Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's a crazy time of year...

Work is crazy-good-but crazy. I have a new library assistant and it has been amazingly fun to work with her, train her, and watch her work and develop relationships with our students. I have 4 boxes of new books from Follett and several boxes from Scholastic to process and add to the collection. We've had several big school events that our group of leadership ambassadors have been part of and that just takes work from me to organize. It's inspiring to work with them and pushes me in new directions but it's challenging to add that to my already busy library tasks.

{Groovy Girl - 9th grade formal ready}
Home is crazy because dance is on extreme mode as we approach the end of May recital. We have costumes to attend to, tickets, pictures, makeup, pasties to buy. We also shopped for a 9th grade formal dress/shoes and that was a whole fun shopping night. We found beautiful shoes and an on-sale dress that matched and were perfect. Groovy Girl is going with a group of free-spirited girls and a few boys are tagging along with them. One (girl)friend will wear a suit of some sort, another a pair of sparkly Chucks with her dress, a few have dates, but most are just going to be together, dance, and have fun.

Home is also crazy because my husband has three different plays going on and is working with 1st graders at a local school.  Plus he's building a structure in our backyard to house a special new family pet. This enclosure has been time-consuming but it looks so beautiful. He had to take out our garden plot to build this so this year I will try gardening in the front yard plot plus some containers on the patio.
{Beauty uncovered}
We will soon celebrate Teenage Boy's birthday-he'll be 22 on Friday. No longer a teenage boy anymore but that lives on in my mind. We are celebrating together at an Italian restaurant in Marion. We will come bearing gifts fit for a 22 -year-old college student. He and his girlfriend took a quick trip, for a family wedding, to one of our favorite states-Colorado.

Anton is doing really well and has worked with a local organization that helps at-risk young adults return to school. He's put in an application for Hawkeye Community College.  That was a happy day. There is still a long uphill journey to go but at least we started out.
{Colorado Trip}

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Days

Terrible rain storm here tonight, rumbling, with lightning. I enjoyed a walk with friends this afternoon around a large lake and it was cloudy and smelled like rain but lucky for us it held off. It came tonight with lots of rumbling and a light show display.

Groovy Girl and I are dog sitting for a friend and I had to bring the dog back here with me.  Her sad yellow lab eyes looked at me through the door and I just couldn't leave her alone. So we have a doggie sleep over guest who's had a good time getting to know our house and our two labs.



{Pre and Post-baked shells}

I made one main major meal this week-Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce from Giada on Food Network. My brother made it for GG and I a few months ago and we both liked it.  It's a little labor intensive though so I made it last Sunday afternoon when I had the time. Throughout the week GG was able to eat the leftovers for dinner before dance.  Next time I'd leave out the pancetta; I didn't really enjoy the flavor.

While I was looking through some old blog posts I found this Sweet Potato Black Bean burrito recipe that I love. It is perfect to make and keep extras for lunches as well.  Also I found this great recipe for breakfast sandwiches that can be made ahead. I'm trying to make Anton one every morning so he leaves for work with something for breakfast. The recipe says you can freeze these; I've just been keeping 3-4 ready to go packaged up in the fridge. It's easy to take one out, heat in the microwave for 20 seconds, and hand it to him before he heads out the door.

Tomorrow we celebrate Easter with a church service where Groovy Girl will do a celebratory lyrical dance for about the 4th year and after we head to MN to have dinner cooked by my stepmother.  I'm very excited to just sit at her table and enjoy the family around me. Blessing abound.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Joys

{made-with-love oatmeal}

Much of being a parent is really difficult. I've always said the good, the true joy of being a parent, outweighs all the negative that can and often does happen. This applies to my family completely. We've had struggles (key the amen choir) and some times it can be days before true JOY shows it's pretty head.

My son turns 22 at the end of this month. Shocking-YES. My stepdaughter turned 25 a few days ago. It's a big birthday month. I received my son's birthday wish list yesterday and low and behold (cue the choir again) THIS meatless cookbook is on his list. If any of you reading have been following along for years this is the kid who insisted we put meat on his plate at the end of middle school. He was working out a lot, playing hard, and felt like our mostly plant-based diet was not filling him up. He was sick and tired of being raised vegetarian.

This outburst from him prompted me to look into sustainable meat which created a whole new food journey for our family. I started buying meat from local farmers and listened to one of my food heroes Barbara Kingsolver. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle she says that at one time the only option was to abstain from meat if you were conscientious about your food choices; now there are options so promoting and purchasing farmer-raised meat is good for us and good for the farmer and ultimately good for the environment. So I'm gently patting myself on the back that my son, even though I know he still enjoys meat once in while, is aware of other eating options.  Bravo.

