Friday, January 27, 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Here On My Island (Wednesday Hodgepodge)

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 share answers with the universe. Here we go-"

1. "The cure for anything is salt water-tears, sweat, or the sea." (Isak Dinesan) Would you agree? Of the three, which has 'cured' you most recently? 

None of those that I can think of! Didn't Isak like chocolate?

2. What's something you can't eat without salt? Do you normally salt your food a lot, a little, or not at all? 

A few years ago, we were very very low salt around here (a medical need), and I had a low-sodium food blog as well. Since then we have eased back into our normal amount of sauerkraut. But I was eating awhile back with some friends from the U.S., and they said that Canadian food generally seemed undersalted. So maybe there's a cross-border difference between "a little" and "a lot."

3. Sands of time, bury your head in the sand, built on sand, or draw a line in the sand...which sandy phrase could best be applied to something in your life right now? 

Sands through the hourglass?

4. A favorite book, movie, or song with an island setting or theme?

This is just for any of the Squirrelings who stop by here:

5. Yesterday-did you run your day or did it run you? How so?

I am at the tail end of a writing project, so I'm trying to pretend like I'm on a desert island without too many distractions.

6. You're on an island holiday. Will I most likely find you parked in a beach chair, shopping in town, on the back of a jet ski, or snorkeling off the back of a catamaran?

No idea, I haven't been on an island holiday since I was three. No, wait, I guess Prince Edward Island counts too, right? Not exactly tropical, but it is an island. But that was a long time ago too.

The beach chair sounds nice.

7. What do you think we humans most take for granted?
Opposable thumbs.

8. Insert your own random thought here.

Mr. Fixit told me yesterday that he is getting pumped to do some more cleaning out (this time mostly mancave stuff). I've already been through a lot of the typical online lists of things to trim down (like the Scavenger Hunt we did last year), but here's another one I found with some fun ideas.

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

From the archives: Notes from a Book Talk

First posted October 2007. Links edited/updated.

(Adapted from a talk I wrote for a support group meeting. Are you sitting comfortably?)

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?...

(from "Books Fall Open," by David McCord)
When Mr. Fixit and I were at the beginning of our journey together, one of us once gave the other one a gift bag with a Winnie-the-Pooh illustration on it and the words, "As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen." That's almost identical to a chapter title in Gladys Hunt's Honey for a Child’s Heart (at least the 1978 edition, which is what I have): "The Pleasure of a Shared Adventure."

Reading is an adventure, and even better, it can be a shared adventure.

What do you need for an adventure? You need some place to go—often some place unknown. Adventures require at least a bit of the unexpected, the unknown, a bit of uncertainty; “things locked up beyond imaginings.” Most adventures don’t happen right in your own backyard. To have a real adventure you need to step outside, push beyond your comfort zone.

Real adventures can include buried treasure, answering riddles, fighting dragons, outwitting giants. They include big problems and big decisions.

Adventures go better with food. Apples, popcorn, hot chocolate…

Here’s a quote, see if you know what book it’s from. "Her own small bedroom now became her reading-room and there she would sit and read most afternoons, often with a mug of hot chocolate beside her….It was pleasant to take a hot drink up to her room and have it beside her as she sat in her silent room reading in the empty house in the afternoons. The books transported her into new world and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village."

And it’s nice to have a place to come home to afterwards. Our adventures are enjoyed more when they’re framed in the familiarity and security of home.

What should you expect from an adventure?

Expect it to take time. You can’t have a real adventure in five minutes, and some of the best book adventures are very long. We are often too impatient and we settle for abridged versions or just skip things altogether because they’re so long. But if you take, say, the long unabridged version of David Copperfield, there’s just a huge amount of wonderful stuff in there that hasn’t made it into shortened versions or movie versions. In other words, you don’t really know David Copperfield until you’ve explored the whole thing, and when you’re done you’re tired but you know it was worthwhile.

Expect some degree of danger, risk, opposition and difficulty. Being a reader these days can be a subversive activity, both inside and outside of the Christian community; it can make people angry; it can make a lot more people yawn with boredom. It’s not the books that get banned by school libraries that you will have to struggle to read or even to find; it’s the books that nobody’s actually supposed to be able or be interested in reading any more; that includes some of the treasures of our Christian literary heritage. How many people do you know--Christians or not-- who have actually read and enjoyed Paradise Lost or Pilgrim’s Progress, just for a start? How many homeschoolers will include those books in their children’s education? For some people, concentrating our children’s reading on the dead white guys (particularly dead Christian white guys) is seen as some kind of an act against contemporary culture. And those who don't get outright angry may try to discourage you in other ways. Just like in Pilgrim’s Progress, you are going to meet people with names like That’s-So-Dull and Much-Abridged who are going to try to get you to turn back; but press on, the rewards are there in the end.

And expect to be rewarded when you climb to the top. Who goes on a quest without hoping to bring back treasure? Without even specially looking for them, we can expect to make discoveries that lead to wisdom, teach discernment and critical thinking, inspire us with courage, and build character; or "moral imagination."

Charlotte Mason said that “stories make the child’s life intelligible to himself; Gladys Hunt wrote in Honey for a Child’s Heart that “books help children know what to look for in life.” It helps to know what you’re looking for when you’re hunting for treasure. And besides that there are a lot of little side benefits of reading, like improved vocabulary and listening skills, creativity, and having bits of useful information stored up in the mind.

