Wednesday, December 29, 2010

What happened to the green burlap? (mini gift sacks)

That October rummage sale turned out to be one of the most useful we went to all fall.

The yarn mostly went into potholders; the blue fabric became a cover for my baking binder; the red candles went into our Advent wreath; we used the glass candle jar during the holiday season; Mr. Fixit has been reading How the Irish Saved Civilization. And then there was "one unopened package of "decorator burlap" in an interesting avocado-greenish colour (I'd guess it's been around for awhile)."

I cut the large sheet of burlap into twelve rectangles, and sewed each one up the side and across the bottom to make a small "potato sack."  (I zigzagged across the tops first so they wouldn't fray too much.)  Really easy--I mean, potato sacks aren't supposed to be perfect or fancy anyway.
After lessons were done one day, the Squirrelings and I had been playing around a bit with fusible webbing (Therm O Web HeatnBond Lite Iron-On Adhesive, if you need to know) and brown paper bags.  I made my own "iron on patches" by ironing webbing onto a piece of fabric, tracing small cookie cutter shapes onto the paper backing, and cutting them apart.  Instant iron-on appliques. 
I had the sacks.  I had the patches.  Moment of serendipity.
What went in the bags?  Sandwich bags of hot chocolate mix and crunchy salad toppers. And one of Peppered Pecans for a hot-tongued relative. A couple of them went to friends as small gifts, tied up with ribbon and candy canes. I tied the rest with brown yarn that had jingle bells and name tags strung on first; they were place markers/table gifts for Christmas dinner.
Not bad for a what's-in-your-hand.

This post is linked from Works-for-me-Wednesday: 2010 Reflections.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Use-what-you-have doll wardrobe (or, Crystal's Christmas Surprise)

What did Crayons and Crystal get for Christmas?

Actually these clothes aren't just for Crystal; she has to share them with her "sister" Crissy, who's about the same height but slimmer.  A few of them will fit one doll better than the other.

Crystal in the nightclothes we made her last year

Crissy in a dress "upcycled" from a wine bag

Where did the fabrics come from?
Last year we bought a "grab bag" of co-ordinating red and blue fabrics at the mill-end store, for about $7.  Crayons used some of it to sew a pencil case, but the rest of it was still uncut.  We also had a nice thick red scrap of material from a church sale (perfect for a bathrobe), a piece of print material from a long-ago rummage sale (I had always thought it would make a pretty doll dress), and a burgundy t-shirt (one with a lot of stretch) that we found at the thrift shop just before Christmas.  Total costs for a doll quilt and pillows, tote bag, and several items of clothing?  Counting a spool of red thread and the stuff we had on hand like elastic and Velcro, I'd say it was under fifteen dollars.
Oh, and the batting for the quilt and the tote bag was a dollar-store "snow blanket."  It was thinner than regular quilt batting, just right for doll things.

Where did the patterns come from?

Several of the things were made from patterns in Sew the Essential Wardrobe for 180inch Dolls, by Joan Hinds and Jean Becker, found on the discard shelf at the library. (The print dress, the blue print blouse, the red bathrobe, the pale blue nightie, the burgundy turtleneck, the checked pants.) There are full-size double-sided patterns folded into the back of the book; I traced them onto tracing paper although they could be photocopied instead.  This book leaves out facings, giving all the blouses and dresses a full bodice lining instead.  In other words, you make four fronts and two backs, or four backs and two fronts.  It takes a bit more fabric, but does a neater job, and once you've made one piece like that, you understand how it works for the others.
Others came from Bunkhouse Books' Stitches & Pins doll clothe patterns. Very easy to use, and some (like the skirt) don't even require paper patterns, just fabric cut to a certain size. From that package I made the reversible vest and an elastic-waist skirt.
The sweater pattern was found online.   (Not in the photo: ice skates and mittens on a string.)
The tote bag came from Kids Can Press Quilting, by Biz Storms. Putting that together gave me the idea to use the last bits and pieces to make a patchwork quilt. I didn't have a pattern--just used some ideas I had seen in patterns for other doll quilts.
The hairband, small burgundy purse, burgundy shawl to go with the dress, burgundy miniskirt, crocheted scarf, and the mini version of the tote bag, I made up as I went along. The hairband was made from some of the binding on the t-shirt, with a fabric star fused on.

How did it all work out?

Mama Squirrel started with the bathrobe on a November afternoon when Crayons was out. If that hadn't worked out so well, she probably would have stopped there. But a bathrobe needs a nightie, and over the next while she worked on one.  That pattern did create some struggles...but she finally got everything gathered and the white yoke sewed on perfectly...and inside out. Not wanting to go back to the stitch ripper for the umpth time, she compromised and sewed ribbon around the raw edge. And that still could have been the end...except that, even with the nightie fight, she was having fun sewing. And Crystal did need some new clothes.  And we did have that bag of red and blue print fabric pieces.

So we set things up in a bit of an assembly line.  Since there was a limited amount of fabric to work with, Mama Squirrel traced out some of the pattern pieces she thought she'd use, and pinned and cut them all at once, trying to match the largest pieces of fabric to the clothes requiring the most material.  Then it was just a matter of finding time and privacy to sew them, bit by bit.  Most of that happened in the last week of school (when the Squirrelings had a light workload and extra free time) and the week of holidays before Christmas (when it was quite acceptable for Mama Squirrel to say "OUT, I'm working on something.")

What kind of fastenings are on the clothes?

Mama Squirrel is not much into hardware.  The blouse, dress and nightie have Velcro closings.  The sweater has a button.  The shawl has a snap.  Everything else is pull-on.