Groovy Girl, who really wishes I could come up with a new blog nickname for her, makes me feel joy often but in particular the other day when her braces-covered-teeth were sore she made the request for me to make my special oatmeal for her breakfast.  It was the way she said it like she was 7 again and not 14.  I rewarded her with a delicious bowl full and mini ones for my husband and I. Truth be told I don't do anything that special but I do stir it as it cooks which makes it creamy and at the end I add what ever fruit we have and sprinkles of brown sugar and cinnamon. Made with love.

Groovy Girl (the name is too perfect and she'll be G.G. until the day the blog ends-sorry babe) and I did FaceTime with oldest daughter on her birthday and that was a highlight of my week. She had been at the musical Groundhog Day in NYC so we talked to her as she walked to the train. NY looked magical with twinkling lights and all the activity around her.  I can't wait to be there this summer with her.  

Anton, my former student, living with us as an adopted son now is doing really well. He has a job, has his IA driver's license, and has made a friend. Right now he is outside helping Greg with some chores. Teaching him to be part of the family is probably the hardest hurdle as that's not something he's experienced in the same way many of us think about family dynamics; how we work together and communicate.  It is a thrill still to have him here. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

March Reads


Circling the Sun by Paula McLain: Beryl Markham, a horse trainer and aviator, is raised by her father and the native Africans that live on their land in Kenya during the 1920's. She has difficult love affairs and struggles with life after her father's horse farm fails. The imagery of Africa that McLain paints is beautiful. I like historical fiction and this was well-written.  My mother-in-law gave me The Paris Wife a few years ago and I feel inspired to read it after finishing this one for our February book club discussion.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Bennett tells a captivating story of Nadia Turner; a young high school senior ready to move on with her dreams of going East for college. The summer before her senior year though she is battling loneliness after her mother's recent suicide and she takes comfort in Luke, a damaged former high school football star.  An unplanned pregnancy changes how they both move forward into the world.  This was very good and I look forward to Bennett's next book.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas: I loved this one also.  Angie Thomas writes a wonderful and timely story of Starr Carter, a basketball-loving, smart young girl attending an expensive prep school outside of her neighborhood. Through Starr we are shown first hand how difficult it is to remain true to yourself as you juggle friends and ideas from both lives. When Starr's childhood best friend is killed by a police officer her two worlds begin to collide. The conversations between Starr, her parents, and extended family remind me of Ta-Nehisi Coates' letter to his son (and to us the white audience) on how hard it is to raise kids knowing their lives don't matter to some.  Reviewed here by me.

How the Garcia Girls lost their accents by Julia Alvarez:  I wanted to like this but ultimately it didn't hold my complete attention. Like the struggles in The Hate You Give, this one shows how hard it was for the Garcia sisters to be both old world for their parents yet navigate in the modern NYC they are raised in. While the four sisters love their Dominican family it is not easy being raised in the mostly sexist/patriarchal society when they have their own ideas of what their lives should look like.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer:  I read this for my 6th grade book club and was not that impressed. It had mixed reviews from the 6 kids in the club. One of the students loved it, finished two more in the series by the time the rest of us finished just the one. This is why I love book club; it pushes you to read what you might not otherwise have picked up. This student even admitted "I don't think I would have picked this off the library shelf!"
Now that I've read it I know I have other students that I can recommend it to but I know I don't need to read beyond this first one. Maybe it's the political arena right now that made me shudder with many of Artemis' villainous ideas.

My March reading greatly improved from February where I got bogged down with that one book, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
Happy April!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read many positive reviews about this brand new (2017) book I started following the author, Angie Thomas, on twitter. I try hard NOT to buy books but this time I felt it was a great cause. #weneeddiversebooks

16-year-old Starr Carter lives in two different worlds as she maneuvers between her home and neighborhood and the private prep school she attends where she works hard to be "less ghetto". It's difficult separating herself out like that and, after one of her childhood friends is shot in front of her by a police officer, her balancing act starts to crumble.

Through Starr's eyes we are able to experience what many young people are frustrated with today; police brutality and rampant racism. Starr has a family that supports her, parents that are involved in her education and teaching her what's right. We can see through her father and his friends how hard it is to make good decisions when you have people inviting you to do bad everyday. Her family has been witness to a lot of tragedy and just like other families they keep moving forward even though the journey is trying.

