Friday, April 29, 2011

What's for supper? Chinese-flavoured beef stew

Last night's entree was a real cleaning-out-the-fridge stew, and it turned out much better than you'd think.  In the slow cooker, I put:

Stewing beef cubes, somewhat thawed
The remaining third of a jar of hoisin sauce, shaken up with just enough water to clean the jar
One sweet potato, cut into pieces about the size of a baby carrot
One carrot, cut into pieces the same size
One onion, sliced thin.

I let it all cook on high for about six hours, because the beef was still partly frozen.  Right near the end I added frozen broccoli, right out of the bag--it cooked quickly but didn't get too mushy.  I also added a bit of cornstarch to thicken it slightly.

We had the stew with Basmati rice,  and put out oranges and graham crackers for dessert.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sweet violets: a breath of Easter

What's absolutely free and wildly abundant when Resurrection Sunday comes late?

Violets--enough to fill a flower bowl and two glass baskets on our dinner table.  The two closeup photos were actually taken after dinner, when the poor things were starting to wilt.  But for a couple of hours they were a wonderful addition to the table.  (Thanks to the Squirrelings who energetically picked all they could.)

Photos: Ponytails.

Where has that Apprentice gone?

Our Apprentice has finally updated her Blue Eyeshadow blog, with one post on "Where am I now?", and one on "The Binary Hair System". Really. Physics and hairstyling--that's my girl.

From the not-so-long-ago archives: Charlotte Mason, Beyond Us

Originally posted in April 2010, as "A Month with Charlotte Mason, #19: Beyond Us."
"I think of a young woman I met at the corner store once who was toting a little one; I asked her if she knew about the mom-and-tot play programs and drop-ins that our community centre offered. She just looked at me without much interest and said, "He'd rather play in the toilet." Maybe she was joking? I've never been sure."--2005 post here about poverty
If there's anything I feel apologetic about in Charlotte Mason, it's a way...homeschoolers have appropriated her ideas, made them our own, and turned Charlotte Mason into...well, Charlotte Mason. Something that takes us an hour to explain (including the necessary biographical details) and causes people to wonder (as one lady asked plaintively at a support group meeting), "um...are there any OTHER ways to homeschool?"

It's true that Miss Mason warned even school principals not to take up her methods too "lightly," and if it was a danger for them, surely it is for us as well...a lot of what online CMers have worked at over the past decade or so has been meant to balance the proliferation of "Charlotte Mason Lite." It's also true that if you want to know what all this is/was about, you cannot do better than to read Charlotte Mason's books. Forty years of experience packed into a few paperbacks..."the best thoughts of the best minds" and all that.

However... there are two points, two big ones anyway, that get missed in this. One is that Charlotte Mason headed the Parents National Educational Union, which was a nation-wide group. In other words, it wasn't just CM and her best and closest friends; this was a large iron-sharpening-iron community. You can call her the inspiration, the head, even the heart behind this educational movement...but she didn't do it alone. She edited the Parent's Review, but she didn't write it alone. She headed the House of Education training college, but she didn't teach it alone. She wouldn't have called her philosophy and methods "Charlotte Mason Education." I'm not even sure what she did call it. In the books she refers to "this method," "PNEU methods" and so on, but "it" doesn't even seem to have a more official name...and perhaps that's the reason we've fallen back on referring to it as "Charlotte Mason" or CM, just like "Montessori schools." But perhaps if we started saying that we homeschool using PNEU methods, it would get even worse...people would do Google searches and come up with travel guides. Or we'd get people asking about how you homeschool using that pneu-monia method. Without trying to discredit Charlotte Mason, I wonder if someday we'll come up with a name for her method that nails it without requiring an entire workshop's worth of explanation.

The second issue is this, and it's why I pasted that quote at the top: there is a need for the wisdom-made-practical that we have benefited from ourselves, even if it's not labelled CM or packaged the way we expect. Charlotte Mason appreciated excellent educators, even if they'd never heard of her methods (or they had lived before her time). She particularly mentioned a teacher in a mining community who taught his students what they really wanted and needed to know, helped them find answers to the things they wondered about, and (I think) showed them that they were intelligent enough to learn those things. It reminds me of Marva Collins teaching inner-city kids stuff that was way off the expected-results charts. It reminds me of some of the books on the website Learner's Library, like Richard B. Gregg's Preparation for Science, published in 1928, endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi, and meant to give rural students in India a strong start in science [2011 note: if those links don't work, try Arvind Gupta's own website and this link to Gregg's book]...which also reminds me of George Washington Carver and his college students scrounging stuff to make their own lab equipment. It reminds me of some of the points in For the Children's Sake, that CM's methods can be used in the most unlikely settings.

