Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Trojan Horse

I gotta be honest. Ancient Greece is dragging on FOR.EV.ER. Sierra just doesn't seem even half as interested in Greece as she was in Egypt, so that makes it less fun for both of us. There are certain parts that draw her attention, but for the most part it just doesn't measure up to Egypt. She was even more interested in the Ancient Egyptian income tax system than she is in Greece. We aren't to the Olympics or Mythology yet, I'm hoping those draw her interest a bit more.

The picture above is her Trojan horse she made from this template. This activity took A LOT more parental involvement than I expected. We ended up printing out the template, gluing it onto thick card stock, then she colored it and we let it dry. I had to help significantly with cutting it out and assembling it. She has had a lot of fun playing with it though and she can tell you the whole story.

We made these burritos for a little taste of Greek cooking too. Josh and I liked them, the kids didn't. They did pick out the chicken and eat that and they actually like hummus, but the whole combination was a bit much for them. I would like to try making baklava, but I've never done it before, so we'll see how that turns out. Seems like a fun recipe to involve a 6 year old in with all that layering though.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring? Is That You?

I think spring might actually be here. We're still colder than average for this time of year, but we're finally seeing some sun and the highs occasionally reach the mid-50's. Of course, it still freezes every night and it was snowing this morning, so we have a ways to go, but it sure is nice to sit out and feel the sunshine again!

The plants are happy to see spring too. There are signs of life showing up around the neighborhood
And the kids are happy to get outside and play more

Secora even got to feel grass for the very first time! I know we won't get to put the jackets away completely, but just being able to go outside and actually feel warm is SO nice!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Weekend

It's been a few days since I posted because we were having a fun-filled weekend!

It all started on Friday, when I made up sugar cookie dough and let the girls cut out the shapes they wanted

I baked those after they went to bed and let them cool down over night.

Saturday morning, we headed out to an Easter egg hunt in the next town over. The girls tried to stick together, with the end result being that they each only got 6 eggs total. And 4 of those were hard boiled eggs. They were disappointed, and I have to admit I would've been too.

But there was more fun to be had. That afternoon, I made up icing for the cookies and dyed it all different colors. I also got out whatever sprinkles we had on hand, because Sedona "just wuves spwinkles!!!" (yes, we still have some speech issues, we're working on it)
We used ziploc sandwich bags for piping to save on clean up and Sierra got to have her turn during naptime:
This was my favorite cookie of Sierra's. I told her it was all groovy and she asked me what groovy meant. Have you ever tried to define groovy to a 6 year old?
Of course, I had to get in on the act too. If I'm gonna go to the trouble to make everything, I should get to have some fun too, right?
Then Sedona woke up from her nap and it was her turn. I think this may have been the first time she decorated cookies. At least, it was the first time she really did almost everything by herself.

Sedona's cookies:
It was actually pretty warm this weekend, so we played outside for a while (pictures of that coming later) and soaked up some sun.

After dinner, it was egg dying time. We had a heck of a time explaining to Sedona that we were going to DYE the eggs, not DIE the eggs. She was also convinced that the eggs all had baby chickens in them, because well, chickens come from eggs.

I know this is a horrible picture, but it caught her expression the best. Dying eggs is some really cool magic to a 3 year old
Sierra's graduated to doing her own eggs and trying out some multi-colored eggs.
She did a pretty good tri-colored one all on her own
By the end, Sedona was doing a better job of dipping her eggs with just a little bit of help
Then it was time for bed. We all got up early Sunday morning (except Secora who had been exceptionally fussy all.night.long.) to see what the Easter bunny had left. Wouldn't you know? That ol' Easter bunny knew just what I was going to have to buy soon anyway and saved us the trouble...some new playdoh and markers for the school room, pacifiers and spoons for Secora...

There was also candy and some toys. The favorite so far seems to be these little plastic toys with a spring and a suction cup. You push them down and then they pop up and you try to catch them in a basket (yes, it feeds my toaster fear...don't know what that bunny was thinking).
We managed to wait until Secora woke up, but then it was egg hunting time

Sweet Sierra remembered how it felt the day before to see other kids with baskets full of eggs while she only had a few, so she kept an eye on Sedona's basket and whenever Sedona was "behind", Sierra would either point out an egg to Sedona instead of picking it up, or go get the egg, but give it to Sedona.

