Thursday, January 18, 2018

From the archives: Homeschooling and the walls of Jerusalem

First posted September 2014; edited slightly

In this millennial world, about twenty years after we first lost ourselves in homeschooling in that pre-Internet era back there with the dodo bird, public education bounces around (more than ever) between union power struggles, billionaire buyouts, and never-ending struggles with philosophy and course content.  And this is mostly in the "first world," where it comes down to those who do want to paradigm-shift their way out of what some call the industrial-revolution or Prussian models of education...and those who don't.  In other parts of the world, more chaotic, often less affluent, but also less bound by teachers' unions, less tied to the big-red-schoolhouse tradition, there seems more room for innovation.

Sounds a bit like North American churches, but that's another post.

I'm thinking about our family's almost two decades of living, to a large extent, on the fringes of the educational system, at least regarding the elementary schools.  (For those who don't know us, one of our older girls went through the Ontario public high school system, the other is still there.)  Our goal, all along, has been to let the power of ideas change us (and I had never seen a Ted Talk video until a year ago). It has not been to line up with the government schools. 

Mortimer J. Adler in How to Read a Book says that a reader must come to terms with an author, that is, to make sure that they are (so to speak) on the same page in vocabulary and terminology, that he's not getting left behind in the discussion by a failure to understand how that author uses language.  I feel like that happens too often, even after twenty years, millennial or not, when we talk about school.  All you have to do is read the comments after any major online article or video about homeschooling, and watch the insults and misconceptions flying free.  If I haven't paid a lot of attention to public education over the past two decades, the commenters equally haven't paid enough attention to where homeschooling has come from and where it might be going.

And of course, why should they care, and, equally, why should I care at all what some dingbat in a faraway American state thinks about homeschoolers' right to exist?

It reminds me of a passage from Nehemiah that was read in our church yesterday.  Nehemiah got a government grant (along with royal permission) to go spearhead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, that, as our pastor put it, Nebuchadnezzar had previously done such a fine thorough job of knocking down.  Each family living near each part of the wall worked on "their" section, and somehow they managed to get the whole thing rebuilt in fifty-two days. That included all the time they had to waste fighting off their opponents and enemies.  But they did it, each one taking responsibility and then joining their work together. A ground-up job.  Like a lot of homeschoolers and small-schoolers, they just did what needed to be done, and then had a great party at the end.

Imagine if all that wall-building was planned out by one of our current urban construction planning departments? They'd probably still be at it.  And if the educational walls were planned out by...oh, you see where I'm going with this?

In Nehemiah's day, enemies tried to stop the building of city walls.  In our day, years after all the educational fuss should have stopped, some people still challenge our builders' permits. I wish they could stop hollering long enough to pay attention and watch how it's done. Lay on a few bricks instead of throwing them. Watch what kinds of wall-building are popping up around the world, and maybe learn some new construction ideas. What's been broken down and left to crumble can be put back together, even by those of us who didn't go to masonry school. The world is changing and that doesn't mean we need less DIY, it means we need more. More Nehemiahs to kick off the projects.  More local team leaders to connect the workers. More brave souls to just pick up the bricks or the rocks and do what needs doing.

More to plan the party and blow the horns. 

(It doesn't have to be just about our own families; there are projects and schools and learning needs everywhere.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

On the longevity of clothes...or not

I'm taking time out from studying the philosophy of adult education (really) to throw out a few thoughts on why we do or don't, should or shouldn't keep clothes around for years. It's two years since I started following Project 333, a.k.a. trying to get my own clothes act together, so it seems like a good time to pause and remember what this was about in the first place.

I just read a post that could be summed up as "better but fewer, keep them forever" by a minimalist blogger. My reaction was "that could really make you feel guilty." My own first clothes page from two years ago has maybe ten things on it that I still own, and those were all fairly new (or new to me) then. Ironically, some of those ten things were the cheapest, the ones that theoretically should have fallen apart by now, like the stereotypical $8 grey t-shirt. So, point number one: cheap does not always equal lousy.

I guess the more important question is, do I see myself keeping what I have now for several more years? I probably will, because I like what I have, and  I'm wearing almost everything I own regularly. I don't have the particular problem of wearing 20 per cent of the clothes 80 per cent of the time. On the other hand, I have re-donated many of the clothes I tried out during the past two years. I got tired of them, the style was too young or too old, they made me look even shorter than I am, or whatever. Thank you, departing clothes, for teaching me what doesn't work, as Marie Kondo would say.  Point number two: wanting to rotate your clothes may just mean that you're changing, or learning more about yourself.

