O, The Irony

When Henry was a newborn, he slept too well.  I never thought that was even possible!  But he’d sleep all through the night, and I actually had to wake him up to nurse.  He is such a big baby that I was really worried about diminishing milk supply if we went that long between feedings.

And then, without me even realizing it, something changed.  He stopped being able to sleep well.  He began waking numerous times each night, sometimes just to spit-up when I picked him up.  It was getting worse and worse, and I was feeling more and more out-of-control… and exhausted.  It’s really hard to love someone when you’re sleep deprived.

All this time, in the back of my head, I wondered, “What if he doesn’t like all the milk?” His dad is unique in our family in that he doesn’t tolerate milk very well, and Henry seems to take after David much more than any of our other children ever have.  What if all this dairy I consume is making him uncomfortable?

So twelve days ago, I gave up all the dairy products, which is where the irony comes in.

I was hoping that, within the first couple of days, he’d be feeling better and sleeping better.  I was hoping that it would reduce the frequency of spit-up.  I was hoping that, if his tummy felt better, he’d be less clingy.

It was kind of a lot of pressure to put on a glass of milk and a slice of pizza.

He does sleep better sometimes, but it’s very inconsistent, and the reality is that we have also developed some bad sleep habits.  And he could use a white noise machine.

He is waking less often specifically to spit up, though he does still catch me unaware sometimes.  However, he’s an active little guy, and the problem has not diminished at all during his waking hours.  I guess we’ll just have to keep waiting for maturity of that muscle group.

And I’m his favorite person in the whole wide world.  He’d rather be with me, up in my arms, than anywhere else on the planet.  No other person is as beloved, no other arms as comforting, no other activity as intriguing as the one I’m engaged in.  The lack of dairy in my diet has not diminished any of my enchanting qualities, and Henry is still as insistent on being held as ever.

So, in the absence of miracles, we have to look at the small details.

He is happier during the day.  Almost right away, he quit crying through the evenings.  At night, when he wakes, I think it is less and less from discomfort.  He has managed a couple of long naps, too, which have been non-existent in recent months.  And the frequency of dirty diapers has unexpectedly dropped.

The dairy-free diet does seem to be having a positive effect on Henry.  And it’s not quite as challenging as I thought it would be.

We’ll keep going with this new adventure and see how it all plays out.

The Angry Internet

The internet is ugly this week.  If we kind of thought the deep divisions and angry rhetoric would die out after the election, I guess we were wrong!  It seems worse than ever out there, name calling, and accusations, and bitterness all around.  It doesn’t seem to matter whether a person was a “winner” or a “loser”.  There’s just a lot of bad blood right now, and social media is a very negative place to be.

Anyway, the most important thing is to keep our eyes on Jesus, for it’s only when we look away that we sink under the stormy waves of our worries.  I love that story, don’t you?  The one where Peter gets all excited about walking on water like Jesus, but then he notices that it’s really actually quite stormy on that little sea, and what was he thinking, anyway, walking on water?!  And as he starts to sink under his fears, Jesus reaches out and grabs hold and asks him, “Why did you doubt?”

Why, indeed.  I don’t think for a minute that Donald Trump is God’s will for the country.  Not everything that happens is God’s will; sometimes, things just happen anyway, and we have to make the best of them, or turn them to good by the power of our tiny faith in a man who could walk on water.  We can walk above this as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus.

Next up: I find myself in rather an ironic situation…

The First Monday After a Trip, and Halloween, Too

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Van Gogh is our Artist of the Month for November, and I thought we’d make this torn-paper collage of a vase of sunflowers to get us off on the right foot.  I’m really trying to work in art projects on a regular basis, you know!  We happen to have a ton of sunflowers blooming right now.  In October.  Crazy, right?  Apparently, the chickens spilled a LOT of feed out in the field, and it has all started growing and blooming and seeding, so we happen to have sunflowers thanks to the chickens.

