Friday, November 30, 2007

Granola bars that don't fall apart

I have tried different recipes for granola bars (some that start with granola and some that don't), but they usually fall apart on me. These are from a 1992 Rod and Staff newsletter (that I found in a pile of stuff) and they turned out pretty solid and close to what I think of as granola bars. As I noted in the recipe, I didn't make them as thin as recommended, but I like the way they turned out anyway.

Granola Bars (by Ella Mae Landis)

Combine dry ingredients:

4 cups oatmeal
1 cup wheat germ
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sunflower seeds or nuts
1 cup coconut

Mix and add to dry ingredients:

2/3 cup honey or brown sugar (I used honey)
2/3 cup oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix well and press mixture into two well-greased 10x15" cookie sheets (I pressed it all into one 11x15" glass pan instead). Bake at 350 degrees "until nicely browned." (There is no time given in the recipe but I took my large pan out after 20 minutes, when the edges were just beginning to brown.) Cut immediately into bars (I used a pizza wheel). Remove from pan when cool.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who's the boss?

The DHM of The Common Room has an extremely good post today about just how far parents should be involved in their children's education. It also includes a very sad story of a little girl who seems to have good reason to hate going to school (luckily she has a mom who cares enough to do something about it).

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Carnivals are up

Received from the Carnival of the Recipes:

"Somewhere between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we all had dinner to cook. And this Carnival of the Recipes edition will let us countdown to Christmas together. The Carnival of the Recipes Countdown to Christmas Edition is ready for your perusal."

Mom is Teaching hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling: Centennial Edition. That's right, 100 Homeschool carnivals and fact, keep counting because we will be hosting #101, right here, next week.

And Cindy gave up being Queen of All Wild Things just in time to host The 6th Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival: Let the Wild Rumpus Start! Just a couple of things I've noticed there already: Cindy's own overview/review of Charlotte Mason-related books, especially those most suitable for getting started; Lifestyle Homeschool's Narration Without Books; another entry in Barb's Handbook of Nature Study; and Charlotte Mason, Creativity and Beauty at Holy Experience. And there's more where that came from!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Making stuff

There have been holidays in the past when we've made a lot of gifts and decorations--usually when I remembered to get started really early.
And there have been other years when I don't think the glue came out for most of December. Sometimes we make gifts of the food kind, not the crafty kind. Coffee mix, or homemade candy. (This is one food gift we're giving this year. This one also looks very yummy.)

But I do like to crochet, when I have the right kind of yarn around. On the weekend I was fishing through a bag of stuff I'd picked up at a rummage sale, and found a whole spool of something red and shiny called "Corneta Metallic Yarn for Handknitting." This stuff is very fine, like fine tinsel; too fine to crochet by itself unless maybe you're a mouse or a Borrower; but when I used it with another old ball of red Speed-Cro-Sheen, it worked great. I had enough of the Speed-Cro-Sheen to make four coasters and another decoration. (picture coming soon) Now I'm going to figure out what else I could put the metallic yarn with--maybe some white crochet cotton.

And of course I blew the "what's in my hand" by going to Michael's to buy some Stiffy. So if you get a very stiff and/or metallic Christmas present from me, you'll know why.
I am intrigued by this homemade gift at Like Merchant Ships, which I won't name in case someone close to me might be getting some (Apprentice, keep your mouse away from that link). Follow the links and enjoy Meredith's usual beautiful packaging as well. (There are more of Meredith's packaging ideas on Frugal Hacks today too.)

We spent most of today cleaning, not crafting...I have this Advent instinct that calls out for space, room. Clutter and dust bunnies cleaned out both literally and metaphorically; the last of the Halloween candy eaten; space made for holiday decorations to come. But once we get that taken care of, we will find time to get creative too. 

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Waving our homeschool catalogues, or, are we really prepared?

Jacci M at The Educational Life has a thought-provoking post about the naïveté shared by many new homeschoolers (green as grass, right?): how can we, without formal teacher's training or experience, dare to say we are prepared to teach our children? Her solution is a good dose of Charlotte Mason's books, and I'd go along with that.

However, I'm not so sure that we, coming into homeschooling, are necessarily as unprepared, or as different from any other new teachers, as her scenario suggests:
She [your child's imagined teacher] smiles a cheerful smile and explains that this will be her first year teaching. Although she went to college, she really has very little actual training in education. Her degree was in history. She did very well academically, though, and has always loved children. She babysat a lot as a teenager and was the oldest of four children. She's looked through teacher catalogs a lot, too, so she feels that she's fairly ready. Understandably, you're a little taken aback. Has she ever taught a child to read? What about handwriting? Does she have experience there? Or math? Did she receive any training in teaching math to young children? What are her thoughts on children's literature? Does she know how she will make sure the children are processing what they are reading? Her answer to all of your questions is, basically, "no". She seems very relaxed about it, though, and very matter-of-factly says that she has the curriculum the school system provided, and she will just learn along with the class.
Yeah, I know, that's how the school system and a lot of non-homeschoolers see us. As if we hadn't yet penetrated the mysteries of my husband's grandmother used to say darkly, just wait, you'll see.

However, is this hypothetical homeschooler much different from any other first-year teacher? Where I live, a B.Ed. is a post-grad degree, so every new teacher has a bachelor's in something or other--same as this story--plus One Year of Teacher's Ed. Is that long enough to make you an expert in teaching? If lacking one year of university classes and a couple of practice-teaching sessions is all that separates me from a first-year "professional teacher," I don't know why I should feel much behind. In my own pre-homeschool experience (that's up until The Apprentice was four), I would include all the babysitting and so on (and don't make light of that) plus several years of Sunday School teaching, volunteering in what was then called a TMR class, tutoring a special-needs student, directing camp arts and crafts for a summer (yeah, me), doing library music and movement programs for a summer (yeah, me again), volunteering at my toddler's weekly community-centre program, and taking several relevant university courses (developmental psychology, children's literature and so on). Had I ever taught anybody to read?--not from the ground up, unless you count playing school with my little sister. (Did that end up mattering?--well, no, all my Squirrelings have learned to read, with or without my help.)

But even more important than that--I had the luxury of a couple of years of "apprenticing" before I jumped in myself. I went to homeschool meetings and at least two conferences during that time, and I listened. And yes, along with talking to the real-life homeschoolers at the meetings, at church and down the street, I had the privilege of "meeting" Charlotte Mason, Ruth Beechick, Gayle Graham, Valerie Bendt, Mary Pride, Cathy Duffy, and other teaching parents who had written down what they'd learned. Oh, and John Holt. By the time I was ready to, figuratively, take my place at the front of the classroom, I had a very good idea of what was and wasn't going to work for us, and even some idea of why.

And you CAN learn a lot by browsing teacher catalogues--both the homeschool-friendly variety and the other kind. The best homeschool catalogues have detailed and sometimes critical descriptions and comparisons of the products (does anyone else in Ontario still miss Lifetime Canada/Maple Ridge Books?). And the other kind...well, as I've said before, you can at least learn from them what you don't need.

Besides, you're not presuming to sit in front of a class of thirty, waving your catalogue as qualification; you are planning to provide the brain-food for your own children. This week, this month. You do not need a teaching degree to follow Ambleside Online's Crisis Plan, to read them a chapter of Understood Betsy and play "Cup of Twenty." Homeschooling methods are, and should be, somewhat different from public school ones; remember that we don't have to slice bread with a chainsaw.

