Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Book Review: Escaping the Endless Adolescence, Part II for Part II

Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow OldEscaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old by Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen

Click here to read what I thought of Part I. Click here to read my first post on Part II. I really hope I can wrap the book up in this one!

We're up to chapter eight, in which the authors encourage parents and teachers to provide two very important aspects of "real" life to teenagers: challenges and feedback.

The challenges don't have to be something truly amazing (like sailing alone around the world). They can be little things like scheduling a doctor's appointment and setting an alarm to get up in the morning (or getting yourself to school if you oversleep). The key is to slowly introduce teenagers to the tasks they'll face every day as adults. I thought of my own young adult years here and how I pretty much never filled the gas tank of our van. I was still nervous about putting gas in the car when we moved to Kansas five years ago!

Most of the feedback teenagers receive now is in the form of grades: little letters on a piece of paper. Of course we all know how important grades can be for a traditional high school student hoping to attend a prestigious college (though there's some interesting research on the "benefits" of attending such colleges), but those little letters seem hardly enough for the struggle, especially for students who know they'll never be up at the top. They're struggling for Bs and Cs. Video games, on the other hand, provide instant feedback for sustained attention.

One of the most important ways we can provide adolescents with real-world feedback is to let them suffer the consequences of their actions. A lot of this chapter reminded me of what I read in Parenting With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition) (or rather, an older edition of it which apparently I did not review on the blog). If, as mentioned above, a teenager oversleeps and misses the bus, they'll either have to walk (as long as it's reasonable), find a ride, or call a taxi (and spend their own money). No notes, no help from Mom, that's it. With some situations, of course, adolescents may need some assistance, but it should be the "scaffolding" mentioned earlier in the book, providing guidance so they can handle the situation themselves. (Even little ones can handle some real-world feedback, as long as the tasks they are set are within their capabilities.) Everyone learns better through experience than just by being told what will happen if they miss a deadline (or a bus).

In chapter nine, we begin to see what interested me most: a frank discussion on how high school can be modified to address some of the issues the authors have raised with adolescence in America.
Adolescents spend one-quarter of their waking hours in school, mostly in large classroom groups led by single teachers, yet we would be hard-pressed to find adolescents or adults who think the time is being particularly well spent.
Everyone talks today of how a college education is almost a necessity (though as the wife of a college professor I don't necessarily agree with that assessment). The authors point out some startling statistics, though, on just how poorly our current public schools provide the basic skills and motivation that will lead to a college degree:
For every 100 students entering ninth grade each year, only 68 will graduate four years later with a regular diploma...Of that group, only 40 will go directly to college, and only 27 will be in college the next year. Ultimately, only 18 of these initial 100 students will finish with an associate's degree within three years or a bachelor's degree within six. If we accept that at least a two-year college degree is going to be important to thriving in the workplace of the twenty-first century, then our current system is an abject failure for more than 80 percent of the teens moving through it!
The authors outline a number of characteristics of traditional high schools that contribute to the problems of adolescence. They cover a lot of ground in the chapter and it's an area I find fascinating but I'll try to limit myself.
In some ways it seems like the ultimate adult intellectual laziness to design a secondary school curriculum based only on a hypothetical vision of the knowledge one should ultimately acquire across a lifetime, without considering what adolescents are most and least primed to absorb during this phase of their lives. Teens have incredible capacities to learn complex material that they care about...We can argue over the relative merits of core curricula, cultural capital, or high-stakes testing, but if we have no way to engage and motivate teens in that learning, then these arguments are for naught.
Working with teachers and classrooms throughout the country, the authors are attempting to identify the kinds of coursework and interactions that engage students and keep them working toward the final goal (high school graduation, continued training or college).

I thought this quote was amusing:
And then finally we get to our toughest challenge, given the current structure of our educational system: How do we make what happens in the classroom seem relevant to teens' lives? The question itself illustrates the problem: What does it say about the material we're teaching our teens that making this material seem relevant becomes such a challenging task?
The authors discuss a few programs operating a bit outside the current system that seem to be working by addressing the specific challenges of adolescence as they've outlined them. (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation makes an appearance, of course. You almost can't talk about education reform in America without talking about the Gates Foundation.) They don't mention my organization specifically, but a lot of the aspects of the programs that are working are already incorporated into career academies and small learning communities like those we support.

Interestingly, the authors do not address homeschooling at all (though one of their "composite" teenagers in the first part of the book is a homeschooled student). They were probably most concerned with a way to reach the greatest number of students and certainly a discussion of the traditional education system in America is a large enough topic. While tackling the problem of adolescence can seem overwhelming within the school system, it's a much easier task for a homeschooled teenager. Homeschooling provides the opportunity to shape the educational experiences directly to the student. While changing the requirements in a high school is difficult, allowing students to work ahead, to follow their own interests, to seek out apprenticeships and to interact with adults at least as often as peers are much simpler for the homeschooler.

So now I have to consider the possibility that we will need to homeschool through high school. I'm still not promising anything past first grade, though! One year at a time...(It strikes me as interesting that I always say that, and yet I've already justified investing in homeschooling resources for some subjects that we'll be using for years to come.)

The final chapter presents a nice summary, especially of five principles parents and teachers can apply based on the evidence and reasoning in the book. It's probably a better summary than I've given in my posts! It's not a difficult book to read and I definitely recommend it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Um, Thanks...

Today, Grammy and I took the kids to the zoo for the morning. (Followed by lunch at Grammy's house and a trip to her neighborhood pool, which Second Daughter thought was just about the best place in the entire world. I think she laughed for an hour and a quarter straight. Grammy handled a lot of the kid-wrangling, but I'm still exhausted.)

Anyway, while we were at the zoo (and if I weren't so lazy, I'd show you some of the pictures), another mom smiled at me (in quite a nice way, actually, considering what was coming) and asked, "Are you having one baby or two? You're so big."

"Oh, just one!" I answered, laughing;.(Seriously, who asks something like that?)

"You must be due soon, " she continued.

Um...I'm not due for four weeks.

Seriously. She thinks I'm having twins, and soon. Oy. I really must be bigger than I feel, though that's hard to believe.

