Sunday, December 28, 2008

20 library books I want to read in 2009

I'm hoping to read as many of these as I can this year, in no particular order. The titles came mostly from weekend-paper book reviews--I wrote them down a couple of years ago! I've figured out that if you can wait a bit, you don't get stuck on one of those long lists at the library. BL means Big Downtown Library, SL means Smaller Closer-by Library. Since I don't own any of these books, I need to know where I can find them.

[Update: I'm going to put the books I've finished in bold.]

1. Our Culture, What's Left of it: The Mandarins and the Masses BL
2. Story of French BL, SL
3. Freakonomics BL, SL
4. Half in the Sun: an anthology of Mennonite Writing BL
5. Bumblebee Economics BL
6. Of This Earth (Rudy Wiebe) BL, SL
7. King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the man who saved geometry BL, SL
8. The Bone Sharps: a novel BL, SL
9. Rough Crossings: Britain, the slaves, and the American Revolution BL, SL
10. De Niro's Game BL, SL
11. The Skystone BL, SL
12. Black Swan Green BL, SL
13. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man BL, SL
14. Three-Day Road BL, SL
15. A Most Damnable Invention: dynamite, nitrates, and the making of the modern world BL, SL
16. On Chesil Beach BL, SL
17. Divisadero BL, SL
18. The Library at Night BL, SL
19. The Man Who Forgot How to Read (Engel) BL, SL
20. The Writing Life (Annie Dillard) BL, SL

A gift for Crayons (Opera for Kids)

World's Very Best Opera for Kids...In English

(Santa Claus knows that Crayons likes Carmen.)

Music I want to listen to in 2009

These CDs came from someone else's list of best-ever music to listen to--but I've forgotten where I saw it (probably in one of the Toronto newspapers a couple of years ago). The list refers to specific pieces within the CDs.

Bach, Brandenburg Concerto. No. 6, Tafelmusik (can't find this at our library, though)

Korngold, Violin Concerto, James Ehnes (hm, also not at the library)

Elgar, Piano Quintet, Sorrel Quartet with Ian Brown (not at the library; I'm beginning to see a pattern here--and we do have pretty good libraries)

Debussy, Images (deuxième cahier), Vanessa Wagner

What were those 25-cent books, anyway?

If you're curious...

Crayons got:
The Big Goose and the Little White Duck
Finn Family Moomintroll
The Littles Go to School

Ponytails got:
Bright Ideas (an American Girls book)
There's an Owl in the Shower
The Grand Escape

The Apprentice got:
Sense and Sensibility
Cry, the Beloved Country
Frederick Buechner's Listening to Your Life

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas is only beginning (repost from Advent 2005)

(Thinking especially of Melissa this week!)

There are last-minute secrets. Last-minute cookies. Last-minute one-more-thing-I-forgot stops at the store. The four-year-old thinks the days are going by too slowly. The eight-year-old thinks they're going by too quickly.

And really, what's the hurry? If we don't have a) enough salad, b) enough stocking stuffers, c) enough cookies baked (and not already eaten), d) enough cards sent, e) enough decorations up, f) everything, EVERYTHING cleaned, g) you choose, all done and wrapped and delivered by the 25th (not to mention winding up everything we wanted to do in school during the fall term), what does it matter? Jesus isn't going anywhere.

When we were expecting the Apprentice, either our calculations were a bit off or she just decided to make her appearance a bit early--we've never been sure. Anyway, we found ourselves making a 1 a.m. call to the midwife two weeks before baby was expected. I can only compare my feelings that night to a first driving lesson on the freeway when your entire behind-the-wheel experience has been in a video arcade. The second or third time around, you remember what you did before, but the first wonder if you could possibly be the only person in the world to get an F in giving birth. And I remember saying to the midwife, in the middle of all this, "I'm not ready." What did I mean, she asked--emotionally? "No," I said, "I still haven't finished cleaning out the baby's room."

Like the baby would care?

But I was still worried, because I hadn't completed every last thing. (As if I could have anyway.) And the baby was born, and the room eventually did get cleaned out and made ready for her (when she finally started sleeping in there). She wasn't going anywhere, and the cleaning could wait. It was time to celebrate the new life that had been added to our family, and to admire her tiny toes, and to call all the relatives, and to learn all the messy details of diapers and nursing and fitting a baby into tiny nighties and sleepers, and to bring out a first Father's Day present for Mr. Fixit a week later.

And newborns don't stay newborns, so very quickly we were getting into teeth and outgrown sleepers and solid foods and sitting and crawling and tricycles and reading and birth is not one event, it's a whole lifetime.

