Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2015-Happy New Year to You.

{Xmas morn}
I can't believe it's here!  I don't have everything checked off my list from 2014!  Do you?  I still have miles to go in fact.  I didn't write enough, didn't do enough downward dogs, and I'm three books behind on my Goodreads challenge.

I can reflect back and know that while I didn't get everything done I did get so much accomplished. And I'm grateful for the year that I've had especially school-related.  I didn't think I could love kids the way I loved Highland students but Hansen proved me wrong.  Grateful.

I've survived a year with handsome son out of the house and living in Colorado.  I miss him fiercely but I'm happy he's working on the next part of his own journey.  I love to text back and forth with him and have received some amazing messages from him throughout the year.  Grateful.

Groovy Girl and I have survived the first half of 7th grade together.  Middle school is harsh because her elementary school was like home; filled with love and understanding.  Middle school is the opposite of that. Rules, rules and more rules.  She's learning though and I've learned to listen as she rants about this teacher or that rule.  In the long run we'll both be better off.  Grateful.

I'm happy that oldest daughter has figured out her next step after graduating in May from Oberlin. She'll be off to Portland, ME in a week to study at the The Salt Institute for Documentary Studies.  Just browsing their website makes me know she will love it.  It's good when each person knows what their next step into space is going to be.  Grateful.

This new year will bring more surprises, more journeys, and more inner peace.  What will the new year bring for you?

{Last night together for 2014 @Ciao Bella/Minneapolis)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The night before Christmas...

and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.  I stirred most of the day though.

What a beautiful Christmas Eve day we've had here in the Holt household.  The kids woke up lazy and late, eating breakfast for lunch.  I, on the other hand, had been up since 5 a.m. putting together dough for three loaves of bread, making my last list and checking it twice.  I dislike to be all crazy on a holiday yet I didn't want it to be Christmas Day and not have what I needed for our meal and our, most importantly, mimosas!  So I did have a long list of things to do since it was my first day off and even though I'd shopped previously.  I blame it on our too small refrigerator.

We've done a lot of sharing over this holiday since it is now rare for all 5 of us to be together.  Somehow it's made us more appreciative.  The older kids have shared many memories and both said that eating breakfast together on Christmas morn is very special to them.  That over opening gifts!  That is a happy thought I will savor all through the year.

Tomorrow morning we are having this french toast recipe which I picked just because I could make it in my crock pot.  I adore the idea of getting up and having it all ready.  We usually only look at Santa gifts and stocking gifts before we eat so this will be perfect.  I am also going to cook some bacon (for our meat-loving men) and fried eggs to round out the meal.

(Bon Appetit clam chowder)

Christmas Eve meals have always been special in our house and many times I've many lasagna but the last few years we've had clam chowder.  In my family we always had oyster stew with fresh bread which was so perfect but I married a man who cannot eat oysters so we came around to clams-for some reason clams are okay.   I will use this Bon Appetit recipe again -it had excellent flavor and I'm sure it came from the pound of real clams I started with and I was so excited when they all opened.  The fresh bread was perfect for dipping and soaking up the broth.  I made a double batch and we have just a small amount for leftovers.

Tomorrow we have a hodgepodge of favorites for all types.  My husband and son will enjoy a spiral-cut ham (a gift from a friend) and the rest of us will enjoy a variety of veggie dishes + a big salad.  Mostly I want to just sit and enjoy my kids as we laugh together, go for a walk, and play board games.  I think watching a movie is in the works as well.

Appreciate the love of your family as you celebrate this holiday season!   Feliz Navidad.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tough beginning to December

My kid's favorite month has had a tough start for me.  I've been sick for about 4 weeks with a cold that turned into a sinus infection.  I finally took myself to the doctor (which I'm always slow to do) and am now on an antibiotic (which I really dislike) but I am beginning to feel human again.

I watched copious amounts of Parenthood, making me cry, and read several books (The Wednesday Wars, The secret life of bees, The invention of wings).  In all that sick time I just didn't get any blogging done-I blame it on a the snot.  Really though I was just so tired.  It took all the strength I could gather just to finish a day at work.

I wasn't writing but I did do all this:

I made this lasagna from Martha Stewart.  Good flavor but a bit dry.  It tasted much better the next day.

I hosted my husband's work Christmas party so we had 11 people over for a potluck dinner; I made bread and the lasagna.  We cleaned house for 2 days.  It was dusty.

I went to my school Christmas gathering hosted by my principal.  It was lovely and I made this artichoke dip from Paula Deen.  It doesn't have any butter in it but it was a huge hit.

I made a second artichoke dip for book club (The invention of wings) which happened on the exact same night as aforementioned school party.

I also hosted a reception for my husband's Christmas play (A Coney Island Christmas by Donald Marguiles.)  The play was a huge hit and Groovy Girl even had a good role.

In between but mostly just the last two days I've been able to finish Christmas shopping and prepare for our two oldest to come home.  We picked up the oldest, Kaylee, yesterday in Iowa City.  Tomorrow the second, Tristan, flies into Mpls/St Paul airport.  Last spring for Kaylee's graduation is the last time we've been together and we are so excited to be together.

You can see from my list why the writing drops off the list so easily unfortunately.  Too tired, too much to do. I hope your list isn't as long!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Beautiful soup!

