Friday, December 30, 2005

Of snow and sausages

Every year the Treehouse hosts a very small New Year's Eve party, just for our own family of Squirrels. We usually have a theme of some kind: Star Trek, the Red Green show, fairy tales. This year's theme was almost a given: Narnia.

This is definitely the year to be searching the 'Net for Narnia feast ideas: every other youth group is putting on a Narnia event, every other fancy restaurant has some kind of four-course Narnian menu online. Ideas range from a medieval feast gone wild to a Mr. Tumnus tea with toast and sardines. Most of them feature Turkish Delight. I haven't seen one yet with barbecued bear meat wrapped around apples, but maybe that's a problem of supply. Tim's Mom has a description and photos of their family's annual Narnian dinner--the toddlers in their cloaks are adorable.

But anyway, we had decided to do a small-scale feast for tomorrow night, and I found a website with some food quotes from all the different books. The one that appealed to us most was from The Silver Chair:
"She had a vague impression of Dwarfs crowding round the fire with frying-pans rather bigger than themselves, and the hissing, and delicious smell of sausages, and more, and more sausages. And not the wretched sausages half full of bread and soya bean either, but real meaty, spicy ones, fat and piping hot and burst and just the tiniest bit burnt. And great mugs of frothy chocolate, and roast potatoes and roast chestnuts, and baked apples with raisins stuck in where the cores had been, and then ices just to freshen you up after all the hot things."
Except for the chestnuts, those are just about all of our favourite cold-weather things, and if you add in some Really Good Grapes (from Prince Caspian) and a few cookies (we just happen to have a lion-shaped cutter), it sounds like a perfect New Year's party meal.

Jackdas obviously liked the quote, too, and included it in an absolutely delightful (and mouth-watering) blog post; it's archived here, so you'll have to scroll down to his October 14th post.

As for Turkish Delight...we haven't quite decided. Tim's Mom included a recipe in her post, and we do have a Middle Eastern store nearby that would probably have some, but after all, that was the BAD food in the book! (Not to mention what I've heard that the university students used to put in it in C.S. Lewis's day...Turkish Delight seems to have been the Hash Brownies of its time.) I think baked apples and cookies (and ices just to freshen you up) would be just as good.

So we'll be making some glittery jewellery, having a Narnia scavenger hunt, and eating sausages, maybe just the tiniest bit burnt. What are you doing New Year's Eve?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Narnia Books, by Ponytails

Mama Squirrel and I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in November (I think). We started Prince Caspian and then The Apprentice wanted to listen, so we started reading it together. But we didn't read the whole thing in a book. For Christmas we got a present from Mom and Dad, for all three of us girls. It's 19 CDs of all the Narnia books, that you can listen to. So we finished Prince Caspian on a CD.

The old lady at the end turned out to be Prince Caspian's nurse. And Peter won the battle against Miraz, the king. Peter is a good fighter. They brought in Reepicheep the Mouse, and he was almost dead, and in the place of his tail there was a stump with a bandage on it. Lucy put some of the cordial on him, and he was all good again except for his tail. Aslan said, "You can have your tail back." And it grew back in about five minutes.

The next book that we're going to read is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I'd like to start it off with the book and end it off with the CD.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Thrift Shops: They've changed.

My parents liked treasure-hunting at flea markets when I was young. My dad was always on the lookout for "royalty stuff" (cups and tins and things with pictures of the Queen's family on them), and we went along to poke through the tables of books and old toys. But thrift shops were pretty much unknown to us. The only one in town was run by the hospital auxiliary (volunteer ladies), and it was on a side street with other little offbeat stores. It was kind of dark and full of polyester shirts that all had the same weird smell. I used to go in there sometimes when I was in high school, looking for vintage clothes (hidden under the polyester). 

Later I moved to the larger city where we still live. From the late '80's through the mid '90's, I regularly checked out several thrift shops, most of them right on the main street. There was a Salvation Army store where nothing was priced at all. When you brought your stuff up to the counter, the lady sized you up and decided what she felt like charging you, and that was it. If you looked down-and-out enough, she might give it to you for free. There were two different Goodwill stores, both with their own personalities. The one we liked best was right near the downtown bus station. The Apprentice liked to pick out junk jewelery and hairdo stuff there when she was little, and they also had a great piled-up bin of toys that was fun to dig through. And good book bargains. There was the $2 copy of Timetables of History I found, and the bag of very old Cuisenaire rods for a quarter (nobody knew what they were), and the rubber boots I found for The Apprentice when she needed them the most, and the troll-fabric shirt, "size preschooler". There were the little handfuls of Duplo that I used to find, loose, in the bottom of the big toy bin, that helped to build up our collection. 

But a few years ago, all the thrift stores run by organizations (like the Goodwill) moved out of the downtown, out into less-accessible places like strip malls. There are only a couple of independent stores left in the core, where the people who need them the most can readily get to them. And when you do drive out to the new stores, you have to be prepared for their change of face. The new shops are cleaner. Things are bagged and labeled, arranged tastefully on shelves. (And always priced.) In reaction to their becoming dumping grounds for dinosaur computers and putrid couches, most of the shops are now very picky about what they will and won't accept. Mainstream shoppers...those who never liked "used stuff"...won't be afraid they'll catch anything nasty there. There are fewer surprises now (good or bad). Fewer treasures. Less more of those ugly necklaces for a quarter that my preschooler loved. No atrocious crafts made thirty years ago for somebody's Christmas bazaar. No books with ripped or unreadable covers (the kind that I could take a couple of hours looking through if I didn't have somebody small tugging at me). The CDs are more likely to play (or at least more likely to have a CD inside the case), but they cost $2.50 now instead of 50 cents. 

I don't blame the thrift shops. It can't be easy just trying to pay the rent, keep things going and not turn into a free dumpster. But I miss the old shops, the old ladies, the old stuff that was always missing a piece here and there...but if you were lucky you'd find another one that was missing a different piece, and tell everybody who'd listen what luck you'd had.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Do big broods bring bliss?

A Washington Post story by Hank Stuever, here, says that while people like to watch feel-good movies about great big families, celebrities (who are still kind of like people, I guess) tend to stick to having only a couple of kids. (If the logical minds out there don't see a real connection between those two statements, I'm with you.)

Anyway, this is the quote from the article I found amusing and I thought some of our friends might, too:
The bias -- not only in Hollywood, but in almost all corners of middle- to upper-class America -- exults the perfect symmetry of a two-child life. A family with more than four children occasionally draws sneering judgment from the cultural elite; it looks messy, home-schooly, possibly even like the kind of family that deliberately doesn't watch television.
Ooh, how subversive.

(How many kids do the cultural elite have, anyway? Or is that the same as being a celebrity?)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Favourite things at Christmas

Stash White Christmas Tea

It's a Wonderful Red Green Christmas (only for Red Green fans, though)

Kids dressed like animals in a church Christmas play

Canadian Living's Chocolate Fingers recipe

Getting all the Christmas Eve grocery shopping done by 10 a.m., in an almost-empty store, before all the cashiers are too tired to wish you Merry Christmas

Alprose Swiss bittersweet chocolate bars

Little Squirrelings with their bangs all trimmed for Christmas

Our family Christmas present: a freezer!

Ponytails' gift to Crayons: a package of White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese. ("I knew she'd like it!")

Ponytails' new book

Crayons' new game: Pirate Snakes and Ladders [2007 update: I've corrected the link, but it may change again. In any case, it's from Orchard Toys and is still a favourite game two years later, with the board now mended with tape.]

A big white candle lit on Christmas morning while we sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.

And too much more to say.

Merry Christmas.

Overheard in the Treehouse

"Christmas isn't just about giving. It's about getting and about God's Son Emmanuel."

Well, she knew what she meant!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Decorations in the Treehouse

We're a little late joining in with this, but at least we made it before Christmas!

Here are some of our favourite ornaments and the reasons they're special to us.

These ornaments showing the wise men were made in Bethlehem and sent out as a Christmas gift to viewers of the 100 Huntley Street Christian television program, quite a few years ago now. We don't have many wooden ornaments, and you don't see too many "wise men" decorations, so I really like this one.

These carolling mice are a little too big to go on the tree, so we have them on the mantelpiece. The Apprentice and I made two pairs of them a couple of years ago.

We had a big family ornament-making session around the kitchen table, also a couple of years ago--Squirrelings cutting, Mr. Fixit hot-gluing, Mama Squirrel sewing tiny fabric yo-yos. We made several of these angels to give away and kept a couple for the girls' own collection of tree decorations.

We have all our angel ornaments in the front hall this year. The blue angel on the far left was part of Mr. Fixit's childhood. The red sequined one was a gift from The Apprentice the Christmas she was five, and it's one of my favourite Christmas things ever.

On the far right is an angel (the large one) that I'm also very fond of, made mostly of paper. When The Apprentice was three (and our only Squirreling), she and I spent quite a bit of the fall working on projects for a church craft sale; mostly small stuffed elves. (She was a lot of help keeping all the small parts organized!) Just before the sale, my grandmother became seriously ill and was taken to the hospital. My mother had intended to help at the sale as well, but wanted to stay with my grandmother, so I went alone. I sold several of the elves, and then wandered around to look at the other crafts. One table had these paper angels, and I took my "elf profits" and bought one.

