Friday, July 03, 2009

Baby Grass

Last Saturday, we [uh, that would be the men, not me] made a huge step in remedying the mess left from the demise of the previous owners' swimming pool. A huge dump truck dumped a huge pile of topsoil in our backyard. The guys shoveled and raked. They hauled manure to load up the bottom half of my raised beds, and then topped off the beds with soil. Now I need to put some seeds in there.But the big thing was getting the hole in the backyard smoothed over enough that we'll be able to walk without slipping, without twisting ankles, and that we should even be able to mow it without much trouble. The guys sowed grass seed, and we've been watering diligently.
Last night there was no sign of grass. But today the tiny blades of grass are poking up, giving a greenish tint to the dirt. Someday we'll have a backyard that looks like a backyard instead of an ugly mess!At least now, if we would ever have to sell the house or move to another place, there isn't this HUGE impediment in the backyard to anyone even considering buying this place.

VCFS Newborn Screening

There's thought right now amongst those who have some say in these matters about including VCFS in the screening all newborns receive in the hospital. Our family received notice about a survey being done of parents, requesting input on the change.

I knew my viewpoint would be vastly different from the rest of the parents and the people agitating for the change, so I called and volunteered to be interviewed.

My reasons against including VCFS as part of the standard screening:

1. VCFS is a syndrome, which means it includes many different combinations of characteristics. No child will have all (or even most) of the characteristics. There is no sense in testing for each and every problem, and worrying about each and every possible defect. Wait until there is a problem that manifests itself, and then resolve it.

2. Early diagnosis (as in, the first week of life) puts a label on the child which is hard to see past. I occasionally see articles in support group newsletters which encourage the parents to see the child [hold onto your hats!] as a CHILD, as a PERSON, as a HUMAN BEING, instead of seeing the child as a problem to be fixed. Well, did it ever occur to the medical community that THEIR attitude contributed to this attitude in so many parents???

2b. Furthermore, early diagnosis makes it easier to focus on the problems to be fixed or the birth defects to be remedied rather than focusing on the child's strengths and good qualities. What's so bad about getting to know the child as a person first, and then later receiving the diagnosis?

3. Catching the heart defect in the first day or so will likely result in a heart surgery right away. For many families, this has created a feeding disorder in the child that is overcome only with years of therapy and hard work. Waiting a few weeks to repair the heart gives the baby a chance to experience eating in a normal way at the time of life a kid needs to learn that!

4. Beginning the rounds of surgeries and medical testing immediately doesn't give the mother time to recuperate from childbirth. Families need time to rest and bond and just be together after the birth of a baby. This is important on so many levels. If this can be done without endangering the child's life, then delving into medical issues (assuming those issues can wait a couple of weeks or a couple of months) will interfere with something that we ought not be trifling with. Family relationships and that bonding with a newborn is something we usually take for granted. But when we mess with it for the sake of using our medical knowledge as soon as possible, we create new and different troubles.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Memorial Trees

A bunch of friends went together to buy us a gift certificate to a local nursery so that we could choose a tree to plant in memory of my dad. They have real trees there, and not the little sticks that we usually buy when we want a tree.

Our yard already contained most of the trees in the right price range, so we were musing on the possibility of a perennial garden, or getting a second tree of something we already have. But something stuck in my mind when the lady was helping me look. "Is there any plant that your father especially liked?" All I could think of was sweet corn! Dad never struck me as the kind of guy who would have a favorite flower or a favorite kind of tree, but I do remember the day he told me he came back to Illinois after his time in the army, and how beautiful the cornfields looked! As Gary and I mulled over our choices, I did remember that Dad wanted an apple in his lunchbox every day. And we'd been thinking about buying some of those little sticks that would one day grow into apple trees. So we decided on an apple tree.

The gals who purchased the gift certificate made it easy on me: there was enough money to have the tree delivered and planted. But as I was arranging the delivery, I realized that the delivery was more expensive than the tree itself. So ... [spur of the moment decision] ... we bought two apple trees instead! They were small enough that we could squeeze them into the van. Paul and Andrew dug the holes for me this morning. Look at how mature these trees are: they are growing apples already. I never had a fruit tree before that would bear fruit in the first three years. This is so cool!

Telling Kids They Can't

We in our society don't tell kids they can't. It would hurt their self-esteem. We tell kids they can do anything they set their minds to; all they have to do is persevere.

