Saturday, August 11, 2018

Slow August Day in Fertile

{Cloth napkins-YES!}
We had an lovely vacation getaway in Northern Minnesota the past long week. It was spectacular and I have many stories to tell but on the way home, we stopped at an amazing restaurant, Cafe Mir, in the small town of Fertile, IA. Honestly, I'd never heard of Fertile before today. Now I'm a fan and I will be back. I was impressed that they have their own small public library.

My mom's garden provides swiss chard to the chef and they use sustainable, local ingredients when possible. Not hard to do when you're in Iowa; we have so much produce and organic farmers raising sustainable meat. While many restaurants are on this bandwagon not always is the food as amazing as the concept. Everything we ordered was delicious. There were 5 of us and we ordered a sauteed eggplant dish as a starter, and as meals, we had a pork and beef lasagna, a braised leg of lamb, Hrbek's ribeye steak, and a wood-fired Margherita pizza for Groovy Girl. I had a "cornucopia salad for dinner, the lighter eater that I am, which is roasted sweet corn, feta, mixed hot and sweet peppers, cilantro, and lime.  It was such a refreshing combination and a perfect amount. We had rhubarb pie for dessert and they make their own fresh bread as well. 

{rhubarb pie}
The table was interesting with a lot of mismatched glasses, plates, and bowls giving it an authentic old farmhouse appeal. Also, they used real cotton napkins which just warmed my heart. I don't know when I'm going to take the time to drive an hour and a half north to dine again at Cafe Mir but I know there are other treats on the menu I want to try. Road trip anyone...?  I'm also curious to see what they will change seasonally. 

{unassuming front of Cafe Mir}
After being on vacation I am realizing that my need for real food, homecooked, slow-cooked grub plus my natural inclination to eat small meals is often confounding to people. I just like to know where my food comes from and I've purposely spoiled myself. I like real greens not iceberg lettuce in a salad. Why bother? I'm not a meat eater and I prefer small batches of food compared to large platefuls. I'm not trying to be a pain; I just like what I like.   

Monday, July 30, 2018

Highlights of summer

I finished all the assignments for one of my grad classes and am on the homestretch for the last class, Creative Schools. My major goal is to finish before my birthday which is just around the corner! I've done some deep learning and am excited to implement changes in my library this next year based on the two books I read.

(Source)
My stepsister, Robin, and her family came to town for a weekend.  I made these delicious dairy-free rhubarb-pecan muffins for breakfast one morning. I liked that the recipe had orange juice and orange zest as ingredients and I substituted lemon zest because that's what I had. They were really easy to pull together and came out nice and soft. Diana, my niece was my assistant baker and took care of all the mixing and measuring. I found lots of great rhubarb recipes and these muffins at Thyme and Love look really good to try too.

I'm on the last legs of a major summer cold, luckily it's lasted just about a week. We've gone through a major amount of kleenex between G.G., husband and myself. Which by the way he finished RAGBRAI on Saturday in good spirits. I'm happy to drop him off for his start and I'm happy to pick him back up again, safe and sound. Ragbrai is his happy place.

Yesterday I hosted my 2nd annual Croquet & Cocktails game and it was perfect weather for it. We had snacks and margaritas and hit the balls around with heavy mallets in thick grass. It was a perfect summer break with teacher friends especially because that morning I'd finished the 3rd module of this last class. Today I started on module 4 and should be able to finish in the next few days. I'm school obsessed right now.

What have I been reading other than Creative Schools and Formative Five you ask? I finished Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.  Thanks to Verda and Sela for the push to read it. Now I have to find time with Groovy Girl to watch the movie. She was dubious about the story; she liked it, read it just a few days, but was like, that wouldn't really happen. Maybe she is more of a nonfiction, biography reader?  I loved the story and yes, it is somewhat unbelievable but that's what fiction is! 
If you haven't read it please pick it up from your local library. 


Quick review: Madeline is sick and she cannot handle outside germs so she has been inside her (fancy) house for years. One day a new family moves in next door and she meets a boy, Olly, through the window. Her house nurse, Carla, conspires with her so the two can meet inside her airtight, vacuum sealed house.  Young love-it can't be beat. What would you do for love and how do you protect those you love? 


I'm now reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. Until I finish the very last homework assignment I only have a few minutes to read at night. This one is very good though and I'll read more by both Ng and Yoon.

What are you reading? What have you filled your summer up with so far? 

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Summer classes

I have two grad classes this summer and they are not easy; lots of homework, and projects. The good thing is I am learning quite a bit and the two books assigned are both very good.


The Formative five: fostering grit, empathy, and other success skills every student needs by Thomas R. Hoerr

This book explains how schools need to get back to the "basics" of teaching a deeper thought process so our students will be better achievers in the job market.  Grit, embracing diversity, integrity, empathy, and self-control encompass the skills they need to be successful. The book breaks down each skill and shares methods to integrate into every day. This was an easy read and I will use the new ideas with students. I've already compiled lists of picture books to use with students that highlight each essential word. 


Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, Ph. D.

I've watched Ken Robinson's Ted Talk "Do schools kill creativity?" and the book extends that thinking. The book shares many examples of schools and programs that are reaching beyond the normal school day.  Like Thomas Hoerr, Ken Robinson is looking for a different type of education for all of our students.  His ideas are radical and very interesting to me.  The book makes me want to set my classes up differently and not sweat the small or big stuff; students need to enjoy school more to keep their creativity and the joy of learning alive! 


