Thursday, May 18, 2017

Ugh! I'm back.


Google, Blogger, and I have a love/hate triangle going on right now. This is the second or third time I've been locked out of my peacefulreader blog. I pay for a domain name and somehow about a year ago Google decided that all paying domains would be part of G-Suite and it's been nothing but trouble for me. In other words it's not hitting my sweet spot.

Tonight, while I do have homework and a good book to read, I felt the need to solve the problem. I'm tired but it suddenly dawned on me that somehow it was not "reading" my G-Suite admin account.  I tried a few more times to log in with no luck.  One of our school techie's advice is about turning the computers off, really off. So I logged everyone off my laptop, which should NOT be a family computer but is, and shut the whole thing down. While I was logging off it seems that Groovy Girl had herself logged in on a second Google page with Netflix up as well.  So even though I was logging myself in as myself and then also as an administrator it was not really logging me in.  The thread of her was being pulled from another page.

Once I turned the whole system back on and logged myself back in it didn't even ask for the admin information it just let me back in.  Whew. I feel so much better, less out of touch. Speaking of being in tough, I've spent the last two nights watching movie with Anton.


Gold with Matthew McConaughey and Will Smith in Collateral Beauty were two very thoughtful and exciting films. We've been having a conversation in our house about gaming, movies, and books - different kinds of entertainment. I'm not a fan of gaming-it leaves me flat-although the one time of the year that I enjoy having a controller in my hand is at Christmas when Kaylee, Tristan, Greg, and I compete in heated games of Jeopardy. Most people that love gaming find the idea of this silly but we have so much fun. 


A movie or a book can help you see a bigger picture, give you empathy, make you laugh, or think, or dream. Same with a book. Video games are only going through repetitive motions.  And even streaming shows can now get to an addictive phase I still think the lure of gaming for hours on end can be harmful. Those that are avid video gamers can probably argue this with me.  I'll take a book or movie for entertainment any time.

I have a whole 'nother post I was working on about The Handmaid's Tale before the shut out occurred. I'll get back to that in a day or two. We have dance recital this Saturday-that's an all-day event.  And I'm working on grading library assignments and assessments in between teaching classes and adding in new books.  I was able to spend the last of my budget money on a trip to our local Barnes and Noble last night.  It was incredible-especially as kids pawed through the 2 boxes today looking at treasures.  Seven of the books now have sticky notes denoting who gets what first.  The joy of book lovers!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May Flowers


We've just returned from a lovely little road trip north to see my brother for his birthday. He lives in a suburb with a beautiful lake and today we went out in his boat for a long ride along the shore looking at the amazing architecture. I love being on the lake, the wind, the smell, the sounds, the feeling of skimming over the water. We saw a muskrat, a loon, and many sailboats catching the breeze. It was chilly so we were wrapped in coats, blankets and hats. It was a perfect way to spend a Sunday morning, communing with nature.

On Saturday night we traveled the few minutes to downtown for drinks and dinner. We parked near an old hangout of mine, Runyon's, so we stopped in, had a drink, and watched the Kentucky Derby.  Then we went around the corner for dinner at 112 Eatery.  I'd never eaten here before but would go again. The food was delicious. I had a carrot and sweet pea risotto with Humboldt fog. I had to look it up but Humboldt fog is a cheese. The combo was amazing and I'm a little sad I left my to-go container in the their fridge. We also enjoyed the Tres Leches cake and a Key Lime Pie with coconut. Dessert is my favorite. Anton was with us and he enjoyed people watching and trying new foods/drinks with us.

I spent the ride home reading and sleeping.  I started The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. It's been on a stack by my bed for a few years and now with the new series I picked it up right after I finished Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man.  I like Zadie Smith's writing but I had trouble feeling anything for the main character, Alex-Li.  The Handmaid's Tale, on the other hand, has me reading quickly. It's a bit creepy and a lot of back and forth to learn the past and the present of the story. I've also never seen the actual movie starring Natasha Richardson and Faye Dunaway.  So that is on my massive to-do list.

