Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #12: Christmas countdown Week 12, The Waits

One week till Christmas! Scroll down for a treat at the end.
Last week's post ended the chapter (and the book, Parents and Children). This week we go back to the poem Charlotte Mason used to open the chapter. "Waits" in much earlier times were paid civic musicians. By the nineteenth century, they were roving amateur players and singers. In this case, Christmas carollers.

The Waits!
     Slowly they play, poor careful Souls,
     With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
     Unwitting how their music rolls
     Away the burden of the year.
     And with the charm, the homely rune,
     Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given,
     When all our pulses beat in tune
     With all the stars of heaven.'

          ––JOHN DAVIDSON.

In the Spirit of Charlotte Mason:

The Scottish poet John Davidson (1857-1909) has been called "the first of the Moderns," and is said to have influenced T.S. Eliot. Davidson was the author of an 1893 book called Fleet Street Eclogues, which owed inspiration to Spenser's Shepeardes Calendar. It is a series of poems that follows a group of big-city journalists throughout one year, as they get together to drink, tell stories, and complain about the world, beginning on New Year's Day and ending on Christmas Eve. 

The version of the poem printed above does not seem to exist outside of Charlotte Mason's writings. Davidson's Eclogues were written in play format, like this:

Hush ! hark ! Without : the waits, the waits ! With brass, and strings, and mellow wood. 
A simple tune can ope heaven's gates ! 

Slowly they play, poor careful souls, 
With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
Unwitting how their music rolls 
Away the burden of the year.

And with the charm, the homely rune, 
Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given, 
When all our pulses beat in tune 
With all the stars of heaven.
But what about the thought itself? Why did Davidson's lines speak so clearly to Charlotte Mason?

As "Sandy" says, the waits are simple people who offer their gifts freely and without any children. "Basil" agrees that the music, at least for awhile, seems to restore his connection with eternal things.

These "hard-bitten" journalists, viewing the world with cynicism but also longing for a simpler, more innocent and joyful world, mirror our own time very well. The poem also adds poignancy to Charlotte Mason's words at the beginning of the chapter.

"Children necessary to Christmas Joy––In these levelling days we like to think that everybody has quite equal opportunities in some direction; but Christmas joy, for example, is not for every one in like measure. It is not only that those who are in need, sorrow, or any other adversity do not sit down to the Christmas feast of joy and thanksgiving; for, indeed, a Benjamin's portion is often served to the sorrowful. But it takes the presence of children [or waits?]to help us to realise the idea of the Eternal Child. The Dayspring is with the children, and we think their thoughts and are glad in their joy; and every mother knows out of her own heart's fulness what the Birth at Bethlehem means."
Things to do this week:
This is our last visit to the wonderful 1977 world of Family Circle Christmas Helps. The cute pair of dolls on the cover reappear in this week's "Bountiful Brunch" photo, which features Broiled Breakfast Steaks, Marbled Waffles, and Continental Fruit Compote. And that's just breakfast; "Dinner that Dazzles" takes up the next three pages.
Maybe that's what Peg Bracken meant by "full-color double-page spreads picturing what to serve on those little evenings [or Christmas mornings?] when you want to take it easy. You're flabbergasted. You wouldn't cook that much food for a combination Thanksgiving and Irish wake." (The I Hate to Cook Book, 1960)

But celebrations are important, aren't they? Certain cooking aromas in the house make things seem right and untroubled, and bring back memories of our yesteryears. Holiday food and good company can lift the spirits of even the cheeriness-ambivalent.
"One mile north of the Mitford monument, Old Man Mueller sat at his breakfast table in the unpainted house surrounded by a cornfield, and, with his dentures soaking in a jar by the bed, devoured a large portion of the cake Esther and Gene Bolick had brought him last night on Christmas Eve. He didn't have any idea why they would bring him a cake every Christmas...All he knew is, if one year they forgot and didn't show up, he'd set and bawl like a baby." [He also gave a piece to his dog.] ~~ Jan Karon, Shepherds Abiding
So to wind up this series, I have found a dessert recipe that seems the perfect way to share the season...and it's much easier than Esther's cake. You can see the whole thing at Sizzling Eats20 Minute Snowflake Cream Puffs. Go have a look, I'll wait.
You cut large snowflake shapes from prepared puff-pastry sheets; bake them; cut them in half horizontally; then fill with your choice of something nice, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This seems to be the holiday dessert with infinite possibilities, depending on your dietary needs and budget. You can make or buy gluten-free puff pastry, if that's what you need; commercial brands of puff pastry are often vegan-friendly. (Where we live, Tenderflake pre-rolled pastry now uses "simpler ingredients.") You can use whipped cream or a substitute topping; or go for some kind of mousse, lemon filling, even a scoop of frozen dessert. The sheets of pastry come pre-rolled, so kids or other helpers could cut out snowflake shapes, and also fill the baked shells. If you don't have a snowflake cutter, you could try a star, or a plain circle (or use a cardboard template for a shape you like). 

