Sunday, March 17, 2019

Haven't had a food photo long?

Canadian Living's Apple Spice Muffins. I left out the chopped apples; the applesauce is enough. If you don't have natural bran, bran cereal works too.

The Intentional Thrifter: More Cloud Colours (and a book)

Between the MCC store and a quick visit to one another thrift shop, I've found four pieces of clothing recently: two short dresses or tunics, a white t-shirt (needed!), and a raincloud-coloured scarf. Here they are, mixed with a jean jacket, a top from last summer, and assorted beads.  (The book is at the end.)
Think more green than blue for this tunic--the camera always leans to too much blue. Nice for skies, confusing for teal-green clothes.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New Project 333 page is up: Spring 2019, The Colours of Clouds

Spring is on the way! Time to phase out the turtlenecks, and rediscover short sleeves. 

Time: March through Victoria Day (the May weekend when we pretend summer's here.)
Number of items: I don't know, I haven't counted.

This painting is my inspiration for  the coming season:
Tom Thomson, Storm Clouds in Algonquin Park
Thrifted bag, upcycled from upholstery samples
Clouds, from our balcony


Jean jacket, grey cowlneck sweater, grey jeans, grey running shoes, blue backpack

Monday, February 25, 2019

When the shopping choice is less "sustainable," can it still be good?

On the ethical shopping ladder, my usual practice of thrifting clothes is an approved choice. I like supporting the thrift store, and I don't like feeding the fast fashion monster any more than I have to. And most times, I can find something there I like.

But sometimes I go in the other direction.

Recently I thrifted a pair of discount-brand purple boots to wear in spring. It wasn't entirely impulsive: I've been looking for some short boots that aren't black. When I got them home, I realized that the fabric covering had split at each of the back seams, so I had to mend those. (Usually the shoe sorters are more careful--but I didn't notice it right away either.)
Then I went to Walmart and they were clearing out boots from last fall, including some that I'd noticed and liked then. I bought a pair for not much more than I'd paid for the thrifted boots. I like the new pair better (they're not as blatantly purple), so I'm going to keep them and send the mended ones back.
So was that an unethical choice? I don't expect to get years out of the boots, but they suit my needs very well, and they seem to be about the same quality as the thrifted ones. Maybe you could call my having to wait from fall until almost-spring an exercise in patience.

Case two: I've been thinking about spring/summer dresses, but I wasn't sure what I was looking for. I tried on one dress that caught my eye at the thrift store, kind of a fun flowy animal print, but a little overwhelming; also not terribly practical unless you're into music festivals, so I left it there.  Then I was at Walmart (same trip as the boots), and on the clearance rack they had a couple of these front-buttoning jumpsuits, for less than the thrift store dress. Jumpsuits have their unique issues, but this one looks like it will work for a lot of warm-weather dress-up dress-down needs. 
(Walmart's photo)

Both the thrift store dress and the Walmart jumpsuit were polyester, so there was no better-fabric advantage. I thought I might wear the dress a few times (if I were brave enough), and for the right occasion it would be great; but I should get more wearings from the jumpsuit. So which one is the better use of a hanger? I could have spent a great deal more for a sustainable-label jumpsuit, and skipped this urge-to-apologize-to-the-earth; but, again, is it a good move to put that much money into a clothing style that may not hang around much longer? I know what my needs are likely to be over the coming months, and they don't include either frilly dresses or expensive jumpsuits. Now I have what I need, plus maybe something leftover to buy a fair-trade accessory from Ten Thousand Villages.

Often I opt for used-clothes rescue. Occasionally I pay extra for bamboo, fair-trade, and recycled. And sometimes I shop at Walmart.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Quote for a Sunday: What breaks us apart

"At least for a moment we all saw, I think, that the danger of pluralism is that it becomes factionalism, and that if factions grind their separate axes too vociferously, something mutual, precious, and human is in danger of being drowned out and lost.” ~~ Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

