Thursday, May 31, 2007

For those who loved the Bilbo Baggins song

Or hated it? Mr. Spock seems a bit traumatized by it on this bus ride.

Upside-down Rhubarb Muffins

For a change from Coffeemamma's recipe. These are more like small cakes than muffins, and you don't get quite the same honest tang of rhubarb when it's sweetened up with the brown sugar--but they are still very good.

Upside-down Rhubarb Muffins
(from The Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume 3, sent in by Joan Alrey of Rivers, Manitoba)

1 cup "finely" chopped rhubarb (we just diced ours with a knife)
1/4 cup melted butter or margarine
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
Another 1/3 cup soft butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup milk

Ponytails made the topping: she melted the 1/4 cup margarine in the microwave and then mixed in the rhubarb and brown sugar and dropped the mixture into the 12 holes of a muffin pan (greased first). Mama Squirrel made the batter: she blended the margarine, sugar and egg and then mixed in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, stirring just to moisten. We spooned the batter (it was fairly stiff) on top of the rhubarb, and baked it at 350 degrees F for 20 to 25 minutes.

Now this is the little trick at the end: get your cooling rack ready (with some waxed paper underneath if you're nervous). When the muffins are done, take them out and dextrously invert the whole thing on the cooling rack--but leave the pan on top of the muffins for a few minutes to let all the rhubarb moisture run out. (It's not really that messy.) Serve them warm if you can (otherwise you might have to refrigerate them).

The lesson of Sarah Noble

This started out to be a very innocent post about some of the little-girl books that the Squirrelings enjoyed during school time or on their own. I was thinking about how to write about Rumer Godden's wishing/fairies/nice-doll-evil-doll books, wondering if I could do that without offending some parents who don't like that sort of fantasy--and I thought maybe I should start with something safe instead, like The Courage of Sarah Noble, by Alice Dalgliesh.

Turns out I couldn't have started with anything more offensive. The Courage of Sarah Noble is popular with homeschoolers, but obviously not with the wider literary or educational community, because of its representation of Native life as being inferior to that of the European settlers. And that issue remains even if you try to make sure that the children do understand the irony of the story--for instance, that the white woman who reluctantly gives bed space to Sarah and her father is far less hospitable than the Natives that they meet. According to the discussion on that link--which goes on for pages--some teachers' experience is that children only pay attention to lines like "The Indians will chop off your head" and "skin you alive," even though these things are said by the most ignorant characters in the story. (Going by that rule, we would have to leave the Little House books aside as well, because Laura's Ma says equally ignorant things, and then there's that awful minstrel show. Louisa May Alcott is insulting to Chinese and German people, among others; Frances Hodgson Burnett has all those lascars and ayahs and "What! You thought I was a native. You--you daughter of a pig!"...and David Copperfield has a rather appalling dwarf character. You can insert your own least favourite examples...)

I found that online discussion (almost ten years old now) enlightening in a couple of other ways. One parent lauded a teacher who grabbed an opportunity for a discussion on stereotypes when a child suggested that they all sit "Indian style." (Never mind how that child felt about teacher turning a minor cultural molehill into a PC mountain.) That harks me back to a Sunday School class we had once when I was ten or of the older teachers (not our teacher) came into our class one day with a patch over her eye and sat down to "give us a talk." It turned out there was nothing wrong with her eye; she was concerned that we weren't "including" a boy with a glass eye who sometimes came to our church (and spent most of his time fooling around and hiding behind the blackboards). Now, you need to understand that we all knew this boy already from the neighbourhood and from school; if we didn't hang around with him, that had nothing to do with his eye (besides, he was a BOY). But we sat and listened politely as she told us all about this boy, and then she asked us to get up and take turns putting the patch over our eyes and try throwing a ball back and forth, to see how difficult things were for him.

When she got down the row to a girl named Tina, Tina seemed a little puzzled. She asked the teacher, "Which eye should I put the patch over?" Tina not only had no vision in one eye, she also had no hearing in one ear. (And Tina didn't hide behind the blackboards or otherwise act at all strange...)

That kind of put an end to the lesson.

So back to the online discussion. The other thing I noticed came right out of the original question, before the issue of Sarah Noble even came up. The poster described what sounds like a particular conservative book catalogue that is still familiar to many homeschoolers (although she couldn't remember where she'd seen it):
"Points were taken off a number of seemingly (to me, anyway) innocuous books (such as Elizabeth Enright's Goneaway Lake etc.) for such no-nos as: fantasy, certainly, but even any mention of luck, good or bad, because God, not luck, controls what happens to us; cases where children keep secrets from their parents; cases where children lie (really bad!); cases where children argue with or think they know better than their parents; cases where children are not punished for disobedience; any bad language (we're talking "damn," "hell," and "Jesus!" as expletives here); mentions of witches, devils, etc., even in fun. And these were books that the web site recommended with reservations; it did not review any books that it considered should actually be kept out of children's hands. Books were reviewed in detail so that parents could be "forewarned" and either skip over the offending material when reading with their children or discuss with them why the no-nos were bad....I found it very illuminating."

I'm sure she did, and I also find that kind of legalism very sad...but isn't that exactly what these same teachers are doing, only taking points off for books that don't fit their own definition of political correctness? The point was made in the online discussion that Alice Dalgliesh wrote Sarah Noble in the 1950's and from a particular personal background, and subtle points about the story (such as the fact that the Nobles are moving to the "wilderness") reflect that era's ideas about the superiority of Europeans (although the story itself may be seen as an attempt to contradict some of those ideas). And it was also suggested that Sarah Noble is just one book, even though it's by Alice Dalgliesh and it won an Newbery Honor award; it can easily be skipped and nobody will be much the poorer for it. Which is quite true.

These days, in fact, it's not likely that many people will care much anyway (see Melissa's and the DHM's posts about the store in Missouri that is burning books). As the Deputy Headmistress pointed out, in the novel Fahrenheit 451 people had stopped reading long before books were outlawed.

However, once I've fine-tooth-searched every book my children read not only for Christian acceptability (that might rule out Rumer Godden's dolls, along with the Bastable children and of course most of our fairy tales and talking animal books) but for every other conceivable point of offense to someone, somewhere, what's left on the shelf?
"Eustace Clarence liked animals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card. He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools...."

Ponytails flies high

From Ponytails' final dance recital last night. (Jeté!)

Ring a round a rosie--high speed version

From Crayons' final dance recital last night. (She's the one in the bright pink t-shirt.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies

I seem to be having to do less typing of favourite recipes lately and more linking. I was going to post a Canadian Living cookie recipe for Cappuccino Thumbprints, but here it is already on their website, with photo. They are kind of fun (get it? they're supposed to look like cups of cappuccino with cream and cinnamon on top), and not really hard to make.

My own additions/suggestions are that we substituted soft margarine for butter (it's what we had), used unbleached flour, and instead of melting white chocolate chips in the thumbprints, we chopped up four or five leftover squares of white baking chocolate and divided that out among the 36 cookies. Which probably gave us slightly more chocolate in the middle, but who's complaining? (The recipe says it makes 42, but we ended up with 36).

One suggestion the kids had about the final sprinkle of cinnamon was that you could use cinnamon-sugar mix instead, if you don't like biting into cinnamon straight. Otherwise, just go easy on it--a little sprinkle will do ya.

Empty Nest Syndrome (Robin Update)

Yesterday afternoon the young robins were shrilling away in their nest on top of the drainpipe--as usual--and occasionally hopping up to the edge to practice flapping. One of the parents would occasionally show up and let them fight over something wriggly.

Just before bedtime, we looked out and the nest was deserted. We had never seen any "flying lessons" going on--do robins just take off, once and for all? It's still empty this morning, although I think the birds are still in the neighbourhood--we watched from the back porch and saw what I think was one of the parents and one of the little ones, pecking in the grass--then they flew up to one of the big maples. Looks like they've relocated!

But it's a little sad to see their "penthouse" quiet and empty.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Graham Squares

The DHM linked to this recipe earlier in the month, and I made a batch of the molasses-ginger variation. (It makes a big batch!--I froze some and we ate them later.)

So this is just a link-for-the-record--so I'll know where to find them next time!

I am Purple

Your Hair Should Be Purple

Intense, thoughtful, and unconventional.
You're always philosophizing and inspiring others with your insights.

