Friday, May 31, 2013

Hooks to Hang Things On: Charlotte Mason for All Time

When people criticize CM homeschoolers for using "old books," I don't think it's generally Shakespeare, Plutarch, Emily Dickinson that they have in mind, although you never know; more often they're thinking of late-Victorian science textbooks, Spencerian handwriting, and anything Empire-ish.   It is true that Charlotte Mason's school "kingdom" promoted a particular set of values.  She said that, in fact, an education should reflect the chief ideas of its age, if anyone could nail those down.  Regular Treehouse visitors will know that I'm a longtime reader of Charlotte Mason's books, and an experimenter with her curriculum.  (Yeah, my poor kids.) So you might think I'm one of the few stubborn types who insist on every school book being a hundred years old.  You might be wrong.

I think Charlotte's booklists and curriculum reflect, to a large extent, her own world and her own times.   She drew a great deal of her philosophy from the classical tradition, but she (and her colleagues) combined that with an early-20th-century, British, largely Church of England view of what made a well-educated person and a well-rounded citizen.

And I will rush to add that I admire her for it   Some of the ways that she mined her own culture, followed discoveries and world events, and used the resources that came her way to apply her principles of education, were hugely creative.

In another period, another place, she might have chosen differently, again, not so much in literature or with enduring writers such as Bacon, but with the more informational subjects.  Our problem today is that many non-fiction books for children aren't well written; they may have facts and lots of visuals, but they lag on writing style (or are deliberately offensive or just silly--a current version of "twaddle"). However, let's leave the style question aside for now.  What I want to look at is the way Charlotte's book choices combined ideas-of-the-age with straight information, and often a touch of practicality as well. THIS is what we need to copy in current application of CM principles: the well-written book, for sure, but also the literary umbrella.  This is not the same as making connections for children or squeezing out Herbartian apperception masses.  It's about finding a way to both organize a certain amount of information, and make it interesting at the same time.  To make it timely, but not limited to people from one's own time.  To make it relevant to the home country or region, but without assuming that children will not be interested in plants or animals they can't see firsthand.  To provide beautiful "mental furniture," but also the skills to serve others and become generally useful (knowing how to find one's way between towns, mail packages, mend clothes, spell things properly).  This is no small job!

One of the first examples I noticed was in the Arithmetic chapter of Home Education"How many pennies is a shilling worth? How many shillings, then, might he have for his fifty pennies? He divides them into heaps of twelve, and finds that he has four such heaps, and two pennies over; that is to say, fifty pence are (or are worth) four shillings and two pence."  In a country where the common coin, a shilling, was worth twelve pence, the children were taught early on to divide things by twelve (with pennies as remainders), before they even worked with tens.  As North American currency is based on the decimal, we use pennies, dimes and dollars to teach units, tens, and hundreds (and later, money applications make decimals themselves easier); the twelves get relegated to inches, dozens of eggs, or maybe hours on a clock.  The order in which we teach arithmetic concepts will vary according to our money or other natural illustrations; the principles of teaching them do not.

Frances Epps' guide to the British Museum (actually a review of ancient history and mythology) was written specially for the Parents' Union School students; but the very similar guides to Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's and so on, that were used right from the start of the P.U.S., were not; they were just picked up as books that would give context to heroes and history, and do it in a way that interested children.  The fact that Charlotte Mason depended on the same sorts of books for over thirty years says to me that, first, they must have worked; and, second, that they illustrated her principle of putting facts into a meaningful context.  Besides, all this has a bit of a practical bent too; if a child has worked that much with pence and shillings (or pennies and dimes, or euros), he'll know how to count money and make change; if he's read the stories of the Elgin Rooms or the memorials at a cathedral, or what's in the Smithsonian (is there a good book about that?), maybe he'll be able to take you on a tour someday.

Look at the middle-school-level work in geography.  In any term, students of about twelve or thirteen might be using one of the country-by-country books that Charlotte Mason herself had written years before, reading the lessons and filling in maps; studying concepts in physical geography; and discussing current events and finding those places on maps.  They would also be studying a book of famous naval battles of the British Empire, with the intention, besides encouraging patriotism, of giving them a larger, global view of geography.  In the post-WWI period, the old geography books were not dropped (though they were over thirty years old and had not been revised), but a book outlining boundary changes in Europe was included in the programme every term, and students were drilled on the map of the world.  It's the Sea Power book, though, that shows the use of a resource that put "the world" into a context, a frame that made sense to the children of that place.  A utilitarian model of teaching might present the same information, but in a more technical way, without that "hook to hang information on."  Which way is more likely to stir the imagination and encourage learning?  Also, the more global perspective of Mr. Household's book (actually two different books, used in different years) balanced the close-up country studies that they were getting through Charlotte Mason's own geographies.

Now, some homeschoolers may not approve of "studying war" as an aid to geography (although it's something to consider--don't Americans learn some national geography by studying battles of the War of Independence and the Civil War?).  Most of us are not looking for a revival of the British Empire.  But to make use of context, or hooks, in the way that Charlotte Mason did, we need to be looking for present-day equivalents.  For some of us, a global geography context might be Christian missions.  Our family owns an "animal atlas," which divides animal life by continents; some students might use geology, or archaeology, or marine biology, or the voyages of a particular person or group.  I am NOT suggesting that we squeeze any of these topics into a "Robinson Crusoe Scheme," turn them into reproducible unit studies or any such thing, or even that we ruin an innocent novel by turning it into a geography lesson.  It might still be a book that was not written to teach that subject--and that's probably all the better.  But please note also that this is not the same as sneaking beets into brownies:  the students should know what they're studying and why.  In that sense, it probably is better to identify a separate resource (in their case, Sea Power) as the vehicle for geography, and keep it for that.

I mentioned the Smithsonian, as one example of an "umbrella" that houses a great deal of American history and culture.  What spots, monuments, castles, are the treasure houses of the places where you live?  Or where you'd like to go?  What ways can you think of to not only zoom in, but zoom out?  What resources, old or new, exist to teach about these places, and about the world and the universe at large?  On a non-geography level, what applications-with-bigger-ideas are out there for lessons in mathematics or language, in music or art?

If we're looking for the best-of-the-best materials currently available to homeschoolers (which might not be written for homeschoolers or for schools at all), these are the criteria we need to keep in mind.  How will we stir the imaginations of this generation and maybe the one to come?   Charlotte Mason did a fantastic job speaking from and to her world; and in many ways, she still speaks to ours.  If we can't use all her books, we can at least draw on her wisdom.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

It's a good day in the Treehouse (updated)

This day is turning into a busy one for the Squirrel family.

Ponytails is on her way to a field trip at the Toronto Zoo, with her high school photography class.  (She's very happy that the sun is shining now, because there were thunderstorms all night.) When she gets back, it's guitar lesson night.

And since the sun is shining, that would be a good hint to Mama Squirrel to get a couple loads of laundry done and hung up outside.

The Apprentice is at work until after lunch, and then she has an extremely important driving test.  Mr. Fixit is going along for moral support.

Dollygirl has school with Mama Squirrel, and then later this afternoon she starts a flower-watering/checking mail job for some vacationing neighbours.  It's also our afternoon to work at the thrift store.

And Mama Squirrel has a support group business meeting here tonight.  Which means a small amount of cleanup and refreshment-fixing and all that, in between school and the rest.

