Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Make Do and Mend, at a great price

Hampstead House Books is offering Make Do and Mend for $5.99 (Canadian) right now. "Keeping Family and Home Afloat on War Rations. If you lived on rations in WWII, you’ll feel nostalgic seeing these reproductions of government leaflets. If not, you’ll delightfully discover that thrifty wartime ways can apply in today’s tough times." There's also a short review here.

I had thought that the Deputy Headmistress once mentioned this book on The Common Room blog, but I can't find it there. Maybe it was another blogger? Anyway, it sounds interesting...and maybe useful, if you want to know how to make underwear out of old sheets.

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.

Less glitter to clean up

The DHM writes:
"Arts and crafts- these things were all billed as things parents often couldn't do by themselves or required a group....And I say this NOT in the spirit of criticism, honest. It's just that, when I expressed some befuddlement, or really, surprise, about why moms needed a co-op in order to do even the most basic arts and crafts stuff, the other moms all looked at me like I had three heads, and at least one had a wart on its nose and spinach in its teeth."
When our Apprentice was two and three and four, we were part of a community-centre co-operative playschool program, two mornings a week (when she was four we were homeschooling kindergarten so we cut it down to one morning plus a gym class). There were several reasons we got involved with this--it was run by our neighbourhood group, we liked the person in charge, it was a way for me to get to know other moms as well as for little Apprentice to meet some neighbourhood kids. Moms were on a schedule to help--some days you could drop your child off, other days you stayed and helped paste or sing or vacuum up the mess afterwards.

At one point the teacher mentioned that although the Apprentice seemed to enjoy the program, she hardly ever wanted to do the prepared crafts. (The children didn't all do crafts at once--there were "stations" that the children could visit during their activity time. They could do a craft, or go to the playdough table, or play with trucks, or whatever.) Gluing hats on snowmen, crayoning leaves, and things like that. She painted at the easel, sometimes, but did not usually do the crafts. Was that a concern for me?

I reassured her that I did not care if the Apprentice brought home even one glitter-glued snowman or Valentine or Mother's Day flower. For one thing, we lived in an 800-square-foot house, and I had only so much fridge-door space. For another, if she wanted to spend her whole time there playing with her friends, that was perfectly fine with me. [Clarification: I don't mean that she was disrupting the class, just that she was choosing her own activities during play time.] She could crayon at home afterwards if she wanted. I got to visit with my friends a bit too, in between vacuuming up sand and washing paint off kids' hands, and nobody was making me crayon.

The teacher got it. Which is why we stayed for three years.

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.


I don't like Michael Jackson because he changed so much. But this video he made with Roberta Flack confuses me.

Jackson changed so much! There is a funny bit in that video; they put on space helmets and in later years he does the moonwalk. Do you like Michael Jackson's clothes in that video?


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.

What are we all doing?

Mr. Fixit is looking forward to a few days' vacation next week. And making more jam (he already organized nine jars of strawberry last weekend). And going to Cruise Nights.

Mama Squirrel is sorting out this year's school stuff and thinking through next fall's plans. And picking lettuce...and trying to figure out why Crayons has only one pair of shorts that fit her...and looking forward to trying out some surprise school stuff via the TOS Homeschool Crew.

Last night we had dinner and spent the evening with one of our oldest homeschool-friend families. We've had a tradition, most years, of getting together at the end of school and having a school-end or graduation ceremony (whichever was most appropriate) for all our girls. Last year the timing didn't work out for it, but this year we resurrected the tradition. True to tradition, it was one of the hottest days in June! But it was still a great time, and something to really mark the end of our school year.

Next week we celebrate our wedding anniversary, and Canada Day. Canada Day falls in the middle of the week this year, which really confuses people who somehow expect that the first of July should somehow coincide with a weekend, because don't we always get a long weekend for Canada Day? Well, no, not really. But I think a lot of people will kind of create one anyway...especially now that the threatened LCBO strike has been settled. (I mean, you have to do something with all that beer you stocked up on just in case? Not at this Treehouse, but I can imagine quite a few other squirrels will be making the most of it.)

