Teaching My Baby To Read

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Monthly Archives: June 2012

How to Make Jam

If you have never made jam before but have always wondered how, then this post is for you!  Or, if your daughter is currently obsessed with Laura Ingalls Wilder and you want to seem like a hero, then go buy some fruit.

I am blessed with a wonderful mother-in-law who has taught me many things. How to can my own jam is one of them. I thought I would share what she has taught me, in case you want to give it a whirl.

Today at Whole Foods they had a special, one-day blueberry sale where they were selling 12 pints of organic blueberries for $19. That’s a really good deal! So today when Grammy took Jenna(2.5) to the beach, I made my family’s favorite low-sugar jam. My recipe includes:

  • 4 cups berries
  • 3 T low sugar Ball pectin
  • 3 t lemon juice
  • 1 cup apple or white grape juice
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1) First you have to make sure that your kitchen is brand-spanking clean. Use disinfectant and bleach out the sink, just in case. Then wash your canning jars and bands on the absolute hottest setting your dishwasher has to offer. Some people sterilize their jars in boiling water, but Grammy said that the dishwasher will work too.

2) Next prepare your berries. You need 4 cups of fruit, gently mashed. You can’t use a food processor or blender, because this will completely ruin everything, and your jam won’t jell right. With blueberries I usually don’t mash them because my family likes jam a bit chunky.

3) You also need to prepare your work station. Once everything is boiling, you don’t want to have to hunt down sugar. I use brand new canning lids every time, but I reuse jars and bands. I keep the lids in warm water, so they are ready to go.

I have an actual, water bath canner (shown on the left), but you don’t need one of those. An extra-large soup kettle will work too. That’s what I used for my first few years of canning. On the right is a small pasta pot used to make jam. I only cook one batch at a time, because otherwise the pectin jelling process can get screwed up.

4) Bring 4 cups berries, 3 T low sugar pectin, 1 cup juice and your lemon juice (if using) to a boil. Stir constantly.

5) Once you have a rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, add your sugar. Continuing stirring and let boil for one minute. I usually let this boil for two minutes just be safe.

6) Fill your jars up to about 1/2 an inch at the top. Wipe the rims with a clean paper towel. Do you see the “gimpy” jar on the bottom left? That one is not going to be canned. Safety first!

7) Put on the lids and screw on the bands. You might hear some popping sounds, and that’s normal. It’s okay if you don’t hear anything though.

8 ) Put your jars in your kettle and cover with a lid. Let the water heat up until it is boiling.

9) Boil for ten minutes with the lid on. I usually let it go a little bit longer, just to be safe. It is okay to hear the gentle clinking of glass. Canning jars are really strong, and I have never had one break. But if it is sounding totally crazy in there, turn down the heat a little bit. This is called “the water bath method”.

10) Take the lid off and leave the jars in there for about 15 minutes.

11) Take your jars out and put them in a safe place. They need to stay there and rest for at least 24 hours. Once again, you might hear some popping sounds but that’s normal. The heat pulls the seal in and you hear a “pop”.

This type of jam is shelf-stable for up to a year, but be sure to refrigerate after opening. It makes great teacher gifts, especially if you add a gift card with it! 🙂

P.S. More information about home canning can be found here.

Goodbye 1980s Wallpaper

A while back I posted the crazy story of what happened when movers brought my grandma’s antique Ethan Allen china cabinet to my house and punched a doorknob hole through our wall. Since then, things have gone from bad, to worse, to awful, to bliss.

This has involved a crew of four painters, insurance money, our money, and my husband spending a lot of late nights painting into the wee hours, but all of the horrible wallpaper has now been torn off and the walls have been retextured.

You can see our reading nest up there if you look closely.  Everything you see use to have wallpaper on it.

It is still (almost) all Ikea and hand-me-down furniture, so if my kids destroy something that’s okay.

One wall has new Graham and Brown wallpaper, which was a bit of a bold move. It is hard to tell in the picture, but the paper is reflective and changes depending on the light.  Since it is just on one normal height wall, I can replace it myself someday if I get sick of it.