And those unlikely settings...perhaps...are where we should be setting our hearts, using our creativity. The unlikely children, even the ones with the "play in the toilet" parents. Especially those ones. Many of us have cultivated our creative frugal homeschooling...and yet it's not even our children, necessarily, who need that creativity the most. I live on a somewhat limited budget, but I could go out and buy a math game if I needed to; I just prefer to make my own, or to use what we already have, or to scrounge a used one. For some parents, using any available materials would be necessity, not choice...but even more important, for some of those same parents, the materials may be there but the motivation and the knowledge to use them are not. Simplest example: many homeschoolers know how to use a deck of cards to teach math count the spots, you learn the numerals, you play simple games...and don't most people have cards around the house, or pencil and paper, or Cheerios? Using Cheerios, or beans or raisins or pennies, you could exactly duplicate the very detailed early math lessons that Charlotte Mason gives in Home Education. We have this information...we have used it, we've expanded on it, we've created games, we've taught our children... but to a lot of people, a deck of cards is just a deck of cards.

So where to from here? Literally, where to?

Who to?

I greatly admire our online friend the Deputy Headmistress, and I've often drawn on her CM ideas myself. What has impressed me lately, though, is how she's...reinvented isn't the right word, but I'm searching for a better one...retooled how she does CM/AO, to work well under special circumstances, for two children of a different cultural, different economic/family background. She and her family are giving them the atmosphere and the discipline (sorry about the tulips), the ideas and the living books. What Blynken does for school when he's there doesn't have to look exactly like AO Year 1 (well, he's only in kindergarten anyway). It couldn't, because he isn't there all the time.

But this is the whole point...that this thing is based, according to Charlotte Mason, on a few principles and truths about the way our minds work, about who we are, about what we need. It's not a Victorian/Edwardian/George the Fifthian, English, one-old-woman-in-black movement. It has roots going back to Comenius and Plutarch and classical education as a whole (see some of Krakovianka's posts for discussion on that). It resonated with twentieth-century Christians working at L'Abri. It can reach forward into a time when it's most needed...a time that's already here when we're forgetting so much of even our own past century's history, when people don't want to read anything longer than Twitter, when we don't know how to survive without our plug-ins, or how to cook food that comes without a package and directions. Mr. Fixit has a young German-raised co-worker who didn't recognize the term "Austro-Hungary" (where Mr. Fixit's grandparents were born), and who knows almost nothing about the Third Reich. As another example, when the Apprentice started public high school she was somewhat surprised to find that she knew more about women's history issues (such as the right of a woman to be recognized as co-owner of a family farm) than some of her friends did. And we are hardly militant feminists here.

I don't think the answer, somehow, is going to be in hosting scare-you-off CM workshops, even basic ones. The world is full of Blynkens, and toilet kids, and teenagers who could still find a bigger room to step into if they had some encouragement. Not all of us can handle weekend (or two-week) unofficial foster kids. But some of us can find...need to find...other ways to reach out beyond our own few lucky homeschooled children. The world may not need (or think it needs) more "CM," but it does need more magnanimity, more imagination, more story, more humanness, more connection points, more wonder. If that's what we're able to give our own children, that's good. But if we can find a way to pass it on even further...wouldn't that be amazing?

Something to think about, anyway.

Friday, April 22, 2011

My catalogue, my friend? (and a bonus frugal link)

The very thoughtful and passionate Cindy at Ordo Amoris has posted her "Annual Catalog Post."   Even this veteran homeschooler admits to feeling a certain amount of angst while looking through shiny homeschool catalogues:
"Then I feel angry at my husband. ("Seriously, man, work some overtime.")

"Within a few days I feel like a total homeschool failure.("I can't even afford to put them all in public school.")

"It would be less sinful for me to peruse the Sport's Illustrated swimsuit issue. At least I couldn't even pretend I could look like those models."
Anyone who has hung around around our blog, or has sat through one of Mama Squirrel's occasional workshops on homeschool frugality, knows that we are not big homeschool buyers here either.  We share Cindy's annoyance with marketing that plays on ambition, envy, and fear, whether it's directed at homeschoolers, clothing buyers, or toothpaste users.  And we understand her worry that homeschoolers try too hard to emulate our culture's values, or non-values, in the way that school subjects are taught, and in our assumption, for example, about the value of a high school or college diploma.  Where we live, homeschoolers don't even get provincial high school diplomas, so that's a real issue for many people we know who would otherwise continue to teach their children through those years.

