Friday, March 24, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Five


Why did I choose the photograph of the afghan and the chair for this series of posts?

Both of those objects represent our family habit of giving things a longer-than-expected life, even when we didn't intend to. I crocheted the afghan as a gift for my parents in 1987. When my mother passed away nine years ago, my dad returned the afghan to me, and it has been in our living room ever since. The chair is quite old. It was scrounged from my parents' basement, also about thirty years ago; it spent some time in off-campus university housing, may have gone back to the basement for awhile, but wound up here again. It is not the most comfortable chair in the world, unless you sit on a cushion; and the arms are a bit wobbly; but it does have character.

Last week Mr. Fixit and I were sitting downstairs in the 1960's panelled rec room (which was our main homeschooling space until two years ago); and we were talking about where the things in the room came from. I said "bookshelves, we bought those over a few years as our book collection grew; the chair and loveseat, we bought those new; the computer table was the kitchen table from your pre-marriage apartment, and we found it at a yard sale; the coffee table was here in the house when we moved in; the T.V. stand was an antique bought from a friend; the T.V. came from someone we knew who was getting rid of one," and so on. It's about the same as the rest of the house, a conglomeration. Some things we chose. Some things chose us.

And that is what I wanted to finish up the week by saying: that one secret of more contented living is just accepting and being comfortable with the things you have. Adding a cushion, so to speak. Re-heeling your boots twice if you need to (54 seconds into the video). Making the best of them. Making them yours.

From the archives: Exploding with creative energy

First posted April 2005

The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room has been troubled by something on another blog that wonders how those who support conservative politics can also happily mingle with poetry (and, to extend the thought, with intelligence).

At the risk of boring with yet another quote from Northrop Frye, I'd like to offer this, from the very same page of The Bush Garden where I found the quote about weasel words.

"[Poet Irving Layton] speaks of 'the holy trinity Of sex revolution and poetry', and each of these is conceived as an explosion of creative energy against the inhibitions of prudery, exploitation, and philistinism respectively; a trinity more or less incarnate in Freud, Marx, and Whitman." ("Letters in Canada," 1953)
(Again on Layton, 1954)"....the ironic eye does not have free play; it is oppressed by a conscience-driven and resentful mind which sees modern society as a rock pile and the poet as under sentence of hard labour."
It might help to remember what was going on with a lot of poetry during the 1950's when Frye wrote these reviews of Layton: there were a lot of Angry Young People doing the coffeehouse thing, Ginsberg and Kerouac and all that. But I think the basic thought hasn't changed so much in 50 years. Some people still think that to be into the third part of the "trinity," you have to be into the first two as well. I think that's why some of the people in Mama Squirrel's creative writing classes were so weird, or really wanted everyone to know they were weird, or just pretended they were weird, because it kind of went with the turf. Anger poetry was good, exploding against things was good (even if it wasn't good poetry, it was Saying Something, right?). So do poets, or those who read poetry, have to have a rock pile to pound at? Was Whitman as revolutionary as Freud and Marx? Is that why Mama Squirrel doesn't like Whitman much?

And can Christians still manage to have an intelligent discussion about something like this without being called pseudo-intellectuals? Francis Schaeffer thought so, and so did C.S. Lewis.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Four


A piece of fortune-cookie make-it-your-own wisdom:
You are not everything. You cannot be everything or do everything or want everything or have everything. It is madness to even think about trying.

The most interesting thing I read this week (besides Connie Willis's Doomsday Book) was a series of blogposts about decorating and home styles for the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types. These were not about whether extroverts like bright colours, or traditionalists like French Provincial. The focus was on pulling out the very particular strengths and needs of each type, and incorporating those into the creation of a living space. Those who thrive on systems and organization are great at planning traffic flow and labelling pantry jars. Those who love a meeting-of-minds will enjoy having a comfortable space for it. The TLC people need a fully-stocked guest room. According to the author of these posts, one temperament in particular wants home to be a welcoming but secure place, so it makes perfect sense for them to pay special attention to doors. Some of our home-creating may help us find balance; for instance, painting soft colours in a relaxing space for those who spend stressful workdays analyzing things. However, one of the posts warns that...and this is the important thing...when you go too far into "I should be more (you fill in the blank), or more like (my sister, my best friend, my favourite blogger)," you are setting yourself up for trouble.

Even if you don't know anything about Myers-Briggs, this is very sensible advice. It also explains why so many people get so overwhelmed with sites like Pinterest. Or why a certain type of clothing advice works great for some people (you love numbered charts and planning a wardrobe for the next three months) and not for others (it's all about the mood you happen to be in today). It even explains why homeschoolers espousing the same principles and philosophy of education can do things so differently: focusing on their planning binder, or on creating a great learning space, or making sure there are lots of field trips, or cataloguing their books. It's like people who prefer maps to written directions, or those who cook from instinct vs. those who follow recipes faultlessly. The lie that our overloaded consumer minds believe is that we have to not only taste everything on the menu, but then reproduce it ourselves, like art forgers who copy every style without finding their own.

And where this meets "minimalism" or "conscious consumerism" or "intentional lifestyle" is just that simple. Know what you and your co-habitants need and want and love. Let the rest go.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Three (Updated)

Let's focus on clothing today. And since I've been quoting Charlotte Mason, what did she have to say about that?

Quite a bit, really. Since she lived from the 1840's to the 1920's, her experience of clothes and shopping went from the era of "I just go to Mrs. O'Grady and tell her what I want" through most of the changes in the Mr. Selfridge era, such as the introduction of ready-to-wear. But her advice, written from the 1880's through her old age, remained much the same:  Dress more-or-less appropriately for your lifestyle, in a way that you can afford (if you're wealthy, support the local shoemaker by buying higher-end shoes). Shop with specific needs in mind. Don't run around too much looking for bargains. And don't be anybody's nightmare customer.

We might also mention some of the principles from Part One.

