Sunday, December 31, 2006

Treehouse Recipe Index for 2006

[Reposted and updated]

Here's a roundup of the recipes we posted this year on Dewey's Treehouse. I didn't include the ones that were only given as a link. And I should note that most of these aren't original: they came from Food that Really Schmecks, Whole Foods for the Whole Family, The Harrowsmith Cookbook, Vegetarian Times, Canadian Living, and friends who like to cook.

[Update note: one might THINK, especially after viewing the November and December recipes, that we eat nothing in the Treehouse but chocolate. Mama Squirrel thinks that would be nice, but it isn't true. As our New Year's Resolution, we promise to provide a few slightly more healthful recipes in 2007.]

Kitchener Special
Kasha-Vegetable Pilaf
Sugar-free Banana Prune Bread

Subversive Tuna Recipe (Tuna Wrap-Up)
Raisin Sesame Cookies

Cocoa-Ricotta Cream
Beef and Green Bean Stir Fry
Dulcie's Macaroni Meal in a Skillet

Good Friday Kiffle (or Kolacky or Kolache)--one of our most-Googled recipes

Coffeemamma's Sour Cream Rhubarb Muffins

No-Bake Brownies

Hungarian Stew
Swiss-Cashew Salad, Our Version
Serendipity and the DHM's Chicken Recipe

Tofu Chocolate Pie

Cranberry-Apricot Loaf
Pumpkin Gingerbread Snacking Cake
Edna Staebler's Glorious Golden Pumpkin Pie

Small Chocolate Cake
Rather Retro Recipe (Lemon Dessert)
Jam Bars
Chocolate Fingers

Christmas Day Lunch (Jiggle Bells and Star of the East Salad Plate)
Chocolate-Apricot Confections
Chocolate-Hazelnut Slices or Crescents

Our 2005 Recipe Index

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Of Smarties and Lune Moons, and things that are no good for you

If you're outside of Canada, here's a site offering favourite Canadian groceries shipped wherever you happen to be! Although I didn't think that Cheerios and Kraft Dinner were uniquely Canadian.

If you're looking for the Smarties, you'll have to look under Chocolate Bars, for some reason, not candy.

I liked this page of Vachon Snack Cakes--Canada's answer to Little Debbies. They were pretty common lunchbox currency when I was growing up: Flakies, Jos. Louis, and Lune Moons. Actually they're called 1/2 Moons, but because of bilingual packaging (you can see it in the photo there), we always thought they were called Lune Moons.

And of course Viva Puffs and Wagon Wheels--more childhood stuff that we (very occasionally) buy, supposedly for the kids. (Dare Ultimate Fudge Cookies are one of Mr. Fixit's deepest, darkest secret cravings. But don't tell him I told you.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

The ultimate run-on sentence

One of Mama Squirrel's ongoing projects involves writing study notes for some of Plutarch's Lives. It's challenging but enjoyable; I probably learn more by writing the notes than people do by using them. Anyway, everybody complains about Plutarch's very long sentences, and Mr. Dryden's English translation does nothing to alleviate those. (I don't think Plutarch's Greek has punctuation at the ends of sentences anyway, but somebody can correct me if I'm wrong.)

Anyway, I came across a doozy of a Plutarch sentence this morning, and I wondered what the English composition teachers would make of this one.

"These measures he carried in the assembly, against the opposition, as Stesimbrotus relates, of Miltiades; and whether or no he hereby injured the purity and true balance of government may be a question for philosophers, but that the deliverance of Greece came at that time from the sea, and that these galleys restored Athens again after it was destroyed, were others wanting, Xerxes himself would be sufficient evidence, who, though his land-forces were still entire, after his defeat at sea, fled away, and thought himself no longer able to encounter the Greeks; and, as it seems to me, left Mardonius behind him, not out of any hopes he could have to bring them into subjection, but to hinder them from pursuing him. "

Maybe Plutarch worked for the ministry of education in his spare time.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Around the holiday Blogosphere

Or post-holiday, for some people. At the Treehouse, it's still the Twelve Days of Christmas, and some of the Squirrelings are getting over Christmas Day coughs and sniffles. So we haven't been doing too much.

But everybody else seems busy!

is crocheting.

Ann and her children are sewing corn-filled warming bags.

Meredith is yardsaling and blowdrying her hair. (Too many good posts there to link to all of them.) (I like those vintage thank-you cards! I bought a bag of old cards like that at a rummage sale, but they're mostly 1960's get-well and sympathy cards! Not so useful.)

The Deputy-Headmistress continues her series on Victorian homekeeping with Aunt Sophronia.

Tim's Mom tells about their Christmas and shares a not-too-spicy cookie recipe. And Tim thinks the message of Christmas is just bananas.

Clothespin Doll Kits

(Continued from this post)

Or, if you give a mom a Ziploc... Inspired first by JennyAnyDot's dolls, second by a simple request from Crayons ("Mommy, don't we have any clothespins so I could make a clothespin doll?"), and third by the fact that stocking stuffers were hard to find this year, I decided to drop some craft-store clothespins and doll stands (the wooden rings to make them stand up) in the two youngest Squirrelings' stockings. Breaking up a package of each meant they each got about a dozen pegs and eight or nine stands.However, I was betrayed by my large-sized ziploc bags, which called out for...I don't know...oh yes, how about if I put some of those old fabric swatches in there with them, maybe in a snack-sized ziploc? (A long time ago, I used to get fabric samples by mail, and I saved all the mini-swatches--some of them have lovely colours and textures.) And in the box with the swatches there were some old bits of embroidery floss too...I put half in each kit. And, oh yes--we went to a wonderful yard sale in the summer where I picked up a lot of OLD mini-packs of sequins, tiny plastic rings, I emptied a few of those yellowed cellophane bags into two more snack-sized bags. Getting a bit bigger by now...what else should go in? I printed out some doll-making instructions from the Our Canadian Girl website and tucked those in--and noticed that they suggested felt. OK, we did have some felt sheets (left over from making the Glorious Coming ornaments). Uh oh...between the felt sheets and the printouts, these kits were no longer what you'd call little stocking stuffers. And I had managed to pick up a few more things for the stockings in the meantime. So let them stay big! I printed out a label for each kit, leaving a long tail at the bottom, and folded them around the bottom of the felt sheets in the bag so that they'd stay upright.

(At this point Mama Squirrel was having so much fun and was so impressed with the way these turned out that she was about ready to go into the doll-kit-making business full time. But it was Christmas Eve afternoon and there were a lot of other things to do...besides, that took most of the felt. :-))

The only question that remained was what to do with these now-kind-of-bulging Ziploc bags. There were already presents wrapped from Mommy and Daddy, and we are not too much into wrapping things up just from Santa. Stockings, yes, but he doesn't go overboard around here.

Then Mr. Fixit had the best idea: label each one from each girl's favourite doll or stuffy. So that's what we did. And they were very happy with them.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It's snowing!

And I'm actually happy to see it.

You can't see this on my avatar, but there's snow falling in the background. (When the avatars show up here, they lose all the effects like flickering lights.)

Monday, December 25, 2006

The Light

Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. -- Isaiah 60:1

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Meditation

What does the Christmas story teach us about safety and security?

Esther Epp Tiessen ponders that question in this Christmas meditation on the Mennonite Central Committee website. (2008 update: the link is broken, sorry.)

Have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

Christmas Day Lunch

[Updated July 2007]

Some people don't really eat lunch on Christmas Day, but we eat breakfast early enough that we're hungry again by lunchtime. These recipes were part of the article "Cooking up Christmas with Your Kids" by Noreen Thomas, published in The Lutheran, December 1998 issue. At one time the whole article was available online (that's where I found it), but now it's available only with a subscription to the website (see the link for details).

Anyway, these dishes have become part of our family traditions by now. These are my own renderings of the original recipes.

Jiggle Bells (the author called them Jiggly Bells, but the name has morphed a bit around here)

In a large sauce pan, sprinkle four envelopes unflavored gelatin over 4 cups cranberry juice (cranberry cocktail works fine); let stand one minute. Stir over low heat until gelatin dissolves, pour in a 9-by-13-inch pan and chill until firm. (This part you can do the day before. Actually you could do the whole thing a day or so ahead if you're pressed for time.)

Cut into squares a bit larger than a bell shaped-cookie cutter and let the children make bells (or, more likely, do it yourself while they're playing with their toys). Depending on the size of your cutter, you can probably squeeze about eight bells from the pan.

I usually cut out the gelatin bells and arrange them on a platter of shredded lettuce along with other salad things, like green pepper strips or small broccoli trees.