The last point is one on which I do agree with the article, and that is that you should not feel guilty about skipping whole categories of closet "must haves" if they don't work for you. I've said it before myself, but it's always worth repeating: you may not be a pants person, or a white shirt person, or a little black dress person, or just a 2018-round-hole person. You may walk through an entire mall full of clothes, and dislike everything you see, because you are not "that" woman. You may also spend fifteen minutes at a thrift store, and find your favourite dress ever. It's not all about what things cost, or where they're made; it's also about how much we do or don't buy into what's new, what's normal, what everybody else buys; it's about what works for us. I had a "classic" denim shirt, but I recently handed it down to my daughter because it didn't work with anything, and fastening  the teeny little buttons drove me crazy. I like pullover tops better. Simple as that.  Ask who made your clothes, and think about the planet and the rivers and the landfills. But wear what makes you happy, hold onto it awhile if you can, and let the rest go.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Quote for the day: Jacques Barzun echoes Charlotte Mason

"One of the virtues of learning anything is that it takes one out of oneself and into a subject--something independent existing out there, in the world of fact or ideas, or both. To pull the mind back into self-concern and self-excuse is not only a hindrance to learning, it is also a deprivation of the feeling of community with others." ~~ Jacques Barzun, Begin Here

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quote for the day: you make it sound easy

"It's harder to begin a sentence well than to end it well. As we'll see later, to end a sentence well, we need only decide which of our ideas is the newest, probably the most complex, and then imagine that complex idea at the end of its own sentence. The problem is merely to get there gracefully." ~~ Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Never too late

From this Side of the Pond

1. January is National Mentoring Month. Have you ever had a mentor? Been a mentor? How would you rate the experience?

Not formally, on either end. There are people who have been my role models, often without knowing it, so I guess they are/were also mentors. (Can people in books be mentors?)

2. What current trend makes no sense to you?

Most of the current T.V. shows, both prime time and talk shows, at least such as I've seen of them (stuck in waiting rooms etc.).  Watching them makes me think I am from another planet.

3. I saw a cartoon on facebook highlighting a few 'weird' things that make you happy as an adult. The list included-writing with a nice pen, having plans cancelled, freshly cleaned sheets, eating the corner brownie, cleaning the dryer lint screen, and sipping coffee in that brief time before anyone else wakes up. (Credit for the cartoon goes here) Of the 'weird' things listed which one makes you happiest? What is one more 'weird' thing you'd add to the list?

All those things can be nice, with the exception of the lint screen. Corner brownies tend to have dry edges, though.

How about...filling Christmas stockings?

4. What's the last good thing you ate?

The chicken soup Mr. Fixit made Saturday night, and that we ate for lunch on Sunday and Monday.

5. Describe life in your 20's in one sentence.

Version One: Worked at a university, met my husband, got married, bought a house, homebirthed a baby, homeschooled a kindergartner (ok, I was thirty, but close enough). 

Version Two: Stopped repairing my glasses with twist ties.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Having read all three of Marie Kondo's books now (including the manga one), I have found points to differ on, and not just the usual animism issues. A big KonMari principle is that you tidy your space once and for all, and there are good reasons for that, but I'm finding the opposite is true here. We continue to improve and refine things, several months after moving. I worked on our clothes-and-linen closet last weekend, not the clothes but everything else that Kondo would call "cloth komono": tablecloths, towels, tote bags. All you see on the top shelf now are matching cloth bins...much more peaceful. Strangely enough, there was room at the end to add something: a basket of old towels and rags that we use for messy stuff, that had been taking up too much space in the storage room.

So maybe KonMari would say that wasn't part of the original tidying, but just an improvement of storage. She might also say that all the cloth things wanted to be together, including the cleaning rags. point is that you can always make things better, and later is not too late.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Thrifted scarf: roses in January

The weather since Christmas has been icicles-hang-by-the-wall. Now we've gone from bitter cold to slop and slush, with the predictable result of one Squirrel (so far) feeling a bit ungood. There's definitely something yucky going around.

On a brighter about a scarf featuring orange and fuchsia on a background of...I don't know, sort of olive-grey? It's bigger than it appears--it can even be a shawl. The floral pattern is on only one side, and the reverse shows very subtle little dots. You'd think at first that means "hide the backside," but I actually like the dots showing here and there. (DUH moment: I just figured out that it's meant to be reversible.)

I found it on my way out of the thrift store this morning, along with a book about Leonard Cohen for Mr. Fixit, and Joseph M. Williams' writing book Style for me. (One from this year's want-to-read list, so I was happy about that.)

Monday, January 08, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason, and peeling back the veil

First posted January 2014

In one of Ellis Peters' medieval mysteries, The Leper of St. Giles, the diseased beggars living near Shrewsbury wear cloaks and veils that allow only their eyes to show. This encourages rough treatment by others passing by; the beggars are more like shadows or ghosts than real people, individuals, flesh and blood beings.  But Brother Cadfael, reflecting on the times he has treated some of their sores (through his work as the abbey's herbalist), says that he has found sharp minds, unique personalities behind the veils..."by a thousand infinitesimal foibles of character that pierced through the disguise, they emerged every one unique."  He has the gift of seeing what others miss.

In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater says, "One of Mason's primary purposes for making history the 'pivot' of her curriculum is to allow the child to see the flow of history and to think of himself within it."  She points us to Philosophy of Education, page 273, where Charlotte Mason calls history "the proper corrective of intolerable individualism."  So history, as a way of seeing, cuts us down to size but also shows us where we belong; gives us a place and time but makes it clear that there are other places and times that matter just as much.

