Monday, January 31, 2011

What's for supper? (and why not to buy cheap baking powder and cocoa)

Tonight's supper:

Subversive Tuna Wrapup with white sauce
Combination of broccoli, red peppers, and a bit of frozen broccoli-red pepper-other mixture veggies
Small panful of frozen french fries

Choice of pie (left over from the weekend) or homemade chocolate pudding

And now a comment on cocoa.  The kind you bake with, not the kind you drink.

Some of us do not normally buy gourmet-type ingredients, nor do we particularly care or notice the difference, say, in whether the cheese mixed with the macaroni is on-sale store-brand or something grander (and necessarily more expensive).  And in many cases, unless you're feeding gourmets who make it their mission to care about such things, or have other reasons such as dietary concerns for wanting a particular level of organic or something-or-other-free, the cheap brand of most ingredients will do nicely for everyday cooking.  Well, okay, so we're a bit fussy about canned tuna--we prefer the next level up from the dog-food-type cheapest kind.  And we do look for a few low-sodium options such as a particular brand of sauerkraut.  But in general, generic is okay with us.  Even in baking, I often go for cheaper alternatives such as imitation vanilla.  I am not trying to win a baking contest, I'm just making oatmeal cookies.

However, there are at least two baking ingredients that it pays to fuss over.  One is the lumpy cheap generic baking powder that leaves little bits of bitter near the top of the muffins.  Blech.  It also comes in a nasty container like a Parmesan cheese can (if you ever buy that kind of Parmesan cheese--I don't) with a swivelling top that's almost impossible to get a tablespoon into, therefore requiring me to decant it into another container, and this shaking-up-and-down-and-out process is time out of my life that I could really spend doing much more interesting things.

So no more of that; I'll either buy it in bulk or spring for the name-brand, which comes with a regular old screw-on lid.  Or substitute cream of tartar plus baking soda (see the Tightwad Gazette or search online for simple instructions).

The other thing I've decided it's worth paying more for is cocoa.  If your cocoa-using recipes come out kind of so-so, it might be the recipe, but on the other hand--it might be the cocoa. The Bulk Barn stores here sell Ruddy Red Cocoa, a Dutch-process alkalized cocoa.  According to their site, "the alkalizing process neutralizes the acidity, leaving a mild but rich tasting cocoa powder that lends a deep chocolate colour to your favourite recipes. If a recipe calls for "Dutch process" cocoa, this is the one to use!"  In the past year or so I've tried it in most of our favourite cakes, brownies, puddings and holiday recipes, and I am a convert.  I much prefer it to the lighter brown supermarket stuff, even if it's messier to scoop.   It's like the difference between fresh-ground pepper and powdered gray stuff.  Or Parmesan cheese in a can vs. freshly grated.  Or fresh nutmeg and pre-ground; not that I always use fresh nutmeg either, but you get the idea?

I finished off the end of the bag in the chocolate pudding, and I guess we will now have to use up some of the regular stuff I have in the pantry.  But I am planning to buy more of it before too long; good cocoa does make a difference.

Here's the chocolate pudding recipe; it's enlarged and adapted from the vanilla/butterscotch/chocolate pudding recipe in Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

Chocolate Pudding

3/4 cup white sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cocoa, see notes above (I might have put in slightly more, since I was dumping out the plastic bag)
3 cups of milk (I used a can of evaporated milk, thinned with water to make 3 cups)
1/2 tbsp. vanilla
chocolate chips for topping, optional

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, and cocoa with a whisk.  Over medium heat, gradually stir in milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Be patient, this will take a few minutes and you don't want it to burn; turn on a good radio station or contemplate something worthwhile, but don't forget to pay attention to what's in the pot.  Keep whisking and remove from heat when it comes to a boil; stir in the vanilla.  Pour into a container of some kind--I prefer a square Pyrex cake pan so that it thickens and chills evenly.  Chill in the refrigerator with plastic wrap spread over the top to reduce skin buildup; you can sprinkle the top with chocolate chips first if you want.  Serves 4 to 6.

The CPSIA rolls on

Did you think the CPSIA had gone dormant?  Overlawyered posts updates and links.

Photo found here.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

From the Archives: A golden age in science publishing?

Originally posted February 2007 
If there was a Golden Age of Scholastic books, there was also a Golden Age of childrens' science publishing. I'm just guessing but I think it started just after WWII and probably extended sometime into the sixties. I'm not talking so much about the little kids' Read-and-Find-Out books, although some of those are semi-classic too (like Benny's Animals And How He Put Them In Order), but something more; a collaboration between scientists, writers, and well-known (or well-known later) childrens' book illustrators. These books were written...let's appeal to junior George Baileys ("Then I'm coming back here and go to college and see what they know…and then I'm going to build things"), Little Eddies, and Homer Prices. Kids like my dear Mr. Fixit who wanted to know how things worked, and who weren't scared off by having to read information instead of getting it delivered in multimedia format.

I picked up three books like this at the thrift shop last week. One is The Story of Sound, by James Geralton. (James Geralton is the pen name of Harvard physics professor emeritus Gerald Holton.) The illustrations are by Joe Krush; you might have seen Beth and Joe Krush's illustrations in The Borrowers or Gone-Away Lake. The cover is terrible, especially with the dustjacket missing; the title is boring (gee, thanks Uncle Max, just what I wanted, The Story of Sound).

