Saturday, May 14, 2022

Book Talk: Modern Elementary Fiction

"Modern" meaning anything published between 1980 and now. Although probably most of these are still going to be on the older side, because I am not generally very impressed with more-current fiction for children.

Superfudge by Judy Blume--Judy Blume wrote a LOT of books, and I suspect everyone had their own favorite. I always liked this one. 

Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary--I forgot to put this one on the previous list. It was published in 1977, so not very modern, but my favorite of the Ramona books.

Clementine series by Sara Pennypacker--These are for younger kids, probably second or third grade, and the main character is a mischievous little girl named Clementine who gets into all kinds of things. She is very like Ramona Quimby.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman--Definitely not for younger readers. Neil Gaiman's books are, well, weird. This one definitely is, as well as being macabre and perhaps somewhat disturbing for some kids. My boys loved it, and I read it and thought it was a very good book, but it is . . . weird. 

Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parish--This could be both old and modern, since the books featuring this character have been published continuously since 1963. I haven't read any of the newer ones written by the original author's nephew (although, in my experience, those sorts of situations usually result in a definite reduction in quality), but the original books are beloved by beginning readers. Amelia Bedelia is just so . . . silly. Younger kids love her, and they're good books for kids who are ready to move beyond leveled readers but aren't quite ready for longer chapter books.

Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner--There are a lot of these books about a time-traveling golden retriever named Ranger. He gets transported to various periods of history and helps children out in different situations like the San Francisco earthquake or a voyage to the South Pole. I've read these aloud with my younger children, and I found the premise a bit forced sometimes, but kids love these, and it's a very good way for them to learn about different historical events.

Jasper says he's just as good as a golden retriever and someone should write a book about him.

I Survived series by various authors--Another history-based series with a ton of books. If not for these, I myself never would have heard of The Great Molasses Flood of 1919. (Yes, it really was molasses, and it happened in Boston.)

With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin--This author is best known for The Babysitters Club series--which I loved as a kid--but I think this book is much better than those. It's about a girl whose dad dies of a terminal illness. The subject makes it very sad, but it is a remarkably sensitive story about a family handling death and grief. She wrote another book about a boy whose brother is autistic (Inside Out) and another one about a girl struggling with dyslexia (Yours Turly, Shirley). I really think Ann M. Martin was way ahead of her time when it came to writing about kids who were mostly not represented in children's fiction at that time. She's just a great author for kids.

Hush by Jacqueline Woodson--For older elementary, probably fourth or fifth grade. I read this and thought it was great. It's about a black girl whose family has to enter a witness protection program after her police officer father testifies against a fellow police officer. It deals with some pretty heavy topics, but it is definitely still a book about and for children. There's nothing inappropriate in it, but it is serious in a way that is rare for children's fiction.

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

Friday, May 13, 2022

Friday Food: Short and Sweet

I do not appear to have felt very chatty this week. How unusual.


Short version: Beef stir-fry, rice

Long version: A package of tenderized top round steaks cut into strips and marinated, then combined with onion, carrots, mushrooms, green beans, and bell peppers from the freezer. Tasty stir-fry. Slicing all the fresh vegetables is definitely more effort, but it's also better stir-fry than using frozen. True of so much.


Short version: T-bone steaks, garlic bread, carrot sticks, random roasted things

Long version: While I was baking bread, I shoved many things into the oven, including thinly sliced onions, a pan of potato chunks, another pan of carrots and sweet potatoes, and the garlic bread. After the garlic bread was gone, some people started in on the potatoes, so I guess it was a good thing I made them.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, potato salad, raw cabbage, leftover carrots/sweet potato, chocolate pudding

Long version: Yes, I cook my own Mother's Day dinner. But I made it easy on myself by mostly including things that could be prepared ahead of time.

I made this potato salad (except with Russet potatoes, apple cider vinegar, onion powder, and half the amount of sugar) because A. does not enjoy mayonnaise-based potato salads, and I love every kind of potato salad. This is a good one for the mayonnaise-averse.

Also a good one for anyone who has a lot of dill in their garden. Which is everyone who has ever grown dill. It is a prolific self-seeder.

And then I made the pudding because I had a lot of milk that needed to be used soon, I could make it ahead of time, and I really love chocolate pudding.


Short version: Leftovers

Long version: Hamburgers, steak, potato salad, the very last of the ram/rooster stew for A. You know, workday food.

Potato salad is also good leftover.


