Thursday, June 30, 2016

Shopping, how or when, sometimes why

Courtney Carver has a new post up this week about stepping away from "shopping," however you define that. One of her audience members told her, "I couldn't do the tiny wardrobe thing. I love shopping."

Do you love shopping? Shopping, what kind of shopping? Mindless shopping? Necessary shopping? Is there a line between what used to be called "doing the marketing" and just "going shopping?" Does it matter how much money you spend? I grew up in a culture heavy on T.V. ads and giant catalogues, that did encourage recreational (or sometimes therapeutic) shopping, from making long Christmas lists to day-long mall trips, flea market jaunts, and compulsory stops at any souvenir stand. As adults, we have had our own struggles with stuff becoming too cheap, too available to us, too much flowing in and not enough reason or return on it. In the last couple of years, we have let go of a surprising number of things that were once very important to us. We stopped feeling that those things needed us to hold on to them.

And yet I feel like my childhood souvenir shopping (how many miniature canoes and postcards does one kid need?), and our middle-aged struggles with "how much," are comparatively small, when I hear the stories of other people who need to make large changes. If I say "I love shopping too," maybe that means something different to a woman who spends hundreds on a mall haul. Years ago I remember a teacher scolding our whole class for something, I can't remember what, some kind of low performance. I was very concerned and went to the teacher afterwards and asked what I could do to improve. He waved me off and said, "You're doing fine. I just wanted to worry the slackers." Did you ever notice that happening, say on an email list or in a group where you have to tell people to cut back on chatter or fix some common problem? Often you will get apologies from the ones who weren't causing the problem at all. But this shopping and stuff thing shouldn't be about comparison; it should be about figuring out your own limits, your own "enough."

I went shopping yesterday, while Mr. Fixit got Lydia started on painting the front porch. It was partly recreational and partly with intention. Also partly for exercise. I walked twenty minutes "uptown," and navigated road construction to get across a busy intersection to the shops. As I crossed a temporary walkway, an older woman walking ahead of me was startled by a loud piece of machinery and turned around so fast we almost collided. We had a nice two-minute talk about dust and roads while we got back to where we were going.

I went into Ten Thousand Villages to check out an item I'd seen online, something I want to save up for but didn't want to waste time planning for if the real-life version wasn't right. (It was. I'll be back.) I briefly scanned the promo books outside the bookstore, and they had Lila on sale, but it wasn't a day for buying books.  I noticed a "for rent" sign in the window of a bakery where I sometimes stop for coffee in an effort to avoid the insidious American franchise across the road.  The bakery won't be the first casualty of the uptown upheaval.

I crossed the dug-up road again to get to the small indoor mall. I bought one cosmetic item at the drugstore, browsed through one clothing store to see if they had any fall sweaters yet (I like to plan ahead), and then went into the grocery store where I bought a jar of Alfredo sauce for an easy-but-festive dinner, and some marked-down bakery cookies for dessert.  I didn't even look at the magazines (a place that's easy to blow money away).The cashier at the express counter was so unusually friendly that I thought I must have met her somewhere else, but she was just as cheerful to the man behind me, so I guess not.

And that was a twenty-minute walk home, enjoying people's gardens along the way, and coming home to the porch and the steps all finished, thank you Lydia. If you subtract the walking time, I was in the shops for just over half an hour.

Was that marketing, research, or entertainment? All of the above?

Does the picture change if I just go pick those things up at the superstore? (Except you can't get fair-trade gifts there. Or, probably, a copy of Lila either.)

Does it change if I decide to go uptown and spend half an hour browsing every day? (I don't; it's maybe once a month unless I have some special errand.)

Does an occasional shopping trip, with the small things I buy, actually make a difference to a struggling core area? Will the bakery hold out longer because of my occasional coffee and blueberry scone? Honestly, I don't know. Shopping isn't always a bad thing.It isn't always just about what you bring home; sometimes it's about how you're going to use those things, what they're for, where you bought them. I bought a necklace at a yard sale last month, and when I asked the woman the price, she said I could put any amount in the jar, because all the money was going to support the hospice that her mother is in. I am not going to forget that woman. I still think about what it must have felt like to sit there and keep saying that, and see the jar fill up for something good out of bad.

Sometimes I love shopping.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Wednesday Hodgepodge, on a day that is like no other day before

Notes from our Hodgepodge Hostess:  "Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer on your own blog then hop back here tomorrow to add your link to the party. See you there!"

1. It's officially summer (in the northern hemisphere anyway). Which summer month is best and why?

All of them!  In June it's coming, in July it's hanging in there, and in August it's going too fast.

2. Can you swim? How did you learn? June 27th is National Sunglasses Day. How many pair do you own?

How I learned to swim: in 1976, my parents, my sister and I drove from Ontario to Florida and back, slowly, over about two weeks. Almost every night we parked our tent trailer at a campground with a swimming pool. I had tried to learn to swim in a friend's pool at home, but had never gotten my feet off the bottom. But something about having all those days in a row to practice made the difference, and I came back knowing at least how to let go and float.

