Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Personally, I think I'd make a great Mafia Don

For those of my online buddies who have researched their Myers-Briggs personality types, the Egghead Cafe offers a page of career suggestions for each personality. Some of these are a bit tongue-in-cheek (one would hope). An example:
ESTP - Sales representatives, marketers....race car drivers, firefighters, military, loan sharks, con men....
Or this one:
ISTP - Police, hygienists, electrical engineers, farmers, military, probation officers, steelworkers, transportation operatives, hitmen? With the ability to stay calm under pressure, they excel in any job which requires immediate action. [I guess that's the only way to explain how a dental hygienist might also make a good hitman.]
Or maybe this:
ESTJ - Military, business administrators, managers....teachers.... mafia dons. Natural leaders, they work best when they are in charge and enforcing the rules.
"When I was just a lad
looking for my true vocation
My father said now son
this choice deserves deliberation
Though you could be a doctor
or perhaps a financier
My boy, why not consider
a more challenging career?"

Ha, this just proves it

This is a true story. The details have not been changed to protect anybody.

My husband, being Mr. Fixit and all, often has co-workers show up at his office door with this or that that needs a little TLC. He doesn't make house calls, but he doesn't mind looking at peoples' whatsits that sometimes just need a little contact cleaner or screwdrivering to make them functional again.

One of the secretaries brought in three things this week that have gone kerflooey on her. A thirty-year-old kitchen radio; a thirty-year-old portable vacuum cleaner that she uses to clean out her car (it needs a new cord but has NEVER NEEDED FIXING BEFORE); and a year-or-so-old VCR that's just out of its warranty period.

Mr. Fixit says, "I'm pretty sure I can fix the first two."

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

While we're talking about bubblewrap...

did you hear about the winner of the Bubble Wrap® Competition for Young Inventors? Click on "view" beside his name to see a photo and the details.

Congratulations! (And did you notice that the second-place winner is a homeschooler?) Further down the list--have a look at the Ann T. Stress doll. Maybe I'll make one of those too. Except the squirrelings would probably pop all the bubbles on it.

Food Hamper Gourmet

[updated because I forgot to squash the bread]

A long time ago (when the Apprentice was a preschooler), I took some training to be a Community Nutrition Worker. CNWs are “peer support workers” (rather than professionals). They’re usually hired by community centres or other outreach programs to run co-op kitchens or other food-related programs. My career as a CNW was fairly short-lived, but I did learn quite a bit—not so much from the nutritionist who taught the course, but from the other women taking the training. Which is probably the way it should be.

One of the class assignments was to take the contents of an emergency food hamper and explain how it might feed two adults and two children for three or four days. (I think the original assigment was three days, but I wrote menus for four.) There were rules about including three out of four food groups in the breakfasts, and all food groups in the other meals. I don’t remember whether we were allowed to assume that there was any food already on hand or whether there was some cash allowed to buy a few groceries; but I did end up including a few other things which I noted.

I don’t pretend that this is as good as the Hillbilly Housewife’s emergency menu. In some ways, it’s not nearly as good. The food we were given to work with wasn’t particularly economical; it's mostly canned goods and other common food bank items, rather than the bags of flour and dried beans that the HH and the Deputy Headmistress recommend. It reflects a different need: using what you’ve been given, even if that wouldn’t be the smartest way to spend your own money; and (I’m trying to be careful about the way I say this), it also reflects the fact that a lot of food hamper recipients don’t yet have the skills to bake bread or deal with dried beans. Sure, I know those things are not hard to learn; but a lot of people who might be in the situation of getting a food hamper are still a bit intimidated/freaked out/uninterested by the idea of cooking food that doesn’t come in cans. [Update: again, that's not meant to be a condemnation, just an observation. I know there are plenty of very resourceful and savvy people who get into tight spots and need occasional help too.] That was supposed to be the aim of the food programs that CNWs might run at community centres or one-on-one: to gently introduce better economy and nutrition in a supportive environment.

Most of the recipes I used for that assignment came from a 1975 book called The One-Burner Gourmet, by Harriett Barker. I don’t know whether, ten-plus years later, I’d produce the same menus I did then. I wasn’t allowing for what I think of as the “ick factor,” meaning that some people would not care for the idea of mixing things together the way I did. Even in an emergency, I’m not sure I’d be able to eat canned peas straight up, knowing how relatively little nutrition they have for the amount of stomach-clutching it takes to swallow them. But this is what I came up with, plus my notes from then and now. Your comments are welcome.

Contents of a Basic Food Hamper (estimated for 2-3 days use)
[note that this is not a government assistance hamper but something put together by a local charitable organization; the goal would be to have all these things in each box, but that depends on the supply at any time]

Pork and Beans, 2 [cans] per person
Vegetables (Green and Yellow), 2 per person
Mac and cheese, 2 per person
Jam/Honey, 1 per hamper
Soup, 2 (cans?) per person
Juice (48 oz), 1 per hamper
Peanut butter, 1 per hamper (size unspecified)
Cookies, ½ (1/2 of what?) when available
Crackers, ½ (ditto?) when available (I guess they broke open the packages)
Fruit, canned, 1 [can?] per person, (fresh when available)
Potatoes, 5 lb.
Powdered milk, “1 per hamper” (size unspecified, I assume a supermarket-sized bag or box)
Margarine, “1 per hamper” (size unspecified, I assume a pound container)
Pasta/sauce “when available”
Cereal, “1 when available” (size unspecified)
Meat, “3 lunches, 3 suppers, when available” (kind of meat is unspecified—Spam? Tuna? Something not canned?)
Bread, “1 per person” (1 loaf?)
Donuts, when available
Buns, when available

Baby needs on request.

[Just for fun, I priced out the contents of the food hamper using the lowest local prices I could find. It came to approximately $55 Canadian (in the prices of ten years ago), which didn’t seem to be very economical for a weekend’s food.]

Grocery list: peppers or celery, onions (or dried onion), rice or pasta if they weren’t in the box, and tomato sauce if it wasn’t in the box. [Update: I think a dozen eggs would have been a good addition as well, but I was trying for bare necessities.] Food on hand: Mayonnaise or generic white salad dressing, salt and pepper.

We were supposed to suggest snacks, but there wasn’t a lot to work with beyond the obvious bread, crackers and cookies in the box. I said that if honey was provided, they could use it with the dried milk and peanut butter to make peanut butter balls.

Breakfast: 4 oz. juice (per person), cereal with milk, toast and jam or peanut butter

Lunch: Macaroni and cheese (2 or 3 boxes), with 1 can meat (Spam, tuna etc.) chopped in; 2 cans peas. (The One-Burner Gourmet suggests browning the Spam or similar product in margarine first, with fresh or dried onion if you have it, and then adding it to the cooked macaroni.)

Supper: Bean Chowder, made of 2 cans of pork-and-beans, 1 can of tomatoes or tomato sauce, a green pepper or celery, an onion, some margarine (to saute the vegetables first), and salt. Serve with bread (or toast) and milk.


Breakfast: 4 oz. juice; toasted peanut butter and jam sandwiches; milk

Lunch: 2 cans soup with crackers; sandwiches made with a can of fish or other meat, plus the mayonnaise or other moistener

Supper: “Lunch Meat and Noodles,” a recipe from the One-Burner Gourmet. You cook these things together: 1 can cream soup, ½ cup milk, 1 can of luncheon meat (cut in strips), ½ a green pepper, chopped (or celery), 1 tsp. dried onion (or some fresh), 1 can peas (use the liquid to add to the dry milk), and 1 tsp. salt. Simmer all this while you cook some noodles or other pasta (you could save out some of the boxed macaroni), and add this to the pot as well. Rice could be substituted. 2 cans of fruit for dessert.


Breakfast: Fried lunch meat and potatoes; toast; milk

Lunch: 2 cans pork and beans; boiled potatoes; bread, milk, cookies.

Supper: “Soup and Vegetable Chowder,” another One-Burner Gourmet recipe. The success of this would depend on what cans were in the hamper. The recipe calls for 2 cans cream soup, 2 cans chicken soup (like chicken noodle, chicken with rice, etc.), 2 cans corn, 1 can lima beans, 1 can milk (or dry substitute), salt and pepper. You are supposed to add everything together except the milk, simmer for 10-15 minutes, and then add the milk just before serving but don’t boil it. Dessert is something I used to make when I was younger; you cut the crusts off bread, [update: flatten each piece with a rolling pin or something similar], roll them up with jam or peanut butter, secure with a toothpick, and spread a bit of margarine on the outside. Bake them in the oven for a few minutes until they’re toasty. Not fancy, but little kids like them. (Think jam burritos.)