* promoting community and relationships between people, including a local economy and traditions such as skills and handicrafts
* living orderly lives with integrity, or what Charlotte Mason called "straight living and serviceableness"
* living with contentment, trusting God for our needs
* not being like the Bible's "fat cows of Bashan," rich people who were impervious to the suffering of others
* working for both justice and mercy
* valuing creativity (however we might define that)
* caring for creation (Did you know this is World Water Day?)
* caring for weak and marginalized people ("no matter how small"), since they are individuals created in God's image


So I read all this as: we don't want our clothes to be a disorganized mess. Selfishness is bad. Using our brains is good. We don't want to promote bad agricultural practices, and we definitely don't want to support business practices that treat people badly, especially because if we believe in "a liberal education for all," that includes people who work in factories in other countries. We do want to support small businesses that add to a local economy. We don't want to get anxious about having nothing to wear, since we were told to consider the lilies of the field. Agreed so far?

To be blunt, if we say we believe in all or most of those things, we have no business buying cheap jewelry likely assembled by children (not to mention the ecological impact of the materials used). We may also have no business buying expensive jewelry made with stones that were mined at the cost of people's lives or health. If we say we live by such and such a principle, then we need to do it. We especially need to model those choices for those (such as our children) who are watching to see how much what we do mirrors what we say.

But  those principles certainly do cut down our "choices." 

And sometimes one value runs up against others. I recently ordered a skirt, something I had thought about for quite awhile from a company that specializes in sustainable, high-quality products. All good, except that when I tried the skirt on, it clung in all the wrong places. A tall twenty-something model can get away with more than a height-challenged, married-and-modest middle-ager. (Never say I'm not absolutely transparent here.) The skirt went back, lesson learned. 

My default shopping arena, as Treehouse readers know, is our local Mennonite Central Committee thrift store. When I shop there, I'm supporting MCC's worldwide projects. I'm giving clothes a second chance. I'm stretching our somewhat tight household budget. I'm practicing creative thinking when I look at how something could be shortened, or changed a bit.

The challenge with thrifting is the principle of shopping based on specific needs. Charlotte Mason may have visited her dressmaker with "one dress, black silk" firmly in mind, but in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of thrift stores, the three P's are patience, persistence, and Providence. Making thrift stores a part of saner shopping isn't about looking for a J. Crew haul. It's still important to shop with a basic plan, an awareness of your clothing needs (or your children's), even if you head right for the dollar rack. On one trip, you might look mostly for neutral basics, and you will probably find lots of them: dark pants, white shirts, whatever. Next time, you could look for the absolutely individual, thriftshoppy, fun stuff to mix with the neutrals. (The Vivienne Files website has been doing a series of posts about how a plain, basic wardrobe becomes much more individual with the addition of colours and accessories. Or even with more neutrals, if that's your thing, but still saved from boredom.)

You may have to bridge some colour or function gaps for awhile, and that's okay. I still haven't found a plain skirt I like to replace the one that went back; but I do have some dresses, so it's all good.

I am posting this as is, slightly unfinished, because (strangely enough) we are headed to the thrift store. I will let you know later if I find anything interesting.

UPDATE: Well, that turned out to be slightly more "interesting" than we anticipated.

While I was looking at the dollar-rack clothes, Mr. Fixit was doing his usual scan for electronics and whatnot. A man was looking at an eight-dollar cassette deck, the sort of thing my husband likes. He put it back on the shelf and walked away, so Mr. Fixit picked it up and started heading for the front. The man came back and started yelling that he was just going to get a cassette to try in the machine, and that M.F. was stealing his cassette deck, all in some not-very-nice language. M.F. was a bit startled by this, but he just said to the man, "Okay, it's not worth having a heart attack over a cassette deck, take it if you want it." Which he did. One of the managers heard what happened, and she apologized to Mr. Fixit for the other customer's rudeness. But, just...people are really strange when it comes to "stuff," aren't they? (Maybe we should call that one "Take It Your Own.")

As for my own shopping: I tried on a blue sweater from a Nice American Catalogue Company (I don't see those often), but it was hopelessly big; and a jacket which was labelled my size but was somehow too tight around the arms. There were no shoes that fit, except for a pair of short boots that I liked but that showed too much wear on the heels (although the uppers looked fine). No skirts even worth trying on. I did bring home one lightweight acrylic sweater, good for spring, half price for $2.50. It's green, not blue (my camera is somewhat colourblind). I didn't go in looking for a green sweater, but it's a colour and style I like, and it will go with other things I have. 
Including my favourite thrifted scarf.
So there you go.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Two



How much do we own? And how much do we own what we own? Or does it own us?

How much do we want? How many of our desires have slipped in unquestioned, to use a Charlotte Mason image, by an unguarded back gate; and have calmly made themselves at home in our minds? How many of our first-world, twenty-first-century expectations? It's only when we run into the parameter-jostling exceptions and renegades that we notice them.  For instance, a family of four living, happily and tidily, in a one-bedroom city apartment. Which isn't to say that it would suit every family (ours, for instance, where a workshop has always been essential); but it reminds you that it can be done. That children can thrive without owning mounds of toys, and that an eating space a few feet from the bed was once pretty common. (Think Little House in the Big Woods.)

Here's a game. Pick something that takes up a lot of space, or that you've had since college, or that someone gave you and you're keeping out of obligation, or because you have been told that everyone has to have one. Finish the sentence: "What if we/I didn't have to have an X?" Did you feel a weight lift off your shoulders? Sometimes you can't immediately get rid of your X, because it's holding up the Y or it really belongs to Z. But just allowing that different idea, taking the mental step towards life-without-it, that's the point.
There's another possible reaction you might have had, though: feeling that while you personally could get along without X, you worry about what others might say. At best, critical remarks. At worst, someone helpfully calling social services on you. (Children need their own rooms, and a queensize bed in the living room is weird.) It could happen. Anything you do out of the mainstream does mean you risk being misunderstood. Just ask Amy Dacyczyn.

