Sunday, August 31, 2008

Books Read in August

Saint Maybe, by Anne Tyler (re-read)

A Breath of Air, by Rumer Godden (reviewed yesterday)

A Mother's Rule of Life, by Holly Pierlot

This is a book that's been around for a couple of years and was recommended by other homeschooling friends. More than how to organize your life--how to organize your Life. As Coffeemamma pointed out to me--it's easy to relate to Holly's "I've had it!" moment that propelled her into searching for a better way for her family. Like Alice Gunther's book (below), this one comes deep out of Holly's Catholic faith, so the suggestions for building the day around rosaries etc. may leave Protestants scratching their heads; but Protestants need time for prayer and Bible reading too!

A Haystack Full of Needles, by Alice Gunther

An intensely Roman Catholic book but with a theme that crosses denominations: not only the "socialization" of homeschooled children, but of their parents as well. The book underlines the importance of building community and close friendships beyond the usual homeschool clubs and field trips. Brand new--you'll probably have to get your catalogue vendor to order it for you. (A bonus: you get to see photos of Alice's friends and their children, including Melissa's flock.)

With Crayons:

The Phoenix and the Carpet, by E. Nesbit

The Amulet, by E. Nesbit

These are the two sequels to Five Children and It. I read them to Crayons although they both went slightly beyond my comfort zone in the magic/spells area; I know it's just a frame to the story so they can go magic-carpet-riding (The Phoenix) and time-travelling (The Amulet), but there is a fair amount of hocus-pocus buildup to the fun parts.

Some parts are quite funny (they leave their grumpy old cook on a tropical island where the natives want her to be their queen), but I also found them often a bit darker in tone than the first book. A couple of times the children are in more actual danger than they were in Five Children.

Still working on:

A Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster (Mentioned enthusiastically in Terry Glaspey's Great Books of the Christian Tradition.)

Quirky Things Meme

Tim's Mom invited me to describe some "quirky things" about me awhile back.

OK.

Generally I don't get along too well with machines--programmable or not, moving or not. Cars in particular--I don't drive and I just couldn't seem to train my brain to do all the right things at the right time. I also don't totally get thermostats, entertainment systems, and which button to push on the vacuum cleaner to make it suck things up and not spit out the bag. Also how to turn off the right button on the clock radio so that it doesn't keep bleeping ten minutes later.

However, I do like kitchen plug-in toys and other gizmos. For some reason I had no problem figuring out all the programs on the bread machine, and I've tried most of them already (haven't tried the bagel setting). (We've even found out it makes good banana bread.) I squeezed the last drop of cooperation out of our wedding-gift food processor until Mr. Fixit came up with a thrift-store replacement.

I know I could cook with a frying pan and a couple of pots, but I just find slow cookers and blenders and bread machines a lot of fun. And not as scary as the DVD remote. (Did anybody else out there ever see a newspaper cartoon, a long time ago, about a woman who just adored her "blendy?" That would be me.)

Another quirk, not so good sometimes, is that my body's very tuned into the weather. I know a lot of other people like that too, including most of the other Treehouse Squirrels, Mr. Fixit in particular. I don't mean sneezing when the pollen's out; I mean pressure changes, rain coming. If I'm walking around looking like I need another coffee or six, it's probably because the pressure's changing.

If I ever need a second career, maybe I'll get hired in one of those little German weather houses. (She pops out, he pops in.)

Is that quirky enough for you?

Locker Envy

I love it.

See Molytail's creative solution.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

A Breath of Air, by Rumer Godden (review)

I found this book at the thrift shop last month and thought it might interest others.

This is Rumer Godden's novelization and updated version of Shakespeare's The Tempest. A bit of an "exercise," maybe--or what do they call it, a tour de force? As if some novelists were having a challenge among themselves--"what would you do with a Shakespeare play to turn it into something different but still the same?"

We've read so many of Godden's children's books that I wasn't sure how I was going to like her "adult" writing--and be a bit warned, there is a bit of necessary "adultness" in this story. Mostly I liked it...I think she drew on her experience in India in creating an imaginary island for her hero to be shipwrecked...er, planewrecked...on. And here and there there are telltale Rumer Godden phrases:

"He felt old and chilled. 'My feet must be wet,' said Mr. van Loomis. 'It's the dew on the hill,' but his feet had often been wet before. 'I must be getting old,' said Mr. van Loomis. That depressed him more."