My grandmother recovered, almost miraculously, and was home for Christmas. That was ten years ago, and the angel still brings back all the memories of that holiday season.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas by Ponytails

Only three more sleeps till Christmas. And I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy new year.


Treehouse Recipe Index for 2005

Over the year I included quite a few recipes in the Treehouse posts. Just so they don't all get lost in the archives, here's a list with links to the original posts. I'm not including the ones that were given only as a link.

(Some of these came from Canadian Living Magazine, some are from our cookbooks, and some are just things we've figured out.)

Butterscotch Dumplings (June)
Fruit Crisp (June)
Honey-Mustard Chicken (June)
Macaroni and Cheese, the Real Kind (June)
Sweet Potatoes or Squash (June)

Sausage and Sauerkraut (June)

Vegan Gingerbread (June)

Hot German Cauliflower Salad (July)
Mushroom Steak Bake (July)

Beef and Salsa Burritos (July)

Ground Chicken Skillet, or Evan’s Mom would Never Recognize This (July)
Chicken Cacciatore (July)
Frozen Tortoni Dessert (July)
Summer Shortcake (July)
Pineapple-Orange Rings (July)

Kitchen Sink Cookies (September)
Pumpkin Butter (September)

Cranberry Sauce (October)
Bread Stuffing (October)
Old-Fashioned Gingersnaps (October)
Yogurt-Bran Muffins (October)

Artichoke Hearts Saute (November)
Dried Fruit Bars (November)
Beany's Beans (November)

Double Ginger Drop Cookies (December)
No-Bake Apricot Nuggets (December)
Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge (December)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A favourite carol, and an online story

From heaven above to earth I come
to bear good news to every home;
glad tidings of great joy I bring,
whereof I now will say and sing.

To you this night is born a child
of Mary, chosen mother mild;
this little Child, of lowly birth,
shall be the joy of all the earth.

Were earth a thousand times as fair,
beset with gold and jewels rare,
she yet were far too poor to be
a narrow cradle, Lord, to thee.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
make thee a bed, soft undefiled,
within my heart, that it may be
a quiet chamber kept for thee.

'Glory to God in highest heaven
who unto man his Son hath given,'
while angels sing with pious mirth
a glad new year to all the earth.

Welcome to earth, thou noble Guest,
through whom e'en wicked men are blessed!
Thou com'st to share our misery;
what can we render, Lord, to thee?

Words: Martin Luther, 1531
translated by Catherine Winkworth
Music: Von Himmel hoch
From the Oremus Hymnal site, here (midi available)

P.S. This hymn is used in the book and video Red Boots for Christmas, by Lutheran Hour ministries. They have an online version of the storybook, here; it's also available (online) in Spanish and (I think) Chinese.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Christmas Chapters

What are your favourite non-Christmas books, adult or childrens', that have good Christmas chapters or scenes in them?

Here are a few that I thought of, beyond the really obvious ones like the first chapter of Little Women, or the Little House books (addition: or The Wind in the Willows):

Almost anything by Jean Little: she practically made it a trademark to end her novels on Christmas (or in one case, on St. Nicholas Day). From Anna is one of our favourites and, I think, one of her best Christmas chapters. (There's an excerpt from the beginning of the book at that link.)

The Middle Moffat, where Rufus gets a letter from Santa saying, "Sorry, all the ponies are at the war."

The Five Little Peppers

The Fairy Doll, by Rumer Godden. This book could be called a Christmas book anyway, but it's not all set at Christmas time.

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild

The Ark, by Margot Benary-Isbert. This book actually has two good Christmases in it, and I'm not sure which one I like better.

Anne of Green Gables, but also Anne of Windy Poplars, where Anne reluctantly takes her grumpy co-worker home with her for the holidays.

Last but not least: Father Christmas's appearance in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.


Monday, December 19, 2005

The fourth candle is lit

We are now in the last week of Advent. (As if you all didn't know.)

There are last-minute secrets. Last-minute cookies. Last-minute one-more-thing-I-forgot stops at the store. The four-year-old thinks the days are going by too slowly. The eight-year-old thinks they're going by too quickly.

And really, what's the hurry? If we don't have a) enough salad, b) enough stocking stuffers, c) enough cookies baked (and not already eaten), d) enough cards sent, e) enough decorations up, f) everything, EVERYTHING cleaned, g) you choose, all done and wrapped and delivered by the 25th (not to mention winding up everything we wanted to do in school during the fall term), what does it matter? Jesus isn't going anywhere.

When we were expecting the Apprentice, either our calculations were a bit off or she just decided to make her appearance a bit early--we've never been sure. Anyway, we found ourselves making a 1 a.m. call to the midwife two weeks before baby was expected. I can only compare my feelings that night to a first driving lesson on the freeway when your entire behind-the-wheel experience has been in a video arcade. The second or third time around, you remember what you did before, but the first wonder if you could possibly be the only person in the world to get an F in giving birth. And I remember saying to the midwife, in the middle of all this, "I'm not ready." What did I mean, she asked--emotionally? "No," I said, "I still haven't finished cleaning out the baby's room."

Like the baby would care?

But I was still worried, because I hadn't completed every last thing. (As if I could have anyway.) And the baby was born, and the room eventually did get cleaned out and made ready for her (when she finally started sleeping in there). She wasn't going anywhere, and the cleaning could wait. It was time to celebrate the new life that had been added to our family, and to admire her tiny toes, and to call all the relatives, and to learn all the messy details of diapers and nursing and fitting a baby into tiny nighties and sleepers, and to bring out a first Father's Day present for Mr. Fixit a week later.

And newborns don't stay newborns, so very quickly we were getting into teeth and outgrown sleepers and solid foods and sitting and crawling and tricycles and reading and birth is not one event, it's a whole lifetime.

The same with Christmas. Ready or not.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Homemade worksheets

I forgot to add this to the post about busywork: sometimes we make up our own 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.

We've also done these as a French reading activity. They can be really simple like "two red circles" and "a big black square", but I usually throw in a couple of silly ones 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!

Homeschooling does continue

We're almost finished our Ambleside term...I know what AO Years we're doing (Year 8 for The Apprentice, Year 3 for Ponytails), but where we are in the year's schedule is another question. We're just doing whatever comes next. (And Crayons' JK curriculum is made up as we go along.)

The Apprentice and Ponytails have both been reading about King James I, but in different books, and about other things that happened during the first quarter of the 1600s, like Champlain's founding of Quebec and the sailing of the Mayflower, and the Thirty Years' War (which did last thirty years, that's not one of those trick questions).

Ponytails and I just finished Marguerite De Angeli's Henner's Lydia (a short book) as well as Elizabeth Enright's Then There Were Five, which Ponytails goes around all day quoting from. And we've jumped into Prince Caspian, which is (arguably) the second book you should read in the Narnia series. I'm reading Galileo and the Magic Numbers to her as well--it's one of our favourite science biographies. (We didn't download the e-book that I linked to--our copy is an old one.)

The Apprentice is still working on Spenser's Fierce Wars and Faithful Loves, Bruchko, and Whatever Happened to Justice? We finished Oliver Twist and are reading A Christmas Carol together when we get extra time.

And there's a little math (I'll post a fun site later on today), and a little spelling, and a little Elements of Style (for The Apprentice), and a few things like that that still go on until the end of this week--and then WE ARE TAKING A HOLIDAY.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Beautiful Music

As a pre-Christmas gift for the Squirrelings, I picked up a package of Christmas tunes to go with our Music Maker harp. (Scroll down on that link to see the Christmas #1 package.) Ponytails was the first one to try it out today, so the Treehouse has been filled with her beautiful strumming of O Christmas Tree and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.

Ponytails says, "It sounds pretty."

She's right!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

More treats

I put a few logs of this into the freezer today and baked a VERY SMALL test pan for nibbling. The Apprentice says they taste better than last year's, I'm not sure why. Maybe I chopped the ginger finer or something.

Anyway, I agree they're very good. They have a stronger ginger kick than regular ginger cookies, so young children might not be as fond of them; but then you never know, you may have some hot-tongued young 'uns at your house.

Double Ginger Drop Cookies

½ cup butter, softened
½ cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (you can buy this in small slices at the bulk store and chop it with a knife or in a food processor)
1/4 cup fancy molasses
1 tsp. vanilla
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. each baking soda and salt

Icing (optional):

1 cup icing sugar
½ tsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. milk (approx.)

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or grease them; set aside. (That's if you're going to bake them right away instead of doing them slice-and-bake.)

In large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, chopped ginger, molasses and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Add to butter mixture and stir until smooth. Add a spoonful of water if it won't hold together, but not too much.

Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart, onto prepared pans. Bake in top and bottom thirds of 350 deg F oven, rotating and switching pans halfway through (if you remember), until golden, about 12 minutes. Transfer to rack; let cool.

Icing: In small bowl, whisk icing sugar with ginger. Add milk and whisk until smooth, adding a little more milk if too thick to drizzle. Drizzle over each cookie. Let stand until icing is firm, about 30 minutes. (I think these are fine without the icing, if not very fancy, and I don't know if I'll bother with it this year; maybe if I have time.)

