Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #12: Christmas countdown Week 12, The Waits

One week till Christmas! Scroll down for a treat at the end.
Last week's post ended the chapter (and the book, Parents and Children). This week we go back to the poem Charlotte Mason used to open the chapter. "Waits" in much earlier times were paid civic musicians. By the nineteenth century, they were roving amateur players and singers. In this case, Christmas carollers.

The Waits!
     Slowly they play, poor careful Souls,
     With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
     Unwitting how their music rolls
     Away the burden of the year.
     And with the charm, the homely rune,
     Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given,
     When all our pulses beat in tune
     With all the stars of heaven.'

          ––JOHN DAVIDSON.

In the Spirit of Charlotte Mason:

The Scottish poet John Davidson (1857-1909) has been called "the first of the Moderns," and is said to have influenced T.S. Eliot. Davidson was the author of an 1893 book called Fleet Street Eclogues, which owed inspiration to Spenser's Shepeardes Calendar. It is a series of poems that follows a group of big-city journalists throughout one year, as they get together to drink, tell stories, and complain about the world, beginning on New Year's Day and ending on Christmas Eve. 

The version of the poem printed above does not seem to exist outside of Charlotte Mason's writings. Davidson's Eclogues were written in play format, like this:

Hush ! hark ! Without : the waits, the waits ! With brass, and strings, and mellow wood. 
A simple tune can ope heaven's gates ! 

Slowly they play, poor careful souls, 
With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
Unwitting how their music rolls 
Away the burden of the year.

And with the charm, the homely rune, 
Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given, 
When all our pulses beat in tune 
With all the stars of heaven.
But what about the thought itself? Why did Davidson's lines speak so clearly to Charlotte Mason?

As "Sandy" says, the waits are simple people who offer their gifts freely and without any children. "Basil" agrees that the music, at least for awhile, seems to restore his connection with eternal things.

These "hard-bitten" journalists, viewing the world with cynicism but also longing for a simpler, more innocent and joyful world, mirror our own time very well. The poem also adds poignancy to Charlotte Mason's words at the beginning of the chapter.

"Children necessary to Christmas Joy––In these levelling days we like to think that everybody has quite equal opportunities in some direction; but Christmas joy, for example, is not for every one in like measure. It is not only that those who are in need, sorrow, or any other adversity do not sit down to the Christmas feast of joy and thanksgiving; for, indeed, a Benjamin's portion is often served to the sorrowful. But it takes the presence of children [or waits?]to help us to realise the idea of the Eternal Child. The Dayspring is with the children, and we think their thoughts and are glad in their joy; and every mother knows out of her own heart's fulness what the Birth at Bethlehem means."
Things to do this week:
This is our last visit to the wonderful 1977 world of Family Circle Christmas Helps. The cute pair of dolls on the cover reappear in this week's "Bountiful Brunch" photo, which features Broiled Breakfast Steaks, Marbled Waffles, and Continental Fruit Compote. And that's just breakfast; "Dinner that Dazzles" takes up the next three pages.
Maybe that's what Peg Bracken meant by "full-color double-page spreads picturing what to serve on those little evenings [or Christmas mornings?] when you want to take it easy. You're flabbergasted. You wouldn't cook that much food for a combination Thanksgiving and Irish wake." (The I Hate to Cook Book, 1960)

But celebrations are important, aren't they? Certain cooking aromas in the house make things seem right and untroubled, and bring back memories of our yesteryears. Holiday food and good company can lift the spirits of even the cheeriness-ambivalent.
"One mile north of the Mitford monument, Old Man Mueller sat at his breakfast table in the unpainted house surrounded by a cornfield, and, with his dentures soaking in a jar by the bed, devoured a large portion of the cake Esther and Gene Bolick had brought him last night on Christmas Eve. He didn't have any idea why they would bring him a cake every Christmas...All he knew is, if one year they forgot and didn't show up, he'd set and bawl like a baby." [He also gave a piece to his dog.] ~~ Jan Karon, Shepherds Abiding
So to wind up this series, I have found a dessert recipe that seems the perfect way to share the season...and it's much easier than Esther's cake. You can see the whole thing at Sizzling Eats20 Minute Snowflake Cream Puffs. Go have a look, I'll wait.
You cut large snowflake shapes from prepared puff-pastry sheets; bake them; cut them in half horizontally; then fill with your choice of something nice, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This seems to be the holiday dessert with infinite possibilities, depending on your dietary needs and budget. You can make or buy gluten-free puff pastry, if that's what you need; commercial brands of puff pastry are often vegan-friendly. (Where we live, Tenderflake pre-rolled pastry now uses "simpler ingredients.") You can use whipped cream or a substitute topping; or go for some kind of mousse, lemon filling, even a scoop of frozen dessert. The sheets of pastry come pre-rolled, so kids or other helpers could cut out snowflake shapes, and also fill the baked shells. If you don't have a snowflake cutter, you could try a star, or a plain circle (or use a cardboard template for a shape you like). 

