Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Shopping my Closet: Briars, Brambles, and Dogwood

My last wardrobe update was supposed to last through May, but the weather has changed. Other things have changed. I decided to make a change.

This is a small wardrobe for not going anywhere much, because none of us are going anywhere much. It's maybe what Janice at The Vivienne Files would call a 4 x 4 (about sixteen pieces of clothing, not counting accessories).
Inspiration: "Bramble," from The Lost Wordsby Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (illustrator). Postcard from L'Harmas 2019.


Lightweight magenta cardigan and white t-shirt (thrifted). Floral scarf from Ten Thousand Villages.
Navy zippered sweatshirt, light green tank top, greenish-grey pants (all thrifted. All the clothes included are thrifted unless otherwise noted.)
Mix and match.
Denim lyocell shirt, off-white cardigan, same pants 
Here's the shirt.
Here's the cardigan.
Same cardigan with a spring dress.
Here's the dress.
Grey t-shirt dress with ruched side, which isn't photographing very well (it's not that dark). Scarf from Ten Thousand Villages.
Closer-up view.
Pink shirt, blue jeans, silk scarf with birds (from an antique market, but not an antique)
Blue pullover with jean fringe (thrifted)
Teal cotton oversized pullover. (Leggings for Staying Home not shown.)
Pink sleeveless top
Blue-gray t-shirt, short sleeves 
Teal faux-leather jacket

(Not shown: denim jacket)


Watch-necklace that one of my daughters re-gifted to me (so I guess that's shopping her closet).
Green earrings
Bracelet made by friend
Purse, even though it's staying on the shelf mostly.(thrifted)
Another purse I have not had even one chance to use yet (thrifted)
Leather brooch from an antique market. I don't know what the flower is, but I'm going for dogwood, even though the extra loopy things might mean it's something else.. Dogwood is symbolic for Christians in two different ways: it represents the hope of resurrection, and also strength (because the wood of the dogwood tree was so strong it was used to make weapons, or dags, which is probably the origin of the word). Hope and strength are two things everybody needs right now.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It: Between the Bookends

I just finished reading Fashionopolis, by Dana Thomas, a look at the not-so-great history of the fashion industry, its current problems, and some bright lights of both old and new technologies that could make a difference to the future of our planet. In the book, one of the people interviewed referred to production issues as "bookends": that is, the twin problems of where things such as fabrics come from and how they're processed; and where they eventually end up. If you're involved in that industry, or a similar one (as a company owner, as a designer, whatever), you have to address both those questions. Where are your materials coming from? Are they wastefully produced, or sourced in a way that hurts people or the planet? And will they eventually languish in a landfill or pollute the oceans? As consumers, where do we fit into that picture? How responsible are we for keeping things responsible? Should every pair of socks, pack of markers, and jar of coffee inspire another round of shame?

I'm not going to write about clothes this week (stay tuned for that later). But I have one thought that might be useful during a time when a) we might not be buying a lot of new things, for whatever reasons, and b) we might also not be disposing of things quite as fast. I'm not assuming anything: this might not be your experience at all. If your time is very much not your own right now (say if you're trying to work from home and take care of kids or other people at the same time, or if you're working outside the home and still have to juggle things like childcare and laundry amidst other worries), you are now thoroughly sick of hearing how this is the time to be "cozy," clean out your closets, and read all the books you haven't had time for. You might feel like the harassed mother in Ramona and Her Father whose hopes of getting treated to a burger out are suddenly downgraded to what's in the fridge: leftover cauliflower and last weekend's roast. Not much scope for creativity there (although I've always thought she might have been able to make a pretty good soup with the cauliflower). If so, please just work on getting through it, and I hope things go smoother soon. And use whatever tools you can to help: slow cooker or instant pot, grocery deliveries, a special bag of quiet toys for conference calls...

But for some of us, this is a chance to focus not on the bookend questions (though they're important), but on the midlife existence of the stuff we already have.

We might be short on certain supplies. We may not be able to get everything we want, much less to go anywhere we want to get it. We may be using an older thing that we had hoped to replace. However, most of us have. Did you ever do the old two-pennies-for-every-light-bulb fundraiser at church or at school? The point of that wasn't just to raise pennies, but to remind us: by and large, we have. You know the gratitude drill, I don't have to spell it out.

To use Marie Kondo's inner-life-of-things philosophy, this is the time to wake up the lonely, neglected pieces of our material world already in our homes: the things we've already sourced (so that cost has already been paid), and those that, in the dump-it-all-off world that existed even a month ago, might have already been on their way to oblivion. But as my thrift-store-volunteer t-shirt says, you can't throw it away: there is no away. And at this point you can't even take whatever it is to the thrift store: ours, at least, is closed for the duration.

