Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Superpowers and Strangenesses

Our Hodgepodge host Joyce welcomes all contributors to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Click on the graphic to visit her at From This Side of the Pond, and leave your own answers on her Linky there (it will be up tomorrow, Wednesday).

From this Side of the Pond

1. Expect the unexpected on From This Side of the Pond. Here's my x-ray question...when was the last time you felt like Superman? What's your superpower? Explain.  

Online searching. For some reason I'm good at trying to think like whoever it was that wrote something up in the first place, which helps to pin down phrases they might have used, or places whatever-it-is might have got put. I think it's related to that mythical gene that makes women good at finding lost stuff at home.

2. Are you a fan of the 'superhero' type movies? If so what's your favorite? 

Without question, the 1978 Superman.

3. Have you postponed or cancelled a trip to the dentist in recent weeks, and if so when do you think you'll feel comfortable going back? How about other routine medical procedures? 

Our dentist is closed for the duration unless you break all your teeth or something. I'm not sure when we'll be back there.

4. What's something that makes you feel youthful? Something that makes you feel 'not so youthful'? Tell us why. 

Like it fine: dates with my husband.

Not so much: seeing not only my own childhood toys but my kids' toys at a nostalgia sale.

Not at all: being asked if I want seniors' discounts that apply to people ten years older than I am. Discounts, I like fine, but not because I'm looking particularly haggard today.

5. I feel compelled to include some sort of corona related question in the HP these days. What's the strangest thing you've seen in relation to the virus? Something that really struck you as odd, made you stop and think, 'Dorothy we're not in Kansas anymore?'

Last week my husband had to look for something at a store where the customers were greeted and treated like they smelled bad, from the moment they got to the door through their checkouts. When he told me about it, I said that that particular well-known chain should be smarter and not miss such an opportunity to put on a good face, make themselves the friendly place to go in a sea of snark. Even at stressful places like airport check-in lines, sometimes they make an extra effort to send a staff person around to chat with people and humanize the process (even if they're sort of screening you at the same time). Or when you get on the plane, the flight attendants sometimes liven up the safety announcements with a bit of comedy. What does it hurt?

Today we picked up some groceries at a different store near where we live. As soon as we got into the cart area, we heard a loud, extremely cheerful voice saying, "Good morning! WELCOME to our store! Enjoy your shopping!" When we were coming out with the groceries, Mr. Energizer Bunny was there again (properly distanced of course), saying "Thank you for shopping here! I hope it was a good experience!"

So which store's more likely to get our business in the future?

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge: Young at Heart Edition.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Fashion Revolution Week 2020: Go and spread good germs

So, yes, back to the cook who quit because those above-stairs failed to consider that their actions had any impact outside their own circle. Which is not to say that not eating one's souffle is a criminal act, but only that there is cause, and it has effects. As Ray Bradbury put it, a tiny butterfly stuck to a shoe can change history. In this pandemic situation, we understand the dread of one tiny germ that can suddenly sicken or kill.

But turn it around, at least in the realm of how we use money. Reverse butterfly effect; random bursts of positive energy. Instead of worrying about small, bad mistakes, what if we counted on the ripple potential of small good "germs?" We get a small idea to show a kindness, to share with others. We spend our money or time supporting a ministry that has an impact on one person's life, and that affects a family or a village, maybe a country: who knows? I heard the story recently about a disappointing evangelistic event at which just one person accepted Christ: but he became the father of James Dobson.

Maybe the letter you write asking "who made my clothes?" will get into the hands of someone who needs just one more bit of encouragement to enact policy changes. Maybe the person who did make your clothes will take her wages and buy books that will help educate her to speak out against injustice elsewhere. Maybe an orphanage you help support through a fair-trade purchase is caring for future pastors or artists or farmers or doctors or other future bright lights and brave souls. Maybe a buying choice you make will help keep the water, the soil, or the air a little cleaner.

