What we are reading.

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I haven’t done this in awhile but I thought I’d take the time to share what books we are reading as a family. We’re still juggling a separate bedtime “special” book for each child. In reality, the boys both listen to both books so eventually, it might just make sense to have one book. But for now, this works for us.

Ruth and I are reading Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins. I discovered this sweet trilogy a few years ago with David. They tell the story of three friends, Lumphy (a buffalo), Stingray, and Plastic (a red rubber ball). The friends have adventures visiting Tuk-Tuk the towel in the bathroom and braving the scary washing machine in the basement. They are sweetly told and a good pacing for young listeners. I like that Jenkins also shows the characters’ flaws (Stingray is kind of bossy and sometimes not a good friend) in a way that kids can probably identify with and learn from.

Back in the spring, when we were going on vacation, I picked up The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker to listen to in the car. Typically, the boys love listening to audiobooks on trips but Ruth isn’t always so excited about them and this can cause some squabbling. My thought was that a book about a princess might get her a little more interested. The boys resisted it a bit, but they are pretty open to any book, even about princesses. As John has said, “I don’t care if it’s about a girl. As long as interesting stuff happens to her.” Ruth ended up being only mildly more interested in that audiobook than any other but the boys fell in love with this series of stories about the magical kingdom of Greater Greensward. We have spent the summer happily listening to the next 6 in the series. Until, horrors of horrors, our library didn’t have the last audiobook. David then asked for the last book in the series to be his special book and we are all enjoying one last adventure with these characters.

Instead of frog princesses, we’re spending time in the car with giant rats, bats and cockroaches. John read this series by Suzanne Collins (yes, of the Hunger Games) a few years ago and really enjoyed it. David discovered Gregor the Overlander in the audiobook section at the library and thought it looked interesting so it’s become our new story for the car. I’ve never read it myself and so far am enjoying it. It’s also a good way to make the boys practice narrating/summarizing. They listen to the story sometimes without me in the car (when H. is driving and I’m elsewhere). So then when I get back in I make them sum up the story for me so I can be up-to-date.

 
I’ll admit to not being a huge Madeline L’Engle fan as a kid. I liked A Wrinkle in Time okay, but I don’t even remember reading her other books. It may have been that I read them at the wrong time or they were just a little too dense or weird for me. John has been picking as his special books her Time Quartet and we are currently reading A Wind in the Door. I’m still not sure if it might be too dense and a little too weird for me. Or maybe I’m just not getting it all. John agrees that it’s weird but he says he likes it so we’ll keep going.

As a family we also read a different book together at lunch. Currently we’re reading Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. I have seen such amazing love for this series, usually from homeschoolers. I’m finding it a bit slow and dull. It may be partially my fault as we’re taking forever to get through it due to not much lunchtime reading over the summer. It’s a little hard to feel invested in a book 
when the story feels more fractured. I’ve also finding all the sailing references kind of bewildering. Again, the kids seem to really enjoy it and say they want to keep going so we will. It feels like the kind of book that might sneak up on me later and surprise me with how much I like it so I’ll just have to see.

That’s what we’re reading together. John informed us at dinner that he’s reading 11 books on his own right now, but hasn’t quite settled on which one to focus on. He also just read The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald as his first assigned reading of the school year. I’m trying a new reading-based unit study approach with him. So far it’s going well. I hope to write a longer post about the study at some point. David is reading the third Harry Potter book. He really dove into the world of Hogwarts this summer. It’s been extra fun to see him and John sharing this world, both in conversation and in play (they built an entire Diagon Alley one day out of Legos and spent the day making stop-action animated movies using it as a set).

So that’s a bit of what we’re reading. What are you reading as this school year begins?

 

The Sometimes Vegetarian: Black Bean Enchiladas

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

Two on Standardized Testing

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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.

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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.

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The Sometimes Vegetarian: Sesame Eggs

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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
*Nutmeg

*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

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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

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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.

 

Read Aloud Thursday: Summer Reading

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Ok, I just realized that the post I wanted to write today for Read Aloud Thursday is technically not about read-alouds. But I think Amy will forgive me since it still fits with the overall kids and books theme.

We’ve participated in our local library’s summer reading program for years, since before John could read on his own (Aha! That’s the read-aloud portion of the post.) It’s fun but for the past couple of years I’ve wanted to figure out how to make it into something a little more challenging.

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John is a voracious reader. He reads all the time. In fact, just tonight we came home from a family dinner and couldn’t find him only to realize he’d stayed in the car to read. (Before, I get comments about children being left in cars, realize that he is 10 and fully capable of coming in the house by himself. He was just too absorbed in his book.) His genre of choice is fantasy and he reads deeply in that category. I’m a believer in letting kids read what they want. However, I also have felt like he could use some gentle “encouragement” to help him get out of the fantasy rut. Or at least to have him try some books in other genres. I also wanted to see him challenge himself a little more as a reader.

IMG_0818Hence, the Summer Book List was born. I made a list of 12 books. The poster is made from printing off covers found online and glueing them to a poster-board. Then I gave him the goal of reading one book a month from my list. He should (and will) read much more than three books over the summer, but he only had to read three from my list.

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David’s a very good reader but he isn’t as passionate about reading as John. That’s ok, they are wired very differently. This year he started many many chapter books that he never finished for various reasons. He reads a lot of picture books, which is fantastic. I love picture books. However, I’ve wanted to encourage him to stick with longer books as well. My goal for him this summer was to find longer books that he would truly love and that he would finish.

IMG_0819David also got a poster of 12 books and an assignment to read one a month from my list. So far, the lists have been a success. David just finished his June pick: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. He loved it and I think had a fair amount of pride in finishing a long-for-him book. John has finished three of the books off his list: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. He loved the first two (which were really in his preferred fantasy-adventure genre) and liked the third one pretty well. He’s also read several other fantasy books of his own choosing and re-read the entire Harry Potter series, so my assignments don’t seem to be slowing him down too much.

What are your kids reading this summer? Do you assign books or let them read at their own whimsy?

John’s Book List

Hoot by Carl Hiassen
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Paperboy by Vince Vawter
Carry on Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
Nothing But the Truth by Avi

David’s Book List

Soup by Robert Newton Peck
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Tornado by Betsy Byars
Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
When the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Taylor Made Tales: The Dog’s Secret by Ellen Miles
Wolves of the Beyond: The Lone Wolf by Kathryn Lasky
Lionboy by Zizou Corder

Be sure to stop by Hope is the Word for this month’s Read Aloud Thursday round-up!