Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stuff is happening with the stuffies

Endangered Whimsy reports and supplies links.

The Common Room also has several in-depth posts.

This is good, yes?

Books Read in 2009: The Storm, by Frederick Buechner

"It was a miracle, Willow had said, that Violet Sickert had been clever enough to bully Dalton Maxwell into coming to the island for the birthday weekend, and a miracle too that he had let himself be bullied. Violet Sickert was really not very clever, and Dalton Maxwell was of all men least tractable. Neverthleless it had happened, and by calling it miraculous she sensed the working of some behind-the-scenes power that now and then made things happen in a way that was different from the way they would have happened otherwise. She thought about the death of her first husband as another case in point. Who could have foreseen it--a healthy young man done in by something as ridiculous as having his appendix out? Yet that's the way it had fallen out....Who could say how different her life would have been if he had bounced out of the hospital with nothing more than a small pink scar? At times such as that, the power seemed to work as darkly as some deep-sea current that could suddenly, or so she had heard, drag down to destruction an entire ship and its crew. But at other times it seemed to be almost friendly."--Frederick Buechner, The Storm

Can you ever have too many versions of The Tempest? This is the second one I've read in the past year.

You don't have to have read Shakespeare's play to make sense of the book; it's only loosely based on it; but it does help to give the characters and setting some context. There's an island, although it's a summer resort for the wealthy, and nobody's shipwrecked on it. There's an 70ish man named Kenzie Maxwell who is struggling with events in his past--I suspect he's more or less Frederick Buechner. There are the equivalents of the evil Sycorax (Miss Sickert), the handsome but aimless young prince Ferdinand (Nandy), the monster Caliban (Calvert, whom one character says looks like a werewolf), and the sprite Ariel (Kenzie's windsurfing stepson Averill). There are also traces of Shakespeare in the storm, the boat, strange music in the air--or of the air-- (Rumer Godden also used that heavily in her version), and Kenzie's bathrobe decorated with stars and moons.

One reviewer commented that Buechner spent more time developing his characters than he did really doing anything with them, and I agree that the action and conflict, such as it is, all gets resolved quite quickly in the last few pages of the book. Maybe like a Shakespeare play. But still, I liked it a lot--probably more than anything else I've read this month. I think it's because of the affection he shows towards even his most unsympathetic characters, more even than we'd like him to give some of them. It's also interesting to read yet another book with older-than-average main characters (Jan Karon's Mitford novels come to mind, and The Bone Sharps was another one).

In that and in other ways (the emphasis on fractured or patchwork families, the older brother who can only hold things together if there are no surprises and variations), this book reminds me of some of Anne Tyler's novels. For Buechner, the line is very finely drawn between saints and sinners; in that, his characters are somewhat like Flannery O'Connor's. I also read a review that compared some of his work to that of Charles Williams, but I haven't read Charles Williams so can't give an opinion on that.

You can read the book fairly quickly, but there are things you'll want to come back to--some of the musings about destiny, and the place of what some call the numinous or the fates, some call the workings of God, in the way things turn out.

A postscript: Right after I posted this, Mr. Fixit was listening to Supertramp's album Breakfast in America, and some of the lyrics really jumped out at me in connection with this book. Maybe it's just the clichéed thinking of someone still somewhat mired in the 1980's, but maybe not.

Yay, we got a turkey

And we didn't go TOO far over the $100, either.

I've updated the shopping post with some actual numbers--just for interest.

Call for Carnival Submissions

We haven't hosted the Carnival of Homeschooling for a good long time, but Henry asked nicely and we thought it would be a fun way to stop thinking about the bad weather. (Is it a coincidence that one of the last ones we hosted was #101, the Snowed-In Edition?)

So if you've posted something to do with homeschooling--or are planning to before Monday night--consider submitting it to the carnival.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Endangered Whimsy, or some very nice things you won't see after February 10th (CPSIA)

If you're interested in seeing some of the products and companies that the CPSIA will destroy, check out Endangered Whimsy. (If you have a similar business that will be affected by this legislation, you can submit a photo of one of your items as well--details are on the website.)

The most striking thing about this blog, besides the photos of all the beautiful handmade clothes and toys, is that the earliest posts go back to December 10th-- before a lot of us had heard anything about it, before anybody was paying enough attention.

The question is, will the right people listen now?

Cauliflower, not too complicated

Cauliflower is one of those vegetables I buy when it's reasonably priced but then have to find something to do with that will get eaten in one meal. Because leftover cauliflower--ugh. Unless maybe it's soup, and even that's sometimes hard to pull off successfully. It's the smell, you know?

Here's one easy way to cook it (raw cauliflower, that is) that's good for using up other leftovers as well. This is what I did:

Cut up one medium-sized cauliflower, put in a large greased casserole.
Add some cut-up cooked chicken and sliced cooked potatoes.
Add milk around the edges (how much, I can't say--think scalloped potatoes)
Add a blob of butter or margarine on top
Sprinkle with any cauliflower-compatible seasonings. (I had a homemade salt-free cajun-type mix; plain paprika would work too.)
Bake, covered, until the cauliflower is tender and the potatoes and chicken are heated through.
You shouldn't need to thicken the sauce if you've used a medium amount of milk--the potatoes will soak a lot of it up.

What do you call this one? The Apprentice suggested "Chicken Chowder Casserole." Or maybe Scalloped Vegetables with Chicken?

A Little of Everything at Holy Experience

Everything from cameras to oatmeal recipes to children's devotional books to homeschooling, in one post. Thanks, Ann!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Uncrocking the chicken

I've made Applesauce Chicken in the crockpot before (thanks, Steph! ); we liked it and appreciated that it was a low-sodium-without-trying recipe. I wanted to make it today, but didn't have enough time for the Crockpot--also, the chicken breasts were taking forever to thaw.