Star of the East

Mix 2 tablespoonfuls of instant lemon pudding mix with 1 "small container" cottage cheese, which I guessed to be about a cupful. You could double it to use up a 2-cup container of cottage cheese. Turn the mixture out onto a small plate, and mold it (with your fingers or the back of the spoon) into a star shape. I usually garnish this a bit--Clementine sections or canned mandarin oranges are pretty arranged on top, along with any other small sliced fruit pieces you have; and you can arrange other fruit or nuts on the plate between the points of the star. If you don't get around to making this for Christmas, you can save it for Epiphany.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

If you're without packages, boxes or bags,

you can make some and outwit the Grinch. Ann's post at Holy Experience sent me over to this site with templates for paper boxes--several kinds. I like the bon-bon boxes that Ann's children made, but there are several other patterns to choose from.

Here's a printable pattern for a mini gift bag.

Here's a project for kids: using a real gift bag as a pattern for a homemade version.

Oh--and tags? Here are some Jan Brett printables.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Five Things--tag, you're it

Maria at the Homeschool Math Blog tagged me to tell five things about myself that Treehouse visitors probably don't know. Without trying to encourage identity swipers.

So I'm doing it in a quiz format.

1. Which part-time/summer job did Mama Squirrel NEVER have?

a) counter help in a fast-food restaurant
b) camp kitchen prep cook/scullery maid
c) singalong lady at the library
d) office temp
e) bookstore clerk

2. How many wisdom teeth has Mama Squirrel had pulled?

a) one
b) two
c) all of them
d) none of them because they never came in

3. Which of these once-trendy haircuts did Mama Squirrel NEVER have?

a) shag
b) surf
c) Mohawk
d) short bob
e) Ed Grimley

4. Which of these albums did Mama Squirrel NEVER own?

a) Keith Green, Songs for the Shepherd
b) Amy Grant, Age to Age
c) Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell
d) DisinHAIRited
e) John Travolta's solo album

5. Which of these things has Mama Squirrel never eaten?

a) squid
b) tofu ice cream
c) oysters
d) plum pudding
e) Kraft Pizza Mix

The answers are here. Oh, and if you want to play--tag, you're it.

Answers to A New Christmas Book Quiz

The original post is here. Most of these books aren't Christmas books--I just picked out the holiday parts.

1. 'They have been a long time getting here,' said Anne, looking at the postmark on the brown paper. 'Poor little things, spending Christmas in a parcel.' 'They don't mind about Christmas,' said Nona quickly.....[like them], Nona had come from far away, and could feel for them.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, by Rumer Godden, about a lonely girl who makes a house for two Japanese dolls. The sequel is Little Plum.

2. On Christmas morning, the Plantaganets woke to hear real carol singers in the street outside. 'Peace and good will among men,' sang the carol singers. 'And among dolls,' said Mr. Plantaganet. 'I hope among dolls.'

The Doll's House, also by Rumer Godden. A slightly darker story about dolls-house dolls threatened by a sinister new arrival. I will warn you also (spoiler coming) that certain children have been somewhat traumatized by the "death" of one of the dolls; and some of the Amazon reviews are quite vehement about that. Just don't say I didn't warn you. --Also, I do know that "Plantaganet" is usually spelled "Plantagenet." But that's the way it's written in the book.

3. The rest of the fieldmice, perched in a row on the settle, their small legs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and toasted their chilblains till they tingled; while Mole, failing to draw them into easy conversation, plunged into family history and made each of them recite the names of his numerous brothers, who were too young, it appeared, to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but looked forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.

4. "We'll be lucky if we each get one present," said Susan. "Maybe we won't get any present at all," said Neddie. "Maybe Santa Claus won't be able to come, because it's snowing so hard...." "That doesn't make any difference to Santa Claus," said Betsy. "He always comes. Come on, let's help Santa Claus. Let's make presents."

Snowbound with Betsy, by Carolyn Haywood. One of the "B is for Betsy" series.

5. "My first fruitcake of the Christmas season, and already there are hungry Littles waiting to eat it all up. Why, I used one whole cherry and one walnut in this cake....And no one is going to get a bite until Christmas day."...."Heaven knows we'd have a skimpy Christmas around here without Aunt Lily," Mrs. Little said. [Note: even if you can't get the exact title of the book, can you get the right series?]

The Littles and the Trash Tinies, by John Peterson

6. Oliver looked at his stocking.
"This stocking is not big enough
for a fire truck and a football
and a storybook and six new games,"
he said. "I think I need a new one."
He saw the warm socks
that Father wore for shoveling snow.
"That is better," he said.
He hung up one of Father's socks.

Oliver and Amanda's Christmas, by Jean Van Leeuwen. One of the Oliver and Amanda Pig easy-to-read books, and a Christmas favourite here since the Apprentice was just about Amanda's size. (Grandma Squirrel and I made her a red dress to look like Amanda's.)

7. "Tomorrow will come Christmas," she told Charlotte, 'and we will put candles on the tree, ja, and in the windows, too, to make a light for the Christ Child." "Really and truly?" cried Charlotte. She had never heard anything so wonderful. Her family had a lovely party every New Year's Eve, which Mama and Papa called "Hogmanay" in the Scottish tradition. But they did not celebrate Christmas....All the next day, as she helped Mama scour the parlor floor with sand, Charlotte was thinking of that star and the tree and the wonderful cookies.

On Tide Mill Lane, by Melissa Wiley. One of "The Charlotte Years" Little House books. I just put that one in for fun because I thought some of Melissa's fans might catch it! You might have trouble finding one of the original editions, but please don't settle for the ones with the photographic covers--they're not the same.

8. One evening, just before Christmas, snow began falling. It covered house and barn and fields and woods. Wilbur had never seen snow before. When morning came he went out and plowed the drifts in his yard, for the fun of it. Fern and Avery arrived, dragging a sled. They coasted down the lane and out onto the frozen pond in the pasture.

Charlotte's Web, by E.B. White.

9. At last, the presents! So many, such wonderful presents! Emily opened a puppet John had made for her, a new dress from her parents, Harriet the Spy from Mr. Bloomfield and The Long Secret from Kate's mother, a hand mirror from Sophie, a five-cent package of Kleenex tissues and some Lifesavers from James. He had given everyone the same presents. "Two each," he boasted happily, basking in their laughter.

Look Through My Window, by Jean Little. A wonderful book about friendship and families. And books.

10. Mr. Titus's house was dark in front, but when they got out of the sleigh and tiptoed around the corner they saw the kitchen windows, warm and yellow, and in one of them, above the sash curtain, the old man's head, snowy as that of Santa Claus. He was working at something, wearing his spectacles....they began to sing: "God rest ye merry, Gentlemen / Let nothing you dismay..." Up came Mr. Titus's head, startled. He left his chair and now the kitchen door flew open. He stood there in the lighted rectangle, with Battledore rubbing herself against his ankles and Hambone wagging his old tail in the background. In his hand Mr. Titus held a sock: he had been mending. "Thank you. God bless you. Merry Christmas," he said when they had finished. "And now come in, and we will have a party!"

Spiderweb for Two, by Elizabeth Enright. The last of the Melendy family books.

Happy Reading!

When it's time to change...

you can rearrange the shape of your cookies. (I'm struggling with the Internet today, so if this finally gets posted, I'll be very happy.)

Last year I posted a recipe for Double Ginger Drop Cookies, which could also be made slice-and-bake. I don't know if the weather this year is different, or what, but the dough we ended up with this time wasn't droppable--it was more of a roll-in-balls texture. So that's what we did--rolled the dough in balls, squished them down with a fork (same as peanut butter cookies), and then drizzled the cookies with glaze after they were baked and sitting on the cooling rack. (I moistened icing sugar with just enough milk to make it drizzle; the recipe calls for additional ginger in the glaze, but it's optional. Orange juice might be nice, though.) I really like the way they turned out and I'll probably do it the same way next year! (Unless they suddenly turn into drop cookies again?)

Today we're pretty much finished with cookie baking, and we have a couple of packages of favourite boughten kinds (note to Ruth Beechick: sometimes we still say boughten around here) to fill in with. But I did want to make one batch of Lillian Kayte's Chocolate Apricot Confections, a recipe from Vegetarian Times. The part I like about them is that they're mostly just running things through the food processor; the part I've never liked is rolling them into balls! The mixture tends to be pretty messy.

So when we got to the "gloop" part, I suddenly realized how much the mixture looked like those oatmeal stove-top cookies my grandma made. The ones with all kinds of names: Macaroons. Funeral Cookies. I knew someone who called them Cow Pies. So instead of rolling them into balls (and then into crumbs or ground oatmeal, because my kids really hate things that are rolled in plain cocoa), I just plopped them onto waxed paper and chilled them. I think they're going to work fine. Not as much fun, but three fewer pairs of messy hands.