I'm also thinking that you could add a drizzle of raspberry sauce, or chocolate sauce, and some fresh berries, fancy citrus peels, or whatever you like on top.

That is what we'll be having here on Christmas Day! I'm very grateful to Sizzling Eats for posting the recipe.

And we wish you a joyous holiday season, with all the gladness and joy of the Birth at Bethlehem.

Favourite posts of 2017, #11: Christmas Countdown Week 4, Something for Everyone

First posted October 23, 2017

9 weeks until Christmas...
"The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
> But here the world's desire.)"
~~ G.K.Chesterton

Here is this week's passage from Parents and Children:

"Humility Unconscious of Self.––Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. We are able to pray, but we are hardly able to worship or to praise, to say, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord' so long as in the innermost chamber of our hearts we are self-occupied.

"The Christian Religion Objective
––The Christian religion is, in its very nature, objective. It offers for our worship, reverence, service, adoration and delight, a Divine Person, the Desire of the world. Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy. But we mistake our own needs, are occupied with our own falls and our own repentances, our manifold states of consciousness. Our religion is subjective first, and after that, so far as we are able, objective. The order should rather be objective first and after that, so far as we have any time or care to think about ourselves, subjective."
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason:

In the children's book Understood Betsy, Betsy trudges home to the farm on a late winter day, having failed a test at school. She plans to tell every gory detail to Cousin Ann, who is busy making maple syrup, because that is what she would have been expected to do in her "old life" with Aunt Frances. Cousin Ann asks her bluntly, "Do you really want to tell me all this?" Betsy says, "Um, no." Cousin Ann says, "Fine. Here's some syrup, go make some snow candy." (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

This passage moves into the idea that even being overly focused on our own sinfulness, weakness, mistakes, things we have done and things we have left undone can, in a certain sense, become tiresome, a sort of pious navel-gazing. When soul-searching becomes soul-scraping to the point that we cannot accept God's assurance of His love and forgiveness, we may no longer call it humility.

In the same way that parents are directed to provide a healthy table but to discourage children from over-noticing what they are eating ("I like, I don't like..."), they are to train children in good habits, teach them that they have a Saviour, that they certainly do sin and need to repent, but not allow too much focus on the endless stream of mistakes, too much attention-seeking for either good or bad behaviour. Would we as parents enjoy having a child who came to us constantly, needing to tell and re-tell about the failure or the quarrel or the cheating, even after the situation had been resolved? Do we chatter about ourselves (good things and bad) too much, to the Lord, to each other, or as self-talk? Do we have too many self-help books cluttering our shelves?

The goal expressed in this passage is for us to focus fully on "the beauty of the Divine Person, the Desire of mankind."

Things to do this week

Frontier Gingerbread

In the 1977 Family Circle Christmas Helps magazine that inspired this countdown, the projects suggested for "nine weeks till Christmas" include baking gingerbread, making appliqued toaster and can-opener covers (I think I'll pass), covering wooden boxes with fabric (I like those), and making sets of needlepoint coasters. Here's a page from PlanetJune (a crochet designer's blog) with photos of some crocheted but non-Christmassy coasters and other things that may inspire you. [I also mentioned the annual Handmade Holidays roundups on Sew Mama Sew, but they did not run those this year.]

If you're not a crafter, you could decide to buy handmade gifts through a fair-trade shop like Ten Thousand Villages. Or from a craft sale or a church bazaar.

If you're more into recycling, you could buy second-life crafted items from a thrift store.

And if you're a minimalist and/or live in a tiny house, maybe you will be happier just looking at photos of other people's stuff, and thinking, "So glad that's not me."

Here is the 1970's-vibe recipe for "Frontier Gingerbread" that was included in the magazine. If you prefer, you could replace the egg, or you could even try leaving it out...our usual gingerbread recipe does not have an egg in it, and it works fine.

Frontier Gingerbread

makes one large oval or one 9x9x2 inch cake


2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 cup light molasses
1 egg
1 cup hot water

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together with a wire whip in bowl. Blend the other dry ingredients into melted shortening in a large bowl. Beat in molasses and egg with wire whip. Add flour mixture alternately with hot water. Beat mixture until smooth.

Pour into a well-greased and lightly floured 10-inch oval au gratin pan or a 9x9x2 inch baking pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 minutes; or until top springs back when pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or fruit sauce, if you wish.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #10: Thankful Hodgepodge

First posted November 22, 2017

From this Side of the Pond
1. T tightly do you cling to tradition when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations? For instance do you always do the cooking, never eat at home, always go to grandma's, never miss the parade, always watch football, never change the menu, always eat at 2 PM, etc.? Have you ever celebrated Christmas or Thanksgiving away from hearth, home, and family? How did that feel?