Mr. van Loomis is Prospero--a Scottish industrialist who chucked it all for a tropical island, and built up his own little empire by using native labour and resources. (This becomes one of the issues of the book--who really owns the island, its people, and its wealth?)

She's also very creative about adapting Shakespeare's fairy and monster characters into something more human yet still recognizable. She describes the character Mario, based on the monster Caliban:

"McGinty came up. 'You the chap in charge of the light?' he asked. In the moonlight, which was beginning now to sift down over the sea and the reflected light of the lamp, Mario looked a monster....clumsy, childish, with his thick low forehead and mat of hair and shining dark eyes."

The fairy creature Ariel becomes a restless young native servant who is entranced by ideas of the outside world he has never seen, and longs for escape.

And Miranda is still Miranda, except that she's now named Charis. She has grown up on the island and has never seen a European man except for her father and the half-Spanish Mario. Until Valentine Doubleday shows up...

What a neat field trip

Molytail and her crew visited Avonlea Village--imaginary home of Anne of Green Gables.

Need peach help

We were given a very large basket of peaches--I think ten quarts. Lack of time, people and skills right now mean that canning them or making regular jam is not an option. (Mr. Fixit is our canning director.) Since I don't have a harvest crew coming for dinner, it also doesn't make sense to cook them into peach crisp or something like that.

I've read that you can cut and pit peaches, freeze them in halves on cookie sheets, and then pack them into freezer bags, as is, no other additives. Has anyone tried this? Did they darken a lot? Did you peel them first?

Any other suggestions for using them up or preserving them before they get too soft? How about peach freezer jam?

Any advice would be appreciated.

(We have lots of rhubarb in the garden too, but at least I know how to freeze that.)

Mama Squirrel checks in again

I'm starting to feel a bit more like blogging this weekend.

Without going into a lot of details, Mr. Fixit has been seriously ill and still is, although he's much better now than he was a week ago. We're reminded constantly that our lives are not in our own hands--both in the larger sense and in the smaller sense of what we might have planned to do with the end of our summer, how we spend our days. The time we have to homeschool can also be shorter than we plan--I had mentioned briefly before that Ponytails has decided to take on public school this year. Crayons has opted to stay home (humph, she'd better after all that Grade Two planning).

I have a couple of things on future-post, so they should be showing up over the next couple of days. If I get a chance, I'll come by and write a few other things too, as we head into the school year.

Best wishes for a great fall from all the Squirrels.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Mama Squirrel checks in.

We're having a couple of weeks here when we need to put a "Don't Disturb" sign on the Treehouse door; we're carrying on fine but it's just not all bloggable stuff. We'll definitely throw the ladder down again when school starts.

In the meantime, you can enjoy all the good stuff on Frugal Hacks. Or the Carnival of Homeschooling at Life Nurturing Education.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

VBS Week

Enough said about why I haven't been blogging? Our church's Vacation Bible School this year is very small, but it still takes work and time away from home. Today I will be hot-gluing horse heads to horse sticks and teaching a lesson about the man who went through the roof.

CM, Planning, Back to Homeschool

It's the CM Blog Carnival, Planning Bash edition, hosted at Our Journey Westward (a blog really worth checking out further once you get there). Lots of photos, LOTS of entries, especially on the theme of planning for the fall. Wow!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Taking care of the pennies

The Deputy Headmistress has a good post at Frugal Hacks today: Keep What's In Your Hand. Amy Dacycyzn once wrote that frugality was more about what you don't do than what you do, and the DHM echoes that with "it's more about what you don't spend than what you save."

In some cases, you decide that putting out some cash is "money well spent." I did decide to order those homeschool books on my wish list, because they will help our year to go better, and as things go that's not a lot to spend on a year's homeschooling. We've also been really blessed lately by some of the e-books from Homeschool Freebies--so it feels like things are evening out.

But I can think of lots of times where money went out--even on a sale item--and probably should have stayed in our hands. I bought more dumb things when I was young, single and frivolous; now I get more antsy about what goes out, even when it's just a little. But we still do make mistakes sometimes.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Grocery Cart Challenge Blog

I don't know if I've ever linked to The Grocery Cart Challenge before...but it's wonderful! And it does put nails in the coffin to that idea that you can't eat well for $100 a week--check out this hsing mom who's trying to do it for $50. She admits that most weeks they're closer to $60, when you include non-food items--well, shame on her, right? Wish I could do that well!

