Thursday, December 31, 2020

Best books of 2020


I had a great year of reading - thanks to a world-wide pandemic that kept us home more than usual.  I read more children's literature because I was teaching from home in March reading to students through the magic of Google Classroom. I read 24 adult fiction books this year and nine were five star amazing and one romance book, Wrong Guy, Right Room written by a friend that was very good. At 848 pages, TheWay the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie Macdonald was one of my favorites and I started a ring of other readers from my book club in reading it as well. The Heart's Invisible Furies by John Boyne, also quite long, was well worth the time I put into it. With so many great titles if I had to pick a number one title it would be Richard Powers' The Overstory which blew me away and gave me a greater understanding of the close relationship between the natural world and how humans are mere leaves in the winds of time. 

As a school librarian I usually do quite a bit of reading but this year I was on a quest to read more books written by POC authors to add to our school collection.  I found so many great titles and enriched my own knowledge as well as the joy of recommending them to my students.  From the desk of Zoe Washington, Ways to make sunshine, and New Kid are the most popular with students.  Stargazing and New Kid are my top two graphic novels for elementary. All of these stories act as a windows for students to see into another person's life. Two more titles that surprised me were Efren, Divided and Accidental Trouble Magnet: Planet Omar, both cover the immigrant experience in the U.S. at a dangerous time in our history.  I also really loved Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park, who writes a pioneer story with an an Asian main character.  This story should be read instead of or in addition to Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

I read two fantastic YA books that have been on my reading list for ages and after reading one more rave review over the summer I ordered both from and waited for them to arrive. Both stories were excellent as they showcased a unique look at Black history through zombies in the U.S. -yes, it makes perfect sense, (Dread Nation) and a West African fantasy world (Children of Blood and Bone) I easily immersed myself in both worlds. And now I have the second in each series on loan from the library. If you are looking for great titles for 2021 encourage you to give any of these a try. I'd be happy to book talk with you.  While 2020 was hard in many ways there are always positives to be found.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Holiday Self-Care

At this time of the year I start to feel like I'm on a super light speed treadmill and I can't keep up. Finishing school with students, shopping, wrapping, tree trimming, treat baking, family (Zoom) gatherings, post office runs, holiday cards, it all ads up to a head spinning schedule. This year I've had one thing throughout most of December that I've relied on either in the morning, right after school, or before bedtime that has kept me steady. 

Based in Austin, TX Adriene, and her sidekick Benji, does a monthly yoga journey and Find What Feels Good subscription classes.  She has free yoga classes galore on YouTube, including school resources, and I can find a different one every day to fit my desire/need.  The energy Adriene sends out on emails and in videos is what keeps me coming back. They are low key, kind, and she encourages you to play in your practice. Angelle connected me to these unique videos and Groovy Girl encouraged me to join her for 25 days of yoga during December. From what I understand they really helped her get through the last few weeks of her semester at school. 

Give yourself a self care gift and find one of her videos to just start...once you begin you may not want to stop. It's a little like eating salted caramel saltines or my friend Jim's buttery caramel squares.  Amazing.  
Blessings for a gracious holiday. 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Positive Encounters


Last weekend we had a quiet  family outing to pick out a Christmas tree and see Groovy Girl at the same time. We delivered groceries and dark chocolate to her for her first semester finals week, picked her up and headed 20 minutes outside of Iowa City to pick out a tree. I've researched over and over the greenest way to get your tree and it's clear that means buying from a small business tree farm. 

Wilson's Orchard came up as a tree source when I looked for a place close to her and this was a win for me because I've always wanted to check out this orchard's apples and ciders. I admit I always planned to be there during the summer or fall seasons yet we arrived on a rainy, cold Friday night.  Not the best night for picking a tree. It was actually pouring when we pulled up and we drove the long driveway up to a tall barn building that turned out to house their restaurant and bar. We don't really get out much anymore what with the pandemic and all so we were very excited to find out they were serving food and that the place was empty. The hostess/wait person asked if we had reservations and I held myself in check by answering politely that we did not. She was happy to seat us, chatted with us, and moved on. I did notice several other tables that were set up for dining and sure enough within 20 minutes we had four other groups of diners seated at tables well spaced out and with the high ceilings and everyone masked up it still seemed very safe. Funny we have all this to think about now. 

We ordered two different hard ciders and one warm cider for Groovy Girl and then browsed the menu for food offerings. The restaurant, Rapid Creek Cidery, is farm to table, uses a lot of local products, and is expensive yet once we had our food it was delicious. My mind was set on a spicy buttermilk tofu sandwich and hand cut French fries. While we waited for our food the rain turned to big wet snowflakes and while it looked beautiful out the window we could also hear the wind howl.  My only wish was for a large wood fireplace near by. My sandwich arrived and I didn't pay attention to much else after that and I ate the entire thing it was that good. It was almost too spicy with vinegar-soaked jalapeños popping up all over the sandwich but the buttermilk-crisped tofu balanced with the homemade creamy dressing pulled it all together. I know my husband and daughter loved their meals as well because there was good eating sounds coming from across the table.  Our waitress was courteous and efficient as she managed take-out orders as well as the four other tables. 

At the end of our meal as she swept my empty plate away I made the off hand comment that I enjoyed the meal so much that I would like the recipe and within minutes the chef was at our table ready to talk food. She shared how she soaked the Iowa City-based tofu in buttermilk and then flour and back and forth to create the layers. It was a joy to chat with her and so very thoughtful of the wait person to send her over to us.  