That one's hard to answer, because over fifty-plus years of my life, and twenty-five-plus years of marriage, of course some many things have changed. This year we are in a different home, and we have given away a lot of things associated with former holidays. The thought of holding on to things lightly (even traditions) seems to be the most relevant.

But I will probably make a pan of cheater fudge for Christmas. Some things you have to hang onto.
The half-size tree we bought recently (it even came with lights)

2. H it easy for you to ask for help or are you a do-it-yourselfer? How is that a good/bad thing?

Not sure, it depends on the situation, and the help that is or isn't available.

3. A bundance...what is there an abundance of in your kitchen?

Space (compared to some apartment kitchens).

4. N ame...the smallest thing you're thankful for? the biggest?

Really, really small? Like cells and atoms?

Or a little bigger, like the bit of Velcro that Mr. Fixit stuck on the door behind where our dryer door opens, so that it doesn't hit me on the head when I pull the clothes out?

Or somewhat bigger, like a hat I crocheted last year from some free yarn Ponytails gave me to use up? I was thankful for that yesterday when the wind was blowing hard.

Jan Karon's new Mitford book. Sarah Mackenzie's interview with Katherine Paterson. Tickets to hear Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite next month.

Or much bigger, like our apartment building that means we will not have to shovel the driveway this winter?  (I also like going downstairs for the mail instead of around the block to the super-mailbox.) And the store next door, a real lifesaver. And the Chinese restaurant five minutes away, and the library about twenty minutes if you walk fast.

And there are so many other things, big and small. Clean water. People. Poetry. Clouds. Cough medicine (not me, another Squirrel). People behind desks who actually help with problems.

Which reminds me of another big thankfulness...that after several years of heart clinic visits, Mr. Fixit was recently told he doesn't need to come back, ever. He's too healthy.

(Mr. Fixit says he is also grateful for car floor mats that fit properly. If you've ever had to deal with dirty, salt-sticky towels on a car floor, you'll know why.)

5. K ey...What do you think is the key to living a more grateful life?

Having to go without something for awhile, then getting it back.

And concentrating on God's promises.

6. S tate your own random thought here

My random thoughts for this week were already posted here.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Favourite posts of 2017, #9: How's That Simplicity Going?

First posted October 26, 2017

Have you ever heard that quote from the senior citizen (sometimes it's attributed to a man, sometimes a woman) who said "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits?"

Last weekend I was at the L'Harmas (Charlotte Mason) retreat, and the word "simplicity" came up in one of the talks: not as a question of how many wooden spoons and pairs of shoes you have, or what you wrap your avocados in, but more as a contemplative, even agrarian, old/new set of values; something that people are looking for but not finding. The title of a much-maligned expensive magazine comes to mind.

The idea of a retreat implies slowing down, unplugging, renewing. At L'Harmas, we often find ourselves asked to slow down in ways that are out of our "ordinary." If we're homeschoolers, we might be used to reading poems to our children, or showing them how to do a craft; but it feels different, even uncertain somehow, to have someone asking us, the grownups, to try Swedish drill. Or to have someone read a poem just for us, or show us how to needle-felt with those scary-looking barbed needles. Yes, I know needle-felting has been popular for ages, but some of us have never tried it (preferring our nice safe crochet hooks).

Or (at last year's L'Harmas), singing The Gypsy Rover, learning about ladybugs in greenhouses, and making a paper box, Sloyd-style.

To hear something different, to try something new, we have to slow down, listen to the words or the instructions, make our hands, voices, or bodies do something they don't normally do. We re-discover a place where the reading, the making, the singing come from our own initiative. This is the complete opposite of pushing a button or clicking an icon.

Those are the things I bring back from such a time away. Where do they lead?

Since returning, I've also sat in a church workshop on conservative Mennonite choral traditions, watched clouds from our balcony, spent a morning sorting books at the thrift store, baked a new/old gingerbread recipe, thrifted a cardigan, put away a few last summer clothes, picked up bananas and chocolate rolls at the discount store (because I can walk there), hand-washed my sweaters, and thought through the counting-clothes, capsule wardrobe problem again. (Post coming on that.) Tomorrow night will be our local Charlotte Mason study night; we're working through School Education.

I have been listening to a CD of hymns and the radio jazz station, and discussing retirement finances with Mr. Fixit. We have an at-home daughter doing late-night essays and wondering what to wear for Halloween, and grown-up Squirrelings dealing with work, sick pets, and other life issues.