Carnival of Homeschooling: Alaska Edition hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling. I thought At Home, On Fire's post was especially interesting, since it includes a link to a discussion elsewhere about people's perception of homeschoolers. One of the commenters on that discussion said she didn't know any homeschoolers, to which someone else said that maybe she did but that they just didn't stand out (i.e. look freaky) enough for her to notice! Reminds me of some of The Apprentice's experiences this past year in public high school. The only person who "freaked out" when she found out that The Apprentice had been homeschooled up to this year was one of her teachers. She thought that she should have "been informed." But considering how well The Apprentice was doing in that class, I don't think it was an academic issue, and I don't think it has been for her socially either. Especially since some of the girls found out she knows how to do nails...

As we always say--what kind of "not-real" world do people think homeschoolers are living in, anyway? We do let them out of the cloister occasionally...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Come home safe

This is Memorial Day, if you're in the U.S. The Deputy Headmistress has blogged some of her thoughts about that, coming especially from her perspective as a military wife.

This is my cousin. He's in Afghanistan.

I don't know what all to think about the wars in the Middle East. I don't blog about politics.

But I do know that I never--ever--thought, when we were kids, that we'd grow up and have people our own age to worry about overseas. Even Vietnam was too far away from us, not in time but in reality. The veterans we knew were all old men. Those who served or died were our grandfathers, great-grandfathers--not brothers, cousins, friends, and kids who used to go around pretending they were Gomez Addams.

"No, Mrs. Crawford, I don't think the war has been sent as a punishment for sin. I think it is the price humanity must pay for some blessing--some advance great enough to be worth the price--which we may not live to see but which our children's children will inherit."

"If Jerry is killed will you feel so fine about it?" demanded Norman, who had been saying things like that all his life and never could be made to see any reason why he shouldn't. "Now, never mind kicking me in the shins, Ellen. I want to see if Parson meant what he said or if it was just a pulpit frill."

Mr. Meredith's face quivered. He had had a terrible hour alone in his study on the night Jem and Jerry had gone to town. But he answered quietly.

"Whatever I felt, it could not alter my belief--my assurance that a country whose sons are ready to lay down their lives in her defence will win a new vision because of their sacrifice." --L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside

Reading made fun

"I hear you, Mamma," said the first little mouse.

"I hear you, Mamma," said the second little mouse.

"I hear you, Mamma," said the third little mouse.

"I HEAR YOU, MAMMA!" said the fourth mouse, very loudly....And Loudmouse was his name, from that time on.

We have a favourite book that's great for buddy reading, especially with kids who like to make lots of noise: Loudmouse, by Richard Wilbur. From what I've learned online, you're especially lucky if you can find a copy of the large 1963 edition; but we've done all right with the smaller 1968 version.


The cat was hiding under a chair, holding its front paws over its ears.

Loudmouse eventually redeems himself by finding a special use for his unique "talent."

Suitable for multiple loud re-readings.

Before I forget

I wanted to link to Kim's post Dressing Like a Big Person (at The Upward Call) last week with a "photo reply" of my own. My photos still haven't happened, but you can enjoy her post anyway.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

There's something in that

Melissa wrote a good post this week about some of the issues of classroom education. One of her commenters described a primary classroom where the teacher was doing a good job of mixing up sit-still-and-listen with hands-on and move-around activities, and yet where some children still could not/would not participate and thereby distracted the others.

A long time ago when The Apprentice was two and three years old, I co-taught a toddler/preschool Sunday School class in our very small church. The class ran for two years, the ages of the kids ranged from just-two to mid-four, and there were usually four children in the class, sometimes a couple more. We had a fantastic time--and the kids learned a lot too. We didn't have a fancy classroom--very far from it, it was a college classroom with large-size tables and chairs. Anything we wanted to use had to be brought in and then taken down again when we were done. But it really worked, and this is why: besides the fact that we tried to mix up the activities, have fun and stories and songs and nature walks and so on, those four core kids all came from families where they were at home, read to, talked to, and otherwise treated like intelligent small people. Their parents often came in to help with the class. (Strangely enough, all four families ended up homeschooling, although they weren't all considering it at the time.)

A few years later, our church situation had changed, and I got permission to teach a similar class at our new church, for the post-nursery kids (including Ponytails). Now this is important: I set up the lessons in pretty much the same way as we had done at the other church. In fact, I did a lot of the same activities. And the class--as much as I could tell--went nowhere. The kids--when they did show up--usually didn't participate, unless maybe food was involved. They didn't want to sing the Judy Rogers songs. They couldn't sit still for the stories. Why? I have my own ideas about that, some of which are probably unfair, and I know there are exceptions...but my overall impression was that these were kids. TV kids. Mainstream kids. Their families probably had more money than those in the first church, and they probably had more "stuff" than the first group of kids; but my guess was that they weren't getting the kind of mother AND father time spent with them that the first group did. (Taking your kid to T-ball doesn't count.) None of their parents volunteered to help with the class, either.

After awhile we just agreed to end the class. It was pretty obvious that none of us were getting much out of it. I think people thought, "oh, those kids were just too small to get anything out of Sunday School anyway."

In our local paper today there was something about how our brains are wired for learning--or not--by the time we're four. And I think there must be something in that. Those two groups of preschoolers showed me every week what they were getting--or missing--in their lives outside of church.

Of course there could be other reasons why the groups were different and why one class worked and the other didn't; three of the four kids in the first group were oldest children, if that makes any difference. Of course there were other variables that I don't know about, one way or another.

But I take these two small examples and think about the school classroom that was described, and I know exactly what that commenter means.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Robin update

Someone said that if you doubt that God has a sense of humour, just look at the hippopotamus. I think baby robins would also qualify. Our four small nestlings look like baby pterodactyls, especially when they pop up and down in the nest and try out their wings. The biggest and most athletic one is especially goofy--he looks like he's doing aerobics. They've also gotten very loud as they've gotten bigger! We used to keep our eyes open when we were outside, to see when one of the parents would fly up with a meal; now their excited shrilling is enough to let us know that room service has arrived.

"My Ambleside Online"--Part Two

Part One is here.

Some more books that have become favourite parts of our homeschool:

1. The Wilds of Whip-poor-will Farm, by Janet Foster, illustrated by Olena Kassian. (1982, Greey de Pencier Books.) I just finished this today with Ponytails and Crayons. The book's twelve chapters cover a year of critter-watching from (and sometimes in) a log cabin in rural southern Ontario. Each episode reminds me of a favourite aunt's letters home--and the quiet, detailed drawings add to our enjoyment of the book . I love having a story that's especially about the animals and birds we might see around here--although many of them are common to other areas as well. Good for any of the primary years.

"I was glad that Rufus, the groundhog, was asleep in his underground burrow because I could see that two coyotes were hunting regularly over the farm.
They came out from the wood each night and followed the same route up the lane and across the fields. One time, they left a clear trail of big paw prints right under our bedroom window! I tried howling several times during the winter, but the coyotes never answered. Maybe they were too busy hunting. Or maybe it was too cold."

2. Owls in the Family, by Farley Mowat. As long as we're talking about pets and critters...this is another Canadian classic (published in 1961). Part Henry Huggins, part Rascal, part Homer Price (remember the pet skunk?), the fictionalized version of young Farley has a sort of menagerie in his Saskatoon backyard. "There were the rats and gophers, and then there was a big cardboard box full of garter snakes....there were some rabbits too, and then there was Mutt, my dog...."--but since this isn't enough, he ends up adopting two owls named Wol and Weeps, and they do end up becoming like part of the family.

This book isn't very long (about 106 pages) or difficult to read, so we usually read it around Year 2. (Did I mention it's funny?)

"After first making sure Mutt was really fast asleep, Wol would begin to stalk the old dog the way a cat will stalk a bird....Starting from the front porch, Wol would sneak across the lawn moving so slowly and carefully he hardly seemed to move at all. If Mutt happened to raise his head he would see Wol standing stock-still on the grass and staring innocently up at the sky....Sometimes it took Wol and hour or more to cross the lawn; but he did it so quietly and cautiously that Mutt never really had a chance.

"When he had sneaked up close enough, Wol would raise one big foot and--very, very gently--lower it over the end of Mutt's long and bushy tail. Then Wol would let out a piercing scream and at the same moment he would give the tail a good hard squeeze.

"Poor Mutt would leap straight into the air, yelping with surprise and pain. By the time he got his bearings and was ready to take a bite out of Wol, the owl would have flown to the limb of a nearby tree from which he would peer down at Mutt as much as to say: "Good heavens! What a terrible nightmare you must have been having!"

