Thursday, December 31, 2009

Crissy on Christmas

She walked a few steps to the toyshop. She did not know how it came to be there and she thought she was in her St. Agnes's bedroom and it was filled with toys. Then: "Not toys," said Ivy, "a toy," and she was wide awake. She did not even see Abracadabra glaring at her with his green eyes; she looked straight at Holly.
She saw Holly's dress and socks and shoes. She is red and green too, thought Ivy. She saw Holly's hair, brown eyes, little teeth, and beautiful joints. They were just what Ivy liked, and, "My Christmas doll!" said Ivy. --The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden. More here.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What's in your hand? Post-Christmas thoughts, and memories

As I was saying in a previous post, everyone's idea of Christmas is different. And there are also so many combinations of people, houses and events that your ideas of what you DO on Christmas can also be very different--and can change rapidly from one year to the next. I never "spent" Christmas (as in "slept over") at someone else's house, but we spent most of our young-years Christmases being trotted from one relative's house to another, joining in with one aunt and uncle's plum pudding and gifts here, with another person's holiday-in-a-glass there (we didn't get any of that, if you're wondering), and with my grandparents' potluck-and-turkey to end off the day: think Whoville for that last one. Think noise noise noise noise, Dah Hoo Dor-Aze (can't spell that) and roast beast. I totally related to those scenes from The Grinch.

For years there was even a brunch at another aunt's house, although that eventually got moved to Boxing Day. My grandparents had a New Year's Eve card party for their friends (and usually kept us there overnight so that my parents could go out). And the country cousins had a big family dinner on New Year's. So although I remember my mother making all kinds of holiday preparations (baking like crazy), and my dad doing most of the decorating, I don't remember them ever actually hosting The Dinner on one of the actual holidays. In other words, I didn't get much practice at it.

And now it's up to us most years--not a very big dinner, only a few guests (sometimes only one, more often three), but we still want to make it special. Because it's fairly small, some of our preparations and ideas can wait until the last minute--we're not making forty napkin rings or anything. And I've found--because our Christmas Days tend to be kind of quiet anyway--that I actually enjoy leaving some of the table decorating and even crafting until the Day Of. (Did any of you ever watch a Rankin-Bass Christmas special with the song "Save a Little Christmas for Christmas?")

This year, a couple of days before Christmas, I pulled out a thrift-shopped copy of Corinne Clawson's Holiday Orna-gami, a small paperback that includes several bound-in squares of holiday-coloured paper for folding. I pulled out the yellow squares and tried the star in the book--not bad. The other sheets were a sort of dull green and red that tweaked vague memories of Christmases around 1971, in the era of lick-and-stick Christmas stickers (we used to put them all over tissue-paper-wrapped canned goods to go under a tree at church), crepe-paper-wrapped crackers with paper hats (I think they banged better than this year's dollar-store version), and mod-looking greeting cards. Maybe it was just that we'd been working on restoring the 1972 Crissy doll for Crayons, or that I knew Mr. Fixit had also bought the Squirrelings some vintage Hot Wheels tracks (we already have the cars), or maybe it was that 1973 magazine that Crayons had brought home from the thrift shop (maxi skirts, rick rack, styrofoam and metallic sunbursts)...but somehow my mind was back there with those colours from a time before laser printers, when church bulletins were hand-typed and Gestetnered, and posters were lettered with markers and stencils.

Is all that too much to fit into a few squares of paper? Or was it the other way around...anyway, I started folding those sheets into small baskets, and remembered that I'd bought tiny chocolate bars and Swedish berries to fill them. Those became our table favours.

On Christmas, when I was cleaning up used and unused gift wrap, I noticed that we still had quite a long piece of unused wrap in some of those same vintage-looking reds and greens: have you ever noticed that some of the Made-in-Wherever dollar store wrap looks like that anyway? It might be the lead paint (joking)...anyway...the paper was decorated with the word "Noel," and it gave me an idea. I covered our long table with an off-white table cloth (and the card table we use as an extension with a red plastic cloth), and rolled out the gift wrap down the table. The Apprentice fixed the paper to the cloth with some fix-your-dress-strap tape she had (it came in a vintage-looking package, which seemed appropriate), and we added our regular dinner plates (our good ones had too much pink in them), red paper napkins, the red and green baskets, and gold-and-cream party crackers. Not bad.

We still needed a centerpiece, but that wasn't hard. We put the candle jar we'd made in the middle of the table (remember we filled in between the jars with gold wire-type tinsel?), and The Apprentice took her pliers (all girls should have pliers) and twisted and hot-glued some more of that gold tinsel into a couple of groovy-looking little Christmas tree shapes, to flank the big jar.

And that was our Merry Christmas table: 1971 meets 2009.

Oh--you wanted to know what we had to eat? Turkey (and tofurkey for the vegetarians), mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, frozen green and yellow beans (Europe's Best brand tastes better than fresh this time of year), crockpot stuffing, rolls, salads and pies brought by the guests, and a cookie plate. We were going to have homemade vanilla ice cream, but the cream turned out to be bad at the last minute so that was scrapped. But nobody minded much.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post Christmas Post: A Non-Stupid Christmas

The one thing I've noticed about typical Christmas celebrations is that there are very few typical Christmas celebrations...especially among those whose Christian beliefs have played a larger-than-normal part in how they celebrate. (Think about the irony of that...) Or don't. Sometimes that makes for very surprising variations--devout Christians who don't "do" Christmas at all, or those who celebrate Christmas for fun but don't pretend it's the birth of Jesus, or those who plan the whole thing as a big birthday party for Jesus, or who celebrate the Old Testament holidays in the autumn, or those whose Christmas does center around church but who also include secular customs like Santa and stockings.

And then there are the Charlie Browns who are just tired of the "whole commercial racket," wish the whole thing was over, and take everybody to the beach for Christmas.

Or maybe it's just that I hang out with the wrong people. I'm thinking about something we saw a bit of on TV once called "Christmas Confidential,", about the dreadful holiday excesses and National-Lampoon-style house decorations and inflatable nativity scenes and spangled office-party outfits (makeup to match) and Santa Claus bikinis and church performances with more cast members than a small town and people stampeding at shopping malls and food, food, food...

All that seems kind of far removed from our Crayons' excursion to the thrift shop (everybody got tiny stuffed toys, figurines, and Mama Squirrel got a bell that she's threatening to ring for school time)...or the bead bracelet that Ponytails made me...or the Voskamps' "praying to be a womb for God" around a wooden Nativity spiral...or Bread and Honey's musings on "Pretending to be Mary." Or families who give just one present apiece (because they have ten children) , or three presents (because that's what Jesus got), or no presents.

Or from the reality of those who are having very quiet holidays (or barely noticed them) because of family griefs, illnesses and other stresses. Or people who have to work on Christmas or who are exhausted from the last week behind a cash register or a shampoo chair. Did you know the mega-supermarket was still open into the evening on the 24th? I know, because we had a celery emergency. Should I be grateful because that saved my stuffing, or be annoyed (and guilty) because our perceived needs don't let these businesses just close their doors early?

The fact that we barely set foot in a shopping mall this past month doesn't make our Christmas any holier than anybody else's. It's an everybody-makes-their-own-choices kind of culture now anyway...and I guess in some ways that's good, it means that the Neighbourhood Decorating Committee isn't going to harass us about our lack of lights, and it means that it's okay to have frozen green beans with Christmas dinner instead of that thing with the french fried onions. Who's going to tell? But I will continue to plug for a non-stupid Christmas.

Whatever that means to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Still really, really good

This is as close as we get around here to Christmas fruitcake. In the oven as we speak...jazzed up a bit with fresh cranberries and what was left of the chopped candied ginger after we made Double Ginger Cookies.

December is the Dining Room

Decorated by Living with Lindsay, and posted at Dollar Store Crafts.

