Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Happy Endings

The Dominion Family blog had a name-that-quote game that I didn't see until it was over...so I'm making my own. No bar of soap to offer, just virtual shiny stars if you can name the books these endings come from. Since some of the Treehouse friends are out of town this week, we won't post solutions until they have a chance to play too. You can post your answers in Comments, but how about just saying which numbers you know, so you don't give it away to the others? The answers are HERE.

Have fun.

1. They waved their handkerchiefs until they turned the corner from New Dollar Street into Elm Street. Now they could no longer see the yellow house. Good-by, yellow house! Good-by!

2. That room was full to the brim of something beautiful, and Betsy knew what it was. Its name was Happiness.

3. The other [thing] is that back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how “You’d never know him for the same boy”: everyone except Aunt Alberta, who said he had become very commonplace and tiresome and it must have been the influence of those Pevensie children.

4. None throws away the apple for the core.
But if thou shalt cast all away as vain,
I know not but ‘twill make me dream again.

5. The mouse hurried to his safe home.
He lit the fire,
he ate his supper,
and he finished reading his book.

6. And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the toast.

7. To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced, that the General’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny,, or reward filial disobedience.

8. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

9. I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her. ALTERNATE ENDING I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview, for in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than XXX's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.

10. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back,' he said.

(Isn't that last one the ultimate great ending? And no, it's not The Odyssey.)

To the sender of flowers

And you know who you are: Thank you! (Sorry I have misplaced your email address.)

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Random reasons to be happy

1. Eddie Condon's jazz music

2. Crayons' doll Blueberry Eyes (her name makes me smile)

3. Getting extra Timbits in a box

4. Green beans growing up the wall of the house

5. Realizing that multiplying polynomials really isn't that big a deal

6. Having something print out right the first time.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Algebra Unplugged

Math quote for this weekend:

"Sometimes, the simple way to say something isn't perfectly accurate in all situations. Rather than be perfectly clear, books tend to be perfectly accurate, which is great, if you can just figure out what in the world their author is trying to say."--Algebra Unplugged, by Kenn Amdahl & Jim Loats, Ph.D.

Quick recommendation: buy this and read it BEFORE you start working through a big fat algebra I text. Mama Squirrel wishes this book had been around when she started high school math; it would have saved many hours of puzzlement. Amdahl and Loats give explanations like "In arithmetic, usually we started out with ingredients and tried to make cookies. In algebra, sometimes we start with the cookie and try to deduce the recipe. When we begin with the "product" and try to figure out the multiplication problem that led to it, we are engaging in "factoring."" Oh, so that's what it was about!

Buy or borrow this book. Trust Mama Squirrel, it will make life much easier for your math students--and their homesquirreling parents.

Stuck on a hymn?

Diane at Borgard Blog has a post about trying to remember a hymn that some of the Treehouse friends should enjoy.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Dinner with the Squirrels, Part 2

Climb up into our Treehouse and join us for another round of things we make when we don't want to spend all day cooking. Stay for dinner too, maybe Mr. Fixit will make cabbage rolls. They're very good with:

Herbed Beer Bread (no yeast, doesn't have to rise)

The Squirrels’ recipe is identical to this one. [2012 Update: try this link instead.] It works fine with de-alcoholized beer; bring the can of beer to room temperature first. Mama Squirrel has baked it in both a loaf pan and in an 8 inch square pan; in the square pan, she can use the toaster oven and it doesn't heat up the house.


Mushroom Steak Bake

To do this, you need either a package of fairly thin steak pieces, or a small roast that you’ve sliced into steak-sized pieces. The Squirrels have tried it both ways, depending on what was on sale that week. Put the pieces of beef into a casserole and cover with a can of condensed mushroom soup and either a can of mushrooms (drained) or some fresh mushrooms (or both). Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half (depending on the thickness and amount of meat). Thicken the sauce at the end if you really need to (with flour or cornstarch).