But you could also end up being a trailblazer. Occasionally, not too often, I run into a friend who says, "Oh, you're wearing that sweater. I saw your post about finding it at the thrift store." Gulp, somebody actually reads the blog. I also had a couple of people I've met say thank you for old posts about teaching math with scrounged supplies. Who knew? Someone shares an idea, someone passes it on, and it helps us to think differently, frees us from preconceptions, maybe inspires another idea.

Yesterday I linked to Alden Wicker's article criticizing "conscious consumerism." Two other Quartz articles by different authoĊ•s were linked at the end. One was about going two hundred days without buying anything new (used goods were allowed, so that wasn't too exciting). The other was about setting a personal $150 minimum price for clothing, because, at that cost, the purchaser would have to consider each item more carefully. Neither of those projects lined up completely with each other, or with Wicker's perspective of "save the time and money you're spending on 'green' stuff, spend it lobbying the government."  If they're so contradictory, are they worth reading? How do they fit into the principles that steer your life?
The article on the cost of clothing is a reminder that cheap clothing does not really come cheap, and that anything we buy, expensive or thrifted, should serve a definite function. The "nothing new" article is a reminder that the world is full of existing things we can re-use and upcycle, if we think creatively. Maybe some of them are things we already own. If most of the world's clothing factories stopped producing goods, so that shirts and pants were prohibitively expensive or just no longer in the stores, what would we do? Maybe even the spendthrifts would have to start mending jeans and turning things inside out. Bales of surplus clothing headed for the shredder might suddenly become valuable property.

And Alden Wicker's article makes the point that feel-good fixes don't change hard facts. We should do what we can to help victims of a broken system; but the big, longterm changes have to happen at the top levels of organizations and governments. Change does happen if enough people care.

Part Three: a more practical side of (thrifted) acquisition

Monday, March 20, 2017

Cleaning Closets with Polly and Fanny

“Actually I have nothing to wear,” began Fan impressively; “I’ve been too busy to think or care till now, but here it is nearly May and I have hardly a decent rag to my back. Usually, you know, I just go to Mrs. O’Grady and tell her what I want; she makes my spring wardrobe, Papa pays the bill, and there I am. Now I’ve looked into the matter, and I declare to you, Polly, I’m frightened to see how much it costs to dress me.” ~~ An Old-Fashioned Girl, 1869
In Louisa May Alcott's novel An Old-Fashioned Girl, Polly's friend Fanny Shaw runs into serious family financial trouble, and so she asks her frugal friend for some clothes-on-a-zero-budget help.  (Longtime Treehouse readers might remember a similar chapter from Mary at the Farm.) Here is Polly's 1860's advice on using what you have.

1. Upcycling and combining, decades before Pinterest
“Now, to me your’rubbish’ looks very encouraging, because there is good material there, and not much worn-out finery, that’s my detestation, for you can’t do anything with it. Let me see, five bonnets. Put the winter ones away till autumn, rip up the summer ones, and out of three old ones we’ll get a pretty new one, if my eyes don’t deceive me.”
“I’ll rip, and then do let me see you make a bonnet, it must be so interesting,” said Maud, whipping out her scissors and eagerly beginning to reduce a shabby little bonnet to its original elements. 

2. Looking at things upside down and inside out
“Will you have the goodness to look at this?” said Fan, holding up a gray street suit faded past cure.
Polly whisked it wrong side out, and showing the clean, bright fabric, said, with a triumphant wave, “Behold your new suit; fresh trimming and less of it will finish you off as smart as ever.”

3. Taking care of what you have
“There are two; then that piqu, is all right, if you cut the tail off the jacket and change the trimming a bit. The muslins only need mending and doing up to look as well as ever; you ought not to put them away torn and soiled, my child.”

4. Saying goodbye to what can't possibly be fixed
Can’t I do anything with this barege? It’s one of my favorite dresses, and I hate to give it up.”
“You wore that thoroughly out, and it’s only fit for the rag-bag. Yes, it was very pretty and becoming, I remember, but its day is over.” 

5. Selling what you can on consignment, or swapping with friends
“If I had lots of things like Fan, I’d have an auction and get all I could for them. Why don’t you?” asked Maud, beginning on her third bonnet.
“We will,” said Polly, and mounting a chair, she put up, bid in, and knocked down Fan’s entire wardrobe to an imaginary group of friends, with such droll imitations of each one that the room rang with laughter.

6. Stockpiling a few useful things made of good fabric (or that have good parts)
“These white muslins and pretty silks will keep for years, so I should lay them by till they are needed. It will save buying, and you can go to your stock any time and make over what you want. That’s the way Mother does; we’ve always had things sent us from richer friends, and whatever wasn’t proper for us to wear at the time, Mother put away to be used when we needed it.”

The final word:
 Such things are great fun when you get used to them; besides, contriving sharpens your wits, and makes you feel as if you had more hands than most people.”

Make It Your Own (Part One of Five)


Is "conscious consumerism" a lie?
"When I was a child, my mother said to me,
"Clean the plate, because children are starving in Europe..."
So I would clean the plate, four, five, six times a day.
Because somehow I felt that that would keep the children from starving
in Europe.
But I was wrong. They kept starving. And I got fat." ~~ Allan Sherman
Consider Chrissy Teigen's $7,1000 pajamas.

When the world's consumption (and fascination with others' consumption) comes that far, the question of whether I should feel guilty over buying a non-sustainable bath mat at Walmart seems to be a moot point. But since I'm not Chrissy Teigen, and we all have our own rows to hoe, I do think there is a need for personal accountability. It's not just about government policy and corporate bad guys; I want to believe that individual choices do matter.

