The Sometimes Vegetarian: Black Bean Enchiladas



Beans have become one of our go-to staples as we eat more vegetarian recipes for our resident 7 year old vegetarian. These black bean enchiladas have become one of my “Quick, it’s 5:0,  What’s for dinner?” meals.  Everyone likes them, even the 4 year old dedicated carnivore of the family. They are also easy and easy to adjust to whatever ingredients you have on hand.


The base is canned black beans. But then you can get creative and add whatever you like: spinach, corn, rice and cheddar cheese are our usuals. You can also add other veggies, for us typically whatever else we might have leftover. A little sour cream to help bind it all together.


They get rolled up and topped with enchilada sauce and more cheese if you please. All in all, pretty quick and tasty. Most members of our family can eat 1-2 of these.

Black Bean Enchiladas

1 can (15 ounce) black beans, rinsed and drained.
1 can of corn (or corn cut off 2-3 cobs, or about 1 cup frozen corn, no need to thaw)
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup leftover rice if you have it on hand
About 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
***Substitue or add whatever other veggies you like, I find leftover veggies work great here (red or green peppers, zucchini, onions, mushrooms)
About 1/2 cup sour cream (more if you like it a lot, it’s mostly to bind it all together and make the mixture a bit wet)
Salt to taste

Mix all of above together. Spoon down center of flour tortilla. Above should make between 5-6 enchiladas, if you want to stretch it to 7-8 add another can of beans and more rice.

Place enchiladas seam side down in baking dish coated with cooking spray. Pour enchilada sauce over top and sprinkle with more cheddar cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for 30 minutes, uncover for last 10 minutes.

Borrowed Names


In 1867 three women were born: Laura Ingalls, Sarah Breedlove and Marie Curie. The first went on to become a beloved children’s writer; the second became Madame C. J. Walker, an African-American business woman and founder of a haircare empire; and the last became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win two Nobels and the only person to ever win in multiple sciences.

Jeannine Atkins brings together these three women in a collection of poems. The poems center on the relationships between each woman and her daughter. The poems bring in true stories mixed with “imagination to fill in the gaps”. Atkins imagines Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane walking the same line between fact and fiction in the poem Shears:

Let just an edge peek out.
Rose takes back the notebook.
Begin with extravagance, but be ready to trim…

They put in poverty, blizzards, prairie fires,
leave out the milliner who cried
as she tied ribbons around hatbands
chose feathers, folded paper flowers, mourned
the husband who’d left her….

Don’t mention the children
who froze to death on Plum Creek,
the murderers in Kansas.
One family has troubles enough.

They won’t write about the baby
who was buried.
Even good dogs must die,
but such a shame that Jack was bartered.
Let’s let dear old Jack spend his last night at home
curled in a peaceful sleep.
Truth is as much justice as fact.

Due to the nature of the poetry the biographies of the woman are sketches only but rendered in a way that fleshes out familiar figures or makes the reader intrigued to learn more. I think this could be an excellent companion book for a study of the time period, or for a discussion of women’s history. Or just for the pleasure of reading the poems themselves.


Scenes from Ohiopyle


IMG_6395 IMG_6475We headed up to Pennsylvania to pick up John at camp. Each year we’ve tried to do a little mini-vacation after we pick him up so we can have some family fun.

IMG_0086 IMG_0101This year we headed to Ohiopyle State Park.

IMG_6540 IMG_6570 IMG_6668 IMG_6551There is a lot of natural beauty and adventure in the park; we just hit a tiny bit of what is available. We spent most of our time at Cucumber Falls, a waterfall that creates a natural swimming hole and a playground of rocks and trees to climb and scramble over.

IMG_6594 IMG_6661One of the best things about the waterfall is that you can go on the rock ledge behind it and you can stand in it. Quite something to experience 50 gallons of icy cold stream water dumping over your head.





I know I’ve got my keys…


I dropped John off at camp on Sunday. This is his fourth summer at this camp, plus he’s been away to Scout camp twice. Not to mention the week long trip to Puerto Rico he went on with his aunt earlier this year. So it’s nothing new having him away go away from home. He doesn’t get homesick at all and although we miss him we’re genuinely happy for him to have these fantastic experiences on his own.

As I walked to my car and drove away, I had that nagging feeling that I had forgotten something. Something I needed to do. Or say. Had I gone through all the parent drop-off stations? Had we packed everything he needed? Had I left my phone behind? My keys? My book? (Yes, I had a book with me. Always. You never know when you might have an emergency need for a book to read.) As I ran through the list in my head I couldn’t think of anything I had forgotten to do or anything I had left behind.

Oh. That was it.

I’d left John behind. My maternal spidey-sense just wouldn’t stop tingling. Something was not right, I was driving away alone and leaving a child behind me. Once I realized what the cause of the nagging feeling was, I laughed at myself.

