Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King; what would he say now?


What a mess we are in and yet I see hope everyday-we've got to stick together and make a difference. Children today have spent the last 8 years with a black president-a graceful, well-spoken, thoughtful, intelligent, and well-educated president. I know, for the most part, this is my "opinion"-stating things like this can start a small twitter war with all kinds of hateful comments. I will miss the Obama family in the WH.

I am not looking forward to a Trump presidency; he has no backbone, is only focused on his own opinion, uses bluster and smoke instead of facts and clear thinking, and lives in opposite land with a silver spoon clutched in his fist. His nickname should be Puff Daddy but that insults the actual Sean Combs. A rooster, maybe. With the flurry over comments made by Congressman John Lewis about the legitimacy of Trump's presidency based on Russian hacking (which I agree with btw) and DT's response all during Dr. King's weekend. It's hard to see how we are moving forward cuz we some days we aren't. We are moving ten to 1,000 steps backwards and that is scary folks.


Generally we are a family that does something to commemorate this holiday, even if it is just a discussion about Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. I had a planned volunteer opportunity this year, packing food boxes, at The University of Northern Iowa.  It was cancelled due to extreme icy weather. We took that open time to see "Hidden Figures" to enlighten ourselves. We did slide down our driveway in our little Prius but the roads were okay. Groovy Girl and our second "daughter", her best friend, came with us. The movie is well-done and we came out filled with discussion. What if we'd known their story in the 60's/70's; it could have changed the playing field a long time ago for women and POC in stem. Reading this NPR article confirmed my thoughts-we should have known their stories years ago but at least we have them now. Frankly we can use the inspiration right now!

From the article:

Johnson, who became a high school freshman at age 10, says she always liked learning. She's concerned about today's youth relying so heavily on the Internet for information. "They're hurt and don't know it," she says quietly. "They're not using their brain. ... And you've got to use your brain for it to grow and for things to be learned."

As a teacher/librarian I couldn't agree more with this thought shared by Johnson, a 98-year old mathematician. We need kids to realize the damage they are doing by staring at screens nonstop and expecting Siri and Alexa to answer the questions.  

Go see this movie, keep an open mind, educate yourself, be kind and thoughtful, do not take the bait, be ready to speak up, and remember, always remember, the peaceful path Dr. King took even while he was jailed and mocked. What would his tweets look like today?

I just finished Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (excellent elementary fiction about Reconstruction era) and am now reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (harsh but  a very gripping tale).  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cool products I've discovered

Happy Friday!

I've been writing this post for about a month or so in my head. If you are a fellow blogger you know what I mean. For every one post I write I've written ten in my head; they just don't always make it from my mind to the keyboard.

I just received some amazing soap in the mail and that is the catalyst to push this from head to hand to you.


1. Soapy Soap Company or Designmysoap.com: My stepdaughter works in Brooklyn as a producer for Gimlet Media podcasts and recently Reply All did a show featuring the guys in Indiana who created this company.  She and I talked about how cool it would be to design our own soap and then we just got on the computer and did it. We both picked different products for our soaps and we each bought the white oak soap rest (it was on sale that day, what can I say).  It was fun to sort through the different bases, essential oils, and add-ins (think oatmeal) and then you get to make your own label. It's all organic so this is like my next birthday gift to everyone on my list. She sent me a message yesterday and said hers arrived and it smelled fantastic-she even had a nice little thank you note in her box. Mine arrived today (jumping up and down and whiffing the box and it smelled lovely even from outside. I love good soap and good smells and this is perfectly priced. There were freebies inside my box as well.


