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...


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. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Love Dogs

There are so many awful things going on in the world today. Terrible laws are being proposed and passed, book bans in several states, Russia ruthlessly exerting its power in the Ukraine. It's very difficult to see reports flashing on my phone. After I've donated, shared, and read enough to keep myself informed I then have to step away and focus on something else and right now I'm thinking of dogs. Yes, dogs. Loyal companions, easy cuddles. They ask for so little but to be loved and fed and walked.

Throughout my life I've had a long list of dogs. We had a gray French Miniature poodle growing up and then my dad, a hunter, raised several Brittany Spaniels and eventually two of my brothers owned Brittanys as well.  

The first dog I had on my own as an adult was Taylor, a beautiful black Lab, who loved me to the moon and back. I inherited her from an ex-boyfriend because she noticeably missed me after we broke up.  Taylor came with me when I moved from Colorado back to Iowa and she lived quite a few years with us here. She was Tristan's first companion and that dog followed him everywhere. Taylor was so calm even my Grandma Bruch fell in love with her. She would pat Taylor's head and say "You're a pretty good girl for a dog."  She passed away one Christmas morning and it was a sad day for everyone in our household.

It took us exactly one year before we found another little black Lab puppy at our local shelter. We brought her home a day before Christmas to surprise the kids. She's still with us at 13 years old. We had an opportunity a couple years ago to take in an older chocolate Lab dog because her family had a new baby in the house.  Izzy was a plodding sweetheart of a dog, heart of gold, with soulful eyes. We were so sad when she passed a few years ago. 

(Tarah and Izzy)
Tarah's now much more gray and slower. In her heyday though she ran races with my husband and ran with him on a regular basis. A few times she'd get lost chasing a deer and return home hours later panting but happy. My husband was more of a cat person when I met him but he has come around. I'm usually the instigator of all things dog ("let's get another one!" but three summers ago while we were in Northern Minnesota he saw an update from our shelter that they'd received a large batch of dogs and so when we returned home from our trip we thought "let's just go take a little look..." 

Nothing caught our eyes right away as we walked through the sad cages of barking dogs until we rounded this corner in the back and found Ruby, a beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback pictured above. She'd come from a puppy mill in Oklahoma, been adopted by a farm family and then returned, someone was mean to her along this way and she came to us with a fear of men. For the first few weeks we thought she was bark-less but no, she was just scared and eventually, once she trusted us, her bark came back (somewhat unfortunately) Ridgebacks were bred to keep the lions at bay in South Africa and she acts like our home is her estate.  We love her very much and respect all the trauma she's experienced. Except that I lost sight of that a few weeks ago.

We were at the dog park when we ran into a friend who had an adorable Norwegian Elkhound little foster pup that I fell in love with and adopted her just a few days later.  It was a whirlwind romance but our other two dogs, especially Ruby, did not feel the same affection for Niko. There was a lot of barking and complaining around our house with Niko trying to play with the Tarah and Ruby but to no avail.  After some deep soul searching we decided to pass Niko on to friends who have three kids and no other dogs. Niko is a special pup and deserves the best possible life, Ruby deserves my full attention as the trauma babe that she is, and Tarah needs to live out her last few years in peace and harmony because this is the only home she knows. It should be a place of comfort.  

And just as I write that last sentence my thoughts went right to the Ukrainian people who deserve that as well. It all comes full circle and dogs do often teach us the deep lessons. Peace be with you as we welcome Spring. Support efforts to help the Ukrainian people. Find resources on this NPR page.  Stay in touch with what brings you joy as you reach out to help others. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

We are all warriors

There is so much in the air, I fear we are all unwell and yet oddly looking at this time through new eyes many of us have a newfound gratitude for our health. My 83-yr-old mother has counted herself  lucky to have avoided Covid for the last two years but tested positive last week after she coughed her way through the Super Bowl. I got a cold around the same time and really hoped it was just a cold but tested positive on Friday. This is my second go round and the vaccination and booster made a big difference in how I feel. My symptoms are more manageable this time. Last time I felt like I would never recover. I didn’t have to be hospitalized although I did end up in the emergency room with pneumonia months after recovering. This pandemic is complicated, confusing, and frustrating and we may never have all the answers. People around me have never had it, never even had reason to take a test and others fall deathly ill. 

My children are warriors for making it through their various situations. Kaylee braved the streets of Brooklyn every day, working from home luckily but still trekking out to breathe and live in the city. Tristan worked through the entire pandemic as many have because his job is not something you can do from home. And Japhy braved her first year of school, both virtually and in-person, and and it has made her rethink everything about why she is going to school. We are all warriors, whether we've experienced symptoms or not, as we wind our way through this new reality. 

In the midst of this pandemic we have people who feel the need to question books being read by children. As if we don’t already have enough to worry about right now. Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine seems like something of great importance. But instead some are setting their sights on schools; how we are educating students to be world citizens, and libraries and books that might be too honest about world history or show a naked body.  Art Spiegelman’s 1986 comic book biography, Maus, was recently banned by a Tennessee school district.  After I read the article I checked our district online catalog, found a copy, and read it. It was a very-thought provoking read and a good way for older students to understand a Holocaust survivors story. And check out David Corn's article in Mother Jones. Please go out an buy a copy or two. 