They were already on sugar overload, but we had one more egg hunt to check out. The local airfield decided to do an egg hunt for the first time this year. The girls were ready this time, they weren't going to miss out again. When it was time to start, they both took off running

They ended up with full baskets this time. And the eggs were STUFFED with candy. Sierra was most excited about a coupon for a free kid's meal at the restaurant they have there. She came running up to us yelling, "I got my very first COUPON!!!!!!!!!!"

All in all, it was a fun weekend, hope everyone had a great time!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Secora's Birth Story

Welcome to 101 in 1001 goal #55: Write out Secora's birth story.

I'll be up front and let you know there are a few rather small things (well, one thing in particular) that is being slightly changed in the blog version of this story because it's our birth and there's one specific piece of information that I don't want public for a variety of reasons. The omitted facts don't really change the story though.

Secora's pregnancy was rough and that didn't change just because we were getting to the end of it. Just like with her sisters, I was experiencing contractions all day every day and all night every night. I was absolutely positive she was on her way numerous times. I didn't think there was any way she'd stay put until November. I was also getting very nervous about birthing her on my own. Like my previous pregnancies, I was dilated and effaced early, 5-6cm and 70-80% weeks before the big day. The end of my pregnancy with Sierra had gone much the same way and she was born 3 hours after my water broke. Sedona was the same situation again only she came 3.5 hours after my water broke (though she was asynclitic and a LOT of that time was a difficult pushing phase). I had every reason to believe that if this baby was positioned well and my water broke, my midwife would have trouble making it in time.

So when things were really moving along on November 11th and my midwife happened to be in town for something else, she dropped by to check on me before she went home. She decided to sleep over and keep an eye on things. I felt a little weird about that, but she insisted she preferred sleeping on a couch to making a mad dash at 2am. So we just hung out (A Few Good Men was on TV) and I periodically went outside and walked up and down the stairs to keep things going.

Oh, didn't I mention? Secora was born in a hotel. I'll refrain from naming the hotel because the whole staff had been anxiously awaiting "the baby!" for weeks and were so excited to meet her and I don't think it ever occurred to them to consider perhaps the baby had actually been born IN the hotel. No worries, the supplies for a homebirth include shower curtain liners on the floor, mattress covers, sterilized sheets...that room had been stripped down and then later reassembled. No...ahem...messes were left behind at all. It is quite possible the night clerk at the desk that night wondered what the crazy lady in her PJ pants was doing walking the stairs though.

We had ended up in a hotel because we went all the way from Montana back to Texas for the birth. I had good intentions of finding of midwife in Montana, and going back to Texas was sort of a "well, we can if we need to" plan. I did some searching and found one midwife I was pretty comfortable with, so we went to interview her. Ended up being not very comfortable at all with her and really didn't like that the midwives in our area don't have back-up doctors. We heard the local hospital is very supportive of unmedicated birth and considered just hiring a family practice doctor, but were at a loss about what to do with the girls during the birth. In the end, my grandmother's passing happened to come at the end of my pregnancy, so we drove down to Texas then and the girls and I just stayed (in a long-term hotel) while Josh went back to Montana. In hindsight, I am so so so grateful that I was able to deliver again with the midwife I trust. I always felt safe, I had friends and family gathered around, and it was just an atmosphere I could not have gotten in Montana. I would have regretted giving that up.

So, back to this hotel birth: we had invited several people to the birth. One was asked to photograph everything and we ended up calling her, along with the midwife's assistant around 4am. Around 4:40, my water broke. I expected things to just really move along then, but they didn't. More walking, more stairs. Had some snacks, talked to everyone. I finally decided I might end up needing to call the back-up doctor because it just didn't feel like it was progressing like my other labors did. If I had a chance of ending up in the hospital, I wanted to nap first, so I told everyone I was going to lay down. Josh and I laid down to rest, the midwife and her assistant catnapped, and the photography friend ran across the street to get some breakfast.

