Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Seventeen years of Treehouse talk

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Minimalism: sometimes it's hard to count on

I've said before that my "second Bible" during our early married life was the 1990's Tightwad Gazette. Amy Dacyczyn wrote about her life as a dedicated yard-saler, stuff-stretcher, dupe-it-yourself-er, and occasional do-without-er. She described her wardrobe at the time as consisting of three pairs of jeans (this year's, last year's, and the year before's), and three pairs of sneakers (ditto).Like Amy, I have a mostly-casual lifestyle, so for a long time, I was pretty happy to follow suit. Or rather, jeans. If it came along, fit more or less, and was cheap enough, I would probably wear it. (I drew the line at mustard and orange.)

A couple of years ago, after a period of too much black stuff, I dumped almost everything and started from scratch. I also noticed the growing trend towards minimalism of all kinds. Japanese. Ecological. Inner-peaceful. What that meant for me was zeroing in on a few clothes I really liked and that fit, rather than trying to deal with my previous thrifted and freebie mishmash.

The funny part was that, once I started looking a little harder at my favourite thrift stores, I kept finding stuff I liked. (Was it all there before? I don't know.) Following the Project 333 tiny-wardrobe plan, plus our move to a smaller space, helped to keep a limit on what was hanging in the closet. But I wasn't sure if I could or should aspire to Courtney Carver's level of non-self-consciousness about clothes. (Been there, done that.) It's possible to say that time spent shopping and figuring out what to wear is, essentially, time wasted, because (Courtney asserts) nobody really notices or cares what you wear. But for me, that negative side of minimalism feels like the equivalent of "nobody notices what you cook" (well, sometimes that's true), or "nobody cares what you say." Why bother?

I find it to be the other way around. I think about and enjoy what I'm wearing, the texture of a corduroy skirt, the shade of a scarf, the way my boots fit. I like the furniture and art that we've arranged in our apartment, the flowered teapot we found on an antiquing trip, my grandfather's little chair, the doily a friend crocheted, Mr. Fixit's electronic works-in-progress spread on the table. I like the poetry books, including Wendell Berry's Sabbath poems that I found for sale along with beeswax candles and essential oils in the "hemp cafe." (I bought the book and a vegan brownie, left the rest.) I like the unexpectedness of late corn on the cob from the farm stand, and the bowl of red grapes that's waiting for dessert tonight.

My conclusion is that sometimes I just like to bother. I am happier bothering. The mistake would be if I counted on clothes, food, or other stuff to fill the empty places. Or if I started keeping score of compliments, or worrying about negative remarks.

And for that reason, I decided two things. First, I pulled out my few extra non-capsule clothes, and added them to the closet where they can be responsible for any bouts of wardrobe indecision I may incur as a result. (I'm not too worried.) Second, I won't be posting a new clothes page for the winter. I feel like I've barely gotten started wearing the fall clothes, and anyway I don't own any others to rotate them with. Snow boots, maybe, but that's it.

So: fewer numbers, less planning, at least for the next few months. Less guilt if I add in a thrifted sweater or two (I could actually use one), or wear a top I thought I wouldn't see for awhile. A little more freedom to I won't have to bother.

Friday, October 27, 2017

From the archives: Picture talk on Titian

First posted October 2014. Lydia was thirteen, doing AO Year 8.

A Teacher's Notes for Titian's "Equestrian Portrait of Charles V" (also called "Emperor Charles V on Horseback" or "Charles V at Mühlberg.")  (Lesson adapted from this Parents' Review Article by K.M. Claxton, 1915.)

1.  Ask the student what she knows about Titian. 

Possible answers:  Titian was the greatest painter of 16th-century Venice.  He was believed to have lived to be 100, but he was more likely about 90 years old when he died. He painted religious art and portraits of princes and emperors all over Europe.

2.  What is the painting?  
Created between April and September 1548 while Titian was at the imperial court of Augsburg, it is a tribute to Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, following his victory in the April 1547 Battle of Mühlberg against the Protestant armies. (Wikipedia article)
3. Who was Charles V?  See "Subject" in this article from The Guardian (really useful). 