Again from "that book"

“All the reading she had done had given her a view of life that they had never seen. If only they would read a little Dickens or Kipling they would soon discover there was more to life than cheating people and watching television.”
Northrop Frye said that literature is true, more true in some ways than our everyday existence; because when our everyday life is disappointing and superficial or truly horrible, it is in literature that we find examples of true love, true honour, true courage. Reading is more than just escapism. It’s not escapism to find strength by remembering Christian’s defeat of Giant Despair; by thinking of wise words that Corrie Ten Boom’s father and sister told her; by making yourself smile at a lovely line of poetry or laugh at the Pooh stories.

But reading is an escape as well, in a good sense. We rebel against ignorance and smallness and look for something more; we try to remember what we are or should be as human beings. We can escape from the pride of thinking we know it all, and from limitations like not really being able to sail or fly or ride horses, or find a secret garden or a buried treasure. We may not have people in our everyday lives who are as loyal as Charlotte, as resourceful as Laura’s Ma, as wise as Clara’s grandmother in Heidi, as encouraging as Ratty, or as valiant as Reepicheep; but in books, we can do all these things and know all these people.

Expect to have fun. The roads through books aren’t all serious; there is a great deal of humor, delight and pleasure, even nonsense. About a hundred years ago, a parent in England wrote this:
“I cannot count the times I have read aloud the stories in the "Just So" book. During a dreary month of grey skies and perpetual snow, spent in the hotel of a grim Yorkshire village, those stories were our daily bread, especially those that took us to the sunshine of South Africa. And the greatest favourite of all was The Beginning of the Armadilloes. Only Rudyard Kipling or Lewis Carroll would dare to write anything so absurd. Day after day, for thirty days or thereabouts, those two rascals, Stickly-Prickly, and Slow-and-Solid, played their pranks, and day after day we laughed at the same places, and when Slow-and-Solid said to the Painted Jaguar--"Because if she said what you said she said, it's just the same as if I said what she said she said"--day after day we bounded out of our chairs with joy….Let us arm our children for the slings and arrows of later life by cultivating the spirit of innocent laughter.”

Terry Glaspey says that “being in the presence of greatness cannot but change us.” So expect to be changed, strengthened, stretched, widened, given a different perspective as you go on a particular adventure. As characters in books grow throughout a story, we share their experiences and also find ourselves growing and changing. One of my favourite short books is Rumer Godden’s The Mousewife, about an unhappy mother mouse who develops a friendship with a dove living in a cage. The dove tells her stories about the world outside and gives her a lot of new ideas about things she has never seen. Eventually the mousewife finds a way to help the dove escape, but suddenly realizes that she no longer has her friend there to talk to her and teach her things. Then she looks out the window. “She looked out again and saw the stars….When she saw them shining she thought at first they must be new brass buttons. Then she saw that they were very far off, farther than the garden or the wood, beyond the farthest trees….’I have seen them for myself,’ said the mousewife, ‘without the dove. I can see for myself,’ said the mousewife, and slowly, proudly, she walked back to bed.”

How can we get to be more adventurous, and get more out of our reading adventures?

Use the services of an experienced guide—in this case, booklists and books about books, including homeschool book catalogues and online reviews—but use them cautiously. In your book adventures, as in real life, some guides are more to be trusted than others; and some may simply suit your purposes or personality more than others do. What one hiking guide calls a nice little stroll may leave you exhausted; and what one booklist calls suitable for a ten-year-old may be your idea of something better saved for high school, or the other way around.

To have the greatest adventures, seek out the greatest treasures. Our culture tends to cheapen and trivialize reading (formula series, TV-tie-ins, other kinds of books that barely qualify as books); the media tells us we should read mostly because it’s fun. But even fun gets boring after awhile.

To have the greatest adventures, don’t stick only to the roads marked “fiction.” Read some of the history of medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy. Find out what was beautiful, revolutionary and even dangerous about scientific discoveries. Read history, and go beyond “how the peasants lived.” Read biographies, poetry, nature descriptions. Read the Bible together.

There is also the idea these days that there are no specific important books—wrong. Some book adventures are just more rewarding than others, especially the places you know you’ll want to go back to again and take your friends along to enjoy. There are certain real-life places that everyone should try to see once; and there are book adventures that are too good to miss. You may not be ready for them all at the beginning, but you can work up to the challenge.

Which is another good point: to have the greatest adventures, take along some good companions; make it a shared adventure, and everyone who goes along will be in on the shared vocabulary, experiences and “book friends” that you meet along the way. How do you work around different ages? Not everyone who comes along will get the most from a particular book journey, but sometimes what they do bring back will surprise you. There are times in life when you just can’t read with everyone, but even if it’s just you and one other person, you’re sharing that adventure together, and maybe somebody else will decide to come along if the two of you look like you’re having fun.

How do you deal with general reluctance, the attitude that books are hard or boring? I once went to a health-food demonstration where the presenter was asked, "How can I encourage my children to eat some of these foods instead of hot dogs?" She answered, very unhelpfully, that really they should have just been better trained from the start. In the same way, it would be easy for me to say that if your kids are brought up reading with you from babyhood, you probably won’t have a problem with this, and that if you do you should just force it down them; but that sort of answer just makes you want to give up, doesn't it? So a better suggestion might be that you’re going to have to woo them—maybe with the hot chocolate and popcorn, maybe with a particularly wonderful or funny book that you know gets right into the story very quickly. These suggestions might also apply if you really want to involve a spouse or another adult family member; nobody wants to be made to read, especially if they think they’re going to be bored by kids books; so make sure that it’s something that everybody’s going to enjoy. One recommendation is Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s nothing at all like the movie and it’s a lot of fun and has lots of things blowing up in it.

