Leftovers for Lunch

baja chicken salad

Now that school has started for the year, I am packing lunches again. I pack lunches for my two children and me almost every day. I dread this chore. It probably seems a little out of character for me to dislike packing school lunches since I love snacky food. I think part of the problem is packing the lunch at 6 am. The food seems so unappetizing at that time. I don’t like to pack the lunch the night before because then the food has a “soggy” quality to it the next day.

One solution I have for my adult school lunch is to cook something for dinner that becomes a good leftover. I can pack a single serving in a tupperware, pull it out of the refrigerator in the morning without having to see it or smell it, and it is ready to reheat or serve at lunchtime at school.

The Pasta, Pesto, and Peas and Orzo with Roasted Vegetables are two of my favorite leftovers for lunch choices. I just discovered this Baja Chicken Salad recipe after taking it to a group event, and it is a new leftover lunch that I will be bringing to school this year.

baja chicken salad closeSalad Ingredients

  • 4 (16-oz) cans black beans
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/3 c. chopped green onions
  • 1 package (10-oz) frozen corn, thawed
  • 1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro (plus a small handful more for garnish)
  • 8 skinless boneless chicken breast halves, grilled (could also buy a whole roasted chicken)
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 1 c. salsa

baja chicken salad green pepperDressing Ingredients

  • 1/2 c. fresh lime juice
  • 1 T. Dijon mustard
  • 2 T. ground cumin
  • 1 t. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 t. pepper
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 3/4 c. olive oil (I like less)
  • 3/4 c. vegetable oil (I like less)

baja chicken salad mixing ingredientsDirections

  • Combine dressing ingredients, mixing well, and let stand at least one hour. (Can be done 1 day ahead.)
  • Drain and rinse black beans. Mix black beans in a large bowl with peppers, onion, corn, and cilantro. Toss with dressing.

baja chicken salad ingredients

  • Cut chicken into strips.
  • Place vegetables with dressing on a large platter or large shallow serving dish. Arrange chicken strips and avocado slices on top.
  • Drizzle with salsa and scatter cilantro over all.


  • Because of the black beans and cilantro, do a teeth check after eating.
  • This recipe serves 8. The recipe can be halved.
  • Toss the avocado slices in lime juice to keep from browning.

cutting avocado

  • I like to roast chicken breasts with skin on and bone in rather than grilling boneless chicken breasts. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put chicken breasts on a roasting pan. Rub skin with olive oil and season generously with Kosher salt and black pepper. Cook chicken for about 40 minutes until golden on the top and cooked through. Remove from oven and tent with foil. Let rest until cool enough to handle. When cooled, remove skin and pull chicken off the bone; cut into bite sized pieces and set aside.

roasted chicken breastsThis is a great recipe for a big group, for picnics, for potluck dinners, and for lunch. I love that it is a meal in one dish. Anybody else have suggestions for good meals that hold up well in the refrigerator overnight?


Carpool Rules

carpool sign on dashboard

Last spring, around the time parents stop placing the signs with last names in car windshields at carpool, I posted some important etiquette rules for afternoon pick up at school (see original post here). Since most parents of school aged children are in the middle of back to school, I thought it was worth re-posting my carpool etiquette list.

For those of you who missed the first post, I would like to remind you that I am a carpool caller at my school. I have a Madonna microphone and everything. I was not originally selected for this job. My teammate had been tapped for the position and cried when she found out, so I volunteered to take her place. It got me out of the commons area duty which is where the students sit while waiting to be called. I thought the caller job was better. I may have been wrong.

Rule 1: Most schools give signs with the family’s last name, children’s names, or carpool group information clearly written. The sign is supposed to sit on your dashboard somewhere. Keep your sign in the window of your car ALL year round. When your child is not standing next to you, and you are wearing sunglasses, the carpool caller does not know your name or who you are.

Rule 2: Tip the sign up a little when you get within range of the carpool announcer. If it is sunny, and the light is reflecting off the windshield, we can’t read the sign resting on your dashboard. If it is raining, and the windshield is wet, we can’t read the sign resting on your dashboard.

