Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Feeling the blues, finding the joy

I know I’m not the only one but it still feels uncomfortable. I went to bed on Christmas night fighting all manner of demons. Did everyone get something they were excited about? Was there enough food? Was there enough joy and laughter? Our time together is very limited as a family and we had a new boyfriend in the mix. Did he enjoy his time with us? Was it all stimulating enough? Did we take them to cool places in town? Were we Covid-cautious enough for the New Yorkers? And the tree-oh, the tree was a whole thing! 

It’s hard to answer all these questions as you head off to sleep and truthfully you never know but here is what I do know: our bellies were full with good food, we laughed and played together and there was not one fight! People seemed happy with gifts they received and most importantly they seemed to enjoy the gift giving process as well. Even the son got on board with gift giving in real time. Last year he ordered everyone’s gifts Christmas Day and while that had its own thrill, this year he said it was important to see everyone’s faces as they opened gifts! There in is the gift worth opening-the spirit of simple giving.

I've worked to let my anxious feelings go over the last few days. It is what it is and I can see us laughing together especially over our online Jeopardy, the raucous sounds of lively foosball games rising from the basement, and the joy of sitting around the table together. One of my highlights was listening to Kaylee explain just how Christmas morning would go because we have a pattern, a flow to how our traditions unfold and that description was priceless. 

The new year is approaching and the children are once again scattered back to their homes but we will hold the Christmas of 2021 especially dear because we could be all together and we were happy for those days, sharing our memories and our lives. We say "cheers" for a healthy and hope-filled 2022. Find what makes you stay sane...

Friday, December 24, 2021

Amazing Days up ahead

Usually the holidays are a pretty low-key event at our house. We stay in our pajamas from Christmas Eve through Christmas night. I'm happy all three children will be home for those two days and I plan to enjoy every moment they are here.

Leading up to that though I have family coming to town. My brother and his family are here right now to see my mom before heading to Chicago. My brother's partner, Jen, is also my longtime friend and soul sister. Her family is in Chicago but she and Chris, her kids and his kid all live in Denver, CO. I'm thankful they made the long drive to be here. My brother Jason and his family will be here on the 23rd/24th and I'm hosting and cooking up a storm. 

Here are the recipes I'm making over the next few days for all of these events. I love to make and share food so I hope it all goes as planned and the food provides everyone with that home-for-the-holidays comfort but with a modern twist.

Last night I made this pasta and chickpea stew for the Colorado family as they pulled into town. It was delicious and so easy to make. I served it with fresh slices of bread. I made my favorite breakfast bread pudding from my The Cottage cookbook. Some day I'm going to make it to LaJolla to eat at this sweet place. Tonight I'm making my chicken enchiladas plus a pan of vegetarian sweet potato enchiladas for us non-meat eaters. I am so happy to make food for this family because I've not been around them for years. 

For the 23rd dinner party I'm preparing Wild Rice Soup, Pumpkin Soup, Butternut and Spinach Lasagna.  I've made this once already and I'm excited to try it again. 

Christmas Eve I'm going to have this Thai Vegan Soup with fresh bread and a big salad. In the morning we will have waffles and a savory sweet potato hash with protein crumbles. And in the evening Shepherd's Pie, Cauliflower Au Gratin, roasted Brussels sprouts, and steamed broccoli. We have so many treats around the house from friends and co-workers I don't need to worry about making any desserts. We are not going to starve!

May your holiday be filled with the magic of Christmas and the joy of togetherness without the rapid spread of germs!  

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Poetry of all kinds

I'm reading The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart to 4th grade students in the library. This is an amazing story about a young person with cancer and his quest to hike a mountain on his last days. The book is beautifully written and the author intersperses bits of haiku poetry throughout the story. Mark and his best friend Jesse have a shared love of the poetry form and communicate notes of haiku back and forth. As I was reading I thought what a great gift for students to hear or read poetry within the book. Kids do love poetry. I did a whole poetry experience last April and they really enjoyed it. It can be light-hearted or serious and is an easy way for students to experiment with word play. 

My stepmother sends poems in her birthday cards. Most often it is Mary Oliver but not always. I appreciate very much how her poetry is focused on the natural world because I can imagine myself taking a long walk with the author.  I don't have any Mary Oliver books but I can turn to the pages sent to me and read and reread when I want.  Diane, my stepmother, adds these poetry pieces in as a gift to the receiver and what she picks always makes me feel emotional just as Dan Gemeinhart's book does by weaving haiku into his story about Mark.  

Here is Wild Geese, one of my favorites I found on YouTube:

And here is another favorite When I'm Among the Trees:

Share some poetry with a friend, reading it can be a form of meditation and we all need more calm at this time of year.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Friendship and family

Friendship is a gift. Sometimes you meet people in your life that become family. So it was when I met my friend Jennifer in Colorado. We connected over drinks and had much to talk about. We shared stories especially about our mothers, their odd habits and antiquated ideas,  and we’ve remained friends for 30 years. We’ve had one major squabble and it took us awhile to come back to each other but we did because we still saw value in our connection. I think of her as one of my sisters. 

With friends and family there is a certain amount of grace you have to hold in your heart to move on and realize how important someone is in your life. I wished I could have remained in Denver so we could raise our children together.  I was called back to the Midwest for family matters and never found my way back to the mountains. Thankfully we both stayed in touch over the years through long phone calls. 

