Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cookin' with math

We use Cuisenaire Rods as one of our main math manipulatives.  People always wonder about that strange name; actually, like many inventions, the rods were named for their inventor, Georges Cuisenaire.

Because the name's unfamiliar, people often misspell it. I've seen information online about Cuisinaire Rods, Cuisanaire, Quisenaire, Cuisonaire, Cuisinnaire, Cuisenarie, Cuisenare, Cuisennaire, Cuisenair, and just about every other spelling. (Even Ruth Beechick got it wrong once!) But this one (from the transcript of a legal proceeding involving mentally handicapped students) was new to me.
Mr. RHODES: ....We believe that to do this they've got to get a little messy, maybe, and from that mess we think something good comes. By way of example, I'm sure you're familiar with cuisinart sticks?

Mr. DICKEY. No. I'm from Arkansas.

Mr. RHODES. They're small sticks that are used to teach mathematics.

Mr. DICKEY. Are you saying cuisinart?

Mr. RHODES. Yes, cuisinart. They are small sticks that are generally in units of one to ten, and they are used to teach mathematics to preschool children. And that activity, that hands-on nature, is what seems to work. I know it did wonders for my daughter when she was three.
Not only that, they julienne and shred salad too.

(The quote was found here.)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Monday, April 24, 2006

A funny from Crayons

New readers can unintentionally provide a lot of humor.

At lunch, Mr. Fixit was looking at something that came in the mail, and Crayons was looking over his shoulder. "Real...Easter...Update," she read. A real Easter update?

Oh, a real estate update.

I think I preferred Crayons' version!

This is too hard, too boring, irrelevant...

Mom makes us work too hard. Not another book! School is hard. If my children were talking Barbies, they might echo that unfortunate doll (who had her conversation chip yanked for saying that math is too hard). Yes, the Apprentice and Ponytails do complain about school, lest you think that these Shakespeare-reading progeny do everything excellently without ever needing to be prodded (that's only true of other peoples' children, right?). After all, The Apprentice isn't planning on going to university anyway...she alternates between interests in hairdressing/cosmetics, photography, and computer information systems (maybe she'll figure out a way to do all of them). Why does this stuff matter?

So I have some alternatives. I could buy a fill-in-the-blanks homeschool curriculum instead of boring them with Thomas More or Winston Churchill. (Jane Austen and Charles Dickens don't get the "boring" face, for some reason.) I could let them follow their own interests completely. I could buy some of those prepared novel studies, comprehension workbooks, language textbooks, and spend a lot more time teaching them to write five-sentence paragraphs. (Squirrelings, that's not meant to be a threat--some homeschoolers spend a lot of time on those things because that's just the way they do school, and it works for them.)

I could send them to public school, so that they could develop the the following characteristics of current university students. (This list comes from Barbara Aggerholm's story "Educating the next wave" in The Record, April 24, 2006. I'm only including some of them.)
* "Doing" is more important than "knowing." In other words, what you know is less important than knowing where to get the answer. "You don't have to master the subject anymore," Sharpe said. [Associate Professor Bob Sharpe of Wilfrid Laurier University, who led a seminar about preparing for the next generation of students.]
* They have zero tolerance for delays. When they send an e-mail to a professor, they want an answer immediately.
* They're consumers rather than producers of knowledge.
* They blur the lines between consumer and creator by sampling information on the Internet and producing new forms of expression.
(That last one, in particular, intrigues me. It sounds like one of those creative report card comments that really means "He cheated on his term paper.")

Or we can keep on reading writers who are much wiser and better educated than we are, taking what we can from their thoughts, and making our responses to their books a central part of Treehouse homeschooling.

In spite of the grousing, there are those moments when I know that what we're doing is what we're supposed to be doing. Like when Ponytails asked for a James Whitcomb Riley poetry book at a booksale last year, or The Apprentice kindly found me a volume of Tennyson at this year's sale. Or when I found The Apprentice reading her Canadian history book without being reminded, or saw Ponytails poring over a map of Narnia. Or when The Apprentice found a creative way to make her science experiment work even though somebody discarded the plastic pop bottle she was hoarding. (Sorry.) Or when Ponytails was genuinely sad at finishing a biography of Galileo. Or when Crayons read me back part of the Charlotte's Web chapter we'd just finished together (I had to work her into this post somehow).

