Sunday, January 31, 2016

Snow days coming our way...

Did you know that we are about to get hit with a major snowstorm here in the Midwest?  Yes.  Lots of snow, high winds, crazy kind of weather. We've had two smaller storms but no snow days.  We are due and I am ready.  Hot chocolate and pancakes, lots of reading here we GO.  Sadly we are not wusses though so it takes a major snow to cancel school.  I checked out a few snow books to get me in the mood.  Here are a few of my favorites from our public library.

Hooray for SNOW! by Kazuo Iwamura: Sweet squirrel family learns to play in the snow altogether.  Lovely illustrations.

Here comes Jack Frost by Kazuno Kohara: A young boy, feeling blue during winter, has a chance meeting with Jack Frost and makes a new friend to play with all winter long until Spring begins to sprout. Lovely woodcut illustrations.

Snowman's Story by Will Hillenbrand: Sweet wordless picture book with forest animals and a snowman with a treasured book sharing the love of reading. I love the Bear and Mole series by Hillenbrand also so no surprise that this one is a hit as well.

Peter and the Winter Sleepers by Rick de Haas: Peter lives in a lighthouse with his grandmother and his dog Leo.  During a particularly snowy week the lighthouse becomes a makeshift home for many forest animals! Peter and his grandmother welcome a freezing rabbit, an owl, birds, bats, a squirrel family, and finally one lone, cold fox.  The house is starting to smell, there are droppings everywhere but worse yet they think fox might have eaten Gull. My teacher brain says this book is great for empathy, grit, kindness, and problem-solving.

First Snow by Peter McCarty: I love Peter's work!  Pedro comes to visit his bunny cousins and snow arrives the very next day. Pedro doesn't like the cold so he's unhappy to see his first snow.  Poor Pedro complains as all the neighborhood bunnies frolic in the snow but, of course, he sleds down a big hill and loves it. No more complaining!  Lovely illustrations.

Cheers to a snow day.  Our traditions include hot chocolate and chocolate chip pancakes, Gilmore Girls, reading, and lots of cuddling under big blankets.  I'm ready like I said.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Best book club choices-2016

December and January were good reading months for my book club.  We read The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin and Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller.  Both books, while different styles, are very good.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (2014) by Gabrielle Zevin:  This is a quirky story about A.J., a young man after his wife's death.  The couple built their life around owning an interesting bookstore on Alice Island, a fictional area near Boston.  A.J. drinks a lot after he closes the book store at night and one night while passed out a prized collection of poems by Edgar Allen Poe is stolen.

Soon after a baby Maya appears in his bookstore with a note attached and the mother cannot be located.  Until a proper family or a relative can be found A.J. agrees to foster the child only because he feels an obligation to the mother who trusted him, the owner of a bookstore because she felt that a bookstore was a good place for a baby to grow up. The rest of the story unfolds around Maya, the bookstore, an interesting police chief, a book representative from the mainland and A.J. of course.  This is an delightful tale that loves literature.  Each chapter opens with a short story suggestion such as Lamb to the slaughter by Roald Dahl, The diamond a big as the Ritz by F. Scott, and What feels like the World by Richard Bausch. Everyone at book club decided it would be great fun to reach out and read the short stories suggested by Fikry.  Witty and unique I would read this one again and I would give it for a gift.

Norwegian by Night by Derek B. Miller is a bit of a mystery adventure set in Norway. Sheldon Horowitz, an aging vet, moves across the ocean to live with his granddaughter and her husband after his wife dies. His granddaughter Rhea feels that her beloved grandfather is losing his mind and will be better off away from the memories of NYC.

One day home alone Sheldon hears arguing from an unknown man in the upstairs apartment and in another moment he opens the door to trouble. Fleeing to safety wherever that may be in a country he hardly knows with the young son of the upstairs neighbor Sheldon takes off on a wild adventure with his silent (and terrified) charge.  Sheldon is a funny character and keeps us thinking with his wit about racism, family, vengeance, war, and human nature.

If you need a good book to read to get you through another few weeks of winter-these are two excellent choices.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Dr. King; We need to do more, we need to be more.

Today is the day in our nation that we celebrate this great and profound man.  Groovy Girl has peppered me with random, yet amazing facts from the internet about Dr. King.  Like did you know his name was Michael for the first two years of his life and that a woman stabbed Dr. King while he was on a book tour. That he almost didn't go to seminary. That he got a "C" in public speaking.  That he liked Star Trek; especially Nichelle Nichols' character Uhuru because she played a non-traditional black role and he saw that as important.

While we often study the same 5-6 black heroes, now through February, King is someone everyone could learn more about.  He had opinions on many important issues that still stand true today. Poverty, war, white middle class, leadership, God, and our country were all topics he spoke on during his life.