So--gasp--I made it in the oven, with the still-partly-frozen chicken. It worked fine and kept the meat nice and moist. I left the red pepper out but made it otherwise as written. (Good with sweet potatoes and peas.)

Gayle's Grocery Archives: Lunchbox Ideas

I think I missed this when it was first posted last summer, but I'm belatedly pointing it out now: Solving the Lunchbox Dilemma, at Grocery Cart Challenge. I don't think I've ever had a stromboli, but it sounds good.

(Another nice-looking lunchbox lunch)

Ah, that is the question

Jaimie wants to know "Is Frugality A Fad Or a Trend That Will Last?" (Frugal Hacks)

Well, the way I see it is kind of like this: I heard on the radio that McDonald's profits are up, not in spite of but because of "times-like-these." And yeah, even when I was pretty broke as a student, I ate out a lot (at the cheapest places I could find), because of various difficulties maintaining anything resembling a kitchen in a couple of the places I lived. There will always be people in boarding houses, single people, people running between one part-time job and another one who just need something to shovel in before the next shift starts.

But that aside, the fact that so many people are still holding onto the fast food lifestyle says to me that "frugal" hasn't really hit home yet. It's still seen as a choice. That's a fad.

When times are really bad, it's not "frugal" so much as "broke," and you don't have a choice about it. If times stay tough, it doesn't matter if the rich and social are playing frugal and buying economy-brand bottled water; the people out of work don't care if it's cool to be frugal, they just have to pay the bills and eat. Or not, if they can't, sometimes with tragic results. (There's been another story in the news about a family who couldn't face unemployment, but I won't link to it.) You might say that many of the "broke" aren't necessarily frugal, especially if they don't have many coping skills to stretch a small income.

That leaves the question of the rest of us, those who have been choosing to spend less for whatever reason or on whatever income, some of us since the last big recession, some much longer. We do know how to stretch recipes, how to make a whatsit out of what we have, how to keep wearing a pair of winter boots with a crack across the top (or, better, keep the boots from cracking in the first place). Some of us--like Kit's Aunt Millie--were raised to be frugal and will keep on being frugal; some have found ways to pass those values on to their children, others of us struggle with that. Frugal for us isn't a fad; some of us may have been pushed into it because of finances, and we don't necessarily find it 100% fun 100% of the time; but it's also a reflection of our values--environmental, spiritual, whatever--and those values are what will keep our frugal energy high, no matter what the economic times.

Our Bitty Bakeshop

Crayons and I made some doll-sized bakery treats (plus a dish of dog food) using Sculpey III and the instructions in this Family Fun article. Some crafters prefer Fimo for making miniature food, but we were happy playing around with the tan, brown, pink and white Sculpey that we had on hand, and thought they came out pretty well. The pink doesn't show up very well in these photos, and unfortunately the pictures of the dolls enjoying their tea party afterwards didn't come out either. But at least you can see Anna Sophia's dog having his snack.

Retired little teddy bears? (CPSIA)

Save Handmade Toys

Just passing on the word--click on Teddy to get your own blog button (and to find out what else you can do).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wild, wild horses (The Silver Brumby)

One of The Apprentice's friends loaned her Elyne Mitchell's The Silver Brumby, and then Mama Squirrel read it to Crayons. This series of Australian wild-horse stories is way above the current run of Horse-Club type chapter books; and, unfortunately, seems to be almost unheard of in Canada. There was a 1993 film version with Russell Crowe, but I don't remember it; there was also an animated series (can be seen on You-tube). I checked for copies of the books and found very few in Canada at a decent price; the U.S. was not much better, but there were lots of copies in Australia and the U.K. Collins Modern Classics did a reprint in 1999 but it looks like it's also out of print. There are no copies of any of the books in our library system.

The book--the first one anyway--was published in 1958. It's kind of a cross between Bambi (the book, not the Disney movie) and Misty of Chincoteague. Thowra, a cream-coloured wild horse (brumby), is born during a stormy night; his intelligent and intuitive mother knows there are great things in store for him, but that he will always be in danger both from man and other horses (because of his unusual colour). She teaches him everything she knows about running, hiding, leaping over things, and general survival; and, though most mares forget their foals eventually, she never seems to be far away and reappears several times as Thowra grows up. (He also has a lifelong friendship with Storm, another stallion who was born at the same time.) By the end of the book, Thowra has defeated the other leaders of the brumbies (the fights are described fairly graphically), has his own herd (and foals), and has just escaped--in a final harrowing chase scene--from the stockmen (cowboys) who badly want to capture him.

The descriptive passages and the language--both the Australian geographical terms and the general writing level--may give problems to younger North American readers; maybe not your average homeschooler, but those who expect something on the level of the Horse Club books. The first book does have a short glossary in the back (candlebarks, flying phallanger, kurrawong, snowgrass, etc.). Here's a sample:
"Thowra and Storm moved back on to the Main Range as soon as autumn began changing towards winter. For a while they stayed in the timbered country below the Ramshead, and often spent the lovely bright days galloping on the snowgrass between the granite tors. Sometimes there were other young horses near--and once Thowra was given quite a beating by a three-year-old stallion who came along with two or three young mares and seemed to want to fight him just because he looked different--but mostly they were on their own, and day after day was filled with a sort of wild joy....The snow was late that year, and in the clear autumn light the rocks looked purple, and the snowgums blended every red and orange and green with their ghostly silver grey. Thowra became lighter in colour as he got his winter coat, and, even more than in other winters, he looked silver rather than cream."--Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby
Luckily, The Apprentice's friend owns all four books in the series and Crayons is writing her a letter (and drawing her a picture) to say thank you and ask if we can borrow the next book.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

This toy business (CPSIA)

"Charles Halloran: All right, you go back and tell them that the New York State Supreme Court rules there's no Santa Claus. It's all over the papers. The kids read it and they don't hang up their stockings. Now what happens to all the toys that are supposed to be in those stockings? Nobody buys them. The toy manufacturers are going to like that; so they have to lay off a lot of their employees, union employees. Now you got the CIO and the AF of L against you and they're going to adore you for it and they're going to say it with votes. Oh, and the department stores are going to love you too and the Christmas card makers and the candy companies. Ho ho. Henry, you're going to be an awful popular fella. And what about the Salvation Army? Why, they got a Santa Claus on every corner, and they're taking a fortune. But you go ahead Henry, you do it your way. You go on back in there and tell them that you rule there is no Santy Claus. Go on. But if you do, remember this: you can count on getting just two votes, your own and that district attorney's out there.