Saturday (the bonus day if the food holds out)

Breakfast: 4 oz. juice; cereal with milk; toast and jam or peanut butter

Lunch: Tuna and Green Bean mixup: A can of cream soup, a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, and enough milk to moisten; doubled if enough food is left in the box. Serve with toast and cookies.

Supper: Whatever’s left: could be potatoes, pork and beans, canned vegetables, and bread. Milk if there’s still some left.

Carnival Day

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at Palm Tree Pundit, and, as promised, it's all about Connections. Sometimes when you suggest a carnival theme ahead of time, the word doesn't get out about it; but bloggers seemed to jump right in to this one. If "Connections" don't interest you, you can sidle over to "Help! I'm holding a haggis!" (And Gung Haggis Fat Choy?)

The Tao of Making Money hosts the Festival of Frugality: Frugality is for Everyone Edition. I think that's a good theme too, because as Amy Dacyczyn always pointed out, there are all kinds of definitions of "frugal." This carnival starts with toothpaste tubes, duct tape and aprons, and moves on to free airline miles and buying rings at Costco. Something for everyone.

The Deputy Headmistress didn't send this post about frugal eating to the carnival (she submitted one about mittens and snowpants instead), but if you're looking for frugal food ideas, it's full of good ideas.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Cookie Connections

One of the common themes you hear around homeschoolers is that so many lessons can be taught through real life. One that irritates me is "teach writing by writing thank-you notes." Unless we're getting married or having a baby, most of us just don't have to write that many thank-yous, and I assume that most of our children are in neither position. The other one is fractions-by-cookies. "Make cookies. Look at what they're learning."

Well, yes. But I have an issue with the "just make cookies" idea, besides dental objections. It's true I had my own first exposure to fractions by making cookies with my mother. ("It says put in 1, funny line, 2 cups of peanut butter. What's that mean?") But there's more to math than just recognizing what 3/8 of a cup looks like, or even that if you put two of those together you get 3/4 of a cup. There seem to be an awful lot of excellent cooks out there who still get nervous around fractions. Some of them are homeschooling moms, and that worries me.

One of the most interesting arithmetic concepts--that my teachers somehow forgot to point out in school until we did algebra--is that multiplication, division, and fractions are all interchangeable. Connected. Once you understand this, arithmetic gets so much easier.

Consider 2/3 of 5.

In Miquon Math you learn that the word "of" can be written "x." As in "times." If something doesn't make sense to you with the word "times," try substituting "of." Or the other way around. So 2/3 x 5 is the same as 2/3 of 5. If you don't know what 2/3 of 5 is, you can figure it out with multiplication. Everybody knows how to multiply fractions, right? (much easier than learning to add them) So 10/3, or 3 1/3. Simple. Little kids can get "of." You write "1/2 x 10," and they say 5. They've just multiplied fractions.

And then there's that cancelling-out maneuver. When you add this to your arsenal, you have some powerful arithmetic tools going for you. You know what I mean, right?

Like 3/10 x 5/9. Of course you can multiply the tops and the bottoms, and you end up with 15/90. And then you can fool around reducing, and you get 1/6. But sometimes that's a lot of work. So you can cancel out the numbers that criss-cross; and you know why, don't you? Because

3/10 x 5/9 is the same as 3 x 5 over 10 x 9 (I'm not sure how to get those to line up properly).

And you could write that 5 x 3 over 10 x 9; and you could split those back up and write 5/10 x 3/9 . And if you reduced the fractions before you multiplied, you'd have 1/2 x 1/3 = 1/6.

Well, just in case you need a reminder on this--you don't need to go through all that moving around. You can do the same cancelling out by checking the numbers that are criss-cross with each other in the original equation. The 3 and the 9 cancel out, and the 5 and the 10.

The third point I wish my teacher had remembered to pass on is that fractions are also division. The "funny line" is not just a fraction marker, it's a division sign. 2/3 means 2 divided by 3, or how many 3's in 2, or how much pizza do 3 people get if they split 2 pizzas? Obviously they each get 2/3 (you could have figured that out even without doing fractions), but isn't that still kind of mind-boggling? You say 2 divided by 3, you write 2/3, and you already have your answer.

And what's 5/3 of 2? Obviously, still 10/3. 3 1/3.

What's 5 divided by 3? How many 3's in 5? 5/3, or 1 2/3.

What's 10 divided by 3? How many 3's in 10? 10/3, or 3 1/3.

What's 1/3 of 10? 10/3.

Multiply 1/3 x 10/1. 10/3.

Fractions? Division? How come we're doing all this multiplying all of a sudden? Zing: connections.

This is why I like Miquon Math. I like bigger ways of looking at things than the "this year we do multiplication, next year we do division" approach. And that's why I think you do need to go beyond cookies--unless you have an awful lot of them and a very sharp knife.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

An abundance post: Make It Do

Make It Do has always been one of my favourite topics. Except that the phrase Make It Do sounds a bit grim, like Grin and Bear It. I prefer the DHM's question What Do You Have In Your Hand? Or in your cupboard...or on your bookshelf. What DO we have in this camp kitchen to feed the two vegetarians? (I talked the cook into putting some of the soup into another pot before he added meat.) What can we do with all this coloured telephone wire in the craft room? (Braided bracelets for eighty campers.) What would you do with these hypothetical food hamper groceries for four hungry people for three days? (That was for a community nutrition class--and I got a good mark on that one! Nobody else thought of making peanut butter balls...)

What's In Your Hand is Ma Ingalls and blackbird pies. It's popsicle sticks and Cheerios for math, and teaching phonics with a pile of old Highlights magazines. It's all those recipes invented to use up things like rhubarb that really don't taste so good on their own. (OK, I know there are people who chew on raw rhubarb...) It's how Marsha and I once taught Sunday School in a un-child-friendly college classroom: we stuck pictures up with Stick-tack and took them down again every week, brought old couch cushions to sit on and our own toys to play with, and let the kids colour at the adult-sized tables. And they really did manage fine without mini-sized chairs.

It's a dull prairie cabin with sunflowers planted around it. (Virtual sunflower seeds if you can help me remember where that story came from, because I've forgotten.)

Use Your Creativity is about surprise and discovery, instead of just "I suppose I can make do with it." It's Athena's kids retelling stories with Playmobil. It's Ponytails' coloured-pencil drawing to go with Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave (maybe I can scan that one in). It's Homeschool Radio Shows' Fourth Annual Make-Your-Own-Radio-Show Contest. It's Meredith's closet makeover and tree-frog-painted table. It's two balls of Dollarama yarn that got turned into one pair of slippers (for Crayons), a dolly hat and scarf, and a couple of hair scrunchies. (You couldn't buy all that even at Dollarama for the two dollars the yarn cost.)

Make It Do is combining two or more parts to make something better than a whole. Instead of waiting for the perfect thing to arrive, the perfect homeschool curriculum to be written, or our body to revert to the perfect size, we use what's there. Can we use it a little differently? Do we need to adapt, go faster/slower, make it more challenging, skip the questions or tests, include more hands-on activities? Or should we use just the best part of it? (For Meredith: Every cloud has a cashmere lining.)

We're using a not-perfect curriculum for math; but it doesn't matter that it doesn't cover everything, because there are lots of ways to learn the things that it doesn't include, and it's kind of interesting having a break from the same workbook all the time anyway. Combining resources for homeschool science can make a stronger overall program than trying to pick one perfect textbook or study guide. We just got an Astronomy book for next year's school--but we also have an old Sky Science experiment kit and several books about the solar system, so we'll combine what we have.

And Make It Do is finding new ways to use what you already have. Cutting holes into the bottom edges of a cereal box is one surefire way of getting kids to notice long-neglected marbles (you shoot them at the holes). You can use wooden blocks to build temporary furniture for plastic trolls. You can learn new rules for cards, checkers, or dominoes.

Not what you ordered? Not just what you hoped for? Make it do. And have fun.

Where were you when the blizzard hit?

Thirty years ago today...January 28th, 1977...was the first day of the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977. If you never realized just how significant that snowstorm was--well, it has its own page on Wikipedia, so there you go.

