Monday, November 28, 2011

In which I make a monkey of myself with a ball of yarn

Today I tried out the Red Heart monkey pattern.

It went pretty smoothly and came out about the right size--7 inches.  That's 17.78 cm for the Canadians.

I got to the end and suddenly realized--this monkey doesn't have a tail.

Since that wouldn't do, I added one.  Make a chain the length of desired tail, then single crochet one row into the chains.  It will curl a bit, as single crochet into chains does even when you don't want it to.  Sew to the monkey' place.

What's for supper? Stovetop lasagna

Tonight's menu:

Skillet Lasagna (I'd forgotten how much I like this recipe, especially when there are only seven lasagna noodles left in the box)
Europe's Best Nature's Balance frozen vegetables (Food Basics doesn't carry this anymore, but Walmart does--yeah!)
Grapes, cookies.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Stuff-mart comes through. Just don't make me go there too often.

We have had W--t stores in Canada for a few years.  They aren't usually my favourite place to shop--too big, too busy.  But there's a newish one near us, and we decided to do our Saturday shopping there for a change.

Luckily, it wasn't very busy.

But wow, that is one overwhelming grocery section, especially when you're used to shopping at a discount supermarket with less choice.  (The Apprentice found it particularly funny that there was one whole side of an aisle devoted to beef jerky, peanuts, and Little Debbies.)  How can there be that much culture shock between stores only a few blocks apart?  It actually felt like we had crossed the border into a U.S. supermarket....or into the Stuff-mart on Veggie Tales. 
"They're in stock! And if you need refrigerators. To keep extra mashed potatoes. Or a giant air compressor. To blow fruit flies off your dresser ..."
And speaking of mashed potatoes, guess what we found there?

We haven't been able to find original, plain, just-potatoes, in-the-box Idahoan mashed potato flakes for quite awhile, ever since Giant Tiger stopped carrying anything except the flavoured pouch varieties.  But there you go--we bought two boxes.

We also found the doll-head-sized beads that Crayons/Dollygirl has been wanting, the exact yarn Mama Squirrel needed for mini monkeys, and a rainbow assortment of tissue paper for crafts and gift wrapping.  Also Sally's Cereals, which were new to us but which seemed like a good deal, $3 for a big bag of plain spoon-sized shredded wheat.  And Habitant soup on sale for a dollar.

Oh--and a package of red candles for our Advent wreath.  (Hoping for pink and purple would have been too much.)

What more could you ask?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What did you do at school today?

Crayons/Dollygirl:  "We finished Great Expectations."

Ponytails:  Still waiting for an official response.  But she did bring home an excellent first-term report card yesterday.

The Apprentice:  "We fed caffeine to daphnia so we could watch their heart rate increase."

Doo doo doo doo doo doo, it's just another day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What's for supper? Baked potato soup, and a toaster-oven tip

It's Benjamin Britten's birthday. Also Hoagy Carmichael's. I doubt they ever collaborated on anything, so I'm giving them both equal space.

Tonight's menu:

We are trying Baked Potato Soup from A Year of Slow Cooking (halving the recipe and cooking it in the 3 1/2 quart slow cooker--cream cheese was on sale this week!) [Update: Wow, I think we have a new favourite soup.  I did cut back on the cayenne pepper, though.]

with Beer Bread (sorry about the popup there),
and some banana cake/bread that went in the toaster oven after the beer bread was done.

(A tip for toaster-oven bakers:  the biggest dish our current toaster oven can handle is a large casserole dish.  When I'm baking anything too big for an 8-inch or 9-inch square pan, such as a banana bread recipe that normally goes in a 9 x 13-inch pan, I put it in one of the large casseroles and just let it bake longer than normal.  One caution with this: with the pan being so close to the bottom element, the bottom of the cake or bread may get a bit dark before the top gets brown, so check towards the end of baking.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

'I am affronted,' said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit (on toddler book apps)

"At the age of 2, Calvin Wang’s son seems to have learned a truism that is already ricocheting around the Internet: A book is an iPad that doesn’t work.

"Wang designs interactive storybooks for the iPad. He was inspired, he says, by watching his daughter interact with a movable cardboard book. Since then, Loud Crow, his Vancouver-based firm, has turned an array of children’s picture books that take the pop-up concept into the digital age. Books such as Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit now respond to touch by moving, twirling, speaking and noise-making.