So while I would strongly agree with Jacci's advice to new homeschoolers (learn from the best parent-teacher-education resources you can get hold of, including Charlotte Mason's works; strive to understand what and why you do what you do; learn the best methods you can and base them on solid educational and spiritual philosophy), I would also like to reassure those who want to homeschool and maybe feel like they're not qualified (didn't finish college or whatever). Understand that being your children's parent, in at least one sense, qualifies you. Yes, you can learn more; and no, a browse through a catalogue is probably not enough to get you going. But you can learn, and much better and faster than the teachers' unions and other naysayers would like you to believe. (Feetnote: Jacci's not a naysayer, just to clarify that.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving for Queen Shenaynay

(Spelled it right this time, you'll notice.)

The Queen of the Hive has written a Thanksgiving post that goes way beyond her daughter's gourmet meal.

And Princess Beatrice can not only cook, she can blog as well. The Heart of Flame Therein has been nominated for Best Teen Gal Blog. Of course that's not so "Inconceeeeeeivable," but congratulations and good luck anyway.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Still my favourite cookies

Last March I posted a longtime family favourite, Doreen Perry's cookies. We still don't know who Doreen Perry is; if you do, you can thank her for the recipe.

I made a batch this morning (actually while I was waiting for lunch to heat up) that included cornflakes and butterscotch chips. If you make them small enough, this variation is almost holiday-worthy. Who needs fancier?

(P.S.: I know the recipe says to use ungreased pans, but I have had better luck spraying the pans first. Try it and see which works better for you.)

Charlotte Mason would be horrified

Books and Bairns (one of the nominees for Best Cyber-buddy) has a must-read post about a public-schooled kid who--not of her own choosing--does Not Have a Life outside of her schoolwork. She just doesn't have time--read the post and you'll see why.

Reminded me of this:
"These seemed a great many lessons for one small girl. 'Chivvied from morning to night--that's what she is,' Belinda reported in the words of Mrs Bodger. 'Nothing but putting clothes on and taking them off, and practising and lessons, lessons, lessons.'

"Mother was disturbed at this. 'Every child should have some private time,' she said, 'time of her own and time for play.'"--Little Plum, by Rumer Godden

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Crayons' Christmas list

"A donkey, a pony, a unicorn and a horse."

Whatever, it's all orange stuff

A real what's in your hand this morning: our grocery trip last Saturday was very hurried, and we missed several things: laundry soap, extra milk, extra flour, Parmesan cheese.

We did manage to replenish the allspice! (been short of that for weeks, and I refused to pay the price of the little cans; so I was happy that Saturday's store, while charging Yukon-worthy produce prices, did have a bulk section.)

With me so far?

I read Meredith's post about making Pumpkin Pie Playdough (the recipe is also in her post), and for some reason--although my Squirrelings are getting a bit beyond the playdough stage--I thought this dreary wet morning would be a good one for a potful of warm playdough, especially if it didn't smell like cooked salt. I didn't have enough flour for the whole recipe, so I halved it, and it turned out fine. I also didn't have pumpkin pie spice, so I used this recipe (quadrupled it for a half recipe of playdough). (Yay, allspice.)

So it was fun playing with the dough (yes, I squished along a bit too while we listened to an old radio show). But you can't EAT I decided to use up the bit of flour that was left on some pumpkin bread. We didn't have any pumpkin, but there was some cooked butternut squash from last night--so I pureed that along with the other liquid ingredients. (And the allspice.) Squash, sweet potato, pumpkin--they all mash up about the same, and they're all good in baking.

And now it's baked, the flour is gone, and the rain will probably turn into snow in the next day or so. I think we're going to make a fast run to Giant Tiger tonight so we can at least have clean clothes and pancakes...blizzard or not.

We've been nominated

The nominations are up at the Homeschool Blog Awards, and Dewey's Treehouse has been nominated in the Best Cyber-Buddy category.

Thank you very much! I'm honoured to be considered a Cyber-Buddy. I'm also very happy to see that several of my own picks have made it to the nomination stage in the other categories.

Don't forget to vote during December!

Advent Calendars

Update: our own 2008 Advent Calendar is here.

I noticed a lot of people have found us lately by searching for Advent calendars. We posted our own devotional plan last year, based on a calendar that the Mennonite Central Committee had posted on their website. I've been checking there diligently this fall, but so far they haven't posted a new one. I'll let you know if that changes, though.

This year we're basing our evening devotions on Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree e-book, The Glorious Coming. Much as I enjoy creating our own plans, it's wonderful to have something all written and ready to go! Thanks, Ann.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Throw some soup on

Homeschooling plus lunch can be kind of an odd combination/situation, especially if you're in the kind of family where hot food is called for at noon, and if you're both the Teacher and the Cafeteria Lady. You don't always want to be eating peanut butter and canned soup.

There are lots of things you can put together quickly, though. Or at least within half an hour. Here's one version of leftover soup that I started after Just-So Stories this morning (that was at about 11:30, and we ate at just after 12.) It's not a recipe, just what I did. Amounts are approximate.

Sausage-Barley Soup (Like Grandma's)

In a large pot, combine about four cupfuls of water and about half a cupful of (rinsed) small red lentils (because they cook the fastest). Bring to a boil and boil hard for a few minutes.

Stir in half an envelope of onion soup mix (why I had half an envelope of onion soup mix), a cooked, sliced leftover Polish sausage along with a cupful or more of the barley we cooked with the sausage, and two stalks of celery, sliced thinly. Cook it all as hot as you can without burning it or letting it boil over (i.e. on medium) until the lentils are all cooked and the barley has slightly thickened the broth (i.e. 20 minutes to half an hour). (If you're not in a hurry, you can just turn it down to a nice simmer and go do something else.)

Mr. Fixit: "It tastes like Grandma's."

Mama Squirrel (joking): "Grandma used onion soup mix?"

Mr. Fixit: "Yep."

Variations for a slower morning or fewer leftovers: use raw barley or rice, or bigger lentils, or split peas, or beans, and just cook the whole thing longer (even in the crockpot). Start with chopped onion as well as celery, and maybe start the whole thing by sauteeing the vegetables in margarine or olive oil. Add some leftover tomatoes or tomato sauce (gives it a different flavour). Use another kind of soup base (chicken is good with sausage and barley), or real chicken or vegetable stock. A small amount of mashed squash or sweet potato always goes well with sausage and barley too.

And then you can get back to school.

Carnival Buzz hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling: up now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm surprised

I'm surprised at the results of this quiz. I actually retook it, thinking that some of my middle-of-the-road answers might have skewed the results and that I should try to agree/disagree more definitely with more of the questions. However, so be it, in spite of the fact that of all the churches I've ever belonged to, none of them were Free Methodist.

(On the other hand: I did grow up in the United Church of Canada, which was originally formed out of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregationalist churches; so I suppose, like it or not, that there was a fair amount of Methodist influence in there. There are quite a few "Wesley United Churches" out there. Also, the first time I took the quiz, the second three categories came out in a different order.)

