Tuesday, April 29, 2008

You know you're a homeschooler when...they HAVE to hear the Real Thing

Someone on another board asked what we're currently reading aloud with our children.

Crayons and I are reading The Water Babies.

We read a very short version of it in My Bookhouse, and I told her that that version left most of the real story out of it (Mrs. Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By hardly comes into it at all), so she wanted me to read her the real thing. I do skip a few pages here and there whenever Kingsley goes on and on about something (like the periods of architecture that made up The Place--we just agreed that it was a Very Big House). I skip his satirical bits as well-- references to people like Huxley--and four pages of philosophical meanderings on why there might or might not be water babies at all.

I don't know how far we'll get with it--Crayons is a bit young for some of it, but it's what she asked for--and I've never had ANY of mine ASK to be read The Water Babies. The Apprentice thought it was cruel and unusual punishment.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Mom's books, or each cycle of the tide

"Take any books of your mom's that you want," Dad said.

Aside from a few of Mom's longtime personal favourites, there really weren't many books left in the bookcase; she was more of a book-passer-onner than a book-keeper. I took only three.

One was a high-school copy of Heroic Tales in Verse, edited by the Canadian poet E.J. Pratt, with Mom's name and "10A" written inside the cover. Something from a young girl I never knew, the age of my Apprentice, with nothing more on her mind than scribbling the difference between blank verse and free verse in the back of her literature book.

One was a copy of Out to Canaan, that I'd given Mom a few years ago. Something from her last years; something about getting older.

The third was a late-70's paperback copy of Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Maybe I gave that to her too, I don't remember; but in any case I found it somehow appropriate. A 1950's book, in a printing from the time when Mom was about my age now. Again a re-read for me, but I drank in Anne's loving descriptions of channelled whelks and moonshells, her "time out" on a private beach, and her musings on the stages of our lives. She wrote that "woman today is still searching. We are aware of our hunger and needs, but still ignorant of what will satisfy them. With our garnered free time, we are more apt to drain our creative springs than to refill them....Mechanically we have gained, in the last generation, but spiritually we have, I think, unwittingly lost."

Did Mom ever nod her head at that quote? Did she wish, during the turbulence of our growing up, for a quiet week on a beach to pick up those same shells? I don't know; we shared books, but didn't often talk about them afterwards. I like to think she did, if only because she kept the book when she'd given so many others away.

I read (re-read) Out to Canaan over the next few days, wondering if Mom had gotten around to reading this, and if she'd enjoyed it; if she'd laughed when Gene stepped in Esther's orange marmalade cake; if she'd related at all to Father Tim's worries over retirement; and there's the unforgettable scene of the church ladies trying to get the aforesaid cake recipe out of Esther with her two broken arms and her jaw wired shut...("She blinked twice, that's no. Try again. One teaspoon? Oh, thank God! Vanita, one teaspoon.")

And then, near the end, this Christmas Eve vignette:

"He reached up to the closet shelf for the camera and touched the box of his mother's things--the handkerchiefs, her wedding ring, an evening purse, buttons....He would not take it down, but it had somehow released memories of his mother's Christmases, and the scent of chickory coffee and steaming puddings and cookies baking on great sheets....'Mother...' he whispered into the darkened warmth of the closet. 'I remember...'"

I was glad that part came so near the end of the book. I was glad it was followed by nothing but joy.

From Gift from the Sea:

"Perhaps this is the most important thing for me to take back from beach-living: simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; each cycle of the wave is valid; each cycle of a relationship is valid. And my shells? I can sweep them all into my pocket. They are only there to remind me that the sea recedes and returns eternally."

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Booksale finds

This weekend was the annual University Women's Booksale. Some years I never get out of the main room to look at the kids' books or anything else. This year I didn't get out of the kids' room (which was the same room as the tapes and videos, so Mr. Fixit and the Squirrelings found some multimedia stuff there as well).

I was kind of going for the oddball stuff--the "maybe someday this will be worth something" or just for fun books.