What would he think today?  I think he'd have his head in his hands for about 30 seconds and then he'd say "We still got a lot to do here."  He would have been in Sanford, Fl, Ferguson, Cleveland, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis, and D.C.  He would have been busy and sad.

I feel powerless as a white woman. I can't travel to any of these troubled places because I have a regular every day job working with children.  I do stand for the underdog and caucus in my state.  I talk about important issues with my children.  I talk about important issues with my students. I put my arms around the bully on the playground and hold the hands of students having a tough day. I wipe tears away.  We need mayors and the police system to retrain, rethink how they do business as usual. We need people to understand our political system better and know that if they vote for a republican candidate they've voted for the top 10% and for big money, big corporations; not for main street or manufacturing.   We need a better way and we need it to happen right now.  Truthfully we need a revolution. We need nonconformists.  Let's make this the year to change a few things; change what you can.  Do what you can; make a difference.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Weekly recipes 12: Tomato-Basil Soup

The week after Christmas we spent time at my brother's outside Minneapolis.  It was blissful because I was able to sit and relax, chatting, sipping, chatting, and reading while my brother cooked a scrumptious meal for all of us.  During the holiday break I did most of the preparing and cooking while others relaxed so this was a great change of pace for me. Also he is a fantastic cook.  My sister-in-law is no slouch either; she prepared a quiche and a German pancake for breakfast, starting our day off in a tasteful way.

Getting back into the groove of school this week and the freezing cold weather I started our week with soup.  Of course. Tomato soup and grilled cheese.  It was delicious.

Tomato-Basil Soup
{from Chris at Shared Appetite}


3 tablespoons olive oil
2 red onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
4 cups good-quality chicken stock
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ - 1 cup heavy cream
1 bunch basil, torn into small bite-size pieces
Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a dutch oven or large pot. Once hot, add onions and season generously with Kosher salt. Cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until soft and starting to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute, stirring to avoid burning the garlic.
Stir in the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season generously with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I like to use about ½ tablespoon of black pepper, which gives a little kick to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower heat to maintain a simmer for at least 15 minutes. You can feel free to leave it longer if you forget about it. I have.
Purée mixture using an immersion blender or carefully transfer soup to a blender. If using a blender, return mixture to the pot.
Stir in the cream and basil and let simmer for at least 15 minutes, although I like to leave it for a bit longer so it can reduce down to a thicker consistency.
Serve immediately, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese (I highly recommend using Parmigiano-Reggiano for its superior quality), a little sprinkle of black pepper, and a chiffonade of basil.

We had some thick sourdough bread leftover from Christmas and it made perfect grilled cheese with Brie and Muenster mixed and melted between fat slabs of bread.

I poured Groovy Girl's portions of soup through a strainer because even though I used my immersion blender it still had diced onions and I knew she would "freak" so to speak.  She loved it. We had it for several meals and I had enough to take for two lunches at school.

I also created a tofu stir-fry with quartered brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, pea pods, turmeric, a little curry sauce, and coconut milk. Instead of rice I used Israeli couscous. Groovy Girl ate two helpings.
{1/2 a German pancake}
She had the day off today and because our week has been a little busy; I had two nights of meetings in between dance classes so I decided to jump in my freezing cold car and head home for lunch to dine just with her.  I prepared German pancake mix and left it in the fridge in a pint jar before I headed out for school while everyone else was still sleeping. Before I left school at noon I asked her to turn the oven on so it would be nice and hot when I walked through the door. Before I even took my coat off I scraped a large pat of butter into my cast iron Lodge skillet and stuck it in the hot oven.  When the butter was melted and browning I pulled the pan out and poured the pancake mix in and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes. We took it out, lifted it out of the pan, and ate it all up with jam, syrup, and powdered sugar. It was delicious. Memories made.

It was a great cook week here.  Even in the freezing cold temps we survive. How about you?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

My top ten books of 2015

I love GoodReads.  I don't know how any true reader lives without it. Even though I keep a paper journal of what I've read it is such a convenience to click into my GR's app to look up a book while conversing; while others rack their brains for a title I can easily go back and look the title up for reference.

Here are my statistics for 2015.  I read 55 books and 18,541 pages. The shortest book was Honey by Sarah Weeks-a sweet little tale and my longest title was written by the indomitable George R.R. Martin, Game of Thrones which is also the "most popular title".  If given the choice I'd rather read my least popular title, Summer Cocktails, as it was a lot more entertaining!

Here are my top ten titles in no particular order:

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith; Most memorable and quirky tale of an future world transformed by oversized people-eating grasshoppers.Two main characters were hysterical.  Young adult and not for everyone. Read my official review here.

A hundred pieces of me by Lucy Dillon: A telling tale of life and what we really want out of-a bunch of stuff or true experiences with those we love. Pairs well with The Life-changing magic of tidying up by Marie Kondo. Read about this book here, A hundred pieces of me, where I share my reading retreat.