I'm also thinking that you could add a drizzle of raspberry sauce, or chocolate sauce, and some fresh berries, fancy citrus peels, or whatever you like on top.

That is what we'll be having here on Christmas Day! I'm very grateful to Sizzling Eats for posting the recipe.

And we wish you a joyous holiday season, with all the gladness and joy of the Birth at Bethlehem.

Favourite posts of 2017, #11: Christmas Countdown Week 4, Something for Everyone

First posted October 23, 2017

9 weeks until Christmas...
"The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
> But here the world's desire.)"
~~ G.K.Chesterton

Here is this week's passage from Parents and Children:

"Humility Unconscious of Self.––Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. We are able to pray, but we are hardly able to worship or to praise, to say, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord' so long as in the innermost chamber of our hearts we are self-occupied.

"The Christian Religion Objective
––The Christian religion is, in its very nature, objective. It offers for our worship, reverence, service, adoration and delight, a Divine Person, the Desire of the world. Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy. But we mistake our own needs, are occupied with our own falls and our own repentances, our manifold states of consciousness. Our religion is subjective first, and after that, so far as we are able, objective. The order should rather be objective first and after that, so far as we have any time or care to think about ourselves, subjective."
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason:

In the children's book Understood Betsy, Betsy trudges home to the farm on a late winter day, having failed a test at school. She plans to tell every gory detail to Cousin Ann, who is busy making maple syrup, because that is what she would have been expected to do in her "old life" with Aunt Frances. Cousin Ann asks her bluntly, "Do you really want to tell me all this?" Betsy says, "Um, no." Cousin Ann says, "Fine. Here's some syrup, go make some snow candy." (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

This passage moves into the idea that even being overly focused on our own sinfulness, weakness, mistakes, things we have done and things we have left undone can, in a certain sense, become tiresome, a sort of pious navel-gazing. When soul-searching becomes soul-scraping to the point that we cannot accept God's assurance of His love and forgiveness, we may no longer call it humility.

In the same way that parents are directed to provide a healthy table but to discourage children from over-noticing what they are eating ("I like, I don't like..."), they are to train children in good habits, teach them that they have a Saviour, that they certainly do sin and need to repent, but not allow too much focus on the endless stream of mistakes, too much attention-seeking for either good or bad behaviour. Would we as parents enjoy having a child who came to us constantly, needing to tell and re-tell about the failure or the quarrel or the cheating, even after the situation had been resolved? Do we chatter about ourselves (good things and bad) too much, to the Lord, to each other, or as self-talk? Do we have too many self-help books cluttering our shelves?

The goal expressed in this passage is for us to focus fully on "the beauty of the Divine Person, the Desire of mankind."

Things to do this week

Frontier Gingerbread

In the 1977 Family Circle Christmas Helps magazine that inspired this countdown, the projects suggested for "nine weeks till Christmas" include baking gingerbread, making appliqued toaster and can-opener covers (I think I'll pass), covering wooden boxes with fabric (I like those), and making sets of needlepoint coasters. Here's a page from PlanetJune (a crochet designer's blog) with photos of some crocheted but non-Christmassy coasters and other things that may inspire you. [I also mentioned the annual Handmade Holidays roundups on Sew Mama Sew, but they did not run those this year.]

If you're not a crafter, you could decide to buy handmade gifts through a fair-trade shop like Ten Thousand Villages. Or from a craft sale or a church bazaar.

If you're more into recycling, you could buy second-life crafted items from a thrift store.

And if you're a minimalist and/or live in a tiny house, maybe you will be happier just looking at photos of other people's stuff, and thinking, "So glad that's not me."

Here is the 1970's-vibe recipe for "Frontier Gingerbread" that was included in the magazine. If you prefer, you could replace the egg, or you could even try leaving it out...our usual gingerbread recipe does not have an egg in it, and it works fine.