The best part is that we can still push back the furniture and have room for the bouncy house!

I thought I’d share these pictures because while things look calm now, I cannot begin to tell you how stressful this past month has been having a remodeling project go on amidst normal family life. At one point when they put the sealer on the texture, I picked up Bruce from school and said “We are moving to Grammy’s house!” —and we did (at least for the night.)

Luckily for us, the painters the insurance hired (Finelines NW) were absolutely outstanding, even though they were really expensive. It probably wasn’t easy for them to have Bruce(7) ask about a million questions and walk up and down the stairs repeatedly saying “I’m not touching anything!”

When my husband and I first got married we lived in an apartment that was smaller than our living room is now, and our first condo only had 3 windows. I understand what it is like to live in a small space completely, but I still wish sometimes that we could go back! If you are in a place right now where you wish you had more room for your family please take a deep breath and reconsider.  I wish people were more honest about how too much house space can be just as much of a burden as too little.

You don’t need room for a bouncy house in your living room. You don’t need to cobble together a bunch of extra furniture for a family room and a living room. You don’t need to spend the next fifteen years vacuuming a bunch of extra space.

On the other hand, it is nice to have one room in the house that doesn’t have toys in it. We spend a lot of time reading in our living room, playing the piano, doing yoga, building forts, and staring out the window looking at rain. Our dining room table is 40 years old, so if it gets scratched up while Bruce does homework on it, no biggie.

Okay, one last look at the old hideous wallpaper, and then I’m banishing it from my mind forever!

I guess I need to find a new home for my All About Spelling materials.

Wendy Mogel is Rocking My World!

Regular Teaching My Baby to Read readers might remember that I am in the middle of a mommy-ed reading list about how to raise resilient children recommended by Dr. Chris Mc Curry of Seattle. Right now I am finishing off the two books by Dr. Wendy Mogel, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus. Both of these books are written for a Jewish audience, but I promise you that you will still find them valuable even if you aren’t Jewish (I’m not.)

These are the first two parenting books that I have read since Foster Cline and Jim Fay’s Love and Logic series that have really spoken to me. So I can’t just write one blog post about Dr. Mogel, I need to write several. But, I’m not going to post any of these thoughts right now. Instead, I’ll share them with you in a few weeks. That way, if you would like to participate in the conversation you will have time to go to the library and check these books out. The library call numbers are: 296.74 MOGEL.

For myself, I’m going to go ahead and purchase The Blessing of a Skinned Knee to have in my collection.  That’s how much I like it!

Happy (Early) Father’s Day!

My “I Brake for Moms” column this week in The Weekly Herald.

Moving on to All About Spelling Level 1, Step 2!!!

Yeah! Jenna (35m) is ready to move on to All About Spelling Level 1, step 2! (The “y” and “qu” are not checked off yet, but I’m giving that a pass.) Honestly, this would be ten times easier if Jenna was almost 4 instead of almost 3, but it is still very much doable.

It is really hard as a parent not to compare your kids, but when my son Bruce was this age he was already reading simple consonant-vowel-consonant words. Jenna is just not there yet. She can do other things at two and a half that Bruce couldn’t however, like work on complex puzzles and kick her daddy’s behind at the Memory Game.

Jenna has also become a spontaneous rapper and rhymes words all of the time. As a teacher, I know that this means that her phonemic awareness skills are really high for her age. Phonemic awareness is the precursor to learning to read. It includes things like rhyming and being able to say “ball starts with buh”. She is also really strong with all of her upper case, and lower case sounds. All I need to do know is keep doing what I’m doing, and….wait. Ugh! Waiting is the hard part!!!

If I was new at this “teaching kids to read thing”, or if Jenna was my first born and I was on a rampant buying spree, I think I would purchase All About Reading right about now. If it is anything like All About Spelling, then I am sure it is awesome. If you want a program that is going to hold your hand the whole way through teaching your kids how to read, AAR would be it.  If you want a road-map of free things to try, then check out my Where to Start Page.

