Tuesday, April 23, 2024

April Gifts

 She’s home! Our traveler returned a week ago and she’s happy to be home. She missed cooking in the kitchen so she’s made several fantastic dinners. It is so appreciated to have someone else making food to eat. That is an unexpected treat. She is very creative with her recipes. 

I love listening to her traveler tales and am grateful she had a positive experience each step of the way. She’s grown up a bit and seems to be more confidant because she’s had to be out there making her own decisions, figuring things out in a different country. I am very happy to have the next few months with her here before she steps in a new direction. 

It is finally feeling like spring out there and my tulips are showing their colors. My daffodils didn’t have much of a chance after blooming early right before a cold snap. The weather is very up/down, topsy turvy but I’m grateful for warmer weather. I love spring weather and it means summer is around the corner. 

My last three books made for great reading! 

1. The Maid by Nita Prose-fun little cozy mystery, I’m ready to read the second one.

2. Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson-interesting family story, with alternating narratives, time periods, and countries.

3. Her Last Affair by John Searles - a creepy mystery with a set of bizarre characters!

Enjoy whatever gifts come your way…be it sunshine, a good book, or family time. 

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Let's take a trip!

March weather was very up and down, freezing cold days mixed with sunshine, and snow. Tristan and I headed south for spring break-a rare treat for us-to visit Japhy in Mexico! In February she finished her yoga training and after a little extra travel there she headed north to Bacalar, Mexico to work at a resort. We decided this was a great opportunity to visit her. 

There are always multiple steps to travel for us because we don’t live near a major airport. We drove to Minneapolis, stayed in a park & ride hotel, took the shuttle early early in the morning and then waited for the airport personnel to arrive. Note to self: do NOT arrive before 3:30am for your flight as the airport will be empty. But once we made it through ticketing we were ready to board for our 6am flight and we made it to Cancun by 11:30am. Air travel is an amazing thing. 

Tristan was thrilled to take on the adventure of driving in Mexico- I was nervous but it turned out to be an interesting challenge with no problemas. It was like driving through a video game with lots of roundabouts, big speed bumps, and cars passing on both sides. Crazy and we made it. He and I stopped in Playa del Carmen and picked a place for lunch. First language mistake: I ordered a shrimp ceviche without realizing it-it said cucumber!  All I can say is we loved the cucumbers and I did eat a few shrimp. Luckily we had guacamole and chips as well. We both wondered about vegan options for the rest of the week. 

No need to worry as it turned into what Tristan coined our “Mexican Anthony Bourdain trip”! We feasted and ate almost exclusively vegan in Bacalar and our return two days in Cancun. The food was amazing and I’m dreaming of it still. We had vegan burgers at Mango Y Chili our first night and they were delicious. Here’s an overall list in case you need to go just for the food:

Madre Masa- Tristan and I had lunch here, we had yummy veggie sandwiches 

Mi Burrito- a hippie food truck with amazing food and great outdoor atmosphere

La Playita- dinner one night with Japhy and her friend Klara. I had fried avocado tacos- amazing and we sat by the lagoon. 

Salon OP69- went for an appetizer while we waited for our dinner place to open- this is the only place we sat inside, it was cool and Arturo, our wonderful waiter took good care of us. I had a fiery margarita. See picture below.

Nixtamal- Japhy and I split a delicious tuna with grilled pineapple and Tristan had a pasta dish. We each received a refreshing shot glass of house kombucha. 

El ManatĂ­- last meal in Bacalar and it was a delicious vegan brunch. I had chilaquiles which were amazing and I hope to recreate these at home. 

It was very difficult to say goodbye to Japhy but onward we went back up the coast to Cancun. We ran into a major traffic jam that held us up for about an hour. After getting into Cancun, finding our Airbnb, Tristan located Las Cepages, a French restaurant that was walkable. This was our least exciting meal but the atmosphere was lovely and I enjoyed a good glass of red with my house special fish dinner. The next day we discovered Bao Vegan and we were so excited by the menu that we each ordered two entrees. I had a mashed potato enchilada with mole sauce. The waiter was adorable and laughed at us ordering such a lot of food. I would love to have several restaurants like this at home-why are we not able to support healthy and delicious food like this? 

Tristan and I made it home by nightfall and had a great time talking about our adventures. We did take a sailing adventure around the lagoon which was a lovely afternoon. Make sure to wear a hat as you are not allowed to wear sunscreen in the water due to its delicate eco system.  Japhy is still traveling around in the Oaxaca region of Mexico with friends and will be back mid-April. I am really ready for spring weather and flowers. Unfortunately because of the weird weather my daffodils are so confused. 



