Sunday, September 30, 2007

Not spending at

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking of frugality only in terms of getting good bargains. What is important to remember is that often we can save the most money by not spending at all.--Crystal, Saturday Savings Smorgasbord at Frugal Hacks
Sometimes, frugal as we Squirrels are, it's hard to wrap my brain around that. I have a hard time understanding how those pioneer families managed on their infrequent trips to a store for sugar, salt and shot...or how people concerned with simplicity (who haven't engineered the whole thing ahead of time, stocking up on every possible thing they might run out of) manage to go on one of those no-buying-anything-at-all shopping unbinges.

I mean, some things are obvious to me: if you need to wrap a present and haven't saved up all the bags everybody else has given you presents in, you find some creative wrapping, even the thoroughly-clichéd colour comics. If you're short on baking powder, you can combine baking soda and cream of tartar, assuming that you do have cream of tartar. It makes more sense to use up the getting-dusty bag of split peas to make soup than it does to complain that the canned stuff hasn't gone on sale lately. If you don't have a crib, you can use a playpen (we did). And the list of ways to amuse children and improvise free toys and games can and does go on for pages. That, I get.

But it isn't a toy famine that we're usually experiencing here, nor a lack of furniture. We have more than enough kitchen equipment, lots of books to read, and a flip of the switch provides us with free radio entertainment and edification. What we run out of are the small things. Socks that fit growing feet. Tape. Printer paper. Working ballpoint pens; and I don't think the backyard crows would lend me any quills. Flour (and therefore all the things we make with flour). Toilet paper; and I have no burning desire to start substituting catalogue pages in that regard. Baking powder when there isn't any cream of tartar around. Foil. A VCR that quit working and that Mr. Fixit can't resuscitate. How do you manage without spending at all when life today seems like one big pile of little receipts?
"'What do we need to get in town, Caroline?'

"Ma said they did not need anything. They had eaten so many fish and potatoes that the flour was still holding out, and the sugar, and even the tea. Only the salt was low, and it would last several days."--On the Banks of Plum Creek
I'm looking at this from the perspective of one who went out and BOUGHT a cake this weekend for Ponytails' belated birthday party; not because I'm that lazy generally, but because I haven't felt up to it this week (still under the weather with a cold) and because I didn't particularly want to handle food that five non-Squirreling little girls were going to be eating. Meredith, we could have done the Pepperidge Farm thing too (your baby's cake was beautiful), but at least this took care of the cake, the decorations, and the name--except that the supermarket's cake decorator, despite our having said Ponytails' name clearly several times, wrote "Happy Birthday Aunt Ponytails" on the cake. She then scraped off the "Aunt," leaving the icing somewhat less pristine than it started out and not offering to compensate us for the mistake.

Maybe we would have been better off with Pepperidge Farm. But I digress.

Could I actually go any length of time without buying anything? I know there are so many things you can improvise, and many more that you can just do without. We lived through our hot chocolate mix famine last winter. I really do like using things up and finding ways to use what's in my hand. It's the Year of Abundance, after all.

But then there's the really good candy corn for Thanksgiving from the Bulk Barn...and some classical CDs from Dollarama that will make great stocking stuffers and Secret Sister gifts...and the purple Northern Reflections sweater I found at a rummage sale Friday night (I do need sweaters). And the Turkish Cookbook I got there for a quarter, and a spool knitting set as well. (Crayons thought those were both awesome.) And dancing-class shoes for the younger Squirrelings, because their last-years' pairs are worn out (call them the 2 Dancing Princesses); those cost more than a couple of dollars, but we didn't want them to have to dance in their bare feet.

And that aseptically-packaged apple juice from Giant Tiger for 77 cents a box (amazing deal)...and, if you don't think we should be eating candy and drinking juice (too much sugar), how about the pumpkins and apples and squash and broccoli and the most excellent popcorn that will be gone all too soon when the farm stand closes up for the season? And we just bought a hot-air popper at a yard sale for $2...and a couple of VCRs for about the same price, no kidding. I said VCRs, not videos. See, you have to admit, sometimes spending is just fun. And smart; check the big box stores, VCRs are quickly disappearing from the shelves, and then how are you going to watch all your Star Trek videos?

So while my preferred way of dealing with don't-have-that problems is trying to see another way around it, I'm not going to stress out with guilt over the things we do need to buy. Want to buy.
"And in the lean-to they found a boughten broom! There seemed no end to the wonders in this house."--On the Banks of Plum Creek
Life would certainly go on without a purple sweater and a popcorn popper; I'd wear my old frog-playing-with-a-yo-yo sweatshirt awhile longer, and keep making popcorn in a pot on the stove. If we found ourselves without any means of watching videos, we'd probably read more books or listen to more records. (We found a few of those yard-saling yesterday too. Lena Horne at The Sands, 1961--that would cheer anybody up.) Life goes on no matter what little you have, right? But a few well-spent dollars here and there can be all right too.