From the archives: Herbartianism, Part Four

First posted February 2015
"On Froebelian principles it is certainly very irrational to hang a master because his pupil has committed a murder; but if Herbart is to be followed, the case for the master is not so clear....since the master can choose the ideas to be presented, and can modify and arrange them, there seems to be a prima facie case, for those who wish to hang the teachers of bad men." ~~ Sir John Adams, The Herbartian Psychology
A Froebelian teacher is "but a benevolent superintendent of the process of development which he allows to follow its own course." But if you want to be a Herbartian, you have to consider the idea that doing nothing for a child may be as harmful as doing something wrong. Adams goes on in this vein, saying that a teacher could be held directly responsible for the character of the adult she turns out, for either his success or failure. That's an awful burden to put on one human being.  But in fact, he says, it's virtually impossible for any adult, whether teacher or parent, to dominate a child's mind to that extent; really, you would have to be breathing down his neck 24/7, from birth to maturity.
It reminds me of a Ruth Rendell novel, The Crocodile Bird, which spends the first few chapters telling about a mother who, for reasons of her own, raises her daughter in isolation, away from all contemporary influences and media. The books they read together are all pre-twentieth-century. You might think that, farfetched as the story is, it does give an example of what Adams says is impossible: one person as "sole influence." You could quibble even with that and say that Shakespeare and the other classic authors were actually outside influences, but it doesn't matter much because even this mother's best-laid plans get thwarted. Her daughter accidentally turns on a television set in their employer's house, and it's all downhill from there., according to Adams, Herbartian educators may not shrink from their perceived responsibility for being The Ones to develop children's minds, but at least they don't want to turn out machines or monsters. Still, says, Adams, even if teachers do not play Dr. Frankenstein but just work very hard at supplying the proper ideas at the proper times, why doesn't our advanced education turn out adults who are all "honest, true, happy and clever?"

Oh. Well, says Adams, teachers don't always know the proper ideas or the proper times. We can believe in the theory without being, as he puts it, omniscient. Besides (and this takes up a good part of the chapter), what about the problem that some students are just smarter than others? Or is that just a fallacy? And are they born with intelligence, or is it environment? You've heard it all before, but the Adams/Herbart answer may surprise you.
"Tastes, dispositions, and will being eliminated, it is clear that what is left may be called, in a popular sense at least, pure intellect. That this intellect, considered apart from all the other elements of the soul, is equal among all men can hardly be denied, is hardly worth denying. When the process of elimination has been completed, we find that the intellect we have left does not amount to very much; to no more, indeed, than the simple undifferentiated being which represents the soul of the Herbartian Psychology."
And again:
"The conclusion of the whole matter is that we do not know whether all souls are equal at birth, and that after all it does not matter; for by the time the pupil makes his appearance in school, his soul is different from the other souls in his class. On the other hand, there is a sort of common lowest level of thinking. So far as we can reduce thinking to what is described in the old-fashioned Formal Logic Books, our minds may be regarded as equal." 
The first quote may leave us thinking that Herbart, via Adams, really doesn't think much of children's innate abilities (the Froebelian educator quoted in Part One said that too). You might even read it to say that we're all rather stupid until the teacher gets her hands on us. But the second quote says that, first, we do all have something unique that we're born with or that develops in the first few years of life; but that our learning processes, fast or slow, all follow the same patterns, and it really doesn't matter if you read early or late, or whether you take a long time to learn the times tables. This supports the idea of mastery learning: you get an "A" when you've completed the work or learned the skill, no matter how many times you have to try or how long it takes. But here is the point: that the same actual experience of learning will apply to everyone, whether we're slow in one area or quick in another. Though we may disagree about how much influence and indoctrination is acceptable, we can at least see how the principles of teaching and learning are true for each child; and that education means working with the way humans are made, not against it.

And on that point, Johann Friedrich Herbart and Charlotte Mason agree.

Part Five is here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

From the archives: Happy Blogaversary

First posted February 18, 2015.
It's ironic that the tenth anniversary (blogaversary) of Dewey's Treehouse falls on the same day as the first U.S. Common Core-based standardized testing.

It's ironic partly because this blog has never been all about education, but, in another sense, yes, it is. It's about the past ten years of watching our children experience different sides of home and government education. It's about the growth and changes of the AmblesideOnline curriculum in those ten years, and the ongoing discussions of Charlotte Mason and "subversive teaching." Even when I'm posting about what's for supper, it reminds me that "education is a life."

Last night I finished reading Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, by Martha C. Nussbaum. (Martha C. Nussbaum is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics in the Philosophy Department, Law School, and Divinity School at the University of Chicago.) In vocabulary and in some of her suggested solutions to education issues, Nussbaum does not run along all the same tracks as Charlotte Mason or the Circe Institute. She spends a lot of time discussing the Socratic method, and she has a surprising amount of respect for the current U.S. president, although (even in 2010) she said she did not entirely trust his educational outlook. I think that she's not totally into "dead white (Protestant) guys"; she would prefer a more global and inclusive curriculum. She believes in democracy, in spite of what "Uncle Eric" says about it.

However, when it comes to the need for a more humanizing education, and the consequences if it's lost, I'm right in there with her. Charlotte Mason warned against utilitarian education. Nussbaum warns against allowing education to be controlled by economics. This week, the Truth in American Education website posted this:
"Then the vice-chair of the NGA Education and Workforce Committee said something peculiar.

 “'The Elementary and Secondary Education Act will allow states to align our needs through early education to higher education with the needs of our innovative businesses, developing a stronger workforce development pipeline, expanding opportunity for all of our people and ensuring that students are prepared for success in all phases of life,' said Governor Maggie Hassan (D-NH). 

