Friday, September 30, 2016

Still the best oatmeal-raisin cookies

We have been making these oatmeal-raisin cookies since they were first linked from the sadly-missed Grocery Cart Challenge blog. They're still very good. Don't skip the teaspoon of coarse salt--it adds some needed saltiness to the sweet.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

From the archives: Great Big Squash (and a pumpkin-butter recipe)

First posted September 2005. Since we have a butternut squash in the fridge, I might cook it tonight with some barley, for old time's sake.

Last weekend we went out to one of our favourite places that sells local produce (mostly grown right there). They still had great corn (we pressure-cooked it) and the most amazing butternut squash, some about as big as baseball bats, for $2 each. We bought one of the smaller "bats" and Mama Squirrel cooked up about half of it yesterday. Some of it got chopped into our dinner (a big casserole dish combining 1/2 cup pearl barley, 1 cup water, some chopped (raw) squash, four farmers' sausages, a sprinkle of salt and sage--baked until everything was done). Some of it got cut into chunks and cooked in another big casserole dish at the same time, then mashed. The mashed stuff then got made into a batch of pumpkin butter (which does work just about as well with butternut squash). 
Here's the recipe (it's originally from the Vegetarian Times Cookbook)You can halve it if you want just a small batch.

Pumpkin Butter

4 cups pureed pumpkin (or squash)
1/2 to 1 cup honey (or we have also used part brown sugar--it's to your own taste)
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ginger
2 to 3 tbsp. lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and cook over low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring often (and I find it takes longer than that, depending on how much you have and how hot you're cooking it). You'll know it's done when it's very thick, smooth, probably darker than you started with (pumpkin goes darker than squash), and it seems to pull away from the sides of the pot when you stir it. You can seal it in hot, sterilized canning jars, but we don't bother--we just keep it in the fridge. It's good on toast or muffins.

From the archives: a homeschool week with Ponytails, Grade Three

First posted September, 2005 (slightly edited). Ponytails, our middle daughter, had just turned eight and was doing AmblesideOnline's Year Three. If it doesn't sound much like Year Three, there have been some changes over the past ten years, and we were also using some of our own books for subjects like geography, natural history, and poetry.

(For an opinion on what Ponytails may have thought of this, slide through this Frantics clip to the song at 19:50.)

For anyone out there who wonders what our third-grader's homeschool really looks like (well, as we plan it anyway), here's what's coming up in the next week for Ponytails. 

We also have a couple of extra things we're working on: writing birthday thank-you notes, and getting ready for next Saturday's Explorer Night. (More on that later.)


Bible reading: second story about Gideon, draw in the booklet she's making about the 12 judges of Israel; practice memory verses

Music appreciation: listen to some Beethoven music during lunch

History: keep reading about Magellan from Roger Duvoisin's book They Put out to Sea

Literature: start reading On the Banks of Plum Creek with Mom

Math: work on parts of Miquon Math pages J 24 and J 25 with Mom (partly about fractions, partly about division)
Poems: read from Myra Cohn Livingston's Circle of Seasons

Spelling: look for words in Livingston's verses about fall that have "atch" in them

Singing: start a new folksong

French: work on the "Good Morning" page in our picture dictionary

Copywork: start copying one of the verses from A Circle of Seasons

Picture study: look at one of Raphael's paintings and describe it (later in the day, with her sisters)


Bible reading: John 4 (the woman at the well); practice memory verses

Geography: finish the Rivers unit from Play Story Geography

Literature: read more of "Pericles" from Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare; read chapter 4 of The Wilds of Whip-poor-will Farm by Janet Foster

Poems: read from Myra Cohn Livingston's Circle of Seasons

Spelling: practice "atch" words

Singing: work on a new hymn, probably "The Love of God"

French: work on the "Good Morning" page

Copywork: work on the verses from A Circle of Seasons

Art/crafts: drawing lesson


Bible reading: third story about Gideon, draw in the booklet; memory verses

Music appreciation: listen to some Beethoven music during lunch or teatime

History: keep reading about Magellan 

Literature: "Johnny Appleseed" (from the book Yankee Doodle's Cousins by Anne Malcolmson); start a new story from The Jungle Book

Math: work on pages J 24 and J 25 again (and maybe some of 26)

Handicrafts: pick a birthday-present craft kit to start working on

Thursday and Friday are pretty much the same; we're also going to start Holling C. Holling's book Minn of the Mississippi at the end of the week if we have time and as we finish some other things. On Friday we'll do a couple of pages from Pilgrim's Progress. Math on Friday will be a game called Pizza Parlor (as I recall, that was a fractions game in a Scholastic dice kit).

Next Saturday night is a windup night for the study of explorers we've been doing--it's not a group thing, just a Treehouse event. Ponytails and the Apprentice are going to report on explorers they've learned about, and we're gong to have some kind of appropriate food--probably ending with a bowl of oranges to ward off scurvy. 

