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