Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday night rummage sale

This is a Friday night/Saturday morning event. If you go Friday, you get more choice but have to pay for everything individually; if you go Saturday, it's pay-by-the-bag. We decided to go tonight so that the Apprentice could come too (she works Saturdays).

This is what came home with me:

Yet another copy of The Owl Book of Winter Fun (we have two, but another is always welcome)
How the Irish Saved Civilization
The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
Use the Good Dishes: Finding Joy in Everyday Life, by Dr. Elaine Dembe
Cassell's Compact English-Latin Latin-English Dictionary (1939 printing)
One big bag of heavy yarn
One big package of interfacing
One small bag of lace and trim
One piece of blue-striped fabric
One unopened package of "decorator burlap" in an interesting avocado-greenish colour (I'd guess it's been around for awhile)
Four red candles (Advent starts in another month)
And my favourite: a three-inch candle in a four-inch frosted jar, decorated with words like "Charity," "Love," "Hope," "Faith."

Total:  $8.00 Canadian.

Photos: Ponytails

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's for dinner?

Earl's Soup (Potage Paysanne)--lots of chopping but worth the effort...and probably the only time all year that I buy leeks

Frozen pizza in the toaster oven (could have been garlic breadsticks, or Peasant Bread, or rolls, or just toast, but we got the pizza on sale and it seemed like it would bulk up a meal of what is basically vegetable soup)

Banana-peach freeze (frozen bananas and a bit of peach jam run through the food processor, with plain yogurt added if needed to make it run better) (could have been fresh bananas, but we don't have any)

School plans on a blustery day

Since I have schoolwork written out by the month, whenever we get to the last week I have to be a bit creative trying to fit in things that slipped through the cracks.  So this week we're having a daily reading from It Couldn't Just Happen; a daily folk song (You-tube is helpful); and a bit of extra push to finish off math units and sections of the history books.  No special reason that we HAVE to do that--it just feels better when you start a new month fresh.

Crayons' schedule for today:

Singing and science reading with Ponytails

Having a look at a jar of beans we're sprouting (new science challenge)

Bible, spelling and math with me (we are still doing spelling every day; next month's language focus may be a bit different)

Finishing a chapter of Life of Robert Louis Stevenson

History reading from George Washington's World:  "A King but not a Ruler"

Stories from Bulfinch's Age of Fable:  "Dryope," "Venus and Adonis"

Latin lesson from Our Roman Roots

Poems by Charles G.D. Roberts:  "The Solitary Woodsman"

One game from Word Play Cafe

Homemaking/crafts time...if we get time, a drawing lesson with Ponytails

Books from the extra reading shelf

Ponytails' schedule for today:

Keeping up with chapters in Christian studies, history, science, math
Page of grammar
Group reading and singing times with Crayons
Latin with Crayons
Extra reading

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Baking with "spaghetti-pumpkin"

Our Apprentice went to a youth group pumpkin event last weekend, and brought home a carved creation that, unfortunately, collapsed shortly thereafter due to structural difficulties.

She offered the bottom of it to me for cooking, and there was quite a bit of veggie still there so it did seem a shame to waste it. The pumpkin piece was about as big as our round pizza pan, so I put them both, with a bit of water, into the toaster oven (at 350 degrees).

When it came out and I was scooping the cooked squashy stuff into a bowl, I noticed that the texture was more like stringy spaghetti squash than either the smaller pie pumpkins or the canned pumpkin I've used before. I wasn't sure how that would work in the Pumpkin Loaf I planned to make with it. So when I baked the next day, I put all the wet ingredients (including the cooked pumpkin) into the food processor and blended them together before adding the dry ingredients. You could use a blender too.  (Obviously you could process or blend the pumpkin by itself, but I think dispersing it with the other wet ingredients gave the mixture a smoother texture.  If you prefer a few lumps, process for a shorter time.)

And the pumpkin loaf turned out fine--actually better than usual. I like the fresh taste of "real" pumpkin in baking.

Using the "kitchen slaves" to blend ingredients with a less-than-ideal texture may not be terribly original...but it worked for me.