Happy May everyone!  Enjoy and celebrate the sun.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Recipes + Books

That's what it's really all about.

I made a lovely dinner a few nights ago after dance.  I had extra ricotta cheese from our big shells recipe and after a quick search I found this Lemony Ricotta Pasta (from The Kitchn). Groovy Girl loved it. She is working on eating less cheese/dairy and certain items seemed to trigger more. Ricotta cheese doesn't seem to be a problem. Pizza, though, huge problem much to her huge dismay!

I had to laugh today as I discovered this post from long ago (2014) as I searched for a pie crust recipe for my mother. Good to know we like what we like!! Do take a moment to click back; it's worth it.

This was not a stellar reading month for me. Only two books. I did watch all of Season 1 and 2 of The 100, a dystopian drama series.  I highly recommend it but it did get in the way of my reading.


1. Piecing me together by Renee Watson (2017)- What a gorgeous cover that is. I want to know that young woman. Jade struggles with the two worlds she is part of; one with her mother where there are never enough money or groceries at the apartment she shares with her mother and uncle. Jade attends a private high school on a scholarship and she pushes herself to take every opportunity to get ahead. When she is asked to be part of a new Woman to Woman mentor program she starts to see clearly what she wants from her life even as her mentor struggles with her own path.  Jade's character is strong with an artistic flair. Renee Watson has a few other books out that I am now interested in. Jade's coming-of-age tale of friendship, survival, finding your own wings should be enjoyed by many.


2. The Autography Man by Zadie Smith (2002)- As I've carried this book around to dance classes, church, coffee shops, and brew pubs over the last few weeks I've had many ask me how I like the book. My answer has been the same; weird.  The autograph man is Alex-Li Tandem and he is drifting through life, drugs and alcohol are his entertainment, and his friends are merely bystanders as Alex messes one thing up after another, including his long-term relationship with Ester.  On a buying trip to NYC through a chance encounter he meets the woman of his dreams. She's now 70 but he loves her anyway. As he makes plans to bring Kitty Alexander back to England with him, it's unknown whether this will help him recoup the life he's wasted. It's an interesting journey. I like Zadie's writing.  I'm just not sure I feel invested in the autograph man's story.

I'm really ready for May. And some warmer weather.  Although after seeing this photo sent to me yesterday by a Colorado relative I'm glad I'm not there. It only feels like winter here.





Wednesday, April 26, 2017

It's a crazy time of year...

Work is crazy-good-but crazy. I have a new library assistant and it has been amazingly fun to work with her, train her, and watch her work and develop relationships with our students. I have 4 boxes of new books from Follett and several boxes from Scholastic to process and add to the collection. We've had several big school events that our group of leadership ambassadors have been part of and that just takes work from me to organize. It's inspiring to work with them and pushes me in new directions but it's challenging to add that to my already busy library tasks.

{Groovy Girl - 9th grade formal ready}
Home is crazy because dance is on extreme mode as we approach the end of May recital. We have costumes to attend to, tickets, pictures, makeup, pasties to buy. We also shopped for a 9th grade formal dress/shoes and that was a whole fun shopping night. We found beautiful shoes and an on-sale dress that matched and were perfect. Groovy Girl is going with a group of free-spirited girls and a few boys are tagging along with them. One (girl)friend will wear a suit of some sort, another a pair of sparkly Chucks with her dress, a few have dates, but most are just going to be together, dance, and have fun.

Home is also crazy because my husband has three different plays going on and is working with 1st graders at a local school.  Plus he's building a structure in our backyard to house a special new family pet. This enclosure has been time-consuming but it looks so beautiful. He had to take out our garden plot to build this so this year I will try gardening in the front yard plot plus some containers on the patio.
{Beauty uncovered}
We will soon celebrate Teenage Boy's birthday-he'll be 22 on Friday. No longer a teenage boy anymore but that lives on in my mind. We are celebrating together at an Italian restaurant in Marion. We will come bearing gifts fit for a 22 -year-old college student. He and his girlfriend took a quick trip, for a family wedding, to one of our favorite states-Colorado.