"Judge Henry X. Harper: (shakes his head) The District Attorney's a Republican."

"You're telling me I can't even give the toys away?"

Something to read: "Lawmaking in Haste" by Sergeant Mom. (Hat tip to the DHM. Please note there is a non-family-friendly idea in there for punishing people who put nasty things in toys.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Books Read in 2009: The Living, by Annie Dillard

When I borrowed The Writing Life from the library, I made a point of taking another of Annie Dillard's books as well so that I could see what comes out of all those late nights in the dark library and sojourns in the woods. What does stunt-flying fiction look like? I was expecting--I don't know--some kind of packed, every-word-counts, deep character epiphany kind of story.

I was disappointed.

I think The Bone Sharps--also written by a poet--is closer to the sort of first fiction I would have expected Annie Dillard--an established writer of essays and poetry--to create. This--as someone else said--is kind of a Pacific Northwest pioneering James Michener epic. Lots of characters, many years going by, a lot of history and geography mixed into the narrative.

(The single really funny paragraph in the book--almost worth the price of the long ride--is the thought by the woman who doesn't much like children that if she ever does get the urge to produce some, she'd be better off satisfying it by raising chinchillas.)

I avoided reading any online reviews of The Living until I was done reading it, so that I could try and put my own reactions together coherently--am I the only person out there, and I'm really a nobody as far as book reviewing goes, who doesn't think this is a great novel? After reading a couple of the less enthusiastic Amazon reviews (there are quite a few very positive ones), I felt a bit better. There are at least two other people in the world who thought the book was a) too long and b) had too many trees in it. Also c) too many nasty ways to die. (Maybe Ms. Dillard could have benefitted from an editing session with Sol Stein?)

According to what I read, though, even the author thought the book was improved by the cutting that had to be done for an audio version. So if you want to read it, maybe you should look for the audio book instead of getting lost in the woods.

And I will read some of Annie Dillard's other books, when I can get them--I still believe she knows what she's talking about, knows how to write, knows lots of things I haven't even come across yet. I just think this wasn't her best.

It was Colonel Mustard in the Library (CPSIA)

Children's library departments as the scene of the crime? Hm, it might get some attention.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

That's how American government works, or why there's just one person you need to talk to about this (CPSIA)

The Deputy Headmistress has a civics lesson for everyone.

Books read in 2009: Two books on writing

"Hear him, ye gods!" returned his companion. "I assure you, Mr. Pattieson, you will hardly visit this learned gentleman, but you are likely to find the new novel most in repute lying on his table,--snugly intrenched, however, beneath Stair's Institutes, or an open volume of Morrison's Decisions."

"Do I deny it?" said the hopeful jurisconsult, "or wherefore should I....may they not be found lurking amidst the multiplied memorials of our most distinguished counsel, and even peeping from under the cushion of a judge's arm-chair? Our seniors at the bar, within the bar, and even on the bench, read novels; and, if not belied, some of them have written novels into the bargain...."--Sir Walter Scott, The Heart of Mid-Lothian (1818)

In the last month I've read two books on writing: The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard, and How to Grow a Novel, by "editor, novelist, and award-winning teacher of writers" Sol Stein. (Stein edited books by Elia Kazan and Jacques Barzun, among others.)

In relationship to each other, they kind of remind me of Karen Andreola and Catherine Levison writing about Charlotte Mason. CM homeschoolers will understand that reference right away; I know nobody else will.

Annie Dillard writes about the poetry of writing; exploding typewriters (I hope that one was just a metaphor), how writing is like stunt flying, what it's like hiding out in a cabin in the woods or in a college library at night, getting a few workable sentences down and then and starting again when you get up at noon the next day.

Sol Stein explains how to maintain point of view even if your character is being murdered during the scene.

Annie Dillard says, "The art must enter the body, too. A painter cannot use paint like glue or screws to fasten down the world. The tubes of paint are like fingers; they work only if, inside the painter, the neural pathways are wide and clear to the brain....part of the brain changes physical shape to accommodate and fit paint." She quotes sculptor Anne Truitt: "The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one's own most intimate sensitivity," and also her favourite Thoreau: "Know your own bone."

Stein explains, in detail, the changes that he suggested when editing the first draft of a particular novel; the same sort of changes that he might suggest if he was working with you on your book. One of his major themes is revision, as much revision as necessary. I got the impression that Annie Dillard's method of writing is something like: get just to the right state, just the right amount of coffee but not too much, just the right amount of scenery but not too much, possibly cut off a chunk of your flesh (one of her metaphors), and the right words will magically come. Stein's method is more like: write it, grow it, "let your imagination go"; but then be prepared to chop the whole first half of the book if it's not working.

I would have liked to have had Stein's book around when I was struggling with university writing courses, particularly the chapter "Our Native Language is Not Dialogue." I like his advice about putting things in a "writerly" way. I love, love, love the pitching-baseball analogies for dialogue: fastballs, knuckleballs, sinkers. If you're not following this, here's his example of "an outstanding sinker by Ross MacDonald: 'Thalassa, the sea, the Homeric sea. We could build another Athens. I used to think we could do it in San Francisco, build a new city of man on the great hills. A city measured with forgiveness. Oh, well.'"

