one day she meets an interesting man, a lottery winner who now owns a vast farm property. Her father is summoned to fix this older gentleman's broken down truck and an unlikely friendship forms between the three. The story takes a surprising twist when an elephant is rescued from a disbanding circus. All the feels for this delicious story of hope, friendship, and a need to make things right for those you love. I love all of Sloan's books. Highly recommend. From my school library. (2021)

In other exciting news I finished the first season of The Lincoln Lawyer and have embarked on the amazing journey of Extraordinary Attorney Woo, both on Netflix. When my husband and I are together in the same room for more than a few minutes we continue to catch up Only Murders in the Building on Hulu. 

Speaking of husbands we celebrated our 21st anniversary this weekend with a trip to Iowa City even though we were married in Galena, IL. I had a library meeting there (always great to talk books for three hours!  Before my meeting we enjoyed a delicious brunch at Goose Town in the Northside neighborhood. Our Groovy daughter works there and we had to try the amazing farm-to-table menu. On Sunday night we ate at ReUnion Brewery also very good especially the hand breaded and hot onion rings. We stayed at a the classically remodeled Highlander Hotel which was a supper club years ago and is enjoying a funky new life. Peace, love, and harmony baby!

Sunday, August 28, 2022

What a week!


School is back in session! And I’m exhausted! Physically tired but also happy tired. It was wonderful to see my students again and to realize once again why I teach. 

This weekend I had the time to really relax. I've taken two naps, read two books, and ordered take-out. I slept in and had hot chocolate with a friend. I brought my mother lunch and visited with her for a couple of hours. I have to be ready for the week ahead; the classes and the days are going to be longer. I have to be mentally prepared for that. 

Many students remembered why I was gone for part of last year and kindly asked about my surgery. I had a few students who just simply said "I'm glad you're back." It feels great to be safely back at school although it feels a little strange to be all together and not wearing masks. Two years in a row we've begun the year with masks on and while it feels great to be able to see and hear students it also feels a bit unhealthy. I know the virus is still around us and I wonder if we'll have a surge in cases as everyone bundles together over the next few weeks. 

I binge watched two shows this weekend while I was resting. The Lincoln Lawyer and Extraordinary Attorney Woo, both on Netflix, and both riveting to watch. Attorney Woo has subtitles so you have to be ready to pay attention but her character keeps you watching as a first year lawyer with autism. 

Taylor Jenkins Reid, one of my favorite authors, has a book about to be released and I finished it recently thanks to an early reader copy on NetGalley. Carrie Soto is Back is a fantastic book about sports, competition, and tennis but even if you're not into sports or tennis this book will keep you reading because Carrie Soto is a fascinating character. You can pre-order it anywhere right now.  

August is one of my favorite months because I love the heat of summer but it also ushers in school. One of the joys of living so close to school is that I can walk or bike to work giving me time outside so I come into school feeling refreshed. This year my husband helped me out by buying me a retro-looking electric bike! So while summer is winding down I'm tooling to school in style. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Birthday dreams

 At the beginning of August I celebrated my 60th birthday in fine style! I started the festivities at my brother’s in Deephaven, MN. We went for brunch at Josefina’s in Wayzata, and a beautiful afternoon into evening boat ride with my brother, and my sister-in-law, and an old family friend. We had champagne on the boat. 🥂 During that week I also went on a hike with my stepsister Robin, out to dinner with my stepsister Autumn and spent the night drinking wine with Angela a college friend from St. Catherine’s. 

It’s like I turned 60 and want to get everything done! The day before my birthday I drove to Cedar Rapids and met my long time friend Barbara from Indiana and we had an airBB in the New Bohemian area. We had a simple meal of baked Brie and crusty bread with a delicious glass of white wine. And then we walked back to our place and went to bed and read!! On my birthday we got up, did some yoga (thank you Adriene) and went off to Brewhemia for coffee and breakfast. We shopped for  second hand clothes at The Daisy and had pedicures. Groovy Girl joined us partway through the day. That night I had dinner with the family at The QuarterBarrel where we can get amazing pizza that suits everyone and play arcade games like Ms Pac-Man (my favorite!!). 

You see what I mean by getting it ALL done. I’ve had several other dinners with friends, a zoom party with Angelle and Verda and spent the weekend at IrishFest listening to the talented and cute Boxing Banjos.

This is the year of YES! 

This coming weekend I’m headed north with three friends and we are stopping at one of my favorite farm to table restaurants Cafe Mir.




And school is on the horizon; I’ve already had two work meetings and more start next week. I’ve had a fabulous summer even factoring in the healing after surgery in June. I am filled with grace that I’ve survived and thrived through this experience. Huzzah! 

Thank you to my family and friends who’ve helped me through surgery, recovery, and celebrating by birthday in such fine style!! 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Looking for a good book

 I have five chapter book suggestions for young people that I've read myself this summer. With everything happening in the world around us it might be safest to stay home and read. There is plenty of summer left to enjoy a few more great chapter books! 

