Thursday, January 31, 2008

Didn't we do this last year? (Pancake Recipes)

Oh well...the next Recipe Carnival will be hosted at Pancake Recipes, and the theme (obviously) is "National Pancake Day (send in your favorite pancake recipes, toppings, syrups, etc.)."

Here's our entry from last spring's pancake theme. Maybe I can come up with something new this time.

Books Read in January

I don't usually keep a list of these, largely because there are a lot of books I never get quite to the end of and it makes me feel guilty. Kind of like those years when I was almost done university and I had to keep explaining that I was done, well, more or less, I only needed a couple of credits, and they were electives.

But I did finish, really finish, these books over the past month. One of the Mitford books squeaked in because I read it during a car trip on December 30th, but close enough.

Aristotle for Everybody, by Mortimer J. Adler (okay, I skimmed a few parts, but I will be going over it all more carefully when The Apprentice starts philosophy next week)

Ballet Shoes and The Westing Game (re-reads with the Squirrelings) (We also watched the new BBC movie of Ballet Shoes but did not like it; we much prefer the 1975 version.)

Happiness™, by Will Ferguson (loaned to me by someone with a strange sense of humor; don't run out looking for this because some parts of it are quite offensive. I'll post about that one later on).

The first, third, fourth and fifth books in the Mitford series. I don't usually like things labelled "Christian fiction" or "womens' novels," but these are an exception. (I have nothing against Christian writing but I don't like Christian-bookstore-writing.)

The book of Isaiah (only six chapters to go, so I think I'll reach my goal).

Funny squirrelings

Mama Squirrel (reading from Exploring Creation With Astronomy): "That's Venus. Of course, you will know that it's not a star at all. It's a burning hot planet with lava and heat-trapping clouds made of sulfuric acid swirling madly around it."

Young Squirrel: "Sounds like Daddy's sinuses."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'll have one of those real ones, please

You reap what you sow--sometimes beyond. I have great sympathy for big brother Tim, whose preschool sister Miss M. is horning in on his LOTR books.

A couple of weeks ago I culled some of our bookshelves and put the extras and giveaways in a box. I asked the Squirrelings to have a look through it and please make sure I wasn't giving away anything that they really wanted.

Crayons went through it and came up with a pile up to her knees of books she wanted. Not anything I'd read to her or that she'd read herself--these were books that, for some reason or other, she Just Wanted to Keep. The list included an extra copy of Kidnapped ("I've been dying to read that book!"), a 3-volume Ladybird set about great artists ("Mama, look, it has Van Gogh in it!"), Plays Children Love, Modern Plays, Pauline Johnson's poems, Maryanne Caswell's memoir Pioneer Girl, Hind's Feet on High Places, and a book of Hanukkah riddles. And about three others that I convinced her we did already have other copies of. And a book of fairy tales (do you know how many other books of fairy tales we have?).

Most of those books were nothing I'd pick for a six-year-old. Truth is, other than the fairy tales and maybe the artists, I doubt she'll even find them interesting for a long time yet. But I can see it happening already: the bug is there. This will be a girl who asks for her own box at library sales.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The busiest rodent around

Crayons was reading a poem out loud and said that it was by "Annie Mouse."

Hm?

Oh....boy, that Annie Mouse has written a lot of poems! (I'll let you figure that one out.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why support support groups?

It seems like I keep reading posts, and comments on posts, that are down on homeschool support groups, especially Christian-oriented homeschool support groups.

I'd like to throw in a few cents' worth from the other direction.

I've been a member of a city-wide Christian homeschoolers' group since 1995 (we pull in a few people from outlying areas as well). We have somewhere around 150 families registered; we get maybe half that at a typical parents' meeting. (Some people take their kids to daytime activities but never come to parents' meetings.) It's not the only group in town; there's a secular/unschooling-oriented homeschool network, a couple of other medium-sized groups that I know of, and I think some smaller group-of-friends or specific-church-type small groups. There's also some crossover between the groups; some people are members of more than one group at a time, or move back and forth. Occasionally we share an activity (a couple of years ago the unschoolers' group started a choir and invited our group's kids to be part of it).