I like her balance of trying to use what she already has and stocking up just when she's already under budget for the week--I know there are other approaches, but this one seems to be working for her family. Check it out--I like the recipe links, too.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Carnivals this week

Sprittibee hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling--and it's a big one. Just a sample:

11) change keeps our aging brains healthy: SharpBrains: Neurogenesis and Brain Plasticity in Adult Brains

12) how to avoid one of the greatest dangers of homeschooling: Barbara Frank: When Kids are the Center of the Universe

13) ideas for homeschooling on a thin budget: Homemade Homeschoolers: Creative Homeschooling: Cost Free Alternatives

Go check out the other forty entries.

Money Ning is hosting the Festival of Frugality, but I don't think it's up yet.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Tomorrow's Freebie: Cookies!

A Heads-Up from Homeschool Freebie: tomorrow only (Tuesday, August 12), you can download "The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever... Made Simple!" "Amazing tips for baking the perfect cookie, from Lorrie Flem - yum!"

Or you can check out some cookie recipes that won't self-destruct: Coffeemamma's healthy chocolate-chip cookies. Or Meredith's. Or my GF Dutch Chocolate Chips. Or that good old Neiman-Marcus recipe that The Apprentice remembers fondly as the best chocolate-chippers we ever made. (Watch out for pop-ups on that site though.)

Recipe Carnival

Mama Bear at Got a Little Space to Fill hosts this week's Carnival of the Recipes.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Well, that's a little better (grocery prices)

Good grocery deals are still around...I guess we just have to be patient and wait for the good weeks. This weekend's best deals (for us) all seemed to be at Giant Tiger (the store that's not a grocery store). So that's where we went. We spent $109.26 on edible things and another $45 on drugstore/paper/pencil crayons/floor mat/socks. Considering we've easily spent more than all that just on one week's groceries lately, it's not too bad.

Sample prices:

Canned pasta sauce .94 (reg. 1.68)
Manwich sauce .99 (reg. 1.57)
Corn Bran Squares cereal 2.47 (reg. 3.47)
Cottage cheese 2.53
Whole wheat bread 1.97
Apple juice, 1 L (1 qt.) .77 (reg. .96)
Honey, 500 g 3.47
Bagels, 6 1.29
Cheddar cheese, 520 g 7.87
Bananas, 3 lb. 1.71
2% milk, 4L 4.48

Layered Grain and Veggie Salad

This is nothing very original, but if you haven't tried grains in salad before, it's a good way to get started. I prefer layers to all-mixed-up; then it doesn't look like you just threw leftover rice in the bowl.

Layer (a glass bowl is nice so you can see the layers):

1. Cooked grains, hot or cold (I used two parts short grain brown rice and one part barley, and layered them while they were still warm; you could use pasta instead, but I like small grains (vs. white rice sticking out all over the place))

(I used 1 cup rice, 1/2 cup barley, 1 tbsp. oil, 3 cups water; but only part of that went in the salad!)

2. Chopped or shredded raw vegetables (I used diced zucchini, sliced celery, and finely-sliced carrots (leftover vegetable sticks))

3. Dressing--creamy or vinaigrette style both work all right, but I prefer something resembling chip dip for layering, because it stays put better. I used about a cupful of sour cream, a couple of spoonfuls of white salad-dressing-stuff (some Squirrels prefer it to mayonnaise), and about a quarter cup of bottled teriyaki sauce; but you can use any other sauce, or just a dry seasoning like curry powder. Yogurt can work too instead of sour cream if it's not too runny. Or tofu dip recipes work fine too.

Add in a layer of anything else, plain or exotic, that looks good. Chickpeas, frozen peas (don't have to be cooked), chopped tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, peppers. But the one I made this week wasn't so fancy: just a layer of grains, vegetables, dressing, then the whole thing repeated. Chill well before serving.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Crayons' Grade Two: What's Left? (Art, Music, This and That)

This year the composers for Ambleside Online are Johann Sebastian Bach, Franz Liszt, and half a term each of Gustav Mahler and Anton Bruckner.

The artists are Botticelli, Caspar David Friedrich, and Vincent Van Gogh.

Our composers are Mark O’Connor, Igor Stravinsky, Franz Liszt, and Antonin Dvořák.

Our artists are Paul Kane, Cornelius Krieghoff, William Kurelek (the “3 K’s” of Canadian art); Caspar David Friedrich; Giotto, and Vincent Van Gogh. We're also doing a short unit on Andy Warhol and pop art to go along with a museum exhibit.

Why the differences?