I love soup.  If I had to pick a last meal I would pick soup and I'd have to make it myself.  I'm not a fan of canned soup or most soups in a restaurant.  They generally don't excite me-even though I want them to be splendiferous.  When I order a tomato-basil soup I want it to be great-as great as the one I make or better even!

Jason's Deli makes a good soup but we don't have one around here.  We had one in Little Rock when we lived there and used to go after church and have soup, sandwiches, and salads.  I found one in Denver, Colorado when I needed to order chicken noodle soup for my 19-year-old son who was sick- I sent him a delivery person with soup.  I couldn't be there so this was the next best thing.  It's all about the soup.

Soup, glorious soup.  I found a keeper as I scanned through my very special copy of Dinner; A love story by Jenny Rosenstrach. I found myself standing in my kitchen lazily paging through looking and reading many of Jenny's stories (again) when I came upon this soup and I had all the ingredients (Love that!) + I'm under the weather so perfectly in need of a bowl of quality soup.

{Jenny's photo}

Butternut Squash Soup with apples (101-102)

1 medium onion, chopped 
few glugs of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
leaves from 1 sprig fresh thyme
1 T. curry powder (optional)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes. (about 4 1/2 cups cubes)
2 apples (Fuji, Macintosh, or Cortland preferred., but just about any except Red Delicious will work.)
3 1/2 cups or more of chicken broth (or vegetable broth-which is what I used)
Garnishes:  Chopped walnuts, chopped chives, sour cream

In a Dutch oven or a large stockpot, brown the onion in oil until wilted, about 3 minutes.  Add salt and pepper, thyme, curry powder and cayenne.  Stir in the squash and apples, then add enough broth to cover it all by about a half inch.  Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 30 minutes-checking and adding water or broth every 10 minutes or so-until the squash is tender.  Turn off the heat and puree with a handheld immersion blender or in batches in the blender (see warning about spinning hot liquid), adding more water or broth until it reaches desired consistency.  Serve with toppings.  

Hopefully by now everyone has an immersion blender because they are one of the greatest kitchen tools ever invented!  Mine is a Braun and I've had it for about 14 years and it is still going strong.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads; Weekend Cooking meme.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.  Maybe others are talking about their deep love of soup as well.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Wish List

In case any of you want to finish your weekend shopping with a few select gifts here would be my top five choices.  I'm not a holiday shopper but I did take Groovy Girl to the mall yesterday just for fun and to get her out of the house.

These fun items I found all online.

1. 1 liter Bkr bottle: I want to drink water from this glass bottle all day long.  I know my water consumption would increase with this bottle by my side.

2. These Joules boots are adorable and they support bee life.  We eat a lot of honey and have a huge respect for bees at our house and I think it's my purpose in life to sport these rain boots to spread the love.

3. I love these Clark boots.  I have a cute gray pair that are quite similar  but not as sturdy but I know I would wear these a ton in the fall and winter.  I had a pair from Bass for years and years and the sole finely fell off.  It's probably weird that I have two pairs of boots here.  Excessive boot envy.  What I really need is a warm long black coat but I cannot find one that I like or that is a reasonable price.  I found one this year from Kenneth Cole; I like the style but it isn't very warm.  

4. This dress from Anthropologie.  Perfect for school or a night out.  I have a perfect pair of black boots to wear with it.  My ankles would be covered.  It's cold here.  If I wore wooly cream tights I could wear the above gift with this dress.

5. I think this neck warmer is lovely and would keep me toasty warm as I stand outside in near freezing conditions for my 4-times a week recess duty.  Find it on Etsy. The mannequin gives me a bit of the creeps though.

Now enough about me as the season really is about giving to others to be part of the true joy of Christmas.  Here are some of my ideas of fantastic gifts for others:

1. Goldie Blox:  WoW!  What a great idea this is.  If you have a young girl on your holiday list please please think about getting her this fabulous gift.  Groovy Girl and I listened to Debbie Sterling on Ted Talks and we've loved what she had to say.  We are more than just a pink aisle.  Get on the wagon toy manufacturers (and consumers).  This is at the top of my list for my nieces.

2. I would pick a scarf from this selection at that helps to simply feed the world.  This is a basic human right that we take for granted in our home.  Many don't here in the states and in 3rd world countries.  Feed works to eradicate childhood hunger.

3. Heifer International:  We love Heifer and we're lucky to be able to tour their space in Little Rock, AR before we moved North again.  We have a penchant for the bees but we've often purchased other animal gifts through this organization.

 Please give generously.  Skip one Christmas gift for yourself and ask for donations to a local charity this year.  Find ways to give back.  In the land of plenty most of us can afford a little extra holiday giving.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

{Etsy art}

We have much to be thankful for and we shared those thoughts during our husband/dad cooked breakfast this morning.  It is a joy to be alive and feel the fresh, freezing Midwest air fill your lungs as you lope from house to car.  I also said a few blessings this morning as I curled warmly under the blankets this morning as I slept and read until about 9:30.  Glorious.  I'm always sleepy as I just don't get enough sleep anymore.  And I'm in the middle of a good book and it's tough to put it down even as my eyelids blink shut repeatedly.  Holling Hoodhood has just read The Tempest with Mrs. Baker and the cream puffs just devoured by the two escaped rats in The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt so you can see my sleeping/reading dilemma this morning.

