Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Life outside of homeschool posts: thinking dinner as you cook

Dewey's Treehouse has always been somewhat eclectic--we go through seasons of posting mostly frugal stuff or food stuff, and other times when we're more about homeschooling or something else. If you're not into reviews or Charlotte Mason, thanks for your patience.

Yesterday we got home from an errand at shortly after four; I had an hour to get dinner on the table and I wasn't sure yet what I was going to do with the pound of ground chicken that I had left thawing in the fridge. I started it browning while I preheated the oven and mixed up a large pan of brownies, since we didn't have even one cookie or anything like that in the house (well, there was some Jell-O in the fridge, that I'd made up from the other package I bought for the disastrous Gummy Worms experiments). I also cut up some sweet potatoes and put them in a casserole, sprinkled them with pepper, drizzled them with olive oil, and added water to the bottom of the pan; they went in with the brownies. (I should have cut them even smaller because they were still a bit hard at the end; I had to finish them quickly in the microwave.)

When the chicken was pretty much cooked, I added part frozen green beans, one chopped-up cauliflower, and this combination of sauce ingredients: 1/4 cup white salad dressing (what we use instead of mayonnaise), 1/2 cup of cottage cheese (because the recipe I was thinking of calls for sour cream or yogurt and I didn't have either), a bit of garlic powder, and a teaspoonful of chicken bouillon powder. I put the sauce stuff on top of the vegetables, and it didn't look like much, but I was figuring there would be some liquid from the chicken and the frozen beans. In the end I did add a bit of milk: not enough to be soupy, just enough to keep it moist. I just let this cook for awhile on the stovetop until the cauliflower was cooked and it smelled done. I also added in the measly bit of cheddar cheese we had in the fridge. (We are not starving, we just need some groceries.)

And I cooked a potful of Basmati rice.

So: Cheesy Chicken Cauliflower Un-Casserole; baked sweet potatoes; rice; brownies; and the remains of the Jell-O. That was dinner, and the Squirrel family approved it.

A Month with Charlotte Mason #4

But if we’re not to undervalue children’s capabilities, not to ignore or abuse their mental as well as their physical needs, not to sidetrack their spiritual lives, not to fall unthinkingly into utilitarianism, what is it that we are to do? Let’s ask the same questions that Charlotte Mason did.

First of all, what is education about? Why must children learn at all?

She says that “our business is, not to teach him all about anything—isn’t that a bit of a stress-reliever?-- but to help him make valid, as many as may be of

'Those first born affinities,
'That fit our new existence to existing things.'” (Wordsworth, "The Prelude")

In other words, a child has the right to learn what it means to be part of the human race, to be living in this world and to be in a relationship with God the Father; and he needs to learn in order to grow.

(Remember the definition of leisure proposed in the second post? Having the freedom (time, space, opportunity) to discover what makes you fully human.)

Second, we ask what the child is to learn.

Charlotte Mason said, “The object of education is to put a child in living touch with as much as may be of the life of Nature and of thought…. a child has natural relations with a vast number of things and thoughts: so we must train him upon physical exercises, nature, handicrafts, science and art, and upon many living books….Add to this one or two keys to self knowledge, and the educated youth goes forth with some idea of self management, with some pursuits, and many vital interests.” That simple, right?

A more detailed curriculum? Miss Mason felt that there were several non-negotiable subjects that all tied in with each other and balanced each other. From her Volume 6, Philosophy of Education:

“But what if in the very nature of things we find a complete curriculum suggested?....A child of man has a natural desire to know the history of his race and of his nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now; the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry, or poetry rendered….as art….he is a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships,--to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognize and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered, by laws which he must being to know. It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man….Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him.” Those were the things she thought it was most important that every human being should learn—the things that make us fully human.

It may not sound very "leisurely" to tell (or remind) you that Charlotte Mason’s students, by high school, were expected to be on their third or fourth foreign language including Latin, to be taking two or three branches of mathematics and the same in science, to have studied more history and geography than most of us ever learn, and to be able to recast both Bible lessons and current events into lines of verse; not to mention keeping nature notebooks and more. For many of us (and our young people) that may not be realistic, although it’s certainly not impossible; I’ve heard of super-accomplished CM-educated graduates who have covered an amazing amount of material in their high school years, and who may not even realize what an out-of-the-ordinary (yet within reach of others) thing they've done.