[P.S. Update and Little House nitpick: Crayons and I are reading, obviously, On the Banks of Plum Creek. While they're stuck in winter blizzards and living off beans and cornmeal, Pa plays his fiddle and Ma knits. What I want to know is, where did she get the yarn? That's another thing I have a hard time keeping in stock here unless we find a yardsale cache.]

Friday, September 28, 2007

Things to make with PUMPKINS

Expecting a recipe?

No, this is a word game Crayons and I made up during school this morning. Take the letters in PUMPKINS and make as many new words (two letters or longer) as you can. We found 25 reasonable words plus a couple of other questionable/obscure ones. Can you find more than that?

(One to get you started: Crayons found "punk." When I asked her if she knew what that meant, she started dancing. I think Daddy's been playing a few too many rock albums.)

P.S. If you're doing this kind of game with younger children, it helps to use some kind of moveable letters--like Scrabble pieces or fridge letters. We have a container full of alphabet erasers that we use for spelling games.

P.P.S. If you're really looking for pumpkin recipes, check out Carnival of the Recipes: The Great Pumpkin edition.

How's school going? (this and that)

So far most of the term's plans have been working out. Doing the JUMP Math Fractions Unit was definitely a good choice for Ponytails; in fact, now she thinks math is getting a little too easy. She's finding that doing more of her own reading and doing written narrations (especially her Bible readings and Poor Richard) is a bit tougher than she'd like, but it's only a small part of the day. Ponytails also keeps amazing me by getting all her spelling words right. We just learned about General Braddock in Canadian history (yes, it's part of Canadian history too), and we're about to do the fall of Quebec. Reading Robinson Crusoe along with an audio book has worked well too; we're just at the point now where he's getting shipwrecked. Ponytails is unimpressed by Crusoe's tendency to shoot everything that moves, though.

I changed Crayons' Bible schedule; we were going to use the readings from her Bible League Planner, but we found they jumped through too much too fast--especially because they continue over the weekends and she doesn't use the planner then. We've gone back to using Daddy's copy of the Golden Children's Bible, reading the Genesis stories. This is actually very cool, because our study of Turkey has also mentioned the Tigris and Euphrates, Mount Ararat, and Haran (in the story of Abraham). I love it when threads come together unexpectedly like that.

Crayons has been reading books to herself at an awesome speed; I'm glad we can go a little slower with her school time books. We're enjoying the Just So Stories and the rest of Year One; we've also been going through the Little House books at bedtime.

We've done less on crafts than I wanted to this month, but that's partly because the weather's been so good; in all the school days that Crayons circled the weather symbols in her planner, there was only about one day she didn't circle the sun. But there's no big hurry...Christmas is only THREE MONTHS AWAY...

We're taking a bit longer than I expected to work through two books that we're all reading together: Organized KIDZ and Ben Franklin. We're also reading Five Little Peppers together. So it's just as well that I decided to hold off on starting Astronomy and French until later this fall--we're busy enough for now.

And if you want to know how The Apprentice is doing...she's solving equations for x and y using elimination and substitution; exploring problems of ecosystems; watching videos about the early 20th century (with me); teaching the younger Squirrelings how to play chess (okay, she's just learning herself); and her second-year hairstyling class finally gets to Use Scissors. Kind of like student nurses passing their probation in all those old nurse novels...I think she's also reading Emma.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

More Blog World, and get the number of that truck

If you want some good stuff to think about, go see the last few posts at The Dominion Family. Cindy is back from her blogging sabbatical, and she has plenty on her mind.

The proverbial truck has hit the Treehouse, leaving everybody in various stages of a head cold and related nasty things. A lot of it probably has to do with the warmest September we've had in awhile; we've been waiting for the weather to change, and so it did--over the last couple of days when we were all getting this cold, of course. Which, we being an unusual form of human barometers, sends us all deeper into the blechy gloom of just-waiting-to-breathe-again. Actually Mama Squirrel is just a bit sneezy, but Mr. Fixit...well, he took an unusual interest in the ad from the local funeral home that turned up in the mailbox this morning.

Oh well. A good frost and a few days will probably fix things up. At least we have lots of apples around here--unlike Cindy. (Y'all have to come up north!)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pork Meatballs and Other Nice Things

Mr. Fixit has been buying some of our meat at a Polish butcher's/deli store instead of our usual Croatian butcher's--it's a much shorter trip. However, one downside of the deli is that some of the staff don't speak much English. Last week he requested ground beef and brought home ground pork instead, something I've rarely cooked with.