Here's the recipe. I also found it online here, with (strangely enough) some more adaptations and substitutions. (Note that they're very low fat if that's important to you.)

Chocolate-Apricot Confections (Vegetarian Times, January 1994)

6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (chips work fine)
1/2 cup apple juice
3 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 cup chopped dried apricots (you don't have to pre-chop them, they can go in the food processor with the bran flakes)
2 1/2 cups bran flakes cereal, with or w/out raisins
1/2 cup powdered sugar (icing sugar, confectioner's sugar)
Unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (optional: for rolling)

Melt chocolate in double boiler or microwave. Stir in apple juice and corn syrup. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine apricots, bran flakes and powdered sugar, and process until very finely chopped. Combine with chocolate mixture and mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes. (This is the point where I plopped them on waxed paper, before setting aside.)

With a small spoon, form mixture into 1/2 - 1 inch balls. Roll balls in cocoa powder or other coating (icing sugar, cookie crumbs). Store in covered container in refrigerator for several days before serving to develop flavors. Makes 48 1-inch balls.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Music in the air

Tim's Mom posted about a piece of music she'd heard, scribbled down the name of, and then tried to track down. That happens to me a lot, especially listening to the CBC. Sometimes you're lucky enough to hear a whole program around one composer or group, and then it's easier to get the details of what you're listening to. (When it's the CBC, you can always check their website or email the show's host if you're desperate.)

Last Christmas the best recording I heard was London Pro Musica's "Snow Has Fallen" (last year's post.) I still haven't managed to get a copy of that. Yesterday the after-lunch Studio Sparks program hosted Canadian folk trio Finest Kind, and they sang some carols from the pub carolling tradition. If you scroll down on their home page, there are several CDs listed, including their 2004 Christmas recording "Feasts & Spirits"; but you'll have to go here to hear some samples. This one is going on my wish list along with "Snow Has Fallen."

Especially for Donna-Jean

I also heard a track from Winter: Swedish Christmas Songs today (scroll down to see the CD), by The Lingonberries, a quartet from Ottawa. The song they played on the CBC was "Bereden Vag For Herran" (Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord). I don't know any Swedish but it sounded lovely.

Mexican ornaments

Yesterday was "Mexico" day on our Advent calendar. We read Marie Hall Ets' book Nine Days to Christmas and made our own version of these painted tin ornaments. We covered cardboard shapes with heavy-duty foil and decorated them with permanent markers. Not bad for a what's-in-your-hand craft! The foil adds some shine to our Christmas tree.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Homeschoolers at Heart

Found through the Carnival of Homeschooling: Milehimama explains how you know you might be a homeschooler at heart even if your kids go to school. My favorite from her list:
"Your 8 year old and 5 year old decides to play outside. They play snakes, and one is a reticulated python, the other an anaconda, and they have a heated debate as to whether the python's size as the largest snake makes it a match for the anaconda's recurved teeth and superior camoflauge. They use those exact words without consulting a book. And you let them."

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Playing dressup

I found a blog through the Festival of Frugality that was new to me: The Space Between My Peers, hosted by Rebecca from "The Great Northwest." I don't think I've ever seen a homeschool mom blog where the topic was just frugal fashion! Food yes, crafts yes, decorating yes, but this one is kind of cool. Fashion is not exactly my passion (my avatar dresses way better than I do), so it's nice to get some hints from someone who's obviously very good at making the most of what she finds!

Oh we like sheep

The Common Room and Blue Castle families are very crafty people. (In the best sense.) Even the Abarbablog crew used up 30 cups of popcorn and four bags of marshmallows to build this behemoth castle. But we haven't made many Christmas crafts at the Treehouse, until this week. We're a little low on supplies, for one thing; the yarn and felt are down to almost nothing, and I didn't have any great ideas. But today's Advent theme is sheep, and I had penciled in "sheep craft" for school time.

I saw this pattern for Woolly Sheep Ornaments...

"Please, give me just a little magic."--Santa Claus is Coming to Town

And there they were in the down-to-the-dregs bag, three part balls of white yarn. Fluffy Phentex, some acrylic worsted, and even a bit of chunky thick stuff. No black felt, but a generous piece of brown. Also some red ribbon. We were short on pipe cleaners (Crayons had gone on her own crafting spree awhile back), but we found a few here and there, and I discovered that the brown felt also makes good legs. And Ponytails donated some googly eyes and jingle bells from her own secret stash.

We had fun. We have sheep.

(Photograph is coming when the Apprentice comes home from school and can take a picture!)

Carnival Day

Principled Discovery hosts The One Week Short of a Year edition of the Carnival of Homeschooling. If you haven't played our Christmas book trivia game yet, it's included as well.

And MotherLoad: The Mom Advice blog hosts a holiday-themed Festival of Frugality.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Frugal Christmas

The words Frugal and Christmas don't seem to go together any better than Diet and Christmas do. Christmas makes you think of extra--extra food, extra busy, extra stuff to buy. Even in times past (before malls and Muzak), holiday celebrations meant extra noise (even firecrackers), extra music, extra spices and sugar and things that were usually beyond most peoples' reach. Extra-vagance, whatever that meant at the time. Putting aside the usual "we can't afford it" for a few once-a-year treats. Cinnamon. Oranges. Oysters.
"I ate up the oyster crackers, and I ate up the Christmas candy, but by jinks," said Pa, "I brought the oysters home!"--Laura Ingalls Wilder, On the Banks of Plum Creek
But those of us who--for whatever reason--normally follow semi-frugal, extremely-frugal, or absolutely-broke-frugal spending habits the rest of the year, don't always want to throw away the money we've saved (or that we don't have) on one month-long spending spree in December. Putting a stack of holiday fliers in front of a reformed spend-a-holic makes as much sense as telling an alcoholic to forget all the rules and go on a bender. One way or another, we'll pay for it in January.

So focus instead on the "extras" that don't cost anything.

Extra time, extra effort, extra help. Make what you have extra beautiful (or see here.)

Enjoy Christmas lights in the park.

Borrow Christmas books and videos from the library, if you can't find what you want online or at the thrift shop. (Or support local store owners who need your business more than the giant onlines do.)

Spend a little less time eating. Really. People drop over and you want to feed them something--but does it have to be puff pastry and shrimp? You don't have to pare down to the extent that skinflint Mr. Bean did (he ran out of Twiglets and used twigs instead), but most people can manage to get by on crackers and cheese, or muffins, or scones, or grapes, or Peak Freans biscuits. If the Good Cavekeeping lady drops by, you can tell her I gave you permission.

Stretch what you have a little. Don't do it all at once, eat it all at once, or watch it all at once. In The Long Winter, Ma and the girls agreed to save the bundle of story magazines they'd received until Christmas, just in case the Christmas barrel they expected didn't arrive. (It didn't get through until May.)
"I don't want to," Laura said.
"Nobody does," said Mary. "But it's good for us."
Sometimes Laura did not even want to be good. But after another silent moment she said,"Well, if you and Mary want to, Ma, I will. It will give us something to look forward to for Christmas."--Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Long Winter
Combine your resources with another person or another family. You have a stereo, they have CDs; they have a piano, you have a guitar. You have the hill, they have the sled (or you have the hill and the sled, they have the kids). You bring the cookies, they bring the hot chocolate. Or just trade for awhile: your videos for theirs.

Or play Fraggle Pebble presents, à la Muppet Family Christmas. The Fraggles give the same Fraggle Pebble to each other over and over again, back and forth, just for the fun of giving it. (Check out that link--it's a whole photo blog synopsis of the video. The spelling's not great, and it was Bert who had to dress up as Mamma, not Ernie, but still.)

Listen to whatever music makes you happy, even if it's on the radio. Go to church and sing.

And have a wonderful holiday.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Something hard

From the back cover of an old Scholastic book we picked up:

"'I don't know what I'm going to be,' said Elizabeth Blackwell when she was six. 'But I think it will be something hard.'

"Twenty years later, mobs threaten her life. Women pull their skirts away when she goes by. No one will rent her a room. No medical school wants to admit her....But Elizabeth did become a doctor--a good one--in spite of everything. Read her thrilling story."

The book is The First Woman Doctor, by Rachel Baker, copyright 1944 and picked up in 1961 by Scholastic.

Do six-year-olds today still get an urge to do "something hard?" Do we encourage or discourage them from those ideas? Do we teach them to embrace or avoid "hard?"

Would children still "get" Elizabeth Blackwell, or this back-cover blurb? Why would you choose to do something that would get your life threatened by mobs, or at the least make you uncomfortable or embarrassed?
"For you know what was paid to set you free from the worthless manner of life handed down by your ancestors. It was not something that can be destroyed, such as silver or gold; it was the costly sacrifice of Christ...." [1 Peter 1:18-19, Good News Bible]
P.S. One Amazon reviewer says that her fourth-grader daughter (who had already read Harry Potter) couldn't get past chapter 4 of this book, because it was just too...hard.

