Sunday, May 30, 2010

Strange and Beautiful

We discovered a new wildflower a few days ago. Check out this Catclaw Sensitive Briar:

Here's a closer look at the flowers:

They are really cool. We also have prairie larkspur blooming all over. Kansas Dad is going to mow soon because the grass near the house is about knee-deep, but we've decided to leave open the space in front of the driveway so we can continue to enjoy all the wildflowers (and frankly, it would take a month to mow it all with the push mower he's going to borrow).

Canning Strawberries

I cannot believe how much sugar we use when canning - seven cups is not unusual! Here's the sugar for our first batch:

Here are a few of the berries. Later daily harvests have easily been four or five times this amount.

And here's the first batch of strawberry jam. We used the very first recipe in Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

The next harvest included a double batch of strawberry jelly and some lemon strawberry marmalade (oh, so yummy!):

All on my own last Wednesday I canned a batch of strawberry jam using liquid pectin (I did not find it superior to the regular pectin, which is cheaper), but I forgot to take a picture of it.

Last night, a friend and I made seven half pints of strawberry syrup (with a bit left over for pancakes this morning). There's nothing like a bunch of sugar and corn syrup cooked with strawberries! I don't have a picture of these either, but they are still on the counter so I may get one before we move them to the hutch. (I'm gathering them all together for a big picture when the June-bearing harvest is over. I'll need it as a reminder of the end results when harvest season rolls around next year and I get exhausted!)

Kansas Dad was out of town for a conference for the last few days (which I can tell you now that he's home). We had a few people come pick, but there were a lot on the vine still. He hit a few this evening (maybe three pounds or so) before the thunderstorms moved in and will have to pick them all clean tomorrow. I think I'm actually looking forward to some more big harvests after a welcome respite. On the schedule so far: strawberry sauce ( cream) and strawberry freezer jam.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Fifteen years ago, as I was finishing up high school (and now you all know how old I am), I never would have believed in 2010 I'd be standing barefoot in my kitchen in front of a hot stove, 7 months pregnant with my fourth child, stirring jam made from strawberries my husband had picked in our own garden. In Kansas.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. (Well, maybe it would be better if someone else did the actual stirring for the one minute of boiling jam bubbling all over.)

Singing to Herself

Twice today Second Daughter was just playing by herself and suddenly started quietly singing, "Jesus loves me, this I know..."

So adorable!

For future reference, though, she doesn't always like it if someone else joins in. Or, at least if I join in.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quote: Home Education

From Part V (Lessons as Instruments of Home Education) in Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series):
Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information; for the child who grows up with a few dominant ideas has his self-education provided for, his career marked out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flower and Harvest Update

Probably no one out there cares, but I wanted to have a little record (since this blog serves as my garden journal in addition to my baby books) that the irises are officially no longer blooming. We have a few fading flowers at this point.

The daylilies have sent up their flower stems, so we're hoping for blooms soon. We're pretty indifferent to the flowers out in the garden, but learned last year they are quite wonderful as daily cut flowers for the kitchen. (Eventually we'll probably plant something other than orange ones.)

The wildflowers have gone crazy with all the rain (and still no one to mow; anyone have a tractor and want to mow a couple of acres for us?). The plains larkspur have bloomed all over the yard and they're lovely. We also have lots of sweet little yellow flowers all over. I'm not quite sure what they are as I didn't take any pictures yesterday or bring any in and there are a bunch of possibilities. According to our paper, Kansas is one of the  most prolific states in wildflowers and I'd have to say our bit of the Range is living up to their expectations.

