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.