Girl at War by Sara Novic;  Excellent look at the Serbian conflict from a young person's viewpoint.  This book is eloquent and took my breath away.  Read my review here-Girl at War

All the light we cannot see by Anthony Doerr;  Brilliant look at WWII from many angles showing even in the ugliest of wars that survival is part of our human spirit.  Beautiful writing and I never wrote a review for it. Shame on me.  If you haven't had a chance to read it order it now using your xmas gift cards.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie;  I loved this book-it opened a can of worms about race in a detailed and interesting story. I thought I knew a lot about race, my friends are a variety pack of colors, yet this showed me my thought process was often skewed in trying to be "color-blind".  I realize that my view is not the major problem with race in this country, I know, and yet I want to be standing on the far right of good. Give this book a try-don't be afraid of the length-it reads fast.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson; This eloquent book made me cry and read many parts aloud to my husband/Groovy Girl as we drove cross country this summer.  I'm a fan of Woodson's and hearing her story in all its truths was a learning experience.

Paper Things by Jennifer Richard Jacobson; Homelessness is the problem in this excellent YA novel. A brother and sister strike out on their own because the older sibling can't get along with their guardian.  He feels obligated to take care of his sister and works to keep them together. Everyday is a struggle as they seek shelter and food but for the young girl it is difficult to make it to school in clean clothes with homework finished. Just thinking about these characters makes me think I might reread this story again.  Sexual overtones keep me from reading it with my 6th grade book club.  Read my review here of Paper Things.

Loot by Jude Watson;  This book is a unique mystery with great characters. They work to solve problems on their own not trusting the adults around them. I recommend this one to students and each one is surprised by how good the story is.

The Storyteller by Jodi Piccoult; Amazing modern tale about Sage Singer, a baker with a messy personal life, that twists and turns telling us through flashbacks about another story during WWII. Holocaust stories often make me ill as you read about concentration camp horrors and this one made me angry, sad, yet often joyful.  The story is well-told and I thought very different than the good but frequently formulaic Picoult tales.  I mention it in this summer post.

Honorable mentions (all perfect elementary reads)

If you find this by Matthew Baker
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Switch by Ingrid Law
Rain, Reign by Ann M. Martin
The False Prince by Jennifer E. Nielsen

and 3 young adult books with one common thread, e. lockhart.  It was my year to connect with her books. I enjoyed We were liars, Dramarama, and The Disreputable history of Frankie Landau Banks. All good solid stories.

(you didn't really think I was just going to talk about ten books, did you?)

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The God of Small Things

Happy New Year!  This is going to be an exciting hear I can feel it!  2016.
Major change, major happiness.  Simple.

This blog which began as a place for me to chat about books and life easily moved into a cooking, life, lifestyle, and sometimes book place.  I could reassess but I like how it is, how it's transformed.  I talk about books a lot anyway and I use GoodReads to discuss.  Sometimes books are part of a stream of what I'm already connecting to which  makes them worth a discussion here.

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy is worth it. I listened to a podcast about writing by an author I cannot recollect right now. My complaint about podcasts is that I listen to them while driving and can't write down a thing as a reminder.  The host asked questions and the author spoke about becoming a writer, books she liked, authors she respected and I listened. At one point she brought up Roy's novel as a turning point for her as a reader/writer; a striking example of great writing. My ears perked up when I heard Roy's name and the title of the book; I've had that book languishing on my beautiful living room bookcase right next to the Barbara Kingsolver section.  I don't know how the book came into my life; used book sale, friend, Barnes and Noble sale but it's been sitting there waiting for me.

Winner of the Man Booker prize, published in 1997, it tells the story of twins Rahel and Esthappen and the season their cousin came to visit from England.  The story, set in India, is interesting enough filled with unique characters that pull you in but the real winner of this story is Roy's language.  She surprises you with ideas and word choices giving me new ideas for writing.
I've got proof, parts that surprised and delighted me as I read.

"Slowly the old boat sank, and settled on the sixth step.
And a pair of two-egg twin hearts sank and settled on the step above the sixth.
The deep-swimming fish covered their mouths with their fins and laughed sideways at the spectacle." (195)

The image of fish giggling behind their fins strikes me as funny. It's a good image.

"In his clean room in the dirty Ayemenem House, Estha (not old, not young) sat on his bed in the dark.  He sat very straight. Shoulders squared. Hands in his lap. As though he was next in line for some sort of inspection. Or waiting to be arrested.
The ironing was done. It sat in a neat pile on the ironing board. He had done Rahel's clothes as well.
It was raining steadily. Night rain. That lonely drummer practicing his roll long after the rest of the band has gone to bed." (279)

The short sentences. One thought. Quick. Descriptive sentences flow from them. The story is not linear and sometimes I don't know where I am the language and her captivating style keeps me reading.

Have you read it?  I would love to know your thoughts.

May all my 2016 reading be just as thought-provoking.