I don't own any sunglasses. I know, I'm weird. But I need prescription sunglasses and I haven't shelled out for them for a long time  

3. What characteristic do you judge most harshly in yourself? How about in others?

This is a good day, and I'm not going to think about what I don't like.

4. Robert Frost wrote the now well known poem entitled The Road Not Taken. What's a road (literal or figurative) you've always wanted to travel, and where do you hope it takes you? 

Maybe an airplane road across the ocean to travel outside North America?

Here's a different look at leaving the beaten path.

5. Popsicles-yay or nay? If you answered yay, what's your favorite flavor? 

They're okay, although a bit drippy and messy. I like banana.

6. Brexit-on a scale of 1-10 how knowledgeable are you on what's involved here? (1=very knowledgeable and 10=what's Brexit) Is this news you'll follow or is it something you think won't impact your life in any way shape or form?

My husband follows the news on this a lot more than I do, so I would give myself a 4 for at least having a clue what's going on over there.

7. Share a favorite song on your summer play list.

Our wedding song. (Does that give you a clue?) (The song starts at 00:35.)

8. Random thoughts?

I just reorganized part of my personal planner...I added some pages to slow it down. The big picture is good, but when you're always looking at a month at a time, sometimes you forget to pay proper attention to "Wednesday morning" and "Saturday afternoon." They deserve a little respect too.

Another random thought: we just finished watching the three-part miniseries To the Ends of the Earth, based on William Golding's novels about a Jane-Austen-era sea voyage to Australia. It's a terrible voyage, nasty things happen, more than once it seems like everyone's going to die; but at the end, when the main character tries to find meaning in it all, he's told bluntly that some things happened and then some other things happened, and now it's over, so move on. To me, that's a very bleak way of looking at life.

Enjoy the beginnings of summer. Eat a popsicle.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Simplicity quote for the day

"When decluttering is frustrating, or you regret spending too much, or you aren’t sure where this whole simplicity journey is headed, remind yourself that you aren’t creating a simple life, you are creating a life."
~~ Courtney Carver, "A Simple Life is Not the End Goal" at BeMoreWithLess

Monday, June 27, 2016

From the Archives: The Apprentice and King Arthur

First posted June 2005. The Apprentice was finishing Grade 8, using AmblesideOnline's Year 7.

This is one of the exams that I wrote this week–it’s about King Arthur, The Once and Future King. I didn’t actually interview anybody–it’s fictional.

This morning on CNN news, we go to Stonehenge for an eye-opening experience–we will broadcast on live television a conversation discussing two books in The Once and Future King series, The Sword in the Stone, and The Queen of Air and Darkness. The conversation will be between the author, T. H. White, and King Arthur, the main character of the books. Let’s go over now . . .

King Arthur: As I was saying, T. H., you’ve documented my life remarkably!

White: Why, thank you! But I must say, I have a couple of questions for you.

KA: Go ahead. I, also, must ask you some questions.

W: What was it like when Merlin turned you into things?

KA: It was most enjoyable. The room would start to spin, it would go all black for a minute, and I would be a fish–or a deer.

W: Neat! So . . .did Merlin actually move Stonehenge?

KA: I am sworn to secrecy.

W: Oh–that’s too bad. What did you learn as an animal (or bird)?

KA: I learned life lessons and morals, the value of human life. I also learned about those animals.

W: The value of human life?

KA: When I was an ant, it was so tedious, absurd, and frustrating that I now highly value my life.

W: That’s interesting! You said that you have some questions for me?

KA: Why, yes. For one, King Pellinore was much more absurd than you wrote. Most of the time, the Questing Beast chased him! And he didn’t even know it.

W: That’s not a question.

KA: A comment, I agree. Why did you make Merlin so disgusting at the beginning of the book?

W: With the owl on his shoulder? I do admit that I stretched the truth a little bit.

KA: Not a little bit. That did not happen to him.

W: Very well, I’ll keep that in mind.

KA: What is all this mixed-up history? The events which took place in these books did not happen then. What have you done?

W: Since I wrote The Once and Future King more for pleasure than to make a bestseller, I did things my own way.

KA: A final question. Is my life really as intriguing as you advertise? You truly think that?

W: King Arthur, I love the story of your life deeply. Thank you for spending this time with me. I’m so glad that you like my books.

And now, CNN weather with Bob McChang—over to you, Bob.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday yard sales: "As seen on T.V.?" (Updated again)

Found for $2: a new-in-box set of Kangaroo Keepers. Commercial: "Do you have a messy purse like this? Buy the Kangaroo Keeper and your life will be perfect!"

Or something like that.

