Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Life Stories

My grandparents have been on my mind the last few days and my reflection is a mishmash of  my memories of them. My paternal grandparents Myldred and Edward Matz were an interesting couple. Edward immigrated from Russia when he was a young man. I don't know a lot about his story unfortunately because he never talked about it with us or my dad.  Myldred, on the other hand, loved to talk and she doted on her two sons, Roger and Jerry. I remember her love of jewelry as she always wore big earrings and matching necklaces. The above photo has me right next to my older brother Mike, Uncle Jack, my Great Grandmother Holmes, Myldred and Ed. My Aunt Virginia was most likely the photographer.  She was the cool aunt who moved to California and was back visiting. 

(three generations of Bruch women on my grandmother's back stoop)

I spent a lot more time with my maternal grandparents, LaVera and Ewald Bruch.  My grandfather died when I was in elementary school but I do remember him spending a lot of time outside with me. He would introduce me to the trees and other plants in their peaceful yard. He also let me wash his hair and comb it which I thought was great fun. I thought he was a very kind grandpa who liked to hold my hand and swing me up and around. Later in life I learned he had been an abusive father to my mom and her two brothers. It's very difficult to mix my memories of him with hers. I spent a lot of time with the two of them and then later, after Ewald died I spent my summer vacation with my grandmother and she was my person. 

For years my mom and I struggled to have a positive relationship (my middle years were rough) and my grandmother was my go-to person. I'm happy that I can hear her voice in my head;  I hear her say my name and I see the smile on her face as she looks at me. I learned so much from her like her love of gardening and good food. She knew all about pesticides and if she brought produce home from the grocery store she would rinse everything in a vinegar mixture before eating it or cooking it. She lived through the depression so saved everything. My cousin Linda and I loved to play in her basement for hours. There were many treasures. 

We played countless games of Rack-O and Spite and Malice as I grew up. I felt blessed to have such a warm and tender-hearted grandmother in my life.  She listened to me and I felt like a whole person in her presence. That was golden. If I could bring her back for just one day I'd love to sit and talk, play a game of cards, and lay my head in her lap. Life is full of wonder and hardship. I think my grandparents symbolize that for me and I must be feeling a strong pull toward this right now.

(My grandpa Matz being silly with me)

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Best Books 2023 #2

I read quite a few great middle-grade fiction this year and before the month is over I wanted to share the best of those plus a handful of banned books from a variety of different lists that are worth reading. If you have young people to buy or recommend books these titles will be wonderful. 

A Place to Hang the Moon by Kate Albus (2021) : This is my favorite historical fiction in 2023 because the story centers around close-knit siblings Anna, William, and Edmund after they are evacuated from London.  They remember their deceased mother and wish for a permanent family in this small countryside village. The three of them make the best of it even during their hardest times, remaining true to their hopes for the future. I recently ordered another Kate Albus historical fiction, Nothing Else But Miracles, which centers on the Lower East Side of Manhattan during WWII. 

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat (2022) : This is a Thai-inspired fantasy with amazing world-building as 12-year-old Sai apprentices to the last mapmaker and ends up on a high-seas adventure to chart unknown lands. This story captured my attention throughout Sai's journey. This author writes picture books, graphic novels, early chapter books as well as middle-grade novels. 

Starfish by Lisa Fipps (2021) : In this realistic novel-in-verse Ellie is tired of all the fat jokes about her weight. She loves to swim and free float in her backyard pool. She has lists of rules she is not supposed to do like no eating in public. With the support of her father, and a new neighbor Ellie starts to feel comfortable with herself. This is a fantastic debut!

The Turtle of Michigan by Naomi Shihab Nye (2022) : This companion to The Turtle of Oman tells the story of Aref as he travels from Muscat, Oman to Ann Arbor, Michigan to be with his parents. He misses his grandfather back home yet he is excited about his new life. I loved both these stories and offer them up to students who want to learn more about other cultures. 

The Midnight Children by Dan Gemeinhart (2022) : This book defies labeling; it's part mystery, and realistic fiction, with a touch of magical realism. Ravani longs for neighbors and friends when one night as he looks out his bedroom window he sees a family move into the abandoned house across the street. Eventually, he is welcomed in by this mix of children and things begin to change for Ravani. I love Gemeinhart's entire catalog of books! 

