Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What I'm reading

The Skystone, by Jack Whyte. I'm trying to finish it because it was on my list of books for this year, and because I started it, and because I'm kind of curious to see how the ending turns out, and because I'm enjoying the late-Roman-empire setting, but honestly I can't recommend it--there are some very, very graphic adult-content scenes. Which is too bad, because, written slightly differently and without All That Stuff, it would have made a pretty good young-adult historical novel, if that makes any sense. Lots of soldiers and adventures and a hunt for the mysterious "skystones" that once fell from the sky and seem to contain some kind of almost magical metal. But there's just too much other stuff in it that I don't like.

Homeschooling the Middle Years. From the library.

Towards a Philosophy of Education, by Charlotte Mason. Re-reading.

How do frugal squrrels spend a vacation? (and you're not going to believe THIS)

Yesterday we went to the surplus store and shopped our little squirrel hearts out. (We haven't been there for months and months, so it's forgivable.) What followed us home: several hairbrushes and related items, several packages of coloured paper and cardstock and file cards, several packages of glue sticks and glue pens, several blank notebooks, three mini packs of pastels, three rolls of electrical tape, a tool for Mr. Fixit that I can't remember the purpose of, and some other things. Mostly for 88 cents, 99 cents, $1.49 and so on.

Last night the younger Squirrelings had summer dance lessons, which happen to be in the community room at the mall. Not that we spend a lot of time generally hanging out at the mall, but it's not worth going back home in between. This week the discount department store there that starts with Z (a lot like the one that starts with W) is having a clearance on sheets--50% off already-reduced sheet sets. Which we have badly needed for awhile. We found a set for the parent-sized bed, a set for the Apprentice-sized bed, and three sets for the Ponytails-and-Crayons-sized beds. Good thing we're not fussy about colours, but we did find some good deals.

Also six drinking glasses, since we have managed to break most of the ones we had (not in a fit of violence, just occasional accidents) and weren't quite ready to start drinking out of canning jars.

OK, now for the you-won't-believe-this. Mama Squirrel needed some Post-It notes, so while she was trying to remember which end of the store had the office supplies, and trying to navigate her way over there with the cartful of sheets, she noticed...beside the barbecues and summer stuff--several aisles of backpacks and back-to-school supplies. All set up and ready to go.

People, it's not even July yet.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Peanut chocolate butterscotch bars

I took a pan of these bars (our Better Homes and Gardens Potluck Favorites booklet calls them Candy Bar Cookies) to our homeschooling friends' the other night--because they have peanut butter in them, they're not the sort of cookie I feel safe anymore taking to big gatherings; and Mr. Fixit can't eat peanuts, so I don't make them just for our family. But once in awhile--when we're having peanut-safe company--I make these just because they are so good. Kind of like chocolate-peanut butter-butterscotch candy on top of oatmeal bars. They're pretty good for holding together like they're supposed to, as well--something that often disappoints me when I try bar recipes.

So Many Scraps has already posted the recipe, so there you go. I should note that they're more flexible than the recipe might sound. I didn't have enough chocolate chips, so I filled in with more butterscotch chips; and the original recipe in the booklet says to sprinkle the whole thing with half a cup chopped peanuts (So Many Scraps skipped that step) and I didn't have peanuts either, so I just sprinkled it with the last few butterscotch chips--AFTER it had cooled somewhat and they wouldn't melt. Also you can cut back somewhat on the peanut butter; I was short on it so used less in the topping than the recipe calls for. It still worked fine.

P.S. Watch any foil sticking to the bottom of the squares. You might try parchment paper in the pan instead if that worries you.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As southern Ontario as...strawberry pie

It's the middle of strawberry season here, and we bought two baskets of them last Saturday. One basket went to make jam. Ponytails used some of them to decorate the angelfood cake for The Apprentice. And we still had a big bowlful that had been washed and so wouldn't keep long...so Mama Squirrel planned to make a strawberry pie, kind of a rare thing in this Treehouse. We are more likely to make strawberry shortcake with biscuits. But it just seemed like the right thing...

Except that when Mama Squirrel went to examine the strawberries the next day, she found that their number had greatly decreased. Oops.

