Saturday, May 31, 2014

New Beginnings

{Kaylee and Greg}

I've learned to love the phrase "When one door closes another will open" even though it has taken on new meaning for me as I've grown older.  I used to think the door was closed on you and I now see it that sometimes you can be the one to close the door.

We've had a few recent and exciting changes in our family. My stepdaughter Kaylee recently graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio and we made the trek across three states to attend this monumental event.  My in-laws and my brother- and sister-in-law with their young daughter, Sophie made the trip as well. They came from the opposite direction to meet us.  We not only celebrated Kaylee's graduation all weekend but also honored Allen, my father-in-law with a family dinner, a craft-beer tasting and many unique cards for his 80th birthday.

As Kaylee closes the door on her last four years of school she is open to new possibilities of where ever her talents will take her.  She is spending the summer in Bar Harbor, MA, working at a local brewery with a group of young people.  Over the graduation weekend I watched her explain her choices and stand by her idea that she was seeking adventures that would lead to writing opportunities and not just taking a post-college job.  She is an excellent writer and my husband and I feel her stories are strong enough that she will sooner rather than later be paid to write creatively.  I look forward to watching her develop even more as a writer as she immerses herself in unique experiences.

And I need to find a way to get to Bar Harbor for a visit.  I've never been to Maine and I've heard it is absolutely one of our prettiest states.

As for myself I've recently been hired by a new school district to take the place of their retiring teacher-librarian.  I'm very excited about this new opportunity but also scared and thinking "what was I thinking..."  Even interviewing was a challenge for me but I made it through.  It will be frightening to get to know a new staff.  I'm comfortable with the staff at Highland and know the expectations of students, staff, and administration.  Getting to know a new place of work, student's names, reading ranges, and likes will be a big hurdle.  I did want to push myself professionally though and to do that I had to close the door on the known.

{Groovy Girl and friends after talent show performance success}

Groovy Girl faces her own doors as she graduated out of her beloved elementary school and is now a 7th grade student at one of our local junior high schools.  She is excited for the adventure right now but I know once we hit August her anxiety will build until she walks through those new doors and finds she is capable.  Luckily my new elementary is just across the parking lot from her school so we'll be able to give each other strength as we open the doors on that first morning and the second and the third.

Lots happening in this neck of the woods...
How about you?  What new challenges are you tackling over the next few months?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Juicing

{Rise and Shine Juice}

For the last few months I've kickstarted my day with hot water and lemon.  It is refreshing and a great way to cleanse the body before you eat breakfast.  My inspiration was an article I read in my Yoga Journal magazine. I plan to keep this habit up even as the temperature starts to heat up (anytime soon would be great!) and recently I was reminded of an old routine I once had.

My friend Patty started juicing recently and she practically glows at work!   She shared some of her morning juice with me last week and I liked it.  She and I share food recommendations back and forth as we chat at school because we both try to eat healthy.  Her juice was so yummy I decided to dust off my Juiceman Jr. this morning and whip up some morning time juice.

I could not locate the exact recipe Patty shared with me from the Just on Juice website but a quick web search gave me this recipe at Giada De Laurentis's Food Network page for what I thought were close ingredients.

Rise and Shine Juice


5-6 ounces baby spinach leaves, rinsed
2 apples, cored and halved
2 medium carrots, scrubbed and halved
2 celery sticks

1/2 large lemon
One 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled



Pass the spinach, apples, carrots, celery, lemon juice and ginger through a juice maker, according to the manufacturer's directions. Pour the juice into 2 ice-filled glasses and serve.

It tasted great and it was more orange than green. My husband tried it and said it was far better than he though it would be. Groovy Girl surprised me and backed away as if I were her worst nightmare.  Suffice it to say she won't be borrowing the juicer for awhile.

I used to juice and then I quit because I felt bad for all that pulp (fiber from the veggies) I dumped into the compost bin.  It seemed like a lot of work for one beverage-a delicious and healthy one but still isn't it better to actually eat your veggies I concluded. Plus I had a toddler roaming at my heels and it was hard to keep up. The glow my friend Patty has developed is appealing though.

While I drank my orange glassful of juice and after she'd backed up from me Groovy Girl said "Now look you've had all those veggies and it isn't even lunchtime!"  So wise that little one.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme even though there was absolutely no cooking done for this post.  Click her link to find many other food-related posts.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What I'm reading...the number might amaze you.

How many books do you read at one time?  Usually I prefer just one but often I have more than one going at a time depending on circumstances.  For most of the year I've been able to balance my student book club books with a few that I've already read so I can discuss without the need to read.