Well, let's start with the artists first. The only really different term is the first one, when I wanted to incorporate some Canadian art, particularly that of Western Canada to go along with our geography studies. We read about Van Gogh a couple of years ago and I would have skipped him this time in favour of Giotto (he goes well with the Middle Ages theme in history, plus we're doing a book about St. Francis and there are Giotto-St. Francis connections, plus the illustrations in the book are done in a style that mimics Giotto); but Crayons asked if we could keep Van Gogh in there too. She doesn't care if we've already studied him. So that's that.

For composers, I have nothing against Bach, but he just didn't seem to fit with the art for the fall. I really enjoyed the term we did on Mark O'Connor and Igor Stravinsky a few years back, and O'Connor's "American Seasons" fits well with our time-and-seasons emphasis. (Plus we already have the CDs!)

Mahler and Bruckner just seemed a bit heavy to do with a seven-year-old who hasn't had a lot of experience yet with different composers. But I did want another European composer from around the same time...so Dvořák should work fine.

And then there are things we haven't totally figured out yet: drawing, painting; musical instruments (we have a keyboard, guitars, and a lap harp that all the Squirrelings have messed around with at one time or another); the sewing club that a friend wants to start; probably dancing again at the community centre; cooking, helping at home. Charlotte Mason encourages all children to learn "real" handicrafts, and I'm leaning toward weaving this year since Crayons owns a small wooden frame loom and I have some project ideas I think she could do.

And memory work: poems and Scripture.

And outdoor play time.

And indoor play time. It's all part of learning.

Grade Two, here we come.

More Goops: Today's Freebie

I am more and more impressed with the Homeschool Freebie stuff! The downloads are very quick, even in Explorer (usually I have to use Firefox to download e-books) and the vintage books are a nice change. Today (remember, today only) they are offering both an e-book and audio version of More Goops and How Not to Be Them.

Textless Thursday: Treehouse Gardening

Photo credits: Mr. Fixit and Ponytails

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Carnival of Homeschooling is up now

You can jump on the "homeschool bus" at the Homeschool Cafe.

Blueberry Shortcake: Microwave Style

I've made Chocolate Microwave Cake several times; it's not as good as our Small Chocolate Cake (the un-wacky one) but it's definitely nice to have a cake recipe that bakes in 10 minutes without heating up the kitchen. I used to do more baking in the toaster oven, but the one we have right now doesn't seem to hold a steady enough heat to bake things well. It makes toast and heats leftovers, but I don't quite trust it for cakes.

Yesterday I wanted a non-chocolate cake to put with some blueberries and whipped cream. If that sounds too much like Sunday dinner, it's because yesterday was actually a holiday here and I wanted something special. But it's still hot and muggy (and seems to be raining every time you turn around), and I haven't been using the big oven. Hmm...any other kinds of cake you can make in the microwave? Carrot--not what I wanted...no vanilla or yellow cakes except for cake-mix directions. Actually that's pretty understandable, because Microwaves Don't Brown Things. Who wants a pasty white cake?

Well, I did; I didn't care if it browned, because I was going to cover it with blueberries and whipped cream anyway. So I adapted the chocolate cake recipe, and this is what I came up with. Note that it's both dairy- and egg-free (but you'd have to use a dairy-free topping for the shortcake).

Ingredients:
1 3/4 cup all-purpose or unbleached flour
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp. baking powder (the chocolate cake used baking soda, but I didn't think that sounded right for a plain white cake)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Blend the dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine.

Choose your baking dish carefully: non-metal, obviously, and something that will turn around easily if you have a turntable in the microwave. Our microwave is too small to allow an 8-inch square pan to go around without getting stuck, so I use a 6-cup round casserole dish. I read somewhere that microwave cakes turn out better if you don't grease the dish; but do line the bottom with waxed paper.

Scrape the batter into the prepared dish, and microwave about 10 minutes or until the edges of the cake just begin to pull away from the sides of the pan. (Our microwave tends to take a bit longer than some (and only bakes on full power), so you might want to test it a couple of minutes before that or put it on a different setting.) The top will be just a bit sticky, but the cake should test done (with a toothpick or cake tester). Let it cool a bit in the pan (the edges will pull away more), then turn it out onto a plate.

If you're using the cake for shortcake, cut it in half horizontally and layer it (between and on top) with blueberries and whipped cream. (I combined our whipped cream with a small amount of fruit yogurt, mostly for colour.) You could also cut it in pieces and then add topping and fruit to each serving instead (better if you have a smaller family).