How do you cope with busy schedules, and the competing attractions of other media? You can use audio books, maybe during mealtimes or travel; you can use more homeschool time just to read; you can leave books lying around; you can give books as gifts. Even the cost of new books shouldn’t be a deterrent to reading, not with libraries and used books and online books readily available; Emily Dickinson was right when she said that reading is a pretty frugal chariot compared with a lot of the other ways we can find to spend money.

HE ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,
And this bequest of wings
Was but a book.
What liberty
A loosened spirit brings! --Emily Dickinson

To have the greatest adventures, let the adventures find you. "Books fall open, you fall in." We can’t always regulate reading by squeezing it into a READING period; by labeling books according to grade or age; or excluding every word or idea that we don’t think our kids will understand. Again, you have to risk a little. Lines like “bequest of wings,” “loosened spirit” and “take us worlds away” speak to us of flight and freedom; the idea of moving outside our own place and time, being able to see beyond our own lives; that’s what the word education means, a drawing out. As our “spirits grow robust,” we are able not only to handle more difficult book adventures but to use our experiences in the everyday world as well, to survive the “dingy days” and also to change them into something better. “Robust spirits” implies strength and health; this kind of reading is not a weak, wussy thing or just an escape from reality. In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Cousin Eustace was the cowardly, mean character; C.S. Lewis says it was because he hadn’t read the right books.

What are the right books to adventure with? A great storyteller named Ruth Sawyer gave this list (quoted in Honey for a Child's Heart): 
“Stories that make for wonder. Stories that make for laughter. Stories that stir one within with an understanding of the true nature of courage, of love, of beauty. Stories that make one tingle with high adventure, with daring, with grim determination, with the capacity of seeing danger through to the end. Stories that bring our minds to kneel in reverence. Stories that show the tenderness of true mercy, the strength of loyalty, the unmawkish respect for what is good.”
Let’s have the courage to adventure with books…and…Let’s go there together.

Monday, January 23, 2017

From the archives: What was Lydia doing in the second grade?

First posted 2008. Reposting it because I just came across these Grade Two posts and I'm feeling like that was a very long time ago...  (links updated/edited)

Favourite folk songs: "When I First Came To This Land."

We also (very selectively) use some songs from Festivals, Family and Food (the ones without too much Mother Earth in them), and have also enjoyed the first volume of Michael Mitchell's Canada is For Kids. Crayons likes the video version of Mitchell's "Canada in My Pocket" (about the symbols on Canadian coins).

I also give her short follow-the-leader lessons on the keyboard.

Recent reading: A Pioneer Story (story interspersed with facts on life in the backwoods), Owls in the FamilyUnderstood Betsy, "The Gorgon's Head" from A Wonder BookThe Old Nurse's Stocking Basket, poems from Come Hither, William the Conqueror chapters in the history book, Among the Forest PeopleHiawatha's ChildhoodPilgrim's Progress (up to Mr. Worldly Wiseman), Bible stories about Samuel and the temptation of Christ, and two stories from Stories for Canada's Birthday. Today we read the "D is for dory, dinosaur, Dan McGrew, dulse" page from Canada Eh to Zed, which inspired us to watch the Historica Minute about Joseph Tyrrell (finder of dinosaur bones in Alberta), and Crayons showed me her favourite online dinosaur game.

She has been doing pages in the David Thompson activity book, which is not terribly in-depth about his work but has some fun worksheets; we borrowed a National Geographic issue with an article about his travels, and I read some of the basics from an online biography. David Thompson seems to be one of the most under-appreciated of Canadian explorers and mapmakers, but he is definitely worth studying.

Math has been fairly informal, mostly following my own Miquon notes... we're using coins, rods and number tiles to practice making three-digit numbers and also to practice grouping for tens. We're also doing some hundred-chart work, working on adding and subtracting nines, tens and elevens quickly. 

The Gifted and Talented workbooks are working fine for a bit of language work--mostly synonyms at this point. (It was also a good chance to talk about what a Thesaurus is; Crayons likes Mommy's big fat Synonym Finder because it has more words than the children's version.)

Spelling words we practice through the week with Scrabble letters, and then have a test on Fridays. The handwriting workbooks haven't yet arrived (they're in the mail, should be here this week) so she has just been doing copywork, which isn't a favourite as there are still some issues with letter formation, remembering to use lower case, and the general effort required to print neatly. She does a little each week anyway, and I am having her start a fall poem on large paper to go on the kitchen wall.

Crayons has been making nature pictures in a sketchbook (mostly as narrations of nature stories--she is interested in owls right now), and has started a scroll for Pilgrim's Progress.

And we've done a little French--mostly colours and numbers.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday thrifting: we found a mixer

At the thrift shop this afternoon, Mr. Fixit found us a stand mixer, one of the last generation made in the U.S. before production went overseas. It has two glass bowls, and all its beaters and dough hooks. Our hand mixer is twenty-five years old, so it's  time for a replacement. And a stand mixer with a dough hook could also replace our bread machine, if or when that's needed.
A plum-purple purse for me (the photo makes it look darker than it is). An extra, not a need, but a nice extra.
Something else that's better than this snapshot makes it look: a big scarf, a Linnea-in-Monet's-Garden mix of purple and green and all those things. I saw it by accident when I was helping Mr. Fixit carry the mixer parts from the back of the store. My justification is that if I ever get tired of wearing it, it would make a great table scarf.
The thing I was really after and did need: a lightweight denim-type shirt. 