Sometimes family members become friends and that is an amazing bond. Even though I'm still the mama I see the relationship with my children take on a very different role that is both family and friendship. They don't want my help as much as a parent but more as a listener or occasional adviser. I've learned to let them come to me through phone calls and to take a step back. I want to have a lifelong relationship with them, where we are able to be there for each other. It takes work as all good partnerships do. Part of that is seeing them as fully capable adults knowing you had a small hand in that.  

We should try and treat all the people we care deeply about with a sense of family, bonded through mutual respect. Even if we don’t always agree with them. Be as kind as you can. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Lovely bread


I love how my kitchen smells when the dough is rising and baking. It’s a very earthy smell and one that takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen. My brother and I were recently talking about how her home was such a respite when we were there because of how she made you feel. She pulled you in, made you laugh, and fed you delicious homemade food. This bread is my gift.

Simple Pot Bread

Makes 1 loaf suitable for 4-6 people
5-6 quart Dutch oven or other pot with lid

3 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour
3/4 tsp regular yeast or 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt 
1 1/2 cups (warm) water

1. Make the dough in the morning, before you eat breakfast or go to work. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. The dough will be wet and slightly goopy. Spray the dough with nonstick cooking spray or drizzle olive oil over the top. Cover the bowl lightly with plastic wrap (I drape it with a flour sack towel) and leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen. Let it rise for at least 6 hours, although up to 12 will be fine. 

2. About 3 hours before dinner, lightly spray a work surface, such as a countertop, with spray. By now the dough will have expanded into a wet, dimpled mass. Dump the whole thing out onto the oiled surface. Push it roughly into the shape of a ball and cover again with your towel. Let it sit for 1-2 hours. If you have to skip this step it will be fine. 

3. When you're ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Put the Dutch oven into the oven to get hot as the oven heats up. ( I splash olive oil in so that heats up as well.)

4. Pour or roll the dough into the hot pot. You may have to pry it or peel it off the countertop. The dough will be very wet. Don't worry if it looks a mess as it's rolled into the pot. This is a rustic loaf! Cover the pot with the lid and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for another 15 minutes to let brown. 

5. Remove the bread from the oven and immediately take it out of the pot and roll the bread right out. If you have the time let it sit for another 30 minutes before slicing so that it can set. This is plenty of time to put a casserole into the oven and make a salad, so by the time the bread has cooled and is ready to eat, you should be able to have a complete meal on the table. 

Slightly adapted from Not Your Mother's Casseroles by Faith Durand. 

I've made a few changes after making this bread hundreds of times. I start the yeast with warm water and stir it up with a fork to build a little heat. That's a Jaime Oliver trick. I end up adding about 1/2 cup more flour as I shape the loaf; it's not as sticky then and it doesn't hurt the final outcome at all. I've also been able to speed up the rising process by leaving it in my oven on the proof setting.  I shape my dough on this Pampered Chef pastry mat which is an amazing tool for bread and pie dough and it is very easy to clean up. 

Enjoy this easy gift for friends and family or make it for yourself! I generally make two loaves at a time; one to keep and one to give away. That isn't my photo {see source} above because I suck at food photography but the bread does look a lot like that. 

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Thanks and Giving

Gratitude is everything. I don't feel great about the whole holiday experience surrounding conquerors and Indigenous people. In my vivid imagination I can see what a different world we might be in if only the “pilgrims” had learned from the people already living here on this land.

Greta Thunberg would be living a different reality. We might have created a much simpler life and people wouldn't be thinking past gratitude to Black Friday. Or planning and prepping the copious amounts of food on this holiday and others as well. We’d eat what we needed and share easily with others.

I  feel passionately for the underdog and celebrating a holiday that represents a misguided look at history and what came after is wrong to me. I understand why Abraham Lincoln made it an official holiday (to bring unity to the nation during the Civil War)  but when we know better we should do better. 

Find ways to connect to the Wampanoag people because they welcomed and helped the first immigrants to survive. Make a donation this year to American Indian College Fund or the First Nations Development Institute. Read a book about Native life such as Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer or books by Joseph Bruchac,  Kent Nerburn or Louise Erdrich.  Seek out Native authors and Native films. Think about what foods the real Thanksgiving might have had and give that a try. Branch out. Make fry bread or wild rice soup. Check out The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen by Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley, the book or the restaurant in Minneapolis.   

This PBS article and video are worth exploring. I would love to go one day to Cole's Hill to be part of this National Day of Mourning. Why can't we give more land back because in the long run this land will help to save the earth. Returning Native forest land to it's original intent over commercial property is a win for nature. Native Americans are a thriving community and once again we could learn from them. 

I've worked on this post on and off during November. Just having a hard time getting all the words out. I feel a turning in as the winter weather marches out and as my thoughts focus on Mother Earth it coincides with my mother's health issues. I feel a snapping inside myself as time becomes stretched too thin. 

My hope is that everyone had a lovely time with family, connecting in a positive spirit and that gratitude was a guest at your table. 

We took a quick trip to Chicago to see the oldest daughter Kaylee and ate the most amazing vegan food at The Chicago Diner. Usually vegan and vegetarian people have a small selection (sometimes one choice)  on a average menu but here at the diner it was almost overwhelming as Kaylee put it because everything was an option and it all sounded delicious. Even our one meat-loving papa enjoyed his vegan Radical Reuben sandwich. 