Frontier Gingerbread

makes one large oval or one 9x9x2 inch cake


2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 cup light molasses
1 egg
1 cup hot water

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together with a wire whip in bowl. Blend the other dry ingredients into melted shortening in a large bowl. Beat in molasses and egg with wire whip. Add flour mixture alternately with hot water. Beat mixture until smooth.

Pour into a well-greased and lightly floured 10-inch oval au gratin pan or a 9x9x2 inch baking pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 minutes; or until top springs back when pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or fruit sauce, if you wish.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #10: Thankful Hodgepodge

First posted November 22, 2017

From this Side of the Pond
1. T tightly do you cling to tradition when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations? For instance do you always do the cooking, never eat at home, always go to grandma's, never miss the parade, always watch football, never change the menu, always eat at 2 PM, etc.? Have you ever celebrated Christmas or Thanksgiving away from hearth, home, and family? How did that feel?

That one's hard to answer, because over fifty-plus years of my life, and twenty-five-plus years of marriage, of course some many things have changed. This year we are in a different home, and we have given away a lot of things associated with former holidays. The thought of holding on to things lightly (even traditions) seems to be the most relevant.

But I will probably make a pan of cheater fudge for Christmas. Some things you have to hang onto.
The half-size tree we bought recently (it even came with lights)

2. H it easy for you to ask for help or are you a do-it-yourselfer? How is that a good/bad thing?

Not sure, it depends on the situation, and the help that is or isn't available.

3. A bundance...what is there an abundance of in your kitchen?

Space (compared to some apartment kitchens).

4. N ame...the smallest thing you're thankful for? the biggest?

Really, really small? Like cells and atoms?

Or a little bigger, like the bit of Velcro that Mr. Fixit stuck on the door behind where our dryer door opens, so that it doesn't hit me on the head when I pull the clothes out?

Or somewhat bigger, like a hat I crocheted last year from some free yarn Ponytails gave me to use up? I was thankful for that yesterday when the wind was blowing hard.

Jan Karon's new Mitford book. Sarah Mackenzie's interview with Katherine Paterson. Tickets to hear Steve Bell and Malcolm Guite next month.

Or much bigger, like our apartment building that means we will not have to shovel the driveway this winter?  (I also like going downstairs for the mail instead of around the block to the super-mailbox.) And the store next door, a real lifesaver. And the Chinese restaurant five minutes away, and the library about twenty minutes if you walk fast.

And there are so many other things, big and small. Clean water. People. Poetry. Clouds. Cough medicine (not me, another Squirrel). People behind desks who actually help with problems.

Which reminds me of another big thankfulness...that after several years of heart clinic visits, Mr. Fixit was recently told he doesn't need to come back, ever. He's too healthy.

(Mr. Fixit says he is also grateful for car floor mats that fit properly. If you've ever had to deal with dirty, salt-sticky towels on a car floor, you'll know why.)

5. K ey...What do you think is the key to living a more grateful life?

Having to go without something for awhile, then getting it back.

And concentrating on God's promises.

6. S tate your own random thought here

My random thoughts for this week were already posted here.

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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #2: Review of The Arts and the Christian Imagination

First posted February 20th, 2017
The Arts and the Christian Imagination Essays on Art, Literature and Aesthetics, by Clyde S. Kilby, edited by William Dyrness and Keith Call (Paraclete Press / Mount Tabor Books / ISBN 978-1-61261-861-6 / 256 pages  / Hardcover / $28.99)
Arts and the Christian Imagination
Our homeschooling community views education in the context of lifelong learning, and as part of the classical and liberal arts tradition. We recognize the value of each person as one who has been created in God's image, and who therefore shares in some of God's attributes such as the ability to imagine and create, and to form a relationship with the things that have been created. Our  curriculum includes more than normal amounts of poetry, drama, music, and art, the things that many schools would treat as frills or extras; but to us they are so vital, in the literal sense of vital meaning life-giving, that we have started referring to them as "The Riches."

Another phrase we use is "spreading the feast," as opposed to shoving things down people's throats, but which acknowledges that as human beings we do have "affinities" or natural, God-given attractions for truth and beauty. In fact, we are so out of touch with current beliefs as to insist that truth and beauty not only do exist, but that teaching them to children, and seeking after them as adults, is part of what we are called to do as Christians.