But we have to see it.  However we can make that happen, for ourselves and our children.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Epiphany Candles

Happy Epiphany! (Or Christmas, if you're celebrating!)

Frugal Finds and Fixes: Hats and Jackets Again

A brief and frosty Frugal Finds and Fixes
Frugal and more organized: three inexpensive cloth bins, which fit perfectly under the shelf in our biggest kitchen cupboard. They come in sets of two, so we put the fourth one on the bottom shelf of Mr. Fixit's desk, to hold office supplies. It looks better than the cardboard box that had been there since we moved in.
Free and fun: a library "date morning." Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit spent a couple of entertaining hours checking out our closest library branch.
Frugal fashion finds: a thrifted fedora (wouldn't you call it?). Howard the Bear is modelling it right now, but Mama Squirrel is going to wear it once we're out of strictly-toques weather. The label inside the hat shows that it came from a children's-wear chain (although the thrift store hung it with women's hats). That might explain why it is marked Large but fits Mama Squirrel. Never say I don't tell all here.
Also from the thrift store: a purple jacket with a ruffled neckline and a zipper closing. (Shown here with a previously thrifted grey dress.) Often I find clothes that are officially too big, which therefore need to be belted up or trimmed down. This jacket had the opposite problem: it's one size on the small side, but it's fine unzipped, and that's the way I'd be most likely to wear it anyway.

Friday, January 05, 2018

For a cold Twelfth Night: two poems

Poet Malcolm Guite's blog posts for yesterday and today are two poems by others, that remind us that winter can be beautiful and awe-inspiring (rather than just irritating, slushy, and too-cold-for-anything). Here are a few lines:

Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany, by Luci Shaw

I mind-freeze for the future
this day’s worth of disclosure. Through the glass
the epiphanies reel me in, absorbed, enlightened.
Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,
And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!
Motionless torrents! silent cataracts!
Who made you glorious as the gates of Heaven
Beneath the keen full moon? 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

From the archives: book lover in the making

First posted January 2008. Crayons (Lydia) was six and a half.

 You reap what you sow--sometimes beyond. I have great sympathy for our young AO friend Tim, whose preschool sister Miss M. Is horning in on his Tolkien books.

 A couple of weeks ago I culled some of our bookshelves and put the extras and giveaways in a box. I asked the Squirrelings to have a look through it and please make sure I wasn't giving away anything that they really wanted.

 Crayons went through it and came up with a pile up to her knees of books she wanted. Not anything I'd read to her or that she'd read herself--these were books that, for some reason or other, she Just Wanted to Keep. The list included an extra copy of Kidnapped ("I've been dying to read that book!"), a 3-volume Ladybird set about great artists ("Mama, look, it has Van Gogh in it!"), Plays Children LoveModern Plays, Pauline Johnson's poems, Maryanne Caswell's memoir Pioneer GirlHind's Feet on High Places, and a book of Hanukkah riddles. And about three others that I convinced her we did already have other copies of. And a book of fairy tales (do you know how many other books of fairy tales we have?). 

 Most of those books were nothing I'd pick for a six-year-old. Truth is, other than the fairy tales and maybe the artists, I doubt she'll even find them interesting for a long time yet. But I can see it happening already: the bug is there. This will be a girl who asks for her own box at library sales.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge: First of the Year

From this Side of the Pond

1. It's that time of year again...time for Lake Superior University to present a list of words (or phrases) they'd like to see banished (for over-use, mis-use, or genera uselessness) in 2018. You can read more about the decision making process and word meaning here, but this year's top vote getters are-

unpack, dish (as in dish out the latest rumor), pre-owned, onboarding/offboarding, nothingburger, let that sink in, let me ask you this, impactful, Cofefe, drill down, fake news, hot water heater (hot water doesn't need to be heated), and gig economy

Which of these words/phrases would you most like to see banished from everyday speech and why? Is there a word not on the list you'd like to add?

I don't even recognize some of these! (I do know that Cofefe was only an accidental "word.")

I don't know about hot water heaters, but hot water heating is a logical phrase. As in, some apartments have radiators because they have hot water heating. 

Pre-owned is a euphemism I don't mind. It's nicer than second-hand. Or you could just say new-to-me.

2. What's something you need to get rid of in the new year?

We've already decluttered so much that there isn't much left to work on. Today I read the manga version of Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and that did inspire a bit of paper sorting.

3. Where do you feel stuck?

On a writing project.

Plus I also have to do a research paper for a course I'm taking, but I'm not far enough into that yet to feel stuck, more just a little anxious.

4. January is National Soup Month. When did you last have a bowl of soup? Was it made from scratch or from a can? Your favorite canned soup? Your favorite soup to make from scratch on a cold winter's day?

We eat soup semi-regularly. Canned soup is mostly a quick lunch fallback; if it's for dinner, it's probably homemade. Mr. Fixit makes his grandma's chicken soup with a whole chicken. I make slow cooker soups with beans or split peas.

5. Tell us one thing you're looking forward to in 2018.

Celebrating our first year as non-homeowners.