2. Native Deodorant: Another cool product that I read an article about listing it as the best deodorant around. I've always used an organic brand and never needed it much or gave it too much thought. In the last few years as I've AGED I noticed that I was a bit more stanky after a day at work and my clothes were not happy. Most recently I'd been using a cute little bottle of spray by Honest and honestly it wasn't working. So after reading this article about the top ten best deodorants I ordered and switched. I've never been happier about wisping this under my arms-it smells amazing and I smell good all through the day. No more stinky as I pull my dress over my head. We're all a little happier when that happens right? I bought two scents (lavender/rose and coconut/vanilla) and they've lasted quite awhile. I think I've had them for about 6 months. All natural + free shipping and made in San Francisco.
3. Shea Moisture Lotion: One day while browsing at our local Walgreens my lovely daughter always on the lookout for new face products picked this brand up, read the label (she does this with everything!-I'm so proud), and stood up to tell me all about it. The company is based in Sierra Leone which is a country close to our hearts because my husband spent time there as a young child while his parents worked with Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas. It isn't a stable country and one that desperately needs help so if I can help in this tiny way by supporting a local company I'm in. The anti-aging cream for me has frankincense and myrrh extracts added. It smells lovely and my face is smooth.

I'm not a fan of advertising running all over my blog and am easily annoyed by ads on other blogs. This is my little bit of free advertising for companies that are independent and environmentally-friendly. Give them a try.
My own design:
 



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A new year of books! But first here's my favorites from 2016.

I am always amazed when I look back through my books on Goodreads for the past year. I can easily reminisce about what I've read, liked, disliked! As a book lover I loved to be pulled back into the stories and think about each book, the characters and how much I cared about each story. I encourage you to look any of these books up at your local library or book seller and give it a read...

My stats: 

Number of books: 66
Pages: 19,827
Longest book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (720 pages of excellent writing)
Shortest book: Peter and the Winter Sleepers by Rick de Haas (I hardly ever include picture books on my GR account as it is part of my job everyday)
Most Popular: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (544,388 others read this one)
Highest GR rating: Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (completely agree with this; I gave it to both my young adult children for xmas)

My 2016 favorites 
(so many great stories here)


Adult category:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Magician's Lie by Greer Macalister
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Jewelweed by David Rhodes


Young Adult:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (GN)



Elementary:
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett
George by Alex Gino
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
Capture the flag by Kate Messner
The thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Nonfiction: 
Between the world and me by Ta'Nahisi Coates

Drama:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Usually I read more YA and elementary than adult but this has been the inverse this year and I credit the Litsy community for pushing my reading in new directions.

I have started 2017 reading off with a bang in Amy Stewart's Girl Waits with Gun (already reading) and on deck, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, two books by Elena Ferrante, and Pax by by Sarah Pennypacker at school.

What are you reading this year?







Friday, December 30, 2016

Holidays

{G.G.had to take a panorama shot before
we ate thus annoying her siblings just a bit}
I hope everyone had a very merry winter break.  We had a lovely holiday together with all three kids at home. Kaylee came from Brooklyn, Tristan from Iowa City, and Groovy Girl emerged from her lonely only child funk to enjoy her siblings.  It's tough to be the youngest.

I'm enjoying this last little bit of break by catching up on sleep, on a few shows I like (This Is Us, Empire, and Atlanta), and end-of-the-year reading, more about that in my next post.

My refrigerator is full of leftovers so I do NOT have to worry about cooking for a few l-o-n-g days. Everything I made for our Christmas meal was fantastic!  This is unusual my friends. Normally something goes wrong just by the law of averages. Prepping in the two days before helped me immensely. It's a little weird to spread recipe love before you've actually made them so here is what worked:

Turkey brining is always the way to go. I brined it outside for about 24 hours in my grandmother's crock with snow packed around the outside. I let the gorgeous 12-lb bird air rest in the fridge. It cooked in about 2 hours and it was very tender and flavorful with a crispy skin. I also thanked the bird for giving its life for us to sustain us. To counterbalance this meat at our table Tristan's vegan girlfriend brought a Gardein turkey roll with it's own gravy and it was good also. We've always loved to mix up our meals and almost everyone tried some of the turkey roll. I did not follow Emeril's brining recipe to a T; just simplified it to the bare minimum. I did stuff the turkey as per his recipe though.

Wild Rice and butternut squash-huge hit. I will make this again and I have enough leftover for lunches. I forgot how much I like wild rice. The whole carrots-delicious as well.