Beef and Salsa Burritos (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Beef Board)

This is a good quick dinner if you've remembered to thaw the beef and the spinach. Somebody can grate cheese while you brown the meat, and you're all set.

1 to 1 1/4 pounds ground beef (the recipe says 1 1/4 pounds, but whoever buys exactly that much? We just use a pound-size package.)
1 ½ tbsp. chili powder (we use only 1 tbsp.)
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper (op.)
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained (or you can use fresh chopped)
1 to 1 1/4 cup prepared chunky salsa
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 medium flour tortillas, warmed (we use whole wheat)

In large nonstick skillet, brown ground beef, and drain if necessary. Add seasonings; stir in spinach and salsa; heat through. Remove from heat, stir in cheese. Wrap in tortillas and serve. (We usually cook a pot of rice to go along with these.)


Ground Chicken Skillet, or Evan’s Mom would Never Recognize This

We adapted this recipe from Jill Bond’s book Dinner’s In the Freezer. She called it Evan’s Mom’s Casserole, but our version’s no longer a casserole and we changed the seasoning from dill to curry (since Mr. Fixit does not like dill much. He wishes Mama Squirrel would also leave the dill out of the Beer Bread, but Mama Squirrel is willing to go only so far.)

1 lb. ground chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 can green beans (or use fresh ones)
1 can mushrooms (op.)
1 tsp. curry powder or to taste
Salt (op.)
Something to serve it over (rice or noodles)

Brown the chicken and onion in a skillet. Add the remaining ingredients and heat through. Serve over rice or noodles, passing hot sauce for anyone who thinks 1 teaspoon of curry powder doesn’t have much pow.


Chicken Cacciatore

Everybody has a recipe for this, but this is Mama Squirrel’s easy way. The Squirrels like the canned pasta sauces that come in different flavours; one variety is tomato-onion, which saves chopping onions when you’re in a hurry; and another one has a strong garlic flavour that’s very good with chicken. Either one will work with this recipe, and regular spaghetti sauce would be fine too.

So: put one pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a small greased casserole; add about half a 680 ml can of pasta sauce (one of those tall ones, for the Americans). (The chicken will give off some liquid as well, so you probably don’t want to use the whole can unless you’re doubling the recipe.) Add anything you like to cook along with the chicken–chopped peppers, mushrooms, canned chickpeas, chopped zucchini (although mushrooms and zucchini could also be added later so they don’t get mushy). Cover and bake for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how thick the chicken is. When the chicken’s cooked through, you may want to thicken the sauce with either a small can of tomato paste or some cornstarch mixed with cold water. Serve on pasta (preferably whole wheat). You can cook this dinner in the crockpot too.


Frozen Tortoni Dessert (adapted from The Goldbecks’ Short-Order Cookbook, by Nikki & David Goldbeck)

If you can make popsicles, you can make this–it’s just a bit dressier.

You need: 1 2-cup container ricotta cheese (light is fine); 1/4 cup honey; 1 tsp. almond extract; 8 tsp. finely ground almonds (we don’t use this, see below)

Whip ricotta, honey and almond extract with an electric beater or in the food processor, till it’s smooth, light and fluffy. Line a muffin tin with 8 paper liners and fill with mixture. Sprinkle each with 1 tsp. ground almonds, or other toppings. Freeze. When solid, remove from tin and wrap in freezer bags or foil (if you’re going to do them ahead). Let stand for a few minutes at room temperature to soften slightly before serving.

The Squirrels don’t usually have ground almonds around (funny thing), so we have tried this with other toppings: a few chocolate chips, a ring of pineapple, a ring of pineapple with chocolate chips in the middle...at Christmas time, we made these and decorated them with white chocolate chips and red candied cherries. They’re quite small, so you might want to allow two per person unless they’re very small people. (And if you have small people and use chocolate chips, warn them to watch their teeth, unless they're little squirrels: frozen chips can get pretty hard.) Or freeze twice as much in four little dishes instead of eight muffin papers.