Making them “slice and bake”: Roll dough into short, thick logs; flatten sides to form a triangle (or keep them round if you want, it makes no difference). Freeze until firm enough to slice, 30 minutes. (I put each log into a sandwich bag.) Cut into 1/4 inch thick slices. Bake as directed.

(Recipe from Canadian Living, January 2004)

How we celebrate

If you read The Apprentice's "sevens" post below, you'll notice that she included two of Charles Dickens' books in her list of favourite books. Last night I read her Stave One of A Christmas many times at Christmas do we READ A Christmas Carol instead of watching it? There are all kinds of interesting little things in it that are different, of course, from the movie versions.
"And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!'

The clerk in the tank involuntarily applauded. Becoming immediately sensible of the impropriety, he poked the fire, and extinguished the last frail spark for ever.

'Let me hear another sound from you,' said Scrooge, 'and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation! You're quite a powerful speaker, sir,' he added, turning to his nephew. 'I wonder you don't go into Parliament.'"
Tuesday nights are also an online chat time for our online homeschool community, and I was reminded this week that there are many different perspectives on Christmas, even within the North American Christian community. Some of us make a deliberate choice to "celebrate the Christian year," following the seasons of Advent, Christmas and so on with influences such as Martha Zimmerman's book of the same title. Others make just as deliberate (and often more difficult) a choice not to celebrate one particular day at all, or at least not to celebrate Christmas Day as Jesus' birthday. A few have chosen another time of year to celebrate, such as the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles in the fall (or in January if you're Ukrainian). And some are kind of in the middle, trying to figure out what fits with their convictions, what reflects their relationship with Jesus and what can or should be left aside. Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, or nothing of that sort at all? Jesse Trees, Christmas Trees, no trees? Lots of presents, three presents (to reflect the three gifts given to Jesus), no presents? Hot chocolate, wine, or carrot juice? Handel, Celtic, Christian-bookstore-pop, Bing Crosby, or even (gasp) Elvis in the CD player?

The one thing we seem to have in common, as Christians seeking to glorify God and raise godly children, is what we don't want: the great-big-shiny-aluminum-Christmas-tree holiday. We don't want the overstuffed, overspent focus on what's under the tree--and then the famous "black hole" of letdown afterwards. We also don't want the equally empty politically-correct holiday that's been wiped clean of any Christian reference. I don't think many of us are making a point of teaching our children songs like "You better watch out, I'm telling you why, Santa Claus is coming to town." (Although we may give in to nostalgia and watch some of those so-familiar singing snowmen and grinch stories that many of us grew up with. Don't the Heat Miser's little backup guys still rock?)

And none of this is exactly new. Christians have disagreed for centuries over how to celebrate Christmas, or whether to celebrate it at all; how much pre-Christian tradition or mythology should be included, whether trees are in fact those gold and silver idols mentioned by the prophet, or whether the ancient symbols can be or should be "Christianized." (Does or doesn't the candy cane have religious significance?)

This article by Stephen D. Greydanus gets into an interesting discussion of whether A Christmas Carol promotes a Christian or secular view of Christmas. Some have accused Dickens of actually being a major contributor towards the "happy-holidays" kind of celebration. Greydanus discusses C.S. Lewis's point that the story contains very little mention of Christ; but he also presents G.K. Chesterton's argument that, in fact, Dickens' work is "not a work of Christian imagination, but it is a work profoundly affected by Christian imagination, and the significance of the story's Christian roots becomes more marked the further contemporary culture drifts from those roots. Not only is it essentially a morality tale, and a conversion story at that, but it takes seriously the idea of consequences in the next life for our actions in this life." (That's from the article, not directly from Chesterton.)
Dickens' Christmas spirits may be, as Lewis observed, "of his own invention," yet they are still agents of grace; Chesterton considers them suggestive of "that truly exalted order of angels who are correctly called High Spirits" ("Dickens and Christmas").
I certainly don't have the last word for anyone on how or even whether to celebrate Christmas. We choose to prepare our hearts during Advent, to celebrate in every way we can think of during Christmas (that's twelve days long, by the way (grin)), and to finish off with the Three Kings on Epiphany (and yes, I do know there were probably many more than three, and they weren't necessarily kings). It's something we're still working on--choosing what music, what decorations, what traditions mean the most to us and communicate what we believe the season is about. I'm grateful for the insight of those who have shared very different perspectives on this, and I am rejoicing that our goal, in the end, is the same: to glorify Christ every day.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Seven Sevens, by Ponytails

Things to Do Before I Turn 10

1. Learn how to spin a baton on my finger. That would be really fun.

2. Learn how to turn a cartwheel.

3. Read Spiderweb for Two: A Melendy Maze (with Mama Squirrel)

4. Learn to do a double or triple pirouette.

5. See the Narnia movie.

6. Meet someone famous. But the problem is, they're probably dead. (Ponytails' list includes Mary Cassatt, Judy Garland, Elton John and Lynda Carter.)

7. See the painting "Girl in a Blue Armchair" by Mary Cassatt. (Mama Squirrel's note: That's in the National Gallery in Washington D.C.)

Seven of My Favourite Movies That I Like

1. Daddy Daycare

2. The Muppets Wizard of Oz

3. The five minutes of Anger Management that Daddy let me watch when the man sings "I'm so pretty"

4. The Elton John episode of The Muppet Show

5. The Lynda Carter episode of The Muppet Show

6. The wizard of oz (the other one)

7. Arthur's Perfect Christmas

Things You Can Say on a CB Radio

1. Breaker 11, Come in Enterprise.

2. What's your 10-20? (It means where are you?)

3. How am I hitting you?

4. Want to go to another channel? There's a lot of skip on this one. (Skip is other people talking.)

5. Can you give me a five count? (I want to see how many bars you're coming in on. That means how strong you're coming in.)

6. I didn't copy that. (I didn't hear that.)

7. Over and out.

Two no-bake candy recipes

This is what we did with our batch of sweetened condensed milk substitute (we used the Hillbilly Housewife's recipe, here, which makes the equivalent of two cans). The Apprentice made the Apricot Nuggets recipe, which came from Canadian Living Magazine but was based on an Australian recipe (I think they call it Apricot Slice). It sounds like cookies, but it's more like butterscotch candy.

No-Bake Apricot Nuggets

3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 3/4 cups vanilla wafer crumbs (about 90 cookies, but we bought crumbs at the bulk store which was much cheaper than a box of cookies)
3/4 cup chopped dried apricots (we chopped them fairly small in the food processor)
3/4 dried cranberries (we bought these at the bulk store as well)
3/4 cup shredded coconut (divided)

Line a 9 by 13 inch metal cake pan with parchment paper; set aside.

In saucepan, stir together sugar, butter and milk over medium-low heat, stirring to prevent scorching, until butter is melted. Remove from heat; stir in lemon juice.

In bowl, combine wafer crumbs, apricots, cranberries, and ½ cup of the coconut; add butter mixture, stirring until combined. Press into prepared pan.

Sprinkle with remaining coconut; press gently. Cover and refrigerate until firm, about 4 hours. Cut into squares. Keep in the refrigerator, or you can freeze them for up to 1 month. Makes 40 squares.

(Canadian Living, December 2003)

Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge

1 lb. semisweet chocolate, chopped (from the bulk store, of course)
1 300-ml can sweetened condensed milk (or homemade equivalent)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup dried cranberries or raisins or the rest of the apricots that you chopped for the Apricot Nuggets
1 cup chopped toasted pecans (optional)

In bowl over saucepan of hot (not boiling) water, melt chocolate with milk, stirring frequently until smooth. Stir in vanilla. Stir in fruit and nuts, if using.

Pour into foil-lined 8-inch square cake pan; smooth top. Chill for about 3 hours or until firm.

Turn out onto cutting board; peel off foil. Cut into squares. (Make-ahead: layer between waxed paper in airtight container and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.) Makes 64 pieces.

(Canadian Living, December 1999)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Christmas Music at the Treehouse

Last week I thought I’d bring a little pre-Christmas spirit into the Treehouse by tuning the radio into a local station that starts playing Christmas music somewhere (I think) around Remembrance Day (and of course cuts it right off again after Boxing Day). I got paid right back for my foolishness, because the first song that came on was “Christmas Shoes.” If you’ve never heard that one, it’s on the top of most of the “worst Christmas songs” lists along with “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” It was enough to send me running back to CBC Radio, which (thankfully) builds up slowly to Christmas, and provides us with unlimited wonderful concerts and CDs and soloists and choirs and jazz and even funny stuff sometimes. And very limited doses of things like Mel Torme. (And no Christmas Shoes.)

If you want some luminous, knowledgeable, mouth-watering descriptions of Christmas CDs, check out these posts at The Beehive and The Common Room, or even Tim’s Mom’s somewhat bashful contribution here. Like Tim’s Mom, I’m a little stuck on the familiar and sentimental and not as discerning over which orchestra sounds the best. And the CDs I like aren’t necessarily the ones we own (that’s why the radio gets played a lot this month). We do have Loreena McKennitt’s “To Drive the Cold Winter Away” (recommended at The Beehive); Liona Boyd’s “A Guitar for Christmas”; and “An Oscar Peterson Christmas”, all of which would get good musical marks from those who know about those things.