Now people associate this storm with Buffalo. We didn't live in Buffalo, we lived in the same part of southern Ontario we do now. But you need to understand the connection we had with Buffalo, because of TV and particularly because of Channel 7 WKBW, the home of Eyewitness News, Commander Tom, Rocketship 7 (the show that featured Gumby and Davey and Goliath), and all the other cool American shows that we saw thanks to the marvel of cable TV. We were about as familiar with the goings-on in Buffalo as we were with things at home: weekly deals at Bell supermarkets, Muscular Dystrophy Carnivals, how the hockey team was doing, what was on fire...and later on, constant reminders to "remember the hostages in Iran." (I never hear the Sabre Dance without thinking of hockey.)

Anyway...on January 28th, the storm hit, and it lasted until February 1st. Think of the beginning of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Think of The Long Winter and Snowbound with Betsy. It was That Kind of a Storm. I know winters were worse back then, but this was the one we remembered. According to Wikipedia,
In the hardest struck areas snowmobiles became the only viable method of transportation. In Western New York and Southern Ontario, snow built up on frozen Lake Erie and the snow cover on the ground over land at the start of the blizzard provided ample material for the high winds to blow around into huge drifts. The combination of bitter cold, high winds, and blowing snow paralyzed the areas most strongly affected by the storm. Lake Ontario was not frozen, which meant that Northern New York did not have to deal with previously accumulated snow blowing off the lake’s surface. This did allow for considerable lake effect snow to occur, that when coupled with the existing snow cover and wind also created paralysis.
Here's another interesting page that says, "By the night of Friday, January 28, 1977, thousands of people were stranded in office buildings, schools, police stations, fire halls, bars, factories, cars, houses and in the homes of strangers. Most highways were impassable, train lines were blocked and airports were closed."

Mr. Fixit's dad was coming home from work that afternoon and ended up leaving his car several blocks away because the streets were so filled with snow abandoned cars that he couldn't get through. He was also only wearing a light overcoat! He couldn't find their house but managed to get to the neighbour's and stayed there until he could make it home--next door. [Update: that's Mr. Fixit's account. Grandpa Squirrel says that he did get to his house, banged on the door and rang the doorbell--but the power was out, everybody was in the basement keeping warm around the fireplace, and nobody could hear him to let him in!] A few miles to the south, Mama Squirrel was just happy to be let out of school early for the day, and she remembers her own dad bringing somebody who got stranded at work to spend the night.

And it just kept snowing! This page details some of the serious and sad results of the storm, as well as this "disaster": "Four Buffalo Braves professional basketball games were postponed as well as two Buffalo Sabres hockey games." Tragedy indeed.

As a tribute to Eyewitness News and the Storm of 1977, here's a very short audio clip of Irv Weinstein saying that Buffalo has been declared a disaster area. (Unfortunately, I can't link to more than the site; but a search on that page for Blizzard will get you to the right place.)

What were you doing in January 1977?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Virtual Bubble Wrap

To pop, of course.

Thanks to Lindsey at Just Enjoy the Journey for passing this on. The Squirrelings will love it. (Check out the Manic Mode too.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Postscript to Wearing it out: From Complaining to Celebrating

People have been virtually ringing the Treehouse doorbell here all day, thanks to Meredith's mention of this post. We got several comments, too, mostly from people agreeing that a lot of new stuff is poorly made.

But I feel like I did more complaining that celebrating in that post; after all, we are supposed to be celebrating abundance and finding ways to cope.

So here's a list of reasons why we can be thankful even in this age of made-to-break craziness.

1. It encourages us to be thoughtful, careful purchasers; to look for the best quality we can manage, to read consumer guides, to consider what is the best use of our money. It teaches us to appreciate true quality, in everything from produce to clothes to cars. Every year we look forward to our favourite family-run produce market re-opening; it runs only from strawberry time through late fall. We go out there almost every weekend during the growing season, and enjoy bringing home "happy vegetables."

About ten years ago we bought a queensize bed and a loft bed from Crate Designs, and we're still happy with them. They are sturdy, simple, and easy to clean if needed. (The two younger Squirrelings sleep in forty-year-old cream-coloured twin beds that came free with the Treehouse. The only thing I don't like about those is that I'm always banging my thigh on the endposts!)

We bought a quilt for our queensize bed a few years ago, on sale; unfortunately, it turned out to be one of those made-somewhere-in-Asia deals, and the patchwork quickly started coming apart. Now we have a vintage quilt on top instead; not homemade, but still kind of old--and seemingly indestructible.

2. It encourages us to buy simpler styles of things, with a view to having them eventually repaired or re-covered when needed. For instance, we replaced our electronically-controlled toaster oven with a non-computerized model which is easier to fix. (Unfortunately, even the simpler model needed a repair in a sadly very short space of time, but at least we could fix it.) Using the same reasoning, the abundance of here-today fad junk encourages us to buy classic styles and basic colours (in clothing, furniture etc.) so that we don't have to add "out of style" to our other complaints. We just bought a new couch and chair (NOT from one of the super-stores); the couch is a soft medium brown (I can't remember the right name) and the chair (I love it!) is Fudge Brown. What a retro colour--it's perfect in our 1960ish panelled rec room/school room.

3. It encourages us to buy things used--because, compared to what's out there at the store, you're about as far ahead to buy something that's already been through the wash and held up well, or that somebody else has taken good care of and that needs just a small repair.

4. It encourages us to know when to call it quits. Mr. Fixit knows someone who's having extensive body work done on an early '90's car--I won't name the make, but it wasn't exactly a banner year for that car maker. Along with the body work, they're also having cylinder head work done--and it's not the original engine. These repairs are not cheap! The question is, is it worth it to have such extensive work done on a car with such little resale value? Mr. Fixit says that, personally, he would just "drive the car into the ground" without having all the repainting etc. done.

Be encouraged--we just have to be a little bit smarter, and work a little bit harder these days. But we can do it!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Abundance post: Wear it Out

[Update: I added some further comments on this here.]

Use it up, wear it out...

There's some debate there about what "wear it out" means. Does wearing something out mean to keep fixing something until there's no place left to patch? Or wear it out as-is, like driving a car full of rust holes and belching smoke out the end? How far do you take this before you give in and replace something that's unsafe, inefficient or just ugly?

I don't think there's one right answer. I do think that "wear it out" includes refinishing, repainting, patching, darning, and replacing parts if you can; it can also just mean squeezing the last out of something. But there's a difference between wearing a sock with a hole in the toe and re-using a worn out baby car seat or a lamp that short-circuits.

Which brings us back to one of Mama Squirrel's favourite rants: how come socks don't last as long as they used to? How come the stroller we bought for Crayons was toast after just one kid (even though it was treated nicely and not dragged through the snow the way The Apprentice's old beast was)? How come the Barbie heads crack off and the new sheets shrink beyond recognition? How come more things aren't user-repairable?

Of course I know why. They're mostly made overseas, as cheaply as possible. The plastic parts snap off at a touch. We're supposed to buy new things, not fix the old ones. Besides, most of us can't be trusted to know how to open the back of something. Or someone thinks we just can't be bothered.

You could say that the joke of "wearing it out" is that most things these days "wear out" without any help, one week past the warranty period. Our stove is on its fourth oven element, and that's not a tribute to our resourcefulness, it's a rant against poor workmanship. (The first time one of the elements broke, it shot sparks out the oven door, made a hole like a cigarette burn in the kitchen floor, and scared me half to death. Since then I keep an eye on the element, and if I ever see any funny red bulges while it's heating up, I know it's time to replace it.)

The challenge now of hanging onto something long enough to wear it out is finding something that's worth wearing out in the first place.

Find the hidden treasure

(Thanks to the Deputy Headmistress for pointing this out!)

The Everyday Mommy blog is hosting The First Ever Hidden Treasure Blog Awards. You get to vote for your favourite hidden treasures (in other words, great posts)! The details are at that link, and the nominations are from Feb. 1-7. There are eight categories, and you can vote for one post in each category.

Happy hunting!

A box of delights

We're already making a good head start on next year's school books; recently I managed to get the next two levels of Making Math Meaningful and Jeannie Fulbright's Astronomy book--both things that were on my list.

Astronomy came in a "box of delights" last week from one of my favourite book-dealing homeschoolers (or is that homeschooling book dealers?), who lives in Western Canada and who's been sending us books now for...I don't know, at least five years, probably more. "I shall always think of her as a benefactress."

This is what was in the box:



PLUTARCH'S LIVES. Volume 3 of the Everyman edition. (I had Volume 1, so now Volume 2 is the only one I'll have to keep taking out of the library.)