Anton is doing really well and has worked with a local organization that helps at-risk young adults return to school. He's put in an application for Hawkeye Community College.  That was a happy day. There is still a long uphill journey to go but at least we started out.
{Colorado Trip}

Saturday, April 15, 2017

April Days

Terrible rain storm here tonight, rumbling, with lightning. I enjoyed a walk with friends this afternoon around a large lake and it was cloudy and smelled like rain but lucky for us it held off. It came tonight with lots of rumbling and a light show display.

Groovy Girl and I are dog sitting for a friend and I had to bring the dog back here with me.  Her sad yellow lab eyes looked at me through the door and I just couldn't leave her alone. So we have a doggie sleep over guest who's had a good time getting to know our house and our two labs.



{Pre and Post-baked shells}

I made one main major meal this week-Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce from Giada on Food Network. My brother made it for GG and I a few months ago and we both liked it.  It's a little labor intensive though so I made it last Sunday afternoon when I had the time. Throughout the week GG was able to eat the leftovers for dinner before dance.  Next time I'd leave out the pancetta; I didn't really enjoy the flavor.

While I was looking through some old blog posts I found this Sweet Potato Black Bean burrito recipe that I love. It is perfect to make and keep extras for lunches as well.  Also I found this great recipe for breakfast sandwiches that can be made ahead. I'm trying to make Anton one every morning so he leaves for work with something for breakfast. The recipe says you can freeze these; I've just been keeping 3-4 ready to go packaged up in the fridge. It's easy to take one out, heat in the microwave for 20 seconds, and hand it to him before he heads out the door.

Tomorrow we celebrate Easter with a church service where Groovy Girl will do a celebratory lyrical dance for about the 4th year and after we head to MN to have dinner cooked by my stepmother.  I'm very excited to just sit at her table and enjoy the family around me. Blessing abound.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Joys

{made-with-love oatmeal}

Much of being a parent is really difficult. I've always said the good, the true joy of being a parent, outweighs all the negative that can and often does happen. This applies to my family completely. We've had struggles (key the amen choir) and some times it can be days before true JOY shows it's pretty head.

My son turns 22 at the end of this month. Shocking-YES. My stepdaughter turned 25 a few days ago. It's a big birthday month. I received my son's birthday wish list yesterday and low and behold (cue the choir again) THIS meatless cookbook is on his list. If any of you reading have been following along for years this is the kid who insisted we put meat on his plate at the end of middle school. He was working out a lot, playing hard, and felt like our mostly plant-based diet was not filling him up. He was sick and tired of being raised vegetarian.

This outburst from him prompted me to look into sustainable meat which created a whole new food journey for our family. I started buying meat from local farmers and listened to one of my food heroes Barbara Kingsolver. In Animal, Vegetable, Miracle she says that at one time the only option was to abstain from meat if you were conscientious about your food choices; now there are options so promoting and purchasing farmer-raised meat is good for us and good for the farmer and ultimately good for the environment. So I'm gently patting myself on the back that my son, even though I know he still enjoys meat once in while, is aware of other eating options.  Bravo.

Groovy Girl, who really wishes I could come up with a new blog nickname for her, makes me feel joy often but in particular the other day when her braces-covered-teeth were sore she made the request for me to make my special oatmeal for her breakfast.  It was the way she said it like she was 7 again and not 14.  I rewarded her with a delicious bowl full and mini ones for my husband and I. Truth be told I don't do anything that special but I do stir it as it cooks which makes it creamy and at the end I add what ever fruit we have and sprinkles of brown sugar and cinnamon. Made with love.

