Saturday, June 4, 2022

Book Talk: Middle School Fiction

I decided to split middle school and high school up. Why? Because they're my lists, I suppose.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee--This is one of my own favorite books, and I was sort of surprised when Cubby read it in class in fifth grade. I mean, the main character is a young girl, but I feel like there's just too much going on in the story that would go over the head of an elementary-aged kid. I think middle school is a good time to read this book for the first time. Subsequent re-readings will reveal more and more, but a seventh grader can get plenty out of it on the first reading.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith--Another of my personal favorites. Such a great glimpse into life in early twentieth century Brooklyn tenements. Great characters, too.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain--My boys have a slight preference for Huck Finn, but agreed that readers new to Mark Twain should read Tom Sawyer first.

The Twain fans in one of their favorite environments. (This is our elementary school library, which is just shelves in the entryway. And yes, this small library includes both books recommended above.)

The Winter War by William Durban--A historical novel about a teenage boy who helps fight the Soviets when they invade his home of Finland.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery--I do not love the Anne books as much as I did when I was younger, but I still think everyone should read at least the first one.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen--I didn't put this one on the elementary list because I think some of it is better for middle school. Gary Paulsen's style doesn't always produce a straightforward narrative, and the stuff about the main character's parents' divorce is probably more for older kids. Such a great book, though. One of my favorites when I was a kid, and a favorite of my sons', too.

Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson--The best book for kids that is almost guaranteed to make them cry. Maybe not the best for very sensitive children, but a great book nonetheless.

Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George--I loved this book about an Eskimo girl who must learn to survive on her own. I don't think my sons have read it yet. Must get it for them.

Any Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson--I can't believe I forgot to put this on the list! Any and all of the Calvin and Hobbes comic collections are beloved of my children. And by me, too, although I now find myself identifying more with Calvin's mom than with Calvin. They are surprisingly sophisticated in both language and content, and just very, very funny.

What would you add to this list of middle school fiction?

Friday, June 3, 2022

Friday Food: Definitely Dill Season


Short version: Many leftovers, cucumbers

Long version: I usually have a very full refrigerator after cooking for guests for a few days, so after my parents left, I decided a clean out the refrigerator meal was in order. There were pork and sauerkraut, steak, mashed potatoes, and rice. Something for everyone.


Short version: Spanish tortilla, pineapple and cottage cheese, grapefruit, fresh bread and butter

Long version: I used to make Spanish tortillas--the kind with potatoes and eggs--all the time, but then I had a kid who disapproved of them and I gave up on them.

However, we had a lot of eggs, and I needed something I could make ahead while I had the oven on to bake bread in the early afternoon. So I made the tortilla with potatoes (sliced and boiled) and eggs (scrambled), and also cooked bacon bits; diced onion, bell pepper, and some wrinkled grape tomatoes sauteed in the bacon grease; and shredded cheddar cheese.

It was really good, and the one kid who used to dislike it no longer does. Hooray. Also, it was already baked and ready to eat when we got home at 5:15 p.m. from church in the 93-degree heat.

 Good call cooking ahead, for sure.

We had avocado and three kinds of salsa for the top, too. There was store-brand mild, national-brand hot, and New Mexico hot. The national brand is normal hot. The New Mexico one will melt your mouth. So of course, everyone had to have that one. Even salsa-eating is a competitive sport in a house with three boys.

We got the pineapples in the extra commodities produce boxes from the week before, and they were good pineapples. We also got the grapefruit, and since some children like grapefruit more than pineapple, they got to choose. Indulgence, indeed.

And then, of course, they had to finish off with some of the fresh bread with butter. Because who can resist fresh bread?


Short version: More leftovers, green salad with ranch dressing, chocolate pudding pops

Long version: This cleared out the last piece of the Spanish tortilla, the last of the steak and rice, and some egg salad.

And since I didn't actually prepare anything else, I went to all the trouble of chopping fresh garlic and dill for the ranch dressing.

I know. My commitment to quality food is truly inspiring.

Calvin asked for the pudding pops. Well, actually, he asked for chocolate popsicles. And that, of course, means chocolate pudding popsicles. I searched for a recipe with cornstarch so A. could eat some, too, and found this one. Instead of two tablespoons of cocoa powder, though, I used three heaping tablespoons. That was a good call.

I only have four popsicle molds, and the recipe makes six, so I poured the rest into my non-stick cake pan and cut that into wedges for me and A. It works fine if you don't mind your fingers getting a little sticky while you eat the wedge.


Short version: Pork stir-fry, rice, leftover frozen pudding

Long version: My mother always brings a ton of fresh produce for us when she comes to visit. This time, on the day she arrived, we also got two extra boxes of commodities produce. That meant a rather alarming quantity of produce.

Luckily, I love a challenge.

Sitr-fry is a good use for a lot of produce. This one was onion, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and two cans of commodities pork chunks. Plus the sauce of course.

The canned pork made it a bit mushy, but it tasted good.

And then everyone got some chunks of the rest of the frozen pudding from the cake pan. Not the most elegant presentation, but still tasty.

I've started harvesting the kohlrabi from the garden, and the kids ate a whole one before dinner. I just peel them and cut them into sticks. I actually grew some respectably-sized kohlrabi this year, for the first time since we started gardening in New Mexico.

Half-pint jar for scale.

Incidentally, if you know nothing about kohlrabi, it's in the same family as broccoli, and the taste and texture is pretty much just like a giant broccoli stem. So if you're the type who peels and eats the broccoli stem while you're prepping the florets--me!--you would love kohlrabi.


Short version: Tuna patties, spaghetti, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Both the tuna and spaghetti are frequent commodities items, as well as the tomato sauce that I put in the spaghetti. Commodities does not provide the pesto that was also in the spaghetti, though. (Although they do sometimes provide walnuts, which will be in the pesto as soon as my basil is big enough.)

