Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cautionary Tales of a Swinger

Down in a little grove near the dry watershed creek bed, the children have tied a rope swing, the first tree swing out here -- and the "bottom five" chose the spot and hung it all by themselves.  They were anxious to show it to Dominic when he came over the other day.

He was duly impressed and enthusiastic about trying it out.

 But Anna had ridden this swing a few more times than her big brother and certainly could show him a thing or two. 

"Get outta the way and let me show you how it's done, Dominic."

Are you watching this?


Yep.  That's how Anna does it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Celebrating the Feast Day of St. Simon and St. Jude

From The Liturgical Year (by Abbot Gueranger O.S.B)

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude whose names occur together in the Canon of the Mass and are also celebrated on the same day. Possibly this is because they both preached the Gospel in Mesopotamia and Persia where it is said they had both been sent, but in actual fact we know nothing for certain about them beyond what is told us of their being called as Apostles in the New Testament. St. Jude is the author of a short Epistle which forms part of the New Testament.

Sts. Simon and Jude
However meagre in details is the history of these glorious apostles, we learn from their brief legend how amply they contributed to this great work of generating sons of God. Without any repose, and even to the shedding of their blood, they "edified the body of Christ"; and the grateful Church thus prays to our Lord today: "O God, through the work of the apostles you have spoken your Word of love, your Son, into our world's deafness. Open our ears to hear; open our hearts to heed; open our will to obey, that we may proclaim the good news with our lives."
St. Simon is represented in art with a saw, the instrument of his martyrdom. St. Jude's square points him out as an architect of the house of God. St. Paul called himself by this name; and St. Jude, by his Catholic Epistle, has also a special right to be reckoned among our Lord's principal workmen. But our apostle had another nobility, far surpassing all earthly titles: being nephew, by his father Cleophas or Alpheus, to St. Joseph, and legal cousin to the Man-God, Jude was one of those called by their compatriots the brethren of the carpenter's Son. We may gather from St. John's Gospel another precious detail concerning him. In the admirable discourse at the close of the last Supper, our Lord said: "He that loveth Me, shall be loved of My Father: and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him." Then Jude asked Him: "Lord, how is it, that Thou wilt manifest Thyself to us, and not to the world?" And he received from Jesus this reply: "If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him. He that loveth Me not keepeth not My word. And the word which you have heard is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me."
The churches of St. Peter in Rome and Saint-Sernin at Toulouse dispute the honor of possessing the greater part of their holy remains.
St. Jude
Patron: Desperate situations; forgotten causes; hospital workers; hospitals; impossible causes; lost causes; diocese of Saint Petersburg, Florida.
Symbols: Bearded man holding an oar, a boat, boat hook, a club, an axe or a book; nearly every image depicts him wearing a medallion with a profile of Jesus, and usually with a small flame above his head; often carries a pen or sits at a writing location to make reference to the canonical Epistle; sailboat; inverted cross; square; halbert; club; loaves and fish; long cross; knotted club; boat hook; fuller's bat; lance; saw; flail; closed book; shield: red with sailboat with a cross on the mast.
St. Simon
Patron: Curriers; sawmen; sawyers; tanners.
Symbols: Boat; fish; man being sawn in two longitudinally; fish and book; oar; saw; two fishes; lance; fuller's bat; axe; cross; saw and oar saltire; fish on a boat hood; sword; shield: red background with two oars and a hatchet.