So you would probably expect me to agree with everything she has said in her post. 

Well...maybe it's because I'm still not much of an online shopper, or because I live where bricks-and-mortar homeschool stores are scarce (I know of only one, a couple of hours from here), or because I'm too old and cynical to be expecting catalogues to solve all my life problems...but I rather enjoy reading the few catalogues that I do get.  I get maybe two actual homeschool catalogues by mail a year, and pick up a couple more at the spring conference.  Compared with the image I get of American hyper-catalogues, I guess they're pretty low-key; they tend to stick mostly to product descriptions.

Over the past few years, we've developed a relationship, if you can call it that, with the company that has the above-mentioned bricks-and-mortar store.  Not that the "Squirrel account" is going to make anybody rich; this company doesn't carry everything we want, especially in areas like literature, so we don't buy a huge amount of material there; but we like being on a first-name basis with one family-run business.  We pick up a couple of things from them at the conference, and try to combine a late-summer drop-in with a visit to the beach.   Their catalogue is just one tool for me; the products we've bought from them are also tools, things that have made our homeschooling lives easier in one way or another.   They sell pretty standard Christian-homeschool stuff:  Apologia science, Letz Farmer's Math Made Meaningful, novel studies.  Some of it we have used for years, the rest does not interest us, but it's not a particular source of angst.

Does it seem strange that a frugal, CM-based homeschooler should defend least old-fashioned what's pretty much a post-catalogue era?  Isn't that kind of blowing heat up the chimney?  I find myself trying to peer around my advancing age to see what the younger homeschoolers are up to, and I'm haven't been able to nail that one down yet.  I do have a feeling that plain-old-stuff programs like Miquon Math that,unfortunately, aren't just open-the-book-and-teach, are probably headed for oblivion with the coming generation (do younger homeschool parents even know what the New Math era was?).  I've heard it said by others that the new crop of parents aren't even familiar with "the classics of homeschooling," whatever that might mean.  I'm guessing that would include some of the Christian-oriented books that came out in the '80's and '90's, maybe those by the Moores, Ruth Beechick, Mary Pride, Valerie Bendt, or Diana Waring, rather than, say, John Holt. 

Well, how did we get to know about those things?  For me, it was largely through our local homeschool library (lucky us).  But also--catalogues.  Nice descriptive ones that told me about how the vendors' children were using particular materials, or about how they saw a certain product and decided it had to be in the catalogue. And when I started homeschooling, there were certainly homeschooling magazines--not the same ones that are big today, but the ones that were standard fifteen years ago, and they had the same big happy perfect families on the covers.  Well, if you don't know what's out there, how do you know to look for it?  So it's a catch-22.  If you read the magazines and the catalogues, you'll think you don't have anything and that you need everything.  But if you don't, you might miss something new and excellent that becomes tomorrow's classic.

But don't worry.  Somebody will probably Twitter you about it.

P.S.  The Deputy Headmistress's weekly post at Frugal Hacks is all about that ingrained idea that if there's a problem, we need to buy something to fix it.

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at Corn and Oil, April 26, 2011

Hymn for Good Friday: "Christian, Dost Thou See Them"

Christian, dost thou see them on the holy ground,
How the powers of darkness rage thy steps around?
Christian, up and smite them, counting gain but loss,
In the strength that cometh by the holy cross.

Christian, dost thou feel them, how they work within,
Striving, tempting, luring, goading into sin?
Christian, never tremble; never be downcast;
Gird thee for the battle, watch and pray and fast.

Christian, dost thou hear them, how they speak thee fair?
“Always fast and vigil? Always watch and prayer?”
Christian, answer boldly: “While I breathe I pray!”
Peace shall follow battle, night shall end in day.

“Well I know thy trouble, O my servant true;
Thou art very weary, I was weary, too;
But that toil shall make thee some day all Mine own,
At the end of sorrow shall be near my throne.”