So what are we supposed to do with our weekends now?

Grandpa Squirrel brought over some Toronto papers last weekend, including several auto sections he had saved up for Mr. Fixit. I don't usually read the car pages, but the front page of the September 16th Globe Drive section stood out: there was a hand holding a wrench, and the headline "The death of do-it-yourself auto repair."

It turned out to be a column by Peter Cheney, with the subtitle "The art of home auto repair has been shuffled to the scrap heap."
"Knowing how to fix a car used to mean something. In university, I studied the classics. My abiding memory was of Odysseus returning home to slay the suitors who had invaded his house. To me, overhauling an engine was a less dramatic version of the same process – I had driven out the forces of mechanical disorder.

"So how could I imagine that the golden age of the home mechanic was approaching its end?"
My own dad was never much of a do-it-yourselfer when it came to cars; he knew his limits and preferred to trust Ernie's garage on the corner. But my mom's brothers were die-hard wrench twisters from way back; I've heard the stories about how, lacking a hoist, they pulled up the front end of their jalopy using a rope and a nearby tree branch. And when I married Mr. Fixit, most of our cars (until emissions testing killed off the Caprices) were still the kind you had to tune up; the kind you COULD tune up. I got used to sitting in the front seat during brake jobs and pressing down on the pedal, while he crawled underneath or had his head under the hood. Vrm vrm...Again...Vrm vrm...Again...Vrm vrm...this usually went on for awhile.
"To [car designer Pete] Brock, a good machine is the elegant, real-world expression of an idea, not just something to be used and cast aside when it breaks. Machines are philosophies, expressed in metal."
And yet times change. Peter Cheney says that he used to be a professional mechanic but now rarely works on his own car himself. It's the same for Mr. Fixit, and that's only partly because of middling-aged back and knee problems. It's more just a matter of, as Cheney says, our newer cars now not "needing us" as much as they used to; and, in many instances, not being able to access the parts or supplies we used to get, or finding newer cars deliberately designed too complicated for home mechanics to deal with.

If cars aren't your thing (they're not mine really--I just pressed the pedal down when requested and appreciated Mr. Fixit's talents), consider this: that's only one example of the general death, or perhaps assassination, of self-sufficiency. At what point will there be nothing left at all that we can fix, clean up, make ourselves? Will we stop even comprehending Bible verses like "where moth and rust corrupt," because there we won't have anything that lasts long enough to get moth-eaten or rusty?

Your opinions?

Friday, October 22, 2010 gets easier with time. Really.

My mom knew her way around a sewing machine very well. Me?--no.

You could attribute some of my sewing hangups to the typical middle-school home economics class, which, if I had paid any attention to the cooking units, would have finished me in the kitchen as well. Or just the fact that I hardly ever had to machine-sew anything, because my mom could do it better and faster, and liked to.

For some reason, it was not only the machine that stymied me for many years (yes, I do have ongoing battles with things that plug in), but the whole bewilderment of patterns. And fabric stores, which not only largely disappeared around here before I ever got the hang of them, but which are usually set up to be as confusing as possible.

My first breakthrough was a pair of maternity overalls that I finished about one week before The Apprentice was born. (Better almost late than never.)

My second was a purple jumper that I retooled for toddler Apprentice from a free pair of corduroy pants. It was, honestly, quite adorable and so was she.

My third was a set of stuffed Christmas elves that The Apprentice helped me make when she was three. (No, she didn't use the machine.) I sold most of them at a craft sale and bought myself a lovely angel which we still have. Which just goes to show that people buying Christmas crafts don't care what grade you got in home economics.

Since then I've become slightly less spatially challenged when it comes to figuring out patterns. (Fabric stores still give me a headache.) I am never going to be making wedding dresses, but at least I know how to get both pajama legs right side out now. The Squirrelings have all grown up quite chummy with our sewing machine. (Maybe because they didn't feel like I knew more than they did?) The one thing I've never done yet is put in a zipper...I don't think my machine even has a zipper foot. And through the magic of You-tube, I may even get past that one. I know Ponytails' ambition is to have a serger someday, and maybe she'll let me use it.