6. Insert your own random thought here.

Niagara Falls is frozen, and I'm a bit chilled myself. It's probably a good time to break out the split peas.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Monday, January 01, 2018

What Sudoku taught me about planning and fresh starts

Sherlock Holmes: What is that? (balloon with a face drawn on it)
John Watson:  That is… me. Well, it’s a me substitute.
Sherlock Holmes: Don't be so hard on yourself. You know I value your little contributions.
John Watson: Yeah? It's been there since nine this morning.
Sherlock Holmes: Has it? Where were you?
John Watson: Helping Mrs. H. with her Sudoku. (Sherlock, "The Six Thatchers")
A chance line in a T.V. was enough to make me curious about something I had missed out on. Besides, I was getting bored with the newspaper's daily crossword (too much Mamie Eisenhower and Alma Gluck). So I set out to learn something new-to-me.

If you don't know this already, Sudoku is a logic puzzle, not a math game. It's not like the magic squares that require you to add things together. You just have to figure out where the numerals 1-9 go, so that there are no repeats in the row, the column, or the mini-section (1/9 of the whole grid). Puzzles ranked "easy" have more numerals already filled in; "hard" ones have fewer clues. The one in our free weekly newspaper seems almost impossible to solve; I may need Dr. Watson's help.

After several months of increasing Sudoku addiction, I noticed some parallels to other parts of life, such as making plans and decisions. Here's one: don't waste time worrying about every possible permutation for every square. Start with the easy, obvious steps; then look for "criss cross" places that rule out several possibilities at once (that's hard to explain, but just trust me that it reduces tedious pencil-scratching).  By that time, even on the hard puzzles, you should have enough numerals filled in so that you can start pencilling in pairs of "either-ors": in this row, we have a 1 or a 3 in this box, and a 1 or a 3 in another box. That's almost as good as nailing it down for sure.  But then you leave those either-ors alone, move on to another bit somewhere else, and sooner or later they'll get solved.

There is a similarity here to jigsaw puzzles: you do as much as you can on the flowers, then go work on the sky or the frame for awhile. It's also like the sort of logic puzzles where you figure out that either Joe or Jim lives in the red house, and Bill is either the doctor or the movie star. You eliminate what absolutely won't work, and limit your choices to the few remaining possibilities. The secret is not in bringing in extra information to overwhelm the brain, or in thinking about all the maybes, but in figuring out the path or the plan that actually works. Finding the key that does fit.

And if you end up with a gridful of too many either-ors? Rub them all out, keeping only the numerals you know for sure. Start again as if you had a new puzzle with a few added clues. With the clutter gone, you see fresh possibilities.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #12: Christmas countdown Week 12, The Waits

One week till Christmas! Scroll down for a treat at the end.
Last week's post ended the chapter (and the book, Parents and Children). This week we go back to the poem Charlotte Mason used to open the chapter. "Waits" in much earlier times were paid civic musicians. By the nineteenth century, they were roving amateur players and singers. In this case, Christmas carollers.

The Waits!
     Slowly they play, poor careful Souls,
     With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
     Unwitting how their music rolls
     Away the burden of the year.
     And with the charm, the homely rune,
     Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given,
     When all our pulses beat in tune
     With all the stars of heaven.'

          ––JOHN DAVIDSON.

In the Spirit of Charlotte Mason:

The Scottish poet John Davidson (1857-1909) has been called "the first of the Moderns," and is said to have influenced T.S. Eliot. Davidson was the author of an 1893 book called Fleet Street Eclogues, which owed inspiration to Spenser's Shepeardes Calendar. It is a series of poems that follows a group of big-city journalists throughout one year, as they get together to drink, tell stories, and complain about the world, beginning on New Year's Day and ending on Christmas Eve. 

The version of the poem printed above does not seem to exist outside of Charlotte Mason's writings. Davidson's Eclogues were written in play format, like this:

Hush ! hark ! Without : the waits, the waits ! With brass, and strings, and mellow wood. 
A simple tune can ope heaven's gates ! 

Slowly they play, poor careful souls, 
With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
Unwitting how their music rolls 
Away the burden of the year.

And with the charm, the homely rune, 
Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given, 
When all our pulses beat in tune 
With all the stars of heaven.
But what about the thought itself? Why did Davidson's lines speak so clearly to Charlotte Mason?

As "Sandy" says, the waits are simple people who offer their gifts freely and without any children. "Basil" agrees that the music, at least for awhile, seems to restore his connection with eternal things.

These "hard-bitten" journalists, viewing the world with cynicism but also longing for a simpler, more innocent and joyful world, mirror our own time very well. The poem also adds poignancy to Charlotte Mason's words at the beginning of the chapter.

