Monday, April 30, 2007

Of plastic counting bears and cubes

Mr. Person at TextSavvy posted some interesting findings (Hands-On, Brains-Off) debunking a current sacred cow in elementary mathematics teaching: hands-on activities and manipulatives. He includes a quote from Education Week:
"Researchers found that children taught to do two-digit subtraction by the traditional written method performed just as well as children who used a commercially available set of manipulatives made up of individual blocks that could be interlocked to form units of 10.
"Later on, though, the children who used the toys had trouble transferring their knowledge to paper-and-pencil representations. Mr. Uttal and his colleagues also found that the hands-on lessons took three times as long as the traditional teaching methods."
And why would I, the Cuisenaire Rod enthusiast, find anything to agree with in this?

Charlotte Mason wasn't always in favour of commercial manipulatives and models, either. (You can see a set of math manipulatives (by Adolf Sonnenschein) that she described here.) [2012 update: that link has changed, but there is a similar photo here.] She didn't want pre-made models getting in the way of students doing their own thinking. She didn't want them getting too dependent on rods. (She also didn't like "drawing in chequers.")

However, she did make use of both beans and dominoes as teaching aids. (Dominoes were used as a sort of addition flashcard: young students were to learn all the combinations in the set.) Longtime CM user Lynn Hocraffer wrote an interesting article, "Seashell Math," about using a bag of shells to help her son who couldn't "see" what the numbers in arithmetic were about. She says, "We did use all the sections and activities [of the math program] with my son, but I was dense and didn't do the manipulatives until the end. Dumb me! I knew my son was a kinesthetic learner, but because he recited so well I took a while to realize he didn't know what he was saying! He could "Reason", that is he could follow in order, but it had no meaning, no application."

I've talked to a lot of homeschoolers who have gone one direction or another in choosing math materials, sometimes after trying several approaches. I know people who have had enough with the "math toys" and are now back to using the Victorian-era Ray's Arithmetic. I know other homeschoolers who never really felt they "got" math themselves until their kids started using Math-U-See with its colourful blocks. The division might be right there, between those teaching parents who are already comfortable with math and who do better without all the "blocks and whistles," and those who can communicate the same concepts without gimmicks. I believe that there are also children who learn just fine without having to see or handle manipulatives; and there are others who need that visual or kinesthetic boost to make sense of it. But is there a place for those of us who aren't math majors but still feel like we have a pretty good grasp of what needs to be taught and just prefer to teach it with some kind of manipulatives? (And for how long?--are manipulatives to be encouraged in the primary grades but not in the upper years?--or are they to be eschewed all the way along?)

I remember being in the first grade (in a rows-of-desks classroom) and not being able to figure out why 1 - 0 = 1. I was supposed to be one of the smart kids in the class; I went to the second grade room to do reading every morning. But those arithmetic drill sheets with their 0's really threw me. Nobody ever gave me a clear illustration or explanation of why 1 - 0 didn't equal 0.

The rest of my elementary math education (at a push-the-desks-into-groups school) was so forgettable that I've pretty much forgotten what we did do. I remember our spelling series perfectly (waste of time--I already knew how to spell), but I don't even think we used math textbooks. This was during the experimental '70's, in what was supposed to be the most up-to-date local school (the one with all the learning centres and extended classrooms). But we were still being taught by teachers who had learned more traditionally themselves; so what I do remember is a rather schizophrenic mishmash of times-table drills, problems on the blackboard, reams of purple "ditto" pages, and occasional forays into manipulatives. "Here are the attribute blocks. Follow the directions on the Learning Cards." We looked forward to those manipulative occasions not because we were learning anything but because--obviously--they were a chance to play in class.

And this--I think--is where Mr Person and I are getting onto common ground. According to the article he quotes, teachers like manipulatives for various reasons, one of which is that giving kids something to "play with" may keep them out of trouble longer. Educational suppliers like manipulatives that are required to use a particular curriculum--they really like them! Kindergarten suppliers had that one figured out over a hundred years ago. I don't think that homeschoolers are quite as bombarded by silliness as classroom teachers are--most of us couldn't afford all that stuff even if we wanted it. However, we too can be bewitched by all the neat stuff on the conference tables. It's colourful and it's fun. But the big question is, always--does doing or using whatever it is help you learn the subject better? (I go back to that question constantly; and it's expertly expounded in Mary Pride's book Schoolproof.)

In our own homeschool, with our children, using rods the way we use them, the answer is yes: I've posted about that here, here and here. I've written elsewhere about our oldest, who never quite saw the sense in Cuisenaire rods. She was more of a "just show me how to do it" math learner; however, I used them with her during the first years of school anyway, and had her complete the book Spatial Problem Solving with Cuisenaire Rods later on. Our middle one ("Ponytails"), on the other hand, relates to relationships, and the point of Cuisenaire rods is relationships. When I asked Ponytails whether she thought that the rods had actually helped her learn math better, she enthusiastically agreed and started talking about how the "one rod" could be a "ten" and vice versa. Of course she did use a variety of manipulatives and methods throughout the primary years, including a hundred chart and an abacus--so I suppose that was one way we avoided having her depend too much on one particular aid.

Now that she is in the fourth grade and done with Miquon Math, I notice that we hardly use the rods in day-to-day work; obviously they're not helpful in the nitty-gritty work of learning to multiply multi-digit numbers on paper! And although some of this heavier-on-the-pencil math isn't easy for her, I've never noticed my rod-user having any particular problem transferring her knowledge onto paper, either.

Is there a difference, then, between what we're doing and what Mr. Person is debunking, and what Charlotte Mason didn't like? What our teachers were doing when they occasionally hauled out the rods or the attribute blocks, or brought in the new-fangled Betamax to show us a video with a catchy song about finding area? I think there is, because in my homeschool classroom manipulatives aren't just busywork; I have no reason to want to make my lesson take longer than it has to! (The weather's good and the kids want to go outside...) If the rods or other manipulatives can illustrate a point or a relationship clearly (and more conveniently than having to count out multiple piles of beans), then we will use them. And although our preschoolers (Crayons especially) made an art form out of Cuisenaire floor constructions, that's not what we do during math time.

While I can see exactly what Mr. Person is getting at (and why one of his commenters referred to "Happy Meals" and "McMath"), I'm still going to hold on to our rods.

Filling buckets and lighting fires

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."

I've filled an awful lot of buckets lately. We finished spreading our cubic yard of Black Garden Soil last night...bucket by bucket. And I can tell you all about filling buckets...

It's messy. That black dirt gets all over the place.

It's tiring. It's hard on your back.

It's over and over. The big bag of dirt never seems to end.

The stuff at the bottom is even harder to dig than the stuff on top, because it's so packed down.

If that is education...

I'd rather light fires.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Deadline approaches

The deadline for this week's Carnival of Homeschooling is approaching fast--but you still have until Monday at 9 p.m. EST to send me your submissions. THANK YOU!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Comedians and adventurers

Other than the kids' books, I haven't finished very many books over the last while. Every time I sat down to read, I felt like there was something else I should be doing.

So over the past couple of weeks, I started and finished two novels from Mr. Fixit's shelf that I'd never read before. Made myself take the time. I read The House of the Four Winds, by John Buchan, and The Comedians, by Graham Greene. I was fascinated by their similarities in theme, although Buchan's book was what I'd call fairly family-friendly (if you can handle Sir Walter Scott, you can handle this), and Greene's was not.

Mr. Fixit says that his dad had a copy of The Comedians on the shelf when he was young, and that once he took it down himself thinking it would be a funny book--it's not, unless you like extremely black humor. It reminds me a lot of the Robert Redford/Raul Julia movie Havana, about an outsider who gets involved in the politics and danger of another country, and connects with people for whom those politics and danger mean everything. The plot of The House of the Four Winds is much the same too, although more in a gentleman-adventurer sense, and there is one other big difference: The Comedians is set in Papa Doc Duvalier's Haiti, in a very real setting (Greene is an absolute master at making you feel hot and sweaty--have you ever read The Power and the Glory?); and Buchan's book takes place in one of those ubiquitous imaginary Eastern European Monarchies.

They both have ongoing themes of disguise and role-playing, which is where the meaning of "the comedians" comes from: it's not meant in a funny sense but as a question of genuineness vs. just playing a part in life, and the idea of "all the world's a stage." In The Comedians, the main character's mother--who has evolved into several different characters in her own life--asks him, just before she dies, who he's playing. He puzzles over that for the rest of the book. Even his last name, Brown, plays on the fact that he doesn't seem to know who he is himself, much less who anybody else really is: he makes a joke himself about the fact that two other major players in the story are named Smith and Jones.