Summer Shortcake (from Food that Really Schmecks, by Edna Staebler)

Mr. Fixit does not have a sweet tooth and does not care for those little yellow spongy cakes that are sold to make strawberry shortcake with. But he does like this version, which is more like a pan of biscuits than a cake. Mama Squirrel has cut it in half from Edna’s original version, but you can double it back again and bake it in a 9 x 13 pan.

2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ cup sugar, plus a spoonful for sprinkling
½ tsp. salt
½ cup oil or shortening
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk

If you’re making your own sour milk, add 1 tbsp. vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for about five minutes while you mix the rest. Mis the dry ingredients and the oil or shortening until the mixture is crumbly. Add the sour milk and mix just enough to make sure the dry part is moistened. Spread the dough in a greased 8 or 9 inch pan. Sprinkle a spoonful of white sugar over the top, unless that idea really turns you off, and bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or a bit longer–prick the centre to be sure it’s done (especially in hot muggy weather). Serve warm and smothered with strawberries, blueberries or slice peaches, plus some vanilla yogurt or tofu topping or whatever other topping you like. I usually cut it in squares and then split a square on each serving plate, dollop some yogurt on, and cover with fruit.


Pineapple-Orange Rings

This one is really simple–even Crayons can help make it. In each dessert bowl, stack two canned pineapple rings. Stuff the hole in the middle with canned mandarin oranges (be generous but not messy). Chill well before serving. The Squirrels think this dessert looks like summer sunshine in the winter.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thoughts on $72.65

(That's $60.18 in American dollars.)

I just ordered three books for The Apprentice's ninth grade English and social studies courses, averaging $20 apiece. Plus tax. Plus shipping from a homeschool vendor. Are they big fat math books? No, I'm trying to get one of those used (plus we're going to start with Algebra Unplugged, from the library). Are they large grammar books? No, I got a grammar handbook at a yard sale for under a dollar. These are the kind of books that are hard to find used, aren't in the public library, and aren't available as e-texts. $72.65 for three not-very-big books.

Is this inconsistent with our usual thrifty squirreliness (or is that squirrely thriftiness)? Is it dumb to spend this much money on three new paperback books? What about all the people out there who say that they spent almost nothing for this year's curriculum? (And I already spent $100 on a science book, and about the same amount on a combination of other things, mostly used.) Should it be a principle of modest-income homeschooling that you always try to do the most for the least? Does that mean three twenty-dollar books plus tax and shipping (that equals almost half a week's grocery trip for us) are a mistake? Is this something to grouse about?

However, I could have also blown about $40 on some Mary Engelbreit posters and a teacher's plan book at the overpriced teacher's supply store (on a rare mall trip with Mr. Fixit while the Squirrelings were at Vacation Bible School this week). I did not, mainly because I knew we were going to be ordering The Apprentice's books, and because I knew a good place online to download free planning sheets.

Or I could have spent the same money on the list of school supplies that would probably be demanded of us if our children were heading back to public school.

And what are the books?

1. Whatever Happened to Justice, by Richard Maybury.

2. Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves, a retelling of Spenser's Faerie Queen Book I.

3. The Roar on the Other Side: A Guide for Student Poets, by Suzanne Clark.

If Poetry and Justice can be bought for $72.65, Mama Squirrel considers that the bargain of a lifetime. And that's all.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

How you know this is 2005:

Ponytails came home from Vacation Bible School and said that the kids went outside and played blog tag.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Hot German Cauliflower Salad

This is what the Squirrels ate for dinner tonight (with frozen chicken strips and green beans). The two youngest Squirrelings were somewhat reluctant to try it, but they did each manage a piece of cauliflower. The rest of us thought it was quite good. It's the Betty Crocker recipe for Hot German Potato Salad, only Mama Squirrel used a head of cauliflower instead.