As soon as I laid down, the contractions got stronger. With Sierra and Sedona, I had a lot of back pain with the contractions, but these were not in my back at all, they were completely in the front. In my head, I was thinking we still had a long way to go, but then a contraction hit that kind of freaked me out. It was strong enough to make me feel panicky, like I might not get through it. I'm well versed in the "self-doubt signpost" from 2 other unmedicated deliveries and teaching childbirth classes. I knew that "I can't handle these contractions" was a good thing and meant a baby was coming soon. I told Josh I was panicking and needed to be checked. He told Toni I wanted a cervical check and I was completely effaced and 9cm. I knew I was in transition, but I thought it'd still be a while to get through the labor and then the pushing would take time. Despite weeks of worrying that this phase of labor would go really fast, all I could think now was that I pushed for 2 hours with Sedona and it would be at least a couple of hours before baby arrived. My picture taking friend was back and I had her call 2 of the people who had been invited (my best friend, and a fellow childbirth educator who was training to be a doula), but I figured she should hold off on the other 2 because it'd be a while longer.

Boy was I mistaken! Everything was a bit of a blur after that.

When I was pregnant, Sierra had asked if she could be at the birth. After thinking it over for several months, I decided to leave that decision up to her. We had a very frank discussion (with diagrams and pictures) of how babies are born and she was still interested, so I showed her the unedited pictures of Sedona's birth. She was still interested, so I laid down some ground rules for her and told her it was her decision and she could change her mind at any time. She woke up at some point when I was in transition and I was aware she was awake and eating Lucky Charms. Josh left me very briefly to talk to her and it was everything I could do to not freak out while he was gone. When he came back, I kept trying to relax, but felt like I was much more tense than I had been with the other labors. I kept squeezing his hand really hard and telling him I couldn't relax and he kept saying I was doing fine (later he told me I was visibly tensing up but it would just be a second and then I'd make myself relax). I could handle the contractions, but it felt like my pubic bone was being pulled apart, which I had never experienced before and didn't expect. I think that was happening because she was moving down so fast, but I'm not sure. I do know it hurt more than the back labor I was used to and that I had lingering pain for several weeks after the birth.

I kept it together as long as I could and then all of a sudden, I told Josh and the midwife that I needed to push. According to the clock that's visible in the pictures, that happened at 7:33. My body was already pushing when I said it. The midwife told me to just listen to my body, but she was going to check me to be sure I was ready. She didn't really get a chance...she started to check me and said, "oh, there's baby's head!" I was still laying on my side on the bed at this point and she told me the baby was coming quickly and asked me if I wanted to stay on the bed or get on the birthing stool. The moment of birth is a moment of surrender and I was beyond rational thought already, so I just said, "I don't know". She took charge and told everyone to get me upright. She was trying to get warm compresses out, but they were in hot water and there wasn't anytime to cool them down, so she was putting them on my leg to be sure they weren't too hot for me, then using them for perineal support while Josh picked me up and sat me on the birthing stool and one of my friends moved my feet for me. This all happened around 7:38. There is video to prove that was almost eerily quiet in the room, but it didn't seem calm and quiet to me at the time. I remember Toni and Josh telling me several times to take big breaths so the baby had oxygen (which I did) and Toni telling me to try to slow down on the pushing and me telling her I couldn't. Secora was born at 7:42. Josh had predicted she would come at 7:40, so he tried to (jokingly) convince us to fudge the time. She was a little gurgley and needed to be suctioned out more than Sedona was (probably because the birth was so fast, typically the fluid is squeezed out of their lungs on the way out), and she had some bruising on her face (again, from coming so fast). She also had a very round head compared to the other girls. She was calm and quiet after she was suctioned, she only let out one squawk and then just stared at me. She wasn't interested in nursing right away, it was probably about half an hour before she latched on well. She wasn't keeping her body temperature up quite as well as she should have, so the midwife wrapped a heating pad around her while I was nursing her. Thanks to the wonders of natural positioning, warm compresses, olive oil and an experienced midwife, I had no tears at all, just like with Sedona.

Sierra was completely amazed. She handled it like a pro and you can tell from the pictures how excited she was to be there. After we all had a chance to say our hellos, I went to take a shower while the midwife did the newborn exam, then let daddy and big sister get her dressed. She was all ready for more snuggles and nursing when I got out of the shower. My mom took Sierra for the rest of the morning so we could rest until Sedona got out of school.

I put together a slideshow of pictures. All the pictures are edited so you don't have to worry about surprises, but it IS a birth so there are plenty of "not yet cleaned up baby" pictures. I do want to specify that probably had the worst set up possible for pictures...the room was dark except for a bright light behind me and there also wasn't much room. The song is "In My Daughter's Eyes" by Martina McBride...a choice that is as much in tribute to Sierra as it is to Secora. I can't emphasize enough how well Sierra handled being there, I wouldn't be surprised if she decided to be a doula or midwife when she grows up.

