Monday, July 30, 2012

Back to School Plans, Part One: Changes to Dollygirl's Grade Six Science

Sometimes you have to trust your instincts about books.

I had a strong feeling that the physical science textbook we planned on using for Dollygirl's Grade Six was going to be dull, too young for her, and too much repetition of stuff we'd already done.  Our family bent is towards physical sciences anyway--where we usually come up short is on chemistry and biology.  I know Mr. Fixit used the textbook with Ponytails in Grade Seven, but I think that he added to it from his own knowledge; and he's not teaching science this year except maybe for a bit of workshop stuff.

"Couldn't you do sort of a Grade Six Integrated Science course?" asked our science major.  "Work on a problem and use different kinds of science to solve it?"  I liked that idea, although I wasn't sure what kind of a problem we could work on at this level.

But even if we were to stick with physical science, I kept wishing that we at least had a better (as in, more appropriate for Dollygirl) spine book to go with the suggested biographies of Einstein and Archimedes.

Then I happened to be at the big downtown library--just by a fluke, or maybe by Providence, because I haven't even been at that library for at least a year--and I found it.

The Great Motion Mission: A Surprising Story of Physics in Everyday Life, by Cora Lee, illustrated by Steve Rolston (ISBN: 9781554511853, Annick Press, 2009).  There's a good review of it here.  It's still in print and available through the online bookstores.

It's a bit along the lines of The Magic School Bus, but for older kids (grade 5-6 and up).  There's an almost-too-smart-to-be-true teenage science whiz (Ms. Frizzle Junior?) who's out to spread the gospel of science-is-amazing.  There's a goateed Gen-Xer who wishes she'd keep quiet, and the nephew of the goateed one, an eventual convert to "Yes, science is interesting, science is important, and science is all around us, so you'd better pay attention."

This is not baby science: we are not putting pots of water on the stove here just to see them steam.  This is a book full of grownup ideas and contemporary vocabulary: superstring theory, quarks, dark matter, integrated circuitry.  But it also covers some of the basics, things that we could spend extra time on, trying things out for ourselves, or looking them up in more detail:  the physics of hitting a baseball, concepts of light and sound, mass, gravity and so on.  And that is the difference between trying to force some interest out of the old textbook topics, vs. using the same textbook (as I'm planning to do) as our reference guide.  Yes, Dollygirl has seen demonstrations of friction and static electricity; she knows that matter can be solid, liquid or gas: but this book takes it all a step beyond, into the world of what scientists do with those facts.

As far as Christian/non-Christian, creationist/evolutionist issues go, I didn't find the book offensive.  There's one section about the origins of the universe and the Big Bang theory, and one reference to the His Dark Materials books, but that's about it.

The book is only seven chapters long, which, at the rate of about one chapter every two weeks, will take us through the first term.  After that, I think we'll concentrate on Archimedes and the Door of Science and The Sea Around Us.

I'm now looking forward with much more enthusiasm to the first term of science.  I hope Dollygirl enjoys it too.  (Update: The Apprentice says she's thought of some other good ideas for science, but she'll have to email them to me because her time home from her summer job was very brief this weekend.)

P.S.  Cora Lee has also written a similar book about math, which I'd like to look at, but the only copy in our library system is at another branch, so I'll have to request it.

Linked from Carnival of Homeschooling: Let's Play School Edition, at

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thoughts for Sunday: the 2012 Circe Conference

Something to read and maybe post up somewhere:  "Why Contemplate Creation?", from the 2012 Circe Institute Conference that wound up yesterday.

It starts like this:

--Because education is a fundamentally creative act
--Because we are made in the image of a Creator
--Because creation as object is our stewardship
--Because creation as activity is our joy.

More here.

Also:  Cindy's after-thoughts about the conference.

If you don't understand Cindy's references to the roof blowing off, that was literal.  A tornado made the conference a bit more exciting than planned--we are very thankful to hear about God's protection on all who were there.