Annie Dillard might give you the inspiration to go out and find your "own bone" to chew on: "A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all." The Writing Life isn't a very long book; you can read it fairly quickly, and then take awhile to let the metaphors sink in.

And Sol Stein can give you the nuts and bolts to turn it into something readable. You might want your own copy of this one to keep handy, underline, circle and otherwise mutilate.

If I were teaching creative writing--I think I'd use both books together.

Things to feed your family

Melissa linked to a homemade poptarts recipe at Honey&Jam. Or you could try Jennifer's version at My Frugal Front Porch which also includes instructions for microwaving popcorn in a paper bag (we have tried this and it works), and a link to her homemade gummy worms.” (That one was included in the Make It From Scratch Carnival.)

Grocery Cart Challenge answers the question, "Do your kids really eat this stuff?" As in frugal food, not as in poptarts and gummy worms.

And Coffeemamma has a new recipe that's sending her family into paroxysms of delight.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The DHM scores big with this one

Awesome post about food and frugalities--lots of good links too.

Crisp Seedy Oatmeal Cookies--or bars

I made this Canadian Living cookie recipe today--but part of the oven was already taken up with dinner and I didn't want to fuss with making individual cookies. So I pressed the dough into a 9x13 inch pan, and baked it at 350 degrees till the edges were brown and the middle was set--about half an hour. I cut it in bars while it was still warm, then let it finish cooling in the pan.

I didn't have any Rice Krispies, so I used up the end of a box of Koala Crisp, plus some puffed wheat. I ran the cold cereal and the rolled oats through the food processor because the grains of puffed wheat were so large, and I think it was an improvement. The cookies turned out really well, with a nice texture.

The only other change I'd make is to leave out the pumpkin seeds--substitute some raisins, or just leave them out. They may add some protein, but I don't think they really added anything to the cookies.

I could do that...

In a discussion about whether or not people "doing it themselves" is a help or a hurt to the economy, the DHM said this (it's in the comments):

"If you're going into a luxury business, make sure you also have a second string to your bow- something you do can do that people really either hate to do or would find very difficult to do (giving a dog a bath is not that hard. Giving him a shot, shoeing horses, fixing a nasty plumbing leak, these are things that are harder to do)."
Heinlein said, "A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects." Mr. Fixit's grandmother would have agreed with that: in addition to making great cabbage rolls, she also did her own cement repairs at the age of ninety. Pa Ingalls, who apparently knew how to build log cabins, dig wells, grow crops, and play the fiddle (in addition to butchering the hog), was also a sort of renaissance-man homesteader. But since most of us haven't been taught all those things on Heinlein's list, we can assume there will always be reasons we need to hire others to do the things we don't know how to do, or, as the DHM says, just prefer not to do, or don't have time to do.

And if you have skills or resources that nobody else around you seems to have, at whatever time in history you need to make some money: there's your business. There are the characters I described from Maeve Binchy's novel Whitethorn Woods. The moral of her story: if you're willing to work, there will always be people who need stuff done.

Children's literature abounds with that kind of resourcefulness too. Esther in The Endless Steppe thinks of a way to help feed her family in the middle of Siberia: she knows how to knit, although she has no idea how she will find customers who don't already do their own knitting. Then she meets a woman who can no longer knit because of a disability.

"The woman showed me the wool--barely enough for a sweater for a midget--and said the sweater was to be a surprise for her little girl, who was not well.

"'I cannot pay you much....but I have a cow. Would one liter of milk and maybe a pail of potatoes be enough?'

"Milk? And potatoes? The buzzing [feelings of guilt] stopped. I was thrilled.

"'Could you possibly have it ready for the New Year?'

"Oh yes, I assured the lady....

"'My little girl will be so happy,' the lady said.

"That makes two little girls, I thought."
(One can only assume that nothing like the CPSIA had been thought of in Siberia.)

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn: narration by Crayons

Little Portly Otter is missing, and all the animals are concerned.

Mr. Otter sat at the place where Portly liked best, and Rat and Mole went out in a boat to find Portly. And they heard this marvellous singing, and they found this island, and they went to it. And they met this great big horned thing [Pan], and the great big horned thing had Portly. And then the great big horned thing left, and Portly woke up, and they took him in the boat back to Mr. Otter, and he was very, very happy.

And then Rat and Mole were very, very tired, and they thought they would sleep for a whole day. The End.

Crayons' Spelling List

Crayons' spelling words this week come from this poem by Shel Silverstein.

"Eighteen Flavors"

Eighteen luscious, scrumptious flavors
Chocolate, lime and cherry,
Coffee, pumpkin, fudge banana
Caramel cream and boysenberry.
Rocky road and toasted almond,
Butterscotch, vanilla dip,
Butter brickle, apple ripple,
Coconut and mocha chip,
Brandy peach and lemon custard,
Each scoop lovely, smooth and round,
Tallest ice cream cone in town,
Lying there (sniff) on the ground.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Crayons' Grade Two: Plans for this week

I'm going to set up this week's schedule a bit differently, by subject instead of day. That way I don't have to keep saying "Math," "Spelling" and so on ad nauseum.

Copywork and printing practice: Crayons is still copying line by line from my models; I am hoping that later in the year she will be able to copy better from printed material. She is also using Canadian Handwriting Book B.

Memory work: going very well. We are working on poems, catechism, and the words to "Like a River Glorious." I think this week we'll start another poem but keep reviewing Amy Lowell's "Sea Shell."

Old Testament: Stories from 1 Samuel 30 and 31, the end of the book.