Oh, and Kansas Dad picked 16 pounds of strawberries yesterday morning. Instead of mopping, I spent the entire day dealing with berries:
  • made 2.5 pints of strawberry-banana freezer jam (incredibly easy with the freezer pectin) which First Son thought was good but the girls both hated,
  • hulled 24 cups of whole strawberries, cooked and crushed them, then let them sit in cheesecloth overnight to drain juice for jelly (a double batch scheduled for this morning),
  • hulled and crushed 6 cups of strawberries for strawberry lemon marmalade, also scheduled for this morning,
  • we ate strawberries at lunch, dinner and breakfast...and there are still a few sitting out.
Anyone want to come pick strawberries? You can take home whatever you can fit in your baskets! (I'm not kidding. Really.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Quote: Home Education

From Part IV:(Some Habits of Mind -- Some Moral Habits) in Home Education (Charlotte Mason's Homeschooling Series):

or when the schoolboy 'crams' for an examination, writes down what he has thus learned, and behold, it is gone from is gaze for ever: as Ruskin puts it, "They cram to pass, and not to know; the do pass, and they don't know." ... this art of forgetting is not without its uses; but what of the schoolboy who has little left after a year's work but his place in a class-list?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Strawberry Update

From the 11pounds of strawberries Kansas Dad picked on Friday:
  • 7 pints of strawberry jam
  • 4 cups frozen strawberries
  • ate about 4 cups with whipped cream.
From the 11 pounds of strawberries Kansas Dad picked yesterday:
  • 2 loaves of strawberry bread (very yummy and very moist)
  • strawberry shortcake shared with Grammy and Paw Paw (Kansas Dad made real shortbread and real whipped cream)
  • 10 cups of frozen strawberries
  • some we ate fresh
We didn't pick any today, but Kansas Dad is going out in the morning so I'm sure we'll be doing something with strawberries tomorrow. We also stocked up on some lemon, cheesecloth, pectin, jars, extra lids and freezer containers so we can try even more recipes from our Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. There are a lot of strawberry recipes in there, so we shouldn't get bored too quickly.

The chickens are probably in heaven. Not only are they eating strawberry hulls to their hearts' content, they even got the sugary foam from the strawberry jam. Today, they thanked us with seven eggs, the most we've gotten in a long time!

By the way, I do have some pictures from our strawberry jam. I've just been too tired to get them off the camera. Hopefully I'll get to that tomorrow. You know, because our jars of strawberry jam are going to look very different from anything you've seen before. Or not.

Kansas Dad also planted a bunch of tomato plants yesterday and today. I think the pepper plants will go in tomorrow. I know I'll be thankful when it's salsa time!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Book Review: Freakonomics

Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.)Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything (P.S.) by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

I first requested this book after listening to Dr. Levitt's talk at TED on child safety seats. (Please forgive this commercial interruption as I encourage all of you to explore TED. You're certain to find something that will fascinate you.) Kansas law requires all children to be in a five-point-harness car seat until they are four years old and forty pounds. Kansas Dad and I were less than pleased when we had to purchase one of only five available car seats (at the time) with a five point harness for children who weigh more than forty pounds when First Son was three. All the choices were expensive. We, of course, followed the law and I have to admit I love the car seat we bought, which First Daughter is now enjoying, but I can't help but wonder if some of our hard-earned money could have been better spent. (Or rather, some of my parent's hard-earned money, as they were gracious and generous enough to purchase the seat for us.)

Moving on...Freakonomics is not a difficult book to read. Very little analysis is presented (no p-values or anything like that). Instead, they only present their overall findings. Some of them are more surprising than others. (I don't think it's all that surprising that some teachers cheat on the standardized tests; I did find it encouraging that at least some administrators were willing to seek out those teachers and remedy the situation.)

I was most interested in the chapters that looked at aspects of parenting and education (surprised?).
No one is more susceptible to an expert's fearmongering 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 htan 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 word, especially for a busy parent.
The points right back to the topic I wrote on earlier, car seats. It also fits right in with the recent news about all those drop-side crib deaths and recalls. Of course, every child's death is a tragedy, and I am truly sorry for every parent who has lost a child in a crib death. Not all tragedies, however, can be prevented. Kansas Dad wonders how many millions of drop-side cribs are being used right now (and have been for years and years) with less than fifty deaths in the past ten years or so. Do you wonder if there are other products that are actually more likely to cause harm to our children but are not being addressed for political or financial reasons? (Or, perhaps just because no one can prove the cause.) Right now, though, the news is all about cribs (and how you should stop using the really bad ones but don't put the child in your bed!).

