Saturday, January 16, 2021

Huge gap

I've been diligent over the past months to post once a week and I've failed on this through this first half of January. What began as, I assumed, a simple cold quickly became so much more and as December ended and the week to return to school approached I decided to get tested for Covid-19. I didn't have the major symptoms of loss of smell or taste but I did have a cold that defied all my natural home remedies and proven in the past methods of alleviating a cold. It was a lot of deep symptoms and the worst was that we were homebound over the holidays and could not pinpoint how we picked up this terrible virus. Not only did I feel terrible physically but I was angry because we've been so careful all throughout this pandemic.  

The only highlight was that we'd made it through the Christmas holiday feeling good. It doesn't matter that I spent New Year's Eve on the sofa in my pajamas with a box of tissues near me instead of a glass of champagne. I did have an extra week off from school because of how I felt plus my positive Covid test. I went back to school last week and made it through the week with fairly flying colors. I did crash once I made it home but that's okay. I wish I could say I feel great but that's not the case; I'm still sneezing, coughing and tired.  My husband shared the same symptoms with me and he still feels exhausted.  Somehow our Groovy Girl did not get sick and really did a fantastic job of taking care of us. She is going to make an amazing healthcare professional when she finishes school. I felt really blessed that she was still home for her winter break. We all know (most) husbands are not great caregivers and mine was busy being sick himself. It was good to have someone else here who has a gentle hand and a thoughtful heart. She'll be gone after next week and I hope by that time I feel 100%.

While I've been sick I've read a few books of course and streamed a little. After watching all of Bridgerton  while I was curled up in bed I set a goal to get caught up on The Handmaid's Tale. I'd lost the thread after a few violent and too close for comfort episodes so I shelved it for quite awhile but recent events got me fired up and I am now finished with season 2 and ready for season 3. With a lot more laughter I finished up Schitt's Creek and will go back at some point and rewatch all of this series. Laughing out loud is a perfect way to recuperate or stay sane through a pandemic! We also enjoyed the adaptation of our favorite author Chris Bohjalian's The Flight Attendant on HBO. 

Right now I'm reading Deathless Divide, the second in Justina Ireland's Dread Nation series and Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  I would love to see Dread Nation and Children of Blood and Bone turned into movies. 

I'm anxiously awaiting Inauguration Day because I'm very excited for Dems to be in the WH but most importantly for Kamala Harris to be sworn in as our very first female VP. I'm anxious for our country, for the protests but I have to hope for the best. Welcome to 2021.

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 jalapeƱos 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.