The same with Christmas. Ready or not.

Friday, December 26, 2008

How to give 25-cent books for Christmas

With lovely inscriptions inside by people you've never heard of?

It's just a matter of attitude.

Mama Squirrel loves to give books for Christmas, but this year she had no new ones in stock. A trip to the thrift shop produced about three likely-looking books per Squirreling, and they were all in decent condition, but they had the usual "To Jane from Your Teacher" notes and pencilled prices inside the covers.

So the books were wrapped good longstanding family tradition...from Uncle Dewey and his "WOdenT REAding CluB" (the squirrel and his friends are very literate but their printing isn't so good). Because it's okay for the puppets and stuffies to give "THWIFT Shop" presents, even the kind that have obviously been pre-owned. That's the sort of place a stuffed squirrel, a backyard chipmunk, and a hamster would feel comfortable shopping, and Uncle Dewey's usually a little bit "bwoke" after losing too many poker games.

Logic and a sense of humour--all you need. (And about a quarter per book.) I know nobody else lives with Dewey Squirrel, but you can always wrap things up from the dog, or the basement troll, or whoever else you have in your household mythology.

Farewell to Catwoman

Eartha Kitt passed away yesterday at the age of 81.
Funny--Crayons had been going around singing her own version of "Santa Baby" for days, after hearing it several times on the radio. She thought it was very funny that anyone would call Santa Claus "Santa Baby" and "Santa Honey." I told her the real question was how he was supposed to get a '54 convertible down the chimney...
But the song of hers I liked best was "I'm Just An Old-Fashioned Girl."

Santa Paws, or, A Crumby Story

Laugh for the day: What did happen when the Cherubs were nestled all snug in their beds?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All others doth deface
O tidings of comfort and joy....

(Photo credit: Mr. Fixit.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas! (EVE)

Ok it isn't Christmas today.
But it is tomorrow!

I really, really, really wanted one (Bad Toy Nostalgia)

The 1970's were prime years here for the Christmas Wish Book--especially because a lot of people where I lived shopped through The Catalogue. Those were the days when we wrote out Family-Circus-inspired two-page (or ten-page) Christmas wish lists--with pages and prices included. Of course we were told to circle one or two things that we really really really wanted--the other stuff (like a rock tumbler) went on the list every year just out of habit.

So this is my question: what's the dumbest childhood toy that you ever asked for (and got) for Christmas or another holiday, preferably inspired by TV advertising or a page in the catalogue? Did you ever ask for (and get) a gumball machine? A Shoppin' Sheryl doll? (Okay, she was pretty cute.) A Give-a-Show Projector? A magic set that never really worked?

(If you need some inspiration or want to jog your memories, check out the TimeWarp Vintage Toys website.)

I'll start: Shaker Maker, approximately 1972, a kit that made little moulded plaster monsters. Hoo boy, what was I thinking? You could have about as much fun shaking up instant pudding, and it would have tasted better too.

Your turn!

P.S. TimeWarp Toys is a fun website to browse through--did anybody else ever make DaisySnaps jewelry? Or are you old enough to remember Rat Fink Rings?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Fun

Click to Mix and Solve

One last Advent time

Tomorrow night is Christmas Eve and we'll be at church for awhile. We'll light the white candle in the centre of our wreath when we get home, but really Advent will be over by then--we'll be calling it Christmas--and this journey through Simplicity and Submission will have moved to the next chapter of Celebration.

So I think tonight we're going to read Ann's new post on Holy Experience: Come to the Table of Now.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Pray for Lizzie

And keep praying for Lizzie. And her family.

What Madame Bovary has to do with going to Iraq

Hat tip to Melissa for finding this article about how literature should be taught--and isn't. (Warning: some mature content.)

Where are you from?--Frederick Buechner on Story

This is what I was looking for when I stumbled over that Grinch post.

"The Child in Us"

"We weren't born yesterday. We are from Missouri. But we are also from somewhere else. We are from Oz, from Looking-Glass Land, from Narnia, and from Middle Earth. If with part of ourselves we are men and women of the world and share the sad unbeliefs of the world, with a deeper part still, the part where our best dreams come from, it is as if we were indeed born yesterday, or almost yesterday, because we are also all of us children still....The child in us lives in a world where nothing is too familiar or unpromising to open up into the world where a path unwinds before our feet into a deep wood, and when that happens, neither the world we live in nor the world that lives in us can ever entirely be home again...."
Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth, included as the "May 6" reading in Listening to Your Life: Daily Meditations with Frederick Buechner.