Outside of my summer studies, I read The tea girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See for book club. See does an amazing amount of research for her books and this one is no exception. This one has great characters, lots of information about the Ahka hill tribe in China, and the tea industry. If you are looking for a good, thrilling read-give this one a try.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Inspired food

(Fuji Mama 1-hour bread)
Last week I offered to make a meal for a theatre set designer and old friend who traveled from St. Paul, MN to come and help put his design into action and work with my husband.  Because we haven't seen this old friend for awhile I offered to make him dinner so we could relax and talk together. I made a pasta sauce from one of my Giada cookbooks, a simple salad and this bread from Fuji Mama -Simple One Hour Homemade Bread

You see I'd forgotten to pick up a baguette to round out this Italian-inspired meal and I knew I needed bread or the meal would feel incomplete to our guest.  When I shared my concern with Groovy Girl, she said: "just make some bread!" What!? but of course, I know how to make bread and have many recipes to follow for wonderful crispy loaves yet they all take at least a couple of hours to create. I had less than 2 hours.  Her answer to this: "just Google it". So simple!

After a quick search for fast homemade bread, I found Fuji Mama's easy recipe and we loved it. It makes 2 peasant loaves that cook in 25 minutes. They were crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, the perfect combo. 

Here is Giada's Bolognese Sauce that I tossed over fettuccine noodles. The meal was delicious, the conversation lively, and ended with another mutual friend's treat of cookies. 

I'm short on time for everything I do this summer.  Two grad classes are keeping me seriously hopping.  The two books I'm reading to go along with each class are interesting, The Formative Five by Thomas R. Hoerr and Creative Schools by Ken Robinson, but the assignments cause me to think HARD for hours at a time-not my favorite summer activity.  I just want to be reading chapter books for school, hanging in my hammock, or cooking.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Happy 4th of July

(cool image via Etsy)

I am grateful to live in this country, a country where I have the freedom to write what I want.  We still have the ability to dissent, protest, and resist although there have been recent repercussions which are reminiscent of older repercussions. We still have the opportunity to be ourselves. One can even easily "converse" or respond back to the very man who sits in the White House via his Twitter account. But don't let this fool you into thinking we live in a perfect country-we do not. Not if you are black, brown, gay, female, poor, or an immigrant...many are the downtrodden. It's not perfect but at one time I felt (under a different administration) that we were moving forward and now we are moving backwards in time and all I hope is that we are able to recover from the mess being made today.

Everything matters now; choosing a new supreme court justice is proof of how much change one person will make and the overwhelming waterfall effect that will have on our America. Destruction at the EPA, climate change/weather-related issues not being taken seriously, and Yellowstone Grizzlies removed from the endangered list and perhaps hunted once again for sport. This issues alone worry me a great deal.

For today be appreciative of this country but also be aware; if you've been lazy about politics in the past, now is the time to step it up. I have only to look to The Handmaid's Tale to know our beautiful America can look very different with a solid Christian, right-wing Supreme Court, presidency puppet, and Congress.  This November we need to vote for change once again.  We need to be "fired up and ready to go"...and go and go and go.

I think about young women like 28-yr-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from Queens elected because of her left-leaning ideas. This gives me hope.  And I need that.  Celebrate today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Cooking with L-O-V-E

On Father's Day - way back on June 16th - I made some delicious flaky biscuits to serve as the base for my husband's favorite Southern breakfast.  I cooked the whole meal in about an hour that Sunday morning so both of these recipes are worth it and they tasted delicious according to him.
(My very own flaky biscuits)
Grandma's Flaky Buttermilk Biscuit recipe came from Ann at Cooking Maniac.  She talks a lot about how wonderfully flaky these biscuits are and they did not disappoint. They were very easy to split open and serve with our favorite toppings; Groovy Girl and I had ours with vegan butter and jam; he had homemade sausage gravy. I would definitely go back to her website when looking for authentic homemade recipes. I searched and searched for a good homemade gravy recipe and I found the perfect one on the Food Network from (not a surprise) Ree Drummond.  My husband enjoyed several helpings and there was enough for leftovers for him to eat two other mornings.

(See link below)
I created another special meal for longtime friends of ours. Tim is retiring and moving to their cabin home in Maine while his wife, Lynne will remain here and teach for another year or two at UNI. We wanted to have them for dinner before the major move. I made this perfectly summery Lasagna with spinach and roasted zucchini; a recipe I found using my NYT food app.  It was light with minimal cheese and fresh sauce and it didn't feel wintery heavy.  I had a fresh pea shoot salad and fresh baguettes for everyone. I love to cook and browse recipes so much that this app is better than Instagram for me.
(See link below)
Last night we had a Cedar Falls Food Co-op potluck at 2nd State Brewery downtown and Groovy Girl and I made a really delicious pot of Quinoa and Wild Rice Salad with Ginger Sesame Dressing.  This was a last minute recipe and I did not want to run to the grocery store during a perfectly good lazy summer day and after all, I had most of the ingredients. I did not have cilantro, or fresh lime, spring onions/scallions, or Asian sesame oil. I substituted fresh basil from my porch pot, Rose's Lime Juice (hey, it worked), left out onions and sesame oil.  Our dressing instead was a spicy ginger-lime with a little cayenne and curry compliments of Groovy Girl. She can't help herself with the spices - she just goes to town with our well-stocked spice cabinet. I would definitely make this recipe again and we had lots of wild rice and quinoa left over to repurpose.