I did a trial run on the sweet potato dish from Thug Kitchen and while I liked it, I didn't think my people would love it so i scrapped that recipe for simple baked then smashed together. No brown sugar, no marshmallows; just the deliciousness of sweet pots.  Love 'em.

Brussels sprouts were amazing. I just cleaned them, halved them (except for little ones), tossed them with coconut oil and olive oil, sea salt, pepper, and roasted them on a baking pan.  They were good although I would have preferred them crispier. It is a fine line between almost burning them and crisp and I've crossed that line before. I served them with shaved parmesan on the side.

Clam Chowder was a huge hit on Christmas Eve but the oyster stew not as much. I don't know if it was the recipe or just something I did; it was lacking the wow! factor.

Enchilada breakfast dish made everyone happy I think. It might have been the mimosas though. But you have to eat and I did play with this recipe adding in our regular green enchilada sauce and made only a 1/2 batch of the heavy cheese sauce. I didn't need it to be THAT cheesy. We had a whole plate load of toppings as well; sour cream, avocados, cherry tomatoes, cilantro, and our own family-made salsa)

I love it when meals come together. It makes everyone happy to sit at the table and know that we are blessed to share food in the same space for just a few days. We are ready to rock another year even when we are not in the same place.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Menu for this holiday week...WOW!

I like planning and putting together meals that everyone will love through the holidays.  Planning truly is half the fun.

I should be cleaning right now and instead I'm plotting and finding recipes. Tomorrow morning it will be the first meal we all have together since-well, we were all in Chicago for Thanksgiving!  Still it will be special around our big table, ready to start the festivities off.

I'm going to make a french toast recipe in my slow cooker.  I can get up early, pour it all in, and then go back to bed and read for a few hours until the eggs are set and the bread is crusty. Breakfast for Christmas morning is going to be an egg enchilada dish with some grits, fruit, and bacon (husband only).

{breakfast enchiladas}
At Mississippi Market in St Paul I located a MN farm-raised turkey and my husband picked it up today before he picked up our oldest daughter at the airport. Our turkey is now riding home with the two of them-hopefully doing a little un-thawing. I spent days and many phone calls trying to find an Iowa turkey but none were available.  We have not had a turkey for years. I've been creative over the years making meatless or fish meals. While we were in Chicago over Thanksgiving though Groovy Girl mentioned that she didn't remember EVER having had a "traditional" T.giving meal. She's exceptional.
{squash and wild rice}
While I'm not one for tradition I thought it would be fun to give it a go for Christmas. I plan to brine the bird just like my mom and I used to do years ago. I'm not even a fan of turkey but we'll see how this one turns out. I hope Groovy Girl will be happy with the results. That meal will be rounded out with cranberries, butternut squash/wild rice dish (if I change the honey for maple syrup it will be vegan), some roasted sweet potatoes (I just found this recipe in the **Thug Kitchen 101, roasted brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan (on the side), regular mashed potatoes and gravy, whole carrots roasted, maybe a small salad (it makes me happy). What a whole lot of love this will be. I plan on dinner lasting at least an hour.  Groovy Son's girlfriend is coming over after work so that is why so many vegan dishes are infused into our meal. I heartily laugh about the fact that she became a vegan as he complained for years about eating mainly vegetarian as a child until we added in sustainable local meat.  I seriously love the universe. Our meals over the years did teach him to be a flexible, more versatile eater which is just a good thing for anyone.


So anxious was I about our amazing meal that I jumped ahead with the Christmas dinner paragraph. Backing up to Christmas Eve; also a tangle of recipes because I grew up with homemade oyster stew and champagne.  I love oyster stew and champagne!  I've never been a vegetarian that couldn't eat a little fish along the way.  My husband happens to be allergic to shellfish.  I know. Almost a deal breaker. I started making clam chowder as a replacement. It does not hold the same appeal though. Clam chowder is like oyster stews' half cousin, twice removed. So this year I'm making a small batch of BOTH! I found a recipe on Epicurious that takes it up a notch or two-no once removed and will see how it fares. Yes. Enough for all to have some of each except the husband. We'll have baguettes and salad to go with this meal.

