Aug 15, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Simple, Tasty Salad

A Simple, Tasty Salad

Who doesn’t need plenty of those, right?  What’s more, this Mandarin Salad will taste just as good year round, because everything on its ingredient list is readily available, and nothing is desperately seasonal.  (I love salads with, say, strawberries, but not so much come November.)  I candied the almonds instead of trying her ‘sweet sugared cinnamon pecans,’ because I’d like to keep my oldest daughter around for a while longer, and I used good white wine vinegar instead of plain white (because, well, because), but other than that I pretty much stuck to the recipe.  (Other than my lifelong commitment to being wildly generous with fresh parsley whenever it’s on an ingredient list.)  I enjoyed it so much that I made it twice in one week, actually; once for family night at my in-laws’, and then several days later for a funeral.  Give it a try this summer and then keep it around when it gets colder–it’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year through!

(Please tell me you caught the Christmas Vacation reference so I didn’t just sound unbearably cheesy…)

Aug 13, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Slightly Fantastical Fun

Slightly Fantastical Fun

I finished the second installment of The Seaside Adventures of Jack and Benny the other day–Salt Water Taffy:  A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas–and it has the same fun, slightly tall tale-ish feel as the first one.  (More talking animals, a feat or two that seem outside the realm of probability, that sort of thing.  And by the way, I feel like this is a series with two names, so I’m improvising as far as the bolding vs. the italics.  Let me know if I’ve gotten it wrong!)  The story moves along, the drawings are entertaining (although still with the annoying hands), and the family dynamics ring true.  I’m getting quite the kick out of this series; it would be perfect for reluctant readers or earlier elementary schoolers in general.  Grab the first one and see what you think!

 

Salt Water Taffy: A Climb Up Mt. Barnabas


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Aug 11, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Another Newbery Down!

Another Newbery Down!

Not a current one, of course.  What current ones I have left are all longer than I feel up to tackling this summer.  No, I just finished The Matchlock Gun, winner of the medal for 1942 (that’s the year my dad was born!).  I have to say, it was a lovely little story–simple in the way many books about children were during the first half of the 20th century, but poignant in its simplicity.  It takes place during the French and Indian War–a name, I learned tonight, used almost exclusively by Americans–in upstate New York.  Edward’s father is gone overnight on military service, leaving his mother to wonder if the Indians will come; when they do, she and Edward together must defend their home and protect Trudy, the youngest member of the family.  The characters are simply drawn, the writing spare, and the tension utterly convincing.  (I may or may not have stayed up past midnight to find out what happened when the Indians came.)

Better yet, that simplicity and tension makes it a good story for young elementary school boys who want adventure.  At sixty-two pages, including illustrations, The Matchlock Gun is doable for earlier readers and ought to appeal to kids who want to be heroes.  AND it’s only $2.98 on Amazon!

Just sayin.’

In the interest of full disclosure, Trudy is a poorly drawn character; she’s supposedly six but is generally portrayed with the actions and temperament of a three-year-old.  It doesn’t affect the story much, however, and I found myself not particularly caring.

 

The Matchlock Gun


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Aug 9, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on I Laughed Even When I Was Cringing

I Laughed Even When I Was Cringing

I have to confess–I started A Year in the Life of a Complete and Total Genius quite a while ago.

Then the summer happened.

The kiddos and I went to Idaho to visit family the last week of June–and then just bounced around more family events in Utah for most of July.  I opted to take short books on our trip, since there’s a limit to the amount of focus and time you find while you’re on vacation with your two-year-old, and then Real Friends finally came in at the library with no chance of being renewable, and THEN I started A School for Brides on the treadmill.  (Not to mention the fact that I had to tuck a couple of books I actually owned in there as well.)  I finally recommitted myself to it, however, and oh! how I laughed!  Arthur Bean is funny, funny, funny; he’s also grieving over his mother, intent on winning a short story contest so that he can be a published author, and pining after the lovely Kennedy Laurel, who possibly ended ONE emailed sentence with a period in the course of 268 pages.  (She favors the exclamation point for any and [almost!] every occasion.)  These three driving forces lead him to a plethora of questionable, unfortunate, and/or downright terrible choices, but they also make for some fabulous comedic writing.   As an English teacher, I frequently cringed at those choices, but it was impossible not to laugh anyway.

