Monday, October 26, 2009

How about creative dishwashing?

We don't read For Better Or For Worse as much as we used to...but I've been sort of following Elly's enrolling in creative writing classes.

I liked this one--sorry I can't copy it here, you'll just have to go look.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wendell Berry on the cost of simplifying

From this interview with Jeff Fearnside in The Sun Magazine. Thanks to Holy Experience for the link.
Berry: They didn’t have electricity. All their technology was nineteenth century. But they were satisfied, and they lived a great life — they made a great life. It was a work of art.

Fearnside: So their answer was to simplify their lives so that they required less income and could do the things they were passionate about.

Berry: They reduced costs, but when you do that, you make your life more complex. It’s much simpler to live by shopping.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Back to the Library Sale

We did go back to the library sale, and brought home another boxful. The Apprentice also filled up a bag with CDs, audio books and books of her own (including some Biochemistry software).

Still it was kind of sad leaving all the rest of those boxes behind to be euthanized recycled.

Books we didn't have:

Give the Dog a Bone, by Steven Kellogg

April's Kittens, by Clare Turlay Newberry (I got this to replace another copy which I was scolded for selling)

What Do You Do, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, pictures by Maurice Sendak

Exploring Nature Around the Year: Fall, by David Webster (we have the Winter book in this series)

Hurry Home, Candy, by Meindert DeJong (to replace that copy that we couldn't use for school because it was missing a section)

Puppy Summer, by Meindert DeJong

Circus Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild (we do have The Circus is Coming, which is the same book, but there are a number of changes between the two, and it's uncertain whether Streatfeild herself revised it or whether someone else had a hand in it.)

The Fearless Treasure, by Noel Streatfeild

Missee Lee, by Arthur Ransome

Kaleidoscope, by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Minnow on the Say, by A. Philippa Pearce

David Balfour, by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth (really nice hardcover)

Saints: Adventures in Courage, by Mary O'Neill (rough shape, but interesting)

God's Troubadour: The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, by Sophie Jewett

Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid, by Margery Sharp

My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Companion to Narnia, by Paul E. Ford

The Swans of Ballycastle, by Walter Hackett

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, by Rumer Godden

The Fairy Ring, edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibad Smith, revised by Ethna Sheehan

Pegeen, by Hilda van Stockum

The Carved Lions, by Mrs. Molesworth

The House of Arden, by E. Nesbit

The Wonderful Garden, by E. Nesbit

The Second Mrs. Giaconda, by E.L. Konigsburg

Emily's Runaway Imagination, by Beverly Cleary

Otto of the Silver Hand, by Howard Pyle

Underground to Canada, by Barbara Smucker

Chemistry For Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work

Books we already have but these are nicer copies or particular editions:

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, hardcover illustrated by Graham Percy (I like Shepard's illustrations, but these are nice too)

Rufus M., by Eleanor Estes

Little Plum, by Rumer Godden, hardcover to replace our paperback

Pilgrim's Progress (Mary Godolphin's version), illustrated by Robert Lawson

Books we already have but I got them anyway to swap or sell:

The Young Brahms, by Sybil Deucher

The Happy Orpheline, by Natalie Savage Carlson

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Library sale!

I can't believe it's been a year since the last big library sale here. Seems just last week I was grousing about Crayons' predilection for pink books.

This year's sale worried me a bit--there were just too many books in the children's section. Now, granted, I don't always get there during the first few hours, so maybe it's always like that--but it seemed to me that they were getting rid of a few too many good books this year. Nice for us, but not a good sign of the times.

I bought one boxful, and wished I had time to go through more of the boxes--maybe I'll get back sometime later in the weekend.