Have a delicious rest of your week!

Monday, June 25, 2018

June; thank you so much.


Wow - this month has flown by.  Groovy Girl and I started the summer off with a road trip to Denver, Co.  We stayed with family and just had a lovely time. We hiked in the area and saw deer, bison + baby bison, and pronghorns. From Iowa, it is about an 11-hour drive and we did it in 2 days.

Our favorite things were Sushi Ronin, Little Man ice cream both in the Highland area of Denver and I loved the Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse and we both loved hiking at Chautauqua in Boulder, walking the 16th Street Mall, and dipping our feet into Boulder Creek. We also had a great afternoon hanging out in Washington Park just enjoying.

We had dinner with friends and family we have not seen for years and it felt great to reconnect.  It is very important to keep lines of communication open in friendships and family circles. If not nurtured in some way they can easily wither away. Sometimes that can even mean a place and I definitely enjoyed connecting with Denver/Boulder again and I'm happy my daughter loved our experiences as well. I wished on the trip that I'd had the foresight to take each child on a high school road trip. There are a lot of skills learned on a road trip that you don't get if you take a 4-hour flight to the same destination. Different lessons.  The talking and the navigation were the best parts; I'm trying to teach her to put down the phone as we drive so she can look out the window and daydream, think or just unwind.  Unplugging is a huge challenge for all of us with smartphones.


This trip was also a challenge to myself. I used to make this trek back and forth frequently when my son was younger and the trip was longer because I was often driving back to Minneapolis/St. Paul or Rochester area.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could still make it happen and get myself around. And I did it. Bravo to me. My life can now continue!


I've been lucky enough to call a variety of states home but Colorado will always hold a very special place in my heart. As we drove into the state and you can see your first glimpses of the mountains in the distance; my daughter said "hello mountains; its been too long". I agree. Our souls are better now.

And then I'm just as happy when my little black Prius pulls us back into our little corner of Iowa and we are home; happy to sleep in our own beds and kiss the ground with happiness for a safe trip.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Hello June

There are some people in our lovely little house making a movie, creating art. About 7 people and my husband, shooting, holding a boom mike, and going over lines. Groovy Girl and I have sequestered ourselves on the second floor, in our rooms, doing homework and reading. Not what I expected to do with my day, ALL day, but such is this life.

It is a fairly gorgeous day out and I did take the dog for a long walk. It seems like it would be a perfect hammock day but I cannot for the life of me find where I stashed them over winter. I always keep them in one particular place for safekeeping and they are not there. I think the husband must have taken them down and stored them and he needs to find them. We are missing precious hammock lazy moments.


So with lots of time on my hands, I finished Anne Tyler's A spool of blue thread, a good solid story that tells the tale of the Whitshank family of Baltimore. It doesn't have a major plot upheaval and yet generally that is how family stories often are in life. Just a straight line with many zigs and zags up and down. This was my first Anne Tyler and I would read another. With that one done I've started Tangerine; a novel by Christine Mangan plus reading more of Cleo Wade's Heart Talk, a very inspirational book of wisdom.


I love it when a friend orders a book based on my recommendation. It happened this morning; I raved about a book, News of the world, to my friend Tim at our church picnic and sent him a photo of it when I returned home. He responded back a few minutes later with "Just ordered it from Amazon!"

We have just 2 1/2 days left of school!  The year has flown by and in a few short days, it will truly be summer. Groovy Girl and I are taking to the road, headed to Denver, CO to stay with family for about a week. It's been quite a few years since I've made this road trip myself and while G.G. will keep me awake, she isn't able to drive just yet so it will be all me. Generally, my husband does most of the driving (while I read) but I used to make this trek at least once a year when I lived there before there was a husband so it's a challenge for myself. Bring on the Red Vines and blue chips, the loud music and the laughs.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Not my best week...


I tipped over last Sunday and injured myself. I didn't trip or fall, I didn't feel myself go over. One minute I was walking and the next I was picking myself up from the pavement.  It was weird. In my right hand, I was holding a glass water bottle which smashed against the pavement and into my hand. My left wrist took the brunt of my fall.  It was slightly embarrassing as it was broad daylight (4pm) and there were people around. I'd come out of a play and was saying goodbye, and walking and thinking at the same time. It made me feel a little old and at the same time resilient.

I drove home with a wad of wet wipes in my hand to stave the blood flow from my hand and I made dinner for people that were coming to my house for a cast party. Both hands were in great pain and Groovy Girl was off with friends.  As soon as she got home she bandaged my right hand and helped me clean but by that time I had the Mexican Lasagna recipe already cooking. I even whipped up my own fajita seasoning spice mix for the recipe.  The kitchen looked like hell as I could just barely open bottles and didn't have the energy to try to recap and put away. And I'm usually a-clean-as-I-go kind of cook. Everyone enjoyed the cast party and the lasagna. I had someone request the recipe; they'll have to supply their own blood drips and pain.

