Thursday, April 21, 2011

What's for supper? Easy smoked sausage recipe

Last weekend Mr. Fixit checked out a European butcher where we hadn't shopped before, and came home with a long skinny stick of smoked sausage.  We haven't had much smoked sausage here in a long time, mostly because of sodium limits.  This one turned out to be a bit different from the dark, thick-skinned, German style smoked sausage we are used to; it was lighter and hammier, more like kielbasa.  But that was fine, because what I did with it would have worked with either style.

Here's the recipe:

In the slow cooker, put some sauerkraut, as much as you want.  Add sliced smoked sausage (I didn't slice it too thinly).  Add cut-up carrots, or baby-cut ones if that's what you have.   I pre-cooked them for five minutes in the microwave, to give them a head start. Put the lid on and cook until everything is heated through; the smoked sausage is basically cooked already, like pre-baked ham.  I gave it about three and a half hours on high, with the carrots already started.

We served it with frozen perogies.

And what do you do with the leftovers?

Combine with a quart of chicken broth and some leftover smack-'n'-cheese, and you have Cheesy-Carrot-Cabbage Chowder for lunch the next day.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Children shouldn't read dead things. (Living Books)

The focus of this week's Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, hosted at Fisher Academy, is Living Books, and it is based on this paper that she wrote, that was later incorporated into School Education, part of her six-volume series on education.

What is to be said about living books that hasn't already been said, said often, and said well? 

And yet our public libraries seem to sell off more good books than they buy; the mall bookstores, as always, have mostly glitz-for-girls and scary-for-boys; and the sold-to-schools book flier that we brought home from last weekend's homeschool meeting--well, we won't even discuss what abominations were in that one.  Homeschoolers, in a way, are lucky...the rest of the world knows about the big online booksellers, but we also know about smaller vendors who aren't embarrassed to combine Alfie and Plutarch in the same catalogue.
"Now do but send to any publisher for his catalogue of school books and you will find that it is accepted as the nature of a school book that it be drained dry of living thought. It may bear the name of a thinker, but then it is the abridgment of an abridgment, and all that is left for the unhappy scholar is the dry bones of his subject denuded of soft flesh and living colour, of the stir of life and power of moving. Nothing is left but what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls the "mere brute fact.""--Charlotte Mason
Dry bones, no flesh, no colour...books fresh from the morgue?  Whatever these textbooks were, as Miss Mason says in her paper, they obviously weren't the books that got Swedish schoolgirls fighting a duel about their favourite kings.  Or the books that got Marva Collins' students working literary quotes into their everyday talk:
"Once when a student told a lie in class, someone said, 'Speak the speech trippingly on thy tongue,' and another chimed in, 'The false face does hide what the false heart does know.'  If a girl was acting too flirty, the other girls would accuse her of acting like the Wife of Bath....Another time when a rubberband shot across the room, I asked Michael whether he had done it.  He said no and blamed it on Phillip, who said, 'Et tu, Michael? This was the most unkindest cut of all.'"--Marva Collins' Way, by Marva Collins and Civia Tamarkin
The books are still there for the finding.  I expect that when I go to the Big Used Booksale at the end of this month, I'd be able to find multiple copies of Shakespeare plays, anthologies of poems, hundreds of paperback classics used for one class or another and then discarded.  They're getting a bit harder to find, but they're still out there....and they're "in here" too (online as e-texts).  If we're brave enough to trust our children's minds to the great thinkers, the great humorists, the great observers, then Pascal and Plutarch, Voltaire and Vermeer are easy enough to pull up, download, reserve through even a small library, or find on a used-classics shelf.

Charlotte Mason explains that yes, mathematics may help you develop your mind in a certain way; that learning Latin is certainly good for developing certain strengths, "intellectual muscle" and so on; but none of these alone are going to give you "fact clothed in living flesh, breathed into by quickening ideas."  This argument is not quite clear in the Parents' Review paper, as there appear to be a few words missing; it is clearer when you compare it with the same page from School Education:
"Mathematics, grammar, logic, etc., are not purely disciplinary, they do develop (if a bull may be allowed) intellectual muscle. We by no means reject the familiar staples of education in the school sense, but we prize them even more for the record of intellectual habits they leave in the brain tissue, than for their distinct value in developing certain 'faculties.'"--School Education, Chapter 16
But she also has a warning for those who would take even good books and grind, pre-digest, or otherwise manipulate either books or school subjects to make them work the way we think they should:
"The fault does not lie in any one of these or in any other of the disciplinary subjects, but in our indolent habit of using each of them as a sort of mechanical contrivance for turning up the soil and sowing the seed.  There is no reprieve for parents."
There's no getting out of it or around it; there are no short cuts, magic machines, or snake oil potions that can take the place of good books, well served at the right time.  And there is no magic clicker to tell you exactly what those are and when--even Charlotte Mason was chary about giving a list of the "hundred best books for the schoolroom."  She didn't want people just taking such a list and trying to plug it in, "make it work."  Now that is not the same as saying that any books are fine, including nose-picker histories and vampire romances; Miss Mason had definite opinions about good and bad books, and personally chose the best books she could find for her schools.  But it's not about the booklist, in the end; it's about awakening to the possibilities of books.
"Once she [Erika, a six-year-old student] began reading and saw what fun it was, there was no stopping her.  She became addicted to books.  If she wasn't reading one of the Judy Blume books or one from the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, then she was trying out the Fables of La Fontaine or the Song of Roland.  One day, as I went around the class asking each child what new bit of knowledge he or she had learned that day, [she] said, 'I'm like Socrates*.  The only thing I know is how much I don't know.  I'm learning something new every day.'"--Marva Collins' Way

*In this term's Plutarch study of Solon, we learned that Solon said the same thing. I don't know Socrates very well: did he also say he was learning something every day, or was Erika misquoted? It doesn't matter much, but I'm curious.