"Having experienced the app, he says, his son is puzzled by the fact that creatures in the original cardboard books don’t move. “When he opens the book, the first thing he does is start tapping the creature in the book.”"--"For some kids, a book is just an iPad that doesn’t work," by Ivor Tossell, Globe and Mail
I just hope that this generation can eventually forgive us for what we're doing to them.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In which the chambered nautilus flunks the test (a math lesson for Crayons)

Fifth grader Crayons/Dollygirl has been learning a bit of math history from John Tiner's Exploring the World of Mathematics.  In this week's lesson I had just intended to finish up the chapter on Number Patterns, but the Fibonacci business got away from me a bit.  But that's a good thing.

Here's the lesson as I plan to present it tomorrow, making use of online resources (including one with an unexpected surprise).

1.  Review what we have learned so far about Fibonacci numbers:  that they run in the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 and so on, with each pair of numbers adding up to the number following right after.

2.  Construct squares following the sequence from graph paper--that is, two with sides 1 unit long, one with sides 2 units long, and so on.  Colour them and cut them out.

3.  Arrange them as if you were packing them in a box, starting with the smallest ones in the centre.  See diagram in the book if you're not sure. Then watch this online animation.  At the end of the animation, watch the drawing of the spiral.  Can you see how that works?  This is called a Fibonacci spiral.

4.  Places in nature where Fibonacci spirals occur:  in spiral galaxies, in your inner ear, in pine cones, in cauliflower.  (I'm thinking maybe also in fiddleheads? I'm not sure about those.)  But not, according to this blog post and its accompanying slide show, in that classic example (cited in Tiner's book), the chambered nautilus.  So much for that. (Maybe it works for some people?)

5.  Another use of Fibonacci spirals:  in art, what is referred to as the Golden Mean or Golden Ratio.  Apparently our eyes just like to follow things that move around in those proportions. Here's a neat blog post showing photographic examples.  (According to the post, the photos were not deliberately planned to match up with the spiral: they just do because they're good photos.  Or they're good photos because they just do.)

6.  So a fun followup might be to find other examples of paintings or photographs that follow these proportions.  Or to deliberately create a drawing--or maybe just a colour pattern--that follows it, and see how that works.  Do you like the way it turned out--why or why not?

Friday, November 18, 2011

I am not an anomaly, I just make dinner

If you live in Canada, this is the time of year that the Milk Calendar comes out--many people get it free with the newspaper.

It's not like I depend on it for recipes (remember when Cardamom Addict posted her recipe reviews?), but it does tend to reflect what is going on in the "typical" Canadian kitchen of the time. (Fun bonus: if you go to the website and hover over "Recipes," you can read all the calendars going back to 1974.)

Note I said "typical."

Well, somebody's idea of typical. The media's idea of typical.

Here's the 2012 idea of typical:
The 2012 version of the venerable Milk Calendar looks a lot different than the first instalment launched by Dairy Farmers of Canada.

In the mid-’70s, Canadian families cooked at home almost every day. The calendar — featuring recipes for entrees, side dishes, desserts and baked goods — has kept pace with the times as more and more families juggle busy lifestyles and embrace new trends, says its recipe developer, Jennifer MacKenzie.

“So we streamlined many of the methods to modernize some of the traditional recipes that once took longer to prepare because we definitely know people aren’t doing that any longer,” she says.

MacKenzie adds that through the years, as new ingredients came on to the market such as chipotle and sweet potatoes to name a few, the Milk Calendar changed to include these newcomers.  (Hamilton Spectator, other newspapers)

Sweet potatoes are new ingredients??

But that aside...

Yes, I do cook every day, unless I'm sick or we're at the beach or something. Cook, not as in very time-consuming or expensive meals, but as in putting a few ingredients in the slow cooker, or mixing something up in a skillet and putting out a salad or vegetable, and a homemade dessert some days.

Is that now so strange? I KNOW I'm not alone; otherwise there wouldn't be so many homemaking blogs and frugal food websites. If you want to eat potatoes, meat, beans, stir fry, whatever, you do have to cook them. Or somebody does.

I'm not saying we should all revert to the 1979 Milk Calendar--after all, tastes HAVE changed.

But I just wonder when it was that yesterday's normal cook became today's freak of nature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hot and cold: it works out in the end (pudding recipe)

Wednesday seems to be the one day that the Apprentice manages to get home from university at our normal supper hour.  (It's a long commute and most nights she gets back later.)