It's not required that one sign a statement of faith to become a member, although it is required if you are going to serve on the Steering Committee. It is required that you understand that the group is run on Christian principles ("Christian" as defined by the Apostles' Creed), which means that you can't get upset if we open the meeting with prayer or if the speaker-for-the-night decides to talk about how God healed somebody from something. When you register, you can write in what church you attend if you want, but it's not required.

Our monthly meetings are for parents (and little babies) only. That used to be just because of space and so we could focus on parent topics (they're usually structured around a speaker either from within the group or invited from somewhere else); now it's also because of liability (it would cost us extra in insurance if we allowed children to come to the evening meetings). We have a monthly newsletter with announcements of activities that are organized by members; the Steering Committee doesn't usually set up children's activities and field trips, but it supports what activities the members themselves organize. If you want your kids to go on a Pizza Hut field trip, you organize it, collect the people and the fees, and we'll put it on the calendar (and try to make sure nobody else schedules something for that day). If you want to start a soccer club, you find the place and the people and we'll post it in the newsletter. Nobody's required to come to any meetings or go on any activity. In fact, although I should probably get some kind of attendance award myself (I've missed very few meetings in thirteen years), my kids don't get to a lot of the daytime activities, for very good but too-diverse-to-explain-here reasons. Some members of the group run a kind of weekly learning co-op, but again, that isn't an official run-by-the-group activity [that is, the steering committee is not involved in its administration at all]; what happens there is their own affair although those who join do have to be registered (i.e. paid) members of the group (due again to liability issues).

Stop there a minute and go back to those last two words. Liability issues. If anything other than the Internet has really changed support groups in the last decade, liability is it. It's more than just worrying about whether we might damage the meeting place or whether one of our own group might get hurt during an activity. These days liability goes far beyond that; and that's why, in the last couple of years, we have added that requirement that each member sign a form stating that they do understand how our group operates; and that's why we can't allow non-members to come along on trips now. (You don't have to be a member to come to a parents' meeting.) It's not because we're nasty or exclusive. It's because we, the large group and especially the Steering Committee, don't particularly want to get sued.

Why do I support my support group? I'm a big girl now in the world of homeschooling; I don't particularly need to hear speakers talk about getting started or how they get their kids "off the refrigerator"--well, sometimes I do. I have lots of online support, and we're even getting a bit more local interest these days in CM.

To be honest, I couldn't imagine homeschooling without this group of parents. Some of them have come and gone over the years, but a number of the core people have been there about as long as I have, and we've swapped books, kid funnies, you name it since our now-teenagers were preschoolers.

And more than that--I'm proud of our group. I'm proud of what we do in the local homeschooling community. We organize an annual conference (including seminars and curriculum vendors) that usually gets 600 to 800 people attending. We have a library of books and other resources. We are a forum that's encouraged homeschoolers to teach each other (sometimes getting over some very big butterflies to do so) so that we can do a lot better job teaching our children. Sometimes we're just a place to find a sympathetic ear or shoulder.

I'm proud of the fact that we're an unabashedly Christian group, but also not exclusive. The fact that we function with only the most-needed policies means that, as a group, we can (and must) stay neutral on issues that would distract from our purpose of supporting and encouraging each other. One example: some Ontario homeschoolers keep in close touch with a local school board; others, on principle, do not and prefer to stay "under the radar." Our group decided years ago not to officially support either position; it was simply too hot a potato to handle at meetings. Out of courtesy for each other, we've usually managed to quickly move on to other more important issues.

In some ways, that makes us more vulnerable these days. On the other hand, it's increased our understanding of what really holds our group together.

One of these years I will no longer be homeschooling; my season will be over. I will miss the monthly gatherings, and the fun (yes, it's mostly fun) of keeping the library going. I will miss the sense that whoever's sitting beside me is just as concerned about education and their children's needs as I am; it's a sense that eliminates a lot of the usual shyness I tend to feel in large groups. What I will take from these years is a knowledge of how a surprisingly diverse (yes, we are!) bunch of parents who share those concerns have been able to work together and produce something that's helped hundreds of families.

So I think this group has done a good job.