Friday, July 20, 2012

An afternoon's vacation: visiting Elora

It was a sunny, hot afternoon, and we decided to make an impromptu trip to the Elora Gorge, to walk through the woods to the lookout, and to check out some of the shops in the town.

Elora has gotten more...I don't know, Euro-cized? the last number of years.  Brighter, more upbeat, more hip.  The river wasn't at its best, though--the drought has brought the water level down.  We saw someone fishing, but nobody was tubing or canoeing, at least that we could see.

But it turned out to be a good afternoon for just enjoying.

Photo found on Wikipedia

Thursday, July 19, 2012

In the Treehouse: the teacher's desk

We were moving some furniture around in the Treehouse today. This is Mama Squirrel's new corner.

What's for supper? Dangerous chocolate cake in a cereal bowl

Tonight's menu:

Sausage baked with sauerkraut
Black beans-and-salsa (reheated)
Brown rice
Carrot sticks, peppers

Chocolate cake in a mug (we make two and share them) Update: Every time I make these in mugs, it makes a mess. So I had an idea: cereal bowls work just as well and don't run over. And they're easier to share.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's for supper? Keeping it simple

Dinner in half an hour:

Frozen fish sticks
Reheated potatoes
Mixture of frozen broccoli and frozen Oriental vegetables (both end-of-the-bag)

Yogurt sundaes in fancy glasses: crumbled graham crackers, strawberry yogurt, sliced frozen banana

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What's for supper? No-bake taco pizzas.

It's too hot to cook much, so we made no-bake taco pizzas for dinner.  I adapted a recipe that I found in the Fix It and Enjoy It Cookbook, but it looked to me like one of those recipes that's been handed around everywhere, at baby showers and kitchenware parties.  The original recipe has a crust made from refrigerated crescent roll dough, baked in a large pan and then cooled before adding toppings and cutting in squares.  Also you're supposed to use typical Tex-Mex garnishes:  shredded lettuce, onions, tomatoes, olives. We just used mixed chopped peppers and cheese.

Instead of making the crust, I layered the toppings on pita bread, in this order:  a mixture of cream cheese and sour cream (mixed in the food processor); ground beef, browned and mixed with homemade taco seasoning; red, green and yellow peppers, chopped together in the food processor; and cheddar and mozzarella cheese, chopped together in the food processor.  (I like my food processor.)  Serve immediately or refrigerate.  A pound of meat covers six big pitas, and that served four of us with leftovers.  If you think you might have made too much and don't want leftover sandwiches, you could just put everything on the table and let everyone fix their own.

Our side dish was canned black beans, heated with a scoop of salsa.

Apprentice, if you're reading this, you should try it.  It would work with tortillas too.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What's for supper? Homemade creamed corn

Tonight's dinner menu:

Cut-up potatoes and Polish wieners. cooked together on the stovetop with a cupful of beef broth and a bit of paprika

"Cream Corn Like No Other"--but made with a can of evaporated milk instead of cream

Mango-pineapple-vanilla yogurt freeze.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Two Treehouse Classics, Revised

It's always interesting to share your nuts with rodents outside of your tree, because other squirrels may not have tried that particular kind before. You never know if that particular type of walnut is something that only grows in your locale, or if your Mama Squirrel is the only one who seasons pecans just that way.

I've been having some fun making desserts lately, and I turned to our blog archives for some of my childhood favourites. Of course, eating a whole pie yourself, while entirely possible, is not such a good idea. I decided to share with my friends G.P. and Roderick to see what they thought of Treehouse cooking, and save myself the stomachache.

Doreen Perry's Cookies

These have been posted about many, many times here and were really a staple growing up. You can read about all Mama Squirrel's variations here. I had baking powder, not soda, so I omitted the salt and substituted three times the called for amount of soda with powder. I've done this a couple times now with absolutely no problems. I had been eating Special K for breakfast every morning and was getting really sick of it so I used that as the cereal...we usually use Rice Krispies or Corn Flakes, and I like the Rice Krispies version much better. I didn't have any rolled oats so I added some extra Special K. I went with Treehouse tradition and used chocolate chips instead of raisins, but for the first time in my life added the walnuts, something we always omit due to nut allergies (not mine!).