3. Another short but not dumbed-down natural history book we read in Year 1 is How the Forest Grew, by William Jaspersohn. It's about a hardwood forest in Massachusetts, and how it grew and changed over the years. I like it because it doesn't try to be cute or avoid some of the realities of life in the forest: the "weasels and foxes who caught mice, rabbits, and birds for their dinner," and a storm that strikes some trees with lightning and uproots others. It's clear that all of what seems unpleasant to us is simply a making way for something else. "As time passed, insects and disease hurt the other pines. Every time one of them died, a red oak, white ash, or red maple tree took its place."

4. And a big fat treasure of a book is one that I'm hoping Ponytails will read to herself next year: The Rainbow Book of Nature, by Donald Culross Peattie. It's a bit of everything, written for those kids of yesterday (and today) who really wanted to know.

"In ornithology (the science of birds), the case is well known of an eleven-year-old girl who could name every kind of duck, as far off as she could see it, by the way it flew. most duck-hunters, grown men, will tell you that it takes years of experience to master the difficult subject of the ducks. But since no one remembered to tell this girl how hard it was, she found it quite easy. She had good eyes, close attention, and a memory that kept what it caught. And these are much more useful than the costliest binoculars ever made."

On underwear jokes (seriously)

The Deputy Headmistress has a very thoughtful and important post about the need to--sometime--put those childish things behind us.

Mother Auma muses about Finding Nemo and home trainin'.

And Ann V. posts about her quest for a one piece life--showing how beautiful the grown-up side of things can be.

"God is everywhere: He is the continuous thread, weaving the world and all that is within it together. 'For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.'"

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Friends for Dewey?

My avid-knitter acquaintance Lady Tricotine is experiencing some wildlife in her backyard. Have a look.

"My Ambleside Online"--Part One, more to come

I think almost every Ambleside Online user customizes the curriculum to some extent--well, at least we do. Besides adding in some Canadian content, there are books that I add in because they fit so well or they're just longtime favourites. A lot of those are out-of-print books that aren't yet in the public domain--just old enough to be hard to find, not old enough to read online, but still worth looking for.

This list doesn't include the picture books we've been collecting like the Little Tim books, the Church Mice books, or Shirley Hughe's Alfie series--I'm trying to stick mostly to school-type books or literature for the AO years.

The order is...random. And I've tried to find the most interesting links I could, on the authors' websites where possible. (If you look closely enough, you'll find out which one originated the character of Shrek.)

1. Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild. (Check out that link--there are photos of places from the story.) For girls around Year 3 age...and how many books (besides Roller Skates) include not only Shakespeare references but children who are more or less homeschooled? (Roller Skates--which includes Shakespeare, not homeschooling--is a book in which many parents will need to proceed with caution--there are very scary and very sad parts, enough to unsettle some children unless you do some judicious skipping.)

2. Margery Sharp's Miss Bianca/Rescuers mouse adventure books. Some are better than others, but the first two at least are must-reads...but not too young, maybe Year 3 or 4. Adventure, courage, and poetry.

3. More mice and furry/feathered heroes: William Steig's Abel's Island and The Real Thief. For around the same age, because Steig never stints on vocabulary.
"Without waiting to catch breath after his heroic skirmish, he began uttering, over these detested feathers, the most horrible imprecations imaginable. Heaven forfend that the owl should have suffered a fraction of what Abel wished it. Abel wished that its feathers would turn to lead so it could fall on its head from the world's tallest tree, that its beak would rot and become useless even for eating mush, that it should be blind as a bat and fly into a dragon's flaming mouth, that it should sink in quicksand mixed with broken bottles, very slowly, to prolong its suffering, and much more of the same sort."

4. A Toad for Tuesday, by Russell E. Erickson. I guess the owl in #3 reminded me of this one--for Year 1 or 2, and most children at that level could probably read it for themselves. No offense, but people who avoid "talking animal stories" don't know what they're missing with this one. Warton the Toad is kidnapped by a Really Mean Owl who plans to eat him--next week--for a birthday snack. But he attempts to remain calm.

"The toad dug into his pack and pulled out two beeswax candles. As soon as they were lit and began casting their warm glow about the room, he felt much better. He began to straighten his corner. And, being of a cheerful nature, he began to hum a little tune.

"The owl couldn't believe his ears.

"'Warty, you did hear me say that I was going to eat you next Tuesday, didn't you?'

"'Yes, ' said the toad.

"The owl shook his head."

5. Armed with Courage. (I had to include a serious book.) I've written about this before: it's a book of short biographies of courageous people: Florence Nightingale, Father Damien, George Washington Carver, Jane Addams, Wilfred Grenfell, Mahatma Gandhi, and Albert Schweitzer. Something like Hero Tales, not specifically Christian, but inspirational and well written. We've just finished reading this (in our Year 3 1/2).
"Nothing on earth was wasted. That was the belief of this man who seemed to have magic in his fingers. Every day he had a whole handful of new ideas, too. He searched the woods and fields and brought home plants, leaves, and roots. Then he took them to his laboratory and made them into useful products, or medicines, or food. He told his students that they must learn to "see." They must always see something good in nature. They must always look for something that would benefit mankind.

"Not even a few handfuls of dirt were too humble to interest Dr. Carver. Yet he wanted almost nothing for himself...."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We enthusiastically invite you to check this out

“Every production of genius must be the production of enthusiasm.” --Benjamin Disraeli

The Lilting House hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling: Enthusiasm Abounds edition.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Yogurt Pie

In the 2+ years that I've been blogging and posting recipes here, I've somehow missed mentioning Yogurt Pie. It's a very tasty, very versatile and quite-healthy dessert that we've made many times. We've had it topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries, kiwi and strawberries, and just plain for breakfast. (I'm making one for dessert tonight.)

Our copy of the recipe is on two pages torn (don't ask) from one of Emilie Barnes' books, but was actually created by Sue Gregg.

And you all are so lucky--with the wonders of technology, you can now have not only a nicer copy of the recipe than I do, but photos as well, because Sue Gregg has a step-by-step for the whole thing right here. Our version leaves out the coconut and coconut extract, but otherwise it's the same. (And if you want to know what "three cups of yogurt" looks like without measuring--it's a whole 750 ml container, for Canadians--and whatever the big size is, for Americans.)

Happy Victoria Day! (and for once, this holiday which often turns unco-operatively cold and rainy is a cool but sunny one)

All things squirrelly

Found on the Carnival of Education #119:

"Have you heard the one about the out-of-control squirrel that forced an entire campus to go into lock down? And was this squirrel an agent of some conspiracy unleashed by the Dark Gray Forces Of Evil? Read the testimonial and judge for yourself."

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The stuff of nonsense

[Reposted from 2006 because I've been thinking a lot about the CM quote below.]

My friend the DHM at The Common Room quoted Charlotte Mason today:

"There is absolutely no avenue to knowledge but knowledge itself, and the schools must begin, not by qualifying the mind to deal with knowledge, but by affording all the best books." --Towards a Philosophy of Education (Vol. 6) , pg. 347

Did she mean the most serious books? The hardest books? The longest books? Just before Miss Mason gets to that point in the chapter, she has been describing the sad case of two young men who had a half-baked education (in her view), who "laboured indefatigably" at making sense of the books they picked up as young adults, but who admitted themselves that "You and I go at a subject all wrong!" What was one of the books they couldn't make sense of? Alice in Wonderland.

Deeply impressed he bought the book as soon as he returned to London and read it earnestly. To his horror he saw no sense in it. Then it struck him that it might be meant as nonsense and he had another try, then he concluded that it was rather funny but he remained disappointed.Here, again, is another evidence of the limitations attending an utter absence of education. A cultivated sense of humour is a great factor in a joyous life, but these young men are without it. Perhaps the youth addicted to sports usually fails to appreciate delicate nonsense; sports are too strenuous to admit of a subtler, more airy kind of play....

So we have to give our children more than facts, more than vocabulary drills. Knowledge, yes...the DHM's post points that out well, along with the sad fact of our culture's anti-knowledge bent. But also another kind of understanding of laughter and nonsense that goes beyond the usual nose-picking humor found in childrens' books. They need to meet characters like my aged Uncle Arly, sitting on a heap of barley...and the Humbug...and the White Knight, one of my favourite characters in any book.

They need some silliness, some furry squirrel puppets, some knock-knock jokes, some James Thurber, and eventually some Wodehouse and Chesterton. They need to let their brains learn to play and dance and jump around with all the wonderful connections that a sense of nonsense allows. They need some nonsense so they can understand inventiveness...and a mandatory credit in inventiveness and creativity will not substitute.