We made our way out the door and into the winter snow to drive down the lane and to the right for the tree. The staff there also made our visit worth it. We browsed the gift shop packed full of sweet offerings, locally made gift items, books, t-shirts, and gorgeous blankets. We braved the cold again after chatting with staff and then went out to pick our tree and back in as quick as possible. It was dark, cold, and snowy and at the end of our tree and cider transaction I asked Groovy Girl if she wanted an apple cider donut to go and before she could even answer we were handed a giant bag of donuts. They said they were done for the night and at the end of the day a bag of free donuts, a delicious meal, and a lovely tree all made us feel well tended to at Wilson's Orchard. Now after my last week of school I am ready to decorate the tree! May all your holiday encounters be just as bright.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

December thoughts

 I recently finished an amazing book, The Overstory by Richard Powers. I completely understand why it was a NYT bestseller and winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction for 2019.  The book is startling good, crisp literature.  It was intriguing to follow nine distinct characters all in their own stories to find how they all connect in some way or another.  I love trees, am a known tree hugger, and get riled up by people who don't care about simple things like one use items that just get tossed away so this book spoke to me on the level that all our actions should lead us toward a greater good. I'm not a fan of paper napkins, paper towels, cardboard coffee cups, and small plastic beverage containers even though some of this is recyclable or composts naturally as paper does but why buy consumables that are just to be thrown away? It's just me, I get it, most people don't think about these things at all. I believe that in certain areas of the country clear cutting forests for profit may be changing as public opinion, research, and natural disasters like mudslides show how groves of trees benefit our habitat as well as animals. Richard Powers does an amazing job of helping us to see the connection between trees and other living beings. "They stand under the circle of camouflaged Platanus, that most resigned of eastern trees, on the spot where the island was sold, by people who listened to trees, to people who cleared them." (451)  I will remember and treasure the message in the book for a long long time. 

I'm also one and a half chapters away from finishing Ibram X. Kendi's NYT's bestselling book, How to be an Antiracist, which I began way back last February. I'm not good with nonfiction. I started reading it with a teacher group through Facebook but I slacked off about chapter 12 and then I was invited to join another book group with two friends and that motivated me to push me through to (nearly) the end. I appreciate Kendi's writing and his willingness to share his own story with mistakes and racist ideas.  It's a lot of unpacking and deep thinking and probably a book I will refer back to as I continue to understand our journey better. 

Now as I stay up past my bedtime to write I am mindful of my sleep issues. For eight long years I have struggled with insomnia and waking up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep. I don't feel stressed, I'm in good overall health, and I practice meditation and yoga, drink tea, and generally am not on screens at night. Recently a writer on Twitter that I follow mentioned her own struggles with sleep during menopause and I literally heard an Hallelujah choir sing as I read her comments and others over this issue. I've battled this for so long without real understanding from the medical community and found no similar experiences when I discussed it with other female friends! In just one small social media post I felt relief to know that I was not the only one. Thank you Jo Knowles; your simple statement gave me relief, still no solution, but maybe that's somewhere close at hand as well. Life affirming changes happen through books and even small snippets on social media!  

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Charlson Meadows and writing

[Labyrinth at CM]

I'm working on consistently writing by trying to make a habit of it.  Mentally I made a scheduled plan last Spring to create a new post every weekend  and I've carried through pretty well.  In the midst of Covid and school I'm happy with this amount. I have a million writing projects that stay incomplete that are separate from this blog space. I have several picture books I've started, several fiction pieces, a play, and a few nonfiction essays-mostly all not finished. My sister-in-law Steph invited me a few years ago to a writer's retreat at Charlson Meadows and I went on a whim. In my mind I'm a librarian and a bibliophile but writer generally does not flash into my mind. But I do write and I fell in love with the location of the retreat. It's not possible to be there in the beautiful surroundings inside and out and not feel productive or at best inspired. 

The last time I attended I actually wrote several pieces, took a bunch of hikes, and managed to get lost in the woods, literally. Thank you for the rescue Jason! I can say this year I've been published twice; one, letter to the editor about BLM and second, a poem I wrote after my first walk on Friday late afternoon on the grounds of Charlson Meadows. It's easy to be creative there if you give it some breathing space. It was also the most beautiful weather weekend we've had all fall. The last few days I've worked on an old piece, added to it, had my friend Angelle edit it and I just finished submitting it to Wow! Women on Writing.  We'll see, she says, with a shrug...

I feeling something emerging inside myself and maybe it took this lockdown of sorts to push forward. I found a batch of college writing of mine and my goal for the next few weeks is to read through and retype them and see if anything is worthwhile. The last two books I've read have also inspired me in different ways. Laurie Frankel's book This is how it always is, is smart, funny, and timely.  And Richard Power's The Overstory is such an intricate work of details and stories weaved together in a tangled mess like roots to the trees he keeps explaining. I can truly see why this book won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for literature. I'm half way and even as I write this the book is calling out to me. 

One of the reasons the last retreat I went to worked so well was because they had a writer/poet in residence, Ronda Redmond, who conferenced with us, gave a reading of her poetry, and in general was there to chat with as the weekend progressed. I very much enjoyed meeting her and listening to her as we talked about writing. Her book, Said the old widow to the new,  is available on her website and is filled with excellent writing. During our conference together she suggested getting out my dusty old copy of The Artist's Way and I've been working on the daily practice set forth in the book. I guess in writing and thinking about this as with much in my life I'm learning to be intentional about what I'm doing. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Gratitude for us

I've been feeling all kinds of thankfulness and not just because tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  I celebrate the coming together of family to dine together over a special meal that I've taken weeks if not months to plan and make. You hope it is one free of argument and that all the kids will like what you've created.  This year I'm making cauliflower tacos, potato vindaloo, a lentil dish, mashed potatoes with Jaime's  vegan gravy, cranberries with oranges, naan bread, and Vegan for Everybody vegan pumpkin cheesecake.  This is a mish-mash of Indian flavors and some old standby favorites and it probably will look nothing like most Americans more traditional turkey and stuffing. You do you. This is more us. We all have our own identities and the food we eat is part of that; a mish mash of flavors, personalities, likes, and dislikes, allergies, and food politics. 