If you're interested, Sedona's birth story (also a home birth, but a more complicated one) was also posted on the blog several years ago

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bread Days

Lately, I've been making bread (with a hammer, don't forget the hammer) once or twice a week. And every single time, the girls ask for some of the dough to play with. I won't lie, I turn them down a lot. But sometimes I'm feeling generous. Okay, not really, sometimes I make a deal with them that they can have some of the dough to play with if they clean something for me (I figure if I'm gonna have to clean up a big floury mess, they can clean something else to offset the time). A bit of dough can keep two kids entertained for an hour, at least. And half a cup of flour can cover the entire dining room.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Gardening Experiment

Crazy thing about Montana...the climate is wildly different from Texas. We're in hardiness zone 5a here and 8b back home. So at a time when I'm used to nurturing along tomato plants that I've already moved outside, I instead find myself planting "winter crops" like carrots and peas. We don't plan on being here long term, so we didn't want to put a lot of money or effort into an extensive garden or learning how to best garden in this zone. We're taking the easy way out and hoping to get something out of it.

We bought 10 laundry baskets on sale for $0.90 each and cut the bottoms off of them:

We also bought bagged soil at the local hardware store. Oh, and communed with the dirt. Because dirt is good. We love dirt. (though I once read a book that proposed soil may be offended when we refer to it as plain ol' dirt, so maybe I should stick with the term soil)
Then we gathered up some red potatoes that I had forgotten to cook that were sprouting in the kitchen
And we put those at the bottom of two of the baskets with a fairly shallow layer of dirt on top of them. I had also scraped up the grass for these baskets so the potatoes went straight onto soil. As the plant grows, we will continue to add more soil because potatoes will continue to put out tubers along the stem if you keep adding soil.
Secora practiced her managerial skills and worked on making a little vitamin D
When the other 8 baskets were filled with soil, I gave the girls handfuls of peas and had them plant 3 baskets
We also planted two baskets with carrot seeds, and two baskets with spinach seeds. All of these, in the varieties we chose anyway, can be planted densely: 16 plants per square foot in a "square foot gardening" set up. Hopefully going with these plants will maximize our yield for the money we put in. The last basket will be planted with a few brussels sprouts seedlings.

Thanks to some ideas I got from the Classroom Victory Garden Project, this will also be tied into our school work. The garden related activities I have planned:
  • Drawing a picture of each type of seed and then drawing each type of seedling when it first comes up. We'll also spend some time drawing the blooms and the mature plant (great way to reinforce plant identification so your kids pull weeds and not vegetables in the garden).
  • Growing With Gravity activity to determine if the direction you plant a seed has an effect on which way the root grows.
  • Make some pretty vases out of old jars and colored sand (we are also planting some flowers, so maybe they'll be able to collect some this summer to go in the vases)
  • Sierra recently finished reading the Kit Kittredge Series from the American Girl books, so we've talked about the Great Depression and gardening/food preservation during that time. We are currently reading Little House in the Big Woods (I read it to her), so we've also talked a lot about self-sufficiency.
  • Obviously, there's also just the knowledge of how to grow a garden and prepare the food for a meal.
Now if spring would just get here, we'd be good to go! There are some signs that it might actually show up, but it did snow yesterday...

Update: The garden one month later

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cavities are Contagious

Time for a random PSA on cavities. Not sure why this is on my mind today, but it is, so here we go.

Sierra has had 14 fillings. Yes, FOURTEEN. Including a few "baby root canals" (which aren't really full blown root canals) and several caps. Even worse, all of these fillings were done before her 5th birthday. I had a four year old with 14 fillings. I felt horrible. Where had we gone wrong?!?