What's your theological worldview?
created with
You scored as Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan

You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God's grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan




Neo orthodox


Reformed Evangelical






Roman Catholic


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal


Sunday Hymn Post: Wonderful (an Advent song)

(Reposted and updated from November 2005)

The first Sunday of Advent this year is December 2.

Our family always celebrates Advent for the whole four weeks before much so that, when the Apprentice was a toddler, a well-meaning grownup asked her sometime in December if she wasn't happy that Christmas was here, and she corrected him: "It's not Cwistmas yet, it's still Advent."

We have our own set of traditions, some of which are shared by many Christians, such as lighting Advent candles on a wreath. We're not too particular about the colours of the candles...some years we've used all red candles, some years we've used three purple and one year Mama Squirrel got it backwards so we had three pink and a purple.

We also try to use some blue decorations (like table mats), early in the month, instead of Christmas red and green. When we used to go to a Lutheran church, the girls always looked forward to the seasonal changes in the church; when Advent came, there were blue hangings on the pulpit and the pastor wore a blue stole. I've never been quite sure then why we don't use blue candles on the wreath; I suppose we could! But other than the candles, we try to think blue for awhile. Gradually we bring out some of the more Christmasy decorations. The nativity scene comes out fairly early...we've inherited two sets in addition to a small one we already had, so we decide whether this will be the year of great-grandma's dime-store set from the 1940's, or the other grandma's REALLY BIG set that takes up the whole top of our buffet.

And we have songs that lead up to Christmas. We don't jump right in with Silent Night on the first night of Advent. We sing some of the old Advent hymns like Hark the Glad Sound (we sing it to the Richmond tune) and O Come O Come Emmanuel.

And we sing some songs from a book called Gold, Incense and Myrrh: Contemporary Christmas Carols, by Sister Miriam Therese Winter of the Medical Mission Sisters. The copyright date on the book is 1972, so I don't know if it's still available anywhere. [Update: I found out that the author has a webpage here and you can buy CDs of her music.] We've sung these around the Advent wreath for several years and I think our Squirrelings consider them as much a part of the holidays as the more familiar carols and hymns. I'm sorry that I can't provide the tune as well...just imagine something played on a guitar rather than a hymn meant for a pipe organ.


Now the emptiness of ages proclaims the promised birth.
Hope to help unhappy hearts.
Love to light the earth.
And He shall be called Wonderful!
He shall be called Peace.
For to us a Son has been given,
to us the Lord is born.
He will govern with justice and joy, consoling those who mourn,
And He shall be called Comforter,
He shall be called Peace.

Streams will wash away the desert as He goes passing by
Those in need will turn to Him
He will hear their cry.
And He shall be called Wonderful!
He shall be called Peace.
He will lead His flock like a shepherd and call us each by name.
He will walk in the favor of God,
and we shall do the same.
And He shall be called Comforter,
He shall be called Peace.

(Copyright 1971 by Medical Mission Sisters from the collection "19 Scripture Songs." All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Last day to nominate

This is the last day to nominate blogs for the Homeschool Blog Awards. (Voting is in December.) Click on the button on our sidebar for more details.

Friday, November 16, 2007

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown

From our local paper: the front page of today's Lifestyles section is a feature about how not to let your Christmas tree look like it was decorated by your kids.

(For the record, my kids weren't amused.)

And if that isn't depressing enough...Mr. Fixit drove Grandpa Squirrel to the mall today for something. Middle of the day on a Friday (and the Santa Claus parade isn't even until tomorrow). They could hardly get parked, the food court was jammed, and everything was lineups.

Note to self: don't go to the mall even for socks or hamster shavings until after Epiphany.

Further note to self: let's spend an extra amount of time this year making Advent special...and then not thinking of Christmas as just one day either. (Quick--open the presents, eat too much and then we're done. Yuck.) We find a certain enjoyment in just getting started with Christmas when the rest of the world seems to be almost glad to have it all over with and be getting back to "normal" (or should that be "getting ready for Valentine's Day?"). I think we'd actually enjoy being Ukrainian; but, lacking that, we try to "save a little Christmas for Christmas." (Remember that song? You can see it in this You-Tube clip from The Story of the First Christmas Snow; the clip is nine minutes long and the song isn't until about seven minutes into it--but you can scoot the little fast-forward thingy along the bottom of the screen if you don't want to watch the rest.)

What's for dinner?...and stealing recipes

Hum, well, this started out to be a what's-in-your-hand dinner idea but it turned into an example of how not to give credit where it's due.

What's in my hand? Ground beef. What don't I want to do with it?--anything involving tomatoes or pasta (had things like that several times recently). What do I have?--an article torn from the 2/18/03 Woman's World magazine. Featuring...Debi and her Frozen Assets cook-ahead methods. (In case you don't know, Debi is also a CM homeschooler, which is how I got to know her online way back.)

In the accompanying recipes (I'm not sure whether they came from Debi or from the magazine staff) is "Beef and Vegetable Paprikash." Five ingredients: ground beef, onion soup mix, paprika, water, sour cream, frozen peppers and jarred sliced mushrooms. Check on everything except the frozen peppers and mushrooms; but I do have half a bag of Italian-style frozen vegetables that could work in a pinch. All systems go for dinner.

Stealing recipes? Not stealing...borrowing?...borrowing without credit?...anyway, I found the whole set of recipes online, passed from somebody to somebody on a forum several years ago.

And that's why people who write articles and invent recipes and design things get so irritated at the rest of us these days.

End of lecture. Bon appetit.

What's in Your Hand / Year of Abundance

Buster's Poem:
"These are the things that make me nauseous:
Gloppy green goop that drips from faucets.
Blue hair that grows on slices of bread.
When your big old dog drools in your bed.....
And people who eat creamed corn with their mouths open so you can see it.
The End!" --by Buster Baxter

Mama Squirrel's Poem:
"These are the things that make me irritated:
Our family doctor who's absconded to a group clinic without so much as a by-your-leave
(you have to drive there even to make an appointment, unless it's one of the two afternoons a week when you can phone and get a live person, subject to change without notice);
The person behind the pharmacy counter who wastes Mr. Fixit's time trying to spell his name and then ignores his insurance card, forcing him to pay for the prescription out of his pocket;
The Canadian Tire store rearranged again with the car stuff hidden even further at the back
and the kitchen light bulbs away from the light fixtures altogether
(but of course all the Christmas junk is right up at the front);
When my kid's brand new knit top shrinks on the first washing
(even when I did follow the little pictures on the label);
And computerized telemarketers who phone me in the middle of math lessons."

What does that have to do with the Deputy Headmistress's week of doing without a barrette and putting up an old-tire retaining wall?


Thankfulness that, unsatisfactory as these new medical arrangements are, there's still at least someone there if you get sick (we hope), and that Mr. Fixit was able to be examined by our doctor and get a prescription for some of his allergy issues (long story). Thankfulness that his one day of feeling horribly sick this week (he got into some dust) has been followed by much better ones.

Thankfulness that we did have the money to pay for the prescription upfront, and that the insurance will (eventually) pay it back.

Thankfulness that we do have electric lights and can replace the burned-out ceiling bulb (we had one dinner this week by oil lamp).

Thankfulness that we do have a slightly younger Squirreling who will happily wear the now-too-tight top. Thankfulness that we are not living in the days of one dress for everyday and one for Sunday. (Crayons and I are reading Little House at the Crossroads.)