I loved the language, the cadence of listening to Starr speak in both voices.

"I swallow. I wish I could say yes, but I don't know. On the one hand, it's the cops. It's not like I'll be telling just anybody.
On the other hand, it's the cops. One of them killed Khalil.
But Uncle Carlos is a cop, and he wouldn't ask me to do something that would hurt me.
'Will it get Khalil justice?' I ask.
Uncle Carlos nods. 'It will."(55)

and

"The drug dealer. That's how they see him. It doesn't matter that he's suspected of doing it. 'Drug Dealer' is louder than 'suspected' ever will be.
If it's revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?" (113)

and as life gets back to something like normal her family celebrates:

"Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" blasts from the speakers. That's one song Daddy shouldn't play. The only thing worse would be that old song "Back that Thang Up." Momma loses her damn mind when it comes on. Really, just say, "Cash Money Records takin' over for the '99 and the 2000," and she suddenly becomes ratchet as hell.
She and Aunt Pam both go, "Heeey!" to Salt-N-Pepa and do all these old dance moves. I like nineties shows and movies but I do not wanna see my mom and auntie reenact that decade in dance..." (356)

This is an important YA story that adults should read as well. I am excited to read what ever Angie Thomas writes next.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Break Pizza Party!

{photo credit: @sarah_burgart}

While I was in Indiana visiting my lovely friend Barbara, of Marilyn's Bakery fame, we had a discussion about friendship that inspired me to invite two friends to a pizza party once Groovy Girl and I returned home. Luckily the roads were clear after all the snow and we made it home safely and in good time.

My menu for the gathering:
homemade pizzas
homemade margaritas

In my message to both friends I requested they bring their top 2-4 pizza toppings. We generally don't make meat pies and we have had people unhappy with our veggie/creative toppings so it makes it easier if we can have a little help in the topping department. After we ate the pizzas the little ones made music and danced in Groovy's dance room.  We were able to sit back and sip.

{Alice, G.G., Macy, me, Mya, and Beth}
They brought:
feta cheese, pepperoni, spinach, pineapple, cheese curds, and shredded cheese.

We had: spinach, grated mozzarella cheese, whole mozzarella, basil, the dough, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and red sauce.  And the margaritas of course. Kids had juice and special water.

I have many different dough I've used over the years; this time I used the one inside Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook; 100 recipes every mom needs in her back pocket. It was very easy to put together. I tripled the recipe in three different bowls so we would have plenty of dough to share.


Katie Workman's Homemade Pizza Dough
(makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas or four 6-inch)

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsps) I appreciate when they add this in because I buy my yeast in bulk and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge.
1 tsp sugar (I omit this b/c why not?)
1 tsp course salt or kosher
2 T. olive oil, plus extra for coating the bowl
3 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour

1. Place yeast (and sugar, if you opt in) in a large bowl, add 1 cup of warm water, and let sit until small bubbles form, about 10 minutes. Mix in the salt and olive oil. Add flour gradually, mixing until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes (she says, you can use a standing mixer for this part). Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover it with damp dish towel or plastic wrap.

2. Let the dough sit undisturbed in a warm place until it is doubled in size, 1-1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, divide into 2 balls, and roll out on floured surface.  I let it rest after I roll it out so it can rise a bit again. Place it on a pizza stone (hot or not, your choice) and add sauce, toppings, cheese, whatever your heart desires.

Bake at 500* until crust is a little brown. Let rest after you remove from the oven for a few minute before cutting it with a pizza wheel.

{@sarah_burgart; look at those smiles}
Now for the adult beverage part of the celebration. All three of us are hard-working teachers who needed Spring Break to whisk us away even for an afternoon of play. My margarita recipe is from @sjkane11 who added it to our Highland Elementary recipe book a few years back. I've made it ever since. I prefer to make things homemade and I like to make cocktails so it was great to say adios to super sweet mixes.  I'm sure I've shared this recipe before but here it is again in case you lost it.



Margaritas (without the pain)


12 oz. can of limeade (frozen)
12 oz. tequila
12 oz. water
2/3 can or 8 oz of triple sec
1 can domestic beer
Ice and limes as desired


Use the frozen limeade can to measure ingredients. Mix all ingredients well in a gallon pitcher.  Add ice and limes. Pour generously into salt-rimmed glass.  Enjoy.

Monday, March 6, 2017

March has blown in and surrounds me now.

I need a break. I'm tired. Spring Break is just around the corner.

