Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Favourite things at Christmas


A Tom Thomson print that Mr. Fixit found on his antiquing rounds; we put it up by the front door.

Rold Gold Peppermint Dipped Snowflake Pretzels (they make a great Christmas breakfast with muffins and clementines)

Christmas cards from friends at church

A new frying pan, new socks, new bottle of lotion, and other things I've run out of

Our Advent wreath

Having enough tissue paper and tape to wrap everything

Homemade cranberry sauce

A jar of Mod Podge and a colour printer (couldn't have done this year's gifts without those).

Dollygirl's Christmas wish:  an American Girl doll.

A furnace that's made its way through another year.

And nothing worse than head colds this week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Praise for The Number Devil (book review)

The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

I brought this home from the thrift store, without any particularly high hopes for getting Dollygirl interested in a story that was supposed to be a mathematical version of The Phantom Tollbooth or Alice in Wonderland.  Such books often have a didactic smell of the nursery, even when they're new; and this one is fairly new: it was published in German in 1999, and the English translation came out in 2000.  And translated books...well, sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I am very happy to say that The Number Devil (at least the ten of twelve chapters we've read) has surpassed not only my expectations, but Dollygirl's.

Briefly, a math-hating boy named Robert has a series of dreams, each featuring a little red guy with horns who does amazing things with numbers.  Yes, Robert does learn to appreciate math more, but not in a "behave yourself better" way. Even The Phantom Tollbooth always has a bit of that "Milo, smarten up" aura around it, but The Number Devil just happens to show up and make life...or at least dreams...more interesting, and you might learn something at the same time.

I like the fact that several of the math threads continue throughout the book, such as "Bonacci numbers" (what the Number Devil calls the Fibonacci sequence).  I've seen too many books that give a page or so to things like that, and then it's off to something completely different and you never see them again.  Robert's dreams have different topics, but they're definitely sequential...and they come back to a starting place, usually "one."  (Who knew that "one" could be so interesting?)  I also like the colourful diagrams; to my poor non-math-major's mind, they make some kind of sense.  The dialogue is snappy, not patronizing, and doesn't get bogged down with what it's trying to teach; that in itself is worth a few stars.

We'll miss the Number Devil when the dreams are over.

Highly recommended, probably best for ages 10-14.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What's for supper? Cranberry pork chops

Last night's dinner menu (after our afternoon out):

Cranberry pork chops in the slow cooker, made with a package of boneless pork chops, a can of cranberry sauce, 3/4 cup of chili sauce, a tablespoonful of brown sugar, and half a tablespoonful of lemon juice.  The sauce breaks down a lot more in the slow cooker than it does on the stovetop, so I had to thicken it with cornstarch at the end.  Ponytails was at a friend's, but Grandpa Squirrel came over and helped us polish them off.

Sauerkraut-filled perogies from the Euro foods store.  Sauerkraut might sound like the worst thing ever with the cranberry-chili sauce, but it actually worked.

Frozen peas.

Oranges, bananas, and Christmas cookies.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Term Two, Week Two

This is the second week of Term Two, but we're also trying to finish off some Term One books.  The list may sound a bit dry, but it's just the book end of things; we are spacing the book lessons out with other activities.

Basic Bible Studies, Study 11b:  The Exaltation of Christ.

Plutarch's Life of Pericles, Lesson 12 (last lesson)

Uncle Eric, chapter 15, "Automatic Evil" (about limited liability)

Shakespeare's Cymbeline:  read Act V.

God's Smuggler:  continue.

The Number Devil.  This has turned out to be a book that Dollygirl enjoys, so we are continuing it this week.

Albert Einstein:  With a bit of judicious skipping, we may be able to finish it by the end of the week.

Usborne Ancient World:  continue reviewing some of the ancient civilizations.  (We got as far as the Minoans last week.)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

I'm officially an educator--I think

Every so often I get a phone call from a market research company that does focus groups.  If you fit into a particular demographic and also fit into whatever they're currently studying, you get paid something to sit in a focus group for a couple of hours.  I've done several over the years, although I often don't qualify because I turn out not to eat enough fast food, drink enough wine, go on enough trips, buy enough boxes of chocolates...but I usually get picked for the groups where they're looking for people who don't do those things.  (It pays to be honest.)

Anyway, they usually ask you right away, when they call, if anyone in your house works for market research, public relations, or other conflict-of-interest companies.  Recently they added, "or is anyone in your house a teacher or educator?"  "Well," I said, "I do homeschool my kids.  Ha ha."  "Just a minute," the person said, "I'll ask my supervisor."  "Really?" I said, "It's not like I'm getting paid for it."  "Well, let me check anyway," she said. 

Back she came and, "No," she said, "or that is, yes--you do count as a teacher, so that disqualifies you from the group."

Well, how about that?  Somebody out there thinks I'm legit. 

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling at Our Curious Home.

What's for supper? Pizza potatoes

Tonight's dinner menu:

Pizza Potatoes: cut-up potatoes, pizza sauce, pepperoni, and cheese, baked in a casserole.  (It's a slow cooker recipe but I didn't start it early enough.). Optional toppings: sliced olives, green peppers.

Carrot sticks

Mango-blueberry-strawberry fruit mix (thawed frozen fruit)

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

What's for supper? Soup night

Tonight's dinner menu:

What's-in-your-hand soup, starring pre-shredded cabbage, carrots, barley, canned pinto beans, sloppy joe seasoning, and a few lentils
Beer bread, cheese, salami

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Answers to Christmas Books Quiz 2012

This year's Christmas Books Quiz is here.

1. Anyway by midwinter Gandalf and Bilbo had come all the way back, along both edges of the Forest, to the doors of Beorn's house; and there for a while they both stayed. Yuletide was warm and merry there; and men came from far and wide to feast at Beorn's bidding.

The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)

2. She had suggested they open their gifts on Christmas evening in front of the fire, dressed in their favorite robes. Thank heaven her gift had arrived--and already wrapped, into the bargain. He'd had it delivered to Dora Pugh at the hardware, in case he couldn't be found at his office to sign for it. It was all too easy, he thought. Just call toll-free and talk to someone solicitous and give them a credit card number. It seemed a man should suffer a bit over what to give his beloved. Next year, he would do better.

These High, Green Hillsby Jan Karon (1996)

3. There were several parcels wrapped in white tissue paper, and one very large box with the inscription: "For Fräulein Maria for Distribution." Surrounded by the children I unpacked it, and out came eight pairs of woolen mittens, eight beautiful, soft, gray Wetterflecks, and eight pairs of heavy boots. This was a great surprise, and with a guilty heart, I hardly dared look at Baroness Matilda. But tonight was Christmas, and, shaking a finger at me, she only laughed.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, by Maria Augusta Trapp (1949)

4. "Just suppose Mrs. Beck had had to bring him up! What would he have been like?" "She wouldn't!" said Rand. "She'd have put him out on the doorstep...We must take great care to bring him up to know the Lord. Dale, I'm going to start in this Christmas Day telling him all about it! I'll tell him the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, and the Christ who came and lived and died for him! I'll begin right away and I'll keep it up day after day. He's not going to able to say he never heard the truth." "George, how perfectly absurd! As if a baby like that could understand words!" said Dale with a tender smile. "Well, he may not be able to understand words," said Rand stubbornly, "but he's learning them all the time, and somehow he finds out what things mean."