So Mama Squirrel decided to add some extras to the small package of sausage that was waiting for us in the slow cooker.  Along with the sausage and a few reheated sweet potatoes, we had hot corn bread and a can of baked beans.

Also some last-minute homemade vanilla pudding, which went into small bowls, still pretty hot.  Solution:  topping each bowl with a quarter-cup of frozen blueberries, and refrigerating for about twenty minutes.  Guess what?  It worked.  Quicker than you would think, the blueberries were thawed and the pudding had cooled off. 

Here's the recipe, in case you don't have one.

Vanilla Pudding, from Betty Crocker's Cookbook

1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
2 cups milk (I used a can of 2% evaporated milk, thinned with water to make 2 cups)
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 tbsp. margarine or butter (I used less--I don't like it greasy)
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt in 2-quart saucepan.  Gradually stir in milk.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.  Boil and stir 1 minute.  Stir at least half of the hot mixture gradually into egg yorks; stir into hot mixture in saucepan.  Boil and stir 1 minute; remove from heat.  Stir in margarine/butter and vanilla.  Pour into dessert dishes, refrigerate (and top with frozen berries if you're in a hurry).  Makes 4 servings (or 5 if you stretch it).

My note:  if you're out of eggs or in a huge hurry, you can skip the egg yolks.  But they do give a better flavour to vanilla or butterscotch pudding.

Decorating soap--even little ones can do this

The Deputy Headmistress just posted about a neat way to decorate candles, that even little kids could handle.

It reminded me of something we did a couple of times when our Squirrelings were small--and I mean REALLY small: custom-decorated bars of soap, the same way as Polly's Pointers recommends here. (Shows you how old I am that I remember Polly's Pointers?)

Short version: you need bars of soap, tissue paper/markers/or some other kind of thin pictures, paraffin, and something to melt it in. How to: cut a piece of tissue paper almost as big as the bar of soap, and have the child decorate it (colourful scribbles are fine). Dampen the top of the bar of soap (no, DHM, we didn't spit on it) and press the picture onto it. Then either dip the top of the soap into melted paraffin (parent's job) or brush it on. Let it harden and give to delighted grandparent. The decoration will last a very long time, even if you actually use the soap--the paraffin layer protects the picture.

Or you could use stickers, tiny dried flowers, or something like that instead of making your own picture. But honestly, nothing beats a toddler-drawn portrait of Grandma.

And just saying--paraffin is hot, dangerous, flammable, and everything else, so be careful and keep small kids away from it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On every branch there sat a monkey*

Canadian Living Magazine's holiday issue features lots of gift ideas, including a commercially-produced set of sock monkey tree ornaments. 

We have sock monkey fans in our extended family, so I thought that was a very cute idea.  But maybe a homemade version?

Red Heart came through with a crocheted version.

My holiday-making-quotient just jumped up a couple of notches.

Now I just have to hunt through the yarn box and see what we have that would work.

*Don't recognize that line?  Try this:

Quote for the day: Listen first, knit later?

Some advice to mothers of young ladies:
"Some people like to live as if they were catching a train. They are really only running after their own tails; they cannot select what must be done this minute, and what can be put off to the next day. Put them where you like; they will still have no leisure. If you want to teach the methodical use of time and orderly habits of mind, you must first learn to show a calm front and have a heart "at leisure from itself." I heard a woman who had many friends spoken of as one "who when you want her advice does not jump up to fetch her knitting before she will listen to you.""--"Girls from Twelve to Sixteen," by Mrs. Hart Davis, in The Parent's Review, Volume 13, no. 2, February 1902, pgs. 81-93

Monday, November 14, 2011

When packaging (and love) make gifts special

Sometimes it's not so much what's in the gift as the concept behind it, and the way you present it.  Remember the Dollar Store Santa Dollies at Old Days Old Ways?  Even small, frugal or miscellaneous gifts become something special when the creative-giving muse is allowed to run free.

Valerie at Frugal Family Fun Blog has a perfect example of this: "Doll Bath Sets."  Anyone can hand a kid some soap, an empty shampoo bottle, and a washcloth, and say "here, go wash your doll."  But it takes imagination to put it together into more of a package deal.  Valerie is very, very good at this.