Related posts:

Notes from a Book Talk
A Month with Charlotte Mason, #24
Me not just dumb monster, me read Plutarch
Hearts and Minds
Thinking Like a History Teacher

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What's for supper (last night)? Sloppy Joes and frugal thoughts

We used to make Sloppy Joes with canned Manwich Sauce (bought on sale for 99 cents).  A few years ago we started making them from the Beany Malone recipe, and we liked them pretty much except that I had to remember to keep a jar of chili sauce around.  Later I modified the recipe (less chili sauce, no salt) to have a lower sodium content.

When I thought about making Sloppy Joes yesterday, I wasn't sure how long the half-eaten jar of chili sauce in the fridge had been there--that's how long it's been since we've made them.  Then I remembered the Sloppy Joe recipe at A Year of Slow Cooking, which is also in Stephanie's first cookbook.  It's a different style from Beany's--mostly spices and seasonings added to the browned meat, plus water and a can of tomato paste.  I made it on the stove instead of in the slow cooker, and added in a chopped pepper, because peppers, after several weeks, finally went on sale for under a dollar a pound. Mr. Fixit, who sometimes has problems eating tomato-ish, onion-ish dishes, said that this recipe didn't cause him any aftergrief.  I also noticed that it's very easy to control the sodium in this recipe--the amount of salt you add to the mix is up to you.  No MSG or anything else nasty either.

So unless I happen to have a fresh jar of chili sauce on hand, we will probably keep making Stephanie's recipe.

Oh, and the frugal thoughts?

Just that if you had to go out and buy all those seasonings at once, you might not consider Sloppy Joes to be a frugal dish.  But I already had everything called for, even onion flakes and celery seed, so for us the cost of the "mix" was very low.  I think about it the same way if I'm making granola:  the last batch I made (from the Common Room recipe here) had coconut, orange extract, wheat germ, almonds, and sunflower seeds in it; but those were ingredients I already had on the shelf and wanted to use up, not things I went out and bought specially.  

A teaspoonful of spice is different from a cupful of coconut, of course.  The trouble with buying spices, unless you scoop them in bulk, is that you have to buy a whole package or jarful in the beginning.  (I buy both frugal-brand-in-a-bag and bulk seasonings.)  But you do start to accumulate them after awhile, so putting a bit of paprika and cumin and cornstarch together to make Sloppy Joe mix barely registers in the cost of a meal.  It's like starting a new hobby, something like folk art painting or knitting where you have to start out buying not only tools but every single colour of paint or yarn that you need; eventually you can stop buying so much and just use what you have, replacing only as needed.

Of course it costs the same in the end, since eventually I have to replace the ingredients used up (or maybe I don't bother for awhile). But if they're there on the shelf, you might as well use them.

P.S.  Crayons wants to know if people make "Tidy Joes."

Monday, April 11, 2011

How homeschoolers do things: a letter-writing unit

In this case the point of interest is not so much how we're doing a language unit on letter writing, as the timing of it.

Actually that was accidental.

I had planned to have Crayons do some work on letter writing, starting this week.  Last week we finished reading Jean Webster's novel Daddy-Long-Legs, which is mostly written in letter form.

So there you go.  Crayons' interest in letters is still high; and Judy's letters in D-L-L cover everything from descriptions of her college life, to crotchety whinefests, to apologies afterward; from purely businesslike memos to one loveydovey epistle at the end.  (Sorry for the spoiler if you haven't read it.)  A very good example of how writing style needs to vary depending on the situation.

The book we're using is a hand-me-down from the Apprentice.  It's the Reader's Digest Kids Letter Writer Book, by Nancy Cobb, published in 1994.  The bonus for us is that it's Canadian.  All the address examples, cities, provinces, postal codes are Canadian ones.  I don't know if the book was also published in an American version--maybe someone will let me know.*  (The Apprentice originally got it as part of a kit with stationery, pens etc.)

We read the list of reasons you might want to write a letter ("Help you make a new friend," "Send hard-to-say-thoughts," "Be Serious (write to the prime minister)"), and then compared the first two sample letters in the book: one "friendly," one business-style.  As a mini-assignment, I had Crayons write a short business letter to her dad or someone else that she would normally send a more personal letter.  She wrote a very economically-worded request for a particular birthday present.  (Those double-digits are coming around soon.)

There are lots of other sample letters and tips in the book.  I'm not sure how many of them we'll use, but I know there's enough to keep a fourth-grader going for awhile.