Partners, by Grace Livingston Hill  (1940)

5. The window looked into the courtyard and all there was to see was the windows, storey above story, of the rooms opposite. On the gray Christmas morning it looked incredibly cheerless....While the maid was getting the logs he dressed himself, and then, when she got busy setting things to rights, he sat down and looked at the grim courtyard. He thought disconsolately of the jolly party at the Terry-Masons'. They would be having a glass of sherry now before sitting down to their Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, and they would all be very gay, pleased with their Christmas presents, noisy and jolly.

Christmas Holiday, by Somerset Maugham (1939)

6. "A tree should have tinsel," said Mrs. Jones. She bought some tinsel. "And candles," she said. "Candles are prettier than electric light." She bought twelve red candles....And a tree should have some balls, thought Mrs. Jones, glass balls in jewel colors, ruby-red, emerald-green, and gold. She bought some balls and a box of tiny silver crackers and a tinsel star. When she got home she stood the tree in the window and dressed it, putting the star on top. "Who is to look at it?" asked Mr. Jones. Mrs. Jones thought for a moment and said, "Christmas needs children, Albert." Albert was Mr. Jones's name. "I wonder," said Mrs. Jones. "Couldn't we find a little girl?"

The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden (1958)

7. Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn't carrying it the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms. She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back. I heard Alice gasp and she poked me. "I don't think it's very nice to burp the baby Jesus," she whispered, "as if he had colic." Then she poked me again. "Do you suppose he could have had colic?"

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson (1972)

8. "Greetings, greetings, greetings," said the three children. "What's that about?" said Mrs. Rogers. "You said to greet Aunt Myra with Carols," said Amelia Bedelia. "Here's Carol Lee, Carol Green, and Carol Lake." "What lovely Carols," said Aunt Myra. "Thank you."

Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish (1986)

9. Santa Claus appeared to be rather doubtful. But Harold confidently went to work lining up the reindeer. Soon Prancer and Dancer were pawing at the snow, eager to be off around the world. Harold wasn't quite certain of the names of the other reindeer. But he made sure there were eight of them. They were all handsome and spirited animals.

Harold at the North Pole, by Crockett Johnson (1958)

10. It was past Vespers on Christmas Eve before Cadfael had time to make a brief visit to the town, to spend at least an hour with Aline, and take a gift to his two-year-old godson, a little wooden horse that Martin Bellecote the master-carpenter had made for him, with gaily coloured harness and trappings fit for a knight, made out of scraps of felt and cloth and leather by Cadfael himself...."I can stay no more than an hour," said Cadfael, as the boy scrambled down again to play with his new toy. "I must be back for Compline, and very soon after that begins Matins, and we shall be up all the night until Prime and the dawn Mass...." When he noted the sand in the glass and rose to take his leave, he went out from the hall into the bright glitter of frost, and a vault of stars now three times larger than when first they appeared, and crackling with brilliance....This night, the eve of the Nativity, hung about the town utterly still and silent, not a breath to temper the bite of the frost. Even the movements of such men as were abroad seemed hushed and almost stealthy, afraid to shake the wonder.

The Raven in the Foregate (Brother Cadfael Mysteries), by Ellis Peters (1986)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's up in the Treehouse?

It is a pretty quiet day here.  There is a brushing of snow on the ground.  We've started our Advent devotional book even though it isn't Advent, because Advent this year is only about three weeks long, and the book is written for four.

Dollygirl has been writing first-term exams and working on her term project, which is to design a new historical 18-inch doll for any decade of the 20th century that American Girl skipped.  She chose the 1950's.

Mama Squirrel has been making things, cleaning things, and working on Term Two.  We have a church dinner on Saturday, which I'm helping with, but someone else is doing the planning for that.

The Apprentice has had an insane amount of project work, but the university term is almost over now except for exams.  So she'll be around more next month.

Ponytails is at school, which is going okay this fall.  (Ponytails, you can add to or correct that at your pleasure.)

Mr. Fixit is doing his usual fixiting.  And chauffeuring--today it's dentist appointments for the Squirrelings, after Ponytails gets home from school. Also he's putting the finishing touches on his annual comedy monologue for the church dinner.

There's Reuben Chicken in the slow cooker, and pumpkin bread thawing on the counter.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Christmas Books Quiz, 2012

Here is an early Christmas present for Treehouse readers.  This year's quiz just may be the hardest yet...or it may be the easiest, depending on what books you've read!  Answers are here.

1.  Anyway by midwinter [they] had come all the way back, along both edges of the Forest, to the doors of B----'s house; and there for a while they both stayed.  Yuletide was warm and merry there; and men came from far and wide to feast at B----'s bidding.

2.  She had suggested they open their gifts on Christmas evening in front of the fire, dressed in their favorite robes.  Thank heaven her gift had arrived--and already wrapped, into the bargain.  He'd had it delivered to Dora Pugh at the hardware, in case he couldn't be found at his office to sign for it.  It was all too easy, he thought.  Just call toll-free and talk to someone solicitous and give them a credit card number.  It seemed a man should suffer a bit over what to give his beloved.  Next year, he would do better.

3.  There were several parcels wrapped in white tissue paper, and one very large box with the inscription: "For Fräulein M----- for Distribution."  Surrounded by the children I unpacked it, and out came eight pairs of woolen mittens, eight beautiful, soft, gray Wetterflecks, and eight pairs of heavy boots.  This was a great surprise, and with a guilty heart, I hardly dared look at Baroness Matilda.  But tonight was Christmas, and, shaking a finger at me, she only laughed.

4. "Just suppose Mrs. Beck had had to bring him up!  What would he have been like?"  "She wouldn't!" said Rand.  "She'd have put him out on the doorstep...We must take great care to bring him up to know the Lord.  Dale, I'm going to start in this Christmas Day telling him all about it!  I'll tell him the story of the angels and the shepherds and the wise men, and the Christ who came and lived and died for him!  I'll begin right away and I'll keep it up day after day.  He's not going to able to say he never heard the truth."  "George, how perfectly absurd!  As if a baby like that could understand words!" said Dale with a tender smile.  "Well, he may not be able to understand words," said Rand stubbornly, "but he's learning them all the time, and somehow he finds out what things mean."

5.   The window looked into the courtyard and all there was to see was the windows, storey above story, of the rooms opposite.  On the gray Christmas morning it looked incredibly cheerless....While the maid was getting the logs he dressed himself, and then, when she got busy setting things to rights, he sat down and looked at the grim courtyard.  He thought disconsolately of the jolly party at the Terry-Masons'.  They would be having a glass of sherry now before sitting down to their Christmas dinner of turkey and plum pudding, and they would all be very gay, pleased with their Christmas presents, noisy and jolly.

(Good gracious, we definitely need something more cheerful after that one.)

6.  "A tree should have tinsel," said Mrs. Jones.  She bought some tinsel.  "And candles," she said.  "Candles are prettier than electric light."  She bought twelve red candles....And a tree should have some balls, thought Mrs. Jones, glass balls in jewel colors, ruby-red, emerald-green, and gold.  She bought some balls and a box of tiny silver crackers and a tinsel star.  When she got home she stood the tree in the window and dressed it, putting the star on top.  "Who is to look at it?" asked Mr. Jones.  Mrs. Jones thought for a moment and said, "Christmas needs children, Albert."  Albert was Mr. Jones's name.  "I wonder," said Mrs. Jones.  "Couldn't we find a little girl?"