In the meantime, if you share some of my hesitations, or even if you don't, can I recommend my favourite sewing site? Besides basic instructions and tips, there are tons of patterns (with lovely photos) and links to more. If you click on Free Patterns, you get a choice of Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced, all sorted and ready to go. But there's another link in the sidebar that takes you to this page, and if you keep scrolling down the page, you'll find links to using Scraps of Fabric, Sewing Slippers, Projects to keep You and Your Home Warm, and more.

Got you interested yet?

If I can do it, anybody can.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How homeschoolers do things: a lesson on milliliters

The book: Math Mammoth's Light Blue Grade 3B, unit on measurement, lesson on "Milliliters and Liters."

The props: 250 ml measuring cup, 1 liter measuring cup, 1.2 ml measure (also known as a quarter teaspoon), several bottles and packages from the cupboard, several cups and mugs, water, towel.

Purpose of the lesson: to introduce the idea of volume, using the metric system. We have done linear measurement, first in imperial and then in metric units; we've weighed things, first in imperial and then in metric units; and now we're onto volume. I'm deliberately switching the order this time, since although we use lots of teaspoons and cups in cooking here (I cannot wrap my brain around cooking without my teaspoons and tablespoons), we don't hear as much about pints, quarts and gallons. So today's lesson focused on metric volume.

What we did: I put several bottles, jars and packages from the cupboard and fridge on the table, and asked Crayons to sort them into the ones that were marked g or kg (labelled by weight) and the ones that were marked ml or L (labelled by volume). The cereal and baking soda went to one side; the vanilla extract and juice went to the other. What was the difference? Crayons figured out quickly that the dry foods were mostly sold by weight, and the liquids were sold by volume. (Honey is an exception--I still don't know why it's sold by weight instead of volume.)

I showed Crayons how much a liter is (as big as our big measuring cup), and how much a milliliter is (about as small as the quarter-teaspoon measure which also shows 1.2 ml).

Then I had her do an activity from the worksheet: measuring the volume of cups, glasses, jars, or other small containers. We poured water into the cups and then poured it back into measuring containers. The Apprentice's giant tea cup holds 500 ml (2 cups for you Americans); an average coffee mug holds 300 ml; a small drinking glass holds 200 ml; and a tiny doll cup holds 5 ml. (We had to measure that one with a spoon.)

We skipped several of the calculating activities on the sheet--I'll probably have her go back over some of them tomorrow. Instead, we skipped to the end of the lesson, where there were three word problems. "One shampoo bottle contains 1 liter of shampoo. Another one contains 478 ml. How much more does the bigger one contain?" The other two problems were about drink bottles and juice in a pitcher.

And after all that we were very thirsty.

I told Crayons that if she wants a homework assignment, she should go ask The Apprentice if she can examine her stash of cosmetics, lotions, potions etc. and see which ones are packaged by weight and which are packaged by volume. I just thought of another fun homework assignment: figuring out how much toothpaste and shampoo you can fit in a zipper bag to get through airport security without going over the milliliter limit. See, grownups have to know about this stuff too.

What homeschoolers do with birdseed (besides feed it to the birds)

This is Crayons' current science project, from the "Changes" unit in Herb Strongin's book Science on a Shoestring.

Requirements: plastic shoebox, paper towels, masking tape or painter's tape, birdseed containing several different kinds of seeds, water, patience.

Method: Sort out the birdseed so that you have about ten seeds each of as many different kinds as you can find in the package. (We used sunflower seeds, milo, and millet, and added popcorn as a fourth type.) Line the plastic container with dampened paper towels, and divide it into sections with tape. Arrange the seeds in rows in each section. Put the lid on, dampening the paper towels again if and when needed. (According to the book, some mould is to be expected.)

And watch them grow, keeping notes on your observations. We started them on Tuesday and they were sprouting by Thursday; by the time we took these photos, the tallest sprouts were 10 cm (4 inches) tall. Since then they have grown even more, some of the sunflower shells have dropped off, and the popcorn sprouts have divided in two. We also noticed that the sunflower seeds went up with their sprouts, but the other seeds stayed on the paper towels closer to the roots.