What are the important principles in our lives? What are the reasons that keep us going? Some possibilities:

* promoting community and relationships between people, including a local economy and traditions such as skills and handicrafts
* creating and maintaining living spaces that are respectful of the humans and other creatures who live there (for example, fighting a new highway that cuts a community in half)
* living orderly lives with integrity, or what Charlotte Mason called "straight living and serviceableness"
* living with contentment, trusting God for our needs
* not being like the Bible's "fat cows of Bashan," rich people who were impervious to the suffering of others
* communicating the hope that we have
* working for both justice and mercy
* valuing creativity (however we might define that)
* caring for creation
* strengthening and supporting families, in whatever areas we have influence: education, worship, leisure, business, medical care
* having "a single eye" (a Christian term akin to the currently popular "mindfulness")
* caring for weak and marginalized people ("no matter how small"), since they are individuals created in God's image

Charlotte Mason understood a lot about the disconnect between our "appetites" and the genuine desires that are based on principles such as those listed above. She said that the willful person (not the person acting with Will) was at the mercy of his appetites and his chance desires (Ourselves, Book II, pages 137-138). Will, for Charlotte Mason, was a good thing. "[Will] "implies impersonal aims...[it means] the power to project himself beyond himself and shape his life upon a purpose." For those who are willful, on the other hand, "life...is a series of casualties." But we are not to confuse the deliberate, disciplined force of Will with virtue: "it is possible to have a constant will with unworthy and even evil ends," or to get to a worthy goal by unworthy means.

We don't want to live our life as a series of casualties, meaning avoidable mishaps and disasters, or, at best, letting the stuff happen that just happens. Betty Crocker used to have an advertising slogan, "Bake Someone Happy." That's a purpose, a worthy goal. A cake mix and canned frosting may not be the best way to get there, but you never know.

We want to project "ourselves beyond ourselves." It's not all about us. We want to master our appetites, not have them master us. This doesn't refer only to food, but to all the good things we naturally desire. We want the discernment that says "enough."

We want to, somehow, get to those good places by worthy means. Whatever that means.

And what does that have to do with thousand-dollar pajamas and cheap bathmats?

Recently we watched an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, where (long story arc made short) there's an ongoing battle to find a bunch of aliens called the Xindi, who are developing a weapon to destroy the Earth. The crew of the Enterprise are being helped by another team of military experts, and their leader develops a rivalry with the Enterprise head of weapons, Lieutenant Reed. Near the end of the episode, the two men go overboard during a training exercise and decide to show each other who's boss. The next scene shows the two of them standing, covered with bruises, in front of the captain, who chews them out for being so egotistical and thoughtless as to risk each other's well-being in the midst of this campaign to find and destroy the Xindi weapon. 

Let's not beat each other up over minimalism. There's too much at stake.

In the next few posts, I will try to look more closely at how we can "own what we do" and make the most of what we own. Part Two is here. Part Three is here. Part Four is here.  Part Five is here.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

From the archives: Gladys Hunt gives one reason for reading

First posted January 2006

"Books are wonderful ways to learn the possibilities of being human. We can define character traits with words, but they take shape only when you see what they look like in a person. How can we understand honor or valor or courage unless we have sometimes seen these traits in someone's life? Good literature may so move the reader that is seems impossible to verbalize about it. The experience is what counts.... 

"This is why an evil character in a story may reveal the real nature of evil more clearly than a sermon on sin. Reading stories is also a vicarious way to see how goodness and humility and honesty and beauty play out in life. Literature does instruct us, even thought it may not be our main reason for reading. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote in Jesus Rediscovered that books like Resurrection or The Brothers Karamazov gave him an overpowering sense of how uniquely marvelous a Christian way of looking at life is, and a passionate desire to share it. Good books have a way of instructing the heart."

~~ Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman's Heart

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

From the archives: Life of a Primrose (natural history lessons)

First posted March 2013. Other lessons in this series are here. 

A natural history lesson: Primrose Seeds

Book studied:  "The Life of a Primrose," in The Fairy-Land of Science, by Arabella B. Buckley.  First part of the chapter only for today.

Have you ever seen any primroses? What do you think they look like? In England, they are one of the first wildflowers to come up in spring, in March when we still have snow on the ground here. They are not roses; they are in a family called the primulas, which also includes cowslips and pimpernels. Their name comes from the Italian words for “first thing.” The best-known English primroses have pale yellow flowers, with five heart-shaped petals and bright yellow-orange centres.  (Sometimes they are other colours.) They have been a very popular decoration on things like teacups.  Look at these photos and see if you can pick out the primroses. (An image search for "primroses embroidered" also brought up some great photos of all kinds of primroses--cookies, crocheted, stitched, and real.)

(Photo of Primula vulgaris found here)

We don’t have the same species of primroses in Canada, although we do have a bluish-purple wildflower in the same family called the Dwarf Canadian Primrose or Lake Mistassini Primrose. There is a really interesting story about how Louis the Sixteenth’s personal botanist discovered the Canadian primrose for him in 1786, but this lesson is about English primroses.

(Photo of Primula mistassinica found here)

The teacher giving this lesson had asked each student to bring a primrose flower, or a whole plant if they could find one. This is what she told them:  

WHEN the dreary days of winter and the early damp days of spring are passing away, and the warm bright sunshine has begun to pour down upon the grassy paths of the wood, who does not love to go out and bring home posies of violets, and bluebells, and primroses? We wander from one plant to another picking a flower here and a bud there, as they nestle among the green leaves, and we make our rooms sweet and gay with the tender and lovely blossoms. But tell me, did you ever stop to think, as you added flower after flower to your nosegay, how the plants which bear them have been building up their green leaves and their fragile buds during the last few weeks? If you had visited the same spot a month before, a few of last year's leaves, withered and dead, would have been all that you would have found. And now the whole wood is carpeted with delicate green leaves, with nodding bluebells, and pale-yellow primroses, as if a fairy had touched the ground and covered it with fresh young life. And our fairies have been at work here; the fairy "Life," of whom we know so little, though we love her so well and rejoice in the beautiful forms she can produce; the fairy sunbeams with their invisible influence kissing the tiny shoots and warming them into vigor and activity; the gentle rain-drops, the balmy air, all these have been working, while you or I passed heedlessly by; and now we come and gather the flowers they have made, and too often forget to wonder how these lovely forms have sprung up around us.