Friday, December 15, 2006

M-Magnificent E-Enjoyable M-E Me!


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Chocolate Hazelnut Crescents

Sometimes you forget just how good some things are to eat until you have them again. Hong Sue Tofu. Fresh blueberry pie. And these chocolate shortbread Christmas cookies. I made a batch yesterday (the Squirrelings helped), and I remembered why they'd stayed in my recipe folder--they're indescribably delicious, not in an over-the-top way like some of the full-of-chips-and-nuts cookies, but with a more subtle flavour that sneaks up on you. They're not as sweet as you would expect; they have more of a dark chocolate taste than a sugary one. Even Mr. Fixit (who's not a big Christmas cookie eater) took another one (even with the ground hazelnuts on them).

The recipe came from Canadian Living magazine, December 1992. I've added my own notes.

Chocolate Hazelnut Slices (or Crescents)

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar (confectioner's sugar, if you're in the U.S.)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup ground hazelnuts (also called filberts) or almonds (I bought them already ground at the bulk store)

Garnish: 5 or 6 oz. semisweet chocolate, and about 3/4 cup ground nuts [2010 update: We've discovered that they taste even better, and look even fancier, dipped in white chocolate instead--white chocolate chips work fine.)  [2011 update:  Watch them--really watch them while they're baking, and take them out early if they seem to be done.  This is the second year in a row that a few of mine have come out too dark on the bottom.  It's hard to tell because they're very dark anyway, but you don't want burned chocolate cookies.]

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Stir in the flour, cocoa and ground nuts.

If you want to slice and bake the cookies, turn the dough out onto waxed paper; shape into two logs about an inch in diameter, wrapping the paper around the logs. Chill until firm. Cut the logs into 1/4-inch slices. Bake on ungreased baking sheets for about 15 minutes at 325 degrees F or until set. Let cool. (Cookies can be prepared to this point, covered and frozen for up to 1 month).

Garnish (we'll get to the crescents in a minute): In a bowl set over hot (not boiling) water, melt the chocolate (or do it in the microwave). Dip edges of cookies into chocolate, then into ground nuts. Let stand on a rack until set. [Put waxed paper under the rack first unless you want to scrape chocolate off the counter.] Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Makes about 5 dozen.

Crescents Variation:

Chill the dough in the bowl for 30 minutes. Form 1 tbsp. of dough each into crescents. If you have kids around, they can help roll small balls into sausages and then bend them a bit to form moon shapes. Make sure that the bendy part is good and solid, though, without cracks; otherwise the crescents will break in half when you take them out of the oven.

The directions say to chill the dough on the baking sheets for 30 minutes, but I don't bother; besides, I can't fit two sheets of cookies in the fridge at once. [2010 update: I think the chilling is a good idea, though, because I didn't chill them again this year and they spread a bit more than I wanted.] Then it says to bake for 30 minutes, but I think that's a typo (somebody got carried away with the 30 minutes thing)--15 minutes at 325 degrees is fine. You can then dip the ends in melted chocolate and nuts; or if you're very pressed for time (and don't mind wasting a few nuts), you can drizzle the chocolate over the cookies on the cooling rack (with waxed paper underneath), and sprinkle the nuts on top of that. Let them set and then shake off any excess. Since the crescents are slightly bigger than the sliced cookies, this variation makes only 3 dozen.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

And you thought they weren't listening...

(Crayons is getting very self-conscious these days and probably would not like it if she knew I was posting this. So shhh.)

We were watching the Muppets' Christmas Carol and I was sitting beside Crayons. At one point one of the Spirits tells Scrooge that "if these shadows remain," then Tiny Tim will die and all kinds of other bad things will happen.

Towards the end (of course), Scrooge finds himself in a scary graveyard with the Grim-Reaper-clone last Spirit. Crayons took all that in and whispered, "Oops--I guess the shadows remained."

Christmas sparkle

Meredith has a way with Christmas greens. And oranges. And bananas.

The Deputy Headmistress does Christmas Crafts.

And Krakovianka posts about St. Nicholas and this year's Christmas in Poland.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Holiday baking passes the torch

The first year Mr. Fixit and I were married I made mostly healthy Christmas cookies. Honey, whole wheat and carrots all the way. Then a neighbour (sympathetically?) brought us a huge tray of her Christmas finest, bristling with coloured marshmallows, butterscotch chips and oodles of coconut. (We took most of them to coffee hour at church and they were gone in five minutes.)

The next year I somehow managed to lose the recipe for carrot cookies, and we gradually developed a repertoire of somewhere-in-between Christmas treats that everybody here seems to like: poppyseed shortbread, chocolate fingers, gingerbread, cutout cookies. Apricot-chocolate-bran flake balls (I'll post the recipe for those soon). No silver dragees, but maybe a few sprinkles and chocolate chips. Not too many nuts or coconut, because Mr. Fixit doesn't like them. Definitely none of that candied peel stuff.

But lately, after years of establishing our own slightly-different favourites, I've had this craving for Magic Cookie Bars: one of those retro recipes made with sweetened condensed milk, graham cracker crumbs, chocolate chips, coconut, and walnuts. They are one of those things I just remember being there at Christmas, along with those no-bake sliced coloured marshmallow things some people call Church Windows. I don't even remember so much my mom making those cookies, just that EVERYBODY made them. I have never made Magic Cookie Bars in my life until this week. I've never had to! But it suddenly just...seemed to be time. (Or maybe I was just retro homesick.)

If you want to see an expert cook with perfect fingernails (not me) making Magic Cookie Bars, there's a how-to video on the Eagle Brand Milk website.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Using our advent calendar

Yes, we're using our Advent Calendar! We settled on blue candles for the wreath this year (pink and purple were too hard to find, and blue looks like the ocean), and a globe-shaped pencil sharpener that sits in the middle and reminds us of God's love for the world. On Christmas Eve we'll replace that with a white candle.

I made up booklets for everybody to use during devotion times: they contain the list of readings and activities, an outline map of the world, two pages of songs, and some colouring pages for the younger ones.

I also remembered another resource we had: a Crayola GeoTrivia World colouring book (a book of world trivia questions divided into different categories). We go around the table and ask each person a trivia question. The younger kids are allowed to have extra hints, and use the big map in the kitchen to answer questions like "which is bigger, Brazil or Venezuela?"

This year's "world theme" just developed itself! But it did start with the Mennonite Central Committee's printout, so I'm very thankful for that.

(We were also blessed enough to be one of Ann's Glorious Coming e-book winners! So now I know what we'll be doing next year for Advent!)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Another neglected Christmas classic

There are all kinds of books that are great reading for the Christmas season and don't have the word Christmas in the title. They don't get shelved with the library's Christmas books, but they're great for digging out at this time of year. One that we discovered this year is Michael Bond's More About Paddington. This book follows Paddington Bear through the last part of his first year at the Browns' house, and includes his fireworks party on Guy Fawkes Day (fireworks + bonfire + Paddington = disaster), Christmas shopping at a Large Snooty Store (revolving door + clothesline + Paddington = just-missed disaster), and Christmas Day with his new family and friends.

Who was it (in one of the Anne books?) that said Dickens always made her hungry? Paddington books always make me want a mug of cocoa and a marmalade sandwich. Oh, I found it--Anne of the Island again.
"That's a book that always makes me hungry," said Phil. "There's so much good eating in it. The characters seem always to be reveling on ham and eggs and milk punch. I generally go on a cupboard rummage after reading Pickwick. The mere thought reminds me that I'm starving. Is there any tidbit in the pantry, Queen Anne?"
(Be careful what edition of Paddington you buy, though, because it looks like there's a revised edition out there, and who knows what's gone missing from the original.)

Holiday advertising

Things that drive me crazy around Christmas: Ads for non-holiday-related products that try to tie into the holidays. You know: "Al's Plumbing: For All Your Holiday Needs." You have to wonder...

Yesterday I heard a cheerful voice on the radio asking, "Do you have a hard-to-buy for person on your list? Have you considered the solid lasting gift of furniture?"

Well, no, not really (although that did bring back memories of a Christmas around 1970 when all the relatives chipped in to buy Grandpa a big black recliner to smoke his pipe in). I don't go to the store in December saying, "Uncle Bill: table. Cousin Fred: bookcase." No offense to the furniture makers...

What's next?--tombstones? Have you considered the solid lasting gift...never mind.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Multiplying's not so tough

Ponytails has been doing multiplication since first grade. Miquon Math starts teaching multiplication concepts early, since saying "three five-rods" is no harder than saying "a five-rod plus a five-rod plus a five-rod".