I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to keep the sprouts going; several of them are getting taller than the box, and there is some mould growth around the roots and around a few of the seeds that didn't sprout. But it has been very interesting.

Photos by Ponytails

Our apple butter (photo post)

The slow cooker full of apples was started at 8:30 in the morning (a slight change from the original plan) and it took until about 9:00 that night until it was thick enough...not quite as thick as some commercial apple butter, but still spreadable. We used 2 1/2 cups of sugar plus cinnamon, cloves, and salt as per the recipe.

We got 12 125 ml (half-cup) jars out of the 5 1/2 pounds of apples (19 apples, to be exact), plus a bowlful for the fridge. The bowlful is already gone--Mama Squirrel used it in a batch of muffins and in apple crisp (a cupful mixed with the chopped apples).

Jar labels and photographs: Ponytails.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Up in the Treehouse with Mama Squirrel

Listening to: Jazz.FM91, occasional radio chatterings from Mr. Fixit's workbench, and the rattle-clunk of Crayons building with Lego.

Coolest thing I saw tonight: the almost-full moon sailing between clouds...yeah, I know, it's the clouds that are moving, but who doesn't think the moon looks like it's moving?

Current addiction: logic puzzles (six birdwatchers wearing six different jackets went to six different parks etc.)--I am much better at those than I used to be.

Things I like in October: red maples, orange pumpkins, blue skies.

Things I could do without in October: the food-and-crafts emphasis on skeletons and other nasty stuff.

Best thing I found this week: a whole armful of books from the library discard shelf, for a total of $3.50. Highlights: a book of Joan Aiken stories, a nice edition of Pinocchio, a '70's book about gardening, another '70's book about bread baking. I'm also reading the book Brenda recommended, Food Security for the Faint of Heart.

What we've been watching on TV: Wonder Woman Season Two.

Tonight's dinner: sausage and sauerkraut in the Crockpot, sweet potatoes, baked beans (canned ones), apple crisp made with apples and apple butter. (Yes, the apple butter worked! Ponytails is going to upload some photos soon.)

Local news to think about: municipal elections next week. OK, not earth-shaking, but voting's still important.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's pumpkin time too (Pumpkin Bars)

Needing to keep this weekend's grocery list on the light side, I nevertheless wrote down "can of pumpkin," because I wanted to try a new recipe for pumpkin bars.

Then I realized we had a pie pumpkin from Monday's Thanksgiving dinner. I bought it to cook in the first place, but it got lost in the pumpkin-and-maple-leaf scenery.

So I baked Mr. Pumpkin during school today, pureed it with an immersion blender, and ended up with two cups of cooked pumpkin--exactly what was needed to make the pumpkin bars. And now we have pumpkin bars on the counter, and some in the freezer (the recipe makes a big panful).

The author suggests an orange-cream cheese frosting, but that's fancier than we wanted. I just sprinkled the batter with a bit of extra cinnamon sugar before baking. Or you can leave it plain.

Peter's Pumpkin Bars, from The Perfect Basket by Diane Phillips

4 large eggs
1 2/3 cups sugar (I cut it back a bit)
1 cup oil
2 cups cooked pumpkin
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice mix (homemade version is given in the book; I used 1 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. ginger, 1/4 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cloves)
1 tsp. baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. In the large bowl of an electric mixer (or just a regular large bowl), beat together eggs, sugar, and oil. Gradually add the pumpkin, beating until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder, spices, and baking soda, and stir until the mixture is smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cut in squares. (Sprinkle before baking as described above, or cool and frost.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

In apple butter time

See our apple butter photos here.

The HeadGirl at The Common Room posted a link to a Crockpot apple butter recipe (plus a nice photo of her peeled apples waiting to get cut up). (Here's the recipe she used.) Cents to Get Debt Free posted a recipe for it last year too.

I mentioned that the HG might like the Apple Butter Pie we've posted about here.