Well, the answer is two-fold. First of all, the dentist we were originally taking her too just agreed not to do x-rays when I said we didn't have dental insurance and didn't want them. So we filled three visible cavities and went on our merry way. Then we came for a check-up and had 2 more cavities to fill. I began thinking there was more going on that needed to be addressed, so I switched her over to a fabulous pediatric dentist and when I tried to refuse x-rays there, he took the time to explain to me that we really needed them because if there were cavities between the teeth that he couldn't see and we didn't fill those, they would just get bigger. Plus, the cavities would "spread" to other teeth. Boy was he right. We did the x-rays and he sat down with me and pointed out every single cavity....nine of them. He took the time to answer my questions and I won't lie, one of my big ones was "these teeth are just going to fall out anyway, do I really have to pay to fix them?" He explained to me that if we got all of this decay out of her mouth at once, and especially before her adult teeth started coming in, she could very well stay cavity free. If we left decaying teeth untreated and she started getting adult teeth, they would likely have cavities too. So we came up with a plan to get all the cavities taken care of in a very short period of time. (A slightly sad side note, Sierra is a rock star dental patient and this dentist is great with kids...she sat in the chair with laughing gas, novocaine and some cartoons and got all of these taken care of over 4 visits. Some kids that need such extensive work have it done under general anesthesia so everything can be done at once).

Back before I ever knew anything was wrong is probably where this all started though. Cavities are contagious. When I was 23 years old and sitting there with my first baby, I frequently popped her pacifier in my mouth to "clean" it after it dropped on the floor. I also tasted her food to be sure it wasn't hot. Joshua saw me do it and followed suit. I didn't have cavities at the time, but we found out later that he did. These types of things trade the bacteria that causes cavities from adult to baby/child and set the stage for cavities.

So don't swap spit with your baby (I know, it sounds gross, but I bet you do it more than you think if you aren't aware of this). And if your child has cavities, do what you need to do to get them ALL filled in a short span of time. I always thought I just had bad teeth (I have a filling in every single tooth and several of my baby teeth broke apart instead of just falling out), but I now suspect I just had a mouthful of cavities when my adult teeth started coming in, so they spread. My parents did the best they knew with the information they had at the time. I know from our own experience that a family with a limited income isn't going to drop $2,000 on baby teeth without a compelling reason. I also did the best with the information I had at the time...if I had understood Sierra would likely need many more fillings down the line, I wouldn't have turned down $50 worth of x-rays at those first 2 check ups. Once I learned better, I did better. I didn't "clean" a pacifier with my own mouth anymore, I got all the cavities for everyone in the family taken care of, I don't turn down the x-rays or skip check-ups for the kids. Sierra has been cavity free for over a year now and Sedona hasn't had any. Hoping we can keep up that track record and they'll have healthy adult teeth when they come in.

And that's my random dental tidbit of the day! The only other thing I'll add is that there is another pediatric dentist I know of that has repeatedly been caught "diagnosing" cavities that don't exist. A good dentist may give you the option of sending your child back alone, but won't insist on it for every patient. Not allowing the parent to see everything that's going on should be a red flag. With younger children that are on their first or second visit, our dentist even has the child lay down on the parent's lap (with their head on your knees) while he checks their teeth so it's not as scary as being alone in the chair. A good dentist also won't just give you a list of work to be done. You should be able to look at the x-rays and have each area of concern pointed out to you. Follow-up is good too. When we thought one of Sierra's fillings wasn't shaped quite right, the dentist not only answered after hours calls himself, he also met us at the office on a Sunday to double check his work, free of charge.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Playing In The Dirt

A friend of mine attended an education conference last week where there was a session on "nature deficit disorder", she updated her facebook status on Saturday asking why our society is so obsessed with avoiding messes and dirt.
I reflected on that a while because I make an effort to get my children outdoors and to national parks and to learn about plants and animals and keep them connected with the root source of where all their food and most of their stuff comes from. Despite my desire to keep them connected to the land, the messes DO bother me though. In the short term, it's just a pain to get them clean again sometimes. I've changed their clothes and done "baby wipe baths" in the car, wiped them down with a washcloth at a campground water spigot, done my best to get their feet clean, but cringed as they tromped over my sleeping bag getting into the tent. I've carried them from the front door straight to the bathtub and still had to go back and clean up mud or finger paint or who knows what else along the hallway. It's a lot of extra effort. Especially back in Texas, where they need a shower at lunchtime and are likely to be sweaty and dirty again before dinner time.
Longer term, I think there's a bigger issue though. Years ago, it became prestigious and respected to not have to farm your own land. It was a status symbol to be clean all the time. The blue collar workers worked hard, washed up the best they could for dinner and saved their Sunday best for Sunday. Somewhere along the way, I think we started looking down on that and it became low class to work hard and get dirty. That has filtered down to our children and because of all the effort to get them cleaned up at times, some people just avoid letting them get dirty in the first place. It doesn't take long at all for the kids themselves to start avoiding the dirt. Rather than ask to wash their hands, they just refuse to touch the mess all together. And then, what do they truly understand about where their food comes from, the wood for their house, the paper they write on, the clothes they wear? Not to mention, the important lessons of digging a hole that won't collapse, the right ratio of water to dirt for the perfect mud pie and what critters live in what types of soil.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Homeschool Resources

I've learned about a few fantastic schooling resources recently that I want to share.