But the text draws you in, keeps you interested, and teaches you something along the way. Some examples (they're not consecutive paragraphs):
Wind whistling through a forest may sound mysterious and frightening. But we can now explain that noise quite simply. When the wind hits a branch or a leaf, or a blade of grass, its smooth flow is broken up--just as the pillars of a bridge break the passing stream into small whirlpools and eddies. The eddies of water try to stay and hide right behind the pillars. The little eddies of air, too [no, not those Little Eddies], lie behind the twig or blade, leaf or telegraph wire, while the wind that rushes past pushes them lightly back and forth. The whirls of air vibrate to and fro behind their hiding place, like a flag on a stormy day that flutters from its pole. This vibration of whirling air sets up sound waves, just like any other vibration!
Hot gases, too, like the exhaust from the engine of a car, expand quite rapidly. To make one's automobile trips pleasanter a muffler is usually attached which lets the gas expand more slowly through a widening tube of metal. Thus the noise is deadened a little.
Now we have come to a large and interesting family of noises: those made by explosions! [ooh yeah]
The other two books are sixties paperback reprints of earlier books: Everyday Weather and How It Works, by Herman Schneider, illustrated by Jeanne Bendick; and Research Ideas for Young Scientists, by George Barr, illustrated by John Teppich. The George Barr book in particular is terrific and asks all kinds of questions that young scientists can find answers to: How far did your helium balloon travel? What accounts for the force of a collision? How quickly can you stop your bicycle? Does a blindfolded person walk in a circle? What is the traffic picture at a busy corner? [I'm visualizing Policeman Small here...] Why are ships pointed? How reliable is your camera's shutter?
"Have you been getting poor snapshots lately, even though you used the recommended exposure? Maybe your shutter speed is not what is supposed to be....The next time you use a roll of film, save your last shot for this test. Take a record player, with an extension cord, out into the bright sunlight. Use the standard 78-rpm speed. Place a 10- or 12-inch record on the turntable. Tape a thin white paper strip to the record from the center to the edge....[take a picture while it's going around]....When the picture is printed, measure the angle with a protractor--or compare it with the one shown in the diagram...."
Of course the experiments (like that one) are sometimes anachronistic; other experiments involve roller skates, milk bottles and "stapling machines" ("Dad, can I use that 'stapling machine' you have on your desk?" "Sure, Beaver"). But many of them are still workable; and some of them are more relevant than ever (How much water is wasted in your home?).

Moral: don't be scared off by boring titles or cover art showing tin-can phones; there's gold in some of those Golden Age books.

They can't be doing that, because it's too hard for them, so they can't be doing that and you're lying, so there, nya.

"Someone started the rumor that I beat my students into behaving.  When my second-graders were studying a science unit about dinosaurs, I posted their papers on the bulletin board outside the class, and some teachers spread the word that I had made up those papers myself.  They said it was impossible for my students to write about the brontosaurus and the pterodactyl and the tyrannosaurus when their own classes were still struggling with the first thirteen words in the basal reader.

"The harassment kept up.  Twice I found hate notes in my school mailbox: 'You think you're so great.  We think you're nothing.'  They were signed 'A Colleague.'

"Some days, standing at the blackboard, I felt dizzy....I felt like I was dying."--Marva Collins' Way, by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin

The personality of a crocheter

"I suspect that many people who continue to keep a crochet hook handy retain a pronounced ability to improvise; we think neither more nor less about what we're doing when we grab the hook and bit of string than we think about choosing to walk or skip or run. We bring a destination to mind and launch forth on a direct or a meandering path....In crochet, the basic component is tiny and yet self-sufficient: Each loop is complete at the same time....crochet plays a game whose rules and goal lines change with every movement: a game with no out-of-bounds, a game that perfectly balances control and freedom.

"Open a door, open a loop: Walk out to discover the wider world, raise a single, tiny, bent strand.

"What will come next?"--"One Loop at a Time," by Deborah Robson, in Hooked: A Crocheter's Stash of Wit and Wisdom. (Check it out on Google Books.)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Unduplicatable Crockpot Soup

I doubt you will be able to copy this soup exactly...but it was very tasty. The Apprentice liked it. Ponytails liked it. That's saying something.

Sausage-Chicken Cabbage Soup

1 litre (quart) box of low-sodium chicken broth
2 cooked fat peppery sausages, along with a bit of sauerkraut and some grean beans left in the casserole from last night's oven dinner
The last of a bag of coleslaw mix (grated cabbage and carrot)
Some bits of sliced chicken from leftover chicken curry
A cup of cooked rice left from the chicken curry

Combine in Crockpot. Cook for three hours or more on high, or until vegetables are cooked through. Run an immersion blender through soup briefly before serving if desired.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's for supper? (Thai Chicken and Poppyseed Cake)

Thai-Style Curried Chicken
Rice, Oriental frozen vegetable mix

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, baked in a 9-inch pan instead of as muffins. I used 1/2 tsp. of lemon extract instead of lemon zest, and thinned yogurt instead of buttermilk.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Happy Burns' Day

Today we pay tribute to Robert Burns, born 25 January, 1759.

Miss Crow kept things snapping along. She asked Martha how many poems she could recite, and when Martha said none, Miss Crow raised her hands in mock horror.

"We'll have to remedy that!" she said, and she set Martha a stanza of "Tam o' Shanter" to memorize from a book she had brought in her trunk.--Melissa Wiley, Down to the Bonny Glen (The Martha Years)

(Warning about that video--there is some really scary stuff in there! Not for young children. Ponytails says "awkward.")

Here's a virtual experiment: Burns reading his own "To a Mouse."

Or maybe you prefer claymation?