I left a few at G.P.'s house before trying them myself, and got a text message in the middle of my night class..."Your cookies are AWESOME!" How G.P. can text with those furry little paws is beyond me.

Tortoni Pie

 Originally from the Goldbeck's Short-Order Cookbook, tortoni is another food I've never seen outside of the Treehouse. You can read about all our different versions here. Essentially, it is blended, frozen and flavoured ricotta cheese. I made a lasagna but it was a very small lasagna and I had most of a container of ricotta left and was worried about it going bad. When I saw graham cracker crusts on sale (very cheap sale...normally I'd just make one myself) I was inspired. Instead of freezing it in little dishes, I prepared the tortoni and used it as a pie filling, decorating the top with sliced strawberries.

Roderick, being a rat, is rather a big fan of cheesecake, so I introduced tortoni as a distant relative of cheesecake. Roderick was not particularly thrilled with it, but did eat two pieces and deemed the second, which had had more time to warm up, as tastier. Roderick's main complaint was that it really wasn't flavourful enough. I had to agree...I had more ricotta than called for and threw it in anyway without adjusting the flavouring. While it tasted great before I froze it, freezing seems to mellow the taste. Additional almond extract likely would have fixed this problem. I also wasn't a big fan of the graham crust: it was a good pairing with the tortoni but the crust itself was a little off in taste. This would easily be resolved by making one's own crust.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mini-mart grocery strategies

I've posted before about our somewhat-regular trips to Giant Tiger, a Canadian discount store chain. Shopping at this type of store can save us money, often, simply because there aren't as many things there that we like to eat. If we don't bring as much food home, we're forced to use up more of what we already have. Plus there are often advertised (and unadvertised) good deals there.

But you can't go into a mini-mart trip with a fixed shopping list or menu plan, unless maybe you've planned your week around food on hand and just need to fill in with milk and eggs. What's on the shelf there can be very hit-or-miss. Giant Tiger today had lots of slightly green bananas, some okay summer berries, bags of oranges, but no apples at all. The cucumbers were a great deal, but the lettuce was palest-green balls of iceberg--so I bought double cukes and no lettuce. Come to think of it, I don't remember seeing celery either, so if you'd planned aWaldorf salad, you'd be out of luck.  Flexibility rules. 

For some reason I had looked at last week's flyer instead of this week's (I didn't realize that until we got home), so I wasn't aware of some of the sales, and couldn't figure out why I couldn't find the ones I was looking for.  It turns out that this week's good deals were better than last week's anyway.  I was about to put a couple of bags of 2% milk into our cart (yes, we buy milk in bags), when I noticed a little old man standing beside me (seriously, I think his picture must have been in the dictionary beside the word geezer).  He was trying frantically to get my attention, and pointing at the more expensive brand of milk.  Light dawned--it was on sale this week.  But no 2%?  "They're bringing it out in a few minutes," he explained.  Okay.  So off I went to find a few other things--and my new friend kept putting his head around the corner to give me bulletins on the milk delivery.  Giant Tiger is sometimes like a small town, even in the city; the customers will either knock you down to get at the good deals, or they'll be your long lost best friends.

What did we bring home, besides milk, bananas, and cucumbers?  Fruit yogurt, large tubs on sale for a dollar (regular price is $2.97); mushrooms, half-pound trays for a dollar; a can of salmon; green, red, orange, and yellow peppers, on sale very reasonably; two pounds of animal-shaped pasta (I didn't care if it was animal-shaped, at a dollar a pound); a package of cookies; several loaves of bread on sale; a jar of instant coffee; a pound of margarine; a small package of sliced cheese; a few canned things.  Even adding in a couple of t-shirts, a pack of plastic hangers, a pair of shorts, and a pair of sneakers, we spent about half what we do on a normal grocery trip.