*I did find this reference to a later version--maybe this one is American?  "LETTER WRITER STARTER SET : Have Fun, Keep in Touch, Be Heard, and Get Things Done --- By Letter!"

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

A strange but still productive week

The weather here is still on and off--mixed snow, rain and general gloom.  Sore throats and general malaise have several of the Squirrels not up to doing much this week. 

However:  so far we have managed to:

make a quart of yogurt (this is a good home ec lesson for days when you don't want people sneezing all over the ingredients--just one person has to actually handle the milk and starter)
make a pot of pepperoni-lentil-beef broth-carrot soup, good for what ails you
start a jar of lentil sprouts
make a big pan of orange-coconut-almond granola (we're short on boxed cereal)
bake gingerbread
wash a bunch of laundry
fold a bunch of laundry
iron some grab-bag fabric for sewing
read half of Plutarch's Life of Solon (that was Mama Squirrel)
listen to a good chunk of the audio book of Number the Stars (that was Ponytails)
read several fairy tales from The Fairy Ring (that was Crayons)
turn more plastic spoons into little people (Crayons)
keep reading The Book of Three (Mama Squirrel and Ponytails)
finish Daddy-Long-Legs (Mama Squirrel and Crayons)
"But there is a different kind of virtue, the kind that children know about, the feeling of self-worth and happiness that comes from purely personal achievement.  The kitchen is just about the only place in the house where a whole family can re-learn this kind of virtue, where there is comfort, joy and enormous pleasure in doing something simple together, and then enjoying it together."--James Barber, The Urban Peasant

Monday, April 04, 2011

There are no guarantees...but it's still worth our time.

Do you ever feel like you're wasting your time reading all those books to your kids? 

What if you spend the summer reading oh, I don't know, something BIG to them...maybe the entire Chronicles of Narnia...and at the end they know the stories, but don't seem to have made any particular connections, at least that you can see, with the symbolism or character examples?  What does Lucy learn about the dangers of eavesdropping after looking into the magic book?  How does Aslan's ripping off an enchanted dragon's skin (in Voyage of the Dawn Treader) symbolize our need for submission to Christ's sometimes painful cleansing of our sins?  Why is it such a puzzle about who gets to go into the New Narnia at the end of the last book?  (Wasn't that a bit unfair on Susan? How about Emeth the Calormene?)  What if all this seems to go over their heads?  What if they never grasp the world's desperate need for more Puddleglums, those who will not be lulled by false logic and propaganda, even if it means sticking one's foot in the fire?

Charlotte Mason says that's a necessary risk that we take when we tell (or read) stories.  The mind feeds on ideas, not dry information; to use her food metaphor, we may not get exactly what we need from any particular meal, but it's certain that we won't get anything at all from a meal made of sawdust.  Even when we read the best books, we (or our hearers) won't receive or understand everything, all of the time; but that still gives us a better odds of getting (or giving) at least some nourishment, than in presenting what she calls "pre-digested" or sucked-dry material.

In Philosophy of Education, she writes of the child:

He is an eclectic; he may choose this or that;

our business is to supply him with due abundance and variety

and his to take what he needs.

Urgency on our part annoys him.

He resists forcible feeding and loathes predigested food.

What suits him best is pabulum presented in the indirect literary form
which Our Lord adopts in those wonderful parables
whose quality is that they cannot be forgotten though,
while every detail of the story is remembered,

its application may pass and leave no trace.

We, too, must take this risk.

Banana...and butterscotch...and strawberry--yes, it did work (What's in your hand?)

 What do you do with two frozen bananas,  some leftover strawberry crisp, and a handful of butterscotch chips?

Make muffins.

The recipe is our usual Canadian Living Banana-Yogurt Muffins, with a few butterscotch chips stirred in.  I thawed and mashed the bananas, added the rest of the batter ingredients, and then mashed the strawberry crisp with a fork and plopped a small spoonful on top of each muffin (before baking).  Jam would work instead.  I left a few untopped, for those who like them better plain.

Photos: Ponytails.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

In which "Cuisinart rods"* become yesterday's homeschool

Boy, do I feel like a relic.

Today was our local homeschool conference.

I presented a workshop about making the most of a limited homeschool budget. As an example of homeschool resources that are inexpensive and versatile, I mentioned Cuisenaire rods. I didn't bother bringing any to demonstrate with.

Later in the day, a couple who had been in the workshop came up and asked me about the rods I had mentioned. I suggested looking for them at one of the larger booths--a very good, longtime vendor--that I knew carried Miquon Math.

Well, they still have rods in their catalogue, but they didn't even bring any with them today! I said, "I'm guessing maybe Cuisenaire rods aren't such a big seller as they used to be?" Yep.

And to top that off, the virtual online rods formerly at the Arcytech site have also disappeared, along with all the other good Java manipulatives they used to have. So you can't even "pretend play" with them.

Hoo boy. Maybe my next year's workshop should be "things we used to use way back when."

*Clarification:  the people at the conference did not call them Cuisinart rods.  I was just joking about that because I posted a long time ago about the crazy names and spellings I've seen for the rods.