And here's one for the glacial weather we've been having: "Winter: A Dirge." (It starts out with the fiddle, and the words begin a few lines in.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

School hymn this week: "Jesus, priceless treasure"

Mr. Pipes turned back to the keyboard. "I'm reminded of another lovely hymn, also a passionate adoration of Jesus 'though the earth be shaking and every heart be quaking.' Remember, these were extremely difficult days. A lawyer, Johann Franck, wrote a hymn in 1655, full of tender resting in the arms of Jesus and at the same time a defiance of the Devil and a determination to find the purest pleasure--come wind, come weather--in Jesus. Follow along while I play the tune, then we will sing it together."--Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation, by Douglas Bond
This hymn is more difficult for us than many other we've learned; it's older, we don't usually sing it at our church (so it's not one we've just absorbed by hearing it), and it's in a minor key. We started practicing it this morning by talking about major and minor keys, and humming up and down the D minor scale, since that's what's in the Mennonite hymnal and because the last line of the song is more or less the descending scale. (The Mr. Pipes book shows the hymn in C minor--I might try that one instead since the hymnal version was a bit high.)
"I-I don't think I have ever heard anything more beautiful," said Annie at last. "Life must have been very hard in those days, but he sounds like he really did have peace within. I think I'd be scared."

Mr. Pipes blinked rapidly before speaking. "My dears, Mr. Franck made the very best use of his troubles....Whatever we here must bear, Annie and Drew, remember that Jesus is our purest pleasure--He, our priceless treasure."
I like this video of a family singing the hymn together. The music is by Johann [Johannes] Crüger, and was harmonized later by Bach.

I like this too: it's a Dutch choir singing Jesu Meine Freude as Bach harmonized it (in German), and the video is the four-part sheet music.

Tightwad Gazette Revisited: Notebook of Frugal Triumphs...and blessings

In the Tightwad Gazette Volume 3, or the Complete Tightwad Gazette, there is a note from a newsletter subscriber, who said that she had begun keeping a "journal of frugal triumphs." She found that documenting and then reviewing small successes and "scores" was an encouragement on the days that didn't go so well.

I remember reading this at the time (around 1996) and keeping a similar list...I don't have it now, but I remember such things as finding not one but two dressy dresses in my size at a yard sale, right before a cousin's wedding; a neighbour passing on some extra milk to us (she didn't know we had just finished up the last of it); and Mr. Fixit bringing home free milk and juice that he got at the gas station for filling up his work van (it was okay to do that--the company he worked for didn't want the milk and juice).

I never counted those things as triumphs, though; I thought of them more as blessings than boastings. I read a quote--I think it was in the Os Guinness book I just finished--about atheists being in a pickle when they're feeling thankful and have nobody to thank.

And though I don't always keep a list on paper, I do remember many of the small and large blessings, of the frugal and financial sort, that we have seen over the years. Things like finding something useful at the back of the cupboard; finding a recipe that just matches what's on hand; having something offered to us that we needed; finding a good sale at the supermarket or a treasure at the thrift store. Here are a few of the most recent:

A black skirt for Mama Squirrel from the thrift shop, part wool, suitable for church. Price: $1. (Back in December, MS also found a couple of holiday outfits there for a total of less than $10.)

An extra week's wages for Mr. Fixit; he didn't take enough sick days over the past while, so it was made up in pay. That is a blessing in more ways than one.

Three thrift shop books on Saturday: two by Philip Yancey, and Becoming a Woman of Excellence by Cynthia Heald, something I had wanted to read. Also a copy--a bit battered--of Teddy Jam's Night Cars.

Marked-down chicken and other meat at the supermarket--it wasn't even about to expire. Mr. Fixit cooked the chicken last night for Sunday dinner and it was very good.

Marked-down chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies. Marked-down Italian bread at the more-expensive-supermarket on a day that was too stormy to go to our usual discount store.

Ponytails got 25 Mabel's Labels free with a coupon on the laundry detergent. And a free pair of cupcake earrings on a blog giveaway.

The Apprentice won a free t-shirt and a price card good for store discounts.

Sheets on sale.

Ponytails found a good sewing section in a recently-opened Walmart (somewhere we don't usually shop, so just her being there was kind of unusual); and they had the webbing she needed for her sewing project. (Check Ponytails' blog today for a sneak peek.)

Finally: do you remember the story of Crayons' Crissy doll, how when we bought her she smelled so badly of cigarettes and how her original green plaid dress didn't survive the cleaning? Crayons found the same dress on E-bay last week (Mama Squirrel was helping her look at Crissy clothes) and she got it for less than a dollar--nobody else bid on it. When Mr. Fixit mentioned to the seller that the dress was for his little girl's doll, she cancelled the shipping charge. There are some very, very nice people out there.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Choice and Commitment (Os Guinness, The Call)

"Calling provides the story line for our lives and thus a sense of continuity and coherence in the midst of a fragmented and confusing modern world."--Os Guinness, The Call
It's been a long time since I read The Call, by Os Guinness; it's on my re-read list this year.