Some Ideas for Honoring the Day With the Children
+  Recipes for Apostle Cookies can be found here, at Catholic Culture.
+  The charming and talented City Wife at City Wife, Country Life, shares a coloring page for St. Jude here.  Coloring pages for St. Simon, however, are basically impossible to find. (Hmmm...  Maybe I should appeal to St. Jude for one??)    It is possible, however to use one of the two above black and white prints of both saints, for the children to color and craft into bookmarks or use as illustrations on copy pages. (Unfortunately they'll pixilate something awful if you enlarge them.)  It's also possible to take the colorful icon above and print it out in black and white for the children to tint.  I do this often, using a lighter shade on the grey scale on my copier.
+  Remembering the piety and zeal of  Saints Jude and Simon, and their service and love for Christ and His Church -- to the sacrifice of their lives in imitation of Our Lord: Discuss what service to Christ means in the children's station in life.  How can they serve others in love of Jesus?  Theirs is not likely a calling to martyrdom, but how can they make small sacrifices for the happiness and "smooth-running" of their own worlds?  Can they give specific examples of how they can help in the home or at school?  Can they remember to serve without complaint as the apostles did?  Can they work together toward a common good as Simon and Jude did?
+ St. Jude is well-known as the "saint of impossible causes."  What would the children consider an "impossible cause?"  Can they determine the difference between a worthy petition for a difficult situation  and a "pie-in-the-sky" request for something frivolous (i.e: the curing of a terminal cancer patient vs. a trip to Disneyland for a family that is financially strapped)?   Are there times when St. Jude's intercession would result in a "no" answer from Our Heavenly Father?  Why would this sometimes be the case?  Do we always know?  But does God know best?  Together, make a list of impossible -- or difficult -- causes that are worthy to place at the feet of St. Jude today.
My personal prayer:  Saints Jude and Simon, please intercede to save our world from the slippery slope it's sliding down, mentally, physically, economically, but mostly spiritually.  Guide our country in moral choices for its leaders in our coming election.  Influence me in my every day choices and decisions to do all for love of Christ -- as you did.  Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Nature Walking

 We're pleased these days to get to see Dominic a few days a week.  He got a job at a hospital in Omaha that works 12 hour shifts half the week (or something like that), so he's been staying in town on work days and coming home to spend time with us on most of his off days.  This is a wonderful thing.  Not only does he serve as a role model and playmate for the children, but he mows lawns and fixes things around this old place -- and gets home cooked meals in return!

I'm not quite ready for the full reveal, but Dominic, Dan, and the kiddos are currently working on a big project that's been taking up a lot of our time... I'll post on that as soon as it's finished!  Dominic is here today and spent a good part of the morning on the big project, as well as mowing lawns, but he took a break from chores to join us on a nature walk.  It made it a little special for us having one of the "big kids" along! 

There's number 5 son, Dominic, here, down the lane from our house, Can you see that little white blob back in the trees over his right shoulder?  That's one of our few neighbors -- we think of them as the "cow people," as they're one of the few people in this neck of the woods that raises cattle. Unlike Colorado, where cattle were common, the fertile soil here yields better profit utilized for corn and soy beans than beef.
Anna looking out over the gully-wash of one of the creeks nearby.  It's looking very Octobery, isn't it?
Noting the old cow path here to the right of the permanently-windblown tree.  See how deeply they've worn the soil down?  Likely cows have been taking this way home for a very long time!
Gabe noting that these are not candy corns (Daggonit; it looked for just a minute there....), but, no, they're real corn kernels spilled on the side of the road when the harvesters came through the other day, giving the fields their autumn buzz cut.
Spied along a picturesque stretch of meadow.  Can you see it?  An old wagon wheel and gate down an embankment along a barbed wire fence, with no house in sight and no apparent reason for its being there. We wondered if there were a house here a long time past.  Not a sign of it now, though.
The children with their nature notebooks -- watching as...
... Dominic trespasses into our neighbor's pasture to snitch a hedge apple.
And more hedge apples down the road a piece (this time from roadside outside of a cemetery fence), thus "legally obtained" hedge apples...
Everyone jotting down the very interesting fact that hedge apples do, indeed, float.  (Though I didn't manage to get a picture of Dominic carrying out that experiment in the pond along the way.)

And now.... 

Some information on the tree and its fruit:

The yellowish green fruit are usually referred to as "hedge apples," or "Osage oranges," and the trees, themselves, are known as known as Osage Orange trees "bois d'arc," and bowwood.  For the record, the official, scientific name of the tree is Maclura pomifera, but for simplicity's sake (and because Maclura pomifera is such a mouthful), we'll call it the "Osage-orange."

