Saturday, August 27, 2016

First Day of School Pictures

The 2016-2017 school year has begun! We're two weeks in and so far, no one has died. There haven't even been that many tears!
Goofy kindergartner, Second Son
Sweet second grader, Second Daughter
I forgot to take pictures of the older two without the cards showing their names.  I do have pictures of all four of them together.

First Son (7th grade), First Daughter (4th grade), Second Daughter (2nd grade), Second Son (kind.)
Believe it or not, that was the "serious" picture.

And this is the tamest of the silly ones. Second Daughter is playing the drums on Second Son's head. Yes, that is an old bike tire around his neck. We live on the wild side here on the Range.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Second Daughter's Birthday Post: Eight Years Old

Last month, Second Daughter turned eight years old. For her birthday, she received a parakeet, courtesy of her parents and grandparents. (The bird isn't very expensive, but she also needed a cage, toys, food, and all such things.) It's a blue and white one, quite pretty.

Second Daughter has been less excited about pancakes-as-big-as-your-head for her birthday breakfast than the other kids, so this year Kansas Dad started her day with ooey-gooey-cinnamon-bars from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. (Oh, yes, they are heavenly. You can find lots of delicious recipes on the website, but this one is only in the cookbook.)

For her birthday dinner, she requested ribs. Usually we wouldn't be quite so extravagant, but we had some ribs in the freezer from a sale and Kansas Dad loves to eat them even more than Second Daughter does. It's another Smitten Kitchen recipe. (I'm sensing a theme for our celebratory recipes.)

We co-hosted a birthday party with a dear friend of hers who turned seven a bit later. They had a bird painting party. My contribution was this dirt cake (made with all gluten-free goodies given to us by another friend!).

Kansas Dad said it was "a fine example of its genre" and that's about as good as it gets with me and birthday cakes. The painted bird cookies were something else altogether, a contribution from the co-host family. Aren't they beautiful?

Second Daughter's current favorite foods: ribs, spaghetti (without sauce), Smitten Kitchen chocolate peanut butter cake, enchiladas without sauce on top, yogurt without fruit chunks. Vegetables of all stripes and colors are her least favorite foods.

Second Daughter loves to play in sand. She likes to sit and let it run through her fingers, onto her clothes or shoes or into a pile. Our recent camping trip to the Rocky Mountains was like heaven for her. Just look at all that sandy dirt right at the campground!

Oh, and water. Second Daughter loves water! She'll still pour water from one container into another in the sink. Back and forth, until inevitably something spills.

Second Daughter excelled in her swimming lessons. She was disappointed in being paired with Second Son; she thought he held her back. She insists she can do whatever the older two do in the pool, and perhaps she can.

The girls have been taking a sewing class at a coop. I never expected them to learn as much as they have since they only meet for an hour once a month but it's really been amazing. One of the best aspects is how they'll patch together little bits of cloth to make gifts. Second Daughter made a yellow-bellied marmot for her grandmother. Just because.

She's just started second grade and is excited because she'll receive First Communion next spring. She started piano this year, too. We were prepared to limit the lessons to five or ten minutes but she's done so well she's having thirty minute lessons just like the older two.

first day of school
For the first time, she's reading a few books and narrating them to me. So far, I am totally impressed. Her narrations from Saints for Young Readers for Every Day are detailed and lively. She asked for more books to read independently and narrate, so I'm considering our options. Quite a few of the second grade books I've selected are still too hard for her, I think. Then again, she recently decided to read the Harry Potter books so perhaps she can manage more than I think she can. (That's almost certainly true.)

Her favorite lesson is science, which is a continued study of Birds using The Burgess Bird Book for Children (we have a different version) and a coloring book. She also claims to enjoy handwriting and copywork. Her least favorite lesson is dictation.

Her favorites books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Junie B. Jones series, the Little House series, lots of bird books (especially those with colorful birds of the parrot family).

Her favorite games: Skippity, really just about anything anyone will play with her, though she's on a Munchkin* strike at the moment (angry about something her brother did to her character in the game, though I'm not sure she remembers quite what he did)

She will often skip her screen time, preferring instead to read and watch the others play. (This may have something to do with her options now that our two first generation Kindle Fires finally died.)