However, now that she's in fourth grade and has moved on to Making Math Meaningful, we need to do some serious work on multi-digit multiplication. We worked on that a bit in the last year of Miquon Math, but Ponytails has forgotten some of it, and anyway, she's older now and can make more sense of it.

The Apprentice did this level of MMM several years ago, and I remember going through extreme frustration with it (both of us). They kept explaining and showing, explaining and showing, breaking questions apart until we weren't even sure what we were looking at anymore. Finally I told the Apprentice, conspiratorially, that I was going to teach her a shortcut, and I taught her the multiplication algorithm--the old-fashioned way, the school way. She got it. For her, that was a relief. No more explaining--just do it.

Ponytails needed a slightly different approach. We go in and out of the MMM book; we've skipped a lot of pages in it because there are things she already knows well (like place value and addition), but then there are things that she needs some extra preparation for, and the MMM teacher's book doesn't always explain them in a way that makes sense to her. So we've been working in this sequence: single digits multiplied by single digits; multiplying things that end in 0, which MMM does do a good job on (like 300 x 20); and now two digits multiplied by one or two digits. Yesterday we talked about two ways to handle those bigger numbers, and today I added a third, the one that MMM emphasizes and that the Apprentice found frustrating. What do you know--it makes sense to Ponytails.

Let's say the question is 23 x 45. The first way is to list the smaller questions you could break those down into, multiply them, and then add them all up. So, 20 x 40, 3 x 40, 20 x 5, and 3 x 5. The problem with that method is that you aren't always sure if you've gotten all the combinations.

The second is to use the "school way," the algorithm.

x 45

It's the quickest way for me because I've been doing it that way for thirty years. The problem with it for Ponytails is that she isn't sure yet of all the steps, and keeps adding where she should be multiplying or vice versa. It takes time to get familiar with this one.

This is the third way, and it's almost like the first. You draw an empty square. Across the top you write "20, 3" and down one side you write "40, 5." You divide the square into four boxes (in this case) and fill in each box, as if it were a times table chart. The advantage over Way # 1 is that when you're done the boxes, you know you're done and you haven't missed anything. The disadvantage is that then you have to recopy all your products to add them up, unless you can do it in your head. Ponytails says she doesn't mind that, and it's easier for her right now than remembering all the steps in the algorithm. I wrote out some word problems for her to do, and she decided to do one of them with the algorithm and the rest with Way #3.

It's always nice to have choices.

The Answers

Here are the answers to I Made You a Game. If you haven't played yet, avert your eyes. I've filled the names back into the quotes.

Here we go...

1. “Some Christmas,” remarked Rush in a satisfied tone at the end of the day. He was playing Randy’s Funeral March for her, very quietly in the dusk. “I bet we’re just about the only kids in the county, maybe even the whole state, that got such a big live alligator for a Christmas present.”

The Four-Story Mistake, by Elizabeth Enright

2. “Breakfast seems so commonplace at such an exciting moment. I’d rather feast my eyes on that dress….I feel that I ought to be a very good girl indeed. It’s at times like this I’m sorry I’m not a model little girl; and I always resolve that I will be in future. But somehow it’s hard to carry out your resolutions when irresistible temptations come. Still, I really will make an extra effort after this.”

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

3. “That was a wonderful day. It was a treasure, and no mistake! I never saw such heaps and heaps of presents, like things out of a fairy-tale—and even Eliza had a shawl. Perhaps she deserved it, for she did cook the rabbit and the pudding; and Oswald says it is not her fault if her nose turns up and she does not brush her hair. I do not think Eliza likes brushing things. It is the same with the carpets. But Oswald tries to make allowances even for people who do not wash their ears.”

The Story of the Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit (the first Bastable book)

4. “For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss tomorrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!”

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame

5. “And next day they rounded up the mice with the loudest voices. They spent the whole morning practicing their scales and the whole afternoon sorting out the pronunciation of Wenceslas, and by the time it was dark, they were ready.”

The Church Mice at Christmas, by Graham Oakley (one of the funniest Christmas picture books around)

6. (a Christmas list): “Tony—a jack-knife (his has only one blade.) Mr. Gilligan—a clay pipe and tobacco. Mrs. Gilligan—a tomato pin-cushion. Mr. Night-Owl—a cake of soap.”

Roller Skates, by Ruth Sawyer

7. “Don’t you have any tree?” Joey asked.
“Oh, it isn’t worth while just for me,” Mrs. Verduz said. “I don’t usually make any fuss over Christmas. But when I heard you singing I thought it was really awfully dull staying down there in my room all by myself. And you see, I’ve brought a few things with me.”

The Ark, by Margot Benary-Isbert

8. “'A hand-knit muffler! How warm it looks. I must try it on right now,' said Mr. Bear. He wrapped it around his neck…There was rather a lot left over.”

A Gift from the Lonely Doll, by Dare Wright

9. “There had never been such a Christmas as this. It was such a large, rich Christmas, the whole church full of Christmas. There were so many lamps, so many people, so much noise and laughter, and so many happinesses in it. Laura felt full and bursting, as if that whole big rich Christmas were inside her, and her mittens and her beautiful jewel-box with the wee gold cup-and-saucer and teapot, and her candy and her popcorn ball.”

On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

10. “She did not even hug to her heart that moment when, finally, she had become Mama’s ‘dearest, dearest child'. In her heart it was Christmas, and she was busy singing.”

From Anna, by Jean Little

Bonus Quote:
"All the ponies are at the war."

The Middle Moffat, by Eleanor Estes

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Holiday Meme, by Dewey Squirrel

This is my blog but I nevver get to rite anything bekuz Mama Squirrel is always hogging it. So today I am taking kontrol of the keeboard and I get to anser all the questions.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Neither, I like root beer flotes.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? I am not suposed to tell.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? On my tree/house? All cullers and as many as Snoopy's doghous.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No, I like it for an apetizer.

5. When do you put your decorations up? Mr. Fixit puts them up for Dewey when he should be resting his tired bones in front of the television Hey wait a minit, this is my meem and I get to rite...Well, I did put up my own reeth on the door.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Pizza.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Curling up in a warm attic with my fourtteen brothers and sisters.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I pwomised I would never never tell that he cheets at cards--oops.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? I open EVERYBODY'S gifts on Christmas Eve becuz I cant stand the susspens. But don't tell them.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? I don't have one, I just share with the hummans.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? I like it becuz it's eazier to see the cats' footprints and go the uther way.

12. Can you ice skate? I am a very talented squirrel. I can do a lot of things. I have even been on staje at church. But I cant ice skate because I don't aktualy have feet.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? The Chipmunks' Christmas Album.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Keeping away from Uncle Louie for another year. [Uncle Louie is always after Dewey for that fifty bucks Dewey owes him...]

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Boosh Butch Bûche de Noël (thank you Mama Squirrel). You no...Yool Log. Something about being a Squirrel, we have a thing for desserts made out of wood.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Riding along in the car and waving at people out the window. Sometimes they wave back.

17. What tops your tree? Well, I tried climbing up there once becuz I wanted to talk to that pwetty angel that the Apwentice made. But she wouldn't even say halo to me.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving. One year I rode along with Santa and helped him give out all the presents. I am very good at going up and down chimnies.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Chesnuts, Akorns and Walnuts Roasting on an Open Fire But It Wasnt My Fault!

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? They make my fur too stikky.

I made you a game

[Updated to add some hints, since some of my most obsessive-compulsive reading friends still don't recognize more than one or two titles. Don't read the comments before you've tried it, since some people guessed the answers (although nobody got all of them). The complete answers are posted here.]

Christmas book trivia! Actually most of these quotes aren't from Christmas books at all, just from books with good Christmas scenes in them. Virtual gingerbread men to anyone who can get 7 out of 10 (some of these are hard!). Maybe just put down the numbers of the quotes you recognize, rather than naming them, so that you don't give the answers away.

Here we go...

1. “Some Christmas,” remarked [] in a satisfied tone at the end of the day. He was playing []’s Funeral March for her, very quietly in the dusk. “I bet we’re just about the only kids in the county, maybe even the whole state, that got such a big live alligator for a Christmas present.”

HINT: Aw, c'mon, how many books have somebody getting an alligator for a Christmas present? Copyright 1942, the second book of a trilogy.

2. “Breakfast seems so commonplace at such an exciting moment. I’d rather feast my eyes on that dress….I feel that I ought to be a very good girl indeed. It’s at times like this I’m sorry I’m not a model little girl; and I always resolve that I will be in future. But somehow it’s hard to carry out your resolutions when irresistible temptations come. Still, I really will make an extra effort after this.”