Happy summer!

What's Ponytails doing?

Celebrating the end of school with a class graduation party!

But I'll let her post about it herself.

What's the Apprentice doing?

The Apprentice is pretty much finished her high school exams for this year (English, biology, and computer engineering. Really.) But today she's taking an extra examination at a local community college, to complete the first level of her hairstyling certification. Next year she takes the other half of the exam...then she'll be certified as a hairstylist except for needing to complete more work hours. (It takes a lot of hours to do an apprenticeship.)

And then she's done school for the summer too! (Except that she still needs to write a homeschool philosophy exam for Mama Squirrel...probably the last she'll ever do.)

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.!

How to live without a microwave...or a toaster oven

Cents to Get Debt Free says it's no problem.

Actually we didn't have a microwave until a couple of years ago, when one was passed on to us from a relative. Our secret? The toaster oven--that's mostly how we warmed things up, baked on hot days, and so on.

Our problem? Toaster ovens, like so many other things, are not made nearly so well as they used to be. Twenty years ago I was using one that lasted for several years--we replaced it after we were married, mostly because it was looking pretty much the worse for wear. The one we bought then lasted several years.

And the ones we've had since then? Too many of them, and they all lasted approximately two months beyond the warranty period, never mind whether they were digital or basic-style, small or pizza-sized, bought at the Big Discount Place or at the Small Reputable Hardware Store. We just had another one bite the dust, and I'm missing it, even though it was one of the smallest ones we've had (didn't fit a casserole dish properly) and never did bake as well as the others. There are lots of times in the summer that you just can't turn the big oven on, and microwaving isn't always the answer.

But we don't want to buy another meant-to-fall-apart. Mr. Fixit even thought of looking for, say, say, a 1975 model on E-bay, but it seems the shipping would be insane.

Well, anyway, the microwave is still working, so I guess--health concerns aside--we're in the opposite place right now to Debt Free. When that goes--I don't know.

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.

Charlotte Mason Carnival

A message from the CM Carnival owner:

"The latest edition of the Charlotte Mason Homeschool Blog Carnival is posted here. Thanks to Brenda for hosting today; she's put together a lovely carnival."

Can you spell weird?

No more "i before e"--it's just too hard.

But if Charlie Brown could handle it...

Festival of Frugality

The Financial Highway hosts the latest edition of the Festival of Frugality. An Editor's Pick entry I enjoyed as well: "The three levels of frugality" at FabulouslyBroke.com. (Although it seems to me that UnFrugal doesn't exactly qualify as a level of frugality...more of an anti-level?)

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 and clipped. 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.

I never heard that word before, and a quiz

I think it has too many letters for Scrabble, but it could come in handy anyway: "Robinsonade." I've also seen it spelled "Robinsonnade."

Which means a story inspired by Robinson Crusoe. Like Abel's Island. Or Swiss Family Robinson. Or Lord of the Flies (sorry, Apprentice).

How long do you think this term has been used?

a) Since 1834
b) Since 1995
c) Since 1731
d) Since 2001

A Year of Crockpotting--soon on your bookshelf

Steph's book is now available for pre-order. Congratulations!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The things I did on Father's Day so far!

I gave Mr.Fixit some Homer Simpson socks for Father's Day. I also made a cake all by myself. Well, it was an angelcake bought from a local market. But I iced it in whipped cream, drizzled it in chocolate, and chopped strawberries and put them on top. For The Apprentice's birthday party.

Oh, and I took all those pictures. So, I gave myself a photography course. Yes, I like cake too! A-doo-da-le-doo! :-)


Happy Father's Day, Mr. Fixit

Picture found here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

All kinds of math (carnivals)

Denise at Let's Play Math posted a reminder about the Carnival of Mathematics #53 and also today's Math Teachers at Play #9 - Game Time! That one looks really fun, and here's a sample:
"You know those illusions on the back of cereal boxes where your eyes trick you into thinking two identical objects aren’t? Well, Pat Ballew has a very interesting post on the subject, including links to video and some java applets that let you play with and manipulate the shapes. Check it out: Fool me once, Fool me Everytime? posted at Pat’sBlog.