But I’m not new at teaching kids how to read. I do know what I’m doing. I just need to be patient with my own child. That of course, is easier said than done. 😉

Family Rules Update

Hello blog readers!  For those of you who saw my earlier post contemplating purchasing a Family Rules poster from Petunia Fitzgerald Creations, this email I received tonight has sealed the deal.  If you end up buying one too, please send me a picture of the final product.  🙂

 Hi Jennifer –

I recently saw that you posted an entry on your blog regarding a personalized family rules sign, which featured an item from my shop.  I’m excited that you found my shop on Etsy and that you are considering a purchase.  As a thank you for posting a link to my Etsy shop, I’d like to offer you 10 percent off an order from my shop (excluding shipping) and I’ll also extend the discount to all your readers.  The 10 percent discount can be obtained by using coupon code TEACH10 and will be good through the end of the month.  The discount is good for all items within my shop, as well as any custom orders.  Thank you again for your interest in my work and please contact me if you have any questions about the discount or my work.

Janet Larson-Jones

Petunia Fitzgerald Creations

Family Rules

I could have also titled this post “My husband has not vision when it comes to home decor”.  That’s why I need your help.  🙂

Have you seen those “Family Rules” signs they have been selling at Kohl’s, Target, etc. lately? It turns out that on Etsy there are lots of people who will make custom signs for your house. This is the one I’m thinking of ordering. I was really hoping to create something that my kids would internalize. Not only that, but someday in the future when we have a bunch of teenagers hanging out at our house, I want those kids to see this too.

This is what I’ve come up with, with a little bit of help from Bruce(7). Critiques? Suggestions?


  • Say what you think in a nice way
  • Get the wiggles out
  • Clean up after yourself
  • Think BIG
  • Dream BIGGER
  • Knock before entering
  • use PLEASE and THANK YOU
  • EAT real food
  • EAT a snack before you go nuts
  • Keep Your Body Clean
  • Do your work before you play
  • Remember that screen-time is earned
  • BE KIND to other people
  • BE KIND to yourself
  • Remember that happiness is a choice

Inspired by Stanford’s SLE Program: A Reading List for Children Part 3


(Please also note that this post has no official affiliation in any way shape or form with Stanford University. I am however, a Stanford and SLE alumna.)

In college I spent my first year at Stanford in the Structured Liberal Education program, which is perhaps the most rigorous curriculum in Classical Education a freshman can take. At 9 units a quarter, SLE is a year-long course where students immerse themselves in literature, philosophy, art, and the humanities. Ninety freshmen live in the same residence hall, eat dinner three times a week with their professors, write a ten page paper a week, and have a private SLE writing tutor to critique their work. There is even a resident SLE tutor to assist in the evening hours. At Stanford, “SLEeezers” are nerds among nerds!

This is the “SLE Inspired” reading list I’ve created for Bruce (age 7) that is inspired by the Spring syllabus from my freshman year in SLE. You’ll notice that the major themes of this reading list include Modernism and Post-Modernism. Traditional theories being challenged and new ideas being discovered are really powerful things for kids to think about, so I’m really excited to read these books with Bruce (and my daughter Jenna too someday).

Unlike my previous two Inspired by SLE reading lists, I am not using Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World as our history spine this time. That’s because Story of the World 4 is not really appropriate for seven year olds, by the author’s own admission. I know this because we own the complete series of CDs and Jim Weiss reads off a really stern warning to parents not to let kids younger than third grade listen to the fourth book. I think this is because some of the subject matter, like the Holocaust, is really scary. So instead, the non-fiction history text I’m using as our spine this time is The Last 500 Years.

Speaking of scary things, I really struggled with how to include some deeper topics that the real SLE students discuss, in a way that is developmentally appropriate for children. One of the big questions I had is when/how to teach children about the Holocaust? Bruce already knows a little bit about the Holocaust because I’ve told him about his Great-Grandpa in the 741st Tank Battalion who helped liberate Flossenburg Concentration Camp. I want Bruce to learn more, without giving him nightmares. After thinking about this for a long time and looking at a lot of books, I chose reading Who Was Anne Franka as a respectful way to start.

