Saturday, December 15, 2018

My children continue to grow up...

Our 23-yr-old son is about to graduate from college this weekend. He's finishing up his last finals and preparing for a new job. It seems like yesterday that I loaded him into his car seat for fishing at the lake or hikes in the mountains. Life goes fast and you really must pay attention every day.

We have family flying and driving in for the event on Saturday and I feel a little crazy with preparations. I have to slow down and remember this is one of life's big moments yet it won't be ruined because I don't have the right cloth napkin at the event.  It doesn't help that I have such crazy standards when I host; I'm against throw away or one-use items and always need to plan in advance to make sure this doesn't happen. For his high school graduation I purchased all compostable items but this time luckily I had a good friend step up who does catering out of her bakery and she will bring real plates, forks, napkins, and glasses so we won't fill up the garbage bins in the hotel lobby just for our event.

We are having simple food; a large green salad, fruit, vegan pizza from the Mellow Mushroom in Coralville.  My friend is also making a few platters of sushi for all of us to enjoy. Favorite foods, friends and family all happy to be together for this magical life moment. I know I'm going to cry a few times over the weekend because my little boy has grown up in leaps and bounds to become the caring man he is today. I'm grateful for the journey we've had together; not always easy yet soul-searching learning experiences for both.

I missed posting this the other day and now the major event has happened and all went off very smoothly.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Charlson Meadows Retreat

As the calendar page flipped I had an out-of-the-box experience that ended November and ushered in December. Last weekend I had the most amazing experience.  I took part in a writing retreat at the beautiful Nancy Nelson Lake House at the Charlson Meadows Renewal Center. My sister-in-law, Stephanie, asked me if I wanted to go with her and her writing partner/friend, Carey. To give myself space I even took Friday off so I had time to drive to Minneapolis, drop Groovy Girl with her cousins, and carpool to the retreat center in Victoria, MN.

This space is breath-taking as you enter through the solid doors where we were greeted by the program director, Nicole. After a short guided tour of the rooms, we were able to select our own bedrooms, unpack and look around at our leisure. The inside of the home is beautifully decorated with art pieces throughout the house.

The retreat center sits on 142 acres of land situated between Zumbro and Stone Lakes. It was snowy and cold for this retreat but the maps of the grounds look beautiful with three labyrinths, hiking paths, meadows, wetlands, and a beach area. I look forward to exploring the outdoors there when everything isn't frozen (meaning any other season other than winter) yet watching the snow come down on Saturday afternoon was an ethereal experience.

Arriving on Friday afternoon we had time to relax and unwind before dinner was served at 6pm. Before the meal, we sat in front of one of many gas fireplaces and introduced ourselves to the 12 other writers in attendance and then we adjourned into the kitchen to scoop up the delicious offerings by Tena, the local caterer for most of the weekend. Each meal was carefully planned with a good attention to detail. While beef medallions were offered on Friday night the three vegetarians had delicious pasta to enjoy. In the morning we woke to fresh caramel rolls, quiche, and a large bowl of fruit. We shared some meals at the large dining room table and other meals were more casual as we gathered around the island in the middle of the kitchen. Eating was a highlight; the food was wonderfully prepared and I was filled with gratitude to have someone else cook for me. I realize how much energy on a weekly basis I use for meal prep in my house so this was pure joy. I didn't even have to empty the dishwasher!

Between meals, we were given the gift of time to write spreading ourselves out in the various common rooms in the lake house. The house was built with solitude in mind so while you are working at one end in the library you cannot hear anyone else working or chatting in rooms across the way. My group of three gathered in the library space which had a sofa, comfy overstuffed chairs, a desk, and a fireplace.

We did one group writing activity after dinner on Friday which used prompts to get us loosened up. It was low-key and interesting to hear everyone else's writing ideas. I headed to bed after that and felt motivated enough to write for another hour or so in the comfort of my secluded room. The rest of the weekend flew by with delicious meals, good conversations, and lots of writing time.

This is a lovely place to spend a weekend and I plan to go back for another writing retreat and I'd love to take part in one of their one-day spiritual journeys. Check out their website for more information on their offerings. Thank you to Stephanie for extending the invitation and thank you to Nicole for your seemingly effortless abilities as a host.   I feel better for what I accomplished over the weekend and just simply knowing this place exists.