We'll try to understand that delays happen...there are disappointments...and that not everything's fun (though something can be enjoyable in its own way without being fun). Maybe the Squirrelings will be strange enough to think that knowing something is even more valuable than knowing where to look it up (or where to copy it from the Internet). Maybe when we've read Utopia and How to Read a Book and Whatever Happened to Justice, there won't be so many blurry lines. Maybe they will be subversive enough to think that they can be producers as well as consumers of knowledge.

If they turned out like that, I wouldn't mind at all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Four homeschool days with Ponytails

This is a four-day school week for us (we took Monday off), so these lessons cover what Ponytails did over the last two days and what's planned for the rest of the week. This week also marked the start of our spring term, although a lot of what she's doing is just continuing from the winter.

Bible: listen to part of Proverbs 1. Start keeping a new illustrated copybook for Proverbs (one verse and one drawing for each chapter).
Copywork: one verse from Proverbs, see above.
Grammar and spelling: Ruth Beechick-style exercises based on The Enchanted Forest (a fairytale in chapters that Ponytails is reading to herself)--looking for synonyms, spelling patterns, word meanings, etc.
Miquon Math: Division concepts.
French: short lesson about "Je sens avec le nez."
Canadian History: Canada's Story, chapter 7, about Champlain and Captain Kirke (really).

Pilgrim's Progress, Book II--about four pages (part of this section)
Copywork/handwriting: worked on capital G in cursive.
Miquon Math: Reviewed division lesson; did five adding/subtracting word problems.
Shakespeare (with Mom and The Apprentice): read two scenes from Two Gentlemen of Verona.
British History: An Island Story chapter 84: King Monmouth. Marked her timeline.
Minn of the Mississippi, chapter 14 (and an online jigsaw puzzle about the Mississippi)


Bible: Proverbs 2.
Copywork: verse from Proverbs.
Read poems with Mom.
Language work: same. Read some of The Enchanted Forest alone.
French: short lesson.
Natural History: Secrets of the Woods--finish the Tookhees chapter.
Canadian History: Canada's Story, chapter 8 (the death of Champlain). Timeline.
Read Children of the New Forest with Mom and The Apprentice.

Bible: Proverbs 3.
Copywork: verse from Proverbs.
Language work: dictation from The Enchanted Forest.
Miquon Math.
The Heroes, by Charles Kingsley: Theseus, part 1.
Science: The Story of Inventions, pages 271-280, about Alexander Graham Bell. Do some experiments with sound.

Other things Ponytails is doing:

Reading The Magician's Nephew with Mom
Listening to Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang read on CD
Making clothes for a felt doll
Playing outside
Eating Easter candy
Loving her "pet bird" that drinks water
Watching everybody's beans sprout (a science experiment)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


The Squirrelings are not always well behaved. (!)

Crayons' account of a fracas she got into with Ponytails:

"I was just colouring nicely, and she hit me. And after that we took turns hitting each other."

Well, at least they were polite about it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Stuff and nonsense

My friend the DHM at The Common Room quoted Charlotte Mason today:

"There is absolutely no avenue to knowledge but knowledge itself, and the schools must begin, not by qualifying the mind to deal with knowledge, but by affording all the best books."--Towards a Philosophy of Education (Vol. 6), pg. 347

Did she mean the most serious books? The hardest books? The longest books?

Just before Miss Mason gets to that point in the chapter, she has been describing the sad case of two young men who had a half-baked education (in her view), who "laboured indefatigably" at making sense of the books they picked up as young adults, but who admitted themselves that "You and I go at a subject all wrong!"

What was one of the books they couldn't make sense of? Alice in Wonderland.
Deeply impressed he bought the book as soon as he returned to London and read it earnestly. To his horror he saw no sense in it. Then it struck him that it might be meant as nonsense and he had another try, then he concluded that it was rather funny but he remained disappointed.