She loved crafts of all kinds. We have a craft bin full of bits and pieces of paper and crafty materials that she digs into on a regular basis. We have a new book for her art this year and I think she's going to love it. The very first week she was painting with watercolor crayons.

She begged to play soccer and waited very patiently for the fall, so we're going to give U10 a try. (First Daughter will play as well as they can be on the same team.) She taught herself to ride a bike and also loves to roller-skate and ride a scooter.

Second Daughter is a wonderful friend to our goddaughter, who is three and just adores Second Daughter. We're with them about once a week and she almost always includes the little one in the play.

I was reading over last year's birthday post for Second Daughter and marvel at how much is still the same. She loves the same play and games, being outside, observing birds, and reading. She still makes me crazy by saying "Don't worry, Mom" when I know very well that means to increase my worrying!

May God bless you, Second Daughter, in this momentous year!

* Please note that Munchkin, while a favorite game in our house, is not right for every family. Many of the cards are inappropriate (and have therefore been modified by the grown-ups here).

As always, links to Amazon are affiliate links. I receive a small commission if you follow the link, add something to your cart, and purchase it within whatever time frame Amazon specifies. My family appreciates every little bit.

Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 17-18: Redwoods National Park and Whale Watching

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 17: We woke up in the Redwoods campground surprisingly refreshed after a night at a spot right next to the bathrooms. We stopped at the Visitor's Center to ask about the best hike with children if we only had a few hours and could only do one. They were very helpful and directed us to one right outside the building. We hiked a loop back to the parking lot that included bits of the Prairie Creek Trail, the Cathedral Trees Trail, and the Foothills Trail.

The whole hike was delightful. There wasn't much elevation change. The twists and turns of the path meant we often felt completely alone in the wilderness despite a few other hikers along the way.

Redwoods was one of the parks that most felt otherworldly to us; we kept teasing the children that Yoda's house was nestled in the trees somewhere nearby.

They try let the trees rot where they fall, but sometimes have to make concessions, like people-sized tunnels cut out of enormous trees that fall on the path.

It may be hard to see in the picture below, but Kansas Dad and the kids are far ahead of me! They look so small next to those trees and you still can't see the tops.

After our hike, we piled back into the van for another drive. (Of course!) We headed north into Oregon which not only has one of the most beautiful coastlines I have ever seen, but park after park along the coast for visiting the coast and eating picnic lunches!

We arrived at our campground at an Oregon State Park (boy, those state parks in Oregon are nice!) almost in time for dinner but really needed a laundromat. So we drove past the park, started our laundry, ate at a nearby restaurant while it got all nice and clean, and then drove back to the campground. Kansas Dad and First Son set up camp while the little ones showered. A late night to bed, but we were all excited for the next day.

Total driving for day 17 - 225 miles.

Day 18: We drove to Depoe Bay for whale watching! We decided it would be worth it to take the kids out a bit in a boat onto the ocean even if we didn't see whales, but we were lucky. First, the children were delighted by the sea lions on the buoys.

They were batting for a sunning spot and we laughed to watch the newcomers get thrown back into the water.

First Daughter got a picture of a gray whale; if you look really closely, you may see a small dark spot rising out of the water. That's her! We also saw her calf and followed them for a while. The children were enthralled by the whales, the waves, the sea lions, all of it!

Smiling despite being back on land!
We left Depoe Bay and kept following the coast up to Seaquest State Park. Luckily we were able to see Mount St. Helen's from the road because the next day, when we had hoped to visit, it was all clouded over. I loved driving along the Oregon coast and would happily return there just to sit by the water for hours on end.

Total driving for day 18 - 239 miles.

Friday, July 22, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 15-16: San Francisco and Kirby Cove

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 15: We left our friends and drove to San Francisco, arriving around noon. It was too early to go to our campsite, so we had a picnic lunch on Rodeo Beach in the Golden Gate Recreation Area. Finally, the children saw the Pacific Ocean. And promptly fell in love, despite the gray skies and cold water.

It's amazing they ate anything at all, given their fascination with standing as close to the waves as they could without getting wet. (They got wet, of course.)