Groovy Girl (the name is too perfect and she'll be G.G. until the day the blog ends-sorry babe) and I did FaceTime with oldest daughter on her birthday and that was a highlight of my week. She had been at the musical Groundhog Day in NYC so we talked to her as she walked to the train. NY looked magical with twinkling lights and all the activity around her.  I can't wait to be there this summer with her.  

Anton, my former student, living with us as an adopted son now is doing really well. He has a job, has his IA driver's license, and has made a friend. Right now he is outside helping Greg with some chores. Teaching him to be part of the family is probably the hardest hurdle as that's not something he's experienced in the same way many of us think about family dynamics; how we work together and communicate.  It is a thrill still to have him here. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

March Reads


Circling the Sun by Paula McLain: Beryl Markham, a horse trainer and aviator, is raised by her father and the native Africans that live on their land in Kenya during the 1920's. She has difficult love affairs and struggles with life after her father's horse farm fails. The imagery of Africa that McLain paints is beautiful. I like historical fiction and this was well-written.  My mother-in-law gave me The Paris Wife a few years ago and I feel inspired to read it after finishing this one for our February book club discussion.

The Mothers by Brit Bennett: Bennett tells a captivating story of Nadia Turner; a young high school senior ready to move on with her dreams of going East for college. The summer before her senior year though she is battling loneliness after her mother's recent suicide and she takes comfort in Luke, a damaged former high school football star.  An unplanned pregnancy changes how they both move forward into the world.  This was very good and I look forward to Bennett's next book.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas: I loved this one also.  Angie Thomas writes a wonderful and timely story of Starr Carter, a basketball-loving, smart young girl attending an expensive prep school outside of her neighborhood. Through Starr we are shown first hand how difficult it is to remain true to yourself as you juggle friends and ideas from both lives. When Starr's childhood best friend is killed by a police officer her two worlds begin to collide. The conversations between Starr, her parents, and extended family remind me of Ta-Nehisi Coates' letter to his son (and to us the white audience) on how hard it is to raise kids knowing their lives don't matter to some.  Reviewed here by me.

How the Garcia Girls lost their accents by Julia Alvarez:  I wanted to like this but ultimately it didn't hold my complete attention. Like the struggles in The Hate You Give, this one shows how hard it was for the Garcia sisters to be both old world for their parents yet navigate in the modern NYC they are raised in. While the four sisters love their Dominican family it is not easy being raised in the mostly sexist/patriarchal society when they have their own ideas of what their lives should look like.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer:  I read this for my 6th grade book club and was not that impressed. It had mixed reviews from the 6 kids in the club. One of the students loved it, finished two more in the series by the time the rest of us finished just the one. This is why I love book club; it pushes you to read what you might not otherwise have picked up. This student even admitted "I don't think I would have picked this off the library shelf!"
Now that I've read it I know I have other students that I can recommend it to but I know I don't need to read beyond this first one. Maybe it's the political arena right now that made me shudder with many of Artemis' villainous ideas.

My March reading greatly improved from February where I got bogged down with that one book, My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.
Happy April!

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I read many positive reviews about this brand new (2017) book I started following the author, Angie Thomas, on twitter. I try hard NOT to buy books but this time I felt it was a great cause. #weneeddiversebooks

16-year-old Starr Carter lives in two different worlds as she maneuvers between her home and neighborhood and the private prep school she attends where she works hard to be "less ghetto". It's difficult separating herself out like that and, after one of her childhood friends is shot in front of her by a police officer, her balancing act starts to crumble.

Through Starr's eyes we are able to experience what many young people are frustrated with today; police brutality and rampant racism. Starr has a family that supports her, parents that are involved in her education and teaching her what's right. We can see through her father and his friends how hard it is to make good decisions when you have people inviting you to do bad everyday. Her family has been witness to a lot of tragedy and just like other families they keep moving forward even though the journey is trying.

I loved the language, the cadence of listening to Starr speak in both voices.