I'm reading a book by Madeleine L'Engle where she muses on a similar variety of this-is-life happenings. In the first chapter, she's awake in the middle of the night, watching out the window, listening to the night sounds. Sometimes that's the best place to find quiet and think about simplicity.

Some of the minimalist writers are big on saying No. I would like to turn it around and say more Yes. Yes, I can come help. Yes, that thrifted purse would look nice with a dress.Yes, I'll make time to read that book. Yes, I will talk to someone instead of doing something else that I thought was going to be important (and it wasn't). Yes, I will try that new thing.

Because simplicity allows us to refuse, but also to choose. And Yes can be a good choice.

Favourite posts of 2017, #8: Painting with Yarn

First posted September 15, 2017

Yarn Painting With Natural Fibre Yarns and Beeswax Complete Fibre Art Kit - Sunset, 
produced by Kathy White, a fibre artist from Stratford, Ontario 
(Links are at the bottom of this post)
Kathy White, an Ontario fibre artist who also does demonstrations and workshops, wanted to share her yarn and beeswax technique with people who were interested but who didn't know where to find the materials. She has begun selling small kits online, which include pretty much everything you need to make a simple sunset-and-water picture.
You press lengths of yarn into the beeswax, more or less following the photograph on the package. The board is scored with the arc of the sunset and the line of the horizon, but that's all; it's not paint-by-numbers. Because the colours of yarn vary from kit to kit, you may not end up with traditional sunset colours (mine is all blues and greens).
Kathy's blog post about the kits shows a piece she made herself from the kit materials, which looks quite different again.

This is something that most kids could do as well as adults, but (as shown on Kathy's website), the technique can be used for very beautiful and intricate pieces of art. Some young children might not have the patience to line up the rows of fine yarn smoothly, especially at the edges, where it can be a bit tricky to keep things even. 

The kit contains a 5x7 inch beeswax-covered board, natural-fibre yarn in several colours, a chopstick tool, and instructions; you supply scissors and hairdryer (optional, for setting finished work). I have a shorter wooden tool for making toothbrush rugs, which I found I preferred to a longer tool. You can also use other tools such as knitting needles. You will also need to supply your own frame, if you want one.
Partly-done picture, showing the beeswax-coated board on the bottom half
Completed picture

Kathy White's website (there is a contact form there)

A blog post with more information about the kits

Disclaimer: I received this product as a gift from the artist, but I was not otherwise compensated for posting the review.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Mama Squirrel goes Boxing Day thrifting

This is what I found: a zippered tapestry blazer (or bomber jacket, maybe) for $2, on the last-chance rack. It's bigger than my size, but I liked the oversized look.

Does it work with other things I have? I think so.
Jacket, Revolve Dress, necklace
Jacket, green pullover, grey jeans
Jacket zipped up, grey corduroy skirt, belt (I think I would use a different colour belt, though)
Jacket, grey-blue sweater dress, necklace

Worth the two dollars!

Favourite posts of 2017, #7: Just to have a life, or, what I did in Toronto

First posted August 29, 2017
"Consider the trend toward numbers in light of our relationship to God. Metrics are quantitative and not qualitative, so they measure performance, but not relationships. They tell us about the externals of religion and say nothing about the heart...metrics can record the frequency of our church attendance, the regularity of our Bible reading and the exact amount of our tithing, but they can never gauge the genuineness of any of them..." ~~ Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" ~~ Isaiah 55:2a, English Standard Version 
I spent yesterday travelling to, around, and from Toronto. The official reason was that I had a ticket to Courtney Carver's Tiny Wardrobe Tour. I also wanted to spend time with relatives I hadn't seen for a long time, hear a lunchtime concert at a church, and maybe do a little sightseeing slash shopping. The logistics of the day all came together well (Google Maps gets you from place to place very succinctly), and the Greyhound bus got me back here before midnight.

But something was bothering me at four in the morning, and it wasn't the falafel plate I had for dinner. I had been looking forward to the Tiny Wardrobe event for a long time, and of course it was nice to hear Courtney in person, with her rack of clothes behind her; so why wasn't the event quite the highlight I had expected? Earlier in the day I heard Beethoven and Mozart played in a church with wonderful acoustics. Maybe it was the "acoustics" of the evening event that made the message feel somewhat unclear. Was it the argument over seating arrangements that broke out in the front row, that seemed to sour the evening a bit? In the afternoon I spent time with family, and maybe I expected to find a similar connection with those who had bought Tiny Wardrobe tickets.Was it that I was tired from the day's travels, so of course it all felt a bit disjointed? Was I just "not feeling it," as my teenager would say?

