Sunday, April 12, 2015

Good Food, Good Friends

{I have no idea why this posts in all caps when it does not look that way in editing.  Strange but I don't have time to keep messing with it.  Enjoy. }

I made a meal yesterday for two musically talented friends who came to town to play a gig.  I offered to make them food as I'm all into this entertaining without cleaning utopia.  I did actually do a bit of cleaning but I just don't get stressed out about it.  I mostly tidied up a week's worth of daily clutter and swept our one hardwood floor that shows all the dust bunnies, dog prints, and crumbs.

I have several go-to meals I pull out of my hat that are easy to put together and still make a good impression.  Homemade pizzas are a big winner~especially if you ask the kids to help scoop the sauce and decorate the pies.  A Mexican burrito or tostado bar is another.  This is the one I did today as I came across this great recipe for a Mexican-inspired quinoa dish from Damn Delicious.  I woke up early yesterday morning and made the quinoa dish so it would be ready and I'd only have to reheat it.

(Sarah Prineas, Maribeth Boelts, and Jill Esbaum)

I spent my day at the public library for a book festival.  We had an amazing time.  There were book characters, yoga story time, music, drama, and three Iowa authors.  This was the first festival and I think a few things we could do differently but in general it was a good time for all.  Groovy Girl had the opportunity to "be" Olivia and she LOVED it.  She hugged lots of small people, posed for photos, danced and generally played it up.  It was hot and sweaty in the costume yet at the end of the day she didn't want to take off the huge costume.

After the book festival it was easy for me to wash some greens, saute a pound of grass-fed beef with homemade taco seasonings, reheat the quinoa dish, and fill little bowls with sour cream, cilantro, cheese, and avocado.  Right before they arrived I heated corn tortillas on our griddle just enough to make them crunchy.  And the best part was cracking open a container of feta cheese to sprinkle over the top.  Mmm.  It was good, not too heavy, and we were able to eat within about 45 minutes so my friends could travel the 8 minutes to set up their equipment.  The most important thing was the lovely conversation around the table between my two children, my two young guests, and myself.  There was storytelling and laughing.  Entertainment bliss.

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Little green shoots are popping up in the dark black soil out in my yard.  Birds are chirping and swarming around our bird feeder. Rain drizzles making everything richly green.  Of course it is still freezing and I'm sitting here in my light winter coat because I turned the heat off two days ago.

I had an amazing arugula salad for dinner tonigh with pecans crumbed on top. I bought the arugula this time with hopes that soon I will have some growing in my backyard.  I love the flavor-it has so much more to offer than lettuce.  Mixed with lettuce it's all pretty good.  

We've had our first backyard fire of the year and it was fantastic. We roasted Hebrew hot dogs, turkey dogs, and bratwurst. We had all the trimmings:  suaerkraut, mustard, ketchup, buns, homemade pickle relish and wasabi. We had bad-for-you-chips and bottles of crisp cider. It was all delicious.

Something about spring makes everything just crack open in an exciting way.  Life begins anew.  It's refreshed and earthy.  In the midwest we treasure it because we've been hibernating just to keep warm.  I, for one, am ecstatic to have warmer weather here and to share time outside with family. 

{Young Hansen gardeners}

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hello April; Meet my March reads...

I had a great reading month because of Spring Break.  Think of what I could get read if every month had a week's vacation nestled right in the middle. Let me plan the school calendar for next year!

1. A place at the table by Susan Rebecca White (2013):  Interesting story that involves a unique cafe and 3 very separate characters who come together.  Some of it I liked (Bobby story made an impact with me) and some of it did not fit or felt forced.  Three stars on Goodreads.  Read for reading retreat

2. Dramarama by E. Lockhart (2007):Two outspoken Ohio teenagers bond at school and then head to summer drama camp at a nearby college.  They both have very different experiences while away from home and mixing with other campers.  I liked what this book had to say to young adults; it's okay to be out there, be you no matter what. Four stars on Goodreads.  Read for reading retreat.

3. Circa Now by Amber McRee Turner (2014):  Interesting story about grief as Circa and her mom learn to live without her dad, the glue that was holding the whole family together.  Circa's mom suffers from depression and isn't good in some social situations.  They are religious and have help in their church family + a neighborhood family steps up to really help out.  In the middle of their grief a young boy shows up and needs Circa's help as well.  Three stars on Goodreads.  Read with Groovy Girl.

