Monday, November 26, 2007

Making stuff

There have been holidays in the past when we've made a lot of gifts and decorations--usually when I remembered to get started really early.
And there have been other years when I don't think the glue came out for most of December. Sometimes we make gifts of the food kind, not the crafty kind. Coffee mix, or homemade candy. (This is one food gift we're giving this year. This one also looks very yummy.)

But I do like to crochet, when I have the right kind of yarn around. On the weekend I was fishing through a bag of stuff I'd picked up at a rummage sale, and found a whole spool of something red and shiny called "Corneta Metallic Yarn for Handknitting." This stuff is very fine, like fine tinsel; too fine to crochet by itself unless maybe you're a mouse or a Borrower; but when I used it with another old ball of red Speed-Cro-Sheen, it worked great. I had enough of the Speed-Cro-Sheen to make four coasters and another decoration. (picture coming soon) Now I'm going to figure out what else I could put the metallic yarn with--maybe some white crochet cotton.

And of course I blew the "what's in my hand" by going to Michael's to buy some Stiffy. So if you get a very stiff and/or metallic Christmas present from me, you'll know why.
I am intrigued by this homemade gift at Like Merchant Ships, which I won't name in case someone close to me might be getting some (Apprentice, keep your mouse away from that link). Follow the links and enjoy Meredith's usual beautiful packaging as well. (There are more of Meredith's packaging ideas on Frugal Hacks today too.)

We spent most of today cleaning, not crafting...I have this Advent instinct that calls out for space, room. Clutter and dust bunnies cleaned out both literally and metaphorically; the last of the Halloween candy eaten; space made for holiday decorations to come. But once we get that taken care of, we will find time to get creative too. 

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Waving our homeschool catalogues, or, are we really prepared?

Jacci M at The Educational Life has a thought-provoking post about the naïveté shared by many new homeschoolers (green as grass, right?): how can we, without formal teacher's training or experience, dare to say we are prepared to teach our children? Her solution is a good dose of Charlotte Mason's books, and I'd go along with that.

However, I'm not so sure that we, coming into homeschooling, are necessarily as unprepared, or as different from any other new teachers, as her scenario suggests:
She [your child's imagined teacher] smiles a cheerful smile and explains that this will be her first year teaching. Although she went to college, she really has very little actual training in education. Her degree was in history. She did very well academically, though, and has always loved children. She babysat a lot as a teenager and was the oldest of four children. She's looked through teacher catalogs a lot, too, so she feels that she's fairly ready. Understandably, you're a little taken aback. Has she ever taught a child to read? What about handwriting? Does she have experience there? Or math? Did she receive any training in teaching math to young children? What are her thoughts on children's literature? Does she know how she will make sure the children are processing what they are reading? Her answer to all of your questions is, basically, "no". She seems very relaxed about it, though, and very matter-of-factly says that she has the curriculum the school system provided, and she will just learn along with the class.
Yeah, I know, that's how the school system and a lot of non-homeschoolers see us. As if we hadn't yet penetrated the mysteries of my husband's grandmother used to say darkly, just wait, you'll see.

However, is this hypothetical homeschooler much different from any other first-year teacher? Where I live, a B.Ed. is a post-grad degree, so every new teacher has a bachelor's in something or other--same as this story--plus One Year of Teacher's Ed. Is that long enough to make you an expert in teaching? If lacking one year of university classes and a couple of practice-teaching sessions is all that separates me from a first-year "professional teacher," I don't know why I should feel much behind. In my own pre-homeschool experience (that's up until The Apprentice was four), I would include all the babysitting and so on (and don't make light of that) plus several years of Sunday School teaching, volunteering in what was then called a TMR class, tutoring a special-needs student, directing camp arts and crafts for a summer (yeah, me), doing library music and movement programs for a summer (yeah, me again), volunteering at my toddler's weekly community-centre program, and taking several relevant university courses (developmental psychology, children's literature and so on). Had I ever taught anybody to read?--not from the ground up, unless you count playing school with my little sister. (Did that end up mattering?--well, no, all my Squirrelings have learned to read, with or without my help.)