But the key to this is not so much copying every branch of everything in the same way that CM did (studying all the same languages just because she did, or ignoring new areas of science), but following her principles, grounding children in the habits of attention and observation from the time they're small (as well as the moral-type and hygiene-type habits), and studying the subjects we do cover with books, Real Books—with Real Things as well, but largely with Real Books, inspiring real ideas and real questions, modeling real vocabulary, awakening real curiosity, offering real mind-food.

More on Why Books in the next post.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Month With Charlotte Mason #3

In Home Education, she said they needed to begin by asking themselves “Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And how should they learn it?” And that after they had considered these questions, they would be in a position to direct their children’s studies…as long as they started in the right place, following a few truths about human beings and natural laws that you can’t disobey without causing damage, and starting and ending with the one who made those laws.

For Charlotte Mason, that was with the idea of God.

Actually she starts more with a lot of talk about oxygen and wool clothes and children not eating fried foods, that gets people very confused, but right at the beginning of Home Education, she says there are just three big thou-shalt-not's for adults raising or teaching children, that come right out of the Gospels and form a code of education. One of the don’ts is not to hinder children in their relationship with God as their heavenly Father. She says we hinder them if we overlook or make light of their natural relationship with Almighty God; if we twist their thoughts about God to suit our own purposes, or even if we overdo certain kinds of religious talk. We are not to do or say anything that will damage the child’s own relationship with God.

The other two big don’ts are not to offend children and not to despise them. To offend them is the sin of commission, meaning both doing harm to them, and allowing them to do wrong. It also means not following what we know about the physical care of children, moral training, intellectual training, or spiritual teaching; mistreating them in ways that cause them to stumble.

Despising children is not doing the good that we should do in loving them or teaching them, because we undervalue their intelligence, their value as persons, their capacity for good, or even their capacity for bad. It means not taking them seriously. “We may not meddle directly with the personality of child or man. We may not work upon his vanity, his fears, his love, his emulation, or any thing that is his by very right, anything that goes to make him a person.” (Charlotte Mason, School Education)
She forgot how afraid she was of Uncle Henry, and poured out to him her discovery. "It's not right or left that matters!" she ended triumphantly; "it's which way you want to go!" Uncle Henry looked at her attentively as she talked, eyeing her sidewise over the top of one spectacle-glass. When she finished -- "Well, now, that's so," he admitted, and returned to his arithmetic.

It was a short remark, shorter than any Elizabeth Ann had ever heard before. Aunt Frances and her teachers always explained matters at length. But it had a weighty, satisfying ring to it. The little girl felt the importance of having her statement recognized. She turned back to her driving.--Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Understood Betsy

Monday, March 29, 2010

What is Mama Squirrel reading?

Still reading: Terrible Lizard, by Deborah Cadbury

"[Buckland's] appetite for information became insatiable: it was as if the layers of rock that enveloped the globe formed the pages of a history of the earth. But if this was so, what would be written on them? And how did all this fit with the extraordinary 'crocodile' found by Mary Anning?"

Just finished: Wondrous Strange,by Lesley Livingston. Not Mama Squirrel's usual kind of book--this was passed on by The Apprentice, something she was given to read for her high school book club. Too gory for anyone below high school, and it won't appeal to anyone who has theological qualms about reading anything about Faery, but: it's well written, often humorous, mostly avoids bad language, and does a wonderful job incorporating original ideas with traditional fairy lore and Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. It reminds me, in places, of The Dark is Rising (which I know some of you do not like, and I can understand that), and the movie Enchanted, and even the part of The Magician's Nephew where Jadis shows up in London and starts ripping things apart (only in this case it's Queen Mabh). There's already a sequel out as well.

Silver is shiny enough

Congratulations, Apprentice.

Why Mama Squirrel isn't cooking tonight

Tonight is the awards night for Skills Canada at our regional level--that is, the two local school boards have a prize-giving ceremony for ALL the categories. The Apprentice has won bronze twice before, and she knows she's going to win at least bronze tonight because there were only three hairstyling competitors from our board at the competition last week. But in spite of that one bobby pin she KNOWS she left sticking out (did you know Squirrels tend to obsess about things? did you? did you?), she's hoping for something shinier this year. Gold medallists in each category go on to the provincial level.

Usually the awards night is close to where we live, and since it's a long sit (like going to a graduation ceremony) and usually very crowded with students, teachers and parents, just Mama Squirrel goes along to cheer on The Apprentice. But this year, because it's been so crowded in the past, it's been moved to a bigger place at the other end of town. And because it starts quite early and it takes awhile to get there, and because there are fast food places right near there, we are going to take all the Squirrels and go out for burgers first.