But here’s the thing. It didn’t really go away. And as I thought about it realized I always have this feeling when one of the kids is away from home. Even if I know they are happy and having fun and doing what they are supposed to be doing it’s a slightly unsettled, all-is-not-quite-right with the world feeling.

A few hours later, I stopped for dinner and a reading break. (See, the book comes in handy.) I was at the end of Julia Glass’s And the Dark Sacred Night. A character has been searching for his biological father but comes to this realization:

What exactly, is a father if not a man who, once you’re grown and gone and out in the world making your own mistakes, all good advice be damned, waits patiently for you to return? And if you don’t, well then, you don’t. He understands that risk. He knows whose choice it is. 

I thought that was as concise summary of parenthood as I’ve seen.

Although, to continue to laugh at myself, we’re not really waiting patiently for John to return. Since he’s only 10, we have to go back to camp to get him. Still, there’s some kind of synchronicity there in the feeling and the reading. Which, if you can bear with one last observation, is one of the best reasons to read.


Two on Standardized Testing


On the standardized testing cheating scandal from “Wrong Answer” by Rachel Aviv in the July 21, 2014 The New Yorker: 

He felt as if he and his colleagues were part of a nationwide “biological experiment” in which the variables- the fact that so many children were hungry and transient, and witnessing violence- hadn’t been controlled. David Berliner, the former dean of the school of education at Arizona State University, told me that, with the passage of the law {No Child Left Behind}, teachers were asked to compensate for factors outside their control. He said, “The people who say poverty is no excuse for low performance are now using teacher accountability as an excuse of doing nothing about poverty.” p. 59-60

…it became clear that most teachers though they were committing a victimless crime. “They didn’t see the value in the test, so they didn’t see that they were devaluing the kids by cheating, ” she said. Unlike recent cheating scandals at Harvard and Stuyvesant High School, where privileged students were concerned about their own advancement, those who cheated at Parks were never convinced of the importance of the tests; they viewed the cheating as a door they had to pass through in order to focus on issues that seemed more relevant to their students’ lives. p. 62

John Ewing, who served as the executive director of the American Mathematical Society for fifteen years, told me that he is perplexed by educators’ “infatuation with data”, their faith that it is more authoritative than using their own judgment. He explains the problem in terms of Campbell’s law, a principle that describes the risks of using a single indicator to measure complex social phenomena: the greater the value is placed on a quantitative measure, like test scores, the more likely it is that the people using it and the process it measures will be corrupted. “The end goal of education isn’t to get students to answer the right number of questions,” he said. “The goal is to have curious and creative students who can function in life.” p. 63

Also of interest: Meredith Broussard’s “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” from the July 15, 2014 The Atlantic.

The elephant in the room.


David has always been exceptionally empathetic and sensitive. He doesn’t like other people to feel sad or upset and he often tries in his own way to make people feel better if he thinks they are sad. It’s a trait of his that I feel is very much God-given and not due to any of our parenting.

John left for Boy Scout camp this morning. We had to take him to the bus and it was a bit of a crazy rushed morning. H. is away at a church men’s retreat, I needed to walk the new puppy, get everyone dressed and ready and help him get all his stuff together. Not to mention that somehow on the way to the drop-off site I got lost twice. I don’t like being late for things and even though we weren’t truly late, we were cutting it close. So I felt kind of frazzled. Even more so when we got out of the car and I realized we had forgotten the fishing rod John was supposed to bring to complete one of his merit badges.

John, like me, tends to worry too much about things like being late or breaking the rules or forgetting things. I downplayed the missing fishing rod so he wouldn’t be upset and in fact the leader said it should be fine, there were ones at camp he could borrow.

Still, I felt bad. Like I’d failed somehow. When we got back home I saw the fishing rod sitting by the door where I’d put it so we wouldn’t forget it. I remarked on how I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten it.

David looked at me sideways and said, “Well, it’s not like it was a giant hippo.”

I laughed, “Yes, that would have been really stupid to forget a giant hippo.”

David smiled and said “Yeah Mom, you would never have forgotten a giant hippo sitting by the door. You’re really good at stuff like that.”

And just like that I realized the absurdity of still feeling bad about something so small. And John? He loves camp so much he’d probably be find if we’d forgotten half of what he was supposed to bring.


The Sometimes Vegetarian: Sesame Eggs



Lunches are my least favorite meal to make. Even though it comes every day without fail, somehow it always seems to sneak up on me. I am at my least creative at lunchtime and find myself making the same things over and over.

The best solution is sometimes to have the boys make lunch for themselves or sometimes for all of us. I started by teaching them fairly easy things: grilled cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs, quesadillas. John can pretty much make any egg dish (omelets, sunny-side-up, over-easy, scrambled). As they learn basic cooking skills and get more comfortable with cooking they have gotten more inventive. To me, this is where they are really cooking vs. just following a recipe. Sometimes the things they come up with are odd to me but I want them to be comfortable with cooking and I think you have to play a bit to get to that point. And as a bonus, they are more likely to eat their own creations.