Words: An­drew of Crete, 7th Cen­tu­ry; trans­lat­ed from Greek to Eng­lish by John M. Neale, Hymns of the East­ern Church, 1862. More at

Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's for supper? Easy smoked sausage recipe

Last weekend Mr. Fixit checked out a European butcher where we hadn't shopped before, and came home with a long skinny stick of smoked sausage.  We haven't had much smoked sausage here in a long time, mostly because of sodium limits.  This one turned out to be a bit different from the dark, thick-skinned, German style smoked sausage we are used to; it was lighter and hammier, more like kielbasa.  But that was fine, because what I did with it would have worked with either style.

Here's the recipe:

In the slow cooker, put some sauerkraut, as much as you want.  Add sliced smoked sausage (I didn't slice it too thinly).  Add cut-up carrots, or baby-cut ones if that's what you have.   I pre-cooked them for five minutes in the microwave, to give them a head start. Put the lid on and cook until everything is heated through; the smoked sausage is basically cooked already, like pre-baked ham.  I gave it about three and a half hours on high, with the carrots already started.

We served it with frozen perogies.

And what do you do with the leftovers?

Combine with a quart of chicken broth and some leftover smack-'n'-cheese, and you have Cheesy-Carrot-Cabbage Chowder for lunch the next day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dessert salvage: fixing mistakes, using them up

Is is the weather, or is it because Mama Squirrel has been a bit under it this week, that has made several things not turn out just the way they are supposed to?

Well, there's almost always a way to fix or use up what doesn't turn out. At least it's worth a try.

Problem One: Underbaked Brownies
 This happened last night. Maybe it was the humidity (we've had everything from snow to hail to thunderstorms over the past while)...or maybe I just need something to blame for my baking mistakes. Whatever. I took a large pan of brownies out of the oven, set them aside to cool for fifteen or twenty minutes, and then tried to cut them; most of the pan was still too gooey underneath. Easiest fix: put them back in the oven for awhile, which still happened to be on because I had been baking sweet potatoes at the same time. The edges did get a bit too dark, but most of the pan was saved from inedibility.

Problem Two: Too-thin pudding

Did you ever make pudding--the cooked kind--and have it refuse to thicken up no matter what? We had that happen last week with chocolate pudding, and I'm not sure why. Somehow the cornstarch just did not take.

Well, in that case what you have is a panful of chocolate sauce. And having a panful of chocolate sauce is not really a problem, unless that's what you were planning to have for dessert.

Quick fix: make a very fast microwave cake and serve the sauce on top. Or serve it over ice cream.

And if you have some pudding/sauce left over, you can use it as the liquid in muffins. A cupful of chocolate chips added in will make them awesome.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Children shouldn't read dead things. (Living Books)

The focus of this week's Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, hosted at Fisher Academy, is Living Books, and it is based on this paper that she wrote, that was later incorporated into School Education, part of her six-volume series on education.

What is to be said about living books that hasn't already been said, said often, and said well? 

And yet our public libraries seem to sell off more good books than they buy; the mall bookstores, as always, have mostly glitz-for-girls and scary-for-boys; and the sold-to-schools book flier that we brought home from last weekend's homeschool meeting--well, we won't even discuss what abominations were in that one.  Homeschoolers, in a way, are lucky...the rest of the world knows about the big online booksellers, but we also know about smaller vendors who aren't embarrassed to combine Alfie and Plutarch in the same catalogue.
"Now do but send to any publisher for his catalogue of school books and you will find that it is accepted as the nature of a school book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving. Nothing is left but what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls the "mere brute fact.""--Charlotte Mason
Dry bones, no flesh, no colour...books fresh from the morgue?  Whatever these textbooks were, as Miss Mason says in her paper, they obviously weren't the books that got Swedish schoolgirls fighting a duel about their favourite kings.  Or the books that got Marva Collins' students working literary quotes into their everyday talk:
"Once when a student told a lie in class, someone said, 'Speak the speech trippingly on thy tongue,' and another chimed in, 'The false face does hide what the false heart does know.'  If a girl was acting too flirty, the other girls would accuse her of acting like the Wife of Bath....Another time when a rubberband shot across the room, I asked Michael whether he had done it.  He said no and blamed it on Phillip, who said, 'Et tu, Michael? This was the most unkindest cut of all.'"--Marva Collins' Way, by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin
The books are still there for the finding.  I expect that when I go to the Big Used Booksale at the end of this month, I'd be able to find multiple copies of Shakespeare plays, anthologies of poems, hundreds of paperback classics used for one class or another and then discarded.  They're getting a bit harder to find, but they're still out there....and they're "in here" too (online as e-texts).  If we're brave enough to trust our children's minds to the great thinkers, the great humorists, the great observers, then Pascal and Plutarch, Voltaire and Vermeer are easy enough to pull up, download, reserve through even a small library, or find on a used-classics shelf.