According to several You-tube reviews, the KK doesn't really live up to the commercial; it's not as big as it looks on the box, and its pockets are also small. And yes, as the reviewers note, it does have a bit of a shower curtain smell. Nobody else suggested this, but it seems to me that clear or coloured pockets instead of black ones would better keep small things from being misplaced. Some of our brains function better with a bit of colour-coding.
But for $2, I think I can find some use for these bags. They could work for toiletries, or office supplies, or crochet tools, or as travel pouches (ignoring the pockets). They do pull  closed with drawstrings, although I found you have to pull pretty hard on the larger one, and it still doesn't close completely.  But maybe they could be used for carrying snacks and lunches, inside a larger bag. I'm thinking mini ice packs stuffed into some of the small pockets.
For something where you're storing a bigger piece along with some little pieces or attachments--the KK's might work well. 

And it's probably a better idea than trying to organize your purse with them.

UPDATE:  A way to use the larger organizer: as an in-drawer keeper for hairbrushes and that sort of stuff. I think I'll use the smaller one for some pens, sticky notes, and the little notepad I use to write school "please excuse" notes.

UPDATE #2: I decided to keep my pens in their basket, and use the smaller pouch inside my tote bag. Since it has a clip on it for keys, I was able to hook it onto the bag's zipper pull. (You could also fasten a loop inside the tote bag.) The reviewers complained that the KK's weren't really big enough to organize all the stuff people carry around, and that's true; but even the smaller one is enough to hold a few basics that otherwise have to swim around inside my tote.

So there you go.

Friday, June 24, 2016

More roses (photo)

Lucky at the thrift store (photos)

Sleeveless sage-green dress, $6.00. Imaginary conversation with myself: "You just bought a green dress, or at least a cardi that is sometimes a dress." "That's true." "Why do you need another green dress?" "It's pretty. I wants it." "See, if you had just waited, you could have saved your money." "That's different." (Squelch.)
Same dress, with the circle scarf I found at a yard sale
Ann Taylor tweed jacket for $2.50. No argument there.

June roses (photos)

Quote for the Day: from The Book of Three

“Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we can do. Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared. To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.” 
~~ Lloyd Alexander, The Book of Three

Thursday, June 23, 2016

From the Archives: Ten Years Ago Today

First posted June 23, 2006

This is the last day of Treehouse classes (we still have exams next week). This week is full of finishings.

The Apprentice finished Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Whatever Happened to Justice?, and part 2 of How to Read a Book (the part that was assigned for this year). We're still working on The Betrothed, but that's all right.

Ponytails finished Pilgrim's Progress Book II (I think she would have liked a Book III to go on to next year). We also finished the geography story about mountains we were reading. We are one chapter away from finishing the last Narnia book, but she won't let me read it to her because then we'd be done.

And I'm trying to finish typing the last Plutarch study for this year. Almost there...

And when exams are done, we will celebrate the year's achievements in school, the beans climbing up the wall, Crayons' graduation to a two-wheeler (with training wheels), our wedding anniversary, the pink roses blooming, Canada Day, and the arrival of Coffeemamma's family [an online friend who moved into our for-real town].

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Quote for the day: the reason for the journey

"To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake--even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death--that little by little we start to come alive."

Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey

What's for supper? Fajita pie

Tonight's dinner menu: Fajita Pie, if that's what you'd call it, spinach salad, and cherries.

In my yard-saled ceramic dish, I layered chicken that was cooked with salsa; a little can of green chilies; whole wheat tortillas; a little tomato sauce; a can of Romano beans, drained and rinsed; and cottage cheese mixed with shredded cheese; not all in that exact order. I added extra Jack cheese on top. It is baking in the toaster oven right now.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A wardrobe in a mailer box? (Review of the Chrysalis Cardi by Encircled)

2018 Note: This was first posted in 2016, and things at Encircled have changed slightly since then, so I've updated the review slightly.

Website of Encircled
The Chrysalis Cardi (Canadian site)
The Chrysalis Cardi (U.S. and International)
How do you fit three four dresses or tunics, four scarves, a cocoon cardigan, a cape, a wrap, a skirt, a skort, a halter top, and a sash in a box about the size of a sheet of paper?
This is how (see photo below).  This is a Chrysalis Cardi from Encircled, a Canadian company that specializes in eco-friendly, fairly-traded, travel-friendly women's clothing. It's not just a circle scarf; it's a carefully designed and sewn loop of fabric, with six strong snaps that allow several permutations. (INFP's love permutations, potentials, and possibilities.)
This is why I bought what, for me, would normally be an out-of-my-range item of clothing (see photos below). Mr. Fixit and I have a momentous anniversary coming up soon, and I needed a dress.
This is how you can change the "Grecian tunic" dress to more of a crossover style. You can also do it one-shouldered, but that wouldn't stay on the hanger. (Addition: I forgot about the "draped dress"option, snapping two ends around your neck to make a beach or halter dress for summer. That would make it four dresses.)
This is what the dress looks like when you unsnap the snaps and let it hang loose as a circle scarf.
This is what the scarf looks like when you double it up. You can also triple it up if you're cold, or lay the whole thing out flat, fold it corner to corner, and tie it like a blanket scarf.
This photo (below) gives you the general idea of the Cocoon Cardi style. (It looks better with arms coming out of the armholes.)
This is the sash. You can also use it as a hairband or a very skinny scarf.
You can also put the big tube over yourself inside out, secure it with the sash or a belt, fold the top down over the belt, and wear it as a skirt. As someone noted on Encircled's post about that, the snaps are also in the right place to turn the skirt into a skort. (Update: someone else just posted about wearing it as a maxi. I tried it and it works.) And finally (I forgot to mention), you can snap it into a cape; wrap it into...well, a wrap; and hogtie yourself into an X-back Halter, which is one I haven't mastered yet.