So leave the bookends aside for the time being, and concentrate on what's on the shelf or otherwise already in your life, especially things that could help somebody else. Although I draw the line at virus amigurumi, there is definitely a use in some areas for donations of homemade face masks, if you have a sewing machine, elastic, and suitable fabric. And this should be obvious, but the need for all the other sorts of loving-others crafts and giving hasn't ended: preemies still need hats, kids in crisis still need teddies, people in care homes still need lap robes. In my area, the Mennonite Central Committee Material Resources group packs overseas relief and school kits in home-sewn drawstring bags (instructions are on their website). At this time, they're only working with previously-donated items, but sooner or later they're going to be back in business and needing more. I assume it's the same with the other places that ask for handmade items.

Some people are sending homemade cards and calligraphy by mail. Photographers are taking family pictures from across the street. Any care you can show by mail (when it can get through) is welcome.

And that's as far as I can go, because I don't know what's between your bookends. But whatever you can find: give it a chance.

Worst online advertising I've seen this week

"Staying at home for awhile? Take this time to fix your saggy, loose skin."

My response:

Friday, March 27, 2020

Sing along with Fred

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It: Toads, Butterflies, and Notebooks

Before all This Stuff broke loose, I was trying to do a couple of new things. I had splurged on a spiral-bound notebook divided into blank, lined, and dot-paper sections, to try out bullet journaling. (One of the only dot-paper books I could find at Walmart.)  I even had some flowered washi tape to make things pretty. But when things started getting closed and cancelled, my "weekly" and "daily" notes went up in smoke. "Do Laundry" did not seem to merit the same use of paper as "CM Study Night." Scheduling "Work on Computer" every day also seemed pointless.
I was also trying to begin a Hundred Days of Keeping notebooking routine (started by Laurie Bestvater). I made a few entries, including this one from Freedom of Simplicity, by Richard J. Foster, which quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I'll transcribe it below):
"To be simple is to fix one's eye solely on the simple truth of God at a time when all concepts are being confused, distorted, and turned upside down."

Well, Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew something about times like that. But I didn't know then how true it would be for this year.

I also didn't know how hard it was going to be to keep up all those new notebook entries. (My hundred days turned out to be about six.) I had about as much success concentrating on that as the Butterfly did praying in Prayers from the Ark:

"Where was I?
O yes! Lord,
I had something to tell you:


What turned out to be more valuable for me was going through older entries on the same themes: simplicity, trust, faithfulness. Some of them I've posted on this blog over the years.

"'I take courage,' Aeneas said. 'Here too there are tears for things, and hearts are touched by the fate of all that is mortal.'" Edith Hamilton, Mythology

"Then there is what we may call the Courage of our Capacity--the courage which assures us that we can do the particular work which comes in our way, and will not lend an ear to this craven fear which reminds us of failures in the past and unfitness in the present." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves

"The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that they are not mended again..." Alan Paton, Cry the Beloved Country

And this reminder:

"We do not stir. It is a hard lesson...Of course YOU know how to keep still, for you are children. And so perhaps you do not need to take lessons of teacher Toad. But I do, for I am grown up...with a world of things to do, a great many of which I do not need to do at all--if only I would let the toad teach me all he knows." Dallas Lore Sharp, The Spring of the Year

The toad is patient, still; the butterfly is simple, even foolish. Bonhoeffer's "simple Truth" is what they both know best.

 So, although I am keeping busy with the projects I've been working on (plus a couple of new ideas), and although I do have a work routine (Wake up. Do the getting-up things. Start working.), I am excusing myself from needing to document the fact that I'm planning to do it and that I did it. Instead, I've been playing with other sorts of looser, less time-sensitive "Journaling" pages. Places I want to go someday. Books to read. A page of spice mixes in my Enquire Within notebook (that's the household stuff). Things like that.

And one day I will have appointments and errands to X-off again.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It: Look, and look again (Archives post)

First posted May 2016, slightly edited

Sometimes we forget that one reason for decluttering is so we can appreciate the things we do keep.

What books do you already have on the shelf? Have you read the ones you downloaded to your Kindle app last year, or the year before? I just finished one of my long-time Kindle-sitters, at 10,000 feet, because the crossword puzzle book I'd brought was excruciatingly boring, and the airplane WiFi wasn't free. Of course looking out the window at the clouds is free, but I wasn't right by a window, and where I could sort of see out, people kept closing the shades. So, the downloaded books came in handy.

What do you have in your jewelry box? I have a necklace with a green pendant that Mr. Fixit gave me some time ago. I cleaned out my box this spring, got rid of the non-keepers, put a few special but unwearable things away, and that left the things I liked but hadn't been wearing, like the green necklace. So now it's where I can grab it easily and put it on.

What do you have hidden in your china cupboard? A pottery dish? Candles? Fancy bowls? We are paper napkin users, by and large, although we do have a stash of homemade cloth napkins we use as well. Sometimes the stack of paper napkins sits right on the kitchen table, which is not attractive. Sometimes they sit in a basket, which is better. Today I pulled out a vintage tin box and slipped the napkins into that, just for a change. Better to use things than to hide them away.

I just finished reading a book that my daughter loaned me. In the story, one character had a special celebration, and two other people decided to commemorate it by giving him a trading card of his favourite Japanese baseball player, Yutaka Enatsu This was not easy to accomplish, because the man already owned most of the early Enatsu cards, but for reasons too complicated to explain here he lived largely in the past, and might not be able to handle it if he found out that Enatsu was later traded to another team. The searchers did, through a few strokes of luck, come up with a card that fit the bill, and the giving and the receiving was everything they hoped for. One little coloured piece of cardboard, but chosen with love, and treasured.