Basically, anything resting flat on the dashboard is hard to read. Tags that hang from the rearview mirror are easy to read. Parents can hang their tag from a clippy hanger and hook it onto the rearview mirror during carpool or write the last name on a door hanger (like the kind hotels have), and it will improve visibility quite a bit.

carpool sign hanging

Rule 3: No extraneous conversation of any kind. The only time you need to talk is to let the caller know who is riding in your car if you don’t have the sign in the windshield (refer back to Rule 1 and please put the sign back in your windshield). Don’t try to ask questions about homework or have a parent/teacher conference with the carpool caller or the loaders. The caller is counting cars. She/he can’t have a parent teacher conference and announce names at the same time. The loaders are trying to get children in seats as quickly as possible to move the whole line forward.

Rule 4: Stay in your assigned slot unless asked to move forward by a faculty member. If you hear the caller announce your child’s name at position 3, or the green cone, or whatever it is at your school, go to that position and wait. If the cars in positions 1 and 2 load and pull away, continue to wait at station 3 unless a teacher waves you forward. If you pull forward thinking you are making room for more cars, you reshuffle all of the students. I am The caller is still down the block calling numbers based on your number 3 position. Once students are lining up at the wrong carpool stations, it slows down the whole system.

Rule 5: Order Remind your child to listen for his/her name while in the “holding” area.

Rule 6: Teach your child to clip a seatbelt. This rule does not apply to nursery school aged children.

Rule 7: Have children practice getting in the car with their belongings a few times.

P.S. Little kids are not ready for giant wheelie backpacks.

If you need help with morning drop off tips, you can read a totally hilarious (not PG) carpool blog post from the Hot Mess Mom’s perspective by clicking here.

What are your carpool pet peeves? Everyone with school aged children has them.

Press My Buttons

roommom blog button

This is a mini post to show off my new social media buttons. Please take a moment to look at the right side bar, admire, and press a button if the mood should strike.

I feel like TheRoomMom just entered a new chapter…

Thank you, Claudia Olivos for designing my new social media buttons– and being really patient with all of my messages and requests.

Birthdays Rock

rock climbing birthday party obstacle course

Mr. Star Wars has an August birthday– in South Carolina. That rules out any outdoor party unless it is swimming. We tried an army swim party and ran into pop up thunderstorms, so we were on the hunt for an indoor party location this year. After attending my niece’s totally cool rock climbing party at a lovely, indoor, air conditioned spot, Mr. Star Wars thought that would be fun.

My niece lives 4 states away from us, so I could not use the same place. I was able to find an indoor rock climbing location close to our house that would host a children’s birthday party. It met all of my criteria for a party facility: air conditioning, a dedicated area and staff for our party only (no mixing with the general public), and a flat fee (no surcharge for outside cakes or other weird costs). It was also a great activity for an older group. Mr. Star Wars is turning 9. He is not that old, but we are moving into a more “mature” party theme. In fact, I would not plan a party like this unless the guests are at least 8 or 9 years old.

rock climbing birthday invitation

The Invitation

  • I used a site called Swanky Press to order the invitations. I found lots of rock climbing invitation choices through a Google search, but many had cartoony stick figures on them, which I thought looked too babyish. Once I ordered, I received an e-mailed proof within 2 days. I had to make one edit, and they turned the correction around in a day. The invitations arrived at my door in about a week. 
  • I also ordered matching gift enclosure cards, which I attached to the party favor bags. Coordinated thank you notes are available too.

rock climbing birthday party wall

The Location

  • From my limited indoor rock climbing experience, there seem to be two options at rock climbing facilities. Kids will either hook up to an auto belay system, which is like a pulley that lets you come down the wall on your own. Or, kids do boulder climbing on much shorter walls, and the kids jump down onto mats. For my son’s party, we did boulder climbing on shorter walls in a room dedicated to our party. We had two staff members who led games that required the kids to work around the walls. The staff members provided instruction while kids climbed, and they “spotted” for safety too.
rock climbing birthday party autobelay

At my niece’s birthday, the kids climbed tall walls using auto belays.

