Sunday, December 25, 2022

Christmas morning

The stockings are all hung and filled. We have an abundance of presents under and around our tree. Creatures are stirring somewhere in the house. The sunrise this morning was beautiful with shades of orange, pink, and lavender. It's a new day, a Christmas morning. I'm thankful I no longer have to pull off the ruse of Santa for the children who are now full grown adults. 

We had a lovely Christmas Eve together. In the afternoon Kaylee, Sam, Greg and I made the trek to Waverly to see my mom and play a round of Spite and Malice with her. When we returned I got cooking. I did a lot of early preparations so I didn't have to spend long hours in the kitchen. I've also gained a sous chef in Kaylee's boyfriend Sam. I put him in charge of the Roasted Squash Salad, same salad we had at Thanksgiving and it was just as good the second time around. For dinner I made Thyme and White Bean Pot Pies. Earlier in the day I created the filling and then the dough so all I had to do was assemble them and slide them into the oven. I added small florets of cauliflower and spinach to this recipe because I could imagine the flavor mixing well. I owe our dinner spread to  Dana @Minimalist Baker. 

Does everybody have a routine for their holidays? We do thanks to the Holt side of the family. We open up stockings with everyone taking a turn. It's a calm way to start the day and after we eat breakfast. I am making a vegan scramble with sweet and gold potatoes, spinach, and vegan sausage with grits on the side. Then we get into the fun of opening up the presents under the tree. Again we take turns. Japhy used to wear the Santa hat to pass gifts around to each person. 

For dinner I've made two soups I've made before and all I have to do is reheat them. I will make bread to serve with the soups. Creamy Vegan Wild Rice Soup and Corn Chowder from Natasha's Kitchen.  I made the corn chowder vegan by omitting the whole bacon step and using a combination of creamy oat milk and coconut milk. I usually don't do the bacon step but the milk switch is new. I'm pretty confident it will taste similar.

My people are all still sleeping and I'm enjoying these last few minutes of quiet time. Our family is growing with the addition of Sam and Courtney, Tristan's girlfriend and I'm enjoying getting to know both of them as we play games (a hilarious round of Scattegories last night), cook together, and chat. today we will play a round of Spite and Malice, work on the music puzzle that is spread out on the dining room table. 

I hope you have a peaceful day whatever your plans.  Take care of yourself. Happy holidays from us to you.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

Quick Best Books List

 If you are looking for last minute book ideas for this holiday season I have a couple of suggestions for you!

Hat for Mrs. Goldman by Michelle Edwards
(2016) - while not a new release this book is all about the spirit of giving. Mrs. Goldman knits for all her friends and family and little Sophia loves to make the pom-poms to top off the hats Mrs. Goldman creates. When Mrs. Goldman gives her own hat away Sophie takes it upon herself to knit a hat for her. I've read it to many classes in the last week to remind students that a simple act of kindness is gift - worthy. Directions to knit your own hat are at the end of the book.

Other children's books:

Big Panda and Tiny Dragon by James Norbury (2020) - Quick little zen lessons from Big Panda and Tiny Dragon arise from their simple conversations. Beautifully drawn illustrations.  Reminds me of Charlie Mackesy's book, The Boy, The Mole, The Fox, and the Horse. 

Maya and the Robot by Eve L. Ewing (2021) - Great chapter book for 3rd-5th grade filled with a long-lost robot, Maya, and an interesting cast of school characters getting ready for this year's science fair. I hope Ewing has more adventures planned for Maya! 

Alone by Megan E. Freeman (2021) - Dystopian chapter book story of a young girl left behind in her small town after a state of emergency is called and her entire community is relocated including her family. She has to learn to survive on her own with her neighbor's dog as her only companion. Written in verse with a strong female character. 

Charlie Thorne and the Last Equation by Stuart Gibbs (2019) - This is a fast-paced mystery that features a smart young person who is forced to use their code-breaking skills to outsmart Einstein. This book is a favorite at school right now with all upper elementary students. There are two more in the series with a fourth one in the works. 

Adult Choices:

We were Dreamers by Simu Liu (2022) - Simu played the son in Kim's Convenience and went on to star as superhero Shang-Chi. His story as a Chinese immigrant brought to Canada by his parents is fraught with problems and trauma but also uplifting and filled with a lot of truth. I read this in one weekend. 