Thursday, February 29, 2024

Goodbye February

 It’s been a crazy month and I’m not sad to see the calendar page turn. It’s been a weird work month with students. I think the recent snow moon factored into lots of behavior issues. Or that it’s a leap year…The weather has fluctuated rapidly. Bitter cold one day and the next 65 degrees. My daffodils and tulips are popping up and I worry for the little green shoots because we could possibly have more snowfall. 

And now March begins with a Scholastic Book fair where we try to get books into the hands of as many students as we can. Then Spring Break begins and I’m taking a trip to Bacalar, Mexico with Tristan to meet up with Japhy. I’m very excited to be in the sunshine but I’m also just a tad nervous for Mexico. I don’t speak Spanish fluently and I know there’s a lot of unrest in the country. I just hope all goes smoothly. I’m very excited to hug Japhy as she’s been gone since January. Her journey with yoga training and traveling through Guatemala and now Mexico have gone well. She will return home to us in mid-April. She says she’ll be ready for a real long hot shower. 

I’ve read one great book this month - We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. It tells the story of one Polish Jewish family through WWII. I’ve leaned quite a bit more about how the war affected this country. Many historical fiction stories about the war focus on Germany and the concentration camps or spies. My fifth grade students are researching WWII because we are reading Rescue by Jennifer A. Nielsen. There are so many layers to understand and my hope is they can see Hitler’s actions of dehumanizing a group of people and see how that can happen today as well. It’s always my plan to tie it into today’s world. Peace and love to you…

(Snow Moon resource)

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Life Stories

My grandparents have been on my mind the last few days and my reflection is a mishmash of  my memories of them. My paternal grandparents Myldred and Edward Matz were an interesting couple. Edward immigrated from Russia when he was a young man. I don't know a lot about his story unfortunately because he never talked about it with us or my dad.  Myldred, on the other hand, loved to talk and she doted on her two sons, Roger and Jerry. I remember her love of jewelry as she always wore big earrings and matching necklaces. The above photo has me right next to my older brother Mike, Uncle Jack, my Great Grandmother Holmes, Myldred and Ed. My Aunt Virginia was most likely the photographer.  She was the cool aunt who moved to California and was back visiting. 

(three generations of Bruch women on my grandmother's back stoop)

I spent a lot more time with my maternal grandparents, LaVera and Ewald Bruch.  My grandfather died when I was in elementary school but I do remember him spending a lot of time outside with me. He would introduce me to the trees and other plants in their peaceful yard. He also let me wash his hair and comb it which I thought was great fun. I thought he was a very kind grandpa who liked to hold my hand and swing me up and around. Later in life I learned he had been an abusive father to my mom and her two brothers. It's very difficult to mix my memories of him with hers. I spent a lot of time with the two of them and then later, after Ewald died I spent my summer vacation with my grandmother and she was my person. 

For years my mom and I struggled to have a positive relationship (my middle years were rough) and my grandmother was my go-to person. I'm happy that I can hear her voice in my head;  I hear her say my name and I see the smile on her face as she looks at me. I learned so much from her like her love of gardening and good food. She knew all about pesticides and if she brought produce home from the grocery store she would rinse everything in a vinegar mixture before eating it or cooking it. She lived through the depression so saved everything. My cousin Linda and I loved to play in her basement for hours. There were many treasures. 

We played countless games of Rack-O and Spite and Malice as I grew up. I felt blessed to have such a warm and tender-hearted grandmother in my life.  She listened to me and I felt like a whole person in her presence. That was golden. If I could bring her back for just one day I'd love to sit and talk, play a game of cards, and lay my head in her lap. Life is full of wonder and hardship. I think my grandparents symbolize that for me and I must be feeling a strong pull toward this right now.

(My grandpa Matz being silly with me)

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Best Books 2023 #2

I read quite a few great middle-grade fiction this year and before the month is over I wanted to share the best of those plus a handful of banned books from a variety of different lists that are worth reading. If you have young people to buy or recommend books these titles will be wonderful. 

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (2021) : This is my favorite historical fiction in 2023 because the story centers around close-knit siblings Anna, William, and Edmund after they are evacuated from London.  They remember their deceased mother and wish for a permanent family in this small countryside village. The three of them make the best of it even during their hardest times, remaining true to their hopes for the future. I recently ordered another Kate Albus historical fiction, Nothing Else But Miracles, which centers on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during WWII. 

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat (2022) : This is a Thai-inspired fantasy with amazing world-building as 12-year-old Sai apprentices to the last mapmaker and ends up on a high-seas adventure to chart unknown lands. This story captured my attention throughout Sai's journey. This author writes picture books, graphic novels, early chapter books as well as middle-grade novels. 