Yeah, that's what I have to work on today. Our dining room table has been covered with the Advent wreath and its associated mess (song sheets, pencil crayons, Bible) for the past month, but it's time to clear that off and start thinking about putting some actual food on it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

December is A New Christmas Book Quiz

"Can such a large thing as Christmas be in a dolls' house?"--Rumer Godden

What books do the following holiday quotes appear in? (A couple of them are repeats from previous quizzes--we all have our favourites.) Answers are here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. [The] house was dark in front, but when they got out of the sleigh and tiptoed around the corner they saw the kitchen windows, warm and yellow, and in one of them, above the sash curtain, the old man's head, snowy as that of Santa Claus. He was working at something, wearing his spectacles....they began to sing: "God rest ye merry, Gentlemen / Let nothing you dismay..." Up came Mr. T's head, startled. He left his chair and now the kitchen door flew open. He stood there in the lighted rectangle, with Battledore rubbing herself against his ankles and Hambone wagging his old tail in the background. In his hand Mr. T. held a sock: he had been mending. "Thank you. God bless you. Merry Christmas," he said when they had finished. "And now come in, and we will have a party!"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The candy that did turn out?

That wouldn't be the chocolate-pretzel clusters in the Crockpot...although a couple of the Squirrelings did like those. Mama Squirrel just made one too many substitutions in that recipe, and the salty pretzels, while interesting, were just a little too...salty.

What did turn out well--it's really almost failproof--is Canadian Living's Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge. Made just like the recipe says, except we leave out the nuts and use dried cherries for the fruit. And we use homemade sweetened-condensed-milk substitute. Cut them small, and they're incredibly good, especially with the slightly tart dried cherries. We've actually posted the recipe here before; which is why Mama Squirrel figured that these, at least, would defy her tendency to mistake-prone-ness this week. And she wasn't wrong.

Grade Three Examinations, Term One


1. Recite to Dad the Bliss Carman poem you memorized this term.

Christian History:

1. What sorts of places are Annie and Drew visiting this year with Mr. Pipes? Tell about one of their adventures. (Book: Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation)


1. Tell what you know of Hezekiah’s tunnel, and what it was for.


1. We are almost finished the novel Lassie-Come-Home. Tell what you know of Lassie’s journey so far and of one of the people or families she has met.


1. Tell what you know about the story of the Swiss Family Robinson.

2. How did King Arthur get his Round Table? (Book: Howard Pyle's King Arthur)


1. Tell what you know about the beginnings of New France. OR Tell the whole story of “The Feast of Eat Everything.” (Book: Canada's Story)


1. Write the sentences that I will dictate to you.


1. Read aloud, passage to be chosen by me.


1. Explain why there are no vampires in the world. (Book: Mathemagic)

2. Arrange these fractions from biggest to smallest: ½, ¾, 5/6, 2/2, 1/100

Responses so far (dictated):

Christian History:

Annie and Drew visited Worms. But I'm not going to tell you that adventure today. I'm going to tell you the adventure of Lady Kitty falling in the moat. Mr. Pipes, Annie and Drew and Lady Kitty all went out for a snack one day, and they went outside to just finish up. And all of a sudden Lady Kitty jumped onto the end of a cannon. "No," squealed Annie, as Lady Kitty fell into the moat. "Oh no, no, no!" cried Annie. "Don't worry, Annie," said Mr. Pipes. But Drew had been studying the cannons. "Hey," he said. "I'm sure that Lady Kitty fell just from that cannon over there. And look," he said, jumping into the moat with a SPLOTCH. "Oh dear, I'm afraid he's jumped into the moat," said Mr. PIpes. "Drew," Annie screamed. "Over here," yelled Drew, from inside the moat. All of a sudden a sodden Drew came out of the moat with a sopping Lady Kitty. "Oh Drew," she said, and she hugged Lady Kitty. "Meow, meow," said Lady Kitty. Then she hugged her brother. "Ribbit, ribbit," echoed out of his hand. "Why Drew," said Mr. Pipes, "I see you've picked up a friend." "Yeah," said Drew, digging into his hands and brining out a spotted frog. "I'm going to name him Rinkydink." The End.


Lassie: Lassie met these old people, and they were very nice to her, but one day she scratched at the door because she had this memory, but she couldn't quite remember what it was. But then she remembered--it was time to go get the boy. She started walking up and down before the door. And the woman said, "Hey girl, what's up? I've already given ye a nice walk today." And when the man came home that evening, the soman said, "Dear, I think we ought to let the dog go." "Why?" he asked. "Because you see she's been pacing a lot up and down in front of the door like she has to get out." "Aye," he said, "You're right, she should go." So together they went and got Lassie, and they let her go. And they watched the beautiful figure walk walk walk away from the house. The End.

King Arthur: King Arthur got his Round Table for a dowry, a present from Lady Guinevere's father. Lady Guinevere was very beautiful and the wedding was very big and beautiful. Afterwards King Arthur asked Merlin to help him establish the Round Table. "The first knight I'll choose," said Merline, "will definitely be you, King Arthur. And the second one will be Sir Pellias, because I don't know which is better, you or Sir Pellias." So Merlin went on choosing until they had quite a few. But soon a new knight comes up to sit on the seat Perilous, the seat if which the wrong knight sits in, he shall die immediately, or have bad luck forever. The End.


1. The bride has a long dress.
2. Meet me at the swings.
3. Wintir [sic] frost can kill plants.
4. We have snacks on paper plates.


1. The reason there are no vampires in the world is because a vampire takes at least one person for a meal each day. So that vampire bites a person, which becomes a vampire, and that vampire bites a person, which becomes a vampire, you see? f There wouldn't be enough people to feed all those vampires, so that's why there are no vampires in the world. At least not that we know of...mwa ha ha.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December is Chocolate...and Cookies

I posted this previously:

"Malted Milk Buttons and Crispy Rice Shortbread, two variations on a Master Dough recipe that I found in a (thrifted) December 15, 1998 Woman's Day magazine and which were adapted (with others in the same food article) from One Dough, Fifty Cookies by Leslie Glover Pendleton."

But Mama Squirrel came up with a variation all our own! The problem with writing it out is that it was made from only half the Master Dough recipe, since the idea is to make a big batch and split it between two variations. (We mixed the other half of the dough with Rice Krispies.) And the Master Dough recipe, which I assume is copyrighted by the author, contains such difficult-to-halve ingredients as three egg yolks and 4 3/4 cups of flour. But here's the basic idea:

Make a shortbread-type dough containing unsalted butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, vanilla, and flour. (No baking powder.) To a batch of dough made with about 2 1/2 cups flour, add half a package of (dry) instant chocolate pudding mix, and a cupful of small chocolate chips. Press into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan, pre-cut into squares, and bake for half an hour at 350 degrees. Re-cut the squares after they have cooled slightly. Drizzle with a glaze made from powdered sugar mixed with a little milk, just enough to let it drizzle from a spoon.

For some reason (mainly because they're very tasty), these improvised squares have been everybody's favourite so far these holidays. As in, they're gone. Maybe we'll make some more.

Here are some other cookies we've made and posted about in the past:

Date-Walnut Bars
Rigglevake Cookies
No-bake Chocolate Fruit Balls
Gluten-Free Dutch Chocolate Chip Cookies
Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread
Tofu Fudge Chews
Peanut Chocolate Butterscotch Bars (link only)
Doreen Perry's Cookies
Betty Crocker's Brownie Recipe
Cappucino Thumbprints
Chocolate Hazelnut Crescents
Double Ginger Drop Cookies (LINK FIXED!)
Snickerdoodle Blondies
The Best, Bar None
Two No-Bake Candy Recipes (one of our most-visited posts)

Monday, December 14, 2009

December is Putting Together

What are we putting together?

Cider Beetles and Cider Reindeer, inspired by posts at Stonecroft Women of Katy, Elfster, and Chaos in the Kitchen. They're sitting on ice-cube trays because they wouldn't sit nicely on their backs otherwise.
Cost: Hard to estimate: a bag of oranges, brown sugar, and the spices...but you can subtract the insides of the oranges (you scoop them out before drying the peels) and the extra spices we still have on hand.

