Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What's planned for supper: Orange Ginger Pork Meatballs (the easy way)

Tonight's dinner menu, on guitar and choir night:

Orange Ginger Pork Meatballs, the easy way.  That is, make meatballs, and heat them in what's left of the VH Orange Ginger sauce.

Rice, and frozen Oriental--style vegetables (I think we still have some, I'll have to look)

Apples, apricots, and maybe some cookies.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer or fall? Last days of warm

 Maple in front of our house--always one of the first to turn red
 Beside our house--still blooming
 Why you need to look very, very closely at these flowers: they're covered with bees today!

What's for supper? This and that

Tonight's dinner menu:  odds, ends, and leftovers.

Beany's Beans (photo below), with bacon cooked separately
Baked sweet potato pieces
Steamed quinoa
Bowls of last night's homemade chicken soup

Store-bought ginger snaps, and a package of dried apricots---unexpected great deal at the drugstore.

Homeschooling, still frugal thrifty cheap but hard to write about it

I used to post a lot about ways to save money homeschooling--how to recycle, make your own, use the library and other freebies, read thrifted books, visit the neighbour with the bird feeder. Sometimes it was hard to see what people were spending homeschool money on at all, when there were so many low-cost ways to keep K to 6's busy learning.

These days my thrifty-homeschooler posts are fewer, but there are reasons for that.  Although there are certainly more ways than ever to spend homeschool dollars, I think people are also more aware of free online resources.  There are whole websites set up just to let you know about good deals and freebies, and about the whole world of online stuff.  Homeschooling-Ideas.com, for example.

Also, I think I don't mention as much about "ways we do math for less" or whatever, because an eighth grader tends to be using the same materials pretty much every day.  The elementary grades make better "homeschool copy."

Finally, we don't homeschool frugally just for the sake of frugality (if anyone does), so it's sometimes hard to write about it from that perspective.  If you read here much you might possibly know that I've mentioned that the math book we're using (Math: A Human Endeavor) was a chance find about ten years ago, and that I got the workbook through a used source right afterwards,  when the prices were still reasonable, and then The Apprentice ended up using only a few lessons in the workbook because she had way too much other homework in her public school courses.  So math this year is basically free. I didn't give it to Lydia in the sense of dumping leftovers, but because she needed a different kind of math this year and there it was. We also already owned this year's grammar course, writing books, Bible and devotional books, and most of the books required for Ambleside Online Year 8. But I can only say "I found that one at the thrift store" so many times.

If I had to boil down any frugal homeschooling advice I have left, it might come out like this:

1.  Whenever possible, use what's available to you, assuming it's in decent shape and appropriate for your students' needs, rather than going out and spending money on something else.  Lydia has asked to bring Latin back into the curriculum this fall, after a four-year break; so for the time being, we're going to go back to the course that we were using then, reviewing what she learned in the fourth grade and getting to the bits that were too hard then.  It's appropriate for her needs because it teaches ecclesiastical pronunciation and some of her "uses" for Latin could include vocal music.  It's frugal because it's on the shelf and I don't have to print out online textbook pages.

2.  Same as Number One: use what comes your way whenever you can.  We started kindergarten almost twenty years ago with a program that is still used by many with young children.  It required tracking down a lot of specific picture books, some of which (even though the program itself was quite new) had gone out of print.  It seems to me that it would have been better for homeschoolers to have used maybe a few of those lessons with books they could access, then get brave enough to branch out with their own good books, rather than get too devoted to finding everything on the list.

3.  Same as Number Two:  make use of local resources.  I heard only recently that we had a nearby weather research station that gave tours--but then I found out that it's been closed, so I had to scratch that off the field trip list.  Since this is the year that we're doing lot of ecology and weather studies, that was disappointing.  However, we do have parks and galleries and concerts and libraries and a university with an earth museum and a number of other things--not for weather trips, I mean, but for other opportunities.  And some of them are cheap or free.