But we did have a box of blueberries that Mr. Fixit had added to the shopping cart.

So: some of the (remaining) strawberries went to make the glaze for the pie. We don't use pudding mix and Jell-O, it's a scratch recipe, southern-Ontario style...but I don't bother to push strawberries through a sieve like my grandma did, I just mash them and cook them with sugar and cornstarch and a little water and lemon juice. Like making a really quick jam. And the rest I mixed with the box of blueberries, put in a baked pie crust, and poured the glaze over. That's the nice thing about this kind of pie--you don't bake the whole thing, so you don't lose the texture of the fruit.

I think I like that as much as I do a whole pie made of strawberries.

Crayons' Grade Two: This is the end

Janet at Across the Page put together an evaluation not of her second-grader's progress, but of the curriculum choices she made. (Included in a recent Carnival of Homeschooling.)

I've been thinking about posting something like that too--how this year's gone, what we're going to stick with or change for next year. So this is it...[Update: Well, that's what I intended to write, but this turned out to be more of a general we're-done post. Maybe I'll get more into evaluations later.]

This was our first year of having only one homesquirreler around during the day. The Apprentice, strangely enough, decided that she wanted to finish off one homeschool course this semester; but she's done that (Philosophy, the Big Questions) mostly on her own. And Ponytails was off at public school; so Crayons and I had to regroup a bit.

Mostly things went pretty well--we finished all or most of the books we had planned to, and then some--we even snuck in an extra Holling book and a Shakespeare story right at the end. Regular math seemed to peter out by the end of May...we were pretty much finished this year's Miquon workbook and I didn't want to start another one, so we just kept up with Calculadder and called it enough. We also got through quite a few of the Hidden Rods, Hidden Numbers (Cuisenaire rod) puzzles.

The year's science and nature plans didn't all work out as planned...some books got dropped partway through the year. Like Through the Year--it just didn't work well for Crayons as assigned work. A fun book to read in the back seat, but not really helpful for school. And we had planned to read both Among the Night People and Among the Forest People (books about wild animals and their habits) but just one of those turned out to be enough "people" for one year.

Goals for next year? A little more written work. And some other things that I'll post about later.

And summer vacation starts!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shakespeare according to Crayons

Crayons decided to type her own exam response on the computer. Here's her version of Aegeon's life story from The Comedy of Errors...succinct enough?

I was on a boat and we had tied ourselves too the mast when the ship broke in half and I saw my wife and the kids get on a boat and I got on a boat too the end.!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Crayons' Grade Two: Final Exam

This exam is not meant to be comprehensive or very difficult; it's only a sampling of what we covered this past term.


Write 2-4 lines of a poem that you memorized this term.


"But he's smaller than most of the sheep," said Drew. "How are you going to get one dog to make all those sheep do what you want?"--Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers


1. We read the story of The Comedy of Errors.

“Aegeon had no money to pay the fine, and the duke, before he pronounced the sentence of death upon him, desired him to relate the history of his life, and to tell for what cause he had ventured to come to the city of Ephesus, which it was death for any Syracusan merchant to enter."

Explain what happened because of this. Here are some names and places you can use: Antipholus, Dromio, Adriana, Ephesus, Syracuse

2. Mr. Pipes wrote letters to Annie and Drew. Write a short letter back to him as an answer.

3. What was your favourite part of Seabird? Tell it in words or draw a good picture...or make a comic strip.


3. Tell about the ending of Pilgrim’s Progress, or draw a good picture, or make a comic strip.

Library Skills

1. How does the Dewey Decimal System work? Give some examples of books you might be looking for and where you would find them;

or, tell me where in the library you would find these books:

How to Feed Your Pet Cat
100 Synonyms for Beautiful
Cooking with Popcorn
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
A Child's History of the World


1. Tell what you would need to do if you wanted to make a snowflake cloth.

Reading Skills

Ask Dad to choose something for you to read aloud.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Favourite Cookbooks? (Bonus book to download!)

The Real Life Home has a post about her favourite cookbooks--why she likes them, favourite recipes. Want to join in?

Mostly I use my binder of recipes that I've printed out. So I could say that my favourite cookbooks include the Internet, Canadian Living, magazine ads, and my grandmother's recipe box.