Our Scholastic Book Fair for the spring is up and running. Lots of books, lots of excitement from kids and parents. This time I requested less crap. You know the stuff, pencils with fuzz on top, pens that have heads with tongues that stick out, weird stuff but kids are always enamored with it) I want them to see the books. We have less days for the fair but I hope we do really well on our two conference nights.

Anton is getting along. He's met a friend; the nephew of one of my friends and they've done a few things together. He misses having people his own age around all the time. He is getting more hours at his job which is a positive. He still has a difficult time getting up and going in the morning which reminds of so many mornings with my other son's high school years. Slow as molasses we said. Now I have a repeat performance. I have to keep reminding myself that a 22-yr-old still has a developing brain, teen-like emotions. Part of me just wants to shout "get the hell in the car!" I don't. Good or bad, I don't know.

I'm getting ready to take off for sunny Indiana over my break. Visiting my friend Barb and her family. Groovy Girl and I love to make this road trip together. We have a yoga workshop planned, kayak'ing out her back door, and maybe a pedicure. Otherwise we will just be relaxing together.  Old, close friends are like that.  Comfortable.


Usually I like to post what I read in a month but February was a terrible reading time for me. I guess my husband's desire to see all the Oscar movies took a toll. I read one book; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I thought it was lovely but s-l-o-w going.  I got confused with the many quirky characters and I just could not pick up the pace.  I finished it though and moved on to my book club choice, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain. I didn't finish it by our meeting date but I have finished it now. I liked it and am interested in many of the other stories like Out of Africa that go with this book.


I'm on to The Mothers by Brit Bennett which I am actually already half way through. It's exciting and I love Nadia.  I'll have more time to read this month.

I've also been cooking a lot but my cooking has changed with Anton in our house. I have lots of work to do to encourage him to eat healthier choices. Upward battle. He is used to eating processed foods, things that are quick and easy, microwavable. I try to balance a few good home cooked meals with some of his favorites. Suffice it to say he is NOT a fan of tofu.  He has eaten sweet potato burritos, fish, turkey lasagna, chicken cutlets, and he was quite happy the day I made fried chicken.  We are a work in progress. I try not to be grossed out as he gulps a bright blue or red "juice"-type soda.

I try and remember right now there are bigger worries than processed food.

Enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscars


We love to watch the Oscars. We try to watch as many of the nominated movies so we have an opinion. Before any of the bigger awards are given out I want to share my favorites.

Hidden Figures: A brilliant story with excellent actors. How have we missed these historical women's stories!  I thought this one was really well done. I need to read the book now and am thrilled to have this up for best picture; a great ensemble piece.

Lion: I saw this yesterday morning here. I specifically knew this would be great to see on the big screen. I loved especially the train moving through the mountains.  I loved this story of loss, survival, instinct, and a boy's love for his mother.  I thought everyone in this film did an amazing job as well.

Arrival: I believe this movie spoke to us about how we communicate; how deep are you really willing to go?  And I love that the story was not cyclical making the viewer question when exactly certain events took place.  I thought the back story of her life (Amy Adams) was an important element.

Hacksaw Ridge: I had a really hard time with parts of this movie (war = blood/guts) but the incredible tale of pacifist Desmond Doss. As a peace activist myself I respected his deep commitment to not carry a gun. I'm not a fan of Mel Gibson but I thought this was a very well-done movie.

Loving: Like Hidden Figures this is a story that people need to know. Love is love no matter who you are and who you choose to love. This film highlights the Loving family who took their right to marry all the way to the Supreme Court. We are all grateful for their difficult journey to change this law.

Captain Fantastic: This is a delightful tale of a family living off the ground in Washington state. He's teaching his 6 kids how to survive but it's a hippy thing instead of a religious thing which, of course, made it much more interesting to me. He's kids are unique, brilliant and free thinkers. The best part is the end when Viggo shows he can adapt. I especially loved the kid's costumes.

Florence Foster Jenkins: Funny! Meryl is just so talented. I loved the joy she shares through her love of the arts. Her husband adores her and that is magical. The costumes and the supporting roles were also very good.

Do you watch or care about the Oscars? As a political person, an eco-friendly person, a concerned citizen I am worried about our world right now. The Oscars to me is an escape but also an inside look at our world. Will the Oscars choose diverse or a more white-centric view?

Whether you watch or not the above films are above and beyond amazing stories to be enjoyed for more than just their artistic value. They share something about our human story. Enjoy.