3. “That was a wonderful day. It was a treasure, and no mistake! I never saw such heaps and heaps of presents, like things out of a fairy-tale—and even Eliza had a shawl. Perhaps she deserved it, for she did cook the rabbit and the pudding; and [] says it is not her fault if her nose turns up and she does not brush her hair. I do not think Eliza likes brushing things. It is the same with the carpets. But [] tries to make allowances even for people who do not wash their ears.”

Hint: also part of a trilogy. Look on the first page of The Magician's Nephew for another hint.

4. “For ere one half of the night was gone,
Sudden a star has led us on,
Raining bliss and benison—
Bliss tomorrow and more anon,
Joy for every morning!”

5. “And next day they rounded up the mice with the loudest voices. They spent the whole morning practicing their scales and the whole afternoon sorting out the pronunciation of Wenceslas, and by the time it was dark, they were ready.”

Hints: Mice. Vestry. Cat. If you can at least get the right series, you get the gingerbread cookie.

6. (a Christmas list): “Tony—a jack-knife (his has only one blade.) Mr. Gilligan—a clay pipe and tobacco. Mrs. Gilligan—a tomato pin-cushion. Mr. Night-Owl—a cake of soap.”

Hint: 1937 Newbery Medal. New York City.

7. “Don’t you have any tree?” Joey asked.
“Oh, it isn’t worth while just for me,” Mrs. Verduz said. “I don’t usually make any fuss over Christmas. But when I heard you singing I thought it was really awfully dull staying down there in my room all by myself. And you see, I’ve brought a few things with me.”

Hint: Only Amblesiders who have done Year 6 will probably get this one.

8. “'A hand-knit muffler! How warm it looks. I must try it on right now,' said Mr. Bear. He wrapped it around his neck…There was rather a lot left over.”

Hint: Children's picture book illustrated with photographs.

9. “There had never been such a Christmas as this. It was such a large, rich Christmas, the whole church full of Christmas. There were so many lamps, so many people, so much noise and laughter, and so many happinesses in it. [] felt full and bursting, as if that whole big rich Christmas were inside her, and her mittens and her beautiful jewel-box with the wee gold cup-and-saucer and teapot, and her candy and her popcorn ball.”

Hint: I figured most people would get this one pretty fast. Part of a series. Think about being amazed and astounded by mittens and a popcorn ball...

10. “She did not even hug to her heart that moment when, finally, she had become Mama’s ‘dearest, dearest child'. In her heart it was Christmas, and she was busy singing.”

Hint: the author is Jean Little.

Bonus Quote:
"All the ponies are at the war."

Hint: World War I.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A small chocolate cake that's not so wacky

When I was young, my mom used to make that chocolate "wacky cake" recipe where you make the three holes in the top and pour different things in the holes. This is even faster (no need to dig holes), makes a cake just the right size for a small celebration, can be made dairy-free, and is so idiot-proof that it would make history out of all those jokes about inept newlyweds and other kitchen-phobes baking burned and fallen cakes. Somebody should have given a copy to Arthur too when he was trying to make a cake for his grandma. ("It says put in 1 lb. flour. What's a lub?")

2011 Update: In case anybody wonders if you can bake this recipe as cupcakes...yes! you can! This recipe makes about ten medium-sized cupcakes; you can double it to make more. Bake about 15 minutes at 350 degrees; test with toothpick.

Small Chocolate Cake, from The Kissing Bridge Cookbook by Marcella Wittig Calarco


1 egg
1 cup brown sugar or Demarara sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup flour [You might need a little more flour, as much as 1/2 cup more]
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon vanilla


In a large bowl, beat the egg, and beat in the sugar, cocoa and butter until smooth. Add the flour, soda and baking powder and mix well. Pour in the boiling water and vanilla and mix. Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8 inch square pan. Bake at 350°F, 20 to 25 minutes or until it tests done. Leave it in the pan and frost with your favorite frosting.

This cake has had many incarnations at the Treehouse. It was used for Mr. Fixit's Brown Dirt Birthday Cake, frosted with chocolate icing and covered with chocolate cookie crumbs for dirt. Last December it was our Dance Recital and Starting Advent Cake. I was making chocolate chip icing for it (on the stove) but it was kind of thin, so I stirred in some mini marshmallows, thinking they'd melt, but they didn't really. I spread the icing on the cake with all the marshmallows sticking out of it, and it got oohs and ahs from the Squirrelings. ("Like a hot chocolate cake!")

And now you have the recipe too, so there's no reason to go wacky if you have to make a cake.

Book Reviews, Part 6

365 Days of Celebration and Praise: Daily Devotions and Activities for Homeschooling Families, by Julie Lavender

Homeschooling the Challenging Child: A Practical Guide, by Christine M. Field

Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles, with contributions by Ruth Beechick, Clay & Sally Clarkson, Christine Field, Diana Waring and others. General Editors, Paul & Gena Suarez. Published by The Old Schoolhouse.

With titles like those, you almost don't need reviews. But here are some of my thoughts anyway.

365 Days of Praise: It's not unusual to see almanacs of days; there are places online with lists of odd holidays and anniversaries, and there are books for teachers that suggest activities for Pickle Week or whatever. But two things set this one apart: it's aimed at Christian homeschooling families, and it's set up to be used as a devotional resource. Each day has a short introduction (sometimes with related Bible reading), discussion questions, a related activity, a "curriculum connection", a Bible verse to memorize, and a prayer suggestion. The introduction has some suggestions for using the book; you can pick and choose which days to celebrate (and some of them are weeks or months, such as National Book Month), and you could adapt the suggested activities depending on the ages of your children.

I think the book might work well for a weekly family night or Sunday afternoon time, since some of the activities (such as crafts and outings) will take more time out of a homeschool morning than you might want for devotions. The suggestions remind me of the kinds of things we do during Advent. There are a few things here and there that are a bit strange or seem to be stretching the theme, such as praying for hatmakers on Hat Day. But overall the activities sound like fun, and for those whose homeschool style is mostly rabbit-trail-based, the celebrations might even be the jumping-off point for a whole day's learning (or more).

I even picked up one easy snack idea that would work well for our own advent calendar: December 12th has a peace theme, and Julie's Goose Day activity (for August 29th) is a bagel-and-cream-cheese dove. You slice a bagel across, cut one piece in half (into C shapes), put the two "wings" on a plate facing out from the "body", cover the whole thing with cream cheese, and put a doughnut hole/Timbit where the head would be. We've made Butterfly Sandwiches before, but never bagel doves.

Homeschooling the Challenging Child: This is the book to read "if your kids isn't like all the other kids on the block." The author notes that the book is about learning issues, not physical disabilities; but it does cover a wide range of learning disabilities and differences, discipline issues, and parent/child clashes in personality and learning styles. There are also helpful followup chapters on "Mom, Marriage and Siblings" (families with "difficult children" need support too), on planning a program, and on when and how to seek professional help. The book is about finding creative solutions and getting perspective on problems (which can sometimes be gifts, not problems), whether your child has an official disability or not. (One of Christine Field's children is an energetic boy who might be labelled ADHD in a classroom, but she feels that's just our culture's negative view of energetic boys.) As the subtitle says, there are practical tips all the way through the book, such as ideas for teaching distractible children (if a child is very bothered by the noise of others working in the room, you might consider using industrial-grade ear protectors).

Christine Field says, "The longer I live with challenging children, the more I truly believe they are a privilege because we are all growing more than we would without the challenges. Our spiritual 'muscles' are strengthened and our creativity is heightened as we find the best way to bring out the best in these children." (page 64) She's done a good job of helping others to do that with this book.

Homeschooling Methods: Many people have tried to do a complete rundown of the major homeschooling approaches, in articles, in books, and at homeschool meetings. They usually fail because a) they don't really know enough about all those different approaches, b) they don't know how the "in practice" side of each approach differs from the philosophical side (what do "real" unschoolers or Charlotte Mason-ites do every day?), and c) of course they're biased towards their own approach, even if they're trying to cover things fairly. I have seen innumerable awful descriptions of CM homeschooling, for example; but if I tried to write a positive description of a popular fill-in-the-blank curriculum, I guess I'd be just as unfair since I've never used it myself.

Anyway, Paul and Gena Suarez have gotten around this by calling on people recognized in ten different homeschooling methods and approaches (if you can count a section on special needs and one on carschooling as approaches). Their choices of methods and contributors are slanted toward Christian homeschoolers: there are no radical unschoolers or homeschoolers of other faiths included here.

You will laugh about this if you know us, but if I was disappointed by one section, it was the Traditional Textbook chapter. If I were a new homeschooler weighing my options, I'm not sure I would be convinced by the reasons given to use that method: mainly familiarity and the fact that you don't have to create curriculum from the ground up. One of my local homeschooling friends, a devoted A Beka user, has given more convincing presentations than that to explain her choices; I wish they'd asked her for her opinion! (Although I know they were going for the "big names" here.) I was also slightly puzzled by the mention of Sonlight Curriculum within the Traditional Textbook section, although I think the writer meant to include it as an example of a curriculum where everything is provided for you, rather than as an equivalent to A Beka or Bob Jones. (Sonlight would probably be more of a literature-based or eclectic curriculum.)