"And if you really want to confuse your brain and eyes, check out “A Pattern’s Math Magic” and Nick’s review of Tokolo Pattern Magnets and the math behind them at NYTimes Blog: The Moment."

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).

Funny from Cindy

"No one should move after age 45; names do not stick, especially names like Mary, Susan or Donna. I do better with Victoria or Desdemona. People should think about that when naming their children."-- "I Survived VBS" at Dominion Family Blog

Organizing a homeschool room--even if you don't have one

Great photos, and so organized!

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.

Pockets on the wall (more workbox links)

Now how could coloured wall pockets work as workboxes? I have to say, homeschoolers are so creative...

That's just one post on Sheri's What's in the Box? blog. If you're interested in workboxes as a homeschool tool--you'll think you've hit the motherlode here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Join the yard sale club

Did you know there's a weekly Mr. Linky on Southern Hospitality, just so you can share whatever you found at yard sales? Too cool. (Found at 4 Reluctant Entertainers, who is sharing the topic of Yard Sale Finds for Entertaining with Like Merchant Ships.)

I can't even remember--did we do much yard saling this weekend? Oh yes...there was a neighbourhood sale we went to, but it was in a neighbourhood where there are a lot of toys (adult and child) but not a lot else...know what I mean? Crayons brought home a Polly Pockets toy, and I found a copy of Lord of the Flies (only because the Apprentice needs one to study for an English exam) and a very beat-up copy of Trail of the Conestoga (only because I didn't have one and wanted to read it again). And I found a set of Benders hot rollers for the Apprentice to play with. I think that was about it.

But you can go and see what everybody else found.

How much plan does a mom need? (review of the Old Schoolhouse 2009 Planner)

I've been homeschooling since 1996, and I've never yet used an official, bought, homeschool-and-the-rest-of-your-life planner. I think I've been afraid I'd empty my brains into it and then leave it on a bus.

I have printed out free online forms, and tried various scheduling methods for both homeschool and housework. I've tried file cards, a folder system (found at a yard sale) and various bins and binders for school. I've tried Anne Ortlund's notebook system. I've tried scribbling out lists in a dollar-store notebook. Every system works, some of the time, for some things. Then it stops working, or I keep forgetting to check the book or the bin, and I have to come up with something else.

Recently I was sent a review copy of The Old Schoolhouse's 2009-2010 Schoolhouse Planner.

My suggestion: get a Big Binder, or two, if you want to make the most of this.

It doesn't come with a binder. You buy the downloadable e-book (for US$39), and print out just the pages you want. Which is a good thing, because the file is 375 pages long: 375 mostly-different pages. So if you're planning on printing the whole thing, you're going to have to allow even more room for multiple copies of menu sheets, daily schedules, notes to the babysitter, and whatnot. There are forms for everything from school, to garden plans, to when your library books are due back, which of your bills are being automatically deducted, and what you need at the grocery store. You may decide that homeschool and household forms should be in different binders, especially if you're keeping daily assignment sheets; homeschool papers can take up a lot of room, even for just a couple of students.

But you don't have to print it out all at once. Take your time and play around with the writable pages. To start with, the six-page table of contents is all clickable--handy if you're trying to decide between My Daily Chores, Family Chore Chart, Chores I Can Do, My Special Day, and the second version of My Daily Chores (I'm not sure what the difference is). Then you can either print them out as-is, or you can fill in the blanks on the computer and then print them out--or save them and print them later--or save them and come back and change them--or fill it out for child A, print it, fill it out for child B, print it, fill it out for child C, print it...lots of ways to play. Apparently there's also a way to fill out a page and save it separately (I think), but I haven't figured that one out yet.