What I've cooked: This amazing pumpkin soup from Cookie and Kate. I made it with canned pumpkin and it still tasted like all the goodness of the earth.

What I've read: I just finished The Children's Bible by Lydia Millet and I highly recommend. It coincides so well with how I'm feeling right now. We, the children, are the caretakers and our children will be the radical change-makers.

What I've watched: Fell in love with Ted Lasso (totally late to the game here), trying to finish up Outlander because the book arrived on my doorstep the other day, and began watching the Shadow and Bone series with Groovy Girl because the Leigh Bardugo books were thrilling! 

I am grateful to each and everyone of my readers. I appreciate the comments, texts, and connections I've made through my posts. Peace be with you this month and into the next as we avoid more over abundance. Be well in spirit and mind. 

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Voting for a way of life

 I wish long ago I'd had the foresight to start a notebook that I kept quotes from books that made an impression on me. I think of all the books I've read over the many years and how bits of them stayed with me. It would be interesting to read back through this notebook and be reminded.  What I have instead is index cards and lots of notebooks scattered across my life with ideas and thoughts scattered throughout. 

If I had this notebook I would dedicate several pages to the current book I'm reading Neither Wolf Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn. There is so much wisdom in his writing that comes from Dan, the Native elder in the conversations he holds with Kent.  Not a fan of nonfiction yet books on Native life do capture my attention because I'm somewhat of a "wanna-be" as Dan would call me. I admire Native life and try to incorporate parts of that into my own philosophy but I'm not over the top trying to intersect myself into or pretending to be. I encourage everyone to read this book and thank you to Sue for lending me her autographed copy! Here is one of the many quotes I relate to from the book:

"You came to this country because you really wanted to be like us. But when you got here you got scared and tried to build the same cages you had run from. If you had listened to us instead of trying to convert us and kill us, what a country this would be." (159)

Voting in Cedar Falls/Waterloo is upon us and getting out to vote is always important.  Here are my choices for local elections if you need ideas. Each candidate is linked to their website for your own research. I'm a fan of the POS model for our fire and police because I think cross-training is a great thing. In the beginning this was not handled well but I think the end result will make for a better trained emergency force. Waterloo's main issue seems to be the Griffin, a mythical creature that has been a police symbol since the 1960's. It looks remarkably like the KKK dragon and really should have been removed long ago. I hope the city can move past this issue peacefully which means listening to the many Black residents and others like myself who see this symbol as antiquated and out-of-touch. We want people in office who have an open mind and are experienced. It matters. 

Mayor for CF -Tom Blanford

CF City Council - Kelly Dunn and Carole Yates

CF School Board - Jeff Orvis, Brenda Fite, and H. Alan Heisterkamp

I appreciate all the wonderful comments about my last writing piece. I hope to incorporate more like that mixed in with my book and recipe recommendations. Thank you.

Monday, October 25, 2021

My jacket

I’ve loved this leather jacket for many years. I bought it in my mid 20’s when I worked for Benetton in Minneapolis/St Paul. I wore it to concerts and shows, often to 1st Avenue. A coat like this becomes part of your person. Friends asked to borrow it and I happily let them because I wanted to share the good vibes I had while wearing the jacket. It brought me such joy. It still does. 

Several years later I moved to Boulder, Colorado and I still wore the jacket although not as frequently. My Minneapolis downtown style intersected with my newly embraced mountain bohemian rhapsody. Flannel shirts and and t-shirts fit nicely under this black rugged jacket. The story of the jacket takes a turn here a few more years later while I was living in Denver.

I wore the jacket out one night with  jeans and a simple white t-shirt. I met my friend Stan at a bar where he was entertaining his friends from Chicago. They'd gone golfing during the day and then he called and asked if I would join them. I was introduced to the guys who were rowdy and raring to go for their night out. I had one gin and tonic while we made plans to find some food. Both Stan and I needed to eat and were body aware enough that we usually made it a priority if we were out together. While we made plans to go to a favorite Mexican restaurant we ran into some local friends including Stan's roommate Chris. We ended up back at Chris' girlfriends house which was supposed to be a small stop but turned into a major ordeal. 

The girlfriend's roommate was acting as host and offered to make us drinks. We accepted but Stan and I were still very much on the "must get food soon" He (the roommate) brought hand mixed drinks out to each of us although several of the Chicago boys just had beers. They were restless so it was decided that they would go for food with Stan driving while I stayed back and waited for Chris and the girlfriend (I've completely blanked her name but I can picture her). It seemed like mere moments after they left that I finished the drink and I was beyond exhausted and started to fall asleep on the sofa. 

This is the point in the story where many of you might be thinking "what was in the drink?" and you would be right. I ended up crashing in the roommate's bed with promises from both Chris and the girlfriend that I would be completely safe. I crashed hard, missed Stan and friends coming back with food, and ended up puking my guts out in the middle of the night after feeling said roommate naked and rubbing up against me.  I wandered out to the living room, grabbed my jacket, and dialed my own apartment asking my brother to pick me up through quiet sobs. I waited outside for him and realized I was missing the belt of my beloved leather jacket but I couldn't walk back into that house and hoped it could be retrieved at a later time. 