Smith--who in anybody else's book would have been a Bible-thumping missionary out to get rid of voodoo and looking like an ugly American--has a different role here. He and his wife are visiting Haiti trying to spread the gospel of vegetarianism, which, as someone points out, is ironic considering that most of the Haitians were/are too poor to eat meat anyway. He's not a negative character, although he is in some ways comic (the health-food products he and his wife eat are hilarious); he's absolutely sincere about his "ministry." The religious questions in the book come not from him but from the main character Brown's Jesuit education (at one point he had thought of becoming a priest) and from the Christian/voodoo beliefs of the Haitians. On this point I kept thinking back to Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, which followed the more typical bad-missionary storyline (although she included, for contrast, another Christian who did find better ways to connect with the Africans than the main Bible-thumping character did) and which was also set during real and similarly dangerous political upheavals, actually during the same time as The Comedians. Greene even refers to some of the events in the Congo in his book. There was one other point of similarity between those two that I noticed: one of the missionary's daughters in Poisonwood ended up marrying a Congolese man and staying in that part of Africa; it became part of her, even though conditions were horrible and her children never had enough to eat. Brown eventually has to leave Haiti, but he stays on the island (in the Dominican Republic); he could have left earlier, but somehow he couldn't. His excuse is that he has to hang on to the hotel he owns there (even though there are no tourists), but the truth is that his role in this story (on this particular stage) is to stay involved, usually more than he wants to be, just like Robert Redford's character in Havana who can't just walk away.

As I said, Greene's book has more mature content than I would be comfortable handing over to anybody under late high school age; but if you want a good read with some mid-twentieth-century history thrown in, it's worthwhile--one of those books that will stick with you. (They made a movie out of it in the '60's with an awesome cast, but I haven't seen it yet). If you prefer a few more ayes and laddies and kings-in-disguise to the desperation and tears of Greene's book, you're better off sticking to Buchan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Most interesting blog name yet, and lots of links

Winner of a contest I just made up for most creative blog name: A Bibliomane Amidst Butterflies. Winner of the award for including the most useful homeschool and book links in one post: same blog, this post. Thanks, Sherry!

A new song at the Treehouse

After hearing "Down by the Salley Gardens" in a film (that I was otherwise ambivalent about), I looked it up online and found out that the words are by Yeats. The tune reminds me of "The Minstrel Boy", and in fact Ponytails wanted to know if we could sing Yeats' words to that tune; we tried it and you can. But I've heard The Minstrel Boy so much this winter (Ponytails went a little crazy on it) that I'm glad of a different tune (and a song that's not about wars and fighting).

Down by the salley gardens
My love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
With little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
As the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish
with her did not agree.

In a field by the river
My love and I did stand
And on my leaning shoulder
She laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
As the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish
And now am full of tears.

More from Crayons

"You know what I like to do? I like to bake cookies and then even after I wash my hands my hands smell cookie-ish."

Too many tens

Mama Squirrel: Now it's time for memory work. We're going to say the Ten Commandments.

Crayons: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick...

Bee Creative

Oh boy, how am I ever going to follow this one up?

Sprittibee hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling: Bee Edition.

Of note: Lindsey's series on Homeschooling Frugally at Finding Contentment in the Suburbs. (Lindsey's other blog is Enjoy the Journey.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Home for her birthday

CBN reports that Melissa Busekros is home with her parents but that "how long authorities will allow her to remain at home is unclear." Since she is now 16, she has more rights over where she lives; so, according to this article on, "as soon as she turned 16, Melissa Busekros - the same girl a state official of the Jugendamt (Youth Welfare Office) falsely described as happy in state custody – headed out the door for home." There's more information at that site and also here. [Update: Diary of 1 hits the mark again with her comments on the story.]

Around the blogosphere

The Queen of Carrots waxes particularly poetical on a jar of raspberries.

Meredith tries not to mangle this post.

Melissa has found a great book for parents of young children.

The DHM muses about Science and Human Values.

And Kathryn at Suitable for Mixed Company links to the story about Leah's spelling bee, which has been posted about all over the place already, but if you missed it, it's a wonderful story (and video).

Mayday, Mayday

The Treehouse will be hosting the May Day edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling (that's next week's). So don't send flowers, just submissions.

We are all carriers

In case you wondered about that dumping dirt comment...a few days ago we had a giant bag of Green Thumb Black Garden Soil dropped in our driveway. See the person with the shovel there in the photo? That's what we've been taking turns doing, off and on all weekend: filling buckets of soil from the cubic-yard bag, and taking them around the back of the house to all the places where we're planning on growing things this year. Please hum "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" while you imagine everyone in the family trotting around with buckets and taking turns being the bucket-filler at the bag. (Crayons mostly helps spread out the dirt with a hoe.)

And we're still only about a quarter of the way through the bag...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

On the school menu this week...

Cold lunches and spring term work. We are on a finish-it-off kind of schedule right now; I have certain amounts of reading and so on written on index cards, and when all the cards are done, school's done for the year. Right now we're looking at the middle of June. If we miss a day because the weather's beautiful (like right now), we will just go on to the next card when we get back to schoolwork.

This week's menu (allowing maybe for one day off):

Day 1:
Sing a hymn or O Canada; say Luther's Morning Prayer; practice the second part of the Apostles' Creed (from Luther's Small Catechism--used in our family for memory work even though we no longer attend a Lutheran church)
Bible: finish off 2 Chronicles 25 (King Amaziah, who should wear a t-shirt with 2 Chron. 25:20 on it: 'But Amaziah refused to listen')
Copywork/Handwriting practice
Botany chapter 8--finish off the Stems chapter and do some of the Roots things that were too hard to do when it was cold
The Children's Own Longfellow: start a new poem
On Foot to the Arctic (Samuel Hearne): read 1/3 of chapter 6, "The Ways of an Indian Chief." "Matonabi had no wish to wander along slowly, as Hearne's previous guides had done. The weather was so cold now that sledges moved easily across the frozen snow. At a rate of sixteen or eighteen miles daily, they moved northward...." (Brrr.)
Math: Ponytails do page 191, Crayons work with Mom
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 5

Day 2
Opening: sing a hymn and pray
Say the 10 Commandments or sing the books of the Bible
Armed with Courage: continue reading about Jane Addams
Geography: finish chapter 9, about volcanoes
Ponytails work on either grammar or time-telling workbook
Art/Music: continue reading about Debussy in Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts, and listen to some of his music (we are reading this chapter because Bernstein compares Debussy's music with Monet's paintings)
Math: Ponytails finish the multiplication crossword on page 149; Crayons work with Mom
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 6

Day 3
Opening: pretty much like Day 1
Continue reading in 2 Chronicles
Copywork or handwriting practice
Botany: do 1/3 of the reading in Chapter 9, "Trees" (and go outside for some field work)
Continue reading the chapter in On Foot to the Arctic
History: read half of chapter 27 in Hillyer's history, "When Greek Meets Greek," about Athens, Sparta and Socrates
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 7

Day 4
Opening: pretty much like Day 2
Read Psalm 8 together
Read a legend from Canadian Wonder Tales
Math: Ponytails work on page 150, Crayons with Mom
Continue reading Longfellow
Grammar or time-telling workbook
Nature reading: The Wilds of Whip-poor-Will Farm, "Fox Watch" (a spring chapter)
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 8
Cooking lesson

Rummage sale-itis

Ah, the perfume of the violets in the yard, the digging and dumping of dirt that is going on--and the screeching of the tires at corners with yardsale signs and in church parking lots across the city. (Not us, of course--we would never screech our tires.)

Unlike Meredith's warmer clime, yard sale/rummage sale season around here runs full tilt only from spring through fall. (With a few after-Christmas catchup sales as well.) And sometimes you shiver even through a September yardsale.

Yesterday was the semi-annual rummage sale at a church near where we get groceries; it's also the place where one of Mr. Fixit's old work buddies goes to church, so our twice-yearly stop-ins give them a chance to say hi as well. Everybody came away pretty happy. Ponytails and Crayons bought a battery-operated train set (with lots of track) for fifty cents, and that has kept them busy since yesterday building block bridges over the tracks and running the trains. One of the trains needs a small repair, but Mr. Fixit says he can service it.

Crayons got a corduroy skirt and pair of slightly-worn purple print pants that unzip into shorts (for a total of $1.50); she's also been busy zipping those back and forth. Ponytails got a small bottle of hair conditioner, unopened in a gift set; somebody used up the shampoo that it came with and gave the rest away. Mama Squirrel checked over the books, didn't see anything there that we really needed, but settled for a crochet hook and half a pack of file folder stickers. The Apprentice found a pair of earrings. And Mr. Fixit found a CD organizer.