Enjoy your small treasures for the smiles they give.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It: Make a List

If you've read By the Shores of Silver Lake, do you remember Laura's discovery of the pantry full of food in the surveyor's house which her family had just rented? During her later Long Winter, I wonder if she mentally went back to that satisfyingly well-stocked house, or even to their earlier log cabin full of smoked meat and pumpkins, and if she wished she could bring some of that into their blizzard-barricaded, nothing-to-eat-but-bread predicament?

About the only constant right now is change, sometimes by the day, sometimes by the hour. Things become more restricted, less restricted. Businesses and borders shut down, re-open. Opportunities come and go.

Our resources may also be tremendously different. Some people have lots of stuff (food, entertainment, medicine, tools, company, spaces to play) on hand, or can easily access more, and have the money to do so. Others are coming up short, one way or another. Some live where it's already possible to plant vegetable gardens; others are in a different climate. As Amy Dacyczyn wrote, suggestions from personal experience are most useful if someone else can take them and make them work in different circumstances. Or if you can take a strategy you used at another time, and change it to make it work now. Things we've learned in one setting can be our best allies when we're faced with new challenges.

So rather than focusing on the missed opportunities or the missing items, make a list of the things you do have at your disposal. It might be longer than you think. In remembering your own previous hard times, you might even notice that you have things now that you were desperately wishing for then; or easier circumstances in some other respect. Like, maybe, electricity or hot water: maybe you went through an ice storm, cooked on a camp stove or a barbecue, tried to keep your food safe in a cooler, and went to bed early to save batteries or lamp fuel. And when it was over, you felt so happy to hear the furnace come on, and so privileged to flip a switch and turn on a light.

Or during your last crisis, whatever it was, your washer or your car was out of service, but this time you're good.

Or you have improved online opportunities now: maybe during the last crisis you weathered, you were on dial-up, but now you have unlimited service.

Or maybe during the last time you were very short of cash, you had a houseful of small people to feed, herd, diaper, teach; but now you have a smaller group and things don't have to stretch quite as far. (Not that you don't love your people, but we're just talking about practical needs here.) Or your children are older now, and can help out more.

Maybe you have a particular skill now that you didn't  before. Maybe, without thinking that you were doing anything special to prepare for close-downs and disappearances, you became a great bread baker, or home haircutter. Or you finished a diploma  in something which, you suddenly realize, might be in demand now or in the near future.

So all that is to say that, first, if you've survived past troubles, you know there are ways to make it through the Long Winters and the worst of other times. List your assets, and not just the things you happen to own, but anything helpful around you (like dog-walking trails) that you can access without putting yourself or others at risk.

And list skills you have that might either make you some income (if yours has disappeared temporarily or indefinitely); or which might be a way to make the world a better place right now. Maybe you already have a YouTube channel or do podcasts: use those platforms the best that you can. Musicians are creating free online concerts and singing on balconies. People are sidewalk-chalking and posting art in their windows. Authors are doing online readings.

Just, please, don't post pictures of crocheted amigurumi coronavirus. Because that's nasty.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Return of the Wednesday Hodgepodge

From this Side of the Pond

Joyce at From This Side of the Pond is reviving the Wednesday Hodgepodge this week. (Click on the image to jump over there.)

Here are this week's questions...answer on your own blog then hop back to Joyce's blog on Wednesday to add your link and share answers. 

1. Howdy Hodgepodgers. It's kind of fun to be back, isn't it?  Last time we met was September, 2018. Tell me something big-important-happy-or sad that's happened in your life since that date. Just one thing. We don't know how long this current isolation situation is going to last and we might need to dole out our news bit by bit.
Howdy back! We had moved from a house to an apartment in the spring of 2017, but last summer we moved again to a townhouse that gives us more room (and a garage, and no elevator shutdowns). "We" are my husband, myself, and youngest daughter.

2. Might as well get this out of the way early on...COVID-19. On a scale of 1-5 how serious are you about keeping your distance? Explain. fyi-I didn't create the scale but have seen it several places online. Also fyi-we won't only have virus related questions each week, but for this first one it feels right.

1-Not at all, living normally
2-Cautious but still going out
3-Going out as needed, mostly home or working from home, still seeing friends/family
4-Extremely limited, only going out when unavoidable, minimal contact with people
5-Full lockdown, no one in or out

Somewhere between 3 and 4. We are mostly home anyway, and the other things we do are cancelled. 

3. Raise your hand if you think you might run out of steam in the cooking department before it's all said and done? What's something delicious you've cooked or eaten in your own kitchen in the past week?

Chicken cacciatore in the slow cooker, one of our homemade freezer meals. 