What about the CM chapter? It's written by Catherine Levison and sounds pretty much like everything else she's written about CM (well researched and well written), so there were no real surprises there. The only thing I might wish for there (if there were a little more space) might be just a bit of description about what CM educators are up to these days: the online community has contributed a great deal to CM's continued popularity with homeschoolers, and there are also private schools that use CM methods. There is also at least one annual conference for CM educators, in North Carolina (scroll down through the list of events to see the information for 2007).

The thing I liked best about this book was that it seems to be pretty fair in its coverage of different approaches: the writers contribute from their own perspectives, but they don't bash other methods. As Diana Waring writes (on page 180), "Not everyone is like me."

(Proceeds from Homeschooling Methods are going to NATHHAN, the organization that supports homeschoolers with disabilities and their families.)

(Other book reviews on this blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Our Advent Calendar

Every year I find myself looking for Advent ideas. We like having a family gathering time each evening during Advent, and I often provide some kind of related activities for our Squirrelings to do during the days as well. Although I'd like to try Ann Voskamp's new Glorious Coming study, we've done the Jesse Tree-type Old Testament symbols several times over the past few years; we've also done the Names of Jesus and so on. One year we did a four-week look at the Gospels: one week each for Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. (Maybe next year we'll get a copy of Ann's book.)

Anyway, a church bulletin insert last weekend pointed me to the Mennonite Central Committee's printable Advent Calendar (click on the Advent calendar link there). [UPDATE September 2007: last year's calendar is gone, and this year's isn't posted yet. Sorry!] It's a two-page PDF document with brief notes for each day in Advent. Several of the days have notes about MCC projects going on in different countries. It's too sparse for our family to use just as it is, but I'm working on some ways to expand the ideas. When I get my plans together, I'll post them for anyone else who can use them. [Update: our plan for Advent is here.]

Here's a link to last year's post about our family's Advent traditions.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Frugal is good

Dawn at Frugal for Life is hosting a contest, but the deadline is December 1 so you'll have to hurry. She has five questions about frugality that you need to answer in an email (not in her comments section), and then there will be a draw for the winners.

What can you win? 3 names will be drawn, and each person will receive the following:
~$25 Prepaid Gift Card or Gift Certificate
~ The Complete Tightwad Gazette Book
~ A Frugal for Life T-shirt

Good luck!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Rather Retro Recipe

Tonight is a rare occasion in the Treehouse: a church potluck dinner. Due to a combination of food preferences, intolerances and food poisoning experiences (not at this church, just in general), we usually beg off from these things. However, this is a starting-the-holidays celebration, and Ponytails is reading a poem after the meal, so it's important to go. And I needed to come up with a dessert.

A plain cake would probably have done fine, but I was looking through some recipes and thinking about all the potlucks I went to when I was younger, at another church. I loved those dinners, even the strange casseroles (well, not the ones with Veg-All in them). (Grandma Squirrel says that she thinks some people would just put their whole week's leftovers in a casserole dish and poured a can of tomato soup over them.)

In my browsing, I came across this recipe for Lemon Delight--one of those fluffy panfuls-of-stuff that I have hardly ever made myself but which were pretty common at those potlucks. And look at that--we had everything right there in the house for it, even on the day before grocery day. Even a can of evaporated milk, which I hardly ever have around.

So Ponytails and I made it. I had my doubts about whether that 2% milk would whip up stiff in the food processor, but it worked. We left a bit of filling aside just so we could taste it first without cutting into the pan--and the Squirrelings agree that this is very good. Sweet, but good.

Ruby’s Lemon Delight (Schmecks Appeal: More Mennonite Country Cooking, by Edna Staebler)

2 cups graham wafer crumbs
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter or margarine
1 box lemon Jell-O powder
½ cup boiling water
1 large can evaporated milk (must be icy cold to whip) [I opened a can of 2% evaporated milk, poured it into a shallow container, and let it sit in the freezer for half an hour. By that time, the edges were starting to get frozen. If you had more time, you could just put it in the fridge.]
½ cup sugar
Juice and rind of 1 lemon

Mix graham wafer crumbs with brown sugar and butter. Pack two-thirds of the mixture in the bottom of an unbuttered 9 x 13” pan. Dissolve Jell-O in boiling water and set aside to cool. [A note on the Jell-O: don't make it too soon. By the time I went to add it right at the end, the Jell-O in the bottom of the bowl had started to set.] Whip chilled evaporated milk until stiff [I used the whip attachment on the food processor, but regular beaters might be quicker. It also might help if you chilled the bowl and the beaters as well.]. Add sugar and lemon juice and rind, then beat in the Jell-O. Pour the mixture over the crumbs in the pan. Sprinkle remaining crumbs over top and chill in refrigerator for 3 hours, or in freezer for 1 hour. Cut into squares to serve.

This post is linked from Potluck Saturday at The Common Room.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Answers to the Mama Squirrel quiz

The Answers to "Five Things--tag, you're it"

1. Which part-time/summer job did Mama Squirrel NEVER have?

a) counter help in a fast-food restaurant

2. How many wisdom teeth has Mama Squirrel had pulled?

d) none of them because they never came in

3. Which of these once-trendy haircuts did Mama Squirrel NEVER have?

Both c) Mohawk and e) Ed Grimley

4. Which of these albums did Mama Squirrel NEVER own?

c) Meatloaf, Bat Out of Hell

5. Which of these things has Mama Squirrel never eaten?

c) oysters

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Book Reviews, Part 3

When Homeschooling Gets Tough!, by Diana Johnson

Shepherding a Child's Heart , by Tedd Tripp

When Homeschooling Gets Tough! is one book I would happily hand out both to new homeschoolers and to veterans feeling like they're "not doing it right", that their kids aren't as talented or as mission-minded as someone else's, or that their husbands aren't following the "homeschool dad" script. Without pushing either one particular theological slant or homeschool philosophy, Diana Johnson graciously and good-humoredly manages to make us all feel welcome. I particularly liked her take on 1 Corinthians 12:
"For, in fact, the homeschool community is not one schooling model, but many. If the textbook user should say, "Because I don't use unit studies, I'm not a good homeschooler," is she therefore not a good homeschooler? And if the living book user should say, "Because I haven't tested my fourth grader at all this year, I am not a good homeschooler," is she therefore not a good homeschooler?....But now God has given us all individual interests and abilities just as He pleased." (When Homeschooling Gets Tough!, page 20)
This isn't just a book for homeschoolers facing discouragement or burnout, though. Drawing on her experience working in the homeschool department of a Christian bookstore (and homeschooling for twenty-plus years), the author also includes chapters on "Providing a Realistic Program" and "Defining the Basics." This is a book I would have liked to have read when we were getting started, but I found some good advice in there even though I have my "10-year homeschool pin."

In the same way, I would like to have read Shepherding a Child's Heart before we ever had children. It manages to be reassuring and challenging at the same time, although some people will disagree with the author's use of "the rod." I think the best thing about it is that it acknowledges that the world has changed, for better or for worse; that children no longer sit in rows in school and listen without question to the teacher; that our culture's view of authority has changed so much that, to paraphrase Susan Schaeffer Macaulay, we might have to go back and think this parenting thing through again. If we're too focused on our childrens' outward behaviour and manners, on what people think, we're missing out on the heart issues. If we take away privileges but don't train our children to walk with God, we're missing out as well. There is a lot in here that echoes Charlotte Mason's parenting advice, particularly on learning to step back and let the Holy Spirit work in our childrens' lives.

Both books are encouraging, and I'm glad we have them for the resource library.

Book Reviews, Part 2

Terri Camp, like many homeschoolers, has taken Yeats' "Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire" as her favourite educational quote, and her book Ignite the Fire expands on that idea. This is the book I mentioned before with the puzzling cover: a Norman Rockwell/Ideals-type picture of a boy forking up pancakes, obviously ready to leave for school (his coat and his books are nearby), and cramming from a vintage-looking History of America. Is the point that the book is so fascinating that he can't put it down? Or is it that homeschoolers can offer their children something more than a hurried cramming of history dates followed by a cold walk or ride to school?