We picked ourselves a nice bouquet to arrange inside for inspiration, but then Tommy happened to notice ladybugs in both their larval and pupal stages!  After some hunting among the leaves, we also found eggs!  So the art session became a nature study session, too.  It was fun, and we have Tommy’s excellent observation skills to thank for it!  He was the one who discovered that this strange bug we’ve been seeing is actually an immature ladybug.  He’s a smarty-pants, that one.  photo-oct-31-12-00-02-pm

If you are in the market, I highly recommend this insect observation kit.  It has three jars with magnifying lids, a larger magnifier that allows you to look at the insect from both above and below, and two pairs of bug tweezers, in case you don’t want to touch them.  We used to have some bubble-shaped tweezers picked up at Target, but, alas, those are no more!  I bought this months ago, but only broke it out today.  Lots of fun!

So, after cleaning the room, which happens to be a mess magnet, gathering ourselves for educational pursuits, and getting distracted by said pursuits, that’s all we got done today.  But it was fun, and maybe that’s what you need on the first Monday after a two week break for a road trip, especially if that Monday is also Halloween and your kids are going trick-or-treating for the first time.  (Can you say “excited”?)

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Family

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We’ve been in New Jersey visiting with my mom since Thursday, and today is our last day. Tomorrow, we go home! I love my mom, and I love my sister who also lives here, but I miss my family. I’m anxious to get back to them. My life is crazy, but it’s crazy good.

Fallish Things

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We’ve been having a busy month. First, this replica Lewis and Clark expedition boat showed up at our riverfront. The real Lewis and Clark traveled with one keelboat and two pirogues, but they only brought one pirogue on this trip. Back in 2003-2006, they used these boats to reenact the whole journey, which is both pretty cool, but also, “Do you people not have lives?” They called this their Eastern Discovery Tour, and they visited several museums, but also lots of small river towns like ours. Pretty neat, huh?

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The fellow up the hill at the encampment had a rope making device that Lewis and Clark might have had. Maybe. But theirs would probably have needed to be bigger, since their ropes were made out of elk hide. Anyway, kids love to make ropes and he loves kids, so he picked up a rope-making device and gives demonstrations, over and over and over again, to as many children as want to make ropes. We heard the same spiel with minor variations three times in fifteen minutes while waiting our turn, and he never appeared to weary of it. God bless that man.

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I just think the wood on this boat is so beautiful.

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While we were at the park, we remembered to collect some osage oranges. Rumor has it that they are insect repellent, and especially useful against spiders. We brought them home and tossed them in all of our dark, spidery corners, since this also happens to be the Large Spiders Coming Indoors time of year. For the sake of science, I also put some where spiders were actively dwelling in order to gauge their effectiveness. The spiders in question did not seem at all offended by the fruits; in fact, the one I watched most carefully seemed to be more relaxed, actually enjoying the mild, citrusy scent. Later that weekend, when I cleaned the living room, I also noted several large spiders apparently taking refuge from my vacuum behind an orange. The verdict? They are not spider repellent at all. I suspect that, generally, the appearance of the fruit coincides with colder weather and the natural spider life cycle, and they usually are dead or hibernating by now. I think it’s not a cause-and-effect, just a coincidence. But it was fun to find out.

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Also, may I just say how nice it is to have a big family? You always have people to pick up and go see historical ships with you, or to help you glean from nature’s bounty, or to carry the baby when your arms get tired. And they always do it so cheerfully.

This week, we went to an unphotographed circus, which was fun, and we also went to the pumpkin farm.

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They have a really nice playground here for the children, but there were some crazy kids on this day, and our children don’t care for boorish playmates. They tend to look at them like they are alien creatures and pull off to the side to watch disapprovingly. They have goats and ponies to pet, though, too, and that was fun, except I noticed some boorish adults hanging around the pens, presumably the parents of the ill-behaved children (the Nuts and Trees theory), and I didn’t much care for my little ones to get bored with the animals and take note of their surroundings, so we didn’t stay long.

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We did get pumpkins, though! This farm does not actually grow many of their own. The small ones are grown on site, but the jack-o-lantern sized ones are imported and artfully strewn about the field. Usually. Last year, they left the boxes out there, too.

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The other night, I remembered that there was a chestnut tree at church, and it was probably time for the nut drop. I was right! We spent a happy half-hour after Mass in the bright Autumn morning, harvesting this undeserved bounty from amidst the gravestones in the parish cemetery.

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When I dumped them all out at home, we had most of paper grocery sack full. That’s too many for us, so I packaged some up for my mom and sister. My mom and sister live in New Jersey.