Small blessings!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Vegetating with Scott

"Indoors," he went on, "it was just the same. It's all very well to be told to rest and keep your mind empty, but that was never my way. I brought out a heap of books with me, and was looking forward to getting a lot of quiet reading done. But the mischief was that I couldn't settle to a book. I had intended to read the complete works of Walter Savage Landor--have you ever tried him, Dougal? I aye thought the quotations from him I came across most appetising. But I might as well have been reading a newspaper upside down, for I couldn't keep my mind on him. I suppose that my thoughts having been so much concerned lately with my perishing body had got out of tune for higher things. So I fell back on Sir Walter--I'm not much of a hand at novels, as you know, but I can always read Scott--but I wasn't half through Guy Mannering when it made me so homesick for the Canonry that I had to give it up. After that I became a mere vegetable, a bored vegetable."--John Buchan, The House of the Four Winds

Flap. Flap.

We have suddenly landed at Flappy Bird status in the TruthLaidBear blog ecosystem. It may be temporary, but it's kind of fun to be flapping up that high. I don't think we've ever wriggled up the chain past Reptile before, and our usual state of existence is Crawly Amphibian. Just a little more and I could be at my real goal of being an Adorable Rodent...but I'm not sure I could handle the responsibility of being up that high in the food chain.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Treehouse Book Game

Mama Squirrel went to a book sale this afternoon. She brought home at least one book for each of the Squirrels. Match the titles of the books with the right Treehouse inhabitant.

A. Northrop Frye, The Anatomy of Criticism; and Count Robert of Paris, by Sir Walter Scott
B. Six volumes of Best in Children's Books (with dustjackets!)
C. The Comedians, by Grahame Greene
D. a book about fun things to put on bulletin boards
E. Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me

1.Mr. Fixit
2. Mama Squirrel
3. The Apprentice
4. Ponytails
5. Crayons

(Dewey got left out on this trip, sorry.)

Small blessings

The Happy Helms share a story about God's provision--and some excellent thoughts about materialism.

"God really encouraged my faith today. Sometimes He encourages through the big things. Jobs. Children. Marriage. Today I felt His favor through a $2 table and chairs. Let me explain..."

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cooking without Recipes: Stinky Cabbage

To make this un-recipe, you need some leftover cooked sausage (slice it up) and some leftover cooked barley. Which we had, because a couple of nights ago I cooked farmer's sausage on top of barley. (In a big casserole you put a cup of rinsed barley, 2 cups of water, and several pieces of sausage. Bake covered at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half.)

Chop up a small cabbage or enough to almost fill a regular-sized crockpot. (It will cook down.) Add the leftovers, a cupful of chicken broth and some salt and pepper. Cook all afternoon on High. Open a window and let in all that fresh spring air.

Serve with whatever you eat with cabbage rolls: sauerkraut, applesauce, wholewheat bread, and carrot sticks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Yay for Cuisenaire Rods

I sent a version of this to the Miquon e-mail list this morning, and I thought it could go on the blog as well.

People often want to know how to use Cuisenaire rods, and the main thing they think of is putting them together to add. If their kids don't want or need to use them that way, the rods get discarded. But there are many other reasons and ways to use them! Today's math lesson with Crayons illustrated that for me.

First of all, I didn't think I'd actually be using the Orange book (the first Miquon workbook) with her this year; I had planned on waiting until first grade. However, she's an eager beaver and somehow or other I got bamboozled into letting her do a lot of the Orange pages.

A couple of days ago I decided to try--just out of interest--seeing if she could grasp the "2 3's" multiplication idea that is introduced in the Orange book. I showed her that we can write a "thing that looks like a letter X" in between the numbers and so "2 x 3" is read as "2 3's."

(Now, those of you who don't have Miquon workbooks handy, be patient--I'll try and describe as clearly as I can what went on here.)

Yesterday I had her do just the left-hand column of page F-4--several examples of repeated addition. 8 + 8, 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3, and so on. She used a pile of white rods (one cm long each, so they usually represent 1) and made groups of threes (or whatever), then counted them up to find the answer. (On this page, it's not required that you actually find these sums; I just had her do it for some adding/counting practice.)

Today I had her do the right-hand column, which is to match multiplication expressions (2 x 8, 5 x 3) with the addition expressions from yesterday. I just had her say the left-hand column out loud (how many 8's do you see? 2 8's) and then find the matching expression on the right.

THEN--for the next page, F-5, which is very similar, a column of multiplication to be matched up with repeated addition expressions--we had a bit more fun. First I took the right sets of rods for each expression (4 5's (4 yellow 5cm rods), 3 2's (3 red 2cm rods) etc.) and put all the sets on the floor underneath the book. She had to read 4 x 5 ("Four fives") and then point to the right group (she thought that was really easy).

And then this was the neat part, because Crayons kind of made it her own. (If I had said, "Gee, I have a funny idea--let's clap for the rods," it would have seemed strange.) I started having her read the right-hand column (on this page it's the reverse of the other one--the right-hand column has the repeated addition). She said, "2 + 2 + 2. 3 2's." Then she moved the set of three red rods up ahead of the rest, as if they were getting a prize at the front of the class. We both had to clap for the 3 2's. (And she drew the lines to connect them on the page.) Then the 4 5's came up to the front and we clapped. There was a bit of confusion when the 6's weren't sure whether it was the 2 6's turn to go up or the 6 6's, but they eventually straightened themselves out. The 6 6's also turned out to be terrible show-offs (they came up humming "We are the Champions"), and they boasted that they had "more wood" than any of the other sets. So at the very end (not really part of the page), we had every "team" line themselves up against each other to see which came out the longest--and sure enough, the 6 6's did come out way ahead of the others. It was also noted that the 3 7's lined up together were just a bit longer than the 4 5's.

And there was more applause for all the "teams," and the math lesson was over.

Only with a five-year-old...

Works for Me Wednesday Idea

Rocks in My Dryer hosts Works for Me Wednesday every week. You can link to the whole assortment of tips there.

So here's my tip. It's not a recipe or a parenting tip or even a homeschooling idea (maybe I'll do one of those later today). This is a computer shortcut:

Sometimes I need to use a word or name that has accents or other markings in it that aren't on my keyboard. Like "Chez Hélène." I know you can get alternate virtual keyboards and that there are all kinds of things you can do so that you can really type in French or German. But since I just need an occasional word, I usually Google it and then cut and paste it (with proper accents) from the Internet. Most of the time I don't even have to go to the actual websites: I can take it right from the Yahoo search page. And it works for anything you're typing: I've pasted words and names (or even just one letter with the right accent) onto blog posts, emails, and into Word documents.

Et Voilà!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Carnival of Homeschooling is up

I didn't miss the tax deadline, but I did miss the deadline to send something to the Carnival of Homeschooling: Tax Edition at Why Homeschool. Next week for sure when it's at Sprittibee's. (As if Spritti hasn't had enough homeschooling blogs to handle lately!)

This week's carnival has a little of everything: Asperger's Syndrome, support group leaders, and narration: poetic and otherwise. And it's more fun than doing your taxes.

Monday, April 16, 2007

A grandmother's quilt and a family's memories

Sherri has a lovely post about her Yellow Blanket.

Little Amblesiders grow into mighty graduates

Athena's post here leads right into another post I wanted to link to: Fa-so-la-la's university admissions essay. (And if you don't know already, she did get in, and how.)

I don't often post here specifically about Ambleside Online, which for the last eight years has been the foundation of our homeschool. Athena's children use Ambleside; so do Fa-so-la-la and her sister; and so do several of my other blogging friends, since our common curriculum is one of the things that draws us together. One of the questions that often comes up for us is its "relevance" vs. its "dustiness."

Walter Wangerin Jr. wrote an essay (in Swallowing the Golden Stone) called "An Adult's Tale in Children's Clothing." He begins it this way:
"It has ever been my purpose to fashion stories which, though they are explicitly for children, can nevertheless engage the watchful adult as fully and as well. To that end I enrich the detail and the language enough to reward an adult's more sophisticated attentions....I allow allusions to literatures which the child would never know (and does not need to know in order to enjoy the story at her level of experience and response). I develop chords of themes, as it were, the lower, more subliminal notes creating a fundament of which the child is no more aware than she is of the foundations of her house, but which adults might interpret with full awareness."
In a recent fascinating exchange with Roger Sutton (the editor of the Horn Book, and I'm not name-dropping here; he has a blog just like everybody else), he expressed some genuine concern that children whose education is centered on older books may need, so to speak, to blow a lot of that old dust off of themselves before (somehow) entering the "real world." To be fair, he was not speaking so much of the idea that children should read classics as the problem that they might miss out on something worthwhile and newer.