Finding a safe book that talks about Sigmund Freud however, was impossible. Every book I saw that was supposedly for kids, mentioned some really adult subject matter. Maybe they were okay for 13 year olds, but not second graders. This is really a shame because one of my learning goals for this list is to teach kids that they can “think about thinking”. If you have any ideas for books that would accomplish this, please let me know!

I plan to read the books one by one with Bruce at bedtime, so that we can thoroughly discuss them over the next six to nine months. In the future, I will review each book separately, so that I can share my thoughts on whether or not it is worthwhile checking out for your little one too. Some of these books I have purchased, and some we will check out from the library. I am also including a few movies, because every Thursday evening in SLE we watched a movie that was inspired by our reading from the week.

Learning Goals for Children:

  • Just because something is, doesn’t mean it has to be that way.
  • The world is rapidly changing; sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.
  • Humans have certain rights that other people should not be allowed to take away.
  • You can think about thinking.
  • You can be your own hero.

Texts for Children:

The Actual 2012 SLE Booklist for Stanford Students:

  • Wretched of the Earth, by Franitz Fanone
  • The Waste Land, by T.S. Eliot
  • To the Lighthouse, by Virginia Woolf
  • Survival in Auschwitz, by Primo Levi
  • Pere Goriot, by Honore de Balzac
  • On Liberty, by J.S. Mill
  • On Genealogy of Morals etc., by Nietzche
  • Marx-Engels Reader, by Tucker
  • Freud Reader, by Gay
  • Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  • Essential Works of Lenin
  • Eichmann in Jerusalem, by Arendt
  • Caucasian Chalk Circle, by Brecht
  • Metamorphosis etc., by Franz Kafka Edition

Balzac for Kids

Today there was a small package for me in the mail from France. When I saw the word “Euro” on the paper I started to get really excited. Who did I know in Europe that was sending me a present? It turns out that it was my own idiocy mailing me a surprise.

In my planning for my Reading List Inspired By SLE Part 3 I had tried to order and “easy reader” version of Balzac’s Pere Goriot. What I had unintentionally ordered was in fact, written in French! This is really disappointing because it means that there is no kiddie version of Balzac currently available for children in English.

I really don’t understand this at all, because Old Goriot is the perfect text for modern times. It’s about and older man living a comfortable life in retirement until he gives away so much of his pension to his grown daughters that he ends up impoverished. I bet every person reading this post knows of at least one baby-boomer family that this is happening to.

So if I can’t find an authentic kiddie version of Balzac to read to my kids, then I need to think of another book that expresses the same message. The first title that comes to mind is Shel Silverstein’s classic The Giving Tree. My grandma already owns this, so the next time we visit her at Merrill Gardens I’ll ask to borrow it.

Another central message in Le Pere Goriot is the fickleness of fashion. Many of the main characters in the book waste a ton of money on clothes, because this is how society judges them. So I need to find a book for kids that expresses how hard (and morally corrupt) it is to be judged on your wardrobe instead of your character. Any suggestions?

P.S.  Does anyone want a book in French?  It could be my blog’s first give-away.  🙂

Please Lord, help me at dinner!

Right now I’m reading Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, which is excellent. In addition to a bunch of other sage advice, she talks about the importance of having a nice family dinner at least once a week. Since she is writing a book of Jewish wisdom for parents, Dr. Mogel is talking about Shabbat. My own family is soooooooo far from lighting candles, saying blessings, and baking homemade bread that I can hardly tell you. 

Just getting my family to eat together at a regular dinner is a challenge for me. Like most families these days we are super busy. My kids are hungry at 4:30, my husband gets home from work around 6:30, and oh yeah, I have a major gluten sensitivity. That’s why I was excited to see on Simple Mom a link to a website called Natural Health at Home’s Whole Food Meal Plans. I haven’t spent any money yet, but I have downloaded the free trial week.

The weekly plan has five dinners, a weekend project, and two snacks built in. There is also a detailed shopping list that annotates which items you can purchase at Trader Joes. The other “weirder” ingredients like coconut flour can be ordered online or bought at P.C.C. or Whole Foods.