4. Prodigy by Marie Lu (2013):  The second in the exciting series with Day, the rebel, and June, the once elite turned rebel, escape to the Rebels and then escape again away from the Rebels.  The twists and turns in this one were surprising and I liked hearing more about the collapse of the U.S.  Waiting to read Champions now.  Four stars on Goodreads.  I read this with my 6th grade book club at school and wanted to do something interactive socially with them. I included Lu in a tweet asking if we could visit with her via twitter or any other social media just to talk and ask a couple of questions. She never answered and my young readers are a little disappointed.  If anyone knows how to get this accomplished please let me know.

5. A hundred pieces of me by Lucy Dillon (2014): This is the one that I read all the way to Arkansas, through the afternoon bluegrass fest, and then on to Greers Ferry.  It was a great story and has all of us comtemplating what brings us joy.  What 100 pieces of your life do you hold dear?  Five stars, reading retreat.

6. If you find this by Matthew Baker (March, 2015): I recieved this in the mail right before we left for our trip and I, of course, stuffed in my already stuffed book bag.  I'm glad I did as I started this on the reading retreat.  The cover pulled me in and A. and V. were interested in the title for their boy's book club.  I preread it for them and for any of you with an adventursome child looking for a good book.  I'm going to write a proper review for it soon because someone at Little, Brown kindly sent the book my way.  It's totally worth it.  Five stars, gift from publisher

7. The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielson (2012):  This one has been haunting me for a few months.  I wrote a blog post about this book, you can read it here, and the road trip back from Little Rock gave me the perfect opportunity to finish it. I wasn't disappointed in this fantasy adventure and I plan to read the second one soon.  Four stars, for me

8.  El Deafo by Cece Bell (2014): I've read only a handful of graphic novels and this one was excellent.  Cece's life journey was tough and she is able to make light of in the pages of this book. I imagine it was cathartic thinking about her early years with this big box and ear plugs to help her hear.  Every child wants to fit in and have friends as part of life-Cece does a great job of bringing this message home.  I'm so happy to have read this.  It was an honorable mention for Newberry but it's truly V's daughter's recommendation that made me pull it from our book cart of new books and read it.  Extra bonus: I chatted with a few students about how much I liked it and it's been in constant rotation.  Five start, for me.

9. The Ghosts of Graylock by Dan Poblocki (2012): Up for Iowa Children's Choice Awards we showed a Prezi of all the nominees and this clip was pretty creepy.  I had to read the book to see for myself just how scary it was.  Don't read it right before bedtime is my suggestion.  I thought it had great connections.  The brother and sister work together to solve the problems they are having thanks to a visit to Graylock, the local closed down asylum.  I liked Poblocki's writing style and will look for more from him.  Now I know what to recommend to that rotating group of kids who ask the question "where are the scary books?"  Four stars, for investigative purposes.

10. Eight Keys by Suzanne LaFleur (2011): Also an Iowa Children's Choice nominee and the perfect book to clear my mind of swamps and ghosts.  Elise is struggling with the leap into middle school as well as the family she misses.  She's not interested in doing homework and there's a bully at school making her miserable.  She just wants to fit in and her old friend Franklin makes her feel more like a baby than a middle schooler.  This was a well-told tale with many layers.  Four stars, for school.

How much reading were you able to accomplish in March?

Our weather is cheering me up and the garden is calling my name so April might not be as readable as March was.  I've already started several good ones though and I got a package again from Little, Brown...treasures await!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Reading retreat bliss

Our journey to Little Rock was a success.  We drove first to Mountain View, AR for a bluegrass festival at the beautiful Ozark Folk Center.   I enjoyed listening to the music and I was able to read while listening, which was important as I was desperately trying to finish Lucy Dillon's A hundred pieces of me for our reading retreat.

From Mountain View we headed South to the Little Rock area, staying in a gorgeous and new Best Western, picked because it had an indoor pool area.  Groovy Girl loves to swim and we love the hot tub.  I had one lovely night sleeping there and a relaxing morning before my friend V. picked me up for the first leg on the reading retreat.  We relaxed at her house for just a few minutes, waiting for A. to pick us up.