"There you have it.  They believe education is about the needs of our business and not the needs of our children and their families.  It’s not about teaching kids to be well-educated, well-rounded citizens.  Instead education is to be a pipeline for the workforce.  That’s the shift from classical education to workforce development."
A word that Nussbaum uses throughout Not for Profit is "sympathy." In a list of abilities that citizens should have (page 25), she includes "the ability to have concern for the lives of others, to grasp what policies of many types mean for the opportunities and experiences of ones fellow citizens, of many types, and for people outside one's own nation." Next on the list is "the ability to imagine well a variety of complex issues affecting the story of a human life as it a way informed by an understanding of a wide range of human stories, not just by aggregate data." (emphasis mine)

On this day when the success or failure of Common Core will be computer, no less...let's celebrate sympathy. Let's hold up the failing hands of imagination. Let's have some fun that is funny.

Happy Blogaversary. Climb on up, share some stories, have some cake.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Intentional Thrifter(s) Find Art

The thrift store where I volunteer has had a special display of artwork this month. Every time I went in, I was drawn to this print by a local artist. Mr. Fixit had dropped in there as well and noticed it. Last night we finished dinner and said, "The store's still open, let's go see if it's still there."

It was, and we bought it. It's hanging over one of the bookshelves.

Other recent finds:
An off-white shirt. The last one I bought had a peplum at the bottom, which was cute but hard to tuck in. Sometimes plainer is better.
A tote bag that somebody made out of upholstery samples.
Purple boots (to replace my purple shoes that wore out faster than we could fix them).

And a couple of books.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Best conscious-consumer post I've read this week

"Whatever I might gain from convenience or price, it’s often worth it to wait to decide if I’m making the right choice or spend more money for something that I truly love…if only so I don’t end up in this exact same situation a year from now, wondering how on earth I managed to buy so many things that I hate.
"The Konmari method also gave me permission to say goodbye to those mistakes, something I feel awfully guilty about as a person invested in sustainable living. I shouldn’t hoard stuff I don’t even like to make myself feel better about wasting less; instead, I should learn from my past decisions so I can make better sustainable decisions in the future."

Friday, February 01, 2019

What I did with my closet (A little KonMari Tidying)

I said recently that I don't own any plastic drawers, but they had already been on my mind. Not because everybody and their aunt are talking about KonMari, but because I had been looking at the assortment of bins and boxes on the closet floor, and thinking of possible improvements. And not because I love plastic, but I did figure out that Sterilite's wide-drawer unit was just the right size for the space, if we left the wheels off, so it was probably the simplest choice. 
So you may have already noticed the drawers in this week's minimalism posts. I've added scrapbookish inserts to the fronts of each drawer, but they can easily be removed or changed. 
Some people would probably use closet drawers for underwear or basic stuff. For me, these are more like spark-joy holders. One drawer is for scarves, because I'm strange like that, and also because adding the drawers meant losing the basket they were in. (I will probably eliminate a few of these.)

One drawer is for doilies, mats, and small tablecloths, because I've never been able to arrange them "joyfully" before, or get at them easily, and because we got rid of their bin. Also some crocheted pinecones which never had a real home before.
The third drawer is for summer clothes. Now I can use my suitcase again.
Fitting in the unit moved two plastic bins on to a new life in the storage room, and it eliminated several cardboard boxes. I also cleaned out our "medical" supplies and found a new spot for the overnight-guest bedding, and it all made me feel very productive. And yes, I do things other than clean my closet, but this seemed like a good way to take better care of my stuff. 

Besides, it was too cold to go out.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Minimalism and the world of Charlotte Mason (last of three)

"Guard the nursery; let nothing in that has not the true literary flavour; let the children grow up on a few books read over and over, and let them have none, the reading of which does not cost an appreciable mental effort." ~~ Charlotte Mason, Formation of Character
These three photographs show almost all the books I currently own. I used to have a lot more, although, to be fair, a large percentage of those were for the children, and we had more than the usual number of those because we homeschooled (Charlotte Mason's cautions notwithstanding). So it's easier to keep fewer books now. But to quite a few minimalists, this would be a ridiculous number of books. To some minimalists, any paper books, especially those you intend on keeping, are too many.
I, obviously, object profoundly to the idea that my reading life would be just as satisfying if I gave away every book when I'd "finished" it, or if I read only e-texts. As to the second, there are plenty of books that have never been digitized, or that just work better on paper. (Large art books, for instance.)