This is what we found:

Books we didn't have:

Open the Door: Stories Collected and Arranged by Margery Fisher (with a nice jacket by Edward Ardizzone)
Stories for Nine-Year-Olds and other younger readers, edited by Sara and Stephen Corrin
Favorite Fairy Tales Told in India, retold by Virginia Haviland
Sir Gibbie, by George MacDonald
The Golden Key, by George MacDonald, pictures by Maurice Sendak
The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye
The Children of Odin, by Padraic Colum
Theras and His Town, by Caroline Dale Snedeker
With Wolfe in Canada, by G.A. Henty
The Siege and Fall of Troy, retold for young people by Robert Graves
The Light Beyond the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail, by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Big Six, by Arthur Ransome
Fu-Dog, by Rumer Godden
The Wandering Wombles, by Elisabeth Beresford
Tingleberries, Tuckertubs and Telephones, by Margaret Mahy (a book The Apprentice used to like)
The Five Sisters, by Margaret Mahy (this one has some wizard stuff in it)
Warton and the Contest, by Russell E. Erickson (one of the Warton and Morton Toad series)
Betsy's Busy Summer, by Carolyn Haywood
The Middle Moffat, by Eleanor Estes
The Most Wonderful Doll in the World, by Phyllis McGinley
River Winding: Poems by Charlotte Zolotow
Looking at Architecture, by Roberta M. Paine
The Young Author's Do-it-Yourself Book
The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense: Lightly Comic, Highly Humorous, and Largely Nonsensical Verse, selected and edited by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Birds, Beasts and the Third Thing: Poems by D.H. Lawrence, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Clever Cooks: A Concoction of Stories, Charms, Recipes & Riddles, Compiled by Ellin Greene
The Pooh Song Book
The Pooh Cook Book

Books we have but these are different editions or special:

The Worker in Sandalwood, by Marjorie Pickthall
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving, illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher
The Rainbow Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang, illustrations by Michael Hague (not in very good shape, but I brought it home anyway)

Books we have but I picked them up to swap or sell:

The Gammage Cup, by Carol Kendall
The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
Seabird, by Holling Clancy Holling
The Light Princess, by George MacDonald, pictures by Maurice Sendak

Videos and misc. stuff: an audio book of Ramona the Pest, and some videos including Runaway Ralph, the puppet opera version of Hansel and Gretel, and The Love Bug.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's for supper? Last of the Swiss chard

I adapted tonight's dinner from a recipe in the November 2009 Canadian Living Magazine. They used sausage--I used meatballs. They used diced tomatoes and seasonings--I opened a can of spaghetti sauce. They used rigatoni--I used penne. Does it even resemble the original? I think we got the general idea of it. And it did use up some of the Swiss chard that's still very, very healthy in our garden--even with frost on the grass this morning. I liked the way the chard turned out in this--it had a different, less overcooked texture from the way we use it in lasagna (pre-steamed and mashed up with cottage cheese).

We ate it with baked sweet potatoes--orange is always good with green. I made lots on purpose so that we'd have leftovers. You could cut these amounts in half.

Pasta, Meatballs and Swiss Chard

8 to 10 cups washed and chopped Swiss chard, as fresh as possible

A few fresh mushrooms

1 680-ml can pasta sauce (I used Primo Original Recipe)

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (or a combination)

Meatballs prepared from whatever recipe you like (I used about 1 1/3 lb. ground beef, and added lots of parsley but not too much extra seasoning)

1 lb. penne (tubes) or other similar pasta

A spoonful of butter, margarine or oil (optional)

Prepare your meatballs and bake or brown them, whatever you usually do to them. (I baked them on foil at 400 degrees.)

Cook the pasta until pretty much done, still slightly firm. Drain off most of the water, leaving a bit behind. Put the pasta back into the pot and combine with the can of sauce, the chopped (uncooked) chard and mushrooms, and the cooked meatballs, OR leave the meatballs out at this point. Spoon everything into a large greased pan or two; I used two large lidded casseroles, spooned the mixture in, and then added the meatballs on top. Cover with grated cheese. Bake, covered, for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees and then 10 minutes uncovered, till everything is heated through; or longer if you are starting with cold ingredients or you have it all in one pan. When I took the casseroles out, I spread a spoonful of butter over the top of each one, just because the beef was very lean, I didn't use a lot of sauce, and some of the chard around the edges looked a bit dry. It probably wasn't necessary but I thought it looked better with a bit of moistening. If you used sausage as originally recommended, or used a bit more sauce, you probably wouldn't need to do that.