The DHM posted at Frugal Hacks with an inexpensive gift suggestion: a nutmeg grater from the thrift shop, some whole nutmegs, and a batch of something made with nutmeg plus the recipe. We were at a Salvation Army store a couple of weeks ago and I spotted a very nice cork-topped container labelled "Nutmeg." (There were a couple of jars for other seasonings but I left those there.) No graters, but I found a small one at the dollar store; and that plus a small bag of nutmegs will make a good gift for someone who likes to cook.
Cost: Grater, $1.25 (our dollar store has been raising its prices). Nutmegs, about $2. Jar, $2.

And at the same Salvation Army, we found a Large Glass Thing

and a Skinny Glass Thing

that fit nicely into each other

to make a candle holder like those we linked to previously. We decided to skip the candleholder glued to the bottom--it was big enough as it was. The dollar-store candle

was a bit tall for the inner tube, but no matter--it will burn down quickly enough. Mr. Fixit stuck the two parts together, and we added some sparkly wire trim between them, donated by a friend at our homeschool co-op.

Cost: Large jar, $2.99 (the Salvation Army is pricey sometimes). Skinny jar, .99. Candle, .50. Glue, negligible. Trim, free.

Photo Credits: Ponytails

December is Doing

We have been busy the past couple of weeks. The sewing machine has been running at a speed to rival the Grinch's; the oven and the Crockpot have been working busily; and in between that we go out and shovel the snow. Or this weekend it's been slush and freezing rain. So better to think about the warm things inside.

Frugal Family Fun Blog posted about these Pocket Hand Warmers awhile back, and Mama Squirrel was so taken with them that she decided to make some too, using rummage-saled ribbon and a pair of Mr. Fixit's jeans. (She did ask first.)

Cost: minimal for the ribbon; free for the jeans (since Mr. Fixit couldn't wear them anymore); minimal for the rice and thread.

As you can tell, the hardest thing about them is getting them all the same size (ours weren't) or always quite even (ours weren't). But that's not a big deal. Mama Squirrel is going to make some more and this time they'll be perfect.

Last month I asked your advice on sachet fillings for the scent-sensitive. The idea that appealed most was using peppermint, and Mama Squirrel just happened to find organic dried peppermint (also known as tea) at the health food store.

We had some nice crisp white fabric that came in a rummage-sale box--it might have been muslin, we're not sure. Anyway, we sewed that into 5 x 7 rectangles and stuffed them with cotton balls and a tablespoon of peppermint.

Then we got out the vintage hankies (mostly yard-saled over the years) and played around with ribbon, lace and other trims (rummage-saled and thrift-shopped earlier this year). None of the hankies had to be cut; any little stitches or gluing was done on the ribbon. Mama Squirrel was inspired mostly by the photos on the Primrose Design website, but we made our hankies cover the whole pillow, and skipped the button trim.

This one has a crocheted flower added on--we found a couple of handmade ones in with a bag of lace and trims.

This one is tied with a strip of tatting...Mama Squirrel liked that against the ribbon design of the handkerchief.

We packaged them in zipper bags with a printed-out tag (it also says "From the Squirrel Family Workshop" on the blocked-out part.
Cost: pretty much free, since we already had the hankies and the trims were bought at yard-sale prices. Two bags of dollar-store cotton balls filled six sachets.

And that white fabric inspired another sewing project, but we can't tell you about it yet because somebody might peek.

More "doing" coming up...stay tuned.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dewey's Quiz By Ponytails

Dewey did it so I will!

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate

2.Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Umm, both.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Mr. Fixit, my dad doesn't put them up that often but when he does, colored.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No!

5. When do you put your decorations up? When we feel like it about this time in December though. The tree gets put up later.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Turkey and cranberry sauce.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: I still am a child but I think the best is getting togther with family and eating.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I am not sure.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? With a mixture of ornaments. From birds and bells, to Rudolph's monster.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Dread it a little love it a little.

12. Can you ice skate? Yes.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My sled.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? The real meaning and giving and family.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? The Christmas pie, Lemon Meringue.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? The Christmas play at church, I am oldest in the children's class so I usally get a good part.

17. What tops your tree? A angel or star.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Both, I like getting other people's presents.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? The songs I play on the keyboard and The Huron Carol.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? Yum!


Monday, December 07, 2009

Our last full week of school before holidays


101 Famous Poems
Mr. Pipes and Bible stories
King Arthur: finish Book One
Swiss Family Robinson, up to page 141 (try to get to page 166 during exams next week)
Artistic Pursuits, continue
Nutrition, finish up the unit we're on
Mathletics website
Independent reading lists


Math, science and photography with Dad
Finish Larry Burkett's Money book
Finish The Ocean of Truth
Analogies if you have time
History--continue daily work


Lassie Come Home--finish before Christmas
Mathemagic, pages 136-143
All About Spelling, continue Level 2
Canada's Story, chapters 9 and 10

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Quote For Sunday (Advent II)

"He found himself grinning all the way down the hall.

"Something was stirring in him, something strong and deep and definite. Suffice it to say he was beginning to know that Christmas was coming--not just on the calendar but in his very soul.

"This morning, Cynthia's reading had explained everything:

"'The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory.'"--Jan Karon, Shepherds Abiding

Two boxes: more than enough

Meredith at Like Merchant Ships recently referred to an old post of hers about how and why she keeps their holiday decorations limited to two boxes.

Consider her reasons why...and then could we consider applying the same logic to homeschool materials?

Now there are many different ways to think about that, and part of it is defining what we call "homeschool materials." The Mennonite Central Committee has an ongoing project where churches and individuals fill drawstring bags with school supplies: notebooks, pencils, a ruler and so on. It's hard to learn without having access to those most basic items. Then there are the "book basics" that most homeschoolers have, like reference books; and homeschool gadgets and gizmos, like timelines and maps, letter tiles, math rods. And beyond those, there are Books--often hundreds, sometimes even thousands of them. Some people don't even think of Books as school supplies, but for us they're basic too.

No way you're getting all that in one box.

And even if you limited the "box" to one year's worth of school for one child, you'd still probably want to store the rest for future years. Children aren't like Christmases, after all; you can use the same angel year after year, but you can't do the same math book over and over.

But the concept is still worth thinking about; and it's something I'm pondering even more during this year of being given access to extra freebies and gadgets (some of them very good and useful). It's something I have to deal with when I consider our array of well-used electric kitchen appliances--you all know how fond I am of my toaster oven, and the Crockpot is a pretty close second. What's good? What's useful? What's too much?

Many of us are blessed with a whole Treehouse to live in...but could you move your homeschooling, cooking, decorating to a tiny apartment or a trailer? What would stay, what would go? Would the kids' desire to hold on to every old toy suddenly be resolved by necessity?

What if someone came and asked you to put everything out on the front lawn for a photo? That thought's enough to make me finish this post and go clean up the living room.

Two boxes? It may not be practical in all respects...but it's worth thinking over.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

December is Gingerbread (egg-and-dairy-free)

Reposted from June 2005, because it's still our favourite gingerbread

Vegan Gingerbread from The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (the fastest you’ll ever make)

1 cup molasses; ½ cup oil; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 cups flour (whole wheat tastes best in this recipe); 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. baking soda in one cup of hot water. Wheat germ or oatmeal, optional.

This is the way I mix it: start the kettle boiling for the hot water, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure the oil in a one-cup measure, then use the greasy cup to measure the molasses. Beat them together with a whisk. In a small bowl, combine the ginger, flour and salt; and by this time the water is hot so you can put that in the same 1-cup measure and dissolve the soda in that. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses and oil, alternately with the soda water. If you're mixing in some wheat germ or oatmeal, you don't have to get that all stirred in perfectly--just mix it around a bit. Bake in a greased square pan or small casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until it tests done.

Now, every time Mama Squirrel has mixed this up, the batter has seemed to need a little something–it seems a little thin. For awhile Mama Squirrel always added some wheat germ to the batter (sometimes sprinkled some on top as well), but lately she has been adding some rolled oats (the 5-minute kind) instead--either way works. Serve plain or with milk or yogurt. The Squirrels have been known to finish this off for breakfast.

