Spring/Summer 2020 Menu Cycle Week 1, Take 1

May 27th, 2020

After four weeks of having meals brought to me by the lovely ladies at my church, I took over full responsibility for our meals again last week. And since my last menu cycle was definitely a winter cycle and our weather is definitely NOT winter weather anymore, it’s time for a new menu cycle.

So, here’s our Spring/Summer 2020 Menu Cycle, Week 1, Take 1.


What We Ate:

Sunday, May 17

Skillet Lasagna, Green Beans, Green Olives, and Berry Delicious Gelatin Salad

Skillet Lasagna, Green Beans, and Berry Delicious Gelatin Salad

Monday, May 18

Crockpot Orange Chicken with Vegetables over Rice, and Pineapple Chunks

Crockpot Orange chicken with Vegetables over Rice, and Pineapple Chunks

Tuesday, May 19

Tuna Melts, Copycat Popeyes Coleslaw, Potato Chips, and Mixed Fruit

Tuna Melts, Copycat Popeyes Coleslaw, Potato Chips, and Mixed Fruit

Wednesday, May 20

Ham, Rosemary Scalloped Potatoes, Kaleslaw with Myrtle’s Salad Dressing, and Pears

Ham, Rosemary Scalloped Potatoes, Kaleslaw with Myrtle's Salad Dressing, and Pears

Thursday, May 21

Salsa Chicken Burritos, Mandarin Oranges, Corn

Salsa Chicken Burritos, Mandarin Oranges, Corn

Friday, May 22

Chef Salad with Sourdough Rosemary Peasant Bread

Chef Salad

Saturday, May 23

Chicken and Broccoli Gravy over Baked Potatoes with Fresh Strawberries

Chicken and Broccoli Gravy over Baked Potatoes with Fresh Strawberries


At this point, the question is…how much did this cost us? Well, let’s take a look:

What I Spent:

Friday, May 15

Walmart Pickup $92.67 $32.94

Walmart Grocery Pickup 2020.05.15

Monday, May 18

Sam’s Club Pickup $11.48

Sam's Club Grocery Pickup 2020.05.18

That’s $104.15 $44.42, which definitely falls within my weekly budget of ~$125. I think I’ll take it :-)

As I re-read this post, I thought $92 looked pretty high for the paltry groceries I got from Walmart – and that’s when I realized that I’d listed the cost of the next week’s grocery order instead of the one from Week 1. Oops!

Snapshot: Family Fun Day

May 24th, 2020

We have been trying to have at least one “family fun day” per month, in which we all do something special together – but since most of our possible out-of-the-house activities are either closed or not particularly suitable for a family with a newborn in the time of COVID, we had to get inventive this month.

Watching a movie from inside the tent

So we set up the tent in the living room and watched The Court Jester. The tent kept the kids mostly contained and mostly not fighting. The knights kept Louis interested. The princess kept Tirzah Mae interested. Shiloh kept me occupied with breastfeeding.

It was a success, I think.

Recipe: Berry Delicious Gelatin Salad

May 23rd, 2020

I grew up in the ’90s, when church potlucks and family gatherings never lacked an abundance of jello salads, packed with all sorts of fruits and marshmallows and Cool Whip held together with bright artificially colored and flavored (and all-so-not-artificially-sweetened) Jello.

Now, it seems that Jello has fallen out of favor, at least among my circles – and, in truth, I’m not generally a fan of the nutritional content of the “just-add-water” sweets we consumed as kids (jello, Koolaid, Tang, etc.)

But I do enjoy a good fruit-filled jello salad, and so I’ve tried to come up with ways to approximate the salads I grew up with – except without the uber-sweet, artificially-flavored Jello.

Enter Berry Delicious Gelatin Salad.

Berry Delicious Gelatin Salad

  • 1 envelope Knox gelatin
  • 1 cup grape juice, divided (you may also use 1/4 cup frozen grape juice concentrate and 3/4 cup water)
  • 1 cup blueberries (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 cup sliced strawberries (frozen or fresh)

Place 1/2 cup of cold grape juice (or 1/4 cup frozen grape juice concentrate and 1/4 cup water) in a bowl (I always just use the rectangular Pyrex I serve the gelatin salad in). Sprinkle Knox gelatin over liquid and let sit 1-5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat other 1/2 cup of grape juice (or water, if you’re using grape juice concentrate) to boiling in microwave. Pour boiling juice or water into gelating mixture and mix until gelatin is all dissolved. Mix in blueberries and strawberries. Chill salad in refrigerator until set, generally 3 hours or more. Serve by itself or with freshly whipped cream.

Recipe makes 3 cups of jello – just enough for six half-cup servings. This can be multiplied without difficulty.