7.  Imogene had the baby doll but she wasn't carrying it the way she was supposed to, cradled in her arms.  She had it slung up over her shoulder, and before she put it in the manger she thumped it twice on the back.  I heard Alice gasp and she poked me.  "I don't think it's very nice to burp the baby Jesus," she whispered, "as if he had colic."  Then she poked me again.  "Do you suppose he could have had colic?"

8.  "Greetings, greetings, greetings," said the three children.  "What's that about?" said Mrs. Rogers.  "You said to greet Aunt Myra with Carols," said ---.  "Here's Carol Lee, Carol Green, and Carol Lake."  "What lovely Carols," said Aunt Myra.  "Thank you."

9.  Santa Claus appeared to be rather doubtful.  But Harold confidently went to work lining up the reindeer.  Soon Prancer and Dancer were pawing at the snow, eager to be off around the world.  Harold wasn't quite certain of the names of the other reindeer.  But he made sure there were eight of them.  They were all handsome and spirited animals.

10.  It was past Vespers on Christmas Eve before C------ had time to make a brief visit to the town, to spend at least an hour with Aline, and take a gift to his two-year-old godson, a little wooden horse that Martin Bellecote the master-carpenter had made for him, with gaily coloured harness and trappings fit for a knight, made out of scraps of felt and cloth and leather by C------ himself...."I can stay no more than an hour," said C------, as the boy scrambled down again to play with his new toy.  "I must be back for Compline, and very soon after that begins Matins, and we shall be up all the night until Prime and the dawn Mass...."  When he noted the sand in the glass and rose to take his leave, he went out from the hall into the bright glitter of frost, and a vault of stars now three times larger than when first they appeared, and crackling with brilliance....This night, the eve of the Nativity, hung about the town utterly still and silent, not a breath to temper the bite of the frost.  Even the movements of such men as were abroad seemed hushed and almost stealthy, afraid to shake the wonder.

Answers will be posted when we get a good snowfall.  UPDATE:  I didn't mean that quite so literally...it started snowing the evening after I posted this, and we woke up with enough snow to shovel.  But you'll still have to wait for the answers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What's for supper? Sort of Chinese

Tonight's dinner menu:

Honey-garlic chicken
Rice noodles (free from neighbour)
Frozen stir-fry vegetable mix

Lemon poppyseed muffins, made to use up half a cup of lemon sauce in the fridge

Monday, November 19, 2012

Cheap and Classic Cardboard Tutorial: 18-inch Doll Table and Chairs


Dollygirl's dolls have been needing a table, and chairs to go with it. Doll furniture is not something we see a lot of in local stores, and the online options (new and used) are generally expensive; nice, but expensive.  So Mama Squirrel came up with some almost-free alternatives.  We used what we had; you can adapt our plans for whatever dolls (or boxes) you have.

The table
The table base was made from the insert to a two-piece cardboard file box; that is, a corrugated cardboard box 12 inches long by 9 1/2 inches high, and 4 inches deep. 

You'll notice a small cutout on each side, which I used for the legs; that's optional.  I cut the 9 1/2 inches down slightly, to about 8 3/4 inches; otherwise it would have been just a bit too high for the dolls to sit at.  I realize that not everybody is going to have the insert to a file box; but I think you could find a cereal box or other cardboard food box that would be about the right size; go for the sturdiest you can find, and reinforce it with extra cardboard or a second box shoved inside, if you think it needs it (especially if your box is not corrugated cardboard).  Whatever box you use has to be both deep enough to be able to sit firmly on its edge, and strong enough to support the tabletop and whatever you want to put on the table.
I stuffed the box with crumpled newspaper, and glued a piece of scrap cardboard into the open space to hold the newspaper in (not shown in the photos).

I glued some decorative file-folder cardboard (we found several packages of fancy folders at a yard sale) to the top and sides. 

You could use scrapbooking paper, wrapping paper, or whatever else you have, and possibly add a coating of something like decoupage medium if it seems to need extra protection.  For our purposes, the folders were enough.

That's it for the base!

The tabletop is purposely not glued on, both for storage reasons and because I wanted to make it reversible.  I glued two of the decorative file folders (cutting off the tabs) to a piece of cereal-box cardboard, and then added clear sticky plastic on each side for protection (leaving a bit of overhang).  For the size of table base we had, a tabletop the size of a file folder was just right.  If your base is narrower, a smaller tabletop might work better.

Again, you could use any kind of decorative paper or even coloured sticky vinyl; something in woodgrain might be nice.  If I were doing it again, I think I might use stronger cardboard in the middle; because what we ended up with was not much heavier than a laminated placemat.  It does work all right (the dolls have been using it now for a few days), but a more solid core wouldn't hurt.

The chairs

Each chair was made from two pieces of a Dr. Oetker baking-mix carton; we picked up two for free at the supermarket.  They're made like thrones, both for sturdiness and to accommodate the sitting difficulties of dolls who don't have joints in all the normal human places. 

I cut a main piece from each carton, 10 1/2 inches high, 7 1/2 inches wide (although it spreads out to more like 8 inches at the open end), 5 inches deep, in the shape of a flat back with three sides; and a seat piece, same shape, 7 inches high, 7 1/2 inches wide, 5 inches deep. There were some flaps at the top of the carton, which I folded down inside the back and sides.  I slid the two parts together (didn't glue them), with the closed part of the bigger piece at the bottom, and the open part at the top.  The seat piece juts out a bit from the main piece, but I wanted it that way to give the dolls a good deep seat.  It's fine if the two pieces come from different boxes or otherwise don't match; you're going to slipcover them anyway.

I used part of a vintage white cotton bedsheet to make fitted slipcovers.  (Any medium-weight fabric would work fine.) This is MUCH easier than it sounds.  Once you have the cardboard pieces made, you use those to make the patterns, either on a large piece of paper or right on the backside of the fabric.  Trace around the back of the large piece; then flip it up and trace around it again for the matching front piece--leaving just a bit of space between the two to allow for the thickness of the cardboard.  Turn the cardboard on its side and trace each side twice, again allowing a small gap between pieces.  An optional bit I added on:  add a small amount to the very front, to make a flap that will go under the seat piece.  Add a quarter inch to the pattern edges and bottom for seam allowances.  Your pattern piece will look about like this:

The pattern piece I made for the smaller seat section was very similar:  I traced the top, then the front, then the sides.  I really should have traced the back as well, or at least a flap going partway down the back, because if you don't, you will end up with a bit of a loose edge at the back of the seat, when you put it together.  Add seam allowances and hem allowances (unless you're using a finished edge of the sheet, which is what I did here).  The pattern piece for the seat will look like this, without the back:

Here's what the fabric pieces look like, cut out, with the flap added to the large piece and the fourth side added to the seat piece.  You can tell the sheet was a bit wrinkled--I did iron it afterwards.


The sewing is what Adrian Mole would call dead easy.  Don't forget to turn the fabric inside out first.  On the seat piece, just sew up the side seams, then turn up the hem and zigzag that if you need to.  On the main piece, you will have two small seams that will end up on the very front edges of the chair.  If you're not sure where they go, try the slipcover on the chair, inside out, and pin the two seams closed before you sew.  Plus a hem--turn up a quarter inch and zigzag.  Don't hem the extra flap, if you made one; just start hemming at one side of it, work around, and stop when you get to the other side of the flap.

Slip the slipcovers on...

...put the two parts together...

...and that's it.  Oh--you might want to add some padding on the seat, between the slipcover and the cardboard.  You could glue some foam or batting onto the cardboard seat, but I just slipped a folded washcloth between the two.  One note: I did add a bit of tape to the back edges of the seat slipcover to help it stay put.  If you add the fourth side when you cut out the fabric, you won't need to do that.