I certainly agree that there probably are some parents out there who hide behind certain books...say of the Victorian era...because they think those books will produce better moral character in their children. However, I don't think Ambleside Online users usually fall into that category. We're more interested in detail, language, and "chords of themes." We're interested in developing those "more sophisticated attentions" that will allow older children to explore as widely as they can without being hampered by their lack of background. To read Paradise Lost with any kind of enjoyment, you need to know not only the Bible but also something about classical mythology; you need to have a generous vocabulary and understand something about Milton's subtle humour as well as his serious themes.

I wrote in the comments on the Horn Book post that "It's exactly that 'wider world' to which we are attempting to introduce our children: a world that stretches back beyond our own generation and into places that many of today's children will not be able to go [if they are not given enough of a foundation in books that stretch their thinking]....In other words, we are not attempting to use old books because they are old books, but because we do indeed want our children--to quote Charlotte Mason--to put their feet into as wide a room as possible. I don't think that we're as far apart on that point as you might think."

50 or so things about Mama Squirrel

A friend requested a "list of fifty," so I obliged. Last updated December 2014, to get rid of the dead You-tube links.

Early Life

1. I have not stayed in a hospital since 1969 (tonsillectomy).
2. I have not been in an airplane since 1969 (Bahamas).2010 update: I have now slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
3. I got my first Barbie in 1969.
4. She was a 1968 Talking Barbie who said, "I love being a fashion model."
5. I also had a talking Stacey who said, "I think miniskirts are smashing."
6. I watched the first season of Sesame Street in 1969.
7. I watched Maria and Luis's first date on Sesame Street in 1988. (Think I must have been babysitting. Yep, that was it.)
8. I watched Mr. Rogers, Mr. Dressup, The Friendly Giant, and Chez Hélène.
9. I watched way too much TV.
10. I still liked reading better.

Musical Talents

11. At one time or another I played piano, guitar, viola, clarinet, and recorder.
12. I never took guitar lessons but I strummed at a lot of campfires.
13. I went through more clarinet reeds than anyone else in ninth grade music (braces chew up reeds).
14. I took piano lessons for eight years.
15. I played keyboard in the school jazz band. We all wore black football jerseys (it was a choice of that or tomato-coloured cardigans).
16. I also played keyboard and sang in a trio with two other friends (we sang at church).
17. I also played the piano for Sunday evening hymn sings. I used to hyperventilate at anything with more than three flats.
18. I don't own a piano now. 2011 update: we now have an electronic piano, so that's good.
19. But I would like to have one.
20. Maybe then I could really learn to play.

Positions Held

21. I used to do temporary office work.
22. I was fired from my first assignment because I couldn't keep the employers' names straight (most of them had the same last name. Was that Irv, or Herb, or...)
23. I would do just about anything as long as it was legal.
24. I once got paid nine dollars an hour to sharpen pencils.
25. Once I retyped a whole newsletter because the guy who hired me ran out of real work for me, and he needed me to look busy when they brought clients through.
26. I typed hours of transcripts about mental institutions and manic depression. By the time I finished I could discuss Lithium with the best of them.
27. I also typed transcripts for close-captioned TV. Fraggle Rock and The Beachcombers, Just Like Mom and The Edison Twins. (Finally got paid to watch TV.)


28. My first computer was a used KayProII. It had two floppy drives, and had no graphics at all. (Even its games were made out of x's and o's.) It came with a lot of CP/M software like WordStar. I bought a dot-matrix printer to grind out my essays...slowly.)

29. We sold it to a little kid down the street the year we got married.
30. Then we had a small laptop for awhile--good enough to type minutes of meetings. (In WordPerfect--without Windows.) And we could dial up the library with it and put books on hold.
31. Then came the Internet and also Mr. Fixit's expanding ability to cobble computers together. We're now running a setup that can switch from XP back to Milennium if we ask it to, plus we have a "virtual PC" so the kids can run their Windows 95 software. And I finally learned how to use Word...

From Toronto to Here

32. I lived in Toronto during most of my university years.
33. The Kaypro and I lived everywhere from a university residence to an elegant Forest Hill mansion (that lasted two weeks: the landlady turned out to be senile), to a cockroach-infested highrise (one summer), and half of a dark, depressing basement (one year), two doors down from Bea Lillie's birthplace.
34. I loved the subway, BookCity, cheap movies, Toronto Island, and being able to go to the museum any old time.
35. I didn't love the high rents, the cockroaches, and when the sewer backed up all over the basement.
36. I moved out of Toronto and found an upstairs apartment with a window and no vermin. It also had no bedroom and no bathtub, but I figured it was a small price to pay.
37. Besides, that's where I met Mr. Fixit. (No, not in my apartment, but after I moved.)
38. We met in July, were engaged in September, and got married the next June.
39. Our first real date was playing mini golf. We also went to a Three Stooges film festival, an antique show, out for Chinese food, and just sat by the river and talked.
40. Some things never change.
41. We moved into our first house and found out for sure that we were going to have an Apprentice the same week that I graduated. I was a bit too busy to go to commencement.

This and That

42. Mr. Fixit and I both like old movies: anything from the '30's through the '60's, occasionally the '70's. Orson Welles, Peter Lorre, Veronica Lake. (But no musicals. One song per movie is about Mr. Fixit's limit.)
43. We also like '70's cop shows with lots of big cars and groovy clothes.
44. We don't have cable TV or satellite, but we have an antenna in the attic that gets the Canadian stations. 2014 update: we went on to free satellite channels for awhile, but now we are back to the basic few.
45. I am no good with machines. I don't even like noisy vacuum cleaners, and I never have figured out all the TV/VCR/DVD controls. That's why it's a good thing Mr. Fixit is around.
46. I hate cold weather.
47. Malls give me headaches.
48. At one time or another I took French, German, Latin, Italian and sign language. (Can you tell I'm running a bit low here...)
49. I am probably the only person who's had both Krakovianka and Coffeemamma over for a visit. But not both at the same time.
50. And...when I was eight years old I collected hockey cards. I knew the names of all the NHL teams. I saved up hockey card wrappers and sent away for a Hockey Card Locker to keep the cards in. I also had a 1975 Bobby Orr doll. (I still have the clothes, but the doll broke. We let Ken wear the clothes because they were cooler than his '70's fancy pants.)
51. But...I never watched hockey. (Sorry, Coffeemamma!)

Friday, April 13, 2007

Not for the Veggie Carnival

We got to the end of our almost-gone-grocery week and I still hadn't made the stew I'd planned. Mostly because we were out of both potatoes and carrots. But I did find this crockpot beef recipe in both our Rival Crockpot booklet and another slow cooker booklet we have--just with different names. We didn't have any tomatoes, either, so I substituted a little water, and later I added a bit of chili sauce (farm-style chili sauce, not hot chili sauce). I think I like it better without the tomatoes anyway; and I definitely like it better than the mushroom soup-onion soup beef recipe, because it doesn't have anything "funny" in it. We had it over instant mashed potatoes (I said we're inconsistent); our kids love mashed potatoes and don't care if they're real or out of the box. It could have been noodles, but we were a bit noodled out after the ravioli.

Dessert was a Friday Night Celebration: vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce. I found a lot of hot fudge sauce recipes online, but this one suited what we had. Even Crayons (who hasn't been feeling so great) managed a little beef, potatoes and peas so that she could have a sundae.

I counted out the cupfuls of flour at the beginning of the week and figured out what we could make; and, amazingly, we ended up with a little left, even after making garlic breadsticks, bran muffins, raisin bars, and brownies. I used up our last cupful of oil making granola (started to feel a bit like Elijah's widow at that point. We did have enough margarine to fill in with, though.) And this is important--I kept thinking how much abundance we had this week. We really did have some good meals, but I think seeing God's faithfulness in a lot of small ways was more important.

And tomorrow's grocery day.

Last day to vote

Almost everybody is posting the same thing this morning: it's the last day to vote in the Homeschool Blog Awards. Thank you again for the nominations in the Thrifty and Cyberbuddy categories; I know we aren't anywhere near the top of the votes, but just to be nominated was an honour! Thank you so much to Laura , Heather, and Sprittibee ("the other Heather"), who have organized and continued to work on this even through the difficulties.

Fifty cents will get you on the bus

Well, not around here it won't.

But fifty cents (or a few more Canadian pennies) will get you a copy of Walter Wangerin Jr.'s book Swallowing the Golden Stone from . (Thanks, Donna!)

I love this book!

It's about writing. It's about story. It's about twaddle. It's about Maurice Sendak. It's about robbers under the bed.