There is a beautiful little poem by Tennyson, which says—

"Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies;
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower; but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is."
Do you remember two years ago in school when we sprouted different kinds of birdseed in a shoebox? Do you remember examining the inside of seeds, seeing how everything was in there, ready to make the plant grow? Since flower seeds are too small to examine easily, the teacher here soaked almond-kernels for the students to split in half and examine. We will use dried beans from our garden.  This is what the teacher said: 
If you peel the two skins off your seed, the two halves will slip apart quite easily. One of these halves will have a small dent at the pointed end, while in the other half you will see a little lump, which fitted into the dent when the two halves were joined. This little lump is a young plant, and the two halves of the almond are the seed-leaves which hold the plantlet, and feed it till it can feed itself. The rounded end of the plantlet sticking out of the almond, is the beginning of the root, while the other end will in time become the stem. If you look carefully, you will see two little points at this end, which are the tips of future leaves. Only think how minute this plantlet must be in a primrose, where the whole seed is scarcely larger than a grain of sand! Yet in this tiny plantlet lies hid the life of the future plant. 
Narration to follow.  In the next lesson we will talk about what happens to the primrose seed when it falls into the ground.  Here is some homework for you:  go and look in our dish cupboards, both the everyday dishes and the teacups, and see if you can find any decorations of primroses.

Note:  we decided to enhance this part of the study by taking some of the soaked beans and letting them sprout (glass jar with damp paper towels).  We've done that other times through the years, but it seemed like a good opportunity for hands-on review.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A frugal fix, and you can do it too

Bought at Walmart: one polyester circle scarf, on clearance for four dollars. The quality of the scarf is not amazing, and the edges aren't finished in any way; it's just a sliced-off piece of fabric with a seam up one side. I bought it because it's one of my most favourite colours in the world, and because when it's on and scrunched up, you don't really see the edges.
(Stretched flat)
(Scrunched up as if you were wearing it)
What I did: added one pair of snaps, inside the seam and directly opposite.
Now it can also be a poncho or cape. (You snap it together, making two "neckholes," and the second one goes to the back.)

If you have an underused circle scarf, or a tube of knit fabric, and a snap, you can make one too!

Friday, March 10, 2017

From the archives: You thought your reading list was challenging?

First posted March 2011
"A discussion of Little Women included everything from a lesson on the Civil War to an explanation of the allegory in The Pilgrim's Progress, which the little women in Alcott's novel loved to act out.  When the children studied Aristotle, they learned the principles of logical thinking.  Plato's Republic led to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which led to a discussion of different political systems, which brought in Orwell's Animal Farm, which touched off a discussion of Machiavelli, which led to a look at Chicago's City Council."--Marva Collins' Way (1982)
And how did Marva Collins get so smart?

"I read constantly in order to tie together fragments of information and interweave subjects.  As a business major in college I had not taken many courses in the arts and sciences.  My education was about the same as that of the average grammar school teacher, merely a sampling of some basic courses.  I had to teach myself more.  I read with an urgency so I could teach my students what they needed to know.  I believe a teacher has to keep polishing his or her skills.  You can't take the attitude 'I know how to teach,' and resist learning anything new." ~~ Marva Collins

"Theodore shouted, 'Hey, Mrs. Collins, that's cool.  Everything links into something else, doesn't it?'
"Marva beamed.  'Now you've got it.  Every scholar, every writer, every thinker learned from those who came before.  You are all becoming so erudite, we are going to have to dub you MGM--'Mentally Gifted Minors.'"

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Frugal Finds and Fixes: A good hoser shirt never dies

Finds this week: A plaid flannel shirt, well broken in, from the thrift store dollar rack.
Fixes: I found a chambray "man's shirt" at the thrift store for three dollars. It didn't look like any man's shirt I'd ever seen, outside of Little House on the Prairie, but in any case it was too wide and the sleeves were too long. I decided to make it into a sleeveless top for summer. I traced around a sleeveless dress (with chalk), hemmed the new armholes, and sewed new side seams. 
Remember this dress? I was thinking about leaving it long, but decided to risk cutting the bottom off.
Here we go. I cut the back a bit longer than the front, but you can't see it in the photo.
What's for supper? Upside-Down Meatloaf from Saving Dinner. A potful of brown rice because it tastes good with the meatloaf sauce. Frozen spinach. Polish doughnuts from the Euro grocery.
Entertainment: Re-watching our way through the four seasons of Star Trek Enterprise, on NetFlix. You know you have been watching too much Star Trek when you start thinking that going Warp 4.2 is not really fast enough.

Monday, March 06, 2017

From the archives: A second-grader's exam responses (did you notice the important thing here?)

First posted March 2009. Lydia was almost eight, in the second grade, and using AmblesideOnline Year Two. (Edited post)

Book: Pilgrim's Progress. Tell 
about the meeting with the shepherds.

Christian and Hopeful go along and they meet some shepherds.

And the shepherds tell him, “You’re not very far, you know. Some other people have gone way, way farther than you have, but then they’ve just fallen into darkness. Let us show you.”

So Christian and Hopeful go along with the shepherds and the shepherds show them Hell’s Door. It was a shortcut for Hell. And then they showed Christian and Hopeful a big cliff, and they almost fell off because it was so frightening. There were dead men’s bodies down there. And Christian asked, “Is there any hotel or anything where we could stay?” And the shepherds said, “We are your entertainment. You can stay in our huts. You can sleep in our beds.” So that night Christian and Hopeful slept in the shepherds’ house.

Book of Matthew: Tell the story of the Resurrection.