Wednesday Hodgepodge: "Well, they say that Santa Fe Is less than ninety miles away"

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

1. Have you ever been to and/or lived near the desert? What did you think? Travel and Leisure lists the 'coolest' American desert towns as-

Palm Springs CA, Virgina City NE, Bend OR, Winslow AZ, Marfa TX, Grand Junction CO, Silver City NM, Moab UT, Taos NM, Yakima WA, Borrego Springs CA, Terlingua TX, and St. George UT, and Tubac AZ

Have you been to any of these?

Not even close (although this past summer was pretty dry). But Mr. Fixit has been to Arizona.

 Would you like to visit a desert town? Which on the list would you most like to see?

They're not high on my list, although I always thought Albuquerque would be interesting (mostly because of the name).

2. What's a plan or project you've deserted in the past year? 

Oh, that's funny!

Other than an afghan that was really going nowhere good...I can't think of anything special that I started and gave up on.

3. Desert-dessert? Share two or three words you find yourself having to think twice about when it comes to spelling.  

Words that have a different American spelling. Sometimes I've picked them up accidentally by reading, and never realized that they didn't fit with the other 95% of the words that I was spelling Canadian/British style. Who knew that we were supposed to spell "gray" "grey?"

4. High and dry, like watching paint dry, dry run, dry as dust, not a dry eye in the house...which phrase can you relate to currently? Explain. 

For reasons I don't want to go into here, we do have a longterm plan of some things we'd like to do, but at the minute it's both high and dry and like watching paint dry. Sometimes you do all you can and then some, but the outcome depends on other people's choices too.

5. How often do you frequent the dry cleaners? Starch or no starch?  

It has been years since I had anything dry cleaned; I even washed my own winter coat last year. 

6. What's a food or beverage you enjoy that's named for a place? 

Canada Dry Ginger ale.

7. Do you need solitude? 

Yes and no, and sorry if that sounds startling coming from an introvert. We all need friends sometimes.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

I'm in complete denial about it being the end of September and two weeks from Thanksgiving, and that in a few weeks we could even have a sprinkle of snow here. Just, no.

Monday, September 26, 2016

From the archives: Fear of knowledge?

First posted August, 2006 (edited slightly and links updated)
"We realise that there is an act of knowing to be performed; that no one can know without this act, that it must be self-performed, that it is as agreeable and natural to the average child or man as singing is to the song thrush, that 'to know' is indeed a natural function. Yet we hear of the incuria which prevails in most schools, while there before us are the young consumed with the desire to know, can we but find out what they want to know and how they require to be taught." ~~ Charlotte Mason
We recently watched "Fear Her," an episode from this past season's Dr. Who. In the classic sci fi tradition, the episode features an entity living in a little girl's head, using her brain (so that she sometimes talks in a REALLY WEIRD VOICE), and sucking up other human beings for its own purposes.
This particular entity inside the little girl's brain happens to be sustained on love and companionship--LOTS of companionship (in fact, in its natural state it has millions or billions of siblings). The problem is that it's inhaling companionship in the form of people, at an ever-increasing rate (by the end of the show, it has sucked up an entire Olympic stadium full of spectators and has plans for the rest of the world). Of course in the end (SPOILER), it finds its proper companions and joins them inside a little egg-sized spaceship, leaving the little girl free of the REALLY WEIRD VOICE.

We each have such an entity inside our physical brains (or somewhere in there): it's our mind, and it's sustained on knowledge. In its healthy state, it desires, craves knowledge; other things cannot properly be substituted. Knowledge, not information, and there's a difference: information is short term, spit back out again or forgotten, made up of facts without "informing ideas." Knowledge is long-term, swallowed, digested, processed, used. If the mind food is available, the entity will suck it up in whatever quantities are available (even Olympic-sized). It will do whatever it can to find its proper food AND YOU CAN'T STOP IT. BWA HA HA HA.

Well, you can. Unfortunately.

There is a cure for knowledge-hunger. Just like vinegar smashed up the Slitheen, if you can get hold of some Incuria it's quite easy to stop the knowledge-hungry mind.
"I can touch here on no more than two potent means of creating incuria in a class. One is the talky-talky of the teacher. We all know how we are bored by the person in private life who explains and expounds. What reason have we to suppose that children are not equally bored? They try to tell us that they are by wandering eyes, inanimate features, fidgetting hands and feet, by every means at their disposal; and the kindly souls among us think that they want to play or to be out of doors. But they have no use for play except at proper intervals. What they want is knowledge conveyed in literary form and the talk of the facile teacher leaves them cold. Another soothing potion is little suspected of producing mental lethargy. We pride ourselves upon going over and over the same ground 'until the children know it'; the monotony is deadly." ~~ Charlotte Mason
Incuria is related to the idea "not curious" and it's properly translated "carelessness," but in this sense, it means a lack of appetite for knowledge. Not caring about it. Someone who's incurious is apathetic, unobservant, careless. 
("What would you like to eat? I don’t care. Some lovely cream of wheat? I don’t care. Don’t sit backwards on your chair. I don’t care. Or pour syrup on your hair. I don’t care.")

Where do you get enough Incuria to stop the appetite for knowledge? You can start by offering lots of screen time; provide lots of dull school lectures; and most of all, spread the idea that knowledge is Dull and Irrelevant and that anything contained in a book of over 100 pages isn't worth the trouble. You can make the entity go away or at least not bother you much.

