Saturday, April 30, 2022

Book Talk: Classic Elementary Fiction

As I mentioned last week, "elementary fiction" is a giant category, so this is another sub-category of it. 

I don't know the actual definition of "classic," but since I now hear songs from my childhood on classic rock stations, I'm gonna go with anything published before I was born in 1979. 

These were some of the most fun books to share with my sons, since many were books I had read myself and loved. One of the lesser known pleasures of parenthood is sharing things with your children that were special to you when you were a child. And for a reader, those things are often books. Like so . . 

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder--Without question, the most beloved of my childhood favorites. I let Cubby have my old set of them when he was about nine years old, and he's read them all many times already. Jack is getting into them now, too, although I have to read them to him still. One woman's opinion: The best of these is Farmer Boy (so much delicious-sounding food!), and the worst is The First Four Years.

Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink--Often compared to the Little House books, which I suppose is inevitable given that the main character is a young girl living in a frontier community.

The Children Who Stayed Alone by Bonnie Bess Worline--Yet another pioneer story about children, this one set on the plains. I clearly had a fascination for this genre as a child. This one has a brother and sister as the main characters.

Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare--And yes, another pioneer story, this one about a boy who is left alone and befriends a boy from the local native tribe. This author wrote several great books, but they'll appear on later lists for older kids.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White--I have some mixed feelings about this book, just because anthropomorphizing animals is not a great idea for kids like mine who will be eating animals they know. But the appeal of the book is undeniable. It's funny and sweet, well-written, and an excellent read-aloud.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley--I actually never read this book as a child, but my boys loved it. As has every other child I know who has read it. I know an unusually large number of children who have horses, which may have something to do with it, but the story in the book is just a good one, regardless of whether you're a horse person or not.

Bill says black stallions are overrated, and why hasn't anyone written a book about a buckskin pony yet?

Pooh's Library by A. A. Milne--This four-book set includes Winnie the Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, When We Were Very Young, and Now We Are Six. The first two are the stories on which the classic movie are based. The last two are collections of poetry. I actually like the poetry better than the stories. The poems are just so spot-on in their depiction of the experience of childhood. They're funny, and well-written, and very fun to read aloud. 

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling--Speaking of classic books made into Disney movies . . . My kids love this book. The book includes more than just the familiar story of Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves. There's one about a white seal, another about an elephant, and, my favorite, "Rikki Tikki Tavi," about a mongoose who saves a family from a pair of cobras.

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin--Oh man, this is SUCH a great book. It's a mystery. The characters have to solve a puzzle, and the one who figures it out gets a big fortune. The main character is a precocious 13-year-old girl. The characters are just so well done, and the book is fantastically well-plotted. It's just fun to read, and almost impossible to guess the ending.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George--An enduringly popular book for good reason: What kid doesn't dream about running away and living alone? There are a couple of sequels, which are entertaining, but not as good as this one.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell--A sort of female equivalent of My Side of the Mountain. It's about a 12-year-old girl who is stranded on an island and has to survive alone.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett--This author wrote a few books I really liked as a kid, but I find most of them to be somewhat off-puttingly sentimental now. The Secret Garden is less so, and much her best book, in large part because Mary Lennox is so refreshingly stubborn. And, of course, there's Dickon, who is one of the greatest children's fiction characters of all time.

My own secret garden, cleverly hidden inside milk jugs.

Great Illustrated Classics, various titles--I suppose a real purist would insist on a kid waiting until he's old enough to read Dickens in the original versions, but honestly, most people never will. I certainly never did. However, this series of books offers a way for kids to enjoy the stories and characters of great classic literature without wading through 18-century language and verbosity. This is a really good option for books like The Swiss Family Robinson that have awesome stories for kids, but are really difficult for a modern young reader to wade through.

I think this list is long enough, so I'm going to leave it here and probably continue it next week.

What would you add to this list of classic elementary fiction?

Friday, April 29, 2022

Friday Food: A Steak Discovery


Short version: Chile, cornbread

Long version: I had about a pound of uncooked ground beef left from the day before's hamburgers and an opened can of black beans that needed to be used. Sounds like chile to me. 

This was not New Mexico chile. This was more basic, Americanized chile, but, if I may be so bold as to say it, I nailed it.

I made ground-beef-and-bean chile awhile ago after my kids had it and loved it at our friends' house. The problem with children is that the first version of anything they eat and like is the way it must be forever more. This is why it's so important to start them off with things like, say, natural peanut butter instead of the sugar+palm oil kind (I did not do this and still regret it) or homemade macaroni and cheese instead of boxed. For my children, their Platonic ideal of chile will always be the chile they had at their friends' house, and the one I made last time was not like that.

They admitted this most recent version was pretty close to that, though, and they all had two bowls. So now I must write it down so I can remember what was in it.

Ground beef, onions, bell pepper, green garlic, one can of black beans, one jar of pinto beans, the juice and half the tomatoes from a big can of whole tomatoes diced, a jar of beef stock, pureed calabaza, cumin, red chile pepper, paprika, salt.

The pureed calabaza is the secret ingredient here. Both because my kids didn't know it was in there (sneaky Mom), and also because it both slightly sweetened and thickened the chile. The ready-made spice mixture my friend uses has both brown sugar and molasses in it, as well as masa to thicken, so the calabaza replaced both those things.

I simmered it almost two hours so the flavors were completely melded, and also left the top off for the last 45 minutes or so of simmering to thicken it some more. This made a very mild chile. I put out minced raw onions and green chile paste for those who wanted to make it a bit--or a lot--spicier. As well as grated cheese, because everyone likes cheese on chile.