I did a major grocery shopping trip today which included all of the ingredients, plus stuff like shampoo, vitamins, watermelon and gum. My total cost was $190 for everything. Your total price could be a lot cheaper if you didn’t buy organic. Natural Health at Home also has an alternate Gluten Free/Dairy Free menu, so that could definitely be worth checking out if you are on a GF/CF diet.

Jenna helped me make the chocolate chip cookies this afternoon and I was pretty nervous because the batter looked bizarre.

The cookies themselves looked even stranger, but yowzer! They are so yummy! This recipe’s a keeper.

Twenty-five minutes before our dinner of Copper River salmon, sautéed greens and quinoa hit the table, I was sound asleep on the couch while my kids jumped on me and watched Martha Speaks. (Day 1 was supposed to be rice, but I messed up.) It was all delicious, but as you might imagine my children mainly ate the blueberries and chocolate milk. That’s par for the course around here.

Tomorrow night we have soup and zucchini muffins on the menu. Sunday night, it’s a traditional roasted chicken dinner. Maybe we will even get out a table cloth and light a few candles.   I’m Methodist and not Jewish Dr. Mogel, but I’m trying.  🙂

Jenna, “working on her blog”

Bargain Hunters

My latest “I Brake for Moms” column.

Be Careful Where You Get Your Advice

For those of you who are new to thinking about offering your child some semblance of a Classical Education either through Homeschooling or Afterschooling please beware. In my opinion your best guidebook will be The Well Trained Mind by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer.

There is also another famous (or infamous) author out there named Doug Wilson promoting what he calls a Classical Christian Education. (The end of this post will include my review of Mr. Wilson’s latest book, Father Hunger which I received a complimentary copy of from Booksneeze in exchange for my honest opinions and review.)

I knew enough about Doug Wilson before I ever read Father Hunger to know that his name was a loaded term. So I called up my cousin Daniel who is studying at an Evangelical Seminary to give me an education. Daniel helped fill me in on the controversial things that Doug Wilson is involved in like the Federal Vision, which (in my mind) seems to be a completely unnecessary “how many angels can dance on a pin” way of seeing if you are a good enough Christian. As a United Methodist, I believe that is a relationship defined by God and the Bible, not Doug Wilson.

I filled my cousin Daniel in on the truly shocking things I already knew about Doug Wilson, namely his co-authorship of the notorious Paleo-Confederate pamphlet Southern Slavery as It Was, which many leading experts in history and religion view to be racist, revisionist, and possibly plagiarized. In Southern Slavery as it Wasn’t Sean M. Quinlan, Ph.D. and William L. Ramsey, Ph.D. soundly denounce the pamphlet calling it “a short “monograph” of thirty-nine pages that defends racial slavery and claims its abolition is the primary cause of “abortion, feminism, and sodomy.”” Reverend Jack Davidson of North Carolina has also written an excellent essay called Wrong About the History of Southern Slavery: A Response to Steve Wilkins and Douglas Wilson’s History of Slavery.

From Doug Wilson’s blog, I also knew that he has really (in my mind) bizarre views on women. He thinks it is okay for girls to learn to play basketball for example, as long as they don’t play with boys and that they are taught to play in a lady-like manner. Then there is the issue of gay rights, which is so contentious in churches today (Methodists included.) In an April/2009 interview in Christianity Today, Doug Wilson refused to say that stoning people to death for homosexuality was a bad idea.

Father Hunger, Why God Calls Men to Love and Lead their Families is full of other types of (in my opinion) misinterpretations of Biblical truths and twisted Ayn Rand nonsense. Wilson claims that a free market economic system would be guided by the Holy Spirit (p 96). He suggests suggesting that Autism is caused by mothers putting their children in daycare (p112). He spends two pages saying that feminists really harbor rape fantasies (pp 141-142). He also calls the Civil War the “War Between the States” (p 94), and not in a cute or ironic way, either.