BOOKS CHILDREN LOVE, A Guide to the Best Children's Literature--the old blue edition, but I'm quite happy with that.


SEWING MACHINE FUN & MORE SEWING MACHINE FUN. The I'll Teach Myself series, by Nancy Smith & Linda Milligan. (Ponytails really wants to use these.)

FIVE LITTLE PEPPERS AND HOW THEY GREW, by Margaret Sidney. (Remember the crawly thing?)

PARABLES FROM NATURE, by Margaret Gatty.

CHRISTY, by Catherine Marshall.

ARISTOTLE FOR EVERYONE, Difficult Thought Made Easy (I'm tempted to add, For Bears of Very Little Brain). By Mortimer J. Adler. (Wasn't there someone else out there who had this on their lists of books to read, or things they had just read?)

HOW THE HEATHER LOOKS, by Joan Bodger. Yeaaaah!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Thinking Mother hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, the January Musings Edition.

Sallie's Homemaking Meme

Thanks to the DHM for pointing this out--I haven't been able to access Sallie's Gracious Home blog for a couple of days myself. I already know that I'm in trouble with this one, though, starting with the A's. I'm happy when the Treehouse is clean and more-or-less tidy, but you may as well know that I serve margarine straight from the plastic tub, and our idea of fancying up the napkins is to get coloured paper ones instead of plain white.

Aprons – Y/N? Nope.

Baking – Favorite thing to bake --Anything that doesn't need kneading. Anything with cinnamon in it. Muffins, cookies, pie. "I love to cook, I love to bake, I think I'll make an acorn cake."

Clothesline – Y/N? Used to have one outside, but it was getting pretty old so we took it down. We have clotheslines strung across the furnace room, though.

Donuts – Have you ever made them? Not the deep-fried ones, just the Muffin Doughnuts you roll in cinnamon sugar.

Every day – One homemaking thing you do every day: Usually do some laundry. Fold the laundry. Clean up the living room. Take out the garbage. Sweep the kitchen. Make most of the meals.

Freezer – Do you have a separate deep freeze?
Yes, we bought one a year ago and I'm very happy to have it. No more cramming things in!

Garbage Disposal – Y/N? No, and we don't have a dishwasher either.

Handbook – What is your favorite homemaking resource? Probably the Internet and everybody's blogs. Maybe Don Aslett's books. Oh, and the Tightwad Gazette books.

Ironing – Love it or hate it? Or hate it but love the results? --I only iron when I'm sewing or when something's unwearable. (Mr. Fixit wears jeans to work.)

Junk drawer – Y/N? Where is it? No, not really--we have a drawer for scissors and pens, but it's not too junky. I watched a Slob Sisters video about that years ago and I guess it's stuck.

Kitchen – Color and decorating scheme-- Fifties modern. Here's a photo of the wallpaper and my favourite teapot. And there are some photos in last year's post from the DHM's kitchen meme.

Love – What is your favorite part of homemaking? Making a home. And cleaning things out--I like organizing closets and shelves, even though they don't always stay that way.

Mop – Y/N? Only when we need to, and then it's usually Mr. Fixit that mops. (No, he doesn't use his tail.) But I sweep up every night.

Nylons – Wash by hand or in the washing machine? Washing machine.

Oven – Do you use the window or open the oven to check? Window.

Pizza – What do you put on yours? Pepperoni and mushrooms. If I had one all to myself, I'd put olives on it.

Quiet – What do you do during the day when you get a quiet moment? Go out to check the mail. Sit down. Or go find out why things are so quiet (always suspicious).

Recipe card box – Y/N? What does it look like? A big blue binder with the cover starting to come apart. I like printouts better than copying things onto little cards.

Style of house – What style is your house? 1959 raised bungalow.

Tablecloths and napkins – Y/N? Yikes, I knew I was going to be in trouble after that apron question. Plastic placemats with pictures of Banff, and Price Chopper paper napkins. I do have some cloth napkins and placemats, but we don't use them every day. If we eat in the dining room, we use a tablecloth.)

Under the kitchen sink – Organized or toxic wasteland? Pretty organized. We have a bagful of plastic grocery bags, a roll of paper towels, some sponges, and a small shelf of plastic wrap and waxed paper. The strangest thing about the under-sink cupboard is that it still has a baby latch on it, even though the baby is now five.

Vacuum – How many times per week? About once, depends on the need. Mr. Fixit usually vacuums but Ponytails likes vacuuming too.

Wash – How many loads of laundry do you do per week? Lots.

X’s – Do you keep a daily list of things to do that you cross off? Sometimes.

Yard – Y/N? Who does what? Mr. Fixit and the Apprentice handle the power equipment (lawn mower and snow blower). Ponytails and I shovel snow. Everybody rakes leaves. Mr. Fixit and the girls usually put in the seeds and I weed them and pick the vegetables.

Zzz’s – What is your last homemaking task for the day before going to bed? Making bedtime tea for Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit.

A week's schoolwork for Ponytails

This is pretty much the rhythm of the schoolwork we're doing right now. We took a day off yesterday (a friend came to spend the morning), but we're back to work today. There are some books we're reading that aren't on this week's schedule, like Tanglewood Tales; but we read the whole story of "The Pomegranate Seeds" from that last week, so it's time to catch up on other things like Sajo and On Foot to the Arctic. This is how the rest of the week is planned:

Opening (we sing a hymn and/or O Canada or the Ontario song) (that's a link to a vintage video on You-tube)
Bible: based on 1 Chronicles 15 & 16 (although we won't read it all)
Bible memory work
Free reading time for Ponytails while I work with Crayons
Math for Every Kid, Lesson 5: Multiples (We were going to read the online version of The King's Chessboard to go along with this, but I just realized the link isn't working anymore; so I guess we'll re-read "Why There Are No Vampires" from our Childcraft math book instead, which covers the same idea: when you start doubling things, you very quickly get more than you can handle!)
Geography: working on a Pizza Book about the parts of the earth
5-minute times table drill
Shakespeare story: continue Henry IV, from Garfield's Shakespeare Stories

After lunch: Poems of Robert Louis Stevenson
Continue Sajo and the Beaver People
Cooking Class: Make butterscotch pudding on the stove

Armed with Courage: start the story of Father Damien
Ponytails has computer time while Crayons works with Mom
Crayons has computer time while Ponytails does History (The Babylonians)
Language: past tense, spelling words
Times table drill
Continue reading On Foot to the Arctic (read with a map handy)

After lunch: Composers: Mendelssohn
Any other readalouds we need to catch up on

Opening, Bible, Memory work (poems)
Free reading time for Ponytails while Crayons has her time
Math lesson 6 (Measuring with centimeters)
Botany, start Lesson 5: Fruits (and seed dispersal)
Language (continue the same lesson)
Ponytails finish the week's history lesson and make a drawing in notebook

After lunch: Poems, Sajo, and crafts

Opening, Bible, Memory work (lists of Canadian things)
Math games
Spelling dictation
Geography reading (continue "The Core of Things", about what's inside the earth)
Picture study: Constable's Salisbury Cathedral

(Free afternoon)

Just for Krakovianka

We just got a copy of The Bible and The Task of Teaching for our support group! So I have until the next meeting to look at it. I guess those Book Stack books are going to be waiting a bit longer...

Monday, January 22, 2007

A book about falling in love

The best book I've read so far this year isn't on my Bookstack Challenge List, but it was on the shelf, so I guess it counts. I'd seen it recommended in one of Terry W. Glaspey's books, and had been meaning to read it for awhile--and one night I just picked it up and started in.

The book is A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken, published in 1977. The plot of the story is no secret (just read the back of the book): Van (the husband) meets Davy (the wife); they go sailing; they become Christians; Davy dies; and life goes on.

Oh, and the middle of all that they go to Oxford and become friends with C.S. Lewis.

This is a book about falling in love: intensely, desperately, "intoxicatingly" (to quote Terry Glaspey). With another human being, and with Christ. Van and Davy don't do anything by halves. At the beginning of their relationship, they set up rules that most of us would find extreme: they will do nothing apart, they will have no separate interests or activities that would interfere with or change their love. In their view, that includes having children, since children might cause an imbalance in their two-ness. They are more interested in pursuing both outdoor and intellectual adventures--together, of course.