Which brings me to the important part. The Encircled website (and all its attached media outlets such as Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram) is an essential resource for getting the most out of a Chrysalis Cardi. (The music from their YouTube videos is now stuck permanently in my brain; I hear it every time I snap the dress together.) Obviously you don't need hand-holding if you're ordering their reversible leggings, Dressy Sweatpants, or t-shirts, but for the multi-personality items, it's very helpful. Their online customer service is also friendly and quick. All the items are made of eco-friendly materials such as modal and bamboo, and they are sewn by cheerful Encircled contractors in Toronto. If you live in Toronto or in one of the other places where they have pop-up shops, you can go and try things on. Otherwise (like me) you will have to order online. But they do take returns.

The colours on the Encircled website come and go by seasons, and sometimes they come up as "pre-orders." It's worth signing up for their emails if you want to keep informed not only about sales and special events, but about which colours are coming up. They had a raspberry-coloured Cardi not too long ago, while I was still just thinking about whether or not I might eventually buy one; but those sold out, and I went for the green one instead. They always have their basic, top-selling colours available (like black and grey).

The Chrysalis Cardi comes in only two sizes, Petite and Regular, although most of their other clothing is traditionally sized.[UPDATE: they now have a plus-sized version too.] Although certain online friends (and one of my daughters) have referred to me as "tiny," I am, in fact, just under the height line for Regular. I decided to go with Petite because I was concerned about droopy dresses, and that worked out fine; but if you're just sort-of-petite like me, you might try a Regular for more ease on the other stylings (like the Cocoon Cardi).

Am I happy with this? Yes, definitely, which is why I'm posting this relatively rare product review. Is it as much of a bargain as buying a couple of dresses and scarves at the thrift store? Why would I go and spend that much money on one piece of clothing? Well, as I said, I had planned to buy a special dress anyway, and I liked the style(s) of dresses that the Cardi turned into. I liked the extra possibilities of the scarf. I liked the pretty colour and soft fabric. I liked that the Encircled company is Canadian and responsible and all the rest of it. Is it worth saving up some money to support small companies, when they make good products? I think so.

Disclaimer: I was not asked to write this review, or compensated in any way for writing it. All opinions are my own.

Quote for the Day: Stick with Words

"Modern society keeps drifting away from words, relying instead on images and graphics. There’s even an emoji Bible that translates verses into emoticons ( I won’t make that shift. I’m sticking with words."
Philip Yancey, "Why I Write"

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday yard sales

We went to one house-clearing sale and a church parking lot sale. For under $5, I brought home:
Ceramic deep-dish pie dish (50 cents)
L.M. Montgomery novel in the Canadian Favourites edition, but someone scuffed up the cover rather badly. The Hungry Scientist Handbook.(for Mr. Fixit)
Some vintage I Can Read It All By Myself books (haven't decided just what to do with those)
A crocheting book (I read this and liked some of the patterns, but will probably send it on to the thrift store)

A literarily rewarding morning?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

From the archives: Money Habits and Promises

First posted April 2006

LRJohnson's Savings Blog posted about Habits, Habits (original link goes somewhere else now). She points out:
"I did not start buying oatmeal at the same time that I stopped buying pre-made cartons of juice. Powdered milk came into my life at a different time than the concept of having a max price I’d pay for an item. (For me that’s an In My Head Price Book.) I didn’t start putting leftovers in salsa tub Tupperware at the same time I decided to buy generic or store brand for everything. TVP and bulghur and beans entered my life at different times. But all of these thrifty skills and habits accumulated, over the years, to become a low grocery bill. I incorporate a new habit every now and then, and add it to the routine."
And so on.

The Squirrels can identify with this. We have often had people ask exactly how we have managed to stay out of debt, have Mama Squirrel stay home with the Squirrelings, etc.; and it is often difficult to answer; or, to be more exact, any honest answer makes it sound more difficult than it has been. At the time we got married, we agreed to keep a running journal of our joint budget and expenses for the year, and to stick as close as possible to the amounts we had agreed on for things like clothes and groceries. We also treated Mama Squirrel's rather paltry wages as extra money but not something to be counted on--which was a good thing, because the Squirrelings started coming along very soon after that. 

Like LRJohnson, we acquired different habits of saving at different times--or changed them as we went along. There are things we do better now than we did fifteen twenty-five years ago--those are the habits we've learned. Some things we figured out ourselves or from reading; I think some of the rest are ideas we picked up from watching what our parents and other relatives did. We might not have acted on them until we got married, but they were absorbed!