"Children necessary to Christmas Joy––In these levelling days we like to think that everybody has quite equal opportunities in some direction; but Christmas joy, for example, is not for every one in like measure. It is not only that those who are in need, sorrow, or any other adversity do not sit down to the Christmas feast of joy and thanksgiving; for, indeed, a Benjamin's portion is often served to the sorrowful. But it takes the presence of children [or waits?]to help us to realise the idea of the Eternal Child. The Dayspring is with the children, and we think their thoughts and are glad in their joy; and every mother knows out of her own heart's fulness what the Birth at Bethlehem means."
Things to do this week:
This is our last visit to the wonderful 1977 world of Family Circle Christmas Helps. The cute pair of dolls on the cover reappear in this week's "Bountiful Brunch" photo, which features Broiled Breakfast Steaks, Marbled Waffles, and Continental Fruit Compote. And that's just breakfast; "Dinner that Dazzles" takes up the next three pages.
Maybe that's what Peg Bracken meant by "full-color double-page spreads picturing what to serve on those little evenings [or Christmas mornings?] when you want to take it easy. You're flabbergasted. You wouldn't cook that much food for a combination Thanksgiving and Irish wake." (The I Hate to Cook Book, 1960)

But celebrations are important, aren't they? Certain cooking aromas in the house make things seem right and untroubled, and bring back memories of our yesteryears. Holiday food and good company can lift the spirits of even the cheeriness-ambivalent.
"One mile north of the Mitford monument, Old Man Mueller sat at his breakfast table in the unpainted house surrounded by a cornfield, and, with his dentures soaking in a jar by the bed, devoured a large portion of the cake Esther and Gene Bolick had brought him last night on Christmas Eve. He didn't have any idea why they would bring him a cake every Christmas...All he knew is, if one year they forgot and didn't show up, he'd set and bawl like a baby." [He also gave a piece to his dog.] ~~ Jan Karon, Shepherds Abiding
So to wind up this series, I have found a dessert recipe that seems the perfect way to share the season...and it's much easier than Esther's cake. You can see the whole thing at Sizzling Eats20 Minute Snowflake Cream Puffs. Go have a look, I'll wait.
You cut large snowflake shapes from prepared puff-pastry sheets; bake them; cut them in half horizontally; then fill with your choice of something nice, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This seems to be the holiday dessert with infinite possibilities, depending on your dietary needs and budget. You can make or buy gluten-free puff pastry, if that's what you need; commercial brands of puff pastry are often vegan-friendly. (Where we live, Tenderflake pre-rolled pastry now uses "simpler ingredients.") You can use whipped cream or a substitute topping; or go for some kind of mousse, lemon filling, even a scoop of frozen dessert. The sheets of pastry come pre-rolled, so kids or other helpers could cut out snowflake shapes, and also fill the baked shells. If you don't have a snowflake cutter, you could try a star, or a plain circle (or use a cardboard template for a shape you like). 

I'm also thinking that you could add a drizzle of raspberry sauce, or chocolate sauce, and some fresh berries, fancy citrus peels, or whatever you like on top.

That is what we'll be having here on Christmas Day! I'm very grateful to Sizzling Eats for posting the recipe.

And we wish you a joyous holiday season, with all the gladness and joy of the Birth at Bethlehem.

Favourite posts of 2017, #11: Christmas Countdown Week 4, Something for Everyone

First posted October 23, 2017

9 weeks until Christmas...
"The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
> But here the world's desire.)"
~~ G.K.Chesterton

Here is this week's passage from Parents and Children:

"Humility Unconscious of Self.––Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. We are able to pray, but we are hardly able to worship or to praise, to say, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord' so long as in the innermost chamber of our hearts we are self-occupied.

"The Christian Religion Objective
––The Christian religion is, in its very nature, objective. It offers for our worship, reverence, service, adoration and delight, a Divine Person, the Desire of the world. Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy. But we mistake our own needs, are occupied with our own falls and our own repentances, our manifold states of consciousness. Our religion is subjective first, and after that, so far as we are able, objective. The order should rather be objective first and after that, so far as we have any time or care to think about ourselves, subjective."
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason:

In the children's book Understood Betsy, Betsy trudges home to the farm on a late winter day, having failed a test at school. She plans to tell every gory detail to Cousin Ann, who is busy making maple syrup, because that is what she would have been expected to do in her "old life" with Aunt Frances. Cousin Ann asks her bluntly, "Do you really want to tell me all this?" Betsy says, "Um, no." Cousin Ann says, "Fine. Here's some syrup, go make some snow candy." (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

This passage moves into the idea that even being overly focused on our own sinfulness, weakness, mistakes, things we have done and things we have left undone can, in a certain sense, become tiresome, a sort of pious navel-gazing. When soul-searching becomes soul-scraping to the point that we cannot accept God's assurance of His love and forgiveness, we may no longer call it humility.

In the same way that parents are directed to provide a healthy table but to discourage children from over-noticing what they are eating ("I like, I don't like..."), they are to train children in good habits, teach them that they have a Saviour, that they certainly do sin and need to repent, but not allow too much focus on the endless stream of mistakes, too much attention-seeking for either good or bad behaviour. Would we as parents enjoy having a child who came to us constantly, needing to tell and re-tell about the failure or the quarrel or the cheating, even after the situation had been resolved? Do we chatter about ourselves (good things and bad) too much, to the Lord, to each other, or as self-talk? Do we have too many self-help books cluttering our shelves?

The goal expressed in this passage is for us to focus fully on "the beauty of the Divine Person, the Desire of mankind."