All I'm trying to say is the day has started off luxuriously just as Thanksgiving should be.  We did watch a little of the Macy's parade as we devoured the breakfast (biscuits with fruit jam, local bacon, scrambled brown eggs, and orange juice) and then we cleaned.  Yes, we cleaned our family room.  When you work full-time and don't have a full-time maid to help you keep up with it; it all kind of settles and clutters around this main area of space.  We did it together and got it polished up in about an hour.  The table is all clear and ready for our food spread.

We are very untraditional when it comes to our holiday meals.  We don't care what others are consuming (turkey) and even though I have brined and roasted a lovely organic bird a time or two for large family gatherings it wasn't going to happen this year.  We have a perfect piece of Alaskan salmon as our main fare accompanied by sweet potatoes, a tossed green salad, and fresh cranberries cooked to pop with drizzles of maple syrup, honey, and orange zest.   A glorious meal of favorite food for the three of us to share.  I wish I still had some brussel sprouts to roast-they would be perfect also.

What's on your menu?

Sometime we've gone to a movie on Thanksgiving night but tonight we have tickets to a volleyball tournament hosted at our local university.  I don't like to see anybody work  on a holiday such as this but it will be fun to watch two top teams compete.  Better than football for me.

Wednesday I had two opportunities to read my favorite Thanksgiving picture book, A Turkey for Thanksgiving by Eve Bunting, which has Mr. Moose off looking for a turkey who gets to join in the holiday meal instead of the main course. Kids always love this surprise ending and it shares the grand idea that who you are eating with is far more important than what you are eating!

Enjoy!  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Book Fair is here!

I know this will sound like one big fat commercial from a woman who isn't into commercialism but I love the book fair!  Too me it is one more way to get good books into the hands of unsuspecting kids.  And this book fair is the biggest book fair I've ever watched get unloaded which means it took me several hours on Friday + several more hours on Saturday for me to set up.  It was a lot of work.  I even enlisted my husband's help for part of the day on Saturday.  He created a castle front out of my little sketch for the front of the library.  The them is "The Kingdom of reading..."

So excited to introduce Hansen students and staff to the fun of an amazing Mrs Holt book fair.  There are so many good books scattered throughout the fair that I will be hard pressed to get any work done all week long.  I'll be reading...

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Traveling Mercies

(collage by Groovy Girl: G.G. with her super cute cousins)

We spent three days last week in Minneapolis, one of my favorite cities. I lived there for years while I went to college the first time and loved it. Lucky for me I still have family there so it is easy to drive the 3 1/2 hours north to see some of my favorite people.  Sadly I don't make it as much as I'd like to but this time our purpose was to see our new niece born August 13th.  You'd think  (because of my deep love of babies) I would have made the journey before now except that was just about the time school started for me and then it seems that pretty much every weekend after that was filled to the brim with activities.

Somewhere in October I vowed not to fill November weekends up just so we could head north and it worked.  I persuaded my husband to journey with us and he complied by finding a Bluegrass show to sweeten the deal. The show just happened to be on Thursday night so I took a day off from work (oh, so rare) and we headed to Harriet's Brewery after dropping Groovy Girl at my (step)sister Robin's new house.  Her family of four just moved to the Minnehaha neighborhood after living in South Chicago for about 6 years and they are so excited about this move.

Greg and I enjoyed music by The Last Revel at the brewery.  They were fantastic and I would head out of town again to hear them play.  The second band was good also but I can't remember their name.

This was a perfect toe-tapping band and the guys were equally as nice by they way they tolerated chatting with my husband several times about music.

I was a wreck that night for some reason. I got carded coming through the door into the steamy brewery and I could NOT find my driver's license anywhere in my bag.  While I was desperately searching my glasses dropped out of my hand because I'd taken them off due to that steaminess.  They snapped in half and were completely unwearable.  So I couldn't drink the delicious brewed beer or truly see the band.  It was a mess and I still managed to enjoy the evening.  Now I have to buy new glasses and I wasn't ready to do that and I still don't know where my ID is.

(Upside down cousins)
The rest of the weekend was spent at my (step) sister Autumn's home in Eden Prairie.  We walked even though it was chilly. We ate delicious pizza and generally lazed around the house holding her little one. My hope was to give my sister time to sleep and rejuvenate.  Maybe it worked. Sometimes just visiting with each other can make the day solid.  We also had a delicious lunch at a diner in their neighborhood with Robin and family on Saturday before we left town.  I had the best fish sandwich ever. The coleslaw had cranberries in it and the fish had perfect crunch.

Thank you for the alignment of the stars to bring us all together on one weekend even though my glasses and ID decided to jump ship.

We also checked out the construction of my brother's new house.  We can't wait for a return trip in December or January to see the finished product.

(new house)

This picture is all about the cookie.  Groovy Girl wanted to show the size; it is bigger than my face.  My husband is behind me hoping I'm not going to eat that cookie. My glasses in the photo have been super-glued.  That trick only lasted two days. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Amazon Burning by Victoria Griffith

Amazon Burning

This is not your typical Peaceful Reader type of book based on the cover and the title but it does have an environmental aspect that I bit right into and I enjoyed most of it.