Book Review: Escaping the Endless Adolescence, Part II

Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow OldEscaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old by Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen

I wrote about Part I here and am now ready to move into Part II. We'll assume for the  moment that you are convinced Dr. and Dr. Allen are correct in describing the problem of adolescence and the reasons for it. (I tend to agree, in case you can't tell.) In Part II, they provide a few suggestions for parents and teachers as we help teenagers negotiate the journey from child to adult.
Progress will require attending to some different signposts than those we've been used to following, though. Instead of asking, "What will keep our teens out of trouble?" "What will make them happy?" or "What will get them into college?" we need to switch our focus to a different set of queries: "How can we introduce realistic elements of adulthood into their worlds?" "What activities best provide real feedback about their efforts and skill?" and "Which other adults can we recruit to help pass our values on to them?" In short, we need to switch our focus from activities that reflect living happily as a teenager to activities that let our young people actually use their energy, connect with adults, and make choices that matter in order to begin moving successfully into adulthood.
The first step, according to the authors, is helping adolescents find work that matters. They're not suggesting required volunteerism, but really getting teens involved in something they enjoy or find challenging in which they can see how their presence and actions make a difference to other people (or at least, one other person).
The problem is that much volunteer work that teens do actually matters little to anyone. The teens know it and gain little benefit from going through the motions of meeting quotas for volunteer hours. It's not only useless, but discouraging and demoralizing for teens to show up to volunteer where they mainly stand around feeling in the way or doing busywork...We can structure teens' work in ways that do or do not foster development toward independent adulthood--and the difference this makes is huge.
Similar caveats apply to sending teens out for a paying job. Many jobs open to teenagers now place them in a position to be earning what seems to be a great deal of money (but would not be able to provide a living if they weren't dependent on their parents) and surrounded by other teenagers, many of whom do not have the kind of work ethic we'd like to see in our children.
While jobs for teens used to involve demanding work supervised by adults, today's "McJobs" often involve mindless, noncareer-oriented labor, supervised primarily by older adolescents. Teens aren't given any responsibility to think independently, to decide how to handle tasks, or to meet challenges. Indeed from an employer's perspective, the ideal teen work setting is one designed to run well even when populated and directed by uninspired teens.
The authors sum up the chapter:
[W]e want our teens to be doing work that matters to someone, entails real challenges, involves interacting with adults who care about the work, and comes with reasonable (not excessive) financial compensations.
In the sixth chapter, "Finding the Inner Adult," the authors recommend looking for a way to allow young people to follow through on their ideas and dreams, whatever may be possible.
For finding the inner adult is not some gimmick for tracking teens into behaving as we might want. Rather, it is a way of taking teens' deepest motivations and allowing and encouraging these motivations (and teens' budding adulthood) to come forth...The idea is that if we directly oppose teens' energies, we're bound to fail. If we simply try to tamp them down, we'll at best create low-energy, apathetic teens. But if we flip these energies back in the direction they were originally designed to go--toward making an impact on the world--we can use teens' own drives to move them more rapidly toward maturity.
This idea makes perfect sense to me, even for the little ones we have. Though we're by no means unschoolers, I think it makes sense to let First Son follow his instincts if he had an idea for a crazy project (within reason, of course). The authors talk a lot in the book about providing "scaffolding," the assistance adolescents need to accomplish new tasks or learn new skills. They're applying the idea as first described by Lev Vygotsky (and which is used a lot with younger children). Here they mean providing "proper guidance, limits, safety nets, and supports" which would differ depending on the task set before the teen.
The key...is recognizing that adolescents want to grow up. Once we recognize this, and let teens know we recognize it, we stop being seen as adversaries and start to appear more as allies.
One of the interesting suggestions in this chapter is to use skill development rather than age when determining when to provide new experiences or responsibilities. Here again I can see ways to incorporate this suggestion even with little ones. It would be easy to tell First Daughter she had to wait for kindergarten to really start school (and I am a "late starter advocate" most of the time), but she adored math lessons last year. Kansas Dad and I are also considering starting an allowance for her as well. She has certainly learned a great deal more about the value of money than First Son had at her age. (I have to admit, this would also ease some of our current hassles when First Son wants to make a purchase with his allowance and she has no money. It's been wonderful to tell him we're not going to buy something he wants, but he can if he wants to spend his own money, but that doesn't work as well when she doesn't have her own money.)

In chapter seven, "Hardwired to Connect," the authors talk about how adolescents maintain relationships with adults: they don't. It's basically up to adults to reach out over and over again. According to the authors, teens have a lot on their plates in learning how to relate to other people their own age, which makes sense when you think about how those other kids don't really know how to relate to anyone either. So they depend on adults to do all the work on those relationships, especially with parents. It was an interested chapter, and probably makes a lot of sense, but I found a bit less here that was applicable with the preschool and early elementary crowd. Those kids want to do everything with us!

That brings us halfway through Part II and I think I'd better stop. This post is getting a bit out of control already.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: Escaping the Endless Adolescence, Part I

Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow OldEscaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old by Joseph Allen and Claudia Worrell Allen

I have just finished reading part I of this book, where the authors put forth their arguments that contemporary adolescence in America is fundamentally different from that of the adolescent years in past generations in such a way to cause widespread angst, depression, hooliganism and general discontent in the teenage years (and beyond). (In part II, they put forth their recommendations for parents and teachers, which I'll include in a later post.)

These ideas are not new to Kansas Dad and me. We've read other articles that basically say the same thing. Teenagers today are not given enough responsibility or respect. In book form, these arguments are much better explained and supported with some research. (They don't really describe any specific research, though; I guess it's not really that kind of book.)

By the way, I do realize we don't have any adolescents in the house yet. I've often found with books like these, that the information easily transfers to other ages and relationships. I haven't been disappointed in that regard with this book, either. (One of the best books I ever read was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, which I read when First Son was about three months old. I put those skills into practice immediately in my office and discovered astounding results.)

In part I, the authors focus on convincing us there is a problem with our adolescents and that we're not just dealing with adolescents they way they have always been, that there's not a biological reason for teenage rebellion and depression. They then look at the changes in our society in the past hundred years or so and pull out what they feel are the pertinent and damaging aspects. (They don't recommend, by the way, returning to the ways of a hundred and fifty years ago, when many teenagers were malnourished and forced to work dangerous jobs in factories.)

The largest change has been an increase in education - a dramatic increase. A few generations ago, only a few students progressed through high school and college. Now, the public schools are attempting to prepare every student for college. For those of high-income families, the expectations are even greater: medical school or graduate school. To be board certified as a physician, you need to finish college (4 years), medical school (4 years) and residency (often 3 years).
But like most of his peers, Perry was on a high-achieving track where the real payoff for his work wouldn't come until after his graduate or professional training was complete. That was so far in the future that he couldn't even accurately estimate the years involved. Perry didn't feel he was so much on a path as on a treadmill. And though he could scarcely allow himself to verbalize it, he wanted desperately to get off.
We know how this can feel first-hand. Kansas Dad finished his graduate degree in 2008. We were married with two children and felt like we still weren't really living our lives because he was still a student. If we were feeling frustrated, imagine how high school students must feel, slaving away day after day on coursework that has no application to their lives.
The end point of adolescence has been creeping upward in many ways and for many years. But gradual changes often catch us by surprise in the end. The most obvious change--that schooling, now routinely extends for many years beyond twelfth grade--has brought many other far-reaching changes with it. Financial dependence on parents lasts longer. Exposure to real employment is delayed. The result is that the teenage years have gradually evolved into something quite different than they used to be.
When, exactly, do children become adults today?