Where will we be by Fashion Revolution Week 2021? I don't know, but I hope it's in a place just that much better than where we find ourselves this year. Even better: let's start moving towards someday not ever having to have such a day at all.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Fashion Revolution Week 2020: Buying from the Pushcarts

Remember when I posted about a spring wardrobe inspired by this Jackie Morris illustration of briars, brambles, and birds?
Don't you think it's a similar vibe? Maybe I'll call it the Lost Words scarf. It's probably the last  I'll ever have from Ten Thousand Villages, since the Canadian stores are shutting down soon. (They were planning to do that anyway before the pandemic.)
Our local thrift store, along with others, has started posting items for sale on Instagram, and delivering them to your door. They offered a pair of off-white wide-leg "cropped pants" in my size, and I decided to buy them. They do fit fine, in the upper parts. Only...they're not only not cropped...
they're even longer than my normal-length pants!
Yeah. So not everything is perfect.

Have I ever mentioned that I'm scared to death of hemming pants? It's not the sewing--I know that part is pretty straightforward. It's the measuring and the pinning...and the cutting. My favourite place to get things shortened is, I assume, not doing them right now. Although I could always phone and plead.

I may have to bite that bullet and do it myself. But Mr. Fixit says he will help.

Winding up tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Fashion Revolution Week 2020: Essential?

"Essential" is very much a buzzword these days. Essential services. Essential travel. Being asked everywhere, verbally and through signs, "Is your business here essential, is this package you're mailing essential?" Biting your tongue to keep from replying, "No, I just like lining up for fun." Shopping in person these days (even at "essential" stores) has all the entertainment value of going through airport security lines the day before a holiday. Shopping by mail has its risks as well, especially if you have to return something (besides the demands to know if this package is essential, there are shipping delays). Shopping local by delivery seems to work out well if it's a small business, but those depending on it for groceries can't count on getting exactly what they asked for: sometimes not even the "essentials."

(Yet at the same time we're being encouraged to support takeout food and similar businesses that have managed to keep going. So far, at least, nobody in the A&W drive-through is asking us if those fries are "essential.")

So "essential," tiresome as it is getting to be, is at the front of our collective consciousness right now. When you apply it to clothing, what comes to mind? Magazine articles and videos listing "Fall Fashion Essentials?" "Things Every Woman Should Have in Her Closet?" "The One Piece of Clothing You Will Want to Spend Lots of Money On This Year?" Janice at The Vivienne Files pointed out some time ago that there is not one piece of clothing (including shoes) that can be called "essential" for everyone in the world. Typical or useful or common, maybe, but not essential.

Still, having that word so much in our faces allows us to muse not only on our lists of closet must-haves, but on the deeper-meaning-essential nature of our relationship with stuff, clothing, and the long and tangled supply chain that gets it to us. "Not essential," some large companies have chirped, leaving their suppliers holding the bag and the labourers employed by those suppliers out of work as well. If you want a television metaphor, we just watched an old episode of Jeeves and Wooster, where Bertie convinced several people at a house party not to eat their dinners, because each of them had someone they were trying to impress with how sad or unable to eat they were. None of the impressees noticed what was going on, but the cook quit in fury.

More tomorrow.

Wednesday Hodgepodge, on Thursday

Here are this week's questions for the Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer on your own blog, then hop back to This Side of the Pond (click the graphic) to share answers with the universe. Here we go-

From this Side of the Pond

1. What's something you resolved to do this year? Have you done it?

I am working to update something online that was long overdue for an update but kept getting back-burnered. I got the first half done this week, still have to do the rest.

2. Where do you go to find quietude?

My house is pretty much quietude, often too much so, except when Mr. Fixit is testing out stereo equipment. But if you mean real quietude, there are some good nature trails nearby.

3. A friend asked this question on her Facebook page and said I could borrow it for the Hodgepodge...you're only allowed to buy 5 things at the grocery store, and all must start with the first letter of your first name. Whatcha' buying?

All-purpose flour, apples, apricots, almonds, and allspice. I'd bake them all into a fruitcake.