4. The history of the picture:  
Some sources say that Titian was the official court painter for Charles V., but he seems to have had a special freedom to travel and to paint other subjects, and he is described as almost more of a personal friend of the Emperor.  Read this passage from Titian's Portraits through Aretino's Lens, by Luba Freedman: "Certainly Titian was not the only artist ever to have been admitted to the court and to have become a favourite of rulers, but his close relationship with the emperor was unusual for the time...Aretino opines that this privilege was bestowed on Titian not only because of his talent in painting but also because of his virtuous agent of the Duke of Urbino..also reported that Titian had become the august favourite and even had a room near the emperor so he could converse privately with his patron. That this privilege was exceptional can be seen in a letter of Nov 10, the skeptical Giovanni Della Casa: “Messer Titian has spent a long time with His Imperial Majesty painting his portrait, and seems to have had plenty of opportunities to talk with him, while he was painting and so on"...In thinking about the relationship between Titian and Charles V, one should keep in mind...that he had priority over most persons in attendance upon the emperor, for he was an independent citizen of the Venetian Republic, and as such served Charles only by special invitation. Titian was in no sense a court painter dependent on imperial favor. His independence may have played a part in his unique approach to portraying the emperor."

5.  After studying the picture for several minutes, the student describes it out loud. 
6.  Then we read a few appreciative words on the life and energy displayed, on the beauty of the forms, and on the beautiful shading of the picture.

"The portrait in part gains its impact by its directness and sense of contained power: the horse's strength seems just in check, and Charles' brilliantly shining armour and the painting's deep reds are reminders of battle and heroism." (Wikipedia article)  See also the "Distinguishing Features" section of the article from The Guardian. I especially like the part about "Charles V rides out of the woods, across a sweeping landscape, in front of one of Titian's most unforgettable skies..." 

7.  The student draws the chief lines of the composition.

8. A final note:  Titian's seventeenth-century biographer Carlo Ridolfi recounts an anecdote concerning their relationship..."It is told of Titian that while he was painting the portrait, he dropped a brush, which the emperor picked up, and bowing low, Titian declared: 'Sire, one of your servants does not deserve such an honour.' To this Charles replied: 'Titian deserves to be served by Caesar.'"  Pierre-Nolasque Bergeret painted this scene in 1808 ("Charles V Picking Up Titian's Paintbrush"). (Quote and painting found here.)

Thursday, October 26, 2017

How's that simplicity going? (An update of sorts)

Have you ever heard that quote from the senior citizen (sometimes it's attributed to a man, sometimes a woman) who said "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits?"

Last weekend I was at the L'Harmas (Charlotte Mason) retreat, and the word "simplicity" came up in one of the talks: not as a question of how many wooden spoons and pairs of shoes you have, or what you wrap your avocados in, but more as a contemplative, even agrarian, old/new set of values; something that people are looking for but not finding. The title of a much-maligned expensive magazine comes to mind.

The idea of a retreat implies slowing down, unplugging, renewing. At L'Harmas, we often find ourselves asked to slow down in ways that are out of our "ordinary." If we're homeschoolers, we might be used to reading poems to our children, or showing them how to do a craft; but it feels different, even uncertain somehow, to have someone asking us, the grownups, to try Swedish drill. Or to have someone read a poem just for us, or show us how to needle-felt with those scary-looking barbed needles. Yes, I know needle-felting has been popular for ages, but some of us have never tried it (preferring our nice safe crochet hooks).

Or (at last year's L'Harmas), singing The Gypsy Rover, learning about ladybugs in greenhouses, and making a paper box, Sloyd-style.

To hear something different, to try something new, we have to slow down, listen to the words or the instructions, make our hands, voices, or bodies do something they don't normally do. We re-discover a place where the reading, the making, the singing come from our own initiative. This is the complete opposite of pushing a button or clicking an icon.

Those are the things I bring back from such a time away. Where do they lead?

Since returning, I've also sat in a church workshop on conservative Mennonite choral traditions, watched clouds from our balcony, spent a morning sorting books at the thrift store, baked a new/old gingerbread recipe, thrifted a cardigan, put away a few last summer clothes, picked up bananas and chocolate rolls at the discount store (because I can walk there), hand-washed my sweaters, and thought through the counting-clothes, capsule wardrobe problem again. (Post coming on that.) Tomorrow night will be our local Charlotte Mason study night; we're working through School Education.

I have been listening to a CD of hymns and the radio jazz station, and discussing retirement finances with Mr. Fixit. We have an at-home daughter doing late-night essays and wondering what to wear for Halloween, and grown-up Squirrelings dealing with work, sick pets, and other life issues.

I'm reading a book by Madeleine L'Engle where she muses on a similar variety of this-is-life happenings. In the first chapter, she's awake in the middle of the night, watching out the window, listening to the night sounds. Sometimes that's the best place to find quiet and think about simplicity.