The dolls are enjoying their new dining room!  (Dollygirl is going to take a photo of the whole thing plus dolls.)

All photos by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2012, Dewey's Treehouse.

Linked from Mad in Crafts Link Party #131.  Also linked from Festival of Frugality #366.

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Last week of the term

We are on Week 12 of the 12-week term; next week is exams.  We do have a couple of "grace weeks" after that--the first two weeks of Term 2, before Christmas, can be used to finish off a few things that didn't get quite done.

Basic Bible Studies:  "Christ as Priest" (we will do "Christ as King" before Christmas as well)

God's Smuggler--continue, no hurry on this.  (Will Corrie accept Andrew's marriage proposal?)

Virgil's Aeneid, by N.B. Taylor--continue, no hurry.

The Hobbit:  done.

Robert Frost's poems:  winding this up.

Uncle Eric, chapter 13: "Cognitive Dissonance."

Grammar and Composition;  finish "How to Write Without Flab."

Math:  I think we will use this week to keep working on the distance-speed-time problems that we started last week.  There is a bonus page called "How fast does an astronaut travel?"

French:  we need to get as much done as possible this week.

Einstein biography:  ditto.  Although we're not going to get through it before exams...probably by Christmas, though.

Plutarch's Life of Pericles:  ditto, and ditto.

Shakespeare's Cymbeline:  ditto.

Canadian history:  this week's lesson is an easy one:  the Centennial in 1967.

Work on term project

Crafts, swimming lessons, drama club, and trying to get outside as long as this warmish weather lasts.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Making it Christmas

This post is not about the spiritual side of Christmas, because that part of Christmas...the real, Joy-to-the-World Christmas... is there no matter what.

This is more about the fun stuff:  the gifts, the food, the trimmings.  The things that take time, take money, or just take thought. 
For centuries men have kept an appointment with Christmas. Christmas means fellowship, feasting, giving and receiving, a time of good cheer, home. --W. J. Tucker
These are not necessarily--in fact they're almost never--the same as the things that are advertised.  They're certainly not along the lines of "buy her a diamond for Christmas."

For some people, Christmas trimmings are  new window blinds and ginger beer.
Marjorie Gibson is another Guyanese who believes that Christmas in the USA cannot even come near those she experienced in Guyana.
“In Guyana you would get up in the morning and look over at your neighbour to see what type of blinds (curtains) they put up, if they have new ones. Here the blinds could be up for the whole year and it does not matter,” Gibson stated....“We do have all the traditional Christmas food," [said Marilyn Harper.] "I try to make Christmas the way I remember it in Guyana. I have everything, my ginger beer, sorrel, the black cake as usual and everything.”--"U.S.-based Guyanese Dream of Christmas in the Motherland"
What has inspired your ideas about how to make Christmas?  Or what a really good Christmas would be...realistic or not?

For years, people said "Dickens' Christmas stories."  Plum pudding, holly and all that.  But I think in more recent years a more common answer has been the Little House on the Prairie books, slightly ad nauseum. Tin cups, mittens, and a stick of candy, and they were so happy!  For those who didn't bother to read the books, there was always that oh-so-sweet first-season T.V. episode.  And it is a classic, I admit.
Christmas is for children. But it is for grownups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chill and hide-bound hearts.--Lenora Mattingly Weber
However, much of Mama Squirrel's holiday inspiration has come from a smaller, stranger assortment of books and even magazine articles.  One was a Focus on the Family Magazine article, saved from a time before the Squirrellings were even thought of; it was an adaptation of the Advent and Christmas chapters in Together at Home, by Dean and Grace Merrill.  One was a book about Christmas in a lighthouse.  Another was Carolyn Haywood's Snowbound with Betsy.

Okay, okay, Mama Squirrel has never quite grown up?  But apparently I'm not the only one who fondly recalls the part where Betsy and the other snowbound children rummage through the storeroom for anything that might make good Christmas gifts.  They come up with all kinds of kid-made crafts, and then have a sort of bazaar and do their "shopping."


In The Light at Tern Rock, those who end up using a trunkful of stored-up holiday plunder aren't there by choice, but because of a trick by the man who filled up the trunk in the first place.  But never mind about the deceitful lighthouse keeper for now...it's the trunk that interests me, and it's an image that often comes to mind when I'm storing away things like the cans of cranberry sauce I bought on sale today, or a package of candles, or a crocheted bookmark.  Who's the bookmark for?  Sometimes I don't even know...I just keep filling the pantry shelf, and the box under the bed (or wherever it is), here and there.  Then it's just as much fun pulling everything out again and figuring out:  yes, there's enough chocolate for Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge...I still have lots of that Spa Blue Fleck, enough to make a quick pair of slippers (yes, I do know who those are for)....I saw some cool plaid ornaments in the Chapters Christmas flyer, and I bet I could make something like that with the felt and Wonder-Under in the craft stash...then the slippers and ornaments themselves become part of the box.

Everyone's "box" is different.  For one family, it's filled with MCC and World Vision catalogues, the ones where a donation pays for goats, soccer balls, clean water.  Their children spend days figuring out what they can give this year.  (Definitely beats the big gimme catalogue.)

And if you get to December and the box is still too empty to look like Christmas?

Then you read, or re-read, Little House in Brookfield (not the abridged version, please) and give thanks for Christmas bread.  Sing a few choruses of "Christmas Day is in our grasp, So long as we have hands to clasp." And maybe read this practical post by the Prudent Homemaker: Christmas on a Zero Budget.


As a postscript to this, there's one other magazine article I saved from several years back.  It also appeared in the Chicken Soup books, and I found a version of it online.  It's about a mother and two little girls who were given a Christmas food box during a difficult year--but the girls, not understanding how "poor" they were, decided to give the whole thing away to a neighbor who was even worse off. ("Even her dog was sick.")  The mother's immediate reaction was "Stop! You're giving away our Christmas!"  Then she thought again: no, that is how you make it Christmas.

Gifts of time and love are surely the basic ingredients of a truly merry Christmas. - Peg Bracken.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Thursday and Friday

What did we do yesterday?

Math questions about travelling on a high-speed elevator; read  "Uncle Eric" chapter 12, "How to Control People"; finished The Hobbit; read some of the Einstein chapter about relativity.  Went to the craft store and walked home together.



Dollygirl made the connection between God's Smuggler and this quote from Uncle Eric:
"I have noticed a pattern among tyrants.  When they come to power, they first seize people's guns, then news organizations, and then schools.  Schools seem to be the most important prize because once a tyrant controls schools, he does not need to control much because he controls the models."
Never say that homeschoolers don't learn anything.

And what are we doing today?

Opening time:  singing a hymn and "The Maple Leaf Forever" (because it's Friday and we sing patriotic songs on Fridays).


("The Maple Leaf Forever" doesn't start until about 1:15, after "Land of Hope and Glory.")

Plutarch's Life of Pericles, Lesson 6 (yes, we are still behind on this).  "Pericles was also something like the manager of a multi-national corporation, in this case the Athenian empire. His city-state had gained power over more and more of the cities around the Mediterranean; he managed one of the biggest naval powers around; Athens had become kind of a supreme-court center where cases from other parts of the empire were judged; and he was responsible for a great deal of public money. How did he cope with his increasing responsibilities? What were the strategies that created his "winning season?""

Playing the beam-of-light board game one more time (from a kit), because Dollygirl requested it.

