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. 


Nonfiction:

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Becoming by Michelle Obama

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Shortest Way Home by Pete Buttigieg

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Educated by Tara Westover

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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

Fiction:

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Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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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

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

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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:

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Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang

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Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

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Louisiana's Way home by Kate DiCamillo

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Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

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Summoner Series by Taran Matharu

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Wishtree by Katherine Applegate

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Here Lies the librarian by Richard Peck

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Walking with Miss Millie by Tamara Bundt

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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

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Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed

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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!

(family)

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.
[Utah]
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.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Best Books (so far) 2019

It was a beautiful day today-the sun was shining and it felt warm even though the wind was a bit brisk. I can feel summer winding down and even though I Fall weather is lovely and I love a good sweater I always miss summer.  I'm a t-shirt and sandal kind of person and love being outside.

Fall weather does bring it's own joy with it as well. Sweaters, boots, beautiful leaves falling, and warm beverages-ohhh, and backyard fires. Good times!

Over the last few months I've read quite a few books from April-August and some of them you should definitely add to your reading lists.  I have two different lists; one with adult reads and one with children's literature.  They are all worth reading though whether you are young or older...

Adult Fiction:


Daisy Jones and the Six (2019) by Taylor Jenkins Reid - This was the book that made me jump head first into Book-of-the-month club! This read like it was real, so much so that I googled it to see how I'd missed this band.  Billy Dunne, Daisy Jones and the rest of the cast all make for memorable characters that stayed with me. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, baby! She's an author I want to read more of soon.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (2006) by Zora Neale Hurston - We picked this one as our "classic" for book club and I was so satisfied reading this excellent novel.  It felt like I was back struggling with the Joad (Grapes of Wrath) family in college.  Janie's life is a rough and joyous journey as she tries to stay independent and enjoy life along the way.


Normal People (2018) by Sally Rooney - This second novel was a very interesting tale of friendship and love between Marianne and Connell while in high school and at Trinity College in Dublin.  the characters are very memorable and the story was so intriguing. I also read Rooney's first book, Conversations with friends, and liked it as well.

The Kiss Quotient (2018) and The Bride Test (2019) by Helen Hoang - These two little books are w-a-y too sexy for most but oh, so good. They rate like 12 stars from me. Stella Lane and Khai Diep both resonated with me as characters on the spectrum struggling with their emotions.  Sexy and fantastic; Hoang is writing a 3rd and I can't wait! Also I did find both at my local library!


The story of Arthur Truluv (2017) by Elizabeth Berg - What a beautiful story of Arthur as he works through the death of his wife and learns to form a new family of sorts with a young and lost teenage girl and his bothersome and moody next door neighbor Lucille.  Family is truly what we make of it when we need it and Arthur opens up his heart to help those around him even though he still feels devastated. Thank you to Jen and Chris for passing this on to me this summer. I'm waiting for the second one to arrive.


Memoirs: 

Educated (2018) by Tara Westover - Amazing read! I was so intrigued by her family struggles and Tara's desire to rise above.  I was appalled at some of the problems she had to overcome from her own family but her own independence was even more breath-taking because of it.


The shortest way home; one mayor's challenge and a model for America's future (2019) by Pete Buttiegieg - Also an Amazing read!! Mayor Pete is a wonderful writer and his story flowed from his family life, his public life, and his road to love. I was already part of the #PeteWave but after this I feel like I know him personally. I'm totally rooting for him.

I am a fiction reader for the most part so the fact that I have not one but two excellent memoirs on my list is pretty amazing. Honorable mention would be The Saboteur (2017) by Paul Kix which tells the story of Robert de La Rochefoucald who was part of the French Resistance during WWII.  We read this for book club and I found out Kix has a podcast, Now that's a great story, and it is quite good! Not that I need another podcast b/c I can't keep up with what I have downloaded so far.

Young Adult and Children's lit:

On the come up (2019) by Angie Thomas - Her second novel focuses on 16-yo Bri as she strives to make it the rapper world; a world that her father was king of before his death. I have to admit Bri was a bit brazen for me yet I understood where her anger boiled and spilled over from as she deals with life in her neighborhood.  I look forward to what ever Angie brings forth in her 3rd novel.