We thought the pants and turtleneck outfit would be groovy enough for Crissy.
On Christmas Eve before bed, Crayons unwrapped the nightwear and the quilt and pillows.  The pillows are made from scraps of the t-shirt, with gingerbread shapes fused on for decoration.  The quilt top was made from rectangles and squares pieced together in strips, then placed on a square of snow-blanket for batting, and a piece of blue brushed fabric (long-ago remnant) cut 2 inches larger all the way around.  The backing was folded over twice towards the front of the quilt, and then top-stitched to hold the whole thing together.  It would have been fun to "tie" the quilt, but it didn't seem necessary.

On Christmas morning, Crayons unwrapped the large tote bag which was holding the rest of the clothes.  It was made from one of the few pieces of grab-bag fabric which had a print too large for dolls, and there was another large dark red piece left for lining.  Because we were so close to the end of the fabric, the tote bag has one red handle and one handle made of two kinds of blue fabric.  But Crayons says she doesn't mind.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Crystal wanted skates (crochet pattern)

Crystal, if you don't know, is Crayons' 18-inch doll.

And Crystal thought it would be nice if she got some skates for Christmas.

Yes, you can buy doll ice skates, but they're a bit pricey. Mama Squirrel saw this crocheted skate pattern on Cobbler's Cabin, and figured they would work. She didn't get them done for Christmas, but the Boxing Day lull gave her enough time to whip them together, and luckily we happened to have two two-inch paper clips (big ones) for the blades.

If you're trying these, I would warn you to count very carefully and use a stitch marker to mark the beginning of rounds--otherwise your shape will get way off. (Ask me how I know?) The groups of three single crochet in a row are meant to go right on the long sides of the oval sole; the two sc in one stitch are the "corners" of the oval. If you find yourself making the three sc at the short end or somewhere else, you'd better start again. Also, there are a couple of places where I took an extra slip stitch just to tighten up and end things off nicely--not in the pattern, but it doesn't hurt.

And a word of encouragement: once you've finished the first skate, the second one goes much faster.

P.S. Crystal got some other things for Christmas, too; we will put up some photos later on.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Gift from the Un-Lonely Squirrel

Once, there was a fairy named Mama Squirrel. She lived in a treehouse with her loving husband and 3 beautiful squirrels girls. One day she said, "My, my, I had better get started on some Christmas presents!" So, Mama Squirrel took her magic fairy wand (errrrrrr, I mean crochet hook) and waved it about...
She crocheted...
...and crocheted!
Now, Mama Squirrel kept crocheting until she had...
8 hot pads and one wash cloth:
One even had a special button on it!
5 tree ornaments/decorations:
One small mat:
A doily: 
4 bells: 
3 scarves: 
A panda for one lucky little one:
Two pairs of mittens:
And two afghans (two friends tried one out) :o) : 
And Mama Squirrel, her husband, and 3 lovely daughters lived happily ever after!
~The End~
Merry Christmas!

Mama Squirrel's Technical Notes and Sources
Panda: pattern by Lori-Jean Karluk, published in Crochet Patterns by Herrschners, July/August 1991. Yarn: leftover black and white worsted.
Mittens: Adapted from this Canadian Living pattern. Patons yarn bought on sale at the mill-ends store.
Scarves: all the same pattern, just made up as I went along. The multi-coloured scarf is made all from one ball of thrifted yarn.
Hotpads and potholders: all adapted from this pattern on Bizzy Crochet and from a variation in the comments posted about the same pattern; all made from rummage-saled and thrifted yarn. This is truly a beginner-friendly pattern--no rounds to join or rows to turn.  And you can make them any size you want.
White mat: adapted from "Hanukkah Doily" by Agnes Russell, in Crochet World December 2007.
Red, white and blue afghan: adapted from "Berries and Evergreens Afghan" by Katherine Eng, in Crochet World December 2005. The designer used shades of rose, claret and greens for a holiday-toned afghan; I wanted to use up several weights and shades of thrifted red yarn (I bought a whole bagful of mixed reds), plus work in some chunky-weight red, white and denim-blue yarn I had bought a long time ago. It was fun to make because you work from the center stripe out in both directions, as if the pattern were reflected in a mirror. My afghan is a bit smaller than the original, but I had to stop when the yarn ran out.
Red, white and green throw: adapted from a basic mile-a-minute afghan pattern.  One package of unidentified-label yarn from the mill-ends store.
Thread tree trims: "Seven Wonders Tree Trims" by Marcia Pope, in Crochet World December 2005. You can tell these (and the other thread things) aren't really done--I still have to stiffen them, fix the loose ends and so on.
Bells: "Crochet Bells" by Maggie Weldon, in Country Crafts Winter 1996.

The Homeschoolers' Christmas (2010)

I wrote this quite a few years ago for our local homeschool group's newsletter; later it appeared in an American group's newsletter.  But I guess I can still post it here, right?  (No particular offense is intended to Saxon Math--you try finding a rhyme for...okay, just read it.)

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the nation
the holiday spirit was in full operation
The stockings were loaded, the presents were wrapped
And while moms checked  their emails and tired dads napped
Their angelic offspring made straight for the tree
And checked out the presents as quiet as could be.

They were hoping for skateboards and monster truck sets
Barbie cars, Barbie clothes, Barbie beds, Barbie pets
For video games that were violent and weird
And lots more to be sent from the man with the beard.