But even more important than that--I had the luxury of a couple of years of "apprenticing" before I jumped in myself. I went to homeschool meetings and at least two conferences during that time, and I listened. And yes, along with talking to the real-life homeschoolers at the meetings, at church and down the street, I had the privilege of "meeting" Charlotte Mason, Ruth Beechick, Gayle Graham, Valerie Bendt, Mary Pride, Cathy Duffy, and other teaching parents who had written down what they'd learned. Oh, and John Holt. By the time I was ready to, figuratively, take my place at the front of the classroom, I had a very good idea of what was and wasn't going to work for us, and even some idea of why.

And you CAN learn a lot by browsing teacher catalogues--both the homeschool-friendly variety and the other kind. The best homeschool catalogues have detailed and sometimes critical descriptions and comparisons of the products (does anyone else in Ontario still miss Lifetime Canada/Maple Ridge Books?). And the other kind...well, as I've said before, you can at least learn from them what you don't need.

Besides, you're not presuming to sit in front of a class of thirty, waving your catalogue as qualification; you are planning to provide the brain-food for your own children. This week, this month. You do not need a teaching degree to follow Ambleside Online's Crisis Plan, to read them a chapter of Understood Betsy and play "Cup of Twenty." Homeschooling methods are, and should be, somewhat different from public school ones; remember that we don't have to slice bread with a chainsaw.

So while I would strongly agree with Jacci's advice to new homeschoolers (learn from the best parent-teacher-education resources you can get hold of, including Charlotte Mason's works; strive to understand what and why you do what you do; learn the best methods you can and base them on solid educational and spiritual philosophy), I would also like to reassure those who want to homeschool and maybe feel like they're not qualified (didn't finish college or whatever). Understand that being your children's parent, in at least one sense, qualifies you. Yes, you can learn more; and no, a browse through a catalogue is probably not enough to get you going. But you can learn, and much better and faster than the teachers' unions and other naysayers would like you to believe. (Feetnote: Jacci's not a naysayer, just to clarify that.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Still my favourite cookies

Last March I posted a longtime family favourite, Doreen Perry's cookies. We still don't know who Doreen Perry is; if you do, you can thank her for the recipe.

I made a batch this morning (actually while I was waiting for lunch to heat up) that included cornflakes and butterscotch chips. If you make them small enough, this variation is almost holiday-worthy. Who needs fancier?

(P.S.: I know the recipe says to use ungreased pans, but I have had better luck spraying the pans first. Try it and see which works better for you.)

Charlotte Mason would be horrified

Books and Bairns (one of the nominees for Best Cyber-buddy) has a must-read post about a public-schooled kid who--not of her own choosing--does Not Have a Life outside of her schoolwork. She just doesn't have time--read the post and you'll see why.

Reminded me of this:
"These seemed a great many lessons for one small girl. 'Chivvied from morning to night--that's what she is,' Belinda reported in the words of Mrs Bodger. 'Nothing but putting clothes on and taking them off, and practising and lessons, lessons, lessons.'

"Mother was disturbed at this. 'Every child should have some private time,' she said, 'time of her own and time for play.'"--Little Plum, by Rumer Godden

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Whatever, it's all orange stuff

A real what's in your hand this morning: our grocery trip last Saturday was very hurried, and we missed several things: laundry soap, extra milk, extra flour, Parmesan cheese.

We did manage to replenish the allspice! (been short of that for weeks, and I refused to pay the price of the little cans; so I was happy that Saturday's store, while charging Yukon-worthy produce prices, did have a bulk section.)

With me so far?