A French lesson.

A history lesson: the death of John F. Kennedy.

Continuing to work through "How to Write Without Flab."

A couple more math questions about elevators and other things that go fast.

In the afternoon: Drama Club.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tips to keep your frugal food gifts from bombing

As you can see from one of last year's gift baskets, when we give food, we often give packaged treats rather than homemade: tea, coffee, apple butter, popcorn, chocolate, and things like pickled beets canned at a small vegetable market that only opens from spring through fall--so by Christmas, it's impossible to buy them. We like to be able to give an assortment of things, especially to family members who live alone and wouldn't really appreciate, say, a whole box of fudge.

But we have often given small homemade food gifts to friends, Sunday School teachers, and neighbors.  Some ideas we've tried (besides the obvious plates of cookies) are salad topper mixes (like trail mix except you sprinkle it on salads); Cider Beetles; homemade mixes for coffee and hot chocolate; peeled garlic cloves in a jar of honey; peeled and sliced ginger root in a jar of honey; herb mixes for salad dressing.  One year I made up bags of the dry ingredients for Beer Bread.  (I didn't include the beer.) We've given away jars of things we've canned ourselves: jam, apple butter, and, one year, pumpkin butter.  We have given (and received) special health-food items...those expensive natural sweeteners, organic nut butters, and other healthy-but-gourmet ingredients can make good (and still relatively frugal) gifts.  Ethnic groceries often have interesting possibilities too.

But not every food gift is a felicitous choice.  Here are a few tips, especially for giving homemade mixes, that may save time, embarrassment, and/or food waste.

1.  This should go without saying, but check carefully for allergies or other dietary requirements, especially if the gift is for someone you don't know well.  You don't want to be like Muffy's father, cheerfully bringing a ham to the (Jewish) Frenskys.

Even personal tastes and preferences can change from time to time. Several friends who used to be coffee drinkers now ask for herbal tea (one of those midlife things?), so I'm less likely to be making coffee mixes.

2.  Put best-before dates and storage instructions on mixes and baked goods.  Baking mixes that contain baking powder are said to lose quality after a certain time; brown sugar can also go lumpy and hard after awhile.  Also, please list the ingredients, if it's a mix:  see #1.  Surprises are not always welcome.

3.  Some homemade mixes come with baking or cooking directions that are too difficult for the recipients, require them to buy too many extra ingredients, or just make too much at once, like a salad dressing recipe that makes more than one person could eat in a month.  Look for instructions that give alternate amounts, or that suggest variations.  I have one soup mix recipe that calls for mixing the dry ingredients with sausage, onion, carrots, etc.; but I've made it up just with water or broth, and it's still pretty good.

4.  Some layers-in-a-jar ideas, like soup mixes, call for layering need-to-be-washed ingredients like beans, lentils, or brown rice directly with other ingredients.  If it's something that should be rinsed before cooking, then figure out an alternative, like putting the spices in a sandwich bag.

5.  Try not to give people things they already make themselves.  Somebody who makes a lot of jam may not appreciate a jar of yours--unless she gave all hers away as gifts.  So you never know.

BONUS UPDATE:  It's not Christmas yet, but I can post this here because my oldest won't see it--I'm pretty sure she's too busy studying for exams to be browsing through month-old blog posts.  So anyway...she asked me for a muffin pan to fill out some of her off-campus kitchen gear, and that was easy enough.  But I added some other things to make it a Coffee-and-a-Muffin Kit, and now it takes up the whole lid of a paper carton.  I made up four Ziploc bags full of dry ingredients for family-favourite muffins, plus cards with instructions for what else to add.  I added in a few sandwich-sized bags of chocolate chips, walnuts, cinnamon-plus-brown-sugar, and raisins.  There's also a small coffee can full of the Hillbilly Housewife's Vanilla Coffee Mix (figures, my university student is one of the few people left I can give coffee mix to), and a mug.  I'm not a fancy scrapbooker, but I managed to print out a label for the coffee, tags for the mixes, and a full-size label for the whole thing, using a photo I found online.  I tried to colour-co-ordinate the whole thing--mostly blues, blue for the tags, a blue coffee mug, and so on; and I found a big piece of clear basket wrap in our stash of recycled giftwrap.  In spite of the fact that it's sitting in the lid of a paper carton, I think it all looks pretty good.

P.S.  After I got the whole thing put together and then wrapped in a dollar-store plastic tablecloth (the only thing I could find that was big enough), I realized that I left out the package of walnuts.  So I'm going to wrap that up separately with a tag that says "oh, nuts."

Linked from Four Moms discuss Food for Gift Giving

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What's for supper? Meatballs

Tonight's dinner menu:

Meatballs with cranberry-chili sauce, a classic recipe that I've never actually tried here, but I did have a partly-used jar of chili sauce and a can of cranberry sauce, so why not?

Basmati rice in the slow cooker

Canned green beans

Brownies, because I had to make some for church anyway

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What's for supper? Good for what ails you

Or me, as the case may be.

Chicken thighs Adobo, in the slow cooker
Rice
Frozen mixed veg with peppers, asparagus, spinach, and things like that

Fancy-glass desserts made of the last bits of banana bread, a sliced banana, and a little dollop of fudge sauce made of some chocolate chips microwaved with a bit of cream.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Frugal costumes: doll-sized creations





Abby's cat costume:  One pair of super-stretchy black child's tights, snipped off at the shins and with armholes cut just below the waistband--no hemming or sewing required. We used the cut-off parts for sleeves (did sew those on), and added a snap at the back. Paws:  black mittens, crocheted for the occasion. Felt ears made by Dollygirl.  Sneakers: Springfield Dolls.

Crissy's Gypsy outfit: skirt and shawl sewn from yard-saled fabric.  Scarf: vintage handkerchief.  Jewelry made by Dollygirl.

Crystal's Princess dress:  sewn for Abby last summer.  Shoes: Springfield Dolls.  

Block calendar:  family heirloom.

Photos by Dollygirl.

What's for breakfast?




Friday, October 26, 2012

The why and how of frugal homeschooling, Part Two

Part One is here.

One part of frugal homeschooling is making better use of the books and other materials that you have.

Another part is to take resources--or things that you've never thought could be resources--and use them in ways that they weren't originally intended.  Like this summer when our cutlery box became my jewelery box.  Or the bits and pieces of the Aunt Sarah Scrap Challenge.  Or a Chinese-style sauce made with ketchup.

How does that work for school?

We've had a thrifted copy of Kids' Magnetic Poetry Book and Creativity Kit (Workman Publishing) for years.  Originally I had great ideas for incorporating the included poetry suggestions into our language arts time, but that never really happened.   We did use the magnetic words that came with the book, but mostly on the refrigerator rather than on the shiny blue fold-out panel inside the cover.

This week I was looking for a white board to use for some math review with Dollygirl.  I found a small magnetic board stuck to the washing machine, but I wanted a bigger one.  I thought there was a larger one somewhere in the school cupboard.  When I went to look for it, I saw the Magnetic Poetry Book, and thought of the shiny blue fold-out panel.  It worked!   What a great resource for math, or for other wipe-off work like spelling words!  As a bonus, it's already marked into centimeter-sized squares:  good for graphing, or geometry, or Cuisenaire rods.

We've used many resources for French lessons that weren't intended as curriculum--but they happened to be in French, like magazines bought from the library's discard rack.  We've also used real stuff from around the house:  toys, fruit, and so on...and not just for French, but for math and other subjects.