So look for a few "What's for supper" posts involving animal-shaped pasta, peppers, and vanilla yogurt.  Maybe not all in the same dish, though.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Today's great post: Real learning with Harmony Art Mom

My favourite post today:  Barb at Harmony Art Mom posted about how we know our CM students are really learning.

Well worth reading!

What's for supper? Chicken Spaghetti, this and that

Tonight's dinner menu (cleaning out the fridge, groceries tomorrow):

Spaghetti with tomato sauce and chicken
This and that: carrot and celery sticks, cheese...maybe garlic toast...

Whatever fruit we have left
Pumpkin cake made with leftover sweet potato (baked in the toaster oven, it's too hot for the big oven)

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What's going on around here?

I'm not trying to neglect the blog this summer, but there isn't a whole lot new to tell.  The Apprentice is away most of the week, working. Mr. Fixit is home most of the time, working, Mama Squirrel is planning the fall term and anxiously watching our one remaining zucchini plant (it's been putting out nice big healthy-looking green leaves, finally, but doesn't have anything yet we can positively identify as a zucchini).  The younger Squirrelings are just soaking up the summer.  They've gone berry-picking.  Crayons/Dollygirl has been playing with neighbourhood friends--the ones who haven't gone off to camp or a cottage somewhere.  And Ponytails went to a concert in Toronto.

So bear with us:  when we have something worth posting, we'll holler down at everyone.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

What's for supper? Turkey fajitas and corn

Tonight's dinner menu:

Turkey fajitas, with green peppers, sour cream, and grated cheddar
Corn on the cob, in the pressure cooker

Banana cake, baked in the toaster oven, and made with butterscotch chips instead of chocolate chips (usually we leave the chips out altogether, so this was a  special treat)

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Aunt Sarah Scrap Challenge, Part 2

This week's work on the "Aunt Sarah Scrap Challenge" hasn't come totally out of the yard-saled bag; I've also been using up some of our stash of fabric and yarn.

Three Scrubby Rows Dishcloths, made with yellow and black crochet cotton combined with (thrifted) Bernat Handicrafter white cotton yarn. (The disadvantage of these is that since they're fairly heavy cotton, they take a long time to dry.  Lighter-weight cotton or acrylic would probably work better.)

A party dress for Abby, made from some pink broadcloth we'd had forever, plus an overskirt and sash from the scrap bag.  The dress pattern was adapted from one in Sew the Essential Wardrobe for 18-inch Dolls, by Joan Hinds.  If you click on the link and look at the dress pictured on the cover, it's pretty much the same as ours, except that I skipped the collar and didn't make tucks in the overskirt.  The hat is more Bernat Handicrafter cotton yarn.
A back view.  The back does up with snaps.
One of several clothespin dolls, with a skirt covering a bag of potpourri.  One Christmas when the Apprentice was small, we made several of these as gifts, and I still had the pattern.

The baby rickrack trim is from the scrap bag, and the calico came from a fabric grab bag that we bought a couple of years ago. This is the only doll I've finished so far, so she got to be in the photo.  I'm working on the others a bit at a time. 
The whole thing. Abby looks like a giant compared to the little potpourri lady.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Worth reading: Charlotte Mason meets Vacation Bible School

As I've mentioned before, I've been involved with summer Vacation Bible Schools since I was old enough to sing "Fishers of Men."  I've posted about it most summers here.  This year our church won't be hosting one, for various reasons, and I think that's good, in a way; everybody needs a break sometimes, and VBS is a lot of work.  But generally I think we do a pretty good, non-screaming, non-stickering job of it.  When you have fewer fancy resources, you do tend to concentrate more on on relationshipsthan programming.

Veteran CM homeschooler Tammy Glaser posted recently about CM and VBS on the ChildLight USA blog, and I think she hit several nails right on the head.  Even if you have no experience or interest in VBS itself, the post provides a thoughtful look at how one class strengthened its relationships not only within the student group, but also with the teacher, the church body, and the community.  Lots to think about there for families, for homeschooling, and for churches.