(I usually avoid printing out fancy planner sheets, because our printer does only black and white, and a lot of the lovely coloured freebies out there just waste our ink. But these sheets aren't heavily decorated, so I think they'd work fine no matter what your printing situation.)

This really is an organizing-your-life compendium. In addition to all the planner forms, there are monthly homeschool topics, each with an article to read and a sheet of resources available through the Schoolhouse Store. (July's "Thirteen Colonies" theme suggests items such as the Benjamin Franklin Project Pack and Colonial America Unit Study.) There are almanac-type lists of famous artists, capital cities, and kitchen conversions, the periodic table, and the wonders of the world. There are tips on how to get into college, prayer lists and journal pages. And there are recipes contributed by members of the previous Review Crew.

I like the planner, but I'm not sure yet how I'm going to use it myself. I tried plugging in some of my handwritten school plans for next year on the Course of Study sheet, but found it frustrating: I couldn't figure out where some of our subjects (like Bible Study) fit into the headings given, and when the font size automatically adjusted for a couple of the longer entries, it made the whole thing look a little awkward. I looked at the alphabetical book inventory sheets, but there isn't room for more than a dozen or so books under each letter: which makes sense if you're cataloguing just a few for-homeschool books, but not a whole home library. (Unless you want to have an A,B,C page and another A,B,C page and so on.)

And to be honest, I don't need organizing sheets for all those different household things: I prefer just glancing at what's on the pantry shelf to having our inventory all written down. (In fact, for some of us it's just as well if we don't think of more ways of record-keeping, because then we might feel we need to spend a whole afternoon alphabetizing the pantry.) My husband has his own money-and-bills system, so we don't need financial pages; I'm not at a stage of life where I need either preschool plans or high school transcripts, and the hamster doesn't require any record-keeping other than changing his shavings. The pages I would use would probably be the grocery/menu sheets, different "wish lists," medical contact info, records of the homeschool year such as field trips and books read, things loaned, calendars, and possibly the daily/weekly assignment sheets.

The other part of my life that does need lots of writing down is that third realm of activities outside of Household and Homeschool (Homeschool meaning my own children's school time). The Rest of My Life includes things like homeschool support group library helpers listed by month, plans for next year's speakers for our adult Sunday School class, writing and blog ideas, ideas for the online curriculum I'm involved with, and, starting this month, keeping the Homeschool Review Crew deadlines straight. But there aren't any planner sheets called "Homeschool Support Group Library Helpers." Because this is, after all, My Own Life, which is not exactly like Your Own Life, and not even two Typical Homeschool Families' lives and planners are going to look exactly the same.

For those things that don't fit, I guess I'd just use the calendar pages (the boxes are nice and big), the Daily Schedule lists, or my own typed-out (or lined-paper) lists. (One possibility for future editions, though, might be to include some untitled or otherwise flexible boxed-and-lined pages for those idiosyncratic parts of our lives.)

So how generally useful is the Schoolhouse Planner? If your lifestyle tends toward the weird and out-of-the-way, if you already have enough chili recipes, if you have a full staff of servants, and/or you just enjoy flying by the seat of your pants (or the tail of your jumper), you may not find that enough of the pages apply to your life to justify the cost. If you live more of a typical family lifestyle, with things to keep track of like dentists' phone numbers and co-op projects and rhubarb buried in the freezer, and remembering which vendor sells which middle school science curriculum, you will probably enjoy having an easy way to keep it all in one place.

[And don't forget the bonus articles and themes. AND...the supplementary monthly modules. Upcoming monthly topics include July 2009--Summer fun kit; August 2009--Favorite childhood books; September 2009--Weather, clouds, and related experiments. You can get the basic planner combined with module membership here.]

More details and more reviews of the 2009 Planner are here.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Seabird rolls over and squawks

We're squeezing Holling Clancy Holling's Seabird into the last month of school--not the best way to do it, probably, but it is shorter than Pagoo and the chapters are all only a page long.