Weeds that bite

May 22nd, 2020

I took the compost out yesterday during the kids’ naps; and, as I returned to the house, I decided to go ahead and pull just a few weeds on the bed at the north of the house.

A half an hour later… I was still at it.

And I discovered a weed I hadn’t yet met.

Meet catchweed bedstraw.

Catchweed bedstraw

See what catchweed bedstraw did to me?

What catchweed bedstraw does to me

It bites.

Snapshot: Shiloh Vera Leigh

May 17th, 2020

Shiloh Vera Leigh arrived on the outside on April 20, 2020.

Meeting Miss Shiloh Vera Leigh

She had a tough go right off and was in the NICU for a week, but we have loved spending the last three weeks with her home getting used to life as a family of SEVEN!

Chillin' with my hand above my head

Shiloh is a delight, whether chillin’ with her hand above her head or making sour-puss faces (or really doing just about anything!)

Sour face

Picture Book Highlights (Author CRO-CZE)

April 2nd, 2020

We read 74 children’s picture books in the month of March – which, given that we only visited the library once the whole month (and that only to pick up less than a dozen books on hold!) is quite a feat, I think.

Our physical libraries are closed at least through the middle of April, so I’m guessing my “read every book” goal is going to have to take a pause while we spend more time reading what we already have in our home collection.

The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare by Kristyn Crow, illustrated by Christina Forshay

The Really Groovy Story of the Tortoise and the Hare

A fun rhyming retelling of the classic story, set in modern day Chicago (I think) with a fast-moving city hare and a slow-and-steady country tortoise.

Just as Good: How Larry Doby Changed America’s Game by Chris Crowe, illustrated by Mike Benny

Just as Good

Homer, a young Cleveland boy, is ecstatic that Larry Doby has joined the Cleveland Indians. Here at last, is a chance to prove that Jackie Robinson is not just a fluke, that black folks can be just as good as white ones. Homer and his father eagerly listen to the fourth game of the World Series, rejoicing as Larry Doby makes a home run – one of the two scores to win the 2-1 game. In the morning, Homer and his dad see a picture of Doby and white teammate Steve Gromek hugging in the newspaper – and they feel that, at last, change is coming for black people.

Only You by Robin Cruise, illustrated by Margaret Chodos-Irvine

Only You

I’m a bit of a sucker for “precious” picture books with very few words and a general theme of “I love you”, clearly intended to be read to babies and young toddlers. This is a very nice example of the genre – sweet without being saccharine, expressing a parent’s delight in a child without romanticizing bad behavior (as some books of the type occasionally do.) I also appreciate how the illustrations show a diverse selection of children and parents – boys, girls, men, and women black, white, and brown.

Ten-Gallon Bart Beats the Heat by Susan Stevens Crummel, illustrated by Dorothy Donohue

Ten-Gallon Bart Beats the Heat

Texas is so hot that Ten-Gallon Bart (the dog) heads up to the Yukon to cool off (and maybe prospect for a bit of gold). When he gets buried in a crazy snowstorm, his friends head north to dig him out and bring him back home. This is not fine literature, but it’s fun. The children enjoyed the story, mama enjoyed the Texas drawlin’ and the fun cut paper illustrations. Crummel and Donohue also wrote two books about Ten-Gallon Bart before this (but that we read out of order): Ten-Gallon Bart and Ten Gallon Bart and the Wild West Show. We thoroughly enjoyed all three in this series.

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles by Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

A man has the lonely job of uncorking ocean bottles and taking them to their recipient. He dreams of having a bottle addressed to him, but knows there is little chance since he has no friends. But, as Tirzah Mae pointed out: “Well, then, he should make some friends!” And so he does, with the help of an anonymous bottle. A sweet and lovely book.

The Cello of Mr. O by Jane Cutler, illustrated by Greg Couch

The Cello of Mr. O

A young girl grows up in a war zone. Wednesday afternoon relief trucks are the only thing she has to look forward. Until a bomb strikes the relief truck and their drop-off point is cancelled. But the neighbor, Mr. O brings out his cello and plays in the center of the empty war-ruined square, giving everyone hope. This is a weighty book, but a wonderful one.

The Little Fire Truck by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Bob Kolar

The Little Fire Truck

A relatively simple book with thick, tear-proof pages. Each page starts “I’m a little fire truck…” and can (generally) be sung to the tune of “I’m a little teapot.” Louis (who is obsessed with trucks) and Beth-Ellen (who is obsessed with singing) particularly enjoyed this title, requesting it over and over and over again until I had no voice to sing and had to refuse to read it again.

Reading My Library (13.5 years)

March 10th, 2020

March 5 just so happened to be the half-year mark on my “reading my library” challenge, which I began on September 5, 2006. So we’re about 13.5 years in. So far, it looks like this year will look relatively similar to last year – except that we’re reading a lot more juvenile picture books compared to other types of books/materials.