4.  Don't overuse You-tube, but don't overlook it either, especially for music.  And science help. And math.  And craft tutorials.  But a little goes a long way.

5.  Focus on high-quality, longterm, meaningful units, books, lesson plans, outside activities.  Fewer books, but better ones. More time on Old Narnia, less on the rules of writing.  To quote from someone who has just discovered the power of books:
"In this book, he was gettin' to be Sam and see what somebody named Sam was up to...they give him this book for a present an' he was gettin' to be Sam.  That was his favorite thing about books--they took you off to other people's lives an' places, but you could still set in your own chair by th' oil heater, warm as a mouse in a churn."  ~~ Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (the newest Mitford book)
Cartoon found here. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jan Karon's Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (book review)

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: A New Mitford Novel, by Jan Karon.  G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin Books U.S.A., 2014.

If I could beam myself to one literary place to spend an afternoon just before Christmas, I think I'd go to Mitford.

A blurb somewhere warned that the newest Mitford novel "contains death."  That made me a bit leery of reading it, as we had been treated to a good dose of funerals in the last couple of Mitford installments.  However, without giving too much away, this one does not contain any big shockers you won't like; no major characters drop dead.  A few of them are obviously not doing so well these days, and there are a couple of close calls (a joyriding teenager wrecks Father Tim's Mustang), but for most of the book that's about as far as it goes. There also aren't any Barlowe siblings left to track down, so that ends that long-running subplot.

But there are surprises.  The best one is Coot Hendrick.  For most of the series, he's been on the fringe, somewhat despised, seemingly there mostly for rural comic relief.  In this book, he takes the stage, in more ways than one (you'll have to read it to find out).  It's a reminder that nobody is too far outside the circle, what Dallas Willard called the "divine conspiracy," to be drawn in, to become important and valued, to be able to give something in return.  I will never think of Green Eggs and Ham in quite the same way again.

As she often does, Jan Karon brings everything to a climax over the Christmas season.  If you liked Shepherds Abiding, you will, almost guaranteed, like this one too.  Like Shepherds Abiding, a lot of the plot centers around the Happy Endings bookstore, but there's a twist this time: Father Tim and crew are holding things together there while the owner faces her own crisis.

And as always, there are some serious talks about faith, among the faithful, the somewhat-interested, and those still on the run.  I like Father Tim's young "mini-me," saving his allowance for a copy of Wordsworth.  I like the online Scrabble players. I can deal with the slightly melodramatic limousine subplot (no, it's not Edith this time).  About the only character that I really don't buy is Mr. Edelman who runs the shoe store; he's a little too "oy" to be believable these days.

I don't know whether this is meant to be the last Mitford book or not. There are some loose ends, some things hinted at that never get really developed, but such is life.  For those who have missed Mitford while Father Tim went wandering through Mississippi and meddling in Ireland--this is definitely recommended.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday rummage sale: mostly books

September is a great month for church sales.  This morning I spent four dollars and got a bunch of books ( a quarter apiece), a basket, and a few other odds and ends: Buzz Lightyear cake toppers, a memory-improvement game, and a kids' backseat kit that might have a few possibilities for school fun stuff. [UPDATE: the memory game still had its game wheel, wipe-off markers, and a little white board, but it was missing the 192-page book that was supposed to fill up most of the box. Maybe the donor just forgot...anyway, we got some markers.]

(Too-literary Footnote: I am really trying to like Saul Bellow.  Mr. Fixit is reading one of those novellas in the photo, and I started the other one.  His, apparently, is about the Holocaust.  Mine is about a really bad marriage, or marriages, since I think the main character has three ex-husbands as well as the current one she doesn't like.  I am really, really trying, but thirty pages of it was about all I could stand.  I guess that one will go to the thrift store.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

When Lydia sets the schedule (Grade 8)

Lydia wrote out her own schedule for today's school.