"I swallow. I wish I could say yes, but I don't know. On the one hand, it's the cops. It's not like I'll be telling just anybody.
On the other hand, it's the cops. One of them killed Khalil.
But Uncle Carlos is a cop, and he wouldn't ask me to do something that would hurt me.
'Will it get Khalil justice?' I ask.
Uncle Carlos nods. 'It will."(55)

and

"The drug dealer. That's how they see him. It doesn't matter that he's suspected of doing it. 'Drug Dealer' is louder than 'suspected' ever will be.
If it's revealed that I was in the car, what will that make me? The thug ghetto girl with the drug dealer? What will my teachers think about me? My friends? The whole fucking world, possibly?" (113)

and as life gets back to something like normal her family celebrates:

"Salt-N-Pepa's "Push It" blasts from the speakers. That's one song Daddy shouldn't play. The only thing worse would be that old song "Back that Thang Up." Momma loses her damn mind when it comes on. Really, just say, "Cash Money Records takin' over for the '99 and the 2000," and she suddenly becomes ratchet as hell.
She and Aunt Pam both go, "Heeey!" to Salt-N-Pepa and do all these old dance moves. I like nineties shows and movies but I do not wanna see my mom and auntie reenact that decade in dance..." (356)

This is an important YA story that adults should read as well. I am excited to read what ever Angie Thomas writes next.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring Break Pizza Party!

{photo credit: @sarah_burgart}

While I was in Indiana visiting my lovely friend Barbara, of Marilyn's Bakery fame, we had a discussion about friendship that inspired me to invite two friends to a pizza party once Groovy Girl and I returned home. Luckily the roads were clear after all the snow and we made it home safely and in good time.

My menu for the gathering:
homemade pizzas
homemade margaritas

In my message to both friends I requested they bring their top 2-4 pizza toppings. We generally don't make meat pies and we have had people unhappy with our veggie/creative toppings so it makes it easier if we can have a little help in the topping department. After we ate the pizzas the little ones made music and danced in Groovy's dance room.  We were able to sit back and sip.

{Alice, G.G., Macy, me, Mya, and Beth}
They brought:
feta cheese, pepperoni, spinach, pineapple, cheese curds, and shredded cheese.

We had: spinach, grated mozzarella cheese, whole mozzarella, basil, the dough, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, and red sauce.  And the margaritas of course. Kids had juice and special water.

I have many different dough I've used over the years; this time I used the one inside Katie Workman's The Mom 100 Cookbook; 100 recipes every mom needs in her back pocket. It was very easy to put together. I tripled the recipe in three different bowls so we would have plenty of dough to share.


Katie Workman's Homemade Pizza Dough
(makes enough for two 12-inch pizzas or four 6-inch)

1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsps) I appreciate when they add this in because I buy my yeast in bulk and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge.
1 tsp sugar (I omit this b/c why not?)
1 tsp course salt or kosher
2 T. olive oil, plus extra for coating the bowl
3 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour

1. Place yeast (and sugar, if you opt in) in a large bowl, add 1 cup of warm water, and let sit until small bubbles form, about 10 minutes. Mix in the salt and olive oil. Add flour gradually, mixing until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about 4 minutes (she says, you can use a standing mixer for this part). Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and cover it with damp dish towel or plastic wrap.

2. Let the dough sit undisturbed in a warm place until it is doubled in size, 1-1 1/2 hours. Punch down the dough, divide into 2 balls, and roll out on floured surface.  I let it rest after I roll it out so it can rise a bit again. Place it on a pizza stone (hot or not, your choice) and add sauce, toppings, cheese, whatever your heart desires.

Bake at 500* until crust is a little brown. Let rest after you remove from the oven for a few minute before cutting it with a pizza wheel.

{@sarah_burgart; look at those smiles}
Now for the adult beverage part of the celebration. All three of us are hard-working teachers who needed Spring Break to whisk us away even for an afternoon of play. My margarita recipe is from @sjkane11 who added it to our Highland Elementary recipe book a few years back. I've made it ever since. I prefer to make things homemade and I like to make cocktails so it was great to say adios to super sweet mixes.  I'm sure I've shared this recipe before but here it is again in case you lost it.