4. The television show Survivor, the Gloria Gaynor song 'I Will Survive', survival mode, survival of the fittest...pick one and discuss.

When I searched for "survival quotes," this one came up at the top:  
“No. I can survive well enough on my own— if given the proper reading material.”― Sarah J. Maas, Throne of Glass

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

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Cynthia gets it right about getting it right

Excerpted from a post of June 2015

Mr. Fixit and I were having a conversation about other conversations we've had with other people. One thing we've noticed is that there's an awfully big worry, in all kinds of areas, about trying to get things perfect. People want systems; commercials promise fix-alls. If you just live this way, do it that way, all your problems will be solved. There is little allowance for human variables, for weakness, sinfulness, or just realities in life. But still we get sold on the perfect way to do things.

In Jan Karon's novel These High, Green Hills, Father Tim and his wife Cynthia get lost in a cave. While waiting to get rescued, they hash out some of the issues Father Tim is having about his pending retirement from ministry. He insists, "The way things are, they're running smoothly, most of the bases are covered. I'm trying to get it right, Cynthia. I can't stop now." Cynthia responds, "Getting it absolutely right is God's job." 

Monday, April 20, 2020

Fashion Revolution Week 2020: Don't Be a Truck

"The Frank-the-Flower Clubs had a whole language of their own. The expression 'Don't be a truck' replaced, among Frank-the-Flower fans, such earlier slang as 'Don't be a dope, a jerk, a square.' Although 'Don't be a truck' is an expression that we all use today, it dates back to Phase Two of the Pea Shooter Campaign." ~~ The Pushcart War
In Jean Merrill's novel The Pushcart War, the problem with the trucks (and their drivers) wasn't just that they were dopes and jerks: they were also bullies and roadhogs. They represented big interests and the bottom line (vs. the pushcart peddlers, who represented entrepreneurship and small-is-beautiful).
"'Oh,' said Wenda Gambling. 'Well, I think that there are too many trucks and that the trucks are too big....' Before the program was off the air, over five thousand viewers had called the station to say that they agreed with Wenda Gambling. Professor Lyman Cumberly has suggested that except for Wenda Gambling's innocent remark, there might never have been a Pushcart War."
The activists at Fashion Revolution have continued to shoot "pea tacks" at the fast-fashion machine. Sometimes the trucks they aim at get pulled off the road, making room for a few more pushcarts. Some garment factories have cleaned up their treatment of workers in the past few years. Some companies are more concerned and more transparent about the links in their supply chain. Some people are writing new books to raise awareness.

Then came the pandemic.

There's nothing like a global crisis to magnify, more sharply than ever, systems that are badly broken, and people who are falling not only through medical cracks, but economic ones.

In a past year's post on this topic, I said that individual consumers feel like they have about as little power in this area as mice. Bothering big companies with form letters asking "Who made my clothes?" seems about as effective as shooting tacks at truck tires.

Of course you are welcome to join the pea shooters, and Fashion Revolution would be happy if you did. But can I propose something else that anyone can do?

Buy your apples and flowers from the pushcarts.

And don't be a truck.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Come Unthrifting With Me, Last One

Wearing one of the un-thrifted necklaces with a green t-shirt and khaki pants (and my white cardigan, it's still chilly here). If I were actually going anywhere, I might add the bag shown in the graphic, which came (like the t-shirt and the necklace) from the MCC thrift store. 
I finished Breath for the Bones; according to my Goodreads log, it only took me three years.

Here's a quote to end with. It's from a Fraggle Rock song called "Stuff Samba." Marjory the Trash Heap sings it to some Fraggles who have a big problem and no ideas for solving it. Her advice:
Don't be shy don't be lonely
Don't go falling on the floor
What you need now is only
Do the stuff you've always done
And do it do it do it do it do it like before.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Come Unthrifting With Me, Part Four

Have I made anything out of a sock, as promised? No, although my intentions were good.  In my defense, I've been trying to get some Work done today, and I did not need to amuse myself with sock crafts.