I did have to read most of the Gregor series with my boy's group and I've read most of Christopher Paul Curtis with another group and we are reading The Mighty Miss Malone right now.  It is an amazing and intellectually stimulating book for all of us.  I'm so happy Curtis turned to writing as he is a talented story teller.   If you haven't read his new historical fiction about The Great Depression you should.   Next up for this group is Shannon Hale's The Princess Academy, one of my favorite girl power books.  Luckily I've already read it 3X's so I can just re-skim and ask good questions.  I blogged about my boy's group in my weekend cooking post  and I did make the cranberry oatmeal cookies, they were tasty but flat.  Sadly two of the boys were missing from our meeting today.  Suspended over a fight they had with EACH OTHER.  This is the horrible hard part of where I teach. I think I reach them and then things like this pop up.  My soul cries almost every day for the kids I work with at school.


Monthly I have my own adult book club to keep up with and we are reading Anthony Mara's lengthy novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena.  I downloaded this to my Kindle as the price was right and I am interested but it is not a quick read.  I have to kick it up a notch though as we meet next week.  Maybe I should look for the Cliff Notes on this one.

I also started something easy the other night as my Kindle needed a charge. The Lying Game by Sara Shepard has been on my to-read pile for awhile and I picked it up and read three pages.  I will finish but those 3 pages were all I needed to fall asleep.  No reflection on the rest of the book I hope.

I also started The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin about a week ago to help me get in the mood for Spring cleaning and reorganizing my house and my thoughts. I am anxious to get back to it but it will have to wait until the book club book is done.

While I was upstairs reading (Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowry Collins)  to Groovy Girl I realized I am "reading" another book on my phone through Audible as I drive back and forth to work;  Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss. It has me so hooked that I listen to it as I make dinner.  I'm only on the fourth chapter and yet still quite disgusted how the food industry works.  I am someone who cooks almost all meals from scratch and still I shake my head at the mystery of it.  How can people go to work every day to purposely make people sick.  Why worry about real drugs when they are giving them to our children daily in pre-packaged form.  Yuck.

Seven books. Can you beat me?  Let me know your total.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Gregor and his last bite

I finished book five in The Underland series, Gregor and the Code of Claw, by Suzanne Collins.  This has been quite an accomplishment as I read the whole series with 3 fantastic 5th grade boy readers.  They've loved this series, reading each one in a quick span of about 2 weeks, which is an excellent triumph.  Along the way each young man created a plausible character would they be lucky enough to exist in the Underland world.  At our last meeting they were so animated about discussing the series and that there is not a sixth book that I charged them with appealing to Suzanne Collins to continue the series with just one more book.  Like a dying man to water they all agreed how it would help them to know how Gregor is faring and if Luxa and Ripred are holding to their bond.

As a teacher and a reader I am overjoyed by their display of emotion over the book.  I love that they get to know Suzanne Collins through this work as well as The Hunger Games. We've discussed such deep topics through this series; war and peace, what it means to be a warrior, how does this compare to our war-plagued world today, and the mind-set of a soldier during battle and after.  Whew.  These conversations have spilled over into guns and why we need to have guns in our homes.  One of my three shared that his mother almost shot him one night as he came in late through the front door of their trailer.  Guns.  But this blog post isn't about guns so much as it is about cookies.  Not to {ever}make light of guns but honestly we need cookies more.

In one poignant scene as Gregor is preparing for battle, one in which he believes he is doomed to die, he eats one last cookie made by his kind neighbor Mrs. Cormaci.  It's an oatmeal raisin cookie and that cookie got me to thinking about last bites.  Not a last meal, mind you, but just a taste of one last thing-what would it be?    For Gregor he was very excited to have that cookie in hand.

I'm going to make these oatmeal cranberry cookies (cuz if it were my bite I would prefer cranberry over raisin) and Martha does it best.  I'm going to bring these to book club this week as we have our final conversation about The Underland Chronicles,  we find a way to mail our letters to Suzanne Collins and we pick our last book of the year.  

The quote:

"They settled themselves down to wait.  Gregor passed Ares (his bat bond) a cookie and ate the other.  If he did end up dead, he was glad the last taste in his mouth came from Mrs. Cormaci's kitchen." {339}

Happy Saturday!  This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads weekly cooking meme. Click her link to find many other food-related posts.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Signs of Spring

{new fountain addition}

It's been a glorious weekend.  We had exciting events to attend to and the weather stayed fairly nice all weekend. I have tulips popping up in my front garden that my mother and I planted late fall. I worried that the massive population of squirrels that reside in our front yard had dug up the bulbs but nope, there are 10 tulips plants springing up!  Joy!