There are hockey moms. There are music festival moms. I'm a hairstyling mom.

A Month with Charlotte Mason, #2

Post #1 is here.

So let’s go back to the opposite of utilitarian, what we’ve called leisurely. We have the usual definition of leisure as spare time, fun and games, something easy, what you do to relax; there’s Lynn’s definition which included ceasing from anxiety and contemplating higher things; we have the Roman idea of space set aside for thought or conversation; we have Northrop Frye’s idea that irrelevance is not necessarily a bad thing; we have the key phrase “without which we cannot be fully human.”

So if we put them together, we might define leisure in this way:

Having the freedom (time, space, opportunity) to discover what makes you fully human.

But then we also have that very odd connection with our word for school, a place where you’re made to go, listen to what does not interest you, do what you wouldn’t choose to do for as many years as the government says you have to. Why does that just not seem to fit?

And you may wonder what all this has to do with homeschooling. Many of us have kept or taken our children out of school precisely so they wouldn’t forced to be just another brick in the wall. But since utilitarianism is a big part of our culture, and the schools most of us were taught in reflected a utilitarian educational philosophy, it can sneak into our homeschooling. It might show up in worrying too much about provincial/state standards, or basing our criteria for learning on how many booklets children have filled in, or on how well they construct bar graphs and learn their spelling lists. Or we can react to this and go with something that has much less rigidity, a much less parent-directed kind of learning-without-school, where the children are making the decisions about what they will learn and how they will spend their time. John Holt (in Freedom and Beyond) described a cartoon showing a kid in a child-centered school who asks his teacher “Do I have to do whatever I want again today?” But that’s not exactly what Charlotte Mason envisioned either.

In Home Education, she said that parents needed to begin thinking about education by asking themselves “Why must the children learn at all? What should they learn? And how should they learn it?” And that after they had considered these questions, they would be in a position to direct their children’s studies…as long as they started in the right place, following a few truths about human beings and natural laws that you can’t disobey without causing damage, and starting and ending with the One who made those laws.

(Disclaimer here: I have unschooling and "very relaxed homeschooling" friends, and I am not denying that for some people, some of the time, a de-toxing approach works very well. But we're talking here about why CM isn't the same as unschooling.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Repost from 2008: Kings and heroes, brave, good, and otherwise

I originally posted this in the summer of 2008, when I was planning Crayons' grade 2 year. I thought it was worth going back to along with our Month with Charlotte Mason.

My own second-grade Social Studies, in the experimental '70's, was called Environmental Studies, a word none of us had ever heard and which, I don't think, was ever fully explained. It took us forever to copy that off the blackboard and on to the covers of the new notebooks we were handed. I don't remember a lot about it, either, except for a trip to the sugar bush and some kind of a neighbourhood field trip where we walked around the block and pointed out various kids' apartment buildings. I think the baby chicks we hatched and any other science we did may have been lumped in there as well. For sure, though, it didn't include history.

Can second-graders do more than go to the sugar bush? Would we have "gotten" history in the second grade? No, not in the same way ten-to-twelve-year-olds do, or in the same way teenagers or adults do. Most seven-year-olds don't totally get maps, or dates. They don't get abstract ideas, cause and effect, or political things. But they do like stories, characters, heroes, villains. They do remember what happened and who did what, if not always why. It's the same in geography...I remember The Apprentice's map of the Mississippi, that started somewhere in Alaska. But she had the right idea at least.

So we read the stories of kings and heroes, the brave and good, and the otherwise. Some of the stories may be what Josephine Tey calls Tonypandy; some may be disputed or offer currently unpopular viewpoints. Did King Alfred burn the biscuits?--probably not. Does it matter? Are we teaching untruths or trivialities? Would it make more sense just to wait until they're older and more discriminating?

No, because we are teaching more than facts and dates. We are teaching "norms and nobility," to quote David V. Hicks. "How to live," to quote Charlotte Mason. We are giving them heroes--feet of clay though they may have--to "people" their imaginations. And we are building a foundation for later history teaching--again to quote CM, an understanding that we are not the only people, and our time is not the only time; that people long ago may have known less about technology, may have had attitudes about churches and kings that we don't share, but that they weren't any less intelligent or less human.

Does it matter that we don't start right at the beginning of time, or that some of the history we do is out of sequence? (Bible stories are history too, but we don't confine them to an "ancient history" year! And then there are biographies that come up out of chronological order, and dates connected with artists and writers and the Guinness Book of World Records...) No, not at this age; all "long ago" tends to be a bit hazy anyway when you're still figuring out the difference between a hundred and a thousand; it's after that that children can start making better sense of timelines and other more sequential tools.