I'm glad my son is vegan because he's in it for all the right reasons; he cares about animals and their rights.  He's empathetic and is doing his part for the environment. My husband is a meat eater but he takes care of that himself. I am a vegetarian and my daughter is allergic to tomatoes which is a fairly new discovery after her elimination diet this summer. That adds a kink into lentil dishes and soups but after some research I discovered this person's blog, Delishably, and she has the same allergy and shared ideas about substitutes that will work for my lentil dish. Bravo!

I'm grateful my family pushing me in new directions for I love to cook and cooking the same way or things all the time is not me. I live by the motto "Try new things...whatever they may be"

I'm grateful for a husband who works hard to make our house up-to-date with fresh paint and new looks.

I'm grateful, especially right now, for our continued good health. It's hard to say this with so many falling ill with Covid, like cancer, it comes in so many different forms.  

I'm grateful for all my people that have kept me sane during this difficult time of lockdowns and crazy politics.  I appreciate the friendship everyday.

I'm grateful for a job I love that is more passion than drudge work. I love sharing the love of books with my students even though some of them do not care for my love of books and enthusiasm.  It's okay. I love them anyway. 

I finished an extraordinary book this morning, This is how it always is by Laurie Frankel, and I just marveled in her storytelling!  She's a person worth exploring more about and I plan to recommend this book to my book club. I was thankful that I had the morning to "laze" away reading so I could finish. I look forward to celebrating tomorrow's Native American Heritage Day because for me it is far better to spend the rest of November celebrating in prayerful meditation the ancestors of our land that came before us. 

 In gratitude to my readers! Thank you. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Travel Time

 If I were to be able to whisper in President-Elect Joe Biden's ear or lucky enough to have a working lunch with Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris I would ask  them to make some changes to the Affordable Care Act to make it more like Bernie's Health Care For All because while the ACA covers many people and has helped us go in the right direction I just don't think it's finished. We need to take it further. Why? Because we have a huge deductible as a middle class family and when we get hit with something our health savings accounts dwindle accordingly. America has such potential and I hope that we are only beginning our true journey toward that; instead of going backward. I listened to a podcast talking about this today as I journeyed home. And this is not to say that America isn't great already but anything great can always be better. Am I right? Why settle...

I generally flip flop between listening to music on my phone or listening to podcasts. The last few weeks have been filled with a variety of podcasts:  Up First from NPR gives me a quick 10 minutes of news every day. I don't watch news programs ever so this keeps me up on a few major events and we leave it at that. Anything more critical my husband will read me from the newspaper as a good husband should. I also listen to SLJ's The Yarn and Heavyweight plus I just discovered Teaching Hard History from Teaching Tolerance. I listened to one yesterday and had aenjoyed hearing correct spins on American history. I can't leave out Brene Brown's Unlocking Us which always makes me happy. 

I spent last night hanging out with Groovy Girl in Iowa City. I felt terribly guilty moving about Iowa because we are such a flaming hot Cheeto for Covid cases. But our plans had been made months ago before our cases surged, we needed some mother/daughter time, and we are both extremely pro-mask. So we picked up Thai food for lunch and ate in the hotel and then we made a quick grocery run so she would have snacks through the next two weeks before she comes home for Thanksgiving. We had a great time cuddling, reading together, watching a couple of things on Netflix (hello New Girl-you still make us so happy) and basically stayed in and away from other people. My hope is that her sophomore year may be filled with the joys of college as it's meant to be. I don't want to get used to this as a new norm.

The two cool bookstores in town are both open only for curbside pickup so we couldn't wander any exciting aisles for books, which we do totally understand and appreciate yet scratch our heads in confusion as people stream to sorority or fraternity house functions, and the bars-all open! The idea is to get over this not just live with it but I'm sure I'm preaching to the choir. Take care of yourselves, take care of your people, and be kind. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Long road toward feminism

I think I've always considered myself  a feminist even though I may not have dug deep into what that meant. It came up a few years ago when I took a class about gender norms and had the opportunity to think about what makes a feminist. The movement may have started with women's desire to vote and have their voices heard - and we still struggle with being heard and taken seriously. We still have a long road ahead of us so we need to keep marching.

I think one of the most important issues of today is about choice. Women deserve to have the right to choose what happens with their own bodies. Planned Parenthood, which the name implies, provides access to health care and contraceptives. When I was in college we were given good positive information about choices. I remember there was often a large bowl of single wrapped condoms that women could grab with out causing a stir. That bowl didn't promote sex or promiscuity; that was already happening! It offered the chance to be safe.  I remember friends in college feeling ecstatic they could go to PP and get health care far from their family doctor who may or may not have judgments on decisions 18-20 year old makes. The religious right made that bowl of condoms go away.

I also had sex education class in high school which helped to dispel anxieties and teach accurate information. It was gross to sit through it, yes, but we understood you couldn't get pregnant just by touching. Looking back at this I was raised at a time when sex wasn't controlled by church and government. It was a smart practice that has fallen away because of religious groups and these groups have worked hard to make sure we don't have good, inexpensive access to basic health care which many women buy into even though it works against them. I wish they could understand how it keeps all women down and beholden to men -white men specifically - who've worked hard to keep us from thinking for ourselves.  

I'm not an advocate for abortion, no one is, but we cannot live in a world where back alleys and scam doctors are a women's only choice.  There will always be accidental pregnancies, health problems, cases of rape or incest and even women who have had enough. Should we help young women understand the ins and outs of their bodies in a more open approach? Absolutely! Abortion shouldn't be used as contraception but also then don't make it so hard for women to get contraception.