Monday, November 30, 2009

All About Spelling (TOS Review)

All About Spelling is my favourite so far of the review items that we've gotten as in-the-mail products (that is, not websites, e-books, or other online material). When I first checked out what the Review Crew had done last year, this program was mentioned frequently as one that got all thumbs up; so I was pleased to hear that this year's Crew was going to try it out as well. I was also amused to see a review from Ann Voskamp on the book's back cover--small world.

We haven't tried many other commercial spelling programs: we've used more "natural methods" of teaching spelling, such as copywork and dictation, reading, word games, and third grader Crayons has used online spelling activities as well. But, without trying to embarrass anybody, only one of our Squirrelings seems to be an intuitive speller. Crayons can read very hard books, but lacks confidence in spelling, which makes her sometimes reluctant to write.

Enter All About Spelling, Level One, and its accompanying Materials Packet. It's not a workbook or textbook program. What you do get: a lesson-by-lesson teacher's manual; a lot of coloured index-sized cards to pop apart (some are words, some are phonograms, some are rules to memorize); a sheet of laminated "tiles" to cut apart and stick magnets on the back of; and a few miscellaneous things like bingo chips and progress charts. Oh, and a CD-Rom of phonogram sounds. Pencil-and-paper or whiteboard work can be included as appropriate, but with the alphabet tiles it's workable even for those whose fine motor skills are weak.

If you have a large magnetic board, you can stick all the tiles-- lower-case alphabet letters and combinations of letters like CK and TH--on that and save yourself (or your Squirreling) the trouble of setting up the letters every day. I thought our old Coleco Magnetic Playboard (the kind with a chalkboard on the back) would be big enough, but it's only half as big as the recommended 2 x 3 foot surface. The fridge could have served, but the kitchen table turned out to work better for us, even though it's not magnetic. The magnets on the back of the tiles make them slide around the table better anyway than if we had left them plain.

Crayons completed the 24 "steps" (lessons) of Level One in under a month. If you have a young child just learning to read, you will of course go slower than we did. Crayons did not need to spend time working on single consonants or learn why we add "s" to make a plural. What she did find challenging was one of the first exercises: saying the sounds of words slowly (like "p-a-t" and "s-t-e-p") while pulling a plastic chip towards herself for each sound. We also needed to work on sounding out and spelling some of the vowel sounds and "consonant teams" that are taught in the first level. There are words that are covered at each level (170 in Level One), and several of them are added in each lesson, but this is not an approach that requires that every word be pre-tested, memorized, and final-tested: rather, it allows the student to spell ANY words that fit the spelling rules that have been taught.

This approach seemed to be exactly what Crayons needed this year. She much as any third grader enjoys...the hands-on approach of spelling with tiles. (Sometimes I had her spell words out loud instead.) When we got to the end of each lesson, I skipped having her spell individual words on paper, but had her write the suggested phrases and short sentences instead, usually four or five a day. A younger child could do single words. She liked the humour of the phrases: "sniff and smell," "sink in quicksand," "six sad clams," "swam in jam." We had quite an interesting discussion about "rub his chin" and whether "he" might turn out to be a cat or a dog. I even learned something new myself: that there are no English words containing the letters "enk." (If you find one, let me know.)

The proof of success, for me, was that the same day we finished Level One, Crayons decided to entertain herself during Ponytails' dance class by writing a 246-word story. (I counted.) It wasn't perfectly spelled. But she asked for help with spelling only a couple of times, and it's the longest thing she's ever written (plus it was a great story). Coincidence? Maybe she's just growing up...but I will credit the month of All About Spelling she just completed with giving her renewed confidence and interest in writing.

We have just started Level Two, which we were also sent for review. This level includes eleven new phonograms and introduces more complicated words, as well as "jail words" that don't fit the spelling rules. I don't expect Crayons to take too long to get through it.

Will we continue on with the four other levels of the program?

Well, that was the point at which I went back to the website and checked the prices. The materials packet, which covers all the levels, is US$26.95. Level One is $29.95, and the other levels are $39.95. Extra student materials packets, which include the cards, bingo chips, and progress charts, are available for $19.95 apiece ($14.95 for Level One). You can also buy the CD-Rom, and the tiles separately, as well as additional items from the same publisher including a reader and a book about homophones. (I forgot to say that you can see sample lessons, and also a scope and sequence, here.)

While I was a bit floored by the generosity of the publisher in sending a hundred dollars' worth of spelling materials, I also had a few second thoughts about whether I would have purchased these materials at full price for a third grader, considering the speed at which we go through them; and whether or not I will be able to afford further levels. I do think that All About Spelling offers very good value overall (as Paddington would say), since the materials [in the first two levels; there are some write-in materials in higher levels] are all non-consumable except for the progress sheets and certificates; the laminated tiles are very sturdy, and the whole thing should last you through several children, assuming you have them. And considering how happy I am with Crayons' improved spelling, a hundred dollars for the materials and the first two levels could be thought of as money well spent. We will see how it goes with this second level, and if Crayons appears to need more of the same kind of work, I will consider getting the next one. If this "booster" is enough, she may do fine after this on her own.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew Website.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

School things to do this week

We have just this week and next week to finish the term's work; then some exams before a holiday break. We're ahead on some things but behind on others; but you can only go so fast reading books like Swiss Family Robinson out loud. If it takes us longer in the school year than I'd planned, that's fine too.

Anyway, this is what's planned:


Nature Challenge #8
Artistic Pursuits Unit 6
crafts, other pre-holiday things
outdoor time
Mr. Pipes book and Bible stories
101 Famous Poems
King Arthur, trying to finish Book One by Christmas
Swiss Family Robinson, trying to get to page 121 in our copy
Nutrition 101, Unit 2 Chapter 3: Enzymes, raw food (yes, it's taken us this long to get this far)
Take everybody to the dentist on Thursday.


Reading one of Leon Garfield's Shakespeare stories
Abraham Lincoln's World
The Ocean of Truth (Newton biography), chapters 15, 16
math and science and photography with Mr. Fixit
Book of Think--the very end of the book
Analogies--continue, see if we can get section D done
Larry Burkett's money book, chapter 11
Write with the Best, start Unit 7 (Personal Letters) if done the Short Story assignment


Canada's Story chapters 7 and 8 (about Champlain)
Lassie-Come-Home chapters 18 and 19
Miquon Math and Mathemagic book
All About Spelling Level 2 (starting a new book--watch for review soon)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent I: Promises and Peacemaking

In honour of C.S. Lewis's 101st birthday today, I'm posting some quotes instead of a Sunday hymn.

"To ask that God's love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God: because He is what He is, His love must, in the nature of things, be impeded and repelled, by certain stains in our present character, and because He already loves us He must labour to make us lovable....We are not merely imperfect creatures who must be improved: we are, as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms."--The Problem of Pain

"Lest we should think this a hardship, this kind of good begins on a level far above the creatures, for God Himself, as Son, from all eternity renders back to God as Father by filial obedience the being which the Father by paternal love eternally generates in the Son."--The Problem of Pain

"Indignation at others' sufferings, though a generous passion, needs to be well managed lest it steal away patience and humanity from those who suffer and plant anger and cynicism in their stead."--The Problem of Pain

"I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can....the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing and perfectly healthy race."--from "Why I Am Not a Pacifist" (The Weight of Glory)

Friday, November 27, 2009

The most beautiful doll from the dollar store

Was made from a pair of tights. What talented hands can do with simple materials...

(Seen on Dollar Store Crafts)

It reminded me of this, from 101 Famous Poems:


by: Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1887)

THIS I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream:--
There spread a cloud of dust along a plain;
And underneath the cloud, or in it, raged
A furious battle, and men yelled, and swords
Shocked upon swords and shields. A prince's banner
Wavered, then staggered backward, hemmed by foes.
A craven hung along the battle's edge,
And thought, "Had I a sword of keener steel--
That blue blade that the king's son bears, -- but this
Blunt thing--!" he snapped and flung it from his hand,
And lowering crept away and left the field.
Then came the king's son, wounded, sore bestead,
And weaponless, and saw the broken sword,
Hilt-buried in the dry and trodden sand,
And ran and snatched it, and with battle shout
Lifted afresh he hewed his enemy down,
And saved a great cause that heroic day.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: Z

Z is for Zephaniah 3:17

"The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: Y

This one is easy.

