Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Countdown to School: Five, Four, Three, Two, One...Wait!

Douglas Spaulding, twelve, freshly wakened, let summer idle him on its early-morning stream...A whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar, day by day..." ~~ Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
It's five weeks today until school starts for us.

And the greatest joke, on the day that I could be posting something about "get organized" or "list of things to do," is that the Ambleside Online Facebook page featured one of our old posts called "Don't Talk Over the Music." Seize the moment. Pay attention (like Douglas Spaulding.)  Don't interrupt.

And someone comments, "Oh my! Talk about convicting your Spirit! I am always so busy thinking about my to do list that I never take a moment! I'm putting this on our list for the new school year!"
"...there were some days compounded completely of odor, nothing but the world blowing in one nostril and out the other.  And some days, he went on, were days of hearing every trump and trill of the universe.  Some days were good for tasting and some for touching.  And some days were good for all the senses at once."  ~~ Dandelion Wine
Yes, there are notes to be written, pages to be counted, narration ideas to be scribbled on Post-It Notes, even a couple of books still to be acquired, or rounded up from people who borrowed them last year.  And I know that for some of you who start the school year even earlier than we do, the time is slipping by.  (Those of you on the year-round plan, I know you're there too--just bear with us.)

But it's still five weeks.

So don't "talk over the summer"...too much.
"Come Labor Day, we'll add up the summer and see what we got!" ~~ Dandelion Wine

Monday, July 29, 2013

Time Saving, Space Saving

The Common Room has a post full of time-and-space-saving household tips, and wants to know what ours are.

All right, in no particular order:

1.  Have a few meal-saving and/or leftover-using standbys either in the cupboard, in the freezer, or in your head.  The ones in the cupboard or the freezer might include anything from a frozen whole casserole to some precooked rice or pre-grated cheese; and the ones in your head would be anything that quickly stretches, fills out, gussies up, or finishes off a meal without your having to run to the store.  Joyce Radway might have depended on caramel junket, but I personally prefer chocolate or vanilla microwave cake if I need dessert, or the bottom half of a dessert, in fifteen minutes.  Tightwad Gazette lemonade is another auto-pilot recipe that fills in when we want a drink that's fancier than water but don't have any juice around:  1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup bottled lemon juice, 4 cups water.  (You can easily make more, just keep the same proportions.)  Of course nobody needs lemonade or cake; but sometimes a meal needs a little cheering up.
2.  Invite Lillian Gilbreth to your house to do a time-and-motion study of your storage and home routines.  Failing that, have a hard look at things yourself, and change things around even if you've been doing it the same way or putting stuff in the same place for fifteen years.  This summer I did some mega-cleanouts and changed some things around...yes, in some spots, after fifteen years.  One example:  we have only shelf in our kitchen that's tall enough for cereal boxes.  Over the past few years, the shelf gradually got taken over with tall cookbooks and kitchen binders, to the point that we kept having to drag the cereal boxes up and down from the basement cold room, or leave them out in the tiny recycling area by the porch door.  So, duh...this summer I cleaned out a deep drawer that used to hold our biggest slow cooker (before it died prematurely), and put the cookbooks into the drawer.  Now the cereal can live back in the kitchen again.

I also cleaned out a vintage kitchen cupboard in the cold room...I mean, really cleaned it out, with soap and water and all that...got rid of some vintage stuff in it like a sausage stuffer (really), along with some vintage crumbs and dust...and found that there actually was room in there to organize some previously un-organizable stuff.  Now we have what amounts to a "holiday/party cupboard," because the top part is holding things like our ice-cream maker and popcorn, the surface down below has a basket with paper plates and other picnic stuff, one of the drawers has picnic-table cloths and clamps (the other drawer has canning supplies), and the cupboards on the bottom have things like turkey pans and cake plates.

And I finally got around to safety-pinning all the pairs of mittens and gloves together, in one bin.  Think that's what King Lemuel meant by "when it snows, she has no fear for her household?"