So, a more-than-expectedly successful thrifting trip.

More amazing books arrive

The Sighting, by Luci Shaw, and Rallying the Really Human Things, by Vigen Guroian.

One more still in transit.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Things to eat (photos)

Not every meal can be super-exciting. And some weeks...frozen things and cans are the rule.
Pork meatballs with sauce; reheated rice, frozen veggies
Frozen pasta, improvised breadsticks,veggies
Tonight's chili-thing. (Homemade bread to go with it, but no photo.)

What's for supper? Improvised chili

A need-groceries dinner menu:

What's-in-the-cupboard Three Sisters Chili, served with cheese and sour cream
Bread-machine whole wheat bread
Assortment of fruit and cookies

What's-in-the-cupboard Three Sisters Chili (not meant to win chili cookoffs)

In the slow cooker, place:

1 can tomato sauce
1 can pinto beans
1 can mixed beans
1 cup leftover corn niblets
1 cup salsa
2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cumin
Some chopped red and yellow peppers

Cook until heated through and peppers are soft.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

From the archives: "Frugal is not a bad word"

First posted May, 2007. Links edited, photos added.

Some people have been giving thrift shoppers and other blogging frugalistas  (how do you like that one?) a hard time recently.

The arguments run kind of like this: the Bible doesn't say anywhere to go out and look for bargains. If we're not "really down and out" ourselves (define that as you will), then we're robbing from the poor if we buy something nice at a thrift shop--especially if we resell it and make a profit. (Heaven help the Christian who mentions making a profit on something. Didn't some Christian songwriters go through this one a long time ago?--God gave you this talent, you write this song and it's for everybody to sing, how can you ask us to pay you for copies of it?) Wait, there's more: if we're picking up books or vintage aprons or other frou-frou at yard sales or thrift shops, then that ranks as non-essential anyway, so then we're getting addicted to stuff or wasting the little money we did spend. (Wait a minute, I'm already seeing some contradictions here. If it's frou-frou stuff, then wouldn't it be just as silly for the "really down and out" to buy it?) And overall, we should be willing to pay "full price" for whatever it is, so that we're not ripping anybody off
Now Stingy is bad. But Stingy is not Frugal. Stingy is putting dollars out on pizza delivery and pennies in the offering plate. Stingy is illegally photocopying textbooks. Stingy is not providing what your family needs even though you have the means to do so. Stingy lives next door to Chintzy Hardbargain and down the road from the Misers.
Frugality is making life as beautiful as you can on a little bit of money. Sometimes that little bit of money is all you have, period. Sometimes you have more than that but you're using what's left for something else that's important. Anybody with a credit card can throw money at a problem (full price, I assume); Frugality teams up with Creativity to make the most of what's there. And sometimes Frugality just has to say no to things. I can't bring myself to pay $2.19 a can for something at one grocery store when I know the discount supermarket sells it for half that price. What's full price, then? Store A's price or Store B's?
The comment was made on another blog I will not name that Mrs. Frugality wouldn't invite people over "to evangelize to them" if she didn't have the right cake pan, and that she wouldn't go out and buy the cake pan unless she could get it used or cut rate or something. First of all, I would never invite people over just "to evangelize to them." About anything. I've been on the other end of the cake in that respect, and I did not appreciate it. Second, I don't know even the most frugal person who would feel that way about having a perfect cake pan before inviting guests. In fact, most frugal people I know would bake the cake in a casserole dish or something, or make something else, or just have tea and 99 cent oatmeal cookies. People are the point, not food.
And finally, as many people have pointed out in response to this ongoing issue: it's not a crime to shop at thrift stores if your shoes are intact and the stroller you're pushing didn't come straight off the curb. In fact, you are supporting their ministry by shopping there. It happens to be a delightful side benefit of this kind of shopping that we often end up with something unique, vintage, out of print, or otherwise amazing. And isn't that a whole lot more creative than getting something exactly the same as your neighbour's at Stuff-mart?

Un-bovvered doll photo courtesy of Lydia.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Books of beauty (2017 Reading List)

Recently arrived in the Treehouse: Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit, by Luci Shaw; and Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C.S. Lewis, by Louis Markos.

It's a beautiful year for reading.

Shopping at Hampstead House Books (for Canadians)

I got a print catalogue recently from Hampstead House Books near Toronto (remainders, imports etc.), and noticed several things that homeschoolers and other curious readers might like. Remember that their inventory changes quickly, so what's there one month may be gone the next, never to return. I haven't actually seen most of these, just going by the titles and sometimes the online reviews.

Some of what I found:

Freshwater Heritage: A History of Sail on the Great Lakes

The Greek Myths: Stories of the Greek Gods and Heroes Vividly Retold, by Robin Waterhouse

Sacred Art

A Journey into Michelangelo's Rome

Kipling's Just So Stories

Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm

Pride and Prejudice

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A reprint of Puss in Boots from the 1930's

Learning Resources POP For Colors and Shapes. "Give your little ones (ages 3+) a head start on language skills. Set incl. a 34-pp. write and wipe spiral book with marker, 20 flash cards, activity guide, 100-pic. colour and shape games, 4 double-sided Bingo cards, and a spinner." Also: POP for Numbers.