Thirst by Varsha Bajaj (2022) : Minni and her family live in the poorest part of Mumbai where water from the pumps is often hard to get with long lines and shortages. When she takes over for her mother's cleaning job in a high-rise apartment she is astonished to see water running freely from the taps for this other family.  This is a very humbling book to show real economic disparity. 

Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac (2021) : Set during the Pandemic this novel-in-verse tells the story of Malian, a young Wabanaki girl as she quarantines at her grandparents' house on the reservation. She helps around the house, learns the old ways, and begins to communicate with an old stray dog. Bruchac does a wonderful job of weaving in the history of other pandemics the Native population has survived as well as government schools and reservation life. His WWII story, Code Talker, is one of my favorites. 

School Trip by Jerry Craft (2023) : This beautifully done graphic novel is filled with micro-aggressions and life lessons like its predecessors New Kid and Class Act.  The entire series should be required reading for humans. Riverdale Academy students Jordan, Liam, and Drew take a trip to Paris with their classmates. This would pair nicely with Dan Santat's new graphic novel A First Time for Everything. 

Along Came a Spider by James Patterson (2003) : Maggie Rose and a friend go missing from their private Washington DC school and Alex Cross comes in to work the case. This is the first in the Alex Cross series and I cannot find the banned book list I originally saw it on. It's a gripping often gory tale. 

Dry by Neal Shusterman (2018) : California draught causes teenager Alyssa to make life-and-death decisions for her family.  This was intriguing and all too real.  

Gender Queer by  Maia Kobabe (2019) : Autobiographical graphic novel about the author's journey to understand more about their own gender identity. This was such a personally told story I was gripped with how difficult it is when young people don't feel comfortable in the prescribed norms we've conditioned ourselves to be. Writing/drawing this was a true act of bravery for Maia made even more difficult by hateful backlash. Listen to the NPR interview. 

Heartstopper series by Alice Oseman (#1-4) (2020) : Charlie and Nick fall in love in this sweet graphic novel. I can understand why this was made into a Netflix series because it is a heartwarming tale of friendship and love between two very different teenage boys. Highly recommend for all humans as well. 

As a librarian and compassionate human, I will continue to read more from any current banned books lists, and even though I've put myself on a book-buying ban I've used Libby and our wonderful public library.  Before the new year, I did buy copies of a few young-adult banned books to stick in my little free library. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

January Bits

(Our view)

Winter came in like a fury two weeks ago with lots of snow and cold temperatures. It’s beautiful out with the snow glistening under the bright sun. All the winter gear is necessary at this point; hats, gloves, big, long coats, scarves, plus warm beverages for your insides. 

Successfully getting ahead of a winter storm we took Japhy to Minneapolis so she could get on a plane to Guatemala. She will spend the next 4 weeks at a yoga center on Lake Atitlán to become a certified yoga instructor. I miss her desperately yet I know she’s on an amazing journey in a very cool place. Also it is 83 degrees there...very different from 3 degrees!

(Japhy’s view)

My mom’s birthday was January 15th and we celebrated her life with a Red Lobster lunch with friends, game of spite and malice with another set of friends, texts with my brothers,  and a toast over FT with my sister-in-law all to say we miss her very much yet are glad she’s not in pain anymore.  Her pictures flash up on my phone all the time and it all gives me a reason to pause and think of her for a brief moment. 

Today I'm sitting in front of a beautiful burning fire thinking about the last time she and my brother Jason sat in this same space and I'm thankful for the good things she brought to my life. While reminiscing I pulled out one of her Big Sky Montana cookbooks to browse and I found a little note on a recipe telling me when she made it and what she liked. While browsing I found a Brussels sprout and walnut recipe I'm going to make tonight.

Because of the temperature I've made soup to keep our insides warm and happy.  I made a cauliflower/potato soup and a red lentil soup last week and both were very good. I made the red lentil soup for book club on the 15th and then made it again on the 17th for friends visiting from New York.  It's easy to put together and I paired it with jasmine rice so it could be served as a dal and we had toasted pitas for our bread.  