That would be a Big Bang

A Treehouse slip of the tongue:

"Here, Grandpa, you can take these nuts home and open them with a firecracker."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Shoppe"d Out

We live in a part of Southern Ontario that has become a hi-tech centre of sorts, and which seems to be increasingly affected by a gust of big-city sophistication blowing from Toronto.

At least if you read (and believe) enough of the media.

A couple of years ago, our favourite all-purpose '60's-style smaller-size mall started undergoing a makeover, which is still continuing. More than a makeover--more even than plastic surgery--one might go so far as to say that They Created a Monster. (Cue 50's drive-in sound effects. Godzilla vs. Rodan.)

Half of the mall was actually cut off; new shoppes were built on. A Crepe Corner. An Expensive Toy Shoppe. Several more Too Expensive For Me Places. The corner restaurant with the duct-taped seats and all-day pancakes became a Seafood Cuisine House. The fast-food stop at the other end of the mall disappeared, along with anything (like tables in the open areas) that might encourage non-shoppers from parking their not-so-beautiful blue jeans for awhile. [Grammatical oops--okay, I know that last sentence doesn't make sense. I was trying to say that they took out the tables to KEEP people from parking themselves.)

Recently I heard that the supermarket in the mall (one of the last remaining vestiges of what used to be) will be closing as well, when its lease is up. The parent company wants to get out of its lower-end-of-the-market stores and focus on its more upscale ones.

It's good for the city's image. It's good for the owners of those little upscale businesses.

It's not good for the rest of us who just want a burger during lunch or a place to pick up some of those there pork rinds Bubba. Or maybe a birthday present for a little friend, but not one that costs THAT much?

Mr. Fixit and The Apprentice went into one of the Shoppes just before Christmas to buy mechanical pencil leads. This Shoppe carries things like $200 fountain pens and other gifts as well as pencil refills. When The Apprentice asked for them, the woman (obviously sizing up Student With Backpack and Dad in Parka) said with more than necessary snark, "You didn't have to come here, you can buy those anywhere."

Well, excuuuse me. Business must be good.

Truth be told, we don't all carry those wireless communicators around. Some of us have never even had a latte.

And some of us are still looking for a place to take a grandma shopping for foot insoles and J-Cloths [dishrags]. Know What I Mean?

File under: This Urban Chic Thing is Getting the Best of Me.

(Antidote: Barbie Goes to the Mall.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

More Frugal Thoughts

Continued from this post.

OK...some more thoughts on dealing with frugality burnout.

1. This is something that has worked for me: keep a notebook page or some other sort of journal of small blessings, especially of the financial/found stuff/little answered prayers kind. Then you can go back over it when you're feeling discouraged, and remember when you had that hunk of leftover whatever in the fridge and a recipe for using it up dropped in your lap; or the time you were out of milk and the neighbour sent you home with some because she bought the wrong kind (and she didn't even know you were out of milk); or the time you made a great frugal meal and EVERYBODY liked it. Or the times you have taken your taxes to the accountant and he tells you right out how amazed he is at how you guys manage so well (because he sees a whole lot more people who make a whole lot more money and are in a whole lot more mess). (Score bonus points if he asks YOU for frugal tips).

All of the above (except for the bonus points) are things that have happened to us.

And then you can keep a list of Big Blessings as well, just to keep things in perspective.

2. Hand in hand with #1: Think of things that you made from scraps or found frugally that are every bit as nice as something you could have bought if you'd had more cash to blow. It's related to what Amy Dacyczyn calls the "wow factor." Somebody mentioned having this crazy urge to go out and spend a whole lot of money on a very expensive restaurant meal, just because they've said "no" to it for so long. OK, it's a fun idea. Bring on the lobster thermidor. But when you think about it, is the "wow factor" you get from that meal (or something similar) enough times bigger and better that it justifies the cost?

I'm thinking here of Meredith's adorable play areas for her little girl (here, scroll down for photo, and here). Simple and classy. Would a $129.99 version look better or provide more play value? Doubtful.
I'm thinking of the Christmas presents we made for each other this year (and if you read here much, you know that not every Christmas is a handcrafty one for us). Things hit the mark here this year because they were well thought out--even the joke things like this little thrift shop version of Mr. Fixit. [photo] I know The Apprentice likes to read in bed, so I made her a neckroll pillow (made from yardsaled yarn and long-leftover stuffing). Ponytails knows Mr. Fixit likes a hot drink in the morning, so she made Daddy's Morning Drink Kit.