Margaritas (without the pain)


12 oz. can of limeade (frozen)
12 oz. tequila
12 oz. water
2/3 can or 8 oz of triple sec
1 can domestic beer
Ice and limes as desired


Use the frozen limeade can to measure ingredients. Mix all ingredients well in a gallon pitcher.  Add ice and limes. Pour generously into salt-rimmed glass.  Enjoy.

Monday, March 6, 2017

March has blown in and surrounds me now.

I need a break. I'm tired. Spring Break is just around the corner.

Our Scholastic Book Fair for the spring is up and running. Lots of books, lots of excitement from kids and parents. This time I requested less crap. You know the stuff, pencils with fuzz on top, pens that have heads with tongues that stick out, weird stuff but kids are always enamored with it) I want them to see the books. We have less days for the fair but I hope we do really well on our two conference nights.

Anton is getting along. He's met a friend; the nephew of one of my friends and they've done a few things together. He misses having people his own age around all the time. He is getting more hours at his job which is a positive. He still has a difficult time getting up and going in the morning which reminds of so many mornings with my other son's high school years. Slow as molasses we said. Now I have a repeat performance. I have to keep reminding myself that a 22-yr-old still has a developing brain, teen-like emotions. Part of me just wants to shout "get the hell in the car!" I don't. Good or bad, I don't know.

I'm getting ready to take off for sunny Indiana over my break. Visiting my friend Barb and her family. Groovy Girl and I love to make this road trip together. We have a yoga workshop planned, kayak'ing out her back door, and maybe a pedicure. Otherwise we will just be relaxing together.  Old, close friends are like that.  Comfortable.


Usually I like to post what I read in a month but February was a terrible reading time for me. I guess my husband's desire to see all the Oscar movies took a toll. I read one book; My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I thought it was lovely but s-l-o-w going.  I got confused with the many quirky characters and I just could not pick up the pace.  I finished it though and moved on to my book club choice, Circling the Sun by Paula McClain. I didn't finish it by our meeting date but I have finished it now. I liked it and am interested in many of the other stories like Out of Africa that go with this book.


I'm on to The Mothers by Brit Bennett which I am actually already half way through. It's exciting and I love Nadia.  I'll have more time to read this month.

I've also been cooking a lot but my cooking has changed with Anton in our house. I have lots of work to do to encourage him to eat healthier choices. Upward battle. He is used to eating processed foods, things that are quick and easy, microwavable. I try to balance a few good home cooked meals with some of his favorites. Suffice it to say he is NOT a fan of tofu.  He has eaten sweet potato burritos, fish, turkey lasagna, chicken cutlets, and he was quite happy the day I made fried chicken.  We are a work in progress. I try not to be grossed out as he gulps a bright blue or red "juice"-type soda.

I try and remember right now there are bigger worries than processed food.

Enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscars


We love to watch the Oscars. We try to watch as many of the nominated movies so we have an opinion. Before any of the bigger awards are given out I want to share my favorites.

Hidden Figures: A brilliant story with excellent actors. How have we missed these historical women's stories!  I thought this one was really well done. I need to read the book now and am thrilled to have this up for best picture; a great ensemble piece.

Lion: I saw this yesterday morning here. I specifically knew this would be great to see on the big screen. I loved especially the train moving through the mountains.  I loved this story of loss, survival, instinct, and a boy's love for his mother.  I thought everyone in this film did an amazing job as well.

Arrival: I believe this movie spoke to us about how we communicate; how deep are you really willing to go?  And I love that the story was not cyclical making the viewer question when exactly certain events took place.  I thought the back story of her life (Amy Adams) was an important element.

Hacksaw Ridge: I had a really hard time with parts of this movie (war = blood/guts) but the incredible tale of pacifist Desmond Doss. As a peace activist myself I respected his deep commitment to not carry a gun. I'm not a fan of Mel Gibson but I thought this was a very well-done movie.