So it was interesting last night as Maggie and I were reading one of the books in the Great Brain series to hear what Papa told John. John was trying so hard to be like his big brother, but he was doing a miserable job of it, so that he wondered if he might be a born loser.

Papa said,
There are people who continually overreach themselves. And when they fail to achieve their objective, they call themselves born losers and wallow in self-pity. Every person on this earth is limited to what they can do in life by what is called inherent talent and native ability. This determines what each person can do best. One man might have the inherent ability to become a great musician while another couldn't become a great musician if he practiced all his life.*

And then Papa goes on to explain that a person's talent is usually indicated by what he has a burning desire to do. And then he goes on further to explain that we can stifle the desire to do what we're especially apt to do. Maybe we attempt to tackle a job that will garner us admiration. Maybe we are envious, and so talk ourselves out of what we're good at. Although Papa didn't mention it, today we see a lot of people going for jobs solely because they pay well or offer power.

Certainly there are things we need to do that may not be our area of strength. But it does make sense to do what you're good at, what gives you pleasure, what comes relatively easily.

And that's why I'll never be a nurse nor a salesman.

* Me and My Little Brain, by John D Fitzgerald, end of chapter two

Cherry Jam

I'm not sure whether I picked the lazy way or the harder way yesterday.

The cherries are coming ready. Gary's been sending the boys out to pick. I didn't particularly want to pit cherries. I hate pitting cherries. It's sticky. It makes my wrists hurt. So how to make jam without messing with the pits?

Ah ha! Maybe I could try the method I used for making grape jam with my juicer.We set up the juicer outdoors. I couldn't stop laughing about the seeds flying everywhere. Even Maggie was giggling with me. Putting the cherries into the juicer took the pulp and juice through the machine, but the seeds were like a lidless popcorn-popper. Seeds were popping up and flying all over the table and the deck, sometimes landing in our hair! It was hilarious.

This has got to be the ugliest jam I ever made. These aren't the reddest cherries; there's some yellow in them. (That's because the cardinals & sparrows and I are having a disagreement about who has dibs on the fruit. So I'm picking some of it before it's fully ripe.) Besides, a lot of the red skin went through the juicer without imparting it's color to the cherry-goo. So I have this kinda pinky-browny beige jam ... that tastes fantastic. Even though it's ugly.

I can't decide whether I'll go for the jelly or the jam next time. I wonder what would happen if I just smashed up the cherries and cooked them for jelly-juice, without getting rid of the pits first? At least I'd have the red color. Or, maybe, I'll just do something really outlandish and PIT them.

My cherry tree is sad and sorry. It's covered with lichen. The bark is split and parts of the trunk are rotting. By all rights, it should probably come down. But look at all the cherries! The young sweet-cherry trees planted by the previous owners just don't produce the same way. It's that old thing that looks like it's about to die that has oodles of cherries. (And this picture was taken AFTER we'd cleaned off all the ripe ones of the past week.)

I have the feeling there is some analogy here about sanctification, and the irrelevance of how something looks from the outside.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Testing Gel

Sure-Jell makes it quite easy to produce good home-made jelly. IF you follow the instructions. IF. IF. IF.

So I been a-makin' jelly according to instructions for quite a few years now. But sometimes things don't work out quite right. For example, I had to figure out how to make nectarine jam without over-cooking or under-cooking. Or sometimes you decide to try something wonky like I did today with my cherries -- instructionless. With all that hot sugar way beyond the boiling point of water, jams and jellies always look SO thin when they're done cooking. But I've made mistakes before, and the jam doesn't cook far enough. I really don't want to deal with re-cooking and re-canning the jam, and I don't want to use it for ice-cream topping which is the usual recommendation for runny jam.

So how do you know when the syrup is cooked long enough to gel?

Old cookbooks tell me that there is a test you can use: it's done when the jelly "sheets" off the side of a spoon. I have NO idea what that means. I mean, my brain knows what it means. But this is completely useless to me because I can't figure out in real life when the jelly is done or not.

The trick is to cool the jelly fast fast fast for your test.

So what you do is put several small bowls or plates in the freezer near your jelly-making spot. Today I placed all my custard cups in various spots in the fridge's freezer at the same time I started sterilizing the jelly jars. By the time the jam was nearly done, my custard cups were good and cold! When you think the jam may be done cooking, turn off the heat, scoop up about 1/2 teaspoon of the syrup, and pour a tiny puddle onto the bottom of the icy bowl. In about 10 seconds, you'll have a good idea of how solid your jam will be once it's canned and cooled. If you need to keep cooking it, turn the heat back on, and test it again soon.