But in the last house at the top of the hill
A family of homeschoolers sat wondering still.
Said dear little Anna with a face full of woe,
“I wrote Santa a letter, so you’d think he would know
That I’m asking for CDs that make lots of noise
Like Hannah Montana and the Backstreet Boys.”
“It’s no use,” said Thomas.  “You know for a fact
We’ll get songs that will help us to add and subtract.”
“Don’t you remember” said big sister Kate
“The year we got Daily Grams books one to eight?”
“It’s not fair” said her brother, “I want Play Station Kombat,
But I’ll probably end up with a book about wombats.”

“Well, this year” said Anna, “let’s sit up and wait,
And when Santa Claus comes, we can all set him straight.”
So into the night they sat munching a snack
With the hope that St. Nick would show up with his pack.

But at the North Pole things were somewhat amiss
Santa’s computer had scrambled his list
As he packed up his laptop and toys for his travels
He wasn’t quite sure if the mess was unraveled
But he dropped all the toys with a loud “ho ho hoing”
Down the chimneys where they seemed they ought to be going.

At ten minutes past twelve (by their plastic teaching clock)
The homeschooled kids were aroused with a shock
And what should their wondering eyes soon be facing
But a sackful of presents marked “Ashley and Jason.”
There were DVD movies and belly button jeans
Purple haired trolls and a dance moves machine
A Queasy Bake Oven, two robots that fight
A Whatserface doll...and not one book in sight.

Their eyes how they twinkled!  With laughter so hearty
They tore open the goodies and started to party.
But Mamma in her jammies came in and said “No! 
There’s been a mistake!  All this junk has to go!”
She called up St. Nick who was flying overhead
And asked him to bring the right presents instead
He promised he’d track down the gifts for her tots
And get rid of the trolls and the fighting robots.

And not far away, spending Christmas vacation
With the sackful of toys were Ashley and Jason
At first they were puzzled and pouted a bit
And Jason said “what’s a gemology kit?”
He checked out the books and a model heart
And some software about  Impressionist Art
Then Ashley sat down with a book about flowers
And they sat there like that for about three hours.

Till Santa popped in and explained his mistake
And said he’d get back the Queasybake
And the Hannah CD and the movies to play
But Jason and Ashley said, “No way!
The stuff is ours, it’s staying here
And could you please bring us more like that next year?”

So Santa was in a bit of a stew
He had to decide what the dickens to do
He called on his cell to the house of homeschooling
Where there was a great deal of laughing and fooling
Their mom said, “All right, you can keep the stuff
But no more next year, enough is enough!
I’ve learned something too, I promise not to fax in
A Christmas order for anything by Saxon.”

So Santa went home with his empty sleigh
And worked on his laptop the rest of the day
He made some notes for next year’s ride.
“More gifts that get the kids outside.
And for the mother of Ashley and Jason,
A complete set of Charlotte Mason.”
He took off his glasses, he’d done his best,
And then lay down for a well-deserved rest.
But I heard him exclaim as he pulled the bed curtain
"Merry Christmas to all, and homeschoolers for certain."

Monday, December 20, 2010

What's Mama Squirrel up to?

I can't say too much here. But it involves less crocheting and more time with the Evil Sewing Machine. Here's a hint.
Here's another one.

Actually I love my sewing machine. I do. It just has a tendency to run out of bobbin thread at the wrong time, or (much worse) to refuse to play nice with the bobbin thread at all. Throw in Mama Squirrel's general ineptitude with machines, tendency to sew things on upside down, and frequent inability to get the thread through the needle, and all I can say is that I'm glad there's a Mr. Fixit around. And that I have two stitch rippers handy.

But over the last few years the machine has started to learn Who's Boss, and it now obeys me almost as well as it does Ponytails.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Our Roman Roots: So Far So Good (review)

Our Roman Roots: A Catholic Student's Guide to Latin Grammar and Western Civilization, by James R. Leek, Ed.D. Review at

This is not a state-of-the-art Latin program, especially in its 1997 coilbound edition with cassette. It will not give you the ability to translate Virgil or to read the Vulgate Bible. But if you're looking for something more than just a prefixes/suffixes curriculum for students from grades 4 to 8, but aren't sure where to start, you might want to consider this book.

We are only up to lesson 5 of 15, which is just about where we should be in the one-year course; so I can only base our review on the first third of the book. But so far, I'm pleased.

Ease of use?--very, very easy, except that you or your students will have to set up separate notebooks with tabs before beginning the course. Occasionally I photocopy one of the pages for the Squirrelings to use instead of copying everything out, for instance if there is a multiple-choice written activity.

It's set up in 15 5-day lessons; unless you have only older students, I wouldn't think you'd want to take the whole thing in 15 weeks. You can either teach a whole lesson every other week and then use the next week for review; teach a lesson over two weeks; or mix things up as we have done (we started off slow but have done two full lessons in the past three weeks, leaving French aside until January). The books are set up with one activity after another, so it's easy to just pencil a mark or leave a Post-It note at the last activity you completed, and go on from there.

The fifth day of each lesson is a one-page quiz; sometimes these are quite tricky and they bring in concepts from previous lessons, so I would recommend a bit of extra review before doing them. We have done things like make Concentration cards with vocabulary words and Roman numerals.

Recommended age? I wouldn't consider it with children below about grade 4, at least as far as the grammar goes; they need to be able, almost right away, to grasp the concept of the genitive or possessive case, and that's not the easiest thing to explain. An example of that is "agnus Dei" (lamb of God), where the "of" is understood by the ending on "Dei." Also, many of the daily "Word Power" quotes that are to be copied into the notebooks require a fair amount of maturity to grasp, such as "Silent leges enim inter arma" (Laws are silent in war). Ponytails (grade 8) can complete some of the written activities faster than Crayons (grade 4) can, and I expect she will find some of the more advanced grammar easier; but Crayons has been doing just as well as Ponytails on the quizzes and the oral activities.

