Sunday, July 24, 2022

Looking for a good book

 I have five chapter book suggestions for young people that I've read myself this summer. With everything happening in the world around us it might be safest to stay home and read. There is plenty of summer left to enjoy a few more great chapter books! 

1. Maya and the Robot written by Eve. L Ewing (2021): A delightful tale of a forgotten robot that finds its way out of the closet and into Maya's life. She figures out how to get it to work just in time for the 5th grade science fair. This is a great story about friendship and overcoming fears of losing all that is familiar. It should be noted that the robot originally belonged to a young neighbor who was killed in a neighborhood shooting is touched on briefly. 

2. Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds (2021): Portico Reeves has an amazing imagination and he protects those around him with his superpowers as he tries to deal with his parents arguments and impending divorce. Jason Reynolds has a gift of speaking the truth from a young person's opinion. Get a taste of Stuntboy as he reads the first chapter to you. 

3. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (2021): an #ownvoice novel in verse about a young Indian American girl whose life is forever changed when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia. Reha is working so hard to balance her Indian identity and traditions with her American school self~it is a lot to handle until the only thing that matters is her beloved mother. 

4. 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr (2021): Eleven-year Rigel loves living in the wilderness of Alaska with her family so when she finds out her parents are divorcing and her mom is moving with the Rigel and her two sisters back to Connecticut to live with her mother, their grandmother she is mad. Getting used to suburb life compared to the wilds of Alaska is a difficult feat and it's hard to make friends and still feel like the strong nature-loving person that she is. This is a fantastic debut novel! Listen to Colby Sharp's review. 

5. The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (2021): This one hurt my heart with everything happening right now with gun violence. Something needs to happen because it's scary for adults and children. This book, told in alternating chapters is about a school shooting. Parker, Quinn's older brother took a gun to school and killed Mabel, Cora's older sister as well as three other people. We learn this in details as Cora and Quinn, former best friends and neighbors don't talk anymore until Quinn comes up with a plan to go back in time to change what happens. This is a loving story about a frightening and all-too-common situation. How do the girls deal with their guilt, their grief over what happened and find a way to make peace with each other?  I cried at the end. This would make a great read aloud so key discussions could take place. 

I didn't read all day long, I also made some delicious food: 

I picked up two crates of peaches from the Tree-Ripe Fruit Company and they are so delicious as is but I succumbed this afternoon to take a few of the extra soft ones and make this Peach Crumble  from Pioneer Woman. It's bubbling in the oven right now. 

I made a wild mushroom risotto last week and had some leftover mushrooms to use up and even though it is blazing hot outside for Iowa I made soup: Hungarian Mushroom Soup - it is creamy and delicious and I know I will enjoy it with a slice of sourdough tonight for dinner. 

Sweet corn!  My husband brought home 6 ears of corn from one of the many pickup trucks around town and I shucked and boiled them in a little salted water and the flavor is the taste of summer for me. I could probably live on sweet corn and fresh peaches for at least the rest of July!  

Stay safe out there...

Friday, July 15, 2022

The lazy days of summer

I like to do yoga in my pajamas.  I do. Before the pandemic I went somewhat faithfully to a yoga studio with other like-minded folks and I enjoyed the camaraderie. I did. But when the pandemic hit I discovered the joy of doing yoga right upstairs in what used to be my child's room. That child now owns a home of his own and only sleeps over on Christmas Eve so I turned it into a yoga/meditation home studio and reading corner. I love to wind my way from my bed to bathroom and then take a sharp right over to my studio all while still happily sporting bed head and soft pink pajamas. It's a beautiful thing. I bring up Adriene's monthly calendar and pick that day if I seem drawn to it or any of the other amazing videos she has on her YouTube channel and I just get down to it. After heart surgery it took me awhile to make it back to that room to specifically do yoga but I'm back there and I appreciate it all the more for the break. 

I like to read in my pajamas. I do. Even on my patio which is in the back of my house and no one can see me except for the chickens and the dogs. They don't judge. My reading time right now is on elementary-middle grade fiction for the state award books. I have to mix it up with a few adult books over the summer as well. On my Kindle app I'm reading Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I just finished That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Coooper.  A friend lent me her copy of The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill and another friend highly recommended The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick. And on a recent lunch date my husband and I wandered into our local Barnes and Noble. We found quite a few books I'd like to read in my pajamas but we "only" walked out with three; All the Broken People by Leah Konen, The Promise by Damon Galgut, and The Pallbearer's Club by Paul Tremblay. Also on my list to read are Lucy Foley's The Paris Apartment, Justin Baldoni's Man Enough, and Rebecca Serle's One Italian Summer. 