However, this isn't a brief "Love Story"; the Vanaukens' marriage lasts for about eighteen years, and they become Christians in their thirties. When they start to consider Christianity, naturally they turn to books: the whole Christian literary canon, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot's later poems, Chesterton, Sayers, Newman, the medieval writers. But, interestingly, it's Christians rather than books that help convince them that Christianity might be true. The Christians they meet at Oxford are intelligent, joyful, and not very "Puritan"; they drink wine, spend evenings (often at the Vanaukens' flat) discussing everything in creation, and sing liturgical goodnights to each other at unholy hours. This is community; this is a kind of magic circle that's all the more magical because of the realization that it's both temporary and eternal. Most of the people involved will leave Oxford for whatever comes next; but at the same time there are bonds being formed that will last the rest of this lifetime and into the next. In the same way that Van and Davy first fall in love with each other, the two of them fall in uncontested, unswerving love with Christ; and one of the only points of friction between them is that Davy seems to take her new relationship with the Lord even more seriously than Van does, if that's possible.

One might ask if this love story with Christ is just as much about falling in love with England, Oxford, and stimulating friends, including Lewis, as it is about God. Does that make it less true? Obviously not, because the real test comes when the Vanaukens return to the U.S. (Van gets a college teaching position). Although they are disappointed by mainstream churches and miss England a lot (they drink a lot of tea and find the houses way too warm), God begins to build a growing circle of believers and seekers around them. This part of the story sounds much like the beginnings of L'Abri: a student has questions and comes over to talk; then she brings a friend...I found this fascinating because it proves you don't have to live in the Alps to reach out to people, or even hang a "Knock for Christian inquiry" sign on your door. If God's writing the story, He opens the door at the right time, or at least provides the right person to knock.

All too soon, the partnership comes to an end with Davy's illness and death at the age of forty. In some ways, I found this less interesting (or at least less surprising) than the first part of the story, although it continues to show the Vanaukens' devotion both to each other and to the Lord. (At one point, Van coaxes Davy out of a coma by talking to her for hours on end.) The last part of the book focuses on the period afterwards, especially on Van's continuing correspondence and friendship with C.S. Lewis, through the time of Lewis's marriage and then his death.

Would I want a marriage as intense as the Vanaukens'? Not if it meant forgoing our children--but they made that decision long before they became Christians. (Did they ever reconsider their choice?) Still, there's much to learn from them about love that serves the other person's needs and pushes aside a lot of the small daily irritations, just for the sake of the relationship. The detailed discussions on faith (including C.S. Lewis's letters to Van) are worth reading and re-reading; we are privileged to observe great minds sharpening themselves on each other. Sheldon Vanauken's descriptions of that time at Oxford are so good that we can almost feel like we were there, on one of those unforgettable winter nights with bells ringing out all around.

Blinky-blink Carrot Cake (trying to get it right)

I used to keep a scrapbook-cookbook with cartoons pasted in among the recipes. One of my favourites showed a lady baking something in her kitchen, and a lot of rabbits hopping around the table and more coming through the window. Her husband comes in and says something like, "What the blinky-blink are you making?" She says (of course), "Carrot cake."

The carrot cake recipe I've used for the last while is...okay. It's fairly healthy, if a bit dry and slightly boring; you can eat it for breakfast without guilt. It reminds me a bit of The Hillbilly Housewife's Cinnamon Raisin Bars (which are very tasty), with carrots instead of raisins. But it isn't CARROT you know the kind I mean? The kind you'd make a trip to Mother's Pizza for when you weren't even having pizza; the kind smothered in cream cheese icing; the kind that's moist and carrotty and nutty all at the same time; the kind my mom baked for our wedding.

So I pulled out about five different recipes for carrot cake, from the sweetest, highest-fat '60's version to more recent Betty Crocker and Canadian Living recipes. And I think I have the basics pretty much figured out, along with the reasons why the one we've been making is a bit on the austere side (besides the fact that I don't ice it).

The basics of a "regular" carrot cake seem to be: 2 cups flour; 1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar (can be half brown); either 3 cups grated carrots or 2 cups carrots plus 1 cup drained crushed pineapple; 2 tsp. cinnamon; a bit of salt (anywhere from a pinch to 3/4 tsp.); 3 to 4 eggs; 1 tsp vanilla; around 1 cupful of oil; and something to raise it with (which seems to be a point of debate). Some people add chopped nuts; some add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg. You mix the dry and wet ingredients separately and bake.

The "something to raise it with" varies from either 1 to 2 tsp. baking soda, alone, to 2 tsp. baking powder plus a tsp. of baking soda; to 2 tsp. of each. Other than making a lot of test batches, I have no way of proving which is the best combination, other than the fact that Canadian Living's "best" recipe calls for 2 tsp. baking powder plus 1 tsp. soda. Maybe it doesn't matter a whole lot.

The pan sizes given vary a lot too, in spite of the fact that all the recipes I compared were based on 2 cups of flour. I've been baking our less-fat recipe in a 9 x 13 inch pan, but some of the recipes say to use an 8 or 9 inch pan instead (which makes sense, because when I bake a standard batch of muffins in a square pan it comes out right). That might be part of the problem right there--the cake's getting more spread out and a bit dried out.

The recipe we've been using is also from Canadian Living, but it was designed to be lower fat; the oil is cut to 1/3 cup and you add a cupful of applesauce to make up the difference. The flour is increased to 2 1/3 cups (half whole wheat), which might explain why it's a bit dry; but the sweetener is cut to 3/4 cup of brown sugar, and the carrots, for some reason, are cut to 2 cups (without any pineapple). Maybe if you added in the pineapple, it would taste better even without the added fat and sugar. But no guarantees. I think I'm going to try it (in a square pan)with 1 1/2 cups sugar and 3/4 to 1 cup oil, plus the pineapple, and we'll see if we have to beat off the rabbits.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The funniest thing I heard this week

Also the scariest.

The topic of the phone-in show was censorship but it had sidled off into talking about video games. One middle-aged guy phoned in and said something like this:

"My son was showing me the games on his system, and I'd been trying out this racing game--you know, the typical thing with a lot of cars crashing up. I actually thought it was a lot of fun. Then the next day I was out in the car, and somebody got in my way. Just for a second, I had this insane urge to drive up on the sidewalk to get around him.

"And I'd only played that game for about an hour..."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Oh, this is so well said

HomeschoolBuzz posted a link to this Lake Oswego Review letter-to-the-editor by Amy Haroldson. In many ways, I could have written this same letter.

Mrs. Haroldson writes, "Perhaps I should first dispel the myth that all home-schooling families reject the brick and mortar experience. Along with many families in the district, we have a combination of home-schooled and public schooled children. My son attends Waluga Junior High, and is thriving in that environment."

We are in the same situation: although we've always homeschooled, we encouraged our Apprentice to check out the local high school for some of the things she's always wanted to try and hasn't been able to: like drama, a science course with microscopes, and French from someone besides me. And she's done well her first term. (We had trouble accessing those things because of time, cost, transportation difficulties, and/or lack of availability through our homeschooling network. That isn't true for many homeschoolers, particularly in the U.S.; many people discover creative ways to learn these things without resorting to public schools).

But Mrs. Haroldson goes on to talk about the child she continues to homeschool: "But there is not a carrot that you could dangle in front of me that would entice me to enroll my child in Lake Oswego schools, as long as I believe she is best educated at home. This is not because I think negatively of the institutions, but because I have carefully considered the particular needs of my child as an individual, and find home-schooling to be the most effective way to meet her unique needs."

Exactly! The Apprentice was in the right "space" this year to walk into public school classes, enjoy herself, and do well. To do that to some homeschoolers, even of high school age, would be like throwing them to the wolves, one way or another. I know at least one previously homeschooled teen whose entry into high school has been marked by rebellion; I know others who are so shy that they'd be lost in a large school. Then there are homeschooled kids who just learn differently, and that doesn't mean learning "wrong," it just means differently. There are kids who still have to work out things like working in the same room while other people are doing a lesson, and those who need to jump up and down in between everything. And there are kids who are slow to read or slow to write, those who have to learn everything at once or one tiny piece at a time; those who just enjoy everything about being at home, helping with younger ones or with family work, having a chance to travel or to spend hours on something that interests them; and those who are brought up on "strong meat" books and who are baffled and stultified by written-to-grade-level stories and endless "reproducibles."