I did some digging after exploring their website myself and found information on Lynn Charlson, an inventor, and the benefactor of the retreat center. He sounds like an interesting character and I'm sure it is because of his creative energy that the retreat center is infused with such magic. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Hate U Give

I read Angie Thomas' book when it was first published. I was anxious to expand my own horizons after trying to build a more diverse book collection at work and in one of my Amazon searches her book popped up. At the same time, I picked up Renee Watson's two books, This Side Up and Piecing me together, both excellent as well.

Thomas' book went above and beyond in reaching a wider audience and was picked up pretty quickly to be movie bound. When the movie deal was first announced I handed the book to Groovy Girl and challenged her to read it with the prize of going to see it as a movie together later. My little GG is not quite as caught up in reading as some of the rest of us are and it took her a bit to finish it. (like the whole time it took to make the movie!)

Last week we finally found time to go see it as a family before it left our theatre here. She literally had the book in hand and finished it while we were watching previews. She was very happy to finish and still remembered so much, enough that she kept turning to me and saying "that DIDN'T happen in the BOOK" which was so reminiscent of her older siblings Harry Potter experiences.

I thought the book was such a well-told tale and once again it is very easy to say that the book is FAR superior to the movie. I had higher expectations as I'd heard Angie was very involved in the movie-making process. I don't know why she would choose to change some of the things she did but it is what it is. I still firmly believe this is a book that should be in every middle and high school and many adults should read as well. It definitely would help some individuals understand white privilege in a real sense. If you need a copy stop by my free library out front to pick up a copy. If you've already watched the movie I think you will enjoy the book even more. It's much more than just a black & white issue. Oh, and pick up one of Renee Watson's books also. Just to keep up.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Prepping for an amazing (and mostly vegan) Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm ready for the Macy's Parade and for relaxed cooking tomorrow. I did some pre-cooking tonight and I'm feeling peaceful about what needs to happen tomorrow. Everyone enjoy a happy holiday. It might be about enjoying family or enduring family but either way, find at least one blessing in your day.


Early appetizers: blue chips and our homemade salsa

Soup/Salad course: Wild Rice Soup and Big Green Salad
I found a local farmer who sells big bags of microgreens for a reasonable price and it was a 5-minute drive from my house. I'm pretty pumped about this revelation. Find them at Rainbow City Farm on insta.

Celebration Vegan Roast
Just Bare Roasted Chicken (I couldn't find a local one)
Sweet Potato Casserole
Green Beans with pomegranate seeds
Healthy Corn "Casserole"
Mashed Potatoes with vegan mushroom gravy
cranberry - orange raw relish
Jicama/Avocado/Mango salad (from my Friendsgiving recipe book)
Homemade pretzels for our bread (Groovy Girl's recipe)

Everything but that roasted chicken is vegan. My theme is comfort food with a Native American flare.  I'm learning and working to experiment with a variety of recipes. Heather and Tristan are bringing the pies.  And I found good almond milk whipped cream for the tops!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Fall Reading List 2018


Going Wild by Lisa McMann (2016): Charlie's whole life changes when she has to move from Chicago to the suburbs of Arizona.  As she struggles to make friends Charlie discovers a bracelet among their moving boxes.  Her life begins to change in very dramatic ways when she wears the bracelet.  This is an exciting new series that will appeal to readers of Spirit Animals.

11/22/63 by Stephen King (2011): This book is 849 pages and it took me almost a month to finish it. I loved it. I also watched the mini-series and loved that as well. Jake Epping finds a ripple in time and tries to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I fell in love with the characters especially Sadie.


The Maze Runner by James Dashner (2009): Thomas wakes up in the middle of the glade, surrounded by young men all just trying to survive in a world they know nothing about. Every day they run the maze trying to figure out what and where they are trying to keep one step ahead of the predator.

Hideout by Watt Key (2017): Sam is struggling with his life after surviving a bullying attack at school. His father gives him a boat that he's supposed to use for fishing except he ends up exploring the small rivers around the Gulf Shores and finds a young boy living in an old shack. Sam helps Davey but once he does he their lives become too entangled.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2018): Oh this is a powerful story like Jason Reynolds' Long Way Down. Jerome, a 12-yr-old boy, is shot and killed by a Chicago police officer who sees his play gun as a threat. He spends the rest of the book learning to heal and help the 12 yr old daughter of the police officer. Beautifully told through Jerome's voice and Emmett Till as well.

Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (2018): Woodson is one of my writing heroes and this book tackles current topics of deportation and racial profiling.  Told through the eyes of 5 young teens, all struggling with something in their lives they are given the gift of time to talk as a group at school to learn from each other.  Another amazing story by Woodson.

Friends for life by Andrew Norriss (2015): I ordered this for school because it sounded like a charming little English story of a young man befriending a ghost. It is a charming story with a lot of depth about friendship and being unique.  The young ghost, though, is Jessica, who commits suicide after her mother and grandmother die. I removed it from our shelves and know this book will find great readers at the high school level. Even though suicide is on the rise I don't want to be the one who introduces it to my elementary students. I did love the story and the brave cast of characters.

What are you reading? This week has been chilly giving me lots of time to read.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Celebrating Day of the Dead

Last night I attended a vigil at our local Jewish Synagogue and it was packed, standing room only. Several honored people spoke from the Jewish community and other local religious leaders. It was a beautiful service yet it would have been better to not have to gather at all. Why do we live in the greatest nation only to have so many persecuted people and crimes against our very humanity? How do people become so filled with hate? Our Jewish, Muslim, LGBTQ+, women, people of color all need our support as they (we) are under attack.

Today we honor the dead and for me specifically, I'm thinking of not only my family members that have passed but all the senseless murders from gun violence and victims who've died because of hate like Matthew Shepherd. That's a LOT of candles to light.  From Columbine High School in 1999 to the most recent in South Carolina two days ago we've had too many school shootings and nothing is being done. School shootings-people are killing and traumatizing our youth-it's really unfathomable, beyond belief. I sat there years ago and watched the news roll out the day Columbine happened and I surely thought this was an isolated horrific incident. Little did I realize it would be an epidemic.

The Washington Post is working to compile data on school shootings and it notes that 219,000 students have experienced violence because of a shooting while in school. The database is work taking a look at-it will make you understand why this is such an important issue. And now it seems places of worship may be the new racist trend. 

Most shootings involve a weapon brought from home or purchased by another family member.  I don't like guns.  I am fine with hunters having guns because it's different; I get that and I'm a vegetarian. I grew up in a family where hunting was an acceptable Saturday afternoon activity. Hunting rifles are generally not used for violent acts against humans.  I like the idea of a gun buyback like Australia enacted or much stricter regulations like Japan has in place. We have a backward group of people represented by the NRA that we will never convince that guns do kill people and if we had less of them on the street we would have less violence.  And assault-style weapons shouldn't be available at all. And before a police officer (in training) is issued a weapon they should have a serious diversity and peaceful negotiation training to pass before being gifted the license to carry a weapon that kills. We cannot support our very own "militia" to kill our citizens. 

I'm on a high soapbox right now and it's Halloween but The Day of the Dead has me thinking about all those who've died because hatred runs rampant and the haters have access to weapons. We need radical change to make these issues a thing of the past. Vote for sensible candidates who think the 2nd Amendment is for hunting and military personnel. Not militias in Oregon or Idaho but people who truly are defending our country in foreign lands. And we need police officers to be tried and convicted. I get that its a stressful job and it shouldn't be used as an excuse.

So today hug your children a little tighter as they share their chocolate with you, and think about the 11 Jewish elders who lost their lives this week, think of the students from Columbine to Parkland and all those in-between. We want change. We need to stand up for each other, we need to have each other's backs. We need to choose peace.


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Cleo Wade

This week I was privileged to sit in the same room with Cleo Wade, poet extraordinaire and self-care guru. The room in the Graduate Hotel, downtown Iowa City, had a coffee shop vibe with lamps lit for soft lighting and lovely decor. The walls were "wallpapered" with real pencils so you felt like you were in a room meant for writing or writers. Our chairs faced a small stage with two easy chairs and a lamp and this is where Cleo eventually came out to chat with us. While we were waiting we could (and did) have a glass of wine and some homemade Iowa popcorn prepared and shared by Iowa native Kate Greer, one of Cleo's friends-the upcoming Cheerie Lane Popcorn. It was mixed with real rosemary buds and tasted delicious.

At about 6:30 Cleo arrived on the platform and talked about life to us. She was soft-spoken, natural, and calm which caused the audience to lean in just a little. She is all about peace, love, and joy and how we can all bring that into our daily lives. In order to share these feelings out to your community, you need to feel them about yourself. She preaches an unusual idea of self-care; it's about what feels right for you. It's not about what you should be doing but what is right for you. Netflix, a warm bath, and red wine might be what you need on a Saturday night instead of a night out with friends or another spinning class.  Learn to pick well at any given moment for yourself.