4. What's a television show or movie you've seen recently (it could be an oldie) that you really liked?

Hold the Sunset, about an older couple whose marriage and travel plans keep getting put on hold by extended-family goofiness. It got some negative reviews from people who didn't think it was funny, but we liked it. How can a perfectly serious conversation between John Cleese and Peter Egan not be funny? Especially when it goes on despite a pair of legs hanging through the ceiling?

5. Share something funny you've seen or heard this week.

See #4.

6. Insert your own random thought here

Happy that the freezer compartment in our fridge here works way better than the one at the apartment did. It's one spot of reassurance.

Linked from the Wednesday Hodgepodge: We're Baaaack edition, at From This Side of the Pond.

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It: Revisiting the Tightwad Gazette (Archives post)

First posted 2011, edited slightly

When I first knew Mr. Fixit, I was sort of a tightwad wanna-be; or perhaps a frequently-misbehaving tightwad.  By the time we got married, necessity made us both more than ready to tighten things up more than they had been; late-night courting pizzas had been fun, but a new house (even a small one) and a Squirreling soon on the way meant a different reality.  Plus the whole economy was in a bad spot during those years.  As I've said before, wedding rings were cheap; broccoli was expensive.

So all that is to say that, from our earliest Treehouse days, we tried to be careful with money; we had other books about frugality and quite a few broke-and-or-frugal friends to learn from; but I don't remember exactly when or how I first heard about The Tightwad Gazette
Amy Dacyczyn started the newsletter in May 1990. The first book was published in 1992, but I bought it used sometime later, maybe in 1993 or '94.  The second book came out in 1995, and I got it with "four free books for joining" from a book club (I still had some things to learn).  At that point we started subscribing to the newsletter, and almost right away heard that it would be winding up in 1996.


But we did get several months' worth of newsletters, and then bought the third book when it came out at the end of the year.  Brand new, $17.95.  I knew it would be worth it.

So knowing all that, I guess our most intense apprenticeship with Amy would have been through the early to mid '90's.  I took the handles off a small pot, trying to make it fit inside our pressure cooker to make rice and beans (I gave up on that--pot and cooker were just the wrong shape). I tried a whole lot of things, especially food-related, from the books:  gelatin, popsicles, coffee mixes, chili, breadcrumb cookies, practicing "how to avoid feeling deprived," home haircutting (Mr. Fixit was the first to try that here); buying grains and beans from a co-op; juice-lid toys; the "snowball principle"; the "combining frugal strategies" principle; frugal-baby ideas; newspaper Easter bonnets; and egg-carton crowns.  (I passed on the dryer-lint Halloween mask.)  We didn't try everything (have never been dumpster diving either), but we learned one main principle:  nothing is too weird to try if it means you stay afloat.  And another one:   that a lot of "radical tightwad" ideas are just the "normal" of a couple of generations ago--less stuff, more time and so on.

If fixing, scrounging and occasionally doing without things meant that we could pay off our house, have me stay home with the kids (and eventually homeschool them), and stay out of credit-card debt--then, as Amy says in the intro to her first book, we weren't too frugal. 

It wasn't until years later that I realized, via Google, how many people out there had issues with certain frugal practices and Dacyczyn parenting points.  Given the number of critics who are STILL trashing Amy on message boards for powdered milk and making her kids clean their plates, it's no wonder that their family went into a more private lifestyle after the newsletter ended.   I still admire her, though, and am still learning through her books (I keep them with our cookbooks); Amy stuck her neck out, did the math instead of just saying "this should save you money," and took the risk of being called extremist. 

Maybe it's fifteen years since we connected, maybe it's more; it doesn't matter exactly.  The Dacyczyns' risk gave us more confidence to live the way we wanted, and to keep working on that over the years.  And for that, we thank them, and the Gazette.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Nothing to Spend, No Place to Spend It (New series)

What an odd place in which to find oneself.

A time in which sharing, swapping, scrounging, and second-handing would seem mighty useful; but in which, for the same reasons, that isn't much of an option.

A time when it's not possible to get groups together to do certain things that have traditionally helped us survive, whether that's spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically (the modern equivalent of sewing bees).

A time when online-friendly businesses are offering everything from deep discounts to free shipping, and we are encouraged to help keep those businesses afloat; but also a time when not only those businesses but many more of us are suddenly facing loss of income or savings. You might see that dream thing you've wanted on sale and just the click of a button away, and even feel all virtuous because you're helping a business owner; but you wonder if you're going to regret buying the whatsit as your bank account gets lower.

A time when some ordinary things we do want to buy have disappeared or are reappearing with inflated prices.

A time when the usual frugal advice such as "Broke? Bored? Potluck with friends. Go to the library. Go to free public events. Go volunteer somewhere" doesn't work so well.

And to quote the experts and The Wizard of Oz, it's gonna get darker before it gets lighter.

I'm going to be posting on this theme over the next week. The first posts will be from the Treehouse archives, but the rest will be new. Stay tuned.

From the archives: Living Room (A Mitford review)

First posted December 2007. Edited slightly.

I finished Shepherds Abiding. It didn't matter that it was the eighth in the series and that I didn't know all the characters...the story was exactly what I needed this week.