I've undercooked jam. And I've overcooked jam. Undercooked is definitely preferable!!! (It's really not good when you need a paring knife to cut through your jam that's as sproingy-boingy as a superball.) But since I've discovered this way to test the gel, our jelly has turned out decently every time.

Nectarine Jam

If you're using store-bought pectin, you can pull together a nectarine jam by combining the recipes for plum jam and peach jam.

This is why your teacher told you to learn your fractions in 4th- and 5th-grades. Yes, it is.

Take 1/4 of the recipe for plum jam, and 3/4 of the recipe for peach jam. But instead of plums and peaches, you use nectarines ... with however much sugar your arithmetic tells you to use. Ta-da! You have a nectarine jam that turns out with just the right amount of gel when you follow the Sure-Jell instructions regarding length of time to cook the jam.

I much prefer nectarine jam to peach jam ...
because I hate peeling the peach-fuzz.
With nectarine jam, you just use the skin along with the rest of the fruit.

Hooray for the lazy way!
And the extra fiber!

UPDATE a week later
for those looking for a recipe:

1 box Sure-Jell "No Sugar Needed" Pectin
5 cups finely chopped (or even mostly pureed) nectarines
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3.5 cups sugar
follow instructions in the pectin box

First-Fruits of Them That Sleep

But now Christ is risen from the dead and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)


Some say that means pre-eminent.

Some say that means causal: His resurrection causes our resurrection.

Some say that means chronologically, seeing as how those who died and were raised in the Old Testament had to die again. So Jesus was the first to die-and-rise-and-stay-alive-forever.

But you know what else? It means Jesus was dead for only three days, those 36 hours or whatever it was. Our loved ones whom we've buried have to wait longer than three days to rise.

I planted beans and corn and melons. It was exciting to see the first ones pop up. It reminds you that something's coming. The others will follow in like manner. Just wait a little longer.

Jesus is the firstfruits. The others will follow in like manner. We just have to wait a little longer than three days for their resurrections.

Burying Asparagus

With trepidation, Gary planted the asparagus by himself while I was off visiting my folks. We were so tickled when we came home from the funeral to find spindly little baby asparagus peeking up through the dirt.

When you plant asparagus, as when you plant potatoes, you need to bury them a little bit at a time, waiting for the tops to break through the soil, and then burying them a little more. Otherwise it would be asking a whole lot of those tiny little things to try to climb through 12" of heavy ol' dirt all at once.

The back row is all smoothed out now. The front row still has a few plants that are working on making it up to soil level. Some of the bigger, faster, thicker plants have already gone to seed, working on building up strength for next year's growth.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dehydrating Strawberries

I don't have a dehydrator. I don't particularly want one: takes up space in the house, and it's another thing that runs on electricity. The modern stoves don't have a pilot light and can't run as low as 100-120°. So I decided to take some of the strawberries that didn't get made into jam, and try the old-fashioned way of dehydrating them.
I borrowed a screen from a window. (Paul says this set-up looks white-trashy.) If this works, we might make some frames with mesh so that I don't have to raid a window next time. I put the screen of berries (covered with a thin towel) on sawhorses on the deck -- the hottest place we have around here. Of course, the temps dropped 30° since the end of last week, and it's cloudy and occasionally drizzly. Remember those commercials about Sun-Maid raisins? Well, I need the sun to do its thing to dehydrate my berries, and it's not cooperating!

I tried putting the screen in the van -- another nice hot place. So far, they're drying up without signs of mold. But it would've worked a lot faster last week!

Day Lilies

They always make me think of Katie.

Gender Issues

In high school I wrote a research paper for my psychology class that the professor was very impressed with. I had explored whether sexual identity was innate or taught. The conclusion of my paper was that sexual identity was learned. I had done all sorts of research (from, of course, the liberal psychological journals) which studied children who are born with unidentifiable private-parts, and what the parents decided to do about treating them as boy or girl, and how it turned out.

