Saturday, April 16, 2022

All Set

Happy Easter Eve to all!

Book Talk: Elementary Non-fiction

One of the things I have learned since becoming our school's completely amateur librarian is that it is very difficult to classify books according to age. It is also not a great idea to do that when it comes to encouraging reading. Particularly in the elementary years, there tends to be a big range of reading levels, as different kids learn at a different pace. Reading levels depend much more on interest and ability than age.

When I labeled the books at school, I made sure not to use the word "beginner" anywhere. If that's the level of students who have been reading for three years, I don't want to discourage them from reading the books that will be appropriate for them to read just because they see that word "beginner" and feel ashamed that they're still reading at that level.


We're all adults here. I think I can safely use generic terms like "elementary" and you'll all know I mean kids in the range of about the 6-11 years of age. And you'll also know that you may have or know kids who are much younger than that who can enjoy these books, as well as kids who are much older who are in the same position. 

That said, 6 years old to 11 years old often sees a huge jump in reading ability, so even this list will span a pretty big range of reading levels.

Okay! Disclaimers over! On with the list.

Encyclopedia Prehistorica by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart--These are just cool. There are actually three in this series: Dinosaurs, Sharks and Other Sea Monsters, and Mega-Beasts. They are the most complicated and impressive pop-up books I've ever seen. It really is paper art. They have a ton of information in them, too, and dinosaurs are a perenially popular subject with kids. Every child loves these books. The only downside is that the pop-ups are a bit fragile if you have younger kids. 

Fragile maybe, but look how awesome.

The Way Things Work by David Macaulay--A giant book that explains exactly what the title says: the way things work. "Things" in this case being machines, from the most simple (levers) to more complicated (televisions). We have the original 1988 edition. There are a couple of newer editions that cover things like computers, too.

The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer--The subtitle of this series is "History for the Classical Child." I'm not entirely sure what a "classical child" is, but I do know this is an impressive set of world history books for young children. There are four volumes, covering the beginning of humans to the end of the twentieth century. Each volume is written at a successively higher reading level, so the first volume is supposed to be for grades 1-4, and the last one is meant for grades 4-8. However, both my older boys read them when they were in second and fourth grades and had no trouble with all four volumes. And there is a LOT of history in them. They are sort of vaguely Christian, I think, and are often used by homeschoolers for that reason, but I didn't notice it to be particularly pronounced. There are activity books for each volume, too, which are actually pretty cool.

The Backyard Birdsong Guide: Audio Field Guide by Donald Kroodsma--The MiL, who used to work at Cornell University and is a birder, bought Cubby this book. It was put together by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This is more for beginning birders, so maybe older kids can actually read all the very detailed accompanying text, but what has made it very, very popular with all of my children is that there are recordings of all the different bird songs. Each page has corresponding numbers with an accompanying explanation of each call, so you go to that number, press play, and you can listen to the bird's call(s) while looking at an illustration of the bird. It's really neat. We have the edition for Eastern and Central North America. But I discovered when I looked this up just now that there is an edition for Western North America, and you'd better believe I ordered it immediately.

The only book you will ever see me recommend that requires batteries.

A History of US by Joy Hakim--This 10-volume set of U.S. history is an investment, I will not lie. This set was used by the MiL's sister at the private elementary school she founded and ran for over twenty years. The MiL sent the whole set to Cubby a few years ago, and now that I've seen how much the boys love it and how much they have learned from it, I would absolutely shell out the $100 myself for it if we didn't already have it. It's written for older elementary grades or middle school. Both of my older boys have of course been more drawn to the volumes covering various wars, but they have voluntarily read every volume multiple times. If that isn't an endorsement, I don't know what is. History doesn't seem to be taught at the elementary level much in public schools. A., who was a history major in college, finds this a shocking omission. However, between the above-mentioned The Story of the World and A History of US, I'm confident that my older boys now know a lot more history than I do.

DK Eyewitness Books--Many titles, all published by Dorling Kindersley, a British publishing company. If you have a kid who is interested in a particular subject--weapons, kittens, castles, China--get him or her the DK Eyewitness book (look for the U.S. editions if you're in the U.S.) for that subject. They are packed with information, and they feature actual photographs, not lame illustrations. Some of the more modern DK books for kids seem to have succumbed to the plague of dumbing-down that has stricken children's publishing of late, but the Eyewitness series is pretty reliably high-quality.