The cornbread was this recipe for corn muffins I always use, except I spread it out in a 13"x9" Pyrex because I loathe cleaning my muffin tin. Also, I use yogurt+milk instead of buttermilk. It makes a very different sort of cornbread due to the fact that it uses corn flour rather than meal, and an equal amount of buttermilk (or yogurt). The resulting cornbread is more like a tangy cake. But not sweet.


Short version: Carnitas-style pork, mashed potatoes, sauteed zucchini/tomatoes/onion, raw tomatoes

Long version: This I mostly made ahead of time, because we were at church until 5 p.m. So the pork was cooked and just needed to be fried; the potatoes were peeled and in chunks in water, waiting to be boiled and mashed; and the zucchini was cooked. Dinner was on the table half an hour after we got home.


Short version: Steaks, rice, asparagus, raw cabbage, custard

Long version: I finally cleared the meat freezer out enough on top that I could reach down to the boxes on the bottom. And one of them was a box of steaks. Steak bonanza ahoy!

Two T-bones and one large ribeye. With the asparagus from the garden, it made for a very high-quality meal.

Who needs a steakhouse when my whole house is a steakhouse? Or something.

I way overcooked the custard, because I put it in the oven and then the whole family went for a ride around our ghost village. 

The older boys have been working a lot with Bill the Pony, and he is now safe for even Poppy to ride. I was pretty impressed at how far Bill has come from his first bucking bronco ride with Cubby. The boys have done a great job with him.

By the time we got back, the custard was definitely in the grainy overcooked stage, but it still all got eaten. Custard's good like that.


Short version: Leftover pork, rice, cucumbers

Long version: We ended up being at a sort of unexpected church service until 7 p.m., after being at school all day, so I just heated up the pork with barbecue sauce, heated up the leftover rice with butter, cut up a cucumber, and called it good.


Short version: Breakfast sausage links, cafeteria rolls, green peas, pureed calabaza, asparagus, random chicken patties

Long version: I had to work again, and sausage links cook quickly. The rolls and chicken patties were cafeteria lunch leftovers. The rolls are homemade and incredibly good. The chicken patties not so much, but the kids still like them, and they all got eaten.

Asparagus from the garden again. The nice thing about asparagus season is that since you can only harvest it for about six weeks in the spring before you have to let the spears grow into mature plants, you never get sick of it. At least, I don't.


Short version: Beef and bean tacos, leftovers, radishes

Long version: The lady who delivers commodities dropped off a giant box of mostly pantry things this day (I am absolutely overrun with spaghetti and boxed macaroni and cheese now), which randomly included a pound of ground beef. It's been awhile since I had cooked store ground beef, and I forgot how . . . wet it is. 

I browned that meat (and poured off the excess liquid--gross) and then added a can of rinsed black beans, a little already-cooked onion, half a can of tomatoes sitting in the refrigerator, salsa, cumin, garlic powder, and chile powder. 

The kids had that. A. and I finished the steak, mine in a salad.


Short version: Top sirloin steaks, spaghetti with pesto, leftover calabaza and cabbage, raw cucumber

Long version: Yes, we will be eating a lot more steak now that I've found that box. Also, warmer weather is coming, and steak is relatively quick-cooking so it doesn't heat the kitchen up so much.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

T.T.: Powdered Pills

In my experience, a kid has to be around ten years old to really be able to successfully swallow a pill. I don't know why this is. Something about the fact that they can't chew it makes it seem impossible for them to swallow.

This is why children's medicine is always sold in liquid form, of course. But my kids have always hated children's medicine. And sometimes, we just don't have it. When we run out of things, we can't just run to the store to get them.

This is why I have more than once needed to give my kids a regular adult pill in a smaller quantity*. 

But then there's the swallowing issue. What to do?

I know! Because I learned from the MiL when Cubby was very small and needed a dose of Tylenol for a fever and we didn't have any in children's form.

What you do is, you cut your pill into half or quarters or whatever dosage you've figured is appropriate for the child, and then you powder it by crushing it with the flat bottom of a jar or glass.

Next, you scrape this powder into the jar or glass, and then add a spoonful of something like applesauce or yogurt. You want something that can be scooped up with a spoon. Because that's exactly what you're going to do. Mix the powder thoroughly into whatever food you chose, get all the mixture onto the spoon, and feed it to the child needing the medicine.


I don't have a photo of a powdered pill. It wouldn't be a very interesting photo, anyway, so here's a much better photo of the surprise lamb A. found in the pasture Sunday afternoon.

No pills needed for this healthy little boy.

* Obviously, I am not a doctor, and I am not going to give advice on dosing even over-the-counter stuff. But it's pretty easy to find dosages for different medicines by weight online and figure it out from there based on the milligrams or whatever listed on the medicine's package.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Snapshots: Easter, Garlic, Bubbles, and Animals

Some fine randomness for you this week.

I hid the Easter eggs last week by the light of a setting full moon.

Dramatic, but definitely more Halloween than Easter.

First Breakfast on Easter was deviled eggs made from the retrieved eggs, but Second Breakfast was chocolate from the baskets found after church. 

My hands smell like garlic all the time now, as I am constantly harvesting and chopping the green garlic from the pasture.

The chains for the fan and light on Poppy's bedroom fixture broke off too short to be easily reachable, and I discovered it is possible to buy replacement chains with dragonflies and butterflies on the bottom. This makes me happy every time I use them. Poppy loves them, too.


Fun with dish soap and a piece of PVC pipe.

A bull at sunrise in some uncharacteristically dull light, thanks to the hellish winds that have been blowing dirt all over the place. Also smoke from various fires, which is very much Not Good (although not endangering our house at the moment).

Hungry sheep waiting for morning hay . . .

Which was not long in coming. Those two on the left are the smart ones who discovered a whole other flake that the others ignored in favor of fighting over the first one I threw over the fence.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.