Today I read through chapter 20 and I remembered why I liked this book so much in the first place, and why I thought every senior high school student should read it. Chapter 20, "A Focused Life," says so much of what needs to be said...what I need to hear...what I want to say. And I never thought that a chapter beginning with Magellan, my boring old fifth grade Explorers Project, could pinpoint so precisely what's good and what's scary in our culture.
"The modern world offers an endless range of choice and change, overwhelming traditional simplicities and cohesion. Crowded modern cities mean that we are all much closer, yet stranger, to each other. The modern explosion of knowledge menas that other people, places, periods, and psyches are accessible as never before. Yet coherent wisdom to interpret it all eludes us....To be modern is to be addicted to choice and change....[which] leads to a decrease in commitment and continuity--to everyone and everything....there are simply too many choices, too many people to relate to, too much to do, too much to see, too much to read, too much to catch up with and follow, too much be buy....One minute we feel the vertigo of unlimited possibility and the next the frustration of superficiality. But life goes on."
The menu is ten pages long but there's nothing we want to eat.

The bookstore is huge but there's nothing worth reading.

You know that mantra taught in a certain kind of therapy? "I always, always have choices." Perhaps it's good in a certain context, but it can also be overwhelming. How about not making it a choice anymore to behave in a certain way? If duty and conscience say "no," then the choice is already made...end of argument.
"Arguments against choice need to recognize the special, godlike power of choice. But ultimately only one thing can conquer choice--being chosen....We are not our own; we have been bought with a price....What matters is that we follow the call."

Thinking of Jeanne

An update from the flooded areas of Australia, including Jeanne's house.

(Jeanne, I am so sorry to see these pictures of the mess--I have so enjoyed seeing photos of your beautiful home and garden. Praying that all will be well with you.)

Books for tots at The Common Room

The Deputy Headmistress wants to know what your favourite toddler/preschooler books are.

We do have an (old) copy of Honey for a Child's Heart, but my go-to book when The Apprentice was small was Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books. I also got ideas of what-to-read-when from Dorothy White's Books Before Five, a diary she kept about her own little girl's first book experiences, and Marguerite Kelly's Mother's Almanac. Now back in that Stone Age of finding used books (when Abebooks wasn't an option), we at least had a dial-in to the public library so that I could reserve books, and there was a weekly Bookmobile that brought them all, to be carried home in the stroller. So a lot of her early books were borrowed. And borrowed. And borrowed again.

But I did start looking at used bookshops, too, and thrift shops, and library sales. And we started building up a collection. We discovered Brian Wildsmith, John Burningham, and Dick Bruna, just from the first page of "Books to Use in the First Year." Should I keep going? Helen Oxenbury, Pat Hutchins, Marie Hall Ets, Eve Rice, Eric Carle, Peter Spier, Erik Blegvad, Aliki...The Tall Book of Mother Goose, several of the Beatrix Potter books (we started with Miss Moppet and Appley Dappley when The Apprentice was two), and poetry from a book called Sunflakes (that was one we didn't find in Butler's book). We borrowed or dug up copies of But Where Is the Green Parrot?, Sam Who Never Forgets, Lois Lenski's Davy books, Drummer Hoff, The Circus Baby, The Chick and the Duckling, Paul Galdone's fairy tale books, Shirley Hughes' Alfie books, Harry the Dirty Dog, the Jeanne Marie books, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, May I Bring a Friend?, Carl-the-babysitting-dog wordless books, The Mitten, and Teddy Jam's Night Cars. (Most of those are listed in Butler's book, a few aren't.) We also bought several issues of Ladybug Magazine (and a couple of Babybugs when it began, though Babybug was a bit pricey for us), read A Child's Garden of Verses, Pooh stories, The Little Engine That Could, Little Fur Family and bought one Bible story book (had to special-order that one, along with the Mother Goose). We read books about Babar and Frances the badger. We read Christmas picture books.

And we're only about up to age two-rising-three in Babies Need Books. BNB did us well until The Apprentice was about five or six, just about the time that Ponytails was coming along. Dorothy Butler wrote a sequel, Five to Eight, which, like the first, had the problem for us, even then, of being both slightly out of date and having a lot of British titles*--a lot of what you see is not going to be on the shelf at the chain bookstore. But that doesn't mean the books listed aren't keepers, just that you have to look for them a bit harder.

Some books got torn and worn over the years...some got taped back together, some were unsalvageable.  Every so often I see a copy of something we had only from the library, or something that was lost, and pick up another copy, even though our youngest is now in fourth grade.   It was only in the last year or so that we found paperback copies of The Tiger Who Came to Tea and This Little Puffin.  But I keep adding them anyway, if not for my own children, then for  Vacation Bible Camp or for other occasions.  (Who am I kidding...I like them myself.)

*Both the Dorothys were from New Zealand.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What's for supper?--Applesauce Chicken

We haven't had A Year of Slow Cooking's Applesauce Chicken for a long time--I made it tonight with bone-in thighs, and baked it in the oven instead of in the slow cooker. I thickened it at the end with cornstarch--there was lots of sauce.


Baked butternut squash

Banana bread, yogurt

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Quote for Sunday: "Waiting there for us all along"

"If the chasm is to be bridged, God must bridge it. If we are to desire the highest good, the highest good must come down and draw us so that it may become a reality we desire. From this perspective there is no merit in either seeking or finding. All is grace. The secret of seeking is not in our human ascent to God, but in God's descent to us....What brings us home is not our discovery of the way home but the call of the Father who has been waiting there for us all along, whose presence there makes home home."--Os Guinness, The Call

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What a sweet poet of a husband

Go enjoy this Christmas-gift poem at CM, Children and Lots of Grace.  (Thanks for sharing it with us!)

Revisiting The Tightwad Gazette, 2011

When I thought about doing some blog posts on The Tightwad Gazette, I was hoping to start a little closer to the actual 20-year anniversary of the newsletter's starting date.  I had a vague impression of "1991" in my head--turned out that, oops, this is indeed OUR 20-year anniversary, but Amy Dacyczyn started the newsletter in May 1990.