Folk songs (Barbara Allen, Star of the County Down)
Finish chapter in How to Read a Book
Finish chapter in Daughter of Time
Watch the second half of the Anna Russell guide to the Ring operas
Practice memory work
Write Unit One science test
Work on one "Be a Girl Guide" challenge (she is not a Girl Guide, but these are Things You Should Know How to Do)
Plutarch's Life of Crassus, Lesson Four


Math: A Human Endeavor
Write in Reader's Journal
Do the next bit in the Writing a Speech Unit in Write with the Best
Go outside with a Nature Notebook.

(I couldn't have done it better myself.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What's up at the Treehouse? Busy day

Ponytails is busy with Grade Twelve, her part-time job, and several extracurriculars.

The Apprentice has found herself a full-time job, which she started this week.  Still out of town, but now she'll be working weekdays instead of weekends.

Lydia, the Squirreling formerly known as Dollygirl, will be leaving shortly for a whole-day What Every Babysitter Should Know course. It's run by St. John Ambulance, but today's session was arranged through a homeschool group.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dewey's Treehouse, inside and out (photo post)

Living room
Bone china flowers inherited from Mr. Fixit's grandma.
One of Mr. Fixit's specials.
Cookbook browsing
Corner of the kitchen (the picture on the wall is my spice wheel)
Chocolate-chip muffins
Backyard apple tree
Hosta aren't supposed to blossom this time of year.

Lydia's Grade Eight: some things to do for school today

1.  Watch Anna Russell (in 1984) describing the plot of Wagner's Ring Cycle operas.  If anyone can handle those often un-lady-like stories and make them seem almost polite, it's Anna Russell. Her audience was obviously having a very good time too. (Some people, I don't know who, might still find some of the content offensive, so don't just hand them over to kids.)  (If you want to get just the gist of her stories--although you'd be missing the music and general mugging--you can read a transcript here.)

2.  Finish the chapter "Temptation" in Ourselves Book II. Charlotte Mason gets very tough on over-dramatized but insincere, misunderstood, or misapplied "repentance" here.  "...fourfold love and gentleness and service the repentant soul brings to God and his brother; but this is because he is glad: out of the joy of his heart there is nothing he cannot do; and, above all, he will away with the proud and sullen tears and regrets of so-called penitence."

3.  Read about the Egyptians and papyrus in The Story of Mankind.

4.  Work some more on deductive reasoning (math book).  If there's a big cube made out of a lot of little cubes, and each side is 12 little cubes across, how many little cubes are in the big cube, how many corner cubes, how many edge cubes, how many other outside cubes, and how many inside cubes that you can't see?

5.  Watch John Mighton's Ted Talk, live at CERN today. (Just Mama Squirrel watched that one.)

Penguin Syllogism found here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's for supper? Chicken tonight.

Tonight's dinner menu:

Chicken chunks, coated in salad dressing and homemade garlic bread crumbs (leftover bread in the freezer), baked till crispy
Acorn squash
Reheated mashed potatoes
Spinach salad

Fresh pears

Frozen and the chosen?

Frozen and the chosen?  I had never heard that phrase before today, and would have guessed that it had something to do with Canadian winters.  However, no, it refers to the beliefs of certain food trendoids that we should only eat fresh, so frozen isn't for the chosen.  And, apparently, that includes putting extra food in your own freezer.

For me, that falls in there with parents who list "rules I never thought I'd have to make."  I never thought anyone would have to say "put the leftovers in the freezer." Or that people wouldn't think you could buy or bake extra bread, on purpose, so that you could freeze the extra. Or, maybe the problem is that they're asking whether you should.

Like the Prairie-based author of the editorial that inspired this early-morning Mama Squirrel rant, it's the waste that irks me.  It seems to be strictly a first-world "problem" that we buy or cook so much food that we don't know what to do with it, or that whatever's there doesn't suit our mood today, so it doesn't get eaten.  Anywhere else, any time in history, whatever was around would  have gone in the stew pot. End of story.