Most enjoyable activities: The Squirrelings, having some Catholic family history, like being able to astound everyone by saying grace in Latin. The songs (like Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) are fun; we have added in two Christmas carols this month that are featured in later lessons. Ponytails has found a couple of opportunities lately to tell people "Errare humanum est"; and Crayons picked out the word "donum" in a Latin song heard at a school concert last night. (You-tube video, not from that concert though.) They also like acting out the imperative forms of verbs (commands) as given on the tape: the voice commands them to Sta! (Stand up!) Sede! (Sit down!) Verte! (Turn around!) and so on.

Most enjoyable aspects for me, after trying out two other Latin programs previously with The Apprentice: no long lists of vocabulary to learn, at least not so far anyway. No chants, at least not so far, unless you count chanting the numbers 1 to 10. The program is not too difficult for me to teach with my one year of high school Latin and that bit of previous experience. I enjoy seeing the Squirrelings make some of their own connections with the vocabulary rather than having to have me point everything out. When the tape commanded them to "Audi!" and "Vide!", Ponytails was quick to point out the connection with "audio" and "video."

I also like the fact that this is not a colouring-page, word-search kind of curriculum. Although it's simple and enjoyable, it avoids busywork.

Downsides? 1. Occasionally--very occasionally--a word or concept will come up that isn't explained right away; one example is that the words "est" and "sunt" (forms of "To be") suddenly pop into use without definition. If you don't have any Latin knowledge at all, you might want to have a friend around to call on occasionally, or at least look things up sometimes online if you get stuck.*** 2. If you don't want any Catholic material at all, you would not like this course. Protestants can use it although there are a few things you might want to omit. 3. Pronunciation is Ecclesiastical, not Classical (Ecclesiastical is pronounced more like Italian); this is fun for singing, but might cause a bit of confusion if you move on later to materials from other publishers. 4. We skip a lot of the "extension activities" (short essay or research topics) unless it seems it would be particularly meaningful to do them.

I think this course could be alternatively titled "Wow! You can speak Latin!" Latin isn't always fun; but this book keeps it from being a chore.

***UPDATE as of Lesson 6:  Starting in again after the Christmas break, I noticed that Lessons 6 and 7 introduce the Ablative and Accusative cases, although you don't really do much with them.  We took one extra session to sort through the idea of conjugations, declensions and cases, comparing what we know of English and French grammar with Latin, and I gave the girls a photocopied chart showing noun endings.  This was one place where I think the program could have used a bit more explanation, although, as I said, all you're actually doing with the Ablative at this point is just saying that someone is "In such-and-such-a-country," and changing the ending for the names of some countries.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent III: Of snowglobes and snowstorms

Sorry I could not get this posted yesterday--computer time was short and I have been a little under the weather, in the other sense. This is for those who feel they're being shaken in a snowglobe lately. As the DHM noticed--the figures inside the globe stay put, even through the stormy blast.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

--Isaac Watts

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sunday Readings for Advent II: Silver and gold

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining.  (1 John 2:7-8 NIV)

On the radio yesterday we heard a commercial giving holiday decorating advice.
"Gold and silver this year--lots of gold and silver.  For me, the holidays are all about richness and luxury."
Does that make you want to laugh?  Or maybe cry?
We decided to laugh.  We could afford to.  We were sitting in Country Style, warming up after a cold few minutes of stuffing groceries, including a small turkey, into the trunk of the Civic.  We had also been to the thrift shop, where Mama Squirrel had picked out a couple of bags' worth of "gold and silver."  Actually, we felt pretty blessed, and not at all in need of rushing out to the Home Place to stock up on Holiday Bling.

Richness and luxury.  Silver and gold, as Yukon Cornelius said.  And what will next year's hot colours be?

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[ is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17 NIV)

I'm thinking of the DHM's daughter, who hasn't left the hospital since her baby was born, two days before American Thanksgiving.  I'm thinking that silver, gold, orange or puce, the colour of the decorations is pretty low priority for her this year.

I'm thinking of another family, waiting to hear the final decision on a foster grandchild's permanent placement, and waiting to bring their own adopted child home.

Of someone at our church who just lost a parent.  Another family whose income has dried up. And of other friends who are facing illness with courage, changes with faith.

In the face of all this, how dare we trivialize "what it's all about?"  The "true light shining" is more beautiful than any bowlful of gold balls or any silver tree that we could put up.

As someone said in the comments to last week's Advent post, Advent is not a countdown; it's a preparation.  When you prepare to get married, you expect it to last at least longer than the wedding day (and I do not mean to be flippant about that--I know that lasting marriages do not always happen) . When we prepare our hearts to receive the gift of God's Son, we look forward to something that will last forever.

 As for you, see that what you have heard from the beginning remains in you. If it does, you also will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is what he promised us—eternal life. (1 John 2:24-25 NIV)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas cookies, not for Ralphie

In the movie A Christmas Story, Ralphie is disappointed when his secret message turns out to be "Drink your Ovaltine."

Last year when I was experimenting with this master dough (also mentioned here), I wanted to try the Malted Milk Buttons variation, but couldn't find any Ovaltine at our supermarket. So I put that idea aside; but when I saw jars of Ovaltine weeks later, I picked one up. It turns out that nobody here likes to drink it much, so we had more than the required two cups' worth left to make the Buttons this year. And they are very good.

As with the "Chocolate Shortbread" we invented last year, giving you the actual recipe is a little tricky, because you need exactly half of a Master Dough recipe which contains three egg yolks and so on. But I'll give you the idea and you can work it out from there...or you can buy Leslie Glover Pendleton's book...or you can find a copy of the December 15, 1998 Woman's Day Magazine.

