Sunday, February 23, 2020

Black History Month Lesson

I love this animated short that won an Oscar this year. We've shown in to 3rd-6th grade students and it's created an atmosphere for good discussion about hair, cancer, and families. I worked hard to create an interesting history project for 5th and 6th grade students.  It's a Google Slideshow if you are interesting in checking it out or using it.

My students have been very engaged in research and creating their slideshows. I love their excited conversations as they find out facts. One group announced that John Lewis' birthday was on February 20th and he was turning 80. They've discovered a few Iowans like Anna Mae Weems and were excited to know she is from Waterloo and that she is still alive! Lonnie G. Johnson invented the Super Soaker. Wow!  I look forward to seeing their projects and knowing each of them learning a little something new which is what we all need to broaden our horizons.

I recently finished Maybe he just likes you by Barbara Dee which chronicles Mila as she navigates 7th grade with a group of unique friends and a group of harassing young men.  These boys play a game centered around touching or talking about Mila's body and she has a hard time fending them off. One of her friends keeps telling her she is taking it too seriously because maybe they like her or they are just joking. The boys continue the game even after Mila has asked them to stop. This is a wonderful book for middle or high school students to read although I personally didn't think the boys were truly understand how their behavior was wrong. It certainly will create good conversations for students. Last weekend I read The War that saved my life which was a huge hit two years ago in the library but has been gathering dust this year.  I took it home, read it and loved it so of course book talked the heck out of it with 5th-6th grade students and now it's circulating again as is the sequel The War I finally won.

I'm still working on Mary Pipher's book Women Rowing North.  Aging is tough and this book is an excellent navigational resource. I want to highlight the heck out of this book except that it isn't mine.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

So Much in February

Tomorrow is CAUCUS day-a pretty big deal here in Iowa but for everyone as well because if we pick well it can be a positive push for the nation. For example if my choice Mayor Pete Buttigieg has great numbers at all caucus locations than suddenly people in other states will be saying his name a bit more often.  It's exciting stuff. I'm ready for it and I'm kind of ready for it to be over. If you are politically active it makes for busy days. On Friday night Groovy Girl and I walked for 2 hours knocking on doors for Pete.  It was snowy, a little cold, and we had one or two really great conversations which made for a lovely Friday night.

February is Black History Month which I feel awkward about because I feel like this should be something integrated into our curriculum naturally all the time every day but I also understand the need to highlight and move beyond the quick Dr. King and Rosa Parks stories. The week surrounding Dr. King's birthday I shared his "I have a Dream" speech with 5th and 6th grade students and we discussed then vs. now and racism today. I was a little taken aback that so few students really understood the reason for the holiday is to celebrate his birthday. Clearly this area does need constant work!  My teaching plan for this month is to share stories about a variety of African Americans from history and the present.

I recently watched Ava DuVerny's documentary When They See Us on Netflix and I highly recommend everyone watch this. It was a struggle to watch because it made me so angry! It's helpful that it is offered as 4 parts which helped break it up for me. I literally couldn't wait to get the last one to find the positive for these young men so wrongly accused and abused by the police and the whole system.  It easily brings to mind all the more recent unjust deaths like Philando Castile. And while scrolling though Twitter I found Black History in Two Minutes narrated by Henry Louis Gates Jr. Challenge yourself to find something directed by, created by, or written by a Black/Brown American this month. I'll be following up with more throughout the month.

Be peaceful with one another...

Saturday, January 11, 2020

2019 books in review

I've read an amazing amount of great literature this year. It was a treat to look back and reminisce about each book on my GoodReads account and it is my hope that I can inspire one reader to pick up at least one of these fabulous books.  I prefer fiction over nonfiction so I surprised myself with three fantastic memoirs this year.  Leonard Pitts has an excellent article "This is the Year of Reading Women" in order to push himself to read more works by women. I am glad to say looking through my lists women authors continue to take a lead for me. 