What I liked:

The setting is the Amazon rain forest and I enjoyed learning more about the Amazon and the Indigenous people who live there and struggle with the changing landscape.  The ecology of the rain forest is an extremely important issue and one that gets brushed aside by politics but also by everything local that often takes precedence.  It's difficult to care about what goes on thousands of miles away when there is enough causes here in the US to focus our attention on.  This book brings  this issue to the forefront as Emma and her swarthy photographer friend bring to light not only an animal smuggling ring but discover truths about the rain forest they never imagined.  More books including young adult books should be written about this area to keep it in our minds.  The writing for the most part was good.  Ms. Griffith is a journalist, well-traveled, and did a great job with dialogue.

What I could live without:

It's a romance and I'm not a prude but WoW.  I know the word burning is in the title. I get that something had to be burning but I thought it would have been in higher order if the burning was the issue not the sex. The sexy scenes were far too graphic for me and they seemed uncomfortable for the author and her characters as they didn't flow well.  What momentum Griffith created in good dialogue reverted to dime-store romance novel in a second.  I like the mystery of a romance and I think it damages the overall good impact a book like this can have.  At the end of the day are you writing soft porn or saving the rain forest?  I vote rain forest and the book has so much to offer but there are many friends I can't hand this book to because of those very raw scenes.

I also thought the struggle between Emma and her professor was a very timely issue to add in and might have made the perfect reason for her to stay out of the sheets until the end of the book-leaving us with the understanding that her and Jimmy would now be free to pursue their passion for each other.  Emma's ability to shut her professor down makes her a strong and worthy character that might think twice before jumping into bed.  Just my 2 cents worth.  Now you want to read it more than ever just to see what I'm talking about...let me know if you want to borrow my copy of Amazon Burning OR
You can buy it from Astor + Blue's website for $4.99 right now.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Where has October gone?

There have been posts I've meant to write about and they've stayed in my head.  Like my favorite Halloween read aloud: Perfect Pumpkin Pie by Denys Cazet.  Everything about that book is great including the cover which makes kids beg you to read it to them.  I cannot carry a tune yet kids love to hear me chant the dead man's wails for pie over and over.  So much fun for October.

Today though is Halloween and I've made a delicious soup for a pre-trick-or-treating gathering.  And Groovy Girl is excited to trick-or-treat one more time. She doesn't know what year will be here last but it's soon.  The picture above is from last year.

I'm excited for my school's Halloween parade. Now that I know the students a little more it will be fun to watch them march around gleefully in their personality-infused costumes!

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Elementary Non-fiction love

One of my goals for this school year is to up-date our nonfiction selections.  This will be a challenge for me as I prefer fiction.  I need to get over this though as I read great reviews and found lots of cool nonfiction on the shelves of the public library, where I go for all my hands-on research. Nonfiction has so much more pizazz than it used to; my general feeling of NF is droll pages of way too much information with not enough pictures. Not so with nonfiction of today; it is bright, lively, and perfect for a read aloud.

No monkeys, no chocolate by Melissa Stewart, Allen Young and Nicole Wong (2013);  Told in a backwards format I learned how the rainforest eco-system helps cocoa beans thrive and grow. Students will love knowing that maggots, lizards, and aphids all help the cocoa bean tree grow. Luckily we have a special store downtown that sells truly good rainforest fair trade chocolate because this book made me hungry for good quality chocolate not that waxy stuff that will fill Halloween buckets next week.  This wonderful nonfiction is a must order for my new library and if you have curious ones at home this would make a perfect purchase. Excellent Melissa Stewart website.

S is for Sea Glass; a beach alphabet by Richard Michelson and Doris Ettlinger (2014);  This is an alphabet book filled with wonderful poetry and lovely illustrations.  A wide variety of poetry styles are featured and this book will be loved by both students and teachers.  My favorite poem:

Q is for Quiet

The sun as it's rising 
The drift of a cloud
Spiders spinning webs
Crabs scuttling
Across the ocean floor
The swimming of fishes
The wishing of wishes
The opening of a door
The thoughts in my head

These are things I can hear
When it's quiet 
As I lie here in bed.

My second favorite is from a dog's point of view as he runs along the beach.  What joy!  This book pulls me back to our family beach vacations and makes me feel happy.  We definitely need this one for our poetry collection; it holds a mini vacation between the cover.

Animal Teachers by Janet Halfmann and Katy Hudson (2014); This book is exactly why I take my research seriously. This is an amazingly fresh look on animal behavior.  The illustrations are gorgeous!  Who knew I could find such joy over a nonfiction title.   Groovy Girl loved the cover and came near to read this one with me.  Each animal has something unique it learns from its parent and then Ms. Halfmann asks the reader to put it in their terms.  For example the chicken teaches the chick to peck for seeds specifically and then the question is posed "who taught you what's good to eat?" "Did you ever try to bite your toes?"  Other animals included are otters, dolphins, kangaroos, beavers, elephants, and cheetahs; just to name a few!  A huge list in the back of the book provides even more unusual facts for us to marvel over.  We were astounded that "beavers have a set of see-through eyelids that work like goggles underwater."  Yes, yes I will order this one as well and can't wait to hand it off to a teacher when animal books are requested.  After years of doing animal research with students this one motivated me!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Picture Book Frenzy

I went to the library and picked up a so many delightful picture books off the shelf my bag was packed.  I usually think I have to be with my friend Tina to overfill my bag but I guess I've proved that I can do it all by myself!

I was looking for ideas for school.  The collection at my school library is still new to  me so I go to the public library to look at the new shelf to see if it is worth buying and maybe it will work its way into a lesson plan.