(I don't work for Hampstead House or get compensated for posting updates: I just like to point out good things.)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Talking about food, for a change

Meals at the Treehouse have changed a lot over the years. This past year or two, we've simplified a lot: maybe making the same main dish we used to, but with less fuss about sìde dishes, and hardly any on-purpose desserts unless there's a special reason. Simplifying wasn't a philosophical or even a health-related decision, just a practical one. If you cook it or bake it, somebody has to eat it, and somebody also has to do the cleanup; and with fewer people here to both eat and do dishes, it makes sense to give everyone a break. I've even learned a few new tricks, such as cooking a pot of rice (any kind), freezing half of it, and then microwaving the leftovers for almost-instant rice another night. The toaster oven also gets lots of use.

I started making a cupboard/freezer inventory this weekend, and I was almost embarrassed to see how long the list was. It's definitely time to do some eating from the pantry. What makes it harder to plan that out, these days, is that with more informal or spur-of-the-moment meals, I'm not "feeding" people so much as just making the food available. (Keeping English muffins, eggs, and cheese in the fridge, for instance, so that Lydia can make her favourite fast meal.)

So here are some tentative plans for this week's dinners. Lunch is often leftovers, and breakfast is up to each person (unless maybe we make hot cereal).

1. On hand: whole chicken, some barbecue sauce, ingredients pre-mixed for whole wheat bread, salad greens. Menu: chicken in the slow cooker, bread in the machine, salad. Bonus: Leftover chicken for sandwiches or pasta (see #4), and some of the bread in the freezer.

2. On hand: frozen cranberries, sugar, jar of chili sauce, ground pork, other ingredients for meatballs, rice, frozen broccoli. Premake: homemade cranberry sauce. Menu: pork meat balls with sauce made from chili sauce and some of the cranberry sauce; rice, broccoli.

3. On hand: bacon, homemade syrup, blueberries, eggs, other ingredients for pancakes. Menu: pancakes and accompaniments.

4. On hand: cooked chicken, spaghetti, parsley, Parmesan cheese, a jar of Alfredo sauce, salad greens. Menu: Chicken Alfredo and salad. There's also a bit of pizza dough in the freezer, so I might thaw that and turn it into breadsticks.

5. On hand: stew beef, and vegetables for stew; frozen whole wheat bread. Menu: Slow cooker stew, carrot sticks, bread, cheese. Bonus: probably some leftovers.

6.  Bonus stew meal.

7. On hand: vegetables, rice, canned beans, canned tomato sauce, salsa, and I think some chicken broth. Menu: either homemade vegetable soup, or some kind of a rice and beans meal, with salad or whatever.

Extra things to make: banana muffins, with the two that are in the freezer; and maybe some granola with Christmas-baking extra coconut.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Here is the Winter's End Project 333 update

Three months, 34 pieces of clothing. (I didn't quite squeeze it to 33 this time.) Most of them are from earlier lists, and a few are new-to-me.

I thought you might need some reasons for clicking on the page:

* you can read why I was inspired by a scarf I didn't buy.
* you can see what a mama squirrel wears inside the nest
* you get to see a happy selfie of me with shorter hair.

Good enough?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Shopping fun with Mama Squirrel

It was time for one of those not-often walking trips uptown. Actually I didn't have to walk there this time, because Mr. Fixit was having lunch with a friend and dropped me off near the stores.
At the bookstore: calendars for half price (we were using a freebie in the kitchen, and I thought sea turtles were nicer than photos of recipes we won't make), and the November/December issue of Faith Today. I was hoping for the Jan/Feb issue, but it's not in the store yet.
At the consignment store: two things I was especially looking for, and that I hadn't been able to find at the thrift store. First, a knitted vest.
And then a grey cardigan. I tried on about ten different ones before settling on this wrap style. (I was feeling very picky, and the others were all too dark, too light, too small, too fuzzy, or too overpriced.)
I stopped at the grocery store and picked up emergency lettuce for Muffin, and some half-priced onion-poppyseed buns. That store always has the best clearance baking.
Mr. Fixit picked me up at the library, where I found a for-sale book about cooking like a cheap mid-century Francophone.
Which made me hungry enough that I came home and ate one of the buns with cream cheese. Bon appetit.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Frugal finds and fixes, long-overdue update

It has been awhile since we posted a Frugal Finds and Fixes, so here is a new installment.

Our public library is subscribed to the video-teaching website, and I am planning on using it to improve some of my computer skills. Homeschoolers might find some of their techie courses interesting. They also offer quite a bit on photography and videography.

We had a homemade pizza night this week instead of getting takeout. Pizza dough is easy in the bread machine, and pizza is a very forgiving, use what's in the fridge kind of meal. We topped ours with mushrooms, peppers, salami, canned pasta sauce, and some mixed bits of grated cheese on top. The only bad thing about baking pizza at home is that it always sets off the smoke alarm, and even after we push the "never mind" button, it continues to hiccup for awhile. This never happens with frozen store pizza, just homemade (I think because we set the oven higher).

Tonight's dinner was sausage, ranch potatoes, frozen green beans and carrots, and blueberry muffins that I thought of at the last minute. This is nothing new, but we continue to use the toaster oven, slow cooker (s), and microwave as much as possible, turning on the big oven only when the food or the pan won't fit into anything else.  That would include cookie sheets, muffin pans, and the roaster (the handle makes it too tall).