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Becoming by Michelle Obama


Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg


Educated by Tara Westover


The gifts of imperfection by Brene Brown

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Better than carrots or sticks; restorative practices for positive classroom management by Dominique Smith



Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Where the crawdads sing by Delia Owens

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Salvage the bones by Jesmyn Ward

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Heads of the colored people by Nafissa Thompson-Spires


The Bar Harbor retirement home for Famous Writers (and their muses) by Terri-Lynne DeFino


The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

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Helen Hoang's book's  The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test

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Sally Rooney's Normal People and Conversations with friends

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Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Young Adult/Children's Fiction:


Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky


Front Desk by Kelly Yang

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Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart


Louisiana's Way home by Kate DiCamillo

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Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds


Summoner Series by Taran Matharu

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate


Here Lies the librarian by Richard Peck

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Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundt


Aru Shah and the end of time by Roshani Chokshi

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Amina's voice by Hena Khan

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Merci Suarez changes gears by Meg Medina


Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed


Ban this book by Alan Gratz

I'm so gratefully to work in a field where I enjoy the homework very much.  There are so many fantastic diverse authors out there now and I loved what I read in Amal Unbound, Are Shah, and Merci Suarez, Amina's Voice, Ami Polonsky for Grayson, and Kelly Yang!  I hope 2020 brings as much joy reading.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Christmas menu; save for future please

We always wish we had more down time with our three children; there never seems to be enough and often times when everyone was younger we didn't always cherish the time because we were together more often. Now at best we are a family of five maybe twice a year and that seems not enough. Everyone has work schedules and time lines of their own and we haven't even added more family into the mix. The blessing is that when we do get together everyone gets along!  I'm happy they've turned into adults who care about each other. There is something very special about siblings because you have all this shared history; some good, some bad, some awesome experiences that all can relate to in shared conversation. We always have some moments of shared stories, "remember that time..." and it's good to be able to laugh about even the bad times, the tough times we came through as a family.

That's what Christmas has become to me. Add some fantastic food and a couple of gifts and I'm quite merry!  The past three years my son and his girlfriend have been eating vegan and each year I'm a little more successful for creating a diverse menu that everyone will like. I don't like a table where sides need to be separated; vegan/non-vegan. So to break it down we have one no-red meat eater, one mostly only chicken eater, one who eats everything but is allergic to garlic and shellfish, the two vegans, and myself, a flexitarian/vegetarian. We make it work.

This year I had three Alaskan sustainable-fished salmon filets, and three Beyond Burgers for our main course. And then my two friends helped with  the sides: Jaime Oliver's smashed potatoes and his make-ahead vegan gravy, and Giada's Mediterranean couscous with apples and cranberry was a huge hit. Jaime Oliver says something like we all need to get used to a little more plant-based cooking because at everyone's table there is probably a veg-head or  two and a vegan, throw in a gluten-free cousin and you've got an amazing adventure in menu-planning. Everyone loved the smashed potatoes as an alternative to mashed; we loved how crispy the edges were and next time I think I'd leave them in even a little longer. Several of us loved the couscous and I would make this again especially for book club. Enjoy the above sexy food video for gravy recipe. When I heated our gravy back up the next day I added a bit more flour to get it to the right consistency. It was amazing. Jaime has about 40 vegan recipes on YouTube so if this is a food choice you are interested in take a look.

{my brother and sister-in-law
I hope everyone else found merriment over the holiday. After a fantastic and relaxing two-day trip to Minnetonka to visit my brother and his family it is time to put the house back in order and get ready for our Iowa caucus.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Hello Winter Break!


I've taken quite a break from blogging without meaning to but grief works in strange ways for everybody and I just took a step back from certain parts of my own life.  I've still helped with the Mayor Pete campaign although I missed a few events and I've obviously headed to work every day which truly brings me such great joy. I love seeing the faces of all my students even the tough ones.  School is good and now I'm on winter break which is fantastic. The holiday season is in full swing.