I read Meredith's post about making Pumpkin Pie Playdough (the recipe is also in her post), and for some reason--although my Squirrelings are getting a bit beyond the playdough stage--I thought this dreary wet morning would be a good one for a potful of warm playdough, especially if it didn't smell like cooked salt. I didn't have enough flour for the whole recipe, so I halved it, and it turned out fine. I also didn't have pumpkin pie spice, so I used this recipe (quadrupled it for a half recipe of playdough). (Yay, allspice.)

So it was fun playing with the dough (yes, I squished along a bit too while we listened to an old radio show). But you can't EAT I decided to use up the bit of flour that was left on some pumpkin bread. We didn't have any pumpkin, but there was some cooked butternut squash from last night--so I pureed that along with the other liquid ingredients. (And the allspice.) Squash, sweet potato, pumpkin--they all mash up about the same, and they're all good in baking.

And now it's baked, the flour is gone, and the rain will probably turn into snow in the next day or so. I think we're going to make a fast run to Giant Tiger tonight so we can at least have clean clothes and pancakes...blizzard or not.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What's in Your Hand / Year of Abundance

Buster's Poem:
"These are the things that make me nauseous:
Gloppy green goop that drips from faucets.
Blue hair that grows on slices of bread.
When your big old dog drools in your bed.....
And people who eat creamed corn with their mouths open so you can see it.
The End!" --by Buster Baxter

Mama Squirrel's Poem:
"These are the things that make me irritated:
Our family doctor who's absconded to a group clinic without so much as a by-your-leave
(you have to drive there even to make an appointment, unless it's one of the two afternoons a week when you can phone and get a live person, subject to change without notice);
The person behind the pharmacy counter who wastes Mr. Fixit's time trying to spell his name and then ignores his insurance card, forcing him to pay for the prescription out of his pocket;
The Canadian Tire store rearranged again with the car stuff hidden even further at the back
and the kitchen light bulbs away from the light fixtures altogether
(but of course all the Christmas junk is right up at the front);
When my kid's brand new knit top shrinks on the first washing
(even when I did follow the little pictures on the label);
And computerized telemarketers who phone me in the middle of math lessons."

What does that have to do with the Deputy Headmistress's week of doing without a barrette and putting up an old-tire retaining wall?


Thankfulness that, unsatisfactory as these new medical arrangements are, there's still at least someone there if you get sick (we hope), and that Mr. Fixit was able to be examined by our doctor and get a prescription for some of his allergy issues (long story). Thankfulness that his one day of feeling horribly sick this week (he got into some dust) has been followed by much better ones.

Thankfulness that we did have the money to pay for the prescription upfront, and that the insurance will (eventually) pay it back.

Thankfulness that we do have electric lights and can replace the burned-out ceiling bulb (we had one dinner this week by oil lamp).

Thankfulness that we do have a slightly younger Squirreling who will happily wear the now-too-tight top. Thankfulness that we are not living in the days of one dress for everyday and one for Sunday. (Crayons and I are reading Little House at the Crossroads.)

As for the telemarketers...well, at least computers don't mind being promptly hung up on.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Crockpots rock

Mostly for my own remembering: Mama Lion has a post about crockpot cooking, and MomToCherubs adds some good crockpot sites in the comments section.

P.S. I like this page about "Slow Cooker Sundays" too.

If your blogroll was full of famous writers

Then when would you have time to read all the grocery lists and recipes that the rest of us post?

But seriously...In a Spacious Place has a post with links to blogs that are actually writings-of-the-day by G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Flannery O'Connor. (And don't forget your daily dose of Charlotte Mason--still continuing!)

Think of them as--what's the name of that other blog--"Mental Multivitamins."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

What's in the grocery cart?

Javamom wants to know.

OK...I'm deciphering this from yesterday's grocery receipt. We were not being either particularly frugal or particularly healthy-minded on this trip, just so you know. And we were already stocked up on baking supplies and canned goods, so there aren't many on the list.