Here's the recipe, with our adaptations:

Hot German Cauliflower Salad

Cook (steam, boil) a chopped-up head of cauliflower until it's tender but not mushy. Fry several strips of bacon (we used half a pound) until crispy, adding diced onions (we used one small one) either before or after removing the bacon. (Mama Squirrel has never been able to get the bacon to go really crispy, so she compromised and cut it in pieces after cooking it.)

After you have removed the bacon and onions (we put them in a paper-napkin lined bowl), stir this mixture into a little of the fat that's left in the pan: 1 tbsp. flour, 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. celery seed, shake of pepper. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is bubbly; remove from heat; stir in 1/3 cup of water and 1/4 cup of vinegar (we used cider vinegar). Heat to boiling, stirring constantly; boil and stir one minute; remove from the heat. Pour over the cut-up cauliflower and crumbled or cut-up bacon and onion. Serve hot.

(Mama Squirrel got this done half an hour before we wanted to eat, so she put it in the crockpot on high until supper time.)

Green beans might be a nice addition to the salad too, if you weren't having another green vegetable.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Go study Schopenhauer

To the Birds

by Peter McArthur

HOW dare you sing such cheerful notes?
You show a woful lack of taste;
How dare you pour from happy throats
Such merry songs with raptured haste,
While all our poets wail and weep,
And readers sob themselves to sleep?

'Tis clear to me, you've never read
The turgid tomes that Ibsen writes,
Or mourned with Tolstoi virtue dead,
Nor over Howells pored o' nights;
For you are glad with all your power;
For shame! Go study Schopenhauer.

You never sing save when you feel
The ecstasy of thoughtless joy;
All silent through the boughs you steal
When storms or fears or pains annoy;
With bards 'tis quite a different thing,
The more they ache the more they sing.

All happiness they sadly shirk,
And from all pleasure hold aloof,
And are so tearful when they work
They write on paper waterproof,
And on each page express a yearn
To fill a cinerary urn.

Go, little birds, it gives me pain
To hear your happy melodies!
My plaudits you can never gain
With old and worn-out tunes like these;
More up-to-date your songs must be
Ere you can merit praise from me.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Four-year-old humour

Crayons: Let's play Eye-Spy Colours. I know a colour and it starts with D.

Ponytails: There aren't any colours that start with D.

The Apprentice: I don't know any either.

Mama Squirrel: Maybe she means dark-something? Like dark blue?

The Apprentice: Crayons, is the colour dark?

Crayons: No, it's light.

The Apprentice (inspired, looking at Crayons' shirt): Is it light magenta?

Crayons: Yes!

Ponytails: Light magenta doesn't start with D.

Crayons: I was just kidding.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Answers to some misconceptions about homeschooling

The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room started a post about The Cost of Homeschooling that now has a dozen comments after it. Rather than take up space in the DHM's comments section, I would like to respond to a few of the comments myself.

1. "Very few people have the discipline, knowledge and talents to properly homeschool."

That may be true. But who says you have to go it alone? Our family has had the blessing of wonderful local and online support, including that of people like the DHM who have children older than ours and who have given us the benefit of their experiences. We share knowledge and talents with others, including the hundred and fifty families in our local group and the approximately two thousand families who are or have been connected in some way with the homeschool curriculum we use (a free online project, conceived with the idea of supporting each other and sharing resources).

2. "The net cost of homeschooling is about $15K per child."

Well, that would be more than our total income spent for the educational needs of our two school-aged children. Since we still have the lights on and we ate dinner tonight, that obviously isn't the case. We would be absolutely unable to afford private school tuition; we have, on the other hand, homeschooled happily for nine years on a single income.

3. "Affluent white kids do as well or better in public schools as anywhere else."

Please define "as well as anywhere else." I don't want my children to learn merely as well as they would anywhere else; I want them to learn all they are capable of and all that God wants them to know. Of course my children would probably do fine in public schools, in the sense at least that they would learn to read and probably learn to play the game of taking tests quite well. (We may not consider ourselves affluent in terms of income, but in the sense you're talking about, we would probably be counted as at least middle class.) In practical terms, and based on my experiences as their teacher, my own children probably wouldn't do nearly as well in a classroom setting as they have done with a one-on-one style of teaching.