What else am I doing this summer while I am healing and on break before school begins again in August? Walking the dogs, cooking, and thinking...just processing all that is around me. I'm doing a lot of that in my pink pajamas. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

The good of today

In my last post I shared a pantry list as a way to keep myself organized and I've turned it into a checklist, slipped it into a plastic sleeve so I can refer back to it.  So easy. Also I added hummus and onions to the list. Don't know how I forgot those two essentials.  Here it is; you can edit and make it your own Pantry Checklist.

I follow Dan Buettner on IG and recently read his book The Blue Zones Challenge. I started thinking about my own longevity after my recent heart surgery and even though as a real foods/ vegetarian/flexitarian I feel like I eat pretty healthy. Except I love some sugar in the form of dark chocolate or ice cream.  And I like to think about exercise as just a regular part of the day. I wish our cities were better designed so I could walk to the grocery store but I can walk or bike to work so that's gonna happen this fall. 

I finished a magnificent book yesterday! The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson was so good that I spent one day reading for 4 hours straight just to finish. It tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing through several generations so we get her family history as the white man swept across the prairie. The beauty of the story is it relays how important our basic food structure is for today and future generations. The chemicals, fertilizers, and genetically-modified seeds are contribute to the health problems of today. Our rivers flow with these chemicals and the system has created a tragic circle of destruction. Here is an excellent author interview with Kachina Yeager of Milkweed Editions. 

In between reading and cooking I'm watching The Bear on Hulu, Julia on HBO Max; so cooking shows! as well as Only Murders in the Building on Hulu. I don't give myself very much time to watch as I am working on several organizing projects around the house. I've sorted through my cookbooks, deciding which ones still bring me joy. I've also gone through the many stacks of books around my house and let quite a few go. Don't worry there are still stacks, maybe just not as high! I have to have something to show for the summer other than laying around healing. I also started listening to Justin Baldoni's podcast Man Enough. 

Peace be with you...


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Order among the chaos


Wow. June has been a terrible month nationwide because members of the highest court in the land chose to rule by religion and self-interest over what is right and in the best interest of the majority.  Open carry gun laws, overturning Roe vs. Wade, and now tribal rights showcase the absolute right wing nature of the court which should be neutral or at least with some form of equality of viewpoints. I'm afraid for what comes next, like really afraid. We need  to regroup both parties. I seriously struggle with how many people are still blinding following this snake oil salesman Donald. I feel disgusted just typing his name and it blows my mind that he added three (Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett) of these conservative judges to the Supreme Court. 

It's mind-blowing to me that these judges elected by a twice impeached president will sway the court for years and years to come. And don't get me started on the many reasons Clarence Thomas should be removed from the court and as well as Brett Kavanaugh.  So I've been upset this past week along with many other humans. Our voices need to be heard because why should my daughter have less rights than I did as a young woman. So I needed to focus on something else for the time being because if something is messed up in the government house then it is time to place your own house as top priority. 

So I've been organizing like crazy to keep my sanity. I've cleaned up the two kids bedrooms upstairs that no longer house kids. I have stacks of books to donate and boxes for Goodwill. I've also worked on reorganizing my kitchen-I feel like for me, with a small kitchen, this is a constant activity when I need space or time or a mental break from the outside world. My spice cupboard is overflowing, my general pantry needs help, and I've recently cleaned out my fridge. All this cleaning made me reconsider what is necessary in my kitchen. So let's compare lists:

Fridge necessities: 

lemons & limes
Smart Balance Vegan butter
unsalted butter
quality Caesar and bleu cheese dressing (like from the produce section)
Romaine lettuce (organic)
Spring Greens - I miss my big city market where I could grab what I needed like a bulk item instead of the clam shells. Luckily, it's summer time!; I have some growing in my garden box. 
A variety of berries
Tamari Sauce
Oat Milk
organic firm tofu
red and yellow peppers/broccoli/cauliflower
a variety of hard and soft cheeses
capers
miso paste
Tahini sauce
almond butter
ginger root
sour cream
Greek yogurt in vanilla and plain (I can get these from a local dairy which is great)

Pantry essentials:

Target Blue chips with chia seeds (funny that this was the first thing I thought of!)
Lots of dry storage-bulk items like large bags of Jasmine rice, jars of dry beans, quinoa, oatmeal, chickpeas, red and brown lentils and most of this gets stored in large canning jars
Back up cans of black beans, kidney beans, garbanzos and cannellini 
cans of Italian whole tomatoes and some pasta sauce
variety of pasta like bucatini and Asian noodles
cans of corn, tuna, chilies, and green enchilada sauce 
dark chocolate in bars and jars of semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips (bulk)
I have a box for flour (I buy unbleached flour and always have a back up bag in case I start to make bread a large jar for Turbinado (raw) sugar
fresh garlic bulbs
new potatoes (red or yellow)
cashew and almonds nuts
variety of sparkling waters

Freezer items:

I keep frozen limeade ready in case I want to make margaritas for friends
non-dairy ice cream 
bags of fresh corn
bags of fruit

That's a lot of regular stuff in my kitchen but my favorite thing is being able to make a recipe without running to the grocery store. And all this organizing is keeping me sane with all the conflict in the world. We don't have time to heal from one event before the next moment is shattered.  What's in your pantry? What's keeping you sane? 








Sunday, June 12, 2022

Healing Everyday

 As anybody knows healing takes time and it's slow. I'm walking more with less heavy breathing and I'm doing some simple exercises that move my muscles around. I am anxious to get back to real yoga that includes downward dog, the "home" base for all yoga practices. I started driving last week which was exciting because we purchased a new car right after surgery. We thought the car was going to take a year to get to us but it arrived sooner and it made for a very smooth ride home from the hospital. Thank you to our son Tristan for finding the car and leading us through this process.  We bought a Hyundai Tucson because its a good looking hybrid and will give us more space than our 2004 Prius. 

While it is a sure sign of great freedom to drive out my driveway and run some errands I have to check myself while I get groceries, for example, that I can only carry small amounts to my car and cannot fill my cart up with boxes of sparkling water. And I love walking outside in my neighborhood but I can't take my dogs with me unless someone else walks with me or I go on solo walks, leaving my dogs stunned as I walk away. I'm missing my daughter Japhy/Groovy Girl who headed back to Iowa City this week to her roommates and work. She was an amazing amount of help everyday while I recovered. 


In between walks and driving about town I've read books and gathered more at our local library. I finished Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and Love Medicine, both with same characters and I read them out of order. I do love her writing but both books have so many characters to keep up with and I had to flip to the family tree every other chapter.  Right now I am reading Run River by Joan Didion for book club. I went to the library the other day with my husband while he browsed  Playaway books and naturally I found two to read: Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson, one of my favorite authors and Simi Liu's We were Dreamers; An Immigration Superhero Origin Story. I loved him in Kim's Convenience and am interested in his story. I also have a large book bag filled with books from my school library to read for Iowa Children's Choice nominees, our state award books. 

In between reading I've caught up with some streaming. I finished This is Us and Bridgerton and am working on Julia (Child) and The Great with Elle Fanning.  Japhy turned me on to Jane the Virgin and she and I watched a ton of that before she left. Now I have to wait for her return to watch more. Atlanta with Donald Glover and Black-ish are my go-to short shows that are easy to fit in as a break. I try to keep my binge watching to a minimum so that I can get lots of reading done but it's a tough balance with so much good stuff out there.  What are you reading and watching?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

I made it!


Two successful surgeries at St Mary's Hospital/Mayo in Rochester, MN and I am now recovering at home and have been for the last 3 weeks. My chest around the incision site is still very sore and my range of motion with my arms is limited but I am home and feel blessed to have made it. My extended family did such a great job of supporting me for over a week while I was there. Meals were bought, hotels stays were paid for and many, many cards and letters were welcomed. The first days of being home we had homemade meals delivered to us. It's overwhelming to go through something like this and to feel the love from friends and family. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any small way.  

It's a little strange not to be going to school everyday as I laze about the house healing and going on small walks. I've read several books already including The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles which I loved almost everything about it. I'm also catching up on series like This Is Us which I was way behind on. And I have a lot of time to ponder the mess we are in. The anniversary of George Floyd's murder, Robb Elementary School, the shooting in Buffalo and the Roe vs Wade controversy. Like my heart is healing but this is a lot of major trauma to think on and it is so, so very frustrating that we can't pass solid gun restrictions, that we cannot get better police reform, and that the right to choose should be left up to women. How did the religious right and the NRA take over like this? (Ronald Reagan era?)

I'm thankful to have made it through two tough surgeries and I'm happy to be on leave from a job I love and that I will get to heal over the summer. I wish Covid wasn't making such a huge comeback as many people I know are sick again. All we can do is get through this summer with grace and dignity, use our voices and our dollars to make ourselves heard about the important issues laying in front of us, and we can demand change by getting out the vote.  Make this a life worth living, everyday. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

April; poetry and more...