In talking about how much parenting matters, the authors present the ideas of Judith Rich Harris in The Nurture Assumption.
Harris argued, albeit gently, that parents are wrong to think they contribute so mightily to their child's personality. This belief, she wrote, was a "cultural myth." Harris argued that the top-down influence of parents is overwhelmed by the grassroots effect of peer pressure, the blunt force applied each day by friends and school mates.
This argument is addressed a little in The Well-Adjusted Child: The Social Benefits of Homeschooling (my review here) where parents can increase their influence through homeschooling itself (by increasing the time spent together) and through developing relationships with other families with similar values, rather than the other students children may encounter in a school setting. It seems intuitive that parents do matter (which the authors admit) but perhaps they matter in ways that cannot easily be measured. Certainly looking at my own beliefs, I'd say they were shaped much more by my parents, family and my most recent reading than by my childhood friends.

The authors move on to something that can be measured more easily, test scores. I will not do an analysis of their findings (which would be difficult without looking at the actual research rather than just reading this book); I'm inclined to believe the characteristics of parents and students they say are correlated with high test scores are. I doubt I'm alone, however, in arguing vehemently that test scores are not a valid measure of a child. Not in any way. I don't want my children to do badly, of course (unlikely, if we are to believe this book, given the characteristics Kansas Dad and I share), but I really don't care about test scores and I hope my children don't care, either. By teaching them to care about learning, I assume the test scores will be just fine for whatever it is they decide they want to do.

I was reminded of this study reviewed at Homeschooling Research Notes that confirmed, if nothing else, that a certain demographic of parents won't decrease their children's test scores by choosing to homeschool, though they're also unlikely to increase them.

The book continues through a bunch of random topics, most of which were interesting if not entirely enlightening. I enjoyed the book enough to request their next one (SuperFreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance) for which I'll have to wait a while as all the library copies are checked out.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Catholic Company Review: Those Who Saw Her

Those Who Saw Her: Apparitions of Mary (Updated and Revised) by Catherine M. Odell

Though I was raised Catholic, Marian apparitions were not a large part of my childhood. I really don't know much about them at all. I was pleased to see this book available for review from The Catholic Company.

As difficult as some Catholic teachings may be, we cannot pick and choose what we wish to believe. Marian apparitions are different, however. They are not part of Revelation, "Scripture and Tradition (doctrine transmitted by the apostles but not in Scripture)" and therefore we are each left to decide for ourselves.

Since Revelation supplied the necessary body of truth about God and salvation two thousand years ago, "particular revelations," including apparitions, can't really add anything. This is the reason why belief in apparitions, even those like Lourdes and Fatima, is optional.
Most apparitions are not even investigated by the Church. Of those that are, the greatest number do not receive any official response or are deemed "nothing contrary to the faith." A few are determined to be false, "not worthy of belief" (a purposeful attempt at fraud, a seer who is psychologically impaired, etc.). This book concentrates on those that are determined "worthy of belief" and a few of the more recent and well-known sites that continue under investigation.

It is clear the author, Ms. Odell, does belief in Marian apparitions, if not necessarily every one examined in the book.

With all apparitions, there is a tension between authority and prophecy (the Church and apparitions) that must work itself out again and again. The tension will continue, but there is little need to be concerned that it will damage the Church, theologians assure us. Because Mary has assured us that she is indeed Mother of the Church, it is safe--and even necessary--to believe that she will always be near. And when the time is right and the needs of the world warrant it, she will be close enough for some eyes to see and many hearts to know.
Knowing the author's bias, I was pleasantly surprised at the clear description of events and struggles of each apparition. Ms. Odell did not condemn the bishops or priests for withholding belief or delaying decisions (though she did stress the sorrow or struggle such delays may have caused the visionaries).

It should not be surprising that the stories of the apparitions are enthralling and inspiring. Many of the seers experienced pain and suffering, ridiculed by many and embarrassed by a great amount of attention from believers. Most of them were devout Catholics before Mary appeared and approached their priests and bishops humbly.