Yes, people make too much stuff, buy too much stuff, dump too much stuff. This is something we really do need to talk about. In a world plagued with over-consumption, waste, garbage, labour injustice, consumer debt, and false promises of advertising, any message that helps us step away from the system even a little can only be a good thing. But in a month like this past one, when masses of people have lost their homes and possessions to natural disasters, any discussion of choosing to minimize can seem ludicrous. It is true that going through flood, fire or political upheaval may change your relationship with "stuff" (such as being all too aware of its impermanence), but in the short term, survival means getting enough of what you need or can pass on to others equally in need, and not worrying about the global implications of too many towels. (For those of us whose lives seem safe and "normal" for now, we might want to consider the ways that the money we plan to spend on "stuff" could be used to help others in need.)

Courtney Carver, Ann Voskamp, and others continually make the point that the goal isn't to have a simple life, or even a beautiful lifeit's to have a life. A meaningful life. A good life. A life centered outside ourselves. Simplifying possessions can be a discipline that encourages more focus, less materialism. Or it can be just a numbers game, even if you pick your own number. It can be the pride of money spent for "that which is not bread," or it can equally be the boasting of money not spent. In either of those cases, the focus is on the wrong thing.
"The difference does not seem to be great; but two streams that rise within a foot of one another may water different countries and fall into different seas, and a broad divergence in practice often arises from what appears to be a small difference in conception..." ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education 
And what is it that was keeping me from falling back to sleep? Guilt over a few small things I did buy while I was in the city? Worry about not fitting in with somebody else's minimalist program? No...I think I've come to terms with the "problem" that I like having fun with clothes, and scouting thrift shops is one way I do that without hurting our bank account and producing more waste. That's why I keep posting my own Project 333 stories. I have never done a capsule wardrobe exactly "right." But I am learning to use my own talents (such as scrounging) in ways that, maybe, can encourage others.

Maybe it was just an impossible wish that we could spend more time getting to listen to each other's stories. Not judging, or arguing about details, but seeing each other as people who have lives and stuff and needs and questions and ideas. That means relationships. That means time. We need to make more room for both. And to come back to exactly what Courtney says: if any aspect of your stuff (including clothes) is standing in the way of the important things, it's time to make a change.

So maybe the acoustics weren't so bad after all.

Favourite posts of 2017, #6: Treehouse Summer Quiz

First posted August 6, 2017
By way of catching up, here's a quiz for you to take about the new Treehouse and the Squirrels who do or don't live here now. See how many of these you can guess right. Answers are here.

1. The last thing Mr. Fixit fixed was

a) Mama Squirrel's favourite Charlotte Mason souvenir pen that needed refilling
b) a little RCA Victor transistor radio that Grandpa Squirrel gave him for his birthday
c) Muffin's leaking water bottle

2. This week Lydia reached what milestone?

a) She got her first driver's license
b) All her wisdom teeth came through at once
c) She got a job teaching swimming to small children

3. Who/what does Mama Squirrel have a ticket to hear in Toronto at the end of August?

a) Coldplay
b) Courtney Carver on The Tiny Wardrobe Tour
c) The Prime Minister of Canada

4. Lydia's school robotics team was one of 150 local individuals and groups that received awards from a Member of Parliament at an open-air ceremony this week. When they got to the 125th award, what happened?

a) They passed out popsicles to everyone
b) They called a break for everyone to do some Swedish Drill
c) A thunderstorm drenched everyone

5. Better late than never: which Star Trek series are we finally getting around to watching?

a) Deep Space Nine
b) Enterprise
c) Voyager

6. Who made Mr. Fixit's birthday cake?

a) Mr. Fixit
b) Mama Squirrel
c) He didn't have one because he hates cake

7. The high school course Lydia is most looking forward to in fall is:

a) co-op accounting
b) accelerated biology
c) enriched drama

8. Which of these things did come with us when we moved?

a) a complete set of Three Stooges DVDs
b) a vintage toboggan which we are using as wall art in our bedroom
c) a coffee mug shaped like a Polaroid camera
d) A and B
e) A and C

9. Where does Mr. Fixit make hamburgers now?

a) in the bathroom with the fan going
b) around the back of the building
c) on the balcony

10. Why can't The Apprentice take the ferry to the Toronto Islands this summer?

a) flooding
b) nasty mosquitoes
c) they doubled the fare
d) she is not in Toronto anyway, she's touring Scotland

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #5: Less. More. The right to fry onions.

First posted July 11, 2017

What more can be said about more vs. less stuff?
I remember a vintage Mad Magazine parody of home renovations, where weekend handyman projects involved turning an extra bathroom into a messy closet, and a knotty pine rec room into an attractive cement-walled basement. Perhaps satires of minimalism (if they don't already exist) will feature trendoids Upsizing, knocking around in Giant Over-sized Houses.

