Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's Advent Not Christmas: Before It Begins

Starting tomorrow, watch for a series of posts called "It's Advent Not Christmas."

Longtime Treehouse readers may remember the story of our toddler-aged Apprentice, who caught on to the idea of Advent so well that she corrected a well-meaning grownup who asked her, mid-December, if she wasn't excited that it was Christmas.  "Save a little Christmas for Christmas," went the words to a song in one animated T.V. special.

Advent, thankfully, seems too hard for the stores to package and the radio stations to overdo. It's a sacred time and space.  It's a place to reflect.  But sometimes even that's hard to pin down.  What is the real deal about Advent?

Maybe we can explore that in the days to come.

Friday, November 29, 2013

In which we finish the fall term (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

So how's it gong, Dollygirl?  Highs and lows?  Favourite subjects or books?  "Lord of the Rings, Balance Benders, handicrafts, and The Bronze Bow, most of it.  Geography is okay."

Not as good?  "Grammar, French, math except for Balance Benders."

What would you like to do more of?  "Algebra.  Arithmecode puzzles. Writing stories."

Today's school plans:

Poems (each one choose one)

Music history: "The Beginnings of Opera and the Rise of Instrumental Music."  "The time had come to link up music a good deal more closely with human affairs--human characters, moods, stories, situations--and to cause music to be an expression rather than merely a design.  Music moved towards plays and stories, and the result was the 'new music': the twin forms of opera and oratorio." (John Russell, A History of Music for Young People)

Play nature card game

Algebra: continue lesson on signed numbers, using

The Sword and the Circle (Rosemary Sutcliff)

Apologia General Science:  review physical and chemical weathering, read about erosion

Exam practice (written narrations)

Return of the King (continuing into next term)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Frugal finds and fixes (and family stuff) (Now with Photos)

Recent frugal finds and fixes:

You know those fancy, fur-trimmed, ear-flapping trapper hats that seem to be popping up in the knitting magazines and everywhere else?  Dolllygirl found some on the weekend at the dollar store, for just a couple of dollars.  She picked out one in houndstooth, much just like the photo above.

Dollygirl has been making a lot of small doll clothes from scraps, and crocheting scarves for the same small dolls.

Mr. Fixit turned an unrestorable radio into a guitar amp. (Actually you can still play the radio too.)

Mama Squirrel made lentil-sausage soup from a smoked sausage and pantry stuff, and we got two meals out of it.  We've also made some of the usual stuff like bread in the bread machine, popcorn in the air popper, and chili in the slow cooker.

Dollygirl found a good sweatshirt tucked away that one of the older girls had worn.

The Apprentice showed us a free online site that teaches kids computer coding.  She and Dollygirl did some work on it this weekend while she was home.  We're also using free algebra lessons from

Mr. Fixit scavenged a vintage kitchen table from the neighbour's curb. The top is ruined but that's okay, he wanted it for the workshop. Actually Mama Squirrel and the Apprentice were the ones who carried it across the street, after getting a phone call from Mr. Fixit who had seen it on his way past but couldn't stop to pick it up.  We portaged it around the house and left it on the patio.  By the time Mr. Fixit came back a short time later, it was covered with snow.  The Apprentice was here for the weekend and was supposed to go back to university last night, but the roads last night were so bad that she drove a few blocks, gave up and came back.  She left early this morning instead.

We went to three free lunchtime concerts this fall, and took bag lunches.

We borrowed several DVDs from the library.  And listened to the radio a lot.

If you click on the "family keep out" Christmas page, you might get a hint of how Mama Squirrel is using some squirreled-away stuff.  But my favourite found thing right now is the Dayrunner I got at a rummage sale a month ago.  I got some extra pages and stuff for it when we were out shopping, and I now feel completely organized and purposeful.  I stuck in a pocket to hold shopping lists and another one for church bulletins.

And Ponytails found a pomegranate-pink planner on the weekend, while we were grocery shopping.  There, I got everybody in.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What's up today? (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

Tuesday's school plans, a bit mundane but we have some things to finish up in the last week before exams:

Book of Acts

Memory work

French history--short bit about the post-Charlemagne years.  Review of Charlemagne.