Some of the habits don't seem money-related; they just involve taking care of things so that they don't have to be replaced as fast or cleaned as often. (We rarely eat meals or have drinks in the car; we don't wear shoes in the house.) We buy store brand groceries, eat leftovers, pass down clothes, go to yard sales, and use/wear/drive things until they won't work/fit/run anymore. (And we try to replace parts before tossing things--that's getting harder to do all the time, though. Most things now are made to be tossed, not fixed, and the parts cost more than the original gizmo.) There are other things we stopped one time I attempted to keep Mr. Fixit's work socks darned, but his workboots kept putting so many holes into them that I gave up. And anyway, he no longer wears workboots.

But there's one other factor that comes into it for us. Along with habits, we needed faithfulness--and we had to be committed to that from the start. Before we knew each other, and even during the year that we dated, we each had different spending patterns than we did post-wedding. We went out for more meals (and fancier ones), we bought more new clothes, we just seemed to go through more cash in general. But somehow, along with the promises we made to be faithful to each other in other ways, we both came into marriage with a feeling of "this money we have now takes care of both of us--so we have to be responsible to each other with it." No spending sprees, no "I worked for this so I should have more of it", no demands for things that the budget wouldn't allow (brand new furniture or vacation cruises), no tossing the toothpaste tube before we'd squished the last squish. I don't know that we ever even sat down and spelled all that out (definitely not the toothpaste part); it was just understood. We also knew that we weren't accountable only to each other: we were responsible to God for what he'd entrusted us with.

And that--as much as frugal habits--is what's kept us solvent.

Christmas tea in the summertime

Sometime in the late fall, our local bulk store gets in a supply of Christmas-flavoured teas. I usually buy a few to give as gifts, but sometimes we have extra left over, that we forget to drink. Or we get some as a gift ourselves, that we forget to drink.

And now it's June. What do you do with leftover peppermint or ginger tea?

Make iced tea with it. "White Christmas" from Stash Tea is awesome in a glass. But if you don't have any, you'll just have to wait until your store gets it back in stock in the fall. And then forget about it until next summer.

Wednesday Hodgepodge: From this side of the lake?

Words from the Wednesday Hodgepodge hostess: "Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer on your own blog then hop back here tomorrow and add your link to the party. "

1. If you could sit beside and/or jump in any lake in the whole wide world today, which lake would you choose and why? 

Georgian Bay, the "appendage" to Lake Huron. If Lake Huron is a person with a backpack, Georgian Bay is the backpack. Many childhood summers were spent at the very bottom of the pack, near the Blue Mountain ski area.

Map of Georgian Bay, Ontario

2. What's your favorite 'fruity' drink? 

Lemonade made with bottled lemon juice (but it has to be The Brand, not the generic stuff that tastes like furniture polish). Proportions: 4 cups water, 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar.

3. I read a list here of thirteen things to do right now to simplify your life. (It's also here.) They were-
clean as you go, re-evaluate your relationships (cut toxic ties), unsubscribe (too many blogs and websites), de-clutter, write down your daily goals, reply to emails right away, forget multitasking, create a morning routine, re-evaluate your commitments (which hobbies and responsibilities are most important to you), say no, clean up your computer, and plan your day ahead

Which of the tasks listed do you currently find most helpful in keeping life simple? Which item on the list should you adopt in order to simplify your life this month?

I do a lot of cleaning as I go--take something up when I go up, take something down when I go down; wash the baking dishes while the muffins are in the oven. We are also trying hard to declutter. As for some of the others, I think they work for some people some of the time, at certain seasons, but they can also create stress and guilt in themselves if you just can't make them work. As various people have pointed out, things like "creating a morning routine" aren't a quick fix; they work once you've gotten into the habit, but it does take commitment to make them happen.

4. What did you do the summer after you graduated from high school? 

I graduated twice, because Ontario schools at the time had optional Grade 13. The summer after Grade 12, I washed dishes at a girls' camp in the Laurentians.  All summer. :-& The next year, I decided to do a "volunteer summer." I washed dishes for a few weeks at another camp, then took a bus to Toronto, lived in a church basement, made tofu at a soy dairy, did typing and stuffing envelopes as part of a peace project (yes, really. Isn't that what one should do the summer one graduates from high school?).

5. Are you a fan of podcasts? If so what's a favorite? 

I have trouble finding the right combination of technology and time to listen to as many as I would like. When I'm working on our laptop (the best piece of equipment for me to listen with), I'm usually busy working on something else and can't concentrate properly on the podcast. But my tablet only lets me listen for a short time, then cuts them off. I think I need to look into downloading them instead of listening online.

As far as content? Pretty much anything produced by the Circe Institute, especially the Mason Jar.

6. Do you think today's fathers have it harder, easier, or just different than fathers in the past?

No idea.