The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson (2021) - I read this for book club and simply adored it. The story shares the struggle of a Dakota family attempt to preserve the old traditions. Rosalie is the last remaining relative in her family and raised by a foster family after her father dies. She learns later that she has living relatives and as she seeks them out she learns what she needs to about herself and her family. Beautiful written. 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (2017) - Years ago I read and loved The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by this same author and I wanted to read more of her books. This one has a lot to do with how women are treated by society, in social media, and the press. Jane Young is just trying to get beyond her past and a mistake she made years ago when the details slowly come out. Told through 5 different women each story connected and sharing with us the struggles we all face. I am currently reading her latest Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022) and two chapters in I know she's written another favorite of mine.

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2022) - Competitive and uncompromising Carrie is a force to be reckoned with as she comes back to professional tennis after a short retirement. I love every book I've read of Taylor Jenkins Reid's book with Daisy Jones and the Six another top choice.

Whether you buy this as gifts or get them from the library for yourself enjoy each of these titles as the weather here gets chilly and perfect for reading. Be merry and kind...

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Beautiful Books

I've struggled with getting back into writing over the last few months. I'm tired after school, I don't feel like I have much to say, or I can't think of what I wanted to say...

There is such a thing as surgery brain and I feel like I still have it. I've been reading some very good books and cooking a lot especially for tomorrow's family day. We are having a full vegan spread with Tristan and Japhy. I'm in the middle of An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz which is so interesting.

Carrie Soto Is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2022)  : This was an intense story of competition and family connections. Carrie is a not some cute little tennis player that you adore. She's fierce and not interested in making friends on the tennis circuit or in life for that matter. I read this book awhile ago but Carrie has stayed with me. I loved Daisy Jones and the Six which had a different style but just as interesting. Reid goes all in for her characters.

This Must Be The Place by Maggie O'Farrell (2016): I just finished this for book club and enjoyed the story. O'Farrell wrote Hamnet which I loved and so we picked another one of her offerings. This story has a crazy amount of characters but the story of Daniel is well-told and traverses continents.

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler (1993): I've wanted to read this for quite awhile but I'd read a few reviews of how real this one was so I waited until I was in the right space. Election time seemed to be the perfect time! It freaked me out and I was fascinated with the main character Lauren and how right Butler was about the direction our American society has gone. I want to read the rest of the series when I have time.

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley (2022): This was beautifully written but so glaringly real and heartbreaking. It's a tough story about Kiara and her brother Marcus who are trying to live their lives in East Oakland after their father's death and their mother's arrest after a terrible grief-driven crime. This story was hard to read but well-worth it as it shined a light on how deep the lack of privilege is for young women.

If you are in need of a good story any of these will do very well. This week I also found a beautiful Native story Keepunumuk; Weeachumn's Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten. This is such a great story for understanding the real story of tomorrow's holiday celebration. I've decided we are going to forever more refer to it as our Harvest Festival. Enjoy...

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Fall Cooking

Two weekends ago I stayed with my mom while her husband traveled out of town. My goal is always to get her out and about which for her can be as simple as a drive thru coffee shop. On Saturday morning we did just that. She’s fallen in love with her local Scooters and it’s about the only choice in her small town. We picked up pumpkin spice lattes and two cinnamon rolls and  sat on her patio to bask in the sun. Because the day was so gorgeous we were able to stay out there for about two hours! We have to hold on to days like that as cold weather approaches. 

The next day our adventure was an Apples on the Avenue about 20 minutes north of her. Another day filled with sunshine but very windy. We were happy to enjoy the weather from inside the car. We picked up two bags of apples and headed home. I used some of those apples to make a delicious dessert to serve at two different events. I would make this again. And eat it again and again. I went to a small pre-Halloween party on Saturday night and we shared this with Grandmother's Sauce (recipe below) and then I served it again on Sunday when I made a birthday lunch for Kristin and Travis. I did give my mother some of the bread pudding as well to celebrate our Sunday outing.

Here is the Honey Apple Bread Pudding recipe by Melissa Clark on New York Times Recipes.  Hopefully you are able to click the link and look at the recipe. I know the whole subscription thing prevents this sometimes so I made a Google copy for you. I used a chunky French loaf instead of the Challah bread. I served delicious "Grandmother's Sauce" over the top and it took this recipe next level.  Also sometimes the sauce is perfect dipped on your finger straight out of the jar!

Grandmother's Sauce (from The Cottage; Casual Cuisine from Old La Jolla's Favorite Beachside Bungalow by Jane & Michael Stern)

2 cups whipping cream
1 egg
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

Whip the cream in a large mixing bowl. In a medium bowl beat the egg with an electric mixer until thick and lemony colored. Gradually add the sugar, beating until thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Chill at least 1-2 hours so the sugar is fully dissolved. Makes 5 cups. 