And I'm thinking of our somewhat-improvised Christmas dinner.

And you know what...I'm thinking of some of Mr. Fixit's working-full-time, well-paid female co-workers, who admit every year that they find Christmas more of a bother than anything else, because they're so stressed and rushed trying to get everything done, wrapped, cooked and sent. Would I trade places with them FOR THE BETTER INCOME? Not a one. Now get this straight before you misread that: I appreciate and thank every female person who has waitressed for us, cashiered for us, delivered our mail, and otherwise helped us this past holiday season, not to mention those who were "only" volunteering their time. (I don't go so far as to thank the telemarketers, though.) I am not dissing any mom with kids who has to work, loves to work, or who has seriously thought this through and knows that what she's doing is right even if she's not crazy about her job. Nobody needs to be dumped on because she has chosen to work outside the home, any more than we need to be dumped on because we have managed/chosen not to.

I am simply saying: at this point, if you offered me a good job with the result that we "didn't have to be frugal anymore," I'd probably turn it down. I'd rather be frugal, and occasionally pout over somebody else's shoe closet, than lose what we have gained by knowing our own limits and working within them.

And that's all. (Except for the photo, and I promise it's worth coming back for.)

The year of the burnouts?

After posting our mantra about frugal contentment, I've been noticing that some other longtime Frugalistas and stay-at-home-moms have been feeling a little less than content lately.

Lindsey writes:
Cheerful frugality. Meredith talks about this quite often. I've lost my knack for it. Being cheerful about being frugal. In some ways, I'm just tired of struggling paycheck to paycheck. (I know, I know, you spend all you make no matter what you make does apply to most people...so working may not be better) I'm tired of barely getting by. I'm tired of being a few paychecks from disaster. I'm tired of always searching for the best deal or bargain. Maybe I could describe this as frugal burnout? Is that real? This is a very big factor in my thinking of going back to work in some capacity. Sigh. Is frugal burnout real? This I would love some comments and input on...
Meredith herself posted about "When You Don't Feel Frugal," and linked to a post about seeing perfect mommies at the YMCA and wondering why your hair doesn't look like that.

Anything I can say runs the risk of sounding smug...but it's the farthest thing from my mind. [Wanting to feel smug, I mean--not whether or not we want to be frugal! I can see you could take that either way.] Here are some thoughts, though, for anyone feeling like it would just be more fun to do it the way it seems like everyone else does.

1. Read Janel's post at Frugal Hacks: "When Your Want-To Is Broken." Very good advice there, including getting enough sleep and "keeping the frugal life enjoyable." (All work and no play...)

2. Get hold of Mary Ann Cahill's old book The Heart Has Its Own Reasons, especially if you're questioning your decision to stay home with young children. As I've said elsewhere: good book, bad title. Lots of personal stories reminding you of why you are doing what you're doing--and practical advice as well from families whose situations ranged from middle to low income and even out of work.

3. If you can't find that book, read some literature that makes you appreciate how good we really do have it, even if we're not YMCA mommies. If Little House in the Big Woods is too shopworn for you, you could try Robinson Crusoe. (Too extreme? Maybe The Moffats, or Margot Benary-Isbert's The Ark, or the first book from the Caroline series where Caroline's widowed mother is struggling to take care of her children.) Peter Menzel's photo book Material World is good too. (Borrow it from the library, of course.)

I'm short on time this morning but I'm planning on coming back later to add a few more thoughts. More Here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'll take that as a compliment...I think

"Watching the Stooges is funnier when you're watching too, Mom."

(Mr. Fixit bought us a stack of Three Stooges videos for a Christmas present.)

Sea songs with Crayons

"Put him in a walnut until he's sober, put him in a walnut until he's sober..."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Our morning

This snowless week, and a fairly dry although not very pretty Saturday without any dance lessons or pressing need for (regular) groceries (as in canned goods), led to a Squirrel family Saturday morning adventure. We don't often go right downtown, and almost never with all five of us together; Mama Squirrel sometimes goes down on the bus, alone or with one Squirreling in tow, and Mr. Fixit occasionally has something to do down there; but we rarely have a reason to go as a family.