As for the telemarketers...well, at least computers don't mind being promptly hung up on.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hey! Our interview's up!

We are today's featured frugal family at Frugal Hacks. For all the scoop on Dewey and the rest--check it out. Thanks, Kim!

(I should explain, though, that the interview was written awhile ago--in case you're wondering how we can be out picking rhubarb in the middle of November.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Great holiday expectations...theirs, ours, mine, yours

In which Mama Squirrel finds herself turning uncharacteristically cynical...

Meredith posted on Frugal Hacks about the disappointing discovery that many of her creative-but-frugal gifts had been shoved into someone's back closet or were on their way to the thrift shop. She took this as a learning experience for herself and says she has therefore decided to focus more on what people say they really want or need.

I say rats. (To them.)

Now if Meredith was a stingy person or lacked taste; if she was in the habit of giving "jars filled with potpourri and Christmas lights," as one of the commenters said; or of regifting something awful or of giving made-in-you-know-where ornaments from the dollar store, then that would make sense.

But those of us who read Like Merchant Ships regularly know what a talented, thoughtful and creative person Meredith is. This is a lady who actually notices what her back porch looks like before company comes, and someone who can put a cake-and-flowers gift together on short notice as easily as she caters an office party. If I were within Meredith's gift-giving circle and she made me a gift such as she described, I hope I'd be smart enough to appreciate it.

In other words, Meredith, I don't think the problem is all on your end.

However, I have noticed the same issue here more than once. There is an agenda to a lot of peoples' expectations of gift giving and gift getting, and it revolves around this: not that you took the time to knit them something, or found them one of those super-cool frugal-friend presents like a 25-cent used book they've always wanted, but that you Showed It With Cash. And with an exchangeable receipt, preferably.

And then there are the people whose "wants and/or needs" will never be met in this lifetime because whatever it is, it isn't the right thing.

Debbie Jellinsky: All I ever wanted was a Ballerina Barbie. In her pretty pink tutu. [Here's] my Birthday, I was 10, and do you know what they got me? MALIBU. Barbie.
Morticia: Malibu Barbie.
Gomez: The nightmare.
Morticia: The nerve.
You cannot make up for all the Malibu Barbie post-traumatic stress disorder out there, and it's not up to you to try.

Like the homeschooling or gentle parenting or green sub-cultures (which often cross over with this one), the dollar-Christmas or simple-holiday movements can become our norm, and we sometimes forget what else is out there. We may think we're focusing nicely on the spiritual aspects of a holiday, chatting it up on the simplicity/crafty/SAHM blogs, and not realize that people outside this mindset can actually feel insulted by a handmade or inexpensive gift. I've notice that same thing at wedding and baby showers, those parties that used to be for-the-fun-of-it and where you got pickled eggs, potholders, receiving blankets, booties that wouldn't stay on, from your mother's old friends who came because they remember you when you were a little the shower presents are bigger than the wedding presents used to be. And you sit there with your little homemade potholder and feel like a schmuck.

Call me cynical, but again, whose problem is that? Does that mean that you are, from now on, obligated to bring shower gifts only from big-box stores, and that each and every holiday on the calendar shall be represented not only by a card-store card (definitely not the dollar store kind) but also an appropriate Thing from a store flyer?

I agree with Meredith that, if you're in a position to ask what someone would really prefer, then go for it, and that's between you and them, even if they want something strange. You never know, maybe they do like your cookie-mix-in-a-jar. Or maybe, as somebody pointed out, the most appreciated gift would be drive-through gift certificates, or a roll of stamps. Sometimes, though, it's not possible to ask, and you're in the position of juggling your budget, your principles, and your desire to make someone happy or at least not make them resent you for giving them another Thing that they will now have to display or store or that their kids will use to destroy the house.

We don't live in a Fraggle Pebble society. But emotion-charged holidays aren't the time to attempt to re-educate people either. My sole piece of advice to anyone facing this holiday disconnect is to live as honestly as you can the rest of the year (within sight of your gift-givees); and even (if possible) to give them other small things through the year, on other occasions or just because you're thinking of them. Like something you saw at a yard sale that you KNOW they would like. Then, even if they don't fully appreciate your version of holiday gifts, they'll just figure it's another well-meant attempt from their crackpot cousin.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Homeskooling can be educational

cash advance

(Thanks to In A Spacious Place.)

Crockpots rock

Mostly for my own remembering: Mama Lion has a post about crockpot cooking, and MomToCherubs adds some good crockpot sites in the comments section.

P.S. I like this page about "Slow Cooker Sundays" too.

If your blogroll was full of famous writers

Then when would you have time to read all the grocery lists and recipes that the rest of us post?

But seriously...In a Spacious Place has a post with links to blogs that are actually writings-of-the-day by G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O'Connor. (And don't forget your daily dose of Charlotte Mason--still continuing!)

Think of them as--what's the name of that other blog--"Mental Multivitamins."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's in the grocery cart?

Javamom wants to know.

OK...I'm deciphering this from yesterday's grocery receipt. We were not being either particularly frugal or particularly healthy-minded on this trip, just so you know. And we were already stocked up on baking supplies and canned goods, so there aren't many on the list.

Box of frozen beef patties
piece of liver sausage
piece of pepperoni
1 package wieners

2 bags of bagels
Bag of hamburger buns
4 loaves of bread
1 bag of mini-croissants

1 little box of raspberries
1 bag of green grapes
1 bunch bananas
1 kg pears
1 bag of Gala apples
1 can cranberry sauce

1 container banana chips
1 bag walnuts
2 cans frozen orange juice
1 bottle of grape juice

2 green peppers
1 acorn squash
1 small pumpkin
1 big bag regular carrots and 1 little bag mini carrots
1 bag onions
1 bag frozen Italian vegetables
2 packages soft tofu

2 cans chicken noodle soup (Crayons has a cold), 1 can beef-barley soup
4 boxes of whole-wheat pasta (on sale for a dollar a box)

1 sleeve of mini-yogurts
1 doz. eggs (for Javamom: large eggs were $2.20 Canadian a dozen)
4 L 2% milk
three bars of cheese (on sale)
500 g cottage cheese
1 lb. margarine

A couple of frozen burritos for high school lunches
1 box of granola bars for high school lunches
A chocolate orange (a Christmas present to put away)

1 box tissues
1 big pack of toilet paper.

Now, how am I supposed to label this one??

Do the Math (Tofu Pie Revisited)

I've had this craving for Tofu Chocolate Pie, but I never seemed to have all the right ingredients around at once. I bought a jar of fruit spread a long time ago, but we ended up eating it on toast. Then we didn't have chocolate. Then we didn't have any occasion for quite awhile that demanded a whole chocolate pie (and if you've tried this recipe, you know it's rich and you just can't eat a big piece at once). (Okay, yes, I know we did demolish a whole Halloween Trifle a couple of weeks ago. It's not like we haven't had dessert lately.)

Yesterday I bought some tofu. We had some preserves that would work, some chocolate, and even some graham crumbs for the crust. Still not enough people around to do justice to a whole pie. Then my "Duh" lightbulb went on. Cut it in half, stupid.

No, not the pie. The recipe.