Interestingly, the organization for which I've worked since 2001 supports academies in high schools, providing a contextualized curriculum based on real careers and paid internships. They have tried to find evidence to support the hypothesis that our career academies make a difference in students' lives. The best they've been able to prove so far (in a randomized third-party study) is that the academy students tend to be more consistently employed, the men statistically earn more (than men who were not in the contextualized classes) and the men are more likely to be married (a sign of stability and, usually, a characteristic that leads to greater happiness and contentment).

There's a whole chapter discussing the teenage brain and how it does or does not contribute to an inability to make sound decisions. As I mentioned above, the main point here is to convince us that teenagers were not always "victims of their own raging hormones." It's an interesting chapter as it shows ways in which teenagers are actually in the best position to learn new skills, especially manual and physical skills.

The authors discuss recent evidence that teenagers are unprepared for college and for life after college.
The problem, of course, with putting our teens in a world where they have nothing much to do that matters to anyone else (besides college admissions officers) is that they learn to do...nothing much. As a result, even when not displaying obvious psychological symptoms, we see a generation emerge that is increasingly slow to launch and appears helpless in the face of modest challenges.
There are high school seniors who are unwilling to leave home to go to college or who are struggling with fears about being "on their own" in college. A surprising number of college graduates are returning home to live with parents, unsure of what to do with their lives even though they've attained the degree for which they worked through high school and college.
Ultimately, the problems created by the extension of adolescence aren't just a matter of moving (or not moving) expeditiously into adulthood, or even of the anxiety and assorted other problems that accompany teens along the way. Ultimately, the problem with these structural changes in the nature of adolescence lies in how they affect teens' very character. "Character" isn't a word that psychologies typically throw around easily, yet it seems quite apt here. Interestingly, problems that we call "matters of character" can appear in almost opposite guises at different times. For some adolescents, they show up as a deep-seated sense of incompetence and inadequacy that makes them hesitant to even face the larger world.
The authors describe a teen's world as a "bubble":
It cuts them off from meaningful roles in the adult world, it cuts them off from close day-to-day contact with adults, and it hyperexposes them to peer relationships, which then become their primary socializing influences.
I've discussed this sort of situation before in the context of how homeschooling gives parents the opportunity to provide socialization with adults in a way that is not possible at schools. Though I haven't read the part of the book that talks about what we can do to help our teens, I would guess things like apprenticeships, which are much easier to arrange in a homeschooling environment than a public school, would meet some of the needs.
Across human history, parents have been primed to make all manner of sacrifices to give their teens what they needed to thrive, but of late a subtle but crucial shift has occurred. Parents today no longer just sacrifice to give their teens everything they need, they sacrifice to give them everything (or almost everything) they want. The shift is subtle, but the effects are not.
So teenagers are working like mad at their studies (for a career in they know not what), engaged in as many extracurricular activities as they can squeeze in to bolster their college applications (most of which are rather inane, and the students know it), accept everything from their parents (food, shelter, toys, expensive music camps, etc.) and contribute nothing to their families or communities. They have no purpose.

Parents unknowingly or unwittingly make these challenges worse by stepping in to alleviate what stress and problems they can. Not only do some parents complete academic assignments for their children, they drive them everywhere, schedule all their appointments, ensure they don't miss appointments, and, of course, meet all the financial requirements. Adolescents not only have no ability to contribute to the family, but their parents are taking on responsibility for some of the only activities they do have in school and their studies.

The authors also touched on unreasonable parental fears, like parents who refuse to let their large sixteen or seventeen year old children bike to tennis courts along a busy road because they might get mugged or attacked (during the day in a middle-class neighborhood). That sounds familiar...

Maybe Ranting a Little Will Make Me Feel Better (Fair Warning)

Remember this quote?
No one is more susceptible to an expert's fear mongering than a parent. Fear is in fact a major component of the act of parenting. A parent, after all, is the steward of another creature's life, a creature who in the beginning is more helpless than the newborn of nearly any other species. This leads a lot of parents to spend a lot of their parenting energy simply being scared.

The problem is that they are often scared of the wrong things. It's not their fault, really. Separating fact from rumors is always hard work, especially for a busy parent.
I've been thinking about it a lot last night and this morning as I contemplate our recalled crib. There's no repair kit; the current owner of the brand is offering a rebate toward a new crib, which sounds great until you see how very tiny the rebate is. So here I sit, eight months pregnant (and arguably not thinking very clearly about the safety of my children), wondering what to do with a crib that is in all likelihood perfectly safe but has been recalled. Not to mention the borrowed crib in our room that is probably more than ten years old and therefore, according to the CPSC, should be destroyed. They don't even issue recalls for cribs over ten years because apparently we shouldn't be using them at all. 

Perhaps there should be a government bail-out for parents who have invested in a crib and now are being pressured to go buy a newer, "safer" crib because our kids may die any time we lay them down and leave the room. I suppose if we had an extra $300 lying around we'd just order a new crib, but I have to believe we're not the only ones who foolishly thought we could use one of the two cribs we already have.

Three hours to nap time...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Maybe This Is Nesting

I've never really felt the nesting instinct before a baby was born, at least not that I noticed. Perhaps I was too tired when I was working full-time, or just too distracted since I didn't sit around looking at the messy kitchen very often.

Now I think I know what they mean.

Last Friday, I cleaned the refrigerator. Not just wiping the shelves, which I try to do on Fridays before Kansas Dad comes home with another week's worth of groceries. I sat on the floor, pulled everything out and clean the shelves and the drawers, tops and bottoms. I'm not sure it's been so clean since it was empty right after we moved into the house!

Today, after washing the breakfast dishes (with help from First Daughter), I cleaned the counters and then glanced at the chest freezer. I wipe the chest freezer off every time I clean the counters, but there always seemed to be a little residue left. Today, I sprayed it with cleaner (as opposed to just a washcloth with soapy water) and started scrubbing with a toothbrush. First Daughter was intrigued, so she helped, too. (I use a cleaner of castile soap and essential oils, so I don't have to worry about letting her help clean if she asks.) I scrubbed after her quite a bit, but she did a surprisingly good job.