Magazines in general can be a great learning tool.  A few years ago we subscribed to Canadian Geographic, and that became the core of our high school Canadian geography course.  What could be more current and more relevant?--plus the magazine has a website with expanded articles, maps, and other resources.  Also we had a two-subscriptions-for-one coupon that we shared with another family, which made it even more frugal for all of us.

Recently I came across one of Emilie Barnes' Twelve Teas books.  This would make a great resource for young ladies (even very young ladies)--there are recipes, crafts (such as invitations), suggestions of ways to acquire basic "tea party equipment," thoughts about keeping friendships strong, and illustrations that, while slightly overdosing on lace tablecloths, show ways to make your house homier.  It wasn't written as a "home ec" book, but you could do worse than spend a season trying out some of the ideas.

What else do you have that you could use in an unintended way, or for a subject other than the obvious? 

Dollygirl's Grade Six: plans for Friday

Plans for today's school:  as Miss Maggie says, "all the good leftovers."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Thursday

Opening time:  hymns, puzzle cards

Basic Bible Studies:  Read Galatians 3:24, Hebrews 11:1-21:2 “Thus through all the ages, before Christ and after Christ alike, there is one way of salvation.”

Math:  Fractions in real life.  Guided Example (number of boards needed to build a deck), Minds on Math 8, page 95. Page 97, questions 1-4.

Citizenship: Plutarch's Life of Pericles

Composition:  see Tuesday.

French:  we haven't done any French yet this week, so we need to make sure we include this.

Handicrafts:  continue doll-making project.

Story of Canada (Lunn & Moore), start chapter 10, "The Flying Years."  After World War II, "more prosperous times had come."  What were some changes in Canadian life at that time?  Who was Tommy Douglas?  (maybe somebody to add to your People notebook).  What happened at midnight on March 31, 1949?

What's for supper? 4 S's

Tonight's dinner menu:

Smoked Sausage with Sauerkraut
Sweet Potatoes, Green Beans

Strawberry-Banana Soft Serve (frozen bananas, strawberries and yogurt put through the food processor)

P.S.  Green Beans don't start with S, but they count because they were Schnippeled.  But I didn't schnippel them, Green Giant did.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Wednesday

Dollygirl has been under the weather with a cold the last couple of days, so we didn't get everything done--some catching up tomorrow, probably.

Basic Bible Studies, page 26:  Read Romans 4:1-11, 20, 25. "No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God"  (English Standard Version)

Picture Study:  Emily Carr, "Scorned as Timber, Beloved of the Sky," 1935.  One of my own favourite Emily Carr paintings!  Why are we doing so much picture study this week?  We are hoping to make a long-delayed trip to an art gallery, where there is a special exhibit of Carr's work, including this painting.  The exhibit closes this weekend, so if we are going to get there it will have to be in the next few days.

The Story of the World Volume 4,  chapter 32,  "Africa After World War II" and "Two Republics of China."

Math puzzles

Poetry:  two poems from Emily, about Emily Carr

Shakespeare:  Cymbeline, see TuesdayWe didn't get to this

Composition: see Tuesday.  Still haven't gotten to this one!

Handicrafts:  continue dollmaking project.  Didn't get anything done on this today.

Volunteer Afternoon for Mama Squirrel--Dollygirl stayed home.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Tuesday

Basic Bible Studies, page 25: Yesterday we read what the prophet Isaiah said about the coming Messiah.  Today, read Luke 2:25-32, 36-38. What did Simeon and Anna say when they saw the child Jesus? Listen to “Simeon’s Lullaby,” by Wendy & Mary.



Shakespeare: Cymbeline, continue Act II, Scene IV.  Iachimo reports back to Posthumus.  Oops--we forgot about this one.  Dollygirl was fighting a cold today and we didn't get to every subject.

Dividing fractions: Work through this word problem found here: "Cassie's bird feeder holds 1/2 of a cup of birdseed. Cassie is filling the bird feeder with a scoop that holds 1/10 of a cup. How many scoops of birdseed will Cassie put into the feeder?" Minds on Math 8, page 89, word problems 16, 17, 18, 19.  Now write your own problem.

Science: see Monday.

Copywork:  Einstein quotes.

French

Poetry

The Hobbit:  Chapter 10, "A Warm Welcome"
"The lands opened wide about him, filled with the waters of the river which broke up and wandered in a hundred winding courses, or halted in marshes and pools dotted with isles on every side; but still a strong water flowed on steadily through the midst.  And far away, its dark head in a torn cloud, there loomed the Mountain!"

Skills & Crafts:  work on Dollygirl's dollmaking project.


Grammar & composition:  Write Source 2000, sections 311 and on.    As an example of recalling information, list in sentences the six levels of thinking.   No?  See the example in the book about the 1985 Live Aid concerts.  What is the difference between recalling and understanding?  Your writing assignment for today:  write a paragraph describing what Grandpa told you about V-E Day in 1945.  Use as many concrete details as you can remember.  We didn't get to this, since we read extra in science and did extra sewing as well.

What's for supper? 4 C's

Tonight's dinner menu:

Chili
Cornbread
Carrot Sticks

Chocolate pudding

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Monday

Basic Bible Studies (page 25): Review Trick #1 from Pack of Tricks. Read Exodus 20:24, and Francis Schaeffer’s comment about it. Read Isaiah 53.

Picture study:  Emily Carr, "Old Time Coast Village,"1929-30.


Minds on Math
Dividing fractions: what is the rule? See examples on page 87. Division problems 7, 8 on page 88. Question 13, a) and c): copy and complete the patterns.

The Story of the World Volume 4, chp 31b, "The Marshall Plan."  We have not yet done the earlier chapters about Israel, India, and Egypt, but this chapter leads directly out of what we have been reading about World War II, and also relates to Brother Andrew's Iron Curtain travels in God's SmugglerSome interesting (British) activities here.  Also BBC History: A Wartime HomeAlso here.
"Finally in 1945, when you are fifteen, the war ends.  Everyone in England is ecstatic.  There are even parties in the streets!  No more bone casserole, no more ration books, and no more bombs.  You can go home!  Your parents greet you at the train station with big smiles.  Now, they say, everyone can go back to normal.  But, after six years of war, what is normal?"--Susan Wise Bauer, Story of the World Vol. 4
On our large world map, find:  the United States; London, England; Berlin, Germany; France; Russia (referrred to as the Soviet Union).  (We tried to stump each other on other places as well.)
French:  continue Le voyage de Monsieur Perrichon.

Literature:  Independent Reading.   The Aeneid of Virgil, chapter 4, "Dido, Queen of Carthage."  Read pages 66-half of 71. Narrate orally.

Skills & Crafts:  work on projects.  Dollygirl cut out all the fabric pieces for a mini-doll-making project (her idea).

Science: The Great Motion Mission, chapter 5b pages 58-65
Sub-atomic particles.
Why don’t atoms just fall apart?
What do stars have to do with anything? (how stars are formed)   We skipped science and spent the afternoon working on the craft project.  Science will keep for tomorrow.

After supper:  swimming lesson.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

How you know this is 2012: when pie isn't just pie

According to the cover of a popular Canadian women's magazine, it isn't enough these days to bake a good pumpkin pie, or a delicious pumpkin pie, or even a moist, fluffy, spicy, tangy, mouth-watering pumpkin pie.

Now you have to bake a s--y pumpkin pie.  (This is still a family-friendly blog.)