But please don't.
"But what if all were for all, if the great hope of Comenius––'All knowledge for all men'––were in process of taking shape? This is what we have established in many thousands of cases, even in those of dull and backward children....we are so made that only those ideas and arguments which we go over are we able to retain. Desultory reading or hearing is entertaining and refreshing, but is only educative here and there as our attention is strongly arrested. Further, we not only retain but realise, understand, what we thus go over. Each incident stands out, every phrase acquires new force, each link in the argument is riveted, in fact we have performed the act of knowing, and that which we have read, or heard, becomes a part of ourselves, it is assimilated after the due rejection of waste matter. Like those famous men of old we have found out "knowledge meet for the people" and to our surprise it is the best knowledge conveyed in the best form that they demand. Is it possible that hitherto we have all been like those other teachers of the past who were chidden because they had taken away the key of knowledge, not entering in themselves and hindering those who would enter in?" ~~ Charlotte Mason

Saturday, September 24, 2016

On the true cost of things

Mr. Fixit is working on a vintage stereo amplifier that was in nice shape on the outside, but needed a complicated electronic repair to make it work properly. He discovered an original advertisement for the amp on someone's website, and it appears that it sold for $389 in 1961.

 And that's why some vintage items are scarce. It's not only their age, it's that relatively few were made, because hardly anybody could afford to pay almost $400 for a stereo component...not even a whole stereo system, just the 1961. You could buy a used car for that much, back then, or a whole lot of groceries.

One of our two current T.V.'s is from the 1990's. Mr. Fixit says that it would have cost about $300 new, but so would a television set twenty years before that. $300 for a television in the 1970's was a lot of money, but on the other hand, you expected it to last longer. Most people in 2016 are not watching shows on a 1990's T.V., if they're watching them on a T.V. at all. We're just weird that way.

In the 1960's and '70's, stereo components were luxury items. So, to some extent, were $300 televisions. So were a lot of other fancy things. We admired our friend's backyard swimming pool, but understood that not everybody could have one. My Barbie Country Camper cost a whole $10.99 in 1973, and that was a big Christmas present. I had the camper, and somebody else had a Barbie house. I took my camper and my dolls to her house, and we played together. Not everybody had everything.When our family's T.V. stopped working, we didn't buy a new one right away; we borrowed a portable set from a relative and perched it on top of the big one until we could get the old television fixed or replaced. (This happened more than once, and I have the photos of our stacked T.V. sets to prove it.)

There is an understanding that we've lost, over many years of almost everything being so available, so cheap, and that is that it's okay not to have a house or closet full of everything, all the time. That if you're fortunate enough to acquire something special--a painting, let's say, or a very good cooking tool (like a great knife), or a beautiful rose bush, or a $60 bag of organic coffee, you take care of it, give it some pride of place, make it into a ritual or a specialty (hopefully not an idol), share the enjoyment of it with others. And if you don't have any of those things, maybe you have something else; maybe you're the one with the good stereo or the fish tank or the big yard.

I think that's why ideas like minimalist wardrobes are catching on.  If you have a favourite coat, you wear it a lot, maybe every day, and the question of someone else's newer or nicer coat doesn't enter into it. Eventually, you notice that it's time for a new one, and you decide to go coat-shopping, but probably not before that. I think it's the equivalent of trimming our Christmas lists down to "Two storied pencil box. Flexible flier sled. Box of paints. Princess and Curdie."

What don't we need to make us happy?

As a postscript, I knew there were definitely too many things in the world when I found out that a particular large giftware corporation sells model buildings based on Jan Karon's Mitford novels.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Seasons of Change

1. Thursday (September 22) is the first official day of autumn in this part of the will you welcome the season? I know some of you have been celebrating way too early, but it's official now so permission granted. House Beautiful recently listed ten ways to make your home smell like fall (you can read the list here) What's a scent you love this time of year and how will you add it to your home?

I think of the scent of baking with spices: apple cake, gingerbread, cinnamon rolls. But one of the Squirrels has developed a sensitivity to cinnamon (and, to a lesser extent, ginger), so I am trying to accommodate that. Actually, after such a long hot summer when I couldn't do much baking at all, the smell of any kind of baking makes it feel like fall. Banana muffins would do it.

2. Apple pie or pumpkin pie? Apple cake or pumpkin bread? Warm apple cider or a pumpkin spice latte?

See #1; I'd take just about any of those things except maybe for the latte. I've posted recipes for almost all of them on the blog over the years.

3. Do you suffer from what is sometimes referred to as an afternoon slump? What helps ward it off before it hits and/or tell us what helps you shake it off once it's here?

I work best in the morning, so I wouldn't exactly call it an afternoon slump, more just being done for the day.

4. Ladies-how have your friendships with women inspired you or made you a better person? For the men here today- how have your friendships with men inspired you or made you a better person?

I'm not sure how to answer that without either getting too personal (about friends who stayed loyal or those who didn't), or...well, yes, getting too personal. 