7. Tell us one way you're like your father? Or not at all like your father if that's easier?

That's a hard one. How about...we both like to talk about stuff that happened a long time ago, and people we used to know. Also, my dad is a major Brit-phile...we'd probably have a good time if we ever got to tour the U.K. together. (He's been there once, I never have.)

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

This one has been pretty random already.

My high schooler finishes her last week of classes tomorrow and then writes exams. So I guess we go into "summer vacation" mode here. She will be doing some volunteering this summer, but that does not include making tofu.

Linked from Go Jump in the Hodgepodge, at From This Side of the Pond.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Something to read today: "Who will you give it to?"

This blog post is about a year old, but still interesting because it goes deeper than many frugal or pare-down books and articles:  The Myth of Minimalism, at Revive Rethink Simplicity (a Canadian blog).

What I take from it: that no method, or system, or clean empty space, is going to solve all our problems. Particularly, as Jesus noted in Luke 11, because when our spaces (spiritual, mental, or physical) are swept clean, the old unsolved issues have a habit of coming back. Especially when the physical distractions or addictions are no longer there for a covering, what's left can seem just too empty. We turn off the T.V., but that doesn't magically make us able to talk to one another. We stop wasting time online, but then wonder what else we should be doing. We finally finish (maybe) decluttering the house; every last unused, excessive thing has been dealt with; then what?

"Minimalism is only the first step towards a life of more. More time, focus, energy, purpose, drive and love. What will drive us and where we will go is up to us.
There is no right answer or one path in life. Some of us will use our new freedom to invest more into our families and neighbourhoods. Others will take their expanded energy and bank accounts and cross an ocean to help those on the other side. None of us can do it alone, but as a community we can have a greater impact on the world. What does having less of give you more of? And who will you give it to?" ~~ "The Myth of Minimalism"

From a VIA train, on the edge of Toronto (photo post)

FASTER than fairies, 
faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, 
hedges and ditches;
And charging along 
like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows 
the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.
Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!
 ~~ "From a Railway Carriage," Robert Louis Stevenson

Thursday, June 09, 2016

From the Archives: On Word Power

First posted June 2007. Some bits of this appeared in Minds More Awake. There were originally some links to this post at The Common Room, which also discussed the political correctness of dumbing-down vocabulary.

"It Pays Makes-Some-People-Very-Nervous-That-You-Want To Increase Your Word Power" 

Okay, have you had time yet to read the Big Words article? [link no longer works]
Is it undemocratic and elitist to celebrate words? Should those who do have large vocabularies back off and shut up because it might make the less erudite feel bad? (erudite: characterized by great knowledge; learned or scholarly: an erudite professor; an erudite commentary.) Did you catch that first line of the article: "With the Lord of Loquacity on trial in Chicago and schools playing down language to level the playing field...." [italics mine]

How long ago was it we were talking about that example from The Incredibles?

Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
Helen: Everyone's special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.
But that whole angle of level playing field, undemocratic, elitist is just missing the point. It's not about a few people having talent for words and time enough to enjoy them  Our collective gift of language is one of the most democratic things we have (please take "democratic" as a positive idea there). It is being able to read and understand the greatest ideas that have been written, and express our own as well, that keeps us from slavery--including slavery to propaganda. What kind of a Brave New World would we be living in if we were limited--by political correctness or any other such foolishness--to using "story" for "narrative," "very big" for "prodigious," and "teach" for "instruct?" (See the "Forbidden Words" sidebar in the article, about OISE professor Clive Beck, who believes that "teachers should avoid unnecessarily big words so that they can 'talk on the same level' as their students.") With such spavined vocabularies, we would be locked out of some of the most influential books ever written--like Common Sense. (spavined: adjective 1. suffering from or affected with spavin. 2. being of or marked by a decrepit or broken-down condition: a spavined old school bus abandoned in a field.) What's democratic about that?

How do you teach or learn new vocabulary--by endless drills, by writing out definitions? I can think of several more effective ways:

1. By listening to those who use language powerfully--and that would, we hope, include the teachers Clive Beck wants to limit. (Can you imagine getting "bleeped" for using a phrase like "nefarious villain?")

2. By reading what those same people have written--and though that road may end with books written for adults, it begins much earlier. If we wanted to limit our children's literary menu to books using the easiest and most commonly used words, we wouldn't have read them A.A. Milne, Beatrix Potter ("I am affronted," said Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit), William Steig, the Bible, Jacobs' English Folk and Fairy Tales, Lewis Carroll, Graham Oakley...or Melissa Wiley.

Our Crayons (just turned six) is reading Anne of Green Gables to herself--she doesn't want it read to her. The motivation was that she found a small porcelain Anne doll at one yard sale, and then a copy of Anne at the next one. We already owned two copies, but she wanted this one for her own self, to go with her doll--and it was her quarter. She sits in my grandfather's little rocking chair with her doll beside her, and reads it while Mr. Fixit reads the newspaper. It's way beyond her vocabulary and experience, and I didn't expect her to get past the first couple of pages--but she has read eight chapters already (and did allow me to read her the ninth). I'm sure she skips what she doesn't understand, but she can still tell you a lot about the story, particularly about Anne's imaginary friends. Would she be better off with an adapted version? Define "better off."