The Grammar of Poetry

Math:  talking about formulas (such as the area of a triangle) and how you substitute in for the variables.  (Review the formula distance = speed x time)

Shakespeare:  watch more of the Coriolanus DVD.

Folk songs.


The Sword and the Circle: "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady"

Monday, November 25, 2013

Quote for the Day: When it's Time to Run

Quote for the day:

"The only thing I can say is that if you are buying a product or following a leader because they are making you afraid not to, then run. Better to get up each morning, look at the sunrise with your children, drink hot cocoa, and read than buy that load of lies. Never buy a product because some smarty-pants kid made you feel your home was inadequate. At no time should our goal be to make our children into artifacts. There is a difference between a soul and a product."  ~~ Cindy Rollins, "Homeschooling and the Fear of Man" on Ordo Amoris

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Quote for a Sunday

"There is of course a sense in which no one can give to God anything which is not already His, and if it is already His, what have you given?  But since it is only too obvious that we can withhold ourselves, our wills and hearts, from God, we can, in that sense, also give them."  ~~ C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Engineering, yes, what every tot dreams of at Christmas

"...a few exciting, against-the-grain developments: Toys R Us’ announcement in September that it will put an end to gender-specific marketing in the UK; Lego’s recent introduction of a female-scientist mini-figure to its lineup; and a just-gone-viral video from startup toy company GoldieBlox encouraging little girls to ditch sparkly pink pretend for play based on engineering."

 Oh brave new world.

 (Found here.)

Friday, November 22, 2013

Is it Friday already? (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

How about we run through the day's plan backwards?  Maybe we'll even do it backwards.  Except for the first thing.  Or the last thing, whichever way you look at it.

At around dinner time, Dollygirl will be leaving with friends to go to a theater in another town.  Her friend's father is a drama teacher, and he's directing a production of Macbeth.  Dollygirl and her friend helped paint and plaster scenery a couple of weeks ago, so now they're getting to go see it put to use.

Using the book Alfred the Great, Dollygirl can choose one of "Alfred's Artifacts" to draw in her Book of Centuries.  (I think she might choose this one.)

Geology Study:  Start an experiment using alum to grow crystals.

Copywork from The Bronze Bow.

Read a chapter of The Bronze Bow.

Finish the last two Balance Benders in the book.

Read another section of In Search of England.

Practice Memory Work.

Read The Book of Acts together, from chapter 19.

Sing O Canada since it's Friday.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's for supper? Homemade stuff

Tonight's dinner menu, in which I let the kitchen slaves do most of the work:

Sausage-lentil soup (slow cooker)
Whole-wheat bread (bread machine)
Raisin-granola bars (a new recipe I wanted to try).

Dollygirl's Thursday School Plans

Opening Time

Ourselves:  Finish "Love's Lords in Waiting: Humility."  "There are so many interesting things in the world to discuss that it is a waste of time to talk about ourselves.  All the same, it is well to be up to the ways of those tiresome selves, and that is why you are invited to read these chapters."

Copywork, from Ourselves

Alfred the Great, by Brenda Williams:  read for twenty minutes and narrate

Special online picture study:  Stormy Weather

Math:  continue lesson on, and do one Balance Bender (almost finished the book!)

(Twenty minutes of cleanup!)

Geography--we switched and read about the Grand Canyon, strata, and sedimentary rocks instead.

Exam Practice, also called Written Narrations  (That was enough!)


Watch more of the Coriolanus DVD.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A short Charlotte Mason thought

I've always liked that quote from For the Children's Sake, about asking yourself how, if certain famous thinkers sat in on your class (school, homeschool, Sunday School, whatever), would they be engaged or fall asleep?

So does it follow then that the job of a Charlotte Mason-style teacher is to make it interesting?

Yes, yes, yes...and no.  "I am not a Performing Bear," says Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins Opens the Door.

It's more like...let it be interesting.  Let it stay interesting.  Don't drain the interesting part out.