These are all good things!  (Well, except maybe for the driving test, but passing the driving test is a good thing. UPDATE:  and she did!)
One of our pastor's favourite sayings is "it's a good day."  No qualifiers or additions--it's just a good day.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Monday and Tuesday plans (updated)


Opening time, poetry

Old Testament reading

Arithmetic: Key to Percents.  "Secret message" involving percentage statements.  This page may appear to be just for fun, but the concept is very important.

Picture study:  Matthijs Maris.  As kind of a windup to this study, we watched the slideshow of 26 of his paintings, and I asked Dollygirl to guess whether they were from his early, middle or later painting career.  I think she got most of them right.  Hint: in most of his later ones, you can hardly see what they are, they're so misty and grayed-out.


Memory work

Citizenship:  biography of Winston Churchill.

Dictation, from the biography.

Geography: Devon #3, Dartmoor, using The Great Little Dartmoor Book and our own notes (from Charlotte Mason's geography)

French:  chapter from Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle (in French)
Finished The Fellowship of the Ring


Opening time, poetry

New Testament and history combined: Augustus Caesar's World, "Dec 25 Year 1” and the short chapter following it.

Arithmetic: Key to Percents, and a "crossword" puzzle for homework


Two chapters from The Search for Planet X

Memory work

Handel study:  The Water Music.  We listened to some of the sections, and read the "true story" from Classical Music Insights: Understanding and Enjoying Great Music, by Betsy Schwarm.
First chapter of The Two Towers.

Flowers on the Table, why? (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 7)

It's at this point in The Hidden Art that we (any readers, but especially "Christian homemakers," since it's aimed at us) feel a bit or a lot overwhelmed. 

A familiar Proverbs-31-lady tension sets in:  not only do we have to "think artistic," but we also have to be creative decorators and make bed trays when people are sick and grow gardens and make candles and do needlepoint, and not just put food on the table, but pretty food, and search out flowers and decorate the table as well.  Flowers on the table, not just on special occasions but as a regular feature, and if we don't have flowers, trotting out to the garden for gourds. And we would never set out a plastic tub of margarine or a plain jar of applesauce or jam, would we?  Hidden art, nothing--it's us who should be hiding.  All this visual "communicating" sounds like hard, hard work; and what if it just burns us out, ends up costing a lot of money, and the people around us don't appreciate our efforts?  Anyway, they've never said they wanted flowers on the table.

I think Edith would say no, no, no, no, no.

This is supposed to be freeing.  Encouraging, not guilt-producing.  Remember the image Edith used of a broken body part in a cast?  We are being allowed to express our hidden-art side.  It's a reminder that we have permission. It is meant to allow movement, freedom, possibilities, especially after a time of feeling immobile, shut in a small any way, physically, emotionally, or spiritually.
If our homes are already overwhelmed with clutter and stuff, or we have shopaholic tendencies, then buying even more candles and flowers or starting a craft-store centerpiece project is NOT a good idea.  What we need to work on, home-wise, might be breathing spaces.  The table and counters free of clutter.  Maybe ONE flower in a vase.

But others may be living with little, maybe in a small apartment or a government townhouse.  A landlord who won't allow paint or nails in the wall.  Not much to look at from the balcony or from the front steps.  Smells and noise coming in from other units, and from outside.  This is the opposite challenge:  starting from "underwhelmed."  And again, a little can be the big equalizer: a couple of flowers in a vase.  Something to contemplate.  Something no landlord can complain about.

And this is the deal with the flowers on the table: we keep hearing that "nobody" eats meals at the table anymore, at least not all together; nobody cooks proper meals, nobody has time; and the idea of sitting and stretching out a mealtime together, well...that's the most difficult of all.  Homeschoolers are usually a little or a lot better at this than most, because we tend to have more people at home; but even homeschooling families can get rushed and preoccupied.

So maybe it's not flowers and candles at all, because maybe you can't get flowers, or your spouse has allergies and the kids might knock over the candles and set the place on fire.  Maybe your creative stretching in the eating space is just nice cloth placemats, or cartoons drawn on a chalkboard over the table.  Maybe it's bright red or pretty blue paper napkins, laid out over the plates--I'm serious!  Sometimes a bit of colour is just what a boring table needs, even if it's from the dollar store.

But think about this: if the table looks a little nicer than usual, and the room is clean and smells good, and the food is set out in a specially pretty or fun or appetizing way (that's chapter 8) see and they see that somebody cares. Maybe we will spend a few minutes longer sitting there. Maybe we'll even try talking to each other while we're there.

Maybe that's the why.

Linked from the Ordo Amoris linky for Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 7. (I checked this time! It's the right link!)

Monday, May 27, 2013

"The Way of the Reason" in The Fellowship of the Ring

Subtitle:  Hobbits know how to stick to an idea!
In The Fellowship of the Ring, the hobbit Frodo has been given the responsibility of taking a magic ring (The Ring, the one that everybody wants, the same one that Bilbo found in The Hobbit) and disposing of it properly...that is, taking it on a dangerous journey to Mount Doom, where it can be destroyed.  In the last chapter, he has to make a decision about whether to go to the east, probably by himself, although it already seems like a lost cause; or to go with the other travellers to the city of Minas Tirith, where a battle is being fought against the dark forces.

He says he needs to think it over, and heads into the woods.  After awhile, he looks up and sees one of the others, Boromir, who says he would like to help Frodo think the problem through.  Frodo is not quite sure whether to trust him, and he tells Boromir that really, he already does know what to do; he is just afraid to do it.
'I think I know already what counsel you would give, Boromir,' said Frodo. 'And it would seem like wisdom but for the warning of my heart.'

'Warning? Warning against what?' said Boromir sharply.

'Against delay. Against the way that seems easier. Against refusal of the burden that is laid on me. Against -- well, if it must be said, against trust in the strength and truth of Men.'
Frodo already knows that he could come up with all kinds of very good reasons himself NOT to go east, but that he still has to continue with the quest. 
'Yet that strength has long protected you far away in your little country, though you knew it not.' 

'I do not doubt the valour of your people.  But the world is changing.  The walls of Minas Tirith may be strong, but they are not strong enough.  If they fail, what then?'

'We shall fall in battle valiantly.  Yet there is still hope that they will not fail.'

'No hope while the Ring lasts,' said Frodo.
Boromir hopes that winning the battle at Minas Tirith, fighting the evil lord Sauron directly, will solve all their problems.  He wants desperately to get hold of the Ring, or get Frodo to use it to fight Sauron.  Frodo gets right to the point, though:  eventually, in this battle or in some other, the Ring will ruin everything.  The mere existence of the Ring has become a problem that has only one solution, and it is up to him to solve it.  He doesn't like it, and he's afraid, but he knows it's what he has to do.
'Ah! The Ring!' said Boromir, his eyes lighting. 'The Ring! Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing? So small a thing! And I have seen it only for an instant in the House of Elrond. Could I not have a sight of it again?'

Frodo looked up. His heart went suddenly cold. He caught the strange gleam in Boromir's eyes, yet his face was still kind and friendly. 'It is best that it should lie hidden,' he answered.
I don't know how aware Boromir is of this, but looking at the Ring or holding it in his hand seems to have a strange effect even on Frodo, the Ring's current "owner."  In any case, Boromir probably thinks he can grab it if Frodo brings it out.
'As you wish. I care not,' said Boromir.
He trivializes what he desperately wants:  a small, insignificant thing, that he says he doesn't care if he doesn't get to see.  He realizes he may have pushed too fast, and backtracks.
'Yet may I not even speak of it? For you seem ever to think only of its power in the hands of the Enemy: of its evil uses not of its good. The world is changing, you say. Minas Tirith will fall, if the Ring lasts. But why? Certainly, if the Ring were with the Enemy. But why, if it were with us?'