New Testament: Matthew 22 and 23: Jesus' teachings and parables to the people in Jerusalem

Bible culture: People of the Bible, Life and Customs, pages 104-105--a birds-eye view of Jerusalem in Jesus' time

Spelling: Word list created on
Language lessons: Punctuation worksheet; using random words to start a story

Math: we have started the Green Book in the Miquon series and are reviewing subtraction

French: Just getting back into this after Christmas--I have to look through this week's lessons and see where we're at

Arctic study: Inuit Life in Nunavik

Canada Eh to Zed: R is for...

Wind in the Willows, chapter 7

Italian Peepshow, by Eleanor Farjeon

Among the Forest People
: "The Wild Turkeys Come" and "The Travellers Go South"

Pilgrim's Progress: taking a week off

Poems: Come Hither, poems 10-12 and 471-473

Songs: still singing Lukey's Boat and Canadian Boat Song

Composer: More about Liszt (we are mostly using You-tube videos right now)

British History: Our Island Story, chapter XL: "Edward I and the Little War of Chalons"

Crocheting and sewing some small things for Crayons' dolls

Yeah, that Nursery Magic Fairy is going to be working overtime

"In the tale of "The Velveteen Rabbit," a child's stuffed toy can only become "real" once all its fur has been loved off, and it's missing a button or two. If only. Under a new law set to go into effect February 10, unsold toys, along with bikes, books and even children's clothing are destined for the scrap heap due to an overzealous law to increase toy safety."
"Pelosi's Toy Story" in The Online Wall Street Journal--mentioned by Heather Idoni at The Homeschooler's Notebook

P.S. Yes, we did teach our children not to lick bicycle wheels.

Menus for this week

Sunday: Pork roast, potatoes, carrots

Monday: Hungarian pork casserole (made with tomato paste and milk instead of tomato soup), noodles, peas

Tuesday: Spinach-stuffed shells

Wednesday: Turkey Sloppy Joes, salad

Thursday: Crazy Crust Pizza and boxed macaroni and cheese

Friday: Baked chicken, potatoes or frozen fries, vegetables

Saturday: Lentil-vegetable soup, rolls

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Put on your hipwaders...

...and work your way through this Common Room update on the CPSIA legislation. Also this one.

DHM's Grandma Jones analogy, I thought, hit things pretty square on the mark:
"And if you, the consumer, the parent, do not wish to buy a product with a permanent label proclaiming it's been tested, you should have that option, just as you can buy organic or nonorganic labeled produce. If you know Grandma Jones and where she shops and you want to buy her booties without having them tested, that should not be the government's business."

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crayons' Grade Two: Plans for Friday

Read Psalm 117, sing O Canada, pray
Spelling test
Review week's memory work: Like a River Glorious, "Sea Shell," catechism

(Catechism lesson we're working on (from the Lutheran Small Catechism):
"Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean? With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.")

Picture study: finish looking at Andy Warhol books (from the library)
Bible lesson: 1 Samuel 29
Science reading: Arctic life (colour in the Arctic Life Dover colouring book)
Math drill page
Singing: Lukey's Boat, Canadian Boat Song (Thomas Moore)
Wind in the Willows: finish chapter 6.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

SPAM in the place where you live...

(It's from a Weird Al song, in case you didn't know)

The DHM beat me to this Globe and Mail story about economically-stressed Canadians stocking up on canned stuff.

Yeah, Mama Squirrel is scratching her furry little head over this story too. We're kind of out of the loop on some of this stuff anyway, due both to Mr. Fixit's diet limitations and the fact that canned soup went way up in price this past year. But really--even in the tough times, there are other things to eat than That Stuff in the Can.

Pre-crocheted Produce Bags

Ann (Holy Experience) linked to a post on The Long Thread with a roundup of tutorials for craft projects--looks like mostly sewing, but not all: there's a cardboard dollhouse, Snow-Globe Soap, crocheted heart, and fusible-interfacing origami. I can see why Ann liked this post!

But the project I wanted to point out is the Dilly Doily Bag Tutorial on Scrumdillydilly. My first thought was--isn't that a bit impractical, using vintage doilies for carrying dirty vegetables? But actually cotton thread makes lots of sense--I mean, that's what people knit and crochet string bags out of, and dishcloths too. If you wash the bags carefully, why shouldn't it work fine?

A is for Apprentice

And the Apprentice's favourite A words (all relating to beauty).

Books read in 2009: Marva Collins' Way

"In [a poet's] youth, he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat. Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gauguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used....The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules....They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks."--Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
If you've read anything about Marva Collins or watched the movie with Cicely Tyson, you will know why I found that quote appropriate. Marva Collins is a teacher who became something of a phenomenon, a guest on talk shows, the author of books, the recipient of awards. (She still has a speaking schedule and a website.) My impression is that she ignored the "famous hat" as much as she could when it interfered with the actual work she felt she was called to do: teaching. (From her own account, she did appreciate the cash that the recognition brought in; in the early days of her private school, it was badly needed to pay the bills.)

Things that occur to me:

1. I'm not the first person to point out that Marva Collins wrote her first book, Marva Collins' Way, around 1980, during the first wave of national recognition for her work teaching underprivileged and underappreciated children. Her students, from the brief mentions I've seen, went on to great success in college and careers. Yet, as others have said--nothing much changed in the educational system. Like the doctor who proved that handwashing could prevent childbed fever, her achievements seem to have been treated as exceptional, an anomaly, not repeatable. Obviously she is an exceptional woman; but she did train others to teach with her methods, boshing the idea that it was only her intelligence or personality that allowed her students to learn.

2. Some things definitely have changed since that first book was written. (My two library systems don't have ANY of Mrs. Collins' books, not one, not even this book; so I don't have her later writings to refer to, to see if she has commented on some of these points. I found my copy at the thrift shop last month. I know you can buy a newer edition on Amazon, with a new introduction.) Some classroom things I noticed: insisting that each child should be physically touched every day, and mentioning that it took a long time for one student to smile when she was tickled...these days that kind of makes us cringe, the idea of a teacher being allowed to tickle a student.