This is what I did:

Made a graham-crumb crust in an 8-inch square pan. I usually use 1 1/2 cups of crumbs for my large 9-inch pie pan; I decided to use two-thirds the normal amount since we like crumb crust. So: 1 cup crumbs, 2 tbsp. sugar, 1/4 cup oil, bake about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Melted 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate in the microwave.

Drained 1 300-gram package of soft tofu.

Combined in the food processor: the tofu, the melted chocolate, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup liquid honey, 1/2 cup mixed fruit preserves. Blended it until it was very smooth.

Smoothed the mixture over the crumb crust and put it in the fridge.

And we're going to have it topped with a few raspberries, for fancy. But you could put whipped cream or tofu topping on top if you wanted.

OK, so I'm slow. But eventually these things do figure themselves out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Latin links

Melissa has posted links to more online Latin resources. (See our previous post Spanish with Kim, Latin with Ann.)

I'm sort of collecting these links too, because...sooner or later...we will be diving into Latin with Ponytails. I really, really don't know how well she and I are going to do on it, so it isn't something I've been rushing to start. The Apprentice and I tried out a couple of programs and didn't get beyond about lesson 14 (the point in any language course where you realize how much work you're getting into). Virtues of Latin aside, it's not easy fitting it in when you're trying to get French lessons done as well! But maybe in the last term of this school year...around the time we start Plutarch and Shakespeare. (Ponytails is in AO's Year 4, the year when you're supposed to begin those things...but for one reason and another, mainly a late-in-the-year birthday, I wanted to hold off a bit on making those transitions. )

Notes from a Book Talk

(Adapted from a talk I wrote for a support group meeting. Are you sitting comfortably?)

Books Fall Open

by David McCord

Books fall open, you fall in
Delighted where you’ve never been
Hear voices not once heard before
Reach world on world through door on door
Find unexpected keys to things
Locked up beyond imaginings
What might you be, perhaps become
Because one book is somewhere?
Some wise delver into wisdom, wit and wherewithal has written it
True books will venture, dare you out
Whisper secrets, maybe shout
Across the gloom to you in need
Who hanker for a book to read.

When Mr. Fixit and I were at the beginning of our journey together, one of us once gave the other one a gift bag with a Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on it and the words, "As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen." That's almost identical to a chapter title in Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Child’s Heart (at least the 1978 edition, which is what I have): "The Pleasure of a Shared Adventure."

Reading is an adventure, and even better, it can be a shared adventure.

What do you need for an adventure? You need some place to go—often some place unknown. Adventures require at least a bit of the unexpected, the unknown, a bit of uncertainty; “things locked up beyond imaginings.” Most adventures don’t happen right in your own backyard. To have a real adventure you need to step outside, push beyond your comfort zone.

Real adventures can include buried treasure, answering riddles, fighting dragons, outwitting giants. They include big problems and big decisions.

Adventures go better with food. Apples, popcorn, hot chocolate…

Here’s a quote, see if you know what book it’s from. "Her own small bedroom now became her reading-room and there she would sit and read most afternoons, often with a mug of hot chocolate beside her….It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new world and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village."

And it’s nice to have a place to come home to afterwards. Our adventures are enjoyed more when they’re framed in the familiarity and security of home.

What should you expect from an adventure?

Expect it to take time. You can’t have a real adventure in five minutes, and some of the best book adventures are very long. We are often too impatient and we settle for abridged versions or just skip things altogether because they’re so long. But if you take, say, the long unabridged version of David Copperfield, there’s just a huge amount of wonderful stuff in there that hasn’t made it into shortened versions or movie versions. In other words, you don’t really know David Copperfield until you’ve explored the whole thing, and when you’re done you’re tired but you know it was worthwhile.

Expect some degree of danger, risk, opposition and difficulty. Being a reader these days can be a subversive activity, both inside and outside of the Christian community; it can make people angry; it can make a lot more people yawn with boredom. It’s not the books that get banned by school libraries that you will have to struggle to read or even to find; it’s the books that nobody’s actually supposed to be able or be interested in reading any more; that includes some of the treasures of our Christian literary heritage. How many people do you know--Christians or not-- who have actually read and enjoyed Paradise Lost or Pilgrim’s Progress, just for a start? How many homeschoolers will include those books in their children’s education? For some people, concentrating our children’s reading on the dead white guys (particularly dead Christian white guys) is seen as some kind of an act against contemporary culture. And those who don't get outright angry may try to discourage you in other ways. Just like in Pilgrim’s Progress, you are going to meet people with names like That’s-So-Dull and Much-Abridged who are going to try to get you to turn back; but press on, the rewards are there in the end.

And expect to be rewarded when you climb to the top. Who goes on a quest without hoping to bring back treasure? Without even specially looking for them, we can expect to make discoveries that lead to wisdom, teach discernment and critical thinking, inspire us with courage, and build character; what Terry Glaspey calls the Moral Imagination. Charlotte Mason said that “stories make the child’s life intelligible to himself; Gladys Hunt wrote in Honey for a Child’s Heart that “books help children know what to look for in life.” It helps to know what you’re looking for when you’re hunting for treasure. And besides that there are a lot of little side benefits of reading, like improved vocabulary and listening skills, creativity, and having bits of useful information stored up in the mind.

Again from "that book": “All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”

Northrop Frye said that literature is true, more true in some ways than our everyday existence; because when our everyday life is disappointing and superficial or truly horrible, it is in literature that we find examples of true love, true honour, true courage. Reading is more than just escapism. It’s not escapism to find strength by remembering Christian’s defeat of Giant Despair; by thinking of wise words that Corrie Ten Boom’s father and sister told her; by making yourself smile at a lovely line of poetry or laugh at the Pooh stories.

But reading is an escape as well, in a good sense. We rebel against ignorance and smallness and look for something more; we try to remember what we are or should be as human beings. We can escape from the pride of thinking we know it all, and from limitations like not really being able to sail or fly or ride horses, or find a secret garden or a buried treasure. We may not have people in our everyday lives who are as loyal as Charlotte, as resourceful as Laura’s Ma, as wise as Clara’s grandmother in Heidi, as encouraging as Ratty, or as valiant as Reepicheep; but in books, we can do all these things and know all these people.

Expect to have fun. The roads through books aren’t all serious; there is a great deal of humor, delight and pleasure, even nonsense. About a hundred years ago, a parent in England wrote this:
“I cannot count the times I have read aloud the stories in the "Just So" book. During a dreary month of grey skies and perpetual snow, spent in the hotel of a grim Yorkshire village, those stories were our daily bread, especially those that took us to the sunshine of South Africa. And the greatest favourite of all was The Beginning of the Armadilloes. Only Rudyard Kipling or Lewis Carroll would dare to write anything so absurd. Day after day, for thirty days or thereabouts, those two rascals, Stickly-Prickly, and Slow-and-Solid, played their pranks, and day after day we laughed at the same places, and when Slow-and-Solid said to the Painted Jaguar--"Because if she said what you said she said, it's just the same as if I said what she said she said"--day after day we bounded out of our chairs with joy….Let us arm our children for the slings and arrows of later life by cultivating the spirit of innocent laughter.”