Osage what?

The Osage-orange, doesn't produce orange fruit (it's bright green) and isn't related to
orange trees, but is a member of the mulberry (Moraceae) family.  It's a  relatively small tree, growing only to 30 to 40 feet, though occasionally as tall as 50 to 60 feet. With its short trunk and full crown, it would be a great little climbing tree -- if it weren't for the 1/2-inch (or longer) stickery spines scattered throughout its twigs. (YOUCH!) The stems exude a milky sap that, when cut, can irritate the skin, as well -- so, seriously;  don't climb these trees!. The Osage-orange is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers are produced on separate trees. The small, green flowers that show up in May or June aren't impressive, though, and might easily be missed in the newly budding leaves. The female trees produce 3- to 5- inch-diameter fruit which ripen in September or October and fall to the ground -- though larger fruits are sometimes found.  (Around here we often find them  8' to 10'  in diameter -- and larger!) 


Native to a small area in eastern Texas, southeastern Oklahoma, and southwestern Arkansas, the tree gets its name from the Osage Indian tribe, also native to this region. I expect the Indians valued the tree because their extremely hardy, heavy, and durable wood made excellent bows.  To this day, the Osage orange tree is prized for this quality among archers, but, the white settlers that moved into the area in the mid eighteenth century found them useful for many other purposes, as well.  Tough and durable,  the Osage orange transplants easily, and tolerates poor soils, extreme heat, and strong winds. It also has no serious insect or disease problems. When pruned into a hedge, the trees provided an impenetrable barrier to livestock.  Early midwestern farmers, settling from Texas and up through Iowa and Nebraska, utilized them as living fences, but with the introduction of barbed wire, they were no longer necessary and many of the original hedges have since been destroyed or died. Fortunately, though, some of the original trees can still be found in sections of fence rows in southern Iowa, and the random Osage orange may be found throughout the midwestern states where they've become naturlized in pastures and ravines.  

Quirky Uses

Interestingly, other than the use of the wood of the Osage orange tree for making bows, furniture, fence posts, and the like, a bright yellow dye can be extracted from the wood (something to remember for natural egg dyes come Easter!)  We've also found that the yellow-green "brains" (the fruit) is useful for repelling spiders, ants, and cockroaches.  Science won't sign on to the fact of this, claiming that the chemicals in hedge apples haven't been proven to repel spiders and any evidence of its successful use as a natural pest deterrent is "anecdotal."  But we can verify the anecdotal evidence, ourselves.  Placed around our porches, around the base of our house, and in windowsills where ants have been a problem, we've definitely noticed a reduction in creepy-crawlies.  Who cares what the scientist say, right? Whatever works, works! 

So, we already use hedge apples at our house to repel insects, and the possibility hangs out there of using the tree sap for dying Easter eggs, and the wood for making bows or fence posts -- but the truth of the matter is that most anyone who comes across hedge apples (our kids, anyway!) really uses them for this:

 ...funky little green soccer balls.

Friday, October 24, 2014

More Photos...

Morning mist
as a blanket lays 
softly difusing  
the light and the shade 
dawn's waking covers  
thrown back by her rising 
while her bed is unmade 

Hugh Manning

(Hard to swallow that Cat Stephens is now a muslim -- God help his soul! -- but this is still a beautiful song!)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Autumn in the Country

Means more to us this year than ever before, this beautiful country autumn, the cool crisp air, the smell of the wood smoke from the chimney, the leaves drifting down.  Less than two months ago, we were living in the middle of suburban Las Vegas, no trees, no yard to speak of -- and no real prospect of moving anywhere else any time soon.  But, look where God has brought us!  He is so good.  And we are so thankful!