My shopping is almost done and I just have some local things to shop for + groceries to purchase. As my kids get older we really focus on the JOY of spending time together over ripping into tons of gifts. Last year we spent time reading all our favorite Christmas picture books to each other. Something about reading Corduroy's Christmas or Dream Snow by Eric Carle that ushers in a warm and cozy feeling. We also love to watch Christmas movies together-Love, Actually is one of our favorites and this year we plan to watch Klaus together. We generally go see the new Star Wars movie as a family after Christmas. I'm looking forward to all of it.

Last weekend I went to a soup exchange hosted by a friend.  I made this delicious sweet potato curry soup I found on my NYT cooking app. They each made a soup and we came together and shared.  I brought home at least 4 jars of homemade soup; a tomato tortellini and an au pistou (a French soup) and both were delicious.  And we had a drink I was unfamiliar with (shocking!) - it was We are hosting a Christmas party game night for friends on Sunday night and I'm going to make the tomato tortellini soup for them b/c it looks so festive. Enjoy this weekend, this holiday, hug all those that surround you with love and even the awkward folk who don't love a hug but treasure your smile. Just spend time with your people.  Namaste.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Grateful hearts

Before i could release 
the weight of my sadness
and pain, i first had
to honor its existance
~yung pueblo

don't run away
from heavy emotions

honor the anger;
give pain the space 
it needs to breathe

this is how we let go
~yung pueblo

[Stan on the left]
Two weeks ago the earth tilted off course for a brief moment and a friend of mine, Stan Crossland, died as he tried to change a tire on the shoulder of a highway in California. It's been a painfully sad two weeks yet I've also had this amazing flood of memories. This post is one of mourning but also gratitude for the time we spent together. Stan was an effervescent guy, filled with laughter and good vibes. He loved to travel and had been to a crazy amount of countries. He loved good food and we often ended our evenings with chocolate chip cookies dunked in a mug of milk. He was filled with surprises and thoughtfully showed up on Valentine's Day with a heart-shaped pizza for me at the end of my wait shift. We hosted several Friendsgiving events and played football in the snow before dinner. We both love music and were often out dancing to a variety of local Denver bands in and around the city.
We traveled to Las Vegas in May 1993 with friends to see Sting and The Dead play; we had so much fun tromping around the glittery all-night city, cocktails in hand. Just the other day I had a flashback memory of finishing our hotel breakfast and heading toward our car through glass patio doors where we saw the beautiful pool and took one look at each other and soft dove right into that pool with clothes on. It was a wet first few hours back in the car but we laughed about that for a long time. So smug were we.

I loved him and he loved me; we had each other’s backs. That same year we took another trip just the two of us heading out of Denver for Salt Lake City where we stayed with my brother, Mike for a day or two, then headed to Lake Powell to see friends of his on holiday from the U.K., and then on up to San Francisco for a New Year's Eve Dead show at the Oakland Coliseum. I remember Stan watching me as this massive dragon puppet controlled by dozens of people underneath paraded around the floor level. It was an amazing sight that I'd forgotten about for years. Oh, the magic, the mystery, the delightful times we had together.

[Halloween shift at Chives in Denver]

Dearest Stan-

You are an amazing soul and I'm sure you are dancing in heaven, playing with the band. Even though I am happy to connect with you in Chicago just a few years ago I am so sorry to have lost touch with you.  I settled down and you went off for more adventure.  For the years we were together I am forever grateful for pushing me into new and wonderful experiences. You were the first man I knew who really appreciated me and all my quirks.  You totally let me be me.  Everyone should have a friend like that in their life.  I'm so proud of you for writing a book, taking care of your mother, and continuing to travel, for diving into yoga and meditation. Next time we meet we can get our yoga flow on.  Our journey together reminds me of one of my favorite books, Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. I know I will find you again, maybe with root vegetables in your backpack, so I will just say "until we meet again dear friend"                   ~with great love,  me

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Let's get political!!