'Were you not at the Council?' answered Frodo. 'Because we cannot use it, and what is done with it turns to evil.'
Boromir's reasoning here:  what you think of as only a bad thing, could be a good thing, if we had the chance to use it properly.  We are good people; if we had it, we could defeat the Enemy and use it only for good purposes.  Frodo's response:  it is too powerful for us, good or bad, and its unpredictable power tends to turn even good people bad.  Nobody can handle it safely, so it has to be destroyed. (Wouldn't Frodo have been an asset in the Garden of Eden?  Or in the arms race?)
Boromir got up and walked about impatiently. 'So you go on,' he cried. 'Gandalf, Elrond--all these folk have taught you to say so. For themselves they may be right. These elves and half-elves and wizards, they would come to grief perhaps. Yet often I doubt if they are wise and not merely timid. But each to his own kind. True-hearted Men, they will not be corrupted. We of Minas Tirith have been staunch through long years of trial. We do not desire the power of wizard-lords, only strength to defend ourselves, strength in a just cause. And behold! in our need chance brings to light the Ring of Power. It is a gift, I say; a gift to the foes of Mordor. It is mad not to use it, to use the power of the Enemy against him. The fearless, the ruthless, these alone will achieve victory. What could not a warrior do in this hour, a great leader? What could not Aragorn do? Or if he refuses, why not Boromir? The Ring would give me power of Command. How I would drive the hosts of Mordor, and all men would flock to my banner!'
This paragraph is just crawling with manipulative suggestions that should have made Frodo doubt himself and his mission.  "You're not thinking for yourself, you're just saying what the wizards and elves have told you."  (Are you just gonna do what they say?)  "I think wizards and elves just say those things because they're scared of power."  "Besides, you and I aren't wizards and elves."  "We don't want more than our fair share; we just want to defend ourselves."  "Our cause is just." (true, but that's not the way the Council decided to solve the problem)  "Isn't it lucky that the Ring just happened to come along when we need it? Has to be fate." (Fred Flintstone: "it has to be fate that this bag of money flew over the wall and landed in my lap.") "You'd have to be crazy not to use the power when it's right in your hands." (using words like crazy and mad to make Frodo want to confirm his own sanity)  "We're fearless! We're ruthless!"  (maybe true, but it doesn't solve the problem)  "I'd give those guys what-for!"  (rah, rah)  And all we your little bitty ring.
Boromir strode up and down, speaking ever more loudly; almost he seemed to have forgotten Frodo, while his talk dwelt on walls and weapons, and the mustering of men; and he drew plans for great alliances and glorious victories to be; and he cast down Mordor, and became himself a mighty king, benevolent and wise. Suddenly he stopped and waved his arms.

'And they tell us to throw it away!' he cried. 'I do not say destroy it. That might be well, if reason could show any hope of doing so. It does not. The only plan that is proposed to us is that a halfling [hobbit] should walk blindly into Mordor and offer the Enemy every chance of recapturing it for himself. Folly!

'Surely you see it, my friend?' he said, turning now suddenly to Frodo again. 'You say that you are afraid. If it is so, the boldest should pardon you. But is it not really your good sense that revolts?'

'No, I am afraid,' said Frodo. 'Simply afraid. But I am glad to have heard you speak so fully. My mind is clearer now.'
Yes, Boromir has an object outside of himself:  defeating Sauron and protecting his own people.  But his talk becomes more and more self-centered, so much so that Tolkien doesn't even bother to quote him directly.  But he throws in a few more zingers, including a final appeal to reason.  Frodo's response:  glad to know what you're really thinking, Boromir--at least I don't have to wonder about that anymore.  Is he going to listen to Boromir's line of thinking?  No way.
'Then you will come to Minas Tirith?' cried Boromir. His eyes were shining and his face eager.

'You misunderstand me,' said Frodo.

'But you will come, at least for a while?' Boromir persisted. 'My city is not far now; and it is little further from there to Mordor than from here. We have been long in the wilderness, and you need news of what the Enemy is doing before you make a move. Come with me, Frodo,' he said. 'You need rest before your venture, if go you must.' He laid his hand on the hobbit's shoulder in friendly fashion; but Frodo felt the hand trembling with suppressed excitement. He stepped quickly away, and eyed with alarm the tall Man, nearly twice his height and many times his match in strength.
The words are still friendly, but suddenly there's a sense of physical threat.
'Why are you so unfriendly?' said Boromir. 'I am a true man, neither thief nor tracker. I need your Ring: that you know now; but I give you my word that I do not desire to keep it. Will you not at least let me make trial of my plan? Lend me the Ring!'

'No! no!' cried Frodo. 'The Council laid it upon me to bear it.'

'It is by our own folly that the Enemy will defeat us,' cried Boromir. 'How it angers me! Fool! Obstinate fool! Running wilfully to death and ruining our cause. If any mortals have claim to the Ring, it is the men of Numenor, and not Halflings. It is not yours save by unhappy chance. It might have been mine. It should be mine. Give it to me!'

Frodo did not answer, but moved away till the great flat stone stood between them. 'Come, come, my friend!' said Boromir in a softer voice. 'Why not get rid of it? Why not be free of your doubt and fear? You can lay the blame on me, if you will. You can say that I was too strong and took it by force. For I am too strong for you, halfling,' he cried; and suddenly he sprang over the stone and leaped at Frodo. His fair and pleasant face was hideously changed; a raging fire was in his eyes.
"I don't want to keep it--but just let me use it!" "You'll make our side lose!"  "You're an idiot!" "It doesn't really belong to you anyway!"  And then..."You really hate it, don't you?  Having to go on this ridiculous quest?  Having to cart that thing around and be chased by every jealous evil thing that wants it?  You can get rid of all your problems right now.  It won't even be your problem anymore." 

And finally--when his persuasion proves useless, Boromir attempts to take the ring by force.

(What happens next?  You'll have to read it yourself.)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How they found Pluto, not to mention Neptune (Book Review)

The Search for Planet X*, by Tony Simon.  Basic Books, 1962.  Issued in paperback by Scholastic, #TX 691.

This is a long-lost treasure for homeschooled students!  "My favorite book as a kid," says one Amazon reviewer.  Another says, "I remember reading this fascinating book, a selection of Scholastic Book Services, when I was hospitalized at age 9. I still remember the nurse coming into the room way after midnight to demand that I turn off the light. I couldn't do it. Planet X had me."

"Planet X" isn't science fiction, but true science writing for kids (roughly upper elementary through middle school).  It's about, first, the search for Neptune; because something was throwing the orbit of Uranus out of whack, and the odds were that the something was a planet.  But after confirming Neptune's existence, astronomers thought there must be something more dragging it out of its normal pattern.  And after years of searching...there was our ninth planet.