I should have had my brother take me to the nearest emergency room. I just wanted to crawl in bed and forget about it. This was the 1990's; until that night I'd never even thought about date rape drugs. It just never occurred to me but there was definitely something in that drink that made me pass out. Even though I still love this jacket and wear it happily I always remember a glimmer of that night when I put my arms into the sleeves, when I think about the empty belt loops.  I choose to wear it anyway. 

Even though I remember I'm not going to let it overwhelm my love and attachment to this singular item or my general well-being. Humans are hearty souls and we are able to adapt to overwhelming situations. I tell this story now just to write it out one more time as a reminder of what I've experienced and how lucky I was to have woken up because the story could have had a much different ending.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

My feet are cold and I need a cup of tea

 I'm under the weather as temperatures change here. I have the bare essence of a cold. My ears itch, my chest is a little raw, and I'm blowing my nose like crazy. In the midst of  a pandemic being sick takes on new meaning. I sneeze at work at my students look at me like "ewww" and I wear a mask most every moment at school. 

I take a wide array of cold remedies; most of them are on the natural side. At the first hint of something coming on I start with the Emergen-C packets in a glass of water and I take regular vitamin C by tablet as well. My friend Jen turned me on to Gypsy Cold Care Tea years ago and I still use it religiously.  For some reason I now have to order it online because many stores just don't carry it. No idea why. I also have NutriBiotic GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) liquid concentrate which I take by squeezing 8-10 drops into a small glass of water. While I do use all these very natural remedies I also use Vick's VapoRub all the time. I can't help it because it works for me. I do love a good hot bath when I'm not feeling well. I know even without testing that I don't have Covid because when I had it last winter I was so, so tired all the time. 

I did get an amazing amount of reading done last weekend just because I had a sleepless night on Friday so I read The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave-it was so good! I read until 11pm (late for me) and then I tried to sleep but was still awake at 12:30 so I read a little more and that's kind of how the rest of the night went. I really enjoyed the mystery and Hannah Hall and Bailey's relationship as they started to work together.

Now I'm furiously reading Dear Pink written by Michelle Angelle so that I can begin the next in (maybe) a series with connecting characters. Until Next Year just came out and both books are fun, romance novels with sexy main characters!

Stay healthy out there and happy reading.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Farewell to September

 I can’t believe October begins tomorrow. Summer is my favorite weather season because I like the heat of the sun, the warm days on a boat or patio, and easy summer foods and beverages.  Many people love all that about Fall; the pumpkin spiced everything, the sweaters, the leaves falling. We’ve had amazing weather throughout September and I hope October brings more of the same. Truthfully all the seasons provide something to love but when we veer towards winter I dread feeling chilled all the time. As with every month I’ve done a fair amount of cooking and reading this last week. Right now I'm enjoying Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, the 2nd in the series. 

Last weekend I cleaned up an area of my living room and went through a stack of books. Weird right, that I would have a stack of books sitting right on the floor in any of the rooms in my house? As I sorted this particular stack of books I found a note from a friend inside the front cover that said “I’m going to want this one back” which is code for “this was very good!” so I promptly started to read it. 

The Plot was amazingly good and written by Jean Hanff Korelitz, an author I was completely unaware of until now. I read the book in 4 days and while it has some creepy moments it isn’t over the top because I can’t handle scary. It has great plot twists and interesting characters. Now I want to read other stories by this author. She is a playwright and started an online book group, Book the Writer, that pairs authors with readers. Check out the EventBrite page to see upcoming authors. I would love to sit in on one of these sessions even though technical they all take place in NYC apartments. (After browsing the list I signed up for the online group with Jhumpa Lahiri and her new book Wherabouts.  I'll have to check if the library has a copy as I made a promise to myself about book buying after I moved that stack of books from one spot to another. 

{Half-Baked Harvest image}

Sometimes my brain works overtime and I try to prepare something for book club that relates to the book we read. This is not always easy but reading Anxious People by Fredrik Backman the food question was very clear. The characters all eat pizza together in the apartment with the bank robber/kidnapper and so I made Roasted Mushroom Kale Pizza from Half-Baked Harvest and it was delicious. There were no leftovers. Last night I made Roasted Butternut Squash and Spinach Lasagna and it is amazing. We had it for dinner tonight with a salad and we had to force ourselves to stop picking at what remained in the pan. Two pieces is plenty...but oh, so good! I do want to make her Vanilla Chai Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew soon as well...I mean tomorrow is October after all. 

Now I'm off to do a little bedtime yoga with Adriene and get myself mentally prepared for Friday. 

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Reasons for happiness

On Monday we will start back to school with everyone masked up again and I couldn't be happier! I really dislike wearing a mask; it makes it hard to hear students and hard for me to read books aloud to students. You miss the emotions, the smiles, the glee. You can see joy in their eyes but I miss my students faces; all 650+ of them! On the other hand it will keep us safe from the virus (and other germs) which is important because we have young students who don't have the opportunity to get vaccinated. We have kindergarten students missing school because of positive Covid tests or due to exposure. I don't want to get sick and I don't want our students to get sick or miss school either. I know there will be complaints but bear with us. This too shall pass-eventually!