Things to do this week

Frontier Gingerbread

In the 1977 Family Circle Christmas Helps magazine that inspired this countdown, the projects suggested for "nine weeks till Christmas" include baking gingerbread, making appliqued toaster and can-opener covers (I think I'll pass), covering wooden boxes with fabric (I like those), and making sets of needlepoint coasters. Here's a page from PlanetJune (a crochet designer's blog) with photos of some crocheted but non-Christmassy coasters and other things that may inspire you. [I also mentioned the annual Handmade Holidays roundups on Sew Mama Sew, but they did not run those this year.]

If you're not a crafter, you could decide to buy handmade gifts through a fair-trade shop like Ten Thousand Villages. Or from a craft sale or a church bazaar.

If you're more into recycling, you could buy second-life crafted items from a thrift store.

And if you're a minimalist and/or live in a tiny house, maybe you will be happier just looking at photos of other people's stuff, and thinking, "So glad that's not me."

Here is the 1970's-vibe recipe for "Frontier Gingerbread" that was included in the magazine. If you prefer, you could replace the egg, or you could even try leaving it out...our usual gingerbread recipe does not have an egg in it, and it works fine.

Frontier Gingerbread

makes one large oval or one 9x9x2 inch cake


2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 cup light molasses
1 egg
1 cup hot water

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together with a wire whip in bowl. Blend the other dry ingredients into melted shortening in a large bowl. Beat in molasses and egg with wire whip. Add flour mixture alternately with hot water. Beat mixture until smooth.

Pour into a well-greased and lightly floured 10-inch oval au gratin pan or a 9x9x2 inch baking pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 minutes; or until top springs back when pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or fruit sauce, if you wish.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #10: Thankful Hodgepodge

First posted November 22, 2017

From this Side of the Pond
1. T tightly do you cling to tradition when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations? For instance do you always do the cooking, never eat at home, always go to grandma's, never miss the parade, always watch football, never change the menu, always eat at 2 PM, etc.? Have you ever celebrated Christmas or Thanksgiving away from hearth, home, and family? How did that feel?

That one's hard to answer, because over fifty-plus years of my life, and twenty-five-plus years of marriage, of course some many things have changed. This year we are in a different home, and we have given away a lot of things associated with former holidays. The thought of holding on to things lightly (even traditions) seems to be the most relevant.

But I will probably make a pan of cheater fudge for Christmas. Some things you have to hang onto.
The half-size tree we bought recently (it even came with lights)

2. H it easy for you to ask for help or are you a do-it-yourselfer? How is that a good/bad thing?

Not sure, it depends on the situation, and the help that is or isn't available.

3. A bundance...what is there an abundance of in your kitchen?

Space (compared to some apartment kitchens).

4. N ame...the smallest thing you're thankful for? the biggest?

Really, really small? Like cells and atoms?

Or a little bigger, like the bit of Velcro that Mr. Fixit stuck on the door behind where our dryer door opens, so that it doesn't hit me on the head when I pull the clothes out?

Or somewhat bigger, like a hat I crocheted last year from some free yarn Ponytails gave me to use up? I was thankful for that yesterday when the wind was blowing hard.

Jan Karon's new Mitford book. Sarah Mackenzie's interview with Katherine Paterson. Tickets to hear Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite next month.

Or much bigger, like our apartment building that means we will not have to shovel the driveway this winter?  (I also like going downstairs for the mail instead of around the block to the super-mailbox.) And the store next door, a real lifesaver. And the Chinese restaurant five minutes away, and the library about twenty minutes if you walk fast.

And there are so many other things, big and small. Clean water. People. Poetry. Clouds. Cough medicine (not me, another Squirrel). People behind desks who actually help with problems.

Which reminds me of another big thankfulness...that after several years of heart clinic visits, Mr. Fixit was recently told he doesn't need to come back, ever. He's too healthy.

(Mr. Fixit says he is also grateful for car floor mats that fit properly. If you've ever had to deal with dirty, salt-sticky towels on a car floor, you'll know why.)

5. K ey...What do you think is the key to living a more grateful life?

Having to go without something for awhile, then getting it back.

And concentrating on God's promises.

6. S tate your own random thought here

My random thoughts for this week were already posted here.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Favourite posts of 2017, #9: How's That Simplicity Going?

First posted October 26, 2017

Have you ever heard that quote from the senior citizen (sometimes it's attributed to a man, sometimes a woman) who said "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits?"

Last weekend I was at the L'Harmas (Charlotte Mason) retreat, and the word "simplicity" came up in one of the talks: not as a question of how many wooden spoons and pairs of shoes you have, or what you wrap your avocados in, but more as a contemplative, even agrarian, old/new set of values; something that people are looking for but not finding. The title of a much-maligned expensive magazine comes to mind.

The idea of a retreat implies slowing down, unplugging, renewing. At L'Harmas, we often find ourselves asked to slow down in ways that are out of our "ordinary." If we're homeschoolers, we might be used to reading poems to our children, or showing them how to do a craft; but it feels different, even uncertain somehow, to have someone asking us, the grownups, to try Swedish drill. Or to have someone read a poem just for us, or show us how to needle-felt with those scary-looking barbed needles. Yes, I know needle-felting has been popular for ages, but some of us have never tried it (preferring our nice safe crochet hooks).