And then I noticed that there's an Apple Butter Cake Roll linked at the Penny Pinching Party.

It's definitely that time of year.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What's for supper? Thanksgiving Leftovers

Terrific Turkey Tetrazzini
with last night's salad, a couple of sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce

Pumpkin pie, apples, almonds

Schoolwork, the day after Thanksgiving

Holidays are wonderful but they do mess up your school week as well as your mental clock.

So today isn't a very heavy day.


Hero Tales, read about David Livingstone
Math Mammoth Light Blue Grade 3B, two pages--learning about meters and kilometers
Spelling work
Canadian Children's Treasury--start reading a story about the Arctic by James Houston
Science--start a sprouting-birdseed experiment


Mere Christianity
Math and science assignments
Einstein biography
Composition assignments
Page from Easy Grammar Plus
Watership Down
Augustus Caesar's World:  Mark Antony

Group things:

Hidden Art of Homemaking--read about music (put off from last week)
Latin lesson
Teatime, using a recipe for Cranberry Apple Tea (if I can get the Squirrelings to try it)...we might combine that with the Homemaking reading

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What's for dinner?

Slow-cooker beef goulash
Mashed potatoes (instant)
Baked sweet and sour cabbage (chopped cabbage with a bit of brown sugar and vinegar, baked in a casserole)
Peasant Bread

Apple slices baked in apple juice
Voortman's Ginger Kids

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

How homeschoolers do things: a drawing lesson

We are using Bruce McIntyre's Drawing Textbook this year, picked up in a free box at a homeschool meeting--today was our first lesson.

What we needed: paper (we used some pink paper just for a change from white), drawing pencils, the textbook, and a few props (a pumpkin, a bagel, and a coffee mug).

What we did: Read through McIntyre's "The Seven Laws of Perspective" at the beginning of the book, and looked at how his drawing of a doughnut illustrates all seven of those laws (overlapping, shading, density, foreshortening etc.). We didn't have any doughnuts to show how a round doughnut becomes a flattened-circle shape in a drawing, so we made do with a bagel.

Then we skipped over to exercises 1, 2 and 3 from the main part of the book: drawing a birthday cake, a television set, and a "simple candle." These involve foreshortened circles and squares. Everybody had a few tries at trying to get all the lines to go in the right direction, and nobody got too frustrated. The girls also got amusement out of showing me how younger kids would draw a birthday cake or a candle, without the understanding of perspective that they have.

Both girls have done drawing classes with groups, and they've heard lots about shading, but sometimes you just have to go back to how you make round things look round without drawing them round. This is good stuff especially for Crayons to learn along with the geometry and measurement she's doing in math.

Art lessons don't have to be expensive or fancy. Sometimes you learn more from a simple idea and a bagel.

How homeschoolers do things: spelling cards

Last month Crayons worked at penmanship. During October her language focus has switched to spelling. What I am using, because it's handy, is Alpha to Omega: The A-Z of Teaching Reading, Writing and Spelling, by Bevé Hornsby and Frula Shear, which came from a thrift shop a month ago. I like two things about it: the gradual building up of skills, and the wealth of dictation sentences (except for the ones about getting drunk at the pub). There are also some interesting activities. But having homeschooled for so long, you do start to have your own ways of doing things, and there are always ways to improve on "just a book." Especially if you have students who like doing almost anything better than holding a pencil.

Today's activity was called "word sums." It was a list of some compound words and words built out of common parts of words. Like putting building blocks together. I think you were supposed to have the student either read the list or spell the words. This is what I did with them: I cut a small stack of index cards in half and wrote the words across the halves: mar/ket, gar/den, part/ly, sharp/er and so on. Then, since I had so much space left, I turned each piece halfway round and wrote more half-words (and a few repeats) going in the other direction. So I had half-words going north-south and some going east-west.

I gave the stack of mini-cards to Crayons and asked her to make as many (real) words as she could from the pieces, and write them on a piece of paper. Like doing jigsaw puzzles.

That was the whole language lesson today, aside from an Alpha-Better drill. Cheap, simple, and hands-on--and it worked for us.