Let's just say that if you have a mutually encouraging, deep, lasting friendship with someone, or more than one someone, hang on to it.
5. Are you a people pleaser? If you said yes, do you think that's a good or bad thing? If you said no, do you wish you were more of a people pleaser? 

Somewhere in between. I aim to please the people I care about, the rest not so much.

6. The seasons are a-changin'...share a favorite song relating in some way to change (not necessarily seasonal change, it could be change of any kind).

Well, I already used "Mother Earth and Father Time" in a previous Hodgepodge ("He turns the seasons around, and so she changes her gown.."). So I'll have to think of something else. Oh, I've got one! Sesame Street nostalgia is always fun.

7. What do you wish would never change? 

Our city is going through construction turmoil these days, and certain things that just were are never going to be the same. I think families go through the same process: some change that is inevitable, and some that makes you think "why couldn't that have stayed the way it was?" In this post at To Sow a Seed, there's a quote from John Piper: “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.” 

8.  Insert your own random thought here. 

If I get too random, I'll never get this posted, so I'll stick to this: if you're in Canada, Ten Thousand Villages has all its fair trade coffee on sale right now (in time for International Coffee Day?). But I can't seem to find any beverages on the U.S. site, so maybe the American stores handle coffee separately. I did find this really fun post (with photos) about an Apple Cider All Nighter.
"I just think it was a great time for friends and family to get together in the fall. We were always a mixed group from little kids to teenagers, twenty-somethings, our parents and grandparents. Sometimes we would go out into the field across the road and stargaze. One year there was a special alignment of three planets in a triangular shape. Then we went out to see it and as we were waiting for it to get dark a meteor flashed above the field and everyone saw it together."

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Yard saling with a plan (great things to look for)

(This advice also applies to thrift shops and rummage sales.)

Do you brake for yard sales?

Do church basements filled with tables get you excited?

Is the best part of dropping things off at the thrift store the chance to go inside?

If you answered no to all those questions, congratulations. You have no hunting-gathering tendencies, and that's good. You probably also have a clean house, unless your shopaholic tendencies manifest themselves elsewhere, like at the mall. Besides, yard saling and its relatives take time, and that's not something in large supply, for some of us. It's not a required activity.

But it's also a less pointless one than some would have us believe. Yard saling doesn't have to be about packrattiness, excess and coming home with other people's silly rejects. It can be part of a reasonable plan for living on less, re-using, re-cycling, re-sponsibling.

Some people come home from yard sales with trunkfuls of good finds. Others are lucky if they find an occasional CD they like. If you go to yard sales but don't find much, here are a few things to watch for.
This stacking rack folds flat--good for small spaces.

1. Kitchen stuff for your changing seasons of life. There's always a push to define the most essential kitchen items (like the best books and the ten-item classic French wardrobe). But the cooking needs of a single person are not the same as those of someone who cooks for a mob every day. And mobs have a way of, eventually, dwindling.
I used to have more large-sized casserole dishes, but a couple of years ago I started picking up small-to-mini sized pieces when I saw them at yard sales. I now use those much more often than I do the big ones. We also have a half-sized slow cooker (yard-saled) that is just the right size for a two-to-three-person meal.
2. Knives. People get knives given to them, and then they don't want them. We have knives too, but when I saw a brand-new set of them last year at a yard sale, I happily picked them up to replace some of our worn ones. (If you're lucky, you might get a cutting board too.)

3. Baskets and boxes. I know, that's not exactly news, but when people put baskets out at a yard sale, they want them to sell. If you do basket gifts, or like using baskets in your bathroom or kitchen or bedroom or office, look for used ones first.
4. Other kinds of organizers. Until recently, I had never been in one of those stores that sell nothing but things to put things in. But I get it: they're there to make you feel organized. Having been not only a homemaker but a homeschooling parent for all those years, I understand the need to corral stuff. And I've been to a few plastic-kitchenware parties in my time too (although the sticker shock meant I hardly ever bought anything). These are my thoughts (the yard sale part is coming):

a) A lot of smart people point out that if you have fewer things in the first place, you will need fewer thing-holders. Instead of a whole closet organizer system, for instance, you may be able to get away with a rod and a shelf.

b) You can improvise a lot of thing-holders, when you do need them. I've used all kinds of cardboard boxes as drawer organizers, magazine files, and so on.
c) The reason that a lot of thing-holders end up at yard sales (or rummage sales, or thrift shops) is that someone bought them for a purpose, they didn't work well for that purpose or for that person, and so they are discarded. The multiple uses of pocket shoe bags and plastic shoe boxes are legendary, but the same applies to other kinds of bags, racks, keepers, and sorters.. After I bought two Kangaroo Keepers earlier this year, I agreed that the advertising was overblown on the supposed usefulness of all those little pockets. But as I said in that post, I ended up using the large one as a cosmetics and hairbrush holder in a drawer (practical for me because I don't have a lot of that stuff), and the small one  in my pocket-lacking purse (without stuffing anything in the pockets).
As another example, two years ago (how can it be that long ago?), I bought a whole lot of brand-new little jars at a yard sale. I never liked those traditional tall thin spice jars, so even when I had some, I never remembered to put anything into them. It was easier to keep herbs and spices in their plastic bags, or in the Ziploc system I tried for awhile. But since I had an available drawer, and because these squatty little jars were easier to fill than the tall ones, I figured that they would work in our kitchen, and they do. I even manage to keep them alphabetized, more or less.
5. Fancy stuff from stationery aisles. Things I hardly ever buy new: themed sticky notes, note cards, gift wrap, gift tags. (Anything that's outdated but otherwise pretty, like an artistic address book, usually gets cut into gift tags.)