That's what happened with Monsters Love School by Mike Austin. What  a delightful picture book.  I read this to all my kinder and first grade students.  It covers the exciting part of going back to school as well as the fears in a fun Muppet-kind of way.  We compared monster's school experience with their own here at Hansen.  The illustrations are filled with color and the writing is all over the page.  We all loved Ms. Scribble the art teacher with her very clever head of hair.  Please Mike Austin bring us more Monsters...they could love Halloween, or Winter, or the playground.  Anything.  Monsters and students say "more, more, more!"

I also loved Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio and Brian Biggs.  Charlie does not like going to school (we all know someone just like this right Groovy Girl...) because he is tired of all the work.  One Sunday night Charlie wishes he were a dog so he could stay home and lay around instead of face another week of school work.  The next morning Charlie's done the "freaky friday" thing and is laying on Norman's dog bed instead of in his own.  Norman gets ready for school and Charlie stay home to sleep with adorable results.  This will have everyone wishing they could trade places just for one day. An interesting side fact-Brian Biggs is from Little Rock, AR.  He also has a a series out called Everything Goes.

Arlo Rolled by Susan Pearson and Jeff Ebbeler; Arlo is a pea and he doesn't want to be eaten; he wants to grow up.  He escapes from his pod and rolls through the yard finding bugs and slugs and dogs until he's exhausted.  While he takes a nap something marvelous happens to him.  This is a perfect spring book to talk about plants and how they grow. It also makes a fun anytime read aloud with a lot adventure for one cute little pea.

Creamed Tuna*Fish and peas on Toast by Philip Christian Stead; Amazing illustrations, funny story.  Kids will think it is funny.  I wanted him to try the creamed tuna fish and peas on toast first before discarding it; it's just the mother in me.  I was hoping he'd end up liking it like green eggs and ham.  Nope. Didn't happen that way but the layered illustrations and the bird antics make it worthwhile anyway. Philip's website has some beautiful and free music for your listening pleasure.

Little Lola by Julie Saab and David Gothard; Lola starts her day with a to-do list and the last thing on the list is to have an adventure (as every day should).  Heading off to school for the day her adventure is perfect until she spots a mouse in the classroom.  Hilarious.  I hope to see more of Little Lola as she has the right attitude that will have little ones thinking.  Brand new husband and wife illustrator/writer team.

If you buy for a school, for yourself, for your lovely grandchildren-any of these would be amazing additions for reading over and over again.

What did you read this weekend?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Belong to me by Marisa de los Santos; read it and rejoice

{cute cover}

This book was a huge hit at home.  Both my husband and daughter loved the cover. " It's the bright rain boots" Groovy Girl commented as she ran her finger up and down the different sizes of boots, thinking about the children in the story who would be slipping them on.  My husband also made comments regarding the cover and the title. Usually they don't pay this much attention.  We do love rain boots at our house but maybe it was because my nose was often stuck down into the book at different times of the day trying to read one more chapter, paragraph, or sentence.  Maybe it's because de los Santos is a poet as well that her words make such wonderful sentences.

I finished it and had that same old bluesy feeling that I didn't want it to end. The characters became a part of me.  Even the woman that I thought I wouldn't ever like turned out to be pretty darn likable. Cornelia, Piper, and Dev all share their stories with us in alternating chapters and in very distinctively different voices.  Surrounding those three characters are a crew of others that we also grow to love and even weep about it.  I know...don't you just want to know more...

Okay I'll tell you a little more.  But just a little.  You should really read it for yourself.

Cornelia and her husband, the handsome Teo, have moved to the suburbs leaving NYC after 9-11 made them feel a little less safe in the city.  Cornelia's not excited about the suburbs and her fears all come true when she meets Piper, her wound-too-tight neighbor.  Piper is snobby, complex, and unhappy; she likes to be the queen until one thing in her life falls apart and she sees how much it doesn't matter.  Cornelia doesn't like snobby and writes Piper off as a neighborhood quack.  But then Cornelia meets Lake in the grocery store and they hit it off right away yet there is a story behind Lake and her super intelligent son Deveroux that Lake isn't willing to share.  Family secrets and good friendships wind their way through this well-written plot.

Random quote:

He and Clare started walking toward the bus stop, their shadows stretching out ahead of them.  Dev watched the girl shadow take the boy shadow's hand, and he realized that the homesick feeling had disappeared.  In its place was a new feeling, too new to have a name.  

"How cool would that have been, though?" He shot Clare a sidelong, happy grin. "A dad with a bike shop?"

Clare laughed her jingle-bell laugh, and Dev realized that what he felt was young.  He'd been young all his life, of course he had.  But now he was  aware of it.  Every cell, every electron of his body felt young: unencumbered, uncluttered, as clean as the clear blue sky. (153)

The interesting part is that Clare is a repeat character from de los Santos' first book, Love Walked in, and she makes me want to go back and reread that first book again even though I have many other books laying about my house to read. Clare's and Cornelia's story is intriguing and makes an interesting twist to bring them together again and share this young love story with us.

Marisa de los Santos website

A Literary Mama interview with de los Santos about all three of her books.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Laugh with the Moon by Shana Burg + a recipe

I found this at the library one day browsing around like I do; it was on my list to read for possible Iowa Children's Choice book awards.  It was the last one I read in my tall stack of choices and it was one of the best.