Another example: Family Fun Magazine's Hot Chocolate Cones.  Mostly hot chocolate mix with a few marshmallows and chocolate chips, but it's the shape of the package (cone-shaped clear bags) that turns it into something fun.

We've had a few successes along that line too:  last year's custom Sculpey repackaging, and the clothespin doll kits the girls got a few years ago.  Mama Squirrel has also posted gift basket ideas and other thoughts on gift-giving.  And don't forget our squirrel's tips on giving "thwifted" books.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

It's been a quiet blogging about you?

I find it ironic that in the two weeks of HSBA voting, being nominated in both the Thrifty and Encourager categories, I've managed to post very little of either.  It's been a pretty quiet week here, and feels even quieter compared to the lives of those who have been paddling through rainforests or battling evil raccoons.  Or writing fifty-plus-page plans for a mission to Mars (the Apprentice).  My most exciting thrifty activity this weekend was bagging two trays of clearance tomatoes and cooking them down all afternoon to make puree.  (Mr. Fixit helped me put it all through the applesauce mill.)  I've been working on some ideas for the holidays, but to be honest, it all feels like it's coming at us a bit too fast this year...same as last year, when we didn't even get the Nativity scene up until New Year's.  Last year I had a lot of yarn, a lot of fabric, so I did a lot of crocheting and sewing. This year my stockpile of those things is depleted, and the gray skies and harsh winds are not exactly encouraging my pre-holiday creativity.  On the other hand, a trip yesterday to the discount department store (think Christmas Muzak and all that) was enough to make me want to wait a bit longer. [Creativity Boost Update:  Check out this November's annual gift-making tutorials at Sew Mama Sew, starting with this post.  New ideas every day this month.]

Now if the HSBA had a Tonstant Weader category, maybe I'd have more to say.  This week I've been working on  lectures by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch ("Q") that I've been trying to finish for way too long (the footer on my printout of the first few confesses a date of two years ago).  Like Helene Hanff, I find Q's writing forces me to go slowly, but  I'm determined to finish, eventually.  I also re-read an essay by Gene Veith, and one of my favourite posts I had printed out from Coffee, Tea, Books and Me.  They all tie in together somewhat.

So what have you all been doing in November?  Writing a novel in one month?  Growing a moustache? Planning Advent observances?  Planning an awesome first birthday party?  Sending family members off on a very important mission?

"C.S. Lewis in his classic essay "On the Reading of Old Books" recommends reading at least one old book for very three new books. This is not because old books are necessarily superior but because every age has its blind spots: "We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period.  And that means the old books." To break out of the narrowness of our own time, in which it is assumed that the way people today think is the only way that is possible, we must enter the thought-forms of other ages.  These, of course, have errors and narrowness of their own, to which we are less likely to succumb. But in order to transcend the limits of our own day, we must "keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.""--Gene Edward Veith, "Flex the Brain"

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ten-plus million digits? The ever-changing world of facts

What would we do without the Internet...

I mentioned recently that a quick check on the current population of Burundi--the subject of a French lesson--showed that there were way more people there than even the (fairly recent) teacher's guide suggested.  That lined up with the fact that we were heading for 7 billion people on Earth by the end of last month.

Today's math history lesson was about the Sieve of Eratosthenes, and the hunt for very large prime numbers.  John Tiner's 2001 book Exploring the World of Mathematics mentioned that the largest one discovered to date was over 4 million digits long, which would take about a thousand pages to print out.

On a hunch that that fact too might have been updated, I looked up "Largest Known Prime Number."

Yes, the 4-million-digits longest prime was correct in 2001. 

But as of 2008, we are up to a number that is 12,978,189 digits long.

And you thought your ID numbers were hard to learn.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

What's for supper when everyone's here?

Tonight's dinner was going to be a quick pizza and soup, after thrift shop volunteering.  But Mr. Fixit had to stay late at the office, and the Apprentice, unusually for mid-week, phoned and said that she'd be home for supper too.  So: a gift of time and a gift of people, especially people who could use some cheering after a wet and somewhat discouraging day.

The menu:

Frozen cabbage rolls, baked in the toaster oven
Two sliced-up smoked sausages, sauerkraut, and sliced sweet potatoes, cooked together on the stovetop
Fresh-made applesauce
Fresh-made coleslaw
Reheated peas
Cheddar cheese