When I first knew Mr. Fixit, I was sort of a tightwad wanna-be; or perhaps a frequently-misbehaving tightwad.  By the time we got married, necessity made us both more than ready to tighten things up more than they had been; late-night courting pizzas had been fun, but a new house (even a small one) and a Squirreling soon on the way meant a different reality.  Plus the whole economy was in a bad spot during those years.  As I've said before, wedding rings were cheap; broccoli was expensive.

So all that is to say that, from our earliest Treehouse days, we tried to be careful with money; we had other books about frugality and quite a few broke-and-or-frugal friends to learn from; but I don't remember exactly when or how I first heard about The Tightwad Gazette.  The first book was published in 1992, but I bought it used sometime later, maybe in 1993 or '94.  The second book came out in 1995, and I got it with "four free books for joining" from a book club (I still had some things to learn).  At that point we started subscribing to the newsletter, and almost right away heard that it would be winding up in 1996.


But we did get several months' worth of newsletters, and then bought the third book when it came out at the end of the year.  Brand new, $17.95.  I knew it would be worth it.

So knowing all that, I guess our most intense apprenticeship with Amy would have been through the early to mid '90's.  I took the handles off a small pot, trying to make it fit inside our pressure cooker to make rice and beans (I gave up on that--pot and cooker were just the wrong shape). I tried a whole lot of things, especially food-related, from the books:  gelatin, popsicles, coffee mixes, chili, breadcrumb cookies, practicing "how to avoid feeling deprived," home haircutting (Mr. Fixit was the first to try that here); buying grains and beans from a co-op; juice-lid toys; the "snowball principle"; the "combining frugal strategies" principle; frugal-baby ideas; newspaper Easter bonnets; and egg-carton crowns.  (I passed on the dryer-lint Halloween mask.)  We didn't try everything (have never been dumpster diving either), but we learned one main principle:  nothing is too weird to try if it means you stay afloat.  And another one:   that a lot of "radical tightwad" ideas are just the "normal" of a couple of generations ago--less stuff, more time and so on.

If fixing, scrounging and occasionally doing without things meant that we could pay off our house, have me stay home with the kids (and eventually homeschool them), and stay out of credit-card debt--then, as Amy says in the intro to her first book, we weren't too frugal. 

It wasn't until years later that I realized, via Google, how many people out there had issues with certain frugal practices and Dacyczyn parenting points.  Given the number of critics who are STILL trashing Amy on message boards for powdered milk and making her kids clean their plates, it's no wonder that their family went into a more private lifestyle after the newsletter ended.   I still admire her, though, and am still learning through her books (I keep them with our cookbooks); Amy stuck her neck out, did the math instead of just saying "this should save you money," and took the risk of being called extremist. 

Maybe it's fifteen years since we connected, maybe it's more; it doesn't matter exactly.  The Dacyczyns' risk gave us more confidence to live the way we wanted, and to keep working on that over the years.  And for that, we thank them, and the Gazette.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

This Term's Work: Crayons' Bible Geography

As I mentioned at the beginning of the year, Crayons (Grade 4) is using the Grade 5 Bible Geography and Archaeology curriculum printed out from this site.

I won't say it's been the most enthralling course ever, in spite of the fact that the silly multiple-choice questions try to lighten things up.  In light doses, it's all right...and I still think the content or at least the concept is very important.  In some places, there isn't enough content given in the week's lesson outline--you are expected to be using outside resources, I think, to really teach about Ur or Nineveh or Sodom and Gomorrah.  (That is, besides reading the suggested Bible texts.)  And that's okay; you might have a favourite film or book, or have access to Bible history magazines or something of that sort to show what life was like then and where those places were, or what's been dug up there recently. In that case, the printed questions are really just for review at the end of the lesson.

What I really like, though, is the part of the course we're in now.  We've just finished looking at several of the kingdoms that surrounded Israel, or Palestine, or whatever you want to call it, in Old Testament times.  In Sunday School you hear briefly about Ammon, Moab and so on--but unless you're a real keener and go look them up on a map in the back of your Bible, you probably don't have much idea about those places.  So we've tried to fix the "near neighbours" in our heads; and then the course goes on to cover the Big Guys.  Assyria, Babylon/Chaldea, Persia.  This is where things could get awfully dull or mixed up if the Sunday School teacher knew more about Israel than he/she did about general world history.  But, on a personal note, I do not remember, ever, any childhood Sunday School lessons that explained who all those guys were or how they were connected, how what they were doing in the Bible stories connected with Big World History.  So I guess that even a dull little would be better than a big blank.  I got to grade 11 World History and, in spite of thinking then that I knew my Bible stories (and I did, probably better than a lot of people in the class), I didn't have a clue about Mesopotamia or any other empires, or what went on between the Old and New Testaments.  The connections just weren't there.

So I'm trying to ensure that Crayons gets something to remember out of these particular lessons...just a few pegs at least to hang future history and Bible study on.  When I read the early chapters of Hillyer's History with Ponytails a few years ago, we talked about the A-B-C's of Ancient History/Mesopotamia:  Assyria, Babylon, Chaldea; that's easy to remember.  We're looking at pages from the very visual  Usborne Book of World History (this is what ours looks like), which is good because it shows Assyria sandwiched in between the early Babylonians/Mesopotamians and the later ones.  There's a good Assyria/Babylon page in People of the Bible: Life and Customs.  Just be careful if you're looking up this sort of information for younger students, because the Assyrians, in particular, were known for their cruelty (and because, if you're familiar with Usborne history books or read the Amazon reviews, there can also be nudity and other problems with what's included, what's left out and so on).