A writer and academic who agreed with that idea was Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, a longtime professor at Wheaton College, and author of The Arts and the Christian Imagination, a new collection of his writings from about fifty years ago. His essay "Christian Imagination" is also included in the older edition of Leland Ryken's collection The Christian Imagination, and appropriately enough it follows there right after C.S. Lewis's essay "Christianity and Culture." The subheadings include "The Bible: A Work of the Imagination"; "God, the Imaginer"; "The Failure of Imagination in Evangelical Christianity"; and "Learning to Live Imaginatively," and these are typical of the things he discusses throughout his work.

At one point Dr. Kilby refers to Lewis's description of a child on Easter morning who was heard to say "Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen," and he says "In our desperate evangelical desire for a clear, logical depiction of Jesus risen we have tended to remove the chocolate eggs...There is a simplicity which diminishes and a simplicity which enlarges...The first is that of the cliché-simplicity with mind and heart removed. The other is that of art...The first silently denies the multiplicity and grandeur of creation, salvation and indeed all things. The second symbolizes and celebrates them...[it] suggests the creative and sovereign God of the universe with whom there are no impossibilities."

So part of the problem of Christians making sense of the arts, besides needing more chocolate eggs, is that we may try to stick to what we call real, in the "life is real and life is earnest" sense, and forget that God's creation is full of amazement and grandeur, and although it may be fallen, it still reflects the power and beauty of its Creator. We have a feast laid out for us in Creation, and in the beautiful things that people have created in art, in music, in literature, things that are just as real as our everyday world of work, and that can give us a clearer picture of the love and holiness and power of the Father who inspired them.

The only complaint I have about the book is the almost unavoidable problem of repetition through the various essays and talks. Like any teacher, Dr. Kilby had favourite illustrations and examples which he re-used over the years, and reading the whole book in a short time might make you feel that you've been through a particular point several times already. On the other hand, exploring the collection of talks as a whole is a good way to get a sense of his most vital themes.

Well recommended for those wanting to dig deeper on the question of faith and the arts.

I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher for purposes of review, but received no other compensation. All opinions (as much as humanly possible!) are my own.

Christmas cookies: not so hard

I made most of our Christmas cookies this year at the last minute, but they all turned out. These were the easiest, but everybody seemed to like them: the quick-mix sugar cookies linked here, with a little canned frosting and coloured sprinkles in the middle. I didn't press the cookies down as directed with a sugared glass, because I knew I was going to be adding frosting; I just flattened them with my fingers. 

The frosting was squished from a Ziploc bag with the corner cut out, so that I could frost them in a little spiral shape (I don't think you can see that so well in the photo).

(That one on the edge is a mutant.)

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Make your Boxing Day shopping count

Some people are hitting the malls today, but if you're more into online shopping, you can take advantage of sales at the less-mainstream gift and clothing websites. Ten Thousand Villages is having a sale, mostly on holiday decor but also on some jewelry and home items (American site, Canadian site). Toronto's Encircled clothing company has a discount plus they're planting trees if you buy something. The StyleWise blog also has a link to discounted "ethical" accessories.

As for me, I'll wait until Friday, when I have my next volunteer morning at the thrift store.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas

"Christ, our companion, hope for the journey, bread of compassion, open our eyes.
Grant us your vision, set our hearts burning, that all creation with you may rise."

~~ Susan Palo Cherwien, "Day of Arising"
You can read the thoughts behind this picture by Linda Richardson on Malcolm Guite's blog. 

A thought as Advent ends

"In deepest night, in darkest days,
When harps are hung, no songs we raise.
When silence must suffice as praise,
Yet sounding in us quietly, there is the song of God."
~~ Susan Palo Cherwien, "In Deepest Night"

You could still make one (Towel Snowman)

Do you want to build a snowman?

This video shows you how to make one from a hand towel or large washcloth. The on-screen descriptions are in Spanish, but it doesn't matter: it's pretty clear what you need and how to do it.

Here's my snowman, made from a white hand towel, recycled scarf fabric, sticky felt eyes and buttons, and an orange felt nose glued on with just a dot of glue. The one little change I had to make was that my towel was a slightly different shape from the one in the video, so I had to fold in one end a couple of inches first. But it worked fine after that. His head is looking a little squished in the photo, but you just have to play around with it a bit to get it to puff out properly.

(Warning that should be obvious anyway: this isn't meant for very young children who eat things.)