Then my glance fell on the hutch, which is perilously close to the table so often gets sprayed with food and drink from Second Daughter's meals. We always wipe it down, but sometimes we miss a little or don't see it until later. And it was dusty...so then I made some furniture polish (olive oil and distilled vinegar) and cleaned it from top to bottom. So beautiful and gleaming! It made the bookshelf look a bit dingy, so I wiped down most of that, too. (I didn't actually take the books off the shelves.)

And it's just now lunch time.

It's not clear to me how having a gleaming hutch in my kitchen will make the house a better or safer place for the baby, but I do love how wonderful it looks just now.

For those that are interested, I make the cleaners with recipes from Green Clean: The Environmentally Sound Guide to Cleaning Your Home.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Love Is in the Macaroni and Cheese

Today, for Father's Day, Kansas Dad made his own lunch, one of his very favorites: the Baked Macaroni and Cheese from Cover & Bake (Best Recipe).

And he doubled it, so we have another wonderful dinner for the post-baby-freezer-stash.

I've never actually made this meal; he always makes it himself (and a fantastic job he does). Now that we know how yummy it is even after it's been frozen (instructions are included in the cookbook), we almost always double it so we have a yummy freezer meal for ourselves, or one to share with friends who need a night off from the dinner rush.

Happy Father's Day!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Book Review: Keeping a Nature Journal

by Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth

If you are tempted by the idea of a nature journal but don't know where to start, this book is a great introduction and beautiful, too. Ms. Leslie and Mr. Roth have years of experience between them, journaling from nature and writing and teaching about nature journaling. The book is full of wonderful full-color illustrations taken from not only their own journals, but those of some of their students of all ages.

Most importantly, the book offers concrete suggestions for getting started with a nature journal. A series of questions is provided that can lead you through the first attempts, giving ideas on something (anything) that can be written or drawn. Once started, I would expect the journaling to become more personal and less scripted. (I'd like to say I've started a journal, but though I've been inspired to draw a few things while outside with the kids I've mostly been concentrating on growing a baby and doing the bare minimum to keep the household running. They recommend, and it makes perfect sense, that the children will do as the teacher or parent does, so the best way to encourage nature journaling is probably to engage in it myself.)

There are nature drawing exercises with suggestions on drawing specific kinds of plants or animals. They recommend drawing from guidebooks or other picture books as practice, as those animals aren't moving. They also recommend trips to the zoo, aquarium or nature centers where animals may be found either in cages or stuffed for drawing practice sessions. Also sprinkled throughout, the authors identify some of their favorite drawing implements, sometimes even with recommendations on brands or which types work best for different drawings. One double spread of pages offers suggestions for themes that could be used through a year (like birds, which we'll be doing next year!) and specific observations and thoughtful questions for each season.

The authors do not recommend teaching extensive techniques for drawing to children under seven. I liked this suggestion (partly because I have no inclination to teach specific techniques next year.) I appreciate the idea of letting First Son enjoy his time out in the yard or field with a journal and a pencil and would rather he be pleased with whatever drawing he makes, as long as he is applying himself and progressing. While some things are efficiently done together, I think learning techniques for nature journaling or concentrating on the plant or animal at hand while learning to draw is quite a lot to ask of a little one (or anyone). Better to focus on the nature and practice the specific drawing techniques later.

Not all of the comments from the journals appealed to me. Some of the selected quotes from environmentalists or other published essays seemed a little heavy at times. I wouldn't be surprised, though, if others would feel the same about things I might write in my nature journal. (Or perhaps I should say things I will write in my nature journal, one day.)

The last chapter provides a wide range of suggestions and recommendations for working with students. Though mainly written for a teacher of many students (sometimes of different abilities), most of the ideas can be easily modified for the homeschooling family.

There are also a number of lists in the back of the book of books on other topics (like those focusing even more on drawing techniques from nature) and a list of other resources.

I'm sure there are a lot of books out there on creating a nature journal, but this is the only one I've read and I don't really feel the need to find any others. It's given me everything I need to get started, and to help First Son next year. (Does anyone know if journaling is really a possibility with a baby? If I had to guess, I'd give myself a few months and then I'll have to set it aside while I, once again, try to keep a baby from imminent harm while wandering the yard. I know, it's probably not going to happen, but I'm always on the watch for mushrooms baby might eat or snakes baby might surprise into attacking.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

What I Learned About Canning Strawberries

Grow your own strawberries, if you can. Varieties you grow will be much tastier than anything you can buy in the stores (since they don't travel well). From what I can tell (Kansas Dad being the real expert), they aren't incredibly difficult to grow and you can certainly grow a lot of them in a small space.

Do a little research to decide if you want June-bearing (one big harvest in the spring), ever-bearing (smaller harvests, but in both the spring and the fall) or a blend. (We have about half June-bearing.) The first year (or spring, for ever-bearing), you'll want to pinch off the flowers so they plants put their energy toward roots rather than fruits. Strawberries are on the "worst" list for conventional fruits and vegetables, so growing your own or buying organic is probably worth the effort or the cost.

We invested quite a lot of money in jars, cheesecloth and pectin (mostly jars). We also bought sugar, lemons, corn syrup, and apple juice for some of the recipes and used some of our precious maple syrup for the smooch. The jars, of course, we'll be able to use again next year (if we don't give them away, which we'll do with some). We have lots of pectin left that will be good through next year's harvest. I did not count in our expenses a water bath canner (a gift from my mom last fall), canning utensils (like jar tongs) which I bought last fall, Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving where we found the recipes (many of which can also be found in the inserts for Ball pectin), or a stock pot (which I bought last year using some gift cards we'd saved). I highly recommend you have these items on hand if you intend to make quick or traditional jams (basically anything besides freezer jam).

Did we save money? Well, we think so, if we compare our costs (even including the jars) to that of buying quality organic strawberry jam without high fructose corn syrup. (Even the corn syrup we bought for the strawberry syrup didn't have high fructose corn syrup in the ingredients.) I'm assuming, of course, that our jam is high quality. If anyone in the area has canning jars they don't want, we'd be happy to take them off your hands!

We tried a variety of methods and recipes. You can read more about what we canned here.

The whole process for a quick or traditional jam or jelly in a water bath canner takes about two hours from starting the water bath heating to taking the jars out after they've been boiled. There's a good thirty minutes in the middle during which you cannot walk away or be distracted because you're stirring your jam or pouring it into your jars. Therefore, we only canned when both of us were home, during naptime (when the girls were safely tucked away) or after bedtime. I often started the canner simmering then got the kids in bed, so I was ready to heat my jam right when I came out after stories and prayers.

Overall, the canning process was much easier than I anticipated, especially using pectin and the quick jam recipes. Even the clean-up wasn't as bad as I'd feared. Most of it can be cleaned while the jars are boiling in the water bath.