Starfish by Lisa Fipps (2021) : In this realistic novel-in-verse Ellie is tired of all the fat jokes about her weight. She loves to swim and free float in her backyard pool. She has lists of rules she is not supposed to do like no eating in public. With the support of her father, and a new neighbor Ellie starts to feel comfortable with herself. This is a fantastic debut!

The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye (2022) : This companion to The Turtle of Oman tells the story of Aref as he travels from Muscat, Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan to be with his parents. He misses his grandfather back home yet he is excited about his new life. I loved both these stories and offer them up to students who want to learn more about other cultures. 

The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart (2022) : This book defies labeling; it's part mystery, and realistic fiction, with a touch of magical realism. Ravani longs for neighbors and friends when one night as he looks out his bedroom window he sees a family move into the abandoned house across the street. Eventually, he is welcomed in by this mix of children and things begin to change for Ravani. I love Gemeinhart's entire catalog of books! 

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj (2022) : Minni and her family live in the poorest part of Mumbai where water from the pumps is often hard to get with long lines and shortages. When she takes over for her mother's cleaning job in a high-rise apartment she is astonished to see water running freely from the taps for this other family.  This is a very humbling book to show real economic disparity. 

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (2021) : Set during the Pandemic this novel-in-verse tells the story of Malian, a young Wabanaki girl as she quarantines at her grandparents' house on the reservation. She helps around the house, learns the old ways, and begins to communicate with an old stray dog. Bruchac does a wonderful job of weaving in the history of other pandemics the Native population has survived as well as government schools and reservation life. His WWII story, Code Talker, is one of my favorites. 

School Trip by Jerry Craft (2023) : This beautifully done graphic novel is filled with micro-aggressions and life lessons like its predecessors New Kid and Class Act.  The entire series should be required reading for humans. Riverdale Academy students Jordan, Liam, and Drew take a trip to Paris with their classmates. This would pair nicely with Dan Santat's new graphic novel A First Time for Everything. 

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (2003) : Maggie Rose and a friend go missing from their private Washington DC school and Alex Cross comes in to work the case. This is the first in the Alex Cross series and I cannot find the banned book list I originally saw it on. It's a gripping often gory tale. 

Dry by Neal Shusterman (2018) : California draught causes teenager Alyssa to make life-and-death decisions for her family.  This was intriguing and all too real.  

Gender Queer by  Maia Kobabe (2019) : Autobiographical graphic novel about the author's journey to understand more about their own gender identity. This was such a personally told story I was gripped with how difficult it is when young people don't feel comfortable in the prescribed norms we've conditioned ourselves to be. Writing/drawing this was a true act of bravery for Maia made even more difficult by hateful backlash. Listen to the NPR interview. 

Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman (#1-4) (2020) : Charlie and Nick fall in love in this sweet graphic novel. I can understand why this was made into a Netflix series because it is a heartwarming tale of friendship and love between two very different teenage boys. Highly recommend for all humans as well. 

As a librarian and compassionate human, I will continue to read more from any current banned books lists, and even though I've put myself on a book-buying ban I've used Libby and our wonderful public library.  Before the new year, I did buy copies of a few young-adult banned books to stick in my little free library. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

January Bits

(Our view)

Winter came in like a fury two weeks ago with lots of snow and cold temperatures. It’s beautiful out with the snow glistening under the bright sun. All the winter gear is necessary at this point; hats, gloves, big, long coats, scarves, plus warm beverages for your insides. 

Successfully getting ahead of a winter storm we took Japhy to Minneapolis so she could get on a plane to Guatemala. She will spend the next 4 weeks at a yoga center on Lake Atitlán to become a certified yoga instructor. I miss her desperately yet I know she’s on an amazing journey in a very cool place. Also it is 83 degrees there...very different from 3 degrees!

(Japhy’s view)

My mom’s birthday was January 15th and we celebrated her life with a Red Lobster lunch with friends, game of spite and malice with another set of friends, texts with my brothers,  and a toast over FT with my sister-in-law all to say we miss her very much yet are glad she’s not in pain anymore.  Her pictures flash up on my phone all the time and it all gives me a reason to pause and think of her for a brief moment. 

Today I'm sitting in front of a beautiful burning fire thinking about the last time she and my brother Jason sat in this same space and I'm thankful for the good things she brought to my life. While reminiscing I pulled out one of her Big Sky Montana cookbooks to browse and I found a little note on a recipe telling me when she made it and what she liked. While browsing I found a Brussels sprout and walnut recipe I'm going to make tonight.