I've been thinking a lot about things and people that I miss (especially around the holidays), things that have changed, things I'm unhappy about (yes, there are some even though I don't blog about them), the fact that the living room won't stay cleaned (it's a living room), and the general imperfection that always seems to interfere and mess up the perfect life I always thought I was somehow entitled to.

Shepherds Abiding is full of imagery of things imperfect, broken, less than ideal. One-winged angels, families with missing siblings, lost letters, and, central to it all, an antique Nativity set that Father Tim is restoring as a Christmas present for his wife.

In a nice touch of irony, as Father Tim is consulting Botticelli paintings to choose the perfect colours for angels' robes, the ailing old man down the street is also making a present for his own wife: a wooden tray for her jewelery, with handles swiped from the kitchen cabinets. Both gifts are welcomed and loved.

The book is about restoring, repairing, finding what has been lost, and reconciling the past and the present. And even about extending grace from unexpected quarters: another couple sit "in their twin recliners" in front of a fake fireplace that "featured a forty-watt bulb that flowed through a revolving sheet of red cellophane." The wife opens a gift from a neighbour and recognizes something that she herself donated to a rummage sale "a hundred years ago."

"And to think I gave her a two-layer marmalade [cake]" [she said.]

"Th' poor woman has a gimp leg, Esther, which don't leave much room for shoppin'. Besides, why did you put it in th' Bane an' Blessin'? It looks perfectly good to me."

"Well, yes," said Esther, examining it more carefully. "After I put it in, I wished I hadn't."

"See?" said her husband, hammering down on a couple of cashews. "What goes around comes around."
It's about finding peace, mystery and wonder at Christmas in whatever place in the story you happen to be...understanding that God is allowing you to be a part of it all...whether your life is about Renaissance angels, or recliners, or somewhere in between.

It's about allowing some living room.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

From the Archives: Big and Small Things

First posted April 2019
"Care in small matters makes us trustworthy in greater. When we come to be trusted with the property of others, whether in money or material, we are on our guard against wastefulness, carelessness, extravagance, because integrity requires that we should take care of and make the most of whatever property is put into our hands..." Charlotte Mason, Ourselves, pp. 177-178
"At present, too ignorant to know how ignorant we are, we believe that we are free to impose our will upon the land with the utmost power and speed to gain the largest profit in the shortest time...The woods is left a shambles, for nobody thought of the forest rather than the trees." ~~ Wendell Berry, "A Forest Conversation," in Our Only World 
For Christians, the idea of being entrusted with another's property is integral to our understanding of stewardship. God made it all. He gives it to us...trusts us to care for it, not (as Mason says elsewhere) to throw battery acid into the watch workings.

There's also the proverb about borrowing the earth from our grandchildren. Caring for what belongs to others also means honouring the past and thinking of the future. What do we want to hand down, and I don't mean just ecology-wise?
"Any conversation at home between grandparents and grandchildren is potentially the beginning of a local culture, even of a sustaining local culture, however it might be cut short and wasted." ~~ Wendell Berry
Do we want to pass down the values of big ideas and small things, and not just growth for its own sake? Then we have to live like that ourselves. To repeat something from a previous year's Fashion Revolution post: it's never too late to plant some pizza seeds.
"To learn to meet our needs without continuous violence against one another and our only world would require an immense intellectual and practical effort, requiring the help of every human being perhaps to the end of human time.
"This would be work worthy of the name 'human.' It would be fascinating and lovely." ~~ Wendell Berry
So what does this mean when we buy socks?
"The logger who is free of financial anxiety can stop and think." 
"We...must think of reverence, humility, affection, familiarity, neighborliness, cooperation, thrift, appropriateness, local loyalty. These terms return us to the best of our heritage. They bring us home." ~~ Wendell Berry

Friday, March 20, 2020

How Homeschoolers Do It: If you just need more HELP

(Last of this series) 
Many of you will already know this, but AmblesideOnline has a special for-times-like-this page called the HELP Curriculum. It was created fifteen years ago in response to Hurricane Katrina (but has been updated since). Although AO is free to use, we realized then (as now) that some of the people most in need of support would a) not have access to many resources and/or b) just not be up to the challenge of a full-on curriculum, even if they were already homeschooling. As some have already pointed out to the suddenly-at-home-with-kids, "What you are experiencing isn't what we know as homeschooling. The homeschoolers are  cooped up and frustrated too."

From my own experience, I agree with something suggested on the HELP page: create routines and new rituals. Our own family did not usually have an evening gathering tradition, but during one particular time of crisis, we made a point of coming together for a goodnight prayer and hymn. Sometimes it works best to stick with something you already do that, in itself, creates "normal." But if you can't do that thing, maybe try another thing that is new or different, but that you can repeat, and that people will look forward to. A simple example from The Long Winter: Laura and her family received a package of magazines with stories, and they agreed (reluctantly, in Laura's case) to hold off on immediate binge-reading, and stretch them out as read-alouds during the winter evenings together.

So maybe you can try what Cindy Rollins termed Morning Time, if that hasn't been part of your routine. Or Tea Time. Maybe it's episodes of an old TV show. Maybe it's a nightly checkers game. Or bedtime stories.