Charlotte Mason explains that yes, mathematics may help you develop your mind in a certain way; that learning Latin is certainly good for developing certain strengths, "intellectual muscle" and so on; but none of these alone are going to give you "fact clothed in living flesh, breathed into by quickening ideas."  This argument is not quite clear in the Parents' Review paper, as there appear to be a few words missing; it is clearer when you compare it with the same page from School Education:
"Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., are not purely disciplinary, they do develop (if a bull may be allowed) intellectual muscle. We by no means reject the familiar staples of education in the school sense, but we prize them even more for the record of intellectual habits they leave in the brain tissue, than for their distinct value in developing certain 'faculties.'"--School Education, Chapter 16
But she also has a warning for those who would take even good books and grind, pre-digest, or otherwise manipulate either books or school subjects to make them work the way we think they should:
"The fault does not lie in any one of these or in any other of the disciplinary subjects, but in our indolent habit of using each of them as a sort of mechanical contrivance for turning up the soil and sowing the seed.  There is no reprieve for parents."
There's no getting out of it or around it; there are no short cuts, magic machines, or snake oil potions that can take the place of good books, well served at the right time.  And there is no magic clicker to tell you exactly what those are and when--even Charlotte Mason was chary about giving a list of the "hundred best books for the schoolroom."  She didn't want people just taking such a list and trying to plug it in, "make it work."  Now that is not the same as saying that any books are fine, including nose-picker histories and vampire romances; Miss Mason had definite opinions about good and bad books, and personally chose the best books she could find for her schools.  But it's not about the booklist, in the end; it's about awakening to the possibilities of books.
"Once she [Erika, a six-year-old student] began reading and saw what fun it was, there was no stopping her.  She became addicted to books.  If she wasn't reading one of the Judy Blume books or one from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, then she was trying out the Fables of La Fontaine or the Song of Roland.  One day, as I went around the class asking each child what new bit of knowledge he or she had learned that day, [she] said, 'I'm like Socrates*.  The only thing I know is how much I don't know.  I'm learning something new every day.'"--Marva Collins' Way

*In this term's Plutarch study of Solon, we learned that Solon said the same thing. I don't know Socrates very well: did he also say he was learning something every day, or was Erika misquoted? It doesn't matter much, but I'm curious.

Related posts:

Notes from a Book Talk
A Month with Charlotte Mason, #24
Me not just dumb monster, me read Plutarch
Hearts and Minds
Thinking Like a History Teacher

National Film Board Classic: The Pony

I've been looking for this NFB film for years...and years. It's kind of hard to do an online search for "kids and horse" or "pony." I was beginning to think I had imagined the whole thing, but there it is, "The Pony" by Lawrence Cherry, 1955.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's for supper (last night)? Sloppy Joes and frugal thoughts

We used to make Sloppy Joes with canned Manwich Sauce (bought on sale for 99 cents).  A few years ago we started making them from the Beany Malone recipe, and we liked them pretty much except that I had to remember to keep a jar of chili sauce around.  Later I modified the recipe (less chili sauce, no salt) to have a lower sodium content.

When I thought about making Sloppy Joes yesterday, I wasn't sure how long the half-eaten jar of chili sauce in the fridge had been there--that's how long it's been since we've made them.  Then I remembered the Sloppy Joe recipe at A Year of Slow Cooking, which is also in Stephanie's first cookbook.  It's a different style from Beany's--mostly spices and seasonings added to the browned meat, plus water and a can of tomato paste.  I made it on the stove instead of in the slow cooker, and added in a chopped pepper, because peppers, after several weeks, finally went on sale for under a dollar a pound. Mr. Fixit, who sometimes has problems eating tomato-ish, onion-ish dishes, said that this recipe didn't cause him any aftergrief.  I also noticed that it's very easy to control the sodium in this recipe--the amount of salt you add to the mix is up to you.  No MSG or anything else nasty either.

So unless I happen to have a fresh jar of chili sauce on hand, we will probably keep making Stephanie's recipe.

Oh, and the frugal thoughts?