Zero Mostel, the Grinch, and why we read fairy tales

I stumbled across this two-year-old blog post and thought it was worth sharing. (I think Zero Mostel was a genius anyway, but that's not the point of the post.)

(Apparently the Grinch album in question can be downloaded at Way Out Junk, but that's neither an ad for Mostel's reading (apparently it's pretty scary) nor one for the download site--I know nothing about its safety. It's also listed on Amazon.)

Oops (or, have you seen any good online bloopers?)

"Let the fun and imagination sour with Only Heart Doll accessories...."

Your turn!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas 2009 Gift Closet

This is a 2009 post hiding in the 2008 archives--mama squirrels can hide gifts anywhere. It isn't quite done, so come back later and I may have stuffed a few more things into the hole.

Mama Squirrel always seems to get the most creative (and lucky at thrift shops) in the week before Christmas. This is fun, but sometimes not the most convenient as then she has to rush to get things done. It also means that sometimes we end up with extra small gifts because she gets carried away making things. But no matter, they will get used.

The whole top part of Mr. Fixit's jeans, almost intact, turned into a music portfolio for the Apprentice. Mama Squirrel made a poster-board portfolio and slipped it inside the jeans; cut off and sewed the pants at about crotch level; and made two slits inside so you can get the music in and out. If that doesn't make sense, just imagine a piece of cardboard wearing a pair of cutoff shorts, and then folded in half.

The rest of the jeans turned into handwarmers (posted about those previously), a small purse for Crayons, and three "makeup pouches" for the girls. Mama Squirrel is very happy with those pouches: they turned out, they have Velcro closures, and the sewing machine didn't break down partway through. Well, it did jam once, but M.S. fixed it herself.

Mama Squirrel also sewed three white hankies for Mr. Fixit from rummage-sale fabric (that sounds so Little House on the Prairie, but he does need some new ones and I couldn't find any). And a glove chipmunk.

Mr. Fixit ordered a Crissy doll for Crayons from Ebay--it's one of the desires of her heart, but a lot of them go for more money than we were interested in spending. He found her a 1972 Lookaround Crissy with the original long plaid dress and shoes. The problem is that she smells like bad cigarettes--and she was supposed to be from a non-smoking home. We've had her in a plastic bag with baking soda for a few days, but there isn't much improvement. Mr. Fixit is going to take her to work today along with some strong cleaner and see if he can do anything about it. If Crissy is unrecoverable, we did also find another very cute doll at the thrift shop that can fill in. Mama Squirrel would like to make a couple of dresses for whichever doll ends up being the gift, but that's going to have to wait until tomorrow when Crayons (conveniently) goes to play at a friend's house for the morning.

Mama Squirrel found some books this weekend at the thrift shop: Colson's How Now Shall We Live? for Mr. Fixit, Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? for the Apprentice, and the 20th Century Children's Book Treasury for Crayons. Each girl is also getting a peppermint sachet, and a copy of Pilgrim's Progress from Mama Squirrel's collection.

Ponytails is getting a set of crochet hooks and a mini copy of "The Gift of the Magi." The Apprentice is getting a motor-league membership (and maybe the best present of all, news that the driver-examination strike is supposed to be settled soon).

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's in your hand: Extreme Edition

"What's in your hand" is a favourite phrase of the Deputy Headmistress. Just to give proper credit.

Do you remember that Little House Christmas chapter where things are in a bad state, gift-wise and otherwise? As Laura falls asleep that Christmas Eve, she hears Ma saying something like "there's still the white sugar." The bag of white sugar is a huge treat, usually hoarded and saved for company. But the next morning, in their stockings they each find a sugar-topped cookie. (Apologies to Birdie.)

I get a similar impulse around this time of year, usually in the last week or so before Christmas when the present list seems a little thin (and it's almost too late to start making things). Use it up! Pour it out! What good is it doing just sitting around if we could use it for something? And I don't mean just the butter and sugar...although I did finish off the part-bag of brown sugar and the whole box of raw sugar, two pounds of butter, and all the eggs. (Groceries today.)

Without trying to give away too many secrets, we used up the last of the tacky craft glue, a package of black pompoms (bought several years ago) plus a few leftover coloured ones, most of the cotton yarn, some dollar-store scrapbooking paper bought last February, several vintage hankies, the last of several spools of thread, and a couple of large pieces of fabric that were sitting...just sitting, not pulling their weight. Not to mention that green cord and the glitzy napkins. And some other things I'm not allowed to name.