For more thoughts on simple homeschooling, the value of family rituals, and the need for beloved Things, see if you can access a copy of one of these books:

For the Children's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

For the Family's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

What is a Family?, by Edith Schaeffer

The Hidden Art of Homemaking (alternate title, Hidden Art), by Edith Schaeffer

Hey-cool P.S.: If you sign in to Open Library, you can "borrow" the Edith Schaeffer books.

How Homeschoolers Do It (Archives Series): Multiplying's Not So Tough

First posted December 2006. Ponytails was nine years old.

Ponytails has been doing multiplication since first grade. Miquon Math starts teaching multiplication concepts early, since saying "three five-rods" is no harder than saying "a five-rod plus a five-rod plus a five-rod".

However, now that she's in fourth grade and has moved on to Quine's Making Math Meaningful series, we need to do some serious work on multi-digit multiplication. We worked on that a bit in the last year of Miquon Math, but Ponytails has forgotten some of it, and anyway, she's older now and can make more sense of it.

The Apprentice did this level of MMM several years ago, and I remember going through extreme frustration with it (both of us). They kept explaining and showing, explaining and showing, breaking questions apart until we weren't even sure what we were looking at anymore. Finally I told the Apprentice, conspiratorially, that I was going to teach her a shortcut, and I taught her the multiplication algorithm--the old-fashioned way, the school way. She got it. For her, that was a relief. No more explaining--just do it.

Ponytails needed a slightly different approach. We go in and out of the MMM book; we've skipped a lot of pages in it because there are things she already knows well (like place value and addition), but then there are things that she needs some extra preparation for, and the MMM teacher's book doesn't always explain them in a way that makes sense to her. So we've been working in this sequence: single digits multiplied by single digits; multiplying things that end in 0, which MMM does do a good job on (like 300 x 20); and now two digits multiplied by one or two digits. Yesterday we talked about two ways to handle those bigger numbers, and today I added a third, the one that MMM emphasizes and that the Apprentice found frustrating. What do you know--it makes sense to Ponytails.

Let's say the question is 23 x 45. The first way is to list the smaller questions you could break those down into, multiply them, and then add them all up. So, 20 x 40, 3 x 40, 20 x 5, and 3 x 5. The problem with that method is that you aren't always sure if you've gotten all the combinations.

The second is to use the "school way," the algorithm.

x 45

It's the quickest way for me because I've been doing it that way for thirty years. The problem with it for Ponytails is that she isn't sure yet of all the steps, and keeps adding where she should be multiplying or vice versa. It takes time to get familiar with this one.

This is the third way, and it's almost like the first. You draw an empty square. Across the top you write "20, 3" and down one side you write "40, 5." You divide the square into four boxes (in this case) and fill in each box, as if it were a times table chart. 

The advantage over Way # 1 is that when you're done the boxes, you know you're done and you haven't missed anything. The disadvantage is that then you have to recopy all your products to add them up, unless you can do it in your head. Ponytails says she doesn't mind that, and it's easier for her right now than remembering all the steps in the algorithm. I wrote out some word problems for her to do, and she decided to do one of them with the algorithm and the rest with Way #3.

It's always nice to have choices.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Minds More Awake, free for Kindle

Letting you know: Minds More Awake is free for Kindle until March 20th. Here's the link.

How Homeschoolers Do It (Archives Series):

First posted 2012; edited slightly.

Now that we're a couple of weeks into this fall's homeschool term, and I'm pretty sure of what we're going to keep using this year (vs. things that, like bad sitcoms, disappear after one viewing), I thought I would try adding up what this year's homeschool materials cost us.

I didn't get very far with it.  Besides, it would be pretty irrelevant.  Most of our stuff came from the thrift shop or was already on the shelf. And the other slightly misleading thing about saying that we're using a thrifted math book, or whatever, is that usually we didn't make the choice based on cheapness, but more because we found something secondhand that looked like it would both meet our goals and fit Dollygirl's learning style and our current homeschool situation (Mom teaching Dollygirl, and Dad usually working in the next room). I wanted to use a more "out of the box" approach to math thinking this year, and if I had had to buy something new to make that work, I would have. 
But I found Minds on Math 8 already on our bookshelf, and that seems to be a good choice so far. 

With all that said, here are some of the frugal ways and means we've found helpful so far this year.

1.  Craft materials:  we are using up some of our own stashed yarn and fabric, and buying carefully when it seems we can't find what we want. We went looking for "fat quarters" at the mill outlet store, thought they were a bit expensive, but then discovered a huge box of bandannas priced at a dollar apiece.  Did you know that bandannas are about the same size as a fat quarter? Dollygirl picked out a few that she thought would make good doll clothes, and she's already made Crissy a bandanna-print blouse.

 Dollygirl pulled out her old weaving frame a few days ago, along with some thick, fluffy yarn, and decided to weave her dolls a living room rug. She's almost done.