This is a new creation of John’s but they both enjoy making it now. I think he first made it when he wanted to make fried rice but we didn’t have any leftover rice. It also works well for us as it fits David’s vegetarian diet. There isn’t an actual recipe but it goes something like this as near I can tell:

Sesame Eggs

Eggs (3 per person)
Frozen peas
Other veggies of your choice (carrots, corn)
Soy sauce
Sesame seeds
Chinese Five-Spice Powder

*The Nutmeg seems odd to me but they insist on adding it.

Beat the eggs. Heat some oil in a pan and begin to scramble the eggs. Add the veggies. When the eggs are beginning to solidify (at the soft scrambled egg stage) add some soy sauce (about 1 TBSP). Add a shake of Chinese Five-Spice Powder and a dash of Nutmeg. Continue to cook to your desired level of firmness. Sprinkle very liberally with sesame seeds. The more the better. Enjoy!



Non-Fiction Monday: Mama Built a Little Nest


I loved Jennifer Ward’s fabulous new book, Mama Built a Little Nest. Each page looks at the incredible variety of types of nests that birds make.  A rhyming quartet telling about each nest is paired with a gorgeous illustration by the amazing Steve Jenkins. For the eagle aerie:

Mama built a sturdy nest
by stacking twigs up high-
a breezy house upon a tree,
where talons blend with sky. 

The simple quartets are perfect for a preschooler and by focusing on the Mama (or Daddy) bird-Baby bird relationship, Ward zeroed in on exactly what is accessible and understandable to that age group. Additional text in a smaller font gives more details about the nest construction and the bird relationships for elementary aged kids.

This one is going on my list of possible Cybils nominations for 2014. For more great non-fiction, stop by Non-Fiction Monday.

Brimsby’s Hats


Brimsby is a hatmaker who makes wonderful hats that he sends all over the world. He has a best friend who visits every day and together they drink tea and have wonderful conversations. However, one day the friend decides to travel far away pursuing his dream to become a sea captain. At first Brimsby is lonely but he finds a way to use his hats to make some new friends. And in the end all the friends together visit the old friend in his new home by the sea and “drink tea and talk about hats and shovels and ships and how wonderful it was that they had all been lucky enough to meet one another.”

Andrew Prahin’s Brimsby’s Hats is really a sweet book with a solid theme of grace and friendship at it’s core. It was interesting to me that the child of mine who was most drawn to this book is also our most sensitive and empathetic child. It’s a quiet book that I think has a lot of appeal for the right kid. The illustrations feel like they fit the story perfectly: slightly quirky in the characters and color palette but overall with a sweetness.


June Reading


Fiction Read in June:

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
Perelandra by C. S. Lewis
Both of these were first time reads for me. I read them as research for the first unit I am planning for John for school in the fall. I think they are a little too complex for him right now. He could read them and if he picked them up to read on his own I’d be fine with it. But I think he’ll get so much more out of these complex books if he waits a few years. 

I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Flavia deLuce has definitely grown on me since I declared her too quirky and precocious on my first introduction to Bradley’s poison loving 11 year old girl chemist and sometimes detective. Count me a fan. 

The Pirate King by Laurie R. King (audiobook)
I continue to list to the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series on audiobook. This one was not my favorite, the setting of a 1920’s silent film and a cast of hundreds didn’t work as well for me. One fun thing: Pirates of Penzance is feature heavily in the plot and quoted throughout. Our homeschool co-op performed Pirates this spring so many of the references were very fresh in my mind. 

The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
John and I have both enjoyed the Ascendance Triology by Nielsen. The Shadow Throne, the final book in the series, is a very satisfying end to the story of Jaron, the incorrigible, charming young king determined to save his country from destruction and war. 

Non-Fiction Read in June: 

The Rocks Don’t Lie by David Montgomery

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
It’s somewhat hard to sum up this book but I can guarantee you’ve never read anything like it. Unless you know of another book by a librarian who has Tourette’s syndrome. And is 6’7″. And enters strongman competitions. And who is LDS and writes openly and graciously about both the faith of his family and his own struggles with faith. I picked this one up on a whim off the shelf at my own library and was captivated by Hanagarne’s story. I have to love a guy who loves libraries as much as this:

I love to tell kids that everything in the library is theirs. “We just keep it here for you.” One million items that you can have for free! A collection that represents an answer to just about any question we could ask. A bottomless source of stories and entertainments and scholarly works and works of art. Escapist, fun trash and the pinnacles of the high literary style. Beavis and Butt-Head DVDs and Tchaikovsky’s entire oeuvre within ten feet of each other. Every Pulitzer-Prize winning book and National Book Award winner. Picture books for children. An enormous ESL collection…Art prints you can borrow and put on your wall for a month. A special-collections area of rare books. Full runs of ephemera from The New York Times to the original Black Panther newsletters.

If I could bring my bed, expand the fitness room, and kick everyone out, I wouldn’t need to pursue Heaven in the next world. I’d be there.