From a time (pre-Treehouse) when I shopped more often at a Christian bookstore, I have tapes (not CD’s, of course) of First Call’s a cappella “An Evening in December: Volume Two” (Volume One got chewed up by an evil tape player years ago), and Sparrow’s 1985 “25 Songs of Christmas: Volume Two." (Volume One, I think, got loaned out instead of eaten.) And Evie: Christmas Memories, just for fun. (Didn’t every churchgoing kid during the ‘70's have to march in at least once to “Come on, Ring Those Bells?”)

Crayons likes "Anne Murray's Christmas," because she's fallen in love with "Do You Hear What I Hear." (That means that Mama Squirrel has to warble her way through it at bedtime as well.)

We also have several dollar-store-variety collections of carols, some of which are better than others. One of my favourites is the instrumental “German Christmas: Candlelight Hours”; no artists’ names are given, but it’s a quiet, peaceful tape that makes me think of snow falling. [2006 update: That link is broken, but this one takes you to an MP3 download site, with previews. Check out Leise Rieselt der Schnee (and yes, there are some awful typos in the German there).]

And you know what? Much as I’d like to own more really good Christmas music...I think we’re doing all right with what we have, filled in with the beautiful CBC extras. I did pick up a tape of Kathleen Battle’s “A Christmas Celebration” at a thrift shop this month, and that was nice. I’d like to get her CD with the guitar accompaniment that’s mentioned in the Beehive post. (Mr. Fixit, are you reading this?) But the most beautiful music I can think of is our family singing together; not because we’re very good, but because we are singing together.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Answers to the Cold and Snowy Book Quotations

1 The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper
2 Snowshoe Thompson, by Nancy Smiler Levinson
3 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
4 Brave Irene, by William Steig
5 Paddington Marches On, by Michael Bond
6 Heidi, by Johanna Spyri
7 The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis (must be lots of snow in Narnia)
8 A Toad for Tuesday, by Russell E. Erickson
9 The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame
10 Snowbound with Betsy, by Carolyn Haywood
11 The Littles to the Rescue, by John Peterson

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Advent continues

I noticed that some of my best blogger friends have already started playing Christmas music and have their decorations up. We are always a little slow to get going on that...maybe it's that we don't have the impetus of American Thanksgiving to trigger the start of the holidays, maybe we're just a little lazy or want to hold off on getting all the Squirrelings (and Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit) hyper with anticipation too soon. (One of those habits you get into when the children are small: short build-ups to things.)

Anyway, for whatever reason I have not baked one batch of Christmas anything yet, and we haven't opened any of the decoration boxes. Maybe tomorrow.

But these are some things we've done so far:

1. Gotten the Advent wreath out and done family time almost every night this week. We're following a booklet called "Prayers and Promises: Activities for Advent." So far we've read about God's promises to Adam and Eve and Noah; over the weekend we'll be reading about Abraham and Sarah.

2. We had a pizza party last weekend with Grandpa Squirrel to celebrate the beginning of Advent and the younger Squirrelings' dance recital. Mama Squirrel made an unusually indulgent chocolate cake with chocolate-marshallow icing for dessert, and we used as many blue dishes and napkins as we could find. (Blue's the colour of hope and a symbol of Advent.)

3. We have a homemade Advent calendar on the kitchen wall, made from a piece of red poster board. Each day has an index card with a decoration on it (cut from a several-years-old Victorian wall calendar) and a number, and each day one of the Squirrelings turns the right card around. On the back is just a word that corresponds to that night's reading, like "Garden" or "Ark" or "Rainbow." And whoever turns the card around gets to draw a picture to decorate the card, and shows it to everyone that evening. Then it goes back in its spot on the poster board, drawing side out.

4. Our box of Christmas books has been opened and the best ones are in a basket beside the fireplace. (It's electric and we don't mind; it's easy to use and nobody has to clean out the ashes.) Crayons has already hornswoggled two of us into reading her the entire book of Oliver and Amanda's Christmas. Ponytails is reading Snowbound with Betsy to herself. (Addition: Crayons asked me to read This is the Star to her tonight, a new book for her; and she was very pleased that she could read the first page all by herself, "This is the star in the sky.")

5. Mama Squirrel mixed up some imitation sweetened condensed milk today, in anticipation of good things to come. Recipes will follow when I get the time!

Hoping that all your Advent seasons begin as sweetly.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Seven Things Game

The Common Room's Deputy Headmistress tagged me to list seven things I can't do, seven movies, seven things I say too much and so on. I have been having trouble with this! Some things that should go on the lists are too personal to post on a blog, but leaving them off completely is awkward too.

So here are my lists, incomplete but the best I can do.

Things to do before I die

1. Find a way of remembering the difference between further and farther.

2. Visit all those galleries in Europe.

3. Read all the books for every single year of Ambleside Online.

Things I cannot do

1. Drive

2. Work a yo-yo

3. Wear pointy-toed high heels

Things that attract me to my husband

1. He doesn't watch sports on TV

2. He's a very decisive shopper (he's even good at picking kids' shoes)

3. He still has hair

4. He has chips-and-pop-and-card parties with the kids when I go to meetings

5. He can install just about anything

6. He insists on comparing us to almost every couple we watch on TV or in a movie (my favourite is when he said the two of us were very much like Herman and Lily Munster)

Seven Things I Say Most Often

I had no idea what to put for this so I very gingerly asked two of the Squirrelings to write down what they thought (under threat of coal in their stockings if they wrote anything really embarrassing). Here's The Apprentice's List:

1. "Television is not a right, it is a privilege and it can be taken away." (My note: did I ever really say that??)

2. "Look what the DHM put on her blog!"

3. "Let's sing ANOTHER Advent song."

4. "Those Bratz dolls are hideous."

5. "That was NOT a good prayer." (My explanation: I am not attempting to criticize anyone else's theology, but I do say it if someone rattles off grace a little too fast.)

6. "Apprentice, get off of your tush and do some work."

7. "When I was a kid, there were quality toys in the stores." (I'm not sure about the truth of that of the seventies were only slightly less junky than the ones sold now. We had our share of things that took ten batteries or broke after two days.)

Here's Ponytails' list, written all by herself with The Apprentice as spellchecker.

1. "I love you, Ponytails. Kiss, hug."

2. "I like you, Ponytails."

3. "Let's eat."

4. "New stuff in the shops are junk."

5. "Charlotte Mason is great."

6. "Do some school work, Apprentice."

7. "I love you, Apprentice. Kiss, hug."

Seven books (or series) I love

I'm still working on this one. Somewhere on the list would be Great Expectations, Pilgrim's Progress, Mrs. Tittlemouse, Saint Maybe, Hercule Poirot mysteries, and What is a Family?. But there are a lot of others that I could put in just as easily.

Seven movies I watch over and over again (or would watch over and over if I had the time)

Again this is really hard, because Mr. Fixit and I watch a lot of movies on T.V. Mr. Fixit will tape something in the middle of the night and then we'll watch part of it late in the evening (sometimes it takes us several nights to get through one movie). Some of them are great, some are okay, some are such stinkers that we quit watching after a few minutes.

I would vote for anything with Alec Guinness (like The Lavender Hill Mob or Our Man in Havana), any good police or courtroom movie (I liked A Few Good Men and My Cousin Vinny, except for the language), anything I've seen so far with Emma Thompson in it (with a nod there to the DHM), and Veggie Tales' Jonah. And most of the mushy Christmas movies that Mr. Fixit WON'T watch with me. And most of the mushy musicals, ditto.

Seven people I want to join in, too

First, The Apprentice, because I know she really wants to play! After that, it's a free-for-all. If you want to put your brain on the rack writing one of these, you're welcome to play.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Remembering grandparents

I've read a couple of good tributes to grandmothers recently, and wanted to pass them on. (Maybe there should be a Carnival of Grandparents?) Marsha's grandmother passed away recently, and Marsha's memories of her are shared on the Abarbablog. And Firefly recalls teatimes with her grandmother here. (We've tried Firefly's grandmother's scones and can assure you they're quite delicious.)

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Snowy-Day Dinner in the Treehouse

Tonight we had a sort-of Italian dinner: Cheese Ravioli with chickpeas and spaghetti sauce; Stir-fried Artichoke Hearts with Bacon; Garlic Breadsticks; Carrot Sticks; Sliced Kiwi Fruit; and Dried Fruit Bars.

The ravioli was the frozen kind; I cooked it first, drained it, and then combined it with the chickpeas and about half a can of spaghetti sauce, all in the same pot, and let it warm through. It does tend to stick to the bottom of the pot when you're heating it, so you have to warm it very gently.

We were going to have a salad, but the lettuce got eaten up earlier in the week along with most of our other green vegetables. I wasn’t sure what we were going to have along with the ravioli until I noticed a forlorn can of artichoke hearts that I’d bought for the Common Room’s pasta-chickpea-artichoke heart-spinach salad...we don’t eat pasta salad much in the winter, so the can had gotten pushed to the back. Betty Crocker turned out to have exactly the right recipe (since we also had just a few strips of bacon left in the fridge):

Artichoke Hearts Saute

2 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts, drained and cut into halves
1 tsp. lemon juice

Cook bacon in 10-inch skillet, stirring occasionally, until limp, about 1 ½ minutes. (I cooked it until it looked just about done, and then drained off the fat.) Stir in artichoke hearts; cook and stir until hot, about 3 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. (It will be noted that not all the Squirrels wanted to try this, but Crayons at least made a brave attempt to be open-minded.)