Critics of homeschooling say, "That's real life. You don't always get to do just what you want, the way you want to do it; your kids are just spoiled. When they get jobs, they'll have to do things the way the boss says." Well, yes and no. There's probably a larger-than-usual percentage of quirky kids and non-traditional learners in any homeschool group, because they're the ones who would be worst served by a traditional classroom. The truth is that these kids, the ones with the most idiosyncracies, probably aren't going to end up in 9 to 5 jobs anyway. Some of them would end up (to use those so-perfect images) falling through the cracks and dropping out. Shouldn't we do everything we can to keep our children from getting lost, especially if they tend towards any of the at-risk categories? And some of these not-9-to-5-ers are going to be very successful and thrive in their own areas, if they're given what they need.

As the writer of the letter says: it's not about the schools. It's about our kids. As long as we continue to have that choice, let's choose what's best for them.

Corny but cute

We picked up an easy-reader book by Robert Quackenbush called Sherlock Chick's First Case, about a little chick that hatches wearing a deerstalker's cap and holding a magnifying glass (of course). It turns out there's a whole series of these: Sherlock Chick and the Peekaboo Mystery, Sherlock Chick and the Giant Egg Mystery, Sherlock Chick and the Noisy Shed Mystery, and Sherlock Chick and the Case of the Night Noises. They aren't new (the first one was published in 1986), but our two local libraries don't have any of them, so I guess that's why I'd never heard of them until now. Obviously Sherlock Chick solves only chick-sized cases, so we aren't dealing with anything violent or bloody here (the first case is about some missing corn). But you'd have to be pretty hard-hearted not to like the little guy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Really retro cooking

The DHM has been scanning in menus and recipes from 1937 and thereabouts, here and here.

This isn't farm food, eggs-from-the-chicken-house cooking. It's not the worst of the Depression, either (macaroni and potatoes, and lucky to have that). This is urban, gas-stove, Three Stooges shorts, grocer's boy cooking; this is Cuffy's icebox.
The morning finally went by with Randy pushing it every second. It was awful to sit at the lunch table while Cuffy calmly insisted that she must eat everything on her plate. Everything.
"Oh, Cuffy, even my beets?"
"All your beets," replied Cuffy inexorably. "And all your squash."
Randy looked witheringly at the food on her plate.
"Beets are so boring," she said. "The most boring vegetable in the world next to squash."
"Not so boring as spinach," said Rush. "Spinach is like eating a wet mop."
"That will be enough of that!" commanded Cuffy in the voice that meant no nonsense.
At least it was over, even the tapioca, and Randy just stopped herself in time from remarking that she considered tapioca the most boring dessert in the world next to stewed rhubarb.--Elizabeth Enright, The Saturdays
In spite of the fact that the A&P menu sheet is for a week in June, there isn't much use made of all the fresh things that would have been coming into season then. There are lambchops (well, I guess lamb is a springtime food), potatoes, beets (why would Buttered Beets taste any better than unbuttered, unless they were right out of the garden?), spinach (probably canned), and several puddings a week (I don't suppose Randy would have appreciated the Rhubarb Tapioca on the menu). My mom told me recently that Grandma cooked a lot of puddings back then as well--not the steamed kind, but the kind on the DHM's printout: cornstarch pudding, tapioca, Junket and so on. The menu doesn't assume a lot of preparation time or fancy equipment (especially if that Cream of Tomato Soup and the Buttered Mixed Vegetables came out of cans), and doesn't expect that the food had to be terribly exciting--the interest seems to depend on the Iced Cupcakes (and Stuffed Olives if you could afford them) to cheer things up.

The recipes sound very much like the ones in my great-aunt's Modern Priscilla Cookbook (which she got around the time she was married; the flyleaf has her name and "1929" written on it). The lists of ingredients are fairly short and often make use of canned things and the convenience foods of the time: canned pineapple, "gelatine," minute tapioca, canned shrimp, and bouillon cubes. They sometimes have just a slight "off" sound to contemporary tastebuds, like this Spaghetti with Mushrooms posted at Horrifying Foodstuffs. [Whoah Nellie Update: I didn't realize there was such rude language in that post. Just look at the recipe and skip the rest.] I think people must have liked things seasoned differently back then; there's definitely more parsley in this cookbook than fresh garlic.

Just for fun, here's a Modern Priscilla recipe for something chic you could serve, maybe for lunch with the girls.

Pasadena Salad

3/4 cup shrimp (1 small can)
1 1/2 cups celery
1/2 cup radishes
1/2 cup peas (hmmm...canned, frozen, or fresh?)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon tarragon vinegar (a slightly exotic touch?)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup nuts

Cut shrimp in small pieces. Dice celery and slice radishes. Combine shrimp and vegetables, adding a little salt and pepper. Pour into a salad bowl, add vinegar, and spread mayonnaise over top. Sprinkle with chopped nuts and garnish with tiny hearts of lettuce (wait a minute, where did those come from?). Servings, 6.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The rest of the blog world

Some peoples' blogs are hard to keep up with! Meredith at Like Merchant Ships posts so many good ideas and photos that I lose track sometimes. Even she says "With over 800 posts, navigating Like Merchant Ships can be a journey."

But it's worth the trip over there. Lately she's posted about instant houseplants, lacy pillowcases, replacing ants (yes, you heard that right), and the fish hung over her bed. Meredith, nobody will ever say your posts are boring.

Coffeemamma has been posting about what her youngest kids are doing this term, and about the anxieties confidence of future Olympic hockey stars.

Sallie has a very thoughtful post about Coping with Abundance.

And the DHM has scanned in a vintage article about feeding a family of four for $13 a week.

(Can you tell my head's still running in carnival mode?)

Carnival of Homeschooling #55: Parents' Meeting Edition

Welcome to the 55th edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling: Parents' Meeting Edition. Yes, you've wandered into the church basement where the homeschooling moms (and a few dads) are gathering for news, conversation and moral support. Keep your coat with you, the heating doesn't always work too well down here.

ChristineMM (The Thinking Mother) is setting up chairs tonight. She's feeling a bit worried about How The Family Schedule Is Going. Lara from The Open Door comes to help her out. She says that at her house "The School Year Must Be Going Well," after hearing that her son actually wants to take a test to show off how much he's learned. They decide to sit down after the meeting and chat some more.

Will everybody please have a seat and we'll have some announcements first.

One carnival reader sent in a link to The Pro Second Amendment Committee's 2007 Annual Student Essay Contest. There are categories from elementary through secondary, and the entry deadline is February 15th.

Another contest! The Official HSB Company Store announces the Math Tutor DVD Bundle Contest for January. "To enter this contest just leave a comment here telling us about your favorite math manipulative or activity." I could do that...

Groupnews at reports on "Jason Taylor, Tim Tebow, Homeschoolers and Public School Sports Featured on ESPN." They note that "ESPN’s Outside the Lines featured a report on a homeschool family from GA who want their homeschooled sons to play on public school sports teams, and [discussed] the GA Tim Tebow bill that has grown from it."

Gena Suarez of The Old Schoolhouse presents "Joel Turtel Wrote a GREAT Story." Joel (the author of Public Schools, Public Menace: How Public Schools Lie To Parents and Betray Our Children) gave Gena permission to reprint "a must read short story he wrote that was featured by American Daily. The story is about how a father comes to realize that public education is dumbed down and how he has cheated his daughter by not first investigating the system he placed his daughter in."

And there are two announcements about field trips:

Michael of Family School describes a visit to the art museum (and an unexpected question) in Art Appreciation and the Mechanics of Halos.

Heather presents Field Trip Foto Friday: Crowe's Nest Farm posted at Sprittibee.

We usually invite people to come up and describe a typical day in their homeschooling life. Tonight Birdie, Kelly and Kristina are going to share.

Birdie tells us what homeschooling looks like in her nest, in "What Does Homeschooling LOOK Like, Anyway?"

Kelly at Pass The Torch gives a three-month review of her homeschool experiment, and decides that "process is more important than product."

Kristina of At Home, On Fire muses about the spiritual connections between homeschooling and Christian life in "While I've Got You."

Because January 15th was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we have some members who would like to share their thoughts on that.

Elena at My Domestic Church presents "Flexibility- the key word in homeschooling," using MLK discussions with her children as an example. Elena says, "I didn't use any special curriculum for this, just my own experiences and knowledge of the subject and it worked out very well." Too bad Elena can't teach some of the 19% of college students that think "Martin Luther King, Jr.'s contribution to history was 'advocating the abolition of slavery.'" (Thanks to Barbara Frank from The Imperfect Homeschooler for posting this in "History and Martin Luther King, Jr.")

Missy at Life Without School muses on racial stereotyping (even within the homeschool community) in Thoughts About Diversity.

And Andrea Hermitt presents How Would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Feel About Homeschooling? posted at Homeschool Blog.