Have I made anything with yogurt? No, but we did have extra sour cream, so I made Sour Cream Muffins from this recipe at Mel's Kitchen Cafe.
I wore the not-a-dress outfit I thought of yesterday. Cross off the blazer one more time. (But I changed out of my "work clothes" later on.)
Here's the Luci Shaw quote for the day: 
"Attending implies inhabiting. This is not a spectator sport."

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Come Unthrifting With Me, Part Three: Close Enough Anyway

I said I was going to make yogurt, which I haven't done for a long time.  But I don't have the stuff for it (i.e. lots of milk and/or milk powder). At this point it's honestly easier to buy a tub of yogurt. I will keep it in mind, though.

I have been glad of the week's "assignment" to read Breath for the Bones and On Purpose. They give the days a little extra...purpose. They also seem to blend together, even though one is coming from an explicitly Christian perspective and the other is not. One asks the big questions, the other fills in an answer.

I've also been grateful, in a way, that I have had to lean more heavily than ever on what's in the house, and especially what's in the closet, now that economics is starting to be an issue as much as accessibility. It's not an anxious thing, just a prudent, extra-careful thing. I see a photo of a dress I like, and I think: I have some warm-weather dresses already. Or I could put a t-shirt together with a skirt...it would look a bit like that dress, or close enough anyway. And I'm okay with that. I have enough.

Today's card-making project: just one card,  glue drying. The beads are leftovers from the Squirrelings' jewelry-making days.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Come Unthrifting With Me, Part Two

Card made from a quilt block design in Have a Natural Christmas 1986

Quote for the day:
"Consumed with thoughts of daily threats and finding their next meal, early humans still pondered what the stones, the trees, the animals, and the gods thought. It's extraordinary and illustrates our universal urge to transcend material circumstances and imagine a world full of meaning...Myth mitigates despair by inspiring creativity and spirituality." Paul Froese, On Purpose

Monday, April 13, 2020

Come Unthrifting With Me, Part One

This is a re-appreciation of things, and a shout-out to my favourite (currently shuttered) thrift stores. Want to see a random assortment of what I didn't buy this week?
"Have a Natural Christmas 1986." At first this seemed absolutely useless. I don't do woodworking, I don't want to make a wassail bowl, and I don't have anybody who wants a sock rabbit. However, I did find a couple of ideas that sparked other ideas.

Issue of Psychology Today: There were a couple of good articles I want to reread. Everybody's psychologizing these days.
Two necklaces I like but keep hanging where I forget to notice them
Two books I have been waiting to read: Breath for the Bones, by Luci Shaw, and On Purpose, by Paul Froese.
A pencil case full of things my daughter cleaned out
A blazer I haven't worn much, shown with a dress I've been wearing this spring

Thing Appreciation Plan


Shaw, 2 chapters: "Discovering the Creative Heart of God" and "Entering Into Beauty" 
"To construct a quilt is to make beauty and meaning out of life's scrappy leftovers." (p. 27)

Froese, 1 chapter
"The scientist is similar to the creative artist and business entrepreneur; each seeks to build something for humanity--something bigger than the self." (p. 8)

Sort out the pens and things, use any of them I can to make today's card and to write notes in some I've already made (a current project)

Put the blazer on over the t-shirt and jeans I'm wearing.

Tuesday: Shaw, 2 chapters
Froese, 1 chapter
Read two of the Ten Myths About the Mind
Creative wanderings: Use the Beautiful Star Wall Hanging pattern to make a card.
Wear one of the necklaces.

Wednesday: Shaw, 2 chapters
Froese, 1 chapter
Read two of the Ten Myths About the Mind
Creative wanderings: Make some yogurt. (There was a yogurt ad in Psychology Today.)
Wear the blazer again.

Thursday: Shaw, 2 chapters
Froese, 1 chapter
Read three of the Ten Myths About the Mind
Creative wanderings: Make something interesting out of a sock.
Wear the other necklace.