This post was inspired by an ad I read about voting your faith. I clicked on it because it was an ad at at the top of a teacher website which annoyed the hell out of me.  When I clicked I got this checklist for why one should vote for Christian values.  I say if you are voting for your values you must think beyond abortion-it's a string they are pulling you along by-and stand up and actually ask yourself deep down how would Jesus want people to be treated? People who might not be like you still deserve to live free of cages, free of humiliation, free of bullying, free to live their own lives.  That's what a feminist is to me: one who understands the only way the world can truly be in balance is if women are completely equal to men. 

Here it is, 2020, and we just elected our very first woman to the second highest office in the land. It's exciting and I'm celebrating, yet there is the feeling of what took us so long? Really asking, "what the hell took us so long?" We need more women in politics and, as Brene Brown would say, they need to have strong backs, soft fronts, and a wild heart.  

**I've been editing this post for a few weeks now, coming back to it, rethinking what I want to say and I'm ecstatic to be able to add that last paragraph about VP-Elect Kamala Harris!  It gives me great joy. I think of my daughter, and all the daughters and the young men, who will see a woman as a leader, equal, in a partnership with the president. It gives me hope that in the not too distant future we will look upon a woman as president, capable of leading, with her heart. And there will be much rejoicing throughout the land...

Tuesday, November 3, 2020


(Inside Out from Disney is a perfect example of how I feel right now)

I've spent my night doing quiet activities. I took my two dogs out for a lovely walk just before the sun went completely down and was happy I didn't have to wear a coat.  I made myself a simple dinner of avocado toast with fresh eggs on top. I made myself a very small Clementine margarita and watched two quick episodes of Shitt's Creek while I ate because I needed some laughter in my day. 

I talked on the phone with my brother about all that is happening right now. I did some laundry and I had a Google Meet with Verda and Angelle. I've tried not looking at election results but I've peeked and it really only takes a glance to understand that our country is in real deep shit. While it isn't a landslide and it is really too close to call I am literally shocked at how RED the map is and that some of the old characters like Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell have survived this. I'm crushed. It's chilling to think this through. We're raised a nation of people who are non-thinkers, of hateful followers.

Tomorrow morning I'm going to get up and I'm going to walk to school in the beautiful late Fall weather and I'm going to have a day. I'm going to try to shut out the few (but loud) young children who will be elated because they've been chanting Trump for weeks.  I'm so very worried for this exact follow mentality. And the superior attitude. I was already tired of the trucks with flags, and the bumper stickers plastered all over cars and trucks. I don't know what the next four years are going to look like no matter who actually wins tonight.  How did we get here? Never before have we had such division unless you want to discuss the Civil War era.  And more importantly how are we going to fix this?

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Basics of life

 We've been cooking, reading, and walking the dogs here. The weather has moved into cold Fall making it not as much fun to take lazy, long walks with the two beautiful pups that we love and I've spent more recent time reading than watching.

Groovy Girl was home for the weekend though and we did start a new Netflix series, The Queen's Gambit, which is quite good. It's about a young girl who becomes a chess prodigy during the 1950s. The costumes and the acting are so good and the story is very intriguing. Cuddling on the sofa with her is one of my favorite activities not matter the season. 

I did read an entire chapter book this weekend which is always exciting. I started The only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert during a free read time Friday at school.  The 6th grade class I was in were very book involved (yeah!) and I just pulled this one off the cart because no one picked it up.  I read three quick chapters and pretty much wished I could spend the rest of the day with it. I continued to read it on Friday night and finished it Saturday evening right before I started watching game 4 of the World Series.  What a good book! I started another small chapter book, Planet Omar: accidental trouble magnet by Zanib Mian which is perfect for young 3rd, 4th grade readers and features a Muslim family navigating a new town and school. 

And speaking of the World Series-what an amazing end to that game and Brett Phillips will always be remembered for his hit and the fun he had air-planing around the field. The game was good but became fantastic if you stuck around to the end. It reminds everyone why baseball is so joy-filled. 

In between watching and reading I've made some excellent food! Yes, excellent! Last week I made this Roasted Tomato Soup from How to feed a loon blog and I loved the flavor of late summer really ripe tomatoes and the fresh basil together. This fed me all week at school and we just finished up the last of it for a late dinner last night. My mother-in-law sent me this naan recipe and I made it yesterday afternoon on a whim. Didn't really have a plan for Indian food so we enjoyed the toasted naan with our leftover soup. It will be easy to make these again because the recipe pulled together and the dough had a good rise in about an hour. 

This morning for breakfast I whipped up this Cozy Turmeric Porridge from my favorite Minimalist Baker. A small bowl was so warming to my soul on this chilly morning and I have enough leftovers for the week. I did not have pomegranate seeds on hand but topped our bowls with a little Agave syrup, coconut milk, and cinnamon sprinkles. 

Before Groovy Girl arrived home on Thursday night she said she was excited to come home to eat vegetables!  Wow! How many teenagers say that!?! She says food is less than exciting (bland) and no good veggies at school so I made sure we had tons of good colorful vegetables in our fridge.  She loves sweet potatoes and when she saw me unpacking them she asked if we could make sweet potato fries. I used this recipe from Gimme Some Oven and they were delicious although not as crispy as I would have liked. This week I'm going to make this Pumpkin black bean soup (also from Minimalist Baker) and this Winter Roasted Vegetable Soup also from my mother-in-law. I love soup, it's versatile and gives me a warm yet light lunch at school. 