"This is an interesting planet.  It deserves all the attention you can give it."  ~~Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (2004)

Wednesday School Plans (Dollygirl's Grade Seven)

What are we doing in school today?

Writing...Dollygirl is writing a story for a contest, so I may let her do that instead of other writing.

Book of Acts 18:1-18  Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla, stays in Corinth for awhile, is arrested and beaten, and eventually leaves for Syria.  Who was Gallio?  Note that this is one of the few events of Paul's life that can be give a definite date.


History of English Literature:  about Bede.

Folk songs.

Sigurd the Volsung.

How to Think Like a Scientist.


And whatever else comes up.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: Tuesday plans, with or without a concert

We are still trying to decide whether to go to the weekly lunchtime concert.  The program is good this week (jazz piano), but it is still a chunk out of our school day, and besides that, the weather has been bad and is getting worse.  Not as bad as the places in the U.S. that got tornadoes yesterday, but just enough to make you not want to be out much.  I think even Charlotte Mason might draw the line at horizontal sleet.

So here's the school plan without the concert, and if things line up well, then we'll go and skip something else.

Daily opening time:  hymn, prayer

Current events

Grammar of Poetry: Continue Lesson 10, Iambic rhythm.

Short Math Lesson:  continue the first algebra lesson on

Writing time (written narrations and sample exam questions)

The Other Math Lesson: Making Things Out of Cardboard

English History: The Reign of King Alfred (from Arnold-Forster's history). Mark relevant dates in Book of Centuries.

Music history (or go to lunchtime concert)

French: follow review schedule

Watch some more of the Coriolanus DVD

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven, Term 1, Week 11 (Exams are coming!)

The schedule is probably overloaded today, but we'll just have to see what fits in.

Opening time:
Hymn, prayer

Poems in iambic form (not as hard as it sounds. Emily Dickinson wrote poems with iambic rhythm.  A Child's Garden of Verses also works).

Current events

History of English Literature: How Caedmon Sang

 Math: Begin "Skill in Algebra," on

Science: Re-read How to Think Like a Scientist, by Stephen P. Kramer

French:  follow review schedule

Geography, In Search of England

Christian Studies: Book of Acts (finish chapter 18 or 19 this week)

Writing time and Exam Practice (a.k.a. written narrations)

Watch some of the Coriolanus DVD

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Thrifting like a Homeschooler (and a freebie if you read closely)

We made it down to the new location of the thrift store where we volunteered for the past couple of years.  It's definitely bigger, definitely fancier.  But there are still good deals on books (yes, I miss being in the back).  I found some really good stuff on the children's shelves, and it made me think (yes, yet again) about the great books that have been published, that are still out there, and that get bypassed or given away.  I don't mean The Great Books, necessarily, just things with lots of educational potential.
Christmas with Maud Lewis, by Lance Woolaver. A perfect Canadian picture-study topic for December!

How about a book of just science questions, no answers? (The Flying Circus of Physics, by Jearl Walker, 1975.)  Why do Rice Krispies snap, crackle and pop? Why, if you pour water into a coiled hose, won't it come out the other end?  If some of the sand in an hourglass is in free fall, won't the weight of the hourglass be less?  Yep, those kinds of questions. (There are some pointers towards further reading and answers in the bibliography.)

"Well you can just rock me to sleep, tonight!"  ~~ Berke Breathed, Bloom County comic strip (Binkley's response to the problem of whether Adam and Eve had navels)
Word Works: Why the Alphabet is a Kid's Best Friend, by Cathryn Berger Kaye.  One of the original Brown Paper School Books.  "This book is about words--why we have them, why we need them, how we use them."  There are sections on poems, on writing stories and plays and letters to the editor, and bits and pieces of language lore like slang and word origins.

