Monday, December 31, 2018

My Best Books of 2018

I surpassed my reading challenge on GoodReads by 8 books, reading 58 books in 2018. Here are my 14 5-star book choices.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Horizon (#1) by Scott Westerfield
Escape from Aleppo by N.H. Senzai
All rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor
The tea girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
The honest truth by Dan Gemeinhart
Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova
The Self-Driven Child: The science and sense of giving your child more control over their lives by William Stixrud
Real Friends by Shannon Hale
News of the world by Paulette Jiles
The dog, Ray by Linda Coggin
A long walk to water by Linda Sue Park
Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan

My list includes 10 books written by female authors, two graphic novels, and 9 elementary fiction books. Only one nonfiction made my list which is okay because on average I don't read very much nonfiction. I read 16,735 pages!

Here are a few more that, even though they did not recieve a 5-star rating, were also very good.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn was good historical fiction.
Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins and Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes shared a unique perspective.
Best book handed to me by a student was Watt Key's Hideout.

My two most unusual books were both by Stephen King. I haven't read any of his books for years.  My book club picked 11/22/63 and it was good. It was also my longest book in 2018. Elevation was had a unique premise and was short but very interesting.

2018 was great in all ways except politics. It is a constant struggle to balance technology, reading, and family time but I hope for a good year in 2019. I was excited to hear Elizabeth Warren's announcement this morning, I'm not sure if she is my ultimate choice but I hope lots of women throw their hats into the ring with her.

Right now I'm reading Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart, The Library Book by Susan Orlean, My absolute darling by Gabriel Tallent, Liberty by Kirby Larson and Wish by Barbara O'Connor, the last two are books I'm reading with students. As an early prediction, I am pretty sure The Library Book will be on my top list for 2019. I'm on my way to the library now to pick up two new books as well.

Happy New Year to you and may 2019 be your best reading year yet!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

What's next?

The packages are all unwrapped and the leftovers are wrapped up for another day. Our holiday together as a family was magical as I predicted. We played Spite and Malice, a family card game that we love, we watched all kinds of Christmas movies, we ate a lot of treats, hung out with our dogs, and just had fun together. We stayed in our pajamas pretty much all day long even when we left the house to go to the movies.

The food I made all turned out including the several vegan items. This french toast recipe  (My Darling Vegan) was delicious and I will make it again although I had to figure out how to make chickpea flour. It was easier than I thought and I'm happy my coffee/spice grinder worked for the task. Even though I would find it very difficult to be a full-time vegan I love that I have to learn new skills as our family's chief chef.

Now I am ready to kick back and enjoy my break with a lot of reading, flying the sofa with my two beautiful dogs, and hanging out with my husband as he has a bit of break as well.  I focused my reading attention on Reconstructing Amelia and the mystery of it has me rushing off to read.  I do have a little lesson plan idea to work on before we go back to school.  Groovy Girl and I, after eating such delicious snacks over the holiday, are going to cut w-a-y back on sugar for at least the month of January. We both love dessert so this will be hard but good to push ourselves.  I'm not a big fan of resolutions yet I do feel we all can benefit from a time of renewal and change.

Peace and love everyone...

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Are you ready?

There is magic in the air! Are you ready? I feel like I am in a good place with my lists and plans. I just need a little voodoo magic to get it to all come together. Everything seems to sparkle just a little bit more right now.

Today is my first official day of break and I started the day by sleeping in a little, which felt so lovely and going to have brunch with friends. While we were brunching we sampled the new Resilience beer coordinated for fire relief by the Sierra Nevada Brewery. It was pretty good for an IPA but more importantly an amazing effort to pull together to help others.

Last weekend we made it through the graduation~ it was amazing. Everything came together in a magical way like the universe was simpatico. We now are the proud parents of two college graduate adults, making their way out there in the world. One left and I'm in no rush for that to happen.

I have all my shopping done, my menu is planned but everything still needs to be prepared. If I waved a magic wand the food could all be thrown together at once but then I would miss the joy of tying on my apron, pouring a glass of wine, and mixing things myself. I hope the next few meals go together as smoothly as the graduation food did.

I just finished Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman. I loved it and wanted Eleanor to find her way to happiness. I highly recommend this title and just ordered it today for a friend's birthday. When I finished it I compiled a new stack of books from bookcases and piles about my house, trying to decide which one to read next.

Here are just a few of my choices:
Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
My absolute darling by Gabriel Tallent
inward by yung pueblo (this one is perfect to read to start/end the day)

and I also brought home an armful from school to read. Now I need to carve out some time to read in between cooking and family time. 

Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! Enjoy the magic.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

My children continue to grow up...

Our 23-yr-old son is about to graduate from college this weekend. He's finishing up his last finals and preparing for a new job. It seems like yesterday that I loaded him into his car seat for fishing at the lake or hikes in the mountains. Life goes fast and you really must pay attention every day.

We have family flying and driving in for the event on Saturday and I feel a little crazy with preparations. I have to slow down and remember this is one of life's big moments yet it won't be ruined because I don't have the right cloth napkin at the event.  It doesn't help that I have such crazy standards when I host; I'm against throw away or one-use items and always need to plan in advance to make sure this doesn't happen. For his high school graduation I purchased all compostable items but this time luckily I had a good friend step up who does catering out of her bakery and she will bring real plates, forks, napkins, and glasses so we won't fill up the garbage bins in the hotel lobby just for our event.

We are having simple food; a large green salad, fruit, vegan pizza from the Mellow Mushroom in Coralville.  My friend is also making a few platters of sushi for all of us to enjoy. Favorite foods, friends and family all happy to be together for this magical life moment. I know I'm going to cry a few times over the weekend because my little boy has grown up in leaps and bounds to become the caring man he is today. I'm grateful for the journey we've had together; not always easy yet soul-searching learning experiences for both.

I missed posting this the other day and now the major event has happened and all went off very smoothly.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Charlson Meadows Retreat

As the calendar page flipped I had an out-of-the-box experience that ended November and ushered in December. Last weekend I had the most amazing experience.  I took part in a writing retreat at the beautiful Nancy Nelson Lake House at the Charlson Meadows Renewal Center. My sister-in-law, Stephanie, asked me if I wanted to go with her and her writing partner/friend, Carey. To give myself space I even took Friday off so I had time to drive to Minneapolis, drop Groovy Girl with her cousins, and carpool to the retreat center in Victoria, MN.

This space is breath-taking as you enter through the solid doors where we were greeted by the program director, Nicole. After a short guided tour of the rooms, we were able to select our own bedrooms, unpack and look around at our leisure. The inside of the home is beautifully decorated with art pieces throughout the house.

The retreat center sits on 142 acres of land situated between Zumbro and Stone Lakes. It was snowy and cold for this retreat but the maps of the grounds look beautiful with three labyrinths, hiking paths, meadows, wetlands, and a beach area. I look forward to exploring the outdoors there when everything isn't frozen (meaning any other season other than winter) yet watching the snow come down on Saturday afternoon was an ethereal experience.

Arriving on Friday afternoon we had time to relax and unwind before dinner was served at 6pm. Before the meal, we sat in front of one of many gas fireplaces and introduced ourselves to the 12 other writers in attendance and then we adjourned into the kitchen to scoop up the delicious offerings by Tena, the local caterer for most of the weekend. Each meal was carefully planned with a good attention to detail. While beef medallions were offered on Friday night the three vegetarians had delicious pasta to enjoy. In the morning we woke to fresh caramel rolls, quiche, and a large bowl of fruit. We shared some meals at the large dining room table and other meals were more casual as we gathered around the island in the middle of the kitchen. Eating was a highlight; the food was wonderfully prepared and I was filled with gratitude to have someone else cook for me. I realize how much energy on a weekly basis I use for meal prep in my house so this was pure joy. I didn't even have to empty the dishwasher!

Between meals, we were given the gift of time to write spreading ourselves out in the various common rooms in the lake house. The house was built with solitude in mind so while you are working at one end in the library you cannot hear anyone else working or chatting in rooms across the way. My group of three gathered in the library space which had a sofa, comfy overstuffed chairs, a desk, and a fireplace.

We did one group writing activity after dinner on Friday which used prompts to get us loosened up. It was low-key and interesting to hear everyone else's writing ideas. I headed to bed after that and felt motivated enough to write for another hour or so in the comfort of my secluded room. The rest of the weekend flew by with delicious meals, good conversations, and lots of writing time.

This is a lovely place to spend a weekend and I plan to go back for another writing retreat and I'd love to take part in one of their one-day spiritual journeys. Check out their website for more information on their offerings. Thank you to Stephanie for extending the invitation and thank you to Nicole for your seemingly effortless abilities as a host.   I feel better for what I accomplished over the weekend and just simply knowing this place exists.

I did some digging after exploring their website myself and found information on Lynn Charlson, an inventor, and the benefactor of the retreat center. He sounds like an interesting character and I'm sure it is because of his creative energy that the retreat center is infused with such magic.