I recently had a chat with another teacher during a staff breakfast and she relayed that she was going to be away from school for over a week for surgery. She leaned in and asked me if I'd read any good books lately? Why of course I have! I love the start of a good book conversation and she took my two book recommendations with a smile on her face. I'm sure her foot surgery won't be fun but I do know she'll be set up with good reading material. What did I recommend? Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly And Lisa See's The Island of Sea Women

Over the weekend I've had a chance to really relax with nothing major on my agenda. I had a good talk with my mother-in-law. My husband and I strolled through our local Farmers' Market on Saturday morning, I read Six of Crows in my bright orange hammock for over an hour while listening to the chickens cluck around me. I watched a little Netflix after the sun went down. I did an hour's worth of yoga. Today I'm about to embark on a long walk with my dogs. I feel like some weekends we go non-stop but this kind of weekend really helps me settle. What's on your agenda?

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

What is your love language?

We are living in a rough environment right now. So much that surrounds are daily life are colliding. Emotions, government, lifestyles, masks/vaccinations, climate developments. I've discovered that when I'm struggling emotionally I connect with food. I've made a wide variety of recipes the last few weeks. And then I'll completely stop making food and just eat snacks for dinner; cheese, crackers, and a cluster of grapes. It's back and forth. For awhile I was really focused on my at home yoga practice with Adriene but I've slacked off - like way off. I haven't done a lick of yoga throughout September except this morning. I was awake too early and decided to spend some of that time blinking my eyes open and reconnecting to my mat. It felt great and I know I can get back on track but I still feel a bit off kilter. I'm going to make the promise to show up though and as she's says that's what's important. 

(Buffalo Chickpea Salad)

Here's a smattering of what I've cooked to connect to myself. I made this  Quinoa Enchilada Bake after I discovered Jamie and her Dishing out Health on Instagram. I've made several of her recipes now and love every one. Many are vegan or can easily be with minimal switches. I made this Wild Rice and Mushroom Soup to split with Tristan and my husband "accidentally" had a bowl after work and loved it.  I made this Buffalo Chickpea Salad with Yogurt Ranch Dressing  which was so easy and packed a little heat! And to combat allergies and the cooler Fall weather I made this Immunity Boosting Tumeric Chicken Soup because I had leftovers from an farm-raised chicken.

And because I love dessert I made this Easy S'mores Dip to share with friends. It was amazing and days later I was still scraping chocolate and toasted marshmallows crusts from my Lodge skillet. Last night after a meeting I came home and made this easy brownie recipe to share at school for a teacher friend's birthday. Just for fun I added chopped up marshmallows and broiled the pan for just about 5 minutes. The brownies were dense and delicious all on their own but the browned marshmallows added extra birthday zing! This recipe truly was easy and I'll make it again when in a pinch for a chocolate treat. 

This is the love I share with my family and friends. I feed them. It's an old tradition that stems from my grandmother who loved to offer visitors a meal or at least a sandwich!  I just finished the very quirky Anxious People by Fredrik Backman which I loved even after a rocky start. And I'm trying to spend as much time outside as I possible can to soak up the wonderful weather before it gets too cold. Recently I was lucky enough to connect with my dearest friend, Verda, and we walked her dogs, shopped at crafty local stores, ate good food, and talked about the world. I guess maybe my recent blue period is because I want that to be my every day. I love teaching and connecting with students but I'm constantly worried about getting sick. Even though I know I'm in a much safer category after having Covid and getting vaccinated but it is still a major worry. 

"Find what feels good" ~Adriene and try and remain calm - this is my new mantra. Say it with me...

Monday, August 30, 2021

Summer Books

 I've read a ton this summer and I want to share these titles with you so you can read them also. All of these are perfect for upper elementary and middle school except for the last one on my list. All are worth a read even as an adult. Pick your topic and find them at a library near you. 

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm: Life on Mars as told by Bell, an orphan growing up on this solitary space station. America is at war with other nations over Antarctica and even on Mars the U.S. team is not speaking to the other settlements (so like American) and the kids save the day. 

A Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry: Told from the point of view of Vega, an Orca Whale, as she shares her life journey with her extended Orca pod. Deals with environmental changes that affect our water, climate change, family relations, and a darkly humorous insight into humans.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim: Yumi wants to perform and finds her way to a comedy camp through a hilarious mix-up. Her parents want her to study hard for a scholarship as they try to safe their restaurant. Great friendship and family story about what really matters. 

Becoming Muhammad Ali by James Patterson and Kwame Alexander: A novel in verse mixed with prose takes us through Cassius Clay's early life. He is a peace activist hero of mine and I loved this story. This is an important but quick read. 

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson: ZJ lives with his parents as they begin to navigate his father's head trauma from playing professional football. It's very difficult to see your hero become angry and confused by every day life with no answers from the medical world. Made me cry and wonder why we don't just play flag football at all levels!

The Amelia Six by Kristin L. Gray: Fun mystery that takes place in Amelia Earhart's childhood home. I learned a lot about Amelia and her flying career as the girls uncover an unusual plot to steal the aviator's favorite goggles. 

The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy: Rahul Kampoor, a gay Indian American boy, growing up in the Midwest and is anxious about the upcoming school year. He takes his grandfather's advice to be good at just  one thing...but what if he can't find anything to be good at. I loved the multigenerational story, the characters were outstanding, and was emotional in love with his struggle. Most of us understand this struggle. 

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley: I think I've already said multiple times how much I loved Boulley's story; a family mystery set on a reservation in Michigan. Drug use, FBI informants, romance, athletes, all mixed with Native lore and traditions made this my favorite summer read. This one is for young adults. 