Are you hungry now?  I am.

**I have this in my house b/c it is the girlfriend's Christmas gift. I read a review somewhere about this book and wanted to check it out anyway and then it appeared on her wish list so win/win. It's definitely cheeky and the recipes are appealing.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Weekly Recipes; Food for thought

I haven't posted any weekly recipe posts for quite awhile because I feel like I haven't been cooking. Of course we've still eaten dinner but with my husband gone every night for rehearsals - Rocky Horror Show - right now so dinner is usually something I can quickly pull together before we head to dance. Making pasta, soup, or the occasional grilled cheese for Groovy Girl allows me to eat dinner how I like which is a small plate of crackers, cheese, and some fruit/veggie or blue chips and homemade salsa.  I tend to be hungry right after school depending on what I had for lunch and I feel better when I eat mini-meals. My husband, the athlete, always-on-the-go, needs a full meal.

That said this morning I was inspired to whip up some waffles.  I have a recipe I've used for years but this morning my head was foggy and I could not recall exactly which recipe book it was in.  In order to not waste precious time I googled for a recipe.  Several links down I spotted Ree Drummond's signature site and clicked to see what she had to say about waffles. Sometimes I just click there to be amused and then move on to different site for another recipe but today hers seemed doable and interesting.  My arm hurts now from whipping up the egg whites but I definitely would make this again and soon with holiday season just a week away.

From Ree's site:

RECIPE

Waffles

PREP TIME:
10 Minutes
DIFFICULTY:
Easy
COOK TIME:
10 Minutes
SERVINGS:
8 Servings
  • 2 cups All-purpose Flour
  • 3 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 cup Sugar
  • 1-1/2 cup Milk
  • 2 whole Egg Yolks
  • 1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon (additional) Vanilla Extract
  • 1 stick (1/2 Cup) Salted Butter, Melted
  • 4 whole Egg Whites
Preheat the waffle iron to the regular setting.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a bowl. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, 2 egg yolks, and vanilla. Pour over the dry ingredients and very gently stir until halfway combined. Pour in the melted butter and continue mixing very gently until combined.

In a separate bowl (or using a mixer), beat the egg whites with a whisk until stiff. Slowly fold them into the batter, stopping short of mixing them all the way through.

Scoop the batter into your waffle iron in batches and cook according to its directions (lean toward being a little deep golden and crisp!) Remove and serve immediately with softened butter and warm syrup.

I know it seems labor intensive with the whole egg white thing but I do think it made ours fluffier.  The two teenage girls on sleeping on the sofa complained about my kitchen activity until I told them I was making waffles.  They wrapped themselves in blankets and moved on over to the table as soon as I plated up pretty waffles. I would have taken a photo before they dug in but I've somehow managed to lose my phone somewhere in the house. Enjoy! 

P.S. I made this recipe exactly as it says except I used almond milk.
P.P.S. I have one last assignment to turn in for my Google class which has been difficult. I'll be glad once again to not have to think about homework.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

December reading

Ah December. I'm almost done Christmas shopping-YES! I'm in the process of decorating; the tree is up but not one ornament hangs on it yet. I'm crazy with homework; this Google advanced class is far more work than I expected. I am learning a lot so that does make it worth it.

With all the homework I've still managed to read two books so far this month and both were "thrillers".  I think I have to move away from this genre though for bedtime reading. One of the books gave me pre-sleep jitters...I got so involved with the characters and would continue to think about the situation while I trying to go to sleep.


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley (2016); This is the one. Something about Scott's character appealed to me because he was someone who was flawed and admitted it. The first scenes of him in the water with the young boy as they attempt to swim to shore were agonizing for me and I had to keep reading even though it should have been time to put the book down and get some sleep. Each section was a little like that. I appreciated Scott's philosophy throughout the book and felt attuned to the message that we all have a purpose here.  So many interesting characters held together by an excited story line and the political commentary fits so well with what we are experiencing now! Chapters are done in alternating POV so you get to hear and understand from a variety of characters.