All I know is that (and not meaning to boast about it), our stand-alone freezer and fridge-top compartment, while not stocked for famine, do currently hold an extra loaf of pumpkin bread, several containers of vegetarian chili and bean soup, bread from the store, chicken, a few bags of vegetables, and a container of leftover rice. I often have extra tomato sauce or cookies or bananas in there too. Call it food purgatory, but not a place of eternal punishment.

It's just what we do.

Doesn't everybody?

Monday, September 22, 2014

What's for supper, on the night when fall comes

Tonight's dinner menu:

Stew beef (something we'd had in the freezer for awhile), slow-cooked with VH Orange Ginger Stir-Fry Sauce, mushrooms, and a bit of flour to thicken the gravy.  It didn't taste very Chinese, more like American pot roast, but it was just a little orangey and interesting.
Mashed potatoes (the real kind)

Pumpkin loaf, grapes

You're right, some don't. (The push to common standards)

"After withdrawing their son from Westfield Public Schools, a homeschool family was surprised when the assistant superintendent sent them a copy of the school’s homeschool policy and asked them to call him. "Their surprise turned to shock when they saw that the policy required them to submit a letter of intent and an outline of their curriculum which (per the policy) must follow New Jersey Common Core content standards, and then wait for the superintendent to approve their curriculum and give them permission to homeschool...."  ~~ HSLDA news
"Many people are opposed to a standards-based education. Even though a standards-based education can protect academic efficiency when students relocate to a different school, some do not like the idea of having others dictate what their children should learn. Some do not like the pressure that tests put on their children. Some do not think the performance of a single test day should carry so much weight. Some do not like the potential for more narrowed learning." ~~ Homeschool Common Core homepage
"'Hush!' said Doctor Cornelius, laying his head very close to Caspian's.  'Not a word more. Don't you know your nurse was sent away for telling you about Old Narnia? The King doesn't like it.  If he found me telling you secrets, you'd be whipped and I should have my head cut off.' 'But why?' asked Caspian.  'It is high time we turned to Grammar now,' said Doctor Cornelius in a loud voice.  'Will your Royal Highness be pleased to open Pulverulentus Siccus at the fourth page of his Grammatical Garden or the Arbour of Accidence pleasantlie open'd to Tender Wits?'"  ~~ C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Strictly nostalgia: for a dollar and two labels...

1967 advertisement:
"Kids! Now you can play in the Green Giant's house 30" square, 27" high, made of tough polyethylene to fit over a standard card table! The Giant's jolly new playhouse is a cozy place for kids to play, it looks just like the leaf covered cottages you might find in the Valley. And it's made of heavy-duty polyethylene, with real see-thru windows on all four sides. It's compact, too--slips right over a standard 30"x30"x27" card table--so you can put it up easily indoors or out."

Rummage sale: Baskets and angels

This morning a local seniors' home had its annual rummage sale.  I spent $3 on two baskets, one sandwich bag of lace, and nine little porcelain angel bells, made in Japan, probably from the 1940's or 50's. The box says eight, but somebody squeezed in a bonus.

Betty Crocker got it right again: Apple (Crumble) Pie

Our post about Betty Crocker  Brownies (the recipe, not the mix) has gotten many, many hits over the years.  I have other recipes, but I still make those too.  And Betty Crocker, the old reliable, helped out this week with an apple pie for a family party.

I have a particular limit on my pies, and that's that they have to have bottoms only.  I don't make rolled crusts, I just make pat-in ones, and that, obviously, curtails making any kind of a "lid" or top crust.  But we had a request for apple pie, and I decided to make what I call apple crisp pie" or, as Betty more elegantly puts it, "French crumb pie."  It turned out not as transparent as what I think of as regular old apple pie, more towards a Dutch Apple type, which might have been because I used brown sugar and whole wheat flour; but it was good that way, and it wasn't as overly sweet as some Dutch Apple or schnitz pie recipes.