Summer may be waning but there is still plenty of time to find your hammock and read any one of these fabulous books. 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

If I was in charge of the world rant

 I’ve always loved this poem by celebrated author Judith Viorst and I recently found an old copy clipped from a magazine that I'd stuck away long ago. 

If I were in charge of the world
    by Judith Viorst

If I were in charge of the world
I'd cancel oatmeal,
Monday mornings,
Allergy shots, and also
Sarah Steinberg.

If I were in charge of the world 
There’d be brighter night lights,
Healthier hamsters, and 
Basketball baskets 48 inches lower.

If I were in charge of the world
You wouldn't have lonely. 
You wouldn't have clean.
You wouldn't have bedtimes,
Or "Don't punch your sister."
You wouldn't even have sisters.

If I were in charge of the world
A chocolate sundae with whipped 
    cream and nuts
    would be a vegetable.
All 007 movies would be G.
And a person who sometimes forgot to brush.
And sometimes forgot to flush,
Would still be allowed to be 
In charge of the world.

I love the child’s perspective but as I read it over several times the day I discovered it in an old notebook of mine I couldn’t help but reflect on how I see it now because I'm taking in all the news of the world and struggling with it. I'm thankful to have a Democratic president in the WH and he makes mistakes but right now there is an overwhelming amount of terribleness happening even beyond Covid-19. Here's my version; not as much fun yet it fits all my worries in just as Viorst's young character has his list of annoyances. 

If I were in charge of the world 

If I were in charge of the world
we would have never gone to Afghanistan in the first place
But because we did invade I certainly would have pulled Afghan families 
who helped us out of the country first, we owe them a safe place to live.

If I were in charge of the world
I would help Haiti, the tiny island country
That the French and Americans historically have ravaged
I would write a decree that these two wealthy nations would
build a workable infrastructure that will withstand the weather.
The Haitian people should build alongside us at living wages so they might prosper
And have a real chance to recover. 

If I were in charge of the world
Marijuana charges would be dropped and factory farms would be shuttered forever. 
Real farms would thrive and high fructose corn syrup would be a distant memory.
Higher education and health insurance would be affordable for all. 

If I were in charge of the world
Donald Trump would be already in prison for tax evasion,
inciting the insurrection on January 6th, and
for mocking the  pandemic and wearing a mask.
A health crisis that could have been a means to unite us
turned into a political shit storm.

Raging fires and massive storms
too many to count. Climate change
Maybe Greta Thunberg would be my #1
If I were in charge of the world
I wouldn't be able to stop or fix all of these things
but I'd have empathy, I'd listen and try to help as much as possible
with new solutions and out-of-the-box thinking.

The end (but literally the list could go on and on)

As a highly empathetic person it is hard to bear everything in the world today. And I'm back in school which is wonderful on one side-great to see all the students but also worried for outbreaks with all of us together. Most students are not masked up and I didn't want to go back to school with a mask on but I am wearing it as much as possible to stay safe and model that we do hard things to keep others safe. The world is a mess and it is also filled with beauty. 

When I feel all of this I have to seek out my community of friends and I find my way to the mat with Adriene. My yoga quest continues and that all helps. So does cooking up a storm. I also imagined I left for Haiti one day...

August is ending. Maybe the softer temperatures of September will bring relief. 


Thursday, August 12, 2021

Natural Wonders

This summer I’ve been lucky to see a lot of natural beauty around me. I took a kayak day trip down a beautiful river with friends, looking up at gorgeous cliffs. And just yesterday I returned from 10 days on the road from Iowa to upstate New York and many cool places along the way. One of our first stops was South Bend, IN so I could check out Brain Lair Books and just to be in former Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s homeland. We had a delicious dinner there and then went onward across the country. Near Buffalo we veered over to see Niagara Falls for the first time. I’d only thought of this as a major tourist attraction and was delighted to behold the actual beauty of the water and the power it held. It roars over the edge but before that as you walk over the bridge you witness an almost ethereal blue color in the water. It was difficult to leave but the masses were starting to descend and we spent all of our vacation trying to keep ahead and away from the crowds.

We witnessed another amazing wonder at the Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York. This gorge is a beautiful masterpiece carved into rock from erosion. The layers are striking as the waters rush through from up top. We hiked all the way up which took us behind two waterfalls and many, many wet steps up. It took us half the morning to climb up and then we spent the rest of the afternoon on a rental boat in the south side of Seneca Lake looking up at the rolling hills and waterfalls. Our trip out into the lake was cut short when a rainstorm rushed us back to the marina but we had fun tooling around on the boat and jumping into the chill lake in the time that we had. Some of our group went horseback riding into the hills and others traveled into the town of Corning to enjoy museums. Vacations are like that; there is something for everyone. Including wine slushees and Grateful Dead cover bands - thanks Hazlitt Vineyards.  We had a fantastic time exploring the great outdoors and when we had to go indoors  we masked up. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Summer Pie is a gift

(Food52 Pie Crust)
Who doesn't love a delicious fresh baked pie? There are probably some who prefer cake but in our house we love pie. Especially rhubarb in any configuration. I set out to make just that recently and pulled out my mother-in-law Phyllis' pie crust recipe and realized I didn't have Crisco on hand so I Googled alternative choices and found Food52's vegan pie crust to be an almost exact match to Phyllis' but with coconut oil instead of Crisco. It went together easy and rolled out easy -win, win! My pie crusts, even using her recipe, have always been a little crumbly but something about the solid coconut oil helped my crust.  Now mind you mine is not as perfect as the picture above but I'm okay with that. 

