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?

Sunday, June 20, 2021

We all need to connect

Happy Papa's Day to everyone out there who takes their parenting job seriously. There are a lot of deadbeat dads out there but I'd say most are trying to do their best. I salute you. My dad was a good dad when I was growing up, he cared and was a good listener, and he often offered solid advice. He was not perfect by any means. He was a writer who always had a cigarette in his hand and life often beat him down. That's him above with 3-year-old Tristan in the Grand Canyon. 

My husband is a caring, funny father because he likes to entertain his three children and loves to tell stories. Groovy Girl is off to work today at the water park and Kaylee is out there in Brooklyn living her cool life. She sent a lovely handwritten letter that he opened this morning. Tristan surprised Greg by showing up in person. He works a lot and Sunday is his one major day to rest and recuperate yet he made the hour drive to show up. Luckily I had a heads-up that he might show up and I whipped together this potato breakfast scramble so we could eat together. This is a recipe I found a year ago on Instagram from vegan influencer Tabitha Brown and I love that she seemingly throws easy, on-hand ingredients together to make comfort food. She has a calm spirit and a sense of humor just like my yoga guide Adriene. 

There is so much good stuff out there and even though I miss my dad I have lots of other dad-like influencers that I have come to rely on. My dad's friend Marv, my friend Mike W., Rocky P. and Steve T. who died just a few months ago are all people who are just a bit older and have that dad wisdom that we all could use now and again. My brother, even though he is younger, is someone I can rely on for help. We all need people to care about us, to listen, and offer free good advice. Be a dad to someone. 

I also made a non-vegan breakfast that we scarfed up earlier, that should have been served to friends but the timing just didn't work out. It was delicious; like having your eggs and toast in one. I loved that I could put it altogether last night and then bake it this morning. I sprinkled bacon on half of it instead of using sausage so that the vegetarian (me) in the house could enjoy it. And the father in this house loves the bacon! And I shook up two Bloody Mary's too. Oh, yeah, summertime brunch. 

Enjoy. Hug all your people.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Summer food and a few books

 I am loving my solitude this summer. Groovy Girl goes off to work at the water park and the husband goes off to make a movie or direct a show and I have the day to myself. I have been to work several times and it is so quiet there that it is easy to get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. I am almost finished with inventory for the year. My goal for meals is to have something ready for my two worker bees; it's the least I can do for them after they've labored out there in the world especially the teenager as she is out in the hot sun for a good 9 hours.  I want to have good food ready for them. 

I made this vegan corn chowder  even though it is way before sweet corn season but I had a large bag of white corn in the freezer and soup to me is always good even on hot days. I am in the process of making this pasta dish tonight with fresh cut basil from my garden. I roasted some broccoli and I put together a fresh salad using greens a friend who shared part of her CSA for the week.  I'm looking for easy meals that I can put together and they can eat late when they come through the door.  Easy for me, easy for them. 

Our girls

I've browsed through a new cookbook, The Fresh Egg Cookbook, that my friend MK gave me. She is honestly one of the best gift givers. She went to the Decorah Seed Saver store and found this cookbook for me in celebration of the beautiful chickens that grace my back yard. There are some really good recipes in here as well as chicken tips. We are on our fourth round of chicken parenting and we love it! They are quirky characters that roam our backyard and provide us with eggs. 

I finished the first, Shadow and Bone, in the GrishaVerse trilogy today which was recommended to me be  a family of former students. I have to pace myself though before I start the second one. My mother-in-law recommended How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior and I picked it up yesterday from the library. Before all that I finished my Book of the Month Club May pick; Things we lost to the water by Eric Nguyen, which was a very compelling story of immigration, New Orleans, Vietnam, and Hurricane Katrina.  

You may wonder if I am getting ANY homework done...?

Monday, June 7, 2021

It's over (for now)

I'm not talking about the pandemic naturally but the 2020-2021 school year. What am I going to do with all this time on my hands now, you ask...? People have this assumption that teachers sit by a pool and day drink through the summer.  That may be how some educators spend their time and it doesn't really matter. I would love to be that free! 

My time will be spent doing homework for two classes from Advancement Courses. One is on kindness and the other is on questioning. Lots of homework, lots of thinking, lots of writing. Hopefully I'll have great finished products and plenty of new learning. I am looking for new skills to get me through the next 8+ years of teaching! 