I'm looking forward to a quiet weekend. I have a little school work to do. I have a couple of great books to read; I'm halfway done with The Self-driven child, a fantastic life book I wish I'd had when my kids were younger, my book club read News of the world by Paulette Jiles, and from my mom A spool of blue thread by Anne Tyler.

And while browsing around on Epicureous I found this great article about cast iron skillets which I use frequently in our kitchen.

Here's to a better week ahead!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Two books for you to read...

There is something magical that happens to me when a student says "You've GOT to read this book Mrs. Holt" as they clutch said book tightly in front of them and add "It is soooo good!" (eyes sparkling)


This recently happened with a new-to-Hansen 5th grader, Gabby, and she said all this about Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper, which was on our Iowa Children's Choice list this year. I always intend to start that book straight away yet that actually rarely happens.  That sweet book sat at my desk for a few weeks and finally I finished a stream of other books and picked that one up and brought it home. I am so excited to return to school tomorrow and march right up to Gabby and tell her thank you for recommending this book to me!  I loved it as much as she did so now I'm holding it out to you and telling you, my fine reader, to go find this book at a library or a bookstore and take it home, settle yourself on the sofa or outside in a hammock and be prepared to be transported to Stella's world.

Stella is living in Bumblebee, NC and she tries to write in her journal outside at night because she catches her best thoughts in the quiet.  One night she spots men in white robes and a cross on fire right across the pond from her. The Klan is active and creates terrible tension for her small community and her family. Her father joins two other men from the community to register to vote in town and Stella goes along "to be his rock". When the Klan burns down a house belonging to one of the brave men who registered to vote the town comes together, both black and white to help.  Stella is a brave, smart, kind, and enjoyable character that eventually learns to trust her own talents as a writer. 

Did not know that Miles Davis plays Stella by Starlight, check it out! I'm sure Sharon M. Draper did.


The second book I'm excited about this week is The dog, Ray by Linda Coggin.  I found this gem at the public library while browsing the shelf for a teacher request.  It just struck me and I brought it home and it traveled to dance with me for a long rehearsal and I finished it in one day. Yes.

This is the story of 12-year-old Daisy, killed in a car accident, in the first few pages. She is whisked up to some kind of job central and lands back on earth as a...yes, a dog. So sweet. The entertaining part is that she went through the wrong shoot and she can remember her "Daisy" life. She is adopted first into a neglectful, crabby kind of family which makes her take off after a kind homeless man she meets while tied to a bench at the park. Eventually, she meets a young orphaned and homeless boy, Pip. His mother recently died and he's trying to find his father who does not know he exists. What a journey. Pip is a delightful Oliver Twist-like young man determined to find a forever home and he and Ray find their way together. This story is filled with an interesting cast of characters and will have you turning pages rapidly.

I wish I had a song to go with this one but go back and listen to that fantastic Miles Davis tune!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Reading and Recipes

I made yogurt this weekend after one failed attempt. Truth: It takes the whole damn day-you've got to be prepared for that and I don't always have a full day to spend with yogurt so I try to sandwich it between things which is why every once in a while it doesn't work for me. This time I had one failed attempt-stayed milk-poured it right back into the Hansen's jug used by my husband for his morning cereal. Second time-score-creamy, happy yogurt ready for my morning breakfast.

I also made a curry dish today and soaked chickpeas for the recipe. I found the cauliflower chickpea recipe on The Wholesome Fork and read about the proper method to soak chickpeas on Inspired Taste.  I like it when I can prepare a whole meal without opening a bunch of cans. I used fresh tomatoes and some leftover coconut milk saved in a jar in my fridge. It was good and spicy and there's enough left for lunch tomorrow. While blog surfing I found this great post about my chickpea love just a few months ago.

I picked up a book, Shadow Mountain; a memoir of wolves, a woman, and the wild by Renee Askins, from one of my TBR piles that I'd purchased a few years back while visiting Yellowstone National Park. Nonfiction is not my thing but I loved Terry Tempest Williams' book Refuge and she is mentioned twice on the back cover blurbs. I'm sure that's what inspired me to purchase Renee's book at the Yellowstone gift shop. I'm more than 1/2 way through and I love her story. It makes me feel a little guilty because while I was goofing around in Denver, Co, causing trouble, going to Dead shows, Askins was living her passion, striving and working hard to reintroduce wolves back into Yellowstone. A life well-lived. My passion came later; a late bloomer as my mother loves to say. If you love being in nature, the call of the wild, I highly recommend both books!


Have a good week. We've got some changes happening here at our home/sanctuary and I feel I'm going to feel 1000 % percent better when it happens. Ciao!


Tuesday, May 1, 2018

May Day! May Day!


No May Day baskets this year. I asked and Groovy Girl was like "I'm too busy, I'm too tired!"  It is a stressful time for a sophomore, her first year in high school. We used to always do May baskets that we would deliver to a set group of friends before school began. I delivered May baskets when I was young as well and it is one of those wonderful traditions that I love to see continued. I was very happy to see a kindergarten class making May baskets to deliver to a 6th-grade class.

I did bring her some treats today after grocery shopping; some french bread, a Mexican coca-cola, and a small bag of Bob's Chia seeds - odd treats, yes, but she loves them.

It's really the thought that counts. But if I want this tradition to continue I'm going to need to work a little harder myself. Already I'm thinking of little friends that I (we) could quickly deliver to near us. It would put a smile on their little faces and the tradition would continue in some fashion. Did you do May baskets growing up? 