6. Less-fancy office supplies My three-ring Daytimer came from a fill-a-bag rummage sale. I haven't been looking for binders lately, but there are lots of them out there. If you hit the right sale, you can even find packages of things like binder dividers or page protectors, because somebody bought too many of them.

7. Small fashion accessories.  Some people shuck their least-favourites at the thrift store, others go to the trouble of putting them out for a yard sale. Scarves are what I usually look for (because they don't get worn hard, or they might just need hand-washing); but you can also do well on purses (depending on condition), wallets, belts, and so on. .
8. Things you can spray paint, or otherwise-paint. This can apply, these days, to just about anything. (Can you say Pinterest?) From the worst and ugliest yard sale kitsch, to just something that needs a little freshening, everything seems to look better when it's another colour. When Mr. Fixit restores vintage radios, he usually tries to keep the original finish or colour intact; but sometimes older plastic cases are just too discoloured, and then he gives them a few coats of  fun colour. (Those ones usually get snapped right up.) (The photo above was a father-daughter project.)

9. Mr. Fixit's contribution:  Golf clubs. And other sports and exercise gear.

10. You were waiting for me to say books, weren't you? Well, of course. But it helps if you can narrow down what you want. Like cookbooks, or guitar music books, or how-to-fix-things books. When you find a book in your area, it's even better than something completely random.

A little random is fine; it's the spice of yard saling. But having a plan makes it make more sense.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wednesday Hodgepodge: A Change in the Weather

Notes from our Hodgepodge Hostess: "Happy to be back in the Hodgepodge this week, and here are the questions. Answer on your own blog, then hop back here tomorrow (Wednesday) to share answers with the universe. Here we go-"
1. What's changed in your life, home, or community since your last birthday?
Things that happened like going to Texas don't count because they're not a direct change. Having another Squirreling leave the nest, that was a big change. Our plaid couch became unsittable in May (unless you like wire springs poking you in the back), so we put that out to the curb and moved its sister loveseat into its place. Which is cozier, but admittedly harder to read the newspaper there together.

2. September is Classical Music Month. Do you like/listen to classical music? If so what's a favorite piece and/or who is a favorite composer? 

I like Leonard Bernstein's definition of classical music (not referring to the classical period itself) as written-down music, so it doesn't have to be old. One of my favourite pieces this summer has been Rebecca Pellett’s 
Una storia d’amore, from a recent Quartetto Gelato CD. (The link goes to a clip you can listen to.)

3. Besides The Bible, what's a book that has positively changed your life, relationships, career, or perspective? How so? 

I did a blog post called "Books That Stuck" almost three years ago.  Not books that I'd necessarily recommend, but those that got under my skin somehow, or changed the way I looked at something. Several of them, strangely enough, are books that I read before I finished high school. This was my list (including the note at the bottom):

1. Winnie the Pooh
2. What is a Family?, by Edith Schaeffer

3.  Tears of Silence, by Jean Vanier

4.  The Pilgrim's Progress

5.  The Tightwad Gazette

6.  Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alice Munro 

7.  The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery
8.  The Educated Imagination, by Northrop Frye

9.  101 Famous Poems
10.  The Heart Has Its Own Reasons

11.  Brave New World.  Had to be in there somewhere.

12.  Material World, by Peter Menzel.

Which leaves no room for Charlotte Mason, David Hicks,  Jean Little, Jan Karon, Elizabeth Enright, Sir Walter Scott, Don Aslett, Narnia, Shakespeare, Rumer Godden, Ray Bradbury, Dickens, Plutarch, or Mother Goose.  But you can't have everything.
(Do I have an update on this list after three years? Yes, but it's less obviously about one or two books, more about ideas connecting across many of them. Right now one of my favourites is The Clown in the Belfry by Frederick Buechner.)

4. I read (here) these ten hobbies will make you a musical instrument, read voraciously, meditate regularly, work out your brain (puzzles, sudoku, board games, etc), exercise often, learn a new language, write your feelings down (blog, journal, just write), travel to new places, cook different kinds of meals, participate in sports actively

Are any on this list your current hobbies? Which hobby on the list would you be most inclined to try? 
Reading, puzzles, writing, yes! I am not currently putting a lot of brain power into cooking, though. Last night we had freezer-meal Sloppy Joes, and today we're having freezer-meal Chicken Chili. The reason we had to have Chicken Chili right after the Sloppy Joes is that I thought it would be a brilliant idea to stuff the two plastic bags of chili mix into our juice jugs, so that the partly-thawed meals would fit into the round slow cooker without my having to bash them around to make them fit. It worked too well: the bags froze stuck tight to the sides of the jugs, and weren't coming out for anything. The only way to get at least one juice jug back was to thaw the chili overnight in the fridge, enough to move its insides around enough to unclench the bag from the jug. It worked, and it did actually fit perfectly into the pot. 