Yesterday we dropped some of our clearing-out stuff at the thrift store, and had a look around inside. Mr. Fixit found a vintage Polaroid camera. Lydia (who was off school due to predicted bad weather that took its time appearing)* found some books. Mama Squirrel found a t-shirt for herself, and a black shirt from the dollar rack, that looked nice on Lydia but was missing a cuff button.

*When the storm finally showed up, it was a midnight thunderstorm with pouring rain. Basements were undoubtedly flooded, but, thankfully, not ours this time.
That's what button bags are for.
I also mended some leggings while I had the needle still threaded. I hate threading needles, but every time I buy needle threaders, they break. Somewhere out there, there must still be some decent ones for sale.
Finally, stay tuned over the next week or so, because it's almost time for a new Project 333 update.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Day...six. Random Epiphanies. (Last Numbers post)

January 6th: Epiphany. The visit of the Magi. Also a moment of sudden illumination.

Here are some epiphanies I've had about things, tools, clothes, clutter, and living the life.

1. I once read about an after-school tutor who travelled around with a very small box of teaching tools. It might have been a cigar box, might have been a shoebox. At any rate, he had a few little things he used over and over to help kids with reading and math. Something like, a few pieces of Lego, some stickers, a couple of little cars, some markers and index cards.  This guy was admired for his creativity and success in teaching.  So, why do we so often think we need a fancier set of tools for (you fill in the blank)? Look what Johnny Appleseed did with some seeds and a spade.

2. Don't try to clean blueberry stains from your vintage kitchen counter with baking soda. The pattern will disappear along with the blueberries.

3. Snow doesn't shovel itself. But you can feel happy about making safe places for people to walk.

4. Two days after you pay too much postage to order some used books you really wanted, you will be sent a free e-copy to review of something else that's wonderful (and 300+ pages long). Which is a good thing, undoubtedly, but also a reminder of the need for trust, patience, and not stepping ahead of God's timing.

5. I think packages of notecards or postcards make great gifts for people.  Maybe with a pen as well. Because there is nothing quite as personal as having to put the words on paper in your own handwriting. If your handwriting is like mine, it's also humbling. Not Ma Ingalls here, at all.

6. Why is shorter hair supposed to be less work? I recently got a short, layered cut, and I realized that I'm now lacking the benefits of gravity in drip-dry hairstyling. If I don't mess with it, it's a mess.  Those of you who think the shorter grass is greener should ponder before pruning.

Happy 2017! And if you're Ukrainian and/or Orthodox, Merry Christmas.

Quote for the day: Not born free?

"When God Himself gave His ten commandments to the children of Israel, He did not impose an arbitrary rule. Drawing on the principle of propriety, He expressed ten laws that, if they followed them, would lead them to treat things as they ought to be treated (Worship the Lord, honor your parents, leave the neighbors stuff alone, etc.) and, since that is how reality is structured, they could be free. Not just free from Egypt, but free to be His people who knew them and what led to their flourishing." ~~ Andrew Kern, "Writing as a Liberating Art," Circe Institute blog

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Day...five. Five ways to not bring it all home with you.

Link for the day: 10 Ways To Redefine Your Purchase Process, at An extract:

"Cultivate a museum mentality. Living more simply doesn’t mean you don’t want more. The desire for more dissipates but in my experience, it doesn’t go away completely. Instead of finding gratification in the owning, find it in appreciation for the item. For instance, when you walk through a museum you can fully appreciate the art without owning it. The same goes for new clothing, gadgets and other things. When you desire, admire. Don’t acquire."

Well, I did acquire something at the antiques barn this morning (while admiring and appreciating a lot of other things I didn't want to buy). A pile of books will be going out the door here, but a few more are coming in, because they're more relevant, more needed, or just more special.
This wasn't in the greatest shape (as you can see from the spine), but it was a Charlotte Mason/PNEU standard in the upper forms (even if she got the title wrong):
 "Mr Arnold Forster has done in this volume for children and the illiterate, what Professor Green did in his Shorter History of England for somewhat more advanced students, awakening many to the fact that history is an entrancing subject of study." (Home Education
In the meantime, the "donate" baskets are filling up:

And the "sort these out, put away" things are getting organized.
And what does this, if anything, have to do with the number five? Besides the fact that Charlotte Mason's students read Green's History starting in the fifth form? How about five ways to have fun, enjoy and appreciate things without wanting to own them permanently?

1. Antiques barns are good for window shopping, because there are so many things there that you probably either can't afford, don't have room for, or wouldn't want even if they were free. This morning I saw (among other things) a 1962 cardboard Barbie Dream House (it's adorable, but what would I do with it?), a toy telephone I had when I was four, and some little ceramic cottages like one we were given as a wedding gift. Would I like to have a whole village of tiny cottages? The thought ran briefly through my head, but it was fairly easy to quash. One's enough.

2. Use your hunter-gatherer instincts in a way that doesn't take up permanent space. Hunt down school or hygiene supplies for mission projects, or make hats or teddy bears for charity. Or do some Google or database searching for names of forgotten things. Or get into a hobby like collecting seeds (that will go into the ground or get given to other people). Or become an expert on something gigantic, like cathedrals or the Grand Canyon.

3. Use those Charlotte Mason mental visualization skills to store up lovely things. The trend now is to say "don't keep it, take a picture of it," but as we've been told repeatedly, people now are often so busy snapping pictures of everything from breakfast to graduations that they miss "being in the moment" for them. And then they have to hope their camera or computer doesn't lose the files. Go against the trend and just look without photographing. Draw a picture or copy a quote if you really have to.