We bought a roll of white paper at the toy store in the summer (to make a Pilgrim's Progress scroll and also a life-size paper girl; last week Crayons noticed the Snowman Factory idea (think giant paper dolls) on the Canadian Living website. Perfect!--four large snowmen now in progress. (That's where the pompoms and scrapbooking paper are going.) She also wants to make some smaller paper-chain snowmen like the ones she saw on the wall at Ponytails' school.

Last year's last-minute making was much the same: I used up all the craft stuffing we had plus a big piece of quilt batting and most of our yard-saled bulky yarn to make The Apprentice a sausage-shaped pillow. That doesn't mean I went right out and bought more stuffing, either; actually we didn't buy any until last week.

At certain times in your life you might go through a "nesting" phase--a time to gather it all up, acquire, stock the shelves. At Christmas my instinct is to do the opposite: not with a feeling of using up unwanted rags, not scrounging, but rather using the best that we have, and all of it if necessary. Enjoying it, sharing it, --the most beautiful treasures and the favourite ingredients, used and given freely. Some of it, we'll replace quickly: eggs and brown sugar are easy to come by, and we can get more glue. Other things we may do without for awhile...I don't know if or when I'll ever have a whole package of black pompoms around again.

But next year we'll make something else.

Around the Treehouse

Our two public-schoolers are now officially on Christmas vacation along with Crayons--except that The Apprentice still has to work today (the Queen and her princesses in Texas and all her equally eager Canadian ladies-in-waiting have their pre-Christmas beautifying to do at--what did she call it?--the superfoofoo salon).

Crayons has been crafting--goes without saying. Mama Squirrel has been helping. We can't say much or take pictures at this time as that would cause problems.

Mama Squirrel has been baking instead of blogging, but we promise more later.

A new CM blogger

New to blogging, but not to Charlotte Mason: Christine posts on home life, knitting, and the basics of CM at The Real Life Home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Advent Week III: Servanthood

Snippets from an Advent gathering time:

Light a candle for Simplicity.
Light a candle for Solitude and Silence.
Light a candle for Service.

"Gathered at the Passover feast, the disciples were keenly aware that someone needed to wash the others’ feet. The problem was that the only people who washed feet were the least. So there they sat, feet caked with dirt. It was such a sore point that they were not even going to talk about it. No one wanted to be considered the least. Then Jesus took a towel and basin and redefined greatness."--Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline

Hymn: “The Advent of Our God”

Closing (adapted from Celebration of Discipline):

"The risen Christ beckons us to the ministry of the towel. Such a ministry, flowing out of the inner recesses of the heart, is life and joy and peace. Let’s begin each day this week by praying, 'Lord Jesus, as it would please you, bring me someone today whom I can serve.'"

Monday, December 15, 2008

Glitzy Gift Sacks

Back in September I bought a brand-new set of holiday table placemats and napkins at a church sale, for a very small amount of money. The fabric was that shiny, Lurex-ish kind of stuff that you just have a feeling wouldn't launder well and would feel awful if you wiped your face with it. Besides which, a whole table set with that stuff could give one a migraine or at least tacky-induced nightmares.

But that wasn't why I bought the set. I saw it and thought "Fabric. Gift bags." And that's what I did with them, including the long runner (that's the tasselled bag without any drawstring). There was no need to cut the fabric--a good thing, because I think it might ravel easily. But since someone else had gone to the work of serging all those edges, all I had to do was sew them together. A couple of the large mats, I folded in half to make small bags; the others were made of two mats sewn together.

(I love straight-line sewing, especially when the machine gets going fast--I feel like the Grinch.)

The casings for the drawstrings were really easy except for getting the cords through the seam allowances (a common problem). I was using a large yarn needle with the cord threaded through it and still found it a bit tough going; but I poked my way through eventually.

The red bag with "Stop! No Peeking" is just plain broadcloth. The STOP transfer and the iron-on letters also came from old (1970's?) yard-saled craft stuff; the letters didn't come out quite as neatly as they might have if I'd let them cool a bit longer. But not bad anyway.

The print bag is something Crayons asked me to make out of a scrap of Christmas fabric we had; I added a pocket for a candy cane.

When it's nice to be cheap

Last Christmas we had a big spool of red ribbon that got used for all kinds of things including, finally, a hot-glued Barbie dress masterpiece.

This year we've been using a large spool of wired metallic green cord--I think that's what you'd call it. Anyway, it's very strong but it can be used as a package tie or even as the cord in a drawstring bag (photo post coming soon).