Some of the minimalist writers are big on saying No. I would like to turn it around and say more Yes. Yes, I can come help. Yes, that thrifted purse would look nice with a dress.Yes, I'll make time to read that book. Yes, I will talk to someone instead of doing something else that I thought was going to be important (and it wasn't). Yes, I will try that new thing.

Because simplicity allows us to refuse, but also to choose. And Yes can be a good choice.

Morning view, with balloon (photo)

That little speck is a hot-air balloon. Who takes a balloon up at 8:30 in the morning? We can only guess.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Mixing it up

From this Side of the Pond

1. What's surprised you most about your life or life in general? 

To go with a cliche, how fast it goes. Also how long some things (material things, friendships, circumstances) last, and not always the ones you'd expect. I made gingerbread this morning from a 1977 magazine recipe, in a plastic mixing bowl Mr. Fixit's mother gave him when he moved out from home. I used vintage measuring spoons of his grandma's, a recent-vintage silicone scraper, and a 25-year-old Pyrex measuring cup; and I baked it in a pan we got free this year with a pair of new cookie sheets.

2.  Sweet potato fries, sweet potato casserole, a baked sweet potato, a bowl of butternut squash soup, a caramel apple or a slice of pumpkin have to order one thing on this list right now. Which one do you go for?

Any of them except the caramel apple: too sticky.

3. What's a famous book set in your home state? Have you read it? On a scale of 1-5 (5 is fantastic) how many stars does it rate?

How about Lucy Maud Montgomery's The Blue Castle, I think her only novel set in Ontario? Those who love it would give it multiple stars.
Valancy got her John Foster book--Magic of Wings. "His latest--all about birds," said Miss Clarkson. She had almost decided that she would go home, instead of going to see Dr. Trent. Her courage had failed her. She was afraid of offending Uncle James--afraid of angering her mother--afraid of facing gruff, shaggy-browed old Dr. Trent, who would probably tell her, as he had told Cousin Gladys, that her trouble was entirely imaginary and that she only had it because she liked to have it... Valancy slammed the magazine shut; she opened Magic of Wings. Her eyes fell on the paragraph that changed her life.

"Fear is the original sin," wrote John Foster. "Almost all the evil in the world has its origin in the fact that some one is afraid of something. It is a cold, slimy serpent coiling about you. It is horrible to live with fear; and it is of all things degrading."
Image result for montgomery the blue castle
This is the cover of the edition I first read in the 1970's

4. There are 60 days until Christmas...have you started your shopping? How do you stay organized for the holidays?

No, I haven't bought any gifts or other holiday things, except for a nativity silhouette we bought in the summer from Ten Thousand Villages.

5. October 26th is National Tennessee Day. Have you ever lived or spent any time in Tennessee? Is this a state you'd like to visit one day? The top rated tourist attractions in Tennessee are-

The Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Gatlinburg area), Elvis's Graceland (Memphis), Birth of the Music Biz (Memphis and Nashville), Dollywood (Pigeon Forge), Tennessee's Military Heritage (many battlefields), The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson's home), The Parthenon (Nashville), Oak Ridge American Museum of Science and Energy, Chattagnooa and the Tennessee Valley Railroad, Downtown Knoxville, Lookout Mountain, The Titanic Museum (Pigeon Forge), The Museum of Appalachia (Clinton), and The Lost Sea Adventure (Sweetwater)

How many on this list have you seen? Which one on the list would you most like to see?

My family stayed at a KOA campground in Tennessee, when I was ten, on our way to Florida. Elvis was still alive and living in his house, and Dollywood didn't exist. That's all I remember!

6.  Insert your own random thought here.

Can I make an unsolicited plug for the digital Simplify Magazine? For any digital magazine (it seems) to last more than a couple of issues is a good sign, and they're already working on the third. It's enjoyably diverse, occasionally even unexpected, and well written.

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

Making gingerbread (photos)

 Here's the Frontier Gingerbread I posted about earlier. It's good, not too sweet, and the mustard powder seems to blend well with the other spices. (You're not wondering why the gingerbread tastes like mustard.)
Here's the 1977 magazine with the recipe.

As the clouds roll by (photo from the balcony)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

From the archives: What books freaked you out?

First posted April 2013

Little kids read a monster book and then hide under the bed, right?

Well, sometimes the monsters follow you the rest of your life...or you acquire new ones as an adult. What irrational (or quite rational) worries have you acquired as a result of reading?  Have any of them ever kept you from making mistakes?

Tiny Little Medical Problems:  I've been paranoid of splinters ever since reading On Tide Mill Lane.  Wouldn't you be?  