5. What sports traditions does your family have? 

None I can think of, unless it's watching golf on T.V. when my father-in-law comes for supper. 

6. In a few words, weigh in on the current football/National Anthem brouhaha. Keep it family friendly please. 

I have no idea what that's about! (Not tuned in enough, I guess.)

7. Where do you have loads of patience, and where do you most lack patience? 

I have lots of patience for searching things out online. I do that instead of Sudoku.

I'm lacking the patience to come up with a good answer for the second half, so let's move on.

8. Insert your own random thought here. 

For one reason and another, I'm hoping this turns out to be a Very Good Day. And you have one too.

Linked from Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Quote for the day: two words to live by

"Pay attention. As a summation of all that I have had to say as a writer, I would settle for that. And as a talisman or motto for that journey in search of a homeland, which is what faith is, I would settle for that too." ~~ Frederick Buechner, "Faith and Fiction," in The Clown in the Belfry

From the archives: oh, to have them so young again

First posted September, 2006. This was the first year that The Apprentice was away during the days at high school. Ponytails would have been turning nine and was doing an AO Year 3.5 that year (so using some less-usual books). Lydia (Crayons) was five and doing kindergarten.

Wednesday is our "different day" of the week--no Bible, no regular math, and it's the only day where I've scheduled computer time in for both Crayons and Ponytails.

After our regular opening (usually a hymn and prayer, often an extra like reading a Psalm together), Crayons will get 20 minutes of computer time while Ponytails does a grammar lesson (one of the Peter Pan lessons I posted about previously). Then Ponytails can use the Carmen Sandiego math CD-Rom while Crayons has her math time and probably time to read a story with me.

Next is the week's second history lesson. Since Ponytails finished her chapter about the beginnings of Ancient Egypt yesterday (some of them will take her two sessions), we're going to take a few minutes to look at extra books--Usborne's Ancient World has a good double spread about life along the Nile. She'll make an entry in her notebook--just a little writing and then enough time for a picture.

Then French. I don't have a commercial curriculum this year for French. I do have a couple of storybooks that were originally written in English and translated into French--they each have about a hundred one- or two-page stories in them. This is going to be an experiment in following some of CM's French-teaching ideas--reading a very short story (or part of one), working with snipped-apart printouts of the words and phrases (making new sentences), with the goal of learning to narrate a little too. I've done this before with a couple of easy-reader books in French, but this is the first time that I've tried to base a term's work on it. The first story is called "La devinette" (The riddle), and it's about two children arguing about what colour they think their father's new car is--blue or green? (It turns out to be turquoise.)

Folk songs: A la volette (in French), and A Paper of Pins

Snack break...

Then copywork. One perfect line for Ponytails, a couple of letters for Crayons. [Update: we did this with dry-erase markers on small-sized white boards.]

And last thing in the morning: Breugel (or Bruegel or Brueghel or Breughel), "Peasant Wedding.". That's Picture Study.

After lunch: An Emily Dickinson poem (we read a little about her life yesterday too), Peter Pan, and a nature walk before the Apprentice gets home from school. That was fun, and we had good weather for it. We just went around the block and checked out our favourite gardens and trees. We noticed that the catalpa tree that used to be covered with flowers now has big bean pods all over it. The leaves on the one oak tree that we know of are still mostly green--no acorns on the ground yet. Some of the summer flowers are gone, but most of them are still brightly coloured.

From the archives: Charlotte Mason, salvation, and service

First posted December 2014

In a post of January 2013, on Philosophy of Education (Volume 6), chapter 3, I wrote this: "[Charlotte Mason] believed that Christian thought had previously over-emphasized the issue of personal salvation, to the neglect of concern for 'the community, the nation, the race.'"

In Ourselves Book II (Volume 4), Chapter XI "Freewill," she sends that message home loudly and clearly. She has been talking about the need for mature adults (not young children who are still developing "the way of the will") to doeverything deliberately, even if everything just means choosing which habits you acquire. 

She scolds not only those who swallow current "intellectual and moral fallacies," but those who settle for "commonplace respectability which never errs, because every act conforms to the standard of general custom; not by choice of will, but in lazy imitation." 

