Wednesday, December 27, 2017

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.)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Quote for the day: Begin it early enough, hold it long enough

"Never before within our memory has it seemed so important to keep the Long Christmas; to begin early enough and hold the festival long enough to feel the deep, moving significance of it. For Christmas is a state of mind quite as much as a festival; and who can establish and maintain a state of mind in the rush and turmoil of a single day, or two days? Around no other time of year has been built so much of faith, of beauty…It is a time when man walks abroad in the full stature of his humanity and in the true image of God. He walks with grace, with laughter, and a great awareness of brotherhood." ~~ Ruth Sawyer, The Long Christmas (1941)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mama Squirrel's Reading List: 2017 Apologies, 2018 Plans

Edited March 2018 to mark "read" books. ☆

I had about forty books on my 2017 reading list, and I read about seventy (including re-reads). But most of the books I read weren't the ones on the list.

Sometimes it's easier to read the ones that come into my hands than it is to make a point of ordering or borrowing others. And needs change (i.e. suddenly desperately needing books about downsizing).

So, this year I have 45 books so far on the to-read list. Six of them are have-to-reads, because I will be taking courses that include them. There are also some really- hope-to-find, really-hope-to-reads, including a few from last year's list. And there are some that just sound interesting.

(The links are from GoodReads.)

Required Reading

Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty
Barkley, Elizabeth F.

Facilitating with Ease!
Bens, Ingrid

The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom
Brookfield, Stephen D.

Planning Instruction for Adult Learners
Cranton, Patricia

Designing Effective Instruction, 7th Edition
Morrison, Gary R.
The Purposes of Adult Education: An Introduction
Other Education Books

Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth
Scott, A.O.

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer

Style: Toward Clarity and Grace Style: Toward Clarity and Grace ☆

Things I Would Just Like to Read

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood
Aalto, Kathryn 

Mythologies

The Culture We Deserve
Time and Free Will Time and Free Will
Bergson, Henri
(Downloaded free from archive.org)
What Are People For?
The Music of the Republic: Essays on Socrates' Conversations and Plato's Writings

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life



When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
Hornstein, Gail A.

The Weight of Glory

The Irrational Season(Crosswicks Journals, #3)
Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel's Messiah
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

The Ethics of Evangelism
Townsend, John

Ideas Have Consequences
Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks

Quote for the day: Which do you think?

"He wondered whether the inveterate reader runs for a book when it snows, or if snow itself is entertainment enough." ~~ Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

When morning gilds the skies (Solstice Sunrise)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A stretched-out applesauce cake

We've been making this since the days of the Grocery Cart Challenge Blog. Here's the recipe.
Baked in a slow cooker, this cake turns out small, round and fragrant with cloves and cinnamon.
But it also works in a long, thin baking pan, or other cake pan, or muffin tins. (Photo of today's cake)
Happy eating.

Quote for the day: Why not to fight at Christmas dinner

"What can we give Him this Christmas?  I think one thing in our lives that would bring Him great joy was to bring peace into the fellowships in which we find ourselves...Not everyday, mind you.  For God does call us at times to stand our ground and to be His salt and light to the world.  There are those whom He ordains to forge Truth in a dark world.  But during these days ahead, when families are surrounding the dinner table, we can give Him the gift of bringing peace to the Season." ~~ Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books, and Me, "Sunday Afternoon Tea - Silent Night"

From the archives: A non-stupid Christmas

First posted December 2009; edited slightly.

The one thing I've noticed about typical Christmas celebrations is that there are very few typical Christmas celebrations...especially among those whose Christian beliefs have played a larger-than-normal part in how they celebrate. (Think about the irony of that...) Or don't. Sometimes that makes for very surprising variations--devout Christians who don't "do" Christmas at all, or those who celebrate Christmas for fun but don't pretend it's the birth of Jesus, or those who plan the whole thing as a big birthday party for Jesus, or who celebrate the Old Testament holidays in the autumn, or those whose Christmas does center around church but who also include secular customs like Santa and stockings.

And then there are the Charlie Browns who are just tired of the "whole commercial racket," wish the whole thing was over, and take everybody to the beach for Christmas.

I'm thinking about something we saw a bit of on TV once called "Christmas Confidential," about the dreadful holiday excesses and National-Lampoon-style house decorations and inflatable nativity scenes and spangled office-party outfits (makeup to match) and Santa Claus bikinis and church performances with more cast members than a small town and people stampeding at shopping malls and food, food, food...