May Basket traditions (NPR)

Monday, April 30, 2018

The end of the month is trudging along

What an unusual April it has been!  I've made some good food, read some interesting books, and watched some interesting shows/movies with my family.


A long walk to water by Linda Sue Park (2010): This is a fictionalized story of one boy caught up in the Sudanese conflict with alternating sections sharing a young girl's story as she spends her days carrying water. The stories come together in such a meaningful way; I finished this one in the car as I was waiting for my teenage dancer.  If you were watching you would have witnessed me crying in my car. Highly recommend for many readers of all ages.


Green Angel by Alice Hoffman (2004): A short dystopian tale of a young girl left behind after her parents and younger sister take a trip into the city to sell vegetables never to return. The language and descriptions are beautiful and it is an amazing story of Green's rebirth.


Lost in the sun by Lisa Graff (2015): I read this a few years ago and didn't love it, then I assigned it to 6th-grade book club and read it again. I liked it much better this time around. I enjoyed Trent's character more and understood the angst. The parents in the story left me wondering why they did seek help for him and especially thought the dad was an insensitive character.


Choosing Civility; The 25 rules of considerate conduct by P.M. Forni (2003): Forni teaches at the university level and saw a need for an introduction to manners for students. This book is a wonderful refresher course on rules we know but often don't put into practice. Buy it for yourself or for someone you think could use it.

Curried Lentils: Delicious and easy. We had them with rice first and then another night wrapped in tortillas and heated.  Oh so good. She has a similar recipe for curried chickpeas as well.

Chicken & black bean Enchiladas: I made these at the beginning of last week so we would have a few easy dinners. Groovy Girl is really good at making her own food but that takes time and right now she is short on that ingredient so I whipped up this batch of enchiladas so she wouldn't have to make anything for a few days. I left out the pumpkin this time and used free-range local chicken from our meat market.

Atypical (Netflix)-watched by myself, then with Groovy Girl, and now want to watch with husband. Tells the story of a young autistic named Sam and his crazy yet also normal family. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Sam's mom. We love his sister, Casey and her boyfriend, Evan.
Everything Sucks! (Netflix)-We only watch this one altogether.  It's about high school students at Boring High, OR. And in doing some googling discovered this show has been cancelled after one season-that really sucks Netflix. Everybody rush to watch this first season...
On my block (Netflix)-Groovy Girl and I watched this series in one night and cannot wait for more. I plan to watch again with husband when his schedule frees up a little. A small group of LA teens who live on the same block try to focus on surviving their neighborhood. Excellent performances by all!
The Handmaid's Tale (Hulu)-yes, I'm still watching. I waited to read the book and then I've tried to take it slow. It is a tough show to watch and gives me the chills.

Speaking of chills we went yesterday on a family outing to see The Quiet Place.  I loved it and I am not a fan at all of anything scary.  No Jason for me, no slashers, no creepy houses, etc. This one was more of a scary dystopian with loveable characters. John Krasinski wrote, directed, and produced this one and his talented wife Emily Blunt plays his wife. Give it a try; truthfully I only closed my eyes once or twice and I brought headphones (one reviewer said this might help) but didn't end up using them much.

This post sums up my whole month except for some major family downs, two road trips, lots of dance classes, and a few friend celebrations. What do you have to share back with me?



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Fragile by Lisa Unger


A friend lent this thriller to me and in between reading YA and elementary fiction, I slipped it in needing a dose of adult fiction. Lisa Unger is a new author to me and I liked her style. This book is about a small tow where everybody knows everybody. And everybody has a secret, and some of the secrets are pretty big.

This book spoke to me in a resounding voice about families and the strength they hold. How willing are you to believe in those that you love, your children or your spouse?  Maggie, a psychologist, and her husband Jones, a detective on the local police force find out that Charlene, their son's girlfriend and the daughter of an old high school classmate is missing and the search for her brings out all manner of long-forgotten ghosts.

There is a wide array of interesting characters involved including Marshall, the son of the town bully, who waits for his dad's approval even as a high school student and even though he's only ever been disappointed and hurt by his father. As the story plays out we discover bits of history and we come to understand that a classmates' disappearance during high school has everyone reflecting on choices they've made. In alternating moments we have the opportunity to hear from several characters which help to paint a good picture of this town.

"She sat in her ticky-tack room, in her ticky-tack house, painting her nails iridescent green. She hated the tract house with all its perfectly square rooms and thin walls, identical to every third house in their development. It was like living in the box of someone else's limited imagination. How could someone reach the height of her creativity in a drywall cage? She couldn't. And she wouldn't. She would be eighteen in six months. After graduation, she was so out of here. College? Another four years of indentured servitude, living by someone else's arbitrary rules? No way. (Charlene, 19)

"Now that Marshall was nearly the same height and almost as strong as his father, Travis didn't hit him often; Marshall wasn't physically afraid of his father. It was the things he said that lay like bruises on Marshall's skin, damaged his organs, poisoned his blood. That voice that was in his head all the time. He just couldn't get it out. Even the competing voices-Aunt Leila, Mr. Ivy, Dr. Cooper-weren't loud enough to drown him out lately." (Marshall, 63)

"Because that was what it was, wasn't it? Not just anger. Not a need to control in a way we most often mean it. Not a lack of love or understanding for their boy. It was fear. Fear that, after all the years of protecting his health, his heart, his mind, setting bedtimes and boundaries, giving warnings about strangers and looking both ways before crossing the street, it wouldn't be enough. Fear that, as he stood on the threshold of adulthood, forces beyond their control would take him down a path where they could no longer reach him. (Maggie, 15)

I don't know how or why some families have a tough road. Each child, each situation is different and it's never easy to know what to do except love them unconditionally, both parents and children. This book is filled with flawed, interesting characters and a story that kept me turning pages. 