I found this posted on the Catholic Culture blog (2007 update--it's not there now):

A friend said all this reminded him of the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan (God) creates Narnia, including an odd little bird which, like all the animals, can talk. The bird says something ridiculous and all the other creatures laugh. Turning to Aslan, the bird says, “Oh, Aslan, have I made the first joke?” “No,” Aslan replies, “you are the first joke.” My friend says there is a moral here.

I think he's right.

Quick update on the robins

We have seen at least one tiny beak stretching up out of the nest. Obviously the young 'uns are arriving.

"but did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn't you?..."*

One more from Roger, on fractured fairy tales: "Northrop Frye told us this would happen."

Anybody who links to The Anatomy of Criticism in the middle of a post about the Three Little Pigs can climb up here anytime.

*Virtual stuffed bunnies if you recognize the quote. [HINT: say it Scottish.]

Someone knock and see if Pooh's home.

Also on the Read Roger blog: I want one too.

Lloyd Alexander

For The Common Room crew and other fans: the Read Roger blog (at The Horn Book Magazine) offers some thoughts on the passing of the author of the Prydain Chronicles. (The Common Room also offers a tribute to Lloyd Alexander.)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Choices, choices

(Apologies to Eric Carle)

We use our share of convenience foods at the Treehouse, but pancake mix is not one of them. Actually very few baking mixes find their way up here--an occasional cake mix, but even that's an exception. I've never found it much of a hassle doing most of our baking from scratch, and as so many people have pointed out, when you bake from scratch, you get to control the ingredients.

In my recipe binder I have about six recipes for pancakes (and waffles), and we use them all interchangeably. Our "usual" (except when Mr. Fixit makes them up as he goes along) is the Buttermilk Pancakes recipe from Food That Really Schmecks. (It's a pretty standard recipe. UPDATE: I added it to the Comments.) We rarely buy buttermilk, but we've used soured milk, yogurt, and thinned sour cream and they all work fine. (I have also used leftover pudding--including tofu pudding--as part of the liquid in pancakes and waffles.) Whole wheat, unbleached flour, even bad-for-you-white all work fine in them. Sometimes we eat them with real maple syrup, more often with homemade maple-flavoured syrup or fruit sauce (recipe below). Or whatever else is around.

We also make Mammoth Flapjacks from a 1998 Flintstones Vitamins calendar--tossed the calendar, saved the recipe. It's easy and doesn't make too many--good for when there are only a couple of us home. And Slightly Sourdough Pancakes from one of the Milk calendars (I think that was a James Barber recipe).

On the other hand, when there are more of us or we're extra hungry, I've used Good Grains Waffle or Pancake Mix (from Vegetarian Times, June 1995) or The Perfect Pancake Mix (from Family Fun magazine, March/April 1993). Because sometimes those 2-cups-of-flour recipes aren't quite enough to make all of us feel pleasantly stuffed and gluey with carbs. And if there are some left, we just freeze them.

Since the recipe for Mammoth Flapjacks is simple and makes only a small batch (you can double it), I'm including it (as originally written) for anyone who doesn't want to get into a big bowlful of batter. (Of course you can always make up one of the mixes and then just use a bit of that as well.)

Mammoth Flapjacks

"Wilma and Pebbles know just how to satisfy Fred's mammoth appetite. Large or small, these pancakes are a family favourite."

What you need:

An adult to help with the cooking
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1 3/4 cups milk
2 tbsp. vegetable oil

What to do:

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in medium bowl.
2. Beat egg, milk and oil together in a small bowl; add to dry ingredients. Beat with whisk until smooth.
3. Lightly grease hot griddle or frying pan with oil or butter. For mammoth pancakes, use 1/2 cup batter; for mini pancakes, use 2 tbsp.
4. Spoon batter onto hot pan. When pancakes puff up and have tiny bubbles over surface, flip them over with a lifter. Let brown on other side then remove. Serve with butter and syrup. Makes about 10 mammoth or 36 mini pancakes.

Fruit Syrup

Or Jam syrup.

Measure out a cupful of water; pour as much of it as you can into a jar of jam that has a few spoonfuls left in the bottom. Put the lid on it and shake it up. OR (if your jar of jam isn't so near the bottom), measure a few good spoonfuls of jam into a 1-cup measuring cup and make up the difference with water. Pour the jam-water mixture into a small pot and blend with 1 tbsp. cornstarch. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until the mixture clears and thickens. Serve warm. You can add or use almost any fruit or juice in this recipe--use pineapple or orange juice (or the liquid or syrup from canned fruit) instead of water, or add fresh or canned chopped fruit.

Cooking without Recipes: Spaghetti Squash

You can make spaghetti squash without having any leftovers around. Actually you can just cook a spaghetti squash plain and then you have...squash. Stringy squash, but that's all. But that's not what I'm talking about.

The best part of spaghetti squash is that its little strings look and act kind of like spaghetti, so you can combine it with all kinds of pasta-ish things and make a good meal out of it. Also it has a very mild taste, so kids usually like it, even mine. I like the instructions in Whole Foods for the Whole Family, but I usually make up my own stuffing instead of using theirs (zucchini in the filling is too much squash-with-squash for me). Last night's version was very, very easy: we had some leftover meat sauce, fairly thick, sitting in the fridge, so I used that. I cut the squash in half, took the seeds out, and cooked the halves, cut side down, in a covered frying pan of water for about fifteen minutes. When they were soft enough to "string," I microwaved the sauce for a couple of minutes (just to give it a head start), and then mixed it in a bowl with some Parmesan cheese and as much of the hot squash as I could manage without collapsing the shells. (You have to hold the squash in your hand, using a pot holder, while you fork up the "spaghetti.") Then I put the mixture back into the shells and heated it through. If I'd had the oven on, I probably would have used that for heating, but since I didn't, I just put the two stuffed halves back into the frying pan (right side up this time), added a little water so they wouldn't scorch, and let it all get good and hot while I cooked some frozen perogies to go with it. I put the two big halves on a platter and cut them in smaller chunks for serving (carefully, so all the filling wouldn't fall out).

And that was dinner.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

One of those blog things

Like a virus that's going around--here's the literary meme. The rules:

1. grab the book closest to you
2. open it to page 161
3. find the fifth full sentence
4. post the text of the sentence to your blog
5. don't search around for the coolest book you have, use the one that is really next to you.

The nearest book long enough to have 161 pages is Cyrus MacMillan's Canadian Wonder Tales. The fifth sentence on page 161 is:

"He was very tired of his work for he was kept at it day and night always spinning and weaving his webs." (From a story called "The Fall of the Spider Man"--not related to the superhero.)

You were looking for wisdom, maybe?

(Seen at The Little Pink House and Bona Vita Rusticanda Est (Tim's Mom's blog).)

Every homeschooler should have one?

An Educational Jargon Generator.

It's fun! Just click the button...I got "evolve competency-based curriculum compacting." And you're then supposed to...translate that? I think that means that I need to evolve some reading lessons for the first grader who already knows how to read. (At least I do know what curriculum compacting is!)

(Megacognitive hat tip to Denise at Let's Play Math.)

Tribute to our Tree

I'm temporarily reviving my avatar with the photo of our backyard--because the big maple there will be very soon no longer a part of our scenery. Surgery a few years ago extended its life somewhat, but Tuesday night's storm finished it off, and its appointment with the chainsaw is imminent.

It's a sad day. We will miss its shade this summer, and I'm sure the squirrels (the real ones) will be bewildered and bereaved. Although, as Mr. Fixit points out, we will have a few hundred/thousand fewer leaves to rake this fall.

But we're thinking about putting in a couple of spry little red maples...

Just for Victoria Day

Mrs. H. at The Little Pink House posted photos of her Victoria Sponge Cake.

Krakovianka posts about her fancy work.

And Meredith does some Mother's Day flower re-arranging. (You mean you're not just supposed to unwrap them and stuff them in whatever vase is handy? I am always learning new things over there.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Yum, pancakes!

But not just yet--you'll have to wait for next week's pancake-themed recipe carnival at--ready?--at the Pancake Recipes blog.

And send in your favourites before Saturday at 1 p.m.

Big Blow, by Ponytails

We were watching Babe on the T.V. and Mr.Fixit said, "Holy smokes! Look out the window!" There was rain and wind all over the place! Our tree that is 41 years old may have to be cut down! Because two branches fell on the ground and both look the size of a 10 year tree!