The Garlic Breadsticks were a half-batch of Miss Maggie’s recipe, here. Last time I made them, I divided up the dry ingredients and made only a half-batch in an 8-inch square pan; so this batch went together pretty quickly.

Dried Fruit Bars was a recipe of Mary Carroll’s that I clipped from Vegetarian Times a long time ago. Crayons, who loves to cook, helped me put it together. (She did not think it tasted delicious, but the Apprentice happily ate Crayons' share.) Notice that it’s vegan, which means it’s also good for people with dairy/egg and even wheat allergies, if your granola’s wheat-free.

Dried Fruit Bars

2 cups low-sugar granola
1/4 cup apple juice (we used orange juice)
oil or spray for greasing pan
4 cups mixed chopped dried apricots, pitted dates and prunes (we had no prunes but used raisins)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup pear or other light fruit juice (we used orange again because that’s what we had)
1/4 cup arrowroot powder or cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In blender or food processor, grind granola to a coarse powder, then transfer to a large bowl. Mix with juice. Lightly oil or spray a 9 by 12-inch baking pan (we used a 9 by 13 pan) and press the mixture into the bottom of it.

In the blender or food processor, puree the remaining ingredients. (Actually, what we did was chop the dried fruit to make sure that we had about four cups of it – I measured it by dumping it into a four-cup plastic container – and then it went back in the food processor with the other ingredients to get pureed.)

Spread the mixture over the prepared granola crust. Bake for 25 minutes. Let cool, then cut into squares (Mary Carroll says 12 bars, but we cut it in smaller squares). Store in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator. You may have a rim of dry crumbly stuff around the outside if your fruit didn’t quite cover the crust, but you can cut the nice part into squares and serve them on a plate, and nobody will know, right?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Advent is coming

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent.

Our family always celebrates Advent for the whole four weeks before much so that, when the Apprentice was a toddler, a well-meaning grownup asked her sometime in December if she wasn't happy that Christmas was here, and she corrected him: "It's not Cwistmas yet, it's still Advent."

We have our own set of traditions, some of which are shared by many Christians, such as lighting Advent candles on a wreath. We're not too particular about the colours of the candles...some years we've used all red candles, some years we've used three purple and one year Mama Squirrel got it backwards so we had three pink and a purple.

We also try to use some blue decorations (like table mats), early in the month, instead of Christmas red and green. When we used to go to a Lutheran church, the girls always looked forward to the seasonal changes in the church; when Advent came, there were blue hangings on the pulpit and the pastor wore a blue stole. I've never been quite sure then why we don't use blue candles on the wreath; I suppose we could! But other than the candles, we try to think blue for awhile. Gradually we bring out some of the more Christmasy decorations. (The nativity scene comes out fairly early...we've inherited two sets in addition to a small one we already had, so we decide whether this will be the year of great-grandma's dime-store set from the 1940's, or the other grandma's REALLY BIG set that takes up the whole top of our buffet. I think it's the REALLY BIG set's turn this year.)

And we have songs that lead up to Christmas. We don't jump right in with Silent Night on the first night of Advent. We sing some of the old Advent hymns like Hark the Glad Sound (we sing it to the Richmond tune) and O Come O Come Emmanuel. And we sing some songs from a book called Gold, Incense and Myrrh: Contemporary Christmas Carols, by Sister Miriam Therese Winter of the Medical Mission Sisters. The copyright date on the book is 1972, so I don't know if it's still available anywhere. [Update: I found out that the author has a webpage here and you can buy CDs of her music.]

I hope the Mission Sisters wouldn't mind if I posted the words to one of their songs. We've sung these around the Advent wreath for several years and I think our Squirrelings consider them as much a part of the holidays as the more familiar carols and hymns. I'm sorry that I can't provide the tune as well...just imagine something played on a guitar rather than a hymn meant for a pipe organ.


Now the emptiness of ages proclaims the promised birth.
Hope to help unhappy hearts.
Love to light the earth.
And He shall be called Wonderful!
He shall be called Peace.
For to us a Son has been given,
to us the Lord is born.
He will govern with justice and joy, consoling those who mourn,
And He shall be called Comforter,
He shall be called Peace.

Streams will wash away the desert as He goes passing by
Those in need will turn to Him
He will hear their cry.
And He shall be called Wonderful!
He shall be called Peace.
He will lead His flock like a shepherd and call us each by name.
He will walk in the favor of God,
and we shall do the same.
And He shall be called Comforter,
He shall be called Peace.

(Copyright 1971 by Medical Mission Sisters from the collection "19 Scripture Songs." All Rights Reserved.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A Four-Bedroom Treehouse: Part 2

Part 1 is here.

I promised to post about some of the old treehouses I used to know, the ones that were never short of bedrooms although they didn't have some of the other frills that usually go along with big houses today.

The first was a board-and-batten house that my grandparents bought in about 1950 and lived in for forty years. When I first read Understood Betsy as a child, I imagined Aunt Abigail's kitchen as looking something like my grandmother's, including the big old dog sleeping under the table. From what I've been told, my grandfather panelled the walls of the kitchen, in rec-room style knotty pine, and built all the cupboards to match. Because the cellar was just a fruit cellar, Grandma had a washer and dryer at one end of the kitchen, and when they were both going at once they made the floor shake, while she worked around the house either whistling or singing hymns, always the same ones. The stove was a gas one, the kind you had to flick a spark at to light a burner. (Unique in my experience, up to to then.)

One side of the room had a door going out to a side part of the house that was my grandpa's woodworking shop...if you can imagine part of a city house that was about as unfinished inside as you can get. In some ways, this wasn't a city house at all, but a farmhouse that had somehow sprouted on a busy street corner. When you came in through the back door, you came in through more unfinished space...but who needed it fancy? It was a good place to leave your snowy boots.

The house smelled of dogs and pipe smoke, and bacon and cake and other things to eat that weren't good for you. There was a piano missing the white stuff on half of its keys, which we could bang on all we wanted (that's probably how the keys lost their white stuff)...there was a big square parking area instead of a driveway, which seemed entirely natural--didn't all grandparents need a parking lot for all the relatives' cars? I've heard stories about how my two uncles, as teenagers, used to sling a jalopy up to the nearest tree with a rope so they could work on its undersides.

There were funny slopy walls in the bedrooms...four bedrooms in the main part of the house, and another room built over the kitchen that you climbed up to from the mudroom. Ownership of the bedrooms got shifted around over the years, especially as the makeup of families shifted around and children and grandchildren ended up living back at Grandma's for a short or long period of time. My sister and I stayed there too, overnight or on days we were sick, or during spring break. I remember once doing something at Grandma's similar to the DHM's children (see her posts about The Equuschick Can Still See). I ran way too fast down the stairs into the front hall and put my hand right through the glass of the front door. I'm sure I wasn't the first person to bleed all over Grandma's house...and she bandaged me up and didn't scold too much. (I guess it was lucky she was a nurse.)

I always thought of that house as a relaxed place. Not fancy, kind of cluttered, not clean down to the last corner (how could it be with so many people coming in and out?); but in tune with the busy, giving, practical people who lived there. The dining room table magically expanded to fit everybody who showed up for Christmas dinner, and the bedrooms somehow stretched to fit as many cousins as required. So different from some of the houses we've looked at of them had a tiny dining area built on a kind of balcony...definitely meant for four and no more, and what would you do then if your grandchildren came for supper? Have them sit on the railing? And what would be so wrong with just building an upstairs with an extra bedroom?

My grandparents' house didn't have any garage at all...actually, most of the places I lived in growing up didn't have garages either. It didn't have air conditioning. It didn't have a rec room. But it did have room.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

A Four-Bedroom Treehouse: Part 1

"We're running out of room. Two of you will have to sleep hung on hangers on a hook on the wall."--Fozzie's Mama, Muppet Family Christmas

Why are four-bedroom houses so hard to find?

The Squirrels have been looking to relocate for quite awhile now. We've looked at everything from every-inch-finished condo townhouses (too family-unfriendly, they wouldn't even let you have a barbecue) to older houses that would have taken a heap of fixing up. And we haven't yet found anything that a) we like, b) we can afford, and c) that has four bedrooms.

For a long time we tried to be flexible on the four bedrooms. We've heard all the stories from older people who raised a passel of kids in tiny little wartime houses and all the rest of it. And after all, we only have three squirrelings, which is just a modest-sized family compared to many of the homesquirrelers we know. So theoretically we could just keep everybody doubled up, right? Three bedrooms should be plenty. And most new four-bedroom houses are the kind that also come with Jacuzzis and glassed-in formal dining rooms--not what we're looking for.

But we do have three Squirrelings of very different ages and different personalities, and a little bit of privacy goes a long way when you're home together a lot of the time. So we're still looking, and hoping for something with an extra bedroom (and that does not include a damp little scooped-out place in the basement, or a converted broom closet), and enough living space for a busy family. And the looking has been an education in the way people are "supposed" to live now.