Terry Glaspey says that “being in the presence of greatness cannot but change us.” So expect to be changed, strengthened, stretched, widened, given a different perspective as you go on a particular adventure. As characters in books grow throughout a story, we share their experiences and also find ourselves growing and changing. One of my favourite short books is Rumer Godden’s The Mousewife, about a rather unhappy mother mouse who develops a friendship with a dove living in a cage. The dove tells her stories about the world outside and gives her a lot of new ideas about things she has never seen. Eventually the mousewife finds a way to help the dove escape, but suddenly realizes that she no longer has her friend there to talk to her and teach her things. Then she looks out the window. “She looked out again and saw the stars….When she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw that they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees….’I have seen them for myself,’ said the mousewife, ‘without the dove. I can see for myself,’ said the mousewife, and slowly, proudly, she walked back to bed.”

How can we get to be more adventurous, and get more out of our reading adventures?

Use the services of an experienced guide—in this case, booklists and books about books, including homeschool book catalogues and online reviews—but use them cautiously. In your book adventures, as in real life, some guides are more to be trusted than others; and some may simply suit your purposes or personality more than others do. What one hiking guide calls a nice little stroll may leave you exhausted; and what one booklist calls suitable for a ten-year-old may be your idea of something better saved for high school, or the other way around.

To have the greatest adventures, seek out the greatest treasures. Our culture tends to cheapen and trivialize reading (formula series, TV-tie-ins, other kinds of books that barely qualify as books); the media tells us we should read mostly because it’s fun. But even fun gets boring after awhile.

To have the greatest adventures, don’t stick only to the roads marked “fiction.” Read some of the history of medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy. Find out what was beautiful, revolutionary and even dangerous about scientific discoveries. Read history, and go beyond “how the peasants lived.” Read biographies, poetry, nature descriptions. Read the Bible together.

There is also the idea these days that there are no specific important books—wrong. Some book adventures are just more rewarding than others, especially the places you know you’ll want to go back to again and take your friends along to enjoy. There are certain real-life places that everyone should try to see once; and there are book adventures that are too good to miss. You may not be ready for them all at the beginning, but you can work up to the challenge.

Which is another good point: to have the greatest adventures, take along some good companions; make it a shared adventure, and everyone who goes along will be in on the shared vocabulary, experiences and “book friends” that you meet along the way. How do you work around different ages? Not everyone who comes along will get the most from a particular book journey, but sometimes what they do bring back will surprise you. There are times in life when you just can’t read with everyone, but even if it’s just you and one other person, you’re sharing that adventure together, and maybe somebody else will decide to come along if the two of you look like you’re having fun.

How do you deal with general reluctance, the attitude that books are hard or boring? I once went to a health-food demonstration where the presenter was asked, "How can I encourage my children to eat some of these foods instead of hot dogs?" She answered, very unhelpfully, that really they should have just been better trained from the start. In the same way, it would be easy for me to say that if your kids are brought up reading with you from babyhood, you probably won’t have a problem with this, and that if you do you should just force it down them; but that sort of answer just makes you want to give up, doesn't it? So a better suggestion might be that you’re going to have to woo them—maybe with the hot chocolate and popcorn, maybe with a particularly wonderful or funny book that you know gets right into the story very quickly. These suggestions might also apply if you really want to involve a spouse or another adult family member; nobody wants to be made to read, especially if they think they’re going to be bored by kids books; so make sure that it’s something that everybody’s going to enjoy. One recommendation is Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s nothing at all like the movie and it’s a lot of fun and has lots of things blowing up in it.

How do you cope with busy schedules, and the competing attractions of other media? You can use audio books, maybe during mealtimes or travel; you can use more homeschool time just to read; you can leave books lying around; you can give books as gifts. Even the cost of new books shouldn’t be a deterrent to reading, not with libraries and used books and online books readily available; Emily Dickinson was right when she said that reading is a pretty frugal chariot compared with a lot of the other ways we can find to spend money.

HE ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book.
What liberty
A loosened spirit brings! --Emily Dickinson

To have the greatest adventures, let the adventures find you. "Books fall open, you fall in." We can’t always regulate reading by squeezing it into a READING period; by labeling books according to grade or age; or excluding every word or idea that we don’t think our kids will understand. Again, you have to risk a little. Lines like “bequest of wings,” “loosened spirit” and “take us worlds away” speak to us of flight and freedom; the idea of moving outside our own place and time, being able to see beyond our own lives; that’s what the word education means, a drawing out. As our “spirits grow robust,” we are able not only to handle more difficult book adventures but to use our experiences in the everyday world as well, to survive the “dingy days” and also to change them into something better. “Robust spirits” implies strength and health; this kind of reading is not a weak, wussy thing or just an escape from reality. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Cousin Eustace was the cowardly, mean character; C.S. Lewis says it was because he hadn’t read the right books.

What are the right books to adventure with? A great storyteller named Ruth Sawyer gave this list (quoted in Honey for a Child's Heart): “Stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence. Stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good.”

THERE is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul! --Emily Dickinson

Let’s have the courage to adventure with books…and…Let’s go there together.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Canadian music study: Liona Boyd

During September and October, we got to know Glenn Gould (and, by default, listened to a lot of Bach).

For November and December, we're moving on to have a look at Liona Boyd's music. There aren't as many You-tube videos of her as I'd hoped, especially not of the pieces I had chosen from our meager two albums. I did enjoy this clip of her good-naturedly getting a guitar lesson from Super Dave.

Here are a few other links: Liona Boyd's official website, the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada entry, a description of CBC's Life and Times video (haven't previewed that), and's Liona Boyd discography (family-unfriendly comment right at the top of that) . Mr. Fixit likes this photo of the always-eclectic Boyd funning around with her neighbour Ozzie.

This is our lineup:

1. Fantasy for Guitar (Barnes) You-tube video and Gymnopédie No.1 (Satie) You-tube video

2. 2 pieces by Augustine Pio Barrios

3. 2 pieces by Carlos Payet

4. The Little Shepherd (Debussy)

5. Prelude on The Huron Carol (Robertson), and possibly Parade of the Toy Soldiers (Robertson)

6. Spanish Carol (Robertson) and Blessed Jesus (Bach)

7. (if there's time) a choice of other pieces from A Guitar for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A reposted Northrop Frye quote

Just because I've been thinking about it.

Cayley: What was your advice to students [during the student protests of the 1960's]? What was the way you wanted students to take?

Frye: It was the way of the intellect and the imagination. Those are the powers that you’re given and things you’re responsible for....the demand for relevance, which was, again, an anti-intellectual movement among students, meant of course that they wanted every lecture, every classroom meeting, every gathering of students to be an exciting existential experience. They wanted to shuck off the steady repetitive practice, which is the only thing that does contribute to the real advance of either the intellect or the imagination.....the demand for relevance was, to my mind, the absolute antithesis of what education is about. Education is a matter of developing the intellect and the imagination, which deal with reality, and reality is always irrelevant.

Learning without a "real" teacher

Sometimes I'm Actually Coherent, a hsing dad's blog, has a long but very worthwhile post responding to a common question: how can homeschoolers have the audacity to think that they can provide an education comparable to that available through teachers (especially in high school) who are expected to be specialists in their subjects? Assuming that we are, indeed, talking about qualified, dedicated, interested teachers here (anything else is beyond the scope of the argument), why would you choose to forego what they have to offer and perhaps limit what your child is able to learn "from you?" (Already one point becomes obvious, if you're familiar with what homeschoolers, especially homeschooling highschoolers, do: it's not always about you yourself teaching a student; there are all kinds of ways to learn what you want to learn, and it's not always Mom struggling to remember grade 10 algebra.)