We stopped by our campsite at Kirby Cove campground before driving out to a suburb to have dinner with Kansas Dad's aunt and uncle. This campground has access to a beach nearly under the Golden Gate Bridge with amazing views of San Francisco (if it's not too foggy) and ships going in and out of the harbor (even if it is).

This was one of my favorite campgrounds of the whole trip. Who would have guessed you can camp so near to San Francisco? There are disadvantages, of course. You have to trundle your gear down a hill (wheelbarrows provided) and there's no running water. Totally worth it!

We found plenty of wildlife, birds and a sea lion or seal unconcerned by our presence.

We had a lovely dinner with Kansas Dad's family and his aunt even graciously provided two bags full of cookies to sustain us over the next few days. We had been worried about the sound of the foghorn or the boats so nearby, but we mainly heard the waves crashing on the shore.

Total driving for day 15 - 155 miles.

Day 16: The following morning, the kids and I spent as long as we could on the beach while Kansas Dad packed the van.

The children amassed quite the nature collection by the time we needed to leave. We left everything there for future visitors, taking only pictures with us. Well, and a lot of sand and wet shoes. (The shoes were famously soggy and damp for the next week as we were never anywhere dry enough long enough. They should have worn their sandals!)

Being so close to the bridge, we stopped on our way out and walked out a bit on it. The noise from the vehicles is quite overwhelming, but it was fun to watch boats in the harbor.

Then we spent the entire day driving, arriving at one of the Redwoods campgrounds, Elk Prairie, in time to set up camp and make dinner. It lived up to its name as these Roosevelt Elk were nonchalantely relaxing across from the registration wall.

Total driving for day 16 - 319 miles.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Back in Print and Wonderful: Black Fox of Lorne

by Marguerite de Angeli

I had the opportunity to proofread this book for Hillside Education in June. I waited to post about it until the final touches were complete and it was officially back in print. Hillside is doing good work, people!

Marguerite de Angeli, who wrote the familiar and wonderful The Door in the Wall, also wrote this book about twin thirteen-year-old boys of Norway who find themselves stranded alone by storm and sword in Scotland at the time of Malcolm II. Only one brother is captured; the other remains free which allows them to take turns as the captive and simultaneously discover the cruel plots by their captor. The boys remember and follow the teaching and advice of their father and their lessons in Norway: mastering their anger, keeping silent in company, training their bodies to endure hardships, mastering skills despite lack of interest.

Along the way, they encounter Christians who teach the boys about Jesus, in words and actions.
Memory of St. Andrew’s martyrdom strengthens our faith and makes us able to endure hardship and grief, and to know joy that Jesus, the Lamb of God, gave His life for every man.
The example of Christians who wait on the Lord gives the boys strength to endure their mistreatment and the patience to wait for the right time to exact revenge on their father's murderer. (In the end, as the Christian suggests may happen, the villain meets his fate at the hates of the king.)
In His good time, He will help us,” said Murdoch. “Perhaps He is helping us now, though we see it not. God’s ways are not our ways. We must have faith, for even when all seems against us, all seems lost, we later find that all was for the best. Sometimes one must lose that many others may gain, even as Christ gave His life for us all. We must have faith."
The boys naturally raise questions about the faith, many of which are interesting ones.
“Why does this Gavin make the sign then, when he is cruel as I know he is? He seems to like being thought cruel. Why makes he the sign?" asked Ian again.
When they hear the story of Jesus calming the storm, the boys ask why the storm that destroyed their ship was not stilled.
“Who shall say that ye were not sent here for a purpose?” asked Gregory. “I be but a shepherd, and know these things only by hearing the holy pilgrims tell of them, but I know them to be true, though I know not the reason for the way things happen. We can only hope and believe, for often good cometh of seeming evil, as the lily grows from the slime and dung which feeds it.”
More than once, Brus and Ian do not strike their enemy when he is in a position of weakness.
Brus wondered why he had troubled to save him. Yet, save him he had, surely. Then, he seemed to hear his father’s voice, as clearly as if he had really spoken, saying, “—and be just to all men.”
But was it “just” to save the life of an enemy? “Yes,” Murdoch Gow said. “Love thine enemy, hate him not, but hate the thing he does.”
This is a story of courage and virtue, full of wisdom passed from father to son, and boys who eventually choose their own paths. The end is wonderfully exciting.