But that's okay. I found a recipe in The Harrowsmith Cookbook for Pork Balls in Wine Sauce, and made the pork balls sans wine sauce. I added a couple of my own adjustments as well, and they turned out really well. Here's my version:

Pork Meatballs

1 lb. ground pork
2 cups fresh bread crumbs (I ran four pieces of pumpernickel bread through the food processor)
1 large egg
1 tsp. salt and a grind of pepper
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
Chopped parsley: I would have added some if I'd had any

Combine the meat with the rest of the ingredients. Form into about twenty small balls, and place on foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or slightly longer at 375 degrees; cut one or two open to check doneness if you're not sure. Let them cool a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing from the foil--they seem to lift off better after they've cooled slightly. Serve with any kind of sauce you like, wine or otherwise.

This is what I did with them: I made the balls ahead of time and left them in the fridge to cool. About half an hour before dinner, I put them into a baking dish and drizzled barbecue sauce over them, then heated them at 350 degrees. You could reheat them in the microwave too. We served them with extra barbecue sauce, baked sweet potatoes (no trick to those, you just cut them in half if they're really big, and then bake them on a pan till they're soft), fresh broccoli, and the pumpernickel bread. The sweet potatoes and broccoli came from the farmstand, so when I say they were fresh I mean bright orange and green, with the right fall flavours.

For dessert we had Gala apples and Raisin Coffeecake Muffins. I hardly ever put nuts in muffins (Mr. Fixit can't eat them), but since they were already going to be full of raisins (another no), I figured it didn't matter; Mr. Fixit was happy with just an apple anyway.

I didn't have any of the Nutriblend flour called for, so I just used whole wheat; unbleached would probably turn out fine too.

Fall meals with fresh food--who needs anything fancier?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Big, furry creatures

Crayons, after watching Harry and the Hendersons:

"What is a Saskatchewan, anyway?"

Crayons, the junior arsonist

Ponytails and Crayons went on a homeschool field trip this week, to the regional police headquarters where they do childrens' safety sessions. Ponytails was in the older kids' group and learned about bike safety. Crayons was in the fire safety group. She got to "stop, drop and roll"; climbed out an "apartment window" down an escape ladder; and was thoroughly drilled in the dangers of playing with matches and the need to check smoke alarms.

"I know a lot about fire safety now," she told us afterwards.

"Now I just need a fire to practice on."


Friday, September 21, 2007

A Child's Garden of Verses

My grandma (who would have been 98 this year) told me that the first poem she ever memorized in school was "The Cow," from Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses.

This is the edition of A Child's Garden of Verses that I had when I was small. (The illustrations are by Elizabeth Webbe.) I remember Grandma reading it to me, and learning "My holes were empty like a cup / In every hole the sea came up / till it could come no more." I knew all about that--we used to holiday at the beach too.

This is the book that The Apprentice had, illustrated by the Provensens, except hers is in a boring library binding. I taught her a tune to "The Wind" years ago, and we still sing it sometimes.
We had a rather poorly printed copy of this red one for awhile, but nobody paid much attention to it.

The lady next door also gave The Apprentice a copy of Donna Green's Leaves From a Child's Garden of Verses, with lovely paintings of tea parties.

And there are so many other editions out there, like those illustrated by Jessie Wilcox Smith, Brian Wildsmith, Tasha Tudor, Gyo Fujikawa...

But this is Crayons' favourite, and I think it's very nice too. It's a Golden Book, published in 1978--not the Little Golden Book edition illustrated by Eloise Wilkin, but the bigger one illustrated by Susan Bonners. The faces of the children in this book aren't the most beautiful. But the fairies in the garden are adorable, particularly a little person in purple who is putting two fairy babies to bed in flower cups. Crayons thinks her purple dress must be made from one of the flowers in the picture.

The other interesting thing about all these editions is that most of them don't contain all the poems in Stevenson's original text. If you don't count the dedication he wrote to his nanny, the Project Gutenberg e-text contains forty-one poems in the first section, plus nine in a block called "The Child Alone," eight called "Garden Days," and six more personal-note kind of poems called "Envoys."

Bonners' book starts with To Any Reader, and then contains The Swing, Foreign Lands, My Ship and I, Where Go the Boats?, Bed in Summer, My Shadow, Block City, Rain, The Flowers, The Hayloft, Farewell to the Farm, Autumn Fires, Windy Nights, Winter-Time, Picture-Books in Winter, The Land of Counterpane, The Land of Nod, Nest Eggs, Young Night-Thought, and The Moon. (21 poems.)