I think you could substitute any fruit for the apples but at this time of the year the apples I picked up were tart and perfect in this dessert.  Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2022

The Lake

I love being near the water. Specifically lake water although I don't mind the ocean. I grew up in a family, with a dad, who loved boating. We spent many weekends out on the lake, water skiing or just relaxing with a book.  My dad was always the most relaxed  when he was out on the water. He could let all of his financial and newspaper troubles behind on the shore and take flight into a different world on the water.

Growing up in Minnesota we always lived near a lake and sometimes we took off to the Mississippi River and even once to Lake Superior. Our tiny speed boat on such a huge lake was uncomfortable but also exhilarating. The waves and the huge ships made for an exciting day. 

I don't live near the water anymore and I miss it. I take frequent trips back to Minnesota to experience that feeling again. My younger brother is now the boat master and we venture out on Lake Minnetonka every chance we get. The boat is out for the year but the memories of the summer trips get me through the winter months. The last boat ride of the season was just Jason and I and we had fun tooling around the lake until sunset. We spotted one loon before we headed back to the lift. There is something magical about being out there surrounded by water. I used to love water skiing and spent hours learning how to slalom when I lived in Okoboji. I did learn how to paddle two summers ago and while it is a workout it is  also soothing. I can feel the rhythm of the water as I glide gracefully (mostly) through the calmness.  Water is grace and joy to me. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

What should I read next?

I have book stacks all over my house as many bookish people do. I use the library quite a bit but I also buy books; sometimes it's because I want to support an author or because multiple members of my family will enjoy the book as well. I am always able to grab a good book of my choice from random places around my house. I use ThriftBooks a lot because I don't care if some of my books are used and I subscribe to Book of the Month Club because I was craving a curated selection of new titles.  I am way behind in reading my book-of-the-month choices. because I have so many other books to keep up on. I read books for my elementary school library and I have a book club with friends that meets once a month. 

I thought this spring and summer I would read a ton of book from my TBR (to be read) stacks but I was caught up in reading a ton of elementary fiction for the Iowa Awards list.  And I read about 27 on their list for next year but that left little time for my own stacks. Right now I am reading Emma Straub's The Vacationeers because I read a review that said it was good - it is.  Next up I have Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley and A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham.  I bought Nightcrawling during the summer because I was interested in this author and I requested A Flicker...from the library because it was featured on the podcast The Readheads Book Club. It's almost (but not quite.) exhausting how many good authors and titles I can find.  What do your shelves look like? Any suggestions on what I should put on the top of my list?  Scan the stacks in the photos; is there a favorite I should read soon?  Advice? 

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Book Talks and a road trip...

 I finished two fabulous books this week both with stand up female characters. One book is an adult fiction, the other an elementary fiction and both celebrate a life worth living!

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry) is about a young woman, Aviva Grossman, who makes a mistake as a 20-year-old by flirting with the congressman she interns for one late night in the office. Even though he turns her down in the immediate he begins an affair with Aviva his intern and former neighbor. They are very private for a long time but one night after a car accident the affair comes out. This idea sounds so cliche like Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy but it is how Zevin changes the trajectory of this young Aviva as she reinvents herself. There is a comment on the back that says this is the best slut-shaming  book around. While it's frustrating to read the mess her life becomes because of this affair (an how his life continues on as a congressman) it is also powerful to see how she transforms that makes this book soar. I really want to read Zevin's new book Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow but the holds are long so I thought I would try another one of her books. Highly recommend. From the public library. (2017)

The Elephant in the Room by Holly Goldberg Sloan (I'll be There & Counting by 7's) is the story of young headstrong Sila as she impatiently awaits her mother's return from Turkey. Her mother has been sent back to her home country to retrieve some mis-filed paperwork or risk deportation. She misses her mother a great deal but one day she meets an interesting man, a lottery winner who now owns a vast farm property. Her father is summoned to fix this older gentleman's broken down truck and an unlikely friendship forms between the three. The story takes a surprising twist when an elephant is rescued from a disbanding circus. All the feels for this delicious story of hope, friendship, and a need to make things right for those you love. I love all of Sloan's books. Highly recommend. From my school library. (2021)

In other exciting news I finished the first season of The Lincoln Lawyer and have embarked on the amazing journey of Extraordinary Attorney Woo, both on Netflix. When my husband and I are together in the same room for more than a few minutes we continue to catch up Only Murders in the Building on Hulu. 