This is what we've noticed:

New houses, or ones that have been recently renovated, don't assume that anybody's going to spend much time in the kitchen--although they may have tried to fancy things up a bit with European-style appliances.

Most "dinette spaces" fit four people comfortably.

New townhouses can have as many as four bathrooms to clean but not enough corners to set up a sewing machine or a workbench.

The "master suite" in a brand new house will have tons of space, and usually an ensuite bath. The kids' rooms are smaller. But if you think about it, it's usually the kids who have way more stuff to put in their rooms. I'm not the one with the Barbie house or the Rubbermaid container of craft stuff or the pile of board games; I just have my clothes and a few books to worry about. You'd think they could even things out a bit; the kids are the ones who'd really be wowed by some creative built-in storage space.

Most decks are badly built.

Anything described as "cozy" just means small.

Open-concept main floors don't give you anywhere to put bookcases or hang up maps.

And finally, you can tell if someone's taken care of a house by whether or not their bathroom doors have rusty hinges after only a couple of years. Rusty hinges equal too many steamy showers and nobody wiping things down afterwards. Bad sign.

In Part 2, Mama Squirrel will talk about some treehouses she's known in times past--all of which had at least four bedrooms but no Jacuzzi.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Organized Kitchen: toaster ovens, leftovers, menu planning

Mama Squirrel likes any kitchen ideas that make life easier and give her more time to do important things. (Like play checkers with Crayons.) Here are a couple of squirrel kitchen tips.

1. We are a microwave-less family, not so much by principle as just by the fact that we've never owned one and have never felt we really needed one. What we've always had, though, besides the big oven, is a toaster oven. Originally we had one from Mama Squirrel's previous life (before squirrelings), but when that eventually went kaput we acquired a more modern programmable one. It actually looks (and beeps) like a microwave.

The advantages to having more than one source of oven heat are that you can bake two things at different temperatures if you need to (like baked beans at 350 degrees and a pan of biscuits at 450), and that you don't have to heat up the big oven if you're cooking a small amount of something. We have a lidded casserole that just fits into the toaster oven space, and we've also baked many things in it in an 8-inch square pan. About the only things we haven't baked in it are cookies (our pans are too big), muffins (although I do bake muffin batter in it, in an 8-inch pan), and any recipe big enough to need one of our plus-size casseroles.

And it also makes toast.

2. Menu Planning: Mama Squirrel's current binge of planned-ahead meals is in its third week, and she's discovered something that makes this planning easier. The Squirrels always shop on Saturdays (and it's not usually possible to make another trip during the week). This means that certain foods are more plentiful, say, from Saturday to Wednesday. By Wednesday, the bananas are gone, the cold cuts are eaten up, and so on. So: our week's menu starts on Wednesday, rather than on the more obvious Saturday. I can plan the meals from Wednesday to Friday based on what's still left in the fridge and the cupboard, and make sure that anything we need for the after-shopping days on goes on the grocery list. If I want to make banana muffins, I write them in for sometime after Saturday, and make sure I buy bananas.

Of course this does mess up the lovely menu forms that you can print out online (nobody's menu form starts on Wednesday), but still it's working.

3. Favourite kitchen tools: a four-cup glass measuring cup (you can mix all kinds of things right in it), sharp scissors (for cutting open those irritating, harder-than-ever-to-open cereal box liners), clothes pins (for pinning all the opened bags back together again), lots of measuring spoons (check thrift shops), a rubber spatula, and a decent can opener. Mama Squirrel has had better luck with the first few than with that last one. Cheap can openers rust and bend, and even the expensive one we once bought doesn't cut the way it used to. Inventors of kitchen improvements: there is a niche there that needs to be filled.

Oh, and a permanent marker. You need one handy if you're going to be putting leftovers in margarine tubs or other non-see-through containers. There's nothing like opening a container of yogurt and getting diced tomatoes instead..

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Thought from Charlotte

Once we see that we are dealing spirit with spirit with the friend at whose side we are sitting, with the people who attend to our needs, we shall be able to realise how incessant is the commerce between the divine Spirit and our human spirit. It will be to us as when one stops one's talk and one's thoughts in the springtime, to find the world full of bird-music unheard the instant before.

--Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

Monday, October 24, 2005

Veggie Burrito Filling

Tonight we made the Hillbilly Housewife's recipe for Taco Style Lentils and Rice, which is a nice soft hot spicy thing you can roll up in a tortilla with cheese. The recipe is here, so I'm not going to copy it out. The only change I'd make is to cut down on the bouillon cubes--Miss Maggie calls for four, I used three and next time I'd use even less--or at least get some MSG-free bouillon powder from the health food store.

The only person who didn't eat more than a bit was Crayons, and that's because she's not eating much of anything right now--all the Squirrels are in various stages of colds and viruses, and a couple of carrot sticks and a bite off the end of a burrito was about enough for her.

Note to Tim's Mom: you can do this in the crockpot--we did and it worked fine.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Frugality, Potatoes and Hillbillies

The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room recently put up a potato post here and mentioned how, in a time when their family was under severe economic constraints, a large part of their diet was made up of potatoes.

Strangely enough, the $45 Emergency Menu at the Hillbilly Housewife website doesn't include potatoes. Other than that, I think it's a great resource, and it's just the tip of the potato sprout on Miss Maggie's site. [Update, 2008: the Hillbilly Housewife site is now owned by Susanne, who has made some additions and changes to the site; Miss Maggie's latest ideas can be found on Frugal Abundance.] Check out the recipes (both the emergency ones and the ones on the rest of the site), especially if you're budget-minded. Especially if you like cornmeal (Mr. Fixit does not, and I do not think he'd appreciate a dinner of made up mostly of Hoecakes. Pancake Tuesday is bad enough, in his mind.)

It's also a great site if you're a little uncertain in the kitchen, or if you're a mom looking for some very clearly-written, easy to print out recipes to use with cooks-in-training. It actually inspired Mama Squirrel to write out menus for the next week (I know, those of you who do this all the time are laughing, but I'm usually more of a night-before planner). But the Squirrels are smiling because they got to eat beef stew and date cookies, all planned ahead. (O.K. I'm being honest. Mr. Fixit did not eat the date cookies either. But he just doesn't know what he's missing.)

Thanks, Miss Maggie!

And one more good thing

The other thing this week to make a homeschooling mom happy: The Apprentice (who used to swear that she hated math and everything about math except maybe fractions) is planning on writing not only the University of Waterloo's Pascal Mathematics Competition this school year, but she wants to try the Fryer Competition as well. The Pascal is designed for all grade 9 math students (including homeschoolers, and you don't have to be in Canada to write it--just contact the math competition centre for homeschooler or school information), but the Fryer is more challenging. The Apprentice tried out this past year's Fryer test and got quite a few of the answers right, even though she's just started algebra and is mostly teaching herself from The Math Page.

Even if she hadn't done so well this far, Mama Squirrel would still be proud of her even wanting to go for the extra challenge. Keep up the good work!

Glimpses of Homeschooling

Our friend Coffeemamma from Our Blue Castle posted awhile ago here about ways to know that a four-year-old comes from a homeschooling family. It's clear that the Blue Castle's Baby is a few jumps ahead of the average four-year-old, but there are a few similarities to things that go on around the Treehouse, and not just with the four-year-old.

Heard and seen:

I handed Crayons (4yo) a partly-used printing book while we were doing some tablework...I thought the page about making numerals might amuse her for a few minutes. "Mommy, are these numbers capitals or lower case?" She didn't want to write numerals, though, and flipped to the back of the book where there was an introduction to cursive. "Oh kewwwwl! Cursive!"

Crayons and Ponytails were playing horsie down the hall while The Apprentice and I read in the kitchen. Ponytails (being the horsie): "Wait a minute till you say giddyap, Crayons. I have to memorize this Bible verse first. (Pause) Okay, now you can go."

Mr. Fixit said something about debris in the river...Crayons said, "I know about debris in the river." We all looked at her as if she was crazy. "The debris in the river game. YOU know." Ponytails and The Apprentice both said, "Monopoly Junior! The CD-Rom!" Crayons was right, and she did know what debris in the river was.

Crayons has also informed us in the last couple of days that the big fish eat the medium fish, and the medium fish eat the small fish (she was watching The Magic School Bus), and she has explained to us how gravity works (ditto).

And Ponytails sent me an e-card saying, "Thank you for reading plum creek to me every day."