Stacey Matson, however, accomplishes more than just comedy; she manages to make a frequently arrogant and selfish main character sympathetic.  (Although to be fair, Arthur’s selfish in the way that most junior high students are selfish.  I imagine a reading audience of his peers are likely to empathize with him.)  She also manages to flesh out minor characters with very few words.  If you’re looking for a comic novel with noticeable depth for your junior high student, don’t miss this one.  It’s an especially nice choice for boys, since it should have appeal in beautifully non-bodily oriented ways, but girls will likely get a kick out of it as well.  I’m currently waiting for my library to respond to my “suggest a purchase” request for Matson’s other Arthur Bean novels…

Aug 7, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on You Had Me At Brown Sugar…And Bacon…And Maple…And Butter

You Had Me At Brown Sugar…And Bacon…And Maple…And Butter

You know those nights when you want to try something new for dinner but don’t want to work terribly hard at it?  Yeah, I had one of those last week (okay, at LEAST one), which led me to Pinterest.  I searched my pins for “bacon,” because I had a memory of one or two biscuit-y bake-ish recipes involving bacon that sounded appealing; I never got to anything of the sort, because when I saw this Brown Sugar Pancakes with Bacon Maple Butter recipe it was love at first sight. Because bacon.  And brown sugar.  And maple.  And butter.  Could a recipe BE any more perfect?  (Just channeling a little Chandler.)

Nope.  Nope, it couldn’t.  These things were AMAZING, folks.  I used half whole wheat, half white flour, and the pancakes were beautiful–everything you could ever want in a pancake, PLUS a lovely little brown sugar undercurrent.  The bacon maple butter was salty and buttery and a little bit smoky and subtly sweet, and I could have used twice what I did on every pancake and loved it still.  (Some small shred of common sense reminded me that butter is pricey lately and my cholesterol isn’t stellar.)  My kiddos made impressively short work of them–as did I–and I’m already dreaming about having them again.

Mmmmmm. 

Aug 5, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Four Ingredient Goodness

Four Ingredient Goodness

Okay, six if you count salt and pepper, but still.  I was expecting this Hawaiian Chicken Bake to be an acceptable dinner, but not amazing, because nothing this easy is ever actually that amazing, right?

Wrong.

Oh, the goodness!  The chicken was moist and flavorful, the melted, bubbly cheese was lovely in its own right, and I got rid of a can of pineapple slices that was older than at least two of my children.  What’s not to love?  I made sure to salt and pepper the chicken itself before sticking it in the pan–the Food Network has taught me that much–and I left Provolone off of one piece of chicken for my oldest, who doesn’t care much for strong cheeses.  (Why waste not-cheap, good Provolone on the unappreciative?)  Bam!  Dinner!  Everyone gave it a thumbs up, too.  Who doesn’t love four ingredient goodness?

Note:  If your chicken breasts are thinly sliced, cut the second round of cooking time down–and enjoy your dinner that much sooner.

Aug 3, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Poetry and Jazz

Poetry and Jazz

I picked up Waiting to Waltz for almost nothing at the BYU Bookstore a few years ago, because I’ve enjoyed multiple books by Cynthia Rylant AND she’s a Newbery Author.  (I pretty much couldn’t resist the deal.)  I tend to love memoirs, and Rylant’s free verse vignettes of her small town childhood were well done. All of them were interesting, and I even loved a few of them.  Overall, though, I think contemporary poetry is a lot like jazz for me; except for specific exceptions, I respect it as an art form while not truly relating to most of it.  (Except for verse novels–I love those.  Perhaps because I love novels?)  Poetry lovers should definitely give this a try, and fans of Rylant should enjoy it.  I enjoyed reading it myself–if somewhat more mildly than I expected–but I’m unlikely to read it again.

Okay, that’s a short, stilted review, but it was a short, short book.  If it sounds like your thing, it probably will be–so there you have it!