Just that if you had to go out and buy all those seasonings at once, you might not consider Sloppy Joes to be a frugal dish.  But I already had everything called for, even onion flakes and celery seed, so for us the cost of the "mix" was very low.  I think about it the same way if I'm making granola:  the last batch I made (from the Common Room recipe here) had coconut, orange extract, wheat germ, almonds, and sunflower seeds in it; but those were ingredients I already had on the shelf and wanted to use up, not things I went out and bought specially.  

A teaspoonful of spice is different from a cupful of coconut, of course.  The trouble with buying spices, unless you scoop them in bulk, is that you have to buy a whole package or jarful in the beginning.  (I buy both frugal-brand-in-a-bag and bulk seasonings.)  But you do start to accumulate them after awhile, so putting a bit of paprika and cumin and cornstarch together to make Sloppy Joe mix barely registers in the cost of a meal.  It's like starting a new hobby, something like folk art painting or knitting where you have to start out buying not only tools but every single colour of paint or yarn that you need; eventually you can stop buying so much and just use what you have, replacing only as needed.

Of course it costs the same in the end, since eventually I have to replace the ingredients used up (or maybe I don't bother for awhile). But if they're there on the shelf, you might as well use them.

P.S.  Crayons wants to know if people make "Tidy Joes."

Monday, April 11, 2011

How homeschoolers do things: a letter-writing unit

In this case the point of interest is not so much how we're doing a language unit on letter writing, as the timing of it.

Actually that was accidental.

I had planned to have Crayons do some work on letter writing, starting this week.  Last week we finished reading Jean Webster's novel Daddy-Long-Legs, which is mostly written in letter form.

So there you go.  Crayons' interest in letters is still high; and Judy's letters in D-L-L cover everything from descriptions of her college life, to crotchety whinefests, to apologies afterward; from purely businesslike memos to one loveydovey epistle at the end.  (Sorry for the spoiler if you haven't read it.)  A very good example of how writing style needs to vary depending on the situation.

The book we're using is a hand-me-down from the Apprentice.  It's the Reader's Digest Kids Letter Writer Book, by Nancy Cobb, published in 1994.  The bonus for us is that it's Canadian.  All the address examples, cities, provinces, postal codes are Canadian ones.  I don't know if the book was also published in an American version--maybe someone will let me know.*  (The Apprentice originally got it as part of a kit with stationery, pens etc.)

We read the list of reasons you might want to write a letter ("Help you make a new friend," "Send hard-to-say-thoughts," "Be Serious (write to the prime minister)"), and then compared the first two sample letters in the book: one "friendly," one business-style.  As a mini-assignment, I had Crayons write a short business letter to her dad or someone else that she would normally send a more personal letter.  She wrote a very economically-worded request for a particular birthday present.  (Those double-digits are coming around soon.)

There are lots of other sample letters and tips in the book.  I'm not sure how many of them we'll use, but I know there's enough to keep a fourth-grader going for awhile.

*I did find this reference to a later version--maybe this one is American?  "LETTER WRITER STARTER SET : Have Fun, Keep in Touch, Be Heard, and Get Things Done --- By Letter!"

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bloggers are so smart: a weekend's reading

Check in with Cindy at Ordo Amoris for "The Intellect and the Imagination" :
"I just finished the Introduction to Reversed Thunder by Eugene Peterson. Every once in a while you read something that unexpectedly says everything you believe about life and the world. Off the top of my head I can think of several times this has happened to me: chapter 7 of Poetic Knowledge, Chapter 2 of How Does and Poem Mean? and now the Introduction to Reversed Thunder...."
Cindy refers to this post at U Krakovianki, "Thoughts on Poetic Knowledge by James Taylor, ch. 1":
"Studying the wholeness of things, and their place within greater wholes, is the key to opening the door to synthetic/poetic knowledge, and avoiding the analytic knowledge trap. This is most important because those of us who grew up in institutional schools have experienced only an analytical approach to knowledge, and we need to be very, very careful to avoid the tendency to break everything down into small parts. None of us would give our children a vitamin tablet, a bit of sugar, and a dose of fiber and imagine that it was the equivalent of giving him an apple. The whole apple is much better for him, and so is the wholeness of poetic knowledge. It goes without saying that it tastes better, too."
Something from Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me:
"There must be someone in the family who can make a party on a rainy day and a feast in the midst of famine. Someone who understands hot soup in cold weather, slices of cold watermelon in a heatwave, or that warm cookies with tea just about anytime warms the soul as well as body. Someone to snap a picture or write a letter or perhaps to keep a journal or create a scrapbook.