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dr. King's Legacy


It was 50 years ago; April 4th, 1968 at 6:05 tonight.  It's chilling. I think of how far we've come for there has been progress. Signs for "Whites Only" are gone, people of all races, colors, and genders are given their right to vote, outright segregation is no longer present.  Yet we've not come far enough. There is still segregation hidden by poverty and neighborhood, by opportunity. We're still waiting for a certain amount of change in this country.  At least many of us are. Dr. King did bring us to the mountaintop and I think of the bodies lined along the way; not only his but Robert Kennedy, Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, and Malcolm X, but Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Natasha McKenna, and Christian Taylor, just to name a few-the list is too long. 

Last night I attended a staged reading about the last night of Martin's life as he talks with a maid at the Lorraine Motel. It was a good look at Dr. King in a very humanizing way. He wasn't perfect but he was an amazing speaker who loved all people, who wanted to see the good in what could happen. As I talked with friends before the play my friend Rita made an interesting comparison to the weather we are all humbled by-very winter weather at the beginning of April-she said it was like we were in Narnia. Quickly we made the leap to Trump as the White Queen. So much change still to be made and a madman in the White House who considers gun violence a local issue and continues to offer his "thoughts and prayers".

We need stricter gun laws (and we don't mean your hunting or handguns appropriately used and registered. We are talking about guns that should not be covered by the 2nd Amendment. This president ~ not going to do it.

We need better immigration policies, DACA to continue, and this president is going in the opposite direction.

This list is long but I see hope in the students of Stoneman Douglas as they lead the march, I see hope in the #MeToo movement as women insist on calling out those who use power as a weapon. I see hope in the Black Lives Matter Movement as they fight back against police brutality and twisted realities. I see hope in my 15-yr-old daughter as she rants to the radio over Trump's immigration plans and quotas that rush people through an already dismal situation.

Keeping Dr. King's dream alive should be every person's mantra out there every day as you fight for civil rights in your neck of the world and beyond. Hold your own candlelight vigil tonight as 6:05 ticks by...

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Happy Easter


Happy April! Happy Easter!

I hope everyone communed with family and friends today, enjoyed a good meal together, searched for eggs, maybe had a lovely basket delivered by somebunny.

Spring started on March 20th and it is still freezing here. I must be having a bit of seasonal depression (or just depression) because the cold weather is very much affecting me this year. I see what looks like warm sun out there but the moment you walk out the door 33 degrees and wind will hit you. All week long it's going to be like this and I'm not sure I'll make it. I did make more bread yesterday and pizza dough as well. We had a delicious spinach, tomato, goat cheese, pesto and basil pizza last night for dinner.

I'm reading short stories by Flannery O'Connor and while I find them insightful and deep; the "N" word is really hard for me to read over and over. In front of a warm fire, I read and watch the birds (especially this one very bright red cardinal) flock to our backyard birdfeeder which is a good reminder that Spring will show up and the birds' dance and play as they wait patiently just as I should. Happy living everyone.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The simple things in life...

I have quite a few things swirling around in my personal life which are creating this need for me to return to some basic human needs for me; like yoga, meditation, and making bread.

Last Sunday I made 5 loaves of rustic bread. There is something so simple about pouring the four ingredients together.  There's an order to it. You begin with level teaspoons or tablespoons of yeast and you pour cups of soothing warm water over the yeast with a few sprinkles of sea salt. It's almost mystical as you watch it start to bubble and froth after a few minutes.  While it's heating up I start measuring out cups of unbleached flour. One wooden spoon stirs it all together and then I use my hands, covered in some flour, to knead it around a little. My recipe doesn't require this step but I like it. Just don't do it too much. Before you set it aside to let it double in size shake some olive oil around the dough and the bowl. I only kept one loaf here; the rest I gave away to friends at school.  Bread makes people smile and think of home. Sometimes people make chili for their family because you made the bread. It's a win/win for all involved.


Meditation has the same effect. I like to sit on my bed right before going to bed and make some space in my brain. I can do it on my own but I've discovered three cool apps to help me as well. I started with Headspace created by Tibetan monk trained meditation teacher Andy Puddicombe. (read an excellent review here @ The NY'er) I like this app and it's guided meditation with Andy's British accent. I like that it gives me prompts during the day like "your meditation today can't wait until you get home" or other little motivational moments to inspire you. This one has free basics but you have to buy a subscription to unlock more content. I probably won't ever buy more I'll just keep using free because I like what Andy has to say.


During an online conversation with my friend Erica, she shared that she uses Insight Timer to meditate daily so I downloaded that also. This one is totally free. I love that it gives me a more traditional meditation experience through bells, gongs, and wood blocks to begin and end my session. I don't love that if I miss a day (which I do) it starts back over. So if I miss one day but have meditated five other days it still logs me as "day one"; I want it to appreciate that I did the five days. It's still a great app and I've become accustomed to using both at different times of the day.