Here is her BIG Three:

Therapeutic Ritual-This is a little gift to yourself.  Always should feel authentic. We need to learn to console ourselves to be our best selves.
Dedicated Safe Spaces-Places you go to replenish your soul. It might be outside, it might be the movies, it might be your own home. Make sure to visit often.
Relationship Boundaries-Choose your people wisely. Steer clear of toxic relationships. The people you surround yourself should build you up and inspire you.
While these aren't exactly brand new ideas Cleo has a way of saying them to us and her 446k insta followers that make us feel ready to love ourselves a little bit more forever.

She is also an activist and encouraged everyone to vote and get involved right now. Through her Rock the Vote/Gucci's Chime for Change website, she's made it very easy for people to connect and get voting information.

Her stop in Iowa City is one of many on her Courageous Love tour which is more than just a book for Heart Talk; Poetic Wisdom for a better life. She was purposeful in making it a free event with stops in all college towns. While her focus does seem to be on younger souls this audience was a very mixed age range and many of us waited in line to speak with her-she chatted, hugged, laughed, took photos, and signed our books with a constant smile. The night was inspiring and I would love to be in her presence again. And thank you to my friend Rita for your willingness to take off on this adventure with me. Thank you to my sister-in-law Stephanie for sending me the info about Cleo's tour.

Other places to find more Cleo:

Instagram: @cleowade
Cleo Wade
On Oprah
New York Times
Mind Body Green article and another

Sunday, October 21, 2018

It's the perfect weather for reading

I'm a summer kind of girl but I love much about spring and fall as well. I always hope for a bit of Indian Summer to hold me over so I'm a bit sad that we've jumped head first into winter-like weather. First, it rained a lot (way too much for fall) and the fall leaves are suffering (and the farmers). It's been very windy this weekend. Our rivers and lakes have flooded across bike paths and over roads which pushes people from their homes.

The only silver lining is staying inside and reading.  I finished The Maze Runner, which has been on my to-read list for years.  I really enjoyed it and am very curious about the next one in the series. James Dashner created a unique and weird dystopian world and I'm invested to know more about the maze and how it all came into being.  I want to watch the movie and I brought the second book home from school.  It's waiting, taunting me, but I have other books to read first.

One of my best readers at school showed me the book Hideout by Watt Key and told me he wanted me to read it when he finished. Last week he gave it to me and I promised to read it within the month. I actually skipped reading my book club book, Pachinko, to read Hideout. In my life, one thing leads to another all the time and now I want to read all of Watt Key's books. This one tells the story of Sam and how he finds a young boy, Davey while motoring his small boat around the bayou. Davey is living in a rundown shack and waiting for his dad and brother to join him. Sam agrees to help him fix up the shack and bring him supplies because it all seems like a great adventure until things become real. Sam discovers more than he needs to know about Davey's family and who they really are and once in it is difficult to get back out. I'll be happy to hand this book back to my student and help him find more of Key's books.

I started reading Jewell Parker Rhodes new book Ghost Boy, which tells the story of young Jerome as he navigates the world after being shot by a police officer in Chicago. It's a sad beautifully-told tale and I want students at my school to read it even though it is about a difficult topic. While it is sad the real message is; it's up to us to make real change. In my recent Social Justice class we discussed the importance of elementary students being aware of the real world around them. This book not only deals with death and grief but poverty, bullying, and the historical context of young black men as targets starting with Emmett Till.  I've read all of Rhodes' other titles starting with Ninth Ward (Hurricane Katrina) and Towers Falling (911).  She does an amazing job of bringing these tough topics to elementary students through her well-written books.

I just started Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson, which I received as a gift when I went to hear Woodson speak at the Englert Theatre. She was amazing to listen to and I would love to have lunch with her. I'm only two chapters in so I'll give you the back blurb for this one:

Six kids. One school year. A room to talk...
Once there were six of us.
We circled around each other, and listened.
Or maybe what matters most is that we were heard. 

I hope you are giving yourself plenty of time to read this fall.  I have to head outside to breathe the crisp air and get my bones moving often as well. Our new dog Ruby loves to romp in the leaves and run freely in the green space across the street. It is a joy to watch her play outside which helps to balance how I feel about her chewing habits.