My favourite cookbooks years ago were mostly vegetarian cookbooks, and I had a lot of them, especially before we went online. Most of them I've given away since then, especially the soy-based books, because a couple of the Treehouse people have discovered that tofu and TVP don't agree with them--I haven't even made our favourite Chocolate Pie in a long time, for that reason.

One I still use, or at least go to for ideas, is Nikki & David Goldbeck's American Wholefoods Cuisine: Over 1300 Meatless, Wholesome Recipes from Short Order to Gourmet. What I like: international menu ideas and the menu suggestions after a lot of the recipes; the "Food Factory" section (a lot of basic instructions for cooking beans, freezing things and so on), stock-less soup recipes, sauces and dips. Where we differ: their baking is almost always sweetened with honey, which is fine for some people but I still use sugar. Anything we don't like: I like their molasses-cranberry baked pudding fine, but it's a bit intense for my kids.

Another book that's gotten pretty worn is Whole Foods for the Whole Family, a La Leche League International Cookbook. Its 1981 date means that it's very big on cutting out sugar, less concerned about fat. Very family-friendly and with a view towards economy (recipes contributed by a wide variety of LLLl members). Things I've never made and don't plan to: the liver recipes (the Squirrels are not big on organ meats), and some of the regional things like Goetta (sounds like Scrapple) and White Boudin. Things I like: lots of "optionals" and choices, like baking recipes that use sugar or honey, butter or oil.

A very small book that I got when we were first married and still use sometimes: Eating Better...A Basic Shelf Cookbook. This is an early edition of the book still sold by the City of York Health Unit. [Hmm, I followed the links there and it doesn't seem to be available now. But here's a PDF of a similar book published by the Porcupine Health Unit.] Check out the no-salt seasoning blends!] Very economical and based mostly on real-life-keep-in-your-pantry items. (Does anyone else get annoyed by cookbooks that assume you have capers in the pantry?) Things I don't like: bland recipes made with hamburger (I think they improved them in later editions), and a terrible recipe for oatmeal cookies. Recipes I still like: stovetop rice pudding made with powdered milk, pudding mix made with powdered milk, bean salad.

There, that's three: we also use two volumes of the Harrowsmith Cookbook, all three Food That Really Schmecks cookbooks, the Beany Malone Cookbook, and Betty Crocker's Cookbook (because I can never remember how much sweetening to put in the whipped cream; I also like the meatloaf and brownie recipes). A few months ago I was also drawing heavily on some low-sodium cookbooks from the library, but we haven't had those out for awhile; they're a good source of no-salt seasoning mixes and other general ideas.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Unjinxing dinner (Thai-style curried chicken)

I have had one cooking disaster after another lately. The crockpot ravioli all the Recipezaar commenters loved had the texture of shoe leather; a recipe for zucchini pizza squares that turned out fine the last time I made it (ten years ago) seemed to have lost its zip and wasted a whole lot of cheese; two different cookie recipes sounded good but didn't turn out so well. Mr. Fixit had a tussle on the weekend with a bag of uncooperative charcoal that wouldn't cook, wouldn't cook, wouldn't cook...even the toaster oven quit working.

Well, the Apprentice's birthday buttertart squares turned out all right.

And tonight's dinner was good too. I adapted this Canadian Living recipe for Oven-Baked Curried Chicken to make it on the stovetop, and also to lower the sodium a bit. I've made it in the oven (you should probably allow more cooking time than CL recommends, depending on your chicken) but I think I like it better on the stovetop anyway.

So this is my version. Total cooking time is 30 to 40 minutes. It might sound weird with the Dijon mustard and everything, but we thought it was very good, especially with some jasmine rice and Oriental-style vegetables, and a basket of chow mein noodles. And slices of microwave chocolate cake for dessert.

Mama Squirrel's Thai-Style Curried Chicken

1/3 cup 2% plain yogurt
3 tbsp liquid honey
4 tsp. Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
1 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil or as needed to cook the chicken (I used more)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tbsp. cornstarch if required
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (or more; we ended up with extra sauce so could probably have put in more chicken)


In a bowl combine together yogurt, honey, curry paste, soy sauce, mustard and pepper. Set aside.