This afternoon my husband completed a fountain project that has been two summers in the making.  Do-it-yourself projects often run long here but they always get finished.  Tonight we dined outside and the fountain bubbled happily behind us.  I love the sound of flowing water; it breaks up static energy or maybe provides good feng shui for my environment.  We spend a lot of time outdoors in the spring and summer and I know this fountain will be a draw.  We have a popular bird feeder that sits near the fountain and I think the birds will enjoy the fountain as much as we will.  Our kitchen table sits facing a window that looks out on the back yard and the pond will be in our view. We need a few more rocks around the edge of the pond and Groovy Girl says we need more fairies.  Naturally.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Weekend Cooking; Corn Chowder

We have sunshine today and it's been a glorious day. It's rained all week though which made me wish for some sort of soup solace.  Last night I made a corn chowder recipe that I've been waiting for just the right opportunity to create.  That opportunity arose when Groovy Girl was invited to a sleepover yesterday.  She and I had discussed this chowder and she'd told me in simple words "no thanks".  I waited until she was rolling down the driveway with her friend Emma before I started tossing ingredients together.

With little girl out of the house it defaulted to date night.  We ate the soup, two bowls full, and then watched a movie together.  I still managed to fall asleep by a little after 10.  Bedtime rocks.

Corn Chowder
{adapted from The Mom 100 Cookbook}

4 slices of organic/local bacon
1 tsp unsalted butter
1 T unbleached flour
1 cup chopped onion or 1/2 cup shallots
1/2 cup chopped and peeled carrots
1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
3/4 tsp thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced Yukon Gold potatoes (I did not use)
2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 bay leaf
3 cups fresh corn kernels or frozen
2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 T thinly sliced scallions or minced fresh chives
Extra cooked and crumbled bacon for topping

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat.  Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 4-5 minutes.  Using a slotting spoon, remove the bacon and set it aside on paper towels to drain.  Pour off all but 2 tsp of fat from the pot.

Add the butter to the pot and melt over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir until it starts to turn golden, about 2 minutes.  Add the onion or shallots and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally.  Add the bell pepper and thyme, season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring until everything is well combined about 1 minute.  Add the potatoes, broth, bay leaf, and the reserved bacon.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, let come to a simmer, and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 10-12 minutes.

Add the corn and let simmer until the corn is tender, 4-6 minutes.  Using a potato masher or a wooden spoon, press against the side of the pot to mush up the potatoes and veggies and to thicken the broth.

Add the milk and heavy cream, increase the heat to medium, and cook, stirring frequently, until tiny bubbles form along the edge of the pot, about 7 minutes.  Don't let the soup come to a boil or it might separate.  Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper as necessary.  Fish out the bay leaf, then ladle the soup into bowls and top with chives, scallions, and/or bacon.

This was a perfect easy meal. My husband had some fresh bread with it. I was happy with just the chowder.  I'll try this again in the summertime with fresh corn.  I didn't have any good potatoes to use so I just skipped the potatoes;  it still tasted great.  The soup wasn't as thick but the flavor was spot on.

This post is linked to Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking meme.  Click to her link to find many other food-related posts.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown

{Release date: May/2014}

On a typical day after school Jersey Cameron is bored by her mother's requests and her little sister Marin's attention.  She just wants a little quiet time to zone out and watch television. When Marin and her mother head off to dance and Jersey, reluctantly, begins to make dinner a storm hits and it brings a large tornado swooping through town.  Jersey has enough time to get down to the basement with her cell phone and a book but she is left with fear about her family.  Her stepfather is maybe at work or possibly with friends and her mom and Marin still at dance.  She makes one fleeting phone call to her mother and her mother simply tells her to take cover.

It's days before she is reunited with any part of her family as she works to make sense of the devastation left behind in the wake of the tornado.  Very accurately described with true emotion Jersey's story is one I'd never thought of; what happens to children abandoned after a natural disaster here?  Her stepfather, deeply depressed with grief, is not interested in raising her.  Her biological paternal grandparents agree to take her in but their house is filled with hatred, drunkenness, and bitter feelings.  Jersey's only known the security of her mother's love and even with the adjustment of cute little Marin her life was calm.   

Eventually she ends up with her mom's parents, estranged after a fight with her mom years ago, Jersey does not want to share her life with them. Her mom left home as a teenager with her dad, a drunk, and her parents told her if she was going to stay with him, to not come back.  And she didn't reconcile with them even after she kicked out the drunk and it was just her and her baby, Jersey, alone.  Grudges.  Lies.  Anger.  Lucky for Jersey she finds a way to see that even though her mother rejected them she can begin again with her grandparents.  Through this relationship she can begin to heal.

I enjoyed this story.  I've never actually been through a tornado experience but I have had to wait it out in the basement many times.  The tornado is a terrifying monster and one that will shape the rest of Jersey's life as well as many other residents of her small Midwest town just as a tornado does in real life.  Vilonia, Arkansas and Moore, Oklahoma residents can attest to that.