Loving: Like Hidden Figures this is a story that people need to know. Love is love no matter who you are and who you choose to love. This film highlights the Loving family who took their right to marry all the way to the Supreme Court. We are all grateful for their difficult journey to change this law.

Captain Fantastic: This is a delightful tale of a family living off the ground in Washington state. He's teaching his 6 kids how to survive but it's a hippy thing instead of a religious thing which, of course, made it much more interesting to me. He's kids are unique, brilliant and free thinkers. The best part is the end when Viggo shows he can adapt. I especially loved the kid's costumes.

Florence Foster Jenkins: Funny! Meryl is just so talented. I loved the joy she shares through her love of the arts. Her husband adores her and that is magical. The costumes and the supporting roles were also very good.

Do you watch or care about the Oscars? As a political person, an eco-friendly person, a concerned citizen I am worried about our world right now. The Oscars to me is an escape but also an inside look at our world. Will the Oscars choose diverse or a more white-centric view?

Whether you watch or not the above films are above and beyond amazing stories to be enjoyed for more than just their artistic value. They share something about our human story. Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life is filled with surprises


Here is my life changing moment.  

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Stranger Things


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

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

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cooking keeps me sane

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

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

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

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


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


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

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



Monday, January 16, 2017

Happy birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King; what would he say now?


What a mess we are in and yet I see hope everyday-we've got to stick together and make a difference. Children today have spent the last 8 years with a black president-a graceful, well-spoken, thoughtful, intelligent, and well-educated president. I know, for the most part, this is my "opinion"-stating things like this can start a small twitter war with all kinds of hateful comments. I will miss the Obama family in the WH.

I am not looking forward to a Trump presidency; he has no backbone, is only focused on his own opinion, uses bluster and smoke instead of facts and clear thinking, and lives in opposite land with a silver spoon clutched in his fist. His nickname should be Puff Daddy but that insults the actual Sean Combs. A rooster, maybe. With the flurry over comments made by Congressman John Lewis about the legitimacy of Trump's presidency based on Russian hacking (which I agree with btw) and DT's response all during Dr. King's weekend. It's hard to see how we are moving forward cuz we some days we aren't. We are moving ten to 1,000 steps backwards and that is scary folks.


Generally we are a family that does something to commemorate this holiday, even if it is just a discussion about Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement. I had a planned volunteer opportunity this year, packing food boxes, at The University of Northern Iowa.  It was cancelled due to extreme icy weather. We took that open time to see "Hidden Figures" to enlighten ourselves. We did slide down our driveway in our little Prius but the roads were okay. Groovy Girl and our second "daughter", her best friend, came with us. The movie is well-done and we came out filled with discussion. What if we'd known their story in the 60's/70's; it could have changed the playing field a long time ago for women and POC in stem. Reading this NPR article confirmed my thoughts-we should have known their stories years ago but at least we have them now. Frankly we can use the inspiration right now!

From the article:

Johnson, who became a high school freshman at age 10, says she always liked learning. She's concerned about today's youth relying so heavily on the Internet for information. "They're hurt and don't know it," she says quietly. "They're not using their brain. ... And you've got to use your brain for it to grow and for things to be learned."

As a teacher/librarian I couldn't agree more with this thought shared by Johnson, a 98-year old mathematician. We need kids to realize the damage they are doing by staring at screens nonstop and expecting Siri and Alexa to answer the questions.  

Go see this movie, keep an open mind, educate yourself, be kind and thoughtful, do not take the bait, be ready to speak up, and remember, always remember, the peaceful path Dr. King took even while he was jailed and mocked. What would his tweets look like today?

I just finished Sugar by Jewell Parker Rhodes (excellent elementary fiction about Reconstruction era) and am now reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad (harsh but  a very gripping tale).  

Friday, January 6, 2017

Cool products I've discovered

Happy Friday!