    My Small Successes XXIV

    It's  Thursday and time for more Small Successes! Oh, wait, it's Friday. It's so nice to be reminded that even someone who seems as together as Danielle Bean is a bit late every once in a while. (At least she only forgot to post Small Successes yesterday. I lazed rested in my chair most of yesterday, neglecting the Thursday laundry schedule which now much be made up today.)

    1. I made my first angel food cake (using a recipe in The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution) and it was a success! Now I just need to try to make some creme brulee so I have a way to use all the yolks. We'll also be increasing the protein in the chicken diet so they'll continue to lay in the hot weather. It takes eleven to twelve eggs to make angel food cake so those hens need to step up production.

    2. I have frozen 24 burritos and one night's worth of tuna noodle casserole to eat after the baby is born. My stash was officially started with a dinner from a friend (mmm...enchiladas), but I'm glad to be adding to it myself as well. (Kansas Dad has eaten some of those burritos for lunches this week, but I'm not complaining because he also made a double batch of spicy penne casserole last night so we could freeze another dinner.)

    3. I wiped all the jars of strawberry jams, jellies and sauces clean (see them here) and stored almost all of them under our bed until we need them. (Some people stuff money under their mattresses; we slide jars under them.) I have a few sitting prettily on the hutch until we deliver them to some friends and teachers who should have received gifts much earlier.

    Read more Small Successes here!

    Query XXIII

    Should I be concerned that Second Daughter reads almost all her books upside down? She reads front to back (usually)...just upside down.

    It's not how she sees them when we read together. Then, she sits on laps or next to us, looking at the pictures right-side-up.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010

    How the Pregnancy Goes

    At least one person has seen on my pregnancy widget that I have less than two weeks remaining. It shows the correct time for me, but just in case anyone else sees the same thing, I thought I'd set the record straight.

    My estimated due date is July 23rd. Tomorrow (Friday, June 18th), I'll be 35 weeks. Since I'm measuring three weeks ahead (as of yesterday), I'm currently praying we make it to 37 weeks without mishap and that the baby doesn't get too big.

    Other than that, I am big and tired. I am quickly reaching the point when the fear of labor pains becomes less than the constant fatigue and discomfort of late pregnancy. Despite the measurements, I'm trying not to get too excited since all of my other babies nearly hit 41 weeks before their birthdays. So far, there's really no reason to think this one will be any different.

    Still, Kansas Dad and I started talking about names last night.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    Our New Chicks

    They were still nervous from having their bedding changed, but I didn't want to wait longer for a picture because they make a mess very quickly!

    I took this picture a few days ago now. They've already moved up to wood shavings for bedding and Kansas Dad is considering moving the heat lamp further away as they don't seem to need it as much. Kansas Dad thinks it's funny how much like chickens they already are. They exhibit all the same behaviors, though they haven't quite learned to come running when Kansas Dad leans over with food. I think we'll have to wait until they're old enough for kitchen scraps and bugs before they realize what a source of yummy food and treats he can be.

    Kansas Dad culled one of our hens today. She had a cut that just would not heal and was suddenly much worse today. Hopefully we'll be able to survive with just nine until these chicks are ready to start laying! (I think we can manage, though my angel food cake plans may be hampered. Those cakes use a lot of egg whites.)

    Final Strawberry Tally for 2010

    Over the course of a couple of weeks, we picked 96 pounds of strawberries from our garden. (Kansas Dad spent a lot of time on his knees picking strawberries.) This number does not include any that our friends picked and took home or the ones the kids ate right off the vine or out of the bucket before they made it inside. (Seriously, once First Daughter grabbed one of the buckets, plopped herself down on the log and munched away until they were all gone!) It also doesn't count the ones we lost when Kansas Dad was out of town and I didn't even try to keep up with the picking. I would guess we could have almost doubled the total picked, if we had wanted. (We like being able to invite friends to come pick berries.)

    (We have a lot of strawberry plants. Kansas Dad planted 150 last spring, about half of which were June-bearing, I think. Many of those put out shoots that he stapled with garden staples so they would put down their own roots. We'll be planting more next year or so and I'll try to post then on what we learned about strawberry plant placement for maximum ease in picking.)

    So what did we do with all of them? We ate a great many (yum!) and froze quite a bit (over 40 cups, mostly hulled and whole; we've already been digging those out for smoothies).

    We also used a bunch right away:
    Then, there was the canning. I'm planning a separate post on what we learned about canning strawberries and a few tips, but here's a picture of all our jars (minus one we already gave away):

      I particularly like that pretty strawberry jelly on the end:

      Here's what we have (all recipes from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving):
      • 17.5 pints strawberry jam (the original quick recipe, some with liquid pectin and a variation with some lemon peel so it's "lemony");
      • 6 pints strawberry jelly;
      • 11 pints quick strawberry lemon marmalade (We love this recipe. Next year we'll be more ambitious and try some of the traditional marmalade which should be more caramelized.);
      • 3.5 pints strawberry syrup (for pancakes and waffles and other such yummy fare);
      • 2 pints strawberry sauce (for ice cream and other desserts - very yummy, but a bit harder to make than the quick jams with pectin because I had to stir boiling strawberry goo for 15 minutes. It's a good thing we have one of those plastic mitts to protect my poor hands - I still had to switch hands every few minutes because they'd get too hot!); and
      • 3.25 pints maple strawberry smooch (a very good dessert topping option for those who prefer maple syrup to sugar or who happen to live somewhere that has a lot of maple syrup. You know who you are.).
      Some of the pints I tallied are actually canned in half pint jars. We have more than enough strawberry jams, jellies and treats for the year and plenty to give away, too.

      I highly recommend the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. Many of the recipes can be found inside the Ball boxes of pectin (including the marmalade recipe), but the back of the book has an extensive "tutorial" on canning with lots of tips and explanations that make following the recipes a lot easier. There are also a bunch of other recipes (many of which can be made with a simple water bath rather than a pressure canner) that we want to try with tomatoes and other produce. If you have excess garden or CSA produce, you're sure to find something intriguing to try.

      Now I can save this post to read when the harvest gets overwhelming next year. I'll remember how wonderful all these treats were throughout the year and how satisfying it feels to look at that table full of jars! (We've also been even more inspired to get some other berry plants in. Perhaps we'll be able to plant some next year.)

      For those that are wondering, we still have a few fruits on the ever-bearing plants, but it's not enough to even make it into the house.

      Overheard II

      First Son: Ow! I forgive you again and how could you?