There are a few deaths, though not presented in a gruesome way. This book would be appropriate to read aloud to a wide range of ages, but I will probably have my children read it independently in late elementary or middle school. It would be particularly appropriate if studying the history of England and Scotland around the year 1000, but worthwhile anytime.

Monday, July 18, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 13-14: Yosemite National Park and Friends

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 13: We rushed out of our hotel room as early as possible (that would be about 9:30 am, as always) to visit Yosemite. We planned to leave after lunch, so we wanted as much time as possible.

I cannot express how awe-inspiring Yosemite is. Of all the places we visited on our trip, we all agree this is the place we'd return if we could only choose one. With only a few hours, we could not possibly exhaust even the joy of Yosemite Falls (which we were lucky to see as it only runs in spring and early summer).

We did briefly visit the Visitor's Center and I found a status of John Muir for a picture.

We combined bits and pieces of a couple of trails - up to Lower Falls and then across Cooke's Meadow. Along the way, we visited the spot where John Muir built his cabin.

Once there, it's easy to see why he picked that spot, though all the visitors would drive him away quickly enough today.

We saw deer, but were most impressed by the pair of coyotes that wandered through the meadow, ignoring the people.

We also spotted red-headed woodpeckers and many stellar jays.

After our walk, we lunched near El Capitan, then headed out. There were more mountains to cross (6,192 feet) and Google maps sent us down a shortcut called Old Priest Grade that must be so-named for all the prayers people say while traveling along it. Luckily, the van made it down without mishap.

We arrived at a little haven, the home of friends from our college days and their beautiful family of sweet girls. They fed us a scrumptious dinner and let the children romp in their pool despite the chilly water.

Total driving for day 13 - 122 miles.

Day 14: Our lovely hosts provided breakfast, lunch, and dinner, a laundry room for our piles of dirty clothes, and even graciously let Kansas Dad set up our tent and rain fly in the front yard, which had been crammed in their bags all wet from the rain at Sequoia for three nights. Oh, and allowed the children to play in the pool off and on all day long! It was a perfectly restorative day and we cannot thank them enough for their hospitality.

Total driving for day 14 - 16 miles. (Kansas Dad went grocery shopping.)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Gritty Martyrdom: The Power and the Glory

by Graham Greene

I only took two books on our big camping trip: The Man Who Was Thursday and The Power and the Glory. I'm not sure they are the most appropriate books for a camping trip, but they were both enthralling.

Graham Greene's book follows the last priest in a beleaguered state of Mexico during a recent persecution, a priest not of courage but one of fear and failure. Pursued by a lieutenant determined to rid his state of misleading Catholic priests and their lies, this priest becomes like an animal and yet is always something more by virtue of his priesthood. To the priest's dismay, villagers accept arrest and even execution rather than revealing him to the lieutenant.