I am also doing something totally new this summer-I'm going to have our Hansen Library open five times during the summer. I'm excited about this new challenge and also fighting the urge to cancel it. As a teacher-librarian I love my students and I love my books! It's like I've created my own living nightmare and I shake myself awake only to find out that all the books have gone missing.  Ugh. But it's going to be okay because they're just books and their kids! It's all part of the deal. A few missing books won't hurt.  

I have a lot of summer reading to do as well; books on my nightstand, dresser, bookshelves, etc that have been waiting to be read and books that I need to read for school for our Iowa Children's Choice Awards. 

I've made a promise to myself and others that I will complete 13 writing pieces this summer and I'm going to work on that as well. I have far more than thirteen so it's just a matter of picking and editing. I will crack open a bottle of champagne when this becomes a reality because it's about time. 

Throw in a vacation and a few road trips and that about sums up my summer.  I promise I still have time for day drinking by the water-a lake preferably!  What about you?

Monday, May 31, 2021

Memorable Memorial Weekend

{Minimalist Baker}
I love a good three day weekend! I've accomplished quite a few things over the last three days but the best parts were several social occasions seeing friends and hugging people in my circle. We had an engagement party last night and a graduation party today. We also had lunch with friends on their patio. I made these strawberry rhubarb margaritas for the occasion. The recipe is from Minimalist Baker and they were delicious, so refreshing and tart.  

Last week I tried a new recipe because I just couldn't figure out what to make for dinner. We recently have had a lot of pasta and I'd made tacos and salmon other days so I just was looking for something different to try. A friend from school mentioned that she'd made lentil sloppy joes and so I searched and found a vegan recipe to try. I made them on Friday night and I loved them. Because of Groovy Girl's tomato allergy I switched out the cans of tomato and used one 28-oz can of pumpkin. I feel like I could add in sweet potato to replace tomatoes as well. I had lovely brioche buns that I broiled in the oven first because I like them a little crispy/crunchy. Both my husband and I loved them and GG, well, she was not quite as in love because it had onions (next time I would make sure to really dice up the onions) but she ate it. I liked that it was a super easy slow cooker recipe that I put together and it was done in about 3 hours. Here is the recipe I used from Yummy Mummy Kitchen and here is another one I plan to try next time from again the amazing Minimalist Baker.  

I did do some gardening this weekend as well, channeling my lovely Grandma Bruch. I think of her so much as I cook and plant as those are two areas she excelled at in life. She loved geraniums and irises and planted lots of vegetables. My love of rhubarb comes from her as she had a several large plants and did a lot of baking and jam making with the stalks. She was an amazing and wonderful grandma and I miss her very much. I'm glad my son was able to spend so much time with her and I'm sad that she never met my daughter. I can still hear her voice calling my name. I wish she and I could play one more game of spite and malice, our family card game. I can still hear my dad's voice as well and I wish I could play one more game of backgammon with him. 

How did you spend your weekend? 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

We are oh, so close!

Kim Reynolds decided on Wednesday night just around midnight that she would tell school children (and their parents) in the state of Iowa that is was optional to wear a mask around school. At midnight on a school night this was decided. I mean I get that she's never really believed in the pandemic and she IS all about free choice for Republicans but this still seemed a little extreme to me because we are so, so close to closing out the school year. We have two weeks to go! And unless you actually work or teach in a school you may not know how this would play out on a Thursday morning. Our district in an attempt to be open sent an email out alerting parents of this new decision by the governor.  Some parents read this email or knew about the decision handed down but other parents might not have had the luxury to see their email and don't follow late night decisions from Des Moines state house. They sent their kids to school with masks as they have every damn day of this year. Other parents celebrated this and sent their kids happily to school finally free of the damn mask. Still other parents sent their kids to school with a mask asking them to still stay safe. There was bullying in the first few minutes within our school walls until teachers could get students in their classrooms for a calm and inclusive morning meeting. Havoc. Pure havoc and one more way to politicize the wearing of masks and the pandemic in general. Thanks Kim. Cannot wait to work against your re-election campaign. 