4. "I recently had a student who came from homeschooling and wasn't prepared at all for high school. Innate intelligence isn't enough."

Please define "prepared." Emotionally? Socially? Academically? One student doesn't make much of a case for your side. I could present some young homeschooled teens such as Tim, Pipsqueak and Jennyanydots, Katelyn, and my own 13-year-old as examples to the contrary in all those areas.

5. "One of the reasons that homeschoolers look better than the average on test scores is that they are a very select group with highly involved families."

Yes, but are you saying that these families are otherwise an elite group? People from any socio-economic group can choose to be highly involved with their children, or not.

6. "Thus, homeschooling is not really different than other forms of school."

My contention, and DHM's original point, is that it's very different. Night-and-day different. For my children, school is not just something to get through; it's learning for its own sake, knowledge for its own enjoyment. We read and write without worrying about graphic organizers, or filling out sheets of comprehension questions and vocabulary words. We can do the next thing in the math book, and also jump forward when somebody wants to know what square roots are. We listen to all different kinds of music, take things apart, read poems, do science experiments, make timelines, and talk about the latest pop psychology theory of teenage brains. Does this require an exorbitant amount of money or a parent with a teaching degree? No. We listen to music on the radio. The books come from our fairly extensive yard-sale-and-thrift-shop library. Anybody can afford a 25 cent used copy of Heidi, and if they can't, there's always the public library. I taught my kids to read without an expensive phonics system--actually we used a game involving an egg carton and Cheerios, but that's another post. Looking at ants in the back yard or ducks in the park is free. Counting house numbers and cars, and going to the corner store to look for packages with M's on them, is free and doesn't take superior intelligence. It just takes time.

Finally, one last point. Some of the disadvantaged (non-homeschooling) parents mentioned by the DHM's critics are immigrants who came from developing countries or other situations where they did not have the chance to have an education, or who are otherwise in bad circumstances because of their struggles since arriving in North America. They may certainly be excused, to some extent, for not being able or willing to teach their own children. As for the rest of these disadvantaged parents--are they not almost all the products of the North American public schools? Did our schools do such a terrible job with them that they are now unable even to teach their own children their colours or how to hold a crayon, or to take their children to the public library and pick out something to read to them? And yes, I AM picking on the public school system, even if the DHM wasn't.

P.S. We live in Canada, not in the U.S., but the problems are the same.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Happy Dominion Day

The Squirrels celebrated Canada Day today by taking the squirrellings to a nearby "heritage crossroads" (what used to be called a pioneer village) and then out for pizza (well, it's red and white anyway). Ponytails made beautiful paper flags for everyone. (Not all the squirrels are as good at drawing maple leaves as she is!)

This particular "village" is supposed to represent life around here in 1914, and on Canada Day--which was Dominion Day in 1914--admission is free and the village storefronts are decorated in red, white and blue. No, not the Stars and Stripes--the Union Jack--which was our flag in 1914.

The Apprentice and Ponytails had been to the village before, although Ponytails didn't remember much. Crayons had never been there before, and it was a lot of fun to see her reacting to things that until now had only been pictures in books. Even a stream, with a covered bridge over it (and maybe a troll underneath?), was something she does not see often. "Oh, a Stream!" She knows the word, but seeing the real thing is different. A locomotive, a pump, washboards, a loom, a chicken coop (which inspired a steady stream of "cluck, cluck, cluck" from Crayons), a really woolly sheep, three black pigs in a pen, big black woodstoves like the one in Paul Galdone's Little Red Hen...she also got to touch a slice taken off the bottom of a horse's hoof by the blacksmith! The late Joan Bodger wrote a book called How the Heather Looks, about her family's trip to England to look for things like Sherwood Forest and Wind in the Willows country; this was no less of a "books coming to life" trip for Crayons.

P.S. If you really want to know what kind of animals we saw, you can click here.
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