It even has stories in it. And poems.

"Adults who write to their image of a child, rather than writing to genuine children, do in a real sense utter baby talk. And they miss the mark of a child's intense experience. They make a conventional assumption of pastel innocence....and in consequence their languge lisps, their menu of topics is reduced to to the sugar cookie, and their attitude is offensive. Even as they presume to know better than the child, they present a teller and a tale too simple and simply less than a child can (and ought to, and wants to) experience. Simpletons tell simplistic tales....[but]....stories can carry the child through difficulty toward a blessed, credible conclusion."

And a bonus: you can read one of the essays on Wangerin's website.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


This is my Grandpa, sitting in his Grandpa Chair sometime in the mid-80's.

Those wires running down his shirt are not some kind of medical device. They're his Sony Walkman. I think he was listening to his learn-French tapes.

Grandpa would have been in his late 70's then. And tomorrow would have been his 100th birthday. He has been gone for fifteen years, since just before The Apprentice was born.

This is Grandpa with Grandma, I think a few years earlier--probably in the late 1970's.
When I think of Grandpa, I think of how hard he worked. I think about his metal lunchbox that he took to work at the Forge. He always seemed to be building, measuring, fixing, carpentering out in the unfinished end of the house that was his workshop. Summers at the trailer park, he did odd jobs for the owners--like fixing picnic tables.
And I think of how much fun he was. I think of him tapdancing. I think of him sneaking crackers to the overweight poodle. I think about his limburger cheese and Braunschweiger sausage, his row of alarm clocks at the head of the bed, his Western shirts and his Blue Jays baseball stuff and his elephant collection and his steam train obsession. At one time he used to run a steam tractor in the Steam Show parade.
I think about his stories of riding the rails during the Depression, before he was married. He went all the way to Quebec, looking for work. Years later, he was still determinedly trying to get beyond "Comment vous portez-vous aujourd'hui?"
I think of the way he used to fuss over the grandchildren. He was always worried that we were going to fall out of bed or choke to death on a gulp of Kool-Aid or something.
I think of the ways he used to drive Grandma crazy, any way he could. When his arthritis got bad, he had a long gripper on a stick to pick things up with. Of course he tried to pinch Grandma with it. He thought it was funny, even if she didn't.
I think of them doing crosswords together.
I think of the way he would tell me--for the millionth time--"I used to push you under the trees." (That's not as violent as it sounds--he meant in the baby carriage.) Even when he didn't remember much else, he remembered that.
I think of the smell of pipe tobacco.
I miss him.

Check out my avatar

You want one too, Coffeemamma--you know you do!

Yes, that really is our backyard.

I changed the picture a couple of days ago but it took that long for it to show up. (I think maybe somebody had to approve it.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Real-life prayers needed at the blog awards

"A kink in the plans" doesn't seem sufficient to express what's going on for one of the Homeschool Blog Award organizers.

Our prayers are going out for you, Heather.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Listening is a holy experience

Ann V's blog title has morphed a couple of times: "Holy Experience"..."Holy Experience of Listening"..."Holy Experience--laundry, listening, liturgy."

And her post today, Unframed Art, is literally about that holy experience of listening--and an opportunity that 1,097 people missed. "In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?" asks the Washington Post article from which Ann quotes.

Laundry. Listening. Liturgy.

Blogs I've been visiting

Among Women, a nominee for the Best Nitty-Gritty Homeschooling Blog

Birdy's Blog--a Canadian homeschooler and new online friend (not to be confused with Birdie).

Abiding, a blog by Leslie and a contender for the Cyberbuddy award. I think it's her posts like Simple Joys that got her nominated.

Go vote. Please?

Just a reminder that you have only this week to vote for the 2006 Homeschool Blog Awards.

Homeschooling this week

If I'm posting menus, I might as well post our school schedules too. Subject to change, especially if it gets any warmer and we lose the snow.

Bible: 2 Chronicles 18:28-19:3: Jehoshaphat tries to fight without God
A Very Short Grammar Lesson about Indirect Quotes
Everybody clean off their dressers
History: Read Hillyer pages 143 to 147 (the Golden Age of Greece) and make a notebook page
Math: Multiplication questions 16 to 25 on page 147; Kindergartener with me
Samuel Hearne biography pages 75-78
Canadian Wonder Tales: The Baker's Magic Wand

Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare: continue Romeo and Juliet
Grammar workbook lesson 49--Capitalizing Book Titles
Linnea in Monet's Garden
Geography pages 114-115 (faults in the earth)
Rec room tidy-up
Science: Botany pages 113-114 (Rooting)
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 1

Bible: 2 Chron. 20:1-12, 17, 22, 27-30, 21:1 (Jehoshaphat does trust God)
History: read from the bottom of page 147 to 150 and make a notebook page (about different kinds of Greek columns)
Pack up the Easter decorations
Math: multiplication questions 26 to 30 on page 147, and circle problems 1 and 2 on page 149; Kindergartner with me
Samuel Hearne biography, pages 79-top of 86
Canadian Wonder Tales: Star-Boy and the Sun Dance

Friday: Proverbs
Geography pages 116-117 (Volcanoes)
Grammar workbooks: Test #4 on page 49
Muffin baking
Math games
Science pages 114-115: Go outside and look for roots.
Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare (continue)
Rec room tidy-up
Add dates to timeline
Swallows and Amazons chapter 2

Roast chicken dinner, second time around

Who needs chicken a la king? This recipe is easy, good, and takes care of all your leftovers in one shot. Then you just have to wash out all your containers.

Roast Chicken Re-run (from Food That Really Schmecks)

On the day after you have a chicken-stuffing-potato kind of dinner, you chop the leftover chicken up and put it in a big greased casserole along with the stuffing. After you've scooped the fat off the top of the leftover gravy, you put it (the gravy, not the fat) on top of the chicken and stuffing, adding some milk if there's a lot of stuffing or not enough gravy. (You can also mix milk, a spoonful of flour and a spoonful of chicken broth powder if they ate up all the gravy. But we didn't need to do that.) You can mix the gravy in, but it doesn't really matter. On top of the gravy, you can put any leftover cooked vegetables you like. And on top of that, you put the leftover mashed potatoes, fluffed up again and stretched with some milk if needed. A little salt and pepper doesn't hurt either. Make sure the whole thing seems moist enough (the stuffing will soak up gravy and milk), cover it, and bake it with the lid on for about 45 minutes at 350 degrees, then a bit longer with the lid off.

Abundance Menus

Now that we've eaten up all the Easter chicken leftovers, we have the rest of the week to fill in with an odd assortment of things in the cupboard and the freezer. Because we've been avoiding our discount supermarket until the renovation dust settles, our canned goods are getting pretty low, and because it's still early in the growing season and our second-choice store charges a lot for produce, we have a limited choice of vegetables in the fridge. We're also out of some funny things like potatoes and regular carrots (we do have some peeled baby-style ones), but we have an Overabundance of eggs and iceberg lettuce (funny, we almost never buy iceberg lettuce but somehow we ended up with two heads of it).

However, we still have enough of an Abundance that we can put some decent dinners together. (And then I guess we'd better brave the renovations and stock up again.)

This is what the Squirrels will probably be eating this week:

Tuesday: Curry made out of ground beef, cauliflower and peas, with brown rice and some frozen Chinese hors d'oeuvres (don't ask). Pears (or maybe pear crisp if I'm ambitious).

Wednesday: Frozen cheese ravioli with our lone can of spaghetti sauce; salad, garlic sticks, and brownies.

Thursday: Beany's Beans (doctored baked beans) with bacon, sweet potatoes, and salad

Friday: Beef stew (without potatoes) served with a package of instant mashed potatoes. Or Taco Style Lentils and Rice, since we do have a package of tortillas buried in the freezer.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Queen of Carrots on Education

Something about Easter made me want to wander over to the Carrot Duchy and see what the Queen was up to--okay, the rabbit/carrot thing was really subliminal, but a visit to one of their two blogs is always interesting. I especially liked this post about education.
"But Anne Shirley and the Darlings are not, of course, reading their own books. They are reading Robinson Crusoe, the poems of Tennyson, or Ben Hur--books that today would be high school material, at the least. They are not reading these books for school. They are reading them (or hearing them) at home, for fun. So what are they studying in school?"

Easter Sunday Devotional Reading

This is the last of our "Narnia devotions." Sunday's readings went beyond The Last Battle, though, and included a prayer from the Mennonite Hymnal and quotes from Pinocchio (we'd been watching "The Adventures of Pinocchio" (the Martin Landau version)) and I took some lines from the book as well. Also, I found the most wonderful sermon online from Capitol Hill United Methodist Church, and I borrowed parts from that as well--snipping where I had to to keep the whole thing to a reasonable length. The long version of the sermon includes a lot that I had to leave out.

