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. 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

We are all warriors

There is so much in the air, I fear we are all unwell and yet oddly looking at this time through new eyes many of us have a newfound gratitude for our health. My 83-yr-old mother has counted herself  lucky to have avoided Covid for the last two years but tested positive last week after she coughed her way through the Super Bowl. I got a cold around the same time and really hoped it was just a cold but tested positive on Friday. This is my second go round and the vaccination and booster made a big difference in how I feel. My symptoms are more manageable this time. Last time I felt like I would never recover. I didn’t have to be hospitalized although I did end up in the emergency room with pneumonia months after recovering. This pandemic is complicated, confusing, and frustrating and we may never have all the answers. People around me have never had it, never even had reason to take a test and others fall deathly ill. 

My children are warriors for making it through their various situations. Kaylee braved the streets of Brooklyn every day, working from home luckily but still trekking out to breathe and live in the city. Tristan worked through the entire pandemic as many have because his job is not something you can do from home. And Japhy braved her first year of school, both virtually and in-person, and and it has made her rethink everything about why she is going to school. We are all warriors, whether we've experienced symptoms or not, as we wind our way through this new reality. 

In the midst of this pandemic we have people who feel the need to question books being read by children. As if we don’t already have enough to worry about right now. Russia’s possible invasion of Ukraine seems like something of great importance. But instead some are setting their sights on schools; how we are educating students to be world citizens, and libraries and books that might be too honest about world history or show a naked body.  Art Spiegelman’s 1986 comic book biography, Maus, was recently banned by a Tennessee school district.  After I read the article I checked our district online catalog, found a copy, and read it. It was a very-thought provoking read and a good way for older students to understand a Holocaust survivors story. And check out David Corn's article in Mother Jones. Please go out an buy a copy or two. 

Why does real history scare people? Why does reading about human relationships scare people? We didn’t conjure up the pandemic by reading a book but somehow reading a book about a gay character might make a teen choose that life style?  This logic makes me question everything as well. How will we move past this puritanical state we are in?  It could take a flood. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

My heart; it's February

It's bitter cold out these days with lots of snow and ice. Normal for Iowa, not so for the Southern states getting crushed with winter storms. I'm sure there was mad rush for winter coats and snow shovels. Cold weather is the perfect time to read and I just finished The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake. This book has been gathering dust on my school library shelf for about a year. I ordered it after reading very good reviews and I had a personal and professional goal to continue to round out our library shelves with diverse titles. It's maddening to think this sweet story could make someone else angry and ask for it to be removed from the library. What a terrible place we are in as we build out shelves specifically for all students only to hear that we could be punished for those choices.

Sunny St. James is a 12-year-old young girl who has heart problems both physically and emotionally. She receives a new heart to replace her old damaged one all while she is trying to figure out who she wants to kiss.  What she really wants is to be a "normal" tween who can run and play on the beach and kissing another person is part of that. She focuses her attention on boys because that's what is "normal" but in her heart she is curious about kissing girls. She and Kate live in a small beach community where everyone knows her and she's lead a physically restrictive life while waiting for this new heart. 

Her best friend Margot used to help her through all this but she branched out and made new friends from her swim team (an activity Sunny couldn't participate in) and Sunny feels abandoned. One of her goals after surgery is to meet a new best friend and one day on the beach she meets Quinn someone brand new to the island who doesn't know Sunny's history. Her real mother Lena abandoned her as well when Sunny was four and Lena's best friend Kate has been raising Sunny. After surgery Lena decides to reappear in Sunny's life creating more confusion for both Kate and Sunny.

There is so much emotion, both sad and joyful in the story and I wish I'd had this book while I was in elementary school because many of Sunny's questions and feelings about her surgery and recovery are emotions I've been through myself. I was 11 years old when it was discovered that my mitral valve was damaged due to an undetected case of rheumatic fever as a child. I underwent valve replacement surgery at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis. I received a porcine valve and four years later after experiencing symptoms of heart failure, the valve was replaced again with a St. Jude's plastic valve. I was lucky to be in the same hospital and to have the same surgeon (Dr. Kaiser). 

Through the process I often felt angry that I didn't feel good, that I couldn't participate in activities, that I had this scar running down my chest, that I had medicine to take which made me feel old. I adjusted over time and feel blessed that my parents saw my symptoms and knew I needed medical help. Sunny St. James spoke to me in a way that made me feel understood even at my age. She might also speak to a young girl who is experiencing the same confused feeling about who she wants to kiss. Imagine that young person hugging this book in their arms and understanding that they have allies. Making a connection through literature can easily help a young (or old) person feel in balance about their unique thoughts and feelings.  The "I'm not alone..." idea. 