3. Marva Collins' teaching methods are not identical to Charlotte Mason's, although they did share many of the same goals and ideas (such as believing that all children should receive a rich diet of great books). One difference I noticed (from the descriptions of her classroom talk in this book) is that she often seemed to tell the children, or push them hard into telling her, what the story was about, what they should learn from it. But it sounds like the students often did throw in their own comments as well. Another difference was the very strong, constant emphasis on phonics.

4. I found her frequent sarcasm off-putting, although it seemed to get through to the students. Typical example: a boy noisily scraped his desk forwards on the floor, and she interrupted her work with another student to say something like, "I guess your mother sent you to school this morning so that you could learn how to push desks." I think I see where she was coming from; she was constantly pushing for these students to remember why they were there in school, that they were going to make something of themselves. But she sometimes seems to contradict herself in that area; she instructed her new teachers not to embarrass the students, but some of the things she said herself sound like they were meant to cause some embarrassment. Somewhat like where Charlotte Mason once said that there was a time and place for a child to be called "stupid" (in the Victorian adjective sense of the word); that sounds absolutely incorrect to our ears, but we can only assume that Miss Mason and Mrs. Collins knew what they were about.

5. I found it interesting, just going by this first book, that certain things were taught and taught very well, and other subjects (even those that were dear to Charlotte Mason) were ignored. There is no mention of foreign language classes, although there was a great deal of work on meanings of prefixes, Latin and Greek roots, things like that. Mrs. Collins mentions having the students draw about something they had read, but not about other formal art or music study, or even physical education. She knew where she wanted to focus, and seems to have done that successfully. (Her website sells phonics and math materials.)

6. There is a great deal for teachers to learn even from this first book. Homeschool parents too. One thing that stood out is the tremendous amount of energy and intensity that it took to teach in her style--there was no sitting behind the desk, no expecting without inspecting (thanks, Coffeemamma), no letting students get away with less than a real effort in anything. I think that's one thing that Mrs. Collins shares with Miss Mason: that the students--each individual student--come first, before the teacher's personal needs or emotions at the moment.

7. And of course, one of the most wonderful discoveries that Mrs. Collins made, that Miss Mason's Welsh teacher acquaintance made, that Miss Mason herself described repeatedly: that children, even inner-city minority children who are slipping through the school cracks, can respond to great literature, given to them in the right way and by a teacher who believes that they can learn and be successful.

Verdict: well worth reading.

Congratulations to the Bonny Glen

Melissa hasn't updated her blog yet (hm, wonder why) but if you check her Twitter page (it's allowed, she posted the link on the blog) there's some good news. Also a photo.
"She had forgotten how small a newborn baby could be. When she held him, he was lighter than a goose-feather pillow....The sisters fought over whose turn it was to hold him. At first they fought over whose turn it was to change him, too, but the novelty of that task quickly faded...."--Melissa Wiley, Across the Puddingstone Dam
(To Melissa: Hope your volunteers are as enthusiastic as the Tucker sisters!)

Homeschool Freebie: Candy Math

If you missed this one before, Homeschool Freebies is re-offering the Candy Math e-book. Just for today!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Books read in 2009: The Bone Sharps

I've finished one book from my "official" list, and another book I started late last year.

Here's the review of the first book: The Bone Sharps: A Novel, by Tim Bowling. (I'll write about the second book tomorrow.)

The thick paper cover and the feel of the inside paper of this book tell you that it's a bit out of the ordinary.

Reading it confirms that impression.

What's it about? World War I; dinosaur bones in the badlands of Alberta; Native issues; love, loss, and God. Very much about God.

The war parts are about as gory as you're going to get, so don't say I didn't warn you. But it's all necessary, and it all comes together in the end. Well, kind of, because everything ends in fragments.

Actually fragments are an ongoing motif of the book. Dinosaurs gone to pieces, a world gone to pieces, peoples' lives told in pieces. The question in life--as our Sunday School speaker said yesterday--is how you try to put it all back together, or how you see how things fit together. If you think they fit together.

Samuel Pane wrote a good Canadian Literature review of the book here.

And here's a neat thing: Tim Bowling is a homeschool dad! (From this interview)

"LP: In our memoir you indicate your dissatisfaction with the school system so I’m assuming your kids are home schooled? How does that affect your writing, what special allowances do you have to make to your writing schedule?
TB: Yes, my kids are home schooled. Not only do I think school is one of the great brainwashers into North American culture and capitalism (a culture not entirely repellent, of course, but one that could be resisted a bit more seriously), I just don’t want not to see my children for six hours a day, five days a week. I mean, I really enjoy them. I’m selfish that way...."

And another one...

Another homeschool family business, Hands & Hearts, has announced plans to discontinue their history kits.

This is their take on the new legislation. You can also read about it on their blog.

Another homeschool business shafted by the CPSIA

The Erskine family will no longer be producing their vintage audio recordings; they're closing out their inventory. [Update: this is not entirely correct; see Jyl's clarification in the comments.]

You can't buy those at Stuff-mart.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lovely to be picked

Both Molytail at Tails Gone West and Jeanne at A Peaceful Day received this award recently, and passed it on to us. Thank you!

The award is to be passed on to other blogs of our choice. Since we were also given a beautiful Butterfly in December, I listed some favourite blogs then; but I'll try to make this list a little different.

First, here's an award for Aut-2B-Home in Carolina for creating a GFCF Banana Pudding--for those of us who don't live in the South, that's a meringue-topped dessert. That's imagination! (Although our family is not following a GFCF diet, we know many people who do have celiac disease or other food sensitivities.)

U Krakovianki, for reading 92 books during 2008 and managing to write them down as well.

Coffeemamma at Our Blue Castle, for making winter homeschooling sound so cozy.