If you can stomach all of that garbage, then you also have to listen to him basically say that if you put your children in public school then you aren’t really a good Christian (70-71). In fact, Wilson seems to think that many Christian private schools aren’t good enough either. This might be an appropriate time to point out that Wilson is a contributing author to Veritas Press, the same homeschooling company that sent out a Christmas video in 2011 featuring a gun. It is also an education catalogue that offers almost no books for children featuring people of color.

What bothers me is this. You might be a devoted, Christian parent who walks into a Bible bookstore and picks up one of Doug Wilson’s books thinking “I want to do right by my child,” or “I want to give my child a first-class education.” You might stumble across the Veritas Press catalogue like I once did, and think “Hmmm… This looks interesting.” Before you know it, your head and your children’s minds could be filled up with some really twisted stuff.

What really bothers me is that more people of faith and education aren’t speaking up against Mr. Wilson. I’m a Christian, I’m an educator, I have a Classical Education, and I think it is a crime that we are allowing somebody like Doug Wilson to speak on behalf of the Classical Christian Education movement. Our children deserve better.

Reflections on my “Inspired by SLE Reading List Part 2”

It’s been over six months, but the end is in sight on my SLE Inspired Reading List Part 2. When we started this journey back in November, Bruce was 6 and a half, and my daughter Jenna was still in a crib. It was easy to find time each night to snuggle up with Bruce and introduce him to some of the biggest ideas in the world. Together we learned to say “Moooz-lim” instead of “Muz-lim”, we read about the courage of Cabeza de Vaca, we were inspired by Rumi, and we contemplated the code of Dinotopia. Now Bruce is 7, Jenna is in a big-girl bed, and bedtime routines have shifted.

Add to this the honest but horrible conversation Bruce had with me a month ago “Mom, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but reading books with your mom is something you grow out of, like babies grow out of using bottles.” Go ahead and stab me in the heart why don’t you! Isn’t seven too young for a talk like that with your mommy?

The root cause is that Bruce is such a quick reader that when I read aloud to him it is way too slow. This is all my own doing, because if he was a typical first grade reader we would still be snuggled up reading Mary Pope Osborne together. Instead, I am banished to reading Clifford Visits the Hospital for the umpteen millionth time with Jenna at bedtime.

So now we are at the last book from this reading list, the Candlewick Illustrated Classic version of Don Quixote by Cervantes, adapted for children by Martin Jenkins and illustrated by Chris Riddell.  I would love to say that Bruce and I are reading Don Quixote together, but the truth is that he is reading it by himself…usually in the bathroom. I don’t know what that means and am trying not to think about it.

I guess now would be a good idea to remind myself of my learning goals for this reading list, because it seems like we have reached them:

Learning Goals for Children

  • We are all capable of thinking our own thoughts and forming our own ideas. We do not need to be slaves to the thinking of others.
  • We are responsible for our own actions, and are accountable for our actions to our own conscious, our families, and our community. Many people in the world believe we are also accountable to God.

P.S. The two books Bruce and I read about Martin Luther did not mention him having his great insight while sitting on the toilet. But remembering that bit of history makes ending this learning journey with my son reading Cervantes in the bathroom all the more fitting. 🙂

Early June in the Garden

One of the great things about living in the Pacific Northwest is the rain. That may sound nuts, but it’s true. I’ve done diddly-squat to my garden this past month except try to keep Jenna from destroying it. It just grows on its own. Click here to see pictures from just two weeks ago, and you can see the crazy difference.

One of the things that the native Californians in our family love (myself and Bruce), is artichokes. Jenna and my husband will just barely tolerate them. Artichokes are perennials, which makes them really easy to grow because you never have to replant them. Where we live, artichokes sell for $2 a pop at the store. It’s like we’re growing money! The only problem with them is that you have to soak them for 15 minutes in water before you cook them, otherwise there will be bugs.

Of course, the bad thing about gardening in the Pacific Northwest is the tomato problem. I’m almost embarrassed to post this picture because my tomatoes are so dinky. These are actually normal tomatoes for up here, unless you buy red plastic tents or have a greenhouse. If I’m very lucky, we might get some tomatoes in late September or early October. Growing something like eggplants is just an exotic dream for my yard, since we get so little sun.