I don't remember exactly where this came from, but I'm guessing one of the church sales we went to where I picked up quite a few things like that. So I paid--at most--a couple of dollars for the spool, and there was a lot on it.

When I turned it over, I noticed the original price for this cord was 89 cents a metre. There were a hundred metres (originally) on the spool. SOMEBODY went out and paid Ninety Dollars And Tax for that spool of wired cord.

SOMEBODY might have had some 'splainin' to do that night.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A last reading for Solitude and Silence

In my copy of John Piper's Desiring God, I found the perfect set of readings for tonight--all laid out, like an unexpected gift.

John Piper has made Desiring God available as a free e-text on his website. The readings are in the Epilogue, "Why I Have Written This Book," in the section "Reason Two: God is Breathtaking," on pages 290 through 293. (If you're having trouble navigating, click on "Read this book online," then click on the tiny white box beside "Epilogue"; scroll down to "Reason Two."

The reading includes George Herbert's poem "The Pulley."

When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by--
Let us (said he) pour on him all we can;
Let the world's riches which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.

So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone, of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.

For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.

Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thank you for the lovely Butterfly

I'm a bit late in saying Thank You to MomtoCherubs at Beck's Bounty, who recently awarded us this Butterfly Award. Thanks!--it's an honour to know that you consider us cool!

These are the Butterfly Award rules:

(1) Link to the person / blog that gave this award to you.
(2) Post the graphic on your blog.
(3) Pass the award on to up to 10 other blogs you consider cool.

So I'd like to pass the Butterfly on to these blogs:

Percival Blakeney Academy, in honour of today's Seven Quick Takes post. (Our Squirrelings enjoy playing with our childhood toys too--especially Daddy's Johnny West set.)

The Beehive, in honour of all its Adventicipations. (I can hardly spell that.)

Bona Vita Rusticanda Est, for warming things up with All those Hawaii Posts.

Liberty and Lily, for helping us remember a beautiful fall.

Cardamom Addict, in honour of her pickle post (and the joke about the former Governor-General and the perogy recipe was funny too).

And Grocery Cart Challenge, for keeping me inspired.

You're all cool!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Too funny to miss

Some know Dick King-Smith only as the author of Babe, the Gallant Pig, and that only because of the film Babe.

But we also like his book Harry's Mad, about a boy who inherits a parrot with unique linguistic abilities as well as a talent for British-style crosswords and American-style cooking.
"What's the clue?"

"'Cat in spite of being a bird.'"

There was a moment's silence, and then, "It's an anagram, Mr. Holdsworth, sir," said Madison in a respectful voice. "'Psittacine.' Means, 'belonging to the parrot family.' You want me to spell it for you?"
According to Wikipedia, Harry's Mad was also made into a television series which we've never seen, so maybe this book is better known than I think. In any case, have a look at the library--it's something that should appeal to the 8-to-12-year-olds.

Another entry for "favourite rooms in children's books"

"It was a wonderful kitchen, that. I had many meals there afterwards and I found it a better place to eat in than the grandest dining-room in the world. It was so cozy and home-like and warm. It was so handy for the food too. You took it right off the fire, hot, and put it on the table and ate it. And you could watch your toast toasting at the fender and see it didn't burn while you drank your soup. And if you had forgotten to put the salt on the table, you didn't have to get up and go into another room to fetch it; you just reached round and took the big wooden box off the dresser behind you. Then the fireplace--the biggest fireplace you ever saw--was like a room in itself. You could get right inside it even when the logs were burning and sit on the wide seats either side and roast chestnuts after the meal was over--or listen to the kettle singing, or tell stories, or look at picture-books by the light of the fire. It was a marvelous kitchen. It was like the Doctor, comfortable, sensible, friendly and solid."

--Hugh Lofting, The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

(We are reading the slightly updated version that was edited by the McKissacks.)

I just can't get into this one (review of The Penderwicks)

I've tried. I've really tried. This is the third time I've checked out The Penderwicks from the library. This time I actually started reading it to Crayons.

And I appreciate all the advice froml the well-meaning people who keep telling me I should read it if I liked This Book and Those Books.

But I have to agree with some of the Amazon commenters; I don't think they're just dumping on the book, I think they're right.

When I read the Melendy books, I believe in Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver. When I read The Moffats, I know who Sylvie, Joe, Jane and Rufus are. When I read get the point. This book feels kind of like someone shook "characteristics" up in a Ziploc bag with "hair colour" and "age," and produced four girls--with some added "cuteness" factors like putting the youngest in a pair of butterfly wings. I agree with one of the reviewers who said that the ages seemed all wrong too--they all seemed to act older than their ages. Interestingly, my seven-year-old most liked the four-year-old character--who sounded a lot like her (she made her own poster-board wings awhile back). The time factor also seemed a bit unbelievable--all that happens in the space of three weeks?