Box of frozen beef patties
piece of liver sausage
piece of pepperoni
1 package wieners

2 bags of bagels
Bag of hamburger buns
4 loaves of bread
1 bag of mini-croissants

1 little box of raspberries
1 bag of green grapes
1 bunch bananas
1 kg pears
1 bag of Gala apples
1 can cranberry sauce

1 container banana chips
1 bag walnuts
2 cans frozen orange juice
1 bottle of grape juice

2 green peppers
1 acorn squash
1 small pumpkin
1 big bag regular carrots and 1 little bag mini carrots
1 bag onions
1 bag frozen Italian vegetables
2 packages soft tofu

2 cans chicken noodle soup (Crayons has a cold), 1 can beef-barley soup
4 boxes of whole-wheat pasta (on sale for a dollar a box)

1 sleeve of mini-yogurts
1 doz. eggs (for Javamom: large eggs were $2.20 Canadian a dozen)
4 L 2% milk
three bars of cheese (on sale)
500 g cottage cheese
1 lb. margarine

A couple of frozen burritos for high school lunches
1 box of granola bars for high school lunches
A chocolate orange (a Christmas present to put away)

1 box tissues
1 big pack of toilet paper.

Now, how am I supposed to label this one??

Do the Math (Tofu Pie Revisited)

I've had this craving for Tofu Chocolate Pie, but I never seemed to have all the right ingredients around at once. I bought a jar of fruit spread a long time ago, but we ended up eating it on toast. Then we didn't have chocolate. Then we didn't have any occasion for quite awhile that demanded a whole chocolate pie (and if you've tried this recipe, you know it's rich and you just can't eat a big piece at once). (Okay, yes, I know we did demolish a whole Halloween Trifle a couple of weeks ago. It's not like we haven't had dessert lately.)

Yesterday I bought some tofu. We had some preserves that would work, some chocolate, and even some graham crumbs for the crust. Still not enough people around to do justice to a whole pie. Then my "Duh" lightbulb went on. Cut it in half, stupid.

No, not the pie. The recipe.

This is what I did:

Made a graham-crumb crust in an 8-inch square pan. I usually use 1 1/2 cups of crumbs for my large 9-inch pie pan; I decided to use two-thirds the normal amount since we like crumb crust. So: 1 cup crumbs, 2 tbsp. sugar, 1/4 cup oil, bake about 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Melted 4 squares of unsweetened chocolate in the microwave.

Drained 1 300-gram package of soft tofu.

Combined in the food processor: the tofu, the melted chocolate, 1/2 tsp. vanilla, 1/2 cup liquid honey, 1/2 cup mixed fruit preserves. Blended it until it was very smooth.

Smoothed the mixture over the crumb crust and put it in the fridge.

And we're going to have it topped with a few raspberries, for fancy. But you could put whipped cream or tofu topping on top if you wanted.

OK, so I'm slow. But eventually these things do figure themselves out.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Notes from a Book Talk

(Adapted from a talk I wrote for a support group meeting. Are you sitting comfortably?)

Books Fall Open

by David McCord

Books fall open, you fall in
Delighted where you’ve never been
Hear voices not once heard before
Reach world on world through door on door
Find unexpected keys to things
Locked up beyond imaginings
What might you be, perhaps become
Because one book is somewhere?
Some wise delver into wisdom, wit and wherewithal has written it
True books will venture, dare you out
Whisper secrets, maybe shout
Across the gloom to you in need
Who hanker for a book to read.

When Mr. Fixit and I were at the beginning of our journey together, one of us once gave the other one a gift bag with a Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on it and the words, "As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen." That's almost identical to a chapter title in Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Child’s Heart (at least the 1978 edition, which is what I have): "The Pleasure of a Shared Adventure."

Reading is an adventure, and even better, it can be a shared adventure.