3.  Have a spouse or kid or buddy who likes to grocery shop with you.  After this many years, I just have to laugh sometimes about the ruts Mr. Fixit and I get into, but you know what, sometimes the ruts are GOOD.  I don't have to worry about picking up vitamins or fruit or tuna or bread or laundry soap: those are part of his mental list.  He doesn't have to remember to get milk or vegetables or flour or toilet paper or coffee or...okay, you get the idea, those are mine.  We meet at the end, double-check on anything unusual we needed, and that's it.

4.  Laugh when you can.  At Mr. Fixit's birthday this month, we were out of appropriate wrapping paper; even the tissue paper was gone.  We all came up with different no-cost solutions.  I stuck magazine pictures on a packing-paper package.  Dewey Squirrel gave him a present wrapped in a Christmas gift bag and topped with a (yard-saled) sympathy card.  The Squirrelings also came up with creative wrapping ideas.

5.  One space-saving idea:  we usually like lower-tech solutions for things, but there's one development in technology we do like:  boxed DVD sets for TV programs (goes without saying that we like them even better when we can get them used or cheap).  Of course for people who watch everything on the computer anyway, it doesn't matter. But if you've been trying to store, say, VHS copies of Mission Impossible or Star Trek or Fraggle Rock or whatever, where you get about two episodes to a tape, DVD sets are a huge improvement.  Could we have imagined, years ago, that we'd go to Giant Tiger and bring back not only the whole first season of Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, but also the entire run of Ray Bradbury Theater, for less than the cost of family movie tickets and in packages small enough to fit into a purse?  (Warning about the Ray Bradbury programs:  they are interesting stories with a great cast, but they are also capital-C Creepy, and they're full of unexpected twists, so please please please preview before watching with kids around.)

Mama Squirrel's Reading List, and a decor game

Currently in the middle of:

Alton Locke, by Charles Kingsley

10 Philosophical Mistakes, by Mortimer J. Adler (I'm only up to the third mistake so far)

Plutarch's Coriolanus

Shakespeare's Coriolanus

The July/August issue of House Beautiful, which Ponytails and I amused ourselves with one evening by comparing it with a flyer from a local bed-and-bath store.  (House Beautiful itself isn't all that expensive, which surprises me.  Some of the vintagey decorating magazines cost twice as much, which is why I hardly ever buy them new.)  It's surprising how many of the same colours and patterns trickle down from the Billy-Baldwin-quoting decorators to...er...the rest of us.

One example: this rug.  It's between $50 and $400, depending on size, which isn't yard-sale price but isn't exactly designer either, right?  About average for new stuff.  Anyway, take a good look at the colours, the pattern, the size of the pattern.  Then flip through a current decorating magazine or fashion magazine, or a sale catalogue, and see where the same colours and patterns pop up again.  Might be a dress, a shower curtain, wallpaper.  I'm wondering what that does to our minds, having certain images (that most of us don't even notice) thrust at us from so many directions.  Do we eventually start dreaming in "splashes of red against a deep black and rich browns?"

Treasures from the antique market, and a frugal thought

There are three or four antique markets in our area where Mr. Fixit goes regularly to pick up vintage radios for his business.  This weekend our Sunday afternoon family plans got changed at the last minute, so we decided to go for a browse at the two closest ones (across the road from each other).

Usually I just look at things, especially the stalls of vintage books (there can't be that many of us who actually like looking at old school books).  But this time I found one book to buy at each place.   I am much pickier than I used to be about bringing home books from anywhere more expensive than the thrift store.  They don't have to be in perfect condition, but they have to be things I don't see all the time.  They have to be either useful (like a very cool sewing book) or have something great in them to read, or be something we need for school.  Mostly, I have to like them.  If they're early-to-mid-20th-century hardcovers with paper dustjackets, so much the better.

(These aren't my photos, but they're like the books I bought.)
The White Deer, by James Thurber
Tales of a Grandfather, by Sir Walter Scott, in the Blackie's Famous Books edition.