Make a shortbread-type dough containing about 2 1/2 cups flour, 2/3 cup white sugar, a cup of butter, 1 or 2 egg yolks, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix in, probably with your hands, 2 cups Ovaltine-type powder and another 1/2 tsp. salt. You will also need at least 6 oz. of milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate--chips or squares, doesn't matter--for melting and dipping. We ended up using the whole 8-oz. box of semisweet chocolate, and had a few left over that did not get dipped. Squish all the Ovaltine powder (and the extra salt--not sure why that's needed, but I did put it in) into the mixed dough, and roll it into approximately 140 teaspoon-sized balls--no joke, these are quite small like Pfeffernusse. Bake on ungreased sheets for 10 to 12 minutes at 350 degrees, but watch them--you do not want the bottoms to burn. When they've cooled enough to handle, melt the chocolate and dip the tops of the cookies into it, forming a sort of kiss-type swirl if you're skillful enough, or just getting them chocolatey if you're not. Let them set--they probably won't get firm enough unless you put them in the fridge.

As I said, we're not Ovaltine drinkers--but the cookies seem to be addictive.

This post is linked from Four Moms Cookie Exchange at The Common Room.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Wednesday already? This and that, and dialing for dinner (not pizza)

The week has been busy...everybody's been making things, and Ponytails the Photographer is going to post some photos soon.

The crazy radio stations that play Christmas music too early (and the same songs over and over) are still good for something. Yesterday afternoon Mama Squirrel happened to turn THAT station on, and the nice announcer invited her to phone in and be caller number three...and tell him what comes after "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire." So Mama Squirrel obediently dialed the phone, said "Jack Frost nipping at your nose," and won dinner for two. How about that?

Mama Squirrel and Crayons are one chapter away from finishing Kidnapped. Crayons was not pleased to leave Alan knocking at David's uncle's door at the end of yesterday's reading, but that's what suspense is for. We are also almost finished the biography of Stevenson, and one unit from the end of Grade 3 Light Blue Math Mammoth. Mr. Fixit has ordered the download of Grade 4 so we should be ready to go with that soon.

And we are all putting in extra time on Latin. This is part of this week's lesson:

"Benedic, Domine, nos et haec tua dona, quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi. Per Christum, Dominum nostrum. Amen."

Virtual saccharum if you know what that means.

Monday, November 29, 2010

School Plans for the first week of December

This is "Ornament Week" as well as the first week of Advent! We will be doing special crafts each afternoon this week (along with the Allspice study), as well as shifting into a couple of different books for December. We will also be leaving French aside until the New Year and doing only Latin this month (hoping to include one or two Latin carols).



Bible reading
Hero Tales
Life of Stevenson, 10 pages
Kidnapped, one chapter
George Washington's World, about Catherine the Great


Bible reading
Bible Geography, 1 section
History, pages 102-104
Story Book of Science: "The Age of Trees"
English work (sentence structure and punctuation)
Life of Stevenson, 8 pages
Kidnapped, one chapter


Bible reading
Hero Tales
Finish Life of Stevenson
Finish Kidnapped


Bible reading
Bible Geography
History pages 109-112
A Christmas Carol, pages 1-10


Bible reading
Math English
Hero Tales
Story Book of Science: 1 chapter
A Christmas Carol--pages 11-20



Bible reading
History--catch up
Math and Science, as assigned by Dad
Mr. Pipes, 5 pages
Write with the Best Vol. 2, continue lesson on notetaking/outlining


Bible reading
Math, science
Mere Christianity, pages 51-52
Story of the World Vol. 4, 1/2 chapter


Bible reading
Math, science
Mr. Pipes, 5 pages
Story of the World, 1/2 chapter
Watership Down, 1 chapter


Bible reading
Math, science
Mere Christianity
World of Caesar Augustus, with Mom
Watership Down


Bible reading
Math, science
Mere Christianity
Story of the World, 1/2 chapter
Watership Down, 1 chapter



Latin lesson 4 day 1
Shakespeare: Continue Twelfth Night
It Couldn't Just Happen--about two pages
Composer study: Pelléas et Mélisande (Fauré)


Latin lesson 4 day 2
And The Word Came With Power, chapters 2 & 3 (skip chp 1 for later)
It Couldn't Just Happen--about two pages


Latin lesson 4 day 3
And The Word Came With Power, chp 4 & 5
Age of Fable, half of chapter 13


Latin lesson 4 day 4
And The Word Came With Power, chp 6 & 7
It Couldn't Just Happen, about 2 pages


Latin lesson 4 day 5
And The Word Came With Power, chp 8 & 9
Age of Fable, finish chapter 13

Sunday, November 28, 2010

“O Come O Come Emmanuel”: Advent I

I’m reading about one family’s nature-and-woods-and-symbols Advent ritual. The description is well written, the celebration is well intentioned, and the whole thing sounds much more organized than our usual Advent dining-table mess of crayons, song sheets and slightly aged artificial candle wreath. I have no quarrel with thoughtful parents who want to make their families’ holiday traditions meaningful and personalized.

But I’m wondering what, if anything, is wrong with the words I’m reading and the pictures I’m looking at.

I read “the Christ child.” That’s good.

I see pictures of Mary and Joseph. Also good.

So what’s wrong?

I think it over, and it occurs to me that though the Christ Child is named here, he seems still somewhat undefined. Or perhaps just part of the ensemble, rather than front and centre. The trees and the stars seem bigger here than He does.