Sorry I don't have a photo, but most of it is gone!

The following is my adaptation/corruption of the recipe for 10-inch Apple Pie, with the French Crumb topping variation, as it appears in Betty Crocker's Cookbook (the 1980's edition). (For a 9-inch pie, you cut down the filling ingredients slightly.) It's the filling part that really made it work, and that recipe is all over the Internet anyway with comments like "my mother has made this apple pie for thirty-eight years." There are also people out there, apparently, who leave out the nutmeg and have their own other mutations. (I say keep the nutmeg.) So I don't think the recipe is exactly a secret, but it is good to know about.

One Ten-Inch Apple Pie with Crumble Topping, Thanks to Betty Crocker

1 10-inch pie crust, traditional or press-in

8 medium-sized apples: I use 4 Paula Red (which, according to that link, aren't recommended for pies at all), and 4 Gala.  Which just goes to show you how much the apple-describers know.

1 cup sugar (I used brown sugar)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat because that's what I had, having used up the last of the white flour in the crust)
1 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Dash of salt

Ingredients for topping, your choice: flour, oats, oil or margarine, sugar, etc.  I used some frozen leftover crumble mixture from making date/raisin squares.  (Which was a very good idea, to freeze what I didn't need, and I'll probably do that again.  You can use it right from the freezer.)

Make your crust.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix the sugar, flour and spices together in a bowl.  Peel the apples.  Core and slice them thinly, or do what I did and just cut them into slices around the core.  Put about a third of the flour mixture into the pie crust, then start arranging the apple slices on top.  Partway through, add more flour mixture, and again near the top.  When the crust is full of apples, cover with a layer of crumble mixture; try to cover the apples as well as you can, because any that remain uncovered will tend to dry out.

Bake for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees; check to see that the apples are tender and the filling is cooked.  Don't slice right away unless you have to, because the filling will set a bit as it cools.

Serve with whipped cream or other pie accompaniments.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cinnamon cake for a fall birthday

Ponytails had a birthday this month.  She found this recipe for Cinnamon Cake on For Bakes Sake, but we changed it a bit to make it one layer (it was just for our family); frosted it with plain butter icing with a bit of cinnamon added (instead of the cream cheese frosting); and did the spices a bit differently.  This is our version:

Spice Birthday Cake (makes two layers, or one layer plus a dozen cupcakes):

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (see below)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk (we used 2% milk)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (but it doesn't matter, you're going to melt it anyway)
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange peel (I grated some from a fresh orange)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Before you start mixing everything together, this is what I did: I mixed the flour, baking powder and salt, but left out the cinnamon. I followed the directions otherwise until it was ready to go into the pans. I used about half the (unspiced) batter to make a dozen small cupcakes. Then I added 1 tsp. cinnamon and about 1/3 tsp. nutmeg to the batter that was left in the bowl, and baked that as the birthday cake. I didn't want to take all the air out of the cake after I had just spent all that electricity beating it in, so I just swirled the spices in gently, and that gave the cake an interesting swirly-spice effect. I baked both the cupcakes and the cake together for about 24 minutes as the directions say.

So if you really want two spice layers, bake the full amount of batter in two 9-inch pans; but increase the spices for the two layers.

From here on the directions are as in the original:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Sift first 4 ingredients into small bowl. Stir milk and butter in small saucepan over low heat just until butter melts [I used the microwave]; set aside.
Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl until thick enough for batter to fall in heavy ribbon when beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes.
Beat in orange peel and vanilla. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Add warm milk mixture; beat just until blended. Divide batter between prepared pans.
Bake cakes until tester inserted into centre comes out clean and cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans, about 24 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 20 minutes. Cut around pan sides and turn cakes out onto racks. Turn cakes right side up.

Frost with cream cheese frosting (amounts given in the original recipe) or with cinnamon-tinged butter icing.