Makes six generous servings or eight smaller ones.

Tracking grocery prices

Going to the grocery store just isn't much fun lately.

Especially this week, when, out of several things, we decided to skip the discount store for one that's a little pricier but closer to home. There were an awful lot of things that I just shuddered and passed by. In spite of a few good deals we found, it didn't feel like we got an awful lot for our money.

Large eggs 2.39
Store-brand corn flakes, 750 g 2.99
Cheddar cheese, 500 g 7.79
Store-brand cheese slices, 4.19
Whole-wheat bread 2.50
Bagels, 6 3.29
Seedless oranges, 3 lb. 3.49
Store-brand wieners 1.99
Cottage cheese 2.69
Store-brand margarine, 1 lb. .99 (this was a good deal)

Carnivals this week

The Homeschool Cafe will be hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling--it won't be up until later today, though.

Life & Love in Rose Cottage hosts the CM Carnival.

Frugal Homemaker Plus hosts today's Festival of Frugality (#137). (Frugal lessons from The Simpsons? Too funny.)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

More fractured expressions

Part One:

One from the back of an Arthur video: "Will Arthur spend the rest of his life at D.W.'s beckon call, endlessly fetching ginger ale and playing Crazy-eights?"

Shame on the Arthur people for letting that one get by.

And yet when I googled "beckon call" it appeared not only on lists of expressions that certain people get confused, but in many other places online.

Just so we all know--it's "beck and call." You can beckon Arthur to fetch you gingerale, but when you make him your slave, he's at your beck and call.

Part Two:

Today Crayons told me she was so cold she was getting "goof bumps."

Aren't kids funny, I thought--isn't that original?

Well, I googled that one too, and noticed that several other peoples' kids beat Crayons to it, which doesn't bother me at all, it was still funny--but when I noticed that several adults also referred to "goof bumps," it did make me wonder. "I felt goof bumps washing over my arms. This was one of the few times I actually felt I belonged, at least partially to the group. ..." This was my favourite, though:
"I got goof bumps and everythin." Larry slammed the desk again. "You killed them. Squirrel! You shot Gus. You shot him and you shot Luisa and you shot Paul. ...
Oh my...that writing is so good it gives me goof bumps.

Mr. Person's thoughts on teaching

Want to know what bugs Mr. Person at TextSavvy?

"The kids aren't going to get that. Let's leave it."

That, in regard to a textbook math question that's actually wrong--but the kids won't notice, so never mind.

Charlotte Mason was right when she said that we don't respect kids' minds enough.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Why the Common Room is frozen

According to Blogger, this should be only temporary:
"While we wish that every post on this blog could be about cool features or other Blogger news, sometimes we have to step in and admit a mistake.

"We've noticed that a number of users have had their blogs mistakenly marked as spam, and wanted to sound off real quick to let you know that, despite it being Friday afternoon, we are working hard to sort this out. So to those folks who have received an email saying that your blog has been classified as spam and can't post right now, we offer our sincere apologies for the trouble.

"We hope to have this resolved shortly, and appreciate your patience as we work through the kinks.
— Brett"
It still doesn't make any sense to me.

In the meantime, you can read new Common Room posts here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Thrift shopping

I went to the thrift shop this afternoon--the one that's mostly good for books. I brought home a pretty good stack for a quarter and fifty cents apiece: a few picture books of the kind a seven-year-old would like; a Paddington book we didn't have (amazingly, since we already have half a dozen and I couldn't remember if we already had Paddington at Large); an Anatomy Colouring Book for The Apprentice, a Mad Libs for Ponytails, and Rumer Godden's A Breath of Air for me. Also a book of Psalms for singing

But the best thing was Scientific Explorer's Ancient Rome water-clock kit, which seems to be still new in the box (from the amount of shredded paper around the terra-cotta water-clock frame).

From Home-Education Magazine's Jan-Feb 2000 review (did you know you could find those online?):

The "Ancient Rome" Scientific Explorer Kit is a nice resource for students of historical time: this hands-on "History of Science" kit includes materials for assembling and calibrating an elegant terracotta water clock and for designing an early-Roman-style lunar calendar. The kit includes a booklet of background information, plus suggestions for further experiments. Available from Scientific Explorer, Inc., 2802 E. Madison, Suite 114, Seattle, WA 98112; (800) 900-1182; www.scientificexplorer.com.
Well, actually, it's not, they don't make these anymore.

But it still looks like fun!
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