The Meaning of Music: The Young Listener's Guide, by Jean Seligmann and Juliet Danziger.  (You can download this for free on

The Puffin Do It Yourself Book.  I'm thinking of a cousin, my age, who used to spend a fair amount of time at our house; and I'm thinking of how much trouble we could have gotten into with this book.  Not that we needed the book to get into trouble, we did enough of that on our own, but it certainly would have given us extra inspiration for "are you sure your mother won't get mad?"  Actually, now that I think of it, we could have written this book  Build a burglar alarm!  Grow mushrooms!  Scoop things out of the pond!  Make mud bricks!  Put squishy things in bowls and play "haunted house!"  Put things on your shoes and tap dance!  Most of the activities are, if you follow the directions, harmless if often slightly messy. (That's where my cousin and I usually went wrong.) There are one or two somewhat surprising pages, such as how to restore an old bike, and what to do when your dog or cat gives birth; and a few skippable suggestions (like putting a ketchup-smeared finger through a hole in a matchbox, a la Van Gogh), so don't say I didn't warn you.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

What's for supper? Something we do with tortillas

Tonight's menu:

Skillet dinner made with ground pork (browned first with onion), cut up tortillas (doesn't matter if they're a bit dry), salsa, cheese, chili powder, cumin, and a bit of milk.  Layer in skillet and cook until tortillas are soft and everything is hot.  Cut in wedges to serve.

Corn.  Green pepper strips.

Blueberry-cranberry crisp and vanilla yogurt.

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: 10 Things to do on Thursday

After singing a Psalm and reading Luther's Morning Prayer:

1.  Grammar of Poetry:  finish the lesson about iambic patterns.  Play a couple of rounds of Word Mastermind.

2.  Short reading from General Science. Explore the "rock corner."

3.  Read more of Sigurd the Volsung.

4.  Empty a shelf holding toys and choose some books to put on it instead.

5.  Math problems.

6.  Crocheting flowers with Mom.

7.  Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus.

8.  Grammar workbook:  predicate nominatives.

9.  Read some of the geography chapter, about Lincolnshire.

10.  Notebook time.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: Tuesday plans and bass clarinets (updated)

School plans for Tuesday include a lunchtime concert at a local church.  This one features bass clarinet and percussion.

The Accidental Voyage (Mr. Pipes):  read all of Chapter 6.  Mr. Pipes, Annie and Drew board a boat in Milan, but their overnight stay turns into an unexpected adventure. (Note to self: don't trust any sailboat captain claiming to be an Irishman named Abdul...or maybe he's American, we're not sure.)

Grammar of Poetry: puns and review of previous lessons.  We actually got into the next lesson, about iambic patterns.  After trying to find some two-syllable words that fit the iambic pattern (unstressed, stressed), we read "My Mother Said," a poem with strong iambic rhythm.

French lesson

Exam Practice (Written Narrations)
1. Give some account of (a), The "Father of English Song" or (b), The "Father of English History."
2. How would you recognize a Romanesque building? Can you describe one?

Math:  estimation questions.  Two word problems about lemonade and cheese.

Easy Grammar Plus

The Sword and the Circle

Natural history reading and notebook.

Today's News from the Treehouse

Weather: sloppy, snowy/rainy, wet, cold. (Did I mention dark?)  Garbage cans blown over.

Dinner:  spaghetti and meatballs, poppy seed cake.  (For Remembrance Day.)

Where's the Apprentice been lately?  Mostly at university, finished midterms but heading into finals soon too.

What's Ponytails been doing?  A project for film class, plus her hairstyling class is up to cuts now.

What's Dollygirl doing?  Making Rainbow Loom bracelets.  Practicing the Cup Song with her friends.  She's also trying to film a doll version. She has swimming tonight, wet sloppy snow or not.

What's Mr. Fixit been doing?  Fewer radios and more cameras...the market for vintage stuff has shifted recently.  He's even back to doing some darkroom work--something I never expected to see.

Anything else you wanted to know?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: School plans on Remembrance Day

We do not have a definite plan this year to include Remembrance Day in schoolwork, other than taking time out to watch the ceremonies broadcast from Ottawa.

This is what is planned for Monday:

Book of Acts, working on chapters 16 and 17.  Use maps.

History of English Literature:  Read about Caedmon.  Add something to the Book of Centuries?

Math:  continue with Beat Algebra; work on estimation and word problems.