We memorize poems regularly as part of our schooling -- partly because it's a good discipline, partly for literature appreciation, but mostly because this musical group of children gets a charge out of the rhythm and meter -- and I love the words.  Here's the autumn poem the children just memorized, from a Catholic 5th grade  Prose and Poetry text book from the 1950s...

Brave Piper October
by Sr. Mary Madeleva

Brave piper, October, what tune do you blow,
That the leaves are bewitched, and wherever you go
They flutter and follow, agleam and aglow?
From oak tree and bramble, from high tree and low,
They come to the sound of the piping they know,
And down from the tall trees of heaven -- Oh Ho!
Come dancing and glancing white leaves of snow.

Hopefully no white leaves of snow for a while yet, though!  We're enjoying the pleasant autumn weather, anticipating raking the leaves and having an autumn leaf bonfire before the snow flies.  Check out the new fluffy leaf shawl our little house is wearing.  Tre chic!

And here's Jack, looking more and more autumn stylish, with the carpet of leaves beneath him and his pumpkin accessories.  We plan to do some pumpkin carving this weekend...  Will maybe actually even post pictures of the results...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

She wouldn't let me take a picture of it...

Not Cathy.  Her rag curls didn't
look anywhere near this elegant...
Cathy, in what must have been a last minute decision to put her hair up in rag curls last night, used a couple pairs of multi-colored socks, instead of "rags," then came down to breakfast this morning with the wild arrangement still on top of her head.

 We all smirked, but Gabe took a long look at her over his oatmeal and observed (in a perfectly executed throw-away line), "Looks like someone didn't get up on the wrong side of the bed, but on the wrong side of the dresser."

Heehee!  Just had to share that.  For posterity.

But, seriously...

I find myself more and more grateful for the quiet times we spend together as a family, slow mornings over the breakfast table, long afternoons working together in the yard, cozy evenings watching movies or reading together.  As our children grow up and move out into lives of their own, I miss how each of them adds their own spin to the atmosphere.  And how those spins tip to the side and interact with all the other spins in constantly changing choreographies.  Nobody can fling a quip quite the way Kevvy (25) does -- though Gabey (9) comes close; nobody can hold a candle to Paul in a debate -- though everyone tries;  and there's no matching the individual sillinesses of Anna vs.  Frater Philip vs. well...  any of the rest of them.  They're all peculiarly peculiar and perfectly wonderful and lovable.  And they all grow up so fast. I can almost feel the air being stirred by time flying by these days.

Not only is my time limited with each of them, but their time together as siblings is so short and precious. They may not know it now, but they're going to feel the loss of one another as time goes by, too.   Cathy doesn't know it now, but the day will come when she misses her little brother's annoying comments.  Gabe will look back some day and long for the chance to tease his big sister. Instead of looking for a peaceful corner away from each other, they'll look for any chance they can just to be together again.   And I'll hold all the memories of them together as they are now -- even bickering like they tend to do -- in my heart forever.  They drive me crazy sometimes, underfoot like they are and chattering constantly -- but I'm going to miss tripping over them, I know.  And I'm really going to miss my daily kid comedy show. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Raspberries! (Pblfff!)

Here are the kids, still in their good clothes from Wed., 11:15
Mass.  It was a spur of the minute decision to stop at the orchard.
(It was a sunny day, too, btw.  Only my phone camera was foggy...)
Right around the corner from our house a most wonderful orchard scales the top and nestles into the folds of a long graceful hill. It's so tucked into the landscape, you wouldn't know it was there, if you didn't know it was there, but it's popular all around these parts as thee go-to spot for autumn harvest.  How cool is that, right? We feel like the luckiest people in the world to have found such a wonderful orchard so close by!  Every kind of apple you can imagine is represented, as well as every kind of pear. I imagine there are peaches and cherries and the like, as well, though we didn't manage to explore to all the corners, so I'm not positive.  But, every row is clearly marked with the variety of fruit, and in a lovely little kitchen garden area, the owners have
Hobbes blowing a
planted all kinds of unusual varieties of herbs and flowers, as well as climbing varieties of gourds and vines of all kinds, growing up tall pole tepees and covered archways and tunnels that the children scramble through in delight.  In the maze of growing things, we found a jungle gym tucked away, as well as a tricycle race track and a tire swing, and throughout the property wound a "discovery trail," with strategically placed signs detailing all sorts of interesting facts about nature and plants.  And the best thing?  It was all free to enjoy!