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A couple of weeks ago, I woke with a weight on my heart, and as I went through the morning prayers, I became more and more certain that there was only one option. At breakfast, I said, “I think I need to go see my mom.”

Davey has lived with me for a long time, and he just nodded and said, “I think you should. Go!”

So we’re going, those of us with no obligations outside the family, which means me and five children. If you think of me in the coming days, say a little prayer for us for a peaceful and pleasant journey? Many, many thanks in advance.

Meg’s Courses, 11th Grade, 2016-2017

History and Literature: Roman Roads Media “Greeks” (Literature and history)
A full year French Revolution history and literature unit of my own design

Latin: Henle II (Memoria Press)
Greek: First Form (Memoria Press)

Math: Precalculus (Teaching Textbooks)

Religion: History of the Church (Didache)

Science: Exploring Creation with Marine Biology

Literature is included in both history courses, English grammar is covered in Latin, and writing assignments are regularly scheduled in both the history courses and the religion course, so we don’t have a separate English class.

Two Weeks In

I still have a few things I haven’t prepped or planned for, but the first two weeks of school have been an unqualified success! Smoothest start ever, I think. Why? Kind of loose a schedule. I’m not planning to do this or that on this particular day. I have it set up so the little children (Rosie, Penny and Tommy, ages 12, 9, and 7) are doing most of the lessons together. We’re doing Apologia’s elementary physics course, Tan’s Ancient Civilizations, US geography, and bible and saint stories together. I have them write something according to their skill level about one of our readings a couple of times a week.

On their own, they work on math, reading, Latin, and/or history. We’re not bogged down in anything. If math is taking too long, we’ll finish it later.

And we are still having time for art. 🙂

Evie is the trickiest one. I put some items in her drawers early in the week, but she didn’t revisit them after the second day, knowing they were the same. Next week, I’ll have a better plan for her. We’re using the hashtag #busyschool over on instagram. 🙂 I’m going to break out the laminator over the weekend and see if I can’t get a better plan in place for her.

I also want to start poetry and music appreciation next week. I need a good “home” week to get us good and settled.

My Boy

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He’s fifteen. He’s already man-sized, and he’s got a lot of growing left to do. He’s strong. He says, “Can I carry that for you?” I say, “It’s heavy…” He says, “Nothing is heavy for me.”

He loves his little siblings, and he’s a good friend to his older sisters. He spends hours watching his fish swim. He spends many more hours building things out of Legos. He’s really good at it. He likes Amtgard, and I remember that, when he was a wee thing and we’d sword fight with wooden spoons in the kitchen, he never backed down. He still never backs down.

He always enjoys the meals I make for him. He’s less picky than his father, so lots of times, I cook for his pleasure instead. A girl likes to be appreciated. 🙂

He’s really smart, and very well read, especially about wars, weapons and armor, castles, and medieval Japan. He’s handsome and chivalrous, too.

And I’m honored that I get to be his mother, to play my small part in helping him become what he is meant to be. What a gift he is.

Apple Picking

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We haven’t been to an orchard since 2003.

Most of my poor children can not remember ever going apple picking.

Ever.

I had an excuse when we lived in Georgia; apples don’t really grow there, so we really couldn’t go. But we’ve been here for eight years. The orchard isn’t far away at all. And we still hadn’t gone. The reason? Oh, I don’t know. Too many have-to-dos crowding out the want-to-dos, but I am becoming increasingly aware of the fleetingness of this life we live together. It isn’t going to last. These children are growing, and they’re going to fly before I’m ready for it, and I don’t want to have put off miniature golf or hayrides to the pumpkin patch. Or apple picking.

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This farm was a little more efficient that others we’ve been to in the long ago past. We were in and out of the orchard in something like 20 minutes, and they charged an extra fee to visit their playground area, so we went elsewhere to eat our lunch.

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We picnicked on the lawn of a pretty little church, Our Lady of the Annunciation, and then went inside to say hello to Jesus.