The Provensens' edition (also published by Golden Press) also starts with To Any Reader and includes several of the common poems, but also has several that Bonners' book doesn't have: At the Sea-Side, Travel, The Wind, The Land of Story-Books, From a Railway Carriage, A Good Play, The Cow, Looking Forward, The Little Land, Whole Duty of Children, Singing, The Dumb Soldier, My Kingdom, Time to Rise, Fairy Bread, Pirate Story, My Bed is a Boat, The Lamplighter, and Escape at Bedtime. (32 poems in all.)

Neither of them contains the poem to Alison Cunningham (Stevenson's nurse), A Thought, Auntie's Skirts, System, A Good Boy, Marching Song, The Happy Thought, Keepsake Mill, Good and Bad Children, Foreign Children, The Sun Travels, Looking-Glass River, North-West Passage, The Unseen Playmate, My Treasures, Armies in the Fire, Night and Day, Summer Sun, The Gardener, Historical Associations, and the "envoys" except for "To Any Reader." Some of this is with very good reason: "Little Indian, Sioux, or Crow /Little frosty Eskimo / Little Turk or Japanee, / Oh! don't you wish that you were me?" (Foreign Children) But there are a few treasures tucked into those others as well: "Happy hearts and happy faces, / Happy play in grassy places-- / That was how in ancient ages, / Children grew to kings and sages." (Good and Bad Children) And can we debate the theology behind this one?:


Every night my prayers I say,
And get my dinner every day;
And every day that I've been good,
I get an orange after food.

The child that is not clean and neat,
With lots of toys and things to eat,
He is a naughty child, I'm sure--
Or else his dear papa is poor.

Well, anyway...I can't narrow it down to one favourite. Because if I said we could only keep the Provensens' version, then we'd be missing out on "Fair are grown-up people's trees, / But the fairest woods are these; / Where, if I were not so tall, / I should live for good and all." Not the mention the purple-gowned fairy that goes with it. And "The kirk and the palace, the ships and the men, / And as long as I live and where'er I may be, / I'll always remember my town by the sea." But how can you have A Child's Garden without The Lamplighter and Escape at Bedtime?

So it's settled. We'll keep them all.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Noah's Daughter

Crayons and I were reading the story of Noah from an illustrated Bible storybook. The illustration shows some forlorn-looking giraffes and other animals swimming away from the Ark, and a few people stranded on a rock.

Crayons: "Boy, if I was there, I'd make sure I was Noah's daughter."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

CM and Us and The Great Outdoors

The Muddy Puddle
by Dennis Lee

I am sitting in the middle
Of a rather Muddy Puddle,
With my bottom full of bubbles
And my rubbers full of mud,

While my jacket and my sweater
Go on slowly getting wetter
As I very slowly settle
To the Bottom of the Mud.

And I find that what a person
With a puddle round his middle
Thinks of mostly in the muddle
Is the Muddiness of Mud.
Unlike some of our nearest dearest CM friends' offspring, our Squirrelings have grown up with some mud and dirt restrictions. Call it overcaution. Call it urban life. Call it the parental ick factor. Whatever. We just don't do a lot of mudpies and backyard earthworks. Certain large squirrels in our treehouse grew up surrounded by nasty stories about what cats do in sandboxes and what toxins might be in this stuff we call soil, and the effects of that early training have not been diminished by the years. The Squirrelings' experiences with muddy puddles, wading in creeks, camping out, dogs, horses, and farm animals have been at somewhat of a distance. (Have you heard what kinds of things are passed around in petting zoos?...ugh, just another thing to cross off the list.)

However, when I start thinking about it, I realize that we have done our share of getting dirty, wet, snowy and/or buggy over the years; and a lot of it has been right in our yard. The Squirrelings can recognize most of our backyard birds: robins, crows, finches, mourning doves, robins, cardinals, and occasionally a hummingbird, a flicker, or a grackle. They love taking care of the occasional caterpillars that crawl across the patio (even one that we found on a cob of corn), and examining even the icky bugs under a magnifying glass. They know our maple trees very well, and the neighbourhood evergreens. They've played games with horse chestnuts, watched ants, and watched the variety of small mammals that show up in our yard: squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and occasionally the nocturnal visitors like raccoons. (We have a big window just above ground level that lets squirrels and birds get right up close without realizing they're onstage.) They've been bothered by bees and bitten by mosquitoes. They've picked tomatoes, transplanted geraniums, and raked leaves. They saw a big tree come down and two more planted in its place.

Occasionally we do get further afield (I think of nature walks around the block as just an extension of our yard). They have had opportunities to get to know the beach, the sand, the pebbles, the water, the sky over Lake Huron. They've been to the woods--not as often as we'd like, but enough to get an idea of the quietness and the bigness of a hundreds-years-old kind of place. They've been outside at night to look for Orion's Belt, and we're hoping to get the younger ones to a local observatory a couple of times this year as part of their astronomy study.