1. Maya and the Robot written by Eve. L Ewing (2021): A delightful tale of a forgotten robot that finds its way out of the closet and into Maya's life. She figures out how to get it to work just in time for the 5th grade science fair. This is a great story about friendship and overcoming fears of losing all that is familiar. It should be noted that the robot originally belonged to a young neighbor who was killed in a neighborhood shooting is touched on briefly. 

2. Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds (2021): Portico Reeves has an amazing imagination and he protects those around him with his superpowers as he tries to deal with his parents arguments and impending divorce. Jason Reynolds has a gift of speaking the truth from a young person's opinion. Get a taste of Stuntboy as he reads the first chapter to you. 

3. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (2021): an #ownvoice novel in verse about a young Indian American girl whose life is forever changed when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia. Reha is working so hard to balance her Indian identity and traditions with her American school self~it is a lot to handle until the only thing that matters is her beloved mother. 

4. 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr (2021): Eleven-year Rigel loves living in the wilderness of Alaska with her family so when she finds out her parents are divorcing and her mom is moving with the Rigel and her two sisters back to Connecticut to live with her mother, their grandmother she is mad. Getting used to suburb life compared to the wilds of Alaska is a difficult feat and it's hard to make friends and still feel like the strong nature-loving person that she is. This is a fantastic debut novel! Listen to Colby Sharp's review. 

5. The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (2021): This one hurt my heart with everything happening right now with gun violence. Something needs to happen because it's scary for adults and children. This book, told in alternating chapters is about a school shooting. Parker, Quinn's older brother took a gun to school and killed Mabel, Cora's older sister as well as three other people. We learn this in details as Cora and Quinn, former best friends and neighbors don't talk anymore until Quinn comes up with a plan to go back in time to change what happens. This is a loving story about a frightening and all-too-common situation. How do the girls deal with their guilt, their grief over what happened and find a way to make peace with each other?  I cried at the end. This would make a great read aloud so key discussions could take place. 

I didn't read all day long, I also made some delicious food: 

I picked up two crates of peaches from the Tree-Ripe Fruit Company and they are so delicious as is but I succumbed this afternoon to take a few of the extra soft ones and make this Peach Crumble  from Pioneer Woman. It's bubbling in the oven right now. 

I made a wild mushroom risotto last week and had some leftover mushrooms to use up and even though it is blazing hot outside for Iowa I made soup: Hungarian Mushroom Soup - it is creamy and delicious and I know I will enjoy it with a slice of sourdough tonight for dinner. 

Sweet corn!  My husband brought home 6 ears of corn from one of the many pickup trucks around town and I shucked and boiled them in a little salted water and the flavor is the taste of summer for me. I could probably live on sweet corn and fresh peaches for at least the rest of July!  

Stay safe out there...

Friday, July 15, 2022

The lazy days of summer

I like to do yoga in my pajamas.  I do. Before the pandemic I went somewhat faithfully to a yoga studio with other like-minded folks and I enjoyed the camaraderie. I did. But when the pandemic hit I discovered the joy of doing yoga right upstairs in what used to be my child's room. That child now owns a home of his own and only sleeps over on Christmas Eve so I turned it into a yoga/meditation home studio and reading corner. I love to wind my way from my bed to bathroom and then take a sharp right over to my studio all while still happily sporting bed head and soft pink pajamas. It's a beautiful thing. I bring up Adriene's monthly calendar and pick that day if I seem drawn to it or any of the other amazing videos she has on her YouTube channel and I just get down to it. After heart surgery it took me awhile to make it back to that room to specifically do yoga but I'm back there and I appreciate it all the more for the break. 

I like to read in my pajamas. I do. Even on my patio which is in the back of my house and no one can see me except for the chickens and the dogs. They don't judge. My reading time right now is on elementary-middle grade fiction for the state award books. I have to mix it up with a few adult books over the summer as well. On my Kindle app I'm reading Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I just finished That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Coooper.  A friend lent me her copy of The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill and another friend highly recommended The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick. And on a recent lunch date my husband and I wandered into our local Barnes and Noble. We found quite a few books I'd like to read in my pajamas but we "only" walked out with three; All the Broken People by Leah Konen, The Promise by Damon Galgut, and The Pallbearer's Club by Paul Tremblay. Also on my list to read are Lucy Foley's The Paris Apartment, Justin Baldoni's Man Enough, and Rebecca Serle's One Italian Summer. 

What else am I doing this summer while I am healing and on break before school begins again in August? Walking the dogs, cooking, and thinking...just processing all that is around me. I'm doing a lot of that in my pink pajamas. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

The good of today

In my last post I shared a pantry list as a way to keep myself organized and I've turned it into a checklist, slipped it into a plastic sleeve so I can refer back to it.  So easy. Also I added hummus and onions to the list. Don't know how I forgot those two essentials.  Here it is; you can edit and make it your own Pantry Checklist.