Because of the temperature I've made soup to keep our insides warm and happy.  I made a cauliflower/potato soup and a red lentil soup last week and both were very good. I made the red lentil soup for book club on the 15th and then made it again on the 17th for friends visiting from New York.  It's easy to put together and I paired it with jasmine rice so it could be served as a dal and we had toasted pitas for our bread.  

Stay warm wherever you are and appreciate the little bits about your life…

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Best Books 2023

 I read a lot of great books this year even though I didn't make my GoodReads goal; maybe it was quality over quantity.  I love going back through the year and revisiting and thinking of each story. I started the year off big with Demon Copperhead which turned out to be my absolute favorite of the year. I remember I started it right after Christmas because someone sent it to me as a gift. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my top 5 authors. What are the others you ask? Louise Erdrich, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Gabrielle Zevin, and Matt Haig. And this is just the shortlist.

1. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (2022) : This is a moving coming-of-age story told in the first person from childhood through young adulthood.  Damon struggles with a teenage single mom, a terrible stepdad, and neighbors that are family once removed in the Southern Appalachia region. 

2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (2020) : Beautifully written fantasy novel that begins in France, 1714 and ends in New York City, As a teenager Addie sits on the banks of the river near her home and wishes for a vastly different life to what women are expected to do. She doesn't want to get married and live in the same village as her parents have done. She wants more and as she asks for it her life changes forever. 

3. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2021) : TJR does her homework for the time period and creates characters that are so memorable that I feel like they are out there somewhere living beyond the pages of the book. This book tells the story of the young Riva family; Mick and June parents to Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit. Told through two different time periods so we understand both parents and the kids on the night of a memorable beach party thrown at Nina's Malibu home. I loved that this book also brought in Carrie Soto. 

4. Fellowship Point by Alice Elliot Dark (2022) : Our book club read this and I didn't know what to expect except that the book was big! I enjoyed every page though and thought the writing was brilliant. I could see myself in the two main characters, Agnes and Polly, best friends and neighbors in their Maine summer homes. They've led very different lives but strive for the same things. I loved their friendship and conversations. 

5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) : This one was on my radar when it first came out but I never picked it up. Then the show came out and my brother handed me the book and told me to read it. I did, was captivated by the story, and proceeded to hand it to my husband, and daughter. I thought the show was done well but of course, the book is always better. 

6. The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros (2023) : I'd heard some of the buzz about this but wasn't pulled in by the whole romance-fantasy genre but then a librarian friend said she liked it and that opened up a portal for me. I picked it up from the library and read it straight through in just a few days. I am set to read the sequel here as soon as I finish Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez. 

I've used Libby quite a bit to find books I can read in the middle of the night  on my phone if I happen to be awake for a couple of hours. And Yours Truly was one that popped up. I hope you'll pick up any of these books at your local library or bookstore. Let me know what you think. More favorites in a day or two. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

So many things

I've had a lovely holiday season with my family. We've had good conversation, eaten good food, played games, and opened gifts together.  Christmas Eve we had a delicious tofu curry with jasmine rice, a vegan scramble for breakfast Christmas Day and homemade pizzas for dinner that night. The Friday before Christmas we hosted a Christmas party for theatre friends and I made.an Italian Sausage lasagna and Japhy made pesto pasta for her and I (no tomatoes, no meat). I  made Whoville 's Spiced Up Margaritas for the party and French 75s on Christmas night.  We tried our best to play Chameleon all together and then the next day a few of us tackled CodeNames together which was a blast! Most importantly it was just great to see our grown up kids having fun, laughing together. 

I got everything done that I needed to do before the holiday. The presents were wrapped, menus planned, house clean and I did it all on very little sleep. It's been a rough month or so starting around Thanksgiving I've had the worst trouble sleeping.  I've been sick with a cold for about the same amount of time that has compromised my immune system.

Sleep is so important and lack of it causes me to forget things and not be my best self. I've tried many of the recommended suggestions for better sleep including melatonin, staying off screens, drinking relaxing tea, going to bed early and while I might do any number of combinations of those ideas I still might lie awake at night getting only a brief amount of sleep either right away or toward morning. I'm frustrated. I started menopause years ago making this a ten-year-old problem. Our beautiful Tarah dog above fell asleep one night so deeply right on top of the gifts and all I could think was "I am so jealous!" 

I am still doing yoga both at home with Adriene and also with Sam at Cota Studios but many things like blogging just don't get done because of this sleep deprivation. My goal for this coming 2024 is to get back on a better schedule.  For the last couple of months Japhy has been home because she is about to go on a grand adventure but that's a whole other post for later. 

Take care, get some rest, and happy holidays to you...