And I’m thinking that if He is the “reason for the season,” the focal point, then our understanding of the reason must begin with something bigger than a little baby. Something ugly. Something messy. Something that doesn’t fit nicely into candlelight walks and rituals, into firelight and hot chocolate, into perfect Nativity scenes. Something not so easy to swaddle.

Something like sin.

Attempts to edge Christ out of Christmas may be as blatant as political groups banning Bibles; they may be as commercial as a ToyStory advent calendar; or they may be as subtle as an Advent ritual in which Christ becomes only one more thing to be symbolized along with rocks and plants. Or Christmas trees. Or even light and candles, if Christ is not behind and in and over them all. If His coming because of our darkness and sinfulness is minimized. Christ announced the beginning of His ministry by publicly reading a prophecy that said He had come to set prisoners free. Matthew 1:21 says “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.”

Do we need to emphasize this ugliness during Advent? Shouldn’t this be a happy time, an exciting time? It’s not Lent, after all. Christmas is coming. Jesus’ birthday is easy to talk about, sing about (see any toddler Sunday School curriculum for how sweet and simple it can be made). But the reason—that’s not so simple. Not so beautiful. It doesn’t fit so well into our ABCs of Advent.

What if it doesn’t fit, can’t fit, doesn’t need to fit? What if that is the point?

“It seems, then,” said Tirian,” that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.”

”Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.”

“Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.”—C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

When we sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” tonight, let’s emphasize the name Emmanuel, God With Us. We are singing to the Creator, the Saviour, the Lord. We are not singing to some vague spirit of love, snowfall, family, and Christmastime peace on earth. Because there is no such thing. People suffer at Christmas, sometimes die on Christmas. Wars are fought at Christmas. People are sick and lonely at Christmas. All kinds of evil is committed every single day in the world, Christmas or not. Even Longfellow admitted it:

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Don’t look so much to the creation…or to our creations…but the Creator. Pray for His spirit to come among us during Advent. Thank Him for His gift of the Son, for reconciliation, for restored relationship with Him. And for the work that was accomplished on the cross.

No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Allspice ideas?

Over the past few weeks, we've been dipping into Marmee's Sugar'n'Spice unit studies. We've mostly used our own recipes that feature the "spice of the week": ginger tea when we read about ginger; cinnamon-sugar doughnut-muffins; clove-stuck oranges rolled in nutmeg and cinnamon (we are trying to dry these out in paper bags so they won't go mouldy); and this week, the Common Room's Nutmeg Muffins with fresh-grated nutmeg.

The fifth study in the series is sugar, and I'm thinking about saving that one for later in the year--maybe around Valentine's Day. But I would like to do one more actual spice now--probably allspice, since that's another one we usually have here. Most of our allspice recipes combine it with other spices, usually in baking (in pumpkin bread) or heated in cider, so I'm trying to find a way to use it this week that gives it more of a starring role. We're not likely to be making Jamaican chicken or chutney either...something simpler would be better.

These Whole Roasted Yams with Maple-Allspice Butter sound like they might work.

Any other favourite allspice ideas?

UPDATE: the comments about Swedish meatballs reminded me that I posted a recipe for Pork Meatballs (with allspice) here a few years ago. Thanks for the memory-jogger!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Myrmidons: Written Narrations

Book used: The Age of Fable, by Thomas Bulfinch

Crayons (Grade 4) (uncorrected--Crayons' punctuation has improved greatly this fall!)

Once upon a time there was a king called Cephalus. He was right in the middle of a war. So he went to his friend Æacus. "Can I use some of your people" he asked. "Sure sure" said Æacus "as many as you want". "Thank you" said Cephalus. "But um I noticed that there isant any of your old people." "Ah yes" said Æacus "thats a long story."

Ponytails (Grade 8) (also uncorrected)

The Myrmidons

There was a war going on between Cephalus, the king of Athens and Minos, the king of Crete. Now, Cephalus was friends with the King of Ægina, Æacus. Cephalus went to Ægina to ask Æacus if he could borrow some soldiers. When he got to Ægina, he didn't see anyone he know.

"Where are all my friends?" he asked.

"I'll tell you the story," Æacus replied.

"The godess, Juno got very mad at us. Her husband, Jupiter's girlfriend's name was Ægina, like the city. She got very mad because it reminded her of her husband's other love. She sent a plague here.

"The plague wiped out all the men and women, but my son and I survived. Now I got mad, I had no people! I went to sleep under an oak tree infested with ants. I had a dream about the ants in the tree becoming men. Then I woke up.

"My dream had come true! The ants turned into men!" finished Æacus.

"Wow! That's amazing!" said Cephalus.

"Now, my friend, take as many men as you need! Good luck and good health!" exclaimed Æacus.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A never-ending stream of craft ideas

Anyone who thinks that nobody sews these days should check out Sew Mama Sew, as they continue a month-long series on gifts to make--and buy and print out--for people of all ages and interests.  Today's entry is Gifts for Scholars--book bags, wrist wrests, Kindle keepers, and more. (Their gift posts from past years are also on the website.) 

And crocheted dishcloths--knitted ones too--I thought were long gone, but with this era's eco-emphasis they're back, in every shape imaginable.  Here's a visual sampling of what's currently out there; I especially like the Scrubby Rows Dish Cloth at Little House in the Suburbs.