We took turns reading this (I had written our names in before each part).


Easter Sunday Devotions 2007: What is Beyond?

From The Last Battle:
“So,” said Peter, “night falls on Narnia. What, Lucy! You’re not crying? With Aslan ahead, and all of us here?”
“Don’t try to stop me, Peter,” said Lucy, “I am sure Aslan would not. I am sure it is not wrong to mourn for Narnia.”
Tirian said, “What world but Narnia have I ever known? It were no virtue, but great discourtesy, if we did not mourn.”

Opening Hymn: “Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross”

What happens in the last chapters of The Last Battle?
When Narnia goes dark for the last time, many creatures run up to the door. Some disappear into the shadows outside the door. “But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right….Among the happy creatures who now came crowding round Tirian and his friends were all those whom they had thought dead--Roonwit the Centaur, and Jewel the Unicorn, and Poggin the Dwarf.”

And they go exploring, and discover that this is Aslan’s true country; and it is Narnia, and it is England too, and there is always more to discover. At the end, Aslan explains to them that this was “only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story. The Term was over and the holidays had begun.”

But think back to the Dwarfs, sitting in the darkness and refusing to see the truth.

“We human beings often turn our backs on what is good for us. I'm reminded of sitting around the supper table as a child, turning my nose up at fresh, sliced tomatoes and Daddy's saying, "you don't know what's good for you." One of the most vexing puzzles in all of human existence is how even when we know what it good for us, we can't or won't do it. We won't go there. And we especially won't go to that place within ourselves where something so deep it's unnamable is rumbling and unsettled, groaning inside of us for that which is good for us. And Jesus cries out, "how often have I desired to gather [you] together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!" We know what's good for us, yet we won't go there. We aren't willing. Why? What do we expect?” (adapted from the sermon, see notes above)

Scripture: 1 John 4:7-10 (God's love for us)

“We reject what is good for us often because we don't want to change. Even though the change might be a good one--even and especially when we know it would be a good change for us--we put it off, we turn away, we aren't willing.” (sermon)

"Or maybe we think we're close enough to Jesus, but that if we go any closer we will lose our identity. Maybe we fear that if we [go closer] to Jesus, that we won't have any more fun in life."

"Pinocchio!" Lamp-Wick called out. "Listen to me. Come with us and we'll always be happy."
"No, no, no!"
"Come with us and we'll always be happy," cried four other voices from the wagon.

Jesus’s lament is not only about the actual city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem exists for us as a symbol of the dwelling place of God, the place, of all places, where love is whole and hearts are safe and where the Holy One is loved in return. And that, for us might mean this very place, the house of God, the church. Jerusalem is like our hearts, wherein we may hope that God will dwell. "O Jerusalem, often have I desired to love you and protect you and you were not willing!" Why on earth would we reject such an offer? What do we expect? I suspect that we reject Jesus for many of the same reasons we reject other human beings. Ignorance, forgetfulness, fear. The irony of all this is that our expectations--maybe that we'll lose independence, freedom, identity, laughter--are exactly the opposite of what is true. But how do we know? (sermon)

"How unhappy I have been," Pinocchio said to himself. "And yet I deserve everything, for I am certainly very stubborn and stupid! I will always have my own way. I won't listen to those who love me and who have more brains than I. But from now on, I'll be different and I'll try to become a most obedient boy. I wonder if Father is waiting for me. It is so long, poor man, since I have seen him, and I do so want his love and his kisses. Can there be a worse or more heartless boy than I am anywhere?"

Jesus wants nothing but freedom and life and peace and love for us. As long as we wander through life without placing every part of our heart and soul in the shadow of God's wings--being bound in the shadow of light and salvation, Jesus cries for us. Jesus grieves for us. Jesus's own heart breaks for us. (sermon)

“After a while Geppetto returned. In his hands he had the A-B-C book for his son, but the old coat was gone. The poor fellow was in his shirt sleeves and the day was cold.

"Where's your coat, Father?"

"I have sold it."

"Why did you sell your coat?"

"It was too warm."

Pinocchio understood the answer in a twinkling, and, unable to restrain his tears, he jumped on his father's neck and kissed him over and over.

Because we are not safe, not free, not whole, not at peace until we accept Jesus's love, until we trust our heart and all of our life to God's care.

“Oh Papa—I love you too.”

What did we expect? That is the story, after all. I don't think that we really expect Jesus to cry for us, for his heart to break on our account. I think we don't really expect to have joy and for life to be better or for our hearts and souls to feel safer or any of the rest of it. I think at some level, we don't expect Jesus to give life so that we can have ours. I don't think that we believe or expect that we are worth so much. And so that becomes our excuse, maybe. I'm not going there because I don't believe it or I don't deserve it. And Jesus grieves. And we miss the point that it is precisely because we don't believe it and don't deserve it that we need go there. (sermon) So take heart, have courage and expect more of yourself and of God--remember who you are and run for your life into the wings of Christ. (sermon)

Further up and further in!

Closing Prayer: Hymn book #744

Closing Hymn: #596 O Praise Ye the Lord

Art books for Squirrelings

Ponytails and Crayons have been interested in Monet, Van Gogh and Gauguin ever since they read Katie and the Sunflowers and Katie Meets the Impressionists. Grandpa Squirrel, not knowing this, gave them each a small photo album along with some Easter chocolates, and even Mama Squirrel was a little startled to hear Crayons say (on looking at the cover of her album), "ooh, Monet!" Ponytails' album had a Van Gogh painting on the cover.

This week Mama Squirrel was looking for Linnea in Monet's Garden at the library, so that we could do a bit more with our Monet picture studies. I notice that Linnea hasn't gotten entirely great reviews on Amazon, but we've always liked Christina Bjork's books (especially The Other Alice, one of The Apprentice's specially treasured books), so I thought it would be worthwhile reading. Anyway, right near it was Susan Goldman Rubin's The Yellow House, a picture book about Van Gogh and Gauguin's short-lived experiment as housemates.

It's a really wonderful story of how two very different artists with different outlooks and different styles looked at the world. Sometimes when we study individual artists, we don't realize that many of them did know each other and did draw on each others' work for inspiration. This idea comes across simply enough that even young children can understand: Van Gogh prefers yellow, Gauguin favours red; Van Gogh is messy, Gauguin is neat; Van Gogh likes to paint from what he sees, while Gauguin works more from his imagination. Van Gogh's attempt at a Gauguin-style painting is particularly interesting, and so are his two chair paintings that are supposed to reflect their two personalities: they remind me of Papa Bear's chair and Mama Bear's chair! (Except for the second-last page and an optional biographical page at the back, this book goes easy on the Van Gogh ear-cutting incident and other messy details.)

The text on the last page is disappointing: "Working side by side, the artists inspired and challenged each other. Today the paintings still glow with their emotion and energy." I don't think that was exactly the point of the book--I think it's a study in contrasts and a good look at the point where two lives briefly intersected. Definitely worth looking for.

Good Friday Kiffle, 2007

Some photos from last week's Kiffle baking session. We made extras this year to take to an Easter morning "paska party" at church. Since we have never made paska, we volunteered to bring something from our own family tradition instead.

April in Ontario

That lovely photo (below) of kids hunting eggs was taken LAST year. This is what's been out there for the past week.

And it continues to drift lightly down...


Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Day of Resurrection

Arise, my soul, arise,
Shake off thy guilty fears,
The bleeding sacrifice
In my behalf appears;
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.
--Charles Wesley

Catching up with Coffeemamma

And her champion kids.

(Now you know we really are Canadians!)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Devotions for Saturday

Saturday Devotional Readings: In the Stable

Opening (from The Last Battle, adapted)
Tirian had thought—or he would have thought if he had time to think at all—that they were inside a little thatched stable, about twelve feet long and six feet wide. But they stood on grass, and the deep blue sky was overhead. But a terrible figure was coming towards them. It had a vulture’s head and four arms.
“Thou has called me into Narnia, Rishda Tarkaan. Here I am. What has thou to say?”
But the Tarkaan neither lifted his face from the ground nor said a word. He was shaking like a man with a bad hiccup.

Opening Hymn: Arise, My Soul, Arise

Arise, my soul, arise; shake off thy guilty fears;
The bleeding sacrifice in my behalf appears:
Before the throne my surety stands,
Before the throne my surety stands,
My name is written on His hands.

He ever lives above, for me to intercede;
His all redeeming love, His precious blood, to plead:
His blood atoned for all our race,
His blood atoned for all our race,
And sprinkles now the throne of grace.