Or (at last year's L'Harmas), singing The Gypsy Rover, learning about ladybugs in greenhouses, and making a paper box, Sloyd-style.

To hear something different, to try something new, we have to slow down, listen to the words or the instructions, make our hands, voices, or bodies do something they don't normally do. We re-discover a place where the reading, the making, the singing come from our own initiative. This is the complete opposite of pushing a button or clicking an icon.

Those are the things I bring back from such a time away. Where do they lead?

Since returning, I've also sat in a church workshop on conservative Mennonite choral traditions, watched clouds from our balcony, spent a morning sorting books at the thrift store, baked a new/old gingerbread recipe, thrifted a cardigan, put away a few last summer clothes, picked up bananas and chocolate rolls at the discount store (because I can walk there), hand-washed my sweaters, and thought through the counting-clothes, capsule wardrobe problem again. (Post coming on that.) Tomorrow night will be our local Charlotte Mason study night; we're working through School Education.

I have been listening to a CD of hymns and the radio jazz station, and discussing retirement finances with Mr. Fixit. We have an at-home daughter doing late-night essays and wondering what to wear for Halloween, and grown-up Squirrelings dealing with work, sick pets, and other life issues.

I'm reading a book by Madeleine L'Engle where she muses on a similar variety of this-is-life happenings. In the first chapter, she's awake in the middle of the night, watching out the window, listening to the night sounds. Sometimes that's the best place to find quiet and think about simplicity.

Some of the minimalist writers are big on saying No. I would like to turn it around and say more Yes. Yes, I can come help. Yes, that thrifted purse would look nice with a dress.Yes, I'll make time to read that book. Yes, I will talk to someone instead of doing something else that I thought was going to be important (and it wasn't). Yes, I will try that new thing.

Because simplicity allows us to refuse, but also to choose. And Yes can be a good choice.

Favourite posts of 2017, #8: Painting with Yarn

First posted September 15, 2017

Yarn Painting With Natural Fibre Yarns and Beeswax Complete Fibre Art Kit - Sunset, 
produced by Kathy White, a fibre artist from Stratford, Ontario 
(Links are at the bottom of this post)
Kathy White, an Ontario fibre artist who also does demonstrations and workshops, wanted to share her yarn and beeswax technique with people who were interested but who didn't know where to find the materials. She has begun selling small kits online, which include pretty much everything you need to make a simple sunset-and-water picture.
You press lengths of yarn into the beeswax, more or less following the photograph on the package. The board is scored with the arc of the sunset and the line of the horizon, but that's all; it's not paint-by-numbers. Because the colours of yarn vary from kit to kit, you may not end up with traditional sunset colours (mine is all blues and greens).
Kathy's blog post about the kits shows a piece she made herself from the kit materials, which looks quite different again.

This is something that most kids could do as well as adults, but (as shown on Kathy's website), the technique can be used for very beautiful and intricate pieces of art. Some young children might not have the patience to line up the rows of fine yarn smoothly, especially at the edges, where it can be a bit tricky to keep things even. 

The kit contains a 5x7 inch beeswax-covered board, natural-fibre yarn in several colours, a chopstick tool, and instructions; you supply scissors and hairdryer (optional, for setting finished work). I have a shorter wooden tool for making toothbrush rugs, which I found I preferred to a longer tool. You can also use other tools such as knitting needles. You will also need to supply your own frame, if you want one.
Partly-done picture, showing the beeswax-coated board on the bottom half
Completed picture

Kathy White's website (there is a contact form there)

A blog post with more information about the kits

Disclaimer: I received this product as a gift from the artist, but I was not otherwise compensated for posting the review.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Mama Squirrel goes Boxing Day thrifting

This is what I found: a zippered tapestry blazer (or bomber jacket, maybe) for $2, on the last-chance rack. It's bigger than my size, but I liked the oversized look.

Does it work with other things I have? I think so.
Jacket, Revolve Dress, necklace
Jacket, green pullover, grey jeans
Jacket zipped up, grey corduroy skirt, belt (I think I would use a different colour belt, though)
Jacket, grey-blue sweater dress, necklace

Worth the two dollars!

Favourite posts of 2017, #7: Just to have a life, or, what I did in Toronto

First posted August 29, 2017
"Consider the trend toward numbers in light of our relationship to God. Metrics are quantitative and not qualitative, so they measure performance, but not relationships. They tell us about the externals of religion and say nothing about the heart...metrics can record the frequency of our church attendance, the regularity of our Bible reading and the exact amount of our tithing, but they can never gauge the genuineness of any of them..." ~~ Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" ~~ Isaiah 55:2a, English Standard Version 
I spent yesterday travelling to, around, and from Toronto. The official reason was that I had a ticket to Courtney Carver's Tiny Wardrobe Tour. I also wanted to spend time with relatives I hadn't seen for a long time, hear a lunchtime concert at a church, and maybe do a little sightseeing slash shopping. The logistics of the day all came together well (Google Maps gets you from place to place very succinctly), and the Greyhound bus got me back here before midnight.