Or our ninth planet-that-was.
How did they do it?  Why did they do it?  Who were the key "space detectives?"  (I should be writing copy for the backs of Scholastic books.)  Clyde Tombaugh, of course, gets quite a bit of the story, since he was the astronomer who located Pluto.  (You do know, don't you, that an eleven-year-old Parent's Union School student came up with the name?)  Clyde Tombaugh becomes more than just a name, or the photograph of an old man peering into a telescope that's included in another of our solar system books; in this story, he's a curious, slightly geeky kid who can't get enough of stars and telescopes but can't afford college, but who then lucks into the job of official Planet X-searcher.  One of the reviews says that we don't know what Tombaugh thought of Simon's book, but actually there's a letter from him included as an epilogue.  It starts, "Your saga of the discovery of Pluto is told interestingly and with understanding in this book.  You have caught the spirit of the search for the elusive ninth planet..."  I think that was commendation enough.
Tony Simon pulls out the entire bag of non-fiction writing techniques here:  using images of planet-searching such as looking down at a ballroom floor full of beads, only one of which is moving; making use of fiction techniques such as dialogue; using short paragraphs, but not dumbed-down language.  Those who would like to write children's non-fiction could find this book instructive.

But I think its primary appeal would be to children who can still appreciate the romance of star-searching.  Yes, "Planet X" has been demoted to a dwarf planet; but that doesn't diminish the story of its discovery.  (And the Neptune story is interesting too.)

This would be a great addition to a study of astronomy.  The book is long out of print, but inexpensive copies are still available through online sources.

*The scientists in my family want me to mention that Pluto is no longer "Planet X," first of all because it has a name, but second because it lost its planet status.  So the search for "Planet X" goes on.

CM Quote for the Day: Everyday miracles are still miracles (Chapter 9)

Towards a Philosophy of Education, by Charlotte Mason.  Chapter 9, "The Way of the Reason."
"Children should be brought up, too, to perceive that a miracle is not less a miracle because it occurs so constantly and regularly that we call it a law; that sap rises in a tree, that a boy is born with his uncle's eyes, that an answer that we can perceive comes to our serious prayers; these things are not the less miracles because they happen frequently or invariably, and because we have ceased to wonder about them." 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Lessons from the poorhouse: The Hidden Art of Homemaking

We recently visited a museum in our area, one we'd never been to before although it's been there for years.  Small museums are typically housed in old mansions, or in school buildings; but this one's on the site of a former "House of Industry and Refuge."  The county poorhouse, in other words, and it functioned under that name until the 1940's.  It's a very solid-looking building, three stories high, with large grounds that originally held fruit trees and vegetable gardens.
Although there are other exhibits in the museum, like a log cabin simulation and a WWI trench, it's the blown-up photos and the in-your-face information about the building's history that seem to steep the whole place in unhappy memories.  As it says in the exhibit, once you were in this place, it was unlikely you'd ever be out.  The poorhouse wasn't an overnight shelter; it was a life sentence. (Occasionally young people, often children who had grown up there, were placed out as apprentices, but that didn't always work out, so they returned.)  The one thing that the "inmates" had in common, whether they were old or young, disabled or healthy, was that they had nowhere else to go.  Nobody wanted them. 

In 1992, PBS broadcast a series of programs called Millennium. One episode's title was taken from an African saying, "The Poor Man Shames Us All." In certain cultures (some more "primitive" than our own), there would have been no concept of allowing members of a community to be brought to such a point of desperation; people just took care of each other. In other words, the worst thing wasn't that there was a poorhouse; it was the fact that there had to be a poorhouse.  In some ways, the county administrators could boast that they were doing more than some other places to make sure that the poorest people were cared for...even having a poorhouse was considered something to be thankful for. Residents had a roof, clothing, food; oranges and hankies at Christmas. It was better than starving to death. But as Dickens said, "many would rather die."

Years later, the people who lived there have been reduced to a series of large, disturbing photo images on the walls of their "home"; is that so much different from their real-life existence?  Why are the faces in those photos so tortured and hopeless?  Was it just from years of poverty, added to mental illness or diseases such as TB, or was it not having anybody to really care for them (beyond each other or the few staff members who helped with their basic physical needs), and having no place to call their own?

The faces staring out from the walls must have been some of the most disconnected, splintered, lost souls of that generation.  Many of them had kind of flunked their life-management exam, and feeling like that is pretty depressing.  Others were there because loved ones had left or died; also depressing. That's a quick judgment, of course.  I don't know.  Maybe some of them were actually happy to have a permanent home, somewhere they felt safe.  Maybe some of them were Christians.  But the overall picture looked pretty grim to me, especially when you figure in the number of people who really needed more than just a home, needed psychiatric treatment, addictions counselling.  Maybe it wasn't so bad on a nice day if you were picking apples or something...but there's a lot of lostness about those photos.

What does that have to do with The Hidden Art of Homemaking?

Simple: all people need homes.  Homes should be part of blocks, neighbourhoods, communities, circles of people getting wider as you go on.  We need to create and preserve communities where people are not allowed to just disappear because there's nobody left to care.  But we start with homes.  Not necessarily two-parent-two-point-five-biological-children families; just places where people are reminded, through words and atmosphere, that their lives are important, and that they belong to the world.  It might be your own home; or it might be the "homey" atmosphere you help create in a classroom, a daycare, or a crisis centre.  Sometimes home can be a day place, even if you find a bed somewhere else.

So don't ever think that there's anything small or insignificant about making home places.

Yet another spaghetti sauce recipe (slow cooker)

Using what we had...the Apprentice said she liked this one, except for the chunks of pepper.

Mama Squirrel's Slow Cooker Spaghetti Sauce

1 lb. ground beef or other ground meat
2 little cans pizza sauce
1 little can tomato paste
1 cupful (more or less) beef broth
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 11-oz. package Europe's Best Roasted Gourmet Grilled Red & Yellow Pepper Parrilla (frozen grilled peppers), thawed in the fridge
Hot pasta for serving

Brown and drain the ground beef.  In a slow cooker (or a pot on the stove or a casserole in the oven if you prefer), combine the browned meat, pizza sauce, tomato paste, beef broth, and garlic powder.  The standard instructions would probably be to cook it on High for four hours, but if the meat is browned and hot, really you are just heating the rest of the ingredients through too, so you can probably get away with less time or with cooking it on Low.  If you're going to be home, you might try starting it on High and then turning it down to Low after awhile.  If you're cooking it on the stove or in the oven, just cook it all together till it's sauce.

Just before serving, I cut the grilled peppers up into smaller pieces and stirred them into the sauce.  They were still a bit frozen, but the hot sauce cooked them quickly.  They added some bulk and a bit of colour to the sauce.  You could use other vegetables instead, maybe mushrooms.

Serve on pasta, with cheese or whatever else you like.

Gardening Quote for the Day (Hidden Art Chapter 6)

"A Christian individual or organization should not move into a property and turn it into a shambles.  The opposite should be true.  It should grow and blossom into a place of beauty, demonstrating something of the wonder of the One who made plant life to produce seeds in the first place."  ~~ Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Photos by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright 2013 Dewey's Treehouse.

Linked from the Chapter 6 Linky at Ordo Amoris Blog

Thursday, May 23, 2013

CM Quote for the day: This is indeed a debatable world ("The Way of the Reason")

"These Ten Marxian Maxims give us ample ground for discussion not for lectures or for oral lessons, but for following for a few minutes any opening suggested by 'current events,' a feature in the children's programme of work. But they must follow arguments and detect fallacies for themselves. Reason like the other powers of the mind, requires material to work upon whether embalmed in history and literature, or afloat with the news of a strike or uprising. It is madness to let children face a debatable world with only, say, a mathematical preparation. If our business were to train their power of reasoning, such a training would no doubt be of service; but the power is there already, and only wants material to work upon."

Photo of riot drill in Cali, Colombia, from May 22 "24 hours in pictures" at The Guardian.