"Someone to build the altar of remembrance, always leading those they love back to the One who loves them. Someone who understands how fleeting life can be and how quickly it passes and that we must slow down and really, really look... and provide memories...."
And Gayle at Grocery Cart Challenge reminds us to "Look on the Bright Side":
"I’m a firm believer in the silver lining theory. Even though I have moments where my day to day life can get the best of me, I always know that there is something good buried in the tough stuff. You just have to be able to look for it and pull it up out of the rubble."
It's all good stuff to keep us thinking.

Friday, April 08, 2011

For the children of our hearts

Books & Bairns posts again about their Bee.

Which makes me think of another family we know.  They need prayers for a similar situation.

Which makes me think of real-life friends with a continuing connection with Uganda.

And another friend who has made connections with a community in Thailand.

Thanks to all of you who teach us that the world is smaller than we once thought.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A strange but still productive week

The weather here is still on and off--mixed snow, rain and general gloom.  Sore throats and general malaise have several of the Squirrels not up to doing much this week. 

However:  so far we have managed to:

make a quart of yogurt (this is a good home ec lesson for days when you don't want people sneezing all over the ingredients--just one person has to actually handle the milk and starter)
make a pot of pepperoni-lentil-beef broth-carrot soup, good for what ails you
start a jar of lentil sprouts
make a big pan of orange-coconut-almond granola (we're short on boxed cereal)
bake gingerbread
wash a bunch of laundry
fold a bunch of laundry
iron some grab-bag fabric for sewing
read half of Plutarch's Life of Solon (that was Mama Squirrel)
listen to a good chunk of the audio book of Number the Stars (that was Ponytails)
read several fairy tales from The Fairy Ring (that was Crayons)
turn more plastic spoons into little people (Crayons)
keep reading The Book of Three (Mama Squirrel and Ponytails)
finish Daddy-Long-Legs (Mama Squirrel and Crayons)
"But there is a different kind of virtue, the kind that children know about, the feeling of self-worth and happiness that comes from purely personal achievement.  The kitchen is just about the only place in the house where a whole family can re-learn this kind of virtue, where there is comfort, joy and enormous pleasure in doing something simple together, and then enjoying it together."--James Barber, The Urban Peasant

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

From the archives: "Little Amblesiders grow into mighty graduates"

Originally posted April 2007

Athena's post here leads right into another post I wanted to link to: Fa-so-la-la's university admissions essay. (And if you don't know already, she did get in, and how.)

I don't often post here specifically about Ambleside Online, which for the last eight years has been the foundation of our homeschool. Athena's children use Ambleside; so do Fa-so-la-la and her sister; and so do several of my other blogging friends, since our common curriculum is one of the things that draws us together. One of the questions that often comes up for us is its "relevance" vs. its "dustiness."

Walter Wangerin Jr. wrote an essay (in Swallowing the Golden Stone) called "An Adult's Tale in Children's Clothing." He begins it this way:
"It has ever been my purpose to fashion stories which, though they are explicitly for children, can nevertheless engage the watchful adult as fully and as well. To that end I enrich the detail and the language enough to reward an adult's more sophisticated attentions....I allow allusions to literatures which the child would never know (and does not need to know in order to enjoy the story at her level of experience and response). I develop chords of themes, as it were, the lower, more subliminal notes creating a fundament of which the child is no more aware than she is of the foundations of her house, but which adults might interpret with full awareness."
In a recent fascinating exchange with Roger Sutton (the editor of the Horn Book, and I'm not name-dropping here; he has a blog just like everybody else), he expressed some genuine concern that children whose education is centered on older books may need, so to speak, to blow a lot of that old dust off of themselves before (somehow) entering the "real world." To be fair, he was not speaking so much of the idea that children should read classics as the problem that they might miss out on something worthwhile and newer.  2012 update:  the Horn Book blog conversation is now here.

I certainly agree that there probably are some parents out there who hide behind certain books...say of the Victorian era...because they think those books will produce better moral character in their children. However, I don't think Ambleside Online users usually fall into that category. We're more interested in detail, language, and "chords of themes." We're interested in developing those "more sophisticated attentions" that will allow older children to explore as widely as they can without being hampered by their lack of background. To read Paradise Lost with any kind of enjoyment, you need to know not only the Bible but also something about classical mythology; you need to have a generous vocabulary and understand something about Milton's subtle humour as well as his serious themes.