The five of us finished off one of the casseroles, so I would guess that this amount should serve 8 to 10 people. You could increase the amount of pasta sauce, even double it if you like things very tomatoey; some of the Squirrels here are sensitive to tomatoes, so we preferred it with less, and I think it allowed the flavour of the chard to come out well (it didn't get drowned in tomatoes).

You could make this in a slow cooker, although if you have only a 3 1/2 quart pot as we do, you'd probably only be able to fit half the recipe in it.

Thrift and thanksgiving

This is a response to The Common Room post Thrift, Parsimony and Freegan Living, which the DHM wrote after reading the NY Times review of Lauren Weber's book In Cheap We Trust. As the DHM mentioned, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

While making a day-after-Thanksgiving leftover casserole, I thought of a definition for sensible frugality: frugality (vs. miserliness) means cutting the meat off the bones, but not so close that you cut yourself with the knife. (Don't go spoiling my metaphor by telling me I should have been boiling it instead. It really was a very little turkey to start with, and I doubt I would have gotten much broth from what was left.)

Re-dipping your teabag so many times that you poison yourself is miserly. (Some will argue about that but I'm sticking by what my auntie told me.) Depriving people of what would make their lives pleasanter, healthier or safer, if whatever it is really does take money and if you can afford it, is miserly. Spending half an hour looking for a free parking spot (as an acquaintance of Weber's does) is just silly, especially if you have other people in the car who will never get that time back that you wasted. There are definitely ways to be too much of a tightwad.

On the other hand, those who slam Amy Dacyczyn, for example, seldom bother to bring up some of the most sensible and thoughtful articles from her Tightwad Gazette. She once described a frugal meal that her family served to guests: it included chicken, potatoes, and fresh vegetables from their garden. There was nothing miserly-sounding about it at all; in fact, some people would think that all that fresh, homecooked food was a treat. A Family Fun article about the Dacyczyn family focused on the cool and creative toys and other amusements that their children--those poor, deprived children of tightwads--spent their time with. And the point she was trying to make by using things like metal strips from waxed paper boxes (see Weber's excerpt) was that if you have it, then use it, instead of wasting your time and gas and money going out to buy something else while the metal strip goes into the landfill. She wasn't suggesting that you spend your life stockpiling metal strips in case you might someday need one to hang a picture. (I might also point out that some of the ideas such as jump ropes were actually sent in by TG readers.) It's not crazy to re-use things, and to keep using them until they wear out or smell bad. Sometimes it's not worth the fuss over what something costs; other times it just makes more sense to look for a tightwad solution. As Amy pointed out more than once, frugal living, including used stuff, can be better than its equivalent in new things, and it can help you achieve other goals that are important to you (like staying home with young children, or buying a house).

Lauren Weber is right about the fact that when we think we can afford to "live better," we usually do--although we sometimes confuse "living better" with "living more expensively." In the Treehouse we have a 1929 floor radio that originally sold for $275. Quite a chunk of change in those days, but someone must have thought it worth the money. (Mr. Fixit bought it at an estate sale before we were married.)

I knew an elderly woman whose husband refused to update the worn linoleum in their kitchen. For forty years she waxed that linoleum and hated it. One of the first things she did after he died--and she told me this with a chortle--was put in a no-wax floor. (Was she justified in wanting this? Did she deserve it after fighting the linoleum all those years? Is that just small potatoes compared with people who want bigger cars and fancier furniture?)

Some of Mr. Fixit's relatives survived very lean times during the Depression, when opportunities for immigrants on the Prairies were scarce. But they worked hard, saved all they could, and eventually built themselves a house with an oil furnace and--an amazing luxury--a thermostat to control it. They had no desire to return to methods of home heating that involved chopping or shovelling. It reminds me of another article I once read about a woman who grew up through tough times, and never could get over her amazement over simply "standing in the warm."

I'm not sure I relate to Ms. Weber's interest in fancy shoes marked down to ninety-nine dollars, or to her enthusiasm for the latest in televisions. We ourselves have made do just fine with our '70's and '80's TVs, and there's always the most radical idea of all--doing without one. To each her own, but I'm not sure how much I trust that kind of "frugal" advice. It's not wrong to enjoy good times, to look forward to a special meal, even to splurge on a bit of candy corn; but I do question large amounts of money spent on something that doesn't pay you back. (A chest freezer is an investment. A pair of high heels are probably not, unless they're sending you home from Oz.) I guess I just slice my turkey a little closer to the bone than she does.