But something was bothering me at four in the morning, and it wasn't the falafel plate I had for dinner. I had been looking forward to the Tiny Wardrobe event for a long time, and of course it was nice to hear Courtney in person, with her rack of clothes behind her; so why wasn't the event quite the highlight I had expected? Earlier in the day I heard Beethoven and Mozart played in a church with wonderful acoustics. Maybe it was the "acoustics" of the evening event that made the message feel somewhat unclear. Was it the argument over seating arrangements that broke out in the front row, that seemed to sour the evening a bit? In the afternoon I spent time with family, and maybe I expected to find a similar connection with those who had bought Tiny Wardrobe tickets.Was it that I was tired from the day's travels, so of course it all felt a bit disjointed? Was I just "not feeling it," as my teenager would say?

Yes, people make too much stuff, buy too much stuff, dump too much stuff. This is something we really do need to talk about. In a world plagued with over-consumption, waste, garbage, labour injustice, consumer debt, and false promises of advertising, any message that helps us step away from the system even a little can only be a good thing. But in a month like this past one, when masses of people have lost their homes and possessions to natural disasters, any discussion of choosing to minimize can seem ludicrous. It is true that going through flood, fire or political upheaval may change your relationship with "stuff" (such as being all too aware of its impermanence), but in the short term, survival means getting enough of what you need or can pass on to others equally in need, and not worrying about the global implications of too many towels. (For those of us whose lives seem safe and "normal" for now, we might want to consider the ways that the money we plan to spend on "stuff" could be used to help others in need.)

Courtney Carver, Ann Voskamp, and others continually make the point that the goal isn't to have a simple life, or even a beautiful lifeit's to have a life. A meaningful life. A good life. A life centered outside ourselves. Simplifying possessions can be a discipline that encourages more focus, less materialism. Or it can be just a numbers game, even if you pick your own number. It can be the pride of money spent for "that which is not bread," or it can equally be the boasting of money not spent. In either of those cases, the focus is on the wrong thing.
"The difference does not seem to be great; but two streams that rise within a foot of one another may water different countries and fall into different seas, and a broad divergence in practice often arises from what appears to be a small difference in conception..." ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education 
And what is it that was keeping me from falling back to sleep? Guilt over a few small things I did buy while I was in the city? Worry about not fitting in with somebody else's minimalist program? No...I think I've come to terms with the "problem" that I like having fun with clothes, and scouting thrift shops is one way I do that without hurting our bank account and producing more waste. That's why I keep posting my own Project 333 stories. I have never done a capsule wardrobe exactly "right." But I am learning to use my own talents (such as scrounging) in ways that, maybe, can encourage others.

Maybe it was just an impossible wish that we could spend more time getting to listen to each other's stories. Not judging, or arguing about details, but seeing each other as people who have lives and stuff and needs and questions and ideas. That means relationships. That means time. We need to make more room for both. And to come back to exactly what Courtney says: if any aspect of your stuff (including clothes) is standing in the way of the important things, it's time to make a change.

So maybe the acoustics weren't so bad after all.

Favourite posts of 2017, #6: Treehouse Summer Quiz

First posted August 6, 2017
By way of catching up, here's a quiz for you to take about the new Treehouse and the Squirrels who do or don't live here now. See how many of these you can guess right. Answers are here.

1. The last thing Mr. Fixit fixed was

a) Mama Squirrel's favourite Charlotte Mason souvenir pen that needed refilling
b) a little RCA Victor transistor radio that Grandpa Squirrel gave him for his birthday
c) Muffin's leaking water bottle

2. This week Lydia reached what milestone?

a) She got her first driver's license
b) All her wisdom teeth came through at once
c) She got a job teaching swimming to small children

3. Who/what does Mama Squirrel have a ticket to hear in Toronto at the end of August?

a) Coldplay
b) Courtney Carver on The Tiny Wardrobe Tour
c) The Prime Minister of Canada

4. Lydia's school robotics team was one of 150 local individuals and groups that received awards from a Member of Parliament at an open-air ceremony this week. When they got to the 125th award, what happened?

a) They passed out popsicles to everyone
b) They called a break for everyone to do some Swedish Drill
c) A thunderstorm drenched everyone

5. Better late than never: which Star Trek series are we finally getting around to watching?

a) Deep Space Nine
b) Enterprise
c) Voyager

6. Who made Mr. Fixit's birthday cake?

a) Mr. Fixit
b) Mama Squirrel
c) He didn't have one because he hates cake

7. The high school course Lydia is most looking forward to in fall is:

a) co-op accounting
b) accelerated biology
c) enriched drama

8. Which of these things did come with us when we moved?

a) a complete set of Three Stooges DVDs
b) a vintage toboggan which we are using as wall art in our bedroom
c) a coffee mug shaped like a Polaroid camera
d) A and B
e) A and C

9. Where does Mr. Fixit make hamburgers now?

a) in the bathroom with the fan going
b) around the back of the building
c) on the balcony

10. Why can't The Apprentice take the ferry to the Toronto Islands this summer?

a) flooding
b) nasty mosquitoes
c) they doubled the fare
d) she is not in Toronto anyway, she's touring Scotland