Summer Eats: Weeks 4-6

So I’m rocking the summer series here.  Our vacation (on which I did NOT cook) threw me off, and the farm’s getting hit with a terrible hail storm threw me off further. Miraculously, we are still receiving food from the farm, so here are some more of our summer meals (though no longer neatly organized by day.)  Click here for week 1week 2 and week 3.

Martha Stewart’s Eggplant Parmesan.  My husband LOVES eggplant parm and swears that this recipe (neatly printed and left on the counter for all to see) wasn’t the world’s biggest hint.  We had some gorgeous eggplants* from the farm, and I used two of them for this.

Lest you think my children are into my cooking, here’s what my daughter texted to my husband as I was making it:


No photo of the actual meal, though it was good (and pretty healthy, since it was baked instead of fried and I went light on the cheese.)

Pork* Carnitas Tacos with pickled onions* and cojita cheese.  These are always a hit, and sometimes (if I pack some of the meat away for the freezer) we have leftovers for a second meal later.  Nothing like freezer meals for making the afternoon go better around here!

Whole Roast Chicken with Lemony Broccoli (I used zucchini* and patty pan squash* because that’s what we had, but I’m sure broccoli would be delicious.)

And then with the leftover chicken, I made a pasta salad with chicken, grape tomatoes*, green beans and a mustard-basil vinaigrette.  (For the vinaigrette, I mix 2 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tsp honey, half a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, 1 tsp fresh basil, chopped finely, 1/4 cup evoo and 3 tbsp red wine vinegar.)

Smitten Kitchen just posted a recipe for Eggplant Parmesan Melts– I haven’t made them yet, but I do have one more eggplant* waiting to be used.  (Don’t tell my daughter!)


First Day of School 2016-7

Happy  late summer!  We started school today.  I thought I’d get a little push-back (“it’s only August!”) but I think everyone was ready.  And even if they weren’t, I’ve been dropping hints over the past few weeks (think handing out school supplies and squeezing in a “few last summer activities”) that it was time.  And then this morning came, and everyone was ready.

My daughter’s reading lately has featured lots of contemporary teenage girls (and their angst, sigh).  And because of that, two weeks ago she asked me for a locker.

Excuse me?

“You know, a locker.  To keep my books in.”

Well.  So much for that.  I was convinced the year was blown before it had even started.  Was this just a ploy for her to demand to go to a public middle school, since there was no way I could possibly fulfill her needs?

Just as I was spiraling into a swirl of doom, she found one in our study.

A locker.


This is an Ikea bookcase.  We’ve had it for years (note the footprints on the lower door, and then tell me why there should be footprints there. Go ahead, I dare you) and I was even feeling like it needed to find a new home… until she saw it with new eyes.  It was a locker! So she engineered a lock mechanism and added a lock.

Detail of lock:


She put a hook on the inside wall, attached a rubber band to it and the knob, and voila, all her dreams for the school year were complete.

Or not.

In other news, we also started learning things.  Here are the read-alouds we’re beginning with.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be a group read (it’s so fun that we can all read now!), and the others I will read aloud.  We’re focusing on English history before we head to London in September.

Todays readings:


And, probably because this is not my first rodeo, I held our reading time to an hour instead of letting my excitement carry us away.  Everyone groaned when I stopped the MBS and begged me to keep reading.  (I said no.)  All four kids finished their work long before they thought they would and concluded they were amazingly smart.  In reality, they finished early because I planned it that way, so that we could play board games and play with the neighbor kids when they got home from summer camp.

It was my own little back-to-school engineering project to start us out on the right foot.  (Don’t tell.)

Have you started yet?  Are you engineering any changes to your school structure?

Middle School History Through Literature Unit: World War II to 2000

I wanted to share this booklist for those looking for a group of novels covering the 2nd half of the 20th Century.  All these books are well-written, thought provoking without being preachy, and full of compelling characters.  My children still can tell you about every one of these novels, even though we read some of them a few years back.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but only ones I think make a good complement of books to examine 1940-2000. Without further ado:

World War 2:

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Code Talker (Joseph Bruchac)- This is the true story of a group of Navajo men recruited to the Marines in WWII to create a code the Nazis couldn’t crack.

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Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon (Steve Sheinkin).  This book paints the Manhattan Project and all its implications in vivid color and sets the stage for the Cold War.

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The Endless Steppe (Esther Hautzig): Hautzig’s account of living as a Jewish exile in Siberia during WWII is both very specific in its details and broad in its view of human nature.  Unlike some more modern children’s literature (I’m looking at you, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), it does not suggest that the power of friendship was enough to mitigate the evils of the Holocaust.