TOTALS as of March 10, 2019 (13 years and 187 days or 4935 days)

Category Items in past 6 months Items in 2018-2019 Total Items
Juvenile Picture 272 323 2252
Juvenile, Board Books 14 31 557
Juvenile, First Readers 1 2 78
Juvenile, Chapter 0 0 92
Juvenile Fiction 2 4 326
Juvenile Nonfiction 28 133 441
Teen Fiction 0 3 52
Teen Nonfiction 0 6 11
Adult Fiction 9 22 499
Adult Nonfiction 16 49 1018
Audio CD 142 488 1563
Juvenile DVD 6 8 67
Adult Fiction DVD 1 5 113
Adult Nonfiction DVD 1 18 64
Periodicals 2 33 129
Total 494 items 1125 items 7262 items
2.93 items/day 2.94 items/day 1.21 items/day

We are racing through the children’s picture books, having read 84% of last year’s total in just 6 months! I’m loving having found something that’s working for us for read-aloud time. Juvenile nonfiction intake, on the other hand, has plummeted (only 21% of last year’s total so far this year) as we’ve spent a lot more time in the car, which makes me less likely to want to go INTO the library (and therefore less likely to let the kids pick out their own favorites) – we’ve been doing a lot more just driving through the window to pick up our holds on the next picture books in line.

Grown-up reading seems a bit low so far, but it’s always a little hard to tell actual status on that, since I always have quite a few books going at any given time (I think I have about 10 going as we speak, give or take). Also, especially when it comes to fiction, I tend to go in spurts and fits. I’m guessing I’ll be doing lots more grown-up reading after the new baby comes when I’ll be breastfeeding all the time.

COVID-19 is a lot more nuanced than you think

March 9th, 2020

Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind – or so it seems.

Scrolling through Facebook reveals the diversity of viewpoints. There are the preppers who are telling everyone “I told you so.” There are the antivaxxers eager to claim conspiracy theories and sell you on elderberry syrup, Vitamin C, and essential oils (sorry folks, not gonna help). There is the “stop freaking out and just wash your hands” contingent who urge common sense. And there are, of course, those who compare COVID to the flu and wonder why nobody freaks out about flu.

I agree wholeheartedly with the advice to not freak out. I agree to wash hands. I agree to stay home when you’re sick. These are common sense measures to be sure.

But with something like COVID, there’s a lot we don’t know. We don’t know how contagious it is. We don’t know when someone is contagious. We don’t even have a clear idea of what mild but contagious looks like. Most of all, we have no idea whether it’s present in our communities and where – and, under current screening guidelines, we won’t know unless someone travels to an endemic area or gets seriously ill.

And that is a problem.

It’s springtime in Kansas, which means it’s the time that Garcia family allergies kick into high gear. Sneezing, coughing, runny noses. Par for the course. But what if this year, allergies and mild or asymptotic COVID (which are reportedly likely in people of our risk profile) are comingled in our family? We could be exposing everyone we see even if I’m taking ordinary “sensible” measures to control allergies.

Thankfully, or not, depending on your perspective, whatever we’ve got is definitely not just allergies. We’ve got fevers along with our coughing. Which means we might have a common cold, we might have influenza (with the flu shots we all got at the beginning of the season explaining our relatively mild cases), or we might have COVID.

Wisdom regarding influenza says stay home until you’ve been fever free for 24 hours without the assistance of fever reducers. But we don’t know much about COVID transmission. We do know that it spreads relatively easily, and in some cases asymptomatically.

So when will it be safe for our family to venture into the wild without putting others at risk? Who knows.

But unless one of us gets seriously ill and has to receive medical treatment (which is less likely since the majority of young, otherwise well people only experience mild cases of COVID), we don’t qualify for testing. Which means we’ve got to assume that it’s COVID and just not do anything?

There isn’t guidance for people like us, people who aren’t particularly concerned for themselves but who would really rather not be a specter of death to their communities.

COVID is just a whole lot more nuanced than the viral Facebook posts and snappy memes would lead you to believe.

There aren’t any easy answers because there’s a whole lot we don’t know.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Challenge Wrap-Up

March 7th, 2020

On her Read-Aloud Revival podcast, Sarah Mackenzie makes no bones about it. She does NOT think Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books make a good first chapter-book read aloud.

They’re too boring, she says. Too much description, not enough action. You’ll lose interest, mom, she says. Listen to the audiobooks read by Cherry Jones, she says.

I’ve pooh-poohed Sarah’s advice regarding Laura since I first heard it. Laura, boring? I listened to my mother read them, then I read them myself over and over, then listened again as my older sister read them aloud to myself and my younger brothers and sister.