It warms a homeschooling mom's heart.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A food quote

"Learn to handle basic foods and you can cook creatively with the plainest ingredients. A good cook knows you do not tamper with the structure of a souffle, but varying the herbs or variety of cheese is your privilege. You measure accurately to get a light cake. But you can make a stew when the measuring cup is lost."--Doris Janzen Longacre, More-With-Less Cookbook (1976)

Intellect or Heart: a post mostly of quotes

"I have stood in the mist of Iguacu Falls in Brazil as gorgeous tropical butterflies, winged bearers of abstract art, landed on my arms to lap up the moisture....I have sat under a baobab tree in Kenya as giraffes loped effortlessly [by]....Above the Arctic circle, I have watched a herd of musk oxen gather in a circle like Conestoga wagons to protect the mothers and their young....I have also sat in hot classrooms and listened to theology professors drone on about the defining qualities of the deity....Can the One who created this glorious world be reduced to such abstractions? Should we not start with the most obvious fact of existence, that whoever is responsible is a fierce and incomparable artist beside whom all human achievement and creativity dwindle as child's play?" -- Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor (chapter on G.K. Chesterton)
"The arts, cultural endeavors, enjoyment of the beauty of both God's creation and of man's creativity--these creative gifts have in our day been relegated to the bottom drawer of Christian consciousness, despised outright as unspiritual or unchristian. This deficiency has been the cause of many unnecessary guilt feelings and much bitter fruit, taking us out of touch with the world God has made, with the culture in which we live, and making us ineffectual in that culture....the arts, creativity, enjoyment of our own creativity, the creativity of those around us--in short, all the beauty that God has put into this life--comes as a direct good and gracious gift from our Heavenly Father above."--Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: 20th Century Christians and the Arts
Chapter 25 of Charlotte Mason's book Parents and Children should be required reading for homeschoolers...especially for anyone who thinks that Christian belief is not integral to Charlotte Mason's philosophy of education. Apologies to atheists, agnostics and CM users of any other faith, but this chapter lays it out straight: Charlotte Mason puts everything in charge of the Holy Spirit, including both the moral aspects of child training (with which Christian parents would quickly agree) and the intellectual.

"The Florentine mind of the Middle Ages....believed, not only that the seven Liberal Arts were fully under the direct outpouring of the Holy Ghost, but that every fruitful idea, every original conception, whether in Euclid, or grammar, or music was a *direct* inspiration from the Holy Spirit....It is truly difficult to grasp the amazing boldness of this scheme of the education of the world which Florence accepted in simple faith."--Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

Each great idea. Sowing seed. Making a fire. Grinding corn. Writing a symphony. Where did the first great ideas come from? Miss Mason quotes from Isaiah chapter 28 where it says "His God doth instruct him to discretion, and doth teach him." And she points out something else: God instructs him (or her), teaches him (or her). Each individual. "Because He is infinite, He is able to give the whole of His infinite attention to each one of his multitudinous pupils."

She points out that our part (as parents and teachers) is to co-operate with the workings of the Spirit, especially by *not* doing things that would hinder his working in a child's life...and we often understand and get that right in the moral sense, but not so often in the intellectual sense. "The new thing to us is, that grammar, for example, may be taught in such a way as to invite and obtain the co-operation of the Divine Teacher, *or* in such a way as to exclude His illuminating presence from the schoolroom....[the right way is to teach it] by its guiding ideas and simple principles, the true, direct and humble teaching of grammar....[and] the contrary is equally true.
"Our conversation was the first of many anatomy lessons I would receive from Dr. Brand. His ability to recall what he had studied in medical school thirty years before impressed me, certainly, but something else stood out: a childlike enthusiasm, an abullient sense of wonder at God's good creation. Listening to him, my own Chestertonian sense of wonder reawakened. I had been focusing on the apparent flaws in creation: this doctor who spent all day working with those flaws had instead an attitude of appreciation, even reverence."--Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor, chapter on Dr. Paul Brand
"Our feet are set in a large room; there is space for free development in all directions, and this free and joyous development, whether of intellect or heart, is recognised as a Godward movement."--Charlotte Mason, Parents and Children

Intellect AND heart.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Early morning with Crayons

Scene: too early in the morning. Mama Squirrel brings in the morning paper (pretty thin, it's Tuesday) and flips through it before putting the breakfast dishes on the table. She reaches the comics page.

Crayons: I want to read the comics.

Mama Squirrel: Okay.

Crayons: What's that say? "I..."

Mama Squirrel: "I am not."

Crayons: "I am not."

Mama Squirrel: Could you take that somewhere else so I can put the dishes on the table?

Crayons and Ponytails take the paper into the living room. A few minutes later, Mama Squirrel hears wild laughter. Ponytails comes back through the kitchen, but Crayons is still laughing.

Mama Squirrel: What's so funny?

Ponytails: She's pretending she can read the comics.

Crayons (from the living room): Ha ha hee hee ho ho...

Two minutes later, Crayons appears in the kitchen with the newspaper on her head.

Crayons: You don't know who I am. I'm an ant and I deliver your paper.

Mama Squirrel: Thank you, Miss Ant. Do ants like juice?

Crayons: Yes. Can I pour my own?

Mama Squirrel: Sure...

And it's not even 7:30 yet...

Monday, October 10, 2005

Thanksgiving, Plugged In (the crockpot, that is)

Thanksgiving! We had planned to go to the Oktoberfest parade in the morning, but drizzly weather and sniffles decided against it. So we made some maple-leaf turkeys for a centerpiece (we put them in a big bowl with a bunch of chestnuts and paper leaves--the real outside leaves were abundant but too wet), and watched the parade on T.V. Mr. Fixit put the bird (not a turkey this year, he bought a DUCK, which got some stares from the squirrelings) and a giant sweet potato on the barbecue. Grandpa Squirrel is bringing pies, and Mama Squirrel is filling in the corners (making crockpot stuffing, vegetables, homemade cranberry sauce, and doing all the odds and ends). Mama Squirrel makes a mean pumpkin pie, but this year she's going to make it for Reformation Day instead. (Virtual cranberry sauce if you know when that is.)

Here are our recipes. In the Treehouse tradition, they're not fancy. But they're better than the packaged kind.

Cranberry Sauce (from Food that Really Schmecks, but it's a standard recipe)

In a pot, combine 2 parts cranberries to 1 part water and 1 part sugar. We used 2 cups cranberries, about 3/4 cup water (because I don't like it thin) and 1 cup sugar. Some might find it too sweet; you could experiment. Stir to dissolve the sugar, but after that don't stir it. You're supposed to boil it for about 5 minutes, until all the berries have popped; but mine don't always pop, and it still turns out. So I'd say just cook it for about 5 to 10 minutes until it looks pretty much done. It should thicken a bit in the fridge (so I make it a day ahead).

Bread Stuffing (adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook, 1986)

The main ingredient in this--really--is the bread, right? So don't try to make this with your average store bread--it's not worth it, and it's too hard to cube anyway. If you don't use homemade bread, then try something like "Texas Toast" or another thick-sliced commercial bread (white or whole wheat). (Clarification: I just found out that in some places Texas Toast means garlic bread, and that's not what I meant. Around here it's just a thick-sliced white bread, see the link.)

1 1/2 cups chopped celery, with leaves if possible
3/4 finely chopped onion
3/4 cup margarine or butter
9 cups soft bread cubes (or less if you know you won't eat that much)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. each ground sage and thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper (or a good grinding from the pepper mill)
Some chopped dried apricots (my addition)

You can chop the celery and onion together in the food processor, if that makes it easier. Cook them in the margarine, in a large pot, until they are soft; remove from heat; stir in the remaining ingredients.

At this point, Betty Crocker gives several variations, including what to do if you're not using this to stuff anything: put in an ungreased 2-quart casserole, cover and bake in 375 degree oven for about 30 minutes (the book says "until hot and bubbly", but I've never had bubbly stuffing and I'm not sure I want to). What I do (since we always eat it separately, not in the bird) is make the stuffing around 10 or 11 in the morning and then put it in a slow cooker, on low, for the rest of the day.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

On seeing how the "other half" grocery shops

After those posts about poverty (and not feeling particularly hard done by), Mama Squirrel had the interesting experience last weekend of doing the grocery shopping at a "regular grocery store," instead of the discount supermarket where the Squirrels buy most of their store-brand acorns.  At the discount supermarket, adding a frozen pizza and some ice cream to the cart is not much of a stretch; but we were walking through the land of "real prices"--and you know what, if I had to shop there every week I would start to feel poor. (Isn't that funny? Some people would feel "poor" shopping at the discount place because it's not so fancy.) It means something to have access to very reasonably-priced groceries instead of being held hostage to two-dollar-plus canned goods vs. eighty-nine cent ones.
So don't get me wrong: "scratch week" (because we didn't get our usual convenience foods) was not really anything to complain about. It was a good week to do some baking (because we didn't buy cookies) and to make homemade macaroni and cheese, and a batch of pancake syrup, and a batch of the bran muffins that Mama Squirrel discovered recently and that the squirrelings think are as good as the coffee-shop type. And eat up the vegetables in the crisper drawer. UPDATED LINK 

And we've refilled our pantry and our freezer now, and we are thankful (on Thanksgiving weekend) to have access to good food, a big old Caprice that holds a large trunkload of groceries, and family to eat it with.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Another Analogy

Yesterday the Squirrelings took a walk with Mama Squirrel (in this insanely warm October weather) and we decided to pick up some bananas at a gourmet food store that was on our route. It's the sort of place that's fun to browse in but also a place mostly for Serious Cooks. There are bottles of olive oil that cost as much as wine, more kinds of cheese than there probably are cows giving the milk for them, and jars of capers and all such things that have very limited use for the Treehouse brand of cookery. Crayons got to try a sample of cheese that had chopped oranges sandwiched in the middle--that got mixed reviews. We ended up buying the bananas, a piece of Gouda, and a two-dollar chocolate bar to split later for dessert.