Bad salmon:  Flight into Danger, required reading in grade five or six.
Bad whipped cream:  A Cap for Mary Ellis.

Leaving things too close to light bulbs:  The Saturdays.

Creepy old houses, not to mention reading under the covers:  The Letter, the Witch, and the Ring.  You wouldn't believe how badly that book scared me one cured me of after-hours reading for some time. 

Running with scissors:  The title, I can't remember; but it was a Parents' Magazine Press book from about 1970, about safety rules.  A bit like Struwwelpeter although not so extreme.  One little raccoon "liked to cut paper dolls, she snipped away happily singing" until she heard a friend's bicycle bell ringing--and ran with scissors, to what end exactly we're not sure. [Oh, look at that: I just found the title.  Watch Out! How to Be Safe and Not Sorry, by Harold Longman.]

Teasing Weasels:  if the opportunity ever came up.

Books finished July to October 2017

Favourite book read since July:

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
Guinness, Os


Books, Children and Men
Hazard, Paul

The Abolition of Man
Lewis, C.S.

A Touch of the Infinite: Studies in Music Appreciation with Charlotte Mason
Hoyt, Megan Elizabeth

Pretty interesting:

Christian's Children: The Influence of John Bunyan's the Pilgrim's Progress on American Children's Literature
MacDonald, Ruth K.

Could have left at the library:

What to Wear for the Rest of Your Life: Ageless Secrets of Style
Gross, Kim Johnson

And the rest:

A World Lost (a short novel about his character Andy Catlett)
Berry, Wendell

Slave to Fashion (about the movement to create justice in the fashion industry)
Minney, Safia

Precious Lord, Take My Hand: Meditations for Caregivers
Beach, Shelly

Revolution in World Missions
Yohannan, K.P.

Little Women (Little Women, #1) (re-read)
Alcott, Louisa May

The Man in the Queue
Tey, Josephine

Organize Tomorrow Today: 8 Ways to Retrain Your Mind to Optimize Performance at Work and in Life
Selk, Jason

Sunday, October 15, 2017

From the archives: Are you doing it wrong?

First posted April 2010

Training your memory is not just a trick for winning baby-shower games, but a habit of mind, taught carefully from a young age. The power of observation is not a unique gift, but a trained power, developed and strengthened with constant use. Along with training in obedience and attention, it makes up a large part of CM’s early-years curriculum. How did Charlotte Mason’s older students get so much done in a school day that ended early and didn’t require homework? They had trained their brains to pay attention the first time, bringing their whole minds to bear on something, visualizing the historical scene or the spelling word, repeating it back, and also retaining it because the next lesson would follow from that one, linking back to the last. The brainwork here was the student’s; he was taught that he could do it, starting small and working up. Charlotte Mason said, “Give an instant’s undivided attention to anything whatsoever, and that thing will be remembered.”

This is what narration is—visualizing, remembering, and telling back either orally or in writing. It is not parroting, or "getting up a lesson" as Laura Ingalls used to do for her mother; it is retelling with understanding. Narration can be written, oral, or done as a combination with a child who is just starting to tell back in writing; and it can be done right after hearing or reading something, or slightly delayed like hearing a story on Friday and then being asked to write a narration on Monday (we have read that this was done in PNEU schools after a Shakespeare reading, later in the 20th century, and we can guess that it was also done that way in earlier years); or it can be done after a bit of time has gone by such as in term exams.

Back to the educational instruments, the three allowable and effective tools for teaching: the last one is the presentation of living ideas. "Give your child a single valuable idea, and you have done more for his education than if you had laid upon his mind the burden of bushels of information." Do I need to say more than that about it? That's all, but that's all.

And if all that habit training and visualizing sound too bewildering and overwhelming when all you’re looking for is what to do for reading and math and how to keep the littler ones out of mischief, Charlotte Mason has some encouragement:

Wise letting alone is the chief thing asked of them…every mother has in Nature an all-sufficient handmaid, who arranges for due work and due rest of mind, muscles, and senses.

These ideas are supposed to free us from some of the anxiety we naturally feel about having all this responsibility for our children’s upbringing and education. You have given them some skills, they have more of their own; let them use them. Parents are not to butt in on play but allow children, as much as possible, to get wet sometimes, dirty, tired, maybe even injured—taking a reasonable risk, but allowing them to grow. The leisurely part of CM is, partly, being able to back off.