And we go on all kinds of trips through our books. We've been in the blazing sun, poking at a badger and chasing prairie dogs with Laura. We've been in a beaver pond with Paddle. We've even been in the Secret Garden.

So, while I truly envy the abandon of those who don't mind their bottoms full of bubbles, maybe we're not so badly off either.
I Never Saw A Moor
by Emily Dickinson.

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


The Apprentice's study hall period is officially called MSIP. Multi-Subject Instructional Period. (Some would call it a complete waste of students' and teachers' time, but we won't go there.)

So Ponytails decided that we should rename our homeschool tablework time MSIK. It stands for Mom and Sisters In Kitchen.

Good years, better years, best years

Some homeschool years just seem to come together right. The kids are a particularly nice mix of ages, something sparks an interest, the threads of learning seem to make sense, nobody's having a particularly dreadful time with math. Those years you think to yourself, over and over, "I wouldn't trade this time for anything."

Some years go by fine, without too much excitement one way or the other.

Some years you can count the gray hairs sprouting daily. Those years don't mean that homeschooling is a bad thing or that you're a failure and the kids would really be better off in public school or that next year won't be better. It just means you're having a tough year. (Note to self: paste that on the bathroom mirror as needed.)

And this year is shaping up to be...well, it's still September. But I'm already pleased with some of the good things that are happening. Some weren't even of my doing, but they're making things go more smoothly anyway.

One funny thing that's kicking off our mornings a bit more smoothly these days is that The Apprentice has an early class this year, and when she's up and moving, everybody else has to get moving too. Not so great for The Apprentice (although the early class isn't too strenuous, just study hall), but at least it forces a lot of otherwise sleepy Squirrels into a definite weekday routine. At the other end of the day, The Apprentice usually settles in to do some homework in the dining room, and Mama Squirrel sticks around for moral support and checking-the-answers-in-the-back as needed. Even when the math problems are tough, there's a satisfaction in still being her coach and cheerleader, if not always her teacher.

Between those bookends, we have the delight of a first-year Ambleside Onliner getting to know the Just-So Stories and Paddle-to-the-Sea. I have the pleasure of seeing how well Ponytails is doing with her JUMP Math unit, and feeling that math is suddenly less stressful, more successful. We sit on an afghan, pretend it's our flying carpet, and sing Geography Songs before reading more about the landscape of Turkey. (I hear Crayons in the bathtub singing to herself, "16 countries of south-west Asia, Muslims, Christians and Jews.") We haul out the science kit and Ponytails is the one who figures out how to put the stethoscope together. The Squirrelings help time each other on Calculadder, and administer encouragement ("You got 57 of them today, and yesterday you only got 55!") I hear people asking me to read just one more chapter, both of our school books and of the extra readalouds that have snuck in there during the day.

Last week someone asked one of the Squirrelings what she likes to do for fun, and the answer was "school."

That's how I know it's going to be a good year. That and the fact that we've had less-than-perfect years too.

Unfortunately, when you're having a not-so-good year, or even a not-so-good week, sometimes you do not want to hear how well other peoples' children are doing. I posted one of Crayons' best narrations to the Ambleside Online list this week, and sent somebody else into tears over it because her child's narration consisted of "blerwm blerwm." ("So, when the bards and the heralds came to cry largess, and to proclaim the power of the king, and his strength, at the moment when they passed by the corner wherein he was crouching, Taliesin pouted out his lips after them, and played, “Blerwm, blerwm!” with his finger upon his lips.") Believe me, we've had our share of blerwm blerwm too. [Clarification: they weren't narrating from Taliesin; I just put that in there because of the blerwm blerwm.]

And then there was the awesome mom who posted to the same list about driving hours to take her kids to art exhibits and doing fantastic things with Shakespeare--that made me feel a bit blerwmish too.

But on the other hand, there was an article today in the local paper about math teaching in public schools, that tipped things back towards thinking again that we must be doing all right.
"Recently [the grade 3 teacher] taught the children to count by fives, using Popsicle sticks. She had them sit in a circle and line up four Popsicle sticks in a row, with a coloured one laid diagonally across each pile.

"Then she asked how many Popsicle sticks there were. One student crawled into the middle of the circle and counted up the piles: "Five, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 45 . . ." he said and paused at the final two sticks. "Forty-seven" he called.

"The class applauded him. 'Good job!' she praised, and then sent the children to sit down with worksheets where they again had to add the "bundles" of lines arranged five to a pile.