2.  French:  Although I did spend money last spring on the next level of the curriculum we were using, I just didn't have the interest (and neither did Dollygirl) in jumping right back into nouns and verbs.  I found a school copy of Le Voyage de Monsieur Perrichon at the antiques market, I think for about a dollar, and I also made paper people to go along with the story. We read it, and sometimes I have Dollygirl narrate it or re-read a simple part with me. We are also singing French children's songs out of a library-discard book we've had forever.

3.  Poetry:  Poetry is not hard to find, and it's not hard to teach, honestly: mostly we just read it.  Today I read Robert Frost's "Birches" out loud, and then I had Dollygirl pick out and re-read her favourite pair of lines, and I showed her mine. Dollygirl got a cobweb in her face yesterday when she went outside, so she could relate to that part, about wanting to swing on birches, somewhere up above the ground and not where nasty things hit you in the face.  Next time we do poetry, we'll use You-tube to let Mr. Frost read it himself.

4.  Literature:  Dollygirl tried reading The Hobbit when she was too young for it, and I think she got stopped at about "Out of the Frying-Pan." This time around, she can't get enough, and we are going to be done with it way before the term is over.  We have a junior LOTR fan in the making. So what's frugal about that?  Just this:  for the first time in history, probably, we are in a position where books, books, books are all around us, at the click of a button, at the dropping of a few coins at the thrift store, at the flick of a library card.  And the large number of North Americans (and others) who admit that they Don't Read and have No Interest in Reading is appalling.  Abraham Lincoln used to walk miles to borrow a book-when you have that much footwork invested in reading something, you make the most of it. 

5.  History, geography, science, and all that:  we bought ONE brand new book in those areas, and that was The Great Motion Mission for science. And two DVDs, about Marie Curie and Albert Einstein.  The real key to what we're doing frugally here is not the books we're using, but the variety of ways in which I'm trying to use them.  We read out loud, sometimes, often discussing and questioning as we go.  (Why was the Kuomintang's idea to get help from the large, powerful Soviet Union probably a bad idea?  Because somebody large and powerful can help you at first, but then they just want to take over.  Right...)  Sometimes Dollygirl reads to herself and reports. Sometimes I have her do something unexpected like re-read a point three times in a row, until it really makes sense. Or make a grapefruit globe.  Or go outside and measure a tree (that was for math this morning, but it could have been from the science book).  When it's just you, me, and the books, it's important to keep things stirred up a bit.  And it also helps when grandpa or somebody asks, "what did you do in school today?" 

I could mention other frugal things we've done, like re-using school supplies, but everybody knows that stuff already.  The point here isn't what you have.  It's what you do with it.  It's a clean, re-organized desk space for Dollygirl, and also one for me. (To quote a Mary Engelbreit saying we have posted, everybody needs their own Spot.) It's the routine of starting school mornings with a hymn and Bible verses, but jacked up a bit with the addition of (thrifted) puzzle cards--and the additional motivation of trying to solve them along with Dad. It's the freedom we're trying to achieve this year to take a bit longer on some activities--to throw in a math game or a craft that might take a good part of the morning.  (And it's okay, because we don't have other students waiting.)  The schedule is there, but it's not bossing us around too much.

Frugal?  Yes.  But it's not about the money.  It's about making sure we keep on caring about what we're doing.  Cost of that: priceless.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

How Homeschoolers Do It (Archives Series): When We Ourselves Retreat

First posted in October 2017, after coming back from the L'Harmas retreat

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 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. 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.

Monday, March 16, 2020

How Homeschoolers Do It (Archives Series): Wide Open Spaces

Excerpted from a March 2014 post

Narration begins with silence. Silence, like blank pages, or a tree to climb, can be disconcerting.

One of my children was once handed a cassette recorder and sent off  to record some examination answers. In an attempt to cover up the fact that she couldn't remember anything about one particular story, she recorded a few words and then gave us several minutes of feigned static, via some noisy crinkling paper. The cassette recorder had inexplicably developed technical trouble.  And I believed it, for about twenty seconds.

But often it's the adults who don't welcome large spaces, white pages, silences.  There is some risk involved with these things.  Multiple-choice questions give you a defined start, a fixed stop, and, if they're to be computer-answered, you had better not colour outside the little circles.

It's a bit like imagining ourselves flying through the air, or sailing over the sea, or galloping across an open field, vs. staying on the footpath.  Yes, there are lots of places where habit and duty and reason make life easier.  Some things just have to be roads, rails, and structure, and that's a good thing too.  But here we're talking about giving our students' minds room to stretch, play, run, and fly.

Mr. Quimby set his cup down. 'I have a great idea! Let's draw the longest picture in the world.' He opened a drawer and pulled out a roll of shelf paper....Together she and her father unrolled the paper across the kitchen and knelt with a box of crayons between them.
'What shall we draw?' she asked.
'How about the state of Oregon?' he suggested. "That's big enough.'
Ramona's imagination was excited. 'I'll begin with the Interstate Bridge,' she said.
'And I'll tackle Mount Hood,' said her father....
Ramona glanced at her father's picture, and sure enough he had drawn Mount Hood peaked with a hump on the south side exactly the way it looked in real life on the days when the clouds lifted." ~~ Beverly Cleary, Ramona and her Father

How Homeschoolers Do It (Archives Series): Laying Out Your Week

First posted 2013. Links omitted.