Our next stop was their local Whole Foods, a spectacular-looking store, basically a prettified Wal-Mart for natural food shoppers.  It doesn't give me the same healthy feeling to be in there like Whole Foods used to, it is different but it did have many of the picnic-type items we were looking for so we picked and chose carefully.  Oh, to eat like this all the time!  We had rice crackers, good hard cheese, a seedy hearty bread, a mix of olives, two delicious bars of chocolate, pears, apples, a box of salad greens, and two bottles of wine.  Except it was a Sunday and we could buy everything BUT the wine. Drats!

A. luckily had a friend living nearby that had a bottle of wine, the funny part was that the wine had been a gift from A. so she borrowed her own bottle of wine back.  We could live with one bottle of borrowed back wine and we headed to the hills of Greers Ferry.   I sat in the back and pulled out my book again to continue reading.  I wanted to finish before we made it to the cabin and they wanted me to finish so we could talk about the book.  It seemed to be the crowd favorite.

Our cabin was lovely with way more space than we needed. The best part was the large back porch that looked out on the lake.  It was a perfect spot to talk, enjoy the weather, and share a meal, family-style.

We had a great time. It was rejuvenating for me.  We talked about our books, friendship, the world (and all the world's problems). We talked about ourselves, our husbands, and our children.  Everyone has joys and trials, let me tell ya'.  We did a little bit of yoga.  We sat outside and inside.  We stayed up later than usual.  We laughed.  We drank just the one bottle of wine.  We shared chocolate with fruit.  We had 24 hours of solitude with each other; three strong women.

And the morning was filled with sunshine and hanging in our jammies.  And then A. got the phone call.  The one where her husband told her that their borrowed cat had been hit by a car.  It was a sad note to end on yet it illustrated how life just keeps happening around us.  The cat was a hard loss for her family-hopefully they've found joy in their shared memories of their friendly feline mate.

I hope we will get to do this again in a year or two.  The theme of A hundred pieces of me by Lucy Dillon is about what's real and important to you and the memories of our reading retreat are high on my list.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Vacation waste

I love vacations! It's tough being a super green person while you travel though.  There is a lot of waste in the journey and it's painful.  One quick stay at a hotel can yield a ton of waste. I tried to research about hotel waste and all I could find was statistics in the U.K.

Driving, off course, uses gasoline to get to your destination.  And while you can bring healthy snacks along the way you can't eat a main meal.  Well, I can because I'm a snacker, I can eat a lot of little meals and be just fine but others in my family have to eat a bigger real meal. My husband begins to snarl if he doesn't eat a real meal along the road and his preferred sandwich shop is Subway.  We are anti-most-any-fast-food places but there are a few we are willing to stop at through any trip.  Meals here are made for throwing into the trash. Gross.  None of the containers are bio-degradable or recyclable (and if they were, they don't provide a place to recycle it at the restuarant!)  This could change-and wouldn't that be great.  So road trips create waste as you dine along your journey.

Hotels now provide breakfast which is a newer and good feature so you aren't pushed out into your new location searching for a breakfast place every morning.  My husband would never do that anyway-we pack cereal in that case.  We've been to one amazing hotel in Minneapolis that used real plates, cups, and silverware for their breakfast and we loved it!  Most places have styrofoam or paper plates, all meant to be tossed away, and the trash can, after a breakfast with many sleepy people, is overflowing! It's kinda gross to us.  You've all been there and many don't even give it a second thought.  We think about it and try to figure ways around it.  One trip we actually packed our own plastic picnic plates for everyone to use.  Our teens were a tiny bit mortified but they used them amidst the stares of other diners.  We were only trying to impress ourselves and to not add to the huge overfilled garbage can.

Our last trip we forgot the plates until we had our first hotel breakfast and my husband and I both looked at each other and groaned.  To be fair it was our first trip in our newer Prius and packing was an issue.  Plates were not high on the list.  Next time though I will bring them no matter what especially if it is more than a one day trip.  A small thing we did to appease ourselves was to save our little plastic juice glasses and used them all three days we were there.

On the other hand when my two friends and I traipsed off to Greer's Ferry for our reading retreat we made minimal impact on the environment.  Our compost waste was bigger than the small trash bag we barely filled.  That kind of travel lifted me up and made me realize how much this way of life is just part of me.  I use cloth napkins everyday.  I don't use any excess paper products at home and it makes it very difficult to be that way out in the greater world. I bring my own travel mug to the coffee/tea shoppe.

Our trip was great though and it was wonderful to visit with friends for a few days.  The reading retreat, our meal at The Root in LR, Mary Poppins at The Rep, the fantastic bluegrass in Mountain View and The Old Mill in Little Rock were just a few highlights.