Some people object to the term "minimalism," preferring "intentional" or "conscious" over a word suggesting a cold, unreal sort of asceticism. Others object to hyper-romantic notions that small is necessarily better. Sometimes a family's needs change. A couple I saw in a video had lived in a tiny house for a year, but decided to give it up when they had a baby. They wanted to give her floor space for crawling and toddling.

One writer complained that cooking caramelized onions for three hours in a tiny apartment created an indelible reek in everything she owned, including her bra. Comments on that story were largely unsympathetic, i.e. "don't cook onions for three hours." She did make the important point, though, that small-space living isn't always glamourous or fun, and it isn't for everyone.

For those who make a deliberate, conscious choice to live smaller, or with fewer possessions or clothes, does the romance rub off faster than the smell of the onions?

Or is the secret more in adapting? We live in a generous-sized apartment, with an eat-in kitchen and enough floor space for several (hypothetical) crawling babies. I wouldn't cook caramelized onions here, although we have baked cabbage rolls without too much olfactory distress. (To be honest, I didn't caramelize onions in our house either.) But we don't let garbage or laundry sit around too long, we wipe down damp things, and we clean the guinea pig's cage fairly often. We do have a kitchen vent fan, and a pretty good cross-draft when the balcony door is open, but why push our luck?

And in the end, we're not talking about onions at all, are we? We're talking about the things we feel entitled to do and have, never mind the consequences to us or those around us. Or to human beings half a world away who pick our coffee beans and sew our t-shirts.

Hey, where did that come from?

Because just as small spaces have inconvenient, less fun limitations, other intentional-conscious-minimalist decisions have their downsides too. If you buy expensive fair-trade organic coffee, you're going to drink less of it. If you wear 33 clothing items for three months, you may be fed up with your two or three pairs of shoes long before the season is over.

But you are getting less caffeine, and saving money on shoes. And saving time and energy spent figuring out which shoes to wear. And maybe putting money back into a people-helping coffee business, or the local store that sells it. Does that give you new resolve to stick with it?

You make the choice, you make a change, or at worst, you accept the situation you're in and try to find its good points. Maybe the tiny place where you can't fry onions is allowing you to live in a great city for awhile. Or letting you live on a smaller income. Or keeping you from having to own a lawn mower and a snow blower.  Maybe you have a bigger place, but having a tiny wardrobe or less stuff will allow you to share a smaller room and closet with your husband, and open up a bedroom for a parent, adult offspring, or friend to move in.

It's not about the adjectives. It's not about the fun-honeymoon side or the later second-thoughts side of choices. Everything may have advantages and disadvantages. So don't let either the fads or the critics blow away your decisions.

Favourite posts of 2017, #4: Made in Canada

First posted June 30, 2017

I am made in Canada. Like this old phonograph record, that came with a bilingual board game we were given at school in sixth grade. It was an optimistic, everybody's-friends collection of songs.

This weekend is the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Not everyone is delighted about that. According to certain voices of those inhabiting the northern part of this continent, my ancestors were land-robbers, murderers, and worse.

It's very confusing. I don't think that my Scottish-immigrant milling relatives thought of themselves as robber barons. Or my German-industrialist forebears who fled nineteenth-century unrest in Europe, and helped found the town of Hespeler. Or the other Scottish relatives who farmed in the bush and sang Psalms in little log and stone churches.

I don't think that's what my several-greats-grandfather was thinking about when he hauled his family up here from Pennsylvania.

Were they all wrong?

Because of them, and other bridge-builders and teachers and farmers and storytellers and members of Parliament, I am made in Canada. I have a Canadian passport, and a Canadian university degree. I have Canadian art on the walls (including a print by a local Serbian-Canadian painter). I listen to Gordon Lightfoot and Oscar Peterson. I was a Girl Guide with a maple leaf Citizenship badge. I saw Karen Kain dance in 1972, and I met Jean Chretien in 1988. I watched Polka Dot Door, Readalong, and CUCUMBER (not to mention Tiny Talent Time and Uncle Bobby). I wore snowsuits big enough for three children, and skated after school (badly). I eat Smarties and butter tarts. I think paper money should be all different colours.

Canada is my home. Happy 150th birthday to my country.

Favourite posts of 2017, #3: Frugal Finds and Fixes, Packing to Move

First posted April 5, 2017
What have we done lately that's a frugal find or a fix?

Umm....we found an an affordable apartment, to which we will be transferring such of our accumulated possessions as we are choosing to take with us.

Notice I did not say as many as we possibly can jam in.

The apartment itself came up quickly (we signed the lease less than a week ago), but we've been "un-jamming" for quite awhile now. I won't say that moving is easy, but at least we have a pretty good idea of what will fit. And what won't.
{Current Treehouse living room)

We are trying to "shop our house" as much as possible, rather than buying new things. Even in a small apartment, there are surprises, and places where we can try out things that didn't work in the Treehouse. Small example: the kitchen cupboards here go all the way up to the ceiling. In the apartment, there is about a foot of space above the cupboards. So a couple of nice almost-forgotten baskets are probably going to go up there.