A Month with Charlotte Mason, Introduction

Maple buds in our yard (photo: Mr. Fixit)
These are notes from the CM talk I did this weekend, called "A Leisurely Education." They've been edited and added to...I'm going to be posting these in bits and pieces starting today and throughout April. They're based mostly on Charlotte Mason's book Home Education, but you don't have to be reading the book to follow the notes.

Ten years or so ago, when our family first went online and also got serious about Charlotte Mason homeschooling, there were few third-party things, like how-to guides, to help explain what CM was about. In a way that was good, because if you wanted to know what it was about, you had to do a fair amount of reading for yourself. Now all you have to do is Google Charlotte Mason and you’ll get e-books, websites, paraphrases, Yahoo groups, and all kinds of other stuff to help explain, interpret, re-interpret, plan, apply, combine, record, staple, bend and fold CM in a very confusing lot of different ways. It's easy to get tangled up in the secondary stuff that has grown up around Charlotte Mason the educator and the methods that were used in her schools. That includes the Ambleside Online free curriculum project which I’ve been involved in for almost as long. It's an excellent curriculum that applies CM ideas very well; I think it’s done some great things to help homeschoolers take CM methods seriously and get some of the original CM books and articles online, getting away from the ideas about CM being all Victorian tea parties and nature walks that were common a decade ago; but this is about Charlotte Mason's ideas, not so much a look at AO. You need to understand the ideas before you can really use the curriculum.
Especially the whole question of what a “leisurely education” means, and how we can create that for ourselves. So in preparing for today, besides trying to determine the preferred pronunciation of “leisurely” (I'm going with short e), I’ve tried to focus mostly on one of Charlotte Mason’s own books, the first one she wrote in the 1880’s, Home Education. Her other books cover a lot of helpful and practical material, especially for those who have older children or who want to go even deeper into some of the educational and spiritual questions that she raises. Volume 3, School Education, has some very important thoughts about how we view authority, which is probably even more relevant now than it was then; but I think that the first book covers a lot of the basic principles that she expanded on in the later books.

So first of all let’s look at the idea of leisure. The Greek word for leisure, when I looked it up, is put into English letters as SKHOLE, which is also the root of our word school. If you look up the Latin word schola, you find out that, according to at least one online dictionary, it meant an alcove containing a tub in the public baths, or an alcove or space set aside for relaxation or conversation in a palaestra, which was a sports club. So school is meant to be a bubble bath? Or a talk in the locker room?

Well, no. Leisure in the schola sense did not mean Fred Flintstone in a backyard hammock, although Charlotte Mason did describe her methods as “reposeful.” It might be defined as having space and time for minds to meet. Lynn Bruce said back in October that leisure was “ceasing from anxiety and merely utilitarian preoccupations so that one can contemplate higher things, those pursuits without which we cannot be fully human.” (Sounds a bit like Mary and Martha.) If you noticed, she used a key word there, utilitarian. Utilitarianism is exactly the opposite of the kind of leisurely learning, thinking atmosphere we have in mind here. It focuses only on immediate usefulness. It’s why, according to Ruth Beechick, our public school curriculum got overloaded with science during the Cold War and the space race. It’s why the biggest reason for pushing high school and then college or university is so kids will make money when they graduate. Utilitarianism spends a lot of time worrying about being relevant. I think Northrop Frye hit it bang on when he said, “Education is a matter of developing the intellect and the imagination, which deal with reality, and reality is always irrelevant.”

You might think that an emphasis on education being relevant, practical and useful would be a good thing, but the problem is that the usefulness becomes less about what’s taught than the usefulness of the students to the system, the machine; we end up as numbers, or like the song, just another brick in the wall. As Lynn said, less than fully human.

(More in the next post. #3 is here.)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Why I like Math Mammoth even more now

We are up to page 80 and 81 of the Math Mammoth Light Blue Grade 3-A Worktext, in the chapter on times tables.

This is what Crayons did today for math, following the directions on those pages:

Reviewed skip counting of 2's and 4's.
Skip-counted by 10's.
Filled in a chart: 1 x 10 = , 2 x 10 = , etc.
Filled in the other half of the chart: __ x 10 = 10, etc.
Drilled fifteen multiplication facts, mostly from the 10-times table.
Drilled fifteen more multiplication facts, of the ___ x 10 type.