If you can imagine this book on a banned book list you can see how banning books sucks out all of our humanity. To counteract that feeling you should request this book from your public library or order it, read it, pass it's a story worth sharing!

Friday, January 28, 2022

What I'm looking forward to reading...


My reading goal for Goodreads is 70 books and considering I accomplished 65 last year I think this is a very feasible goal. There are so many great books on the horizon and I have a huge stack of Book-of-the-Month choices and a few books from my Christmas list. I've got plenty to read and this year once again I will probably have plenty of time to kick my feet up and read. 

Here are the 9 that I'm most excited about:

To Paradise by Hanya Yanagihara- I loved A Little Life and hope this one lives up to the buzz. This one weaves together three different timelines including a futuristic look at our world in 2093. I don't own this one so if you have a copy let me know. Otherwise I'll have to be on a wait list at the library.

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich-One of my favorite authors I'm very much looking forward to reading this "wickedly funny ghost story" according to the inside blurb! I do have a copy of this one signed by the author from her bookstore, Birchbark Books, in Minneapolis. 

Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reid- I loved, loved, loved Daisy Jones and the Six and hope this one will be just as interesting. Set in 1983 the story takes place all in one day as the Rivas family prepares for their annual end-of-the-summer bash. Got this one from BOTM and it is on my up-next stack.

We are the Brennans by Tracey Lange-This story follows the life of Sunday Brennan as she makes her way back to her family after a drunk driving accident. This book was not on my radar until I heard the Readheads talking about it. More on that later.

Klara and the Sun by Kazua Ishiguro- Never Let Me Go has been on my to-read pile for awhile and I need to move it up and then read this one as well. Klara an AI Friend is the narrator and she has amazing skills of watching human behavior. I'm not a science fiction fan but this idea is intriguing.

People We Meet On Vacation by Emily Henry- Groovy Girl stole this one off my book pile over winter break. Another BOTM club pick I look forward to this relationship beach read about Poppy and Alex and the fallout from a bad decision that cost them their friendship.

The Family by Naomi Krupitsky- A debut novel about two best friends surviving through the shared experience in the Italian Mafia Family when the disappearance of one of their father's begins to cause conflict in their lifelong friendship. (BOTM)

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw - A mystery about a missing woman and a foreboding place known as Pastoral; a reclusive community founded by like-minded people searching for a better way of life.  (BOTM)

As you can see I am way behind on my long list of BOTM-probably should cancel for the next few months as I catch up. I need to finish Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and begin Kent Nerburn's The Wolf at Twilight so I can return it to the friend who lent it to me (thank you Gabbi!) Plus my stepmother gifted me Amanda Gorman's new book, Call Us What We Carry, and yesterday my mother-in-law recommended The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin, and I have the Leigh Bardugo follow up series King of Scars and Rule of Wolves to read this winter (also on loan from friends).  

Zowie! I should be off reading in a corner somewhere.  What are you looking forward to reading?

Someone recently turned me on to the book podcast The Readheads Book Club starring four college friends. You feel like you're part of the book club as they discuss a wild amount of titles! Luckily it only arrives once a month!  

It is freezing here so I'm off to cuddle up and finish Bed Stories by Tao Lin. 

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Best of YA and elementary fiction

It’s a very snowy day here and I’m sorting boxes and putting my holiday decorations away. We walked in the snow with the dogs, one of my favorite winter activities. Dogs are like small children; the snow brings out their pure JOY! 

I’ve had an amazing amount of work to do for school recently and just haven’t had a spare moment to write. I am participating with Adriene Mishler’s January 30-day yoga journey which has gently pushed me back into daily practice, something I’ve missed through November & December. She has a way of pulling you in and making it personal. 

Completing my best of list for last year’s reading I was lucky to read or finish quite a few great young adult books. 

Deathless Divide by Justina Ireland -The sequel to Dread Nation where Jane McKeene travels to the Wild West and connects with some old friends. This two-part series is so much fun with underlying serious truth telling.

Children of Virtue and Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi - the second in the Legend of Orisha series that brings the magic back but Zelie and Amari have also unleashed other unknown powers in this fantastical world of legends and fairy tale. The author offers writing classes on her website.

Shadow and Bone- series by Leigh Bardugo - Reading friends that are former students brought this author to my attention and I spent a good portion of quarantine reading through this amazingly fun series. I am slowly watching the Netflix series but it is always difficult to pair up what was in my head with what is now on screen. (2) Siege and Storm (3) Ruin and Rising And this year I'm launching into the King of Scars series. Wow, she is a prolific and creative writer!