As for the first, Charlotte Mason said herself that the best books are never really finished.
As a thrift-store volunteer, I agree that, in some ways, there are too many books out there, or rather, too many that aren't of much value. As with any too-large pile of objects, the treasures get swamped by the dreck. I don't think everybody needs a personal forever-copy of every classic, any more than every woman needs a pair of black pumps. Good libraries are our friends! But I do think that minds are fed, imaginations are awakened, and rooms are made warmer by a chosen, cherished collection of spark-joy books by favourite authors.
So, yes to minimalism that allows us to major on the majors; but no to bare (or non-existent) bookshelves!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Minimalism and the world of Charlotte Mason (second of three)

I recently read Lee Simpson's book about her year-without-buying-anything. Unlike some people who interpret that to mean "nothing new but used is fine," this Canadian woman set the bar a little higher: no additions to her closet, period. Not even underwear. An additional wrinkle was the fact that she had cleared out most of her work clothes in anticipation of a jeans-wearing retirement, but was suddenly offered a new job. Getting through a year on those terms required a great deal of creativity along with some humility, and it would have been understandable if she had pleaded exceptional circumstances and broken her self-imposed limits. She carried it through,  however, and on ending her experiment, she had also made herself more aware of (among other things) the huge environmental and human cost of clothing over-production and over-consumption.
Lee Simpson and Charlotte Mason agree on the value of keeping, cherishingappreciating things, and also of supporting craftspeople (such as knitters and weavers). Charlotte Mason is huge on sense of place, local economy, homegrown, artisanal--when it's the real thing, not just for the tourists. 
These aren't clothes, they're mats and tablecloths--but they're mostly handmade.

Simpson, unlike some who have written on fast fashion, does not differentiate between new and used items, reasoning that even something used will quickly be replaced as factories and sweatshops churn out more. This is the point where her beliefs and mine diverge a bit, and I think Charlotte Mason's opinion might fall between the two. I don't think that buying a pre-owned "something" magically creates another of its kind somewhere in Cambodia; and it is a worthwhile goal to give things a longer life and keep them out of the landfill, especially if a purchase supports a ministry such as MCC. The thrift store, for me, offers the creative potential of the overstuffed closet, craft shelf, and bookcases that I don't have, without the problems caused by buying new things. And of course, it stretches our budget. While Charlotte Mason was not a fan of bargain-hunting, she was always against waste, so I do believe she could have been convinced of buying used for justice and environmental reasons. I also think that you can do a decent amount of using the will, even from secondhand sources, by shopping with intention, buying what you need, and choosing the best quality you can.
However, I do see Simpson's basic point: that if we buy like crazy, new or used, we are repeating the values of the system that never allows us to say "enough." To break those patterns, we have to look first at the "maybe I don't need to buy anything at all"  levels of Sarah Lazarovic's Buyerarchy of Needs. (Using what we have, borrowing, swapping.) 
When Lee Simpson cut off shopping, she had to make the most of clothes and shoes that she might have otherwise ignored. That included a pair of red moccasins that suddenly became a "feature item" on her wardrobe menu, and the one good blazer that had escaped her workwear purge; but it also meant stained shirts hidden under other layers, and frayed collars disguised with silk scarves. The clothes were wearable, but under other circumstances they might have been discarded--like Simpson's tubes of cosmetics--before the last bits of usefulness had been squeezed out. Finding beauty and potential in your own closet is meaningful minimalism.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Minimalism and Charlotte Mason (first of three)

Minimalism defined as choice is a very Charlotte Mason concept.

That is, selecting your personal and household possessions not by trend and fad, but by individual choice based on principles of taste and suitability. As one example, Mason wrote that collections of objects are not bad in themselves; but that they should be worthwhile objects, and should be properly arranged and cared for. In her view, spending a great deal of money or travelling miles to add to the hoard may be a meaningless pursuit; on the other hand, a "free" collection of natural objects might be carefully curated and very significant. This is, in its best sense, "sparking joy."
A lesson plan on using flowers to design an embroidered book cover implies that some people, at least, enjoy designing, making, or owning embroidered book covers. It also discourages the use of cookie-cutter patterns. Aren't things more meaningful when they hold a bit of the maker's imagination? 

Charlotte Mason says that it can be fine to choose a standard  item of clothing or furniture, if that's what makes the most sense and if it means you don't have to "dither" over it. She emphasizes priorities, keeping things in proportion, and not being obsessive about perfect shopping choices. Life makes many other demands on us, and we are here to serve others--not to be served. 
But at the same time, serving others includes creating cheerful homes and classrooms, with as much comfort and beauty as we can manage. We do not default to the cheapest, plainest alternative either because we think paying the lowest price is the highest good or because our small-p-puritan ethic demands no frills or colour. In this era of madly cleaning out and embracing plain walls and white sheets (but only the best sheets), we may not realize how much we are, as much as ever, still following fashion and opinion, but missing the heart. To do what everybody's doing is to live in fear of offending, or in the self-centered wish to seem hip. We walk rather in faith, knowing that we have chosen.