Short version: Ground beef and bean tacos

Long version: I added another two-pound package of ground beef to the pound or so left from making hamburgers, along with half a can of black beans that was languishing in the refrigerator, to make the taco meat. 

We had both tomatoes and lettuce for a topping, so it was tacos deeeeluxe.

Or something.


Short version: Tuna salad sandwiches, fruit shakes

Long version: A. took Cubby to the sports banquet at school. I was tired after working, and it was 90 degrees out, so I took the easiest and coolest way out.

In our house, smoothies=fruit shakes. I had a couple of bananas that really needed to be used up, so that worked out.


Short version: Tacos

Long version: Leftover meat and beans in tortillas. And it wasn't even a work day!

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

T.T.: Do As I Do

I came across this old post I never actually posted for whatever reason, and decided it was sort of appropriate for a post-Mother's Day Tips.

One of the Pearls of Wisdom I have acquired since becoming a mother is that having children will force you to come face to face with your own failings . . . in your children.

This is most uncomfortable, particularly when I get mad at them for some kind of behavior that I then realize was exactly what I did when I was a kid.

Humbling. Very humbling.

But even worse than that is recognizing in my children some of my failings that I desperately wish they could overcome, because I know how those failings have affected my life.

For instance, I know about myself that I never want to do anything I'm not immediately good at. There are many things that I have an innate talent for, and those are the things I do. If it requires multiple attempts with the possibility of failure? Nope. I will avoid those things.

Obviously, this is not something I want my children to do. I mean, talk about an excellent way to limit yourself.

Unfortunately, this is a tendency I can see in at least one of my children already. I want to shake him and tell him forcefully, "Try the things you're not good at. Try the things you're afraid of. DON'T BE LIKE ME."

Not that he would listen. Kids often don't. But you know what they do do? They watch. They observe.

I hope he watches when I'm trying and failing to drive a screw that I'm still trying. And that I eventually got it.

I hope he sees me struggling to understand his math homework so I can help him, even if I don't always manage it.

I hope he sees me decorating the ugliest cakes ever and understands that I did it not because I am a talented cake decorator who can create beautiful cakes, but because I wanted to make my children happy.

It helps that almost ANY cake makes children happy, as long as their name (or, um, initial) and some candles are on it.

And I hope he tries, and fails, but does the hard things anyway.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

A Mother's Day Bonus

I know I already posted this Sunday's Snapshots, but I couldn't resist also posting a link to the best Mother's Day song of all time.

I apparently first directed your attention to this almost exactly 10 years ago, so I think it's definitely time to re-visit it.

In honor of mothers everywhere, I present Mr. T. is short shorts and high tube socks performing "Treat Your Mother Right." (When I showed this to my children this morning, I skipped the kids yelling at each other in the beginning, because, as I told my own kids, they yell at each other all day and don't need to see other kids doing it. Mr. T. appears 39 seconds in.)

Snaphots: Happy Mother's Day

Here I am, a regular ol' mom in the middle of nowhere. And here are my photos from this week.

Poppy's friend brought a bag of her outgrown clothes with her when she came to spend the day with us on Tuesday, and then she carefully laid them all out for display. And THEN, she folded them all and helped Poppy put them away in her drawers. She folded them! Magic! (My kids do not fold clothes. They do sometimes put them away, but folding? No.)

I am delighted every morning by how the rising sun spotlights this arrangement of weeds the MiL picked with Poppy, and how the sun makes the peacock feather I hid in it absolutely glow. 

And now, plants! Because it's spring! And things are growing! YAY!

I have finally managed some successful kohlrabi, after a few years of failure. Turns out, just like cabbage, it cannot be direct-seeded here.

Only a few of the strawberries we planted last year survived, but those few have several strawberries apiece on them. This tiny plant has six strawberries on it already.

As this is only the second year for our asparagus, I stopped harvesting it already and am letting it grow into tall spears and then into the fun, feathery asparagus trees. I like to eat asparagus, but I also like how it looks after it grows into the actual plant.

Between marauding rabbits, hornworm defoliation, and cold weather, A. has had many setbacks with his grapevines. But he's pulled some of them through by developing some novel techniques for protection (stone enclosures like this, plus he actually buried them in dirt to overwinter this year), and he thinks he may even get grapes this year. 

Random shot Poppy insisted I take of of the honey/peanut butter/butter combination to be melted for the snack cookies. Fun fact: When all mixed together, this tastes exactly like melted peanut brittle.

There you have it! My life, snapshotted. 

And Happy Mother's Day to all other mothers out there. I hope your day is exactly as you wish it to be.