But that wasn't what really finished the book for me.

Usually when Crayons and I read a new book together, I don't "cheat" and read ahead of her. However, I got about halfway through this one and got a bad feeling about the rest of it, so I finished it myself last night. Without giving away the whole book, let's just say there's too much adult ranting, raving and general angst going on for me to feel like reading the rest to a seven-year-old. The scene where the Boy's Mother questions the morality of the Girls' Mother (would anybody, seriously, get that rude about their summer tenants who should have asked for a refund then and there?) just finished it. Adults in children's books can have issues and sadness (e.g. Ramona and Her Father, Little Plum) but they shouldn't be allowed to take over the story. Neither should there be more than one total page about tweenage sisters mooning over boys too old for them.

And really--without trying to be too hard on a first novel, the "remarrying somebody evil and sending the kid to military school" storyline has been done. (I'm also having trouble understanding why somebody that fabulously rich would need to rent out a cottage.)

There are good things in the book. I liked the rabbits, for one thing. I liked the dog and its relationship with Batty (could have done without the ongoing sick-on-your-shoes gag though). I liked some of the good ideas that came through even if they didn't seem to be totally developed. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that reading The Penderwicks reminds me a bit of reading Elizabeth Enright's Thimble Summer and comparing it to her later books: Garnet and her friend aren't the most well-developed characters, but you see bits of Randy and Rush shining through, you see what it could turn into. Anne Tyler's early books kind of wander around too; it wasn't until she'd published several books that she seemed to find the place her writing heart really belonged.

Writing a first novel isn't easy, and I hope that, if I ever get the book written that I've been pushing around for years, people will be nice and not say that it sounds like blenderized Jean Little and Anne Tyler. But I'm a reader and a parent as well, and from a reader's perspective, I wasn't satisfied enough with The Penderwicks to finish it. We're moving on to the second Dr. Dolittle book instead.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Miss Amanda hosts the Carnival of Homeschooling #154: Anniversary Gifts edition at The Daily Planet. A random sampling:

"No Fighting, No Biting! shares The Moment That Has Finally Arrived… after 5 years of homeschooling, one of my kids is smarter than I am.

"Amy Cortez the The Eclectic Telegraph shares about Teens & That Parental Chant: “It’s Almost Over”.

"Amy Smith who knows Kids Love Learning shares about Improving Fine Motor Skills: Part II."

And much more.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Treehouse Christmas CDs (and others)

The Queen of Carrots wants to know what our favourite holiday CDs are.

As always, the beautiful recommendations of some of my more musical friends have almost completely scared me out of admitting the paltry state of our Christmas music pantry. (Previous posts on this topic: 2005, 2006 ) To tell the truth, if or when I want a Bobby Helms-Chipmunks-type Christmas fix I usually turn on the local easy-listening station That Plays Christmas Music Non-Stop For a Month. If I want something more interesting I listen to the CBC.

But these are probably the best of what we have on CD:

1. George Winston, December (if you've ever listened to the Rabbit Ears version of The Velveteen Rabbit, you've heard a lot of this 1982 recording already)

2. An Oscar Peterson Christmas (jazz piano)

3. Loreena McKennitt, To Drive the Cold Winter Away

4. Mr. Fixit got me some classical-choral-type Christmas cassettes last year, as my present; but you know how it is, you get them for Christmas and then you don't have enough time to listen to them properly? So I'm still just checking them out for this year.

5. Anne Murray's Christmas, on cassette.

6. “German Christmas: Candlelight Hours” (sorry, that link won't work--I'll keep trying)

7. The CD I asked Mr. Fixit for, for this Christmas.

Oh yes--this is actually a meme. So if you want to play too, go ahead.

Newspeak Dictionary Censors Bad Words Like--Nun

Sebastian shares my own worries when I hear about dumb, dumb, dumb things like this.

Don't they want people to understand our language?

Friday, December 05, 2008

That could buy a couple of goats

"Boy, that's the day," the Apprentice said, looking at the beauty ads. "The Large Drugstore Chain now sells a $200 powder compact."


Friday Evening Advent Gathering

[Thanks to our blogging friends who continue to provide us with quotes, links, and ideas during this season.]