I'm thankful for You! And thank You again especially if You were one of the people who nominated or voted for us in the Homeschool Blog Awards. And even if You didn't--thank You for coming by and for letting us get to know You as well.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: X

(I'm thankful that there are only three letters left!)

X is for Christ, as in letter Chi, as in Xmas.

X is also for a lot more words than you'd expect, including Xyris operculata, which means "of Australia." Really.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: W

W is for Worthwhile Writing.

(Reposted and slightly edited from 2007)

I think almost every Ambleside Online user customizes the curriculum to some extent--well, at least we do. Besides adding in some Canadian content, there are books that I add in because they fit so well or they're just longtime favourites. A lot of those are out-of-print books that aren't yet in the public domain--just old enough to be hard to find, not old enough to read online, but still worth looking for.

This list doesn't include the picture books we've been collecting like the Little Tim books, the Church Mice books, or Shirley Hughes' Alfie series--I'm trying to stick mostly to school-type books or literature for the AO years.

The order is...random.

1. Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild. (Check out that link--there are photos of places from the story.) For girls around Year 3 age...and how many books (besides Roller Skates) include not only Shakespeare references but children who are more or less homeschooled? (Roller Skates--which includes Shakespeare, not homeschooling--is a book in which many parents will need to proceed with caution--there are very scary and very sad parts, enough to unsettle some children unless you do some judicious skipping.)

2. Margery Sharp's Miss Bianca/Rescuers mouse adventure books. Some are better than others, but the first two at least are must-reads...but not too young, maybe Year 3 or 4. Adventure, courage, and poetry.

3. More mice and furry/feathered heroes: William Steig's Abel's Island and The Real Thief. For around the same age, because Steig never stints on vocabulary.

"Without waiting to catch breath after his heroic skirmish, he began uttering, over these detested feathers, the most horrible imprecations imaginable. Heaven forfend that the owl should have suffered a fraction of what Abel wished it. Abel wished that its feathers would turn to lead so it could fall on its head from the world's tallest tree, that its beak would rot and become useless even for eating mush, that it should be blind as a bat and fly into a dragon's flaming mouth, that it should sink in quicksand mixed with broken bottles, very slowly, to prolong its suffering, and much more of the same sort."

4. A Toad for Tuesday, by Russell E. Erickson. I guess the owl in #3 reminded me of this one--for Year 1 or 2, and most children at that level could probably read it for themselves. No offense, but people who avoid "talking animal stories" don't know what they're missing with this one. Warton the Toad is kidnapped by a Really Mean Owl who plans to eat him--next week--for a birthday snack. But he attempts to remain calm.

"The toad dug into his pack and pulled out two beeswax candles. As soon as they were lit and began casting their warm glow about the room, he felt much better. He began to straighten his corner. And, being of a cheerful nature, he began to hum a little tune.

"The owl couldn't believe his ears.

"'Warty, you did hear me say that I was going to eat you next Tuesday, didn't you?'

"'Yes, ' said the toad.

"The owl shook his head."

5. Armed with Courage. (I had to include a serious book.) I've written about this before: it's a book of short biographies of courageous people: Florence Nightingale, Father Damien, George Washington Carver, Jane Addams, Wilfred Grenfell, Mahatma Gandhi, and Albert Schweitzer. Something like Hero Tales, not specifically Christian, but inspirational and well written. We've just finished reading this (in our Year 3 1/2).

"Nothing on earth was wasted. That was the belief of this man who seemed to have magic in his fingers. Every day he had a whole handful of new ideas, too. He searched the woods and fields and brought home plants, leaves, and roots. Then he took them to his laboratory and made them into useful products, or medicines, or food. He told his students that they must learn to "see." They must always see something good in nature. They must always look for something that would benefit mankind.

"Not even a few handfuls of dirt were too humble to interest Dr. Carver. Yet he wanted almost nothing for himself...."

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What has Mama Squirrel read this year?

Besides purely school books?

Mama Squirrel made up a reading list last December of 20 Library Books to read in 2009. In some cases I never did locate the book and ended up reading something else by the same author or another book on the same topic. Here they are, with the ones I finished in bold and the ones I at least started in italics:

1. Our Culture, What's Left of it: The Mandarins and the Masses
2. Story of French
3. Freakonomics
4. Half in the Sun: an anthology of Mennonite Writing
5. Bumblebee Economics
6. Of This Earth (Rudy Wiebe) (it's usually out)
7. King of Infinite Space: Donald Coxeter, the man who saved geometry
8. The Bone Sharps: a novel
9. Rough Crossings: Britain, the slaves, and the American Revolution
10. De Niro's Game
11. The Skystone (some heavy-duty adult content)
12. Black Swan Green
13. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
14. Three-Day Road
15. A Most Damnable Invention: dynamite, nitrates, and the making of the modern world
16. On Chesil Beach
17. Divisadero (I got halfway through and couldn't handle any more)
18. The Library at Night
19. The Man Who Forgot How to Read (Engel) (I keep looking for it and it's always out)
20. The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)

I did finish several of them--and started a few others but didn't get all the way through due either to lack of interest or, in a couple of cases, getting very grossed out at what currently passes for acceptable content in mainstream books. I'm not sure whether to start a new library list for this year or just keep working on this one--I think I might keep working on this one, since I haven't yet got to that tantalizing book about dynamite.

So along with those library books that I did locate and read, and some favourite re-reads (noted), here is my Yes I Read It list for 2009, so far. At the minute I've dropped everything else so that I can work on Dawn to Decadence (and read Steph's slow cooker book).

A good chunk of the Bible
Plutarch: Life of Theseus, Life of Romulus
Marva Collins' Way

Books on writing:

How to Grow a Novel
Reading like a Writer (Prose)
Turning Life into Fiction (Hemley)

Books on Real Life:

Fast Food Nation
Discover Your Inner Economist

Books on homing:

Tightwad Gazette books (re-read)
Two "Lasagna Gardening" books
Introducing Whole Foods Cooking (Gregg)

Welcome Home, by Emilie Barnes

Books on books:

84, Charing Cross Road / The Duchess of Bloomsbury
Inside Prince Caspian (Brown)

Books about people:

The Small Woman
King of Infinite Space


Most of the Mitford books (re-read)
Daughter of Time (re-read)
Kingfishers Catch Fire (Godden) (re-read)
Oh What a Paradise It Seems (Cheever)
The Moonstone
The Scarlet Pimpernel
Goldengrove (Prose) (did not like this one at all)
Burglar on the Prowl (Block) (sometimes Mama Squirrel likes a good scary mystery)
The Heart of Midlothian (Scott)
The Silence (Endo)
Deep River (Endo)
Rebels of the Heavenly Kingdom (Paterson)
The Storm (Buechner)
Jeanne, fille du roy (Martel)
Some of Tolstoy's stories
Some of Chekhov's stories
Peace Shall Destroy Many (Wiebe)
The Living (Dillard)
The Stone Diaries (Shields)
Jayber Crow
Four of John Buchan's Richard Hannay spy novels (very racist but fun)

Books partly read:

Future Grace, by John Piper
Begin Here (Barzun)
Soul Survivor (re-read) (Yancey)
The Brothers K, by David James Duncan (I'm still working on this)
Make It Fast, Cook It Slow, by Stephanie O'Dea (ditto)
From Dawn to Decadence, by Jacques Barzun (ditto)

Thankful Alphabet: U

U is for Up. As in, time's almost Up to vote in the HSBA awards. Saturday at midnight is it!

U is also for The Uncommonly Good Weather we've had this month.

U is for an Upbeat Update from A Dusty Frame.

And for all the amazing things that Unfold in our lives.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: One Very Cute S

Run, run, run and check out these awesome squirrels at That Artist Woman. Toilet paper tubes never looked so good. (Seen at Crafty Crow.)