After that, a bathroom break at a favorite antique store, and now we’re home again. Next up: apple pie! Of course. 🙂

Rendering Lard

One of the nice things about a homestead type of farm is that you can raise a lot of your own food. We’re in the throws of chicken butchering now, but we also raise up a couple of pigs each year for our own use. We hire out the butchering still, but I always ask for the organs and the fat. We’ve grown quite a taste for liver; I’ve learned how to cook it perfectly. Heart is incredible, intensely flavored of whatever animal it came from. (We’ve had sheep, beef, and pig hearts.) I haven’t steeled myself for tongue yet.

But I do render the fat into lard.

It’s a time consuming process, usually done in the heat of summer when you least want to do it, and I confess I always wait until the last minute. You know, when I need the freezer space. Right before we start processing chickens. Autumn is very hard on me.

In years past, we rendered by chopping the lard and simmering in a slow cooker. It worked all right, but it took a long time to work through all the fat, and multiple women with a knife. Last year, I bought two roasting pans from Walmart, and we chopped the fat and baked at low temps in the oven till melted. It was faster, but it still took a couple of days and two to three of us to get through all the fat. Chopping is tedious work.

This year, I read Moby Dick. Gosh, that book was long. And tedious. Just as tedious as chopping hog fat. But I can’t say I’m sorry I read it, really, and it did speed up my lard-rendering time considerably. Not quite enough this first year to make up for the hours spent reading, but I’m sure it will come out even eventually.

See, the Pequod had a mincer on staff, and his job was to, well, mince the blubber before it went into the “try” pot. Why, yes! I thought, reading along. The finer it’s minced, the more “oil” we should be able to render out of it, and more quickly, too. But I don’t have a mincer on staff, and I don’t want to spend even more time chopping fat. I’ve got cows to milk, children to educate, dinner to cook, and babies to hold, you know? So I got onto Amazon before I even finished the chapter and ordered an electric meat grinder.

That did the trick! I rendered two hogs’ worth of fat by myself in two mornings.

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How To Render Lard

Equipment Needed:
2 roasting pans (Mine are just like this, but purchased at Walmart for $10 each.)
electric meat grinder (I got this one. I’m very happy with it.)
sharp knife (This is a fine choice.  Get a sharpener, too. This one is great.)
cutting board
large bowl
ladle
fine-mesh strainer (Like these, but check Walmart.)
canning jars or 5-gallon food safe buckets*
oven

What To Do:

  1. Thaw your fat, if you’ve been storing it in the freezer and dreading the day you have to do this job.
  2.  Preheat the oven to 300°.
  3.  Slice the fat into strips that will fit into your meat grinder.
  4.  Put a roasting pan under the grinder blade and process the fat through the meat grinder. I found my grinder liked it cold, but not partially frozen. It could handle warmer or semi-frozen stuff, but not as well.
  5.  Spaghetti-like strands of fat will build up in your pan. Move it into all the corners so as to fit as much as you can into the pan. It will shrink somewhat in the oven, so it can be a little heaped, but you don’t want to be worried about sloshing oil around later.
  6.  Bake at 300°. It’ll probably take about half an hour to render down. I put the first pan in, then start in on slicing and grinding and filling the second pan. By the time I get that one into the oven, the first pan is melty enough that it needs to be stirred.
  7.  Do stir periodically. It helps to break up the clump of fat that will form as it melts and render more completely.
  8.  When you’re tired of waiting or the fat looks as completely melted as it’s going to get (browned bits stop rendering) pull it out of the oven.
  9.  Position a fine mesh strainer over your storage container* and begin ladling the liquid fat into it. You don’t want any leftover bits of fat or meat contaminating your finished product.
  10.  Rinse and repeat until all of your fat has been rendered!

*Storage Containers: I have used quart canning jars to store the lard, but it takes a lot of jars and it can be difficult to get the lard out later. I think there is no way to speed up or improve upon this process except by using 5 gallon food-grade buckets. That’s what I’m going to do next year.

The rendered lard should store fine at room temperature for as long as it takes you to use it up.

What To Do With Lard

Lard can be used in many recipes that call for butter or margarine. It makes the flakiest pie crusts and the fluffiest biscuits. It can also be used for deep frying delicious things like donuts or apple fritters. Lard is the primary ingredient in homemade soap, too. (I don’t know how to make soap yet, so don’t ask!)

I’m sorry I can’t include any pictures of the process; my hands were a bit greasy.  It’s pretty straightforward, though, and I know you can do it!