Zero Day by Jan Gangsei (2016); I picked this out one afternoon with Groovy Girl at our local library. We were there on a mission to find some good books for her to read, not an easy feat, as she is a picky non-reader. Also she has an English teacher right now who is taking the joy out of the written word. But I digress.

Zero Day takes place in Washington DC and Virginia and is focused on the political scene. Addie Webster, the then Virginia governor's 9-year-old daughter, is kidnapped one day right out of the governor's mansion. Eight years later she resurfaces. Her DNA checks out and she is reunited with her family in the White House.  It's not an easy transition and it is difficult for Addie to realize that her family moved on even without her.  Her kidnapper still has a hold on her though and so while she attempts to fit back into her family she also has to do some weird undercover assignments for her "father/kidnapper" who is the head of an international terrorist group. I like both Jan's writing style and the main idea but it all got a little far-fetched for me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

My good reads (fall addition)

What I've read...


The Wild Robot by Peter Brown (2016): Perfectly oddball story of a shipwrecked robot who learns to survive on an island with no humans, assimilating into animal culture and ultimately becoming the kindest being there is on the island.  I loved this first chapter book by Brown and hope he has more in the works.  I love his picture book The Curious Garden as well! Thinking about holiday gifts...


George by Alex Gino (2015): debut author Alex Gino writes a beautiful tale of a young boy struggling to be the girl she knows she is. The vehicle Gino uses is George's desire to play Charlotte in their school production of Charlotte's Web.  His best friend Kelly helps to make it happen. This is a quick read and there were tears by the end. Gino has written a near perfect intro to the transgender world for elementary students.


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016): Woodson is one of my favorite authors and Brown Girl Dreaming is one of her best. I felt like this was a continuation of the author's desire to share stories of what it means to be brown-skinned in America in different eras.  I loved the description of the New York time period with the hair and the shoes and the young friends spoke to each other.


Saving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos (2014): Time traveling plot twists! This book delves into one family's struggles with being honest about fracking. The issue could be one of many hot bot issues right now and how it's not healthy for people.  Pipelines going under rivers are in my mind right now. Margaret's father has come out on the wrong end of his former employer about fracking and now has been charged with murder on "trumped" up charges.  Margaret has a secret weapon she's been told not to use but her gut tells her it may just be the only way to save her dad. This book had me cheering for both Margaret and her ancestors.


The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater (2016): I've loved this Raven Cycle series.  Blue, her family, Gansey, and Adam and Ronan feel like real people to me as I've followed every step of their quest. I know she says this is the last but I would still love to know how the gang is faring in say 2-3 years as they adjust to life with out the forest and their quest. If you haven't read this fantasy series, you must.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012): Book club choice and a quick read. I loved Harold's journey. Yes it was far-fetched (who leaves home without their mobile or good walking shoes) but he was just headed out to the mailbox not a month long journey. I thought Joyce did a wonderful job of feeding us information a little at a time. Harold, his wife, and many of the people he meets along the way were interesting every day characters and every one has a personal quest; Harold and his wife affected me by how much they'd experienced behind the scenes.


The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister (2015): I picked this one up at a recent book sale because the title and the cover intrigued me. As I paged through it the names Janesville and Waterloo, IA flicked past as chapter headings and I knew I had to read it. We read about Ada Bates' life in alternating time-period chapters. Through her childhood on a farm with her mom and stepfather she escapes to the famous Biltmore house to be a maid. She is looking for a different life and as soon as someone offers her the chance to head to NYC she takes it.  Along the way she is abused and lied to by men she meets. Eventually she meets Adelaide who makes her the star of her illusionist show.  Life has a way of circling back on her though and life doesn't go as planned. Ada's voice and the hardships she struggles with kept me reading. I had to know more, just one more chapter.

I've been a busy reader this fall. Now I'm reading Before the fall by Noah Hawley on my Kindle, All the Answers by Kate Messner at school, and Zero Day by Jan Gangsei from the library. What about you?