      Tuesday, June 15, 2010

      More About Health Care

      I found this article fascinating. I missed it when it came out (not too surprising since I don't usually read The Atlantic and only read it today because Kansas Dad printed it out for me). I don't agree with everything Mr. Goldhill says, of course, but the idea of completely changing how we pay for and consume health care is an intriguing one. Kansas Dad in particular is a proponent of changing to health insurance as catastrophic insurance rather than something we depend on for routine care.

      As I was reading it, I couldn't help thinking about the state of public education as well. In many ways, I believe we need to completely reconsider how we provide education to those who do not have the luxury of learning at home. (You'll find some similar comments in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Gatto, reviewed here.)

      Book Review: Superfreakonomics

      SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life InsuranceSuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

      This book provides much of the same fare (with different topics, of course) to the first installment (Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.), reviewed here). I think it would be appropriate to call it a continuation (and not something more or better as the "super" might lead you to believe). Again, it is a collection of rather random topics (often within the same chapter), but I thought it was interesting.

      If you are interested in some of the car seat information, you can find it in this book (chapter 4):
      But even the most rigorous econometric analysis of the FARS data yields the same results. In recent crashes and old ones, in vehicles large and small, in single-car crashes and pileups, there is no evidence that car seats are better than seat belts in saving the lives of children two and older. In certain kinds of crashes--rear-enders, for instance--car seats actually perform slightly worse.
      I liked how the authors pointed out that blaming parents for installing car seats incorrectly doesn't seem quite right: "You might argue that a forty-year-old safety device that only 20 percent of its users can install correctly may not be a great safety device to be with."

      The FARS data set includes on fatal car crashes (where at least one person died, not necessarily a child). The authors found a couple of other data sets to look at the rates of non-fatal injuries:
      For preventing serious injury, lap-and-shoulder belts once again performed as well as child safety seats for children aged two through six. But for more minor injuries, car seats did a better job, reducing the likelihood of injury by roughly 25 percent compared with seat belts.
      Interestingly, the authors suggest car seats "give parents a misplaced sense of security" that "keeps us from striving for a better solution, one that may well be simpler and cheaper, and would save even more lives." (They suggest modifying the existing seat belt so that it properly fits smaller bodies, those of children rather than adults.)

      The next chapter I found most interesting was "What do Al Gore and Mount Pinatubo Have in Common?" (Chapter 5). I don't really want to get into a debate on the environment, as I don't actually know or understand all that much of the climate change science. Hopefully, if you're interested, you'll pick up the book and flip through it yourself. (I skimmed the endnotes on this chapter and they do reference quite a few articles that should provide more actual numbers than you'll find in the chapter itself.)

      What intrigued me were the thoughts of the "experts" the authors found (and I put that in quotes only because I don't know if the people were the right ones, though they certainly seemed to have the credentials if we're to believe the book):
      Everyone in the room agrees that the earth has been getting warmer and they generally suspect that human activity has something to do with it. But they also agree that the standard global-warming rhetoric in the media and political circles is oversimplified and exaggerated.
      It seems they think, if there really is a problem, a few families changing a few behaviors is not going to save the world. The "current slate of proposed global warming solutions" are "too little," "too late," and "too optimistic." The authors go on to show some of the suggested solutions by their group of experts, gathered by a company called Intellectual Ventures. I appreciated a comment by the co-founder and CEO, Nathan Myhrvold, who said:
      "They are seriously proposing doing a set of things that could have enormous impact--and we think probably negative impact--on human life," he says. "They want to divert a huge amount of economic value toward immediate and precipitous anti-carbon initiatives, without thinking things through. This will have a huge drag on the world economy. There are billions of poor people who will be greatly delayed, if not entirely precluded, from attaining a First World standard of living. In this country, we can pretty much afford the luxury of doing whatever we want on the energy-and-environment front, but other parts of the world would seriously suffer."
      I'm not sure how I feel about climate change. (Is it really happening? If so, how much of the change is caused by humans? How much impact can we have by modifying a few behaviors? Is periodic climate change a part of the world as God created it?) The ideas in this chapter didn't really change my views very much; they didn't provide a lot of answers. We just continue trying to live as the best stewards we can of the bit of land God has given us and try not to buy too much stuff. I like reading something that acknowledges how much we don't know about climate change and how some of the solutions offered are as likely to be detrimental as helpful.

      Monday, June 14, 2010

      Summer Reading Program

      This morning, I took the kids to our local library (which we call "the little library") for the Summer Reading Program. They had some free drawing time (which we missed because we were late), then "experimented" in teams (not with siblings!) by shaping clay boats that could float on water. When they had boats that could float, they were given coins as a payload which required some modifications. They were provided with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich snack followed by free time running around the gym like the little crazy people they are. Finish with story time and the opportunity to check out an armful of books (I even made First Daughter put some back) and our day was just about complete.

      Thinking, creating, experimenting, running, socializing. Free snacks. (There are prizes for reading, but in the end anyone who says they read gets to pick a prize before anyone who doesn't say they read. We might miss the end anyway, depending on when baby decides to be born.)

      I find it hard to believe that anyone out there has a summer reading program that can compete with the one at our little library. Not bad for a town of about 200 and a library only open two days a week. It's such a wonderful opportunity to be a part of the community.

      It's not that I want you all to be jealous; I'm just so pleased I can't help writing about it. Plus, I wanted you all to know I was actively compensating for my pregnancy-induced laziness sluggishness.

      Book Review: Should I Be Tested for Cancer

      Should I Be Tested for Cancer?: Maybe Not and Here's WhyShould I Be Tested for Cancer?: Maybe Not and Here's Why by H. Gilbert Welch, M.D., M.P.H.

      This fascinating book explores the world of medical testing, especially for cancer, in otherwise healthy patients (or at least those that are not showing any symptoms of cancer). He states repeatedly that this book does not address testing for cancer in patients that already have symptoms. If you are feeling unwell, please see your physician. It also does not address the situations of people who have a strong family history of cancer which is proven to be influenced by genetics.

      If, however, you feel perfectly fine, should you agree to mammograms or screenings for things like cervical cancer and colon cancer? Many such tests are standard fare for those of us with health insurance and regular doctor's visits. I'm not currently contemplating any tests for cancer, but I am seeing my OB constantly (or so it seems) and have faced the usual suggested prenatal tests so the idea of testing was recent in my memory. (Though it is not the topic of this blog post, we decided to decline most of the prenatal tests. Unless a result meant we'd invite someone else into the delivery room, we simply didn't need to know before the birth.)

      You can learn a great deal simply by reading the introduction to the book. Dr. Welch gives a brief but thorough summary of his arguments in just a few pages.