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The House of Sixty Fathers (Meindert DeJong): This book tells the take of a Chinese boy whose village is destroyed by the Japanese.  I think we often focus on the European aspects of WWII.  DeJong’s book is a good way to introduce the Pacific front.

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Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes (Eleanor Coerr): Sadako is the simplest title on this list, but it is a beautiful book and a good complement to Bomb.

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The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny and the Fight for Civil Rights (Steve Sheinkin) is another non-fiction title for youth that holds both the real people and the implications for history in perfect balance.  Great fodder for discussions on racism, civil rights, and WWII.

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Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein) is a novel portraying the friendship between two teenagers who signed up to fight WWII in England and France.  The brutality of war is portraying without being too graphic, but this is a book for the older middle school crowd.  This book is perfect for lots of “what would you have done?” questions.


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October Sky (aka, Rocket Boys) (Homer Hickman) is a memoir of a future NASA engineer and his buddies who, inspired by Sputnik, decide to build a rocket in a West Virginia mining town.  While my kids were most focused on the rocket building adventures (and misadventures), we all absorbed lots of late-fifties history and had an eye-opening encounter with the dying mining culture in Appalachia.  I did edit a bit of the teenage love/angst.

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Dead End in Norvelt (Jack Gantos): Pure fiction set in 1962, full of humor and great characters.  We were so entertained we didn’t notice how much we learned about the importance of history and life during the early Cold War.

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Countdown and Revolution (both by Deborah Wiles): Countdown tells the story of the Cuban Missile Crisis from the perspective of Franny Chapman, an entertaining fifth grader.  Within the book are actual newspaper clips from 1962, which fascinated my readers.  Revolution is the story of the “Freedom Summer” of 1964, also accompanied by primary documents embedded within the book.

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The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 (Christopher Paul Curtis)- Curtis tells a beautiful and powerful story of family and consequences through the Watson family’s journey from Flint, Michigan, to Birmingham Alabama, in 1963.

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The Wednesday Wars (Gary D. Schmidt): The Wednesday Wars remains one of our family’s favorite books of all time.  It tells the story of Holling Hoodhood’s 7th grade year, 1968.   It is a seamless weaving of specific history, Shakespeare, the universal trials of childhood, and the power of love.

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Okay for Now (Gary D. Schmidt) follows a supporting character from The Wednesday Wars, Doug Swietek, through the year of his dislocation and his wounded brother’s return from Vietnam.  This is no warm, fuzzy tale of family reunited.  It is the story of what you do to survive a broken family, and how hope may come from surprising places.  This one is a hard read emotionally and has very difficult subject matter. Save it for your older readers.

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Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (Ibtisam Barakat): Barakat’s memoir is told in vignettes from her family’s flight from Ramallah, Palestine,  during the Six Day War in 1967, and its aftermath.  She writes beautifully and without self-pity.  Lots of questions to discuss about war and peace.

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Revolution is Not a Dinner Party (Ying Chang Compestine): This is the story of 1972 during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, as seen through the eyes of 8 year-old Ling, a narrator with vision beyond her years.  My son liked it so much he made my husband read it.

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A Long Walk to Water (Linda Sue Park): Park weaves together two refugees’ stories. Salva flees his small Sudanese village in the wake of a 1985 explosion to make his way to a refugee camp in Ethiopia, and eventually to the US.  Nya, an eleven-year-old in Sudan in 2008, spends her life walking for water.  The intersection of these two characters is beautiful and astonishing.

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The Day of the Pelican (Katherine Paterson): Paterson tells a powerful tale of modern refugees through Meli and her family’s flight from Kosovo in 1998 until they make a new home in New England, just after September 11, 2001.

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, but a manageable one.  What are your favorite late-20th Century books for middle schoolers?





Daybook: early August

Out my window: the heat is back.  We had a few days of cooler temps (and even one morning of mist and fog!) but alas, no more.  Remind me of this in February when I’m grousing about being cold.

Aforementioned mist:


In the kitchen: I’ve been posting on our bounty of summer vegetables and our weekly meal plan, though I skipped our vacation week.  Over the weekend I asked the kids what meals they wanted for the rest of August, and they listed all our winter favorites: pot pie, shepherd’s pie, beef stew… Apparently they’re not down with the summer food program. Sadly, our CSA was hit with a terrible hail storm that killed the bulk of their summer harvest (all the tomatoes and peppers and the rest of the melons and corn)… so it may be back to supermarket produce for us after all, at least for this year.

In the school room: I’ve been organizing.  Momo gave me some great (meaning very specific) feedback about how to improve her French class for this year, and I’m happy about those changes.  The girls are very excited about all our school supplies (who doesn’t love school supplies!), and with the exception of the order of our literature read-alouds, I have our full year planned.  Wahoo!