Food Salvage (What's in the cupboard?)

I've been trying hard to use up some bits and pieces in the cupboard and the fridge, and work with what we had since we didn't do a full grocery trip last weekend. I cooked up a couple of bags of dried beans and froze them. I froze some yogurt in ice cube trays so that I'd have it for starter. I made a batch of Brannies (a brownie recipe including bran cereal), which are much better than they sound. I made extra loaves of pumpkin bread and froze them.

This morning I made Apple Raisin Baked 10-Grain Cereal, but without the apples, raisins, or nuts. Just one of those things I bought that never seemed to get used the ordinary way--but I did like the baked version. I let it sit in the fridge overnight in a bowl, poured it into a 9 x 13 pan this morning and baked it for half an hour. The recipe recommends an 8 inch pan and calls for baking it for 50 minutes, but I preferred it being a little flatter and getting done sooner.

Last night we had farmer's sausage baked on a bit of sauerkraut (add half a cup of water, bake for about an hour and a half depending on how frozen it is), with a can of no-salt green beans stirred in at the end, and served with baked potatoes. Tonight's dinner is a casserole made up of black beans (from the freezer), chopped celery (the end of the bunch), sliced sausage, a couple of sliced leftover potatoes, and a can of tomato paste-plus-milk poured on top. The tomato part is optional; broth would have given it a different taste. There are cheese perogies in the freezer, so I'll cook those as well; but if I hadn't had those, I would have cooked rice to have with it. And I'll cut up the last of the carrots and have those raw.

Dessert could have been a cranberry crisp, since I had a can of whole-berry cranberry sauce and enough oatmeal and other things to make a quick topping. However, I know that the people who will be eating it aren't always as fond of warm cranberries as I am, so I decided on something different. I combined oatmeal cookie crumbs, oatmeal and oil to make crumbles, and layered those in a bowl with the cranberry sauce (mixed with homemade raspberry jam) and the frozen yogurt cubes. Like a family-size parfait, right? The two important parts of this kind of dessert are putting in something you can see through--it's much prettier that way--and letting the cubes thaw enough to eat but still keep things chilled. I made the dessert after lunch and put it in the fridge, but I'll probably move it back to the counter for the last while before dinner: don't want anybody crunching on yogurt ice cubes.

And tonight Mr. Fixit will be stopping at the grocery store to pick up more Squirrel Feed.

Thankful Alphabet: More S Words

Squirrelings (and their dad)--of course!

Real squirrels

Funny squirrels


Sunshine--which we've had all week except for today

Sheets on the beds

Shoes on the feet

Soup from the Crockpot.

Thankful Alphabet: S

S is for sprouts: something you can crunch even when the garden is gone. Last week we sprouted some lentils, which we hadn't done for a very long time, and I had forgotten how easy they are to do.

One jar, quart-sized is good but it doesn't have to have a lid; one piece of cheesecloth or something similar, and a rubber band or something to hold it on the jar; a quarter-cup or so of uncooked lentils; water. And a waterproof box or tray to hold the jar is good too.

Put the lentils in the jar and cover with water. Leave overnight or for several hours. Cover the jar with cheesecloth and pour out the water through the cloth; then pour more water in and pour it off again (rinsing the sprouts). Put the jar full of damp lentils into a dark place, like the kitchen cupboard, on its side if possible. Rinse the sprouts a couple of times a day; don't let the lentils stay too wet, but don't let them dry out either. Within a day or so you should see little white tails appearing, and a couple of days later the cheesecloth will look terrible but the sprouts will be long enough to eat.