Stay warm wherever you are and appreciate the little bits about your life…

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Best Books 2023

 I read a lot of great books this year even though I didn't make my GoodReads goal; maybe it was quality over quantity.  I love going back through the year and revisiting and thinking of each story. I started the year off big with Demon Copperhead which turned out to be my absolute favorite of the year. I remember I started it right after Christmas because someone sent it to me as a gift. Barbara Kingsolver is one of my top 5 authors. What are the others you ask? Louise Erdrich, Taylor Jenkins Reid, Gabrielle Zevin, and Matt Haig. And this is just the shortlist.

1. Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (2022) : This is a moving coming-of-age story told in the first person from childhood through young adulthood.  Damon struggles with a teenage single mom, a terrible stepdad, and neighbors that are family once removed in the Southern Appalachia region. 

2. The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab (2020) : Beautifully written fantasy novel that begins in France, 1714 and ends in New York City, As a teenager Addie sits on the banks of the river near her home and wishes for a vastly different life to what women are expected to do. She doesn't want to get married and live in the same village as her parents have done. She wants more and as she asks for it her life changes forever. 

3. Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2021) : TJR does her homework for the time period and creates characters that are so memorable that I feel like they are out there somewhere living beyond the pages of the book. This book tells the story of the young Riva family; Mick and June parents to Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit. Told through two different time periods so we understand both parents and the kids on the night of a memorable beach party thrown at Nina's Malibu home. I loved that this book also brought in Carrie Soto. 

4. Fellowship Point by Alice Elliot Dark (2022) : Our book club read this and I didn't know what to expect except that the book was big! I enjoyed every page though and thought the writing was brilliant. I could see myself in the two main characters, Agnes and Polly, best friends and neighbors in their Maine summer homes. They've led very different lives but strive for the same things. I loved their friendship and conversations. 

5. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014) : This one was on my radar when it first came out but I never picked it up. Then the show came out and my brother handed me the book and told me to read it. I did, was captivated by the story, and proceeded to hand it to my husband, and daughter. I thought the show was done well but of course, the book is always better. 

6. The Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros (2023) : I'd heard some of the buzz about this but wasn't pulled in by the whole romance-fantasy genre but then a librarian friend said she liked it and that opened up a portal for me. I picked it up from the library and read it straight through in just a few days. I am set to read the sequel here as soon as I finish Yours Truly by Abby Jimenez. 

I've used Libby quite a bit to find books I can read in the middle of the night  on my phone if I happen to be awake for a couple of hours. And Yours Truly was one that popped up. I hope you'll pick up any of these books at your local library or bookstore. Let me know what you think. More favorites in a day or two. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

So many things

I've had a lovely holiday season with my family. We've had good conversation, eaten good food, played games, and opened gifts together.  Christmas Eve we had a delicious tofu curry with jasmine rice, a vegan scramble for breakfast Christmas Day and homemade pizzas for dinner that night. The Friday before Christmas we hosted a Christmas party for theatre friends and I made.an Italian Sausage lasagna and Japhy made pesto pasta for her and I (no tomatoes, no meat). I  made Whoville 's Spiced Up Margaritas for the party and French 75s on Christmas night.  We tried our best to play Chameleon all together and then the next day a few of us tackled CodeNames together which was a blast! Most importantly it was just great to see our grown up kids having fun, laughing together. 

I got everything done that I needed to do before the holiday. The presents were wrapped, menus planned, house clean and I did it all on very little sleep. It's been a rough month or so starting around Thanksgiving I've had the worst trouble sleeping.  I've been sick with a cold for about the same amount of time that has compromised my immune system.

Sleep is so important and lack of it causes me to forget things and not be my best self. I've tried many of the recommended suggestions for better sleep including melatonin, staying off screens, drinking relaxing tea, going to bed early and while I might do any number of combinations of those ideas I still might lie awake at night getting only a brief amount of sleep either right away or toward morning. I'm frustrated. I started menopause years ago making this a ten-year-old problem. Our beautiful Tarah dog above fell asleep one night so deeply right on top of the gifts and all I could think was "I am so jealous!" 