Photo by Ponytails.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Drawn from the P.U.S.: how Charlotte Mason might have taught a chapter on Ecosystems and Biogeography

Subject: Ecosystems and Biogeography.

Group: Science. Class III. Time: 30 minutes. By Mama Squirrel.
Book used: The World Around You, by Gary Parker.

I. To increase the student's knowledge of biotic and abiotic factors.
II. To show how all living things are connected to each other.
III. To give some account of the different biogeographic realms, using Australian marsupials as an example.

By way of introduction, I would ask the student to tell me the meaning of an ecosystem, and, for any ecosystem, name some of the things included; for instance, in an aquarium, we would have particular plants, animals, but also factors such as light and temperature. (Don't forget the tiny organisms that we can't see unaided.)  We can label any of these factors as either biotic or abiotic.  How do the different "factors" interact with each other? (Example: plants releasing oxygen for the animals to use.)
I would have her read orally from The World Around You, page 11, the paragraph about the interaction in an aquarium ecosystem.
Then, after narration, I would show a map of the six (original) major biogeographic realms: Palearctic, Nearctic, Neotropical, Ethiopian, Oriental, Australian.  Recently this map has been updated.  I would give the student a printout of the updated map, and read from the accompanying article.  "Our study is a long overdue update of one of the most fundamental maps in natural sciences," lead author of the new research in Science, Ben Holt, said in a press release. "For the first time since Wallace's attempt we are finally able to provide a broad description of the natural world based on incredibly detailed information for thousands of vertebrate species."  
After narration, we could talk about why scientists believe it to be important to divide the biogeographic realms more accurately, and what has allowed them to do that. Something hard to think about: would creationists and evolutionists think about biogeography somewhat differently?  As an example of a creationist approach, we would read the rest of the chapter, about Australian marsupials.

Adapted from Class Notes, as printed in various Parents' Reviews.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pear Oatmeal Muffins (recipe)

Pear Oatmeal Muffins, made with a cupful of cooked pears.

Wet ingredients:

Leftover cooked pears, run through the food processor so they resemble applesauce
1/2 cup oil
1 egg
About 1/2 cup milk, or enough to sufficiently moisten the batter

Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups flour and 1 cup oatmeal, or thereabouts
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Spices as needed: our pears already had ginger and orange in them, so I didn't add any

Combine wet and dry ingredients separately, then mix and correct the amount of liquid.  Spoon into greased or paper-lined muffin cups.  Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 375 degrees F.

What's for supper? Veggie vegetarian chili

Tonight's dinner menu, on a night when one Squirreling has a before-dinner music lesson and the other has an after-dinner choir practice:

Really Easy Mixed Bean Chili in the slow cooker, from Leanne Ely's book Saving Dinner: two cans of beans, corn, sweet potato, salsa, taco spices.  Never tried this one before, we'll see how it goes.  I didn't know how big her "jar of salsa" might be, so I settled for a cup and half of Walmart's Medium Chunky.  I started it at 12:30 on High, checked it after an hour and it seemed kind of dry (see photo), so I added a cupful of tomato sauce.

Leftover meat loaf for the meat eaters (that was from last night--Saving Dinner's Upside Down Meatloaf)
Leftover potatoes
Leftover Broccoli Slaw

Mango-Yogurt Freeze (run frozen mango cubes and yogurt through the food processor till they're smooth and fluffed up)

That's better (4:30 p.m.).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Coffee, Tea, Books...by me. (photo post)

Some favourite things around the Treehouse...

I don't keep coffee in this--I just like it.  I bought it last year for a couple of dollars at an antique barn.
A teapot gift from some homeschooling buddies.
Books in the bedroom.
Front hall.
Wedding present.
I cut this out of a calendar; it's stuck up over the recycling bins, and I'm not going to take a picture of those.
More bedroom books.
One of Mr. Fixit's favourite clocks.
A pincushion doll that belonged to a great-aunt.