What do you need for an adventure? You need some place to go—often some place unknown. Adventures require at least a bit of the unexpected, the unknown, a bit of uncertainty; “things locked up beyond imaginings.” Most adventures don’t happen right in your own backyard. To have a real adventure you need to step outside, push beyond your comfort zone.

Real adventures can include buried treasure, answering riddles, fighting dragons, outwitting giants. They include big problems and big decisions.

Adventures go better with food. Apples, popcorn, hot chocolate…

Here’s a quote, see if you know what book it’s from. "Her own small bedroom now became her reading-room and there she would sit and read most afternoons, often with a mug of hot chocolate beside her….It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new world and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village."

And it’s nice to have a place to come home to afterwards. Our adventures are enjoyed more when they’re framed in the familiarity and security of home.

What should you expect from an adventure?

Expect it to take time. You can’t have a real adventure in five minutes, and some of the best book adventures are very long. We are often too impatient and we settle for abridged versions or just skip things altogether because they’re so long. But if you take, say, the long unabridged version of David Copperfield, there’s just a huge amount of wonderful stuff in there that hasn’t made it into shortened versions or movie versions. In other words, you don’t really know David Copperfield until you’ve explored the whole thing, and when you’re done you’re tired but you know it was worthwhile.

Expect some degree of danger, risk, opposition and difficulty. Being a reader these days can be a subversive activity, both inside and outside of the Christian community; it can make people angry; it can make a lot more people yawn with boredom. It’s not the books that get banned by school libraries that you will have to struggle to read or even to find; it’s the books that nobody’s actually supposed to be able or be interested in reading any more; that includes some of the treasures of our Christian literary heritage. How many people do you know--Christians or not-- who have actually read and enjoyed Paradise Lost or Pilgrim’s Progress, just for a start? How many homeschoolers will include those books in their children’s education? For some people, concentrating our children’s reading on the dead white guys (particularly dead Christian white guys) is seen as some kind of an act against contemporary culture. And those who don't get outright angry may try to discourage you in other ways. Just like in Pilgrim’s Progress, you are going to meet people with names like That’s-So-Dull and Much-Abridged who are going to try to get you to turn back; but press on, the rewards are there in the end.

And expect to be rewarded when you climb to the top. Who goes on a quest without hoping to bring back treasure? Without even specially looking for them, we can expect to make discoveries that lead to wisdom, teach discernment and critical thinking, inspire us with courage, and build character; what Terry Glaspey calls the Moral Imagination. Charlotte Mason said that “stories make the child’s life intelligible to himself; Gladys Hunt wrote in Honey for a Child’s Heart that “books help children know what to look for in life.” It helps to know what you’re looking for when you’re hunting for treasure. And besides that there are a lot of little side benefits of reading, like improved vocabulary and listening skills, creativity, and having bits of useful information stored up in the mind.

Again from "that book": “All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”

Northrop Frye said that literature is true, more true in some ways than our everyday existence; because when our everyday life is disappointing and superficial or truly horrible, it is in literature that we find examples of true love, true honour, true courage. Reading is more than just escapism. It’s not escapism to find strength by remembering Christian’s defeat of Giant Despair; by thinking of wise words that Corrie Ten Boom’s father and sister told her; by making yourself smile at a lovely line of poetry or laugh at the Pooh stories.

But reading is an escape as well, in a good sense. We rebel against ignorance and smallness and look for something more; we try to remember what we are or should be as human beings. We can escape from the pride of thinking we know it all, and from limitations like not really being able to sail or fly or ride horses, or find a secret garden or a buried treasure. We may not have people in our everyday lives who are as loyal as Charlotte, as resourceful as Laura’s Ma, as wise as Clara’s grandmother in Heidi, as encouraging as Ratty, or as valiant as Reepicheep; but in books, we can do all these things and know all these people.