Another example: there's a perfect corner for Muffin the Guinea Pig, right near the kitchen.
Another example: we bought a deacon's bench years ago, in our first house, but in this house it's always been in someone's bedroom. The apartment entrance has a niche for it, right by the door.
Our current kitchen table and chairs will take over as dining room furniture.
Our new bedroom is a bit smaller than the one we have now, and we need to use the shorter of our two dressers as a nightstand. But the only way that worked, with the way the door opens, was for Mr. Fixit's dresser to be on my side of the bed. We both saw the obvious answer at the same time:  let's trade (dressers).
I am very happy about the fact that we will have not just one, but two bookcases in our dining area. Plus the china cabinet, in which I just recently managed to get the dishes arranged nicely. Plus the cool retro-style glass-fronted cabinet that Mr. Fixit's grandpa made.
The nice thing about having come this far, in adulthood and family life, is that I know what we really use, and what, contrary to popular advice, should come along.  I know which combination of serving bowls we use for a "Sunday dinner." I know that we have rarely used the cups that came with our everyday dinner set (we almost always use drinking glasses or larger coffee mugs), and have NEVER used the saucers that go with those cups. So they went.

Our microwave is several years old, and we won't be taking it with us; we'll have to retrain ourselves to be microwave-less. [We did replace it later in the year.]The toaster oven is still working well (after the struggle with bad models that we had a few years ago), so it's a keeper. The blender and two slow cookers (big and small) are necessities. I'm also taking a couple of the more frivolous appliances: the bread machine and the hot air popcorn popper.

Finally, a frugal fix: Mr. Fixit spray-painted a big biscuit tin brown, to hide some ugly printing; and that's going to hold my drawerful of spice jars. There are only a few drawers in the new kitchen, and they're all going to be needed for other things (like forks), so the jars will have to sit somewhere else, and the tin will corral them. [We ended up just putting the jars in a drawer, and using the biscuit tin to hold snacks.]

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #2: Review of The Arts and the Christian Imagination

First posted February 20th, 2017
The Arts and the Christian Imagination Essays on Art, Literature and Aesthetics, by Clyde S. Kilby, edited by William Dyrness and Keith Call (Paraclete Press / Mount Tabor Books / ISBN 978-1-61261-861-6 / 256 pages  / Hardcover / $28.99)
Arts and the Christian Imagination
Our homeschooling community views education in the context of lifelong learning, and as part of the classical and liberal arts tradition. We recognize the value of each person as one who has been created in God's image, and who therefore shares in some of God's attributes such as the ability to imagine and create, and to form a relationship with the things that have been created. Our  curriculum includes more than normal amounts of poetry, drama, music, and art, the things that many schools would treat as frills or extras; but to us they are so vital, in the literal sense of vital meaning life-giving, that we have started referring to them as "The Riches."

Another phrase we use is "spreading the feast," as opposed to shoving things down people's throats, but which acknowledges that as human beings we do have "affinities" or natural, God-given attractions for truth and beauty. In fact, we are so out of touch with current beliefs as to insist that truth and beauty not only do exist, but that teaching them to children, and seeking after them as adults, is part of what we are called to do as Christians.

A writer and academic who agreed with that idea was Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, a longtime professor at Wheaton College, and author of The Arts and the Christian Imagination, a new collection of his writings from about fifty years ago. His essay "Christian Imagination" is also included in the older edition of Leland Ryken's collection The Christian Imagination, and appropriately enough it follows there right after C.S. Lewis's essay "Christianity and Culture." The subheadings include "The Bible: A Work of the Imagination"; "God, the Imaginer"; "The Failure of Imagination in Evangelical Christianity"; and "Learning to Live Imaginatively," and these are typical of the things he discusses throughout his work.

At one point Dr. Kilby refers to Lewis's description of a child on Easter morning who was heard to say "Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen," and he says "In our desperate evangelical desire for a clear, logical depiction of Jesus risen we have tended to remove the chocolate eggs...There is a simplicity which diminishes and a simplicity which enlarges...The first is that of the cliché-simplicity with mind and heart removed. The other is that of art...The first silently denies the multiplicity and grandeur of creation, salvation and indeed all things. The second symbolizes and celebrates them...[it] suggests the creative and sovereign God of the universe with whom there are no impossibilities."

So part of the problem of Christians making sense of the arts, besides needing more chocolate eggs, is that we may try to stick to what we call real, in the "life is real and life is earnest" sense, and forget that God's creation is full of amazement and grandeur, and although it may be fallen, it still reflects the power and beauty of its Creator. We have a feast laid out for us in Creation, and in the beautiful things that people have created in art, in music, in literature, things that are just as real as our everyday world of work, and that can give us a clearer picture of the love and holiness and power of the Father who inspired them.