Gardening Quote for the Day (Hidden Art Chapter 6)

Edith Schaeffer on the therapeutic value of gardening:
"Oh, the frustration and the monotony of not being able to be creative because of feeling that there is no time to pursue any of 'the arts', and that one must simply do the 'office work', or whatever is our daily work, and collapse at the end of the day!  A change can be as restful as any other kind of rest, and a change which gives fulfilment to otherwise hidden and suppressed creativity can do even more than 'rest' in releasing frustration."  ~~ The Hidden Art of Homemaking

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gardening Quote for the Day (Hidden Art Chapter 6)

"The day the first tips of green are seen, if they are your seeds, planted by your own fingers, there is a thrill that is surely similar to producing an art work, a thrill of accomplishment mixed with the reality of what is, what exists, what the universe consists of." ~~ Edith Schaeffer, The Hidden Art of Homemaking
Photo by Mr. Fixit

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's for supper? Chinese meatballs

Tonight's dinner menu:

Pork meatballs with homemade honey-garlic sauce
Reheated rice mixed with a few frozen vegetables
Celery sticks, cut-up green pepper, baby carrot sticks

Choice of melon balls, oranges, pears
Pieces of a Euro chocolate bar.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Term 3, Week 8

This is a four-day school week because of Victoria Day.


New Testament: finish Saviour of the World this week

Poetry and The Aeneid: finish “Aeneas Seeks Aid From Evander”

Arithmetic: finish Key to Percents Book Two, page 10

Natural history: continue The Search for Planet X by Tony Simon.  Finish “Off Course Again,” start “Percival Lowell”

Sight Singing

Repetition: work on passage from Matthew 16

History: Augustus Caesar's World, “Of India and the Hindus”

People Pages

French: Lesson 8, "George’s Kite." (Translation of this week's passage: George is very clever. He has made this kite himself. The kite is taller than George. The artist has painted a house, a little dog, a man, the moon, and a bird.) You-tube video: watch “Trotro et le cerf-volant.”

Afternoon work


Natural history: The Search for Planet X, continue “Percival Lowell”

Balance Benders Level 2

History: “Pater Patriae” (very short) and “Buddha and the Kingdom of Truth”

Sight singing

Arithmetic: page 11, Writing a Percent Statement as Two Equal Fractions

Composer study: Handel, Concerto Grosso, Opus 6, No. 10 in D minor.

Geography: Lesson 2 on Devon, “North Devon.” “The combes along the north coast lie between the spurs of Exmoor, which come down to the water’s edge.”

People Pages



Old Testament: continue Lore Segal's The Book of Adam to Moses

Poetry and The Aeneid: start “The Trojans Besieged.”

Arithmetic: continue previous lesson, page 12


Picture study: later pictures of Matthijs Maris

History: “December 25, Year 1”


Love's Labour's Lost

Afternoon work


New Testament: Saviour of the World

Poetry and The Aeneid: finish “The Trojans Besieged.”

Arithmetic: continue previous lesson, page 13

Drawing lesson


People Pages



"What can we do?": Crafting a Home (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 5)

Sometimes Edith Schaeffer's favourite phrases make me a little crazy.

"It is possible," she keeps saying in Chapter 5 of The Hidden Art of Homemaking.  It is possible to learn to weave your own cloth.  It is possible to make your own pottery.  It is possible to blow your own glass, and all the rest of the things she lists.  And then she jumps off into the topic of play houses for children.

She does clarify this, at one point, and says that she's not suggesting that everybody do everything on her list.  Which is a good thing.
For one thing, serious crafting is expensive.  Making candles or macrame plant holders, not so much; and recycling fabric to make braided rugs can be an inexpensive hobby, according to the Tightwad Gazette; but even good-quality knitting and crochet yarn, and the related hooks and needles, aren't cheap.  (I like to crochet but it's mostly with thrifted and discount-store yarn.) And I don't have any old woollen clothing to cut up for quilts and rugs.  One wool coat, that's all, and I'm still wearing it. (Although I do know one lady who turns squares of old polyester and Crimplene into amazingly nice comforters for MCC.)  Woodworking tools, a sewing machine, painting gear all take money and storage space.
Also, you get better at any craft as you learn to do it, but it takes time to learn to handle big projects.  Treehouse readers may have noticed that in the last couple of years I have said fewer bad words about the "evil sewing machine."  However...there are people out there who are even less confident about making stuff than I am.  I hear it all the time:  "I'm not crafty, not even one little bit."  "I couldn't do that."  "Who has time?"  Sometimes, like me, "Who has money?"  And whose fault is that?  Could it possibly be craft gurus in the magazines and on TV who have turned Making Stuff into something that needs an advanced degree, a special studio, a whatsit machine from Michael's before we can even think of starting?  Even Edith may inadvertently scare us away when she starts talking about pottery wheels and glass blowing.

But look at her bigger picture.  Even look ahead to the gardening chapter, where she's talking about growing morning glories in a rooftop garden, during the Depression.  A packet of flower seeds and an old tub didn't set the Schaeffers back much; but it was more than most people would have thought of doing.  Remember that list of nouns?  Imagination, beauty, connection with the natural world and so on.  Rather than wilting with intimidation before those with better tools, bigger budgets, or longer-honed skills, look at the small places you could start.  I personally can't keep houseplants alive, but you might find joy in a pot of African violets or basil or cactus.  (I have a lovely pot of artificial flowers (see photo) that I bought on clearance at Michael's, and both its cheerful colours and the fact that I don't have to water it make me very happy.  Also, Dollygirl made a very realistic vaseful of tissue-paper flowers from the directions in a Klutz book.)
Remember my post last year about the online book Mary at the Farm?  Mary gets a lesson in "you could turn these old faded clothes into something beautiful" from her Aunt Sarah.  (I've never figured out why she hauled a trunk of unwearables along on a summer visit, but whatever.)  She's getting married and wants to make her house beautiful; Aunt Sarah points out the possibilities for recycling skirts and dresses into comforters and "collar bags." 
"Mary, sometimes small beginnings make great endings; if you make the best of your small belongings, some day your homely surroundings will be metamorphosed into what, in your present circumstances, would seem like extravagant luxuries. An economical young couple, beginning life with a homely, home-made rag carpet, have achieved in middle age, by their own energy and industry, carpets of tapestry and rich velvet, and costly furniture in keeping; but, never—never, dear, are they so valued, I assure you, as those inexpensive articles, conceived by our inventive brain and manufactured by our own deft fingers during our happy Springtime of life..." ~~ Mary at the Farm
As Edith points out in other parts of the book, she just wants people to have spaces to live in that make them feel happy, safe, encouraged, connected; that turn dull and same into original and beautiful.  Beautiful can cost a lot, but it can also be cheap or free.  Beautiful can take huge talent and lots of time, or it can be a quick perk-up with some paint.  And since what's simple for me might not be for you (something I could run through my sewing machine vs. something you could nail together in your workshop), having that common goal gives us an extra opportunity to work together and maybe inspire each other.
All photos copyright Dewey's Treehouse.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

"Treasured Possessions" (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 5)

Heirloom-quality tablecloths, candlesticks, silver spoons, fine bedcovers? I don't relate much to the particular home-making items that Edith Schaeffer recommends we acquire in Chapter 5.  A candlestick wouldn't necessarily make a hotel room "homier" for me (and do hotels allow you to burn candles in the rooms, anyway? I'm thinking it might be a bit dangerous). 
And Edith knew as well as anyone that "lifetime" treasures could easily be lost or broken.  It was her sweaters that got chewed in the opportunity-for-recycling incident she describes in this chapter, and her wedding china that reportedly got broken by the Schaeffers'constant stream of houseguests.  Moths (mice?) and rust corrupt, cigarette sparks make holes, and careless guests break dishes.  It's a bit of a paradox that Edith describes, in such detail, the value of having your own special stuff; but that she could also see possessions as belonging, ultimately, to the Lord; that dishes and rugs could be somewhat expendable in the service of the Kingdom.