Expect to have fun. The roads through books aren’t all serious; there is a great deal of humor, delight and pleasure, even nonsense. About a hundred years ago, a parent in England wrote this:
“I cannot count the times I have read aloud the stories in the "Just So" book. During a dreary month of grey skies and perpetual snow, spent in the hotel of a grim Yorkshire village, those stories were our daily bread, especially those that took us to the sunshine of South Africa. And the greatest favourite of all was The Beginning of the Armadilloes. Only Rudyard Kipling or Lewis Carroll would dare to write anything so absurd. Day after day, for thirty days or thereabouts, those two rascals, Stickly-Prickly, and Slow-and-Solid, played their pranks, and day after day we laughed at the same places, and when Slow-and-Solid said to the Painted Jaguar--"Because if she said what you said she said, it's just the same as if I said what she said she said"--day after day we bounded out of our chairs with joy….Let us arm our children for the slings and arrows of later life by cultivating the spirit of innocent laughter.”

Terry Glaspey says that “being in the presence of greatness cannot but change us.” So expect to be changed, strengthened, stretched, widened, given a different perspective as you go on a particular adventure. As characters in books grow throughout a story, we share their experiences and also find ourselves growing and changing. One of my favourite short books is Rumer Godden’s The Mousewife, about a rather unhappy mother mouse who develops a friendship with a dove living in a cage. The dove tells her stories about the world outside and gives her a lot of new ideas about things she has never seen. Eventually the mousewife finds a way to help the dove escape, but suddenly realizes that she no longer has her friend there to talk to her and teach her things. Then she looks out the window. “She looked out again and saw the stars….When she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw that they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees….’I have seen them for myself,’ said the mousewife, ‘without the dove. I can see for myself,’ said the mousewife, and slowly, proudly, she walked back to bed.”

How can we get to be more adventurous, and get more out of our reading adventures?

Use the services of an experienced guide—in this case, booklists and books about books, including homeschool book catalogues and online reviews—but use them cautiously. In your book adventures, as in real life, some guides are more to be trusted than others; and some may simply suit your purposes or personality more than others do. What one hiking guide calls a nice little stroll may leave you exhausted; and what one booklist calls suitable for a ten-year-old may be your idea of something better saved for high school, or the other way around.

To have the greatest adventures, seek out the greatest treasures. Our culture tends to cheapen and trivialize reading (formula series, TV-tie-ins, other kinds of books that barely qualify as books); the media tells us we should read mostly because it’s fun. But even fun gets boring after awhile.

To have the greatest adventures, don’t stick only to the roads marked “fiction.” Read some of the history of medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy. Find out what was beautiful, revolutionary and even dangerous about scientific discoveries. Read history, and go beyond “how the peasants lived.” Read biographies, poetry, nature descriptions. Read the Bible together.

There is also the idea these days that there are no specific important books—wrong. Some book adventures are just more rewarding than others, especially the places you know you’ll want to go back to again and take your friends along to enjoy. There are certain real-life places that everyone should try to see once; and there are book adventures that are too good to miss. You may not be ready for them all at the beginning, but you can work up to the challenge.

Which is another good point: to have the greatest adventures, take along some good companions; make it a shared adventure, and everyone who goes along will be in on the shared vocabulary, experiences and “book friends” that you meet along the way. How do you work around different ages? Not everyone who comes along will get the most from a particular book journey, but sometimes what they do bring back will surprise you. There are times in life when you just can’t read with everyone, but even if it’s just you and one other person, you’re sharing that adventure together, and maybe somebody else will decide to come along if the two of you look like you’re having fun.

How do you deal with general reluctance, the attitude that books are hard or boring? I once went to a health-food demonstration where the presenter was asked, "How can I encourage my children to eat some of these foods instead of hot dogs?" She answered, very unhelpfully, that really they should have just been better trained from the start. In the same way, it would be easy for me to say that if your kids are brought up reading with you from babyhood, you probably won’t have a problem with this, and that if you do you should just force it down them; but that sort of answer just makes you want to give up, doesn't it? So a better suggestion might be that you’re going to have to woo them—maybe with the hot chocolate and popcorn, maybe with a particularly wonderful or funny book that you know gets right into the story very quickly. These suggestions might also apply if you really want to involve a spouse or another adult family member; nobody wants to be made to read, especially if they think they’re going to be bored by kids books; so make sure that it’s something that everybody’s going to enjoy. One recommendation is Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s nothing at all like the movie and it’s a lot of fun and has lots of things blowing up in it.