Jesus was put in a grave, and there was a rock in front of the grave, and there were guards in front of the rock that was in front of the grave. But one day there was a bright light, and the rock moved out of the way, and the guards ran away. And pretty soon the guards came back, only to find Jesus’ body stolen. But then the guards ran away again. And then some women came. It was Mary and Mary Magnolia [Magdalene]. And then they saw two angels, one at the foot where Jesus’ body should be, and the other at the top of where Jesus’ body should be. And then Mary saw somebody who looked as if he was gardening. And she said, “have you stolen my master’s body?” And then he says no. And Mary recognizes Jesus’ voice, and she cries out, “Master!” And he cries, “Mary.” And she and Mary Magnolia ran out, saying “Jesus is alive! Jesus is alive!” The end.


History (100 Years War): Tell what you know of the Hundred Years War.


There was the battle of Sluys, the battle of Crecy, there was the battle of Calais, and the battle of…something else that starts with P. [Poitiers]

I’ll tell you about the battle of Calais. It was a starving war. And there were these enemies that surrounded Calais, and the people of Calais couldn’t even go out to gather food from their crops. And finally they got so starved that they ate their cats and dogs. And finally they waved their white flag. And soldiers came and said, “You are really ready to surrender?” They said, “Please try and coax your king, and you will have a reward.” So the knights went and tried to coax the king into letting all of the people go free.

So the king said, “Tell them this.” So the knights went, and they said, “The king said that the only deal he’ll make is that six men come out in their nightclothes, nightcaps and all, with ropes around their necks, bearing the keys of the city.” And the governor of Calais said, “Aw, but we can’t do that!” So he went and told the people about what the king had said. And they said, “But, but, we can’t do that! There’s nobody brave enough to do that, and nobody strong enough to do that.” But finally a rich person said, “I will be the first of the six people to go.” And soon five more joined, and they had six people. And at dawn they all came out in their nightclothes and nightcaps and all, with ropes around their necks, bearing the keys of the city with them. And quickly the knights took them with them, to the king. And the king said, “I shall kill you.” But then all the knights began to beg and beg, but he said “No, no, no, no…no.”

But finally the queen fell down on her knees and begged, “I’ve never asked you a favour, but now I want to have these people.” And he said, “All right.” So she took them to her own rooms, and she dressed them, and then she had a banquet for them. And the next morning she let them go to Calais, and that was the end.


Literature: The Wind in the Willows

Toad Hall was being taken over by people from the Wild Woods. And so Rat and Mole and Toad and Badger armed themselves to go and take over Toad Hall themselves. So Mole, who hadn’t been there all day, all of a sudden came back, and he told them that he had gone and told the Wild Woods animals that they were coming, and they were like, “Oh Mole, did you have to? That wasn’t a very good idea.” But all of a sudden Badger rose and said, yes it was a good idea. Because Mole just said, “I told them that we were coming in the back, on our way from the Wild Woods.” And the Badger said that was a good idea. So now all the Wild Woods animals were going to be watching from the windows on the way to the Wild Woods.

And Badger said, “I know of a tunnel that Toad’s Father told me about, and he said to me, don’t tell my son about it unless it’s great danger.” So Toad said, “Oh, I remember! Do you mean…the entrance…there was a squeaky board in the butler’s pantry.” And Badger said yes, that was it. “But we are going to use that. And we’re going to spring up. “And the Weasels are going to be having a party, I heard,” said the Mole. “So let’s go spring up on them.”

So Badger led them the way through the tunnel. There were many bumpings and scratchings, so that Rat thought they were being attacked, just because Toad was putting on airs of pride, not watching out where he was going, because he was so proud of himself. And Badger scolded Toad because he was putting on airs of pride. Finally they got there, and they lifted up the squeaky board in the butler’s pantry, and they realized that they were right next to the place where the Weasels were having a party. And Badger said, “One…”

Then they heard a Weasel’s voice from the next room saying, “I would like to make a small song about Toad…of course you all know TOAD…” All the Weasels were roaring with laughter. “Good Toad! Honest Toad! Modest Toad!” Now all the Weasels were roaring even more with laughter. “Now let me sing you the little song of TOAD!”

And he went "Mi-mi-mi-mi-mi…" And then the Chief Weasel began…”Toad he went a pleasuring down the walk so green…”

“Two…” said the Badger.

“And Toad was so green that he didn’t notice the walk…”

“Three!” said the Badger. “Go get ‘em!”

With that, they all ran into the room, sticks thrashing! Wap, wap, wap! And the Weasels were so frightened and because of Mole’s little visit (Mole had told them that there were going to be thousands of Toads, thousands of Moles, thousands of Badgers and thousands of Water Rats), and they had been so frightened by that remark that they almost saw thousands of Toads, thousands of Badgers, thousands of Moles, thousands of Water Rats. And they felt so dizzy and drunk that it looked so much, so much like all those thousands…and the Weasels weren’t even armed! And Toad began to jump around and yelled, “Toad he went a pleasuring? I’ll pleasure ‘em!” So they chased all the Weasels away, and then Mole and the Water Rat went and got the stoats and everything that was keeping watch. So when all the Wild Woods creatures had gone, they woke up some of the ones that they had knocked down with their sticks on the floor, and they made them clean, so they would have fresh bedspreads that night. The End!

A Wonder Book, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Story: "The Chimaera." Question: Tell how Bellerophon caught Pegasus.

Bellerophon and the little boy watched always for Pegasus. Finally one day, the little boy said, “Look, Bellerophon, up in the sky!” And Bellerophon looked in the reflection of the water, and he saw a beautiful bird. “What a beautiful bird!” he said. “Don’t you understand, dear Bellerophon? That is no beautiful bird. That is Pegasus!” And Bellerophon saw that it was a beautiful Pegasus, with silvery wings. Quickly they went into some shrubbery and hid. The beautiful Pegasus came down, and it drank the water refreshingly, because no kind of water did he like more than the beautiful waters of Pirene. And then it just nibbled a little teeny bit on the daisies. Because it didn’t like to make a big meal because he thought that the daisies up on this mountain place where he lived were better.