Thank you, but I'll stick with adjectives I can use in front of my father-in-law.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's for supper? Ham quiche

Tonight's dinner menu:

Quiche, made with leftover ham and green beans

Acorn squash

Pan-fried potatoes with mushrooms and smoked paprika

Canned pineapple, store wafer cookies

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for a short Wednesday

Opening Time, hymns

Basic Bible Studies:  (page 24) Jump ahead to Genesis 12:1-3. How is God’s promise to Abraham both for him (and his family), and for his nation?  Jump ahead again to Genesis 22:1-18. When did Abraham live, approximately? When did Jesus live? When are we living? Where, exactly, did this story take place? Where did Jesus die? Memorize Trick #1 from Pack of Tricks: Adam (around 4000 BC), Noah (around 3000 BC) (fixed!), Abraham (2000 BC), David (1000 BC), Jesus, William the Conqueror (1000 AD).  (Yes, I know there are arguments for and against giving literal dates to Bible characters, especially Adam and Moses.  In this case we will use them as given.)

Math that we didn't do yesterday

Go spend twenty minutes writing a quick note or card for someone (on paper, not email). Make sure you mail it.

Poems

"Uncle Eric" study as outlined here

Volunteer afternoon at the thrift store

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dollygirl's Grade Six: plans for Tuesday

How did the plans for Monday go?  We got through most of the planned day, except that Dollygirl asked if she could listen to more of Number the Stars on audiobook, instead of doing the history lesson.  So we'll have to work that one in later.

TUESDAY

Opening time--hymn, prayer

Geography--we are about a week behind on our schedule, but that's all right.  Read Cool Geography, the first half of chapter 2:  "Cool Explorers: They Came, They Saw, They Discovered the World."

Make the geography-lesson grapefruit globe that we have never gotten around to doing yet.

Snack:  eat the grapefruit.

Copywork

Folk songs

Poems:  Robert Frost, read some of the biography (we should be almost finished that)

Math:  keep working on the fraction word problems from yesterday

Literature:  finish "Aeneas Comes to Carthage"

Go spend 15 minutes cleaning something up

Science:  start chapter 5 in The Great Motion Mission, about the laws of thermodynamics

Teatime:  maybe use the Little Dipper to make a warm dip

Monday, October 15, 2012

What's for supper? Almost-free brownie bites

Tonight's dinner menu:

Hamburger-tomato-mushroom sauce with pasta
This and that on top and beside

Brownie bites, made from a bag of Bob's Red Mill gluten-free brownie mix donated by a neighbor who's changed her diet.  Not bad, if you top them with a few chocolate chips. (The package directions say to use 2/3 cup butter or margarine; I used 1/2 cup of canola oil and they turned out fine.)  UPDATE: Dollygirl says that these are her New Favourite Dessert, especially with the chocolate chips, and she wants me to make them again.

NOTE:  Amazon reviewers note that this brownie mix is not a good gf choice for people who are sensitive to commercial gf products. But it is not an issue here; we were just trying to use what we had.

Dollygirl's Grade Six: plans for Monday

Hymns

Basic Bible Studies, by Francis Schaeffer: God’s Grace, part 2 (page 23)

After the man (Adam sinned), he tried to cover himself with the works of his own hands (how?). God took this away and gave him a covering of what? So this shows that people could not come to God by their own good works, but by what? (page 24) Look up Genesis 4:3-5. How does God ask Adam and Eve (and their children) to worship him? What picture does this give us of the promised Messiah?

The Hobbit chp 8: Flies and Spiders (continue)

FRENCH: Continue Le voyage de Monsieur Perrichon

Minds on Math 8, page 76 and 77.   Application problems for fractions 

Science biography: Albert Einstein, chapter 4.

Write Source 2000:  Last week we read about the "Planet of Bad Thinkers," a place where the inhabitants never set goals, never ask questions, ignore evidence, believe whatever they read, and so on.  We tried to turn those ideas around to list ways of "Becoming a Better Thinker."  Section 309 describes how your mind circles around from simple to more complex tasks while you work on a project.  Section 310 shows a chart of thinking "moves" from simple (observing, gathering) through more complex (rethinking, evaluating).  Choose a real or imaginary problem similar to the examples in section 308 (How can I...Should I...Is doing this activity worthwhile...I've got to convince my parents that...), and try to come up with a solution by tracing your way through the chart.  OR choose a picture book or children's story from our shelf, and show how the main character tries to solve a problem by using this kind of thinking process.

Put the books down and go for a walk.

Folk songs

Canadian history, using Story of Canada: World War II

Copywork

Poems:  Robert Frost, You Come Too

Friday, October 12, 2012

"Uncle Eric" study guide for chapter 8

Book studied:  "Uncle Eric" Talks About Personal, Career, and Financial Security, by Richard J. Maybury

Why a study guide for chapter 8, when I haven't posted any for the previous chapters?  This is where we're at in our term's work, and it's an important chapter.  Plus it shows you both why I both appreciate Uncle Eric (or Richard J. Maybury) and occasionally disagree with him--or at least want to raise a few questions about where he's coming from.  Which just shows that I've read chapter 8.

Dollygirl and I last read chapter 5 of this book, and discussed why the storytelling model is an effective one, especially for children (it's something our minds can more easily grasp than a list of rules).

We will skip chapters 6 and 7 for now--they're important in Uncle Eric's overall plan, but they don't make especially compelling reading at this point, at least for a sixth grader.

Chapter 8 is "A Model for Selecting Models."

"How do we know we have a good model?" Uncle Eric asks.

What are some ways you can make up your mind about which belief (about a given problem) makes more sense?  Flip a coin?  Ask a celebrity (the "prestige" model)?

Ask a specialist?  Uncle Eric points out that this is at least better than asking someone famous who doesn't specialize in that area, but, on the other hand, some specialists may be reluctant to give up their own accepted models, even if new evidence brings what they believe into question.  For example, read about Ignaz Semmelweis (we like the chapter in Exploring the History of Medicine).  Uncle Eric also uses Galileo as an example.

Sidewinding questions:  Does the Bible teach that the earth is the center of all God's creation?  Uncle Eric says that today we honour Galileo and regard his opponents as "closed-minded tyrants."  Are things different for scientists today?  What about Christian scientists?

Back to the main issue:  what is the final problem with the "prestige" model, that Uncle Eric points out at the top of page 52?

A third method of choosing which model is true:  do your own research.  What are the pros and cons of this?

Why does Uncle Eric say that if "everybody" believes something, then, mathematically speaking, there's a good chance that they're wrong?  Do you agree with this?

What is the scientific method?  What is a working hypothesis?  Watch this excellent, if somewhat silly, demonstration of the scientific method at work:




On page 54, Uncle Eric explains his beliefs about certainty/uncertainty.  Why does he feel it is safer to stay "uncertain" about many things?  Is there anything we can be certain of?  See Isaiah 12:2; Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 33:6; Matthew 27:54; Matthew 28:20; Romans 6:5; Hebrews 6:13.  Does that certainty contradict the point that Uncle Eric is making?

For further thought:  does science also demand an element of faith, or does that contradict the definition of science?  "In science, one must commit oneself to the belief that the world we see and touch is real, that nature is uniform, and that it operates according to the principle of cause-and-effect.  Without these prior 'leaps of faith,' reasonable though they are, one cannot undertake science."----What Does the Bible Say About...The Ultimate A to Z Resource

The why and how of frugal homeschooling, Part One

The why of frugal homeschooling is the easier of the two to answer.  The why is that you (if you're frugal-homeschooling) have limited funds, your family is probably living on one income, or at least less than two full-time incomes, so that somebody can be home to homeschool.