In other news I finished Ground Zero by Alan Gratz. This book caused a major stir when it first came in. Lots of students wanted it. I found one of my copies on the shelf the other day and I decided to bring it home to read. It was so riveting I read it in 2 days. The story centers around 9/11 and the war on terror that was the aftermath of that major tragedy. Alan Gratz does not sugar coat the history either which I very much appreciated. I remember watching the towers come down on the news that morning and I was a graduate student at the time and turned on the news because someone at my son's school mentioned the weird thing of a plane hitting the first tower.  I remember what it looked like to  see it crumble and it was terrible and the aftermath of what we did as a nation was awful.  What ever age you are read this book for a comprehensive look at the reality of that time in history and be ready for a gripping tale told in alternating points-of-view. 

I'm taking two classes this summer; one is on questioning and the other is on kindness which are both great topics to introduce more of and next year I will be ready for fresh perspective.  After experiencing this election cycle and George Floyd trial with students and the negative comments I want to have some new tools in my school bag. Bring on the kindness and positive discussion!

(Cookie + Kate)

I've made a few good recipes recently including this rhubarb crisp from the NYT. My mom gave me some rhubarb stalks. I love rhubarb but cannot grow it for some quirky reason. This crisp was delicious and I will make it again as soon as I locate more rhubarb. I also made this red lentil curry soup from Cookie and Kate tonight and we all enjoyed it with toasted sourdough bread. 

I really still want it to be Saturday and not Sunday night but there we have it. I need to get ready for my day tomorrow. I probably should shower as I spent a lot of today with my hands in dirt weeding and planting flowers and herbs around the yard and in my big pots. It was the first good hot day and it didn't rain. Rain is important but sunny skies help my mood. Peace and love to you...

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

May Celebrations

The weather is chilly here, I am still wearing a warmer coat to walk the dogs, and haven't planted anything yet because it gets too cold at night. Every once in a while the sun is strong in the afternoon and feels nice and warm. I'm ready for the intense heat of summertime. I'm also ready for my school students to run wildly out the door, to be free for the summer, to put this year behind. I don't know what next year will look like but these kids need a summer break. 

Yesterday I drove back home after visiting my brother and sister-in-law in the Minneapolis area. It was cold there also. Friday night we had an excellent dinner with this chickpea soup prepared by both my brother and his wife and old family friends helped as well.  I feel like I've known them my whole life and there is something so reassuring about having people in your life that knew you as a young person.  Marv was one of my dad's best friends and Marcia still remains one of my mother's besties. It was wonderful to watch the two of them talk at the table together, heads leaning in. My mother broke her hip in a recent fall and uses a walker right now and Marcia has her own. Marv recently recovered from a very serious heart surgery as well. We are all getting older.  Yep. The night was magical though and it was lovely to visit with both Marv and Marcia, sharing and listening to their life stories. My nephew Beckett interviewed Marv about his Cold War experiences guarding the Berlin Wall. I loved hearing Marcia's stories about childbirth in the 1970s where she had to argue to have her husband in the delivery room. We've come a long way baby.

The next day we had a lazy morning (I slept until 9:30!) and then went to Excelsior, browsed and had lunch at Coalition.  We celebrated Mother's Day all weekend and my brother's 49th birthday. We had four different delicious desserts over the course of two days. And then I made fresh cinnamon rolls for Sunday brunch before we left town.  I should think about giving up sugar for a few weeks. My brother is an amazing chef and really enjoys planning a menu and sharing food with friends and neighbors. 

And then we had to come home, back to reality, back to lesson planning and waking up early. I did come home to a lovely daughter, and another calling me to leave a happy message from Brooklyn, and a son who took time to call and chat about everything. I felt loved all weekend long and even more so pulling into my own driveway, reaching my home destination because my family was happy to see me and my dogs were so excited to see me. I could tell because of the full body tail shake! 

I finished The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, an excellent read, Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, the author of Homecoming, another excellent read. Now I am reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, author of The Mothers, both wonderful stories. I'm trying to squeeze in lots of adult fiction before summer hits because I'm taking two classes and I have lots of award contenders to read before August. Librarian Life. Enjoy...

Friday, April 30, 2021

Let’s touch base...