Then he saw that the beautiful Pegasus was dancing the most beautiful dance he had ever seen. Quickly, as the Pegasus slowed down his dance, he ran out of the shrubbery, holding the beautiful halter in his hand. And he put it on Pegasus. And quickly jumped on Pegasus’ back. Pegasus, never feeling human weight before, leapt up in the air! Up, up, up and away. And all of a sudden Bellerophon came down!!! And the Pegasus began to fly once more again. But as soon as it calmed down…not really too calmed down…he looked at it and saw that such a beautiful creature should be free. He remembered the dance that it danced, he remembered the water it had drunk with refreshment, he remembered the daisies he had nibbled delicately.

So he slipped off the halter, and he said, “Go free, Pegasus.” Quickly Pegasus soared up in the air as Bellerophon watched it sadly. But all of a sudden Pegasus came down, and again Bellerophon said, “Go, Pegasus. Go to your world of wonders.” But Pegasus would not move. He said, “Good Pegasus.” And he put the halter on it and rode it. The End.

History: Tell about your group's trip to a historic site.
[My note: I noticed that in this narration, Lydia 
used a much more limited second-grader's reporting style, typical of what schoolchildren would put in a report for the teacher. It's interesting that although she had a good time on the field trip, it didn't seem to offer her much material for storytelling.]

I went to [the house] and I put on a 1891 dress. And then we played school, learning capitals and writing with ink.

And then we had a tour of the house. And we talked about oatmeal, we got to pump water with a water pump. We would play croquet and cricket, and we were back in 1891.

Thrift shopping: something I learned about clothes

The top below is a Kenneth Cole Reaction cotton/spandex (jersey-type) t-shirt, bought for $4 at the thrift store. It looks sort of blue in the photo, but it's actually smoke grey.
The reason I say that is because it's exactly the same shade as the (officially) smoke grey reversible/convertible dress I bought last fall from Encircled (below). It even feels a lot the same (the dress is made of sustainably-produced, low-impact-dyed modal jersey).
Should I enjoy wearing one of these more or less than the other, according to where they were made (Cambodia vs. Canada), what's in the fabric, or what I did or didn't pay for them?

"That is not what I meant. That is not what I meant at all." (T.S. Eliot)

For some of us, being decisive about "what we like" is tough. Some of us could write a Pilgrim's Regress about growing up sartorially clueless. Some of us have been trained to think, "It's a shirt. Wear it," in exactly the same tone as the inner voice which scolds, "It's food. Eat it." An inner attitude of "yeah, whatever," has its uses, especially when options are limited; but it doesn't give much credit to our power of creative thought and choosing. If you think I'm wandering hopelessly here, this might help (it's from a 2012 post about homeschooling):
1.  Use what you have.

2.  Use what you have creatively.

3.  This is the hardest part to explain:  stay aware of your "big picture."  Unless you're naturally serene about letting the unschooling chips fall where they may, you need to keep evaluating, planning, trying to keep in mind whatever educational goals or philosophy you steer by.  Plus whatever family circumstances, special needs, etc. you have to deal with.

4.  In other words, you can use what you have, or what comes your way, as long as it fits into your overall education plan. In Lloyd Alexander's book Taran Wanderer, the main character Taran meets Llonio, a father who supports his family by taking hold of anything that fate throws in his net--literally.  The family never knows from one day to the next what will float down the river, but they cheerfully take whatever comes, and eat it or wear it or use it.  As Taran stays with Llonio's family, he appreciates their generosity and their creativity, but he also eventually realizes that their way of life is not exactly for him.  He wants to do a little more purposeful seeking, instead of just catching what comes his way.  
Why did I notice that t-shirt during a very, very quick trip to the thrift store last week? Probably because smoke grey jersey is now on my radar as "I like that." Not that I want to dress like a rain cloud every day, but it's in my "purposeful seeking." 

Sometimes it's worthwhile to go out and do a little purposeful fishing; because then when something useful does accidentally float past, you can grab it. It's all part of the learning.

I always said I wouldn't post dirty laundry

But I guess trash is fair game. (Pickup restrictions start today.)

Thursday, March 02, 2017

From the archives: Life on a desert island, so to speak

First posted March 2011, edited slightly

I [previously] mentioned that I'd found a copy of Flanagan's Smart Home, by Barbara Flanagan.

The subtitle of the book is "The 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling Back."

That concept is introduced at the beginning of the book, but seems to get lost a bit in discussion of whether the items described are durable, well-designed, and/or eco-friendly.  Flanagan doesn't explain exactly how or why she came up with 98 "essential" items for a home--she does say that she was aiming for 100 but that it came out at 98.  As someone said in a review of the book (I think on Amazon), her magic 98 didn't include a toilet plunger...someone else said they can't live without a roll of duct tape.  We could probably debate the "essentialness" of such things as a salt cellar, an electric blanket, a headband flashlight, and a floor lamp in the bedroom; and whether a microwave AND a toaster oven should be essential (yes, we have both, but I admit they do take up a lot of counter space). Also, "98" refers to the number of different items, not the sheer number of objects. For example, "fork" counts as one item, although most households would have more than one.  "Night table" assumes that you have just one.  "Bookcases" count as one item, but books don't figure into the count at all.  She also recommends vinyl records (Mr. Fixit would appreciate that), but the records themselves aren't counted with the 98.   Neither are personal items or clothing.

