An adventure in Czarist Russia-Masha

Masha youngest lady in waiting

When my siblings and I were home for Christmas, my mother mentioned wanting to discuss who would eventually take which of the pieces of furniture she had been saving for us. That discussion went amicably, but once it was adjourned, we children found ourselves gathering around the bookshelves upstairs, placing dibs on favorite books. It is funny that attempting to divide the books brought on much more argument than dividing the furniture. We never did settle who got what, but I have a list of books everyone wants. My mission is to find multiples of as many of them as possible. On that list are two books by the prolific author, Mara Kay. They tell the story of a young girl in a bleak boarding school who eventually becomes Lady in Waiting to Czarina Alexandra, lives through the Decemberist revolt inside the castle while her betrothed agitates outside, and picks up the pieces of her broken life in the aftermath that shook the privileged Russian aristocracy. The first of these books is titled Masha.

Young Masha loved her comfortable old house with the cobwebs in the corners and the Domovoy in the attic. She loved living in the country with her kind mother and doting servants. When her father is killed at the battle of Borodino, Masha faces a terrible decision. There might be enough money to support her mother and herself for a little while, but there is not enough to provide a future for Masha. Will she continue to live comfortably at home until the money runs out, and then face a future with no income and no skills by which to support herself, or will she leave the family and home she loves in order to attend school and prepare herself for life? There are no vacations at the Smolni Institute for Girls. If Masha goes, she will not see her home again for nine years. She will leave a little girl and return a young lady. Masha makes a remarkably mature decision, and the book tells the story of her school days. You meet Masha’s friends and enemies, and share her sadnesses and her triumphs. It is a fascinating story with an authentic feel and lots of historic details. The story is a little dreary for young children, but it is inspiring for tweens and older to read about a younger child making responsible choices even when she would rather not. The story is highly entertaining, even if it is a little bleak at times. I highly recommend having the sequel, The Youngest Lady in Waiting, on hand before you begin Masha. Everyone will want to know what happens once Masha leaves Smolni and adventures into the bright world of the Imperial Russian court!

These books are out of print, and older copies run about $1000 for the pair. However, they are being re-printed and will be available in October for about $40 for both books. You can pre-order here: http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/mara+kay/masha/10013620/ Shipping is from the UK and seems to be one price per order, regardless of the size, so get some friends together and save on shipping! (To find out about other books by Mara Kay, see: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/187809.Mara_Kay )

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10 Healthy Packed Lunches for Little People

Packing school lunches intimidates me. My mother did not believe in sandwich meat, and her alternatives were less than skillful. I still vividly remember deciding I had had enough, and was not going to eat the hardboiled egg packed in a little ziplock baggie that had been squished into a play-doh like mass- shell and all. As I grew old enough to pack my own lunch, my skill did not improve much on hers. My go-to lunch was a pound of carrots and a pan of cornbread-cut into interesting shapes and packaged “creatively.” Now I pack my lunch every day, but with a fridge and microwave at my disposal all I have to do is repackage some leftovers, or make a salad. At home, lunches are usually leftovovers. When my daughter and I go on picnics I will grab a can of sardines. I do not like sandwiches, and never use a loaf of bread and a package of sandwich meat before they rot. Making my daughter eat lunch meat is almost impossible. (She would literally prefer Brussels sprouts.) Now I have to send lunch for pre-school, and I am determined to do better than my mother. As healthy as sardines are, I’m not about to try to win the peer-pressure battle of sending them to school. So, I need some healthy, easy, and (my) child-friendly school lunches. Here are two weeks worth of ideas!

PBJ: Alright, so peanut butter isn’t really healthy. It has tons of sugar and oils, both things most Americans get too much of. However, my little one isn’t overweight. Peanut butter is a cold protein I know she will eat. We never eat it at home, and she tends to prefer her sandwich without jelly. I can handle sending peanut butter on whole wheat a couple times a month. Almost any fruit or veggie goes well with PBJ, so sides for this option are easy.

Cheese and Crackers: Move over lunchables! It is not too difficult to break a couple slices of your child’s favorite type of cheese into quarters, layer them between wax paper, and put them into a baggie near a cold pack (or skip the cold-pack). Place a tall stack of crackers of your choice into a small rigid container so they won’t be crumbs by lunch-time. Add some celery sticks and fruit, or a mini salad, and this isn’t a bad option!

Soup: This is such a versatile option, it seems unfair to only give it one entry! You can heat up some soup during breakfast, put it into a kid-friendly thermos, and provide a piping-hot lunch for your little one. Combine chicken noodle soup with apple slices and red pepper, or send a hearty lentil stew with whole-grain crackers, a cheese stick, and some grapes. Be sure to test the thermos for leak-proofness and heat retention before sending it!

Fish: My little one really likes fish. Every so often I’ll bread some fish filets with crushed crackers and fry them. It is hard to get leftovers, since Little Miss will eat two filets on her own, but occasionally some survives. This is one of the few leftovers that are good cold, and I know my child will eat it!

Rice and Stir-fry: This is another versatile option. Most children really enjoy rice. If you steam some rice with a little butter during breakfast, it will still be soft when lunch time comes. Put a small serving in the bottom of your child’s thermos, and top with some sautéed or steamed veggies. (This is a great way to use up leftovers!) Add a protein or not as you prefer. You could even top with a fried egg for a kid-safe take on bi-bim-bop! I’d probably throw in some Terra chips with this for a little crunch.

Hard-boiled Egg: I’m not talking about the squishy mess my mother sent! Eggs are a good source of protein, and the yolk contains cholesterols important for protecting developing nerves. A peeled, sliced egg fits neatly in a little plastic snack-sized container. The slices are fun to peel off and eat. Include some fruit and some whole-wheat pretzel sticks, and you have a nice little snack lunch.

Salad and Cheese: My little one really likes salad. I’m not sure I understand why. However, a handful of fresh spinach, some tomatoes, cucumber slices, and some shredded cheese makes a healthy, complete lunch, and is super-easy too! I’d probably add some carbs to this lunch to make sure she has enough calories to stay fueled until snack. Alternately, you could spread a whole-wheat tortilla with hummus, and wrap the tomato, greens, and shredded cheese in it. If you cut the wrap in slices to make pin-wheels, they will fit neatly into a sandwich container, and make a fun finger food.

Mini Quiche: Most little people get a kick out of little food. A fun-to-make little food is mini quiche. Use pre-made pie dough, or go the extra mile and make your own crust. Bake them in a muffin tin, use a basic quiche base and throw in whatever leftovers happen to be in your fridge. Each quiche can be a different flavor, and you can make as many or as few as you like. You can even pop a few in your own lunch with a salad!

Quesadillas: These are simple to make in the oven during breakfast, and are a great way to combine protein and veg with child-pleasing cheese. Layer cheese and whatever fillings (read: leftovers) you like, then broil quickly to melt cheese. You can make in half or whole tortilla sizes depending on the appetite to which you are catering. Spread a little oil on the outside and broil each side quickly for a crispy finish. Serve with a dipping sauce if you like, and some complimenting sliced fruit or vegetables.

Chicken Cubes: You know those wonderful pre-cooked chickens you buy every once in a while? Leftovers cut into bite-sized chunks in a snack container make a nice base for a child’s lunch. Think of it as a compartmentalized chicken salad. Chicken chunks go in one container, grapes in another, and celery sticks in another. Round it out with some nuts or some cheese cubes, and you have a wonderful finger-food lunch!

My daughter has more mature tastes than many pre-schoolers, but I hope my ideas can help you prepare high-protein, high veg/fruit, and low processed carbs lunches for your little person.

Wishing you joy!
-Ekatrina