Time to take a short coffee break, stretch your legs, sign up for field trips and say hello before we get on to tonight's main topic.

The topic around the coffeepot is a big boo, hiss for people who think homeschoolers (especially unschoolers) are a) out of touch with reality, b) selfish, and c) uneducated. This has obviously touched a nerve with Alasandra, who gives them all her two-cents worth in More Misconceptions About Homeschoolers. Susan at Corn and Oil agrees that "Homeschoolers Don't Miss Out." Tootle adds her experiences with "Homeschoolers and the Real World."

Sandy at Relaxed Homeschooling comes out swinging with "My Beef with a National Educational Association Article". The NEA writer asks, "So, why would some parents assume they know enough about every academic subject to home-school their children?" Sandy responds, "We don't assume to know it all, however, we do know HOW to give our children what they need in order to learn."

And Elisheva at Ragamuffin Studies responds with some wonderful "Thoughts on Standards and Credentials."

Janine at Why Homeschool points out that when teachers teach to a test, the students don't master the material, in "Teaching to the Test."

Okay, everyone, we could just skip the rest of the meeting and talk about this some more, but it's time for our Main Topic: Things to Keep You Busy During the Winter. Will Sarah, Rebecca and Meredith come up to the front?

Sarah of Small World presents some of her Favorite Family Games.

Rebecca at Today in Faerie School shares a list of "50 Simple, Winter Activities to do with children," especially the "Ideas I'm definitely doing (if I remember)," in "I Needed a Place to Store This."

And Meredith at Sweetness and Light says "We'll be "Owling" in the Preschool Learning Corner for the Month of January!! There will be lots of fun books, activities, and things to learn and discover through Seamus's eyes this month with two special Field Trips planned for observation and hands on learning about these magnificant nocturnal birds of prey!"

The main part of the meeting is over, but the library is open now--and don't forget we can use help putting things away.

Mama Squirrel at Dewey's Treehouse, the librarian, isn't in a very good mood; she's giving a "Growl, Hiss for that Booklist." Somebody get her some decaf or she'll go on about it all night.

Laurie Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit provides a list of Free Online Audio Books. This newest incarnation of books-on-tape is gaining popularity quickly with homeschoolers such as Krakovianka, who posts about this "modern twist on an ages-old tradition." Ann of A Child's Geography adds her own take to this with Listen to the World's Sounds--Listen to His Heartbeat. "Call the kids around, turn up the speakers, and whirl around the world. Only ears and attentive minds are necessary."

Over by the cookies, a group of ladies is chatting about curriculum ideas.

Andrea at the Homeschool Blog asks, "What do Children Need More: Structure or Freedom?"

Alejandra at A Guide to Raising Great Kids provides a list of When to Teach What. Patti at All Info About Home Schooling answers that favourite question "What Do You Use? (Ages 4 to 5)."

Tara Reynolds presents The $5,000 Tomten posted at Waldorf Our Way.

Mama Chjaos notes that using a favourite toy train to find out about magnets is really Science at its Best.

Janine at Baptist Homeschooling takes a similar approach to Teaching Math Concepts, using everyday activities.

Denise at Let's Play Math gives some advice on teaching Order of Operations.

Hi Desert Hi-Jinks has a look at a One Word Writing lesson.

A Dusty Frame shares about a great resource she's found, the Homeschooling with Notebooks website.

Christine and Lara sit down to talk about how things are going, and are joined by several others.

Kat of No Fighting, No Biting worries about the fact that she doesn't orchestrate a lot of creative art projects, in "I'm Not That Kind of Homeschooler!" "I do teach the kids cooking and sewing, let them loose with art supplies and they do produce lots of creative things such as catapults, homemade cards, and lots of drawings and paintings," she says. "But, sitting down with one child to do a specific project? Perhaps I am lazy or perhaps I realize that the odds of any project being completed without a smaller sibling destroying it are almost nil." Cindy of the Dominion Family Blog says that kids need to develop academic (and creative) independence in "Homeschooling: How to Fail." She reminds us that "The homeschooling survivor is the mom who knows that if all the plans and dreams for her school depend on her direct input something is gonna give." The Deputy Headmistress of The Common Room adds to Cindy's ideas with "Homeschooling when Mom is Interrupted."

Judy Aron at Consent of the Governed reminds everyone of what can happen if that final independence isn't reached, in "A New Phase for Kids And Parents - 'Adultolescence.'" "A new stage of your kids' growth called 'Adultolescence' describes a period following college that can last five or more years. No joke!" (Collective shudder.)

Sorry to break this up, but we have to clear out of here! You can leave your nametags in the box by the door.

And the doors are locked, and the meeting's over. Thanks to everyone who attended this week, and to the Cates for making the coffee! Next week's Carnival of Homeschooling will be hosted by The Thinking Mother. You can submit your blog article to the next edition of carnival of homeschooling using our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Monday, January 15, 2007

This is A Day That Really Schmecks

Today's the day! It's also the day that would have been Edna Staebler's 101st birthday. In honour of that, and to celebrate the reissue of her first cookbook, Food That Really Schmecks, Jasmine at Cardamom Addict organized a good-schmecking roundup of recipes. I counted (I think) eleven bloggers who are linked from Jasmine's page, including our Schnitz Pie post.

(It sounds like there might even be a Part Two featuring other bloggers who heard about it and wanted to participate. If you're interested, please read this.)

Happy birthday to Edna. And thanks again to Jasmine and WLU Press for sponsoring this.

Yes, I did the MS Read-a-thon

(Found through The Common Room and originally posted at Bloomabilities.)

A sort of childrens' book meme. Which of these "100 best childrens' books" have you read? You're supposed to put the books you've read in bold; put a star beside books you like(d), and a minus sign besides those you don't/didn't. Bloomabilities says that her rule on still like/used to like is that she gave a book a star if she liked it as a child but doesn't anymore. My system is going to be more of an overall rating. One to three stars, three being best. One is very good, three is a favourite. Some I've read but I didn't bother rating--they're good [or at least they made it to the list], what more is there to say?

But I have to say, I do not think this is a list of the 100 best childrens' books ever. No way, not even close. I mean, who put three Shel Silverstein books on the list and left off Edward Lear? No Edward Ardizzone? No D'Aulaires? The Art Lesson but not Helga's Dowry? No Elizabeth Enright, Rosemary Sutcliff, Noel Streatfeild, Eleanor Estes, Eleanor Farjeon, E. Nesbit? Where are Treasure Island and Pinocchio? And all those Dr. Seuss books? (How can you even rank One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish? It's not even a real book, it's just reading practice. Fun reading practice, but not exactly enthralling.) Sounds more like they just picked the books with the best marketing.

***Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
*Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
*Love You Forever by Robert N. Munsch
(sometimes I like this book and sometimes, as other people have said, I just find it creepy)
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
***The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
*The Mitten by Jan Brett
*Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
***The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Where the Sidewalk Ends: the Poems and Drawing of Shel Silverstein by Shel Silverstein
*Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
Oh, The Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss
Strega Nona by Tomie De Paola
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you see? by Bill Martin, Jr.
(I thought this book was boring in kindergarten and I haven't changed my mind)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
*The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
*How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by John Archambault
**Little House on the Prarie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
**The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
***The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
*The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

The BFG by Roald Dahl
The Giver by Lois Lowry
**If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
**Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
*Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
***The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien
*Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
(I think I'm one of the few people who never liked this book much; I liked some of her others better.)
The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
**The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
*Corduroy by Don Freeman

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Math Curse by Jon Scieszka
Matilda by Roald Dahl
Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
*Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary
*The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
Are You My Mother? by Philip D. Eastman
***The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis
**Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
***The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
*The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Napping House by Audrey Wood
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig
(I like a lot of Steig's books but this one wasn't my favourite; I prefer Dr. DeSoto)
***The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
***Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss

Basil of Baker Street, by Eve Titus (we have several of her Anatole books but not this one)
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
-The Cay by Theodore Taylor (one of the few books I really disliked)
Curious George by Hans Augusto Rey

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Arthur series by Marc Tolon Brown
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
(I can't make up my mind about Katherine Paterson's books. I should like them. I like her essays, her writing about writing. But sometimes I just don't like her stories.)
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
-Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (Big ugh. Double ugh for the sequel.)
A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein
**Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
**My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
*Stuart Little by E. B. White
(I just read this to Ponytails, and I'm always somewhat disappointed by this--it's so disjointed)
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech
**The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
The Art Lesson by Tomie De Paola
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Clifford, the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
***Heidi by Johanna Spyri
***Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert N. Munsch

Unusual weather we're having, ain't it?