Waiting to Waltz


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Aug 1, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Distracted Cooking

Distracted Cooking

I was scrolling through my Pasta board on Pinterest this afternoon, looking for a dinner idea that didn’t involve thawing hunks of meat, when I came across this BLT Skillet.  Hey, I thought.  Bacon thaws quickly…and so my dinner plan was born.  I sent my oldest to cadge a garden tomato or two from our neighbors–our plants are just starting to produce, and I only had one left after Sunday’s dinner–and set the bacon outside in the shade, because it hit triple digits today.  I even scrounged up some linguine, which I normally avoid because it’s so hard for toddlers to get it to their mouths instead of all over themselves, because you can only eat so much penne and rotini, you know?  (It wasn’t whole wheat like the recipe called for, but it was linguine!)

Now, since the recipe only guaranteed two servings, I decided I’d better triple it, which is where the distraction enters in.  I cooked up the whole pound of bacon but managed to remember to save a quarter of it for another time; I cooked up the whole pound of linguine, as well, and then thoughtlessly dumped it into my skillet and stirred.  As I stirred, I noted that the pasta seemed to be overwhelming the rest of the skillet ingredients; by the time I realized that an extra four ounces of pasta was the likely culprit, I’d stirred enough that trying to remove any wasn’t worth it.

Ah, well.

The good news is that it was tasty–the two-year-old took a bite or two and proclaimed “I YIKE this dinner!”–especially with the fresh parsley and real Parmesan. It was drier and stickier than it should have been, of course, but I finally just added the rest of the lemon’s juice to mine, and even before that I was enjoying it.  If you have garden tomatoes and parsley that need using, try this for dinner.  Just pay attention to what you’re putting in as you make it!

Jul 31, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on Simple Is Not Easy

Simple Is Not Easy

Only One Year is indeed a simple book in many ways; it’s under 95 pages with multiple full page illustrations, the characters are simply drawn and most are members of one family, and the scenes seem more like vignettes rather than chapters.  On the other hand, Andrea Cheng’s simple little standalone covers a topic unfamiliar to me that was almost heartbreaking for a parent to read about.

Sharon’s father is an architect and her mother works at the local junior high during the school year, which means that no one will be home to take care of her two-year-old brother, Di Di.  Rather than pay for a babysitter or daycare, Sharon’s mother takes him to China to be with their grandparents and other extended family, so that he will be with loving relatives rather then paid strangers.  At first, Sharon and her younger sister Mary pore over the pictures that Nai Nai sends, but as the months pass, their own lives continue on without their little brother.  At the end of the school year, however, Nai Nai brings Di Di home–and there is an adjustment period for everyone.

I loved Andrea Cheng’s The Year of… series, and Only One Year has many of the same characteristics; real issues dealt with in a skillful, age-appropriate way, a Chinese-American family, and illustrations that enhance the reading experience (although I vastly prefer Patrice Barton’s illustrations to Nicole Wong’s).  It’s shorter, however, and while the impact is there, I’m too old of a reader not to want more anyway (who doesn’t want more of a good thing?).  On the other hand, shorter means less intimidating to newer readers, and I’m excited to have this as an option when my younger children hit that stage.  Everything I’ve read by Cheng so far is well worth your time!

Only One Year


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Jul 29, 2017 - Uncategorized    Comments Off on A Good Sequel Is Hard to Find

A Good Sequel Is Hard to Find

Happily, Patrice Kindl’s A School for Brides fit the bill quite nicely (although it’s more of a cross between a sequel and a companion novel, if you want to get technical).  Characters from Keeping the Castle play important supporting roles, but the story focuses on the young ladies of the Winthrop Hopkins Female Academy, who are being trained to attract husbands in a town with virtually no eligible men.  (Except for Mr. Godalming.  He’s still single.)  Add one broken leg, several visitors, a couple of confinements, a nefarious governess, and an unprepossessing canine with a heart of gold, and you end up with an ensemble comedy that keeps you entertained to the very end.  The large cast of characters necessitates more emphasis on plot and a bit less on character development, but it works. Rather than an Austen/fairy tale blend, School feels more like Jane channeling bits of Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Which is another win-win combo, at least on my blog!

Bottom line?  If you liked Keeping the Castle, don’t miss A School for Brides.  What’s not to love about ‘a story of maidens, mystery, and matrimony’?

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