I do have a few treasured family items, but they're not the sort of things you'd want to cart around in a suitcase or that you'd use to dress up a temporary space: a piece of red glassware that was my grandmother's, a Psalter in German script that was passed down through her family, some photographs, my mother's earrings, and so on. I don't think those are the "treasured possessions" that Edith was talking about.
"What about me?"
I think she was shooting more for two types of home-related treasures. One would be just familiar, everyday (but also beautiful and individual) home stuff that becomes so much a part of your life that you, or your family, can't imagine home without it.  These days, instead of silver spoons, we might think of afghans or scrap quilts, pottery coffee mugs or bowls, a something-a-day calendar (somebody recently mentioned one with daily paintings), personalized pillowcases. 
And her point is that if you don't have any homey stuff like that, then you need to get busy and find some, or make some, or let your kids make some.

The second would be seasonal, ritual-type treasures, things like Christmas ornaments or a birthday plate. (Remember the Red Plates you could buy for special days?  The site mentioned in that post is defunct, though.)
(Photo found here)

I'm thinking about my grandparents' move to a granny flat, after forty years in one house.  Somehow they managed to make their new living room look something like the old one.  My grandpa still had a special chair, and some of his steam-train memorabilia.  Grandma's coffee table was still topped by a particular millefiore paperweight.

I'm thinking of my own lifetime of moves and temporary living situations (summer places, university rooms), and there were quite a few; some achieved "home" and "connection" more than others.  When my sister and I were in university, our parents moved to a smaller house, and they had the attic space converted to bedrooms so we'd have a place to stay.  The nicest thing my dad did was to ask the carpenter to build bookcases for me around the staircase railing; it was a kind of "welcome home" even though I lived there for only a short time.
My biggest concern with this chapter, or rather its meaning now, isn't so much whether our treasure is silver candlesticks or something else; it's that, I think, the youngest ones among us--say the young adults and then that generation of grandchildren now making an appearance for many of my own friends--don't seem to cherish much that doesn't come from a big-box store (I don't mean couches and washing machines, but electronics).  Stuff is cheap, easy come, easy go; if something breaks, it often costs more to repair it than replace it, so out it goes.   They're more likely to make themselves feel at home somewhere by pulling out a laptop or an electronic device and playing a game or some music.  
There may be a small positive side to this in that our next generation feels less materialistic than their parents or grandparents; that is, they don't see themselves as caught up with "things."  They're less likely to register for wedding china and then cart it through several moves over a lifetime and then leave it to the grandchildren et cetera.  The prices on (used) Royal Doulton figurines have taken a dive in the last few years.  But this also means that they're not taught in the same way to care for things, to preserve, to treasure.   So here's the last point: if Jesus said to store up treasures in heaven, not on earth, isn't that a good attitude to have?

Maybe.  But as Edith says...without any material connections, we risk becoming splintered, unsettled.  Our longings for a home on earth may simply reflect our longings for home in heaven, but while we're here, can't we make our homes places that we care for, and where we know we are also cared for?
"She loved Clarence very tenderly; when he was yet a tot, she taught him to be gentle with all that he touched.  She began this patient instruction by giving him a rare piece of early Staffordshire, a milkmaid with a brown cow.  She taught him to lift the piece with great care and dust beneath it.  Over and over again, he did this under her watchful eye, with never a chip or a crack, Father, and he was but a toddler!  All that love pouring into him is today poured out into his beautiful [carved] bowls and animals and walking canes."  ~~ Jan Karon, Light from Heaven
Related posts:
Interior Decorating and The Friendly Giant (Chapter 5)
What Can We Do? Crafting a Home (Chapter 5)
Homemaking thoughts, Home-making blogs (Chapter 5)

Friday, May 17, 2013

What's for supper?

Tonight's non-repeatable dinner menu:

Casserole made of leftover brown rice, smoked sausage, a cupful of beef broth, and a bit of pork stir fry that The Apprentice made on Wednesday

Hot spinach dip: thawed frozen spinach, seasoned and heated in a skillet, with a cupful of cream cheese heating in the middle

Carrot sticks, mini pretzels, fresh crusty bread (from the Euro store where Mr. Fixit got the sausage)

Choice of Polish doughnuts (also from the Euro store) or strawberry crisp with yogurt.  The crisp wasn't very crispy when it came out of the oven, so I sprinkled on the end of a box of flaky-crunch cereal that The Apprentice brought home from university.

And that's why this menu is pretty much non-repeatable.

Homemaking thoughts, home-making blogs (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 5)

Here's a three-question summary of The Hidden Art of Homemaking, chapter 5.

What kind of place do you live in?

What kind of place would you like to live in?

How can you make your (current) place more of that (imagined) place, so it's more your place, and more His place?

And here's a bonus question:

Is there a Christian "decorating" ideal?  Or an "ideal" Christian decorating style?  What do you think the inside of a Christian home should look like?

Does that last question exclude non-Christians from being good interior decorators?  No, of course not.  But since Edith Schaeffer is talking about reflecting God's artistry, there should be a visible consciousness of God's truth, beauty, and creativity in the homes of "Christ-followers."

Photo from Curtain Queen blog (a blog worth checking out!)

Edith has a whole string of nouns for this: imagination, personality, originality, purpose, charm, usefulness, beauty, interest, restoration, order, caring, wholeness, connection, balance. Abstract as those words are, they do give us a picture of what we could be ourselves, by living in rooms that show interest (vs. dullness), restoration (vs. falling apart or discarding), connection (to God, to the natural world, to our own roots, to each other).
There should be something about our homes that says "Welcome Here."

Not only to guests, but to us

Maybe it's with words, on a dish towel, on the wall.  Or maybe it's a wordless greeting.

Photo from Coffee Tea Books and Me. 

Maybe it's a place to sit down.

Photo from The Common Room Blog.

Maybe it's a shelf of good books. Maybe it's the art, the music, the flowers, the food (all chapters in the book).  Maybe it's everything together.  However you create it...

Home Making is the Home You Make.

Related posts:

Thursday, May 16, 2013

How we reason ourselves into right (CM Vol 6 Quote for the Day)

"But it must not be supposed that reason is malign, the furtherer of ill counsels only. Nurse Cavell, Jack Cornwell, Lord Roberts, General Gordon, Madame Curie, leave hints enough to enable us to follow the trains of thought which issued in glorious deeds. We know how Florence Nightingale received, welcomed, reasoned out the notion of pity which obsessed her, and how through many difficulties her great project for the saving of the sick and suffering of her country's army worked itself out; how she was able to convey to those in power the same convincing arguments which moved herself."  ~~ Charlotte Mason, "The Way of the Reason" (Towards a Philosophy of Education)
Robert Harris, A Meeting of the School Trustees, 1885

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How we reason ourselves into wrong (CM Vol 6 Quote for the Day)

"He shall be Thane of Cawdor, and, behold, confirmation arrives on the spot. He shall also be king. Well, if this is decreed, what can he do? He is no longer a free agent. And a score of valid arguments unfold themselves showing how Scotland, the world, his wife, himself, would be enhanced, would flourish and be blessed if he had the opportunity to do what was in him. Opportunity? The thing was decreed! It rested with him to find the means, the tools. He was not without imagination, had a poetic mind and shrank before the horrors he vaguely foresaw. But reason came to his aid and step by step the whole bloody tragedy was wrought out before his prescient mind." ~~ Charlotte Mason, "The Way of the Reason" (Towards a Philosophy of Education)

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Hidden Art of Homemaking, chapter 5: Interior Decorating and The Friendly Giant

This You-tube video, if you've never seen it, is a clip from the program Clean Sweep. Several years ago when we had a satellite dish, it used to come on right around the time we got home from church on Sundays, and the kids and I would get a quick lunch and watch. You know what happens after they blow the whistle? Everybody gets busy and hauls EVERYTHING in that room out to the yard, for sorting and a whole lot of discarding. Some of it, they junk--the dirty, the useless. Some of it gets sold in a big yard sale. The best stuff gets kept and incorporated into a new room design.