Today is also a snow day. Schools are closed, Mr. Fixit and the Squirrelings are blowing the driveway out.

How about where you live?

(Virtual hot chocolate if you recognize the quote.)

Carnival of Homeschooling Reminder

Just to remind you that, for the very first time ever, Dewey's Treehouse is hosting the Carnival of Homeschooling this week. That means that you have until 6:00 p.m. P.S.T. (or until 9:00 Ontario time) to send in your contributions here. Thanks to everyone who has already contributed--it's been fun!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

January Questions, by Ponytails

How much snow is there on the ground where you live?
--Enough to shovel but not enough to make a snowman.

How do you make a snowbear?
--You make a humongous ball and a little ball, and five snowballs.

Do you know the song "The Minstrel Boy?"

Do you like the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
--Yes, but it's a little depressing.

What do you put in baked peanut butter cookies?
--1 egg, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of peanut butter.

Do you like writing stories?
--Yes! I'm writing one right now. Well, I kind of finished it, but I might put some finishing touches on it.

You can answer these questions too!!


Of princesses and nasty clothes

Where do I start with this... Macleans Magazine, Canada's weekly newsmagazine, ran an article this week on the current state of young girls' immodest dress. Actually two articles; one, an interview with Celia Rivenbark (author of Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like A Sk---), is online. The other is by Lianne George and is titled "Why are we dressing our daughters like this?"

The articles are so full of language and other non-family-friendly imagery that I wouldn't even let The Apprentice read them.

However, there were a few things that jumped out there that are worth commenting on.

One of the biggest objections to little girls being dressed as if they were standing on street corners is the question of who's watching them and why. It is very, very hard to explain this problem to children, especially if we've raised them to say "Look at me!" Especially if we are constantly taking videos or pictures of them, teaching them to pose, encouraging them to be the center of attention while they're still at their cutest. How then can they understand the danger of someone looking at them with evil intentions? Besides that, there's the basic problem of "me!" Clothing historian Anne Hollander is quoted in the Macleans article: "You can learn a whole lot of very serious narcissim by being brought up to be looked at constantly," she says, citing Marie Antoinette, who was "scheduled to be the queen of France since she was born."
"Nevertheless, Esmeralda was not the most fortunate Princess in the world and it was on account of her one lack that the whole kingdom mourned.

"For Esmeralda was plain.

"There weren't two ways about it--the girl had no beauty, and in a royal Princess that is a serious flaw."--Phyllis McGinley, "The Plain Princess"
Are we raising our daughters merely to be looked at?

To be sexy? Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, is quoted in George's article: "Girls themselves don't necessarily understand the clothing as sexual, she says, but 'what they do comprehend is that they get a lot of attention by dressing in a particular way.'"

To be shoppers? A quote from the article: "In fact, the most important identity of all for girls to cultivate is their identity as shoppers." It describes toys such as plastic purses filled with toy wallets and debit cards, and a Barbie bank with ATM machine. Toy purses are nothing new, but the article suggests that these toys aren't just playthings: for this generation of children, they represent the real thing; they are "practice" rather than just "play."

To be invited places? The authors of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes are quoted: "Will she be popular? Will she be invited somewhere? With what group does she belong?" I think those questions sum up the article even more than the details of the terrible clothing do. They sound like the stuff of old teenage novels (Will Poindexter ask me to the prom?); but now it's little girls who worry about those things.

To be servants? Wait a minute, where did that come from? (Thanks to for posting the link.)
"Dame Goodwit gave her a tiny plot of ground for her to plant and she grew reasonably adept at coaxing the seeds to climb up into the sunlight. She burned her thumbs trying to make cookies, she scratched her knees blackberrying, she made up stories for Echo which had nothing to do with how important she had been at the castle."--Phyllis McGinley, "The Plain Princess"
At what age do you worry about those things? Are homeschoolers immune to the marketing-our-girls disease, even if they don't watch commercials? Do those attitudes creep in at church, in dance classes, in the ways they play with their dolls? And even, if we're not being very careful, in their clothes? As the article points out, the streetcorner syndrome can be hard to get away from when even the Giant Tiger (discount store) fliers advertise "clothes with bling."

On my last shopping trip with Ponytails, I didn't so much mind the Brady Bunch orange and pink flowers and stripes for little girls (at least they're cheerful), but there was one top she looked at that I did not like at all, and not because it had bad words on it or exposed her midriff. It was clearly designed for someone much older: it was black, stretchy, and tucked in all the wrong places. The ironic thing was that they had only one of these tops, and it was (luckily) a size too SMALL for my fourth-grader. In other words, it was meant for maybe a second or third grader.

I don't usually go on this long, and I'm trying to wind up with one main point to this. If there is one, it's that we can't afford to raise Marie Antoinettes or Esmeraldas, much as we might like to have little princesses with everything they could ever want. And we need more Dame Goodwits who are smart enough to break through the spell our culture tries to cast on our daughters.

"'The magic,' she said softly. 'It is complete. I am no longer plain.'

"Then she turned to Dame Goodwit.

"'My father the king will reward you well. You are a powerful enchantress.'

"'That is as may be,' said the Dame placidly. 'Perhaps your eyes glow because for the first time in your life you have done an unselfish thing. I am well pleased with you, Esmeralda."--Phyllis McGinley, "The Plain Princess"

Monday, January 08, 2007

Paper and scissors rock

I started a post about some new things I wanted to use this term, things we already had that I wanted to start using or make better use of. A hands-on math book, a set of notecards, an explorer biography, a craft book. And I said there were other things on the list--not books.

I wanted to finish the post, and tried to name those other things that I was going to use to zip up our winter homeschool. The list went something like this: Tape. String. Paper. Bible. Markers.

Not exactly earth-shattering!

But it struck me that sometimes we're looking for poprocks in our school shopping bags, and overlooking things that are less explosive but just as useful.

For instance, we have an ancient history timeline in the kitchen. It's been there all this school year, and it's been looked at (it's agreed that Cleopatra is beautiful and that Nero and Socrates are ugly). But the print on the events is pretty small and I thought the fourth-grader needed a boost in making sense of what's on it. So this term we are going to add construction paper tags, not right on the timeline but above and below it, attached with string. (Tape to hold the strings on the back of the tags, and stick-tack to hold the other ends to the timeline.) And not one but two colours: one colour tags for Bible events (we're reviewing David and Solomon and then going through some of the kings of Judah), and another for the stories from Hillyer's A Child's History of the World (we're moving through the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Persians and will be getting to the Persian Wars and the golden age of Greece). When the two colours cross over, so much the better!

We have two books of French stories--actually very short English stories that were translated into French. They are useful for teaching vocabulary and a bit of grammar. We've acted out the stories with toys, printed out sentences from them, and made up our own version of worksheets to go with them--usually drawing things from the story or illustrating new sentences we've made up with the story vocabulary. This term we'll probably only get through three stories, two short and one a bit longer, but that's all right. The first one is about a snowbear (not a polar bear, a bear made of snow) and has lots of body-parts vocabulary (She rolled a head. She put on a nose, etc.). So I'm going to dig out the felt board (homemade a long time ago) and make some construction-paper snowbear pieces to help tell the story. (Construction paper works as well as felt does, and it's much easier to cut.) Then on other days I'll ask Ponytails (and maybe Crayons too) to draw her own snowbear and label the parts in French. (Maybe Crayons will do it in English.) One day we'll practice some French phonics from the story (the difference between vit, petit and vite, petite). We'll play Simon dit (Simon says) to help with body parts, and sing the French version of Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes. And that's it--no CD-Roms in this program, but it seems to work.

I'm going to have Ponytails (the fourth grader) make a Stick Book of Area, Perimeter and Circumference (topics from Janice van Cleave's Math for Every Kid). I'm not sure if Stick Books appear online anywhere; I got the instructions from The Ultimate Lap Book Handbook by Tammy Duby and Cyndy Regeling. Better than stapled books, better than Duotangs: all you need are pages made from cardstock (we have some already from the dollar store), a hole punch, a rubber band, and a popsicle stick. The book is held together by a rubber band threaded through two holes punched in the pages, and that's held down by a popsicle stick. Revolutionary!

Paper. String. Imagination. You can't lose.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Well, just pat me on the back

Just for the record, I learned most of those things while I was homeschooling my Squirrelings--not during high school!

You paid attention during 100% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

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