I am still doing yoga both at home with Adriene and also with Sam at Cota Studios but many things like blogging just don't get done because of this sleep deprivation. My goal for this coming 2024 is to get back on a better schedule.  For the last couple of months Japhy has been home because she is about to go on a grand adventure but that's a whole other post for later. 

Take care, get some rest, and happy holidays to you...

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Fall catch-all

I love fall recipes especially all things with butternut squash! I recently made a spicy butternut squash pasta recipe from the NY Times that was so good I made it twice in one week. As the weather changes we are always look for heartier dishes to warm us up. I'm in the middle of planning our upcoming Thursday meal which I now like to call our Un-Thanksgiving or our Grateful Day.  Growing up my family and Greg's family both celebrated the holiday with all the traditional fare and I used to help my mom prepare a turkey and all the sides but then we just stopped.  For many years I prepared other dishes we liked instead such as vegetable lasagna or food from India. The last few years I've made vegan Wild Rice Soup; that and some fresh hot bread from the oven makes a perfect meal. This year the only thing I have my heart set on is skin-on mashed potatoes with mushroom gravy. Otherwise I'm still searching for ideas. Tristan has two vegan pies, apple dutch and pecan, on order from New Pioneer Coop in Cedar Rapids.  

In between cooking I've read: 

Dry by Neal Shusterman because it is on a banned book list and I was curious. My first Shusterman book and I will read more.  (4 stars)

The Rachel Incident by Carolyn O'Donoghue because I heard it reviewed on a podcast. (4 stars)

We are called to Rise by Laura McBride because it showed up in my free library. (3 stars)

Fourth Wing  by Rebecca Yarros because two librarian friends highly recommended it and it was getting a LOT of attention.  I liked it and am happily waiting to read Iron Flame.  You should probably love high fantasy to enjoy this. (5 stars)

Fellowship Point by Alice Elliott Dark because it's our book club choice for November and I am enjoying it but I'm only half way through the 579 pages. (probably 4 stars)

There are a lot of good series to tuck into for fall: 

Everything Now on Netflix - Japhy and I discovered this and loved it. It's about a young girl's struggles with anorexia and a lot of high school drama but it's very real in it's depiction plus it takes place in London. 

All the Light We Cannot See limited series on NF- I loved the book and was looking forward to this. We have one more episode to watch. Mark Ruffalo is amazing as is the young daughter and the young German radio genius. The Nazis are all sufficiently creepy as hell.

Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV - I loved the book and the series has not disappointed at all. It veers from the book but it is captivating. Brie Larson plays the great Elizabether Zott with zest. 

I've also made a habit of going to yoga a few times a week at Cota Studios and love practicing in person with other people after years of doing yoga alone with Adrienne in my upstairs studio.  Sam is a relaxed and knowledgeable instructor who brings calm and joy into the practice.  I really appreciate the gift of this studio in our community. 

Happy holiday however you celebrate. Do remember the real facts of this holiday in that those First People who came to the table in peace were later tricked through false treaties, tortured, and killed for who they were. Remember all that is going on in our world from sea to shining sea and that while we do have much to be grateful for we must think about how we can help and be empathetic and aware. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Austin City Limits

Two weekends ago Groovy Girl and I enjoyed the music, food, and weather of Austin, TX.  We had an amazing time together and are the perfect traveling companions. Japhy approached me last spring when the lineup was announced saying “wouldn’t this be fun!” And after looking into it more I took her up on the idea. We looked into tickets and found out you can split the payments up, we found a small Airbnb and the ball started to roll. A few weeks ago our wristbands arrived and it was a reality. 

We did have some travel glitches but it all worked out in the end even waiting until Saturday morning to get our luggage. I highly recommend flying Delta out of Minneapolis. 

We got in Friday afternoon after our initial delay and picked up our car via my Turo app directions. Have you tried this car borrowing system? I liked it for the most part. Once we had our 2022 Prius we headed for food and our AirBB before venturing off to Zilker Park.  Our first restaurant choice was not our best pick but it had a patio and the food was edible. Our AirBB was as pictured, small but tidy and enough for what we needed. 