It's the end of April! We’ve had a fantastic month of poetry for most of my students at school. I mean of course there are a few hold-outs who just can’t get into it but that’s okay. We did some borrowed poetry with Kwame Alexander and my littles did a few acrostic and concrete poems about trees, the weather and Earth Day. We read a lot of poetry together and kids of all ages love the You Read to me; I’ll read to you series of poetry books by Mary Ann Hoberman. Reading a poem out loud to a group of your peers is a brave thing to do and reading it with a friend just makes it easier. 5th and 6th graders are doing a mash-up with The Hill We Climb by the amazing Amanda Gorman, poet laureate. We listened to her recite this poem and through Google Classroom each student has their own copy to edit how they choose. Ms. Gorman has many beautiful and meaningful phrases and some students were really able to conceptualize what Amanda’s intention was in this piece. The poem they compose with me will then be illustrated with our beautiful art teacher.  

Last week I made a really delicious sweet potato dish from the NYT with wild rice that gave me lots of great lunches for school. I made some yummy m & m bars last night for a student party today at school and at the beginning of the week I made a chocolate vegan birthday cake for our son’s birthday. He took all the cake with him (or we gave him all the cake?) but I’m still thinking about the rich dark chocolate flavor. I am ready for the weekend, ready to relax and prepare mentally for the last month of school. Groovy Girl is almost finished with her freshman year of college and I’m ready for her to be home and in a summer routine. 

And tomorrow is May Day! Ya’ll have your May Day baskets prepared yet? We don’t either but will do them tomorrow for maybe an early evening delivery time. Let’s head into May with a positive mindset and  good weather for spending time outside. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Today and tomorrow

I  anxiously awaited the end of the Chauvin trial, as millions of others did, because I wanted a trend to be set and I am very happy with the outcome. In fact I cried. If we can convict one police officer then it can happen again and hopefully start a fire burning for better policing. City and state budgets need to be spent on training for officers on how to de-escalate with more emphasis on better understanding and compassion. Long live the memory of George Floyd! It's one tiny step to restorative justice in these United States.

I finished The Night Watchman Louise Erdrich’s excellent novel which recounts the story of her grandfather in 1953.. There has been no time in our country’s history where we’ve treated the First People with the respect they deserve and this book recounts the “emancipation bill” created by Senator Arthur V. Watkins, a Mormon, of Utah. This bill was set to relieve the Native people of their status as a tribe and force integration into bigger cities like Minneapolis/St Paul. Watkins pushed this idea as the Emancipation Proclamation for Natives. Erdrich’s ability to weave facts into her beautifully-written prose makes this a majestic book to read. I strive to read whatever she publishes.  My favorite quote from The Night Watchman: 

"We're from here," said Thomas. He thought awhile, drank some tea. "Think about this. If we Indians had picked up and gone over there and killed most of you and took over your land, what about that? Say you had a big farm in England. We camp there and kick you off. What do you say?" Barnes was struck by this scenario. He raised his eyebrows so fast his hair flopped up." I say we were here first!"

Many aren't aware that Erdrich has a historical fiction series that begins with The Birchbark House for elementary students. This 5 book series is a wonderful look into Native life as they attempt to survive while European explorers and settlers encroach on their land and way of life.

I'm feeling burned out from school and look forward to summer. I will be happy to have Groovy Girl back home and hope for somewhat of a "normal" summer with threads of pre-pandemic moments.  I am taking my worries to my yoga mat and have challenged myself to show up everyday for at least 20-30 minutes with Adriene. I thought I would have so much extra time this year and I just ended up juggling more work and stress. I always have hope and know this is temporary. Be good to yourself.  Peace be with you...

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Caste: the origins of our discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

 I finished this after 4 months. It just wasn’t a book I could rush and I needed to take a break after sections to think about it ALL because there is so much in here. I very much enjoyed her writing style.  At almost 400 pages and seven sections long the book dissects all that you would ever need to know about the social construct of the caste system in these United States, Nazi Germany, and India.  I only want to present a few highlights that stood out to  me. I encourage anyone interested in understanding better how the conquering men stole the land, crushing the original inhabitants, and built this country up using enslaved people from the continent of Africa. 

"Colonial laws herded European workers and African workers into separate and unequal queues and set in motion the caste system that would become the cornerstone of the social, political, and economic system in America. ...triggering the deadliest war on U.S. soil, lead to the ritual killings of thousands of subordinate-caste people in lynchings, and become the source of inequalities that becloud and destabilize the country to this day." (41)

For slavery to have existed here in the "land of the free" is horrid enough but after the Civil War was fought collectively people and our government should have stood up for actual freedom. Civil War generals should have been put on trial in the North and been tried for treason instead of celebrated. Freed slaves should have been offered education and training instead of sharecropping.  Even as they fled north they were given minimal opportunities. Jim Crow laws continued this mindset and paved the way for the equity issues we struggle with today. 