We are getting closer to the election and while I'm very anxious I also have to be filled with hope.  Make sure wherever you are that you go vote. 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Road Trippers

Café Mir is a special restaurant run by two brothers in a very small town called Fertile, IA. My mom introduced me to it probably about 3-4 years ago when she lived near Clear Lake. She asked my husband and I to meet there for dinner then because she read about it and one of the brothers bought some of her fresh herbs at the farmers market. Back then we drove the 1 1/2 hours to get there and took a walk around a bit before our reservation. The backyard of Cafe Mir sits on the Winnebago River and with a bridge that crosses over to a park making it a lovely place to walk before or after dinner.  The restaurant is in a small storefront with the front and back rooms set aside for dining and the kitchen and host area lay in the middle. It's quaint with an eclectic vibe; mismatched napkins and china that all look like they were pulled from various grandmother's cabinets. The food is exquisite in this charming spot, making it worth the drive. It's a little expensive but worth it especially for a special occasion. Because of all this I was determined to make it there again for dinner before winter is upon us. 

(Charles City, Winnebago River view)

My husband is happy to plan day trips especially when beer is involved and I'm happy to ride along as long as there are patios.  Saturday was a gorgeous day, lots of sunshine, too much wind but we didn't blow away. We loaded the dogs into the car (patios are so perfect) and headed north to St Charles City Brewing Company where we shared a flight of beers and hard seltzers. A Filipino food truck was parked behind the brewery so we felt obliged to sample a plate of noodles and an egg roll which were delicious and a perfect snack to tide us over until our 6:30 reservation. We soaked up some sun at their outdoor picnic tables and then took a walk along the river before piling back in the car for our next destination. 

Another 30 minutes or so we took a back road into Osage, IA to find The Limestone Brewing Company on Main Street. This place was a little more crowded but luckily most people were hanging inside which left the outdoor tables to us. There were a ton of fat tire bikes leaning up and down the street with most of the owners inside swigging beer, listening to live music, and eating pizza. Outside there was an eggroll food truck and two long picnic tables.  While the patio situation was not the greatest at least we had a place outside because only staff were masked inside and the place was packed because the beer was good and there had been some major fat tire trail ride earlier in the day. We shared a flight here as well, bought two crowlers, and headed back to the highway.

These two stops broke up the drive perfectly and we arrived at Café Mir 30 minutes before our reservation. Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn and it was pretty chilly walking the dogs around the park. It was toasty inside, the place was bustling, the tables were widely-spaced, staff wore masks, and I wore a mask it still seemed like the virus was a thing of the past for most others. I'm not of that mindset but I also have to live a little before we get totally locked down by the weather. I hope you did something thrilling with your weekend as well. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Time Travel

I feel like I'm time traveling through the month at light speed, forward motion on zoom.  We've been lucky to have Groovy Girl home the last two weekends. We've hiked in the Fall leaves, we've eaten amazing food and cuddled.  Her coming home from college at first was like "hmmm, should we fist bump and call it good?" but now we throw caution to the wind, trusting that we've all been safe during the week, so that we may cuddle on the sofa together to hang out. She and I are "cuddlers", we love to share a blanket, the sofa, anywhere where we can snuggle close and breathe each other in.  She is really good about wearing a mask in her daily life and only goes to one class - ballet - in person (and they wear masks while dancing) with the rest of her classes meeting virtually so from the comfort of her dorm room. 


Last weekend when she was here I dreamed that I wanted cauliflower tacos and when I googled the recipe I found lots of choices. I had to weed through the recipes because she is allergic to tomatoes.  I found a recipe on Bon Appetit that is so FANTASTIC! I made them again this Friday night. We loved that it was vegan, that it needed no other toppings to make it delicious. We tried to add a little goat cheese and did not like the combined flavors as the taco flavor is so bold that it needs no other accompaniments. We did have some of our garden kale cut in to strips to add on and a little fresh baby greens and those two seemed to be fine additions to offer a little extra fresh crunch but otherwise these tacos are spot on perfect and have found a place in our permanent collection. The two sauces are easy to put together and I had everything already in my cupboards. If you are looking for a meat-free dish that comes together quickly this one will not disappoint. Groovy Girl ate 4 the first night we had them. 

I finished The Guest List and Wrong guy, Right room; both very good. I lost interest in the Guest List halfway through-felt like we really dipped down with sorrowful tales and back and forth memories but the last few chapters really redeemed the tale. Wrong guy, Right room was delightful. I'm now reading Greetings from Witness Protection! by Jake Burt for school; it is on our list for Iowa Children's Choice Awards this year and it's good. I'm still working on Untamed by Glennon and I need to review This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, one of my favorite authors, for book club this month. After watching the Smithsonian's National Book Festival authors this year all online I am trying to read Marlon James' book Black Leopard, Red Wolf.  It's unique and I'm not sure I'll make it through it but he was interesting to listen to him talk. 

Did you watch the vice presidential debate? I'm super ready for this campaign to be over and a new administration to take office. Please have a peaceful week! 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Choice: Embrace the Possible

 Dr. Edith Eva Eger's memoir is a deep look into what it was like to live through extreme trauma and survive. At 16 Edith was sent to Auschwitz and was herded into one line with her sister and watched as her mother was pushed into another line, one of death. Edith and her sister Magda fight one minute, one hour, one day to make it through their ordeal together. In four parts, Prison, Escape, Freedom, and Healing, Dr. Eger's shares with us what her own experience was like as well as patients she has worked with who have been imprisoned in other ways. She lets her journey be the guiding force to helping others. I enjoyed her family story very much, as well as her work with patients. Several of the patient accounts made me cry.  It is always difficult to read first hand accounts of the Holocaust; the details overwhelming, and painful. I highly recommend her story and want everyone to read it. It's an critical reminder of how important our freedom is and that we should never take it for granted. 