No risk, no pain, but no gain, and even more, no real giving or serving, no object outside of themselves. Aha. She admits that those entrenched in commonplace respectability are "excellent citizens," but sees that they mostly follow the rules, embrace that conventionality, for their own good.
And for her that wasn't good enough. "Life, circumscribed by self, its interests and advantages, falls under the condemnation,––'He that saveth his life shall lose it.'"
"And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is that life of the soul, who is dead in them: they are his tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. For the same reason, no one of use who has fallen into mortal sin himself must ever lose hope..." -- Caryll Houselander, A Rocking Horse Catholic (quoted in Elizabeth Goudge, A Book of Comfort)
"Therefore, Christ ate with publicans and sinners, and pronounced woes against the respectable classes because the sinners might still have a Will which might rise, however weakly, at the impact of a great thought, at the call to a life outside of themselves." -- Charlotte Mason, Ourselves
So much for the sinners: what of the respectable, impeccable ones she was talking about before? She uses the word "unconscious," referring to quick and unthinking decision making vs. using the Will, but "unconscious" can also refer to that state of lifelessness that she saw in those who did not consider themselves sinful. In outright sinfulness, there was at least the potential for repentance; complacency seemed more difficult to fight against.

But this is where is gets deeply theological, and those who have ever questioned Charlotte Mason's commitment to Christianity must have missed this passage. I'm paraphrasing here for the sake of length: if you have to serve somebody, God or man, you might possibly end up serving God somewhat without using the Will IF your personal goal is to help other people. That's possible.  BUT you cannot just "drift into the service of God" (her phrase) if your main interest is yourself, EVEN if that main interest is your own salvation. No two ways about it."Will must have an object outside of itself, whether for good or ill; and, therefore, perhaps there is more hope for some sinners than for certain respectable persons." 

In her theology, salvation was important (vital); but the aim of the Christian life was to serve God.

She concludes by saying that you cannot catch hold of the Will and analyze it, define it, count all its parts; like a leprechaun in a field, trying to trap it will elude you. Is it then something that you have to allow to sneak up on you, perhaps like grace that can catch you unaware? Without getting into Calvinist/Arminian Lutheran/Baptist arguments, yes, you are caught by grace, but that grace, she says, may come in the form of an idea or a call that your Will responds to, "however weakly." So there is an act of choosing, of answering and following, and that choice brings you to life "outside of yourself."

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday yard saling: rummage sale season starts

Winter is a good time for church rummage sales, but there's also a bit of time for them between summer and Christmas bazaars. Today we visited two such annual events, and everyone scored something useful. Lydia found a suitcase to accompany her on an upcoming school trip; Mr. Fixit found a speaker, an 8-track player, and a couple of other fixity items.

I just found books, but a hardcover copy of Gilead and two Madeleine L'Engle memoirs seemed like pretty good rummage sale treasure.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

A Borrowed Wednesday Hodgepodge

There is no official Wednesday Hodgepodge today at From This Side of the Pond, but I've borrowed questions from "Volume 236," September 2015.

1. What have you 'fallen for' recently?

Fallen for, as in fallen in love with, or as in been suckered by?

Greek Yogurt baking chips from Bulk Barn. It's been too hot to bake, but that's supposed to end soon, so I'm thinking yogurt chip-cranberry-oatmeal cookies.

2. What's something you're 'squirreling away' for later?

Besides the Greek Yogurt chips? I also squirreled away a package of Happy Cherry candies as a back-to-school treat.

3. How do you like your apples? Sweet? Tart? Crisp? Cooked? Apples are one of the superfoods for often do you eat an apple either plain or as part of a favorite recipe? What's your favorite variety?

OK, now we're done with the candies...I'll eat pretty much any apple, any way, except for some of the green varieties that taste all fake and waxed. Mr. Fixit eats apples almost every day. We prefer to get fresh local apples, but we don't seem to be able to get enough of them the last few years; good apples have gotten expensive.

Favourite recipes? I'll link back to my post about apple pie, which I haven't made for quite awhile.Or if I had a whole lot of apples, I might make apple butter.

4. According to Fodor's the ten best fall foliage trips in the US of A are-Aspen Colorado, The Catskills New York, The Berkshires Massachusetts, Columbia River Gorge Oregon, Green Mountain Byway Vermont, Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway New Mexico, Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, Upper Peninsula Michigan, Lake of the Ozarks Missouri, and Glacier National Park Montana. Which would you most like to visit this fall and why?

Actually we have lots of nice places to see autumn leaves right in Ontario, so I probably would just head north towards cottage country, and the really classic way to do it is from a train, especially through the Agawa Canyon.

But if I were going to the U.S., I would pick either the Catskills or Tennessee.

5. The topic of legalizing marijuana was raised in the most recent televised political debate so let's wade in too. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia currently have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Four states have legalize marijuana for recreational use. Your thoughts?

No opinion, sorry.

6. Are you okay to watch a movie already in progress or do you need to always see it from the beginning? How about jumping into a TV series somewhere in the middle? Is that okay?

OK, that's a different question.

Having not had videos and such options until I was in high school, I grew up being reconciled to the idea that no, you wouldn't always get to see all of everything, because real life happened too. People came over and you turned off the T.V., or you didn't get home from Brownies until halfway through Little House on the Prairie, or whatever. The thing I like these days is that, if you start watching some old movie and you don't know what it is, you can usually get enough clues to look it up online. ("That's Fred Astaire...that's Mrs Kravitz from Bewitched, the first one not the second one...what movie were they both in?" "The Belle of New York, 1952." "Good, now I can sleep tonight.")

(See, you didn't even need to see more than a clip to get the gist of it!)