Speaking of husbands we celebrated our 21st anniversary this weekend with a trip to Iowa City even though we were married in Galena, IL. I had a library meeting there (always great to talk books for three hours!  Before my meeting we enjoyed a delicious brunch at Goose Town in the Northside neighborhood. Our Groovy daughter works there and we had to try the amazing farm-to-table menu. On Sunday night we ate at ReUnion Brewery also very good especially the hand breaded and hot onion rings. We stayed at a the classically remodeled Highlander Hotel which was a supper club years ago and is enjoying a funky new life. Peace, love, and harmony baby!

Sunday, August 28, 2022

What a week!

School is back in session! And I’m exhausted! Physically tired but also happy tired. It was wonderful to see my students again and to realize once again why I teach. 

This weekend I had the time to really relax. I've taken two naps, read two books, and ordered take-out. I slept in and had hot chocolate with a friend. I brought my mother lunch and visited with her for a couple of hours. I have to be ready for the week ahead; the classes and the days are going to be longer. I have to be mentally prepared for that. 

Many students remembered why I was gone for part of last year and kindly asked about my surgery. I had a few students who just simply said "I'm glad you're back." It feels great to be safely back at school although it feels a little strange to be all together and not wearing masks. Two years in a row we've begun the year with masks on and while it feels great to be able to see and hear students it also feels a bit unhealthy. I know the virus is still around us and I wonder if we'll have a surge in cases as everyone bundles together over the next few weeks. 

I binge watched two shows this weekend while I was resting. The Lincoln Lawyer and Extraordinary Attorney Woo, both on Netflix, and both riveting to watch. Attorney Woo has subtitles so you have to be ready to pay attention but her character keeps you watching as a first year lawyer with autism. 

Taylor Jenkins Reid, one of my favorite authors, has a book about to be released and I finished it recently thanks to an early reader copy on NetGalley. Carrie Soto is Back is a fantastic book about sports, competition, and tennis but even if you're not into sports or tennis this book will keep you reading because Carrie Soto is a fascinating character. You can pre-order it anywhere right now.  

August is one of my favorite months because I love the heat of summer but it also ushers in school. One of the joys of living so close to school is that I can walk or bike to work giving me time outside so I come into school feeling refreshed. This year my husband helped me out by buying me a retro-looking electric bike! So while summer is winding down I'm tooling to school in style. 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Birthday dreams

 At the beginning of August I celebrated my 60th birthday in fine style! I started the festivities at my brother’s in Deephaven, MN. We went for brunch at Josefina’s in Wayzata, and a beautiful afternoon into evening boat ride with my brother, and my sister-in-law, and an old family friend. We had champagne on the boat. 🥂 During that week I also went on a hike with my stepsister Robin, out to dinner with my stepsister Autumn and spent the night drinking wine with Angela a college friend from St. Catherine’s. 

It’s like I turned 60 and want to get everything done! The day before my birthday I drove to Cedar Rapids and met my long time friend Barbara from Indiana and we had an airBB in the New Bohemian area. We had a simple meal of baked Brie and crusty bread with a delicious glass of white wine. And then we walked back to our place and went to bed and read!! On my birthday we got up, did some yoga (thank you Adriene) and went off to Brewhemia for coffee and breakfast. We shopped for  second hand clothes at The Daisy and had pedicures. Groovy Girl joined us partway through the day. That night I had dinner with the family at The QuarterBarrel where we can get amazing pizza that suits everyone and play arcade games like Ms Pac-Man (my favorite!!). 

You see what I mean by getting it ALL done. I’ve had several other dinners with friends, a zoom party with Angelle and Verda and spent the weekend at IrishFest listening to the talented and cute Boxing Banjos.

This is the year of YES! 

This coming weekend I’m headed north with three friends and we are stopping at one of my favorite farm to table restaurants Cafe Mir.

And school is on the horizon; I’ve already had two work meetings and more start next week. I’ve had a fabulous summer even factoring in the healing after surgery in June. I am filled with grace that I’ve survived and thrived through this experience. Huzzah! 

Thank you to my family and friends who’ve helped me through surgery, recovery, and celebrating by birthday in such fine style!! 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Looking for a good book

 I have five chapter book suggestions for young people that I've read myself this summer. With everything happening in the world around us it might be safest to stay home and read. There is plenty of summer left to enjoy a few more great chapter books! 

1. Maya and the Robot written by Eve. L Ewing (2021): A delightful tale of a forgotten robot that finds its way out of the closet and into Maya's life. She figures out how to get it to work just in time for the 5th grade science fair. This is a great story about friendship and overcoming fears of losing all that is familiar. It should be noted that the robot originally belonged to a young neighbor who was killed in a neighborhood shooting is touched on briefly. 

2. Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds (2021): Portico Reeves has an amazing imagination and he protects those around him with his superpowers as he tries to deal with his parents arguments and impending divorce. Jason Reynolds has a gift of speaking the truth from a young person's opinion. Get a taste of Stuntboy as he reads the first chapter to you. 

3. Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca (2021): an #ownvoice novel in verse about a young Indian American girl whose life is forever changed when her mother is diagnosed with leukemia. Reha is working so hard to balance her Indian identity and traditions with her American school self~it is a lot to handle until the only thing that matters is her beloved mother. 

4. 365 Days to Alaska by Cathy Carr (2021): Eleven-year Rigel loves living in the wilderness of Alaska with her family so when she finds out her parents are divorcing and her mom is moving with the Rigel and her two sisters back to Connecticut to live with her mother, their grandmother she is mad. Getting used to suburb life compared to the wilds of Alaska is a difficult feat and it's hard to make friends and still feel like the strong nature-loving person that she is. This is a fantastic debut novel! Listen to Colby Sharp's review. 

5. The Shape of Thunder by Jasmine Warga (2021): This one hurt my heart with everything happening right now with gun violence. Something needs to happen because it's scary for adults and children. This book, told in alternating chapters is about a school shooting. Parker, Quinn's older brother took a gun to school and killed Mabel, Cora's older sister as well as three other people. We learn this in details as Cora and Quinn, former best friends and neighbors don't talk anymore until Quinn comes up with a plan to go back in time to change what happens. This is a loving story about a frightening and all-too-common situation. How do the girls deal with their guilt, their grief over what happened and find a way to make peace with each other?  I cried at the end. This would make a great read aloud so key discussions could take place. 

I didn't read all day long, I also made some delicious food: 

I picked up two crates of peaches from the Tree-Ripe Fruit Company and they are so delicious as is but I succumbed this afternoon to take a few of the extra soft ones and make this Peach Crumble  from Pioneer Woman. It's bubbling in the oven right now. 

I made a wild mushroom risotto last week and had some leftover mushrooms to use up and even though it is blazing hot outside for Iowa I made soup: Hungarian Mushroom Soup - it is creamy and delicious and I know I will enjoy it with a slice of sourdough tonight for dinner. 

Sweet corn!  My husband brought home 6 ears of corn from one of the many pickup trucks around town and I shucked and boiled them in a little salted water and the flavor is the taste of summer for me. I could probably live on sweet corn and fresh peaches for at least the rest of July!  

Stay safe out there...

Friday, July 15, 2022

The lazy days of summer

I like to do yoga in my pajamas.  I do. Before the pandemic I went somewhat faithfully to a yoga studio with other like-minded folks and I enjoyed the camaraderie. I did. But when the pandemic hit I discovered the joy of doing yoga right upstairs in what used to be my child's room. That child now owns a home of his own and only sleeps over on Christmas Eve so I turned it into a yoga/meditation home studio and reading corner. I love to wind my way from my bed to bathroom and then take a sharp right over to my studio all while still happily sporting bed head and soft pink pajamas. It's a beautiful thing. I bring up Adriene's monthly calendar and pick that day if I seem drawn to it or any of the other amazing videos she has on her YouTube channel and I just get down to it. After heart surgery it took me awhile to make it back to that room to specifically do yoga but I'm back there and I appreciate it all the more for the break. 

I like to read in my pajamas. I do. Even on my patio which is in the back of my house and no one can see me except for the chickens and the dogs. They don't judge. My reading time right now is on elementary-middle grade fiction for the state award books. I have to mix it up with a few adult books over the summer as well. On my Kindle app I'm reading Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid and I just finished That Month in Tuscany by Inglath Coooper.  A friend lent me her copy of The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill and another friend highly recommended The Messy Lives of Book People by Phaedra Patrick. And on a recent lunch date my husband and I wandered into our local Barnes and Noble. We found quite a few books I'd like to read in my pajamas but we "only" walked out with three; All the Broken People by Leah Konen, The Promise by Damon Galgut, and The Pallbearer's Club by Paul Tremblay. Also on my list to read are Lucy Foley's The Paris Apartment, Justin Baldoni's Man Enough, and Rebecca Serle's One Italian Summer. 

What else am I doing this summer while I am healing and on break before school begins again in August? Walking the dogs, cooking, and thinking...just processing all that is around me. I'm doing a lot of that in my pink pajamas. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

The good of today

In my last post I shared a pantry list as a way to keep myself organized and I've turned it into a checklist, slipped it into a plastic sleeve so I can refer back to it.  So easy. Also I added hummus and onions to the list. Don't know how I forgot those two essentials.  Here it is; you can edit and make it your own Pantry Checklist.