There's also some interesting discussion going on in the comments to the post.

For any of you who've just popped up here, we made the decision just over a year ago, after homeschooling our oldest since the beginning, to have her take some of her classes at the local high school. It wasn't because we disagreed with the point of that post, though (although I might have had a hard time trying to teach hairdressing); it became clear that our Apprentice's specific needs could best be met by making use of the school's resources. I think she has also found it somewhat--what's the word I want--reassuring?--affirming?--to know that she does indeed know her stuff in math, French and science; she's found the place where she fits into the system, and she's making the most of it (almost, I tend to think of it, as if she were attending a junior college for high school credit, as I know some hsers do in the U.S.).

By making that choice, we said no to some other options that the Apprentice would have had at home: more time to read books of her or our choosing, more time to participate in the daily stream of things at home, more time to help Mr. Fixit, more opportunities to take time off and go somewhere during school hours. However, she's gained a great deal as well, so we feel it was a worthwhile trade.

Will the other Squirrelings do the same thing? They are all so different that it's very hard to say. Of course the Apprentice's enthusiasm for what she's doing is influencing them; but if homeschooling high school looks like a better choice for them, that's what we'll do.

Back to Class

Principled Discovery hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, with a Homeschool U theme.

A few things I noticed around campus (both in and out of the carnival):

Over in the Home Economics wing, we have the Carnival of the Recipes. "November is National Diabetes Awareness Month in the United States and we bring you this very special Carnival of the Recipes with a theme of Diabetic Recipes in its honor."

(Next week's homework is to send in Thanksgiving recipes - traditional or not-so-traditional...your choice. Assignment is due by Saturday at noon.)

Professor Coffeemamma has an economics lecture for you. Meredith also considers the economics of buying a "disposable" dirt-cheap toy for an afternoon's entertainment.

In the art department, Barb at Heart of Harmony has some ideas on how to fit two hundred works of art (yes, those are Charlotte Mason's numbers!) into a homeschool curriculum. (Was that in the Homeschool U course catalogue? I thought I'd mention it anyway.) And stay around there today because the Sketch Tuesday artworks will be posted as well.

And Mom to Cherubs shares something funny in the coffee lounge.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Homeschool Blog Award Nominations are Open

Go and nominate your favourite homeschooling blogs this week and next (until November 17th). Rules, categories and more are on the HBA site.

What's it all about?

Kim at The Upward Call found herself at a Christian womens' retreat: 2007 style. If you read Kim's blog at all, you won't be surprised to hear that she had some issues with the teaching.

Me, I'm pretty far out of the loop too as far as "womens' ministries" go. Like Kim, I'd at least heard of Gary Smalley but not the other presenters. I haven't been on a retreat since before I was married, I don't hang out at Christian bookstores, and our church isn't the kind that usually promotes events like that. They are having a sort of ladies' retreat at the end of this month, but it's so you can work on your secret holiday knitting and quilting projects! (I don't have any of those going either, but it at least gives you an idea of where our church ladies are at.)

All I can say is, it's hard enough having to "protect" children from the big bad secular worldview out there (or, rather, educate them to see past its materialism and self-gratification). It's a little too much when we also have to protect them from the church.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Yes...that's poor. And the answer?

From a story about the Toronto Star's Santa Claus Fund Christmas gift program:

Two aisles over, 6-year-old Jonathan has found a red hockey mask for 99 cents. "Okay, put that in," Elizabeth says.

Lily pulled [sic] a large Barbie sleeping bag off the shelf, at least 15 years old. "It's in really good condition," Elizabeth says, tossing it in, too.

But by now it's about noon and they're ready to go home. It's time to put everything back.

(The boy did get to keep the hockey mask.)

I admire Elizabeth's temerity in continuing to "shop" with her children.

I wish for a bygone era of thrift shops that seemed to do a based-on-need kind of instant pricing. Unfair, maybe, if you walked in wearing office clothes and were charged accordingly; but often a Godsend to those who really needed help.

I'm not involved in supporting this particular charity (which provides Christmas gift boxes to needy families), but I'm thankful for those who make it happen.

I'm also angry that families in Canada, in 2007, can be in situations like that. Counting up needy children based solely on household income is misleading, and many of us living on a single income understand why; I've been blogging about that for a long time. But playing with the numbers doesn't change the fact that this mother doesn't have the cash to buy a couple of thrift-shop jackets and a sleeping bag.

I'm reading The Five Little Peppers with my kids right now, and I have to tell you, some aspects of that book have always bothered me. First of all, that the Peppers struggle to survive while living in a Christian community that does seem to be aware of their needs, but doesn't seem to be doing much for them besides bringing some chicken once when they catch measles (and maybe I'm missing something, but I don't detect any sarcasm when the author describes the family's gratefulness for these one or two kind gestures). Is it their mother's pride, or just everyone else's busyness that keeps them living on potatoes? (Dr. Fisher, the stove-providing doctor, is an exception.)

The other thing that bothers me is the Santa Claus aspect of the second half of the book. They are all whisked off to a kind of Oz where toys and food and piano lessons are heaped on them, without a wicked witch in sight. Not that it's not nice that they make new friends (or cousins or whoever these people really are) who want to help them; but one wishes that Margaret Sidney could have continued to show the childrens' own creativity and determination on their own terms and on their own turf. (Margot Benary-Isbert's The Ark is much more satisfying in that regard.)

There are some things that bother me about Elizabeth's story as well; they should be fairly obvious if you read the article. But it doesn't help to point fingers. The only real point is that this mother is struggling and that yes, she has a Toronto Star Christmas fund to help out, but no long-term Mr. King (grouchy but generous) to barrel in, load them up with goodies and put too-poor-for-the-Goodwill behind them. I don't think Mr. Kings are the answer to everyone's needs anyway. I don't know if there is an answer. Maybe it's just in ongoing awareness, listening, support, and creative alternatives; building friendships; practicing sensitivity. We need more places where people can come and find support and ideas from others who have been in the same situation.

(Like churches, maybe?)

Undecorating the floor

I recently made a comment about our needing to "undecorate the floor." And you thought I meant picking up the toys?

Well, I did mean that too! But we also decided that the thirty-year-old carpet in our front hall and running down to the bedrooms was Past the Term of Its Natural Life. So we spent an afternoon hauling it up, and Mr. Fixit, Grandpa Squirrel and the Squirrelings have put in several hours this week pulling up tackboards, puttying in holes, and shining it up.

Sorry only the third picture shows the nice hardwood that was under the carpet, but maybe we'll get a couple more when it's all done.

Trifle and Cheese Dip Pictures (see Nov 1)

(Photo credit: Thank you, Ponytails!)

Seven years ago today

I found this "typical day" description in my files this morning, and realized that I'd written it exactly seven years ago, back before we even had a Crayons here, and written during a time when Mr. Fixit was both doing a different job and suffering a lot more with back pain. For your amusement, here it is, with some editing to protect the innocent.