When we were watching Babe and it started to rain and blow really hard, we turned off some of the lights and the TV and the computer and the breaker. And then the power went out and I could hardly see anything. So Mama Squirrel and Crayons and me read Swallows and Amazons where there was a little light. And before reading Swallows and Amazons we had to sit in the middle of the kitchen near the table, because our windows could have broken, and branches would go in our eyes.

I'm glad that happened last night and not today, because tonight is our dancing night. And if it would have happened tonight, we wouldn't be home.

And all the power in the houses and the traffic lights and everything went down.

And now that I'm done with the storm, I'll tell you about the bird that's on our drainpipe! At first we just noticed there was a nest, but then we noticed there was a robin in it. Mama Squirrel spent about a week trying to figure out what it was.

We don't know if it has eggs or not, but you can see baby robins on Liberty and Lily. And the nest is still there!


Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Kaber supplies 20 fun language ideas at All About My Boys.

Carnival of Homeschooling

More aloha: Palm Tree Pundit posts the 72nd Carnival of Homeschooling, with lots of flora and fauna from her own backyard.

Homeschool freebies continue

The Homeschool E-Store has extended their Mother's Day promotion until tonight. They're offering a whole variety of freebie books to download--but be patient, a lot of people are trying to get in on this and it may be slow.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Solomon says: Don't be a duffer

The guest speaker at our homeschool support group Saturday night spoke on the subject of wisdom (as in, every wise woman buildeth her house). She talked about expert sailor Mike Plant, whose boat Coyote was lost in a storm in 1992; it was found capsized and without its keel, the weight on the bottom of the boat that would keep it upright. Her analogy was that we need to build up that solid weight of God's wisdom into our lives and the lives of our children, so that they will be able to remain upright in storms. She also talked about wisdom as making the next right choice, having the right reaction to whatever particular thing happens, when it happens.

She mentioned the idea that Solomon--otherwise so wise and having so much already--seems to gone wandering into an unexplored territory of folly--that that's what he was describing in Ecclesiastes. "Then I saw that wisdom excelleth folly, as far as light excelleth darkness."--Ecclesiastes 2:13

I went home and read the next couple of pages in Northrop Frye's The Great Code, a book I've been reading for a long time but of which I can only manage a couple of pages at a time. (That's not necessarily a recommendation of Frye's theology; but this book isn't theology anyway, although its topic is the Bible. It's more about myths and typology, and where the Bible fits into Frye's scheme of things. See the comments on that Amazon link for more.) Anyway, those pages were about...Wisdom literature. Ecclesiastes.

Yesterday morning our Sunday School class was about...Wisdom. And Wisdom literature. Ecclesiastes.

Boy, I can take a hint...never mind that we've also been reading Swallows and Amazons. About messing about in boats...and if not duffers won't drown. [Update: Oh, I didn't mean to sound like such an unsympathetic clod about Mike Plant! I was thinking more metaphorically...]

[Update: Kim at The Upward Call has been thinking about wisdom too.]

P.S.: There is one big difference, though, between the way Frye looked at the end of Ecclesiastes and what our Sunday School teacher had to say about it. Frye thinks that a "nervous editor" tacked on the last few verses to make up for the preceding sort-of-negative chapters:

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil."--Eccl. 12:13-14

Our teacher takes just the opposite viewpoint: that although these verses aren't necessarily the logical conclusion of the argument of the whole book, they are what's left after you eliminate all the rest. So they fit the end of the book quite well.

Mix a pancake

Mix a pancake,
Stir a pancake
Pop it in the pan.

Fry the pancake,
Toss the pancake,
while your mom takes a photo that will someday embarrass you greatly.

~apologies to Christina Rossetti

Updates from Heather and her family

A mother's day message from Heather.
"I want to just hug on my kids, kiss their faces and enjoy this time together. It is precious…. so very very precious."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A link for Tim's Mom

I thought you might like these May Day flowers. (Aloha.)

Update: Tim's Mom provides a laugh for the day, especially if you like Fragonard.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Frugal Fridays

The Deputy Headmistress offers a few links today, including the official Frugal Fridays post at Biblical Womanhood. If you have a frugal post you want to add, you can link to it from there.

Birdy (not Birdie) has a long and thoughtful post about Being Frugal--from her unique perspective of having been raised in Bangladesh.

As for me...I'm too frugalled-out already this week to post anything else about that. I'm going to sit on the back porch and watch Mama Robin nesting on the top of the drain pipe and Mr. Crow sitting on top of the highest evergreen tree around, while the leftover-soup-concoction thaws on the stove. This afternoon we are looking forward to a group field trip to the Clay and Glass Gallery where we'll meet up with some junior pirates and castle inhabitants, get messy with clay, and then go have birthday snacks and play in the park afterwards. And I am SO thankful that we have a sunny day.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Drawn from life

Melissa compares keeping a lid on your temper to handling a sippy cup...

Mama Lion muses on Gilbert's Aunt Mary Maria and James Herriot's wife (not in the same story though)...

and Ann compares trusting the Holy Spirit's leading to following the Global Positioning System on her tractor.

Smart ladies with imagination.

A Busy Box for Busy Crayons

Found through the Carnival of Homeschooling: Busy Boxes on Our Journey Westward. These aren't preschool busy boxes (we did use those a couple of years ago!), but the same idea set up for a first grader who needs "something to do" while an older sibling finishes schoolwork. (And that's what we'll have in the fall.) I think Crayons (who celebrates a brand-new digit today) would enjoy these.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Is divisiveness really the point?

Once again something like the "Mars and Venus" syndrome strikes at the blog world, in the guise of a plea for less divisiveness between die-on-that-hill-homeschoolers and those who feel there are equally acceptable educational alternatives.

We could go on in this vein for a long time, you know. Much-Read Blogger continues to swat at some of the "divisive" flies that are buzzing around him, his fans pull out their swatters to help, and the rest of us either duck for cover or come swatting back the best we can. Is the issue of divisiveness really the point of these "I know I'll be sorry I posted this" posts? To be frank I think they sound more like politely-disguised attacks on positions with which Blogger doesn't personally agree, so it shouldn't be surprising that a bit of fur has to fly over them.

The fact that you exist in whatever way you do is bound to make somebody out there uncomfortable or annoyed, no matter how laid back you are about it. If you've read my snowman condo story, you'll know we have considered this ourselves. Among homeschoolers, our three girls are considered an average-to-small-sized family (congratulations to the Duggars on upcoming number 17); in the mainstream world, just three (who would certainly not only build snowmen but throw snowballs at each other as well, making a fair amount of noise while doing so) are enough to make some kinds of neighbours cringe. Our kids don't burn things down, but they do make noise. We don't have a pet alligator or grow pot on the porch; but Mr. Fixit does do whatever car repairs he can in the driveway, and sometimes I do have several cars here at a time for a meeting. Some people don't like that, you know? Some people had a problem with the big yellow phone van that Mr. Fixit used to drive and park in the driveway, but that's what kept us fed.

If I happen to mention that we had three wonderful homebirths, some people will say that's fine or tell me that their brother's cousin just had a homebirth as well. A number of other people, though, will assume that I a) feel superior about that, b) think that everybody else should have homebirths, and c) must be slightly demented to have thought of doing that in the first place. None of that is true (maybe the demented part). We did have three wonderful homebirths, and if anybody asked me to recommend it I'd say yes...well...generally...well, it's not for everybody. Some people are just on a different track to start with. There are some people that I'd think were crazy if they said they wanted to give birth at home. But you see, it's not what I say about it that becomes the issue for a lot of people; it's just that we did whatever it was in the first place, so it's assumed that we must hold some kind of militant position on it. We do have three kids, we did have three homebirths, we did homeschool all of them up until this year. We also vaccinate our kids but don't usually get them flu shots, buy whole wheat pasta but also an occasional bag of Viva Puffs, and teach them Lutheran catechism even though we now go to a dunk-em church. Fannee Doolee likes apples but not oranges, spaghetti but not pasta...

But I digress.

Why did we start homeschooling? It wasn't out of a religious conviction that everyone should homeschool. It was what was right for our family. We had quite a few reasons, large and small, including the fact that the school system here seemed more interested in finding ways to cut back on "optional" things (like special education) than they were in doing what was best for the kids. That is not the same as saying that schools themselves, any schools, must be inherently bad. If I held that position, then I would be very much at odds with Charlotte Mason, who provided for the needs of both schools and homeschoolers.