I found these printable Seabird notebooking pages at HomeschoolShare.com. Also this educator's take on using the Holling books. I include this only for purposes of illustration:

"2. Have students read Minn of the Mississippi, Seabird, and Paddle to the Sea and make journal entries for each chapter identifying and analyzing the five themes of geography. Have the student paraphrase the passages and tell why it is an example of the theme they are writing about based on their analysis. There should be at least 1 example for each chapter."


On a lighter note, here's a real carved ivory seagull.

And a fairly easy version of scrimshaw (no plaster of Paris needed). And a plaster version too.

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.

Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is up

A message from the CM Blog Carnival owner:

"Hello, and happy Tuesday! The latest edition of the Charlotte Mason Homeschool Blog Carnival is ready and waiting for you and your mug of tea/coffee. It's HERE. Thank you to Richele for hosting at her blog, Barefoot Voyage."

Carnival of Homeschooling: Field Guide to Homeschoolers

The Carnival of Homeschooling's Field Guide to Homeschoolers is up at Principled Discovery. Grab a butterfly net and go see what specimens Dana has collected this week. (You can get the graphic there too.)

Friday, June 05, 2009

Now that is one unique party idea

Hint: think Pagoo. A lot of Pagoos.

At Dewey's Treehouse, this was inevitable

One of the favourite (useful) things that each Squirreling did during homeschool was learn something about libraries and the Dewey Decimal System.

("Who's Dewey?" shouts D.W.) [link updated 2011]

We talk about its advantages and shortcomings (who'd think to look for The Three Little Pigs in the 300's? How come our library used to catalogue homeschooling under Domestic Education?). The girls get assignments like "bring home books from three different hundreds sections." They end up with at least an idea of which end of the library to go to if they're looking for history books, or riddles, or books about French braiding.

"Do We" Really Know Dewey is a kid-friendly online guide to the DDS that's been around for years--since the Apprentice was learning these things. The space-alien story still holds up pretty well.

There are some other sites that have come up since then, that I've been using this spring with Crayons. There are some fun ideas here, including the address of these task cards that can be cut apart and used as a Dewey Drill (we're doing a few of these every couple of days as review). "(You need 5 folktales--what section do you look in? You are doing a report about at least different kinds of whales; Your project is to compare lions and tigers; You need to do a report on hurricanes; You need pictures of people in the army" and so on. If you don't like the one about "You are being haunted by ghosts," you can just leave it out.)

As part of our library unit, we've also read The Boy Who Was Raised by Librarians and My Librarian is a Camel. I also took The Library Book and a couple of others out of the library, but decided they had more information than we really needed for grade two.

"Who's Dewey?" Now we know.

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.)"

Repost from 2005: My Kid is Not a Carrot

I'm posting this as my response...outdated though it may be...to this week's Case Against Homeschooling brouhaha. (Spunky's very funny response, Principled Discovery's response, DHM's post)

It's outdated in some ways, because since that time we've sent two of our three Squirrelings out to sample public education. The Apprentice is only a few credits away now from earning her high school diploma, although she'll probably take at least another year to finish all the things she wants to do there, plus complete her hairstyling apprenticeship and decide what kind of university science program she's most interested in. Ponytails, the middle schooler, is at the age where she'd prefer that her life not be dissected on the blog, so we'll leave her alone. Just let it be said that homeschooling is still where our hearts are, and that we Squirrels think it's time to chew some holes in the UnSocialized Geek Homeschooler propaganda cage.

Homeschoolers are often puzzled by articles insisting that only professional teachers know how to teach. Mama Squirrel read one article only this morning comparing the arrogant parent who thinks he can "ejukate" his children to someone who thinks he can do surgery on his kitchen table, with the same knife he uses to cut up vegetables.