Friday: Shaw, 2 chapters
Froese, 1 chapter
Read three of the Ten Myths About the Mind
Creative wanderings: Make something with the yogurt.

Saturday: Shaw, 2 chapters
Froese, 1 chapter
Read "Ahead of Their Time," about kids growing up too fast
Creative wanderings: Make new coasters.

Sunday: Wear the blazer, the dress, and one of the necklaces.
Froese, last two chapters
Make something interesting to drink and serve it on the coasters.

Stay tuned for the rest of the unthrifting week.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Quote for Good Friday

"Some of us have been in trying circumstances these last months. Unsettling. Unremitting. Even, we sometimes think, unbearable. Dear God, we pray, stop this! Fix that! Bless us--and step on it!....

"I want to tell you that I started thanking Him last night--this morning at two o'clock, to be precise--for something that grieves me deeply. And I'm committed to continue thanking Him in this hard thing, no matter how desperate it might become, and I'm going to begin looking for the good in it."  ~~ Jan Karon, In This Mountain

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Short On...? Carry On: Part Five, Easter Candy

We could have bought some Easter treats earlier at the store, but we didn't, and today all the grocery stores are as crazy as they're allowed to be right now. So it looks like I'm responsible for filling our household baskets.

What do we have?

250 g dark chocolate chips
300 g butterscotch chips
1 lb. (454 g) butter
1 cup milk powder
1 bag sweetened, flaked coconut

Miscellaneous things like quick oats, cocoa, eggs, milk, flour, sugar, green and multi-coloured sprinkles. Yes, I know how fortunate we are to have some of these things.

What would you do with these ingredients? If peanut butter weren't an issue here and if I needed a lot of something, I'd probably make peanut butter balls and dip them in melted chocolate chips. My grandmother might have made cocoa-oatmeal macaroons. But we need only small batches of any one thing, and I have only that one cup of milk powder, so I'm thinking half a batch of chocolate cheater fudge, half a batch of coconut candy, and a batch of butterscotch-oatmeal cookies or squares ("Scotchies"), some of which we could freeze for later.

We have to start by making the equivalent of one can sweetened condensed milk. I got this version in a "living on one income" workshop at my very first homeschool conference, twenty-five years ago.

Sweetened Condensed Milk Substitute (makes equivalent of one can)

Ingredients: 2/3 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 cup milk powder, 1/3 cup boiling water

Mix in blender, let thicken a bit in the refrigerator.

Half Batch of  Canadian Living Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge, without the fruit and nuts

Half the amount of sweetened condensed milk
225 g chocolate chips (turned out to need the whole bag)
1/2 tsp. vanilla

Heat chocolate and milk mixture together until the chocolate melts (I did this in the microwave, it took only a couple of minutes). Stir in vanilla. Spoon into foil-lined pan or mini muffin cups. Top with sprinkles. Refrigerate until set, cut in squares.

Half Batch of Coconut Candy, from a recipe found at The Gold Lining Girl

Ingredients: Half Full bag of coconut (her bags must be twice as big as ours), half the amount of sweetened condensed milk. Follow the recipe at that link, cutting amounts in half. Bake candies and let cool. Optional: melt remaining chocolate chips, stretching with butterscotch chips if necessary, and partially dip the candies as shown at The Gold Lining Girl.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

What's in your way? (Archives post)

First posted August 2017
"Consider the trend toward numbers in light of our relationship to God. Metrics are quantitative and not qualitative, so they measure performance, but not relationships. They tell us about the externals of religion and say nothing about the heart...metrics can record the frequency of our church attendance, the regularity of our Bible reading and the exact amount of our tithing, but they can never gauge the genuineness of any of them..." ~~ Os Guinness, Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times
"Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?" ~~ Isaiah 55:2a, English Standard Version 
I spent yesterday travelling to, around, and from Toronto. The official reason was that I had a ticket to Courtney Carver's Tiny Wardrobe Tour. I also wanted to spend time with relatives I hadn't seen for a long time, hear a lunchtime concert at a church, and maybe do a little sightseeing slash shopping. The logistics of the day all came together well (Google Maps gets you from place to place very succinctly), and the Greyhound bus got me back here before midnight.