Here, again, is another evidence of the limitations attending an utter absence of education. A cultivated sense of humour is a great factor in a joyous life, but these young men are without it. Perhaps the youth addicted to sports usually fails to appreciate delicate nonsense; sports are too strenuous to admit of a subtler, more airy kind of play....
So we have to give our children more than facts, more than vocabulary drills. Knowledge, yes...the DHM's post points that out well, along with the sad fact of our culture's anti-knowledge bent. But also another kind of understanding of laughter and nonsense that goes beyond the usual nose-picking humor found in childrens' books. They need to meet characters like my aged Uncle Arly, sitting on a heap of barley...and the Humbug...and the White Knight, one of my favourite characters in any book. They need some silliness, some furry squirrel puppets (I promise we'll do a post about Dewey soon), some knock-knock jokes, some James Thurber, and eventually some Wodehouse and Chesterton. They need to let their brains learn to play and dance and jump around with all the wonderful connections that a sense of nonsense allows. They need some nonsense so they can understand inventiveness...and a mandatory credit in inventiveness and creativity will not substitute.

I found this posted on the Catholic Culture blog:
A friend said all this reminded him of the scene in The Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan (God) creates Narnia, including an odd little bird which, like all the animals, can talk. The bird says something ridiculous and all the other creatures laugh. Turning to Aslan, the bird says, “Oh, Aslan, have I made the first joke?” “No,” Aslan replies, “you are the first joke.” My friend says there is a moral here.
I think he's right.

Friday, April 14, 2006

She knows what she likes

Crayons' comment about today's lunch:

"I could eat a hundred grilled cheese sandwiches. And a hundred macaroni and cheese (that wasn't on the menu). And a hundred kiffle. And a hundred of my favourite beans."

What more could you ask for?

Good Friday Thought

After an emergency or a crisis, there is always the time when you come back and look around at the place that you left in such a hurry.

About ten years ago, my grandmother got very sick and was rushed to the hospital. I went to my parents’ house and found a crockpot full of chili sitting on the counter that had been there since suppertime the night before. You don’t always stop to clean things up when you’re in a hurry.

I was wondering who cleaned up after the last supper. Were some of the disciples intending to come back after their after-dinner walk with Jesus? Then everything was interrupted. Was it hours later, even the next day, that anyone came back into that upstairs room where Jesus had washed their feet and talked about the bread and the cup?

What did they see? Was there maybe the bowl and a still-damp towel, sitting on the floor? Maybe there was a cup that someone had knocked over, with the wine spilling out. Maybe some of the bread was left on the plate, leftovers broken in pieces. Maybe there were candles burned down to stubs, or empty oil lamps that they had used to light the room during their last meal with Jesus. Had they expected to come back to a room that felt so empty and yet that held so many things that reminded them of their Lord?

What did they do with the things? Did someone get busy then and wash the dishes? Did they pack everything away as it was, not wanting to have to deal with such things at such a time? Did they call some women in and ask them to wipe everything up?

Or did someone else come in and clear everything away, not knowing anything about what had happened there that night? Did the disciples come back to a room that was empty, cleaned out? Maybe the whole thing seemed like a dream that had never happened.

What do you think?

Good Friday

And all three stood and wept. Even the Lion wept: great Lion-tears, each tear more precious than the Earth would be if it was a single solid diamond....

"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "go into that thicket and pluck the thorn that you will find there, and bring it to me."

Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier.

"Drive it into my paw, son of Adam," said Aslan, holding up his right fore-paw and spreading out the great pad toward Eustace.

"Must I?" said Eustace.

"Yes," said Aslan.

Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion's pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King.

--C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Thinking outside the package

Several years ago, I went to a post-Christmas sale at a craft store. In the final-clearance, nobody-wants-this bin, I found a couple of Christmas-themed cross-stitch kits that came with some kind of square plastic frames, and bought them for about 75 cents apiece. When I got home, I realized that floss was not included in the kits. I didn't have much floss and definitely not in the right colours, and I don't get to the craft store much. The kits sat. And sat. I kept thinking "someday when they've got floss on sale, I should go and match up all the right colours, and get what I need, and make up those kits." But it wasn't really high on the list of priorities. I'm not even a very good cross-stitcher.

I tried to give the kits away to a crafty friend, but she didn't want them. So they sat.

Finally I was about to put them in a thrift-shop box. And then I took another look at the packages, and a light went on. Those things in my hands were meant to be coasters: nice, heavy-duty clear plastic coasters that you could insert your needlework into. Or anything else! Aha! (You mean I'm allowed to throw out those cross-stitch patterns I've never used? Sigh of relief.)