I've been writing this post for about a month or so in my head. If you are a fellow blogger you know what I mean. For every one post I write I've written ten in my head; they just don't always make it from my mind to the keyboard.

I just received some amazing soap in the mail and that is the catalyst to push this from head to hand to you.


1. Soapy Soap Company or Designmysoap.com: My stepdaughter works in Brooklyn as a producer for Gimlet Media podcasts and recently Reply All did a show featuring the guys in Indiana who created this company.  She and I talked about how cool it would be to design our own soap and then we just got on the computer and did it. We both picked different products for our soaps and we each bought the white oak soap rest (it was on sale that day, what can I say).  It was fun to sort through the different bases, essential oils, and add-ins (think oatmeal) and then you get to make your own label. It's all organic so this is like my next birthday gift to everyone on my list. She sent me a message yesterday and said hers arrived and it smelled fantastic-she even had a nice little thank you note in her box. Mine arrived today (jumping up and down and whiffing the box and it smelled lovely even from outside. I love good soap and good smells and this is perfectly priced. There were freebies inside my box as well.


2. Native Deodorant: Another cool product that I read an article about listing it as the best deodorant around. I've always used an organic brand and never needed it much or gave it too much thought. In the last few years as I've AGED I noticed that I was a bit more stanky after a day at work and my clothes were not happy. Most recently I'd been using a cute little bottle of spray by Honest and honestly it wasn't working. So after reading this article about the top ten best deodorants I ordered and switched. I've never been happier about wisping this under my arms-it smells amazing and I smell good all through the day. No more stinky as I pull my dress over my head. We're all a little happier when that happens right? I bought two scents (lavender/rose and coconut/vanilla) and they've lasted quite awhile. I think I've had them for about 6 months. All natural + free shipping and made in San Francisco.
3. Shea Moisture Lotion: One day while browsing at our local Walgreens my lovely daughter always on the lookout for new face products picked this brand up, read the label (she does this with everything!-I'm so proud), and stood up to tell me all about it. The company is based in Sierra Leone which is a country close to our hearts because my husband spent time there as a young child while his parents worked with Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas. It isn't a stable country and one that desperately needs help so if I can help in this tiny way by supporting a local company I'm in. The anti-aging cream for me has frankincense and myrrh extracts added. It smells lovely and my face is smooth.

I'm not a fan of advertising running all over my blog and am easily annoyed by ads on other blogs. This is my little bit of free advertising for companies that are independent and environmentally-friendly. Give them a try.
My own design:
 



Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A new year of books! But first here's my favorites from 2016.

I am always amazed when I look back through my books on Goodreads for the past year. I can easily reminisce about what I've read, liked, disliked! As a book lover I loved to be pulled back into the stories and think about each book, the characters and how much I cared about each story. I encourage you to look any of these books up at your local library or book seller and give it a read...

My stats: 

Number of books: 66
Pages: 19,827
Longest book: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (720 pages of excellent writing)
Shortest book: Peter and the Winter Sleepers by Rick de Haas (I hardly ever include picture books on my GR account as it is part of my job everyday)
Most Popular: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (544,388 others read this one)
Highest GR rating: Between the world and me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (completely agree with this; I gave it to both my young adult children for xmas)

My 2016 favorites 
(so many great stories here)


Adult category:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Magician's Lie by Greer Macalister
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Jewelweed by David Rhodes


Young Adult:
Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (GN)



Elementary:
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
The Terrible Two by Mac Barnett
George by Alex Gino
One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
Capture the flag by Kate Messner
The thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

Nonfiction: 
Between the world and me by Ta'Nahisi Coates

Drama:
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Usually I read more YA and elementary than adult but this has been the inverse this year and I credit the Litsy community for pushing my reading in new directions.

I have started 2017 reading off with a bang in Amy Stewart's Girl Waits with Gun (already reading) and on deck, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, two books by Elena Ferrante, and Pax by by Sarah Pennypacker at school.

What are you reading this year?