Answered this word problem:
a) You see chickens and cats walking in the yard and they have a total of 22 legs. How many cats and how many chickens are there?
b) Find two other solutions to the previous problem.

Did six more multiplication facts, set up vertically.

And filled in a multiplication table, with the tables that haven't been covered yet blacked out. (In other words, filling in the 0's, 1's, 2's, 4's, and 10's.)

That's it--a total of two pages (and twenty-two legs).

But this is why I really like Math Mammoth...because page 82 is completely different. At the top there's a diagram of a ruler showing 5 centimeters at the top and 50 millimeters at the bottom. First you change centimeter measurements into millimeters, and vice versa. Then you do a series of questions like this:

2 cm 2 mm = 22 mm (example)
5 cm 4 mm = __ mm
__ cm __ mm = 37 mm

Now is that a clever way to practice 10-times tables, or what? It reminds me of an exercise Charlotte Mason had her students do converting shillings and pence, to teach them something about place value.

The last activity on the page is to go around actually measuring things in centimeters and millimeters.

And then the next lesson works on the 5-times table.

I like this stuff for teaching and reviewing times tables--it's not fancy, but it's not all the same old drills either.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The last nine days of the term

We are in the last two weeks of our homeschool term (we finish at Good Friday). These weeks are a bit geared-down, finishing things up and not really starting much new. I have some new things in mind for the spring term, though.

Both girls:

Memory songs and hymns (see post from earlier this week)
The last few Old Testament-and-beyond stories from Through the Bible. (How come the Old Testament just stops suddenly? What happened in between then and the New Testament?)
The Pond on My Windowsill--reading about dragonflies and other such things
Swiss Family Robinson
Dinosaur DVDs from the library (I'll post about those later)--we call it "Dinosaur Cinema"


Continuing Key to Geometry, Christian Kids Explore Chemistry, Easy Grammar Plus, Analogies, Keyboarding for the Christian School, and Abraham Lincoln's World.
Starting Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?
Still working on Plutarch's Life of Poplicola and books from her extra reading list.


Reviewing time telling.
Doing a chapter on times tables in Math Mammoth.
More work in Barchowsky Fluent Handwriting (this week) and All About Spelling Level 3 (next week).
Still working on The Jungle Book and At the Back of the North Wind.
Dinosaur books and other extra reading.

What to do with crumbly bran flakes

Well, you can make chocolate-bran flake balls. Or you can make Bran Flake Cookies--we use a recipe from The Not Strictly Vegetarian Cookbook. (Like oatmeal cookies.)

But I made Bran Flake Muffins. These are the basic version, but I think they'd work well with sour milk or thinned yogurt, and only 1 tsp. baking powder plus 1/2 tsp. baking soda. I doubled this recipe and added raisins to only one half.

1 3/4 cups flour (I used whole wheat)
3/4 cup bran flakes cereal
1/2 cup white or brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/4 to 1/2 cup oil
1 cup milk, more or less (can be part fruit juice)
Raisins or other dried fruit, optional

Combine dry and wet ingredients separately, then combine gently. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes. The final texture depends somewhat on how wet you get the batter. The first panful I made came out fairly dry and solid, but still pretty good; to the rest of the batter in the bowl (with the raisins), I added a bit of extra milk, and I think that was an improvement.

If you want a bit of a stronger flavour, you could add some molasses.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Yeah, imagine that

The link to this New York Times piece was sent to our local homeschool list.
"Imagine, for instance, a third-grade classroom that was free of the laundry list of goals currently harnessing our teachers and students, and that was devoted instead to just a few narrowly defined and deeply focused goals.

"In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own."
Wow. So innovative. Think anyone will take them up on it?

Which reminds me, I have to go and get ready for school this week.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

We are still on Spring Break (pretend we're live-blogging)

The weather is positively balmy. Perfect weather for March Break, even if it gets cold again this weekend. Every so many years you get one of these...

Mr. Fixit (having his week of holidays) treated us to a couple of thrift shops and a burger out, by way of celebration. Crayons found herself two summer shirts and two pairs of shorts, each two for a dollar, and picked out all by herself. Mama Squirrel found three hardcover Mitford books, all ones she has but she knows some ladies at church who like Mitford books too so they're easy to pass on. We also stopped at the supermarket to get bagels, ketchup, and sugar-free Jell-O to make gummy worms. (Just the Jell-O is for the gummy worms, in case you were worried.)

The Apprentice will be off to work this afternoon--hair customers don't take March Break off.