One day last Spring while folding laundry I channel surfaced looking for something to grab my attention.  I found this guy that I didn't know at all speaking with Trevor Noah, one of my favorite people, and I stopped to listen and was so moved I had to know more. If you are on the fence or simply need to know more here is that interview:

In Iowa as in other caucus states we are inundated with candidates, their messages, their meetings, and their staffers. It's hard to get away from yet as I canvassed the other day I met more than a few people who had never caucused ever and who really had no interest in candidates that were running. This was a little shocking to me except I've always been interested. Politicians have everything to do with our daily lives even though people may not realize it. I think this presidency has a least been a much needed sometimes brutal wake-up call on how influential a candidate can be. Think of the tidal wave of inhumanity caused by the person in the White House now. From immigration to climate change this person continuously is on the wrong side of history.

Mayor Pete for me is the ideal presidential candidate; he is extremely smart, well-spoken, balanced, with a healthy love of country that does not bypass the rest of the world. I believe he will be a great president for all Americans because he has a concern for everyone. He is empathetic and I see this at events when he speaks one-on-one with people and with how he weights issues.  His youth appeals to me as I think that is what we need to move us forward in a big way.  I encourage you to look into Mayor Pete if you have any hope to change our current presidential situation. I have in the past been on the Bernie bus and at one time was an Elizabeth Warren fan; at this present moment though I believe Pete is the one to win and change our entire political climate.  And we need that. We don't need same old, same old. We need brighter and better. If I've nudged you at all please take a look at Mayor Pete's website and let me know your thoughts.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

An education for all...

(stock photo - 1970)

To be a teacher today you have to be a psychologist, play therapist, mediator, mother/father figure, and humorist all rolled into one. It's not the easy job it once was; not to belittle teachers of the past but I think of the teachers I had growing up and they didn't need to have quite the skill set we do now. I've interviewed some retired teachers to check my thinking on this and they agree. Teaching has changed; the pay has not.  We work damn hard for our money and leave exhausted every day. Many of us work an hour (and sometimes more) at the end of the day to be ready for the next day and many of us spend weekend afternoons to plan for the week. It's a lot of planning to keep kids interested in what we teach. We have to figure out ways to integrate technology but not too much.  I don't want to give kids the perception that everything fun happens on a screen. I stress books, reading, board games, and lots of time outside and that is true for in school and out. I want students I work with to enjoy school both in the library and in their classroom.

(image - JennyXYoung)
My daughter - Groovy Girl - is in high school now, a senior! When I started this blog she was just beginning elementary school, which she loved!  She adored many of her teachers and was excited for the variety of activities they did. She hates school now and it crushes me.  She loves learning and watches a lot of cool educational documentaries for fun. She is opinionated and understands a great deal about the world around her.  So why do we squeeze the fun out of school at the middle and high school level? 

She is sleepy every morning as she trudges off to school.  She is tired from dance the night before and often stays up to midnight to finish homework.  As a parent I've questioned why are we still doing dance when it leaves very little time for homework yet it is her absolute JOY. How can I take that away from her? I can't. So we struggle through and she worries about if she'll make it in college based on her high school experience. She gets little help from school counselors and her teachers. She's smart, yet has to work hard, and she questions her ability all the time.  Sometimes when she takes a test (1-4 performance-based grade) and doesn't do well she has nowhere to turn. The class just moves on except technically they are supposed to reteach if kids are struggling.  I want her to be able  to retake a test to help her learn more.  I want her teachers to reach out and see her even if she is the only one struggling with concepts. Our system at least in high school fails in this.  She  feels horrible when she doesn't succeed and while I know the real world is often dog eat dog most jobs you learn as you go and you keep moving forward. We should allow failures to blossom into growth in all levels of education.

I am aware in all this that technology plays a role in her life and is often a HUGE hindrance in getting things accomplished.  She can access homework on her phone and uses it for flashcards and learning apps like Quizlet but often that leads to checking IG, watching SnapChat videos from friends, the list is endless. After a recent conversation she deleted some of her time-wasting apps, which made her happy; to be pro-active but then said she filled that time with dancing around the house instead of more homework!  I wish I had the answer or magical words to help.  I don't.  Do you?

Teachers and students of today have a mixed bag of trouble and triumph.  I hope she (and I) can make it through this year and that she will flourish in college. I want to enjoy this last year with her not spend every day helping her work out her frustrations and encouraging confidence in herself.