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Every year in April I share my love of poetry with students and I’ve usually shared favorite pieces here as well. We read poetry together, loudly at our tables and then out loud to the class. Poetry can be funny like a good joke and the last few years that laughter in April has been a godsend. This year it was for me also as it was the last thing I’ll remember about my students for the remainder of this year; students doubled over laughing while reading very silly poems. 

I am on my way to Mayo in Rochester, MN to have open heart surgery for the third time. I wrote about my experience as a child back in February and at that time after an appointment at Mayo in January I knew surgery was coming but I didn’t know when. Even after it was scheduled it seemed far away. And now it’s here. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go physically but mentally still struggling. I know what lays ahead for me and it will be hard. Last time I had this surgery I was 16 and it was painful with a long recovery. And now I’m just around the corner from 60 and I’m worried. How will I bounce back? 

I’ll have the summer to recover, to gain strength back and be ready for school. It was hard to leave Hansen this week especially with the outpouring of well wishes and love from students and staff. It will be great to return strong and ready in August. Emotionally it’s hard to prepare for surgery and second to that is writing lesson plans for two substitutes that will take over the library in my absence. It took me a lot of early mornings and late evenings to get my plans and the library in order. It was stressful but now that is done I'm about to change out of my pajamas, load my bags in the car and drive off with my daughter in tow.  Ready, I'm ready. 

So off I drive today for the first of many appointments before surgery on Wednesday. Wish me luck, send good vibes my way, keep me in your prayers...the next time you'll hear from me I'll have survived and be healing. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Puerto Rico Memories



We recently headed to Puerto Rico for our first major Spring Break trip with all three of our children. We've been planning the trip for half a year. It felt weird then because we were still in the throes of the pandemic. It seemed like a new normal and we very much wanted this trip to happen.  And the war on the Ukrainian people weighed heavy on me as well. It's hard to go on with your regular life, enjoying vacations, when there is a gross human rights crisis happening. All we can do is keep moving forward and be aware, as an empathetic person, helping when and where we can. We took off on our great adventure from O'Hare. 

We enjoyed ourselves in Puerto Rico and are already making plans for future trips. Some of our highlights:

La Casita Blanca - I would fly back to San Juan just to eat here again. We waited about 15 minutes in a line outside the quaint restaurant and the line behind us kept growing. Luckily it was a beautiful day. We do not speak much Spanish which was an overall burden on the trip - I wish I was more fluent. We did a lot of guessing of ingredients and menu items. A few of us started off with a glass of delicious sangria served in a large wine glass. After we ordered little cups of green soup appeared at our table and we slurped it up with a fried appetizer that was amazing. We searched for the rest of the trip for this same dish to no avail. Most of us at the table had stuffed avocados for our main meal which were wonderful. The avocados in PR are huge and meaty. Our vegan son only had trouble at one restaurant through out the trip finding vegan options. 

Eco Adventures Kayak trip through the bioluminescent lagoon in Farjado- we arrived at 7:30 for our 8pm trip after driving 35 minutes through winding roads. We had about 22 other adults beyond our party of 5 which seemed like a lot but it worked. It was a lovely paddle down a river with mangrove trees cascading around us. You could hear a cacophony of frogs as we rounded a curve and opened up to a very large lake. The moon was full which made the sky beautiful but did not give us a great glimpse of the bioluminescence in the water. The trip was still worth it. And we were back to our Airbnb by 11pm. 

Mojito Lab- our first foray to the kiosks right outside of Luquillo and we discovered this little outdoor hot spot. We ordered smalls but with a variety of island flavors hand shaken by a handsome bartender. What could be better! Those were the best cocktails we had on the trip. Oh except for the rum drinks we created ourselves with fresh limeade, lots of limes, ice, and a local bottle of rum. Yum. 


Beaches- Greg always goes for a run on vacation and he is good about finding cool spots. He found a secluded beach that was so serene. He dropped us off so we could meander our way down eventually meeting up at the public swim spot.  What made this walk so special was the eco system undisturbed by people; sea grasses gently waving,  soft sand, pieces of coral, miniature fossils and a stillness that was like a natural symphony. 

We all thought we would go back again to Puerto Rico but I would choose a different area of the island to explore. Also Puerto Ricans are all wearing masks still as did we. And shopping at the local grocery store was fun! I bought and made yarrow root after a local man told me exactly how to cook them; they tasted like a turnip mixed with a potato and were a light purple in color. 

We all made it home safely and returned to reality; Ukraine is fighting back, new boosters are available, and our legislators are making it difficult to happily teach in Iowa. Cheers.