And one quiet blogger from our sidebar: Gena at Food=Love, whose 2008 can read her story there.

Thanks to all of you for sharing your lives, homes and ideas with us!

Don't get reassured too soon, though

Updates on why fussing over the new legislation isn't just hysteria

The Deputy Headmistress points out that--if I understand this correctly--the "thrift shop reprieve" is more or less just somebody's opinion, not part of the law that goe into effect February 10th in the U.S. The law itself does not exempt library books, or thrift shops, or any of the things people just can't believe will fall under it. I read somewhere about someone on a crochet message board saying something like, "There's something fishy about all this fussing--I'm going to keep on crocheting my toys for charity."

Well, we can always hope they won't have to hang up their hooks. But it sounds like a few more loud YOPs are needed.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Did that Yop put it over? (Changes to pending legislation)

Heather Idoni checks in again with the latest (as of this blogging) updates on the legislation issue...and the weird discovery that one of her posts (linked here earlier this week) made it onto as a "myth"--in spite of the fact that it was accurate when she wrote it. "The news is constantly changing," says one of our local radio stations, and it does seem a bit short-sighted of Snopes to accuse someone of error when they were simply reporting what was happening at that time.

But it does sound like somebody out there is listening, to at least some of the issues.

So maybe this is good news?

At least for the thrift shops and other resellers. (Thanks to Meredith for the link. The Deputy Headmistress has also been compiling a lot of information about the new legislation on The Common Room.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Grandly Spectacular and Fantastically Phenomenal Fad Diet Experiement

Dewey's readers, welcome back to the Treehouse the Apprentice with a round of applause: then hang your head in sadness when you realize that she is only here to promote a blog she is finding uniquely different. XP

In any case, this fellow is trying all different fad diets to see which ones work. He is worth reading if only for the laugh of some of the diets he is going to try, but you will get full enjoyment from adding him to your feed and reading his upcoming daily reports.

Facebook group

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts

Sarah commented on the menu post and asked about the doughnut recipe--I saw it first on Grocery Cart Challenge and have made it a couple of times since. Gayle on GCC linked to the Recipezaar version, but it's been posted other places online as well, sometimes with variations such as using home-mixed spices instead of pie spice. You only need half a cup of pureed pumpkin to make a dozen doughnuts.

The first time I made it, I followed the instructions and squished the batter out of a Ziploc bag. The second time, I used an ice-cream scoop to drop blobs of batter on the pan, then poked a large hole in each blob with the end of a spoon. The holes mostly filled in while baking, but we still got the idea, and it was a whole lot easier.

You could skip the icing drizzle and just call them big pumpkin cookies. Really. I won't tell.

More snow, more school

Plans for Friday, including a couple of things we put off earlier in the week:

Make up two math problems for Mom to solve
Pilgrim's Progress, pages 84-91 in our edition
Short lesson on the keyboard
Review this week's memory work: catechism, poem, hymn
1 chapter from the book we are reading about the Arctic
Printing practice
Independent reading: Through the Year, pages 84-93
Spelling test on the computer
Composer study: Franz Liszt

One frugal size doesn't fit all

Frugal Upstate helps you figure out your own plan for saving money.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Dimwitted yoyo-meisters aside...this is no joking matter

Heather Idoni of The Homeschooler's Notebook posts about her perceptions of the children's-products legislation.

"Well, for one, curriculum fairs across the country will be cancelled as book vendors scramble to figure out how to comply with the new ruling. Complete book inventories will have to be destroyed -- the ruling even prohibits giving away the books!

"Local thrift stores will be hard hit -- ....Clothing, toys and books -- even CDs and DVDs are included in the ruling.....No more library sales. Libraries will not be permitted to give away or sell book donations."
Can't even give them away? What are they going to do, have a great big children's-books-burning? Bury them? Dump them in the ocean? Solomon said that of the making of books there is no end, but this legislation may just do it.

Crayons' Grade Two: School Plans Today

We were already three weeks into the second term when we took our Christmas break, so we're just continuing with what we were doing. I want to put more emphasis this winter on memory work (poems, Scripture and so on)--chosen, scheduled, and with lots of review. We're also starting a make-it-up-as-you-go-along study of the Arctic. With the amount of snow we've had over the past two days, we could do a simulation right here. Except that we learned yesterday that some parts of the Arctic get less snow than Virginia does!

As a matter of fact, Crayons is playing in the backyard snow right now (risking the wrath of the non-homeschooling neighbours) instead of starting school. But how many days do you get the right combination of sunshine, not too cold, and lots of fresh snow? I have to remember to go out again later with her and point out the chipmunk tracks across the corner of the yard--I saw Chippy streaking past earlier today.

But when she comes in, we have this on the list:

Opening: sing along with a track from Judy Rogers' Never Be Shaken
Sing two of our new songs: Lukey's Boat and Canadian Boat Song
Bible reading: from 1 Samuel 27; narration
Copywork (finishing some lines from yesterday)
Math lesson
Memory work: "The Sea Shell" by Amy Lowell
Canada Eh to Zed: "Q" page
Writing Christmas thank-you notes
Two poems from Come Hither
"The Undecided Rattlesnake" from Among the Forest People
Spelling City website
After lunch: Sun and Snow Science
Fun readalouds

Meisterburger strikes hard

Hope Chest Legacy has announced that they will be closing at the end of the month, due to the cost of complying with the new legislation.

Is this REALLY what that law was intended to do?


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

To knit or knot

Christine would like to see more knitting converts.

Me, I'm a knitting klutz. There's something about having that many stitches on one needle at one time that wrinkles my eyebrows too much. I'm more of a crochet person: one stitch, one stitch, one stitch, one stitch...