“…..A little guiding, a little restraining, much reverent watching, Nature asks of us; but beyond that, it is the wisdom of parents to leave children as much as may be to Nature, and ‘to a higher Power than Nature itself.”
"Nature will look after [a child] and give him promptings of desire to know many things; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the way; and to be many things, naughty and good, and somebody should give direction…The busy mother says she has no leisure to be that somebody, and the child will run wild and get into bad habits; but we must not make a fetish of habit; education is a life as well as a discipline."

In other words: CM = Get a Life.

Here is a checklist for leisurely homeschooling—yes, that means You. The philosophy of leisure and the need for an un-anxious, positive atmosphere applies to the teacher too.

If you’re coercing or yelling or threatening, you’re probably doing it wrong.

If you’re spending too much time marking workbooks or cutting things out for the children to paste, you’re doing it wrong.

If you keep switching math curriculums, trying to find the perfect one, you’re probably doing it wrong.

If you’re explaining too much...

If you’re worrying that your kids haven’t mastered sentence diagramming by grade 2...

If you’re pushing your kids to narrate in front of Grandma...

If you never get out of the children’s room at the library...

If you’re worrying too much about this checklist…you’re probably doing it wrong.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Friday the 13th is a lucky day...

...for thrifting. After a morning spent pricing and shelving books, this is what came home.
Three books (I gave in and bought a few)
One necklace
One bird plaque with a hook. We hung it by the door of the apartment, as a hat-or-whatever hook.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Frugal Finds and Fixes: All You Really Need

Fixing: Mr. Fixit is fixing a vintage electric watch. It was apparently never used, but it doesn't run, so he's doing some diagnostics to find out why. Making it work may be a lost cause; the little mechanism that moves the balance wheel is jammed, and the watch is so small that it's "brain surgery on a beaver"; but it was worth a try.

Frugal: We closed out our storage unit, to save the cost of the rent. The Christmas tree and some decorations went to the thrift store; the rest of the decorations, we were able to fit into a bin in our apartment storage room/pantry. Everything else was also assimilated into our space here. To make a bit of extra space, we have been digitizing old snapshots; and it turned out that we had doubles or triples of many of them (from the good old days when you sent your photos off to be processed).

Economical, if not frugal: The common-area barbecues at our building are now stored for the season. Mr. Fixit did a little searching, and found out that we're allowed to have a small electric grill on the balcony. So we bought one. It doesn't look much bigger than a waffle iron, but it's enough to cook a couple of burgers or some chicken. It's also easy to clean and store, which is good (I wouldn't like to be dumping ashes off the balcony).

More frugal than the alternatives: I wanted to bake some egg-free, dairy-free cupcakes, but most of the recipes I found called for alternative milks and egg replacers, none of which I had. Even our favourite Small Chocolate Cake calls for an egg, and I'm not sure it would work to leave it out. Then I found this vinegar-oil version (like Wacky Cake), and made a panful of those. Ignore the occasional negative reviews there: I just followed the recipe, and they turned out fine.

Fun: Lydia was playing around with Duolingo, so I got a free account and started brushing up old languages.

Frugal: I had been looking at thrift stores for a pair of flat shoes, with no success. I need something with a lot of toe, so ballet flats don't work. Last weekend, we found ourselves near a shoe outlet and decided to look there. Someone pointed us to the back of the store, where the last-pairs and other oddments were priced even lower than the rest. Miraculously, there was one pair, in a colour and size and style I liked. I showed them to an offspring, who said "um hmm, Sensible Shoes." But they do look better on, and they're comfortable.
Frugal: In the past couple of weeks, I have thrifted a shirt, a dressy dress, a belt, a card-making kit, some notepaper, and an animal-print scarf. I'm looking for a farmhouse-style tiered tray, for a holiday decoration, but haven't found one yet.

Fun: So, you want to know why I've been hanging out at the thrift store so much? I have been sorting books there, two mornings a week, and I usually take a quick look around the store before I leave. Notice that I have not been buying books.

The finer things in life: The children at church on Sunday were asked what things people need most to live. The five-year-old said clothes, food, air. The three-year-old said "salad dressing."

And that's it for this round.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What's for supper? --post-Thanksgiving

Nothing so original; we were mainly going for ease and retro here.

Turkey leftovers cooked in mushroom soup with canned green chilies and paprika

Chocolate cupcakes

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Quote for the day: here is a tough one

"No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform...When a Roman father told his son that it was a sweet and seemly thing to die for his country, he believed what he said. He was communicating to the son an emotion which he himself shared and which he believed to be in accord with the value which his judgement discerned in noble death...[this was] men transmitting manhood to men." ~~ C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man