Why does real history scare people? Why does reading about human relationships scare people? We didn’t conjure up the pandemic by reading a book but somehow reading a book about a gay character might make a teen choose that life style?  This logic makes me question everything as well. How will we move past this puritanical state we are in?  It could take a flood. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

My heart; it's February

It's bitter cold out these days with lots of snow and ice. Normal for Iowa, not so for the Southern states getting crushed with winter storms. I'm sure there was mad rush for winter coats and snow shovels. Cold weather is the perfect time to read and I just finished The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake. This book has been gathering dust on my school library shelf for about a year. I ordered it after reading very good reviews and I had a personal and professional goal to continue to round out our library shelves with diverse titles. It's maddening to think this sweet story could make someone else angry and ask for it to be removed from the library. What a terrible place we are in as we build out shelves specifically for all students only to hear that we could be punished for those choices.

Sunny St. James is a 12-year-old young girl who has heart problems both physically and emotionally. She receives a new heart to replace her old damaged one all while she is trying to figure out who she wants to kiss.  What she really wants is to be a "normal" tween who can run and play on the beach and kissing another person is part of that. She focuses her attention on boys because that's what is "normal" but in her heart she is curious about kissing girls. She and Kate live in a small beach community where everyone knows her and she's lead a physically restrictive life while waiting for this new heart. 

Her best friend Margot used to help her through all this but she branched out and made new friends from her swim team (an activity Sunny couldn't participate in) and Sunny feels abandoned. One of her goals after surgery is to meet a new best friend and one day on the beach she meets Quinn someone brand new to the island who doesn't know Sunny's history. Her real mother Lena abandoned her as well when Sunny was four and Lena's best friend Kate has been raising Sunny. After surgery Lena decides to reappear in Sunny's life creating more confusion for both Kate and Sunny.

There is so much emotion, both sad and joyful in the story and I wish I'd had this book while I was in elementary school because many of Sunny's questions and feelings about her surgery and recovery are emotions I've been through myself. I was 11 years old when it was discovered that my mitral valve was damaged due to an undetected case of rheumatic fever as a child. I underwent valve replacement surgery at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. I received a porcine valve and four years later after experiencing symptoms of heart failure, the valve was replaced again with a St. Jude's plastic valve. I was lucky to be in the same hospital and to have the same surgeon (Dr. Kaiser). 

Through the process I often felt angry that I didn't feel good, that I couldn't participate in activities, that I had this scar running down my chest, that I had medicine to take which made me feel old. I adjusted over time and feel blessed that my parents saw my symptoms and knew I needed medical help. Sunny St. James spoke to me in a way that made me feel understood even at my age. She might also speak to a young girl who is experiencing the same confused feeling about who she wants to kiss. Imagine that young person hugging this book in their arms and understanding that they have allies. Making a connection through literature can easily help a young (or old) person feel in balance about their unique thoughts and feelings.  The "I'm not alone..." idea. 

If you can imagine this book on a banned book list you can see how banning books sucks out all of our humanity. To counteract that feeling you should request this book from your public library or order it, read it, pass it's a story worth sharing!

Friday, January 28, 2022

What I'm looking forward to reading...


My reading goal for Goodreads is 70 books and considering I accomplished 65 last year I think this is a very feasible goal. There are so many great books on the horizon and I have a huge stack of Book-of-the-Month choices and a few books from my Christmas list. I've got plenty to read and this year once again I will probably have plenty of time to kick my feet up and read. 

Here are the 9 that I'm most excited about:

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara- I loved A Little Life and hope this one lives up to the buzz. This one weaves together three different timelines including a futuristic look at our world in 2093. I don't own this one so if you have a copy let me know. Otherwise I'll have to be on a wait list at the library.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich-One of my favorite authors I'm very much looking forward to reading this "wickedly funny ghost story" according to the inside blurb! I do have a copy of this one signed by the author from her bookstore, Birchbark Books, in Minneapolis. 

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid- I loved, loved, loved Daisy Jones and the Six and hope this one will be just as interesting. Set in 1983 the story takes place all in one day as the Rivas family prepares for their annual end-of-the-summer bash. Got this one from BOTM and it is on my up-next stack.

We are the Brennans by Tracey Lange-This story follows the life of Sunday Brennan as she makes her way back to her family after a drunk driving accident. This book was not on my radar until I heard the Readheads talking about it. More on that later.

Klara and the Sun by Kazua Ishiguro- Never Let Me Go has been on my to-read pile for awhile and I need to move it up and then read this one as well. Klara an AI Friend is the narrator and she has amazing skills of watching human behavior. I'm not a science fiction fan but this idea is intriguing.

People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry- Groovy Girl stole this one off my book pile over winter break. Another BOTM club pick I look forward to this relationship beach read about Poppy and Alex and the fallout from a bad decision that cost them their friendship.

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky- A debut novel about two best friends surviving through the shared experience in the Italian Mafia Family when the disappearance of one of their father's begins to cause conflict in their lifelong friendship. (BOTM)

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw - A mystery about a missing woman and a foreboding place known as Pastoral; a reclusive community founded by like-minded people searching for a better way of life.  (BOTM)

As you can see I am way behind on my long list of BOTM-probably should cancel for the next few months as I catch up. I need to finish Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and begin Kent Nerburn's The Wolf at Twilight so I can return it to the friend who lent it to me (thank you Gabbi!) Plus my stepmother gifted me Amanda Gorman's new book, Call Us What We Carry, and yesterday my mother-in-law recommended The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin, and I have the Leigh Bardugo follow up series King of Scars and Rule of Wolves to read this winter (also on loan from friends).  

Zowie! I should be off reading in a corner somewhere.  What are you looking forward to reading?

Someone recently turned me on to the book podcast The Readheads Book Club starring four college friends. You feel like you're part of the book club as they discuss a wild amount of titles! Luckily it only arrives once a month!  

It is freezing here so I'm off to cuddle up and finish Bed Stories by Tao Lin.