7. Thursday (September 24) is National Punctuation Day. What rule of punctuation trips you up most often? What rule of punctuation, when broken by someone else, bugs you the most?

I never knew how many places I wasn't using enough commas until I started using the grammar program that comes with Microsoft Word and now it tells me all the places I should be putting them in.

And if you think there should have been some in that last sentence, according to the grammar checker it was fine.

8.  Insert your own random thought here.

Recently I have been working on a writing project involving Roman tribunes. I never realized there was a difference between military and non-military tribunes, having watched too many religious movies where the Roman soldier is generally addressed as "Tribune." The non-military sort was a watchdog position, a "champion of the people," and he had the job of speaking for them and upholding their rights. It suddenly made me wonder why some newspapers are called The Tribune, so I looked it up and it turns out that's exactly why. The voice of the people. Who knew?

Not linked from anywhere, but the regular Hodgepodge will be back next week.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Learning outside the box

Every adult has particular memories of school, or school supplies. For those of us who started school in the 1970's, it might be Bic Banana pens, or (for the Canadians) packs of Laurentien/Laurentian pencil crayons. Newsprint fliers for Scholastic paperbacks. Library books that had pockets and cards in them. Glue in clear bottles with rubber tips (or, earlier, the ever-discussed white paste in a jar that the bad kids would eat). And of course the also-ever-discussed smell of ditto-machine fluid.

There are times when nostalgia is supplanted by what-were-they-thinking curiosity or even resentment. Times change, and what was thought to be cute or appropriate sometimes takes on a different light. One of the Squirrelings was unimpressed with the Kimmy doll I found recently, because of Kimmy's obviously not-that-authentic Native connections. Yes, Kimmy was a popular Canadian toy fifty years ago, but no, a relaunch of Kimmy wouldn't fly these days.
I've often talked about my "experimental '70's" elementary education. Some parts of that were good, or at least fun; other things we could have done without. The photo above is a 1960 SRA Reading Laboratory (SRA meaning Science Research Associates, which should tell you a lot right there). We used a box like this maybe once a week in the 1970's. I didn't hate it. I liked, somewhat, the challenge of jumping ahead through those coloured levels. Each learning card had a story, which I thought was sort of like reading a Sunday School paper. The activities were a bit like doing word games. And I suppose I thought that it was better than some other things they might have had us doing instead. (This blogger isn't even that charitable, although she does include the fascinating story of where the first "box" came from.)

I found a scanned-in review of this, also from 1960, and this is what it said:
"This is a U.S.A. attempt to individualize reading instruction in a large class with a wide range of reading ability. A triumph of pedagogical ingenuity combined with superb industrial design, it provides, in a container 16 x 8 x 8 inches, sufficient material to keep a class of forty students with a reading range of over six years purposefully busy for at least fifty-four periods...The levels, each of which is identified by a distinctive colour, are very carefully graded and cover a reading range of approximately 7.5-15 years and are designed to interest children from 9 to 12 years. The material, however, is stimulating and so attractively presented that the laboratory would be acceptable to most children up to the age of fourteen years."
Are you excited so far?
"The laboratory consists of:--  150 Power Building Cards, 15 at each of 10 levels, all very attractively illustrated and laid-out, which give carefully planned training in reading for comprehension, word recognition and semantic skills; a Key Card for marking each Power Builder; 150 Rate Builder Cards..."
and so on and so on and so on.

If I told you that the review of the learning kit came from a journal called The Slow Learning Child, would that make a difference?
"I am jealous for the children; every modern educational movement tends to belittle them intellectually; and none more so than a late ingenious attempt to feed normal children with the pap-meat which may (?) be good for the mentally sick..." (Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education)
And that, I think, was what was wrong with this attractively presented triumph of pedagogical ingenuity. It taught us to read reprinted stories on folded cards, answer multiple-choice questions about main idea, and work through lists of antonyms. You might become very good at answering main-idea questions and picking out antonyms, just like you might master the technique of shaking chicken parts in a bag of something that comes out of a package and then putting them in the oven for the required time. It's a programmed skill, but it doesn't make you a chef.

And those cards didn't make us readers.

According to the blog post I linked above, the teacher who first came up with the idea was working with seventh graders and had too limited a budget to get fancy consumable materials, so he cut and pasted some workbooks to make them re-useable. (Shades of some homeschoolers, yes?)  But here's the thing...he could have used books. He could have done what Marva Collins did (without a box). He could have asked the students to narrate, to tell and write about the books they were reading. He could have taken advantage of the natural world around them.  Maybe I have the completely wrong impression, and they spent every afternoon reading classic novels and going out for nature walks. He could have done a lot of things, and maybe he did, I have no idea.

But I think he should have skipped the box.

At any rate, we can. Our boxes these days may look like computer pages instead of shiny cards, but they're no more real or necessary than SRA kits were in my classroom. Don't buy or do the things that make you feel more like a teacher. Do what matters for the students. Do the things that really feed mind-hunger. Nurture the readers and writers, curious human beings, creative spirits, and care-takers of all kinds.

That's my back-to-school post.

Linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival, Fall 2016.