So off we set, after a brief stop at the library, to check out the new-and-improved downtown farmer's market which someone had assured us was fairly deserted on Saturdays, not like That Other Market where all the tourists go. We couldn't even get parked nearby! Maybe our informant goes there at 7 in the morning or something. So we settled for Plan B. We parked the car on another downtown street, took everybody for some fair-trade coffee, juice, and baking at the "hemp café," and then headed for a German deli that Mr. Fixit couldn't believe was still downtown (he used to go there with his own squirrel mama). Mama Squirrel was very happy because her favourite thrift shop was a few doors away from that, and she, Ponytails and Crayons looked around in the thrift shop while The Apprentice and Mr. Fixit went and bought buns and Meat Loaf (that's a cold cut) and Swiss cheese and a couple of other things in the deli. Mama Squirrel picked up half a dozen books (including a copy of Miss Suzy--oh, the reminiscences), a Steve Green Christmas tape, and a sweatshirt for Crayons, paying the astronomical total of $3.35. (It's about the only thrift shop she knows of these days where everything isn't $5 and up per item. Or something like that.)

So we didn't get to the market, but we did have some fun. The Squirrelings got to ooh and ah over all the handmade stuff for sale in the café. The Apprentice got to see the inside of a hock shop (they went in there after the deli). (NB: not to pawn anything, just to look around!) Crayons bought a cute little cocker spaniel for 20 cents of her very own money. And there wasn't any ice to slip on. (Next week, of course, we'll probably be snowed under again.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Favourite things at school this week

Crayons: I liked The Pond People. I liked how it's sort of short and nice.

Ponytails: I liked doing Benjamin West, and Calculadder, and School Zone. Benjamin West is a very good painter. Happy weekend! I liked Geography too. The wheel was invented in Iraq, and Abraham was in Iraq, and Jonah, and Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego. (Also known as Rack, Shack and Benny.)

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Crayons' Language Worksheets

Sometimes I make up worksheets like this for Crayons so that she can work independently while I'm reading with Ponytails. This is what I wrote for this morning; it's based on Snowshoe Thompson, by Nancy Smiler Levinson. (I leave spaces between things so she can write answers.)

------------------------------------------------
Read pages 14 to 21.

Copy this on your lined paper:

“I am making skis to deliver the mail,” he said.

Here are the chopping words from page 18: Whack! Thwack! Can you think of any other good words that sound like chopping?

How about hammering?

How about a grilled cheese sandwich sizzling in a non-stick frying pan?

You make up one of your own….

Where is Norway? (Look on the kitchen map. Ask for help if you need it.) Is it close to the north or the south? What do you think the weather must be like there?

Do you know what snowshoes are? Ask for help looking for a picture of them. Draw a picture of somebody wearing snowshoes.

Our ancient history timeline reappears

Mostly for Canadians (sorry!): Last year when Ponytails was doing ancient history, I mentioned the British Museum ancient history book/timeline that we used, and some people wanted to know where to get one. The every-month's-different bookstore we got it from, Hampstead House Books in Toronto, is offering it in this month's catalogue, for anyone who'd like a copy. (You can order it online.) I don't get paid to say that--just wanted to let you know.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Books? Or school?

I read something today that my friend the DHM posted: a snip from an old book that talked about teachers--even way back when--being of kind of a different mindset from yer average "readin' family." It made me think of some notes I had written a couple of years ago for a talk on CM. I'm pasting some of what I wrote then as a kind of followup and general agreement that this disconnect between schools/teachers and learning from books was (and is) both peculiar and very sad.

(I had been talking first about Charlotte Mason's enthusiasm for getting children outside, and wanted to use that as an analogy for her thoughts on books...)