All this can lead to very interesting side discussions about goddesses, and Hanging Gardens, and clay tablets.  But the key to it--for me--is not so much even the physical map of where those empires were.  It's the mental map that, I hope, will fire off a ka-ching in the future when some of this comes up again.

The most ironic thing about this, I suppose, is that I saw a letter to the editor in this week's paper, saying that fifth-grade children are too young to read the Bible.  This was in response to a local debate about whether a Bible-distribution society (you know the one, it's in a Beatles song) should be allowed to continue to offer free New Testaments to fifth graders here as they have for many years.  The teacher sends the info slips home once a year, interested parents send them back, and the teacher distributes the requested books after class.  But that's not enough separation-of-church-and-state for some people, so it's caused a lot of argument recently.  Anyway, I wondered if and when the writer thought that children should be old enough to read or hear the Bible!  For me, grade 11 was almost too late to start fitting the pieces together.  I'm hoping a little more will stick for Crayons.

This Term's Work: Picture Study

My choice for this term's art study is Woldemar Neufeld.

We were going to do Tom Thomson, but I have this lovely book that Mr. Fixit bought for me as an early Christmas present this year...and Neufeld, although he spent much of his life in the U.S., also did many paintings of this part of Ontario.  Here's a short bio page. 

We'll probably also visit the Neufield gallery.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Now I remember why I didn't like the '90's

Relating to clothes, I mean.

The Space Between My Peers discusses the idea of seven-year fashion cycles, and where we are now.

(No more baby doll tops! Thank you!)

Once Upon a Company (review)

Once upon a company...A True Story, by Wendy Anderson Halperin.  Orchard Books, 1998.

When's the best time to add to your Christmas shelf?  Right after Christmas, at the public library...ours has been clearing out the excess, and we were able to pick up a couple of new holiday books.  Once upon a company isn't exactly a Christmas book, but I guess it got shelved with the rest because the kids in the book start a business making and selling Christmas wreaths. 

And what a neat book, as well as a neat idea for a business!  (As the wreath making expands over several years, the kids also open a summer lemonade-stand-plus, and they learn a lot about basic economics and business principles.) The illustrations will keep kids busy picking out details for quite awhile...I hope it doesn't get printed in a smaller or cheaper format, because the pictures would really suffer.
The first year we made seventy-three wreaths.  We gave one to everybody who helped.  The others we sold for twenty dollars apiece.  After we subtracted the money we'd used to buy supplies, we still had some left over.  WE'D MADE A PROFIT!  After Christmas, we went to the bank with our money.
Here is a riddle for you:

What has four legs, can rear up on two, eats Christmas wreaths and probably your shoe?

Answer: Our goat.
And check this out on the author's website:  photos of the real company (including their sandwich-shaped lemonade stand), teaching ideas, and coloring pages.

Not buying again in Alberta

Tom and Malora Mulhern have revived their no-buying (or limited-buying) compact this year, in company with a few other families in Alberta.  They've also started posting again on their blog, Our Compact Life.  Stay tuned over there to see how it goes.

Monday, January 10, 2011

How do you unravel a sweater?

You always wanted to know, right?  Tutorial on Sneezerville, linked from the Weekend Roundup at One Pretty Thing.

I also like the chenille-backed baby washcloths featured on the same roundup.  If you can find chenille fabric, they'd be very easy to sew.

They do grow up (from the archives)

Originally posted July 2006...the Apprentice was finished grade 9 at home and was about to start grade 9 at public high school.  (She did some of each.)

And as of the end of this month, she will be done her final semester and ready to move on to...well, let's get exams out of the way first.

Five Things by the apprentice

I don't know if I'm *supposed* to be doing this, but I figured it couldn't hurt. It sounded fun. :-D

5 things in my refrigerator:
*My* refrigerator? I don't have one. How about...what I would put in if I had one.
1. Cupcakes that my friend and her mom made, with little whales on top.
2. Twix ice cream
3. Diet Pepsi
4. Mr. Goudas or Chubby ginger beer
5. Nail polish

5 things in my closet:
1. Guitar
2. My memory box
3. A lot of bags and purses, because people keep giving me them
4. 3 sheer tops that I absolutely love (and got on discount)
5. My old cats-eye sunglasses that I stepped on but just can't throw away

5 things in my purse:
1. Pocket Neopet
2. Lip gloss
3. Nail file with a mirror on the back
4. I had some candy, but I ate it...
5. Bead store bonus card

5 things in my car: about my bike?
1. Bell
2. Lock
3. Helmet
4. Seat
5. Me

And now I'm going to share a lovely lip gloss recipe I tried today:

a chunk of Dora the Explorer lip balm
a squirt of Caboodles Dynamic Duo lipgloss in Grape
purple food colouring
lemon food flavouring

You need to heat it up in some way. You could microwave, or if you don't have a microwave, put your pot into some boiling water.

Many thanks to cyens on She told me how to do it, and then I got very creative with the ingredients.

Friday, January 07, 2011

When the fridge is empty...or full...(What's for supper?)

The week after New Year's is sometimes a strange one, grocery-wise. As Cardamom Addict pointed out, you may be using up the last of unusual holiday ingredients; in our case, we're also short on/out of a few things. Groceries tomorrow.

So what was in the fridge/freezer/cupboard for supper?