Sunday-night planning is tradition for a lot of homeschoolers.  At our house, because the trash gets picked up early Monday mornings, it's part of the Sunday evening routine: take out the garbage and recycling; make sure  any public-schoolers have signed permission slips or whatever they need; and go over the week's homeschool work.  That's when I rescue the 2-litre plastic bottle from the recycling, because it's on the supply list for a science experiment; when I track down a book that's gone missing from the shelf; and when I try to figure out the tune to the next hymn or folk song.  It's the homeschooling equivalent of looking in the cupboard and seeing if we have enough oatmeal and sugar to make cookies tomorrow.

But the best kind of planning goes beyond that.  I don't mean in a compulsive, track every minute every paragraph way, but in terms of overall goals.  Do you know, for example, what pages or chapters or topics your students are going to read this week, or that you're going to read to them--and if they read their own work, how are you going to communicate those plans to them?  Or if you don't plan ahead to that extent, do you at least know what books or materials they're going to use this week, and in what sort of order? If you have older students who do written narrations, do you have a couple of the readings tentatively (or definitely) marked for that?  If you want older children to help younger ones with math or reading, are there particular topics this week that would be a great match for those kids (or not)?

If there's a new and difficult book you have worried about starting...and in AmblesideOnline Year Seven, there are a few of those...your planning time is also the time to boost up your own confidence and ability to communicate what's important or special about this book.  A couple of school years ago, I decided to start reading Silas Marner to Dollygirl.  Silas has been the butt of bad-English-class jokes since about the day it was published, but it honestly doesn't deserve its long/boring bad rap.  But like Shakespeare plays, it's easier to follow the book if you have some kind of a character guide; so Dollygirl got one made from "Mom's doodles"--like stick figures. Like meeting too many people at once in real life, it's hard to make sense of all those names without a bit of a hook; but it doesn't have to be complicated.  Just drawing the bad guy in an evil-looking hat or with a sword is enough.

You might have been thinking about a particular child's learning style, say a Visual-Spatial Learner and wanting to incorporate some good ideas you read about in Upside-Down Brilliance.  Some parent/teachers can think on their feet and come up with stuff on the spur of the moment: "Quick, grab ten books off that shelf and put them in alphabetical order."  But for the rest of us, it makes more sense to preview the week's plan and pencil in some "let's try this" ideas, than to finish Friday and wonder why the week dragged so much.

Real-life examples:  At the Treehouse, this is the week we start Whatever Happened to Penny Candy, so I'll pull out the family box of coins.  This isn't just for amusement--we have some U.S. and other coins in there that have "reeded" edges, which is something discussed near the beginning of the book.  Why do coins have the features they do, such as reeding?  It's based on a question of honesty (keeping coins intact, not being able to shave off the edges without being detected).  I also noticed that there's an article in today's paper about Bitcoin, which I don't think we'll need for Chapter One but which is worth hanging on to for a later chapter.

When I look at Monday's work, I realize that we have three book lessons in a row, unintended, and they're all on British history (or history of literature), or British geography, also unintended.  Simple fix:  since we're rotating history and science, Monday's main history lesson moves to Tuesday, and we'll do science experiments today instead.  And what's that Robert Browning quote in the first chapter of English Literature?  About a magic place--

"Where waters gushed and fruit trees grew
 And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
 And everything was strange and new;
 The sparrows were brighter than peacocks here,
 And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
 And honey bees had lost their stings,
 And horses were born with eagles' wings."

Oh--it's from "The Pied Piper."  Well, I'm not going to re-read the entire poem during our opening time today, but maybe the last part.

For geography--well, Dollygirl will be doing most of the other readings today on her own, so it wouldn't hurt to read In Search of England together, and then we can talk about the narration project I want her to do over the term.

And so on.

A final note, and this is important:  I am not a compulsive planner in every area of life.  For instance, I've tried writing detailed dinner menus for the week, but for us it doesn't work well; if we have the pantry ingredients, we're usually good with day-ahead meal plans or even "it's three o'clock, what are we going to eat?"  As long as the food gets on the table, it seems to work.  I'm not knocking those who prefer to know every meal a week ahead: if others are cooking or you have to buy ingredients, it's good to know what's coming up.

I know some people reading this will have more children, more books to read, and more plans to write.  It is not possible to pre-read and pre-think absolutely everything during the week, and I'm not suggesting that our look-ahead weekend planning is the right way or the only way to homeschool, to do Charlotte Mason, or even to do AmblesideOnline.  If your students are more independent than mine, it may be possible to just turn them loose with a checklist of chapters to read.  For us, it works better to have a bit of a Mom-plan.

P.S.  The funny side of planning:  I called down to Mr. Fixit to ask if he had a piece of cork for Dollygirl to use in a science experiment.  "Yes, but you'll have to thaw it," he called back.  Thaw it?  "Not pork...cork!"