I wrote in the comments on the Horn Book post that "It's exactly that 'wider world' to which we are attempting to introduce our children: a world that stretches back beyond our own generation and into places that many of today's children will not be able to go [if they are not given enough of a foundation in books that stretch their thinking]....In other words, we are not attempting to use old books because they are old books, but because we do indeed want our children--to quote Charlotte Mason--to put their feet into as wide a room as possible. I don't think that we're as far apart on that point as you might think."

Christmas pomanders (not an April Fool!)

It just took us a long time to get the photos uploaded.

Bowl: a favourite red-topped stemmed dish from my grandmother.

Ribbon: from a rummage-sale box.

Pomanders: made by the Squirrelings from clementines (baby oranges), cloves, and spices, dried for several weeks (in paper bags hanging near the furnace) until they were good and hard.

Photos: Ponytails.

Monday, April 04, 2011

There are no guarantees...but it's still worth our time.

Do you ever feel like you're wasting your time reading all those books to your kids? 

What if you spend the summer reading oh, I don't know, something BIG to them...maybe the entire Chronicles of Narnia...and at the end they know the stories, but don't seem to have made any particular connections, at least that you can see, with the symbolism or character examples?  What does Lucy learn about the dangers of eavesdropping after looking into the magic book?  How does Aslan's ripping off an enchanted dragon's skin (in Voyage of the Dawn Treader) symbolize our need for submission to Christ's sometimes painful cleansing of our sins?  Why is it such a puzzle about who gets to go into the New Narnia at the end of the last book?  (Wasn't that a bit unfair on Susan? How about Emeth the Calormene?)  What if all this seems to go over their heads?  What if they never grasp the world's desperate need for more Puddleglums, those who will not be lulled by false logic and propaganda, even if it means sticking one's foot in the fire?

Charlotte Mason says that's a necessary risk that we take when we tell (or read) stories.  The mind feeds on ideas, not dry information; to use her food metaphor, we may not get exactly what we need from any particular meal, but it's certain that we won't get anything at all from a meal made of sawdust.  Even when we read the best books, we (or our hearers) won't receive or understand everything, all of the time; but that still gives us a better odds of getting (or giving) at least some nourishment, than in presenting what she calls "pre-digested" or sucked-dry material.

In Philosophy of Education, she writes of the child:

He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that;

our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety

and his to take what he needs.

Urgency on our part annoys him.

He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food.

What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form
which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables
whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though,
while every detail of the story is remembered,

its application may pass and leave no trace.

We, too, must take this risk.

Banana...and butterscotch...and strawberry--yes, it did work (What's in your hand?)

 What do you do with two frozen bananas,  some leftover strawberry crisp, and a handful of butterscotch chips?

Make muffins.

The recipe is our usual Canadian Living Banana-Yogurt Muffins, with a few butterscotch chips stirred in.  I thawed and mashed the bananas, added the rest of the batter ingredients, and then mashed the strawberry crisp with a fork and plopped a small spoonful on top of each muffin (before baking).  Jam would work instead.  I left a few untopped, for those who like them better plain.

Photos: Ponytails.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

In which "Cuisinart rods"* become yesterday's homeschool

Boy, do I feel like a relic.

Today was our local homeschool conference.

I presented a workshop about making the most of a limited homeschool budget. As an example of homeschool resources that are inexpensive and versatile, I mentioned Cuisenaire rods. I didn't bother bringing any to demonstrate with.

Later in the day, a couple who had been in the workshop came up and asked me about the rods I had mentioned. I suggested looking for them at one of the larger booths--a very good, longtime vendor--that I knew carried Miquon Math.

Well, they still have rods in their catalogue, but they didn't even bring any with them today! I said, "I'm guessing maybe Cuisenaire rods aren't such a big seller as they used to be?" Yep.

And to top that off, the virtual online rods formerly at the Arcytech site have also disappeared, along with all the other good Java manipulatives they used to have. So you can't even "pretend play" with them.

Hoo boy. Maybe my next year's workshop should be "things we used to use way back when."

*Clarification:  the people at the conference did not call them Cuisinart rods.  I was just joking about that because I posted a long time ago about the crazy names and spellings I've seen for the rods.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Deputy Headmistress, frugal as always.

What's on her hand? Nail polish--April Fool's jokers in the family.

What's in her hand? You'll have to go over to today's Frugal Hacks post to find out. (Sounds like it was a fun party!)

We are guest posting today (no fooling)

Educating Mother
Check over at Educating Mother for Mama Squirrel's guest post today!
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