I follow Dan Buettner on IG and recently read his book The Blue Zones Challenge. I started thinking about my own longevity after my recent heart surgery and even though as a real foods/ vegetarian/flexitarian I feel like I eat pretty healthy. Except I love some sugar in the form of dark chocolate or ice cream.  And I like to think about exercise as just a regular part of the day. I wish our cities were better designed so I could walk to the grocery store but I can walk or bike to work so that's gonna happen this fall. 

I finished a magnificent book yesterday! The Seed Keeper by Diane Wilson was so good that I spent one day reading for 4 hours straight just to finish. It tells the story of Rosalie Iron Wing through several generations so we get her family history as the white man swept across the prairie. The beauty of the story is it relays how important our basic food structure is for today and future generations. The chemicals, fertilizers, and genetically-modified seeds are contribute to the health problems of today. Our rivers flow with these chemicals and the system has created a tragic circle of destruction. Here is an excellent author interview with Kachina Yeager of Milkweed Editions. 

In between reading and cooking I'm watching The Bear on Hulu, Julia on HBO Max; so cooking shows! as well as Only Murders in the Building on Hulu. I don't give myself very much time to watch as I am working on several organizing projects around the house. I've sorted through my cookbooks, deciding which ones still bring me joy. I've also gone through the many stacks of books around my house and let quite a few go. Don't worry there are still stacks, maybe just not as high! I have to have something to show for the summer other than laying around healing. I also started listening to Justin Baldoni's podcast Man Enough. 

Peace be with you...

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Order among the chaos

Wow. June has been a terrible month nationwide because members of the highest court in the land chose to rule by religion and self-interest over what is right and in the best interest of the majority.  Open carry gun laws, overturning Roe vs. Wade, and now tribal rights showcase the absolute right wing nature of the court which should be neutral or at least with some form of equality of viewpoints. I'm afraid for what comes next, like really afraid. We need  to regroup both parties. I seriously struggle with how many people are still blinding following this snake oil salesman Donald. I feel disgusted just typing his name and it blows my mind that he added three (Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Coney Barrett) of these conservative judges to the Supreme Court. 

It's mind-blowing to me that these judges elected by a twice impeached president will sway the court for years and years to come. And don't get me started on the many reasons Clarence Thomas should be removed from the court and as well as Brett Kavanaugh.  So I've been upset this past week along with many other humans. Our voices need to be heard because why should my daughter have less rights than I did as a young woman. So I needed to focus on something else for the time being because if something is messed up in the government house then it is time to place your own house as top priority. 

So I've been organizing like crazy to keep my sanity. I've cleaned up the two kids bedrooms upstairs that no longer house kids. I have stacks of books to donate and boxes for Goodwill. I've also worked on reorganizing my kitchen-I feel like for me, with a small kitchen, this is a constant activity when I need space or time or a mental break from the outside world. My spice cupboard is overflowing, my general pantry needs help, and I've recently cleaned out my fridge. All this cleaning made me reconsider what is necessary in my kitchen. So let's compare lists:

Fridge necessities: 

lemons & limes
Smart Balance Vegan butter
unsalted butter
quality Caesar and bleu cheese dressing (like from the produce section)
Romaine lettuce (organic)
Spring Greens - I miss my big city market where I could grab what I needed like a bulk item instead of the clam shells. Luckily, it's summer time!; I have some growing in my garden box. 
A variety of berries
Tamari Sauce
Oat Milk
organic firm tofu
red and yellow peppers/broccoli/cauliflower
a variety of hard and soft cheeses
miso paste
Tahini sauce
almond butter
ginger root
sour cream
Greek yogurt in vanilla and plain (I can get these from a local dairy which is great)

Pantry essentials:

Target Blue chips with chia seeds (funny that this was the first thing I thought of!)
Lots of dry storage-bulk items like large bags of Jasmine rice, jars of dry beans, quinoa, oatmeal, chickpeas, red and brown lentils and most of this gets stored in large canning jars
Back up cans of black beans, kidney beans, garbanzos and cannellini 
cans of Italian whole tomatoes and some pasta sauce
variety of pasta like bucatini and Asian noodles
cans of corn, tuna, chilies, and green enchilada sauce 
dark chocolate in bars and jars of semi-sweet and dark chocolate chips (bulk)
I have a box for flour (I buy unbleached flour and always have a back up bag in case I start to make bread a large jar for Turbinado (raw) sugar
fresh garlic bulbs
new potatoes (red or yellow)
cashew and almonds nuts
variety of sparkling waters