I know the photo shows a Katy book instead, but they're all very much the same style, with the squiggly things up the sides and the list of other books on the back.  A new paperback copy of Tales of a Grandfather would cost about $30 (Canadian) if ordered through our local bookstore, because who orders Tales of a Grandfather?  This one was $10.  Sometimes antiquing actually saves money. (UPDATE: I realized later that this Tales is somewhat abridged, which does it make it less useful than I had hoped.  But I still like it.)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Quote for the Day: Charles Kingsley on self-education

That day fortnight came,--and the old Scotchman's words came true. Four books of his I had already, and I came in to borrow a fifth; whereon he began with a solemn chuckle: "Eh, laddie, laddie, I've been treating ye as the grocers do their new prentices. They first gie the boys three days' free warren among the figs and the sugar-candy, and they get scunnered wi' sweets after that.....If ye canna traduce to me a page o' Virgil by this day three months, ye read no more o' my books. Desultory reading is the bane o' lads. Ye maun begin with self-restraint and method, my man, gin ye intend to gie yoursel' a liberal education. So I'll just mak' you a present of an auld Latin grammar, and ye maun begin where your betters ha' begun before you."

 "But who will teach me Latin?"

 "Hoot, man! who'll teach a man anything except himsel'? It's only gentlefolks and puir aristocrat bodies that go to be spoilt wi' tutors and pedagogues, cramming and loading them wi' knowledge, as ye'd load a gun, to shoot it all out again, just as it went down, in a college examination, and forget all aboot it after."

 "Ah!" I sighed, "if I could have gone to college!"

 "What for, then? My father was a Hieland farmer, and yet he was a weel learned man: and 'Sandy, my lad,' he used to say, 'a man kens just as much as he's taught himsel', and na mair. So get wisdom; and wi' all your getting, get understanding.' And so I did. And mony's the Greek exercise I've written in the cowbyres. And mony's the page o' Virgil, too, I've turned into good Dawric Scotch to ane that's dead and gane, poor hizzie, sitting under the same plaid, with the sheep feeding round us, up among the hills, looking out ower the broad blue sea, and the wee haven wi' the fishing cobles--"

There was a long solemn pause. I cannot tell why, but I loved the man from that moment... ~~ Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How Edith pulls it together (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 14)

I haven't read other people's posts on the last chapter of HAoH yet, but I predict their reactions will be much like they were to the previous one:  "not what I was expecting."  The last two chapters of the book don't really draw the whole picture of Hidden Art together as fully as we might desire.  Was that on purpose, or did Edith just peter out?  The last chapter in particular is surprisingly short.  It's like getting to the end of a mystery book a little too suddenly...say one of the nutty ones by Ellen Raskin...and wanting to go back and comb through the final chapter for any clues that you missed.
So are there any?

First, there's one of the recurring threads:  "There is no place where one cannot plant ivy over the mud hut and put a flower on the stump....I am sure that there is no place in the world where your message would not be enhanced by your making the place (whether tiny or large, a hut or a place) orderly, artistic and beautiful with some form of creativity, some form of 'art.'"

And then the idea that "we [ourselves] are an environment for the other people with whom we work, the people with whom we communicate.  And in this sense we do not choose an art form and create something in that form; we are an art form...an art form God can use in this area of environment."

As others have pointed out, Edith always comes back to communication, a message.
Is the message we are living clear, or is it a lot of "glub-blubs?"

Are we hiding our real identities and gifts?  Leaving clues on bits of paper towel, or doing something more?

"We should be artists in...doing something practical to show that expectancy [that God can intervene]...affects the attitudes other people are going to have to their troubles."
Mr. Banks carved the turkey; the plates were passed and filled high to overflowing; and Mrs. Carillon asked Augie Kunkel to say grace.

Augie Kunkel didn't know how to say grace.  He just named the dishes and let the delicious smells inspire the proper reverence:

Patate douce, dindonneau truffée, airelles en couronne, petits oignons, pointes d'asperges au beurre, purée de marrons.