I found several volumes of the Best in Children's Books that we didn't have, AND 11 volumes of a 12-volume My Bookhouse set.

Inside Music: How to Understand, Listen to, And Enjoy Good Music, by Karl Haas.
Ola, by Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire.
How to Make Snop Snappers and Other Fine Things, by Robert Lopshire.
Mystery in the Night Woods, by John Peterson. Vintage Scholastic. For all the rodent/critter-story fans:
The Winter Fun Book, by the editors of OWL magazine. (One of Ponytails' favourite magazines.)

The Children Come Running.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, a souvenir book written for "young Canadians" at the time of her coronation.

Hiawatha's Childhood, illustrated by Herbert Morton Stoops. (really.) A 1941 picture book with lithographs.

The Greedy One, by Patricia Miles Martin, illustrated by Kazue Mizumura. 1964. A small hardcover story about Japan.

The Story of Grettir the Strong, by Allen French. We already have one copy of this, but I thought it was worth getting and maybe passing on to someone.

The Circus is Coming, by Noel Streatfeild. Like Ballet Shoes only about living in the circus.

Last but not least, one which I'd never heard of but thought looked interesting: The Land the Ravens Found, by Naomi Mitchison.
(And the whole lot cost under $7. That's the best part.)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Gluten-free Dutch Chocolate Chip Cookies, and a story

My mom, my aunt and my grandma used to pass recipes around to each other a lot. The interesting thing was that, like that old game show where moms had to guess which ketchup-chocolate-peanut creation was baked by their own offspring, each person's baking seemed to turn out differently--even using the same recipe. One recipe that they all had a try at, about thirty years ago, was what we called Dutch Chocolate Chip Cookies--because they came out of the Dutch Cookbook--which I can't remember the proper name of or even whether it really was a Dutch cookbook or Pennsylvania Dutch.

These cookies were like nothing I've had in years. They had approximately twice the fat and twice the sugar of any normal chocolate chip cookie (I seem to remember a cup of butter AND a cup of shortening); one cookie on a paper napkin would leave a grease splotch as big as if you'd put a piece of just-fried bacon there instead. The other notable thing about them was their fragility--you needed the paper napkin, because these cookies would break in half without warning and leave a trail of crumbs everywhere--greasy crumbs, of course. We kids thought they were wonderful.

I remember that recipe kind of running rampant for a year or so after my mom and her fellow bakers discovered it; they kept making batches and trying to figure out why one person's were flatter or puffier than another's. Then I think it died a natural death (probably of clogged arteries).

Flash-forward to this week when I got an unquenchable chocolate-sugar craving and decided to adapt (gluten-free, egg-free) an old chocolate-chip recipe from Family Fun magazine. (I looked online but didn't find it on their website.) Results: a pale, slightly fragile chocolate chip cookie with a tiny bit of sandy texture from the rice flour, but otherwise quite an acceptable taste. It was when I was eating a second, or maybe a third, that I realized what was tugging at the back of my mind: made with gluten-free flours, these are about as close to Those Cookies as I've had in about thirty years. Well, without the greasy splotches.

So here's the recipe. The only complicated thing about it (if you have the gluten-free flours) is that I cut down a flour mix from this wonderful post on the Going Gluten-Free blog. I didn't have enough of everything to make a big batch of flour mix, so I made a third-size batch, which was enough for the cookies and left a cupful of mix to use for something else.

Clear as melted chocolate chips?

Gluten-Free Dutch Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs or equivalent replacer (powdered replacer mixed with liquid)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/4 cups of this flour mix: 2 cups white rice flour, 1/3 cup each tapioca flour, potato starch, and corn starch; and 1 tsp. Xanthan gum (see note above: you will have some mix left over)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups chocolate chips or as desired (we only put in about a cupful)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream butter, sugars, eggs (or replacer) and vanilla.
Combine dry ingredients and add.
Stir in chocolate chips last.
Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes (watch them, don't let them get dark). Cool on pans several minutes, then on rack.
Makes about 60 cookies.