"Instead of having the children write down the correct totals, though, she had them choose the right answer from some numbers printed on the bottom of the sheet. They were to cut out the right number and glue it in the proper spot.

"The children were enjoying cutting and feeling the texture of the glue stick under their fingernails.

"'Children at this age are very visual and very kinesthetic,' she said. They learn by seeing and often need to move around while learning, even if it's just working with glue."
OK, I know it's still September, and maybe that was a review lesson--but cutting and pasting answers in grade 3? And Crayons (grade 1) has been doing that same kind of counting-by-fives-plus-whatever's-left. Without crawling on the floor, I might add. Or needing to get glue stick under her fingernails.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chef Earl's Soup (and Ruby Red Rutabagas)

[Reposted from October 2006, for the Diet Edition Recipe Carnival, and because I am going to make a big potful of this tomorrow.]

In February 2003, Canadian Living Magazine published a story about chef Earl Johnson's way-better-than-your-average-cafeteria-food at Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg. They followed up that October (after many requests) with some of his recipes. We've been making his Potage Paysanne ever since, on cold days and when we can manage to get turnip (we use rutabaga), parsnips, leeks and parsley all in our fridge at the same time. (Sometimes we leave one or the other of those things out.) [Update: when I made this batch, we had a couple of cooked sausages in the fridge, so I sliced those into the soup instead of starting with bacon. It's a very forgiving recipe. Sorry about that if you're looking for a diet recipe, but you know what, you could also leave the bacon and sausage out entirely and just make it a vegetable soup.]

Now Mama Squirrel must be unflinchingly honest: she hates rutabaga. Rutabaga crumble, rutabaga casserole, rutabaga disguised with apples and spices--it's still rutabaga. Rutabaga raw and sliced is tolerable; and Earl's soup makes it taste...well, about as good as you're going to get a rutabaga to taste. We figured if Earl could convince the teenagers in Winnipeg to eat this, it must have something going for it.And it gives us one way to eat our ruby-red rutabagas with a smile.

(I'm not posting the recipe, in case you wondered or missed the link; Canadian Living did it nicer than I can, here.)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Win-win math teaching

"We underestimate children by assuming that they will only enjoy learning concepts that have obvious physical models or applications. While I would encourage a teacher to serve pieces of pie or pizza to their class to illustrate a point about fractions, this is not the only way to get kids interested in math. Children will happily play a game with numbers or mathematical symbols, even if it has no obvious connections to the everyday world, as long as the game presents a series of interesting challenges, has clear rules and outcomes, and if the person playing the game has a good chance of winning. Children are born to solve puzzles: in my experience, they are completely happy at school if they are allowed to exercise their minds and to show off to a caring adult. What children hate most is failure. They generally find mathematical rules and operations boring only because those things are often poorly taught, without passion, in a manner that produces very few winners." --John Mighton, JUMP Math: Teacher's Manual for the Fractions Unit (Second Edition), copyright 2005, JUMP Math.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

More math lore

Or math with Lore.

The Miquon math lessons are going so well that I keep wanting to get them down somewhere...not like I'm going to use them again (Crayons is our baby!), but it's nice to remember what worked and what didn't. Or maybe somebody else can use the ideas.

Yesterday we used the Trend object/numeral/written number cards again--I tell ya, those things can be really useful. The First Grade Diary suggested doing pages A-4 and A-5 in the first workbook--that is, writing the correct numeral beside groups of objects, and then drawing the right number of objects beside a numeral. I think Crayons did those sheets last year, and anyway I had the feeling that an assignment like "draw objects" would turn into an all-morning artistic masterpiece, so I decided to do the same thing with the cards. I sorted out the 56 cards into pairs--matching up the "8" card with the "eight" card and so on. Actually that would have been another good job for Crayons, but I was in a hurry--I'll let her do it next time. I took five of the pairs and laid half of them on the floor objects-up, the other half numeral-up. All she had to do was match the object card with the right numeral. Then I gave her five more cards to match objects-numerals; then five more to match objects-written number name; then finally five to match numeral-written number name. She had no problem with any of this, but it's nice to see for sure what she does know how to do.

Today we did several rod activities in a row. First Crayons built another set of colour stairs (all the rods arranged from shortest to longest). Then, following the activities given for "September 21," I asked her to put one each of the four shortest rods behind her back--that is, a 1 cm, a 2 cm, a 3 cm, and a 4 cm (white, red, light green, and purple). I asked her to pull out, by feel, various rods: the biggest, the smallest, the one that was half the size of the red rod, and a light green rod. Then I took a set as well, and we each added a 5 cm (yellow) rod to our handfuls, and Crayons asked me to pull out different colours of rods. I think this is a neat activity for involving sense of touch with math.