"Amen," said Mr. Banks, who didn't understand French; and the eating and the chatting and the celebrating began.  ~~ Ellen Raskin, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel)
Linked from the Hidden Art of Homemaking linky for Chapter 14 at Ordo Amoris.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Grace and Environment (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 14)

"[Margaret] also was a very tired woman, and her fatigue took the form of being unable to think about anything except food for more than two consecutive minutes....Except, of course, the garden....These fine autumn days were so precious...these lovely days....What in the world could they have for breakfast?"  ~~ Elizabeth Goudge, The Herb of Grace (Pilgrim's Inn)
"Surely, you begin to feel tired, discouraged, irritated, frustrated and hopeless.  Your own energy begins to ebb away.  You decide to put off the rush of getting your article written.  After all, you might as well go out for a walk."  ~~ Edith Schaeffer, "Environment" in The Hidden Art of Homemaking 
"Yet it was chiefly her body that was tired now; her mind, which had been so weary and fretted in London, had been wonderfully rested by this house that was now her home....[Nadine] stretched out a hand and laid it upon the paneled wall beside her; it was warm in the sun, as though it were alive....This house was maison-dieu, and the stripping away of all that was unworthy and the building up of new beauty was in the nature of a crusade.  And the house had agreed and collaborated."  ~~ The Herb of Grace 
"It goes without saying, too, that 'The Environment,' which is you should be an environment which speaks of the wonder of the Creator who made you."  ~~ "Environment"
"[John Adair] jumped up, went to meet David with outstretched hand, faced him squarely with his tawny eyes alight.  'Forgive the impatience of these two musketeers waiting for the third.' The extraordinary warmth of the tone astonished David, the almost blazing kindness in the eyes, the strong grasp of the hand that seemed apologizing for he did not know what...."  ~~ The Herb of Grace
What was it that allowed John Adair to move from a position of scorn and resentment, and to offer this sudden unexpected and undeserved grace to David?

A sudden flash of understanding that David was made "of the same stuff as himself."

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Bird in the Tree, by Elizabeth Goudge (Book review)

The Bird in the Tree, by Elizabeth Goudge

I'm reading the Damerosehay trilogy out of sequence; my review of the second book, The Herb of Grace (Pilgrim's Inn)  is here.

It's a slow-moving novel, full of descriptions and decisions, but without much action.  My guess after reading the second book was that you could more or less skip the first one, and I still think the first one might turn you off from reading the second, which would be too bad.  But it does have its own strong points.

This is the storyline: twenty years ago, in 1918, Lucilla Eliot bought a house by the sea, and began raising her orphaned grandson David.  For the past two years she has also cared for the three children of her son George, because George’s wife Nadine left him in India and went into the antiques business. (Lucilla can't figure out how selling Chippendale chairs means "living one's own life" more than, say, taking care of one's own house and children.) Now David confesses to his grandmother that he loves Nadine (she is only a few years older than David) and that they plan to marry.  Nadine arrives, supposedly to visit the children but really to face the music with Lucilla, and the three of them sit down for a “Talking To.”

Of course Grandmother is bossy and moralistic. Of course she should stay out of their business; technically, David and Nadine aren't doing anything wrong (Nadine and George are already divorced).  The trouble is, Lucilla's right. This relationship is going to mess not only with the already-messed-up kids, but with the whole extended family and even the ownership of the house. She also knows this from experience: she had the chance to run off with somebody years ago too, but realized at the last minute how that would affect her husband and children.

The way you can tell that this is a 1940 Elizabeth Goudge book and not a 2013 anybody-else book is that David and Nadine actually listen to the sermon, and end the story by trying to straighten things out. (Some issues aren't really resolved until the next book.)  David goes off to Europe for awhile (that doesn't sound too safe in 1938, but whatever).  Nadine takes a boat to India to make up with George. (Grandmother is still stuck with the kids.)

It's not big news to say that self-denial is not a popular concept in 2013. "Sticking things out" comes way behind "what I want right now" and "love is something you can't fight."  It's too bad that this book, flowery and dated as it is, isn't likely to have a lot of attraction for those young enough to get the most out of its message...but I guess we middle-aged ones can use a reminder now and then too.