I will admit I find many of the apparitions difficult to grasp. I will not say any Marian appearance deemed worthy of belief is false, but I'm glad to be able to read books like this one and learn more. The only Marian apparitions I knew much about at all was Lourdes (thanks mainly to a movie) and Guadalupe (thanks mainly to children's books). This book has greatly improved my knowledge and given me much to consider.

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 Those Who Saw Her: Apparitions of Mary. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.

Archway Flowers

We have an arch leading in to the fenced front yard. Last year it was so overgrown with four different vines I felt claustrophobic every time I walked through it. Early this spring, Kansas Dad just started pruning. I told him to prune as much as he liked. As far as I could tell, the vines were ones that could handle it. So far everything seems to have survived.

The honeysuckle, in fact, has gone crazy. It's grown so much it needs to be pruned again! It doesn't look like the honeysuckle I remember from my childhood, but it smells like it - wonderful!

The clematis didn't bloom much last year (maybe four flowers) and this year we've only found one. I think the honeysuckle was already strangling it and the pruning only gave it more of an upper hand. Such is life on the Range. Now that I know how beautiful it is in person, we may purchase some to plant elsewhere.

And, because you haven't seen them recently, here's a picture of the chickens enjoying their summer home. Kansas Dad has been moving them around in the "garden" (where we planted stuff last year, but nothing yet this year). They're feasting on weeds and baby grasshoppers, improving our soil one day at a time.

I Sense Jam in Our Future

Kansas Dad just picked eleven pounds of strawberries.


Thursday, May 20, 2010

I Laughed Out Loud at #12

I don't know anything about this site, so please don't take this link as an endorsement, but Kansas Dad found this list that had me cracking up: The Bitter Homeschooler's Wish List.

More Fun Wildflower Identification

I think this is Hedge Bindweed.

The two above are Pale Poppy Mallow.

Don't these look strange? They're Blunt-Leaf Milkweed (or Sand Milkweed).

I'm pretty sure this is Violet Wood Sorrel. The pictures of the flowers are at different angles, but the leaves look the same.

I'm pretty sure the two pictures above are Purple Poppy-Mallow.

Above we have some patches of Yellow Sweet Clover.

The kids and I picked a few of the wildflowers for a bouquet. They don't always survive the trip indoors and into a vase very well, but it's fun (especially for First Daughter). Above we have Goat's Beard (unfortunately, all closed up so you can't see how much fun it is), some of the Violet Wood Sorrel (most of which did not like the vase very much), Prairie Larkspur (one of my favorites though we don't seem to have a lot of it here on the Range), and Annual Fleabane.

I'm glad I took pictures of these flowers. We've had a lot of rain recently so our grasses are growing quite wild. We'll be having the "lawn" mowed soon and will loose most of the flowers when we do. I'm tempted to leave more of it for them, but it also harbors ticks and bunnies, so all the stuff close to the house will be sheared off.

Comparison: Child's Guide to the Mass and The Mass Book for Children

Child's Guide to the Mass
At the beginning of our school year, I wanted to read a book with the children that would help prepare them for Sunday mass. We started with Child's Guide to the Mass by Sue Stanton, with illustrations by H.M. Alan.. The children loved it. They liked the little questions included in the text and the "hide-and-seek" items on some of the pages. In fact, they seemed to think the illustrations as a whole were fun.

Kansas Dad and I were not quite so impressed. First of all, the book seems to depicts a mass like a "folk mass" popular in many churches complete with a guitar player which Kansas Dad in particular dislikes. Also (and I realize this is a small point of contention, but it's my blog), the priest shakes hands with members of the congregation during the Sign of the Peace. Finally, it just made mass feel like too much fun, if that makes sense. Mass should be awe-inspiring and joyful...but not really fun.

It's not a terrible book and we do still read it if the children request it, but I was on the search for something else.