Well, there was quiche, left over from last night. But I was also thawing a package of ground chicken. My plan was just to cook it with a can of no-salt tomato sauce, and serve it over spaghetti. Easy if not inspired. But there wasn't anything extra to put into meat sauce--no mushrooms or peppers. So what about some kind of a white sauce? There was half-and-half cream, the last bought-on-sale grated Romano cheese, sour cream, mixed herbs that I had put together for a food gift (what was left afterwards), Scoobi-doo pasta, frozen peas...all of that went together in a skillet dish loosely based on Chicken Alfredo. It didn't look as fancy as Chicken Alfredo, but it tasted good. It could have maybe used a stronger dose of the herbs, but I was being cautious. Mr. Fixit added hot sauce to his.

And there was a head of iceberg lettuce, bought for economy, not for taste. The middle of the head was too yellow to eat, but the outside was fine. There were half a dozen carrots rolling around the crisper; I sliced one thin for salad and made carrot sticks out of the rest. To the lettuce and carrots I added the last of a bunch of celery, and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. I also opened a can of no-salt chick peas and put them on the table for them that wanted.

There was a rare can of refrigerated crescent rolls, bought last week when the supermarket had them for 99 cents. Ponytails put those together.

I wanted to make cookies today, but we are out of butter and close to the end of the margarine, so it had to be an oil-based recipe. So I mixed up a batch of Sesame Cookies, made without the raisins but with chopped candied ginger added instead. (I used the end of a box of raw sugar too.)

There was some leftover gingerbread cake. And canned peaches if anyone had wanted them, but we were all full enough.

Sometimes you feel like you're starting with nothing. But you end up with something...and leftovers as well.

Creating Glory

Coffee, Tea, Books and Me has a good post this week about a word for the year.
"I find myself craving that feeling one gets in the midst of a creative project and the Eureka moment when I realize that which I have planned in my mind is now coming together in my hands.

"There must be a toppling over of walls of fear and fatigue which keep one from expanding their horizons.

"I've mentioned so often the need to be surrounded by beauty at home, especially as the outside world seems so out of our control.  I've been thinking lately about beauty and liturgy and how we are created in the image of a creative God.  How beauty is a need in our life, far more than just a desire."

Lots of grocery tips

The financial blog Monroe on a Budget has an extensive grocery shopping on a budget page with lots of links.  Very helpful, and I wanted to pass it on to anyone who's in post-holiday budgeting mode.

Friday School Plans...and Crayons' Epiphany Gala

What's up today for the Squirrelings?

Well, that's after we get enough clothes on to go out and shovel the steps and help Mr. Fixit clear the driveway.

We have been reading Little Town on the Prairie together this week before starting other classes--just something that got started on kind of a whim.  And we usually start with a hymn or O Canada--sometimes with the hymn books, sometimes with You-tube.

Then Crayons has table work with me--she has just started Math Mammoth Light Blue Grade 4 (thanks, Mr. Fixit, for printing it out), so she's doing addition and subtraction review in that book.  And I have to put a few dates together for her to paste into her timeline book--we are doing a Book of the Centuries but in a format that doesn't take as much writing.  Oh, and we have a science experiment involving popcorn.  And four pages of Robinson Crusoe.

Ponytails has ongoing work in math and science; she is doing an outline of a magazine article (from one of the units in Write with the Best) and studying nouns in Easy Grammar Plus.  Today is Canadian History day (we usually read that together) and she also has half a chapter of Story of the World Book 4 to read.  And some assigned pages from The Accidental Voyage (the last Mr. Pipes book of hymns and history).

Group times:  we are continuing our French lessons together, reading Louisa May Alcott's Jack and Jill, reading a couple of pages from It Couldn't Just Happen, and doing a picture study.  Except that it's now Friday morning and I'm not sure what picture we're doing.  I guess that will have to wait until after lunch.

Making stuff:  Ponytails has a couple of current projects; she'll probably post them on My Passions for Fashions when she's done.  Crayons has been extremely busy over the last few days since she arranged a Twelfth Night/Epiphany party for her Only Hearts Club doll (who's Hispanic), the little sister of the Only Hearts Club doll, the same-sized friends of the Only Hearts Club doll, and the rest of us human beings, who felt a bit like we'd been invited to the Miss Happiness and Miss Flower housewarming in Rumer Godden's book.  She made decorations, gave a speech, gave EVERYONE tiny Sculpey presents, gave us paper hats, and read us the Three Kings Day chapter of The Happy Orpheline.   I love it when the Squirrelings get old enough to think of things like that all by themselves.  Thanks, Crayons!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Five Years Ago at the Treehouse: New Year's Narnia Party

From the archives: originally posted January 2, 2006, and written by Ponytails (who was in the third grade then)

NEW YEARS TIME, by Ponytails

For New Years we had a Narnia party. And I made an Aslan mask and tail out of brown and yellow paper. For dinner Mommy made baked apples with raisins in the top, and sausages (with real meat) and potatoes. For dessert she made peach-banana sherbet, and we made cookies--warriors, and lions (Aslan). And Daddy provided some shows for us to do. I was Aslan in one of them. I was the White Witch in one of them, and The Apprentice was Mrs. Beaver. Mrs. Beaver was a locksmith, and the White Witch couldn't get into her house. She tried everything, then she called up Mrs. Beaver. I turned Mrs. Beaver to stone--that wasn't in the story. I turned her back again and she gnawed the door open. I said, "Is there anything I can do to pay you back?" Mrs. Beaver said, "Turn some of my friends back from being stone." I turned Daddy and Crayons and Mommy back. When I turned Mommy back, she started saying, "Pick up your clothes, young witch!" And then I turned her BACK into stone.