3. By reading books that lead us gently through unfamiliar territory--like Melissa's Martha books, set in Scotland in the 1700's. And then there's the whole sad business of their current state of abridgement, which is itself a perfect example of where all this is taking us.) (2012 update: sorry, both of these links are now defunct.) Again it was Crayons who first asked to be read these books. She's now acquainted with box bed, waulking wool, governess, kirk, peat, spindle, flax, loch, dustgown, Hogmanay, and pianoforte. When I asked her if those were hard words, she said (I quote): "Kids know DUST and kids know GOWN so you just put them together and make DUSTGOWN." What's a governess? "A lady who takes care of you." No problem.

4. By actively seeking out the specialized vocabulary that we need to learn to do the things we want to do! Sometimes for pleasure, sometimes out of necessity. Pod in The Borrowers Aloft has a very short time to learn the vocabulary (and thus the technology) of building a hot-air balloon [actually it was gas-filled]; his understanding of words like "ballast" and "envelope" is what allows his family to escape from their kidnappers.

From Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH to Roald Dahl's Matilda, the key to freedom has always been reading, reading, reading--and those are just the fictional examples.

Books fall open, you fall in,
delighted where you've never been;
hear voices not once heard before,
reach world on world through door on door;
find unexpected keys to things locked up beyond imaginings.
What might you be, perhaps become,
because one book is somewhere?....
--David McCord
Consider what happens if we lose the ability to look beyond our own place in time and space. We become small-minded, small-souled, wrapped up only in our immediate interests...and vulnerable because we are unable to think clearly.
"But they couldn't do it,
for their poor brains were such
That they couldn't think often,
and hadn't thought much."

--Virginia Kahl, The Duchess Bakes a Cake
Freedom lies in our ability to discern truth and choose right actions. Leadership, courage, hope, conscience, character, faith, critical thinking, magnanimity--all those things are available to those who take and read--but only if we develop the vocabulary to understand.

P.S. [The link to the comments is gone.] I liked Eileen Reardon's comment: "My first reaction on reading the list of 'unnecessarily big words' Clive Beck would like to remove from teachers' mouths was: Nuts! (Simple enough?) Then I started the cryptic crossword and had a horrible thought: If Prof. Beck has his way, he won't merely be gutting the language of nuance, he'll be taking the fun out of crosswords. Egad!"

Wednesday Hodgepodge, on Thursday: Everything balances out

I haven't done the Wednesday Hodgepodge for awhile, so I was going to post this week's responses yesterday, but, oops. So, welcome to Wednesday on Thursday.

1. I read here a list of 13 things you should do in June. I'm paraphrasing a little but basically... 
Go on a road trip with your best friend, pick fresh strawberries, host a garden party, take a morning run, treat yourself to a flower bouquet, spend a whole day hiking, discover a new coffee shop, try a new ice cream flavor, read at least one book, visit a Farmer's Market, make a swing for your home, and visit a new city. 
Which thing on the list do you most want to do? Of the activities mentioned, which one holds the least appeal? How many on the list will you attempt in June? What's one thing you'd add to the list? 

Visit a new city: I did that last month already. (Lunch at the Dallas Museum of Art, and a look at the Vermeer Suite exhibit: yes, that was pretty cool.)

Flower bouquets: we will probably have some roses blooming soon along our side garden.

Least appeal? Taking a morning run, I don't do that. And making a a porch swing? We don't really have a place to put one.

2. What's something you could do today to feel more peaceful? 

Get some work done on a writing project; then I'll take tomorrow and the rest of the weekend off.

Or is the right answer "eat chocolate ice cream?" (#3)

3. June 7th is National Chocolate Ice Cream Day. Are you a fan? Swiss mocha, rocky road, chocolate chocolate chip, peanut butter and chocolate, or a dish of plain chocolate...what's your pleasure? 


(Isn't that enough of an answer?)

4. If you came with a warning what would it say? 

"If wound up too tightly, may be unable to stop talking."

5.What's the most interesting website you've visited in the last week?, a Canadian clothing company: they're having special giveaway contests all this month (see their blog).

 6. Spring, summer, autumn, winter...which season are you? Why? 

As in colouring systems? Summer. Orange and beige make me look ill.

 7. "You lose sight of things...and when you travel, everything balances out." ~Daranna Gidel Would you agree with that sentiment? Explain why or why not. 

I'm not sure why travelling would balance out things we've lost sight of. Does it mean that you get a new perspective on things, maybe remember stuff you used to do? Or that travel evokes memories of people or places you have known?

I don't know that you have to travel very far to get into that kind of a space, though. Maybe just doing some of those "June things" (in #1) might be enough to restore equilibrium.