Light the first candle

Father: “As we prepare the manger for the Christ child, we also make room in our hearts and minds for Christ’s daily coming. We long for the Christ to return to fully express God’s wonderful ways once again. Such patient waiting and loving preparation embody the essence of Advent. Focus your thoughts on God’s wonderful ways and learn the goodness of waiting in God’s presence.” (Lutheran Advent devotional)

Listen to Chris Rice singing “Welcome to Our World.” (linked from this post on the Dominion Family Blog)

Reader 1: Think about the simple things at Jesus’ birth: the stable, the animals, the shepherds, the manger.

Reader 2: Mary and Joseph understood inward simplicity. They received their child with joy, as a gift from God.

Reader 3: They cared for Jesus and taught Him the best they could; but they knew that it was God’s business, not theirs, to protect Him and to take Him wherever He was supposed to go.

Father: And in the end, they didn’t try to keep Him all to themselves. As He gave Himself away, He gave us a gift as well: the gift of God’s salvation.

Listen to Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma performing The Wexford Carol (linked from this post)

Father: Inner simplicity is not a reality until we can show it outwardly as well. On the next page we have ten rules of outward simplicity—how we can live simply. [note: not included here; I don't want to violate copyright laws.] They should not be seen as laws, but only as an attempt to show what simplicity can mean for our own lives. Let’s read through the ten rules, and talk about how our holiday shopping, eating, decorating, and other celebrating can reflect those ideas. If you look in the Advent booklets, you’ll see some ideas for games and other things we can do together. Maybe each person could pick out one thing they’d like to do over the next few weeks.

(Time for discussion)

Blow out the candle and end with this comment from Queen Shenaynay:

"My father once told me about a small-town ministers' breakfast where all the preachers were asked to share a verse in the Bible that they were particularly fond of and tell why. As they went around the room, one preacher after another cited some well-known verse, the type of verse you would expect to hear at such a time, if you know what I mean. But then they got to an elderly and much-beloved black preacher. He said, "Here's the Bible phrase I lean on every day, my friends: "And it came to pass..." Because everything that comes upon us on this hard old earth, no matter how bad it may be, it doesn't come to stay. Eternity with Jesus Christ is the only thing that will ever come to stay! All the rest just comes to pass." Isn't that wonderful?"

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Ongoing Advent ideas

Cindy at Dominion Family Blog has begun posting her family's Advent readings, words to songs etc. Here is her outline for the second day of Advent.

Canadian source for old-time toys

I found the Faire Tyme Toys website when I was looking for a picture of a limberjack (dancing wooden man). The store is located in Chatham, Ontario, but they sell online as well. Take a look at their Education Kits if you're studying pioneer times (want to buy a real slate?). The website also has information on toys of Native children, toys of slave children, and games played in old-time schoolyards.

There are no prices shown on the site; you can email them for a price list.

Around the Treehouse

Temperature: -2.6 degrees Celsius. Just below freezing.

Christmasy reading: "Schnitzle, Schnotzle, and Schnootzle", by Ruth Sawyer. Really. The version we have is slightly different from the one linked, but it's close.

In the oven today: Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread.

In the breadmaker: Whole wheat bread, not low-sodium. I tried my favourite whole-wheat recipe last week with a lot less salt, and the whole thing caved in. From now on I'll stick to the cookbook recipes when I'm baking no-salt bread. (Which is not a favourite thing to eat around here, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do...)

Have to make more: hot chocolate mix--Crayons just finished off the last of it.

What I'm procrastinating on: writing Christmas cards.

What I learned this week: Yes, you can put mini marshmallows in muffins. If you're careful.

What else I learned: You can't make fudge in the crockpot--Steph says so, and she should know--but you can make soap.

What I'm not trying to think about: Canadian politicians. Send them all some melty crockpot fudge. [UPDATE: well, maybe except for the premier of Newfoundland. Thanks, Linda! You can send him some of your nice chocolate instead.]

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

How not to get caught: a family Advent time

We divide up these readings for an evening time around our Advent wreath.

Light the first Advent candle and sing one of our Advent songs.

Read "How to Catch a Monkey."

"If what we have
we believe we have gotten,
and if what we have
we believe we must hold onto,
and if what we have
is not available to others,
then we will live in anxiety.

"Such persons will never know simplicity
regardless of the outward contortions they may put themselves through
in order to live “the simple life.” –Celebration of Discipline
Another old Sunday School illustration: have you ever had somebody ask you to fill a jar with unshelled walnuts and rice? If you put the rice into the jar first and then try to put the walnuts on top, they don’t fit. But if you put the walnuts in first, the rice fills in the space around them, and then everything fits.