Five bleeding wounds He bears; received on Calvary;
They pour effectual prayers; they strongly speak for me:
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Forgive him, O forgive,” they cry,
“Nor let that ransomed sinner die!”

My God is reconciled; His pardoning voice I hear;
He owns me for His child; I can no longer fear:
With confidence I now draw nigh,
With confidence I now draw nigh,
And “Father, Abba, Father,” cry.

A voice behind Tirian commands Tash to take the Tarkaan and return to his own place, and the two of them disappear. The voice turns out to be Peter, one of the High Kings of Narnia. Peter, Digory, Jill and all the rest from the earlier books (except Susan) are there, clean and wearing fresh clothes, and Jill introduces Tirian to everyone else. He is still having a hard time figuring out what is going on.

Tirian looked and saw the queerest and most ridiculous thing you can imagine. Only a few yards away, clear to be seen in the sunlight, there stood up a rough wooden door and, round it, the framework of the doorway: nothing else, no walls, no roof. He walked round to the other side of the door. But it looked just the same from the other side: he was still in the open air, on a summer morning. The door was simply standing up by itself as if it had grown there like a tree.
“It seems, then,” said Tirian,” that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

”Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Hymn: O Bless the Lord, O My Soul (from Psalm 103)

O bless the Lord, my soul!
Let all within me join,
And aid my tongue to bless His Name
Whose favors are divine.

‘Tis He forgives thy sins,
‘Tis He relieves thy pain,
‘Tis He that heals thy sicknesses
And makes thee young again.

He crowns thy life with love,
When ransomed from the grave;
He that redeemed my soul from hell
Hath sovereign power to save.

He fills the poor with good,
He gives the suff’rers rest;
The Lord hath judgments for the proud,
And justice for th’oppressed.

His wondrous works and ways
He made by Moses known
But sent the world His truth and grace
By His belovèd Son.

“I hope Tash ate the Dwarfs too,” said Eustace. “Little swine.”
“No, he didn’t,” said Lucy. “They’re still here. I’ve tried to make friends with them, but it’s no use.”
“Friends with them!” cried Eustace. “If you knew how those Dwarfs have been behaving!”
“Oh stop it, Eustace,” said Lucy. “Do come and see them.”

The Dwarfs were sitting very close together in a little circle facing one another.
“Look out!” said one of them in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going. Don’t walk into our faces!”
“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our head.”
“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.
“In where?” asked Edmund.
“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, smelly little hole of a stable.”

The Dwarfs believe they are still sitting in the dark. Even when Aslan appears and gives them food, they believe they are eating straw and scraps.

Aslan explains that he cannot help the Dwarfs if they will not let him help them, and that he has other work to do.

He then goes to the door between “the stable” and the Narnian world outside and roars, “It is TIME.”

Closing Hymn: Lord Jesus, Think On Me (verses 1, 3, 5)

Lord Jesus, think on me
And purge away my sin;
From earthborn passions set me free
And make me pure within.

Lord Jesus, think on me
Nor let me go astray;
Through darkness and perplexity
Point Thou the heavenly way.

Lord Jesus, think on me
That, when the flood is past,
I may th’eternal brightness see
And share Thy joy at last.

Pray together.

Homeschool Blog Awards

Just a reminder that the nominations are now closed for the Blog Awards, and the voting will take place during the next week. The lists of nominees are long--it's going to be very hard to narrow it down. But congratulations to all the blogs nominated, and I'm sure there were also a lot more that deserved to be up there as well. (I think the Blog Award committee is hoping to run the 2007 awards this December as well.)

Bad, bad, bad picture books

But this one is bad on purpose. As one of the commenters said, it has No Child Appeal for little kids, but a teenager (or maybe the Equuschick) would probably enjoy the Happy-Bunny flavour of it. (Hat tip to Roger Sutton of The Horn Book at Read Roger.)

Friday, April 06, 2007

A belated April Fool

(Don't read this one if you're easily offended.)

Mr. Fixit spent his boyhood and adolescence listening to classic rock music. So along with their Charlotte Mason classical composers, the Squirrelings have also been exposed to various 20th-century bands that Mr. Fixit feels they should know about.

In the paper this week (must have been April 1st) was a picture of Keith Richards and a story about certain shocking things he had done. Mr. Fixit showed the picture to Ponytails so she could see what a "really old rock star" looked like, although he didn't read her the article.

Yesterday he was looking at the paper and there was an explanation of that story: it was an April Fool's joke (at least that's what the paper said then; now they're not sure--oh who really cares?). Ponytails overheard Mr. Fixit telling me that the story about Keith Richards was bogus, just an April Fool thing. (Punchline coming--wait for it...)

Ponytails: "It was just a joke?"

Mr. Fixit: "Yes."

Ponytails: "You mean he doesn't really look like that???"

Good Friday Devotion: Through the Stable Door

[Scriptures from the English Standard Version]

From The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis (adapted)
“Sire,” Jewel said, “nothing now remains for us seven but to go back to Stable Hill, proclaim the truth, and take the adventure that Aslan sends us. And if, by a great marvel, we defeat those thirty Calormenes who are with the Ape, then [we must] turn again and die in battle with the far greater host of them that will soon march from Cair Paravel.”

Light a candle.

Green book #4: Sing Praise to God, verses 1 & 2

Then came the worst part, the waiting. Luckily for the children they slept for a couple of hours, but of course they woke up when the night grew cold, and what was worse, woke up very thirsty and with no chance of getting a drink. But Tirian, with his head against Jewel’s flank, slept as soundly as if he were in his royal bed at Cair Paravel, till the sound of a gong beating awoke him, and he sat up and saw that there was firelight on the far side of the stable and knew that the hour had come.

John 17:1, 5
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you….And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

From The Last Battle:
“Listen,” he whispered in a matter-of fact voice, “we must attack now, before yonder miscreants are strengthened by their friends.”
“Bethink you, Sire,” said Poggin, “that here we have the good wooden wall of the stable at our backs. If we advance, shall we not be encircled and get sword-points between our shoulders?”
“I would say as you do, Dwarf,” said Tirian. “Were it not their very plan to force us into the stable? The further we are from its deadly door, the better.”

Tirian could hear [the dwarfs] using dreadful language, and every now and then the Tarkaan calling, “Take all you can alive! Take them alive!”
Whatever that fight may have been like, it did not last long.
“Throw them into the shrine of Tash,” said Rishda Tarkaan.
And when the eleven Dwarfs, one after the other, had been flung or kicked into that dark doorway and the door had been shut again, he bowed low to the stable and said:
“These also are for thy burnt offering, Lord Tash.”

“I feel in my bones,” said Poggin, “that we shall all, one by one pass through that dark door before morning.”
”It is indeed a grim door,” said Tirian. “It is more like a mouth.”

“Oh, can’t we do anything to stop it?” said Jill in a shaken voice.
“Nay, fair friend,” said Jewel, nosing her gently. “It may be for us the door to Aslan’s country, and we shall sup at his table tonight.”

Hymn: Green Book #4: Sing Praise to God, verses 3 & 4

From The Last Battle:
And now the leveled spears were closing in on Tirian and his friends. Next minute they were all fighting for their lives….The worst of it was that Tirian couldn’t keep to the position in which he had started….he soon found that he was getting further and further to the right, nearer to the stable. He had a vague idea in his mind that there was some good reason for keeping away from it. But he couldn’t now remember what the reason was. And anyway, he couldn’t help it.

Read John 18:28-30, John 19:15-18, Luke 23:39-43

From The Last Battle:
All at once everything came quite clear. He found that he was fighting the Tarkaan himself. The bonfire, what was left of it, was straight in front. He was in fact fighting in the very doorway of the stable, for it had been opened and two Calormenes were holding the door, ready to slam it shut the moment he was inside. He remembered everything now, and he realized that the enemy had been edging him to the stable on purpose ever since the fight began.

And while he was thinking this he was still fighting the Tarkaan as hard as he could.

A new idea came into Tirian’s head. He dropped his sword, darted forward, seized his enemy by the belt with both hands, and jumped back into the stable, shouting:
“Come in and meet Tash yourself!”

There was a deafening noise. As when the Ape had been flung in, the earth shook and there was a blinding light.

Matthew 27:50-51
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split.

Green book #18: And Can It Be That I Should Gain

Blow out the candle.

The sheep are scattered

One year when The Apprentice was very, very small--probably almost three--I put a piece of green paper on the kitchen wall, about ten days before Easter. I cut out small paper sheep from a Sunday-School pattern, and also a shepherd. Every day we added more sheep to the picture. We may have drawn flowers and things on our "field" too--I don't remember. By the Thursday before Easter we had quite a few sheep. We talked about how the shepherd takes care of the sheep and makes sure they are all where they belong.