  • Whichever kind of location you have, make sure that there is enough space that most of your party guests can be climbing at the same time. If kids are standing around waiting for a turn, it gets chaotic. Based on our experience as a guest and as the party host, I would limit the party size to no more than 10 kids. 8 kids is probably ideal.

rock climbing birthday party

The Waiver

  • Parents will be required to complete a waiver in order for their child to participate in the climbing. We mailed the waiver with our invitation and asked parents to bring the completed form to the party. Some rock climbing locations have an online waiver that can be completed ahead of time.
  • Missing or incomplete waivers slow down the party. If parents will be carpooling to the party, make sure they understand the importance of having the completed waiver. A child will not be allowed to participate without that thing signed by a parent!

rock climbing birthday cake

The Food

  • Mr. Star Wars wanted chocolate cake with buttercream frosting. No problem. I ordered my favorite grocery store birthday cake. This year, we ordered a round cake with orange trim (to match the invitations). The grocery store added a few candy rocks, but it was very simple.

rock climbing birthday snack

  • I picked up orange and dark grey plastic dip bowls at Target a few weeks back. They have funky sides that look like the handholds at the indoor rock climbing places. Personally, I would never use these dip bowls for entertaining because the colors are totally obnoxious, and the dip bowls are pretty hideous. That is probably why they were on the sale shelf. However, they were perfect for a rock climbing themed party. I wanted to fill them with GORP, but Mr. Star Wars wanted something with cookies. I made a trail mix of two kinds of mini Oreo’s (white and black), mini Chips Ahoy, animal crackers, and small pretzels.

rock climbing party favor bags filled

The Party Favors

  • I ordered net black shower bags from Paper Mart.
  • We filled the bags with a stick of rock candy, Pop Rocks, and a small candy container that had chocolate rocks in it.
  • I attached small key chain caribeners to the filled bags and added our small gift tags that said, “9 Rocks!” I found the caribeners at a local outdoor shop, but I have seen them at Party City or online.

rock climbing party favor bagsWhat are other good party themes for kids who are older… but not that old?

The Wizarding World

harry potter and the sorcerers stone

Raise your hand if you want to have magical powers like Harry Potter and attend Hogwarts? Yeah, me too. Since I can’t figure out a way to make that happen, reading books with characters who have magical powers is my back up plan. It is not as satisfying as actually having the power to fly, but it is the best I can do.

In my experience, readers have strong opinions about magical fantasy books; they either love them or hate them– no in between. If you are like me and love them, it  might be because magic gives readers a feeling that they can control their world. Of course in most stories, using magical powers does not always solve problems; it usually creates problems, which then creates excitement.

The list below typically works well for upper elementary aged readers with a few exceptions. You can also find magical book suggestions on the fairy tale book list, which I posted earlier.

Truly Magical– These books have characters who can perform actual magic like turning people into statues or disappearing or flying. If the characters can not perform magic, then the setting is a magical world or the sub characters have magical powers.

magic thief book

  • 11 Birthdays and sequels by Wendy Mass
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz series by Frank L. Baum
  • Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
  • Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo
  • Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
  • The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas
  • Winterling series by Sarah Prineas
  • The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew (out of print– check your library)
  • Magickeepers series  by Erica Kirov
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Mary Poppins series by P. L. Travers
  • Peter and the Starcatchers series by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson
  • Savvy and Scumble by Ingrid Law
  • The Tail of Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler

the shadows books of elsewhere

Magical Objects– In these books, the characters live in a world that is more or less like the one we know. There is an object that creates magic. It might transport the characters to a different world or allow the characters to do something that would otherwise not be possible. I noted the “magic object” in parenthesis below.

  • The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull (the candy)
  • Half Magic by Edward Eager (the coin) 
  • The Magic Treehouse series by Mary Pope Osborne, younger readers (the treehouse,)
  • Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series by by Betty Macdonald, younger readers (the remedies)
  • Tuesdays at the Castle and sequel by Jessica Day George (the castle)
  • Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (the water)
  • The Shadows by Jacqueline West (the paintings)


Almost Normal– These books have characters and settings that are pretty realistic, but there will be one or more characters with a trait that is unusual. It’s not exactly magic, but it is close.

  • What the Dog Said by Randi Reisfeld
  • The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer
  • Gift of Magic by Lois Duncan
  • The Princess Academy and sequel by Shannon Hale
  • Remarkable by Lizzie K. Foley
  • The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar by Roald Dahl

so you want to be a wizard

On My “To Read” List

  • Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce
  • Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
  • So You Want to be a Wizard by Diane Duane
  • The Key and the Flame by Claire M. Caterer

** Sewing Sister is in town with her girls for a visit. I would like to thank my nieces for their help with this magic fantasy book list.