The Novice (2015) by Taran Matharu - High fantasy and a fun escape book that a student recommended to me.  Fletcher and the other cast of characters in this magical world of summoners was easy to get lost in and I quickly read the second one as well, The Inquisition.  My friend Wyatt did give me the 3rd one a few weeks ago and it is still sitting on my desk. I have a stack to finish here before I'll be ready to bring it home.  


Gracefully, Grayson (2014) by Ami Polonsky - Grayson's story is an amazing journey of acceptance as she learns to accept who she is and share her true identity with her adopted family. Grayson's parents died years ago and she is being raised by his uncle.  As Grayson reads some old family letters she begins to understand that this is who she has always been. This is wonderfully written debut novel about friendship and acceptance. 

Amal Unbound (2018) by Aisha Saeed - Amal desires to be a teacher one day until an event in her small Pakistani village takes her dream away. When she gets angry at the local landowner for his rude behavior he teaches her about power as he forces her parents to send her to him as a servant. Amal's fierce independence never lets her accept her fate as she fights for a way to break free. I loved this story and hope to find more of her stories to come. 


Merci Suarez changes gears (2018) by Meg Medina - This is a feisty school story with Merci and her family struggling to make it through middle school as a scholarship student and as a sunshine buddy to the cute new boy, all while watching her beloved grandfather begin to suffer from bouts of confusion. 

Amina's Voice (2017) by Hena Khan - Amina is struggling with middle school as her best friend, Soojin begins to hang out with one of the popular (and unkind) girls.  It is so hard to figure out how to stay true to yourself but also fit in with the friend you love. Amina worries about her friendship and her strict uncle coming to stay with them which is already enough to handle when the mosque her family attends is vandalized.  When the community comes together for them Amina learns to understand how to be herself. 

Aru Shah and the end of time (2018) by Roshani Choksi - Aru totally stretches the truth to her classmates (and to herself, really) as she deals with her absent and busy mom and their life living in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art.  When three classmates stop by to accuse her of more lies she breaks a vow to her mother and she lights an ancient lamp to placate her classmates. When time is literally stopped she must unlock the mystery of her family's history in order to put life back in motion. I must make time to read the second book in this series. 


Walking with Miss Millie (2017) by Tamara Bundy - Alice is not happy that her mom has moved the family to the exact small town where her mother grew up just so they can take care of her aging grandmother. She misses her dad and her old life.  When she is forced to spend time with her grandmother's aging nieghbor Alice learns that life in a small town can be filled with all kinds of interesting characters. I liked the slower pace to this as Alice learns to navigate some life lessons. 

Ohhh. That's a lot of books. I hope you find something interesting to read from my list. 













Thursday, September 19, 2019

Podcasting


I've been into listening to podcasts for awhile. Our oldest daughter Kaylee works for Gimlet Media and had us listening to Reply All early on. Now she is the producer for Heavyweight hosted by Jonathan Goldstein who gets involved with a "heavy" situation; like one episode about Skye who was bullied  by her own group of friends in high school and she wants to find out why. The stories are good and I always feel completely drawn in.


I still listen to Heavyweight (their 4th season is about to drop) and I also listen to The Yarn hosted by Travis Jonker, an elementary librarian and Colby Sharp, 5th grade teacher extraordinaire. I love their banter and they interview some of my favorite authors like Kate DiCamillo.  I love Dax Shepard's podcast Armchair Expert because he seems to be talking off the top of his head for most shows. I loved his interview with Ben Platt from Dear Evan Hansen.  I've listened to Goop's podcast and I spent several road trips listening to many episodes of Oprah's Super Soul Conversations which have the tendency to really move me to tears. I'm not very good at listening to audible books because I lose track of the story line as my mind wanders but podcasts seem to work. My commute is super short though so I have to fit them in at other opportunities like cleaning the house.


Because I listened to so many this summer I decided to make this happen in the library as well. I charged up a small handful of iPods and mini iPads that were gathering dust in my backroom after I'd received an official cart of kid-friendly iPads for student use. I downloaded about 15 kid-friendly podcasts and set up a table station with headphones, iPads, iPods and a charging cord. Students seem excited about it and rush to finish check out so they can get one of the iPods (which are popular b/c at first they thought they were phones). There are so many podcasts for kids out there that talk about books, science, stories, animals, travel adventures, and meditation activities; something for everyone!


Also major kudos to all the students willing to take a stand tomorrow and walk out of school for climate change!  Use your voice. Thanks to Greta Thunburg.