4. Take a trip to a butterfly conservatory, a rock museum, or a donkey farm, whatever suits your interests and ethics. Skip the gift shop, obviously. Small towns known for boutiques and antique shops are a riskier choice, but you can always go with just enough cash for ice cream.

5. Mr. Fixit's contribution: create an avatar and enjoy some virtual reality. I actually found this suggestion quite funny, because years ago the girls and I had Yahoo avatars on the blog, and our little people got to wear all the fun costumes and pose in front of the hundred and one background scenes. Those were the days.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Day...four. In the midst.

Previous posts in the New Year's Numbers series

Link for today: Four ways to declutter at, includng the Four Box method. My four boxes became five, because I couldn't remember if there was a difference between "keep" and "put away," and when I remembered that "sell" was also a category, that made five.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Day...three. (Part Two)

“Is there not glory enough in living the days given to us? You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too.” ~~ Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron
So...I said I would ruminate over the past year's post-midlife-clothes-crisis closet experiment.

I don't think the success of it has been in trying to wear radically different clothes (I'm not). It's in knowing more what I'm looking for at a certain time; why I bought two pullover sweaters on my last thrifting trip, instead of, maybe, buying a pair of pants (I have enough) or a dress that I might wear once or twice. Or instead of bypassing the clothes at all and heading for the books. I was looking for a plain navy sweater, and when I found a green henley-style one as well that matched a favourite scarf, and the green sweater turned out to be a was just icing on the clothes cake. A year ago, I was pretty random about what went into the mix; now I have more of a plan.

The second benefit, ironically, is that I'm more aware now of certain clothing brands and stores I hadn't paid attention to before. Longtime shopaholics would not understand this, but if you don't go looking at clothes much, of course you don't know what's out there and how things are changing. While I was looking the other way (or was hiding out in the book store), several Canadian clothing chains went belly-up, and others came in that I'd never heard of. I also noticed (I've posted about this before) that my default places to shop (like the discount store) have taken a dive in clothing quality. The t-shirts and sweaters might not have been great before, but now they mostly look like they'd last about two washings and then be...garbage. Like we've been talking about. So the past year has been an unexpected education, in different ways.

Initially I resisted the numbers aspect of Project 333 because I didn't want to get legalistic about it. I still don't think that setting a number limit on clothes is the best plan for everyone. For me it has helped in the same way that a "desert island" game might help someone else focus on what's important to them. If I knew that I had room in my mini-closet for only a couple of dresses, what would they look like? What would I wear them for? What kind of shoes or other things would I need to wear with them? Would I need skirts too, or would pants be enough? I don't wear shorts much outside the house in the having one or two pairs is plenty for me.  I'm not as crazy about turtlenecks as I used to be; but I might try the round necklines I've always avoided. I still can't wear white, and it's not just the lights in the changing rooms. And you know what I think about black...although I caved in this Christmas and found a fake-velvet midi skirt on the dollar rack. It was headed for Lydia's closet, but she decided she didn't want it, so I wore it with sweaters over the holidays. I think I've become more open to experimentation and change, although when something is a "no," it doesn't get a second chance.
The best thing, for me, is that all this came together around the time I turned 50. Big numerals there, people. 50 is not a bad thing. 50 means you are old enough to wear what you like because you're old enough to know that you like it.
Col. Jessup: I would appreciate it if he would address me as "colonel" or "sir." I believe I've earned it.
Judge Randolph: Defense counsel will address the witness as "colonel" or "sir."
Col. Jessup[to Judge] I don't know what...kind of unit you're running here.
Judge Randolph: And the witness will address this court as "judge" or "your honor." I'm quite certain I've earned it. Take your seat, Colonel.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the number Four...

Day...three. (Part One)

Sunday's post about One
Monday's post about Two

As Schoolhouse Rock used to say, three is a magic number. Three Squirrelings. Three meals a day. The number of a current writing project. Faith, hope and love.

Three threes make up Project 333, and by an interesting coincidence we just watched the documentary Minimalism last night. Courtney Carver, the originator of Project 333, appears in the film, talking briefly about what propelled her into a more-with-less lifestyle. I've been trying to follow a Project 333 plan for the past year, so this is a good time to think about what's working, why I'm doing this, and what's ahead.
One of the people interviewed in the documentary said that the problem isn't that our culture isn't too materialistic, it's that it's not materialistic enough. She meant that we are so surrounded with so much stuff that we don't properly appreciate any of it. In the days when children's toys were expensive and scarce, a stuffed rabbit (let's say) became a cherished possession; but now (says one confessing much experience of this particular overload), decorators show us how to hang a hundred stuffies in grape-like bunches from the ceiling. I saw a photo like that yesterday, and it made me wonder where the child fit into that picture, and if he ever really noticed the toys again once they were strung up like that. I wondered if he had one or two held-back "friends" for company down below.

Deliberately limiting the number of clothes we wear is somewhat artificial, a response to a first-world problem. But it's a step towards, maybe, a healthier relationship with "stuff." Janice at The Vivienne Files is starting a no-shop year herself.  There is a lot of freedom in saying "I have enough."

This isn't a no-shop year for me; I'm still filling in some gaps, mostly for the warm weather that will eventually arrive here (said hopefully on a dreary January day). I might even do some thrift-makeover sewing if I find something interesting to work with. But I think it's going to be a year of trying to focus in, of "use it or lose it."