 8. Insert your own random thought here.

Some of us are taking a short train trip this weekend, to visit our Apprentice in Toronto. We realized that, aside from subways or the rail museum that offers rides in vintage cars, none of the adult Squirrels had been on a proper train since before we were married. So it was time to remedy that.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Why it's fun to re-watch Dr. Who

Professor Richard Lazarus: I find that nothing's ever exactly like you expect. There's always something to surprise you. Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act...
The Doctor: Falls the shadow.
Professor Richard Lazarus: So the mysterious Doctor knows his T.S. Eliot. I'm impressed
The Doctor: Wouldn't have thought you'd have time for poetry, Lazarus, what with you being so busy defying the laws of nature and everything.

~~ Dr. Who, "The Lazarus Experiment" (2007)

Two books for my homework

Found at the antiques market this morning. (Well, what would you do if you got a notice that the power would be off for several hours?)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Pedalling backwards?

The BeMoreWithLess website once posted this list of things not to do, regarding clothes:
"22. Hold on to clothes that might fit someday. (that haven’t fit in years)
23. Save clothes for sentimental reasons. (take a picture instead)
24. Worry about what other people will think
25. Buy stuff to organize your stuff.
26. Worry about trends.
27. Wait for a better time.
28. Keep things just because they are expensive. (or you will just keep paying)
29. Let your clothes speak for you.
30. Stress … this isn’t brain surgery.
31. Just move things around.
32. Compare.
33. Act on the impulse to fill up the empty space."
Courtney Carver, "33 Things to Do and Undo When Simplifying Your Wardrobe"
But, like many good lists, most of this can be applied elsewhere. In our home recently, we have cleared out enough things (including the couch that went sproing) to create some empty spaces. We're not in a hurry to fill them in. I try not to buy too much stuff that just organizes other stuff, if we don't need that other stuff. And no, we're not really worrying about trends.

In the area of education, there is also some good advice here. Leave spaces in your scheduling. Don't hurry narrations; wait for the answers. (As a friend once said, don't talk over the music.) Don't hold onto what doesn't fit: not just the math your children didn't connect with, but the bits of institutional-schooling eggshell that may still be sticking to us. Do certain practices serve a real purpose, or do we do them just because everybody does or everybody did? And don't wait for a better time to introduce "the riches," to take time outside, to read the book together, to go somewhere and make memories.

And then there's the rest of life. We stress to get it right, to think we're finally on top of our game. We think we are voyaging, to quote T.S. Eliot; we think we've gotten somewhere. In the big picture, that may be about as far as our Apprentice used to go on her first little tricycle; and she didn't understand that you have to pedal forwards. Someone out there must be chuckling (I hope kindly) at our small, busy endeavours, and our frustrations over the failures.

In God's upside-down Kingdom, sometimes the meaning is in the emptiness and the quietness. We are told to consider birds and flowers that know they are cared for, and to remember that each day has enough trouble of its own (so we don't need to draw any in advance). We are told that where our real treasures are, our hearts will be as well.

There is practical value in decluttering a closet. But there is also a serenity in finding that truth in the deeper places.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Quote for the Day: T.S. Eliot and quiet places

There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time,
Now and in England.
                                      If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

T.S. Eliot, "Little Gidding" in Four Quartets

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Saturday yardsaling

 Exercise thingamabob, new in the box
Two little folding tables, still in their plastic

A useful morning!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

From the Archives: Charlotte Mason on how not to be a ShoppingZilla (and read to the end, it's more than shopping)

First posted January 2015. Based on Charlotte Mason's book Ourselves, Book II, "The Scope of Will."

If you don't keep them out, they will sneak in.

 "If we keep the will in abeyance, things and affairs still present themselves, but we allow instead of choosing. We allow a suggestion from without, which runs with our nature, to decide for us. There would not seem to be much difference between the two courses; but most ruined lives and ruined families are the result of letting allowance do duty for will-choice." 

Does that mean you have to go to a lot of fuss every time you make a choice? What if you just make a typical choice for your own lifestyle? Do you have to refuse everything that is "normal?"

"But, you will say, he has not chosen at all! Yes, he has; he has chosen with modesty and good sense to follow the lead set by the common sense of his class."

It's worse to go in with no ideas and let yourself be "sold" something, than to go in with a good but not eye-popping idea and stick to it.

"Or, again, there is the man whose conceit leads him to defy general usage and startle the world with checks and ties, feeling that he is a mighty independent fellow. He is merely obeying the good conceit he has formed of himself, and his daring ventures come of allowance and not of choice." 

If you're not an EverydayZilla, you won't be a BrideZilla.

"The question of a lady's shopping is only a by-issue, but it is well worth considering; for, alas! the shopping scene at Madame Mantalini's is of too frequent occurrence, and is as damaging to the nerves and morale of the purchaser as to those of the weary shopwomen."

Again, it's more than shopping.

"Are we going after the newest and cheapest things in morals and religion? are we picking up our notions from the penny press or from the chance talk of acquaintances? If we are, they are easily come by, but will prove in the end a dear bargain."