Mama Squirrel thinks there is one point to be considered here, and that is that we're perhaps comparing apples to oranges. Not just in terms of what a classroom teacher's job is (to teach 20 to 30 children in one classroom, all of whom have widely varying abilities, some of whom haven't had breakfast this morning, some of whom can't speak English, etc.) compared to what a homeschooling parent does (generally, to teach his or her own children in addition to performing all the daily home and parenting tasks)...but even in terms of what that teaching involves.

Many of us who've been homeschooling for awhile feel that we've gotten pretty competent, for example, at explaining simple machines or how to multiply fractions. We may be on our second or third pass through the War of 1812 or through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We tend to use fairly straightforward materials, the kind that you might see used in a tutoring situation (maybe by professional tutors, hm?). We know they work for us and we know how to use them, especially if we're now using them with our second or third or fourth child. I think those who bemoan our lack of professional qualifications would be reassured if they knew how amazingly competent at teaching many of us actually are (that is, if they didn't have some other axe to grind such as supporting a teacher's union or bashing Christian homeschoolers).

But I'm looking at a Scholastic Classroom Essentials catalogue...things that teachers can buy to supplement what they've been given to work with (precious little, from most teachers I've talked to. Ever been to a teacher's yard sale? Can you imagine nurses having to bring all their own hypodermics to work? But I digress). Aside from the bulletin board trimmers, art supplies and motivational stickers (few of which I'd use), much of the catalogue is a mystery to me. "Reading Assessments and Intervention Strategies for K-2." "Guided Reading Beach Balls." "Guided Reading the Four-Blocks Way." "35 Must-have Assessment & Record-Keeping Forms for Reading." "40 Rubrics and Checklists to Assess Reading and Writing." "26 Interactive Alphabet Mini-Books" (isn't one ABC book enough?). "Story Starter Cubes" (including such deathless ideas as "smells smoke", "in the mountains", and "finds a dog"). Let's check out the math pages: "How to Work with Data & Probability, Gr. 3." "How to Work with Data & Probability, Gr. 4." "Great Graph Art Around the Year." Expensive things to teach place value. "Relational Geosolids." How about science: "Objects and Materials, gr. 1-2. This curriculum-linked resource is packed with reproducible activities and hands-on explorations that will engage students. Includes an evaluation rubric, unit test, assessment strategies, and more."

Had enough? Oh, this one I can't resist, from the preschool section: "Picture Sorting for Phonemic Awareness." And this one, same page: "40 Wonderful Blend and Digraph Poems." OK, I'll stop now that I'm sure you're laughing.

I hope you're laughing. Maybe you're not, if you're a classroom teacher, because stuff like this is what you use all the time. Maybe you wouldn't like my stash of Cuisenaire rods, my Ruth Beechick everything-you-need-to-know-to-teach-reading-in-28-pages booklet, or my reproduction copy of Hillyer's A Child's History of the World. You might not be enamoured by the idea of copywork, or of sitting everybody down and listening to The Jungle Book without any accompanying study questions. The people who sell these classroom geegaws certainly wouldn't be impressed by the idea of just using a bowl of raisins or pennies as math counters instead of tiny plastic dinosaurs.

Apples and oranges. The original question was, are homeschooling parents competent to teach their children? Should their competency be judged on whether or not they can find any use for a Guided Reading Beach Ball or 35 Must-Have Assessments?

"Then said Elijah unto the people....call ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the Name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." --1 Kings 18:22-24


Is public high school all that perky?
Back to Homeschool Week: Getting Out There
Bubba and Me think that homeskoolers are not so freaky

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Nobody got this quote?

I had bit of poetry in a subject line, awhile back, and asked if anybody could identify the source.

"They got him out and emptied him; Alas it was too late"

No takers?


if y'all give up...

It's from Huckleberry Finn. "Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots."

"If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain't no telling what she could a done by and by. Buck said she could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn't ever have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a line, and if she couldn't find anything to rhyme with it would just scratch it out and slap down another one, and go ahead. She warn't particular; she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker—the never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and then she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person's name, which was Whistler. She warn't ever the same after that; she never complained, but she kinder pined away and did not live long."