Wilkerson shares many personal stories of racism from her own life and of others that help to shine a light on the difficulties black and brown people experience daily. People from the dominate caste feel they have the right to dictate, bully and get involved in situations that have nothing to do with them. She shares a story of her encounter with a plumber who isn't interested in helping her find the source of her wet basement until she humanizes the situation for him and about airline attendants who doubt her first class status. 

 I read each word, each sentence, each chapter slowly as to fully absorb the emotion and meaning I often had to walk away from the book to regain some composure. While it is brutal and often left me chilled; this book is a must read for anyone seeking enlightenment on how we got here.  Understanding the why is important. We have got to do better. My biggest take away is that we have to step in and say something as these situations happen both on a grand scale for racist policies and on a more personal scale to the Karens we encounter. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Hello Fresh and other news

Out of curiosity I used a coupon card and signed up for meals from Hello Fresh; one of the many subscription food services out in the world. And I found that like many things it is filled with false promises and inaccurate advertising. It was a lot of fun to look through the week's menus and pick and choose what to look forward to for the week. The meals look delicious online and honestly when you cook them up out of their handy brown paper bag they tasted good. So the flavor and ease were a hit but there was so much waste with tiny packaging for sauces and herbs that as an eco-conscience person it was not a good fit. Also the advertising on their page is like "ten free meals..." which is just not true. You get a big discount on your first week's order but the price goes up significantly after that. I was happy to give it a fun try at a time when it was just the two of us to cook for and we needed a mental health boost as we were trying to desperately leave winter behind. I will use the recipe cards again and again because the flavors were good - I'll just plan to use my own pantry items here on out. 

It's National Poetry Month and I've worked this in to my lesson plans for some spring fun. I read a few excerpts from Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I loved that many students  knew many of the poems in this book and even had specific requests for me to read aloud. I had this book as a child and love Shel's first poem inside. It's still a great message for today.


If you are a dreamer, come in.

If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, 

A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,

If you're a magic bean buyer, come sit by the fire

For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,

Come in!

Come in!

I discovered a series of videos with Kwame Alexander sharing his experiences with writing that are engaging and short so perfect for students. He has kids chanting after him when he repeats his "blue black, blue black, black black" and they are amazed at how his words flow. Enjoy the week and embrace the Spring weather that is hopefully here to stay. I know I need the sunshine on my face. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Walking Toward Race


 Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend my favorite writer’s retreat in Minnesota. I love to walk on the expansive trail and we were offered the chance to collect sap from the many maple trees on the Charlson Meadows property.  We were to be in the foyer by 11am if we were interested in going along.

I did a quick yoga vinyasa after reading for an hour and changed clothes to head out. I stood ready with my coat on at 11am, waiting and wondering if I was the only one taking up the caretaker, Renee’s invitation. I stood there until someone passed through saying she thought they'd already headed out. I bristled a little (what?!) because how had I missed them but headed out anyway to see if I could find them so intrigued was I by the idea of collecting tree sap for eventual syrup. Up and around the trail I traveled quickly only spotting a few heads once far ahead. I felt frustrated that I was missing this small event. I kept replaying how I'd missed them and knew they must have started out earlier than expected. No matter how fast I seemed to be hiking along the windy trail I could not catch up. 

Earlier in the day I’d been reading about caste and my thoughts in a very visceral way connected my trying to catch up, constantly feeling just out of reach, not good enough to get there and linked it to race in America. This is what we've done systematically  to my brothers and sisters of color throughout the history of our country. This small instance of feeling a little lost, a little left behind is in no way truly similar to how we've actually treated POC but the deep physical connection was made for me once again in that instance. I eventually did catch up to the group and was able to collect syrup but the heavy feeling stayed with me.

The American caste system was created with diligence as a means to dehumanize those enslaved by how they were treated like property and could not be educated in any way. After the Emancipation Proclamation granted freedom we made no attempt to create a balance of equity through housing, education, or quality of life.  Jim Crow laws continued to dehumanize people of color and the rules seemed to change and shift like moving earth continually keeping folk unstable. 