I'm schooling an 8-year-old, preschooling a 3-year-old, and working around the somewhat variable schedule of my husband, a phone installer who occasionally works shifts and often has a day off in the middle of the week. We're in the middle of the city--no chickens or anything; and I don't drive, so we walk places and save our driving trips for days off.

7:00 Kids out of bed, breakfast, dh left at 7:30. They watched The Magic School Bus while I checked the e-mail. I'll skip the parts about toilet training. I got a few books together for school time. Pulled the sheets off The Apprentice's bed and started laundry.

8:45 We sang Ponytails (three-year-old's) current favourite song, Be Assaulted (Exalted) O God; worked on a couple of the ten commandments; read some verses from Psalm 51 about being clean on the inside (we had already been doing some health stuff about getting clean on the outside). I got out my Keith Green songbook and taught them the chorus that goes with it.

9:00 The Apprentice studied for dictation while I read Make Way For Ducklings with Ponytails.

9:10 or thereabouts: The Apprentice said she was ready so I dictated a couple of sentences from the page she'd studied. She kind of panicked over how to spell "maple syrup", but she got most of it right anyway.

9:20 till 9:50, more or less: We worked on a fun math thing where you draw circles, mark points on them, number the points, and then follow the numbers to make stars and other geometric shapes. Ponytails drew too. We also practiced the 3 times table.

9:50-10:10, somewhere in there: Took a break and let the kids eat something out of their pumpkin pails.

10:10-10:30 The Apprentice and I read a couple of pages from Love's Labour's Lost. She knows some of the characters in this play are extremely verbose and don't make a great deal of sense, so she doesn't worry too much if someone makes a speech that seems to amount to exactly nothing. She thought the scene we were on was pretty funny, though: a rather motley bunch from the King's court are getting ready to put on a play called The Nine Worthies, only they don't have enough people to do all the worthies, so one guy has to do three parts, and the one playing Hercules is just a kid so they're "adapting" it and saying he's Hercules as a child.

10:30-11:00 We did a little French and a few other short things to wrap up the week's work.

11:00-11:15 Cleaning blitz on the rec room, with music.

11:15-11:45 The girls played outside because the weather's been unusually beautiful.

12-1 Lunch, Mr. Fixit came home in the phone truck

1-2 Quiet time for Ponytails, reading and music practice time for The Apprentice, computer and dishes time for me. Often she does the dishes with me.

2-3 We've been working on some Christmas sewing projects together, but today I let them do collages at the kitchen table while I got caught up on some of the handsewing parts. Ponytails loves to cut--anything.

3:00 Cleaned up, made a pot of tea and had a snack with the girls. ("Tea time")

3:15-3:45 Tried to teach The Apprentice how to put the sheets back on her bed according to her Pioneers handbook (this includes a diagram of hospital corners). Our housekeeping doesn't usually extend to being able to flip a quarter on the bedsheets, so there was some frustration, especially because her short quilt wouldn't stretch to accommodate their directions on folding the covers over and under the pillows. I told her they just don't know how long everybody's blankets are, but I still think she thinks someone's going to come get her because we didn't do it exactly right. Sigh...firstborns.

3:45 and on.... Cleaned things up, made dinner--frozen chicken pies, rice with broccoli and carrots chopped into it, reheated sweet potatoes, ice cream with butterscotch sauce. Kids watched Art Attack and played. Mr. Fixit came home, the kids sat on his back (it's therapeutic) etc etc. Put Ponytails to bed at 7 after a bath and a Beatrix Potter book, and The Apprentice at 8:30.


Whoah. Time trip. The Apprentice is off today to a hairstyling trade show; Ponytails is reading the World Records pages from National Geographic Kids and showing me the best parts (like the biggest cell phone in the world); and Crayons (missing one of her front teeth) is telling herself a story with Lego. It's a whole 'nother day in the Treehouse.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Because you never know when you might go cosmic bowling

Some people buy leftover candy after Halloween. Some people buy dressup clothes.

The Apprentice bought two cans of spray-on hair colour, Real Cheap. One makes your hair look really weird under blacklights. The other is just purple.

Now I guess she's ready in case Barbie phones her up.

Changes at Hillbilly Housewife

Miss Maggie, the Hillbilly Housewife, has turned her HH site over to a new Housewife; you can read the details and meet Susanne over yonder there.

Making the most of the art museum

Barb at Heart of Harmony has some suggestions for making the most of a gallery or museum trip--thank you! And don't forget to draw something red if you want to enter Barb's Sketch Tuesday exhibit this week.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Homeschool Blog Awards 2007

There's an update on the HBA site now with this year's categories and all go start thinking of some blogs to nominate...and stay tuned there for more updates on the awards as well as interviews with past winners and other little thoughts and creative photos (see the latest post for those).

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A trifle scary

We do not forbid Halloween observance in the Treehouse. We don't make a huge honkin' deal out of it either, but we have some fun with the parts you can have fun with. Last night our menu included a Treehouse-designed Halloween Trifle, and the Squirrelings reverse-trick-or-treated the grandmotherly lady next door with some afterwards (because it made kind of a lot).

Halloween Trifle

1 9-inch chocolate cake (we had one in the freezer, half of a mix that we had baked up and saved for such times as this)--cut up in cubes

1 package of instant vanilla pudding, plus either orange or red-plus-yellow food colouring
Milk or powdered milk to make up the pudding

1 small can mandarin oranges (save the juice to add to the pudding)
1 real orange, peeled and sliced thin (not necessary but we had only one can of oranges; if I'd had two cans I probably would have left it out)
The grated peel of the real orange

1 cup of whipping cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp vanilla (or equivalent other topping)
Part of a chocolate bar, grated (or chocolate chips)
A few dried cranberries (just to add colour on top)

This is what we did:

Ponytails cut the cake into cubes and put half of them into a large glass bowl. (We do have a proper trifle bowl, but since this was family-sized rather than party-sized, we used a big glass salad bowl instead.)

Mama Squirrel used the drained mandarin orange juice plus another cup of milk to make up the vanilla pudding. Actually Crayons mixed it up. We added grated orange peel for flavour and some colouring to make it orange.

Ponytails added a layer of the cut-up orange and mandarin oranges (reserving about half a cupful for decoration), and then a layer of just-mixed pudding; then another layer each of cake and pudding. (I forget whether we had enough oranges for another layer).

Mama Squirrel put the whipping attachment on the food processor and beat up the cream, sugar and vanilla. She spread the whipped cream over the top of the trifle and let it all sit in the fridge while we did other things.

A little while later we gave the top a hefty sprinkling of grated chocolate (just a regular brand of dark chocolate bar) and arranged the leftover oranges and a few dried cranberries as artistically as we could. We had debated doing the top with oranges and pineapple rings to look like a jack-o-lantern face, but chocolate won out.

Also on the menu last night: Chicken chili, three-cheese dip with carrot and rutabaga sticks, and a package of garlic breadsticks. Mama Squirrel finally got to make a jack-o-lantern face, on the bowl of dip, with pumpkin seeds (the shelled green ones you can eat as is) and a celery stem. The dip was very good, too; you can find recipes for it including everything from bleu cheese to Velveeta. Mama Squirrel just improvised with what was in the fridge: some grated old Cheddar, Parmesan, and cottage cheese, with a good spoonful of white salad-dressing-stuff and a few drops of hot pepper sauce mixed in.

[Pictures are coming!]

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