Still following the book, we "climbed the rod stairs" with a white rod, noticing that on each step up there's a gap the size of the white rod. (Meaning that the difference between each length of rod is 1 cm.)

Then I read from the book that Lore asked a girl named Lynn how many white rods make a yellow rod, and that Lynn said four. I asked Crayons if Lynn was right; she wasn't sure, so she measured a yellow rod with white rods--nope, it took five. I said, "If you count down from the top of the stairs, the yellow rod is the fifth rod down. So here's the bonus question: how many white rods do you think it takes to make a dark green rod? (the next rod down from the yellow?" "Six, of course."

Of course.

And that's another morning of math without a worksheet.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Fall Term Picture Study: Robert Harris

This term we aren't following the Ambleside Online rotation for picture study; since we're also doing two Canadian musicians (rather than composers per se) for music appreciation, I thought we would match that in our art study by doing some paintings by Robert Harris (1849-1919).

Although Harris did some very recognizable Canadian paintings, it isn't all that easy to find information about him, except online, or unless you live in Prince Edward Island (we don't). Our public library has exactly one adult biography of Harris.

However, since we live in this golden age of technology, books aren't our only resource. There's a photograph of him here, a Wikipedia bio, a lesson plan about his life, a gallery of some of his paintings, another site with some pictures and notes, a teacher's guide to using Harris paintings to teach about Canadian symbols, and a few other paintings scattered online. Not to mention the Historica Minutes Vignette (i.e. one of those T.V. commercials) of his painting "A Meeting of the School Trustees."

So I think we can scrape half a dozen or so picture lessons together for this term. These are the six I'm planning on using, not necessarily in this order:

1. "Harmony," 1886.

2. "A Meeting of the School Trustees," 1885.

3. Portrait of Sir John A. Macdonald, 1890 "Robert Harris` most famous portrait of the first Prime Minister of Canada. Sir John A Macdonald was quoted as saying 'Paint me, warts and everything' and that is what Harris did for this most impressive portrait."

4. Cartoon for "Meeting of the Delegates of British North America to Settle the Terms of Confederation, Quebec, October 1864," 1883. The painting is better known as "The Fathers of Confederation." A cartoon, in this sense, isn't meant to be funny; it was more of a mock-up for the final painting; which was, unfortunately, destroyed in a fire in 1916.

5. One landscape--which one, I haven't decided yet.

6. "Last Days of Burns," which isn't online that I can see.

7. A nature-sketching lesson based on these lesson plans and an untitled sketch from Harris's nature notebooks--which also isn't online, so if I want to use this I think I'm going to have to go beyond the public library, or just make it not a Harris study at all (I just liked the idea for a drawing/nature lesson). [Update: I found the thumbnails here--there are three views of his nature notebook.]

And maybe this one:

8. "School at Canoe Cove, P.E.I.," ca. 1880.

Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries

It's childhood-memories week at the Carnival of the Recipes.

I don't think I had an unusual childhood, food-wise. We went through all the fads and phases of '60's, '70's and '80's food, including my mom's treks into wokking and Weight Watchers. It's hard to pin down one food or one recipe that evokes childhood for me, unless it's the smell of a just-opened can of evaporated milk--and I don't think a baby formula recipe will do, exactly, for a Carnival of Recipes.

Or maybe it's Jelly Tots, or Neilson Rosebuds, or Bottle Caps Candy, or those cookies my grandma used to buy that were cookie on the bottom and then pink marshmallow with coconut on top. Also not too practical for a recipe carnival.

But the one thing we used to have that I hardly ever see any more (unless we're at a restaurant offering farm-style desserts) is elderberry pie. Gritty and seedy--Edna Staebler says "gravelly"--a bit strong-tasting unless you were the kind of kid who liked mincemeat too...but delicious in its own way. This is the recipe from Staebler's classic cookbook Food That Really Schmecks.

Elderberry Pie

Pastry for a deep pie, double crust
3 cups elderberries (you have to pick them all off the stems)
4 tbsp. flour
1 cup white sugar
2 tbsp. butter

Mix the sugar and flour; sprinkle a third of the mixture on the pastry. Put in half the berries. Sprinkle with half the remaining sugar mixture. Put in remaining berries and sprinkle remaining sugar on top. Dot with butter, put on top crust with vents for steam. Bake for 45 minutes in a 350-degree oven (Edna's recipe says--but you could start it higher for 10 minutes if you prefer and then turn it down).

Monday, September 03, 2007

Grade One French

(For a more general look at what we do for French, see Teaching French in the Treehouse.)