"The goal of simplicity is to seek the kingdom of God and the righteousness of his kingdom first, and then everything necessary will come in its proper order….

"It can’t be about just wanting to get away from the noise and the “rat race.”

"It can’t be about giving things up just so that we can spread things out more fairly among rich countries and poor countries, rich people and poor people.

"It can’t be just about saving the earth.

"But: when the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the fair distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention.

"And just because you don’t have much doesn’t mean that you’re truly living in
simplicity. Paul taught us that the love of money is the root of all evil, and often those who have it the least love it the most. It is possible for a person to be living simply on the outside and to be filled with anxiety on the inside." (adapted from Celebration of Discipline)

When our Apprentice was little, we read two picture books that showed both of those different attitudes. One was Journey Cake Ho! by Ruth Sawyer. The old man in the story liked to say, “A bother, a pest! All work and no rest! Come winter, come spring, Life’s a nettlesome thing.” When times get hard, he and his wife send their hired boy off on his own because “what will feed two won’t feed three.”

The other book was Good Times on Grandfather Mountain. "When his cow, Blanche Wisconsin, jumps the fence and runs away, Old Washburn whittles the useless milk pail into a milk bucket drum. When the raccoons sneak in at night and eat every ear of sweet corn, he makes corn cob whistles. And when a fierce mountain storm causes the worst misfortune of all by blowing his cabin down, he finds the wood for a new fiddle. And the new fiddle starts one of the "best times" on Grandfather Mountain." (from the author's website)
"Freedom from anxiety is characterized by three inner attitudes.
If what we have
we receive as a gift,
and if what he have
is to be cared for by God,
and if what we have
is available to others,
then we will possess freedom from anxiety.
This is the inward reality of simplicity."--Celebration of Discipline

Blow out the candle and read the Advent Prayer posted on Beck's Bounty.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Keep your nose out of my lunch bag, or, how's that possibly hurting you?

Saturday's Toronto Star published an article by Daniel Dale called "The Thrift Paradox: Want to help? Leave that lunch at home." "You can't blame people for cutting back these days, but what feels [?] right now might end up hurting later."

Never mind the strange grammar for the moment.

What bothers me more is the strange logic.

You know where they're going with this. If I don't buy lunch out, the restaurant suffers. If I wear my boots another winter, the shoe store suffers. If I decide to put off whatever Large Purchase I had in mind, the purveyors of that Large Purchase suffer. And the factories close and the jobs are lost, and it's all my fault because I didn't spend that $10 on lunch.

Um hm.

And here I thought I was just being creative by re-using some construction paper (crayoned on one side) to make a school-time Christmas booklet for my second grader. I guess I should have gone out and bought all-new paper and markers to do that properly, or probably bought her a commercial workbook instead. If Scholar's Choice goes under, it'll be my fault. (Do you know we still have some markers around that The Apprentice had before she started school? Fifteen years ago things were still made to last.)

Googling the words Frugality Hurts The Economy brings up these thoughtful responses:

Want What You Have: Can You Be Too Frugal? I don't for a minute believe that frugality hurts the economy. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the lack of frugality in this country is what's gotten us....

Does living frugally hurt the economy? Wise Bread
When I advocate for frugal living, people sometimes ask, "What if everybody lived like that? Wouldn't it hurt the economy?"

Are Your Frugal Ways Hurting Us All? Wise Bread
Not being frugal is what has reduced our economy into it's current poor state....

Are frugal people ruining the economy? - Smart Spending Blog - MSN ...
Frugal people actually have money to spend! How does that hurt the economy? Frugal people have mortgages they can afford and are not swimming in credit card debt....

I like that last point especially. Those who have lived with restraint won't be the ones squawking the most about having to cut back on life's little luxuries. The frugal will be the ones who have the skills to survive when times get hard, when certain commodities disappear or become too expensive for most people.

So, Mr. Dale: "Where's my civic spirit?" Right here in my kitchen, making my own hot chocolate mix and experimenting with low-sodium bread recipes (that last, I might point out, to try to help keep my husband from having to spend any more time in the hospital where they've just announced more bed closures and nurse layoffs); in my dining room, re-using last year's perfectly good Advent calendar and my husband's grandmother's dishes (sorry, china store); and in my rec room/classroom, keeping at least one of my children from taking up a costly seat in the public school system (and yes, I do pay school taxes, everybody does). [And oh yes--last but not least--trying to stay out of debt and otherwise out of trouble so that we don't end up being a burden on somebody else.]

Climb on up and maybe we can swap sandwiches.

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