School plans for the last week of November

Ponytails (Grade 8)

Reading from Mere Christianity
Math & Science as assigned by Dad
Lesson on Outlining and Notetaking in Write with the Best Volume 2
Story of the World Volume 4, read with Mom today

Reading from Mr. Pipes--written narration
Math & Science as assigned by Dad
Lesson on Outlining and Notetaking in Write with the Best Volume 2
Story of the World, read alone
Whatever Happened to Justice?, with Mom
Watership Down

Mere Christianity
Math & Science as assigned by Dad
Lesson on Outlining and Notetaking in Write with the Best Volume 2
Story of the World
Extra French lesson with Mom

Mr. Pipes
Math & Science as assigned by Dad
Lesson on Outlining and Notetaking in Write with the Best Volume 2
Story of the World, half chapter
Canadian History, with Mom
Watership Down

Mere Christianity
Math & Science as assigned by Dad
Lesson on Outlining and Notetaking in Write with the Best Volume 2
Augustus Caesar's World, with Mom
Story of the World, half chapter

Crayons (Grade 4)

Bible reading
Hero Tales--Mary Slessor
English--work on sentence structure
Math drills
Math Mammoth--finish division chapter this week, keep working on multiplication
Life of Robert Louis Stevenson, ten pages
Work on history timeline scrapbook

Bible reading
Bible Geography (review lesson)
Free Reading List
Math Mammoth
Science on a Shoestring

Bible reading
Math drills
Math Mammoth
English work
Chapter from Kidnapped
History: George Washington's World--"The Seven Years' War Ends"

Bible reading
Hero Tales
Free Reading List
Math drills
Chapter from Kidnapped
Chapter from Story Book of Science--"The Old Pear Tree"

Bible reading
Bible Geography--start a new lesson
English work
Math drill (short)
Math unit test
History, George Washington's World--"Goethe"

Group Work

The Fearless Treasure--start "The Knight's House"
Latin--finish off lesson 3 this week (we are a bit behind)
It Couldn't Just Happen--pages 56 to 58
Picture Study--Jason and Medea, by Waterhouse

French--start a new lesson this week (we are a bit ahead)
Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
Home Studies

The Fearless Treasure--written narration
It Couldn't Just Happen, pages 58-60
Composer Study--songs by Faure

Age of Fable--Cadmus
Home Studies

Age of Fable--The Myrmidons
It Couldn't Just Happen--finish the chapter
Jack and Jill--written narration (or do one from Age of Fable)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When homeschooling hits the real world

We have used Richard Maybury's "Uncle Eric" books as part of our homeschool curriculum--first with the Apprentice and now with Ponytails. We haven't read all of them, just the first few. Recently Mr. Fixit decided to read Whatever Happened to Penny Candy? and Whatever Happened to Justice?, and he was also impressed. In fact, he posted the Two Laws--do all you have agreed to do, and do not encroach on other people or their property--in his office (along with his Legalize Shemp and Danger Man posters). Nobody coming into the office recognized them--which is more ironic than it first sounds, considering the professional background of most of the people Mr. Fixit works with. This is not good.

But it does get better. Mr. Fixit went to see our Money Guy and they were discussing something about the economy, the idea of the government printing more money, and how that affects the kind of investments we should make. Mr. Fixit mentioned that he was familiar with that from Richard Maybury's books (homeschooling is good for parents too!), and the Money Guy said..."Oh yes! I read his Early Warning Report website all the time!"

The connections you think should be there--aren't.

And those that are there--will surprise you every time.

Composer Study for Wednesday

Gabriel Fauré's Pavane

Monday, November 15, 2010

What's for Dinner? (National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day)

Seriously, it is. CakeWrecks even has a (mostly) family-friendly post to prove it.

I didn't know it was cleaning-the-fridge-day...had no idea there was such a thing...until Ponytails informed me of that fact while I was in the midst of arranging leftovers in a casserole dish. So I guess we were on target, if not with the cleaning, at least with the using up.

Tonight's menu was:

Pork-and-sausage casserole, made from leftover pork roast, two leftover sausages plus the brown rice they were cooked with, two or three chopped potatoes from with the pork roast, mushrooms, gravy plus a little milk, margarine, and paprika. Baked till the mushrooms were cooked through, but not long enough to dry out the rice.


Mini pita breads that the supermarket had for 99 cents a bag

Baked apples with a bit of apple butter, plus yogurt.

Transformations (craft and gift supplies)--now with photos!

It's fun picking up bits of fabric and other things at yard sales...but even cheap, if you don't use them, what good are they? (H.T. to Frugal Hacks for that link. The Deputy Headmistress posted something similar at FH this week too.)  I have a small stash of raw materials myself that I'm trying to use up before buying more.
It's the transformation of a "piece of something" into something much nicer...something you didn't have before, or something you can give to someone else...that makes gathering those pieces worthwhile.   It's the same philosophy as "a bag of raisins in the cupboard is only half as good as a batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies." It's the annual Treehouse Use It Up fever that usually lies dormant until about December 20th...kicking in a bit early this year.
(Ponytails was having fun with Picnik)
A piece of shiny striped fabric becomes a binder cover.
A bit of brown crochet cotton becomes a jar topper...or a coaster.
An old spool of white crochet cotton becomes a progress.
A piece of rummage-saled red velour fabric becomes...I'm not allowed to say yet.  Besides, I still have to go buy red thread to finish it properly.  There are some corners I'd prefer not to cut. Update: we went to the mill-ends store yesterday, so we're ready to roll on that.  I did end up buying some extra yarn there, mostly because I had no red yarn at all (must have Used It Up in some other making spree) and I have a crocheting project in mind that needs some.
[LATE ADDITION]  A thrift-shopped gingham bag with a ribbon drawstring (maybe for a wine bottle?) becomes a Crissy dress, with a bit of lace added to the top and bottom.
And a small pile of thrift shopped books may become...this year's Treehouse Advent Calendar. (Previous Advent Posts)  Stay tuned.
Photos:  Ponytails and Mama Squirrel