But something was bothering me later, and it wasn't the falafel plate I had for dinner. I had been looking forward to the Tiny Wardrobe event for a long time, and of course it was nice to hear Courtney in person, with her rack of clothes behind her; so why wasn't the event quite the highlight I had expected? Earlier in the day I heard Beethoven and Mozart played in a church with wonderful acoustics. Maybe it was the "acoustics" of the evening event that made the message feel somewhat unclear. Was it the argument over seating arrangements that broke out in the front row, that seemed to sour the evening a bit? In the afternoon I spent time with family, and maybe I expected to find a similar connection with those who had bought Tiny Wardrobe tickets.Was it that I was tired from the day's travels, so of course it all felt a bit disjointed? Was I just "not feeling it," as my teenager would say?

Yes, people make too much stuff, buy too much stuff, dump too much stuff. This is something we really do need to talk about. In a world plagued with over-consumption, waste, garbage, labour injustice, consumer debt, and false promises of advertising, any message that helps us step away from the system even a little can only be a good thing. But in a month like this past one, when masses of people have lost their homes and possessions to natural disasters, any discussion of choosing to minimize can seem ludicrous. It is true that going through flood, fire or political upheaval may change your relationship with "stuff" (such as being all too aware of its impermanence), but in the short term, survival means getting enough of what you need or can pass on to others equally in need, and not worrying about the global implications of too many towels. (For those of us whose lives seem safe and "normal" for now, we might want to consider the ways that the money we plan to spend on "stuff" could be used to help others in need.)

Courtney Carver, Ann Voskamp, and others continually make the point that the goal isn't to have a simple life, or even a beautiful lifeit's to have a life. A meaningful life. A good life. A life centered outside ourselves. Simplifying possessions can be a discipline that encourages more focus, less materialism. Or it can be just a numbers game, even if you pick your own number. It can be the pride of money spent for "that which is not bread," or it can equally be the boasting of money not spent. In either of those cases, the focus is on the wrong thing.

"The difference does not seem to be great; but two streams that rise within a foot of one another may water different countries and fall into different seas, and a broad divergence in practice often arises from what appears to be a small difference in conception..." ~~ Charlotte Mason, School Education 
And what is it that was keeping me from falling back to sleep? Guilt over a few small things I did buy while I was in the city? Worry about not fitting in with somebody else's minimalist program? No...I think I've come to terms with the "problem" that I like having fun with clothes, and scouting thrift shops is one way I do that without hurting our bank account and producing more waste. That's why I keep posting my own Project 333 stories. I have never done a capsule wardrobe exactly "right." But I am learning to use my own talents (such as scrounging) in ways that, maybe, can encourage others.

Maybe it was just an impossible wish that we could spend more time getting to listen to each other's stories. Not judging, or arguing about details, but seeing each other as people who have lives and stuff and needs and questions and ideas. That means relationships. That means time. We need to make more room for both. And to come back to exactly what Courtney says: if any aspect of your stuff (including clothes) is standing in the way of the important things, it's time to make a change.

So maybe the acoustics weren't so bad after all.

Short On...? Carry On, Part Four: Potato Things

Some people have written way more extensively than I ever have about ways to cook potatoes. I do not claim to be that much of a potato expert. 

Often the two of us settle for instant potato flakes. If you're buying potato flakes, look for Idahoan brand in a box, no flavouring, no additives. We have never found anything else that comes close.

But here are a few sort of different things we've done with real potatoes.

Baked Potato Soup: Mentioned here multiple times over the years. Cut the recipe in half if you have a 3 1/2 quart slow cooker, and in half again if you have an even smaller family and smaller slow cooker. Vegetable broth works as well as chicken broth; you can eyeball the amount of liquid if you're cutting the recipe.