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Quote for the day: Begin it early enough, hold it long enough

"Never before within our memory has it seemed so important to keep the Long Christmas; to begin early enough and hold the festival long enough to feel the deep, moving significance of it. For Christmas is a state of mind quite as much as a festival; and who can establish and maintain a state of mind in the rush and turmoil of a single day, or two days? Around no other time of year has been built so much of faith, of beauty…It is a time when man walks abroad in the full stature of his humanity and in the true image of God. He walks with grace, with laughter, and a great awareness of brotherhood." ~~ Ruth Sawyer, The Long Christmas (1941)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Mama Squirrel's Reading List: 2017 Apologies, 2018 Plans

Edited March 2018 to mark "read" books. ☆

I had about forty books on my 2017 reading list, and I read about seventy (including re-reads). But most of the books I read weren't the ones on the list.

Sometimes it's easier to read the ones that come into my hands than it is to make a point of ordering or borrowing others. And needs change (i.e. suddenly desperately needing books about downsizing).

So, this year I have 45 books so far on the to-read list. Six of them are have-to-reads, because I will be taking courses that include them. There are also some really- hope-to-find, really-hope-to-reads, including a few from last year's list. And there are some that just sound interesting.

(The links are from GoodReads.)

Required Reading

Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty
Barkley, Elizabeth F.

Facilitating with Ease!
Bens, Ingrid

The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom
Brookfield, Stephen D.

Planning Instruction for Adult Learners
Cranton, Patricia

Designing Effective Instruction, 7th Edition
Morrison, Gary R.
The Purposes of Adult Education: An Introduction
Other Education Books

Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty, and Truth
Scott, A.O.

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer

Style: Toward Clarity and Grace Style: Toward Clarity and Grace ☆

Things I Would Just Like to Read

The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood
The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A Walk Through the Forest that Inspired the Hundred Acre Wood
Aalto, Kathryn 


The Culture We Deserve
Time and Free Will Time and Free Will
Bergson, Henri
(Downloaded free from
What Are People For?
The Music of the Republic: Essays on Socrates' Conversations and Plato's Writings

The Remarkable Ordinary: How to Stop, Look, and Listen to Life

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself
Hornstein, Gail A.

The Weight of Glory

The Irrational Season(Crosswicks Journals, #3)
Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel's Messiah
You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit

The Ethics of Evangelism
Townsend, John

Ideas Have Consequences
Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks

Quote for the day: Which do you think?

"He wondered whether the inveterate reader runs for a book when it snows, or if snow itself is entertainment enough." ~~ Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

When morning gilds the skies (Solstice Sunrise)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A stretched-out applesauce cake

We've been making this since the days of the Grocery Cart Challenge Blog. Here's the recipe.
Baked in a slow cooker, this cake turns out small, round and fragrant with cloves and cinnamon.
But it also works in a long, thin baking pan, or other cake pan, or muffin tins. (Photo of today's cake)
Happy eating.

Quote for the day: Why not to fight at Christmas dinner

"What can we give Him this Christmas?  I think one thing in our lives that would bring Him great joy was to bring peace into the fellowships in which we find ourselves...Not everyday, mind you.  For God does call us at times to stand our ground and to be His salt and light to the world.  There are those whom He ordains to forge Truth in a dark world.  But during these days ahead, when families are surrounding the dinner table, we can give Him the gift of bringing peace to the Season." ~~ Brenda at Coffee, Tea, Books, and Me, "Sunday Afternoon Tea - Silent Night"

From the archives: A non-stupid Christmas

First posted December 2009; edited slightly.

The one thing I've noticed about typical Christmas celebrations is that there are very few typical Christmas celebrations...especially among those whose Christian beliefs have played a larger-than-normal part in how they celebrate. (Think about the irony of that...) Or don't. Sometimes that makes for very surprising variations--devout Christians who don't "do" Christmas at all, or those who celebrate Christmas for fun but don't pretend it's the birth of Jesus, or those who plan the whole thing as a big birthday party for Jesus, or who celebrate the Old Testament holidays in the autumn, or those whose Christmas does center around church but who also include secular customs like Santa and stockings.

And then there are the Charlie Browns who are just tired of the "whole commercial racket," wish the whole thing was over, and take everybody to the beach for Christmas.

I'm thinking about something we saw a bit of on TV once called "Christmas Confidential," about the dreadful holiday excesses and National-Lampoon-style house decorations and inflatable nativity scenes and spangled office-party outfits (makeup to match) and Santa Claus bikinis and church performances with more cast members than a small town and people stampeding at shopping malls and food, food, food...