To be continued...

Monday, January 02, 2017

Day...two. (On garbage restrictions and making things out of nothings)

Yesterday's post about One

The number Two has a particular significance right now in terms of Stuff. In a very few weeks, our area moves to limited garbage pickup, and we will be allowed the equivalent of two fifty-pound garbage bags per week, and garbage over the limit will have to be tagged with (you guessed it) Two-dollar bag tags. Except that the idea of a fifty-pound garbage bag seems excessive, especially since they also have a rule (quite logical) that the bag has to be able to hold whatever's inside it. Right now a limited pickup seems weird and hard to get used to, but I suppose it will be like the introduction of always having to use telephone area codes from a few years back: after awhile you can't remember what it was like just to type in a seven-digit number.

So the question is not only how we are going to be able to master the art of packing and lifting fifty-pound garbage bags (says I, who have never in my life had to weigh garbage), but (more relevant) what's going or not going inside those bags. Which comes back to the questions of what we buy, what we use, how we use it, how we dispose of it. Because if we buy a thing, at some point it, or its outsides or insides, are going to be left somewhere. And obviously, the fewer things that end up in those Two bags, the better.

For us, the main alternative is going to be the Green Bin (food waste, paper napkins, pet bedding).

The second strategy is something we already try to do: use things longer and in different ways so that we don't have to buy as many new things. I am not of the school that thinks hot-gluing dried-out pens in a wreath shape makes a pretty wall decoration (if you remember a certain book review I wrote awhile ago); but I do hang onto things and try to make them work in new ways. The photo below was our not-quite completed hall decoration this Christmas (I added some red beads to the cups later on). The inner and outer glass jar parts were bought several years ago, and the bits and pieces inside the jar were a lot of absolutely useless trimmings from old thrifted candle rings. It's sitting on one of those wicker holders you use with paper plates, surrounded with pinecones cut from more candle rings, and tied with some ribbon that came on a gift. I even had the red candle in our stash. The doily and cups were inherited from Mr. Fixit's grandma.
More to the point of this post: Where Is It Now? As of yesterday, the cups, doily, and flat basket are back in the cupboard. I stored the ribbon and pinecones...maybe we'll use them again. The jar full of trimmings is also in a cupboard. I may use it as-is next Christmas, or maybe not.

The third strategy, and one that I think we may have more trouble with, is using fewer containers that have to be disposed of. Buying refill or bulk options, things like that. I like mixing my own sloppy joe and taco seasonings (and there's no package to throw away), but it's never been under coercion. We don't shop at warehouse club stores, or buy the giant economy size (especially with just three people, one guinea pig); but we may have to double-think anything that comes in a non-recyclable box.

Will the Limit of Two make much difference to the way our Treehouse runs? I'm trying to see it as a learning opportunity rather than an annoyance...and it's not like we have a choice in the matter. So stay tuned.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

There is no day of the year as focused on One, First, Beginning, as New Year's Day is. Well, the first day of school comes close, but it doesn't usually include that great big unsullied One.

Courtney Carver wrote a post six years ago called The Power of One, and she has revisited it on other posts since then. Why do we need so many multiples, extras, backups?, she asked. What if you limited certain possessions or activities to a one-and-only? Or, for things that come in sets, one set?

The all-commanding nature of a One can appeal to us, while still being sometimes unreachable or impractical. I can think of situations where a spare is not excess but common sense, or where it is an opportunity for giving. An extra sandwich in your lunch means the chance to share. Every little kid needs a backup pair of mittens. And, as in one of the last Mitford novels, you do not want to be buying toilet paper one roll at a time.

There's also the long-cherished idea of having an "everyday" and a "Sunday" or "special" whatever-it-is. In Josephine Tey's novel Daughter of Time, Mrs. Tinker makes a point of wearing her "blue" on important occasions. Some people will remember the "red plate" tradition, a way of honouring one person at a meal. Bringing out a "best" tablecloth or pair of earrings or bottle of something can be the way we mark a celebration.

However, the idea of One's Enough, at least in the everyday, gives us a chance to focus; even, perhaps, to value, cherish, practice loyalty, and see the uniqueness of our One Thing, like The Little Prince's rose. So with that in mind, here are some of my Ones.

1. One new handicraft this year. I was a book winner on Sew Mama Sew's Handmade Holidays posts, and sometime in the New Year I will be getting a copy of Sew Illustrated, a book of zakka embroidery projects. This is all new to me, but I'm game.

2.  One neighbourhood takeout pizza place, and one go-to Chinese restaurant. This saves us from having to keep track of all those coupons from other chains.

3. One general stream of ethnic food tradition: we lean towards Eastern European cooking rather than Indian or Tex-Mex or Japanese. Not that those other things aren't fun sometimes, but they all have their own must-haves in the fridge, in the cupboard, with the pots and pans. If I cooked Asian all the time, I'd want a rice cooker and probably a wok; if I made curry regularly, I'd need all the spices. I worry more about running out of sauerkraut than I do salsa.

4. One pair of blue jeans. For awhile I didn't have any, then I had one plus a backup pair that didn't fit quite as well. Now I'm back to one. Some people might call them mom jeans, but I don't care.

5. Related to #3, I have one favourite recipe for brownies, one for oatmeal cookies, one for rolls, and so on.

6. One husband. Because there is only one Mr. Fixit.

Over the next few days I will be posting about Two, Three and Four. Stay tuned.