Charlotte Mason felt that children often weren't getting exposed to a lot of ideas, either, if they had limited access to books or if they were being taught just to recite information and do the most basic kind of reading; to her that was like being shut up in another kind of room. At one point she wrote that education was like opening a door, or many doors, and she might have had that image in mind when she wrote that. (Doors can lead out as well as in!) She said that the goal of education was establishing and continuing as many of those natural relationships (with things and thoughts) as possible; so the mark of an educated person was that he would find life itself to be endlessly interesting. There's a story that Charlotte Mason asked one of her new teaching students why she had come to the college, and the young lady said that she had come there to learn to teach. Charlotte Mason said sternly, "My dear, you have come here to learn to live." I always thought that was an awfully arrogant thing of her to say, but I think I'm finally starting to appreciate what it means.

Unfortunately this kind of thinking was pretty much eclipsed during the 20th century by demands for passing more exams and preparing more workers, as well as a lot of other 20th century influences. But in 1987, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote a book called For the Children's Sake, which reintroduced parents to Charlotte Mason's methods and philosophy. At about the same time, Karen Andreola got her books reprinted, and CM methods started to gain some interest among North American homeschoolers. Most of us reading these books about ten years ago felt like we were largely on our own, wading through all this Victorian prose and trying to get a picture of an education that was a lot different from what we remembered from school. One of my favourite illustrations from For the Children's Sake is a question that we're to ask ourselves as homeschooling teachers, Sunday School teachers, school principals, or whatever our teaching role is: if Albert Einstein got to sit in on science class with our sixth graders, would he be interested in what they're doing or doze off? How about if St. Paul could sit in on a kindergarten Bible lesson? Or Shakespeare sat in on eighth grade English? Is it possible even to imagine the kind of lessons that could hold their interest?

One of the keys to that would be who's doing most of the talking in the class, and another would be where the information is coming from. Charlotte Mason believed that children were able to deal with real knowledge, the great and noble ideas found in living books, without the teacher having to filter out the information for them first, or predigest it for the children and then make a sort of little mental nourishment pill for them out of what was left. She thought that teachers usually did way too much talking, lecturing, and questioning, and children not enough thinking and talking; and that schools provided way too little reading material (she complained about too little being spent on good books, and too much being spent on fancy manipulatives, models and other things that seemed to do a lot of the children's thinking for them. Sound familiar?). The kind of talking she wanted the children to do wasn't only discussion of what they had read or the teacher had read to them; she also wanted them to narrate back what they heard--not word for word, but in as much detail as possible. Then after that they could discuss some of the big ideas and questions in what was read--including asking their own questions. And that was Charlotte Mason's idea of a worthwhile class, and one that maybe even Einstein or Shakespeare would have wanted to stay awake for.

If you love books...I mean, really really love books...

This is the kind of book review you will not want to miss. (Charles Foran's Globe and Mail Books review of CULTURAL AMNESIA: Notes in the Margin of My Time, by Clive James)

I finally gave in (Chocolate Truffle Pie)

Way back when (actually it was Christmas of 2000), Kraft sent around a recipe flier with a recipe for Chocolate Truffle Pie. I saved it but never got around to making it, mostly because it calls for ten squares of semi-sweet chocolate. In fact, I resented those ten squares of chocolate so much that I wrote an article for an e-newsletter pointing out that you could get about as much wow-factor out of a slow-cooker chocolate dessert that only required a few spoonfuls of cocoa. Much more economical and better for you.

But this Christmas I didn't bake much with chocolate. We didn't make chocolate crescents. We didn't even make Mr. Fixit's favourite chocolate fingers. That was mostly because both of those recipes call for ground hazelnuts, and I had already blown the baking budget on other things. (Mr. Fixit decided he liked the double gingers best this year anyway, and he's asked for another batch when I can get the preserved ginger for them.)

So we hadn't overloaded on chocolate, and I did have some whipping cream, and it was Epiphany...and I gave in and made it.

Ratings? It was very easy to make. Everybody seemed to like it...it was a lot like very fudgy brownies...because after all, it's almost all chocolate. I think Chocolate Tofu Pie has a richer chocolate taste in some ways (and a full recipe of that has about as much chocolate in it as this pie); and the Apprentice's Cocoa Ricotta Cream has that very sinfully-good chocolate-paste texture if what you're looking for is just pure, over-the-top chocolate. But overall it's a good recipe to know about...especially if you use real whipped cream on top and not that Whipped Stuff that the website recommends.