The power of Reconciliation is a recurring theme of the book. Though the priest hears confessions wherever he goes, there is no priest to hear his.
Now that he no longer despaired it didn't mean, of course, that he wasn't damned -- it was simply that after a time the mystery became too great, a damned man putting God into the mouths of men: an odd sort of servant, that, for the devil. His mind was full of a simplified mythology: Michael dressed in armour slew a dragon, and the angels fell through space like comets with beautiful streaming hair because they were jealous, so one of the Fathers had said, of what God intended for men -- the enormous privilege of life -- this life.
During his wanderings and ill-fated attempts to leave the state, he encounters a poor filthy scheming man who discovers his secret and follows him in the hopes of a reward for leading authorities to him. He's not Catholic, but attempts a confession to lead the priest to reveal himself.
How often the priest had heard the same confession -- Man was so limited he hadn't even the ingenuity to invent a new vice: the animals knew as much. It was for this world that Christ had died; the more evil you saw and heard about you, the greater glory lay around the death. It was too easy to die for what was good or beautiful, for home or children or a civilization -- it needed a God to die for the half-hearted and the corrupt. 
One of his greatest sins lead to the birth of a daughter, one who scorns him and yet has his steady love. Her very existence brings him joy, a secret warmth in his heart.
He couldn't say to himself that he wished his sin has never exited, because the sin seemed to him now so unimportant and he loved the fruit of it. He needed a confessor to draw his mind slowly down the drab passages which led to grief and repentance.
As the book progresses, the priest appears to fall farther and farther from his previous life. He becomes dirty, disheveled, losing all of his Mass articles. At one point, he is arrested on a minor charge and believes he will be executed as soon as they figure out who he really is.
Once he glanced quickly and nervously up at the old crumpled newspaper cutting and thought, It's not very like me now. What an unbearable creature he must have been in those days -- and yet in those days he had been comparatively innocent. That was another mystery: it sometimes seemed to him that venial sins -- impatience, an unimportant lie, pride, a neglected opportunity -- cut you off from grace more completely than the worst sins of all. Then, in his innocence, he had felt no love for anyone; now in his corruption he had learnt...[His thoughts are interrupted here by the lieutenant.]
In the end, he is captured. He had traveled to a lonely spot, a trap, but there was a hardened criminal who wanted to confess. Even he seems unsure whether it was courage or pride that led him to the trap. As they journey back to the city, the lieutenant and the priest talk, of the people.
The lieutenant said, 'Those men I shot. They were my own people. I wanted to give them the whole world.'
'Well, who knows? Perhaps that's what you did.'
They talk of love. The priest says:
God is love. I don't say the heart doesn't feel a taste of it, but what a taste. The smallest glass of love mixed with a pint pot of ditch-water. We wouldn't recognize that love. It might even look like hate. It would be enough to scare us -- God's love. It set fire to a bush in the desert, didn't it, and smashed open graves and set the dead walking in the dark. Oh, a man like me would run a mile to get away if he felt that love around.
Confused, the lieutenant can't understand why the priest feels he is damned. If he were his "boss" (as God is), he'd give him a promotion or honor him for the sacrifice he is making.
'I'm not as dishonest as you think I am. Why do you think I tell people out of the pulpit that they're in danger of damnation if death catches them unawares? I'm not telling them fairy stories I don't believe myself. I don't know a thing about the mercy of God: I don't know how awful the human heart looks to Him. But I do know this -- that if there's ever been a single man in this state damned, then I'll be damned too.' He said slowly, 'I wouldn't want it to be any different. I just want justice, that's all.'
In the end, he feels himself a failure, a failure as a person, a failure as a priest. His end is ignominious, not a glorious martyr's death.
What a fool he had been to think that he was strong enough to stay when others fled. What an impossible fellow I am, he thought, and how useless. I have done nothing for anybody. I might just as well have never lived. His parents were dead -- soon he wouldn't even be a memory -- perhaps after all he was not at the moment afraid of damnation -- even the fear of pain was in the background. He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds at an appointed place. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted -- to be a saint.
Though perhaps it is a martyr's death. A young boy is the city, one who mostly scorned the saint stories his mother reads, is intrigued by the whiskey priest's execution. His mother, discomfited by the priest when he was alive, acknowledges him as a martyr. The idea of faith grows in the boy's eyes and he is emboldened and proud when a new priest arrives at their door.

Unlike books on saints or biographies of saints, this fictionalized account of the situation in Mexico (with which the author was familiar as journalist) provides a gritty reality of a sinful man who happens to be a priest. His pride and his despair, his courage and his cowardice, intermingle throughout the book.

The figure of Coral Fellows seems minor but is fascinating. She's a young American girl living with her disillusioned parents (a father who fails to manage the business well and a mother who fails to manage life well). She's an atheist, but instinctively knows it is right to protect the priest from the authorities. The reader can only guess at the events that transpire outside of the book that lead to her presumed death, but it seems clear the American criminal to whom the priest travels for his final confession was involved. Perhaps she sheltered him as well, and suffered death at his hands. Or perhaps she was sheltering the criminal and was killed by Mexican authorities in the crossfire. What does it mean that this young girl was willing to risk her own life for the priest? What does it mean that her life was taken? I wonder.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Grand Adventure, Days 11-12: Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks

You can find links to any other 2016 Grand Adventure posts at the "home page."