Except one thing:  the fruit you pick, and it was reasonably priced.

Anna and raspberries. Raspberries and Anna.
When we were there the other day, the apples were just about "played out," but the pumpkins and gourds were at their peak, and the raspberry patch was brimming with berries to pick.  Though the pumpkin patch was very tempting, everyone wanted to wait for Daddy to be with us for something as important as choosing pumpkins!  So that pretty much left us the raspberries.  And raspberries we got!   Eight pounds of them in three gallon buckets, picked by Cathy, Anna, Gabe, William, and me. (not Theresa, as she's in N.C. right now, visiting relatives with Aunt Nina.)

 We'd never gone on a berry picking spree before, but everyone took to it like naturals. Before the middle of the first row, everyone was hunting and picking like a well-trained crew of miners -- thrilling to the find of a "good berry branch" as if we were picking diamonds. Or rubies.  Juicy sweet rubies!  It was all I could do to make sure they weren't all eaten before they made it to the buckets!

Here's what we've turned the raspberries into so far.

Scrumptious!!  Highly recommend the following recipe.  Can also be made without the raspberries.

  • Heavenly Raspberry Mocha Brownies

  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil (we used coconut oil)
  • 1/4 cup coffee low-fat yogurt (doesn't have to be coffee flavored)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • large egg whites, lightly beaten (can also be made with the whole egg, yolk and all)
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 
  • 1/3 cup Dutch process cocoa (we used regular ol' Cocoa)
  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso or 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules 
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray 
  • 3 cups fresh (or frozen) raspberries, divided (can be omitted)


  1. Preheat oven to 375°.
  2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine flour and next 4 ingredients (flour through salt) in a medium bowl, and add flour mixture to sugar mixture, stirring just until moist. Gently stir in 1 cup of fresh raspberries Pour mixture into a 9-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack. Serve with raspberries on top. (And vanilla bean icecream!)

World's Easiest and Most Healthful Raspberry Jam

(We made this as a refrigerator jam, and didn't prepare it for canning)

1.5 cups raspberries
3 Tbs chia seeds
2 tbs honey (or a little more, to taste)
3 Tbs water


Cook raspberries on low for app. 5 minutes, then crush with a fork (or potato masher).
Add chia seeds, honey, and water; stir.
Pour into jar, let cool, add lid, and refrigerate to cool (about an hour).
That's it!

Here's how we did it, though:

12 cups raspberries
1 1/3 chia seeds
1 cup honey

(We eliminated the water because our berries were so juicy, but you'd add app. 1 1/3 cups to follow the recipe exactly)

Then, proceed with the above directions, but have someone stand guard over the cooling jam so that it's not all eaten before it has a chance to cool... This made about 6 1/2 pints.

(DIdn't get a picture of the pretty little jars of jam...  Gave away half of it and ate the rest before I had a chance!  Delicious on toast, on peanut butter sandwiches, and in Quinoa!)

Blowing a raspberrystrawberry or making a Bronx cheer is to make a noise that may signify derision, real or feigned. It may also be used in childhood phonemic play either solely by the child or by adults towards a child to encourage imitation to the delight of both parties. It is made by placing the tongue between the lips and blowing to produce a sound similar to . In the terminology of phonetics, this sound can be described as an unvoiced linguolabial trill [r̼̊]. It is never used in human language phonemically (e.g., to be used as a building block of words), but the sound is widely used across human cultures.
The nomenclature varies by country. In the United States, Bronx cheer is sometimes used; otherwise, in the U.S. and in other English-speaking countries, it is known as a raspberry, rasp, or razz