Thing is, the studies hadn't really been going long enough to know. If you decide that this child with an itty-bitty nearly-nonexistent boy-part is going to be raised as a girl, you really don't know the end of the story when the kid is 8 or 10. It turned out that some of these kids who were called girls --when their DNA said they were boys-- ended up mortified when they were attracted to girls in their teens years.

Now I know better. Now I know that boys are boys, and can't be taught to be girls just because they have a birth defect in a certain sensitive area. It embarrassed me to no end when I heard years later that the psych teacher was still bragging about what a great paper I'd written. And it was wrong! Entirely wrong!

That's why, when Cheryl linked to this story, I found it very sad what these parents are doing to their child. And near the end of the article, we hear the end of one of those early stories that might've been included in my shameful paper, a baby boy who was accidentally mutilated in 1967 and then raised as a girl.

"Male and female He created them." There can be no "human identity" apart from one's identity as a boy or a girl.

Grown-Up Homeschoolers

"Really? You were homeschooled? But you seem so normal! You're not socially inept!"

Rachel's two best friends growing up were also homeschooled. You really need to read the post one of them wrote about socialization. If you wonder whether homeschoolers will turn out okay, or if you're Proud To Be Homeschooling, or if you just want a couple of laughs and a lot of common sense, click here.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Credit Report

Gary and I each get a free credit report in alternating months from each of the three major companies through the year. That spreads out through the whole year the times we can verify that nothing looks fishy on our credit reports. July is my month, so I was ordering the free report online last night, and the site told me I had to verify my information. This morning I called the phone number given on the website. And boy oh boy, did they need a lot of information to verify my identity. I mean, YES, I want them to make sure I'm me and not give out private information to somebody who's faking to be me. And yet, when you start giving out your name, birthday, address, SocSec number, credit card number, who your mortgage is with and how much, yikesy, you sure do hope that the people you're contacting really are who they say they are. What if some humongo terrible worm or trojan took over the computers at the credit-reporting agencies, and changed the phone number on the website, and there are thieves just compiling all this information from people who call?

You know what? All that safety information on how to avoid phishing and scams can make a person really paranoid!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Job 38

Last Sunday's Old Testament was from Job 38. I understood the obvious point that it meshed with the Gospel reading (Mark 4 -- Jesus' stilling the storm). But Pastor chose verses 4-6 as our verse for the week.

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched out the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone?

And I thought, "WHAT???"

But you know what? It's kinda nifty.

Where else do we hear about the "line" being stretched out? In Psalm 19, where it's talking not just about the creation of the world and the sun and stars, but about the angels being created in the heavens too, and that they preach the Gospel and their voice goes out into all the world.

Where else do we hear about a cornerstone? Psalm 91 and Psalm 118 & Matthew 21.

Oh, and then in Ephesians 2 we hear about the household of God which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

What was Job's problem? Was it that he didn't believe God was powerful? Did Job think that God had somehow lost control of the world? Or was it that he was doubting whether God cared about him?

The disciples in the boat? Was their problem unbelief in God's raw power? Or was it also found in their doubt that Jesus cared whether they were perishing? They were wow-ed by the fact that the wind and sea obeyed Jesus, but not just that ...

He whom the sea and wind obey
doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness.
Thou, God's own Son, with us art one --
dost join us and our children in our weakness. (TLH 81)

So when Job sasses God and when the disciples holler that Jesus doesn't care about them, God's response in these verses is not Calvinistic. It's not just that God's the Big Cheese who's got all the power. The response is that Job didn't understand who this God is. Job and the disciples didn't understand His mercy. This God knew from the very beginning that His Son would save sinners, that the Gospel would be preached by the apostles, and that the angels would rejoice over the salvation of the lost. The foundation and cornerstone of the earth was laid when the angels shouted for joy ... which they did over the Lamb who was slain to rescue the lost sheep.

Would you sass back to a God who planned from before He made you that He would save you? Would you sass back to a God who took every one of your griefs and bore it for you? Would you sass back to a God who arranged for the means to draw you to Himself? If saving you took some pretty humongous pains on His part, maybe it's only our blindness to His suffering which makes us so quick to sass back when we get a little suffering like Job's or some storms like the disciples'. If God had said to Job -- if Jesus had said to the disciples -- "Hey, I'm in charge here and I have all the power" that wouldn't cause them to put their hands over their mouths and shut up as happened when the message (Mark 4:39 and Job 40:2) was rather "Hey, I'm in charge here and I have all the power and I'm using it for your good because I love you."