Monday, July 08, 2013

"Flowers and sunsets, moon on water..." (Hidden Art of Homemaking, Chapter 12)

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life." ~~ Martin Luther, The Small Catechism
"He who created us, who created the universe, who created the fruits and vegetables, who created the flowers and 'clothed' them in beauty, is the One who is telling us that we need not worry about food, drink or clothing." ~~ Edith Schaeffer, "Clothing," The Hidden Art of Homemaking
"We who are dressing ourselves and our children, providing for missionaries or friends, making things for orphans or refugees should 'consider the flowers,' the lilies of the field, and consider it our part, as finite imperfect human beings, to be as creative as we have the talent to be!....The Christian...is the representative of a King--the King of Kings and Lord of Lords."  ~~ Edith Schaeffer
"When I gave her my stockings I forgot they were the only black pair I had without holes, but I am glad I did give them to her, because my conscience would have been uncomfortable if I hadn't. When she had gone away, looking so proud and happy, the poor little thing, I remembered that all I had to wear were the horrid red and blue things Aunt Martha knit last winter for me out of some yarn that Mrs. Joseph Burr of Upper Glen sent us. It was dreadfully coarse yarn and all knots, and I never saw any of Mrs. Burr's own children wearing things made of such yarn. But Mary Vance says Mrs. Burr gives the minister stuff that she can't use or eat herself, and thinks it ought to go as part of the salary her husband signed to pay, but never does." ~~ L.M. Montgomery, Rainbow Valley
Linked from the Hidden Art of Homemaking linky for Chapter 12 at Ordo Amoris

Friday, July 05, 2013

Back in the box: updates on Dollygirl's Grade 7 plans (updated)

Those of you who have followed along here know I have been posting (and revising) Dollygirl's September school plans on a separate page.  Like I said before, it's mostly Ambleside Online's Year Seven, but wearing a vintage dress:  substituting the P.U.S. English and French history books for Churchill's Birth of Britain, and experimenting a bit with the literature list.  I had a list of the books to use for those subjects, but hadn't gotten down to figuring out exactly how or when.

I'm also revisiting some materials that the Apprentice used in middle school, things I wasn't sure if we'd ever use again:  a first edition copy of Apologia General Science (Ponytails used that too), a second edition Saxon Algebra 1/2, and a 1999 set of Power Glide French (we hope our cassette player holds out).  All these books, the Apprentice used successfully at around Dollygirl's age, so knowing that inspires some confidence that they'll be good choices again.  One important note:  for all three of those, we'll plan on doing only the first half of the book. 

But this is the big change I'm working on.  Dollygirl still has the workboxing chart I made for her four years ago, and she asked me if we would ever be doing workboxing again.  I said no, probably not.  It worked well with our homeschooling situation that year, but that was then, this is now.  I thought about it some more, and wondered if anybody out there was even still using workboxes.  I browsed around and found this post on Hope for Homeschool: a no-busywork, simple workboxing setup and routine for middle school and up.   You don't even have to load the boxes every night or have every page number pre-scheduled; for older kids who are basically using the same books day after day, you can just check what they've accomplished (or they can) and record it on a planner page.  In which case I guess you don't call it a planner page, it's a checker page or a journal page, but whatever.

That was exactly...well, almost exactly...what we needed, for two reasons.  First,  the physical side of it made sense (although we will use Ponytails' old plastic magazine holder system instead of drawers).  We don't have a lot of floor space for drawers, or racks of shoeboxes, but we do have a cabinet where the books can be shut away when school's done.  Second, thinking of subjects in "boxes" forces me to simplify or at least nail down what we're doing.  The Hope for Homeschool family use Sonlight Curriculum, but that's easy enough to translate into our more-or-less Ambleside Online plans.

Besides the box system, I also like Merry's teacher box (I have one of those giant Easy Grammar Plus teacher's manuals too) and teacher binder.  They're really not that different from organizing tools we've used in the past, but her photos are giving me a bit of extra inspiration for the coming year.

I've updated the Grade 7 Plans page to reflect the workboxing additions.

Monday, July 01, 2013

A Canadian painting for homeschoolers!

"Playing School," by Daphne Odjig, 1981.  (Colour serigraph on paper; more here.)

(My favourite from yesterday's art gallery visit.)

P.S.  I know it's not a painting, but "colour serigraph" sounded funny in the subject line.  Happy Canada Day.
Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling: Enjoy Reinvention Edition at Dewey's Treehouse.