Crayons had a visit last night from her friend Schmoo and her Only Hearts Club doll; Schmoo gave Crayons' doll Anna Sophia a fancier braided hairdo, so this morning Crayons requested that The Apprentice do her own hair (Crayons, not The Apprentice) to look like Anna Sophia. She did a good job too! Anna Sophia came along on the shopping trip and Crayons found her a new cocker spaniel at the thrift shop--just about the right size for a 9 inch girl.

Mr. Fixit is now outside the Treehouse doing outside things that involve running a lot of water. Ponytails is helping him. Crayons and Anna Sophia are out there too. And Mama Squirrel, fortified with a large cup of fast food coffee, will now go back to extracting key points from Home Education.

2:30: The Apprentice is just leaving for work. The gummy worms are freezing (they smell like one of The Apprentice's hair dye solutions). Mr. Fixit is listening to the Rachmaninoff and Nana Mouskouri albums he got at the thrift shop. Ponytails is sewing something for Anna Sophia. Crayons is somewhere...

About 4:00: Ponytails watched her favourite cooking show at 3. Mr. Fixit finally convinced Crayons to come inside for awhile while he had a cup of tea. Mama Squirrel started heating frozen cabbage rolls for an easy dinner (since The Apprentice won't be here). (The Squirrelings will probably have sandwiches.) The lime-flavoured gummy worms turned out kind of strange...maybe it takes some experience to get them right, I'm not sure. There was almost too much gelatin in them...or maybe it was that lime flavour that made the girls go ewwww... Well, it was worth a try.

The Squirrelings watched a Three Stooges video with Mr. Fixit. Mama Squirrel started the first of several loads of laundry. Ponytails started sewing something else that she wouldn't let Crayons see. Crayons pleaded for a few more minutes outside. Mr. Fixit checked his email. Mama Squirrel sorted her typed notes.

5:30: We finished dinner: cabbage rolls, instant mashed potatoes (finishing the end of a box), reheated meat loaf, and yogurt. Crayons asked Mr. Fixit if he would play G.I. Joes with her later (what they were doing yesterday--playing with his boyhood Johnny West and G.I. Joe toys), but he said he might think of something else this time...after he rests for awhile.

7 p.m.: Ponytails is ironing and is waiting to use the computer. Crayons is upstairs play ironing. Mama Squirrel just finished a review that was due and doesn't want to look at a screen for the whole rest of the evening...well, maybe just to finish this off later. Mr. Fixit came in and said he was heading out to the electronics store (he needs a stereo part) and to pick up The Apprentice from work. Both girls decided to go with him, leaving Mama Squirrel to do another couple loads of laundry and keep working on what needs to be worked on.

8:45: The Apprentice is home and has finished her cabbage roll. Mr. Fixit helped Mama Squirrel finish the dinner dishes and is slightly disgruntled about the Gummy Worm debris stuck in the saucepan. (Obviously we got something out of whack with that.) The Apprentice had a good story about a buzz cut, and Mr. Fixit had one about the guy at the electronics store who got talking about the Good Old Days of CB Radios and Cassette Tapes, and who looked at the Squirrelings and said, "I guess you've never heard of any of that." Obviously he doesn't know their dad well enough to know the answer to that...

And now we're going to watch Wonder Woman, and sign off here.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dreams and Designs (Finishing Treehouse Review Week)

Treehouse Review Week

I'm going to finish out this Review Week by mentioning an e-book that nobody asked me to review--I just liked it and wanted to pass it on.

The title is Dreams and Designs: Homemade Supplies to Complement Your Homeschool, and it's by Donna Campos. This is one of the freebies you can get when you register for the TOS Homeschool Expo. And since the price of the e-book is US$12.45, and the cost of the conference is only $19.99 through March 31st, you're almost as far ahead to register for the conference and get the e-book plus a bunch of other downloadable goodies. Have I sold y'all on that yet?

Anyway, Expo or not, this is seriously one of the better e-books I've seen. I like resources that make homeschoolers' job easier instead of harder, and this is one of those resources. Without giving away everything that's in it, it is packed full of clever stuff that would actually work for a lot of homeschoolers, that might save you money instead of getting you to spend more, and that makes good use of easy-to-get materials.

I also really like things that fold flat. Sample idea from the book: using trifold presentation boards as a morning-opening-type calendar/weather/etc. board. More ideas: how to improvise felt boards and quite a few things to do with index cards. There's an 8-page sample here.