Freezer items:

I keep frozen limeade ready in case I want to make margaritas for friends
non-dairy ice cream 
bags of fresh corn
bags of fruit

That's a lot of regular stuff in my kitchen but my favorite thing is being able to make a recipe without running to the grocery store. And all this organizing is keeping me sane with all the conflict in the world. We don't have time to heal from one event before the next moment is shattered.  What's in your pantry? What's keeping you sane? 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Healing Everyday

 As anybody knows healing takes time and it's slow. I'm walking more with less heavy breathing and I'm doing some simple exercises that move my muscles around. I am anxious to get back to real yoga that includes downward dog, the "home" base for all yoga practices. I started driving last week which was exciting because we purchased a new car right after surgery. We thought the car was going to take a year to get to us but it arrived sooner and it made for a very smooth ride home from the hospital. Thank you to our son Tristan for finding the car and leading us through this process.  We bought a Hyundai Tucson because its a good looking hybrid and will give us more space than our 2004 Prius. 

While it is a sure sign of great freedom to drive out my driveway and run some errands I have to check myself while I get groceries, for example, that I can only carry small amounts to my car and cannot fill my cart up with boxes of sparkling water. And I love walking outside in my neighborhood but I can't take my dogs with me unless someone else walks with me or I go on solo walks, leaving my dogs stunned as I walk away. I'm missing my daughter Japhy/Groovy Girl who headed back to Iowa City this week to her roommates and work. She was an amazing amount of help everyday while I recovered. 

In between walks and driving about town I've read books and gathered more at our local library. I finished Louise Erdrich's The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and Love Medicine, both with same characters and I read them out of order. I do love her writing but both books have so many characters to keep up with and I had to flip to the family tree every other chapter.  Right now I am reading Run River by Joan Didion for book club. I went to the library the other day with my husband while he browsed  Playaway books and naturally I found two to read: Love is a Revolution by Renee Watson, one of my favorite authors and Simi Liu's We were Dreamers; An Immigration Superhero Origin Story. I loved him in Kim's Convenience and am interested in his story. I also have a large book bag filled with books from my school library to read for Iowa Children's Choice nominees, our state award books. 

In between reading I've caught up with some streaming. I finished This is Us and Bridgerton and am working on Julia (Child) and The Great with Elle Fanning.  Japhy turned me on to Jane the Virgin and she and I watched a ton of that before she left. Now I have to wait for her return to watch more. Atlanta with Donald Glover and Black-ish are my go-to short shows that are easy to fit in as a break. I try to keep my binge watching to a minimum so that I can get lots of reading done but it's a tough balance with so much good stuff out there.  What are you reading and watching?

Thursday, May 26, 2022

I made it!

Two successful surgeries at St Mary's Hospital/Mayo in Rochester, MN and I am now recovering at home and have been for the last 3 weeks. My chest around the incision site is still very sore and my range of motion with my arms is limited but I am home and feel blessed to have made it. My extended family did such a great job of supporting me for over a week while I was there. Meals were bought, hotels stays were paid for and many, many cards and letters were welcomed. The first days of being home we had homemade meals delivered to us. It's overwhelming to go through something like this and to feel the love from friends and family. Thank you to everyone who has helped in any small way.  

It's a little strange not to be going to school everyday as I laze about the house healing and going on small walks. I've read several books already including The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles which I loved almost everything about it. I'm also catching up on series like This Is Us which I was way behind on. And I have a lot of time to ponder the mess we are in. The anniversary of George Floyd's murder, Robb Elementary School, the shooting in Buffalo and the Roe vs Wade controversy. Like my heart is healing but this is a lot of major trauma to think on and it is so, so very frustrating that we can't pass solid gun restrictions, that we cannot get better police reform, and that the right to choose should be left up to women. How did the religious right and the NRA take over like this? (Ronald Reagan era?)

I'm thankful to have made it through two tough surgeries and I'm happy to be on leave from a job I love and that I will get to heal over the summer. I wish Covid wasn't making such a huge comeback as many people I know are sick again. All we can do is get through this summer with grace and dignity, use our voices and our dollars to make ourselves heard about the important issues laying in front of us, and we can demand change by getting out the vote.  Make this a life worth living, everyday. 

Sunday, April 24, 2022

April; poetry and more...