That's it! (If you're planning on sprouting anything different like alfalfa, please check the various current pieces of advice about which sprouts you shouldn't eat raw or which ones you shouldn't eat too much of, period. But the method is about the same. Here's one recent blog post about sprouting alfalfa seeds from Under $1000 Per Month.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Snowball was my sister Crayons' hamster. Yesterday sadly he died from old age.
We will remember him.

~~~Ponytails :(

Thankful Alphabet: R

R is for Recipes.

A couple of weeks ago The Apprentice was in our kitchen with one of her friends, and they wanted to bake something. I offered the use of my recipe binder, and The Apprentice explained to her friend with what sounded like a bit of awe, "My mom's had this binder forever. This book has everything I grew up eating."

Well, it hasn't been exactly the same binder all this time (my first big one fell apart and I was forced to decant the recipes into two smaller books), and not everything I make is in the binder--we do have some other cookbooks. (I just managed to get Stephanie O'Dea's new book, Make It Fast Cook It Slow, from the library. I had to wait impatiently while somebody else brought it back.) But The Apprentice's appreciation is noted.

So in her honour, I am reposting the recipe that I think has gotten the most Google hits here over the past few years: A Small Chocolate Cake That's Not So Wacky.

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

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


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


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

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

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: Q

Q is for "Q." (This is a repost from February 2009.)

"Q Rocks."--Queen Shenaynay, sometime during the last decade

"Q (Quiller-Couch) was all by himself my college education. I went down to the public library one day when I was seventeen looking for books on the art of writing, and found five books of lectures which Q had delivered to his students of writing at Cambridge.

"'Just what I need!' I congratulated myself. I hurried home with the first volume and started reading and got to page 3 and hit a snag:

"Q....assumed that his students--including me--had read Paradise Lost as a matter of course and would understand his analysis of the 'Invocation to Light' in Book 9. So I said, 'Wait here,' and went down the library and got Paradise Lost and took it home and started reading it and got to page 3, when I hit a snag:

"Milton assumed I'd read the Christian version of Isaiah and the New Testament and had learned all about Lucifer and the War in Heaven, and since I'd been reared in Judaism I hadn't. So I said, 'Wait here,' and borrowed a Christian Bible and read about Lucifer and so forth, and then went back to Milton and read Paradise Lost, and then finally got back to Q, page 3.....[I] discovered he assumed I not only knew all the plays of Shakespeare, and Boswell's Johnson, but also the Second Book of Esdras....So what with one thing and another and an average of three 'Wait here's' a week, it took me eleven years to get through Q's five books of lectures."

--Helene Hanff, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, 1974

(Here's a bonus quote from "Q": "The novelist—well, even the novelist has his uses; and I would warn you against despising any form of art which is alive and pliant in the hands of men. For my part, I believe, bearing in mind Mr. Barrie’s Peter Pan and the old bottles he renovated to hold that joyous wine, that even Musical Comedy, in the hands of a master, might become a thing of beauty.")

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: P

P is for today's schooltime Poem: "The Chambered Nautilus," by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

"This is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main,--
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair...."

Linked from Poetry Ceilidh at The Beehive.

Ring out wild bells

Inexpensive, too, if you use the Mad In Crafts version of a bell door decoration.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: O, for the third time

O is for origami, and there are good kid-friendly patterns at Mama Squirrel used some of these patterns for a co-op class last Friday, and the mostly-eight-and-nine-year-olds were able to follow most of them without trouble. We started with this printable puppy, moved on to a paper cup and then a basket (very similar); then we tried boxes and booklets.

On a frugal note, Mama Squirrel found packs of coloured "craft paper" at the dollar store--not construction paper, these were sheets ranging from origami-paper thickness to something a bit stiffer. Ponytails helped cut a bunch of them into squares, and that easily gave us enough paper for our class. We also had some sheets of Roylco's animal print and camouflage paper, left over from a long-ago craft, and the boys all wanted the camouflage paper. Just an idea in case anyone thinks paper folding is a girl thing...and some of Roylco's ethnic-print papers would also make great origami paper. (I don't work for Roylco, I'm just a happy customer.)

Thankful Alphabet: Another O

O is for out, out, out at Domestic Fashionista. I can't think of a better reason to declutter.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: N

N is for Nutmeg. One of food history's greatest discoveries, and the secret ingredient that raises Snickerdoodle Blondies from just a cinnamon bar into a new family favourite.
(No, I'm not just being silly. I can be thankful for nutmeg if I want to be. Of course I'm also thankful for neighbours, newspapers, and my nervous system. Also nominations. Don't forget to vote.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: L

L is for Literature.

What would we do without books?

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.” --Notes from a Book Talk

Monday, November 09, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: Ideas

I is for Ideas

"The mind feeds on ideas, and therefore children should have a generous curriculum."--Charlotte Mason

What ideas are we going to take in today? Where are we going to get them? Which ones will take root?

What idea food will we put on the table? Swiss Family Robinson, the stories of Elisha, the life of Abraham Lincoln, a poem by John McCrae, math problems, and the wonders of our digestive system. For a start.

And we are so very thankful.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: G

G is for garden, the one that's just now all finished for the season. Stuff sticking out of the ground that you can eat never stops amazing me.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Thankful Alphabet: F

Sorry for copycatting the DHM's "E is for Eggs"--she did a better job on it anyway.

F: Furnace.

Do I need to say more?

Thursday, November 05, 2009

ABCs of thankfulness

The Deputy Headmistress is counting through the days of November by naming something to be thankful for every day--starting with each letter of the alphabet.

I like that idea, too. So here are some to start with:

A: All About Spelling. One of the TOS Review products that I'm very happy we got to try out. (Look for a review in December.)

B: Blue skies. In between the bursts of snow and grayness we got today.

C: Cider vinegar. I'm drinking it in warm water as per Lynn's anti-flu suggestions.

D: Daughters.

E: Eggs. Our daughters' Sunday School teacher just got more chickens and they're laying. So we had German Oven Pancake for lunch yesterday.

"F" tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Go stand in the corner

What Michelle Malkin thinks of that stream of blather on The View today.

What Crayons thinks of it: "I am not dumb. And I like other kids. Love, Crayons."

What I think of it: some people will say anything to get attention. And is it only coincidence that those remarks about having all those children and homeschooling come only a couple of weeks after they interviewed the Duggars? Hm?

(I am not a daytime TV watcher; I just saw that interview by accident. Really.)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Start off your work week with some delightful leisure

In tribute to The Beehive's very important post On Leisure, Learning, and Large Rooms:

"You are, in short, blind, and should take a week or a month of delightful leisure during which you set aside all these lowly values that have enslaved you, open your eyes to honor and virtue, engage in a pleasant humanizing conversation with some truly wise people, and, well, repent of your miserable miserliness. Because the more actively you inflict your vision on education, the more damage you are doing.

"There is no education without leisure for the simple reason that education is a leisure activity. It requires all of the other values: controls, freedom, money, and honor. But it’s only true end is virtue for the simple reason that only virtue is big enough to rightly order the other goods. The wise man knows where and how to get honor, money, freedom, and controls, and he knows how to use them. Because he is not driven by them as by an unruly mob. Instead he governs them."

--from Leisure, Plato’s Republic, and American Education
Posted on Quiddity, December 9, 2008 by Andrew Kern

Monday, October 26, 2009

How about creative dishwashing?

We don't read For Better Or For Worse as much as we used to...but I've been sort of following Elly's enrolling in creative writing classes.

I liked this one--sorry I can't copy it here, you'll just have to go look.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wendell Berry on the cost of simplifying

From this interview with Jeff Fearnside in The Sun Magazine. Thanks to Holy Experience for the link.
Berry: They didn’t have electricity. All their technology was nineteenth century. But they were satisfied, and they lived a great life — they made a great life. It was a work of art.

Fearnside: So their answer was to simplify their lives so that they required less income and could do the things they were passionate about.

Berry: They reduced costs, but when you do that, you make your life more complex. It’s much simpler to live by shopping.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Back to the Library Sale

We did go back to the library sale, and brought home another boxful. The Apprentice also filled up a bag with CDs, audio books and books of her own (including some Biochemistry software).

Still it was kind of sad leaving all the rest of those boxes behind to be euthanized recycled.

Books we didn't have:

Give the Dog a Bone, by Steven Kellogg

April's Kittens, by Clare Turlay Newberry (I got this to replace another copy which I was scolded for selling)

What Do You Do, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin, pictures by Maurice Sendak

Exploring Nature Around the Year: Fall, by David Webster (we have the Winter book in this series)

Hurry Home, Candy, by Meindert DeJong (to replace that copy that we couldn't use for school because it was missing a section)

Puppy Summer, by Meindert DeJong

Circus Shoes, by Noel Streatfeild (we do have The Circus is Coming, which is the same book, but there are a number of changes between the two, and it's uncertain whether Streatfeild herself revised it or whether someone else had a hand in it.)

The Fearless Treasure, by Noel Streatfeild

Missee Lee, by Arthur Ransome

Kaleidoscope, by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Minnow on the Say, by A. Philippa Pearce

David Balfour, by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by N.C. Wyeth (really nice hardcover)

Saints: Adventures in Courage, by Mary O'Neill (rough shape, but interesting)

God's Troubadour: The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, by Sophie Jewett

Miss Bianca and the Bridesmaid, by Margery Sharp

My Father's Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett

Companion to Narnia, by Paul E. Ford

The Swans of Ballycastle, by Walter Hackett

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower, by Rumer Godden

The Fairy Ring, edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora Archibad Smith, revised by Ethna Sheehan

Pegeen, by Hilda van Stockum

The Carved Lions, by Mrs. Molesworth

The House of Arden, by E. Nesbit

The Wonderful Garden, by E. Nesbit

The Second Mrs. Giaconda, by E.L. Konigsburg

Emily's Runaway Imagination, by Beverly Cleary

Otto of the Silver Hand, by Howard Pyle