National Geographic Kids readers--And speaking of dumbing down . . . What has happened with the National Geographic magazine in the last ten or so years is really disappointing. It used to be a high-quality, well-written, and interesting magazine about nature and the world, and now it is . . . not that. But I will say that their numerous leveled books for beginning readers are still worthwhile. They go from Level 1 (preschool) to Level 3 (about second grade) and cover a ton of different natural history topics. Great for kids who want their own book to read when they're just learning. 

What would you add to this list of elementary non-fiction?

Friday, April 15, 2022

Friday Food: Carp (Yes, They're Edible)


Short version: Leftover shepherd's pie, scrambled eggs, leftover mashed potatoes with cheese

Long version: I was extremely tired after our long day of fishing, and we got home too late to do anything with the two carp we caught. So it was leftovers for the kids (who are not yet old enough that they have to forgo meat on Fridays during Lent), and scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes for the adults


Short version: Fried carp, macaroni with pesto, raw green beans

Long version: A. took care of preparing the fish from the day before. It's always harder than you'd think to cut the head off of big fish.

When you start with a cleaver and a hammer, you know it's serious.

He followed a Polish recipe he found online that called for "dry marinating" it with onion. He used both 
onion and green garlic. 

Slightly more photogenic. If you ignore that fish head there. (Saved at the explicit request of Poppy, who wanted to eat the eyeball. Gross.)

Then it was dredged in egg and flour (he used masa) and fried. I think there was some lemon juice in there somewhere, too.

Carp actually taste good, but they have a LOT of tiny bones. The kids were very careful eating it, but they did find it a bit tedious.

The school cook had given me a ton of leftover macaroni and cheese on Wednesday. Well, not a literal ton, but at least three pounds. Unfortunately, it tasted kind of . . . odd. Almost like she had added green chile to it, which is entirely possible.

None of the kids liked it with the cheese sauce, so I rinsed that off as best I could and then heated up the plain macaroni with pesto and Parmesan. Unfortunately, enough of the cheese sauce remained inside the macaroni that two of four kids could still taste it and didn't like it. The other two ate it, though.


Short version: Carp chowder*, fresh garlic rolls, Lindt truffles

Long version: A. used the rest of the carp, plus the onions and green garlic from the marinade to a make a chowder. There was also milk, butter, and potatoes, and it actually turned out really good. Better than the fried fish, I thought.

I was baking bread, so I pulled off a piece of dough for each child and made mini-garlic breads that ended up being pretty crusty rolls. Perfect with soup.

Calvin had some idea for a dessert that involved melting chocolate chips and then freezing it in ice cube trays. I wasn't sure what he was going for exactly, but I figured he wouldn't object to Lindt truffles. I had bought them for Easter baskets, and then my mother sent a whole bunch of chocolate for the baskets, so I figured we could have the truffles a bit early.

There were no complaints.


Short version: Extra shepherd's pie, bread and butter

Long version: I had an entire 13"x 9" pan of shepherd's pie left from when I made it on Thursday. I heated that up in the oven after work, and was very glad I didn't have to cook anything else.

The children finished up with the bread and butter.

Pause for a photo!

Sheep and shadows at sunrise.


Short version: Creamy green chile stew, bread and butter, cocoa

Long version: I needed to make more green chile sauce, so I did that, and then I used some of it to make the stew.

The bread and butter and cocoa were the consolation prizes for the stew. No one is ever very excited to see stew on the table. I'm seriously considering forgoing stew meat altogether next time we have a whole cow butchered and just getting it all as ground beef.


Short version: Leftovers as tacos, Dad's chile

Long version: I had cooked a chuck roast on Sunday just to have the meat on hand, and that's what I used for the tacos. I diced the beef, then heated it up with a bit of the leftover stew liquid. All the meat, potatoes, and carrots had been eaten from the stew, so it was really just a sauce left. 

The chile was A.'s pigs' foot chile. This was the last frozen container of it. 

And then I think the children had some slices of bread after dinner, and maybe some bowls of yogurt with maple syrup. I don't know. I was lying down so I could summon the energy to make crispy rice treats for the next day's spring party in the elementary school.