Grateful for: My goddaughter is completely healed from her bacterial meningitis!  Thanks for all your prayers.  She and her family stopped by over the weekend, and it was so good to see her for myself that she is fully herself.

We have a new nephew, who (according to all photos and eyewitnesses) is the cutest little baby every born.  I can’t wait to meet him.


We had a lovely, if short, vacation in the mountains last week. The highlight for me was our hike up Vail Mountain. We did this hike last year and everyone has good memories of it and was game to go again. It’s 5 miles one way (up) and gains 2160 feet. That’s an average grade of 7.9%. When several of our hikers fell weeping and whining to the dirt, crying, “How much longer? We’re neeeeeeevvvvverrrrr going to get there!” I remembered the agony of the second half of the hike. I must have blocked it out. Just like labor.


Of course, at the top it was worth it.  Just like labor.

We also were able to spend a day with friends, playing in the (really cold!) river and swimming in the pool.


On my book table: Jamie Martin’s Give Your Child the World and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.  These are the non-fiction titles I was hoping to read this summer, before I got sucked into two new-to-me mystery series.  I think I’m going to run out of time before Monday, especially since I have no willpower when it comes to turning off the Olympics and reading a book.

In my shoes: I’m nursing a sore foot with lots of stretching, yoga and ice.  What I really want to do, though, is run.  I ran 60 miles in July and my foot wasn’t worse, it just wasn’t any better.

Praying for: The Neals and Simons. Mandy, Judy, Caleb, Christine, Tammie, Gerri, and Lori.  Justine and family, adjusting to life as a family of four.  A good start to school and the quick return to good learning habits.

Summer Eats: Week 3

This week, the farm sent us zucchini, yellow squash, onions, garlic, Yukon gold potatoes, green beans, cucumbers (regular and lemon), carrots, musk melons, watermelon, Rainier cherries and peaches.  Yum!

So I made:

Monday: zoodles with pesto*, carrots*, cucumbers*, melon*

Tuesday: chicken pot pie (filling from the freezer, topped with cream biscuits), melon* and carrots*

Wednesday: pot roast* with potatoes*, onions* and carrots* and watermelon * and cherries*

Thursday: sesame chicken over rice, steamed green beans*, watermelon*

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Friday: stacked vegetable quesadillas (from Simply in Season) with zucchini*, onions*, garlic*, spinach, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese in corn tortillas*

Saturday: fried eggs* with potato*-and-vegetable* hash, pork sausage*, melon


Sunday: leftovers

I ate all the peaches* (so greedy!) on my morning oatmeal every day.

If you’re looking for more Summer Eats here are Week 1 and Week 2.  Please share your favorite farm-to-table foods in the comments!

Summer Eats: Week 2

For previous posts in this series, check out Summer Eats, week 1.

Monday: Chicken Fajitas (I slice the meat in thin strips, marinate it in a mixture of chili powder and lime juice in a ratio of 1:2, and stir fry it with red onions* and peppers) with melon*.

Tuesday: Beef Noodle Bowls from Pioneer Woman (I added steamed broccoli* to ours), a beet salad (roasted golden and red beets* drizzled with balsamic glaze and sprinkled with feta cheese) and Special Cake (with zucchini* in it) to celebrate our friend’s engagement. Hooray!
Wednesday: Tacos (it was Takos Tuesday but on a Wednesday). Musk melon* (like a cantaloupe but way tastier) and green beans*.

Thursday: 3 bean salad (with green beans* and hopefully undetected zucchini*) and quiches with our eggs*, and broiled (or grilled works too) apricots* with mascarpone cheese and cinnamon.

Friday: black bean soup with avocado, lime, and corn chips.  Musk melon*.

Saturday: sauteed vegetables (zucchini*, fennel*, green beans*, onions*) over pasta.

Sunday: out for a birthday dinner, and at home: birthday cake!

What’s for dinner at your house?


phfr: late July

Pretty: I think it was all the late spring snow and rain we had, but this has been an amazing year for our roses.


Happy: this week we got to celebrate our friend’s engagement and meet her fiancé. Stupidly, I didn’t take a photo of them, but she and I both took photos of the cake. Recipe from my friend Kristina’s awesome baking blog here.


Funny: I’m running some new routes this week, and I keep passing this car. It makes me feel like I’m in Mayberry.


And there is one house that totally overwaters (their sidewalk is always flooded) and I nearly stepped on this little fellow.


Real: So many heavy things are on my heart right now.  So many shootings.  Politicians using fear as a weapon.  My goddaughter is in the ICU far away, getting good care, but still… heavy. Scary. Would you add her to your prayer list?  Thanks.

For more {phfr} check out Like Mother Like Daughter.