Does Mama Squirrel know how to cook? Yes, she puts three meals on the table every day for the five squirrels, along with the occasional company meal, Christmas dinner and birthday cake. (All right, Mr. Fixit does the turkey roasting. And he cooks some meals on weekends. And makes pancakes.) Does Mama Squirrel know how to cook with $40 olive oil and capers? No, and the squirrelings wouldn't eat it if she did. Would Mama Squirrel know how to work a shift in a restaurant kitchen? Does she know how to make a roux? No, although she did work one summer with a chef who showed her how to bump lettuce, chop onions with a mean-looking chef's knife, and squish garlic. What are the Squirrels having for dinner tonight? Farmer's sausage sitting on some sauerkraut in the crockpot, frozen perogies, and some vegetable yet to be decided.

Does Mama Squirrel know how to teach the Squirrelings? With modesty, she thinks that the Squirrelings seem to read, write and figger as well as most other kids. Are the Squirrelings socially competent? Have they missed out on not having to share their Legos with the rest of the class? No, they still have to negotiate for the pieces they want and refrain from bashing each other. Is Mama Squirrel happy when she sees not one but two pairs of feet sticking out from under the Chev Caprice during an oil change on a beautiful afternoon? Oh yes. (And Ponytails would be under there too if Mr. Fixit would let her, but this activity is restricted to those who are actually getting credit for Transportation Technology.)

Does Mama Squirrel buy all her groceries at the gourmet store or her teaching supplies at the teacher's store? Nope. Does she get her recipes from Gourmet or her teaching ideas from whatever the teacher's magazine is? Nope. The last time she made a dessert from a magazine like that, she ended up pushing raspberries through a sieve and making this cream thing, having to chill the thing about three times, and ended up with something that pretty much resembled raspberry yogurt. The last time she flipped through some classroom ideas, she was dazzled (not) by the fun little ditties we could sing about making people graphs (see a previous post) and the wonderful idea of demonstrating the letter D by having children paste dimes on their letter D's.

Does that mean professional chefs and professional teachers are wasting their time? No, it's just that Mama Squirrel has other things to do than sieve raspberries and paste dimes. She'd rather eat the raspberries and spend the dimes.

And that's the difference between classroom schooling and homeschooling. Bon appetit.

Between Two Worlds

Homeschoolers are often puzzled by articles insisting that only professional teachers know how to teach. Mama Squirrel read one article only this morning comparing the arrogant parent who thinks he can "ejukate" his children to someone who thinks he can do surgery on his kitchen table, with the same knife he uses to cut up vegetables.

Mama Squirrel thinks there is one point to be considered here, and that is that we're perhaps comparing apples to oranges. Not just in terms of what a classroom teacher's job is (to teach 20 to 30 children in one classroom, all of whom have widely varying abilities, some of whom haven't had breakfast this morning, some of whom can't speak English, etc.) compared to what a homeschooling parent does (generally, to teach his or her own children in addition to performing all the daily home and parenting tasks)...but even in terms of what that teaching involves.

Many of us who've been homeschooling for awhile feel that we've gotten pretty competent, for example, at explaining simple machines or how to multiply fractions. We may be on our second or third pass through the War of 1812 or through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. We tend to use fairly straightforward materials, the kind that you might see used in a tutoring situation (maybe by professional tutors, hm?). We know they work for us and we know how to use them, especially if we're now using them with our second or third or fourth child. I think those who bemoan our lack of professional qualifications would be reassured if they knew how amazingly competent at teaching many of us actually are (that is, if they didn't have some other axe to grind such as supporting a teacher's union or bashing Christian homeschoolers).

But I'm looking at a Scholastic Classroom Essentials catalogue...things that teachers can buy to supplement what they've been given to work with (precious little, from most teachers I've talked to. Ever been to a teacher's yard sale? Can you imagine nurses having to bring all their own hypodermics to work? But I digress). Aside from the bulletin board trimmers, art supplies and motivational stickers (few of which I'd use), much of the catalogue is a mystery to me. "Reading Assessments and Intervention Strategies for K-2." "Guided Reading Beach Balls." "Guided Reading the Four-Blocks Way." "35 Must-have Assessment & Record-Keeping Forms for Reading." "40 Rubrics and Checklists to Assess Reading and Writing." "26 Interactive Alphabet Mini-Books" (isn't one ABC book enough?). "Story Starter Cubes" (including such deathless ideas as "smells smoke", "in the mountains", and "finds a dog"). Let's check out the math pages: "How to Work with Data & Probability, Gr. 3." "How to Work with Data & Probability, Gr. 4." "Great Graph Art Around the Year." Expensive things to teach place value. "Relational Geosolids." How about science: "Objects and Materials, gr. 1-2. This curriculum-linked resource is packed with reproducible activities and hands-on explorations that will engage students. Includes an evaluation rubric, unit test, assessment strategies, and more."

Had enough? Oh, this one I can't resist, from the preschool section: "Picture Sorting for Phonemic Awareness." And this one, same page: "40 Wonderful Blend and Digraph Poems." OK, I'll stop now that I'm sure you're laughing.

I hope you're laughing. Maybe you're not, if you're a classroom teacher, because stuff like this is what you use all the time. Maybe you wouldn't like my stash of Cuisenaire rods, my Ruth Beechick everything-you-need-to-know-to-teach-reading-in-28-pages booklet, or my reproduction copy of Hillyer's A Child's History of the World. You might not be enamoured by the idea of copywork, or of sitting everybody down and listening to The Jungle Book without any accompanying study questions. The people who sell these classroom geegaws certainly wouldn't be impressed by the idea of just using a bowl of raisins or pennies as math counters instead of tiny plastic dinosaurs.

Apples and oranges. The original question was, are homeschooling parents competent to teach their children? Should their competency be judged on whether or not they can find any use for a Guided Reading Beach Ball or 35 Must-Have Assessments?

"Then said Elijah unto the ye on the name of your gods, and I will call on the Name of the Lord: and the God that answereth by fire, let him be God. And all the people answered and said, It is well spoken." --1 Kings 18:22-24

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Good night, sweet pumpkin

Mr. Fixit and Mama Squirrel have been watching the movie Hamlet over the last few nights.

We stopped off at the vegetable stand again to pick up a few things: some corn, some apple butter, and a small pumpkin. Mama Squirrel gave the pumpkin to Mr. Fixit to hold. He held it up in one hand and intoned, "Alas, poor Yorick--I knew him, Horatio."

You knew that was going to happen, right?

Still funny.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The week with Ponytails

For anyone out there who wonders what our third-grader's homeschool really looks like (well, as we plan it anyway), here's what's coming up in the next week for Ponytails. (Her general outline is here.)

We also have a couple of extra things we're working on: writing birthday thank-you notes, and getting ready for next Saturday's Explorer Night. (More on that later.)


Bible reading: second story about Gideon, draw in the booklet she's making about the 12 judges of Israel; practice memory verses

Music appreciation: listen to some Beethoven music during lunch

History: keep reading about Magellan from Roger Duvoisin's book They Put Out to Sea

Literature: start reading On the Banks of Plum Creek with Mom

Math: work on parts of Miquon Math pages J 24 and J 25 with Mom (partly about fractions, partly about division)

Poems: read from Myra Cohn Livingston's Circle of Seasons

Spelling: look for words in Livingston's verses about fall that have "atch" in them

Singing: start a new folksong, probably Nonesuch (words here, music here (scroll down to Nonesuch). We'll also try picking out the tune on our Music Maker harp (something we've had since the Apprentice was Crayons' age).

French: work on the "Good Morning" page in our picture dictionary

Copywork: start copying one of the verses from A Circle of Seasons

Picture study: look at one of Raphael's paintings and describe it (later in the day, with her sisters)


Bible reading: John 4 (the woman at the well); practice memory verses

Geography: finish the Rivers unit from Play Story Geography

Literature: read more of "Pericles" from Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare; read chapter 4 of The Wilds of Whip-poor-will Farm by Janet Foster

Poems: read from Myra Cohn Livingston's Circle of Seasons

Spelling: practice "atch" words

Singing: work on a new hymn, probably The Love of God

French: work on the "Good Morning" page

Copywork: work on the verses from A Circle of Seasons

Art/crafts: drawing lesson


Bible reading: third story about Gideon, draw in the booklet; memory verses

Music appreciation: listen to some Beethoven music during lunch or teatime

History: keep reading about Magellan

Literature: "Johnny Appleseed" (from the book Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson); start a new story from The Jungle Book

Math: work on pages J 24 and J 25 again (and maybe some of 26)

Poems: read from Circle of Seasons

Dictionary: look up new words from the poems (in our children's dictionary), and write them in her "personal dictionary"

Singing: favourite folk songs

Copywork: copying verses from A Circle of Seasons

Crafts: pick one of the birthday-present craft kits (she got a couple of different things to make from friends) to start working on

Thursday and Friday are pretty much the same; we're also going to start Holling C. Holling's book Minn of the Mississippi at the end of the week if we have time and as we finish some other things. On Friday we'll do a couple of pages from Pilgrim's Progress. Math on Friday will be Ponytails' favourite Pizza Parlor game (see the post below).

Next Saturday night is a windup night for the study of explorers we've been doing--it's not a group thing, just a Treehouse event. Ponytails and the Apprentice are going to report on explorers they've learned about, and we're gong to have some kind of appropriate food--probably ending with a bowl of oranges to ward off scurvy. More on that as we decide!