I follow Dan Buettner on IG and recently read his book The Blue Zones Challenge. I started thinking about my own longevity after my recent heart surgery and even though as a real foods/ vegetarian/flexitarian I feel like I eat pretty healthy. Except I love some sugar in the form of dark chocolate or ice cream.  And I like to think about exercise as just a regular part of the day. I wish our cities were better designed so I could walk to the grocery store but I can walk or bike to work so that's gonna happen this fall. 

I finished a magnificent book yesterday! The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson was so good that I spent one day reading for 4 hours straight just to finish. It tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing through several generations so we get her family history as the white man swept across the prairie. The beauty of the story is it relays how important our basic food structure is for today and future generations. The chemicals, fertilizers, and genetically-modified seeds are contribute to the health problems of today. Our rivers flow with these chemicals and the system has created a tragic circle of destruction. Here is an excellent author interview with Kachina Yeager of Milkweed Editions. 

In between reading and cooking I'm watching The Bear on Hulu, Julia on HBO Max; so cooking shows! as well as Only Murders in the Building on Hulu. I don't give myself very much time to watch as I am working on several organizing projects around the house. I've sorted through my cookbooks, deciding which ones still bring me joy. I've also gone through the many stacks of books around my house and let quite a few go. Don't worry there are still stacks, maybe just not as high! I have to have something to show for the summer other than laying around healing. I also started listening to Justin Baldoni's podcast Man Enough. 

Peace be with you...


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Order among the chaos


Wow. June has been a terrible month nationwide because members of the highest court in the land chose to rule by religion and self-interest over what is right and in the best interest of the majority.  Open carry gun laws, overturning Roe vs. Wade, and now tribal rights showcase the absolute right wing nature of the court which should be neutral or at least with some form of equality of viewpoints. I'm afraid for what comes next, like really afraid. We need  to regroup both parties. I seriously struggle with how many people are still blinding following this snake oil salesman Donald. I feel disgusted just typing his name and it blows my mind that he added three (Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett) of these conservative judges to the Supreme Court. 

It's mind-blowing to me that these judges elected by a twice impeached president will sway the court for years and years to come. And don't get me started on the many reasons Clarence Thomas should be removed from the court and as well as Brett Kavanaugh.  So I've been upset this past week along with many other humans. Our voices need to be heard because why should my daughter have less rights than I did as a young woman. So I needed to focus on something else for the time being because if something is messed up in the government house then it is time to place your own house as top priority. 

So I've been organizing like crazy to keep my sanity. I've cleaned up the two kids bedrooms upstairs that no longer house kids. I have stacks of books to donate and boxes for Goodwill. I've also worked on reorganizing my kitchen-I feel like for me, with a small kitchen, this is a constant activity when I need space or time or a mental break from the outside world. My spice cupboard is overflowing, my general pantry needs help, and I've recently cleaned out my fridge. All this cleaning made me reconsider what is necessary in my kitchen. So let's compare lists:

Fridge necessities: 

lemons & limes
Smart Balance Vegan butter
unsalted butter
quality Caesar and bleu cheese dressing (like from the produce section)
Romaine lettuce (organic)
Spring Greens - I miss my big city market where I could grab what I needed like a bulk item instead of the clam shells. Luckily, it's summer time!; I have some growing in my garden box. 
A variety of berries
Tamari Sauce
Oat Milk
organic firm tofu
red and yellow peppers/broccoli/cauliflower
a variety of hard and soft cheeses
capers
miso paste
Tahini sauce
almond butter
ginger root
sour cream
Greek yogurt in vanilla and plain (I can get these from a local dairy which is great)

Pantry essentials:

Target Blue chips with chia seeds (funny that this was the first thing I thought of!)
Lots of dry storage-bulk items like large bags of Jasmine rice, jars of dry beans, quinoa, oatmeal, chickpeas, red and brown lentils and most of this gets stored in large canning jars
Back up cans of black beans, kidney beans, garbanzos and cannellini 
cans of Italian whole tomatoes and some pasta sauce
variety of pasta like bucatini and Asian noodles
cans of corn, tuna, chilies, and green enchilada sauce 
dark chocolate in bars and jars of semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips (bulk)
I have a box for flour (I buy unbleached flour and always have a back up bag in case I start to make bread a large jar for Turbinado (raw) sugar
fresh garlic bulbs
new potatoes (red or yellow)
cashew and almonds nuts
variety of sparkling waters

Freezer items:

I keep frozen limeade ready in case I want to make margaritas for friends
non-dairy ice cream 
bags of fresh corn
bags of fruit

That's a lot of regular stuff in my kitchen but my favorite thing is being able to make a recipe without running to the grocery store. And all this organizing is keeping me sane with all the conflict in the world. We don't have time to heal from one event before the next moment is shattered.  What's in your pantry? What's keeping you sane?