First up, there is a Scholastic Giveaway going on. Am I the only scholastic junkie here? I LOVED getting that little paper catalog at school and circling all the books I wanted. I know my momma wanted to give me every book my little heart desired, but money was tight, so she'd pare down my list and send me to school with a check that probably still caused her to make a few sacrifices that month. Now that I'm the grown-up, those little paper catalogs still thrill me just as much. Only, now I both MAKE the list, AND pare it down to what we can afford. Well, Scholastic and Kumon have teamed up to do a little book giveaway! There are three age categories and the kids can do either reading or math activities and get 2 free books off a specific list. If they do both the reading and math, they get 5 books. So Sierra and I sat down and looked at the reward options and based on the books she could get, she decided she wanted to do the ages 5-6 worksheets. There is also a 7-9 category and a 10-12 category. The only downside is that the rules state there is only one reward allowed per household, so that's kind of a bummer if you've got both older and younger kids. But free books! Yay! The program is open for several months, but there is a limited number of rewards they will give out, so getting in early is probably better.

Second, I was reading a review on a science curriculum and the American Chemical Society was mentioned. Turns out they've put together entire websites for elementary chemistry education and middle school chemistry education. From what I've looked at, it's not quite a full curriculum, but it's a darn good start and I think a homeschooling parent could definitely use this as a starting point and get more books at the library or do internet research to flesh out the concepts. Each program has its own website and you can download the entire book (over 400 pages for the elementary one), which gives you a teacher's guide of what you're teaching, why, and what knowledge the child should be walking away with. Each activity has background, detailed directions, activity sheets for the child and an assessment rubric at the end of each section. I'm extremely impressed with what they've put together. And it's all FREE!

I also found out about the Virtual Science Fair hosted by Scientific Explorer. I think it's a neat idea, for homeschooling families especially, and there are great prizes to win!

But don't think Sedona's getting left out! She has suddenly decided she wants to work, work, work (the child did 28 worksheets in a row the other day and only stopped because I made her). She's still only marginally interested in reading, but she does want to know how to write, so these free handwriting lesson printables are a great resource for us to have.

Lastly, one for the whole family. I think we're going to have to try out this technique to increase optimism around here. Like the article mentions, the sky is definitely falling at least eleventy billion times a day in this house. Mostly because of a very serious, very dramatic little 6 year old. Oh, and um, the mother she got that from. Happy go lucky Sedona and "eh, tomorrow's a new day" Josh probably don't need it as much, but a little daily dose of thinking of the good things that happened never hurt anyone.

That's all I've got for you right now. I've been following the Secular Homeschool twitter feed (@secularhs) and they put out a lot of links to great resources like this, check it out if you're looking for activities for the kids.

Edited to Add: I forgot one! At the USFA site there are 3 fire safety lessons for kids and then they can take a test at the end to get a Jr. Fire Marshal certificate (you just print it out). Sierra thought it was pretty neat. My only complaint was one of the test questions was a "which one of these statements is wrong", which was too confusing for Sierra. She thought the test was telling her you SHOULD go back into your house to get your favorite toy. Thankfully that didn't sound right to her, so she came and asked about it. So watch out for that question, but everything else was good!

Friday, April 15, 2011


Our local store recently had a big sale on strawberries. Being the frugal shopper that I am, I bought 10 pounds.
We decided to make one batch of strawberry jam. If you have never canned anything before and you want to give it a try, strawberry jam is probably the easiest thing to start with. You can buy pectin at the grocery store, usually near canning jars or/and vinegar. It will probably tell you on the outside of the box how many strawberries you need, but it will likely be about 2-3 pounds. Detailed directions will be inside the box. I've used powdered and liquid pectin. All things equal, I prefer powdered, but I get liquid if it works out to be cheaper (just be aware that liquid pectin usually comes with 2 pouches in a box, and with some fruits you use one pouch and with some you use two. If you go with powdered, you will use one box for each batch of jam or jelly. If you want to reduce the sugar content, you will need special reduced sugar pectin).