Six of Crows series - This is a different cast of characters with a little intermingling. This is probably my favorite book out of the whole series just because I find Kaz Brekker such an original character. (2) Crooked Kingdom


Neither Wolf nor Dog by Kent Nerburn - My friend Sue loaned me this one, asking me to be careful because it is a signed copy! I was careful as I turned the pages, never read it in the bathtub, and got it back to her in one piece. I felt such a connection to his writing and how he shared his time with Dan. This won the MN Book Award for 1996. 

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson-I liked her writing style which made this book read faster than expected for a long nonfiction book. Her shared stories made it personal and within reach. Yes, I did the book club rounds on this one during the pandemic. 

Elementary Fiction:

Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson - told through alternating chapters of prose and poetry we learn about the early life of Cassius Clay and how he began his boxing career. 

The Lion of Mars by Jennifer L. Holm - Bell lives on a Mars space station, that's all his ever known and he enjoys all of it until some odd things begin to happen and the adults get sick. 

A Whale of the Wild by Rosanne Parry- This was a surprise win for me, told through a young Orca whale in a very emotional way of their family pod traveling together and how our world affects their underwater lives. 

Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson - ZJ's relationship with his star football father has always been good but suddenly his dad is different and no one knows why yet...

Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley -realistic fiction about two young sisters fending for themselves after their mother's arrest.  They find themselves adopted by a woman who lives by her own set of rules. Tough love mixed with tears.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller - magical realism mixed with Korean Grandmother lore mixed in with a really good family story.

Ground Zero by Alan Gratz - 9-11 story, well told from two different perspectives. The end will amaze you

Our Friend Hedghog by Lauren Castillo - a new Winnie-the-Pooh style story, perfect to read with little ones.

Honorable Mentions:

Sweetest sexy book: Dear Pink by Michelle Angelle

Sad (yet profound) story: Okay, Mr. Field by Katherine Kilalea

Scariest story: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Best of the Best Fiction 2021

It's been a year, pretty similar to last year. Weird, crazy, shaking my head that this is the world we are living in right now. The pandemic is one thing but we have book bans and so much negative energy floating around out there. It takes all our effort to keep it cool, keep moving forward, making the meals, reading the books, and taking care of our people. 

I've read an amazing amount of good books this year. Here are my five star books according to my Goodreads page:

Adult Fiction: 

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley - technically under the young adult category I don't want that to steer people away. I loved this story of Daunis Fontaine as she works to solve a mystery on the nearby Ojibwa Reservation. 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich- Based on Erdrich's grandfather as he worked as a night watchman and fought for Native rights in a letter writing campaign that takes him and other Elders all the way to Washington DC.  *Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2021 

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett- Tells the history of the Vignes sisters as they venture outside their all-black community and how their decisions influence their families to come. 

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid- Debut author struts a fabulous story about family and racism embedded into everyday lives when Emira, the young Black babysitter for a somewhat famous white family is accosted at a nearby grocery store. 

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig- This story hung with me for months as I thought about the choices we make that lead our lives down different paths just as Nora Seed is plummeted back and forth between alternative endings that ultimately lead her back to where she started. 

When All is Said by Anne Griffin- Simple yet profound story of Maurice Hannigan as he sits in a pub reflecting on his life and the five people that made a difference to him.

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak- I just finished this book and loved it very much. It could have had the top spot but I wanted to honor the books I'd loved earlier in the year as well. Ada and her father navigate life after her mother's death, alternatingly we learn their love story of a Turkish man and a Greek woman who save a fig tree. Another new author for me.

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet- This was such a mind-blowing short read that runs parallel stories about a vacation gone awry, teenagers in charge, and adults letting the world go to hell. Hmmm.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz- Jacob Finch Bonner wrote one sort of good book years ago and now he teaches at a sub par school and at local writer's workshops when one of his students leaves him with a book idea that later in life sends him on a life-altering journey. Korelitz is a new author for me and one I will read again. 

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave- Mystery that kept me reading as Hannah Hall and her stepdaughter try to figure out what happened to Hannah's husband and why it is so important to keep Bailey safe. 

The Heart Principal by Helen Hoang-I've read all three of her sexy romance books and love them! All three have an interesting perspective from characters with autism, Asperger's, grief, burn-out and other life variances. She writes from her heart. 

Anxious People by Fredrik Bachman-This is an author I love and this book, while confusing at first, did not disappoint. Life is hard but also lovely. 

I have so many favorite reads this post will have to be continued...

Young Adult, Elementary Fiction, and Nonfiction to follow.

Keep reading!