Cubby helped me make the tuna patties, since they're one of his favorite foods. I use tuna, bread crumbs, eggs, mayonnaise, mustard, lots of dill--fresh this time of year--and pepper. This makes a delightfully squishy mixture that Cubby greatly enjoyed manhandling.

This day's pre-dinner snack was some pickled radish slices. The combination of my mom and commodities left us with four bags of radishes. Three of them went into jars with a hot brine--water, white vinegar, salt, small amount of sugar--to pickle. Very tasty.

Very pretty, too.


Short version: Peasant soup, rice pudding

Long version:  It was only in the fifties all day, so I decided to make a rice pudding and find something that could slow-cook in the oven with it.

That something was pork necks. 

I finally used the package of pork neck pieces that's been in the freezer for long enough I wasn't even sure how old it was. Two years, maybe. I browned them and put them in a Dutch oven covered with water with the ends of an onion and cooked that a few hours. 

There isn't much meat on pork neck pieces, but it does make really nice broth. After I pulled the meat off the bones, there was maybe 3/4 of a cup of meat to add back to the broth, and then I added a diced sauteed onion, chunks of carrot, green peas, some of the beet greens I froze last summer, the rest of the tomato sauce from the can I opened the day before, some of the brine from the pickled radishes, a cube of pureed green garlic, and fresh dill. 

After that cooked until it was soft, I added egg noodles. Last was some sour cream and more fresh dill.

It was quite good. The children still enjoyed the rice pudding more, though.


Short version: Barbecue meatballs, second-run tater tots, raw cabbage, pickled radishes, applesauce with cream

Long version: I had been planning on leftovers, but I decided I'd better make something substantial given the little adventure A. and the older two boys went on to the village.

They took Bill the Pony to the village. Which is ten miles away. So the boys took turns walking and riding. And A. just walked the whole way. 

For twenty miles. 

They were gone for over 8 hours, and I figured they'd be pretty hungry when they got home.

I would usually make baked or mashed potatoes to go with the meatballs, but I was out of potatoes. I did, however, have more of the tater tots the school cook had given me that were left over from lunch on the last day of school. It was a lot of tater tots, so I froze about half of them.

No one ever bakes tater tots long enough, so these were still a bit pale and wet for my liking. This made them perfect for re-baking, however, to my preferred crispiness. Which is very.

I still had three quarts of applesauce I canned last fall. Two of them were enthusiastically consumed for dessert this night with heavy cream poured right over the top.

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

T.T.: Buyer Beware

This past school year, Cubby and Calvin's teacher (it was a grades 4-6 class, so they were together) had a "classroom economy" in which the students earned money for different things. And then every nine weeks, there was a class auction where they could use their classroom money to bid on various items the teacher provided.

It was in this way that the insidious foam beads entered my home.

If you're not familiar with these, they're a sort of modeling product made out of tiny little balls of foam about the size and appearance of Nerds candy. They stick together and they never dry out. It sounds like such a good idea. No mess like playdough! No drying out like modeling clay! Reusable over and over!

Looks fun, right?

It is not a good idea.

The beads stick together, yes, but they also stick to EVERYTHING ELSE. To backpacks, to floors, to Jack's unfortunate stuffed cat that now has a permanent coating of little foam beads adhered to its fake fur. And although they do stick to each other, once they stick to something else, they separate into teeny tiny little pieces that have to be picked off one by one.

I shudder to think what might happen if a toddler got this stuff in their hair.

In addition to the tendency to get stuck to everything, the material also collects dirt and other debris. So if, say, a child were to drop their little ball of foam beads on the filthy school bus floor? Forget it. It's now trash. 

And on top of all of this, my kids don't even like playing with it. They can't really build anything substantial to play with, like they can with modeling clay or even playdough.

Both of the older boys brought some home. Cubby generously shared some of his with his two youngest siblings. This means that I now find little bits of this wretched substance all over the place. And I throw it away whenever I think I can get away with it. Despite that, I know it will haunt me for years.

So, in conclusion, if you are considering a gift for a child, either your own or (especially) someone else's, do yourself a favor and avoid foam beads like the plague.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Snapshots: Day-cor

When we moved into this house, all the windows had curtains on them. Cheap, ugly curtains on cheap, flimsy curtain rods. I replaced some of them, but didn't get around to one in the living room until, um, last week.

Ugly before . . .

And a much improved after.

Okay, so the "after" photo is only incidentally of the new curtain. What it's really showing is the giant solid black walnut bookcase my dad built for us from wood A. brought home from Blackrock. It's perfect, and my favorite thing in the house now.

The view from the kitchen. Love.

Less aesthetically pleasing were my shoes when we went down a canyon with my parents and walked up a dry beaver pond that was not actually all the way dry. I sank down to my ankles in black muck. It was gross. And it smelled like a swamp.

Luckily, these shoes were worn out and due to be replaced anyway, so I just threw them away. (This is after the muck had dried, so it was gray instead of black. Still smelled, though.)

I failed to mention we got some more chicks a few weeks ago. 

They just got moved outside to the old rabbit hutch. A great improvement over the too-small plastic tub they were living in in the shop.

We went to the school to drop off the school bus for the summer (yay!), and while A. was gassing it up and cleaning it out, the three younger children decided to hold an impromptu track meet.

It was 93 degrees with 30-mile-an-hour winds, but they still ran and did the long jump for twenty minutes. I sat in the van with the air conditioning running and enjoyed the sensation of the van rocking like a boat at sea in the high winds. (Not really.)

And last, some morning walk photos.

A moody apricot tree one morning . . .

Bright sun the next. 

There you have it! My life, snapshotted.