As I said, you can order this through TOS Magazine's Schoolhouse Store, at the link above; or you can get it as part of your virtual conference freebie package. Either way, this one's a cut above the ordinary.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Critical Thinking's Balance Benders (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

This has been a pretty quiet "Review Week" so far--I have some new products, but we're not quite ready to post about all of them yet.

Here's one we've been using for the last couple of weeks:
Balance Benders from The Critical Thinking Co.

When I heard that the Review Crew would get to try out products from Critical Thinking, I didn't know if we'd get math, logic or something more unexpected. Balance Benders is kind of all three. We were sent the Beginning Level, aimed at grades 2-6; there are three more difficult levels covering grades 4-12+, 6-12+, and 8-12+. (That's typical of Critical Thinking's books--many of them come in several levels but get more challenging within each book.)

What I discovered is that these are what our family has always called "yogurt cup problems." This dates way back to The Apprentice's first year using Miquon Math, when I rigged up a balance made from yogurt cups. The idea was to play around with combinations of Cuisenaire rods and small objects, learning concepts such as "what you do to one side, you have to do to the other." Our balance never did work perfectly, but it was enough to get the point across, and the name has stuck. In the Miquon series you also get worksheets that show combinations of balls and cubes; you have to figure out things like if one big ball equals four small balls, and one cube equals two big balls, how many small balls would that be?

These are the same sorts of things. Each page has an illustration of a balance holding various combinations of shapes--maybe a square, a triangle and a circle on one side, and two squares and a triangle on the other. (Just for an easy example--there's an actual sample here.) You have to choose which of several statements would always be true about the equation that's illustrated--for example, that a circle equals a square. It's good practice in deductive reasoning, and it's also--at this level--sort of a pre-pre-algebra. Here's a sample from Level 3, for comparison.

Third grader Crayons--who, as I said, has had some Miquon and "yogurt cup" practice with this sort of puzzle--whizzed through about the first twelve pages (of about forty practice pages--the rest are solutions), and then noticed that the questions started to get a bit harder. I don't know if she'd rate these as totally "fun"--she's at a stage where "challenging" doesn't always equal "fun"--but I think they're worthwhile, if only to give her a different kind of math activity (that she doesn't see as math). I think they'd be helpful for elementary students (or maybe older ones, using the higher levels) who are a bit burned out on numbers but who wouldn't be as intimidated by shapes. Since we're not finished the book yet, I'm not sure whether she'll be able to handle the whole thing this year or whether it will start to get a bit beyond her. [UPDATE: Crayons finished the book in late spring, doing a couple of pages a week. The end of the book wasn't a whole lot more difficult than the beginning, at least not beyond mid-elementary capabilities.]

Final Take: An interesting addition to a math program, and not too expensive.

The price: US$9.99 each.

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

Friday, March 05, 2010

Peach Cobbler with Dumpling Crust

Treehouse Peach Cobbler

1 28-oz. can sliced peaches, drained
1 cup slightly runny homemade peach jam

Combine these in the bottom of a large greased casserole that has a lid. Heat uncovered as you preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Take it out when it bubbles.

The dumpling dough from Butterscotch Dumplings. As follows: 1/3 cup sugar, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. butter or margarine, 1 ½ cups flour, 1 tbsp. baking powder, about ½ cup milk. Cream the sugar, salt and butter; add flour mixed with baking powder alternately with enough milk to make a stiff batter. (You can use the juice/syrup drained from the peaches as part of the liquid.)

Drop in clumps on the top of the hot peach mixture. COVER and bake at 400 degrees (or at least 375) for 20 minutes to half an hour or until the dumplings are baked through and slightly browned. Optional addition: combine 2 tbsp. brown sugar with a tsp. cinnamon and sprinkle over the top when it comes out of the oven--put the lid back on and let it sit for a few minutes.

Serve with milk or yogurt.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Living underground

No, I'm not blogging about basement apartments.

Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books and Me has started a series of posts on The Underground Economy. Among other things, she says
"I've thought about this book often in the twenty-plus years since reading it (over and over). It came to mind a couple days ago as I walked through Goodwill and noticed all the beautiful clothing, shoes, household items, etc. one could purchase for pennies on the dollar from their original cost. I think of it when I am at the grocery store and see how much money is being charged for baked goods, processed items, and all pre-made foods (of course, not all being unreasonably priced)."
I've had kind of the same thought on my mind since our last successful rummage sale trip, last weekend--rummage sales either haven't been as plentiful this year or they're just getting harder to find, and the thrift shops haven't had much for us lately either. Of course that might just be because we've been more in a getting-rid-of-stuff mood...but anyway, we haven't brought home a lot lately. But at last weekend's fill-a-bag sale we found a good pair of jeans for Crayons, a pair of denim shorts for her as well, five pottery mugs still with tags (we didn't have ANY pottery mugs, all our mugs are just..."mug stuff" and a lot of them have Christmas trees on them...), a Josephine Tey mystery, a Baby Snooks old radio cassette for Crayons, and a few other little things. The point of this is--for the price of a fill-a-bag, we ended up with things that we hadn't been able to find (who sells Josephine Tey books?) or hadn't thought we could afford. The pottery mugs lined up at the front of the shelf have made me very happy all week every time I open the cupboard door, and Crayons is also very happy with her fancy embroidered jeans.

I've thought of the same thing, with a bit of envy, when I think of people I know who are way more successful at tightwadding at we are, or at least manage it in different ways. I've thought of it when cool little things happen, like the guy who walked up to us in the store, handing out free cream coupons. I've thought of it when we managed one of the little leftover successes, like banana-mango cake.

We aren't necessarily living in the "underground economy"--we're just making do with what we have (and trying to adjust as financial changes come along). But sometimes making do turns out to be a pretty good thing too.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Mmm...chicken. Mmm...garlic. (What's for dinner?)

I was really happy that Gayle fixed her menu-plan links to include Chicken, Mushroom and Broccoli Alfredo. I was even happier that the sauce turned out to be based on heavy cream and not on mushroom soup. And that's because the last time we were at Giant Tiger, a man--we think he worked there, but even the cashier didn't seem to be sure when we asked her--came up to us, kind of mumbled something, and handed us two coupons for free milk or cream. Not even a free pint of cream, but a free litre of cream (that's four cups for the Americans). He gave one to me and one to Mr. Fixit.

Whipping cream is $6.19 a litre.

Whoo hoo.

So we got one litre of the slightly lighter cream that Mr. Fixit likes to make ice cream with, and one of whipping cream. And that's why I was happy to have a way to use it up (besides the obvious, making whipped cream).

I left the mushrooms, salt and rosemary out of the recipe, but otherwise made it the way it says, and served it over fusilli. The Apprentice--our Alfredo addict--approved. Crayons couldn't figure out why there was "whipped cream" in the chicken, and we had a brief discussion that somewhat resembled the DHM's playdough story. (For those of you who enjoy the tales of her young friends Blynken and Nod, she has a particularly good one up today, about maps and all the socialization that homeschooled kids don't get.)

We also had a raw veggie plate (I put the mushrooms there instead of in the chicken), canned pineapple, and very small helpings of chocolate cake-in-a-mug. We didn't need dessert, but something about the spring-is-coming sunlight made things feel a bit celebratory.

Monday, March 01, 2010

What's for supper? (Leftover pork and a twist on banana cake)

What we had to work with: leftover pork, leftover perogies, leftover roasted potatoes, leftover gravy. Frozen vegetables. Two frozen bananas and a cupful of mango-yogurt freeze.

What we did with them:

Scalloped Pork Casserole

Cut the pork, potatoes and perogies into smaller pieces. Combine in a large casserole and cover with gravy (adding extra liquid if you don't have enough gravy). Add a chopped onion if you're going to be baking it long enough to cook the onion through--otherwise you might want to saute the onion first. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake until everything is cooked/heated through and most of the gravy is absorbed. Add some sour cream if you want, and let that heat through as well. You could also do this whole thing on top of the stove.

Frozen Green Beans

Put beans in water. Bring to a boil. Eat.

Canned Beans in Sauce

To stretch the meal and make the youngest Squirreling happy. It also kind of went with the pork.

Tangerines and Mango-Banana Cake

I made a guess about whether to use the standard 2 tsp. baking powder or switch to the baking powder/soda combination that you use for more acid mixtures; I think I guessed right because the cake rose well and had a good texture. We have a few pieces left for breakfast too.


2 bananas (I used somewhat thawed frozen ones) and 1 cupful of mango/yogurt puree, somewhat thawed
1 egg
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Small amount of additional liquid
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup brown sugar

Mash, cut up or otherwise combine the fruit, and blend it with the egg, vanilla and oil. Mix the dry ingredients separately and add to the fruit, adjusting liquid as needed. (I added just a little water.) Bake in a greased 8-inch square pan for 30-40 minutes at 350 degrees, testing with a toothpick. (This one took about 40 minutes.) This could also be baked as muffins, at 375 to 400 degrees for about 20 minutes.