Or maybe you just like a challenge.

The short answer of "how" is "don't spend much money."  But since that's also a silly answer, I'll try to expand that into something more useful.

1.  Use what you have.
2.  Use what you have creatively.
3.  This is the hardest part to explain:  stay aware of your "big picture."  Unless you're naturally serene about letting the unschooling chips fall where they may, you need to keep evaluating, planning, trying to keep in mind whatever educational goals or philosophy you steer by.  Plus whatever family circumstances, special needs, etc. you have to deal with.
4.  In other words, you can use what you have, or what comes your way, as long as it fits into your overall education plan.

In Lloyd Alexander's book Taran Wanderer, the main character Taran meets Llonio, a father who supports his family by taking hold of anything that fate throws in his net--literally.  The family never knows from one day to the next what will float down the river, but they cheerfully take whatever comes, and eat it or wear it or use it.  As Taran stays with Llonio's family, he appreciates their generosity and their creativity, but he also eventually realizes that their way of life is not exactly for him.  He wants to do a little more purposeful seeking, instead of just catching what comes his way. 

I think there's room for both, even in a frugal lifestyle and in frugal homeschooling.  When I wanted to make a particular doll from a particular pattern, I kept my eyes open for certain colours and fabrics.  I never did get to the outlet store that sells rug yarn, but I found something pretty close that also worked.  When I crocheted monkeys last Christmas, I bought yarn in the right colours.  On the other hand, I've sometimes started with a piece of fabric or a ball of yarn, and asked "what could this be? How big is it, how much of it is there, is there enough for this or that?  What else would it work with?  And what do we need right now, who still needs a Christmas gift?"

The same principles apply to menu planning.  What's available? What's the weather like?  What sort of meals does your family eat?  What do you need to add to the shopping list to turn wieners and cauliflower into a meal?  What's still a favourite, what's getting old, and what new things have you been wanting to try?  Sometimes you go shopping intending to buy chicken thighs, because somebody gave you a new recipe, and that is what you bring home.  Or you look in the freezer, and that's what's there.  Or it could happen that chicken is too expensive, so you buy something else. 

One useful exercise to strengthen frugal homeschool muscles is to pretend you are (or maybe you really are) in a situation where, for whatever reason, you are suddenly limited to a few books and resources.  It could be a Bible, dictionary, telephone book kind of thing; or you can go with a more random choice, like the stack of books you just brought home from the library.  From very loose planning ("read the book"), to more structured copywork and dictation, notebooking, dramatizations, or complete unit studies, how many ways can you think of to get the most out of this resource?  If it's a map, are there ways you could add tags or markings to illustrate something you're studying?  If it's a math activity book, which activities can you honestly imagine doing, and (just as important), which ones will provide the strongest learning experiences for your children? 

If it's a book of poems, how will you get the most of out of it?  Have any of the poems been set to music?  Have any actors recorded them?  (Check out anything you can find by the First Poetry Quartet.)  Are there possibilities for acting them out?  (Never underestimate the potential for this--I still remember the Apprentice dramatizing Blake's "A Poison Tree," including the enemy's death throes.)  Can you use any of Ruth Beechick's suggestions, such as turning verse into prose?  Or can you use a poem as a jumping-off point for something original?  Or you can just read a poem slowly and carefully, maybe taking turns on stanzas, copying or memorizing favourite lines.  It's also educational, or just entertaining, to group certain poems together, maybe in combination with art, music, or other readings.  Our church music director once did this as part of a holiday program:  several people of different ages read winter-themed poems by Robert Frost.  Can your students plan a "poetry concert," just for your family or for others as well?  You can see where I'm running away with this...but that's the point, that you can take any worthwhile book as far as you like, use it as far as you can, and it won't cost you any extra.


Linked from the Festival of Frugality #357, and from the Carnival of Homeschooling: End of the Road Edition.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Quote for the day: on church, classes, Charlotte Mason, and real life

One of this week's thrifted books was This Beautiful Mess, by Rick McKinley.  I am not an adherent of the emergent church movement, so I am cautious about this kind of book; but I did find one passage in it that said more to me about homeschooling and Charlotte Mason than it actually did about church.

Here is the quote:
"Our dream at Imago is that one day you would come to church with your kids and travel through Learning Labs as families.  Think about it:  What if you walked into a church and instead of seeing a sign that says "Sixth-Grade Girls," you saw signs inviting your family to the garden, a science lab, an art studio, a media room, and on and on?  If the kingdom is being expressed in all of life, why wouldn't that kind of "church school" make perfect sense?"--This Beautiful Mess, page 109
Well, what we do when we spend time with other believers on Sunday mornings is worship. Mostly. Our church has Sunday School classes too, but I'm thinking we are there because it's a time of corporate, formal worship, not a time to work in the garden or do science experiments. However, I do like what it says about how we might do life and learning together aside from that time of formal worship. Your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Jo Doll, finally done

First you need an idea...
Then you need some stuff...and some stuffing...
Partly done...

Finished! (She still could use some shoes.)

All photos by Dollygirl.  Copyright 2012, Dewey's Treehouse.

Thanksgiving in our Treehouse: photo post




All photos by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2012, Dewey's Treehouse.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Showers of blessings (what's in your hand?)

This is sort of a Make-it-from-Scratch roundup, with a list of things we have here that need using, or using up.

1 cup of molasses:  Vegan gingerbread for a family Thanksgiving potluck tonight.

Package of brown paper lunch bags (nobody here takes lunch in a paper bag):  homemade paper-lunch-bag albums (there are tutorials on You-tube as well).

About two pounds of navy beans:  cook them in the pressure cooker, freeze them, and use some to make soup or a casserole.

1 small chicken and 1 small ham in the freezer:  Maybe Mr. Fixit will make his grandma's chicken soup.

Frozen "Nature's Balance" vegetable mix, bought on sale:  white vegetable lasagna, when I get some mushrooms.

Six square foil pans and a stack of foil pie plates:  I know you can string up pie plates to scare critters away, but we're in the wrong season for that.  I also don't have a birdcage that needs lining, or any need for a homemade tambourine.  I guess I will just keep using up the pie plates for sending cookies and so on, and as freezer containers combined with foil.

One springform pan we don't use much:  I am looking at this recipe for stuffed pizza.

Cinnamon, ginger, cloves & nutmeg:  homemade pumpkin pie spice mix.

Rolled oats, coconut, honey, and wheat germ:  granola, granola bars.  Ponytails really likes the Chewy Granola Bars recipe on Budget101.com, especially made with butterscotch chips.

Enough long bamboo skewers to make a lifetime of shishkabobs and fruit bouquets:  some food ideas here.  I'm thinking fondue.  And some craft ideas here.

A lot of cornmeal and a package of cornbread mix (gifted from a neighbour who couldn't use them):  well, I guess we're going to be eating corn muffins.

A mess of old Easter baskets:  I found a bunch of recycling ideas here.

Cream cheese, bought on sale:  Baked Potato Soup.

Non-alcoholic beer:  Beer Breadto go with the soup.

Sweet potatoes, because I bought too many:  baked (or oven fries), puree the leftovers to make muffins or doughnuts

Library card:  Go explore the Dewey Decimal system.

Basket of yarn:  Go explore some amigurumi sites, thinking Christmas?  I like this one (link fixed!), and also this oneAlso this egg carton, although the pattern isn't free.