Potato Casserole #1:  Making a potato casserole uses up as many potatoes as you have...and "potato casserole" could be as simple as cooking cut-up (sliced or chunked) potatoes in some broth or milk, and adding a little seasoning...and that could be in a pot, in the oven, or in the slow cooker.  Add some of the carrots and an onion, and you're on your way to stew.

Potato Casserole #2: If you have a boring ground-meat or vegetable casserole in the freezer, you can thaw it, maybe add a bit of extra seasoning, and top with mashed potatoes to make Shepherd's Pie.

Pizza Potatoes: cut-up potatoes, pizza sauce, pepperoni, and cheese, baked in a casserole or done in the slow cooker. Optional toppings: sliced olives, green peppers.

Mexican Potato Casserolewhich we found in Company's Coming Kids: Lunches, but which is almost identical to the one on the Mennonite Girls Can Cook, and they say they got it from a church cookbook.  So it seems like one of those recipes that's made the rounds.  You coat cut-up potatoes in melted margarine and taco seasoning and bake them in a casserole; then, about ten minutes before serving, you add browned ground beef mixed with salsa and chopped peppers, and cheese on top. I just used the amounts of everything that we had on hand, including homemade taco seasoning and mild Cheddar instead of Jack cheese, but we thought it was pretty good.  (The recipe says not to peel the potatoes, but we prefer them peeled.)

Ranch-Spiced Potatoes in the Slow Cooker  This is pretty much Mexican Potato Casserole without the meat on top, and with different seasonings. You can also use homemade Sloppy Joe seasoning mix.

Perogy Casserole, Treehouse Version

Cook 15 lasagna noodles in a big potful of boiling water.
Prepare 2 cupfuls of mashed potatoes (you can use the same pot).
Grate or chop 2 ounces (at least; we like more) Cheddar cheese and mix this with the mashed potatoes; add some pepper and 1/4 tsp. onion powder. You can also add salt at this point; when I first wrote this out, we were trying to cut back on sodium.
Mix 1 cup cottage cheese with 1 egg or equivalent replacer, and another 1/4 tsp. onion powder.
Melt 1/2 cup butter or margarine  in a small skillet or pot; add 1 small onion, chopped small; cook until onion is soft.

Grease or spray a 9 x 13 inch pan; if you have one with a lid, use that; otherwise you'll have to cover the pan with foil.
Line the bottom of the pan with 1/3 of the noodles.
Cover with cottage cheese mixture.
Cover with second layer of noodles.
Cover with mashed potato mixture.
Cover with third layer of noodles.
Cover with hot cooked onions-margarine/butter mixture.
Cover the pan and bake for 30 minutes.  Let sit 10 minutes before slicing.

Monday, April 06, 2020

From the archives: John Donne on God's infinite mercy

John Donne, from Sermon preached on the Evening of Christmas Day, 1624. 
One of the most convenient hieroglyphics of God is a circle, and a circle is endless; whom God loves, he loves to the end; and not only to their own end, to their death, but to his end, and his end is, that he might love them still.... God is thy portion, says David; David does not speak so narrowly, so penuriously, as to say, God hath given thee thy portion, and thou must look for no more; but, God is thy portion, and as long as he is God, he hath more to give, and as long as thou art his, thou hast more to receive.... The sun is not weary with six thousand years shining; God cannot be weary of doing good; and therefore never say, God hath given me these and these temporal things, and I have scattered them wastefully, surely he will give me no more; these and these spiritual graces, and I have neglected them, abused them, surely he will give me no more.... God is a circle himself, and he will make thee one; go not thou about to square either circle, to bring that which is equal in itself to angles and corners, into dark and sad suspicions of God, or of thyself, that God can give, or that thou canst receive, no more mercy than thou hast had already.

Short on...? Carry On: Part Three, The Food Hamper Gourmet (Archives Post)

First posted January 2007. Edited somewhat.