I learned several things from watching this show.

1)  Many of our houses contain several-times-over-enough stuff already to be beautiful, functional, and express our dreams, values, and individuality.  At church we are watching a DVD series with Dallas Willard, and in yesterday's session he stated that humans are "treasuring creatures."  Our "things" are important to us; they give us identity; they give us comfort.  As Edith Schaeffer says, they also give us continuity when housing has to change or life gets difficult.  It's not unnatural to want to have treasured possessions, cherished things.  Sometimes they remind us of people we love, or places we've been, or special times.

What Edith Schaeffer didn't deal with so much, around 1970, was the problem of Too Much.  She didn't talk much about shopping addiction, hoarding, or just getting stuck with a load of somebody else's possessions. The issue of creative homemaking for us now is often cutting down, cleaning out, detaching ourselves from enough of the "stuff" so that we can cherish the most meaningful, most memorable, most beautiful.  Charlotte Mason talks about using our will to make choices, rather than just accepting whatever default options present themselves; in making our homes more homelike, that would include making conscious choices about the things you want in a room, and what you don't want.

2)  If you're letting it get dirty, piled over with junk, even mouse-inhabited (like one Clean Sweep family's "heirloom clock"), then maybe you don't really care about it.

2b)  Honesty time:  abandoned projects and hobbies, clothes that don't fit, mousey clocks, big buying mistakes--let them go.

3)  If you do care about something, then use your newly-cleared-out space to use or display it.  On one episode, the Clean Sweep decorator framed some fabric and glued on treasured but hidden-in-a-box dried rosebuds.  As I recall, the decorators also found ways to display Scout memorabilia (after deciding that it WAS really important to the owner), and odd pieces of inherited furniture (ditto).  That doesn't mean that you have to turn EVERY dried flower into art, or that EVERY ex-Scout should have his/her badges on display (or should even keep them).  That's where individuality happens.

3b)  I don't know if this came up on Clean Sweep, but sometimes, especially with children, "treasures" that were once loved can be outgrown.  A good clue is if the dust on the model horses is now an inch thick.

4)  At least on Clean Sweep, a good carpenter seems to solve a thousand problems.  Once the clutter is out of the house, the re-do usually follows two different streams:  the decorator works with colour and the look of the whole thing, and the organizer usually gets the show's carpenter to build some kind of a wall unit in a family room or dining room, or a work island in a workshop, or a neat loft bed with storage.  Sometimes it's just shelves in a closet, or extending a too-small desk.  This is not to say that all storage problems need to be tackled with a router; only that sometimes the piles get piled because there is no good place to put things, even important things.  Backpacks get dumped if there are no pegs to hang them on. 

Again, even good shelving doesn't solve the problem if (as they say on the show) you're trying to cram twenty-four feet of books into twelve feet of space.  But it does look better than stuff every which way.

5)  The last thing I learned on the show, and on other similar programs:  that little bits of comfort are important.  Not having grown up in houses with huge bedrooms (and not living in one now either), the idea of having a "sitting area" in a master bedroom, or in the corner of some other room such as an office, is one idea that's not intuitive for me.  When I was growing up, we just sat on the couch.  But the de-cluttering and re-do shows do this all the time, and it's not that complicated: usually a chair, a light, a little table, a pillow or throw, maybe a bookshelf nearby or a basket of things to read or write in.  If space allows, maybe a coffee table and another chair for a friend.  Just like The Friendly Giant. (photos here)

Related posts:
What Can We Do? Crafting a Home (Chapter 5)
Treasured Possessions (Chapter 5)
Homemaking thoughts, Home-making blogs (Chapter 5)

Linked from Hidden Art of Homemaking linky for Chapter 5 at Ordo Amoris.  (Link Fixed!)

Dollygirl's Grade Six: Plans for Monday


Old Testament:  continue Lore Segal's The Book of Adam to Moses

Arithmetic:  Key to Percents Book Two, pages 6-7, Using Cross-Products to Make Equal Fractions

Studied dictation:  from The Fellowship of the Ring

Outdoor Break

Repetition:  work on Scripture memory passage

Geography:  Begin working on Devon, including map work  (my favourite maps for this are at, but there's also a good one at

People Pages (year-long notebooking project)

French:  Hachette Illustrated French Primer.  "Nous sommes en hiver.  Il y a de la neige et les enfants au sortir de l’école font des boules de neige et se les jettent.  Il y a deux garçons sur le mur."  Review the phrase "il y a."  Goal for the end of the week:  to use the given phrases to describe the picture.

French song:  Raffi,  "Y a un rat" (a bilingual version)

Afternoon work:  readalouds, other projects.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Crissy Clothes: Sweet Sweet Suede**

We bought a fabric grab-bag at the thrift store, but most of it turned out to be half-sewn leather and suede scraps.  Maybe it was unwanted stuff from a  factory?
I used a piece of lightweight soft green stuff to make this shirt.  But I wasn't sure what to do with the rest. 

Then I saw a piece of purple suede in there that wasn't too heavy for dolls, and it just called out "Crissy."

The vest is vintage Simplicity Crissy pattern 8519.  The purse I put together from a scrap that was left.
I used the same pattern (8519) to make a suede jumper, but the first one turned out pretty short (even for Crissy, the mini-skirt girl).  OK, we'll just call it a tunic.  I was surprised, though, that the pattern was so skimpy--usually Crissy patterns are sized correctly. (Looking at the photos on the Crissy And Beth sewing page, though, I think it WAS meant to be very, very short.  And I do remember skirts at the time being very, very short.  But we like Crissy to be just a bit more covered.)

I tried again with a piece of cranberry-red suede, and cut it longer.  This one turned out knee-length.  Just for fun, I put the fuzzy side of it inside, and left the "back" side for the outside.  Both Dollygirl and I thought it looked better like that anyway.  Dollygirl thinks the jumper will look really good with Crissy's burgundy turtleneck.

Cost of outfits:
Pattern:  free download--cost of ink and paper, not much
Bag of suede scraps--$1, and we still have some left.
Thread and snaps--all on hand, didn't cost much
TOTAL for jumper, tunic, vest and purse:  maybe $2?

Seems like a "suede" deal to me.

 **That's a joke for Electric Company fans.  Doesn't Morgan Freeman's outfit look a bit like Crissy's purple stuff?

Linked from Hidden of Art of Homemaking linky (Chapter 5) at the Ordo Amoris blog.