How do you cope with busy schedules, and the competing attractions of other media? You can use audio books, maybe during mealtimes or travel; you can use more homeschool time just to read; you can leave books lying around; you can give books as gifts. Even the cost of new books shouldn’t be a deterrent to reading, not with libraries and used books and online books readily available; Emily Dickinson was right when she said that reading is a pretty frugal chariot compared with a lot of the other ways we can find to spend money.

HE ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book.
What liberty
A loosened spirit brings! --Emily Dickinson

To have the greatest adventures, let the adventures find you. "Books fall open, you fall in." We can’t always regulate reading by squeezing it into a READING period; by labeling books according to grade or age; or excluding every word or idea that we don’t think our kids will understand. Again, you have to risk a little. Lines like “bequest of wings,” “loosened spirit” and “take us worlds away” speak to us of flight and freedom; the idea of moving outside our own place and time, being able to see beyond our own lives; that’s what the word education means, a drawing out. As our “spirits grow robust,” we are able not only to handle more difficult book adventures but to use our experiences in the everyday world as well, to survive the “dingy days” and also to change them into something better. “Robust spirits” implies strength and health; this kind of reading is not a weak, wussy thing or just an escape from reality. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Cousin Eustace was the cowardly, mean character; C.S. Lewis says it was because he hadn’t read the right books.

What are the right books to adventure with? A great storyteller named Ruth Sawyer gave this list (quoted in Honey for a Child's Heart): “Stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence. Stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good.”

THERE is no frigate like a book
To take us lands away,
Nor any coursers like a page
Of prancing poetry.
This traverse may the poorest take
Without oppress of toll;
How frugal is the chariot
That bears a human soul! --Emily Dickinson

Let’s have the courage to adventure with books…and…Let’s go there together.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Canadian music study: Liona Boyd

For November and December, we're moving on to have a look at Liona Boyd's music.

This is our lineup:

1. Fantasy for Guitar (Barnes)  and Gymnopédie No.1 (Satie)

2. 2 pieces by Augustine Pio Barrios

3. 2 pieces by Carlos Payet

4. The Little Shepherd (Debussy)

5. Prelude on The Huron Carol (Robertson), and possibly Parade of the Toy Soldiers (Robertson)

6. Spanish Carol (Robertson) and Blessed Jesus (Bach)

7. (if there's time) a choice of other pieces from A Guitar for Christmas.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Learning without a "real" teacher

Sometimes I'm Actually Coherent, a hsing dad's blog, has a long but very worthwhile post responding to a common question: how can homeschoolers have the audacity to think that they can provide an education comparable to that available through teachers (especially in high school) who are expected to be specialists in their subjects? Assuming that we are, indeed, talking about qualified, dedicated, interested teachers here (anything else is beyond the scope of the argument), why would you choose to forego what they have to offer and perhaps limit what your child is able to learn "from you?" (Already one point becomes obvious, if you're familiar with what homeschoolers, especially homeschooling highschoolers, do: it's not always about you yourself teaching a student; there are all kinds of ways to learn what you want to learn, and it's not always Mom struggling to remember grade 10 algebra.)

There's also some interesting discussion going on in the comments to the post.