I've discovered that I'm baking more these days and I think it is a stress-reliever. Baked goods for mental health! I made this delicious Czech breakfast cake one morning and shared it with friends and another day I woke up really early and made this French apple cake (Once upon a chef) for a trip to Iowa City to see Groovy Girl (Groovy College Student?). I will make both again. I've discovered a new little recipe spot on Bon Appetit called It's Just that Simple! It's like family recipes that they just talk you through as if they are telling you a recipe over coffee. I made the Desi Omelette one night for a quick dinner and a Korma recipe another night. It's my kind of easy recipe site-like I'm getting them from friends. 

(French Apple Cake)

Reading three books: Untamed by Glennon Doyle, my friend Angelle's book, Wrong guy, right room, a fun romance book-find it here on Amazon, and The Guest List by Lucy Foley.  

Be safe out there. Wear your mask. Stay positive. Do everything you can to get out the vote. Last night's debate was even more proof that our current leader is completely unstable. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: a national treasure

(Elle article)

We lost a national treasure this weekend and the loss will impact our lives for a long time. She's been on our minds for awhile now as she went in and out of the hospital, we feared for her with Covid + her own health issues. Over the years she kept working even though it must have been tough and painful - in this she is like our Black Panther hero Chadwick Boseman. I am sure that Ruth had a hero's welcome when she arrived at the gates of heaven. I'm still struggling with this loss and I think about her family and how they are feeling. We may see her as an icon for human rights but they've lost a mother and grandmother, a leader of 

During the very first part of the pandemic my husband and I caught up on some movies and series that we'd missed and one of them was the RBG documentary on Netflix. If you've not yet watched this take time to do watch or re-watch it to remind yourself of what an amazing person she was. We need her passing to light a fire in each of us to do whatever we can and then some more to first insure that our current leadership team not pick a new Supreme Court Justice until we've had a change in said  leadership. Fair is fair and they set the rules on this with President Obama and second insure that as many democrats win across our states, local races and presidential. We need to right the falling tower as quickly as possible. DT is not a president to everyone; he picks and chooses, ridicules, often siding with racists people and ideas. 

I don't know how to get through to people who really, really love him yet we can talk to our friends and neighbors who might be undecided about voting for Biden. Biden was low on my list as was Kamala but this race is vital in so many important ways and those of us that are strong, fervent Democrats need to help others see why it is so important to vote by mail or vote in person; just VOTE for the Democratic ticket. I cannot image another four more years of this man unleashing his own curriculum, his stance against all things science related, voting down everything that we've worked hard for like voting rights and women's rights. We need the Black Lives Matter movement to continue to make change all the way to the White House with someone ready to really help us find a more equitable future. We need our leaders to understand better what we are looking for in our police community; one of working with people without force, to see all people in need of help and understanding  Just like George Floyd became a catalyst for change so to should our grief over Ruth Bader Ginsburg propel us forward into serious  action. After all it is our country we are trying to save. 

My husband recently showed me a video of Trump supporters sharing why they believe Trump was sent by God to help the nation and it makes me wonder how we became so divided as a country. I grapple with understanding how a wide array of Christian people feel that Trump represents them. 

Find a way to stand up for our country and honor Justice Ginsburg with action. Refer back to my earlier voting post to find people to support with donations or volunteer time. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Groovy Girl turns 18...


(First trip to NYC)

which is a major celebration! This girl has been featured on this blog almost her entire life. I started Peaceful Reader when she was in kindergarten and now she is a freshman in college.  We celebrated this major birthday with dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant and there were gifts and delicious vegan desserts. She's not vegan but her brother is and everyone wants to share in birthday treats. Because I spent part of the weekend visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Deephaven, MN I had the opportunity to visit a cool vegan bakery/restaurant  Vegan East, and purchased a box full of treats to bring home. They have 3 locations and I stopped by the Uptown shop which took me through some familiar neighborhoods.  I passed by Lake Calhoun, Lake Street, and Hennepin Avenue, and my favorite Walker Art Center; all places I loved hanging around when I lived in Mpls/St. Paul.

She is enjoying her freshman year even with it's unusual Covid-19 restrictions. It's a long list of negatives yet she is making it work and smiling! G.G. and her roommate spend a lot of time in their room and luckily they don't seem to be getting on each other's last nerve, which is fantastic.  Most classes are on Zoom but she has  two dance classes that meet in big studios.  This is great as she is very used to being active and dance + Zoom is not a good combo. 

(Dad ride)

All of our children are unique and inspiring and Groovy Girl, as the baby of the family, brings a level of happiness that is often infectious. She gets very excited and we love her enthusiasm for life. She cares about the world, is empathetic toward others, and will continue to make a difference as she grows. I appreciate that she loves many different styles of food, can cook a great meal, and is willing to experiment with spices and sauces. I'm surviving the empty nest but only because she and I talk at least every other day. She texts me when she needs to talk and we FaceTime when we need to see each other.  Communication is so different now. My husband and I compared our experience of having one dorm phone on each floor!  We had to take turns so I talked to my parents maybe once a week if that.

(Groovy Girl now (r) w/ her roommate Laurel)

When I began this blog I didn't want to use her real name as it is unusual and over the years she has had readers call her "Groovy Girl" which made her feel a little like a blog celebrity. Even though she is a beautiful 18 as of last Saturday she will always be my Groovy Girl!  

Monday, September 7, 2020

September is really here

 and school has been in session for two weeks. No longer am I welcoming students into my amazing library space to talk about books, pick out books, and work on projects. Instead I am pushing my library around on a cart; books and computer riding with me. It is a weird year. Oh did I mention the masks, and face shield, hand sanitizer, wipes-those are all there also. 

Kids are happy to be together and most seem to be okay wearing masks everyday. I feel their strength in the idea that it's better to be together with a mask on than not.  We have one 5th grade student demonstrating irony to us every day with his "Trump 2020" black mask. IRONY. We are in this mess because of that guy. 

We were to stay positive with both students and staff. I did get more books in on Friday and so next week after school will be a little like Christmas as I unpack them and get them in to our system. 