The pie recipe I used came from Sweety Pies; an Uncommon collection of womanish observations with pie by Patty Pinner that I picked up from the book fair one year. Each pie recipe comes with a short story of history about the pie. Here is the recipe I used:

Miss Maude McCracken's Rhubarb Pie (103-104)

One 9-inch single layer pie crust; rimmed and crimped

1 1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose (use unbleached) flour 

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1/2 tsp grated orange rind

1/4 cup orange juice

2 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

4 cups trimmed red rhubarb stalks, sliced 1 inch thick

Crumb Topping

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

Makes one 9-inch pie

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Prepare the crust and set aside.

Combine the sugar, flour, and cloves in a medium sized saucepan and whisk until well blended. Stir in the orange zest and juice, and the butter. Cook over low heat stirring, until thickened and bubbly, then add the rhubarb. Stir to coat the rhubarb, then remove from the heat and spoon the filling into the crust. Place in the oven and bake until the rhubarb is tender and the juices bubble, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the crumb topping. In a small bowl whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add the butter and, using your fingertips, work it into the dry mixture until pea-sized crumbs form. 

Take the pie out of the oven and sprinkle evenly with the topping. Return to the oven and bake until the topping is golden brown, 10-15 minutes longer. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.  

{My pie}

You could serve it with a dollop of whip cream or ice cream but honestly it doesn't need anything else. Because I'd made the crust vegan I decided it was an easy switch to make the filling vegan as well by substituting the butter for vegan butter. Also I did not have an orange on hand that day so I used lemon zest instead of orange and in the topping I used brown sugar instead of white sugar (I use Turbinado sugar for white). The pie tasted delicious and the rhubarb was particularly TART! Maybe because I pulled it so late in the season? It was super vibrant red and I couldn't let it go to waste. The recipe was easy as...well, pie! I liked it so much that I tried it again. I whipped the pie crust out and added  sliced fresh Georgia peaches to two cups of rhubarb. Groovy Girl suggested the combo. I've never had a peach / rhubarb pie but I think it's going to be delicious. I'm waiting for this second pie to come out of the oven as I type. 

We ate half of the first pie ourselves and then last Sunday I took the other half down to our son in Cedar Rapids -  the empath who chooses vegan bc he cares deeply about the earth and the animals that inhabit it with us and because of this I am pushed to try new (vegan) recipes. He liked the pie. And it was good to sit for more than a minute to eat pie with him as we talked about life. When pie is shared you know the conversation is going to be relaxing and down-to-earth.  You don't rush through a piece of pie...

Other interesting recipe included in the Sweety Pie cookbook:

Carolyn Bennett's Grandmother's Key Lime Pie

Miss Claudette Cotton's White Potato Pie

Sister Curry's Orange Tang Pie

Mamie Short's Lemon Sponge Pie

Ava Joy's Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Sister Shirley Woods' Navy Bean Custard Pie

Miss Bradley's Cottage Cheese Pie

The list goes on and on and you get the idea. Let me know if you want to borrow the book...

I'm also reading the third GrishaVerse novel Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo as well as Neither Wolf nor Dog: on forgotten roads with an Indian Elder by Kent Nerburn. 

Peace and love as we get ready to close out July and head right into my birthday month!

Saturday, July 17, 2021


(The Patch)

What if today was the last day I saw my daughter? If she blew away or I blew away. Would she know how much I love her?

The dog sits on high alert trembling next to me. The sounds are shooting all around us. It's dark as dusk out even though it's only 4pm. 

I went down the wrong way on a one -way street last weekend and my mind keeps repeating this. Accidents happen so quickly.

I was hit once going through an intersection. T-boned they say, like the steak. Our Volkswagen Jetta station wagon tipped over and was pushed a foot or so up the street but the police issued me a ticket. They waited while I was in the emergency room. I'd just picked my daughter up from after school care at her school. She had blood on her arm and kept saying "It's my mommy's blood" after they pulled her out the back window. Scared and crying; "It's my mommy's blood" on repeat. 

Years pass. Has the storm passed? The dog is calmer listening to Alexa's piano selections. I refuse to turn on the television just to hear all the flashing weather reports. I can hear it outside. I refuse to go to the basement also although I did go down just to take the laundry out. There are no comfy spots to relax with the scared dog and the old dog so I'm upstairs in the family room. Listening to the rain come down hard and the wind blowing the trees on the side of the house. 

I was in another accident years ago in my 20s. It was dusk and an elderly man stopped confused by the red turn light even though he was in the lane with a green light. It was an icy Minnesota winter night and four cars behind him slide into each other, boom, boom, boom, boom on the bumpers. No one was hurt although I think the man's ego was severely bruised. 

Clear across town my daughter texts "on my way home" through the torrential rain and I think about the water rising on the roads and the teen drivers all leaving the water park. I would ask her to stay put but I know she is anxious to be home, here with me on the sofa with the dogs listening to piano muzak. 

I see my Prius in the dark driveway getting a free carwash. I'm still thinking about the tall trees that surround the house, most of the time like a protective forest but now like a timber ready to take us out. 

