Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life is filled with surprises


Here is my life changing moment.  

One day last Spring I received a message on FB's messenger, it just happened to pop up on my phone while I was sitting at my desk. The message stunned me and I cried right there at my desk.  
It said: "Hey Mrs Holt! Do you remember me?" 

Anton was a student of mine in North Little Rock, AR at Seventh Street Elementary.  He'd been searching online for 6 years for me. 10 years ago we left Little Rock and moved back to Iowa. It's not much to go on when you've only ever called someone "Mrs. Holt" but eventually I showed up on FB for him. Miracle.

We communicated for over a year back and forth from Iowa to Texas and eventually his situation changed and we made the family decision to bring him here to Iowa-on the bus. It took 3 days.  He'd never travelled that far on his own. He was so proud of himself for being willing to go far from home.

He wants to go to school, he wants to work, and live life like others do. He just needs a leg up. He is the first in his family to graduate from high school and he wants more out of life than what he has seen. I knew he was worth it way back in 5th grade when I helped him frequently at home and at school. He is adjusting to Iowa, the cold, and being part of our family again.  

Every day teachers make connections with students. We are teaching young human beings how to be human; how to think, create, and navigate the bigger world around them. It is seriously important work.

Most often we make a daily brief impression (make it kind) but every once in a while you make a life-changing affect on a person and that is monumental for both.  It might make you cry at your desk at some point. That Anton would look for me for 6 years brings me such joy; knowing that as a 5th grader he was paying attention to everything we did together.  I wish he could have found me sooner but it worked out when it did. I'm grateful for our time together now. 



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Stranger Things


What a big fat hassle! I've been locked out of my blog for about 2 weeks now. When I recently renewed my domain name I was forced to do it through G-Suite, which is technically for business purposes but somehow all of blogger is shoved there now as well. Blech. It was a huge pain to renew and then I kept getting messages that I didn't have a blog registered to that account.

Anyway I hope I'm now up and running again. We shall see when I try to post this. I have a few major posts I've been saving up but want to make sure this works first.  So stay tuned for a major life story worth of Lifetime Television coming up on the next post. As long as I don't get cut out again. If this continues to be a problem I want to know how hard it is to move the contents of my blog out of google entirely. It seems they don't play well together.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Happy February! Here's my January book list...

I am so good at making lists and checking them off. I learned to make small lists a few years back (3 items about) which is helpful but it also means I make a new list every couple of hours. I looked at my January books on GoodReads and thought it made a pretty good list of interesting titles.


1. I survived the Chicago Fire, 1871 by Lauren Tarshis (2015) This is an early elementary fiction book so pretty easy to read and in fact I read it over my lunch hour one day. It is on the list for our Iowa state awards and I wanted to get it back out there circulating so I just sat down and read it. It was an exciting story and I can see why kids keep coming back to this series created by Tarshis to bring history to young readers. It works; I learned and was captured by the excitement.


2. Girl waits with gun by Amy Stewart (2015) This was our January pick for book club and I really enjoyed this charming mystery. Three eccentric sisters live out in the country and have problems with a rich factory owner who hassles them with a group of thugs. This book has a few interesting twists and is a quick read.


3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (2016) I have a love/hate relationship with this book. Most of it is so real, brutally real, make-you-cry-and-put-the-book-down cry. I loved the actual train and train stations created by Whitehead. The characters are vivid and were real to me. It is an incredible read and should be read by many Americans. Especially now. I'd like to send a copy to @potus so he could brush up on some black history.

4. Pax by Sara Pennypacker (2016) This is an amazingly sweet tale by Pennypacker about a boy and his pet fox. Reading the back of the book I didn't quite know about how the story was going to work but it did-it won my heart. Peter rescues this small kit and the two have been inseparable until bad things begin to happen in his young life.  This has an unknown setting with a bit of a dystopian feel to it; a war is happening over water but it is subtle and well-done. This is a wonderful story of friendship on many different levels.

5. Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2013) Sugar is a captivating main character born into a life of sugarcane. She hates almost all of her life but she has a sense of simple joy about her. Her mother has passed on and she is left on her own during this time of Reconstruction in the South. She wants her life to be bigger and bolder, she has dreams, and they don't include working for the man for pennies. One of her dreams is to be friends with the plantation owner's son Billy.  Rhodes created a very spunky character in Sugar; one that can teach us more about ourselves.

Put any of these on your reading list. And then check them off!


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cooking keeps me sane

Recently I've made some amazing recipes that I should share. It's been a wild last couple of days. My brother visited last week. Inauguration. My husband's performance of Rocky Horror opened on Friday night. And our son came back from school for the weekend to see last night's show.

I'm much like my grandmother in that I cook for people when they come to my home although I was caught a little unprepared when my brother and his family hung out with us last Sunday morning. I didn't let the same thing happen for this morning's brunch. The show was very late last night so Tristan and Heather slept in which was perfect. It gave me the time to do some morning yoga and then prepare food without a rush. Heather's vegan and my son follows suit when they are together. I found several new recipes that I was happy to try.

My initial inspiration came from this post, 30 Vegan Breakfast Recipes, by Sam at It doesn't taste like chicken.  Breakfast is one of our favorite meals and it was great to have so many wonderful choices all in one spot. There are several more on this list that I plan to try like the breakfast sandwich but for today's breakfast I picked the biscuits and gravy and potato hash. I served those two with grits, grapes, sliced oranges, and fresh orange juice. I'm terrible about snapping pictures of my plated food; trust me that the food looked delicious.

{Source}
Simple Vegan Breakfast Hash-This recipe was very filled with flavor. Peeling the potatoes and cutting them into bite-sized chunks took some time but they roasted to such hot perfection that I was pulling the crusty parts right off the pan. Mine had a more prominent mixture of sweet potato!
{Minimalist Baker}
Best Damn Vegan Biscuits- I thought I'd get ahead of the game by preparing these last night before I went to bed.  I must have been overtired as I mixed up the measurements for baking soda and baking powder.  They baked up beautifully and it was lucky that I tried one hot out of the oven. They were H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E!  Really heavy flavor of soda. So I redid the recipe this morning and they turned out just right. This is a very easy recipe to follow with minimal ingredients.
{Minimalist Baker}
If you're going to have biscuits then you should probably whip up some vegan gravy. I've made vegetarian gravy many times but had no clue how to make a vegan recipe that would taste good. Again I turned to Dana's recipe at the Minimalist Baker.  Her gravy is packed full of mushrooms giving it a hearty quality. I even wonder if I could pass this recipe off on my husband instead of that jarred gravy he sometimes uses in a pinch. Give it a try: Vegan Breakfast Gravy


I didn't get to march yesterday but was there in spirit. I did manage to slip in some reading; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Pax by Sara Pennypacker, both interesting stories of friendship.


I host book club on Monday night and I've made another great recipe for that: Sweet Potato Coconut Curry Soup, a very easy and flavorful recipe. I love soups and this one has a nice kick to it. 

Happy Week! February is truly just around the corner. We are at the halfway mark for winter. One step closer to spring is what I think.



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.