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 jalapeños 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!