I loved that both boys and girls would enjoy the story even though it is told from a 13-year-old girl's point of view and that we learn so much about the country of Malawi.  Clare is a spunky character who is filled with grief over her recently deceased mother.  Ever wonder why so many realistic fiction books for kids involve death?  Her father is a doctor working for a world aid organization and probably to help his own grief he takes on this journey back to Malawi where he served before Clare was born.  I think both parent and child are in need of a change of scenery even though Clare isn't aware yet of how much this trip will mean to her.

Even though she is completely bitter on the first leg of their travels and her anger grows when she sees the small cabin where they will live she makes friends in the village and at school.  She helps to change lives while their as she teaches English to the youngest children at school and gets everybody involved in a play.

A quote:

Outside, Memory shows me a dress that's hanging from a clothesline behind the hut. In the dusk, I can't tell if it's blue or green or gray, but I can see the shape of it just fine.  I don't mean to be rude, but it looks like a pilgrim frock.  Still, I'm a firm believer in stretching the truth in the name of friendship.  At this rate, Memory might be the only person I'm speaking to on the entire African continent, so I tell her "It's so cool!" even though I'd never be caught dead wearing something like that myself.  (37)

She does indeed end up wearing a dress quite similar to her new friend Memory's "pilgrim" dress and that is not her only compromise she must make.

I loved this book for the experience it offered me; while lots of books are written about dead mothers, not many share such an interesting path through grief.  I love that her mother appears to her when she needs her most and that through their journey we get to see a part of life in Africa especially since this continent is in the news right now.  Burg has first hand experience in Malawi and that helps us get a realistic feel for the country.

At the end of the book is a recipe for Sweet Potato Biscuits that I just had to try.  I made them, we loved them, and then the dog stole the rest of the biscuits right off the counter and ate every last crumb..

Mbatata (Sweet Potato) Biscuits

1/4 cup mashed cooked sweet potatoes
1/4 cup milk
4 T melted butter
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder
6 T sugar, plus 2 T to sprinkle on top
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon, plus additional 1/2 tsp to sprinkle on top

Preheat the oven to 375*. Mix the sweet potatoes, milk, and melted butter and beat well.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, 6 T of the sugar, the salt, and 1/4 tsp of cinnamon and add gradually to the sweet potato mixture.  Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a greased baking sheet.  Mix the additional cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle on top.  Bake for 15 minutes.

They were delicious.  Even the dog thought so.  I didn't even sprinkle on the extra sugar topping.  I plan to make them again for Thanksgiving.

Read this book, share it with any elementary and early middle school students, share it with your class as a read-aloud.  Right now it could provide an empathy for the people of Africa as they struggle with the affects of the Ebola disease.

Shana Burg is also the author of A Thousand Never Evers an excellent historical fiction that takes place in Mississippi in 1963.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Soothing my soul

This past week I was treated to some amazing music and instead of sitting in a crowded bar with noisy people this concert took place in an apartment. It was a perfect intimate setting at a fellow banjo player that we know.  There were 24 people there on a Tuesday evening and John and his girlfriend had spicy jambalaya and cold beer to serve.  It was fairly casual as people mingled for about 30 minutes before the show getting to know new folks, chatting with old folks, and waiting for the music to begin.

The first band, The Lowest Pair, began around 7:30.  They are a double banjo duo from Olympia, WA and Minneapolis.  Why is that when I meet people from Minneapolis/St Paul I feel like I should know them?  I haven't lived there for years and years but yet I feel this thread of a connection as if they live perhaps in one of my old apartments or have Sunday brunch at the same place I frequented.  Could be but probably not.  Their music was amazing and I would love to hear them again sometime.  The next few days they play several clubs around the Minneapolis area including one venue that I've spent many a night at listening to great music.  

When you watch the video play close attention to Kendl's fingers as her they fairly fly over the strings. This particular video shows Palmer playing guitar and I like this song but the sound of both of their banjos together is pretty cool.

This was my first musical house party and it was a wonderful treat.  I loved that I didn't have to put up with that one annoyingly loud table that just doesn't care that good musicians are on the stage.

In October our church is hosting another cool duo, Jenny and Tyler, and I look forward to hearing them inside the great acoustics of the sanctuary.  I've heard many musical groups play in churches including the amazing Greg Brown a few years back.  Again it provides a more intimate setting but without the cold beer and hot jambalaya.

Jenny and Tyler:

Bring some music into your day...

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Who doesn't love cake? A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff offers cake.

Groovy Girl recently had a very big birthday.  She turned 12 on the 12th of September.  She's growing up...I dislike it, I love it-it depends on the day.  She's taking 7th grade in stride, a few bumps along the way.  For example, she forgot her phone at school, in a classroom.  Couldn't get a hold of her for about 35 minutes after school.  So frustrating yet we joked about it on our way home. We walked home from school hand in hand and then shared a cupcake when we got home.  Much of life is grand.

Back to the major birthday party.  For two years she's been awaiting this golden birthday and she'd requested a hotel sleepover party for this illustrious event.  We went hotel shopping in early August to check out their lobbies, their pools, and how they made us feel.  The Hilton Garden Inn won hands down as the pool was warm and they had a lovely outdoor area with twinkling lights and fire pits.  The deal was sealed.  I made two reservations.  The price was pretty reasonable.