Cut the chicken in medium-sized cubes--it's easier to cut if it's still partly frozen.

In a skillet (I used non-stick), heat the oil and start cooking the cut-up chicken. Now what actually happened tonight was that I put the lid on, and the chicken poached more than it browned, giving off quite a lot of liquid. That was fine too; but I stirred a tablespoon of cornstarch into the sauce mixture just in case. Cornstarch could be added at the end instead, if needed. Cook the chicken cubes until pretty much done, then stir in the sauce. Simmer the whole thing, stirring occasionally, 15 to 20 minutes more or until the chicken is well cooked and the sauce smells good. Serve over cooked rice (I like jasmine rice with this).

What do you mean, you won't go in there with me?

[Problems viewing the post referred to? There have been some changes at HomeschoolBlogger, and some peoples' links have gotten messed up. Hoping things will come back properly soon!--May 2010]

I'm amazed by the way some people think. Because it's so far out of "my box."

In a post at Loving Learning at Home (found through this week's Carnival of Homeschooling), Julieanne mentions something that happened when she was younger:
"I remember as a child, having guests come to visit. They were younger than me, and they were absolutely HORRIFIED that our family was going to go inside of the local, low-budget store and do some shopping. In fact, our dear guests stayed out in the car because they refused to be seen inside of this national chain store, even though their home was in another state!"
My mind just goes "huh?" at that. Why does it matter where you shop? I just don't get that. My kids wouldn't either--they LOVE getting to spend less of their money on something and therefore having more left over for something else. The Apprentice, in particular, earns most of her own spending money and even pays for a lot of her own clothes--which is a good thing, because our Apprentice is a fashionable young lady, likes clothes, and enjoys shopping. Someday you should ask her what she paid for those pretty shoes she wore to the spring dance--but I'll give you a hint, it's less than some girls probably paid for a hair ornament for the same dance.

While I appreciate the thoughts expressed in the post, I have a hard time identifying with the idea that you could even have a struggle with most of the issues she raises. House-brand groceries? Using coupons? What's wrong with that, if you can find coupons for basic grocery items instead of just sugar splops?

Driving an older car? We drove '80's cars, cheap to buy and easy to maintain, until emissions testing here drove all the good older cars off the road.

"Alternatives to lengthy, expensive family vacations?" Um--I think the last "lengthy" one was our honeymoon. We've had a few overnighters since then, but no cruises or resorts, no, we haven't even been to Disney World. Does someone have a problem with that? How do you explain "powdered milk" to someone who has a problem just walking into a discount store?

But instead of getting impatient...I guess I just need to learn more tolerance.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

How to creep a kid out

Puppet character singing on children's TV show: "I see you. You see me. I see you watching me on T.V."

Young Squirreling watching: "NO, YOU DON'T!"

Mama Squirrel found that idea rather creepy too.

Friday, June 05, 2009

We've told Wednesday, college first.

From the comments in the Homeschoolers: Do they care too much post:

"Princess Mom June 1, 2009 at 2:07 pm
Hear, hear! I would add that more project-based learning is essential at every grade level. If you think we’re not doing dissections and blowing things up in my kitchen, you are mistaken. (Okay, usually we blow things up in the driveway.)"

Thursday, June 04, 2009

What's a sparable?

Crayons and I have been having fun this week with a dictionary activity from Raising Ravenous Readers: Activities to Create a Lifelong Appetite for Reading, by Linda Schwartz. The book gets you started with questions like these:

Would you row, cook, plant or ride in a landau?

Would you play, wear, chain, or recite an epaulet?

The idea is to guess the answer and then look them up in the dictionary. These are words that mostly aren't found in our children's dictionary, so Crayons has been using my Random House College Dictionary. It's good practice not so much for vocabulary as for using dictionary guide words, and practicing alphabetizing concepts.

Today we ran out of questions, so I made up some of my own. How would you do on these?

1. Would you find the Pentateuch in your body, in a computer, or in the Bible?
2. Can you drink sparteine? (Should you?)
3. Would you buy a spavined horse?
4. Would you find a sparable in a shoe, in a nest, or in the Bible?