And then this week the Atlanta shooting of 8 people, 6 of those dead are 6 Asian American women which brings to attention almost 4,000 records of hate, discrimination, and harassment incidents against Asian Americans this year brought on by our hate-filled former president who mocked the pandemic and blamed people of Asian descent. You reap what you sow. 

How can we help people of color to catch up? How can we stop hate crimes? Big questions. We have to humanize what was formally dehumanized by our government and by individuals who cannot see past a person’s skin color or race.  I’m always alarmed by how white criminals, like Robert Long and Dylan Roof, are treated with a dignity undeserving of someone who has robbed the lives of other human beings, especially when it is racially motivated. And how can you say it wasn’t racially motivated? It was also a crime against hard-working women. Know their names:

I think we need a department of justice that oversees all crimes that might be race or gender related with specific standards of punishment. It needs to go beyond the local and state because we cannot always trust law enforcement to make the best choices. Thankfully, most people "having a bad day" don’t purchase a gun and proceed to shoot others.  As a white person we have to look at how we are using our privilege. Here is a link to an interactive list of Black/Brown people killed in the U.S. There are far too many names on the list. It should shatter us every day that this takes place. When can people of color be able to feel truly free in this country?

How can we be part of the solution? Tomorrow is a new day. We haven't corrected the mistakes made in the Breonna Taylor case and America keeps piling on more hate crimes.

What I’m reading: 


Caste by Isabel Wilkerson - Yes, this is taking me a long time but it’s not to be rushed

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller - she won this year’s Newbery Award for When You Trap a Tiger, which I read earlier over break. Both books are excellent!


Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Year of the woman

For February and March I’ve shared important women and POC like Bessie Coleman, Harriet Tubman, Mae Jamison, and Rosa Parks with all my library students. We’ve read books like  The Oldest Student; How Mary Walker learned to read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and Oge Mora and Counting on Katherine; how Katherine Johnson saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker. We’ve discussed men such as Thurgood Marshall, George Washington Carver, John Lewis, Sammy Lee, and Henry “Box” Brown. 

Invariably one of my older students will ask why isn’t there a men’s month? My answer sounds something like ... Well we live in a a patriarchal system and white males predominate in every field available except perhaps education and you’ve studied American history from a white lens. You learned about our white “founding fathers”, explorers, scientists, and inventors in school using a text book that generally gives an age old slice of approved information and it’s up to you to seek out a more well-rounded view on everything. And it’s my job to help you see things in new ways through research and exploration. 

It’s hard to know how far to take it; I don’t want to overwhelm my students yet I want to push them enough to look outside their predominantly white community at the larger world and see others with compassion, as humans. 

Other resources to explore: The Black History Channel and the History.com's Women's History 

With our first female vice president it is more important than every to help all our students understand how important these achievements are and we need to keep pushing for more. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Winter Reading

 Oh, the weekend has been beautiful, the sun was bright and warm. It felt like Spring weather was here for a few days. I'm craving that so we can get outside more, take walks, hang out on patios, and see friends. During the cold spell of January and February I did fit in a ton of reading.  My top 5 books were: 

1. Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (2020) :  Della and her older sister Suki are taken in to foster care after escaping from their incarcerated mother's boyfriend. Della has always been able to count on her sister as protector but Suki is fighting her own demons and tries to commit suicide. The two sisters along with their caretaker learn to look out for each other through all the trauma they've experienced. This book is graphic about tough topics but Bradley does it with grace.  I read this is two days so riveted was I by the characters and their resilience. 

2. The boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse by Charlie Mackesy (2019) : A delightful tale reminiscent of Christopher Robin and his stuffed animal friends. Filled with whimsical drawings and lovely poetic conversations between the charming characters. I go back to this on days when I need a little happiness. 

3. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (2020) : This book blew my mind like The Overstory. I read a recommendation about this book and put it on hold at our local library. Nora Seed faces her own mortality and finds herself in the Midnight Library with her favorite high school librarian as her guide. She is offered the opportunity to try out different paths her life might have taken and through each one she learns a little bit more about herself and the people around her. This made me think about my own experiences and other paths I might have taken. In the long run Nora and her readers learn the ultimate lesson about life. You'll have to read it to find out. 