Why do we continue homeschooling our younger two Squirrelings (and our oldest, who's still doing one-quarter of her work at home)? Again, there are quite a few reasons, including the particular learning needs of our children and our desire for them to enjoy a rich literature-based curriculum. If there was a Charlotte Mason school around the corner, would I send them instead of teaching them here? I can't answer that one. I can only answer for things as they are here, now, for our family. In that sense I do agree with Much-Read Blogger because I think he's trying to say that each of us should look to our own convictions and listen for God's calling in making decisions about education. I only hope that he's just as serious when he says that he would afford us equal respect for our choices.

Strictly for amusement

My blog is worth $60,970.32.
How much is your blog worth?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Frugality is child's play

[Reposted from 2005]

Saturday’s National Post ran an article by Style At Home editor Yuki Hayashi called “Retro Chic is Child’s Play.” Subtitle: “Old-fashioned housewares, toys and clothing are the hot thing for mom and dad’s stylish newbie [baby].” The gist of it (with apologies because I can’t link to it) is that Bob the Builder wallpaper borders are passe in nurseries; chandeliers and refurbished dressers are in; plastic toys are out, “golden age” 1920's-style toys are in. But only if you have the money to buy them. (Mama Squirrel’s main feeling about this nursery-retro thing is that possibly the decorators haven’t actually lived with children very much; crib blankets made of antique chenille don’t sound like they’d survive more than one good upset stomach.)

Mama Squirrel knows she should be delighted to hear that companies like T.J. Whitney’s Traditional Toys are producing things like hardwood ABC blocks, and that stores like Toronto’s Kolkid are selling them (although as the store owner says in the article, “These aren’t Wal-Mart prices.”). As her friend the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room has pointed out (see here), there are many advantages to natural materials, simple toys, things carefully chosen and worthy of being passed down to future generations. Things that biodegrade, things that have educational value, things that are fun.

However, like anything else, the cost of this trendiness puts it out of the realm of most of us single-incomers, at least in its upscale incarnation. The Squirrel family does live near an educational/alternative toy store (although not as funky a place as the stores in Toronto). Some of the toys there are very good and affordable, others fall into the grandparents-only category. Handmade hardwood blocks would be nice if we had a couple of hundred extra dollars for them...ironically though, the squirrelings still play with a tubful of pine blocks that Grandpa Squirrel cut in his workshop about thirty years ago. (They make great beds and tables for the squirrelings’...ugh...collection of plastic troll dolls. Definitely not Retro Chic.) We do have some alphabet blocks, too, but they came from the dollar store and were bought because we needed to spell somebody's name on a birthday cake. How about the squirrelings’ much-used tubs of Duplo and Lego? Mama Squirrel knows quite well that those are not made of natural materials and that they would probably hurt the sensibilities of the trendoids (not to mention their feet if they stepped on a lost piece). But they do have a place in the Treehouse (usually all over the floor).

The main ingredient that seems to be missing in all this trendiness, is the creativity and fun of doing and making these things yourself. (Oh back to The Waltons? No, really. Besides, this is where ANYBODY can do this just as well as the Trendoids, even if the toy budget is miniscule.) Two of the squirrel girls have handmade rag dolls that their Grandma Squirrel made them (with dresses to match some of their own). The Apprentice has made model “cub cars” with Mr. Fixit (one of them won a championship race a few years ago). The squirrelings have made Barbie dresses, things for their dollhouse, and put together battery-powered gizmos like a flashing headband. (Mr. Fixit can always make those books of science experiments work.) Ponytails has knitted herself a hairband and is busy right now learning to boondoggle (see her post below).

Our young squirrels are not short on toys. They have classic books and things to use their imaginations with (even if they're plastic). They have homemade things we've improvised (or they have, which is even better). They also have a Dora the Explorer backpack, a beeping plastic cash register, an assortment of Barbies, and the aforementioned plastic trolls. The squirrel philosophy is that it is better to have things that you like, that get used, and that mean something, than to worry about how they fit the decor.

And in Mama Squirrel’s final opinion, it is more fun to crochet a puppet yourself than to buy it in a funky store on Queen Street West.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

School this week

We have four days of school planned this week--the fifth day is a field trip in the afternoon and the morning will be a "morning off just because." (For more details on some of this, see the last school week I posted.)

Day 1:
Sing a hymn or O Canada; say Luther's Morning Prayer; practice the second part of the Apostles' Creed
Bible: continue 2 Chronicles 29-31, about Hezekiah
Copywork/Handwriting practice
Botany chapter 10: Introduction to Gymnosperms. (Cone-bearing trees.)
Longfellow's Poems: "The Bridge"
On Foot to the Arctic (Samuel Hearne): read 1/3 of chapter 7. Hearne is dragged along on a confrontation between warring groups of Natives (the things you have to put up with when you're just out there trying to map the barren wastelands and find some copper...)
Math: continue workbooks
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 13, "The Charcoal-Burners"

Day 2
Opening: sing a hymn and pray
Say the 10 Commandments or sing the books of the Bible
Armed with Courage: start reading about Wilfred Grenfell
A Child's Geography: continue chapter 10, about latitude
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
Math: continue workbooks
Child's History of the World, half of chapter 29 (about Alexander the Great and the Pharos Lighthouse)
Look up the other six Wonders of the World

(This day's pretty overloaded and we probably won't get all this done--maybe I'll just do what Coffeemamma does and turn on the Debussy while we're doing something else.)

After lunch:
Swallows and Amazons, chapter 14, "The Letter From Captain Flint"

Day 3
Opening: pretty much like Day 1
Continue reading in 2 Chronicles, about Hezekiah and the Assyrians
Copywork or handwriting practice
Botany: Gymnosperm Leaves
French: "La plante de Lydie" (a story from our book)
Continue reading the chapter in On Foot to the Arctic
History: finish the chapter about Alexander the Great

Swallows and Amazons, chapter 15 "Captain John Visits Captain Flint"

Day 4
Opening: pretty much like Day 2
Read Psalm 16 together
Read a legend from Canadian Wonder Tales: "The boy and the Dancing Fairy"
Math: Math games today
Longfellow's Poems: "The Arrow and the Song"
Grammar or time-telling workbook
Listen to phoebe bird calls
Nature reading: The Wilds of Whip-poor-Will Farm, "Stranger in the Nest," about a nestful of phoebes and an intruder

Sewing lesson.

Update from Heather's family--and Heather

There's an update on Heather's recovery from surgery from her family. And a short one from Heather. And hundreds of comments and prayers.

Silliest packaging

Ponytails noticed this. On the store-brand box of "bite-sized wheats" (spoon-sized cereal made out of wheat and a tiny little bit of something chemical to keep it fresh), it says:

Allergy allert. Contains wheat.

Boy, that falls right in there with warnings on scissors. "May be sharp." We could go on for days making those up...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Funniest post I read today

"Why I'm Not a Scrapbooker," posted at Rocks in My Dryer. (Hat tip to Sallie at A Gracious Home.)

Oh, and one other thing

While we're on the subject of why frugality is, for many of us, not at odds with Christian faith:

What do you think is a bigger problem in the world today: a few thrift-shopping moms with a gift for decorating and crafts, or the mound of consumer debt out there? How about fragmented families, disconnected parents and children who don't have time to have a life together outside of work, school, and everything that you have to get chauffeured to afterwards? If part of our ministry as Christians is to support family life, then why whack at people who are doing their best to nurture their families and create gracious, friendly homes? I'd say that the dearth of families and homes like that in North America is a much bigger problem than whether or not we bought the book we're reading together for twenty dollars or twenty cents.

(And on another side note: although I do love to thrift-shop books, I will buy new books too. I happily bought a set of the Little House Martha books from a homeschool vendor because I know at least two families--the vendor's and the author's--benefitted by that purchase--besides ours.)

Frugal is not a bad word

Some people have been giving thrift shoppers and other blogging frugalistas (how do you like that one?) a hard time recently.

The arguments run kind of like this: the Bible doesn't say anywhere to go out and look for bargains. If we're not "really down and out" ourselves (define that as you will), then we're robbing from the poor if we buy something nice at a thrift shop--especially if we resell it and make a profit. (Heaven help the Christian who mentions making a profit on something. Didn't some Christian songwriters go through this one a long time ago?--God gave you this talent, you write this song and it's for everybody to sing, how can you ask us to pay you for copies of it?) Wait, there's more: if we're picking up books or vintage aprons or other frou-frou at yard sales or thrift shops, then that ranks as non-essential anyway, so then we're getting addicted to stuff or wasting the little money we did spend. (Wait a minute, I'm already seeing some contradictions here. If it's frou-frou stuff, then wouldn't it be just as silly for the "really down and out" to buy it?) And overall, we should be willing to pay "full price" for whatever it is, so that we're not ripping anybody off.