All that seems kind of far removed from our Crayons' excursion to the thrift shop (everybody got tiny stuffed toys, figurines, and Mama Squirrel got a bell that she's threatening to ring for school time)...or the bead bracelet that Ponytails made me...or the Voskamps' "praying to be a womb for God" around a wooden Nativity spiral...or Bread and Honey's musings on "Pretending to be Mary." Or families who give just one present apiece (because they have ten children), or three presents (because that's what Jesus got), or no presents. 

Or from the reality of those who are having very quiet holidays (or barely noticed them) because of family griefs, illnesses and other stresses. Or people who have to work on Christmas or who are exhausted from the last week behind a cash register or a shampoo chair. 

The fact that we barely set foot in a shopping mall this past month doesn't make our Christmas any holier than anybody else's. It's an everybody-makes-their-own-choices kind of culture now anyway...and I guess in some ways that's good, it means that the Neighbourhood Decorating Committee isn't going to harass us about our lack of lights, and it means that it's okay to have frozen green beans with Christmas dinner instead of that thing with the french fried onions. Who's going to tell? But I will continue to plug for a non-stupid Christmas.

Whatever that means to you.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

From the archives: Making it do, when it's not what you ordered

First posted January 2007. Slightly edited, and the links have been removed...eleven years is a long time!

Make It Do has always been one of my favourite topics. Except that the phrase Make It Do sounds a bit grim, like Grin and Bear It. I prefer the Common Room's question, "What Do You Have In Your Hand?" Or in your cupboard...or on your bookshelf. What DO we have in this camp kitchen to feed the two vegetarians? (I talked the cook into putting some of the soup into another pot before he added meat.) What can we do with all this coloured telephone wire in the craft room? (Braided bracelets for eighty campers.) 

What's In Your Hand is Ma Ingalls and blackbird pies. It's popsicle sticks and Cheerios for math, and teaching phonics with a pile of old Highlights magazines. It's all those recipes invented to use up things like rhubarb that really don't taste so good on their own. (OK, I know there are people who chew on raw rhubarb...) It's how we once taught Sunday School in a un-child-friendly college classroom: we stuck pictures up with Stick-tack and took them down again every week, brought old couch cushions to sit on and our own toys to play with, and let the kids colour at the adult-sized tables. And they did manage fine without mini-sized chairs.

Use Your Creativity is about surprise and discovery, instead of just "I suppose I can make do with it." It's Athena-in-a-Minivan's kids retelling stories with Playmobil. It's Ponytails' coloured-pencil drawing to go with Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave. It's Homeschool Radio Shows' Fourth Annual Make-Your-Own-Radio-Show Contest. It's Meredith's closet makeover and tree-frog-painted table. It's two balls of Dollarama yarn that got turned into one pair of slippers (for Crayons), a dolly hat and scarf, and a couple of hair scrunchies. (You couldn't buy all that even at Dollarama for the two dollars the yarn cost.)

Make It Do is combining two or more parts to make something better than a whole. Instead of waiting for the perfect thing to arrive, the perfect homeschool curriculum to be written, or our body to revert to the perfect size, we use what's there. Can we use it a little differently? Do we need to adapt, go faster/slower, make it more challenging, skip the questions or tests, include more hands-on activities? Or should we use just the best part of it?

We're using a not-perfect curriculum for math; but it doesn't matter that it doesn't cover everything, because there are lots of ways to learn the things that it doesn't include, and it's kind of interesting having a break from the same workbook all the time anyway. Combining resources for homeschool science can make a stronger overall program than trying to pick one perfect textbook or study guide. We just got an Astronomy book for next year's school--but we also have an old [Educational Insights] Sky Science experiment kit and several books about the solar system, so we'll combine what we have.

And Make It Do is finding new ways to use what you already have. Cutting holes into the bottom edges of a cereal box is one surefire way of getting kids to notice long-neglected marbles (you shoot them at the holes). You can use wooden blocks to build temporary furniture for plastic trolls. You can learn new rules for cards, checkers, or dominoes.

Not what you ordered? Not just what you hoped for? Make it do. And have fun.

Holiday clothes can be green (and thrifted), if the camera cooperates

The camera on my tablet has a problem with greens and blues, so this sweater is showing up slightly more blue than it is in real life. Let's just call it teal.
Openwork tunic-length teal sweater, a last-minute find at the thrift store. (Tank top underneath.) Scarf which just happens to match, thrifted awhile ago. Charcoal-grey jeggings, bought two years ago.

This kind of sweater isn't one to keep you toasty on a how-many-degrees-below kind of day. But it's fun for dressing up when you don't want a dress.