In contrast to today's "essentials" (based, perhaps, on what a single person living in a small condo would need), here are the useful items acquired by Joyce Radway in Grace Livingston Hill's Not Under the Law (1924/1925), on the first day that she starts housekeeping in a house about the size of a garden shed:

Wooden box, pile of newspapers, and a few peanut shells (came free with the house)
Thread, needles, thimble, pins
Enough cheese cloth for window curtains
Blue and white chintz
Half a yard of white organdie
Blue and white checked apron
"Canned alcohol and a little outfit [tools] for cooking with it"
Paper plates and cups
A sharp knife
A pair of good scissors
A hammer
A can opener
Some tacks
A few long nails
A broom, a scrubbing brush, soap, a galvanized pail, and a sponge
Several wooden boxes and two nice clean sugar barrels (she makes chairs out of those)
Candles
Two more aprons (she needs them for a temporary job)

But "one couldn't just exist if one was working, one had to have things tolerably comfortable for resting and eating or one couldn't do good work.  So she went back to her little house and sat down to think.  The conclusion of her meditation was that she decided to buy a saw."
So Joyce takes the train into the city and buys:

A Bible (used)
The saw ("the best of steel")
Gray denim for upholstery
Flowered cretonne to cover her box dressing table
"A lot of wire springs, some upholstery webbing, and twine, a long, double-pointed upholstery needle, and several pounds of curled hair and cheap cotton."
Some personal items like a hairbrush and nightgowns
Towels

"It really cost very little to live when one was careful.  As for heat and light, she did not need either at this time of year....Sheets and pillow-cases were not expensive when one bought remnants of coarse cloth and hemmed them; and washing was not hard to do with the outside faucet and drain so near."
One person's salt cellar is, I suppose, another person's saw.

The interest in Joyce's shopping list (fantastical and overly optimistic though it is--living in a garden shed does present some practical problems that GLH never goes near), and the value of the Smart Home book, is similar to the effect that Material World has on its readers.  (The book where people around the world put all their worldly goods out in front of their houses.)  Each one makes you ask yourself--could you live with less?  If you have lived with little, or have been through a bad emergency situation, or have lived with inconveniences such as having to cook in the garage for a season, you might not find the idea of "essentials only" particularly romantic or desirable.  Most of us want enough stuff to be at least comfortable.

But how do you know where to stop?

Do you have a list of 98?  498?  998?

Does everybody need a salad spinner?

What's your take?

Do you live in Canada? You are so lucky...

You get to access Project Gutenberg Canada.

The DHM at The Common Room blog reminded me about this, when she posted yesterday about being able to access Project Gutenberg Australia in the Philippines.

The short version of all this is that since public-domain copyright laws vary in different countries and for different authors, there are certain free books that you can access only if you live outside of the U.S. Access, as in download to an e-reader, or at least read online (depending on the book). (I have OverDrive on my tablet so that I can get free library books, and I was able to use that to download several books from this site).

Isn't it nice to be the "special" ones, for once?

And it's not all Stephen Leacock and E.J. Pratt. How about downloading the entire Narnia series, plus the Space Trilogy, plus some of C.S. Lewis's non-fiction titles? Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang, the real deal? How about some classic Eleanor Farjeon? Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats? Charles Williams? Max Beerbohm? Jim Kjelgaard? Greek dramatists? (Yes, I know you can find Greek dramatists on the U.S. site).

We don't have all the authors that made the DHM smile, but we do have Josephine Tey and some other mystery writers, including five Father Brown books. Have you ever read anything by Anna Buchan, sister of John Buchan? I hadn't.(You can get a few of her books on the U.S. site too, under her pen-name O. Douglas.)

That should be enough to keep just about anyone going on books.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: "Have Patience"

Notes from our Hodgepodge Hostess:  "Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer on your own blog, then hop back here tomorrow to add your link to the party. See you there!"

1. 'Slow and steady wins the race'...tell us about a time this was true in your own life. 
Slowness and waiting for the right timing on things? Quite a few times. I started working on an online writing project back in 2002 (yes, the photo was taken a bit before that), and the first printed version of the material didn't come out until 2015. It just wouldn't have worked until then, technology-wise, writing-wise, anything-wise. 

On the other hand, I met my husband-to-be one year in July and we were engaged by September. Some things are too good not to rush into.

2. 'As slow as molasses'...Do you like molasses? How about maple syrup? Caramel? Butterscotch? What's your favorite of the slow moving treats mentioned here, and what's your favorite food made with that sweet treat? 

All of the above, although I think as I get older I don't like as much sweetness at a time.

How about Shoo-fly Pie?

3. Your favorite slow song? 

Have patience, have patience
Don't be in such a hurry
When you get impatient, you only start to worry
Remember, remember that God is patient, too
And think of all the times when others have to wait for you

4. Your favorite thing to make in a slow cooker or crock pot? 

We got our first Crockpot as a wedding present, and still use the same style of pot (we did replace our first one with another of the same vintage, because the crock itself was getting hard to clean). We tried a much bigger slow cooker a few years ago, but the bottom developed a crack, so we're back to the 3 1/2 quart size, plus a spare that we picked up recently, plus a half-size one from a yard sale, plus a Little Dipper that gets used only occasionally (I think it came as a bonus with the big pot). We use one or another of the pots at least a couple of times a week, especially on days when we're not quite sure when we're going to eat dinner or who's going to cook it.

Right now my favourite thing to cook in a slow cooker is Ranch Potatoes

5. 'You may delay, but time will not.' ~Benjamin Franklin Are you more a hurrier or a delayer when it comes to unpleasant tasks that need doing? What are you currently either delaying or hurrying to get through this week or month?

You really don't want to know how many times I have had to hum Herbert's song recently.

6. Tell us three things you encounter regularly or even just occasionally that you find to be annoyingly slow.

See #5.

On the other hand, there are "fast" things that are a problem too. "Fast fashion" is one of them.

7. March is National Craft Month. Are you crafty? Tell us about something crafty you'll try in the next thirty one days. Or something crafty you'd like to try or wish you had the skill to make happen. 

I have not been very crafty for the last while. I have not even been to the craft store in months (and I live only a few blocks away). I won a Zakka embroidery book in a giveaway at Christmas time, but there was a delay in delivery and I still haven't gotten it (they're working on it). When that comes, I will probably try it out.

8. Insert your own random thought here. 

Is there any connection here between slower/faster and fasting/the beginning of Lent?

Some of us don't literally fast, but it still is a season of slowing down, choosing limits. Maybe we should call Lent fasting "slowing."

Linked from "Slow Down for the Hodgepodge" at From This Side of the Pond.