Underground to Canada, by Barbara Smucker

Chemistry For Every Kid: 101 Easy Experiments That Really Work

Books we already have but these are nicer copies or particular editions:

The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, hardcover illustrated by Graham Percy (I like Shepard's illustrations, but these are nice too)

Rufus M., by Eleanor Estes

Little Plum, by Rumer Godden, hardcover to replace our paperback

Pilgrim's Progress (Mary Godolphin's version), illustrated by Robert Lawson

Books we already have but I got them anyway to swap or sell:

The Young Brahms, by Sybil Deucher

The Happy Orpheline, by Natalie Savage Carlson

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Library sale!

I can't believe it's been a year since the last big library sale here. Seems just last week I was grousing about Crayons' predilection for pink books.

This year's sale worried me a bit--there were just too many books in the children's section. Now, granted, I don't always get there during the first few hours, so maybe it's always like that--but it seemed to me that they were getting rid of a few too many good books this year. Nice for us, but not a good sign of the times.

I bought one boxful, and wished I had time to go through more of the boxes--maybe I'll get back sometime later in the weekend.

This is what we found:

Books we didn't have:

Open the Door: Stories Collected and Arranged by Margery Fisher (with a nice jacket by Edward Ardizzone)
Stories for Nine-Year-Olds and other younger readers, edited by Sara and Stephen Corrin
Favorite Fairy Tales Told in India, retold by Virginia Haviland
Sir Gibbie, by George MacDonald
The Golden Key, by George MacDonald, pictures by Maurice Sendak
The Ordinary Princess, by M.M. Kaye
The Children of Odin, by Padraic Colum
Theras and His Town, by Caroline Dale Snedeker
With Wolfe in Canada, by G.A. Henty
The Siege and Fall of Troy, retold for young people by Robert Graves
The Light Beyond the Forest: The Quest for the Holy Grail, by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Big Six, by Arthur Ransome
Fu-Dog, by Rumer Godden
The Wandering Wombles, by Elisabeth Beresford
Tingleberries, Tuckertubs and Telephones, by Margaret Mahy (a book The Apprentice used to like)
The Five Sisters, by Margaret Mahy (this one has some wizard stuff in it)
Warton and the Contest, by Russell E. Erickson (one of the Warton and Morton Toad series)
Betsy's Busy Summer, by Carolyn Haywood
The Middle Moffat, by Eleanor Estes
The Most Wonderful Doll in the World, by Phyllis McGinley
River Winding: Poems by Charlotte Zolotow
Looking at Architecture, by Roberta M. Paine
The Young Author's Do-it-Yourself Book
The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense: Lightly Comic, Highly Humorous, and Largely Nonsensical Verse, selected and edited by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Birds, Beasts and the Third Thing: Poems by D.H. Lawrence, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
Clever Cooks: A Concoction of Stories, Charms, Recipes & Riddles, Compiled by Ellin Greene
The Pooh Song Book
The Pooh Cook Book

Books we have but these are different editions or special:

The Worker in Sandalwood, by Marjorie Pickthall
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow & Rip Van Winkle, by Washington Irving, illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher
The Rainbow Fairy Book, edited by Andrew Lang, illustrations by Michael Hague (not in very good shape, but I brought it home anyway)

Books we have but I picked them up to swap or sell:

The Gammage Cup, by Carol Kendall
The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
Seabird, by Holling Clancy Holling
The Light Princess, by George MacDonald, pictures by Maurice Sendak

Videos and misc. stuff: an audio book of Ramona the Pest, and some videos including Runaway Ralph, the puppet opera version of Hansel and Gretel, and The Love Bug.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What's for supper? Last of the Swiss chard

I adapted tonight's dinner from a recipe in the November 2009 Canadian Living Magazine. They used sausage--I used meatballs. They used diced tomatoes and seasonings--I opened a can of spaghetti sauce. They used rigatoni--I used penne. Does it even resemble the original? I think we got the general idea of it. And it did use up some of the Swiss chard that's still very, very healthy in our garden--even with frost on the grass this morning. I liked the way the chard turned out in this--it had a different, less overcooked texture from the way we use it in lasagna (pre-steamed and mashed up with cottage cheese).

We ate it with baked sweet potatoes--orange is always good with green. I made lots on purpose so that we'd have leftovers. You could cut these amounts in half.

Pasta, Meatballs and Swiss Chard

8 to 10 cups washed and chopped Swiss chard, as fresh as possible

A few fresh mushrooms

1 680-ml can pasta sauce (I used Primo Original Recipe)

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese (or a combination)

Meatballs prepared from whatever recipe you like (I used about 1 1/3 lb. ground beef, and added lots of parsley but not too much extra seasoning)

1 lb. penne (tubes) or other similar pasta

A spoonful of butter, margarine or oil (optional)

Prepare your meatballs and bake or brown them, whatever you usually do to them. (I baked them on foil at 400 degrees.)

Cook the pasta until pretty much done, still slightly firm. Drain off most of the water, leaving a bit behind. Put the pasta back into the pot and combine with the can of sauce, the chopped (uncooked) chard and mushrooms, and the cooked meatballs, OR leave the meatballs out at this point. Spoon everything into a large greased pan or two; I used two large lidded casseroles, spooned the mixture in, and then added the meatballs on top. Cover with grated cheese. Bake, covered, for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees and then 10 minutes uncovered, till everything is heated through; or longer if you are starting with cold ingredients or you have it all in one pan. When I took the casseroles out, I spread a spoonful of butter over the top of each one, just because the beef was very lean, I didn't use a lot of sauce, and some of the chard around the edges looked a bit dry. It probably wasn't necessary but I thought it looked better with a bit of moistening. If you used sausage as originally recommended, or used a bit more sauce, you probably wouldn't need to do that.

The five of us finished off one of the casseroles, so I would guess that this amount should serve 8 to 10 people. You could increase the amount of pasta sauce, even double it if you like things very tomatoey; some of the Squirrels here are sensitive to tomatoes, so we preferred it with less, and I think it allowed the flavour of the chard to come out well (it didn't get drowned in tomatoes).

You could make this in a slow cooker, although if you have only a 3 1/2 quart pot as we do, you'd probably only be able to fit half the recipe in it.

Thrift and thanksgiving

This is a response to The Common Room post Thrift, Parsimony and Freegan Living, which the DHM wrote after reading the NY Times review of Lauren Weber's book In Cheap We Trust. As the DHM mentioned, you can read an excerpt from the book here.

While making a day-after-Thanksgiving leftover casserole, I thought of a definition for sensible frugality: frugality (vs. miserliness) means cutting the meat off the bones, but not so close that you cut yourself with the knife. (Don't go spoiling my metaphor by telling me I should have been boiling it instead. It really was a very little turkey to start with, and I doubt I would have gotten much broth from what was left.)

Re-dipping your teabag so many times that you poison yourself is miserly. (Some will argue about that but I'm sticking by what my auntie told me.) Depriving people of what would make their lives pleasanter, healthier or safer, if whatever it is really does take money and if you can afford it, is miserly. Spending half an hour looking for a free parking spot (as an acquaintance of Weber's does) is just silly, especially if you have other people in the car who will never get that time back that you wasted. There are definitely ways to be too much of a tightwad.

On the other hand, those who slam Amy Dacyczyn, for example, seldom bother to bring up some of the most sensible and thoughtful articles from her Tightwad Gazette. She once described a frugal meal that her family served to guests: it included chicken, potatoes, and fresh vegetables from their garden. There was nothing miserly-sounding about it at all; in fact, some people would think that all that fresh, homecooked food was a treat. A Family Fun article about the Dacyczyn family focused on the cool and creative toys and other amusements that their children--those poor, deprived children of tightwads--spent their time with. And the point she was trying to make by using things like metal strips from waxed paper boxes (see Weber's excerpt) was that if you have it, then use it, instead of wasting your time and gas and money going out to buy something else while the metal strip goes into the landfill. She wasn't suggesting that you spend your life stockpiling metal strips in case you might someday need one to hang a picture. (I might also point out that some of the ideas such as jump ropes were actually sent in by TG readers.) It's not crazy to re-use things, and to keep using them until they wear out or smell bad. Sometimes it's not worth the fuss over what something costs; other times it just makes more sense to look for a tightwad solution. As Amy pointed out more than once, frugal living, including used stuff, can be better than its equivalent in new things, and it can help you achieve other goals that are important to you (like staying home with young children, or buying a house).

Lauren Weber is right about the fact that when we think we can afford to "live better," we usually do--although we sometimes confuse "living better" with "living more expensively." In the Treehouse we have a 1929 floor radio that originally sold for $275. Quite a chunk of change in those days, but someone must have thought it worth the money. (Mr. Fixit bought it at an estate sale before we were married.)

I knew an elderly woman whose husband refused to update the worn linoleum in their kitchen. For forty years she waxed that linoleum and hated it. One of the first things she did after he died--and she told me this with a chortle--was put in a no-wax floor. (Was she justified in wanting this? Did she deserve it after fighting the linoleum all those years? Is that just small potatoes compared with people who want bigger cars and fancier furniture?)

Some of Mr. Fixit's relatives survived very lean times during the Depression, when opportunities for immigrants on the Prairies were scarce. But they worked hard, saved all they could, and eventually built themselves a house with an oil furnace and--an amazing luxury--a thermostat to control it. They had no desire to return to methods of home heating that involved chopping or shovelling. It reminds me of another article I once read about a woman who grew up through tough times, and never could get over her amazement over simply "standing in the warm."

I'm not sure I relate to Ms. Weber's interest in fancy shoes marked down to ninety-nine dollars, or to her enthusiasm for the latest in televisions. We ourselves have made do just fine with our '70's and '80's TVs, and there's always the most radical idea of all--doing without one. To each her own, but I'm not sure how much I trust that kind of "frugal" advice. It's not wrong to enjoy good times, to look forward to a special meal, even to splurge on a bit of candy corn; but I do question large amounts of money spent on something that doesn't pay you back. (A chest freezer is an investment. A pair of high heels are probably not, unless they're sending you home from Oz.) I guess I just slice my turkey a little closer to the bone than she does.

Can you be "too frugal?" Opinions?

Thanksgiving photos by Mr. Fixit. The centerpiece was made from a vintage Native basket (free from Grandpa Squirrel's basement); dollar-store fake leaves that we bought for a craft class; a glass thingy from a cousin's wedding; a few horse chestnuts; and a spray from our lilac bush, which looks quite different in autumn. The turkey salt and pepper shakers belonged to Mr. Fixit's grandma. Most of the furniture in the photo also came from the Squirrel grandparents.