Can you be "too frugal?" Opinions?

Thanksgiving photos by Mr. Fixit. The centerpiece was made from a vintage Native basket (free from Grandpa Squirrel's basement); dollar-store fake leaves that we bought for a craft class; a glass thingy from a cousin's wedding; a few horse chestnuts; and a spray from our lilac bush, which looks quite different in autumn. The turkey salt and pepper shakers belonged to Mr. Fixit's grandma. Most of the furniture in the photo also came from the Squirrel grandparents.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Just keep schooling, just keep schooling

If you started your school year in September, the first few giddy weeks have passed.

It's now October. Do you know where your homeschooling plans are?

Did you lay them so thick that you can't stuff anything else in?

Are you wondering why you're only up to what you planned for Week Three and now it's Week Five or Six? Why you've skipped the last few days of French lessons? ("It's okay, kids, we'll make it up later.") Why the composer-study schedule has gotten buried under math and history?

Maybe it hasn't and everything is going along swimmingly. Everybody's still getting up early, the school room or wherever you work looks pretty good, your schooltime snacks are still nutritious, you remembered to change the calendar to October even if your "decor" is still Welcome Back To School, and nobody's begging for extra computer game time.

Maybe it's not going quite so well. You've all had nasty colds and the DVDs took over temporarily. The exercise plans lasted through the nice weather, but it's too cold out there now. All the new hymns are sounding strangely alike. The kids memorized their first poem happily, but now want to know why they have to learn another one. The one making the lapbook has only two mini-books glued in and says she doesn't want to do any more reptiles now, thank you.

And oops--you really were going to do more poetry with them this year, weren't you?

OK. This is your pep talk. You laid down all these plans, and now it's up to you to be persistent, with both yourself and the kids.

You bought that art curriculum, so make time for them to use it at least once a week.

You set them up with the history-journalling project, so encourage them to keep at it (it's going to look amazing when it's done).

You know which readaloud books you want to get through this year, so don't let them cajole you into reading only Book A when you had planned to alternate it with Books B and C. We really like this fall's Book A, and it's easier reading than Book B, but B has its own rewards.

The vocabulary chart you started is looking a bit lonely up there on the wall with only three roots filled in, so decide that tomorrow you all are going to add three more AND you're going to play one of the games from the program.

And it's NOT too cold to get out there and do an Outdoor Nature Challenge. The trees this morning looked like someone was blowing them with a hair dryer, but Ponytails went out and found a ladybug to draw in her nature journal. Crayons just wanted to draw the wind.

If you need to add a little pep to the same-through-the-year lessons, do it. We alternate Bible stories with our Mr. Pipes books, but even so the cycle of just reading, narrating can get a bit routine. Occasionally add little things in to keep the lessons interesting. This week I photocopied a kings-and-prophets timeline strip from What The Bible Is All About For Young Explorers and printed copies out on coloured cardstock; then during one of our lessons the girls cut them out, taped the two parts of them together, and made Old Testament bookmarks for their Bibles. It wasn't a major project, but it kept hands busy while we read about Elijah. Another day I gave them a Calvary Chapel colouring page about the story we were reading. We don't do that often--even colouring can get monotonous--but once in awhile it's nice to have a little extra.

Before the school year started, I put all my third-grade math ideas into a file box, and while we haven't stuck exactly to the cards as written, I'm still trying to get as much crossed off as I can before we go on to new things. This week I had noted "practice math vocabulary" (something I'd noticed on a worksheet). All I meant by that was knowing the words sum, product, and difference; not a big thing, but it's easy to overlook teaching them. I wrote each word a couple of times on slips of paper, and had Crayons pull pairs of numerals out of a bag. (We used rubber tiles from a math game, but you could use any cards.) I had her choose a slip at random, or I chose one for her. "Find the sum of your two numbers." "Find the difference between them." "Find the product." Sometimes I had her pull three numbers instead.