Driving doesn't look safe as I check the front window, water filling the roadway as cars swoosh their way through. 

What if today was the last day I saw my daughter? If she blew away or I blew away. Would she know how much I love her?

I recently read a stream-of-conscience novel and I wanted to try that style of writing as an experiment. We had heavy storms the other night with  49 tornadoes touching down in this area. I wrote this in the dark with a flashlight in the back of an old book because I didn’t want to disturb the shaking dog. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Bestseller Diverse Books for everyone

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley  took my breath away. I was mesmerized by the young protagonist Daunis, her family & friends and simultaneously pulled into the romantic relationship with Jamie plus the mystery of drugs surfacing around the tribe. I have a deep respect for Native life and enjoyed all the history, traditions, and language that Boulley sprinkled generously throughout the story. I think this is an amazing debut by an author who had the idea at 18 and held on to that idea for many years. Bravo for this  book the world should read. I was very excited to hear that the Obamas are helping to launch this as a Netflix series. I would love for a second in the series to follow Daunis on the next part of her journey because I'd like to hang out with her more. I can see why Reese picked this as one of her club's summer reads.

The Other Black Girl written by Zakiya Dalila Harris is such a brilliant concept and because of that cool idea, which I will not share with you because it will ruin the surprises in store, it will make a fabulous series on Hulu.  What I don't understand is why an editor didn't correct some of the glaring issues? This book sold for a million dollars (literally WTF?) at auction. Everywhere I turn there are positive reviews except one that doesn't mention the actual writing as well.  Little discrepancies, changes in narration, unnecessary chapters that pop up, and so much extra description really surprised me. There are many good moments but I just couldn't wrap my head around why this book is getting so much attention. It's the idea that's interesting but the writing didn't follow through and I wanted to edit this and tie up a few loose ends. 

I read both books back to back and while one left me in awe the other left me scratching my head. Please read both and let me know your thoughts. 

Now I'm reading The Indigo Girl by Natasha Boyd for July book club and am enjoying the story of Eliza Lucas as she makes her way handling her father's plantations at a time when ladies were to be needlepointing not planting and cultivating.  She is a pioneer in many things she takes on in the 1700s including treating her father's enslaved people with consideration as she attempts to grow indigo to create dye using their expertise. 

Picked up more than a peck of peaches recently and in order to keep up I've shared and baked a little. These peach muffins from Inspired Taste are simple to make and delicious to eat. I made this peach crumble which was  perfect with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  I hope everyone survived the 4th and are prepared to fully enjoy the rest of July because summer is cruising fast into ...(BTS) can't say it yet. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

It's flying by...

It's the last day of June which means tomorrow begins July.  Summer is what's flying by ... I am working hard on appreciating every day whether I'm alone working on homework, writing, reading, or cooking in my kitchen or if I'm hanging out with family it's all good. I just always want more...

While I was in Rochester a week or so ago my step-mother sent me home with a bag filled with really good chocolate chip cookies and we ate those, loved having them around for an easy snack or dessert. Then I had to make more...have I mentioned that we are working out a LOT this summer! And not just our arm muscles. I browsed through Jenny Rosenstrach's cookbook to find a recipe and decided to try this one switching out the candy for straight up chips.

M&M Cookies
Reprinted from Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach
Makes 24 cookies (I doubled it)

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
3 tablespoons white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup good-quality chocolate chips (such as Ghirardelli)
2 1.69-ounce bags M&Ms

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. (from JR: It was somewhat life-changing when I found out whisking was just as effective as sifting, so that’s what I usually do.) In a separate bowl and using a wooden spoon or electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugars. Add the egg and mix until well combined. Add the vanilla and stir. Using a handheld mixer, add the dry mixture to the wet mixture gradually until all the dry mixture has been worked into the batter.

Fold in the chocolate chips, and using two spoons, scoop small rounds of dough onto the cookie sheet about 2 inches apart from each other. Pour the M&Ms into as many bowls as you have kids (it’s important for each helper to have his or her own bowl) and ask them to stick the candies into the dough rounds until they are all gone. (Sometimes I use my fingers to make the balls rounder on top—it makes for prettier cookies.)

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden. Cool on a rack.  

Jenny uses this recipe as a fun activity for kids which my kids loved to do also when they were younger. I did not have any kid assistance but I handled it well on my own and then my husband arrived home and he did a great job of tasting and/or stealing cookies.  We all loved how the brown sugar became like a caramel base in the cookie. Will make again.  Now onto yoga...

Work-outs - Me and  (Yoga w/) Adriene have kept our yoga dates ALL through June and I am pleased as a puppy dog that I've followed through and had fun with this as a personal challenge. If you ever thought you might add a little yoga into your life this is the yogi to watch. She is funny, quirky, and gets deep into the feel of yoga.  I hope to continue this through July and August. Her YouTube channel has a variety of styles and times. If you only have 15 minutes she's got you.  Love in, Love out...

I've also done a good amount of reading for pleasure in-between homework assignments and yoga time.  I've read 5 elementary - middle school fiction & graphic novels and my favorites were The Best At It by Maulik Pancholy and Three Keys by Kelly Yang. Both tell great stories about being true to yourself as you struggle to get through school, friends, and all that life can throw at you even as a young person. I highly recommend both of these stories. 

Now are you ready for July?