For any of you who've just popped up here, we made the decision just over a year ago, after homeschooling our oldest since the beginning, to have her take some of her classes at the local high school. It wasn't because we disagreed with the point of that post, though (although I might have had a hard time trying to teach hairdressing); it became clear that our Apprentice's specific needs could best be met by making use of the school's resources. I think she has also found it somewhat--what's the word I want--reassuring?--affirming?--to know that she does indeed know her stuff in math, French and science; she's found the place where she fits into the system, and she's making the most of it (almost, I tend to think of it, as if she were attending a junior college for high school credit, as I know some hsers do in the U.S.).

By making that choice, we said no to some other options that the Apprentice would have had at home: more time to read books of her or our choosing, more time to participate in the daily stream of things at home, more time to help Mr. Fixit, more opportunities to take time off and go somewhere during school hours. However, she's gained a great deal as well, so we feel it was a worthwhile trade.

Will the other Squirrelings do the same thing? They are all so different that it's very hard to say. Of course the Apprentice's enthusiasm for what she's doing is influencing them; but if homeschooling high school looks like a better choice for them, that's what we'll do.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Because you never know when you might go cosmic bowling

Some people buy leftover candy after Halloween. Some people buy dressup clothes.

The Apprentice bought two cans of spray-on hair colour, Real Cheap. One makes your hair look really weird under blacklights. The other is just purple.

Now I guess she's ready in case Barbie phones her up.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

A trifle scary

We do not forbid Halloween observance in the Treehouse. We don't make a huge honkin' deal out of it either, but we have some fun with the parts you can have fun with. Last night our menu included a Treehouse-designed Halloween Trifle, and the Squirrelings reverse-trick-or-treated the grandmotherly lady next door with some afterwards (because it made kind of a lot).

Halloween Trifle

1 9-inch chocolate cake (we had one in the freezer, half of a mix that we had baked up and saved for such times as this)--cut up in cubes

1 package of instant vanilla pudding, plus either orange or red-plus-yellow food colouring
Milk or powdered milk to make up the pudding

1 small can mandarin oranges (save the juice to add to the pudding)
1 real orange, peeled and sliced thin (not necessary but we had only one can of oranges; if I'd had two cans I probably would have left it out)
The grated peel of the real orange

1 cup of whipping cream, 3 tbsp. sugar, 1 tsp vanilla (or equivalent other topping)
Part of a chocolate bar, grated (or chocolate chips)
A few dried cranberries (just to add colour on top)

This is what we did:

Ponytails cut the cake into cubes and put half of them into a large glass bowl. (We do have a proper trifle bowl, but since this was family-sized rather than party-sized, we used a big glass salad bowl instead.)

Mama Squirrel used the drained mandarin orange juice plus another cup of milk to make up the vanilla pudding. Actually Crayons mixed it up. We added grated orange peel for flavour and some colouring to make it orange.

Ponytails added a layer of the cut-up orange and mandarin oranges (reserving about half a cupful for decoration), and then a layer of just-mixed pudding; then another layer each of cake and pudding. (I forget whether we had enough oranges for another layer).

Mama Squirrel put the whipping attachment on the food processor and beat up the cream, sugar and vanilla. She spread the whipped cream over the top of the trifle and let it all sit in the fridge while we did other things.

A little while later we gave the top a hefty sprinkling of grated chocolate (just a regular brand of dark chocolate bar) and arranged the leftover oranges and a few dried cranberries as artistically as we could. We had debated doing the top with oranges and pineapple rings to look like a jack-o-lantern face, but chocolate won out.

Also on the menu last night: Chicken chili, three-cheese dip with carrot and rutabaga sticks, and a package of garlic breadsticks. Mama Squirrel finally got to make a jack-o-lantern face, on the bowl of dip, with pumpkin seeds (the shelled green ones you can eat as is) and a celery stem. The dip was very good, too; you can find recipes for it including everything from bleu cheese to Velveeta. Mama Squirrel just improvised with what was in the fridge: some grated old Cheddar, Parmesan, and cottage cheese, with a good spoonful of white salad-dressing-stuff and a few drops of hot pepper sauce mixed in.

[Pictures are coming!]