All that seems kind of far removed from our Crayons' excursion to the thrift shop (everybody got tiny stuffed toys, figurines, and Mama Squirrel got a bell that she's threatening to ring for school time)...or the bead bracelet that Ponytails made me...or the Voskamps' "praying to be a womb for God" around a wooden Nativity spiral...or Bread and Honey's musings on "Pretending to be Mary." Or families who give just one present apiece (because they have ten children), or three presents (because that's what Jesus got), or no presents. 

Or from the reality of those who are having very quiet holidays (or barely noticed them) because of family griefs, illnesses and other stresses. Or people who have to work on Christmas or who are exhausted from the last week behind a cash register or a shampoo chair. 

The fact that we barely set foot in a shopping mall this past month doesn't make our Christmas any holier than anybody else's. It's an everybody-makes-their-own-choices kind of culture now anyway...and I guess in some ways that's good, it means that the Neighbourhood Decorating Committee isn't going to harass us about our lack of lights, and it means that it's okay to have frozen green beans with Christmas dinner instead of that thing with the french fried onions. Who's going to tell? But I will continue to plug for a non-stupid Christmas.

Whatever that means to you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

From the archives: Making it do, when it's not what you ordered

First posted January 2007. Slightly edited, and the links have been removed...eleven years is a long time!

Make It Do has always been one of my favourite topics. Except that the phrase Make It Do sounds a bit grim, like Grin and Bear It. I prefer the Common Room's question, "What Do You Have In Your Hand?" Or in your cupboard...or on your bookshelf. What DO we have in this camp kitchen to feed the two vegetarians? (I talked the cook into putting some of the soup into another pot before he added meat.) What can we do with all this coloured telephone wire in the craft room? (Braided bracelets for eighty campers.) 

What's In Your Hand is Ma Ingalls and blackbird pies. It's popsicle sticks and Cheerios for math, and teaching phonics with a pile of old Highlights magazines. It's all those recipes invented to use up things like rhubarb that really don't taste so good on their own. (OK, I know there are people who chew on raw rhubarb...) It's how we once taught Sunday School in a un-child-friendly college classroom: we stuck pictures up with Stick-tack and took them down again every week, brought old couch cushions to sit on and our own toys to play with, and let the kids colour at the adult-sized tables. And they did manage fine without mini-sized chairs.

Use Your Creativity is about surprise and discovery, instead of just "I suppose I can make do with it." It's Athena-in-a-Minivan's kids retelling stories with Playmobil. It's Ponytails' coloured-pencil drawing to go with Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave. It's Homeschool Radio Shows' Fourth Annual Make-Your-Own-Radio-Show Contest. It's Meredith's closet makeover and tree-frog-painted table. It's two balls of Dollarama yarn that got turned into one pair of slippers (for Crayons), a dolly hat and scarf, and a couple of hair scrunchies. (You couldn't buy all that even at Dollarama for the two dollars the yarn cost.)

Make It Do is combining two or more parts to make something better than a whole. Instead of waiting for the perfect thing to arrive, the perfect homeschool curriculum to be written, or our body to revert to the perfect size, we use what's there. Can we use it a little differently? Do we need to adapt, go faster/slower, make it more challenging, skip the questions or tests, include more hands-on activities? Or should we use just the best part of it?

We're using a not-perfect curriculum for math; but it doesn't matter that it doesn't cover everything, because there are lots of ways to learn the things that it doesn't include, and it's kind of interesting having a break from the same workbook all the time anyway. Combining resources for homeschool science can make a stronger overall program than trying to pick one perfect textbook or study guide. We just got an Astronomy book for next year's school--but we also have an old [Educational Insights] Sky Science experiment kit and several books about the solar system, so we'll combine what we have.

And Make It Do is finding new ways to use what you already have. Cutting holes into the bottom edges of a cereal box is one surefire way of getting kids to notice long-neglected marbles (you shoot them at the holes). You can use wooden blocks to build temporary furniture for plastic trolls. You can learn new rules for cards, checkers, or dominoes.

Not what you ordered? Not just what you hoped for? Make it do. And have fun.

Holiday clothes can be green (and thrifted), if the camera cooperates

The camera on my tablet has a problem with greens and blues, so this sweater is showing up slightly more blue than it is in real life. Let's just call it teal.
Openwork tunic-length teal sweater, a last-minute find at the thrift store. (Tank top underneath.) Scarf which just happens to match, thrifted awhile ago. Charcoal-grey jeggings, bought two years ago.

This kind of sweater isn't one to keep you toasty on a how-many-degrees-below kind of day. But it's fun for dressing up when you don't want a dress.