      I marked so many passages that I could not possibly share them all. In six chapters, Dr. Welch covers the main problems with cancer screenings, including:
      • the small chance of benefit (that you will be in the minority of patients that have a treatable, aggressive cancer caught at just the right time), 
      • the much larger chance you'll have a "cancer scare" (that you will have an abnormal test result that indicates you might have cancer when in fact you do not, or that your test results will continue to be abnormal with no doctor willing to diagnose cancer but also unwilling to give a clean bill of health),
      • the chance of unnecessary treatment (believing you have cancer when in fact you have abnormal test results),
      • the chance of finding (and treating) a cancer that would never have harmed you (either because the cancer is exceptionally slow-growing or because the "cancer" is one that does not actually result in detrimental health),
      • the chances of disagreement on whether the tests show you have cancer, and
      • the possibility that you and your doctor may focus too much attention on the cancer that might be rather than the problems you are currently facing.
      Lots of evidence is presented showing the probabilities and possibilities of the above problems, including how difficult it is to test the benefits of testing itself. I found all of Dr. Welch's arguments convincing (though I was inclined to believe all of the above anyway, given our own mindsets and other books we've read like The Last Well Person: How to Stay Well Despite the Health-Care System, reviewed here).
      Only so many people die from cancer, and only so many are ever bothered by symptoms. Could it be that our enthusiasm for cancer testing leads us to detect cancer in thousands of people who would otherwise never be affected by the disease? And given the uncertainty and fear associated with a cancer diagnosis and the harms of treatment, isn't it possible that many would be better off simply not knowing?
      What I hadn't considered before was his last point, that your doctor may be so focused on the recommended tests (and the results, the follow-up tests, and so on) that the current worry or symptom that brought you to the office may be ignored. (I think, too, many doctors believe they've addressed a problem if a test was ordered and came back clean, even if the pain remains.) There's no evidence or data presented in the chapter, just the thoughts and experiences of Dr. Welch and his worries of his own patient-doctor interactions, but I found it an intriguing argument and quite logical.
      Routine testing is really a concern for what could happen in the future. And worrying about what might matter in the future can distract your doctor from what matters now. The more time we spend ordering tests and following up on abnormal results, the less time we spend dealing with things that concern you now [...] I'm not suggesting we abandon all scheduled health maintenance and restrict ourselves to addressing current patient concerns. We can certainly do some of both. But I do want you to consider that even if there were no other downsides to cancer testing--that is, if it could only be beneficial--it still might distract from other, more useful activities. I also want you to be aware that testing in general increasingly dominates the physician-patient encounter.
      Dr. Welch continues with the second part of the book: How our behavior as consumers of health care could by changed with more knowledge.

      I was particularly interested in his account of an evaluation of the use of mammography for women aged 40 to 50 by the National Cancer Institute (discussed on pages 126-128 in the book). The panel presented its findings, essentially "the benefits of mammography were simply too close to call" and that women should talk with their doctors and make individual decisions rather than depend on set guidelines for the entire population. Doctors (including radiologists, who of course stood to lose a lot of business if all those women decided against mammograms) and politicians were in an uproar.
      This example highlights some of the forces that work to preclude rational discourse about research findings on cancer testing. There will always be an asymmetry among testing proponents and detractors. Testing proponents have a very strong interest (often financial) in promoting tests--much more so than the researchers trying to critically evaluate them.
      One of the points Dr. Welch makes in the book is how we should each think about what we want from our medical care and how we want to live our lives. If cancer screenings are going to increase your anxiety about your own medical health, are they beneficial?
      As I said in the introduction, the dominant cancer prevention strategy in American medicine today is to look for cancer in people who have no symptoms. Given the problems discussed in this book, you will want to gauge your own reaction to this approach. How we perceive health is a choice: you may assume you are healthy until proven otherwise or assume that a problem may exist until proven otherwise. How much effort, emotional and otherwise, do you want to devote to looking for things wrong when you feel well? To what extent would you rather focus on being well when you feel well?
      Dr. Welch presents some concrete steps we can take to work with our doctor to determine the level of medical testing we want and when.

      Despite the complexity of the field of medicine and specifically the complications of medical research, Dr. Welch does an excellent job presenting the data and his arguments in a clear way, even for those without medical training. (I admit I have a bit of an advantage, dated those it may be, by my background as a student of biology and research.) There is also a glossary at the back of the book for any tests, diseases or medical terms that may be unfamiliar.

      I highly recommend this book.

      Sunday, June 13, 2010

      Review: Where We Got the Bible

      Where We Got the Bible... Our Debt to the Catholic ChurchWhere We Got the Bible... Our Debt to the Catholic Church by Henry G. Graham

      In this book, written one hundred years ago, Rev. Graham provides a series of points to prove both that the Catholic Church has protected and shared the Bible since the time of Christ and that the Protestant versions of the Bible are deficient.

      First of all, the text is not (as Kansas Dad would say) "ecumenically minded." Rev. Graham quotes a great many non-Catholic scholars favorably (mainly to show that even Protestant historians defend the Catholic position) but he does not show a great amount of respect for Protestants as a whole.

      Secondly, there isn't the bulk of support I might expect from a more current book. Rev. Graham states a great many things that we are to accept at his word, without quotes or data from the past. I'm not saying he's wrong, just that I wasn't always convinced when he said I should be just because he said he had proven a point.

      Those points aside, I found quite a bit of interest in the book. I had not thought through before how the books of the Bible were written or selected, how they were passed down through the centuries or how they were translated at various times. Among other things, Rev. Graham argues that the Catholic Church:
      • determined, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which books should be included in the canon;
      • translated the canon into Latin, which was the most commonly read language in the Middle Ages;
      • dutifully and meticulously copied the sacred texts by hand throughout the centuries;
      • provided for the teaching and dissemination of the faith to all those that could not read, particularly through homilies at masses;
      • and protected the original canon against inaccurate translations. These "inaccurate" translations would, of course, include all the Protestant ones that exclude seven entire books of the canon accepted at the time, as well as other additions or omissions. (Some would argue the translation currently used in English masses should also be deemed unworthy, but that's not really part of this discussion.)
      Overall, I'd say I'm not sure a non-Catholic Christian would be convinced by this book that the Catholic Church is the one true Church and protector of the one true Scripture. I do think Rev. Graham makes some valid points on the benefits of complementing Scripture with the history of Tradition in interpreting meanings.
      Individual interpretation of the Bible--the most sublime but also the most difficult Book ever penned--can never bring satisfaction, can never give infallible certainty, can never place a man in possession of that great objective body of truth which Our Blessed Lord taught, and which it is necessary to salvation that all should believe. The experience of many centuries proves it. It can not do so because it was never meant to do so. It produces not unity, but division; not peace, but strife. Only listening to those to whom Jesus Christ said, 'He that heareth you heareth Me,' only sinking his own fads and fancies and submitting with childlike confidence to those whom the Redeemer sent out to teach in His Name and with His authority--only this, I say, will satisfy a man, and give to his intellect repose, and to his soul a 'peace that surpasseth all understanding.' Then no longer will he be tormented with contentious disputings about this passage of the Bible and that, no longer racked and rent and 'tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine,' changing with the changing years.
      Kansas Dad has a few other books that talk of the development of the canon and has promised to bring them home for me.