Now Stingy is bad. But Stingy is not Frugal. Stingy is putting dollars out on pizza delivery (full price) and pennies in the offering plate. Stingy is illegally photocopying textbooks. Stingy is not providing what your family needs even though you have the means to do so. Stingy lives next door to Chintzy Hardbargain and down the road from the Misers.

Frugality is making life as beautiful as you can on a little bit of money. Sometimes that little bit of money is all you have, period. Sometimes you have more than that but you're using what's left for something else that's important. Anybody with a credit card can throw money at a problem (full price, I assume); Frugality teams up with Creativity to make the most of what's there. And sometimes Frugality just has to say no to things. I can't bring myself to pay $2.19 a can for something at one grocery store when I know the discount supermarket sells it for half that price. What's full price, then? Store A's price or Store B's?

The comment was made on another blog I will not name that Mrs. Frugality wouldn't invite people over "to evangelize to them" if she didn't have the right cake pan, and that she wouldn't go out and buy the cake pan unless she could get it used or cut rate or something. First of all, I would never invite people over "to evangelize to them." About anything. I've been on the other end of the cake in that respect, and I did not appreciate it. Second, I don't know even the most frugal person who would feel that way about having a perfect cake pan before inviting guests. In fact, most frugal people I know would bake the cake in a casserole dish or something, or make something else, or just have tea and 99 cent oatmeal cookies. People are the point, not food.

And finally, as many people have pointed out in response to this ongoing issue: it's not a crime to shop at thrift stores if your shoes are intact and the stroller you're pushing didn't come straight off the curb. In fact, you are SUPPORTING THEIR MINISTRY by shopping there. It happens to be a delightful side benefit of this kind of shopping that we often end up with something unique, vintage, out of print, or otherwise amazing. And isn't that a whole lot more creative than getting something exactly the same as your neighbour's at Stuff-mart?

If you want more thoughts on this, I can't do better than refer you (once more) to this old post at The Common Room: Frugalities.

P.S. to this post

You want to see organized?

Coffeemamma has a new blog to keep track (and share) the Blue Castle's homeschooling odyssey. Check out Widdershins Around the Castle.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Rhubarb, Year Three

Year One, Year Two

It's a bit early for our recalcitrant rhubarb to be doing much, but it had a few healthy stalks on it so I made a batch of Coffeemamma's muffins. I didn't have quite enough for the recipe, but I put in a couple spoonfuls of strawberry preserves too, so it worked out.

Yum, springtime.

Chicken Chili, or, In defense of chili powder

I'm a cooking Philistine. Really. agrees: "a person who is lacking in or hostile or smugly indifferent to cultural values, intellectual pursuits, aesthetic refinement, etc., or is contentedly commonplace in ideas and tastes." Yep, that's us--contentedly commonplace. Especially about things like chili recipes: not for us the poblanos and serranos and ground chocolate. We are pretty content with the recipe from The Tightwad Gazette, Volume II. Without getting gourmet about it, the recipe does lend itself to creativity and using up leftovers, such as the Chicken Chili with Chickpeas that we had last night.

Here's the Tightwad recipe with my variations in brackets.

Homemade Chili/Chickie Chickpea Chili

1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onions (1 onion)
1 cup chopped green pepper (1 pepper)
1 lb. hamburger (1 lb. ground chicken plus about a cupful of cooked chicken, chopped small)
1 40-oz. can of kidney beans (1 (smaller) can of kidney beans, plus half a can of mixed beans (including chick peas and blackeyed peas), plus about the same amount of leftover chick peas)
1 28-oz. can of tomatoes (about 1 cup of canned diced tomatoes: I don't use more than that because we have picky eaters who will locate and leave every bit of tomato)
1 6-oz. can of tomato paste (or part of a bigger can)
3/4 cup water or as needed, depending on the amount of tomatoes and tomato paste
1 tbsp chili powder (and I add some salt as well)
(Sliced fresh mushrooms)

Heat oil in a large skillet. Brown onions and peppers. Add hamburger/ground chicken (not the cooked chicken, just the raw) and brown well. Add the mushrooms and chili powder and give them a minute to get started before you add the remaining ingredients (including the chopped chicken). Add 3/4 cup water and simmer, covered, for 1 hour (ours was done in half an hour).

P.S. I also use commercial curry powder. (Not in the chili though.)

Hard choices

I have to make a hard choice.

Okay, it's not exactly earth-shattering, but...

Yahoo Avatars adds new stuff all the time so you can dress up your person, add butterfly wings or halos or alien life forms, and change the background. There's a new background that would be so much fun to add here: a Treehouse in the Woods.

But if I do that, I'm never going to have My Own Back Yard again, since Yahoo took out the custom-photo button and there's no way to save it.


UPDATE: We figured it out! Ponytails reminded me that you can save whole avatars in your favourites, so we didn't lose the backyard.

And I do like the treehouse.

Writing to spec

The Apprentice, as Treehouse friends will know, has been transitioning into public high school this year. She has been given permission to take Grade Eleven advanced-stream English next fall, assuming that her academic writing skills are "up to snuff" by that point, or in other words, that she knows what will be expected of her in a Grade Eleven class.

So we have been taking a look at examples of writing from a teacher's point of view. We started with writing teacher Joe Napora's article "Form & Structure: using student writing to teach students to write better." I think we got more out of it, perhaps, than the author intended, because both the Apprentice and I really disliked the particular essay that he chose as a fine example of student writing. As well as discussing what was good (structurally) about the essay, we also talked about what was weak or cliched in it; making the unintended point that writing may meet all a teacher's criteria but still not move the reader.

After that we started looking at some detailed samples ("exemplars") of Grade Nine and Grade Eleven English assignments from the Ontario Ministry of Education website. (There are no detailed exemplars for Grade Ten English.) We're partway through the Grade Eleven samples, and I have to say it's been instructive. We've looked at essays written about issues of conflict (such as gun control), and speeches about various issues. We've garnered quite a good impression of what constitutes a decent Grade 9 piece of writing, and a less-than-exemplary Grade 11 one.

And this is the thing that strikes me most: the examples we've studied have been from the Advanced or Academic stream of English classes, rather than the Applied stream. These are university-prep classes. And of the two assignments, neither has been on the subject of literature. Gun control and diversity we have aplenty. But where in all this do you learn to write about sonnets or The Scarlet Letter?

Just curious.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Don't forget about Heather

Heather is preparing for surgery this week.

Also, the Homeschool Blog Awards site hasn't gone underground, even though the awards are over! Sprittibee and the others have plans for interviews with the winners and all kinds of other things. So stay tuned over there for blog news, as well as reminders to pray for Heather.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Green Spaghetti

One of our "cooking without recipes" dinners; I make this when I have some bits and pieces of dairy products kicking around the fridge. A sample list of ingredients would be a bag of spinach or a package of frozen chopped spinach (fresh is better, but cut out any big stems); pasta of choice (we use whole wheat spaghetti); a cupful of cottage cheese, a few spoonfuls of Parmesan, a cupful of grated Mozzarella, a quarter cup of cream cheese, and a bit of milk if needed; garlic powder and a grind of pepper. The cream cheese is optional but it seems to give it a good texture. (I think you could manage a non-dairy version of this with whatever tofu/soy cheese mixture you like that approximates a bowlful of cottage cheese and shredded cheese mixture.)

In a large pot (so you only need one), steam the spinach for a few minutes. If you've just washed it, it will cook just in the water that's still on the leaves. Drain in a colander. Using a stick-type blender or a food processor, blend the cooked spinach with all the remaining ingredients except the pasta. You should have a bowl full of green gloppy stuff, but don't make it any wetter than it has to be to blend nicely. (When we first started making this, we followed a recipe that used more milk, but we always found the sauce was too sloppy.)

Cook the spaghetti or other pasta in the big pot, and when it's ready, mix it with the green sauce. Serve immediately.

One warning about this: it's easy to make and kids like it better than you'd expect (two of mine asked recently for Green Spaghetti, so we had it last night). BUT it does stick to the plates and the blending bowl. Volunteer for the cooking and let somebody else do the dishes. ;-)

Carnival of Homeschooling #70: The Yes, No, Yes! Edition

[Corrected and updated to include two more posts]

This week's theme was inspired by Rachel Starr Thomson's lovely post
Yes and Amen: The Magnificent Power of Yes at the Inklings. Rachel explains: "The sequel to "Thou Shalt Not: The Staggering Importance of 'No,'" this article explores the joyous freedom and power released by the word 'yes.'" I've also included some other quotes about Yes...No...and Yes!