I met with my friend Lori for a drink and I mentioned meditation and she told me she was doing a 21-day thing with Oprah and Deepak so now I have that downloaded as well. These are longer sessions and to be clear I have yet to finish one but my heart is in the right place and I will get to it.

In between, I have been doing some yoga to keep my bones mobile and stretchy. I especially love how my arms feel after a few downward dogs and planks.

What do you do to stay stress-free? Drinking wine can also be helpful especially if good friends are involved. Salud!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

YA books related to social justice

Recently I've had the opportunity to read a few young adults books with social justice themes.  The Hate U Give would be a perfect example of a book for teens about a shooting of a black teenager.  This is work we are doing to find appropriate texts for 6th grade students and while I may allow my daughter to read a wide variety many parents are not happy about younger students reading about real-life (sometimes scary) situations.  We had a large pool of books to choose from and unfortunately we had to cross many off the list right away. My job was to read a few of the questionable titles and see if any would be appropriate.


1. Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Pena (2005); Matt's debut and it's excellent. This book tells the story of Sticky, a teenager who has fallen through the cracks his whole life. First with his single mom while she suffers from mental health issues and ultimately commits suicide in the apartment with him in the next room.  After her death, he is shuffled from foster home to group home never able to find a good match. While this is an excellent book there is just too much in here for 6th grade students to process.  Death, suicide, teen pregnancy, petty crime, and drugs all play a role in who Sticky is-luckily for him, his passion and skills at basketball help him to escape some of his situations.  I loved Matt's dystopian series The Living and all of his picture books including his brand new Love collaboration with Loren Long.


2. If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson (2006); Woodson, one of my favorite authors, writes eloquently about first love in this story. Ellie and Jeremiah are from two different worlds and meet accidentally at school. In their first meeting when they bump into each other spilling Ellie's books across the hall they both feel sparks and spend the first weeks of school looking for each other again. Jeremiah is transferred into Ellie's English class and once they start spending time together they find a solid connection. Jeremiah's father is a famous filmmaker and his mother is an author but they no longer live together.  Ellie is the youngest in her family and all her siblings are off in their adult worlds. Twice her mother has left her family and even though she's been reliable for the last few years Ellie has a hard time trusting she will always be there. Everything I've read of Woodson's is filled with truth and this one hits home on love, consequences, family, and what it still means to be black in America today.

3. House Arrest by K.A. Holt (2015); A novel in verse, this story tells the tragic story of Timothy who steals a man's wallet so he can pay for medicine that his baby brother needs to survive. Levi has been very sick his whole little life and lives at home with constant care from Tim, his mom, and a cycle of babysitter/home health care providers. The father has been absent for the past few months and Tim's mom tries to keep it together.  Tim tells us his story through journal entries he writes to his probation officer and counselor as he tries to do penance for what he's done and to stay out of the juvenile detention center. This is my first K.A. Holt book and I like her style. Another title of hers was a hot seller at our recent Scholastic book fair-From you to me which is about a sister's grief.
House Arrest is the only book on our list that is "appropriate" for our 6th grade audience. It has a strong social justice theme w/out sex/kissing/swears.

4. Pinned by Sharon G. Flake (2012); This one I've not read yet but I will. Autumn and Adonis are both differently abled young adults who work to overcome what is stacked against them. Autumn is on her school's wrestling team which is a cool twist. And Adonis is in a wheelchair and has a crush on Autumn. I'm interested to see how this story plays out; I've enjoyed other books by this author such as The Skin I'm in.


I also recently finished Well, that was awkward by Rachel Vail and now I have Groovy Girl reading it. It was a great retelling of the Cyrano story. Not so much a social justice them except it is about accepting yourself in all your own glory; a lesson for many teens (and adults).

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

International Women's Day


The first International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 19, 1911.
This first event included meetings and organized events and was successful in
countries like Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland.
The March 19th date was chosen because it commemorated the day that the Prussian King promised to give women the right to vote. He didn't follow through on his promise and the date was later changed to March 8th in 1913.

In some countries, this is a national holiday and government offices are closed as well as some businesses. It seems that as we continue to push for more equality in this country and around the world that this day would grow in importance. This year the theme is #PressforProgress which combined with the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns make it feel like we are getting closer to gender equality.


There are no major events that I know of celebrating this day in my small
area of Iowa so I plan to talk up and celebrate women’s achievements,
set up a book display showcasing strong female leaders and other achievers and celebrate me and other strong role models.


Check and see if your area features any cool
events, International Women’s Day site And read this excellent article from
The Times entitled The New Vanguard that highlights women writers in this century who’ve helped to change and reconstruct our thinking. The first book on the list is
Chimamanda Adichie's novel Americanah-one of my favorite inspiring reads.


Happy International Women’s Day 2018! I hope this year will truly be a year of spectacular change for humans for as we lift ourselves up men can only become more self-aware.

Post note: Man-what a day to have weird formatting issues.
I had one 1/2 of another blog post disappear and now this one doesn't want to make correct paragraphs.
Oh, how I wish blogger saved like a google doc.



Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The end is always the beginning


It's the end of Kindness Month and Black History Month (check out this link for our youth poet laureate) yet those two celebrations should continue on everyday. You know what else should continue? Kids going to school everyday in a safe environment. Sometimes it is THE ONE place where children do feel safe and increasingly we keep making it scarier.  Practicing for a tornado drill is very different from actually participating in a dangerous intruder drill. It's not remotely fun to talk about a dangerous intruders with lower elementary students (or any student).

The idea that we can't get an assault weapon ban done in this country is really, truly beyond crazy to me. It is a mental health issue as well; I do understand that yet the two go together. Ban assault weapons (not hunting rifles or hand guns, mind you) and make mental health care part of routine wellness care. Both of these items would show that we care for our citizens. We don't want people to be target practice; we want people to feel well in their heads and hearts.

I'm unbelievably proud of the Stoneman Douglas students who've rallied, resisted, and shared their thoughts. I'm happy that Stoneman Douglas students were also able to head back to class today so as to get back to the routine of going to school. This personal account made me cry.  It's disgusting that they will forever have the memory of friends dying near them and the sound of rapid gun fire in their hallways. According to the NYT after Sandy Hook, 400 people have been shot in more than 200 school shootings. That's a terrible statistics for America, for our young people, teachers, administration and parents. People should be even more fired up than they are. I do appreciate Dick's Sporting Goods stepping up and making a change; it could be more but it's a start.

And don't even get me started on the ludicrous idea of giving teachers guns. I'm working with students all day long. They are in and out of the library, my office, the back work room and in this safe and loving environment there is NO room for a weapon to be sitting ready for the next shooter to come strolling in to our space. I think the same for every classroom and office in our building and in every building across the country. Ain't no place for weapons. Now those that represent us; find another way to make schools safe again.  We should be focusing on kindness and learning, thinking, and creating.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Nix by Nathan Hill

I really am ready for spring! I need the snow and ice to melt and the temperature to rise. I want to see green shoots peeking out of the rough ground. I know here we still have a long way to go. 


Reading is one of the ways we get through the long winter and during the month of February I've spent a lot of quality time with one book-The Nix.  Just me and 732 pages of writing from Nathan Hill. It's a good thing I liked it. It's long with lots of characters and a variety of twists and turns. There is A lot going on in this novel. 

Most of the plot lines center around Samuel, a professor at a small midwestern school.  His mother abandoned him as a boy and now as an adult she's suddenly in the news for throwing rocks at a presidential candidate.  Samuel would rather just ignore it except for the book publisher who knows there's an interesting story there.  We travel back in time to see his mother, Faye, as she leaves her small Iowa home with her disgruntled parents behind as she embarks on a new stage of her life in Chicago. 

In between we meet a cast of characters from Samuel's and Faye's early life and travel as far away as Norway.  We meet gaming friends and learn about this complex world of Elfscape as we watch Samuel deal with a humorous yet cheating college student who has an unusual grasp of how the world should work. So much going on yet I was never confused. Everyone's lives are multilayered and every story, every offshoot matters in this tale. 

It reminded me of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara because of its length and detailed writing. Here's a sample of detail from The Nix:
So that day he felt like he needed to cry. He told his mother he was going to his room to read, which was not unusual. He spent most of his time alone in his room, reading the Choose your own adventure books he bought from the bookmobile at school. He liked how the books looked on the shelf, all together like that, homogenous, with their white-and-red spines and titles like Lost on the Amazon, Journey to Stonehenge, Planet of the Dragons. He liked the books forking paths, and when he came to a particularly difficult decision, he would hold the page with his thumb and read ahead, verifying that it was an acceptable choice.  The books had a clarity and a symmetry to them that he found mostly absent in the real world. (83-84)
I've already added it to my shopping list for upcoming birthdays and holidays. This is Nathan Hill's first published novel and he seems like a bit of character himself. I listened to this interview to learn more. Give it a try; any good novel is worth the time you put into it and this one is a huge success for Mr. Hill.



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Happy February!


We are in the middle of some crazy weather here in Iowa.  School is already canceled for tomorrow. I'm excited to sleep in a little bit extra but tomorrow night we have to road trip to Des Moines so fingers crossed the weather will be calm. NO major blizzards. 


Luckily with all this freezing weather I have an excellent book to read; The Nix by Nathan Hill. It's our book club pick of the month and I'm the host for February. I'm fascinated by Faye, Samuel's mother, as she's portrayed as a hippie/radical who questions the politics and policies in the 60's and still. There is also a small Iowa connection.

Other than reading we've been putting together puzzles at our lovely Grandma Bruch heirloom table. My husband's brother and his wife came for a long weekend recently and we put together a cool puzzle of record albums from Uncommon Goods. This inspired us and Groovy Teen said we should always have a puzzle going at this table. We never eat there anymore so it is now deemed the puzzle room. Now we have a puzzle of old baseball cards in the works.


While our family was here I made a recipe I'd made years ago, a sweet potato chili, which we had with loaves of fresh bread. I do love cooking for people and chili hit the spot for how cold it was that weekend.  I've also been binge watching Stranger Things; it's a little creepy for me at times but Groovy Teen (who's watched it all several times) holds my hand at critical moments. I'm also finally caught up on This is Us; always a cry fest for me!  The fire was just too much. We've also had a great time playing Spot it! and Listography. We lead crazy fun lives.

Stay warm out there, wherever you are.