Every year in April I share my love of poetry with students and I’ve usually shared favorite pieces here as well. We read poetry together, loudly at our tables and then out loud to the class. Poetry can be funny like a good joke and the last few years that laughter in April has been a godsend. This year it was for me also as it was the last thing I’ll remember about my students for the remainder of this year; students doubled over laughing while reading very silly poems. 

I am on my way to Mayo in Rochester, MN to have open heart surgery for the third time. I wrote about my experience as a child back in February and at that time after an appointment at Mayo in January I knew surgery was coming but I didn’t know when. Even after it was scheduled it seemed far away. And now it’s here. My bags are packed and I’m ready to go physically but mentally still struggling. I know what lays ahead for me and it will be hard. Last time I had this surgery I was 16 and it was painful with a long recovery. And now I’m just around the corner from 60 and I’m worried. How will I bounce back? 

I’ll have the summer to recover, to gain strength back and be ready for school. It was hard to leave Hansen this week especially with the outpouring of well wishes and love from students and staff. It will be great to return strong and ready in August. Emotionally it’s hard to prepare for surgery and second to that is writing lesson plans for two substitutes that will take over the library in my absence. It took me a lot of early mornings and late evenings to get my plans and the library in order. It was stressful but now that is done I'm about to change out of my pajamas, load my bags in the car and drive off with my daughter in tow.  Ready, I'm ready. 

So off I drive today for the first of many appointments before surgery on Wednesday. Wish me luck, send good vibes my way, keep me in your prayers...the next time you'll hear from me I'll have survived and be healing. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Puerto Rico Memories

We recently headed to Puerto Rico for our first major Spring Break trip with all three of our children. We've been planning the trip for half a year. It felt weird then because we were still in the throes of the pandemic. It seemed like a new normal and we very much wanted this trip to happen.  And the war on the Ukrainian people weighed heavy on me as well. It's hard to go on with your regular life, enjoying vacations, when there is a gross human rights crisis happening. All we can do is keep moving forward and be aware, as an empathetic person, helping when and where we can. We took off on our great adventure from O'Hare. 

We enjoyed ourselves in Puerto Rico and are already making plans for future trips. Some of our highlights:

La Casita Blanca - I would fly back to San Juan just to eat here again. We waited about 15 minutes in a line outside the quaint restaurant and the line behind us kept growing. Luckily it was a beautiful day. We do not speak much Spanish which was an overall burden on the trip - I wish I was more fluent. We did a lot of guessing of ingredients and menu items. A few of us started off with a glass of delicious sangria served in a large wine glass. After we ordered little cups of green soup appeared at our table and we slurped it up with a fried appetizer that was amazing. We searched for the rest of the trip for this same dish to no avail. Most of us at the table had stuffed avocados for our main meal which were wonderful. The avocados in PR are huge and meaty. Our vegan son only had trouble at one restaurant through out the trip finding vegan options. 

Eco Adventures Kayak trip through the bioluminescent lagoon in Farjado- we arrived at 7:30 for our 8pm trip after driving 35 minutes through winding roads. We had about 22 other adults beyond our party of 5 which seemed like a lot but it worked. It was a lovely paddle down a river with mangrove trees cascading around us. You could hear a cacophony of frogs as we rounded a curve and opened up to a very large lake. The moon was full which made the sky beautiful but did not give us a great glimpse of the bioluminescence in the water. The trip was still worth it. And we were back to our Airbnb by 11pm. 

Mojito Lab- our first foray to the kiosks right outside of Luquillo and we discovered this little outdoor hot spot. We ordered smalls but with a variety of island flavors hand shaken by a handsome bartender. What could be better! Those were the best cocktails we had on the trip. Oh except for the rum drinks we created ourselves with fresh limeade, lots of limes, ice, and a local bottle of rum. Yum. 

Beaches- Greg always goes for a run on vacation and he is good about finding cool spots. He found a secluded beach that was so serene. He dropped us off so we could meander our way down eventually meeting up at the public swim spot.  What made this walk so special was the eco system undisturbed by people; sea grasses gently waving,  soft sand, pieces of coral, miniature fossils and a stillness that was like a natural symphony. 

We all thought we would go back again to Puerto Rico but I would choose a different area of the island to explore. Also Puerto Ricans are all wearing masks still as did we. And shopping at the local grocery store was fun! I bought and made yarrow root after a local man told me exactly how to cook them; they tasted like a turnip mixed with a potato and were a light purple in color. 

We all made it home safely and returned to reality; Ukraine is fighting back, new boosters are available, and our legislators are making it difficult to happily teach in Iowa. Cheers. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Love Dogs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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