From Rachel's post:
"Yes" is creative power: it is all possibility, all adventure, all life...."Yes" can mean so many things. It can mean the formation of relationships that will impact generations. It can mean the difference between daydreaming and pursuit. The difference between excuses and passion. The difference between a life of fear and a life of adventure.

Mom Is Teaching presents Wish you were here. "Sure they could have learned about the world from books, but true education comes from going out and exploring it, from getting your hands dirty, from being there as it is happening."

No Fighting, No Biting presents Socialization . "I asked a neighbor if she could come over while I went searching and of course found the two on the very next block. "What were you doing that took that long?" I asked them. "Exploring," was the casual reply."

Megan enjoys her son's explorations in Gem Tree, posted at Home Schooling Aspergers.

From Rachel's post:
Still, it is parents who speak the first and most important yes's in the lives of their children. If most of us have done anything unusual or wonderful in our lives, chances are it was the yes of our parents that got the ball rolling.

Principled Discovery presents My critique of Friedman's homeschooling statement. "The central problem with Friedman's statement is that the burgeoning homeschool movement is not evidence of a failure of the public school system. On the contrary, the massive scale of public education in this country demonstrates the failure of the family to take responsibility for the rearing and education of their own children."

Public School Education: Grizzly Mama tries to remember how her own public education may have conflicted with the values her family taught her. "As I've gotten older I have returned to the values that I was raised with. It's been a long revolution right back to where I started. God, Family, Freedom, Strength, Human Rights, Humility, Honesty, Justice, Courage of Conviction."

Rewarding Motherhood comes from Life Without School. "What makes motherhood truly rewarding? Have we been set up for "failure" by a society that rewards "success"?"

From Rachel's post:
Don't misunderstand. I am not at all saying that you should say yes to everything. That's why parents are so important. They're older than their children; they have a bigger picture. Theirs is a yes of discernment. But when they give it, it opens such doors.

Little Acorns Treehouse presents Imaginary Play: When should it end? "A struggle with my 6 year old's new developmental milestones sends me on a search for age appropriate toys for a 7 year old girl."

The Thinking Mother agrees with this problem in KGOY Study Released April 2007 Causes a Buzz.

"There is no shame in not knowing; the shame lies in not finding out.” --Russian Proverb
Kaber at
All About (my) Boys shares No Bill Nye, a post about "real homeschool science experiments- the ones that are fun, but don't look neat and pretty like a science book or television show- The ones you learn more from because you did them incorrectly the first 5 times... or maybe I am just trying to feel better about our failed science experiments."

Patti at
All Info About Home Schooling presents Periodic Table Worksheets Introduction. She says, "I've been working on this for about a month, and it's finally done! 12 pages that introduce older children to the periodic table. Each page had a different theme and covers several elements. The puzzles range from garden-variety crosswords to want ads and danger signs!!"

Eclectic Education has done all the legwork (she's found an amazing number of online resources!) for an Ancient Greece Unit Study.

Sherry presents Musical Time Periods posted at Redbud's Lane.

Phonics Homeschool presents Can I have a quill pen with that? Using Noah Webster's Speller in Today's Home School. "In honor of Jamestown's 400th anniversary, I explain how to teach reading and spelling with the method they used at Jamestown, the syllable method."

Janine at
Why Homeschool writes about how the Internet makes homeschooling so much easier, in Homeschooling and the Internet . (Lots of links!)

School of Thought provides a link to classical style science and history curriculum recommended by the Homeschool Atheists Yahoo list.

Online Education Database presents 80 Open Education Resource (OER) Tools for Publishing and Development Initiatives. (In other words, 80 links to educational resources and communities.)

I had to turn to a book title for the next section:
Yes--No, Stop--Go: Some Patterns in Mathematical Logic (Young Math Books), by Judith L. Gersting, Joseph E. Kuczkowski, and Don Madden

Andrea Hermitt presents Teaching Your Homeschooler New Math posted at Homeschool Blog.

DeputyHeadmistress presents Counting Back Change posted at The Common Room. Mom & Pop Homeschool presents Multiplication: Sunshine Style. "My children were checking my teachingcredentials (so to speak) one day at lunch, and my four year olddaughter asked a question involving very creative use of themultiplication table."

Denise presents Calculate your age, the hard way posted at Let's play math!.

Mama Squirrel presents Of Plastic Counting Bears and Cubes at Dewey's Treehouse. (Are math manipulatives harmful, helpful, or just a waste of time?)

“Every choice moves us closer to or farther away from something. Where are your choices taking your life? What do your behaviors demonstrate that you are saying yes or no to in life?” --Eric Allenbaugh

Melissa Wiley presents Baby Steps at The Lilting House. "When I re-read Donna Simmons's Kindergarten book the other day, I came across a very large note I'd written in the margin of one page on the first reading: RHYTHM, REVERENCE, TIME. Those are the things that I wanted to carry away with me from that book. Maintain a peaceful rhythm, bring more reverence to our days, remember that what the kids need most from me is TIME. "

Kristina at
At Home, On Fire presents Move Over Charlotte. "I am beginning to practice the art of seeing by "being". I mean that I am trying to remember to take some time each day, in the middle of whatever it is that presents itself as pressing, to stop and observe what is happening on the outside of my concentration."

Mother Auma at CM, Children and Lots of Grace reflects on the value of kindness in the home, in her post "Housekeeping A-Ha."

Commentary from Love 2B Homeschoolers presents Radical Unschooling vs. Self-Directed Learning: "how I define myself as an unschooler."

“A 'No' uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a 'Yes' merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.” --Mahatma Gandhi

Andrea presents her video post Another Reason to homeschool: Abusive Teacher at Notes From A Homeschooling Mom.

S/V Mari Hal-O-Jen presents We Seceded Where Others Failed! "Through the study of our local history we hope to inspire our daughter to develop her individuality and her sense of self, to raise her in such a manner as to be a strong leader who is unafraid to stand up for what she knows is right and never, ever follow the proverbial crowd off that 7-Mile Bridge!"

Megan Bayliss presents
ANZAC DAY. A Black Day in Australian History. posted at Child protection: serious business.

Home Where They Belong
presents one reason some Christians are pulling their children from public schools.

“Learn to say 'no' to the good so you can say 'yes' to the best.” John C. Maxwell

Elena presents The Dress, posted at My Domestic Church: "About my quandry of whether to take a week off from homeschooling to make a first communion dress for my daughter."

Judy Aron presents
Homeschoolers - Delaying College, posted at Consent Of The Governed.

Barbara Frank adds More Thoughts About College. "College is not for everyone. Many young people, including my daughter, want to experience life outside of the classroom, not within it." But on the other hand, "college is just what some people need...."
“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” --Dr. Seuss

Sandy at Falling Like Rain submits "Goodbye Dr. Seuss," about "one of the most memorable homeschooling milestones; when our youngest child learns to read."

Barb presents her son's Final projects from Draw Real Animals, posted at The Heart of Harmony.

Elisheva Levin presents Where Are You Going, My Little One?, posted at Ragamuffin Studies.

Coffeemamma at Our Blue Castle presents a post simply titled "Finishing Up Term 2": but that doesn't begin to tell how successful this term has been. She says, "But even if none of these accomplishments had taken place, the one improvement that has made the most difference is the children's attitudes. All are eager, all are proud of their efforts, all are proud of each other, and all are stretching themselves, challenging themselves, without letting frustration take over."

From Rachel's post:
A life without "yes" will never be lived. Don't be the one who withholds it. It's spring. Go outside and feel the sun and think "Let there be light." Do something incredible today.

Cindy West presents What Will We Do Over Summer Break? posted at On Our Journey Westward.

The Queen of Carrots (at
Carrot Duchy) sends My Big Back Yard, "considering ways to make our back yard a great place for observing nature and being kids."

On the Company Porch presents Homeschooling is Life! ~ The unschooling life's "Map Quest. "We each have a different idea of what homeschooling, unschooling, or life learning should look like. In the end what it should look like is what is best for our own families and where the Lord has led us."

“Yes and No are very short words to say, but we should think for some length of time before saying them.” --Anonymous

Thanks is also a short word. Thanks to everyone who participated this week, and to the Cates for their support! Next week's Carnival of Homeschooling will be hosted by On The Company Porch. 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 the blog carnival index page.

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