This weekend I've done equal parts relaxing and getting things done around the house. The mess of life spirals so easily into piles on tables, mail clutter, I worked to get that under control. I've also made lemon bars (recipe from my Baking Ill. cookbook), a butternut squash and kale soup, both produce from my garden, and an angel food cake recipe for my mom. She is struggling with some health issues and could use a more desserts in her life. 

I am mourning Chadwick Boseman like everyone else in the world. I marvel at his ability to continue to make amazing art while he was very sick. The resiliency of people amaze me. I started to watch the whole Captain America series on Disney so I could understand the story line and see where Black Panther connects up. I also watched the pilot for Lincoln Heights, one of the first shows he did. My husband and I watched a great love story, Always be my maybe with Ali Wong, on Netflix and we started a new show Away with Hilary Swank headed to Mars. We are looking forward to the new series Enola Holmes at the end of September. 

I haven't just been cooking and watching! I am reading The Choice; a memoir by Dr. Edith Eva Eger. My brother sent this to me over the summer and it's been on that stack of to-reads. Resiliency is the theme here today I guess. We are all going to make it through this one way or another. Let's get to November, VOTE, and then keep voting for the good candidates, the ones who can get it done like finding ways to end racist laws/practices and climate change. The list is long...


Sunday, August 23, 2020

Are we ready?

For school...

Yes and no. I'm excited to see all my student's faces even if behind a mask, I will be happy to hear their voices, and read with them. I am anxious though about teachers and staff getting sick, and the busy crazy schedule for classes. So many regulations and I plan to follow but during our week day on Friday I walked out of the library twice without a mask bc I was busy and thinking about next steps not Covid-19. I've been careful this summer.  I've worn a mask, limited my friend circle, had fun outdoor adventures, and I don't want all that careful time to change. I need to come to grips with staying safe inside school with lots of little bodies. It's going to be a year; unique and filled with joy. Plus my Groovy Girl will be gone having her own school adventure, also trying to stay safe and finding joy on her college campus. 

I recently finished two fantastic fiction books and as usually I still have stacks and stacks to read still. I never get all the books read that I bring home.  My stack this year took a hit because after George Floyd's murder I swerved off my regular reading and picked up lots of current books that had BLM as a theme which means I've read a lot of powerful books this summer and these two are no exception.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington (2020) by Janae Marks: Zoe finds a letter from her birth father on her 12th birthday and she opens it.  She's never met him and she has a stepdad and her mom who love her very much yet something is missing-so she opens the letter, reads it, and hides it. Inside the letter her dad sounds so nice and she didn't think a criminal, a murderer in fact, would sound so good. Zoe decides to investigate with her next door neighbor - friend  Trevor and the two set off on a quest to help her dad prove his case. This book brings up the idea that not everyone in prison is guilty and that sometimes people are convicted because it's easy. I hope Janae Marks writes a continuation because I would love to read more about Zoe and her adventures.

Prairie Lotus (2020) by Linda Sue Park: Wow! This historical fiction book blew my mind a little and I appreciate Park's writing and research. Park's was enamored with Laura Ingalls Wilder series Little House on the Prairie, reading them over and over.  It wasn't until later that she realized the racism that existed in the stories. Inspired to write her own version she sets her story in the Dakota Territories in 1800.  Hanna and her father are running away from her mother's memory in San Fransisco and end up in small town LaForge City. Hanna is half Chinese and knows how people feel about her. Everything from her father's attempt to open up a small dress shop to her ability to go to school with other children from the prairie are hindered by how people feel about her. The racist aggression she feels from townspeople is softened by the simple fact that some people do accept her and she makes a few friends and changes a few minds. 

My mantra this year will be Focus on the positive.  Keep reading, keep smiling.  

Sunday, August 9, 2020

BLM book list #2

 I started a list on this post - Books give insight- and I have more to add after another few weeks of reading plus a stack that I look forward to reading soon. While protests are still happening across the country our own community has hosted a few community events and peace walks where people are allowed to share their stories. It's good to listen as a person and as an educator yet I feel like the real people that need to hear the message are in our city councils, police departments,  and other government positions. Our Black mayor was at the last organized Peace Walk. I'm sure he has his own stories from before he took office and during as I know just from reading the paper he has a few foes that stand in his way. 

We have two sister sisters close together and while I happily have my feet in both communities the one I live and teach in does not seem as pro-change and I'm personally trying to figure out how to create good trouble for our new and so far ineffective Mayor Green.  

But let's segue back to books! For people interested in BLM stories this list gives you a great place to start. Some of my book choices come from The Brown Bookcase an independent bookstore run by 9-yo Rylei and check out The Brown Bookshelf for more inspiration.

1. Dear Martin by Nic Stone (2017) : This YA novel recounts Justyce's story as he tries to be like his hero Dr. King and finds himself in several unnecessary situations with police including one off-duty officer when the music volume is in question. "Stand your ground" is a terrible law because it gives credence to any average G.I. Joe wannabe who carries a gun.  If you have this mentality that someone is infringing on your own well-being and claim you feel unsafe or just simply anger for being disrespected. Ugh. This book! Too real. Justyce is pre-judged as gangster instead of the good student that he is. We see this happen all the time when we are shown "thug" photos instead of high school grad photos. I'm a new fan of Nic Stone and look forward to reading the next book in this series. 

2. Clean Getaway by Nic Stone (2020) : After reading Dear Martin I quickly put this one on hold at our local library.  This story, more for elementary/middle school, shares Scoob's journey with his grandmother as she retraces her steps through a few Southern locations using Scoob's grandfather's Green Book. His G-ma picks Scoob up for an impromptu road trip leaving Scoob's dad in the dark. This would make a great read-aloud to help students understand Jim Crow laws and other not-so-subtle rules to keep Black people segregated. 

3. Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (2020) : Donte, a mixed-race middle schooler, is getting used to a new prep school filled with mostly white students and staff. The first chapter has Donte in the principal's office defending himself against a teacher who sees him as trouble. His sibling Trey presents as white and has a much easier time at school. This book is not my favorite JPR chapter book but I appreciated the issues raised. It's maddening as an educator to hear how Donte is treated by people who should be supporting him. This would make a great read-aloud for 5th-7th grade to discuss the inequality of experiences. 

4. Ways to make sunshine by Renee Watson (2020) : I'm in love with Renee Watson's writing. What I love about this particular story is that while it is realistic fiction; it isn't a "problem" story.  The biggest "crisis" that happens is that the family has had to move to a new/old rental house because her dad's postal job was eliminated. So relatable at this time. Ryan has fun with her friends, she goes to a pool party, her grandmother spends hours straightening her hair, she gets into trouble yet she loves her brother, her parents, and her extended family. This is the beginning of a series and I am so excited to read more about Ryan!

and one adult book-

5. A Good Neighborhood by Theresa Anne Fowler (2020) : Valerie Alston-Holt, a professor of forestry and ecology, lives in a beautiful older neighborhood where she raises her mixed race son. While her son, Xavier, was very young he husband died in a tragic accident. Enter in the Whitman family who've built a new home and pool and perhaps avoided a few property line codes along the way. Brad Whitman is new money and he's not concerned about the environment like his neighbor. He only wants to make the three women in his life happy. His downfall is that he has a crush on his teenage stepdaughter Juniper. When Brad and Valerie collide major problems abound. I really couldn't put this book down. I felt for Valerie as she stands up for what she believes in yet those decisions come with a price. 

Books I'm looking forward to reading soon:

1. Take the mic: fictional stories of everyday resistance edited by Bethany C. Morrow (2019) : A compilation  of major authors contributed stories to this book and I'm excited to see what they have to say. 

2. Count me in by Marsha Bajaj (2019) : This one is about finding an unexpected friendship and how to deal with a hate crime when it happens to you and your beloved grandfather. 

3. Love like Sky by Leslie C. Youngblood (2018) : Another teacher read this and offered it to me. This is a realistic fiction story set in Atlanta. 

And two adult books: 

4. I'm still here: Black dignity in a world made for whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (2018) : This is one I ordered early in April and it took until end of May to arrive. I heard Reese talk about it on her book club website and had to read it. Hopefully I will get to it soon. 

5. Behold the dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (2016) : A friend passed this on and the story which takes place right before and during the Lehman Brothers collapse is about a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem.  

Ahhh, so many good books, never enough time. School schedules are starting up. Groovy Girl heads off to college on the 20th. We are all hoping Covid-19 doesn't affect schools but really I'm just worried. WORRIED MAMA.

**None of these books are linked to a store. I cannot promote Amazon and hope that you can find any of these at a local bookstore, bookshop, or simply from your local library. Have you read any of these on my lists or have other suggestions for me? Let me know via email or a comment. 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Gratitude for what is


My people:
friends and family are vital to a good life; you have to have a strong crew to support you through life. Old friends, new friends, young friends, and older all lend me support in innumerable ways every day. I'm a glass half full generally happy hippie-spirited person and we all need our own crew. Thank you to those of you who support me every day. This past weekend I was able to reconnect with an old friend from 30 years ago-wow-it was amazing to talk with him even though we haven't spent physical time together; there's a certain cool connection you have with people from your past. It filled my heart to be in person and not on Zoom or FaceTime. The top photos is me 20 years ago and the one with two of my brothers is 30 years ago. To be honest I love looking at those young faces. I appreciate all my experiences through the years but that fresh face and wide smile....not going to lie, I miss that. The photo below shows my Pete family and I miss them. Hanging around young people united in a common and vibrant cause is uplifting as hell.  Same for the 2008 family photo after Obama was elected. Same elation.

This Pete team made me smile!

My health: I'm quite a lucky person to have experienced two open heart surgeries before the age of 18 and still be in really good health. Yes, I struggle with baby bulge/ menopausal belly and I'm not muscle bound but my heart is strong and I walk, get my yoga on, and am trying to add weight lifting to my routine. Meditation and yoga keep me focused which helps me deal with the highs and lows of my family. And I've been fortunate enough to birth to beautiful babies that I love very much. Plus I was gifted an amazing step-daughter who loves to read and write like I do. Below photo shows part of our back yard and some of our garden flowers in bloom right now. 

My house: I love my brick Tudor-style home with it's wild garden spaces. I love my girls who live in the backyard squawking and laying eggs for us. I love their personalities and don't know how I lived without them. We love showing them off and talking chickens with other flock families. We jumped into gardening this year with all our extra time and have red cabbages, broccoli, cucumbers, and eventually pumpkins growing in our backyard. We took out a pond that was not functioning and added a birdbath instead and we have birds fluttering back and forth. When we head back to school I will miss watching all the birds but especially the gorgeous cardinal family. There is a certain spiritual thing that happens in the outdoors, in nature and I’ve purposefully added more time enjoying state parks and nature centers during this unique summer. I made a little movie of recent hikes and adventures just from July.

This year an old friend of mine from my Colorado days died in a tragic accident in California. This broke my heart and reminded me how important it is to stay in touch with people we care about. I hadn't talked to him for a few years and that caused me a lot of grief and anxiety. Why hadn't I called him? He showed up in a series of dreams and that should have been the catalyst to pick up the phone, say hi on FB, something.  In the world we live in today every day is a new day with joy and horrors, embarrassments, and lessons to learn. Keep moving, keep loving, keep growing...hold hands and hug (even virtually). United together.