It's October. Switch around a little. Ponytails has been using math software during her computer time, and Crayons has been using a science CD-Rom; but it's time for a change, so now Ponytails will be using the CD-Rom and Crayons will be doing online math games. (She's also asked me if we can start using Calculadder sheets again.)

Play with time. We are doing a combination of workboxes and group activities, and sometimes the group things get dropped if the workboxes are going slow. So some days I fill only a few workboxes, and catch up on the French and nature and singing and anything else that we might get into a bad habit of missing.

And one other thing--now that everybody's back to school, are your kids getting to see their homeschooled (and other) friends? We've been slightly sidetracked on this due to colds and such that we didn't want to pass around; but I think everyone's healthy enough now that we really need to work on some of that Socialization. (Mom needs to see friends too!)

Trust in what you have laid out. Don't worry about what you think you have left out for this year--just keep on with what's already on the table. Learn new things a little at a time. Enjoy small things. Have a wonderful fall.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What's for supper? (Old favourite)

It's comfort food night, on a day that's gone back and forth from almost-Indian-summer to dark and gloomy:

Kitchener Special, made with ground beef instead of sausage (and I left the onion out)
White bread hot out of the breadmaker
Baked sweet potatoes
Reheated broccoli
Hot Fudge Pudding from More Food That Really Schmecks

HOT FUDGE PUDDING (with Mama Squirrel's notes)

1 cup sifted flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar, or slightly less
6 tablespoons cocoa, divided

1/2 cup milk
3 tbsp. melted shortening or oil
1 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

1 3/4 cups hot water

Sift the dry ingredients and 2 tablespoons of cocoa. Stir together the milk, vanilla and melted shortening or oil; add to the dry ingredients, mix well, then stir in the nuts if using. Pour (or push if it's thick) into a greased 9" square pan (I prefer a deeper casserole in case of bubble-overs). Now mix the brown sugar and 4 remaining tablespoons cocoa; sprinkle the mixture over the batter in the pan. Pour on the melted butter (or leave it out), then carefully pour on the hot water. Bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes or until the cake part seems done. Serve warm with milk or yogurt.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Keep it simple, sisters: a pre-holidays post

Last night I downloaded a free e-book of craft ideas, hoping to get some ideas for the holidays.

Not that I was looking for Styrofoam balls and recycled can ideas. But I was a little nonplussed to find that the majority of the crafts seemed to require a full scrapbooking setup, or a full rubberstamping setup, or the equivalent for several other hobbies. And lists of supplies as long as a roll of wired ribbon.

That's one way to make people feel both all-thumbs and poverty-stricken. Not that we resent those who have gone all-out on whichever hobby, and who would truly appreciate those suggestions for making beautiful use of their supplies and equipment. And again, it's not like I'm only looking for patterns for fuzzy toilet seat covers or Christmas-bulbs-in-a-jar. It's fun to browse through the photos and appreciate the designers' creativity.

But there's no way I would ever be making those things. Am I just out of it?

Why does everything handmade seem like it has to be more perfect than perfect now? And require the crafting equivalent of 16 different spices? If we buck the trend, do we risk our homemade gifts ending up, as in Meredith's experience a couple of years ago, at the back of someone's closet?

I remember one Christmas when The Apprentice was still pretty small, and we (the two of us) filled cheesecloth bags with teabags, cloves, dried orange rinds, and smashed cinnamon sticks, for people to use for "spiced tea". That same year (I think it was) we filled jars with sliced ginger root and honey, and garlic and honey. (We must have had a good source of honey that year.) We made homemade mustard, and coffee mixes, and other things like that, and packed our own "gourmet baskets" for people we knew. I think we made labels with coloured paper, markers, and packing tape, or maybe it was clear sticky plastic. Jars got covered with a circle of fabric and yarn or ribbon. I don't remember what all we used for baskets--probably whatever we could find.

No labelmaker, no laminator. And no more points to make about that, except that I hope nobody still has the garlic at the back of a closet.

You can keep it simple. Use what's in your hand, and let the rest go. Have fun making things, and let other people (even little ones) help. Check out craft blogs and websites that emphasize frugal, natural, or otherwise minimal required ingredients. Use up your stash of whatever. Enjoy crafting, but don't let it eat you alive.