The Apprentice was in charge of Beadie Buddies. I made a mouse. So did Daddy. And we went on a treasure hunt for pink cordial, a fur coat and a flute.

And we did a devotion. That was Bible time, and talking about things we did this year, and what stood out in our life in 2005. I remembered going to Kelsey's restaurant with our grandma and grandpa. It's a long way away, about three hours.


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Monday, January 03, 2011

Winter Countdown with the Squirrelings

Happy 5th Anniversary to the Carnival of Homeschooling!

It's never too late to decorate for holidays. Even in a culture that puts up Christmas trees in November and yanks them down on Boxing Day.

Most of our decorations didn't get put up until pretty close to Christmas this year--busy people and a lot of general crafting/schooling/doing chaos that needed to be cleared out before we could think about adding extra things. We didn't get our Nativity scene up until New Year's Day--but since we have only one shepherd and three wise men, what better time to make it the centre of things than the days before Epiphany? And yes, we still have all the other Christmas things up--no point in only having them out for a week.

Since we've started back to school, we also have a Winter Countdown Calendar posted on the kitchen wall. We didn't have an Advent calendar, so we had to count down to something. What are we counting down to? Groundhog Day. Or Candlemas, if you prefer.

Remember that we had three thrifted copies of the Owl Book of Winter Fun?  Solar Handwarmers! Penguins! Footprints in the snow!  All those things that you can do if you have an Ontario backyard full of snow, and homeschoolers to try them out. There's one of the copies peeking out there behind the rummage sale pickings:

Mama Squirrel decided that we needed to do something with those books and also that we needed to have a bit of post-Christmas school fun.  She picked out daily puzzles, pictures to look at, and snow things to try from the books, and wrote them onto enough index cards to last from now until February 2nd (the last activity is a fact page called Groundhog Daze).  On the backs of the index cards are pasted parts of a larger picture.  So:  the cards are posted with Stick-Tac, in order, on a shiny piece of wrapping paper on the kitchen wall.  Each day there are a couple of things for the girls to do in their books, and then the card gets turned around.  By February, we'll see the whole picture, and we'll end with a Wodent Party.

And by that time it won't be quite so dark and cold.

Answered prayers at the Common Room

We are happy to hear that the Striderling is going home!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Reminder - send in a post for the 5th Anniversary Carnival of Homeschooling

Carnival of Homeschooling
The Carnival of Homeschooling is going to be five years old this week!

And the carnival owners would like to pass on the following:
"Please send in your submission to the next Carnival of Homeschooling, which will be held at  Why Homeschool.

Go here for the instructions on sending in a submission.

As always, entries to the Carnival of Homeschooling are due Monday evening at 6:00 PM Pacific Standard Time."

Sculpey® share

I have to be a bit careful about revealing details on this, since it involves the behind-the-scenes of a Christmas present.

There was one Michael's coupon, which equalled one discounted 12-pack of Sculpey® III.  It made more sense than buying a handful of separate blocks.
There was one family member with a lot of imagination who took the twelve bars, divided them into two six-packs, and created custom labels for each colour.  Some of the labels were family jokes.  Others were more general:  "Light my Sapphire."  "My Bieby."
There were two Squirrelings, each with a Christmas stocking.  Each received one ribbon-tied cellophane bag, containing six personalized blocks of clay.   (Among other things.)
Mama Squirrel was not the label-maker.  But she did get the idea from what Green & Gorgeous did with big chocolate bars

Christmas Dessert: Chocolate Trifle, now with photos

(The toothpicks are not meant to be decorative--they were to hold the plastic wrap up.)

This is the recipe we used for trifle--the same one we've used for several years, but it's been quite awhile since we've made one.  We cut back on the sugar in the whipped cream, and added thawed frozen raspberries.  What to put on top?  Mama Squirrel found some chocolate sprinkles in the cupboard, and The Apprentice used bell and star cutters to cut shapes from the leftover cake.

(Note:  we made this a day ahead, since the trifle part is better if it sets--but Mama Squirrel forgot that sprinkles on whipped cream tend to melt and bleed a bit.  Good thing we had a few left in the jar to top it up again.)

Photos:  Ponytails

Christmas Cookies: Last Minute (now with photo)

We got to Christmas Eve and the cookie stash was depleted...even the Butterscotch Bars were almost gone.  Note to self:  stop making the kinds of cookies that people like too much too many days before Christmas.

OK...time for one batch of something quick.  The fastest sugar cookie recipe I know!  (Remember Speed Baking?)

Push onto the pans.  Press with a glass.  Just about ready to go into the oven--and I thought of Grandma Squirrel's little canape cutters in the drawer.  I found the flower and star cutters, and cut a shape through each cookie--not lifting out the dough, just leaving it in the middle.  As they baked, the cut-out part baked back into the cookie, but left us with an impression of the shape. 

The stars turned out clearer than the flowers...but we had a bit of strawberry-flavoured frosting in the fridge (from the Apprentice's class brownie project), and that went on about half the, up on the top shelf we had some pastel star sprinkles from someone's birthday! Yes!

So we have plain star cookies, and icing star cookies.  Sometimes last-minute baking turns out the best of all.

(How do you get strawberry-flavoured frosting?  Ice-cream/milk shake flavouring--The Apprentice had bought some last year to put in milk shakes.)

Photo: Ponytails.

Linked from Four Moms' Christmas Baking, December 2011.
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