When The Apprentice woke up on Good Friday, the shepherd was missing from the picture. Some of the sheep were gone as well. The others were all topsy-turvy or stuck somewhere else on the wall. I told her that this is Good Friday and people were sad today because Jesus the shepherd was gone.

I've wondered since then if that was kind of a mean thing to do to a little kid. Some children (Ponytails) probably would not have taken the missing sheep too well. But The Apprentice caught the idea all right. When we went to church and things were sad and serious, she "understood" why.

The scene remained a mess until Sunday morning: and then the shepherd was back in the picture, with sheep jumping all over him. We celebrated! We hurrahed! Jesus came back! The sheep were back!

And it was--I think--later that day that an older relative asked The Apprentice if an Easter Bunny had visited her. The Apprentice looked at her blankly. The relative then said kindly, "She's just too young to understand Easter."

Hey, this is fun

Karen's Linguistics Issues has lists of British/Canadian/American spelling and vocabulary differences, all sorted alphabetically. (I wonder if she knows about Snakes and Ladders?) (See the discussion in the Comments.)

[Oh-my update: there are some non-family-friendly slang terms in the vocabulary section. Be warned.]

Thursday, April 05, 2007

On Asperger's, Middle School and Socialization

Elisheva at Ragamuffin Studies, one of the nominees for Best New Blogger, has written a great post on all of the above. PLUS she's included photos and detailed descriptions of their seder meal. Go visit.

Need some sunshine?

In the middle of this unbelievable snow...Meredith's camera shares her usual bright colours and bright ideas.

We are humbled

As Ann often says--we are humbled. We are also worried that we won't be able to upload these graphics properly (HTML seems to be Mama Squirrel's nemesis lately).

We've been nominated in two categories for the Homeschool Blog Awards (thank you, I would love to be a Cyberbuddy!)...


The Deputy Headmistress at the Common Room nominated me for the Thinking Blogger Award. (It's kind of a pass-it-on thing.) Thanks for your lovely comments!

These are the rules:

1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
3. Optional: Proudly display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).

But I'm not ready to single out just five blogs that make me think! And I'm not going to bite my nails over it either. It's not that I don't want to play, just that I can't decide and anyway, I've seen a lot of the blogs I read already nominated. I've already sent in my nominations for the Homeschool Blog Awards, so I'm going to leave it at that for now.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spring Time!

It's snowing!
Here are some questions:

What is your favorite part about spring?
Mine is being able to go outside without a coat on!

What's your favorite flower of spring?
Mine's a tulip.Here is a picture I took of one!

You can answer these too!


Wednesday Devotion: What happens when things get really bad?

(A note on our devotions: we will be going to a Maundy Thursday service tomorrow night, so I won't be posting one for tomorrow. Tonight's devotion will also be short because we have family members who have to go out.)

Wednesday: What happens when things get really bad?

Opening Hymn: How Firm a Foundation

The Last Battle p. 79-80 (adapted)
It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak. It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip.
”It seems then,” said the Unicorn, “that there is a real Tash, after all.”
“Yes,” said the Dwarf. “And this fool of an Ape, who didn’t believe in Tash, will get more than he bargained for! He called for Tash: Tash has come.”

What should they do then? In the end they all agreed that the best thing was to go and try to meet the help which Roonwit the Centaur was bringing up from Cair Paravel. Then they could all fight the Ape and the Calormenes together.

But as they went along, an eagle arrived with worse news.

The Last Battle p. 87-88
“Two sights have I seen,” said Farsight. “One was Cair Paravel filled with dead Narnians and living Calormenes.”
No one could speak.
“And the other sight, five leagues nearer than Cair Paravel, was Roonwit the Centaur lying dead with a Calormene arrow in his side.”
“So,” said the King, after a long silence, “Narnia is no more.”

Scripture reading: Matthew 26: 42-46

"Sons of labor, pray to Jesus;
Oh, how Jesus prayed for you!
In the moonlight, on the mountain,
Where the shimmering olives grew…"

Matthew 26:47-56

"Sons of labor, go to Jesus,
In your sorrow, shame and loss;
He is nearest, you are dearest,
When you bravely bear His cross.
Go to Him, Who died to save you,
And is still the sinner’s Friend;
And the great love, which forgave you,
Will forgive you to the end."
(From “Sons of Labor, Dear to Jesus,” by Samuel R. Hole)

Closing prayer.

Tuesday Devotions: When people just won't listen

Opening: King Tirian is so desperate for help that he calls out to Aslan, and in answer, Jill and Eustace, the children from The Silver Chair, arrive in Narnia to help him. After the three of them sort out who’s who and what’s up, they disguise themselves as Calormenes and rescue the stupid donkey who was being forced to play Aslan. They meet a group of dwarfs and try to show them that Puzzle, the donkey, really isn't Aslan at all.

Hymn: My Faith Has Found a Resting Place

Read The Last Battle pages 70-71 (adapted):
“Don’t they understand?” said Jill impatiently. “What’s wrong with all you Dwarfs? Don’t you hear what the King says? It’s all over. The Ape isn’t going to rule Narnia any longer. Everyone can go back to ordinary life. You can have fun again. Aren’t you glad?”
After a pause of nearly a minute a not-very-nice-looking Dwarf with hair and beard as black as soot said: “And who might you be, Missie?”
“I’m Jill,” she said. “The same Jill who rescued King Rilian from the enchantment—and this is Eustace who did it too—and we’ve come back from another world after hundreds of years. Aslan sent us.”
“Well,” said the Black Dwarf, “I’ve heard as much about Aslan as I want to for the rest of my life. We’ve been fooled once and we’re not going to be fooled again. We’re going to look after ourselves from now on and touch our caps to nobody. See?”

How can you make somebody listen when they don’t want to believe?

Loud rock music blasts from the headphones, and George wakes up and nearly panics when he sees Marty.
“Who--who are you?” he gasps.
“My name is Darth Vader [insert heavy breathing] I‘m from the Planet Vulcan,” Marty announces, holding his hand up in a Vulcan salute.
In the next scene, George’s clothes and hair are disheveled, and he’s gasping. Marty asks him where he was. “You weren’t at school today.”
“Last night, Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan came down and said he’d melt my brains if I didn’t ask Lorraine to the dance,” George tells him.
“Okay, but let’s keep all of this brain-melting stuff to ourselves, okay?” Marty asks." [From this Michael J. Fox website]

Short discussion--can you convince someone of something when they've decided they don't want to believe you?

Read The Last Battle pp. 73-74 (adapted)
(They finally give up trying to get the dwarfs to believe.)
Tirian had felt quite sure that the Dwarfs would rally to his side the moment he showed them how they had been deceived. And then next night he would have led them to Stable Hill and shown Puzzle to all the creatures, and everyone would have turned against the Ape….But now, it seemed, he could count on nothing. How many other Narnians might turn the same way as the Dwarfs?
“Somebody’s coming after us, I think,” said Puzzle suddenly.
They stopped and listened. Sure enough, there was a thump-thump of small feet behind them.
“Who goes there!” shouted the King.
“Only me, Sire,” came a voice. [Crayons read Poggin's part for us.] “Me, Poggin the Dwarf. I’ve only just managed to get away from the others. I’m on your side, Sire; and on Aslan’s. If you can put a Dwarfish sword in my fist, I’d gladly strike a blow on the right side before all’s done.”

A quote found on “Jesus tells the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. And he concludes each story with a statement about the intensity of God's feelings for those who have been lost: "Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. " "... there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:7,10,32). What arouses joy in the heart of God is every person who returns to God's family. Searching for the lost, and lavishing his love and grace on the repentant, is at the core of God's character.”

Closing Hymn: Come, Let Us Sing of a Wonderful Love

Come, let us sing of a wonderful love,
Tender and true, tender and true,
Out of the heart of the Father above,
Streaming to me and to you:
Wonderful love, wonderful love,
Dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Jesus the Saviour this gospel to tell
Joyfully came, joyfully came,
Came with the helpless and hopeless to dwell,
Sharing their sorrow and shame:
Seeking the lost, seeking the lost,
Saving, redeeming at measureless cost.

Jesus is seeking the wanderers yet;
Why do they roam? why do they roam?
Love only waits to forgive and forget;
Home, weary wanderers, home!
Wonderful love, wonderful love,
Dwells in the heart of the Father above.

Come to my heart, O thou wonderful Love!
Come and abide, come and abide,
Lifting my life till it rises above
Envy and falsehood and pride:
Seeking to be, seeking to be,
Lowly and humble, a learner of thee.
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