Unfortunetly because our original flight was still in Minneapolis our luggage did not arrive with us so we had to journey to the festival with our travel clothes still on. Luckily we had on cool clothes because Austin weather was warm. A friend had pre-warned us that the walk would be long to get to the park and she was absolutely spot on.  And then when we got inside the larger-than-life park there was a lot to traverse to get to different stages, food, etc.  Our band line up was amazing:


The Moss at 5:15 which was pretty amazing to get there after traveling, eating, and checking in
Maggie Rogers right after and she was amazing-she owned that stage!
The Lumineers-also amazing to hear in person and a great way to end our first night
At the end of our night we found a Target so we could get toothbrushes and other essentials for the night. We knew we would be able to pick up our luggage back at the airport in the morning. We found an amazing Korean food truck across the street and had a fried tofu dish for a late night dinner.


We stopped at a VeraCruz, a taco shop that was highly rated and thus very busy but we wanted to eat before entering the gates.

Mt. Joy-Lovely band that I'd never heard of but loved. 
Tanya Tucker- to be honest we saw her so we would be in place for Noah Kahan (Japhy's favorite) and we ended up loving her sass and style.
Noah Kahan-He was definetely a headliner for Japhy and as a treat Mumford and Sons came out and played a song with him.
And then we listened to a bit of the Foo Fighters from afar (the crowd was huge) and headed home.


We found an amazing brunch spot, Another Broken Egg, and had fun sitting at the bar with my now 21-year-old daughter! She had a spiked cold brew comb and I had a Breakfast Blueberry Margarita and then we ordered delicious breakfast items including Smoked Salmon Benedict, cinnamon roll french toast, and a half order of beignets!

Corook- We were at the park much earlier this day and headed across the dirt to hear her sing and commune with her audience, she was very entertaining, funny, and relatable.
Suki Waterhouse-Daisy Jones and the Six keyboardist-she has an amazing voice
Hozier - So fantastic! We saw him at Hinterland a few years ago as well. 

We found a delicious ramen place for dinner that night after the show. We were pretty tired and happy to head home after warm, healing bowls of noodles.

Monday- We had a day of exploring vintage shops, boot stores, and boutiques and ended up at Meteor on Congress for an outstanding butternut squash pizza.  And then we were off to return our Prius and start the journey home.  It is an absolute wonder to have a daughter that makes such a great travel companion.  I feel blessed to have that relationship. I'm still missing my mom, my chest still aches from surgery but there is so many happy memories I've made over the last year and ACL will be one that I treasure as we continue on through the years. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Ribbons and things


What does everyone do with all the extra stuff in your life? I’ve read Marie Kondo and many articles about organizing. I read my Real Simple magazines. I still have lots of extra stuff that I want but in my creaky old house I don’t have walk in closets or basements with rows of shelving. 

I do have lots of amazing treasures though. Tonight I spent time emptying out a drawer (yes, just one drawer) of a three drawer antique dresser that lived in my grandmother’s home. The top drawer is where I’ve stuck ribbons, small jewelry boxes just waiting to be reused, and miniature photo albums filled with my children’s faces at varying stages. This year at Christmas I’m going to bring these little books out and everyone can have fun looking at how cute they were way back when. 

The ribbons from the box I twirled, organized, and wrapped up ready to be used again and again. They’re so shiny and pretty, reminding me of ballet shoes and extravagant gift boxes. Many of them gifted me a memory as I softly wrapped them around my fingers, like Verda’s cream cotton wrap that held together my last Christmas gift. Many were worth saving although I discarded a few ribbons that didn’t bring me joy anymore.  I’m capable of recycling and throwing away. After my mother died we sent many boxes to Goodwill. 

In the drawer I also found two letters from my dad that I will relocate to my “dad” box and this is how we make sense of it all. What stays and what goes. I spent the night sifting through memories, organizing a piece of my life. I’ll use the ribbons when I want something to be festive and I’ve made space as I cleaned out the clutter. Bit by bit I’ll get my life in order even without a walk-in closet. What do you save and what do you lose?