Two years ago, when Tirzah Mae was three, I read her Little House in the Big Woods. Last year, we read it again. Was it hard at times? Of course. I dare anyone with four children four and under to find reading chapter books aloud EASY. But it wasn’t because the Laura books are boring.

I still disagree with Mackenzie about reading the Little House books aloud. But I now completely AGREE with her about the magic of Cherry Jones’s narration.

You see, near the end of last year, we had some changes in our life that meant the kids and I were spending at least an extra two hours a week in the car. I know that for some of you, that doesn’t sound like much. But I’m a homebody and even the most extroverted mama is likely to be a bit overwhelmed by loading four children into carseats a minimum of six extra times a week.

I knew we needed something to help us manage that awful extra car time, something to help us escape. Honestly, I needed something to get me out of the pity-party-slash-anger-fest that I was simmering in every time I had to yet again disrupt my life and rush my kids through meals and pack them all in the car and waste all. that. time. in. the. car.

So I looked into audiobooks. I needed something that wasn’t too scary (since our Tirzah Mae is currently a sensitive soul), but that would interest both me AND the children. The Little House books it was.

And, oh. Oh. Oh! Cherry Jones’s narration is just wonderful. Listening to her is a delight (especially when she starts singing along to Pa’s fiddle!)

We listened to Little House in the Big Woods and Farmer Boy in January. In February, in conjunction with Barbara’s Laura Ingalls Wilder Reading Challenge, we hoped to listen to Litte House on the Prairie and On the Banks of Plum Creek but fell just a little short of completing the latter (Praise God for several days where, for one reason or another, I was able to leave the kids home while I did the driving, minimizing the disruption to the whole family!)

As part of Barbara’s challenge, I also read Old Town in the Green Groves by Cynthia Rylant, a fictionalized account of the Ingalls family’s time between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By The Shores of Silver Lake. I am glad that I read it, but I am also glad that Laura chose to skip over that period of her early life in her Little House books. It was a hard, hard time that Rylant only partially succeeds at making seem less difficult. Barbara also read that book this year and reviewed it at her blog – my thoughts were pretty similar to Barbara’s.

Thank you, Barbara, for the past decade(?) hosting the Little House Challenge. I and my children have thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to revisit Laura each year. We’ll miss the challenge next year; but I think, thanks to several years of participating (and thanks to discovering Cherry Jones’s wonderful audio narrations of the Little House books), we’re not likely to have seen the last of Laura in our household :-)

Picture Book Highlights (Author COO-CRO)

March 3rd, 2020

Despite being a shorter-than-average month (even with that leap day), February was a productive reading month. I read 83 children’s picture books with an author last name “C”. In large part, I think this was due to my decision to try to spend just a little bit of time with each child individually each day (usually right before their naps). I’ve mostly spent that time reading aloud (what else?) When I don’t have to wait for everyone to be ready to listen together, it makes reading aloud tons easier – and has allowed me to power through a lot more of our picture books. We have maybe 40 or 50 more books to go until we’re done with author last name C – we’ll likely finish those out in March!

Homer by Elisha Cooper

Homer

The dog, Homer, is offered lots of opportunities to go out and do all sorts of interesting things. He’d rather lie on the front porch and watch it all. He delights to hear everyone’s stories of all the exciting things they’ve done, but mostly, he likes to be at home with everyone he loves around him. I can identify. :-)

Petra by Marianna Coppo

Petra

A little rock has great dreams – but what will he become? A simple, short book that’s just right to keep the interest of all four of our little ones (5, 3, 2, and 19 months.)

Little Pig Joins the Band by David Costello

Little Pig Joins the Band

When all his big siblings make a brass band, Little Pig wants to join too, but none of the instruments fit him. He’s able to find his place, though – a much needed place – as band leader, getting them all to play together in time.

What Elephant? by Genevieve Cote

What Elephant?

A cute little story that helps to explain the saying “the elephant in the room.”

The Road Home by Katie Cotton, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

The Road Home

More a poem than a story, with art that’s visual poetry. Animal mothers invite their children to join them in their tasks before ending with a refrain: “This road is hard, this road is long, this road that leads us home.” And then it ends, “This road is hard, this road is long, but we are not alone. For you are here, and I’m with you… and so this road is home.” Just lovely.

Don’t Be Silly, Mrs. Millie by Judy Cox, illustrated by Joe Mathieu

Don't Be Silly Mrs. Millie!

This is not fine literature, but Mrs. Millie’s silly mis-speaks had my two oldest (5 and 3) roaring with laughter all the way through. Mrs. Millie instructs her students to “hang up your goats” at the beginning of the day and keeps making “mistakes” with rhyming words and sound-alikes all day long. “We have parrot sticks and quackers today!” Very fun.