So the first step was to wash and cut up the strawberries. I cut enough to make one layer in my bowl
Then I took out all my frustrations on them with a potato masher

I kept repeating these two steps until I got the amount of mashed fruit my brand of pectin called for. Then I covered the container and stuck it in the fridge, because I have 3 kids now and definitely don't have time to do all this all at once anymore.

I ended up using 2.5 pounds, so I cut up the other half pound and put them in a container with a little sugar and threw them in the freezer. They're ready to go next time I want to make crepes or pancakes or waffles and need fruit topping.

Later that night, when the big girls had gone to bed and we only had one little person to look after, I pulled the strawberries out of the fridge. I washed my canning jars and put them in a large pot of water on the stove to stay hot. I got out lids and rings and also put the lids in a small pot of water on the stove so they would be hot. I made sure my ladle, canning funnel and jar lifter were out. Quick note: back when we started canning, I was extremely resistant (foolishly) to spending any money. I did manage to fill A LOT of jam jars with no funnel and a regular cooking spoon. I don't recommend it, but it's possible. A ladle and funnel are cheap though and well worth having, I was wrong to put off that purchase.

With everything assembled, I mixed the strawberries and pectin in a large pot and stirred constantly over medium-high heat until it was at a rolling boil. You can add a small pat of butter too to minimize foaming later on, but I haven't seen a huge difference when I do that.

There is a lot of sugar in jam. Did you think it was so tasty because it's healthy or something?

Once the strawberries/pectin were boiling, I dumped all the sugar in at once

And stirred, stirred, stirred to mix it in. Continued stirring until it came back to a boil

Notice how much it foamed up when it boiled, this is why you need a big pot. Once it boils, it needs to continue cooking for 1 minute.

There is also benefit to learning to recognize when jam is done on your own. If you under cook it, it will come out runny (though sometimes it sets up more if you just leave it alone for a few weeks). If you over cook it, it will come out very stiff. Now, jam that doesn't set up CAN be reprocessed, and the pectin directions will tell you how to do that, but it's better to get it right the first time. Some books will tell you about putting a drop of jam on a cold plate to test it, but by the time you go to the trouble, you can overcook the jam. Better to learn what it looks like hot. The jam will start to "sheet" off the spoon. I tried to catch a picture of it...the drops will join each other instead of being thin enough to drop off on their own

Once the jam is done, remove it from heat, stir a bit more to settle it down some, and you can skim the foam off. I just use a cooking spoon to do this and I don't get every last bit. Here is the pot when I was almost done skimming
And here is all the foam I took off
Ladle hot jam into hot jars, top with a hot lid and screw a ring on finger tight. This is not the time to have children under foot. If you missed it, everything you're working with must be hot and there is ample opportunity for someone to get burned if you're distracted. For this reason, almost all of our canning is done after the kids are in bed. If they are up, one of us does this on our own and the kids aren't allowed in the kitchen. They can watch from a distance and learn the process, but they're still too little for me to feel safe directly involving them in this part.

Then process in a boiling water bath for the appropriate amount of time for your altitude.

You may notice our fruit "floated" to the top a bit. This is generally a no-no (if you're going to be entering the county fair or something like that). I've never been able to prevent it completely, but I've read it helps to chop the fruit smaller and really crush it. Whatever, that sounds like more work to me and while a blue ribbon would be nice, the jam tastes the same on a PB&J, so I'm not real bothered by it.

Just a note, the technique will be a little different for liquid pectin, so be sure to read your directions. The method of putting wax on top of the jars is no longer recommended and is much more likely to cause spoilage. The inversion method (where the jars were filled, then inverted until they cooled instead of being processed in boiling water) does work, but only if you do everything just right. Even then, the seals tend to be weaker, so a boiling water bath is recommended because it is more fool proof.

Jam has a high enough sugar content to make it more resistant to mold growth anyway, plus boiling water baths are easy, so this is a nice place to start with canning. It's not quite as intimidating as pressure canning vegetables.

The rest of the strawberries I bought were either eaten fresh or turned into fruit leather. Strawberry fruit leather is another easy thing to make. It takes about one pound of berries to make one tray of leather on our dehydrator. Just wash and cut up the berries, puree, add sugar or honey if you want, and dehydrate. It's just like doing the peach leather I blogged about except strawberries don't require peeling, added lemon juice and are less likely to need sugar.


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