Next we tried The Caterpillar That Came to Church: A Story of the Eucharist - UN Cuento De LA Eucaristia (Spanish Edition) by Irene H. Hooker (with text in both English and Spanish). This book is recommended in Catholic Mosaic: Living the Liturgical Year with Literature an Illustrated Book Study for Cathoilc Children, but Kansas Dad and I didn't like it at all. It's not like the caterpillar receives the Eucharist or anything (which would be overtly wrong), it just seemed to give the caterpillar a little too much importance. I also didn't think the illustrations were anything amazing. I did read it to the children once or twice, but then we passed it on to another family.

The Mass Book for ChildrenFinally, I ordered The Mass Book for Children by Rosemarie Cortler and Donna Piscitelli with illustrations by Mimi Sternhagen. This book was a much greater success! The text follows the mass quite closely and includes phrases and words that build their mass vocabulary. The illustrations engage the children with a focus on the priest and Christ's presence at the mass. It seems to convey much more of the reverence of mass than the previous two, but is still focused on the little ones listening to the book. We've been reading it on Monday mornings so we all have some time to think about the book rather than rushing through it.

I still really like The Mass Explained To Children by Maria Montessori, but it will be better to use in a few years, perhaps as preparation for First Communion. It was also written before Vatican II, so there are some slight changes (namely that the congregation responds rather than the altar servers and that our mass is in English, though our parish does have a Latin Rite mass once a week or so).

Another resource the kids have really enjoyed is Vol. #4 "The Mass Comes Alive" from Cat.Chat. We haven't even listened to the entire CD, as we only have an excerpt from Lighthouse Catholic Media, but the kids love it. One of these days I'll order this and some others in the collection.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Check It Out

Another guest post at the Cloth Diaper Outlet blog. Check it out!

The Second Lost Tooth

On Monday night, First Son said he knew his tooth would fall out soon. And it did, about five minutes later!

I seem to have a problem with lost teeth...namely in "losing" them again. You may remember the incident after the first lost tooth. Well, on Monday night, as I was cleaning up after dinner**, I grabbed what I thought was a piece of brown rice and threw it in the chicken bucket. Thank goodness I didn't throw it away (or to the chickens) because I realized about twenty minutes later it was actually his tooth. Being the dedicated mother I am, I dumped that bucket onto the counter and squished everything that looked like brown rice (ugh) until I found it again. First Son will hopefully not know for many many years to come...

** After rereading the first post and this one, I'm beginning to think I shouldn't be in charge of cleaning up after meals anymore...

Revived Rose Bush

Earlier this spring, Kansas Dad pruned this rose bush back to almost nothing. It didn't bloom last year and we weren't sure what to expect this year, but it's been wonderful!

The first pictures is from a week or so ago and the second just a few days. We love how it looks amidst the irises.

The other two rose bushes were also pruned back quite a bit. (One practically attacked you as you tried to get through the front door.) We're getting a few blooms on them, but not too many. I'm sure they'll do better next year.

Our New Huge Herb Garden

We've been dreaming about a big herb garden since we moved in, but didn't have a chance to even start anything before this year. We're a little later than Kansas Dad had hoped, but at least we've gotten going. He had to burn out some old tall grasses that were growing in there, then dig out the roots. (He liked the burning, but you may notice a few scorch marks on the fence.) We had already pulled out a number of the weeds, but he worked on those a little more, then tilled up a huge area for the herbs. Now he's gotten a few things planted and covered most of it with black garden plastic (or whatever it's called) and mulch. I think he also put edging all the way around, but we hope to have some stones lining it eventually. We have more stepping stones to put in, too.

I'm sorry it's hard to tell in the pictures how big it is and how wonderful it will be. There are two big areas of irises we'll be moving out, too, as soon as they've gone dormant.

I'm not sure how much more we'll get planted this year, but next year I'm imagining whole areas of basil (among other things). We'll probably bury some pots with mint, too, mostly for my tea. Yum!

More Irises

I just can't get enough of these irises! Most of these pictures are from a few days ago. We still have some irises blooming, though.