And the afghan is coming along nicely!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Lines for Epiphany

Light looked down and beheld Darkness
'Thither will I go,' said Light.
Peace looked down and beheld war,
'Thither will I go,' said Peace.
Love looked down and beheld Hatred.
'Thither will I go,' said Love
So came Light and shone;
So came Peace and gave Rest
So came Love and gave Life
And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.

--Laurence Housman

There they're their: a present from The Apprentice

The perfect gift for a homeschool mom. Thanks, Apprentice!

It isn't just Dora toys (Meisterburger-style legislation on children's products)

Did you know that the new U.S. laws on testing ALL children's products apply to books as well?

Bookseller Val Jacobsen explains what that will mean to used booksellers. (Hat tip to the Deputy Headmistress.)

It's quite obvious to me who's behind this kind of lawmaking:

"I hate toys! And toys hate me! Either they are going or I am going and I definitely am not going!"

(And don't forget "Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, unlawful AND anyone found with a toy in his possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon.")

Monday, January 05, 2009

Frugal Laughter on Kids' TV

On one episode of Arthur, super-wealthy third-grader Muffy has to stay overnight with her friend Francine's family, and gets a taste of working-class reality (leftovers, what are those?). At one point she gets into a discussion about this with Francine's father.

Mr. Frensky: Well, what would I do with more money anyway? Could it buy me a nicer family?

Muffy: No...but you could get more TV channels.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Yeah right, like the thrift shop is going to set up a testing facility

New regulations ban the sale of children's toys and other products (the ones with possible lead contamination etc.) by thrift shops. (Follow Meredith's links.)

I don't know what I think--there are so many sides to this story. Nobody wants kids to get sick. But like Meredith says--donated toys will have to go straight to the dump.

Duck! There's a sermon for the rest of us in there somewhere...

Melissa found this bit of parenting advice in her archives. (CM fans please read!)

Friday, January 02, 2009


I forgot to mention these along with our other Christmas crafts...after I got done making the gift sacks but still felt like sewing, I pulled out some fairly large but slightly uneven fabric scraps. These were left from a couple of our (infrequent) clothes sewing projects: pajamas for The Apprentice (about three years ago?), and a less-than-successful skirt-making project with Ponytails last year.

I didn't have a pattern and didn't need one. For size, I measured against an existing pillowcase; and I just (carefully) patched together enough of the largest pieces to make the proper-sized rectangles; sewed up the sides, then hemmed and top-stitched the open ends.

So the scrap box got a bit lighter, and each girl got a pillowcase made out of fabric that I already knew she liked.

(I made Crayons a nightgown in the fall, and there was enough left over then to make a doll's nightie as well, but that was it--we guessed just about right when we were buying that fabric. So she got the pet net instead of a pillowcase. But last night I was rummaging in a drawer and found the Babyclose Sling (a large tube of print fabric) that I sewed when she was little--and she decided she wanted that put over her pillow at bedtime, without its even being sewed up at one end. She thought it was pretty funny having a "pillowcase" made out of her baby sling.)

Books or fish?

"What do we, as a nation, care about books? How much do you think we spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as compared with what we spend on our horses? If a man spends lavishly on his library, you call him mad--a biblio-maniac. But you never call any one a horse-maniac, though men ruin themselves every day by their horses, and you do not hear of people ruining themselves by their books. Or, to go lower still, how much do you think the contents of the book-shelves of the United Kingdom, public and private, would fetch, as compared with the contents of its wine-cellars? long most people would look at the best book before they would give the price of a large turbot for it!"

"Bread of flour is good, but there is bread, sweet as honey, if we would eat in, in a good book; and the family must be poor indeed which, once in their lives, cannot for such multipliable barley-loaves, pay their baker's bill."

--John Ruskin, "Of Kings' Treasuries," in Sesame and Lilies

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Two thousand and nine

Here is a message to the world!

Who would have thought...

Mr. Fixit likes giving presents that everybody can use together.

Last year he found a whole box of Three Stooges videos on E-bay. VHS has become a real bargain in the last couple of years, since many people only have DVD players now.

This year he gave us a dozen or so Dr. Who videos--a "best episodes" collection from the 1960's through the 1980's, with some of our favourite Doctors. It even includes the first regular episode ever, An Unearthly Child. "Set in London in 1963, 'An Unearthly Child' is our very first brush with the Doctor. Teachers Ian and Barbara follow a mysterious pupil, Susan, home one evening and find that she lives in a junkyard. Suddenly her uncle, the Doctor, appears but they suspect Susan is being held in the police box. On entering this box their lives change forever..."

[Ponytails pointed out that it's not her uncle, it's her grandfather.]

However, my personal favourite is the scene in Destiny of the Daleks where Tom Baker (the fourth Doctor) tells the evil evil evil (and loquacious) Davros to "shut up or I'll switch you off."

Thanks, Mr. Fixit!

Photos from Christmas--mostly crafts

Some of the spool-and-bead angel dolls Crayons and I made for everyone.

I'm making a Cobblestone afghan with some yarn I bought on Boxing Day. (The pattern is from a 1991 Herrschner's Crochet Patterns.)

This is the Pet Net I made for Crayons--she's going to hang it in the corner of her room. (Made with Bernat Handicrafter cotton yarn.)

Dewey with his special gift--see the squirrel riding on the sled? (Squirrels aren't the only ones who go to the Thwift Shop.)

My Secret Sister at church gave me a candle ring, and I put a glass ivy jar (saved from a wedding) in the middle of it and added some ribbon and an ornament--this was our centerpiece for Christmas dinner.

A gift for The Apprentice: something to play with

Desktop Table Tennis!

A Gift for Ponytails: Origami Calendar

An Origami Page-a-Day calendar.

Happy New Year

"No one knows what the next year will bring, but one thing is sure. He will be with us and He is enough for every difficulty that may arise."--Amy Carmichael, quoted on our "Bless Your Heart" perpetual calendar
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