Short version: Sausage-y meatloaf, biscuits, cucumber slices, pureed calabaza (freezer)

Long version: It had been awhile since I had added some pork sausage to the meatloaf mixture, but it does make it better. Particularly because the fat in the sausage balances out the leanness of our ground beef.

I actually made a slurry of the meatloaf additions (bread crumbs, eggs, barbecue sauce, salt, pepper, onion powder) Wednesday night and stored that in a jar in the refrigerator so that in the morning all I had to do was mix it with the thawed meat and form the loaves.

I did this because I was substituting for a teacher and so would not be home to cook during the day. Also Calvin's friend was coming after school and staying for dinner. He's a very polite boy, and I'm sure he would eat anything I gave him without comment, but I do like to make some effort when we have a guest.

The biscuits were just the baking powder biscuit recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook that I memorized about twenty years ago and that is apparently indelibly engraved on my brain. Except I use more butter. Because they're better that way.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

* This reminded both A. and me of the time the MiL gathered up a bunch of heads and carcasses from a mess of fish A. caught in the lake to make a fish soup. Coincidentally, today is the MiL's birthday. Happy birthday, MiL! You would have liked this chowder.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

T.T.: And One for the Car

Any roadtrip in our family involves water, and lots of it. Given the distance to anything from our house, a roadtrip is pretty much anytime we get in the car. We don't drive places where we can buy water whenever we might need it, so every person riding in the car has his or her own water bottle. Partially this is to forestall the inevitable whining about having to share (horrors!), but mostly it's because that way, there is more total water in the car.

However, most water bottles only hold about 20 ounces of water. That's usually okay for a few hours in the car, but sometimes it's not. Particularly in the summer, when it's hotter and drier and everyone is thirstier. 

Given the distances we drive and the unpopulated areas we're driving through, water is absolutely essential. It's not even just a matter of comfort. If our vehicle broke down somewhere and we were stranded for a day or so, having water is really more a matter of survival.

In addition to the humans in the car, there is also the car itself to consider. If a car is overheating, you need water for the radiator to get anywhere so it can be fixed. This goes for our own vehicle, of course, but also for the many people we have stopped to help who are stranded because their own vehicles are overheating.

Having extra water on hand has allowed us to help quite a few people over the years.

This is why we never leave our property without at least a gallon of extra water. For longer trips, we have two or three. This allows us to re-fill the smaller water bottles if necessary, and to have some in case of emergencies.

You can start with buying a gallon jug of water that you then refill. Having a screw-top is important, so you don't end up with water spilled all over. We usually use a washed-out maple syrup jug.

The emergency jug, ready and waiting in the van.

In addition to drinking and car salvage, this jug of water has been used to rinse sticky hands, slosh vomit off the floor of the van (kids are fun!), rescue Cubby when he got in the car after a very hot football practice and couldn't wait ten more minutes to get more water . . . you get the idea.

It's just a good idea to have a lot of water in the car. If you always have a jug in your trunk or wherever, and are diligent about re-filling it as it's used (or if it's been sitting for a long time, just to keep it fresh), I predict you'll find uses for it you never even considered.

Also, if you're planning a roadtrip anywhere in the west, it's not even just a good idea to have extra water, it's a necessity. You need it, no question.

Water=peace of mind. And who doesn't need more of that?

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Snapshots: Fishing and Spring

We went fishing on Friday. It was a day-long adventure to a lake a little over an hour away with the goal of catching a northern pike.

No one caught a pike, but everyone had fun.

It was a classic glaringly bright New Mexico day.

We know reports of giant pike in this lake are true because A. found this pike skull immediately after exiting the van. (Yes, pike can get really, really big.)

No pike caught, but they did land a couple of pretty big carp. (The child in the green shirt is Cubby's friend, who came with us because his dream in life is to catch a pike. Alas, a dream that has yet to be fulfilled.)

After getting up early and spending hours helping five children with fishing poles, A. was ready for a siesta.

This girl got a bit bored of the fishing by hour three or so, but she did enjoy doing a dance recital on this giant stump.

Meanwhile, back at the (non-) ranch . . .

Tiny daffodils!

Tiny tulip!

The garlic mini-farm.

New bovine occupants in our neighbor's pasture across the road from our house. I think they're young steers, although they might be young bulls. I didn't look that closely. I know they're males, though.

The dogs and I went the opposite direction on the road yesterday morning. Whichever way we go, there's always a whole lotta sky.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.