Begin the Foundations of Geology module in General Science.  We have hurried through some of the previous modules; but this one should keep Dollygirl busy for at least the rest of the term.

Grammar, page 62.

In Search of England:  start the chapter about Lincolnshire.

French:  continue to review recent work.

Whatever Happened to Penny Candy?  Start chapter 7, "Wallpaper, Wheelbarrows, and Recessions."

Readalouds:  Return of the King.

The flickers were here today!

Noting an infrequent backyard nature event:  a flock of flickers made a stop here this morning.  We usually see them earlier in the fall.  (For previous sightings, click on the label Flicker and Northern Flicker below.)

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Living Page, by Laurie Bestvater (Book Review)

Have you noticed that Charlotte Mason seems to be keeping unusual company these days?

Over the last few years, Miss Mason's philosophy has taken on what she herself might have called a new small-c catholicity, and it's not unusual to hear her quoted along with Wendell Berry, St. Benedict, and scientists researching brain function. Like Anne of Green Gables with her hair up and her skirts down, CM has taken on a possibly unexpected but not unbecoming seriousness.  At a recent gathering in Ontario, we heard the word "homeschooling" from the speakers much less than we heard both literary language (myth, metaphor) and spiritual vocabulary (transformation, meditation, sacrament, Glory).  As a community, we seem less determined now to "use" Charlotte Mason for our own purposes, and more interested in discovering and discussing the truths of her philosophy.  (The fact that we can even identify a "CM community" is a milestone in itself.)   Even if you haven't attended CM conferences or retreats, you might still have noticed that the general image of Charlotte Mason education is maturing, partly because there is more previously-unavailable information available, and partly because there are some tenacious individuals digging through those resources and sharing their finds.

Laurie Bestvater's recent book The Living Page, published by Underpinnings Press, reflects that different, more contemplative view of CM, and at the same time manages to be a practical resource not only for homeschooling parents, but for classroom teachers and anyone with an interest in lifetime education.  It does not attempt to cover the how-to's of every school subject, and omits the already-well-known history of Charlotte Mason, her college and correspondence school.  Instead, The Living Page puts the focus on the role of Mason's "paper graces," or student-kept notebooks.  Using many quotations from Mason's own writings, as well as archived examples such as the nature notebooks of student teachers, Laurie Bestvater defends the idea that these notebooks are not optional or peripheral, but absolutely central to a Mason-style, living-ideas, relationship-based education. She shows how and at what ages certain activities were begun in Charlotte Mason's schools, and discusses not only specifics of the various books, but the balance and connections between them.  Taken together, they form a large and vital part of a child's self-education.

Giving students choice in what to write and draw, allowing them time to contemplate and observe, may have been unusual in Mason's day; but it is no less rare and threatened in our own time, in these days of easily- reproduced fill-in pages and visual examples at our fingertips.  How does this style of notebook-keeping reflect Mason's consistent rationale, her overall vision that culminates in what she called The Way of the Will?  Laurie Bestvater's detailed descriptions, along with photographs of new and vintage examples, give shape to ideas that may have previously seemed too abstract or not important enough to work into an already-full curriculum. But the book goes well beyond a simple description of how to keep the Book of Centuries, the commonplace book, and the nature notebook as Charlotte Mason knew them, and becomes a plea for a more human heartbeat in children's education.  If a child keeps a notebook that gives her a "sense of possession and delight," and the delight is not so much because the end product is beautiful but because it reflects her own learning," the connections she has noticed, the relationships she is creating, is that not more valuable than many worksheets that will be filed away somewhere and then discarded?

The Living Page is, especially in its final section, a manifesto for what, throughout the book, is variously referred to as being "Keepers," living fully, and knowing Glory.  It echoes what Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote in For the Children's Sake: that Charlotte Mason, with her emphasis on the value of the person, had insights that went beyond teaching children to read and do math, that there are important truths in her work that cross the lines of sacred/secular, school/homeschool, child/adult, then/now.

Laurie Bestvater's ability to combine literary examples with personal insights, while staying true to Charlotte Mason's philosophy and practice, makes The Living Page a unique and significant contribution to CM literature. Well recommended.