4. When all is said by Anne Griffin (2019) : This is the story of cantankerous old Maurice Hannigan told in one night through stories about his life as he reflects back on his five favorite people. Over drinks at the pub inside the Rainford House Hotel he toasts and ruminates over mistakes and memories explaining to us in perfect detail all that life has offered him and taken from his as well. As a reader I connected with Maurice and found this to be an amazing debut novel. Her next book is scheduled to be out this Spring. 

I know March won't be all sunshine and warmth yet I know spring is still close at hand. Enjoy. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

What really matters...

Recently I wrote posts on the  love I have for my three children and my passion for politics; now I have food on my mind. This might be my life trifecta: children, food, and politics and intersecting through that is working with students as a librarian. I love my work, enjoy helping students find books, information, and fresh ideas. 

And at the end of most days I love coming home and cooking in my kitchen. My kitchen is too small for a lot of cooks in the kitchen and in fact it is only enough room for Groovy Girl and I to cook together. And we have to do a well-executed dance to not bump into each other. Having music on helps. Usually I just play my own jams but if she steps into the kitchen to help then she she plays her own music. Just like with anything good in life it is most perfect when you have all your ingredients right there and ready. I like a well-stocked pantry and when I have the space and time to put things together, relaxed with a glass of wine.  More often though it's rushed after school but even quick I can pull something together that is unique and delicious. 

{Curried Lentils}

Last week I made Maharajah's Rice from Meera Sodha's Fresh India cookbook and it was very easy to make right after school. I loved the flavors of the basmati rice mixed with the soft apricot, almonds and aromatic cinnamon. It's quite similar to this basmati rice recipe from Analida's Ethnic Spoon.  And while browsing her site I found this chickpea and lentil recipe that I'll have to try soon. A few weeks ago Groovy Girl said she needed some comfort food when she came home the next time; something like lentils she said. That's like a special invitation connecting your children with food. I searched for the perfect lentil recipe and found a curry that we all loved and will make again. She said "this is the perfect comfort food, mama" while holding the bowl up and breathing in the smells and heat. I found that easy recipe, Creamy One-Pot Curried Lentils and Quinoa on Yup..It's Vegan!    That same weekend I also whipped up blueberry lemon muffins for her to take back to school. 

My second favorite place to be in the kitchen is at my brother's house where I can just be the sous to his chef. He has a beautiful kitchen and makes a wide variety of foods. It's nice to relax there and not be in charge of the meal. I can watch him cook or help along the way. 

Now why is Prince gracing this post about food? Because I often listen to music while I write and today I thought he deserved to be on top. Let's go crazy. 

Each and everyone of us are multidimensional and hopefully you've found things in your life to feed your soul. Enjoy! 

Monday, February 15, 2021

Talking about love and other important stuff

We should love one another. We should be accepting of other's thoughts and ideas, be open by way of love with empathy at the core of all we do. This does not seem to be our Republican-led legislators are starting off our new term. We have a host of new bills introduced that take away from our democratic means of living and equality for all. 

Senate File 160: Student First Scholarships; basically vouchers for private/religious schools, taking away  money from public education, a right granted to us in the Bill of Rights. This is a terrible idea for Iowa. (Kim Reynolds) 

House File 222: will reduce funding for any school (K-12 and higher education) for using the 1619 Project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times. Hannah-Jones won a Pulitzer Prize for the essay that started the project. We should be celebrating her as a fellow Iowan instead of censoring real history.  (Skyler Wheeler - skyler.wheeler@legis.iowa.gov

House File 193: prohibits transgender kids from receiving medically necessary treatment. (Sandy Salmon - sandy.salmon@legis.iowa.gov) Why, just why? 

House File 109: This would give the legislative rule over Supreme Court decisions. Again this is a crazy idea as the judicial branch is purposely separate from the other two branches so as to be fair. (Sandy Salmon)

Senate File 41: would prohibit tenure at all three of our public universities in the state. Also it was proposed that all faculty at these universities should reveal their political affiliation as the Republicans say with more Democratic professors students are getting a biased education. (face plant) Just because we are teaching the truth, history, and independent thinking...(Brad Zaun) 

Each one of these laws is draconian and we need to put up a fight. Please contact your representatives and talk about why all five of these bills would be terrible for Iowa. With such an overwhelming amount of Republicans voted in this last round and with our Trump-loving governor Kim Reynolds we are indeed in trouble here. Send logical help please.  

I sent an email to Skyler Wheeler right before I typed this. Sandy Salmon, bless her heart, is next on my list.