Love To Dress Up: 18-inch Doll Clothes (Book Review with Photos)

All these outfits were sewn from patterns in Love to Dress Up: 18" Doll Clothes, by Lorine Mason.  I liked the idea that you could mix and match the popular "fat quarters" from stores like Wal-mart (something readily available for us, even in Canada), although I ended up using thrifted fabric and bandannas to sew the sample outfits.  The clothes are pretty and contemporary-looking (unless you don't want them to be, see wrap dress below).  Some of the patterns are basic enough that you could use them for your doll "go-to's" if you didn't add extra embellishments, such as the shorts that match the smock top (bottom photo).

We wanted a 30's-style wrap dress for Kit. The pattern in Love to Dress Up is a more contemporary, shorter style; but all I did to change it was lengthen the skirt and use a calico print instead of something brighter.
Did I say anything somewhere about not liking to sew bias tape around bolero jackets? Well, I did it anyway.  I do have to mention about the sun dress, that it would NOT have fit any of the 18-inch dolls without pattern adjustments--too snug around the chest. Crissy was the only one it would fit. The green and pink dress fabric is a bandanna; the purple bolero is from a pillowcase.
Crystal's smock top and matching shorts, sewn from a bandanna and some plain blue fabric (for the shorts). You can't see it in the photo, but the shorts have stripes of bandanna fabric sewn down each side (it's in the pattern).  This would make a cute pinafore pattern too if you cut the top longer.
I haven't sewn any of the more complicated outfits in the book, but so far the instructions have been straightforward, and the only thing that didn't fit a "standard" 18-inch doll was, as I said, the bolero and dress outfit.  If you go on the publisher's website, you can print out a few corrections to instructions and pattern pieces.  Overall rating:  good.

Photos are by Dollygirl.

Frugality, second (or third) generation (updated with photos)

Our Dollygirl was recently given a Samantha doll by her Grandpa Squirrel.  Samantha is a "retired" American Girl doll, so she was acquired through E-bay.  She is in very good condition and is missing only her shoes.  Samantha, if you're not up on your American Girls, is a well-off eleven-year old from 1904.  Dollygirl wanted her to feel at home, so to speak.

We found out that Samantha was coming last Sunday night.  By the time the package arrived on Tuesday, Dollygirl had already carved out an extra doll-space in her room, made a bed from a box, and contrived some Edwardian-inspired bedding.  

She had previously borrowed a pair of pajamas from her doll-playing friends around the corner, so Mama Squirrel's nightwear services were not required.  In fact, this is one doll setup that Dollygirl has managed almost completely on her own.  (We do have the free downloaded patterns for "Samantha's Pretty Clothes.")

Samantha's homemade bedroom furniture includes not only the bed but a washstand (also from a box) with a Mylar mirror, and a nightstand from a plastic container.

She also has a small (real) copy of The Wizard of Oz (Dollygirl says it's Samantha's favourite book), a Madame Alexander Oz doll (McDonald's giveaway), a sewing basket with an embroidery project that we scavenged from a Little Women treasure chest, and some mini paper dolls (same).  Dollygirl made her a lunch basket with a plastic peach, a Sculpey roll, and a cookie (all things she had already), and she's working on some school supplies.
All without having to so much as shake Dollygirl's piggy bank.  Or ours. (The Springfield doll line, at Michael's, apparently includes some plain black shoes that should fit Samantha's feet, and that shouldn't set us back much.)

I am very proud of my next-generation frugal-hacker.

Linked from Festival of Frugality #388 at The Frugal Toad.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Quote for the day: Dreams are for doing (Parents' Review Volume 2)

Hommerin' the Leather (A WORD WITH OUR BOYS), by J. J. Wainwright. The Parents' Review, Volume 2, no. 2, 1891/92, pg. 422-428.  
"All things are possible, but I shall be astonished, and more than astonished, if Jack should learn Spanish, or, indeed, if he should ever get those bookshelves put up until it is too late; for time is flying, and young Ollendorf, one of our junior clerks who came over from Deutschland only a year ago, has already learned Spanish; and moreover he talks and writes it grammatically, which is what the young Briton who "just picks it up, you know," never does. He has actually learned that language since he made his descent on this country--German, English, and French he brought with him....
"....Ollendorf's pay is only a pound a week at present, but on that he contrives to live respectably and pay for lessons in Spanish, or shorthand, or anything else that will help him to get on in the world. He never halts; his motto is always the same as old Blucher's on that memorable day of June, 'Vorwarts. Wir mussen vorwarts.'"

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

What's for supper? Inauthentic Chicken Paprikash, but we liked it (recipe included)

Tonight's dinner menu:

Canadian Living's recipe for Chicken Paprikash, adapted to what we had (see below)
Reheated basmati rice
Sweet potatoes
Butterscotch dumplings, because we had a container full of homemade sauce that needed to be used up

Boy, people nitpick a lot.  The Hungarian-born readers (see the comments below the original recipe) certainly didn't care for this version of Paprikas/Paprikash.  I'm sure they wouldn't like what I did to it, either.  But you know what?  Mr. Fixit, whose Schwabian grandma fed him many Hungarian-influenced dishes including Paprikas, thought it was fine.  So don't call Lisa and complain.  (Besides, she can't cook anything except hots-cakes.)

Also, the sodium count as calculated in the sidebar is very high.  Looking at the ingredients, I'm not even sure what's driving it up quite that high.  Probably just the chicken broth (even in a reduced-sodium version) plus the added salt, and then dividing the recipe into only four servings.  A couple of commenters blamed the tomato paste, but the tomato paste we buy, just ordinary store brand, doesn't have salt in it; in fact, we used tomato paste quite a lot when Mr. Fixit was on a severely-reduced-sodium diet, so I think they're wrong.   Possibly the sour cream, although I'd have to check our container to see.

Here's the recipe plus my comments/changes.

Chicken Paprikash to Enjoy (Not to Fight Over)


2 tbsp (30 mL) olive oil

1 lb (454 g) boneless skinless chicken thighs, quartered --  I used a pound of chicken breasts instead, partly thawed and cut in small chunks

1 onion, thinly sliced; 3 cloves garlic, minced; 2-1/2cups (625 mL) sliced trimmed cremini mushrooms --  I used frozen mixed vegetables that contained diced onion, mushrooms, red peppers, and green beans, plus half a teaspoon of garlic powder

2 tbsp (30 mL) sweet paprika --  I used only 1 tbsp. of "regular" supermarket paprika, plus 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

3 tbsp (45 mL) all-purpose flour

2 tbsp (30 mL) tomato paste

2 cups (500 mL) sodium-reduced chicken broth

1 tsp (5 mL) lemon juice

1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt -- or less

1 pinch pepper

1 pkg (375 g) broad egg noodles --  we had leftover rice so didn't cook noodles

1/2 cup (125 mL) 5% sour cream --  we passed this at the table

2tbsp (30 mL) chopped fresh parsley --  left this out


In large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tbsp of the oil over medium-high heat; brown chicken, 4 to 5 minutes. With slotted spoon, remove chicken to plate. Drain fat from pan.  (I didn't drain anything, because I was using white meat.)

Heat remaining oil in skillet over medium heat; cook onion, garlic, mushrooms and paprika, stirring often, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Gradually stir in broth and bring to boil; reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 1 minute. Return chicken to pan; add lemon juice, salt and pepper.

[Meanwhile, in saucepan of boiling salted water, cook noodles according to package directions.]

Drain noodles and serve topped with chicken mixture. Garnish with sour cream and parsley.

Source : Canadian Living Magazine: February 2012