Charles Lamb rants on bookkeepers

The kind that keep your books, of course.

"To one like Elia, whose treasures are rather cased in leather covers than closed in iron coffers, there is a class of alienators more formidable than that which I have touched upon: I mean our borrowers of books--those mutilators of collections, spoilers of the symmetry of shelves, and creators of odd volumes....That foul gap in the bottom shelf facing you, like a great eyetooth knocked out -- (you are now with me in my little back study in Bloomsbury, reader!)....The slight vacuum in the left-hand case -- two shelves from the ceiling....Just below, Dodsley's dramas want their fourth volume, where Vittoria Corombona is! The remainder nine are as distasteful as Priam's refuse sons, when the Fates borrowed Hector. Here stood the Anatomy of Melancholy, in sober state. There loitered the Complete Angler; quiet as in life, by some stream side. -- In yonder nook, John Buncle, a widower-volume, with "eyes closed," mourns his ravished mate...."

Charles Lamb, "The Two Races of Men," Essays of Elia

Charles Lamb is so funny

"The human species, according to the best theory I can form of is composed of two distinct races, the men who borrow, and the men who lend.....The infinite superiority of the former, which I choose to designate as the great race, is discernible in their figure, port, and a certain instinctive sovereignty. The latter are born degraded. "He shall serve his brethren." There is something in the air of one of this cast, lean and suspicious; contrasting with the open, trusting, generous manners of the other.

"Observe who have been the greatest borrowers of all ages -- Alcibiades, Falstaff, Sir Richard Steele -- our late incomparable Brinsley-- what a family likeness in all four! What a careless, even deportment hath your borrower! what rosy gills! what a beautiful reliance on Providence doth he manifest, -- taking no more thought than lilies! What contempt for money, -- accounting it (yours and mine especially) no better than dross! What a liberal confounding of those pedantic distinctions of meum and tuum! or rather, what a noble simplification of language (beyond Tooke), resolving these supposed opposites into one clear, intelligible pronoun adjective! What near approaches doth he make to the primitive community, to the extent of one half of the principle at least! --"

Charles Lamb, "The Two Races of Men," Essays of Elia

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?

CPSIA and Yard Sales

A recent article warning about government interference in yard sales. I don't think they've got it quite right about the collectibles, since legitimate antiques and collectibles (not for children's use) are supposed to be exempt; but it's interesting anyway.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

So what brings you this way?

The Old Schoolhouse Company Porch recently asked people to reveal all...about their site meters. As in--who knocks on the Treehouse door, and what are they looking for?

The most dreadful search string I saw lately (that I didn't follow up on) was something about "Dewey kills family". The only mentions of "kills" we've had on the blog are these:

CPSIA kills some businesses, boosts others. It doesn't take a genius to see that there will be gold in that there testing software. ...

April 2009 Not as bad as "the guy in the hat kills the other guy in the hat," but there's kind of a reality and reader-sympathy speedbump that Ms. Prose just doesn't ...

May 2008 Our only problem is deciding which way to put it--facing into the living room, which kills it as a shoe-putting-on bench; or facing into the hall, ...

The Living, by Annie Dillard Dillard hasn't done a thing to make me care about her characters, which I guess is convenient for my poor nerves since she kills them all off. ...

It kills me to see trees out in the trash on the 26th Or even the 1st. Why not take the time to celebrate the season when nothings all rushed anymore? ...

We're not exactly a murderous kind of blog. I think I did once mention dropping a house on the CPSIA, but that's about it.

P.S. If there really was a serious incident out there involving someone named Dewey, I apologize--not meaning to make light of real incidents, even those on the Ecowas Express Road.

P.P.S. We still do get lots of hits from people looking for "Cuisinart rods" as well as "love is more thicker than forget," rhubarb recipes, and--believe it or not--"homemade deodorant," which we only linked to--once. The Internet's more stranger than you'd think.

Monday, June 01, 2009

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