Since it was close to Father's Day, I found a couple of colourful family pictures that we'd taken at a mini-golf course; stuck them on some printed origami paper (because the pictures were smaller than the coasters); got the kids to sign their names below the pictures; and inserted the whole works into the coasters. One for Mr. Fixit, one for Grandpa Squirrel. Mr. Fixit now uses his coaster every night for his bedtime tea.

Now I'm not expecting that you're going to run out and raid the bargain bins looking for useless needlework kits. But it does illustrate a basic frugal principle. As the DHM at the Common Room likes to say, what do you have in your hand? And if you can't use something in the way it was intended, could you use part of it for something else? Sometimes you'll come up with something even nicer than what it was really meant for.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Money habits...and promises

LRJohnson's Savings Blog posted recently about Habits, Habits (linked through the 18th Festival of Frugality). She points out:
I did not start buying oatmeal at the same time that I stopped buying pre-made cartons of juice. Powdered milk came into my life at a different time than the concept of having a max price I’d pay for an item. (For me that’s an In My Head Price Book.) I didn’t start putting leftovers in salsa tub Tupperware at the same time I decided to buy generic or store brand for everything. TVP and bulghur and beans entered my life at different times. But all of these thrifty skills and habits accumulated, over the years, to become a low grocery bill. I incorporate a new habit every now and then, and add it to the routine.
And so on.

The Squirrels can identify with this. We have often had people ask exactly how we have managed to stay out of debt, have Mama Squirrel stay home with the Squirrelings, etc.; and it is often difficult to answer; or, to be more exact, any honest answer makes it sound more difficult than it has been. At the time we got married, we agreed to keep a running journal of our joint budget and expenses for the year, and to stick as close as possible to the amounts we had agreed on for things like clothes and groceries. We also treated Mama Squirrel's rather paltry wages as extra money but not something to be counted on--which was a good thing, because the Squirrelings started coming along very soon after that. (We still keep a budget binder--it really helps with each year's planning.)

Like LRJohnson, we acquired different habits of saving at different times--or changed them as we went along. There are things we do better now than we did fifteen years ago--those are the habits we've learned. Some things we figured out ourselves or from reading; I think some of the rest are ideas we picked up from watching what our parents and other relatives did. We might not have acted on them until we got married, but they were absorbed!

Some of the habits don't seem money-related; they just involve taking care of things so that they don't have to be replaced as fast or cleaned as often. (We rarely eat meals or have drinks in the car; we don't wear shoes in the house.) We buy store brand groceries, eat leftovers, pass down clothes, go to yard sales, and use/wear/drive things until they won't work/fit/run anymore. (And we try to replace parts before tossing things--that's getting harder to do all the time, though. Most things now are made to be tossed, not fixed, and the parts cost more than the original gizmo.) There are other things we stopped one time I attempted to keep Mr. Fixit's work socks darned, but his workboots kept putting so many holes into them that I gave up. And anyway, he no longer wears workboots.

But there's one other factor that comes into it for us. Along with habits, we needed faithfulness--and we had to be committed to that from the start. Before we knew each other, and even during the year that we dated, we each had different spending patterns than we did post-wedding. We went out for more meals (and fancier ones), we bought more new clothes, we just seemed to go through more cash in general. But somehow, along with the promises we made to be faithful to each other in other ways, we both came into marriage with a feeling of "this money we have now takes care of both of us--so we have to be responsible to each other with it." No spending sprees, no "I worked for this so I should have more of it", no demands for things that the budget wouldn't allow (brand new furniture or vacation cruises), no tossing the toothpaste tube before we'd squished the last squish. I don't know that we ever even sat down and spelled all that out (definitely not the toothpaste part); it was just understood. We also knew that we weren't accountable only to each other: we were responsible to God for what he'd entrusted us with.

And that--as much as frugal habits--is what's kept us solvent.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Only in Canada

Tonight I was reading our family favourite Little Tim and The Brave Sea Captain to Crayons. Then she read some of it back to me. In the story, Tim stows away on a ship and is made to work as a cabin boy. And then the weather gets rough. Crayons read,

"But alas, Tim soon began to feel sick, and when he went down to the galley he could not eat any of the titbits that the cook gave him."

Only she read it "any of the Timbits."

Well, it WAS a Little Tim story.