I promised to describe our Grade One French text, so here it is: "Le français partout: AUX YEUX DES PETITS, Teacher's Text (Revised Edition)," by Marthe G. Laurin, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston of Canada Ltd., distributed in the U.S. by Winston Press (Minneapolis), copyright 1971, 1972. I can tell by the price inside the cover that I must have picked this up at the downtown thrift shop, probably about eight years ago. I used parts of it with the Apprentice when she was in about the fourth grade; I went through the whole thing with Ponytails when she was in grade one; and I'm planning on using a large part of it with Crayons this coming year.

This book came out of the heyday of Trudeau-era bilingual fervour in the early 1970's.
"'[Sophie] may even teach your children some French,' Mrs. Thurstone put in slyly. 'Isn't that the latest thing for parents to want in this bilingual country? Ha!'

"Emily could not decide what the 'Ha!' meant, but she did know the old lady was right. She had heard her parents talk of how little French they knew, how much they hoped Emily would learn to speak it fluently. It was an important part of being a Canadian, her father had said."--Jean Little, Look Through My Window, 1970
Well, for once the textbook makers seem to have gotten it right, because this course, aimed at kindergarten or grade one children, is fun and very sensible. The daily lessons are short and all scripted out--fifteen minutes or less, including time for greetings, a short script using a felt board and/or real objects, and a song or a short game.

Inevitably, the teacher's book itself was supposed to be packaged with a whole lot of other stuff that I've never seen (the items are pictured inside the book): felt board cutouts and backgrounds, posters, and cassette tapes. (There are no illustrations in the book; it's strictly for the teacher to follow.) We've always improvised our own cutouts to go along with the story, which follows a family with three children through the seasons. A lot of the vocabulary is repeated through the year in different contexts: for instance, you teach a few colours early on with real objects, and later name the colours of the balls on a Christmas tree. The children are encouraged to answer simple questions or to point to objects, but aren't expected to repeat everything back.

The seasonal emphasis works well as long as you can work through the program from September to June; otherwise it would be awkward since you'd be doing Halloween lessons (parts of a pumpkin face) in February or whatever. Some of the lessons are very Canadian (and I can sympathize with Denise in this story):

"Il fait froid. (It's cold.)
C'est l'hiver. (It's winter.)
Antoine et Alain jouent au hockey. (Antoine and Alain are playing hockey.)
Denise regarde Antoine et Alain. (Denise watches Antoine and Alain.)
Denise a froid. (Denise is cold.)
Elle a froid aux mains. (Her hands are cold.)
Elle a froid aux pieds. (Her feet are cold.)
Elle a froid aux oreilles. (Her ears are cold.)
Elle a froid au nez. (Her nose is cold.)
Denise entre dans la maison. (Denise goes in the house.)"--Chapter 5, Week 4, Day 3 (translations mine)

The fact that this particular book is almost impossible to find shouldn't deter anyone from making up similar lessons; we've made up a few of our own as well. We had a lesson once with bananas that went something like "Crayons, give Ponytails the banana. Ponytails has the banana. Apprentice takes the banana from Ponytails. Apprentice, give the banana to Mom" and so on.
"She tried asking Sophie to teach her some French. But Sophie did not want to speak French. She insisted Emily give her lessons in English instead. [Three-year-old] Ann was the only one who was learning any French, much to the disappointment of the adults....As the days passed, she learned to say in perfect French 'I am so slow!' 'I have the head of a cabbage!' and 'How stupid I am!'...."--Look Through My Window
The back part of the book contains several "comptines" (little chants) and folk songs, mostly short ones like this:

"Tourne, tourne, mon moulin; Tap'! Tap'! Tap'! les petites mains."

The actions for this and other songs are given in the lessons--this one is about a mill turning around, so you act that out and then clap your hands. From our own experience, these are a lot of fun and a good way to practice "sounding French" even if all the words aren't understood.

My only wish is that I could find followup books in the same series--if they exist-- and that they'd be as good! Apparently there is a 1967 book called "Le français partout 1," but I haven't seen it--there's a copy out in B.C. though, so maybe I'll send for it to see what it's like.

So anyway, that's how we get started with French.

[Embarrassing-Oversight Update: I neglected to mention that this book would be less than useful if you can't pronounce French or decipher the phrases used in the lessons. There are no translations given--you're on your own, especially since you don't have the benefit of the long-vanished cassette tapes.]

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Some good reasons to homeschool

Becky's Book Reviews posted the poem "First Day of School" by Judith Viorst. An excerpt:

And what if they say, "Do this," and I don't understand them?
And what if there's teams, and nobody picks me to play?
And what if I took off my sneakers, and also my socks, and also my jeans, and my sweatshirt and T-shirt,
And started the first day of school on the second day?
Hey, now there's an idea...