The only complaint I have about the book is the almost unavoidable problem of repetition through the various essays and talks. Like any teacher, Dr. Kilby had favourite illustrations and examples which he re-used over the years, and reading the whole book in a short time might make you feel that you've been through a particular point several times already. On the other hand, exploring the collection of talks as a whole is a good way to get a sense of his most vital themes.

Well recommended for those wanting to dig deeper on the question of faith and the arts.

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review, but received no other compensation. All opinions (as much as humanly possible!) are my own.

Favourite posts of 2017, #1: Random Epiphanies

First posted January 6, 2017

Epiphany. The visit of the Magi. Also a moment of sudden illumination. Here are some epiphanies I've had about things, tools, clothes, clutter, and living the life.

1. I once read about an after-school tutor who travelled around with a very small box of teaching tools. It might have been a cigar box, might have been a shoebox. At any rate, he had a few little things he used over and over to help kids with reading and math. Something like, a few pieces of Lego, some stickers, a couple of little cars, some markers and index cards.  This guy was admired for his creativity and success in teaching.  So, why do we so often think we need a fancier set of tools for (you fill in the blank)? Look what Johnny Appleseed did with some seeds and a spade.

2. Don't try to clean blueberry stains from your vintage kitchen counter with baking soda. The pattern will disappear along with the blueberries.

3. Snow doesn't shovel itself. But you can feel happy about making safe places for people to walk.

4. Two days after you pay too much postage to order some used books you really wanted, you will be sent a free e-copy to review of something else that's wonderful (and 300+ pages long). Which is a good thing, undoubtedly, but also a reminder of the need for trust, patience, and not stepping ahead of God's timing.

5. I think packages of notecards or postcards make great gifts for people.  Maybe with a pen as well. Because there is nothing quite as personal as having to put the words on paper in your own handwriting. If your handwriting is like mine, it's also humbling. Not Ma Ingalls here, at all.

6. Why is shorter hair supposed to be less work? I recently got a short, layered cut, and I realized that I'm now lacking the benefits of gravity in drip-dry hairstyling. If I don't mess with it, it's a mess.  Those of you who think the shorter grass is greener should ponder before pruning.

Happy 2017! And if you're Ukrainian and/or Orthodox, Merry Christmas.

Christmas cookies: not so hard

I made most of our Christmas cookies this year at the last minute, but they all turned out. These were the easiest, but everybody seemed to like them: the quick-mix sugar cookies linked here, with a little canned frosting and coloured sprinkles in the middle. I didn't press the cookies down as directed with a sugared glass, because I knew I was going to be adding frosting; I just flattened them with my fingers. 

The frosting was squished from a Ziploc bag with the corner cut out, so that I could frost them in a little spiral shape (I don't think you can see that so well in the photo).

(That one on the edge is a mutant.)

Quote for the Day: the last three years

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Make your Boxing Day shopping count

Some people are hitting the malls today, but if you're more into online shopping, you can take advantage of sales at the less-mainstream gift and clothing websites. Ten Thousand Villages is having a sale, mostly on holiday decor but also on some jewelry and home items (American site, Canadian site). Toronto's Encircled clothing company has a discount plus they're planting trees if you buy something. The StyleWise blog also has a link to discounted "ethical" accessories.

As for me, I'll wait until Friday, when I have my next volunteer morning at the thrift store.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

"Christ, our companion, hope for the journey, bread of compassion, open our eyes.
Grant us your vision, set our hearts burning, that all creation with you may rise."

~~ Susan Palo Cherwien, "Day of Arising"
You can read the thoughts behind this picture by Linda Richardson on Malcolm Guite's blog. 

A thought as Advent ends

"In deepest night, in darkest days,
When harps are hung, no songs we raise.
When silence must suffice as praise,
Yet sounding in us quietly, there is the song of God."
~~ Susan Palo Cherwien, "In Deepest Night"

You could still make one (Towel Snowman)

Do you want to build a snowman?

This video shows you how to make one from a hand towel or large washcloth. The on-screen descriptions are in Spanish, but it doesn't matter: it's pretty clear what you need and how to do it.

Here's my snowman, made from a white hand towel, recycled scarf fabric, sticky felt eyes and buttons, and an orange felt nose glued on with just a dot of glue. The one little change I had to make was that my towel was a slightly different shape from the one in the video, so I had to fold in one end a couple of inches first. But it worked fine after that. His head is looking a little squished in the photo, but you just have to play around with it a bit to get it to puff out properly.

(Warning that should be obvious anyway: this isn't meant for very young children who eat things.)