I asked her if she wanted cupcakes from our local cupcakery that is so popular.  She said "NO" flat out. "We always make my cake, mama!" she said.  I asked her to look for a recipe.  Weeks went by and then as I was reading an Iowa Children's Choice possible title A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff I found the cake!  It spoke to me because it combined some of her favorite things...chocolate and more chocolate and she loves s'mores! I rushed upstairs to share my discovery and she was like "mm-maybe-" followed by a "maybe" and a little shoulder shrug.  Hmmm.  I stuck with it though and we gave it a try.

Will's S'more Cake
-a cake that always disappears quickly-

For the cake:
small spoonful of flour, for preparing the cake pans
14-oz package of graham crackers (about 26 crackers)
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup butter (2 sticks) **always use unsalted as it is fresher** at room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp good vanilla
1 cup milk, at room temperature

For the frosting:
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks) room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
pinch of salt

For the filling:
1 large cup marshmallow fluff
(I did NOT say this cake was healthy in anyway)

For the topping:
extra graham crackers and/or mini-marshmallows **she opted for studding it with chocolate chips**

1. Preheat oven to 350*F. Lightly grease the bottoms of two 8-in. round cake pans with butter.  Using the cake pans as a template, trace two circles onto wax paper (I used parchment paper) and cut them out, placing once circle inside each pan.  Sprinkle the inside of the pans lightly with flour, and tap the pans to distribute it evenly.

2. Place graham crackers in a blender or food processor, and grind until crushed to a fine powder.  (Alternatively, place the graham crackers in a plastic ziplock bag and crush them with a rolling pin which is exactly what Groovy Girl did as it sounded more fun!)  Measure out 3 cups of the cracker powder into a medium bowl, and mix with the baking powder.  Set aside.  Reserve the remaining graham cracker powder to decorate the top of the cake, if desired.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer, starting on low speed then increasing to medium-high, until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla.

4. Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, add about a third of the graham racker mixture to the batter, combining well.  Add about half of the milk and combine.  Then add another third of the graham cracker mixture, the last of the milk, and then the last of the cracker mix, combining well each time.

5. Pour the batter into the two pans, smoothing the surface.  Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.  Let the cakes cool completely before frosting.

6. While the cakes are baking, make the frosting; In a double boiler or a heatproof boil fitted into a saucepan of simmering water, carefully melt the chocolate chips over low heat, stirring often.  Remove from heat and allow to cool, about 10-15 minutes.

7. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer fitted with clean beaters on medium speed until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Reducing the speed on the mixer to low, gradually add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth, another 2-3 minutes.  Add the cooled chocolate, sour cream, and pinch of salt, and beat to combine.

8.  When the cakes are completely cooled, place one cake layer on a plate and spread marshmallow fluff on top.  If fluff is difficult to spread, microwave it in a glass bowl first for 10-20 seconds and stir.)  Place the second cake layer on top and frost the whole cake with the chocolate frosting.  Decorate with graham cracker crumbs or mini marshmallows.   (44-46)

Almost everyone at the party loved the cake, the flavor was great and it was nice and dense.  I would make this one again with some minor adjustments.  We brought part of the cake home and we've all been sneaking bites here and there and we've also shared a few pieces Grandpa Roger style; in a bowl with some milk.  The best. Thanks Dad.  Miss you.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff has some memorable moments but the plot was a bit scattered for me. The cakes and Cady's story were the very best part though and I wanted Cady to find a good permanent home with Miss Mallory.  Cady has a knack for baking and it was fun to read about how she created cakes for those around her.  Thank you Ms. Graff for giving us a wonderful birthday recipe!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan

Willow Chance is a young woman who literally is out of chances yet somehow she manages to positively affect change in all the people around her.  In the very first chapter her adoptive parents are killed in a car accident and she is left completely alone. No family friends, no long lost rich aunt, no scheming mad uncle to claim her.  Instead she finds herself with a sad excuse for a school counselor and a brother and sister she never met before but who happen to be visiting the same counselor when she finds out that her parents have died.

The misfit male counselor, Dell Duke, is lost as to how to even take action in this situation even though others are turning to him for help.  Mai and Quang-ha, sister and brother who live with their mother in a garage behind their mother's nail salon and it is Mai who comes to the aid of Willow when it is obvious that she has nowhere to go.  With this blanket of sadness over everyone it would seem this book would spill tears right out of it's pages but there is something magical about Willow Chance.  Her parents were high-spirited happy people who loved her deeply for all her unusual quirkiness and she has thrived in that love.  Now without that love from the two most important people she has to find a way to survive.

I loved I'll Be There Holly Goldberg Sloan's first novel and find that the two books have a similarity in that she takes oddball characters throws them into tough situations and makes us love them.


Jamison Children's Center is the county facility that provides emergency foster care.
Lenore Cole gives me a pamphlet.
I read it, but get the distinct feeling that the place is probably for kids who have parents who hit them or don't feed them real food because they are too busy taking drugs or stealing something.  
As we drive up to the building, I put my index and middle fingers on my carotid artery just behind my ear to take my pulse.
I know for a fact that my heart rate is in some kind of danger zone." (139)

Willow is a genius and knows things that most people don't and she's not afraid to share. Through her interactions with others she pushes them forward even though she herself cannot get past her grief.  This is an amazing realistic fiction book but with such unusual characters that one can only make sure to push it into the hands of many young 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students to see what they take from it.  I can't imagine anyone not cheering for Willow.  