Postscript: Crayons now says that she wants to be a sailor too.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Good Friday Kiffle

We have a Good Friday food tradition at the Treehouse. Some people eat hot cross buns on Good Friday; we make and eat Mr. Fixit's German grandma's Kiffle.

Kiffle (they sound like kee'-fa-la) are not those rolled-up European pastries called kipfel (although Grandma did make something like that too). These Kiffle are more like Polish Kolacky or Czech Kolache--a small, sweet yeast bun with fruit or jam filling poked into its side. We didn't have an authentic recipe for them from Grandma--I don't know if it was ever written out, she did most of her cooking without recipes. There are Kolacky/Kolache recipes online that sound pretty close-- this one is much like ours only it makes twice as many and uses a whole lot more butter.

The version we came across a few years ago and make every year (because Mr. Fixit says it's reasonably close to his grandma's Kiffle) comes from Dorothy R. Bates' Kids Can Cook vegetarian cookbook, published by The Book Publishing Company in Tennessee (yes, the tofu people). It makes about 24 small rolls, most of which get eaten pretty fast.

(A historical note from Grandma: she told us that when she was growing up in Eastern Europe, the traditional snack on Good Friday was popcorn. So sometimes we make popcorn too.)

Kolacky (or Kiffle)

1. Mix in a small bowl: 1 tbsp. yeast, 1 tsp. honey, 1/4 cup warm water.

2. Cream together: 1 stick (1/2 cup) margarine or butter, softened; 2 tbsp. honey; 1 tsp. salt.

3. Stir in and beat well: 1 egg, 1 cup warm water, 1 cup flour.

4. Add the yeast mixture and stir well together.

5. Slowly add, while stirring: 3 to 4 cups flour. Use enough to make dough soft but not sticky.

6. Turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it a few times. Put it in an oiled bowl and turn it around to coat with oil.

7. Cover bowl with a clean towel. Let rise for about 45 minutes, until doubled in size.

8. Knead down, pinch off balls, the size of a walnut, place on a lightly greased baking sheet.

9. Let rise another 30 minutes.

10 Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Press down the centers with your thumb to make a small hollow. (The online Kolache recipe notes that you have to press down good and hard, because otherwise the indentations will "pop out" while they're baking.) Fill each hollow with 1 tsp. apricot preserves, or peach preserves, or apple butter.

11. When oven is hot, put rolls in oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Tops should be lightly browned.

12. Remove from oven and cool. If desired, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tastes of home

Did you ever notice that, although you might not think too much about what your normal, everyday family food tastes like, it always tastes the best when you've been away and then come back? You get used to your own spices and your own ways of chopping things (or your spouse's, or your mother's), how big you make your muffins, what your regular brand of peanut butter tastes like, whether or not you ice your brownies (or put nuts in them, or put chocolate chips on top)--and you don't notice those things really until you're eating somebody else's food. I remember visiting Quebec a couple of times (a long time ago), and every time I ate lasagna, it had chili pepper flakes in it. Unheard of around here! When Mr. Fixit and Mama Squirrel were on their honeymoon in the mythical days before squirrelings, they stayed at a resort where every night's dinner was something fried and battered: battered fish, chicken nuggets and so on. Finally Mr. Fixit admitted, "I just want to get home and eat some tofu."

For the Beehive folk, it's Texas tacos and cheeseburgers after their trip to Scotland.

For Mr. Fixit, who had to suffer through a fancy filet mignon dinner last night and another fancy lunch today (he REALLY doesn't like sushi), it was coming home to some Kitchener Special tonight.

What's your taste of home?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April Fools Day,by Ponytails.

Today is April Fools Day, and we've done a lot of pranks. To start off the day, Mama put big salad spoons for little spoons to eat cereal. And she put ketchup and relish and mustard on the table for a joke. And Mr. Fixit put a spider under the napkins and pulled it across the table. I knew it was there because I saw the white string. Then we went grocery shopping and I was putting some juice in the freezer and.........I saw a fake spider jumping out at me!!!!! It was then hanging on the Fridge! And when I opened the fridge....I was freaked out at the spider when you see it was hanging on the fridge and when I was opening the fridge the fake spider started crawling up the fridge!!!!!!!!!!! And when I anwsered the phone it was one of my friend's sisters, and for an April Fools Day trick they said that my friend had laryngitis and I couldn't call her for 1 or 2 months!!!!!!!!!