How do you deal with this on the road?  Any tricks you can pass on...

Friday, March 13, 2015

God I love green things...

Green is in right now. Green eating, green energy, green juicing, green washing (not good), and lime green is literally everywhere.

Last night I was creating goodness in my kitchen and it was all green. I sautéed Brussels sprouts with coconut oil and I had a tubular pasta tossed with homemade pesto from last year's garden. I love it when dinner prep comes together and kids are happy with the meal. They oohed and aaah'ed. It was great. 

Now those limes you see on my cutting board....those were for my Dark and Stormy, which I had while I was throwing together dinner.  My own March Madness!

March is a perfect month for getting into the green! Shamrock shakes are green but think of real + good for you foods that you can bring to the table this month.

Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Celebrating Eleanor Roosevelt on International Women's Day

It's wonderful to have a day to celebrate women and won't it be great when we can celebrate accomplishments like equal pay.  It seems crazy to me that this is still an issue.  Why don't women get paid more when we DO more?  It's not enough that we hold down full-time jobs and do them amazingly and then go home and throw together a healthy dinner that appeals to all members of the the family.  My family.  It's not easy.  We have to worry about sick kids, paying bills,  staying safe, and making people happy.

It's a lot to accomplish.

Eleanor Roosevelt, one of my female heroes, is someone who accomplished a lot and was always a beacon for women's issues.  She was born in NYC, the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, who lost both of her parent's at a young age.  She was sent to England for schooling and it seemed to cure her shyness. She married her distant cousin Franklin and they had six children.  She was a busy housewife but she made time during WWI to work for the Red Cross.

Franklin contracted polio in 1921 and Eleanor stepped up and assisted him with his political career. She changed the role of First Lady as she fully involved herself in press conferences, spoke out for human rights, women's issues, and children's causes.  She had her own newspaper column and worked with The League of Women Voter's.   All through Franklin's presidency she worked for change.  Upon her husband's death she said she was done but went on to work for the United Nations. She helped to craft the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which she considered to be her greatest achievement.  She died of cancer in 1962-the year I was born.

We've had amazing advocates like Eleanor so what's the hold-up on women's issues? My answer is too many men making laws/rules.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Reading Retreat 2015

In about a week's time I will be enjoying warmer weather in a Southern city with two friends.  Our plan is to have a reading retreat-24 hours of reading bliss where we will talk books, have a glass of wine, maybe knit a little as we talk, revel in each other's company. I can't wait and I hope this week school flies by! I'm excited to be in the presence of fareaway friends.

Months ago we each picked a book to share:

A Place at the table by Susan Rebecca White (2013): 
Alice Stone is famous for the homemade southern cuisine she serves at Café Andres and her groundbreaking cookbook, but her past is a mystery to all who know her. Upon Alice’s retirement, Bobby Banks, a young gay man ostracized by his family in Georgia, sets out to revive the aging café with his new brand of southern cooking while he struggles with heartbreak like he’s never known. Seeking respite from the breakup of her marriage, wealthy divorcée Amelia Brighton finds solace in the company and food at Café Andres, until a family secret comes to light in the pages of Alice’s cookbook and threatens to upend her life. (amazon)

Dramarama by E. Lockhart (2007):  
Two theater-mad, self-invented fabulositon Ohio teenagers.
One boy, one girl.
One gay, one straight.
One black, one white.
It's a season of hormones,
gold lame,
hissy fits,
jazz hands. (amazon)

A hundred pieces of me by Lucy Dillon (2014): 
Reeling from her recent divorce, Gina Bellamy suddenly finds herself figuring out how to live on her own. Determined to make a fresh start—with her beloved rescue greyhound by her side—Gina knows drastic measures are in order.  First up: throwing away all her possessions except for the one hundred things that mean the most to her. But what items are worth saving? Letters from the only man she’s ever loved? A keepsake of the father she never knew? Or a blue glass vase that perfectly captures the light?  As she lets go of the past, Gina begins to come to terms with what has happened in her life and discovers that seizing the day is sometimes the only thing to do. And when one decides to do just that...magic happens. (amazon)

All three sound excellent!  I finished A place at the table, am 1/2 way through Dramarama, and will read A hundred pieces of me this week.  I'll let ya'll know how magnificent the retreat is?