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Wednesday School Plans


Bible reading--Hebrews 7
Hero Tales--reading about Menno Simons
English--some "messed up writing" to fix from Czechoslovak Fairy Tales
Math drills--times tables
Math Mammoth lesson--division with remainders
History:  work on timeline scrapbook
If we get time:  a science experiment showing the difference between safety matches and regular ones


Reading from The Accidental Voyage (current Mr. Pipes book)
Reading from Bauer's Story of the World 4
Extra French lesson with Mom (most French is done with Crayons)
Grammar page
Math and science as assigned by Dad


Opening--hymn, folk song, reading from It Couldn't Just Happen about the age of the earth
Latin lesson:  copy the quote for the day "Alma mater" and look for derivatives from "mater"; review some of the roots we have already learned; practice counting to ten; review the genitive (possessive) case
Chapter 8 from Alcott's Jack and Jill, with written narration...this is the chapter where Merry redecorates her room and sets the curtains on fire
Composer study:  Fauré's Dolly Suite
Time for...making things...or maybe playing Zooloretto (Crayons' request)

What's for dinner? Slow cooker beef stew and Doughnut Muffins

I knew we would be going out sometime in the late afternoon, so stew in the slow cooker seemed like a good choice for tonight.

Beef Stew (from the Rival Crockpot booklet--I substituted water for the beef broth)
Reheated couscous or bread
Salad (lettuce and mushrooms)
Doughnut Muffins (recipe below), clementines and pears

Doughnut Muffins, from More Food That Really Schmecks by Edna Staebler

Ponytails and Crayons are on the second week of their Spice Studies; the spice-of-the-week is cinnamon.  I didn't want to make the cinnamon cookie recipe given in the lesson, but thought cinnamon toast might be a bit too basic; this was a good compromise.  These treats look like muffins but really do taste like Timbits.  Or like something grandma took out of the deep fryer.

This is a half-size version of the recipe from Edna's book; it makes 18 small cakes.  If you want you can double it back again to make three dozen.

1 ¾ cups flour
½ tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. nutmeg
¾ cup white sugar
1 egg
1/3 cup shortening, lard, or oil
¾ cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

For rolling:
About 1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup sugar mixed with 2 tsp. cinnamon (you will probably not need nearly this much sugar and cinnamon; we had some left over to save for other uses.  You can reduce the amount of sugar coating by sprinkling just a small amount at a time on the plate you use to roll them on.)

Combine dry ingredients.  (Don't omit the nutmeg; it really adds to the flavour.)  In another bowl beat the egg, oil or shortening, milk and vanilla.  Add to the dry ingredients and stir just enough to moisten.  Fill greased muffin tins 2/3 full (we used our smaller-size ones) and bake at 350° F for 15 to 20 minutes. (Don't use muffin papers.)  Tap the tins to dislodge the muffins.

Melt the butter and roll the hot muffins in it to coat them all over, then immediately roll them in cinnamon-sugar mixture.  (To make things more organized, have one person dip muffins into the butter with a slotted spoon, let any extra drain off, and then set them onto a plate sprinkled with some of the cinnamon-sugar.  Have another person roll them around and then put them on another clean plate.  Add more cinnamon-sugar if needed.) Eat them warm.

Monday, November 08, 2010

What's for dinner? Stuffed Peppers with chili sauce (or not)

Green peppers have been unexpectedly cheap at the supermarket lately.  Mama Squirrel bought five smallish ones on the weekend.  Tonight she cut them all in half, took out the seeds, and arranged them in a large glass baking pan.  She stuffed the halves with the following mixture:

Ground beef, somewhere between a pound and a pound and a half
1/2 cup frozen bread crumbs
1/4 cup milk
1 good squirt Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 egg

There was a bit of mixture left, so Mama Squirrel added two custard cups to the pan and made two no-pepper servings along with the ten pepper halves.  (Like mini meatloaves.)

Then she took half a jar of chili sauce--about a cupful--and poured most of it into the bottom of the pan, trying to distribute it evenly.  She poured a bit of it over a few of the peppers, but not all of them, because not all of us like or can eat much chili sauce.

The pan, covered with foil, went into the oven for about an hour; the meat was done when Mama Squirrel checked, so she took them out and sprinkled some of them with Parmesan cheese.  We also had a butternut squash, cut up and baked in a covered casserole with a bit of water; and couscous (add boiling water and let it sit covered for ten minutes).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How homeschoolers do things: period.

I was pleased with Crayons' written narration of Dryope, but I did notice that her sentences and punctuation need some work.

Well, as Ruth Beechick said, find out what they don't know and teach that.

Today's English lesson:  three separate paragraphs copied from an online edition of The Secret Garden.  I copied each paragraph into a Word file twice, and then mucked up one copy of each, leaving out periods, erasing capitals and quotation marks.  I printed them out and gave them to Crayons for "editing."  After she had a go at the first one, we compared it with the original.  Oops--missed a few sentence breaks, but not too bad.  She did the same with the other two paragraphs.  I pointed out that there was one place where I might have broken a sentence in two but where the author kept it as one long sentence; that there's often room for individual choice.

I'm planning on having Crayons continue to work on this for awhile.  However, I did notice that a written narration she did later on showed much more attention to periods! (maybe too much, but we'll work on that)

JACK AND JILL, by Crayons
(from Jack and Jill, by Louisa May Alcott, chapter 7)

One day Jack and Jill were working in Jack's stamp book.  Then Frank came in.  "Jack when are you going to do your latin." he said.  "I dunno" Jack said.  Frank became angry he grabbed Jack's stamps.  "I'm not giving them back till you do your latin."  He said.  "ERRRRR" shouted Jack.