Quote for the day: we all need someone to talk to

"[Language] lets us know, in fact, why we are together. Most of our human functions are singular: we don't require others to breathe, walk, eat, or sleep. But we require others to speak and to reflect back to us what we say. Language...is a form of loving others." ~~ Alberto Manguel, The City of Words

Monday, December 18, 2017

Christmas Countdown with Charlotte Mason, Week 12 of 12

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

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

Basil
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 agenda...like 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 Eats: 20 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.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

From the archives: "A big Christmas tree, a nice cup of tea"

First posted December 2005. "Crayons" (Lydia ) was four years old and doing kindergarten work. "Ponytails" was eight.

Sometimes we make up our own homeschool worksheets. Crayons' favourite kind is one that I make on the computer, but it could just as easily be done with a pen or a marker--it just looks more "official" when it's printed out. I open up a file, set the page to landscape (turn it sideways), and make a table four blocks across and two down. (In other words, I divide the page into eight blocks.) At the top of each block, I type something for her to read and draw. Today's eight blocks were:

a big Christmas tree
a nice cup of tea
3 men with hats
a cat in a hat
2 candy canes
a little red star
lots of winter snow
a new little baby.

Crayons decided she did not like "3 men with hats" so we crossed out "men" and printed in "ladies." She worked on that while I helped Ponytails with her table work...then Ponytails did a copy of the same page too, just for fun.

These sheets have a side benefit as a reading activity...we usually end up sticking them to the kitchen wall to show off the drawings, which gives Crayons extra opportunities to see and practice the words in the boxes. She likes looking at her artwork and I often hear her reading them again to herself. Painless practice!

On the third Sunday of Advent: Come, hidden Wisdom

On the third Sunday of Advent, I invite you to wander over to Malcolm Guite's website, and enjoy his poem "O Sapienta."  (It's at the end of the post, along with a sound clip.)
"Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Holiday clothes can be purple (and thrifted): why not?

An all-thrifted out-for-dinner outfit: grey tunic, grey jeans, paisley shawl, purple scarf, and a nice pair of dangly earrings.

(Thank you, kind people who donate things to the MCC store!)

A pan of date squares

Secret ingredient this time: I added the last of a jar of orange marmalade to the filling. These are for a family birthday tomorrow.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Moonlight and Serenade Edition

From this Side of the Pond

1. 'Hurry less, worry less'...what's your strategy for making that happen this holiday season? How's it going so far?

The biggest secret weapon I have is that (as often happens), I don't know till the last minute what we're doing or how many people or what we'll eat. That may not sound relaxing, but it least it means we don't focus too much on planning things like Christmas dinner; or flip out if plans change.

The other helpful thing is that we now live beside a store. So, aside from when it's closed on the actual holidays, we're pretty much covered for small emergencies.
That's me in the front.
(Illustration from The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel))

2. Do you have a list of to-dos that need accomplishing in order to prepare your home and/or property for the winter season? What are some of the jobs on your list? Are you a do-it-yourselfer or do you hire someone to accomplish these tasks?

You already know what the answer to that one is.
And it's a relief.

3. According to dietitians surveyed, the most popular health foods for 2018 will be -turmeric, sprouted foods (bean sprouts, breads with sprouted grains, etc), veggies in place of grains, dairy free milk, and pulses (lentils, chickpeas, etc).  What's the first thought that ran through your head when you read this list? Of the foods listed which one might you add to your regular diet? Also, can milk really be dairy free? Is it still milk?

The first thought that ran through my head was "that sounds like the big food book, you know which one, that I bought a few years ago at a homeschool conference and resold soon afterwards to someone else." I had friends who loved that book, but it just wasn't my thing.

4. The Pantone Color of the Year for 2018 is Ultra Violet. According to the Pantone site 'Ultra Violet communicates originality, ingenuity, and visionary thinking pointing us to the future.' What say you? Do you like the color purple? Did you see the movie or read the book-ha!?  Is purple a color you wear often? Describe for us one purple item in your home without using the word purple.  If you were in charge of such things what color would you select for 2018?
Good book for purple fans

Pantone's descriptions are a bit too mystical for me, but I'd agree that purple is a nice change from all-things-green. I like the reference to the evening sky.
Moonlight 1915, Tom Thomson
I like purple (but not as much as Mrs. Carillon)

5. Favorite book read this year?

Until recently I would have said Renaissance by Os Guinness, but the sudden year-end out-of-nowhere winner is Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. The runner-up is maybe To Be Where You Are by Jan Karon.

On a practical level, probably Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

An interesting perk of our hi-tech age is being able to "stream" music. Recently we've had Andy Williams, Tony Bennett, Roger Whittaker singing German Christmas carols, and Bill Leslie's Mitford Christmas album (which I had never gotten to hear before). I'm hoping Mr. Fixit can find us some Finest Kind (Canadian folkies). Here's one of their songs.

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