Monday, September 8, 2014

Prairie picture book shares great knowledge.

Plant a Pocket of Prairie
Phyllis Root and Betsy Bowen
University of Minnesota Press

This is  a gorgeous book.  Every elementary school needs a copy of this bright and colorful work of art.  It begins...

"Once prairie stretched for thousands of miles an ocean of flowers and grasses, a sea of sky, home for bison and elk, prairie chickens, burrowing owls, five-lined skinks, Plains garter snakes, and Ottoe skipper butterflies." 

The book challenges us to think about prairie and its disappearance in our world and challenges us the reader to plant a prairie be it big or small and if we were to cultivate a prairie, what would come and share in that bit of space?  A ruby-throated hummingbird, monarch butterfly, or Dakota skippers might show up...


The last four pages give full descriptions of prairie history, how to actually plant one, and animals that thrive in a prairie eco-system.  This book can be used as a read-aloud or a starting point for research or the beginning of a major project.  Use it, read it, love it.  Betsy Bowen and Phyllis Root: can you add to this title and make it an ecosystem series?

Monday, September 1, 2014

It's a new month! I liked August.

I wasn't even really ready for August to end.  For me August could be a double month.  I've had one major project to accomplish today and it is to clean off our antique blue bench which holds our mail.  Right now it is holding a large basket of unread magazines, a stack of books THREE stacks of books, and a mass of mail.  Mostly the mail we don't open.

I easily went through the mail basket and filled up the paper recycling bin.  Going through the magazine basket was a lot harder.  Old Martha Stewart's called my name, last year's Bon Appetit''s beckoned me to the pages within, and a couple of catalogs caught my eye as well.  It takes much longer to get things into the recycling bin when you page through everything.  It takes even longer when you decide to stop and write about some of what you find.

In an article about Russ and Daughters, a longstanding deli in New York City's Lower East Side, a few recipes were shared.  It doesn't matter that the MSL is circa Sept. 2012.  I'm sure the deli is still there (it is) and these recipes will still be fabulous. Now I need to get myself back to NYC so I can give Russ and Daughters a try.

In the meantime I will satisfy my craving with these two recipes:

{From MSL}

Bagel Pudding with prunes and raisins
serves 6-8

3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 cup sugar
1 T. vanilla
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups half-and-half
1 cup whole milk
4 or 5-day-old bagels, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-in cubes (8 cups)
unsalted butter, for baking dish
3/4 cups halved pitted prunes
3.4 cup seedless raisins
vanilla ice cream, for serving

1. Whisk together eggs, egg yolk, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large bowl until smooth.  Whisk in half-and-half and milk.  Add bagel cubes, and toss to coat.  Let mixture sit, stirring occasionally, until bread absorbs some of the liquid, about 1 hour.

2. Preheat the oven to 325*. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish (2 inches deep). Stir prunes and raisins into bagel mixture, and transfer to baking dish.  Bake until top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 1 hour (if top browns too quickly, tent with foil).  Let cool completely on a wire rack.  Cut into squares, and serve with ice cream.

and then this fantastic beet recipe:

makes 6 1/2 cups

5 cups water, divided
2 T. white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh beet juice (from 1 1/2 lbs of beets) (use a juicer)
1 cup fresh lemon juice (5-6 lemons)

1. Whisk together 3/4 cup water, the vinegar, and sugar until sugar dissolves.
2. Combine remaining water, the beet juice, and lemon juice, and mix well.  Stir in vinegar mixture.  Refrigerate 48 hours before using.

Use that mix in this:

{From MSL}

Beet-and-Lemon-Shrub Cocktail

6 1/2 cups Beet-and-Lemon Shrub recipe
12 ounces of vodka
24 ounces of seltzer water
12 wedges of pickled green tomato, for garnish

1. Mix together shrub and vodka.
2. Fill 12 8-ozs glasses with ice; add shrub mixture.  Top off with seltzer, and garnish with pickled green tomatoes.  (I might think to garnish with lemon wedges as an alternative)

What I'm reading other than this pile of magazines is River of Ghosts by Robert F. Gish (father of the ever lovely and talented Annabeth) for my Sept. book club.  I'm going to finish it even though he is

I'm going to link this to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme even though technically the beautifully long weekend is over. Candace has a peach galette on her site.  I'd trade her a piece of my bagel pudding for a sliver of peach galette-we could have a cup of cappuccino and share.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New library space!

When I switched districts and schools I knew that more than likely I wasn't going to have a library space to start off the year.  My start has been great none the less.  I've met with kids in classrooms and have really enjoyed their energy!  My space is slowly coming around though and I thought I would share some pictures.

New Circulation Desk

What is all this stuff?

Teaching area; will have comfy chairs

Teaching area with tables and chairs

Computer station for Destiny

Back room work area

Windows that will eventually have screens also.
Great windowsills for plants!

Pretty door area

The walls look bland in the photos (except for the big blue one) but they are actually a nice dark cream color. It is soothing and lots of color exists in the space. The ceiling is multi-layered and there are four skylights. Now we just need lots of bookcases and furniture!  And of course all the books need to be unpacked.  Kids here have lived a long time without a large library so this is going to be very exciting for them (and me!)