Disclaimer:  I was provided with a copy of The Living Page to review, but did not receive any other compensation.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: Plans for Thursday

A History of Music for Young People:  about canons and madrigals, Tallis and Byrd, in the 1500's.

Book of Acts, Chapter 14: the travels of Paul and Barnabas.  Follow with a map.

Grammar: marking direct object

Apologia General Science: continue reading about how the age of artifacts may be determined.  Talk about radiometric dating, absolute age, and the principle of superposition.

French: follow review schedule I made up.

The Bronze Bow:  next chapter.  Written narration.

Math:  continue learning about variables.

Probably read some of The Return of the King.  (We've finally gotten to the last LOTR book!)

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

What's for supper? Sausage penne

Tonight's dinner menu:

A casserole made from bratwurst, baby-cut carrots, penne, and tomato paste plus water.  I started the sausage and carrots baking in the tomato paste/water mixture, while I cooked the end of a bag of penne.  (I am not usually a pasta snob, but I think there is penne, and there is penne, if you know what I mean. Getting a better brand seems to make the dish turn out better.) When the penne was mostly done, I drained it and added it to the casserole, along with enough extra liquid to keep it moist, and let the whole thing cook awhile longer, until the sausage was done.  I sliced the sausage to make it easier to serve, and put some grated Parmesan on the table.



Garlic toast made from homemade whole wheat bread.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven, Week 9: Plans for Tuesday

Geography:  Another section of In Search of England, read aloud, same as yesterday.

Copywork, from In Search of England, same as yesterday.

Bible study:  Book of Acts.  The journey of Paul and Barnabas.

The Easy Grammar Plus:  one more worksheet on past participles.  (So far so good.)

Apologia General Science:  discussing the issues of archaeology, age, and artifact assessment.

French: keep reviewing some previously-heard conversations, but do them in different ways.  Try reading one out loud for yourself, or writing it, or covering up the French side of the page and translating from English.

Sigurd the Volsung:  keep reading together.

Beat Algebra Before It Beats You:  continue working on exponents.

Book of Centuries:  A different century and a different image.  Since you picked a 2nd-century Roman pot to draw yesterday, could you choose some pottery from another time?  (I think these lamps are very interesting.)

Handicrafts And Homemaking.

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: We start Week 9

Plans for Monday's School:
Geography:  In Search of England, chapter 9, part 1:  we read together about Hadrian's wall, and about Mr. Morton's imaginary conversation with a wet, sneezing Roman soldier from the original wall-guarding troops.

Copywork, from the same chapter.

Plutarch's Life of Coriolanus, Lesson 8 from the Ambleside Online notes.  Our question to think about:  if Coriolanus was offered his "old job back" at this point (i.e. the opportunity to return to Rome), would he take it?--or would he rather stay with his new friends, the Volsces, who now say they will have no other captain?

Easy Grammar Plus:  one page on past participles.

Natural History:  Discussion of the idea that many nature notebooks weren't all art-based, that they often contained a larger proportion of written notes and simple observations (like Gilbert White's) about the local weather, what was ripening, what was nibbling in the garden.  Read a section from A Field Guide to Your Own Backyard about mushrooms, including the Destroying Angel type (something you do not want to be eating!).

French:  a short grammar lesson with Mom, then review one of the conversations in the Powerglide Ultimate Adventure.

The Sword and the Circle:  begin the story of Lancelot and Elaine.  Written narration.

Book of the Centuries, special daily work this week:  beginning some ink drawings of "artifacts" and things from different periods, on the blank side of the century pages.

Beat Algebra Before It Beats You, by Hal Torrance.

Sewing time:  Dollygirl has a special doll-outfit pattern she found online and wants to try.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Dollygirl's Grade Seven: finishing out Week Eight

Today we're going to:

Read a few more pages of The Accidental Voyage, chapter 5, which makes some pretty cool connections with the chapter on Romanesque architecture we just finished reading.
A little bit of math
Finish The Two Towers
Have time to work on geography
Do some French
November nature study.