Day 11: We woke to a misty morning at Sequoia. We hadn't noticed any bears, but there were mule deer wandering through the campground. We visited the Foothills Visitor's Center which had only a few small exhibits and rather unhelpful rangers. We wanted to know the grade going up to the see the giant sequoias. Kansas Dad was a little worried about the van making it up the mountain as sequoias only grow above 4,000 or 5,000 feet. However, Kansas Dad insisted we had promised the children they would see giant sequoia trees and it seemed silly to have driven so far and miss them. So up we went!

It was damp and chilly with low clouds, but the trees still looked magnificent. The Giants Forest Museum is larger than the Foothills Visitors Center with lots of attractive and informative displays. Then we walked the Big Trees Trail, which is an easy short paved trail.

It's always a little sad to me when they pave trails, but I understand that it not only allows access to visitors of all abilities but also protects the environment. The paved trails often visit the most famous sites and this one also provided evidence of all sorts of information about the sequoias so you could see exactly what happens over time.

It appears the trees don't really die; they just eventually tip over, leaving exposed enormous roots.

Sadly, the trip down the mountain was more exciting than Kansas Dad would have hoped. The van's engine struggled for a while then made a large clumping noise before dwindling to a whine. Kansas Dad carefully steered us slowly down the rest of the mountain amidst our prayers we'd at least make it to the visitor's center, desperately hoping we wouldn't be stranded on the long winding road, blocking the path for other visitors and (horrors!) having to walk down that busy highway with our four children.

We did make it down, which was good, but then Kansas Dad spent hours trying to use the pay phone (no cell service) to communicate with our insurance company for the tow service, our mechanic back home (because he knew the problem was the same we had last year and the part should be covered by the warranty company), the warranty company, a rental company (failed on that count and had to find a rental later), and a number of different area mechanics before finding one that would have time to look at the van that day (Friday afternoon).

Finally, he made arrangements and a tow truck came for the van.

Kansas Dad rode along with him and the kids and I waited at the visitor's center. I didn't want to go on any trials or wander far because Kansas Dad had no way to reach us, so we sat outside for a few hours. The kids were terrific. We had a deck of cards and played lots of games. They taught me the first taekwondo form. When the visitor's center closed, the nicest ranger at Sequoia asked First Son to help her fold the flag. (The other rangers had been no help at all when we were trying to find a cab. No one offered a phone and they couldn't even find a recent phone book to look up a rental car company. We were surprised and disappointed.)

They read their own books, and finally, we managed the last few minutes by reading from a book I had on my Kindle.

Kansas Dad had rented the last minivan in the area, booked the last hotel room in the city, and rushed back to Sequoia to pick us up. The mechanics had promised to leave the van where we could get it, but when we got there, it was locked in the garage. So there we were without clothes or toiletries. Sigh.

We did find a terrific Chinese restaurant thanks to Yelp and then found a superstore for some t-shirts and toothbrushes.

Total driving for day 11 - 40 miles (not counting the miles the van was towed or the miles in the rental van).

Day 12: Kansas Dad picked up our bags first thing in the morning. Since we had to wait on the mechanics, we decided to drive up to King's Canyon National Park, originally not on our itinerary. We didn't have time to drive to the actual canyon because we wanted to be back to town in time to pick up the van before the mechanic closed (praying it would be ready and we wouldn't have to stay the whole weekend!).

We walked to the General Grant Tree and then drove a bit in the park before heading back.

This is one of the trees people have lived in over the years. They even stabled horses here at one point.

It was still misty, of course, which is a regular weather pattern where sequoia thrive.

Our mechanic was terrific and finished the van in time for us to pick it up. We had just enough time to stop and buy First Daughter a new pair of shoes since hers were literally falling to pieces. Then we started our drive to Yosemite, glad to have at least half a day there.

Total driving in the rental van - about 140 miles. (The kids discovered reading lights in the rental and have declared it's the one "need" we we finally replace our van.)

The drive to Yosemite would have been more beautiful in daylight, but we were glad to find a place to stay overnight near the park for less than $200. (We had given up our camping site the day before.)
Total driving in our van - 145 miles.