      Saturday, June 12, 2010

      Query XXII

      If bedtime is so terrible, why do they insist on dragging blankets and pillows to the living room during the day to "play" bedtime?

      Friday, June 11, 2010

      Babies in the House

      Kansas Dad drove bright and early to the post office this morning to pick up our newest babies: Ameraucana chicks. They're adorable - lots of different colors, unlike the Buffs we bought last year (and still have, of course). And they're cheeping up a storm in the master bathroom until they're big enough to go outside (four to six weeks).

      The best part? They are Easter Eggers - the eggs are light blue or light green!

      Maybe we'll take some pictures tomorrow. (They're a little like this.)

      Second Daughter Counts

      "Two, Tree, Four, Jive, Jix, Jeven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Ewelven, Telve," and then it gets dicey.

      We don't know why she always skips one, but she does. Adamantly, if you try to correct her.

      Thursday, June 10, 2010

      Small Successes XXIII

      1. I'm posting some Small Successes! (Ok, I won't really count that.) Kansas Dad has been handling a lot of the meals around here. Mine have mostly been peanut butter and jelly or left-overs (from something Kansas Dad made). Now that the strawberry harvest is pretty much over (the June-bearing anyway), I've found a little more energy. Right now I have bread in the machine, two pounds of dried beans cooking and a potful of brown rice simmering. (Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll be making some burritos. Perhaps we'll eat some, but the majority will go in the freezer for quick meals before and after baby is born.) Last night, I made some maple strawberry smooch with some of the most recent harvest. Kansas Dad has been picking about five pounds every few days (instead of 16 pounds every other day), so it's more manageable. Cake flour is on the grocery list for tomorrow so we can try some over pound cake.

      2. Yesterday the kids and I put away the clean clothes that had been accumulating in the master bedroom. At least they were folded...the piles just kept growing!

      3. I pulled out some zucchini from the freezer and plan to make chocolate chocolate chip muffins with it tomorrow (or Saturday, if the whole wheat flour comes home from the store after my energy is gone). First Daughter will be pleased as she's been begging to help bake.

      Check out more Small Successes here!

      Tuesday, June 8, 2010

      Quote: Home Education

      From Part V (Lessons as Instruments of Home Education) in Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series):
      He should have practice, too, in reading aloud, for the most part, in the books he is using for his term's work. These should include a good deal of poetry, to accustom him to the delicate rendering of shades of meaning, and especially to make him aware that words are beautiful in themselves, that they are a source of pleasure, and are worthy of our honour; and that a beautiful word deserves to be beautifully said, with a certain roundness of tone and precision of utterance.

      Monday, June 7, 2010

      The Catholic Company Review: Small Steps for Catholic Moms

      Small Steps for Catholic Moms by Danielle Bean and Elizabeth Foss

      I could not believe this book was offered as part of The Catholic Company's reviewer program. What luck for me! I read much that both authors write and was hoping to read this book.

      The book provides a very small devotional for each day of the year. On each page (one per day), the authors encourage us to Think with a short quotation from Scripture or a saint, Pray with a brief prayer they've written with mothers in mind and Act with a suggestion for putting the day's thought into action.

      To review the book, I only read through two months completely (June and September) as I plan to incorporate them into a daily devotional time (with help from A Mother's Rule of Life). Overall, I was impressed with the selections for the quotations. In keeping with the goal of the book, they focus on how even the smallest things in life lead us closer to God and build our relationships with each other and within families. I also liked the diversity of suggestions under Act. Some of them are very small little chores or sacrifices for a single day while others involve the entire family and a more extended effort (to eradicate a bad habit over the course of a month, for example).

      One of my favorite aspects of this book is the concentration of each month on a different virtue: Joy, Simplicity, Sacrifice, Courage, Grace, Gentleness, Humility, Charity, Diligence, Patience, Gratitude and Peace. Within the month, each quote, prayer and action is focused on the selected virtue. It would be very easy to select a virtue and read that month's devotions no matter the real calendar month.

      Some of the actions may need to be modified if you are not primarily responsible for the children and home, but most of them would be appropriate for any Catholic mother. I even think many of the devotions could be appreciated by non-Catholic mothers.

      If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by finding time to spend with God, this book could be the perfect way to get started. The daily devotions are brief but meaningful for mothers. They are, after all, "small steps." It's also helpful to have a suggested way to bring the fruit of a devotional directly into our daily chores and relationships.

      This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. I have not received any payment for this review, but I did receive a free copy of the book Small Steps for Catholic Moms. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.

      Saturday, June 5, 2010

      Quote: Home Education

      From Part V (Lessons as Instruments of Home Education) in Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series):

      The resourcefulness which will enable a family of children to invent their own games and occupations through the length of a summer's day is worth more in after life than a good deal of knowledge about cubes and hexagons, and this comes, not of continual intervention on the mother's part, but of much masterly inactivity.

      Thursday, June 3, 2010

      More of First Son's Reading Lesson Books

      Click here to see the first fifty books First Son read during our official reading lessons in kindergarten. Here are the final books for the "official" school year.
      1. Harry Hungry! by Steven Salerno
      2. Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper
      3. Let There Be Llamas! by Virginia Kroll
      4. The Kingfisher First Animal Encyclopedia (Kingfisher First Reference) (selected animals)
      5. The Truth about Bats (The Magic School Bus Chapter Book, No. 1) by Eva Moore
      6. The Wild Whale Watch (The Magic School Bus Chapter Book, No. 3) by Eva Moore (He read the second one, too, just not during our "school" time.)
      7. Katy and the Big Snow Book & CD  by Virginia L. Burton (which may have been on the earlier list)
      8. See How They Grow: Calf ed. Mary Ling
      9. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish in the Sea by Chris Butterworth
      Of course he's still reading like mad. I'm pleased to report we are nearing the end of the Magic Tree House series (as I'm getting a little tired of those myself), but we're still enjoying the Magic School Bus chapter books quite a lot. I even picked up a few used ones to own. Our reading has decreased a little with the advent of warm weather and lots of outside time, though I expect to be staying indoors more often in the near future. Nearing the end of a pregnancy in June and July makes air conditioning seem indispensable!