Terri has collected enough positive reviews of this book that to criticize it seems pointless; obviously a lot of people like it! My only real problem with it is that, like many of the books I've seen lately, it might have used a bit tighter editing. Not that it's long--only about a hundred pages. But I got the feeling that a lot of it had been collected along the way--that some of it had been previously written as separate articles. Not that writing a book that way is a new idea, or that it can't work--in fact, Charlotte Mason's books were largely written as separate talks and articles, and Karen Andreola's CM Companion also contains previously published chapters. It's just that these books sometimes feel a bit choppy, a bit repetitive, even a bit hard to follow. So I am going to be forward enough to say that with a bit more editing, it might have been even more useful.

Most useful for: new homeschoolers, and those interested in the homeschool approach that emphasizes an individualized, God-directed education for each child.

How the book stack challenge is going

(Update from this post)

I got as far as chapter 9 in The Vicar of Wakefield and then decided that this was too good to read by myself. So yesterday I started back at the beginning of it with The Apprentice. The others will have to wait until I'm done my support group library binge.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Monday, November 20, 2006

These books are not my own

I have two boxes in the Treehouse rec room with forty-two books in them, all bought this month for our local homeschool support group library. I get to babysit them because I catalogue and sticker them and then take them to support group meetings. (Most of the library isn't stored here, just the new books.)

So they're not my own.

And, truth be told, I wouldn't want to own all of them. Our group is (for these parts) fairly large: 130 families from different church denominations, using widely different approaches to school, and with widely different needs. Some of them have special-needs children. Some of them have teenagers, some have babies, some have both. Some of them have been in the group for a long time, and some of them are just starting out. So when we buy books, we try to pick a buffet, something for everybody. I can get very enthusiastic about books I know I will personally never use!

We have a lot of how-to-homeschool books and curriculum guides, and also books for different subject areas like science and English; books on Christian family living, guides to Shakespeare, and Canadian history. Including a stack of videos and a few cassettes, we have over a thousand items in the library.

And now we have forty-two more.

Every month I write a what's-new library column for our group's newsletter. So I'm going to start posting reviews of these books on the Treehouse as well, as I munch my way through this buffet. [Update: the reviews are here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.]

P.S. I should add that most of the library fund comes from money raised from our yearly conference.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Frugal gift baskets, and dollar stores

What's not to like about a blog called Not Made of Money?

Their contribution to last week's Festival of Frugality was a post called 5 Christmas Gift Baskets You Can Put Together For An Inexpensive (but thoughtful) Gift, based on items found at a dollar store.

That's a nice variation on an overused gift idea that (as shown in magazines) often ends up being either very expensive or completely impractical. I think the silliest gift-basket idea I've seen was a cookie-baking kit that included tubes of frozen cookie dough--now how is that supposed to survive under the Christmas tree? If someone does happen to notice that frozen dough in the basket and rescues it before it perishes, then they have to wreck the beautiful arrangement and all the bows and plastic wrapping just to get at it, so what is the point? (If that was your idea, I apologize, but maybe you can explain how you'd handle frozen food mixed in with the other things.)

Anyway, I think Not Made of Money has some good suggestions, if you do shop at dollar stores. Some people don't, on principle. Others of us do, also on principle. I've discussed the reasons we do shop there (mostly for our own Treehouse family members) with online friends, awhile back. Some of it comes down to what we expect of kids at Christmas time, and the fact that not everybody wants to make or get macaroni necklaces year after year. (And, if you've never thought about this, it's harder for homeschoolers to keep homemade gifts secret from each other than it is for most people!) There are few yard sales around here this time of year, so we head for the dollar store. (And try to stay out of each others' way while we're there!)

We've had some amazing successes and a few duds (ballet slippers that fell apart by the end of the day). The youngest Squirreling has been made happy with play food (including pretend canned things that you open with a plastic can opener), pink opera gloves, and paper dolls to cut out (from the scrapbooking section). The older girls have given each other gel pens, stickers, decorative boxes, and other craft and school supplies. The grownups have been given (on different occasions) giant barbecue tongs (very useful), hand lotion (Mr. Fixit really appreciated it), chocolate bars, and various kitchen thises and thatses. The toy section has also been raided to find grownup stocking stuffers (Mr. Fixit still plays with his tiny motorcycle set).

Yes, I know many of these things are made in factories overseas. I understand why that bothers people.

However, so are many of the things you buy at more expensive stores.

And if you noticed--many of the things we've given are edible or otherwise consumable or disposable (pens, lotion, paper). We try to avoid the stuff that ends up being clutter forever.

Not all our gifts come from the dollar store. There are always a few larger things (like a new snow toy or a CD-Rom, or Crayons' pirate snakes-and-ladders game), there are usually books from Mama Squirrel (I'm not giving away any secrets here), sometimes there are handmade things (The Apprentice has made great bead earrings for everyone who has pierced ears, and last year Mama Squirrel crocheted the girls some Christmas-coloured hair scrunchies), and sometimes there are used things (some squirrel-shaped salt-and-peppers once showed up in Mr. Fixit's stocking). And there are a few family squirrels and the lady next door who add to the things under the tree.

But the fun of exchanging the small gifts--the dollar store items and the Sunday School productions and the all-afternoon-in-the-bedroom projects--is one of the best parts of the holiday for us. Not THE best or the biggest part, because it shouldn't be, and that's another reason we keep things small. It's about the hunt and the surprise, the little jokes, and the quest to find something that's truly appreciated for a small amount of cash; it's not about presents getting more extravagant every year. And for us--dollar store or not--those are the thoughts that count.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Great Books, not so scary

The Deputy Headmistress quoted today from The Delight of Great Books, by John Erskine, published in 1928. "He says in his first chapter that too often, 'a book is famous enough to scare off some people who, if they had the courage to open the pages, would find there delight and profit.' The remaining chapters hold his proofs of that statement as applied to speicfic books- Canterbury Tales, The Faerie Queene, Paradise Lost, Moby Dick, Candida, Modern Irish Poetry and The Ordeal of Richard Feverel, for example."

Mortimer J. Adler says in How to Read a Book that "most of us are not aware of the loss we suffer by not making that effort [to read epic poetry]," although "any of these major epics exerts enormous demands on the reader--demands of attention, of involvement, and of imagination."

Katherine Paterson once wrote that she had just finished reading The Odyssey, and she couldn't figure out why nobody had ever told her before what a great book it was! Not a Great Book in the Great Books sense, but just a great book.

I've been thinking the same thing lately, especially since I started into Paradise Lost. (I've been temporarily distracted by re-reading Breathing Lessons, which is less ambitious but which was calling out for another read.) I keep running into all these marvellous quotes and images, and some of it is really funny--even the parts about Satan. The fallen angels in Hell have a big council about whether or not they have any chance of getting revenge on God, and whether if they storm heaven's gates God might punish them. One of them says something like, "Well, what's He going to do? Send us to hell?" Eventually they decide that they don't have any chance of taking over Heaven, so the best thing they can do is get revenge through this new thing God is making--

"some new race, called Man, about this time
To be created like to us, though less
In power and excellence, but favoured more
Of Him who rules above."

So Satan volunteers to try to blast through the frontiers of Hell, and he runs into a particularly monstrous, ugly fiend blocking the way. He says,

"Whence, and what art thou, execrable shape,
That dares, though grim and terrible, advance
Thy miscreated front athwart my way
To yonder gates?...."

The monster snaps back,

"....Back to thy punishment,
False fugitive; and to thy speed add wings,
Lest with a whip of scorpions I pursue
Thy lingering...."

(I think I'm going to use that line next time one of the Squirrelings sneaks out of bed.)

Anyway, this is real storytelling, even if you don't think you like stories about foul fiends and such things. And yes, Milton does do all kinds of rabbit trails not only into Biblical imagery but into classical mythology; and some of them, if you've read enough of the stories, you recognize with delight. Other references you could look up if you wanted to, but you don't have to--I just keep reading if I don't recognize whatever analogy he's making. (That's partly why I said in an earlier post that I think I enjoy this more now than I did in university.)

And this is the other thing I've found about enjoying books like Paradise Lost and The Odyssey--find an edition (and, for everything except Paradise Lost) a translation that you enjoy. We were given some Harvard Classics recently, including the volume of Milton, but I don't like reading it out of the HCs: the pages are too crispy and the print's too small. I like my big illustrated hardcover with the nice big print. (Makes you feel like a little kid with a big book.) That doesn't apply just to epic poetry, by the way. One of the two books I brought home from the thrift shop last weekend was a very nice edition of Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield, with illustrations by Arthur Rackham. As in, the illustrator of The Wind in the Willows and other childrens' books. We have an Everyman paperback of The Vicar too, which isn't too exciting to look at; but this one almost yells to be read. It's the same with childrens' books, too; we have an oversized hardcover of Charlotte's Web which is much nicer to read than a cheap paperback edition.

But I digress. The point is that the greatest books of the Western world were never meant to be slow torture by boredom. If you can get beyond being scared off by the foul fiends of English classes past, they make good reading too.