In the mid-1990's, I trained to be a Community Nutrition Worker. CNWs are “peer support workers” (rather than professionals). They’re usually hired by community centres or outreach programs to run co-op kitchens, do supermarket nutrition tours, and lead healthy-cooking classes. My career as a CNW was fairly short-lived, but I did learn quite a bit—not so much from the nutritionist who taught the course, but from the other women taking the training. Which is probably the way it should be.

One of the training assignments was to take the contents of an emergency food hamper and explain how it might feed two adults and two children for three or four days. (I think the original assigment was three days, but I wrote menus for four.) 
2020 Update: It tells you something about changing attitudes that, at the time I did the assignment, it was assumed that food hamper recipients would just take whatever they were given. I know that (at least under normal circumstances) our local food bank now operates on a "shop the shelves" system, allowing users to choose the foods they want.

Most of the recipes I used for that assignment came from a 1975 book called The One-Burner Gourmet, by Harriett Barker. (You can borrow it here.) I don’t know whether, years later, I’d produce the same menus I did then. I wasn’t allowing for what I think of as the “ick factor,” meaning that some people would not care for the idea of mixing things together the way I did. Even in an emergency, I’m not sure I’d be able to eat canned peas straight up, knowing how relatively little nutrition they have for the amount of stomach-clutching it takes to swallow them. But this is what I came up with, plus my notes from then and now. 

Contents of a Basic Food Hamper 
[The goal would be to have all these things in each box, but that would depend on the food bank's supply at any time.]

Pork and Beans, 2 [cans] per person
Vegetables (Green and Yellow), 2 per person
Mac and cheese, 2 per person
Jam/Honey, 1 per hamper
Soup, 2 (cans?) per person
Juice (48 oz), 1 per hamper
Peanut butter, 1 per hamper (size unspecified)
Cookies, ½ (1/2 of what?) when available
Crackers, ½ (ditto?) when available (I guess they broke open the packages)
Fruit, canned, 1 [can?] per person, (fresh when available)
Potatoes, 5 lb.
Powdered milk, “1 per hamper” (size unspecified, I assume a supermarket-sized bag or box)
Margarine, “1 per hamper” (size unspecified, I assume a pound container)
Pasta/sauce “when available”
Cereal, “1 when available” (size unspecified)
Meat, “3 lunches, 3 suppers, when available” (kind of meat is unspecified—Spam? Tuna? Something not canned?)
Bread, “1 per person” (1 loaf?)
Donuts, when available
Buns, when available

Baby needs on request.

There were rules about including three out of four food groups in the breakfasts, and all food groups in the other meals. I don’t remember whether we were allowed to assume that there was any food already on hand or whether there was some cash allowed to buy a few groceries; but I did end up including a few other things which I noted.

Grocery list: peppers or celery, onions (or dried onion), rice or pasta if they weren’t in the box, and tomato sauce if it wasn’t in the box. [I think a dozen eggs would have been a good addition as well, but I was trying for bare necessities.] 

Food on hand: Mayonnaise-type salad dressing, salt and pepper.

We were supposed to suggest snacks, but there wasn’t a lot to work with beyond the obvious bread, crackers and cookies in the box. I said that if honey was provided, they could use it with the dried milk and peanut butter to make peanut butter balls.


4 oz. juice (per person), cereal with milk, toast and jam or peanut butter

Lunch: Macaroni and cheese (2 or 3 boxes), with 1 can meat (Spam, tuna etc.) chopped in; 2 cans peas. (The One-Burner Gourmet suggests browning the Spam or similar product in margarine first, with fresh or dried onion if you have it, and then adding it to the cooked macaroni.)

Supper: Bean Chowder, made of 2 cans of pork-and-beans, 1 can of tomatoes or tomato sauce, a green pepper or celery, an onion, some margarine (to saute the vegetables first), and salt. Serve with bread (or toast) and milk.


Breakfast: 4 oz. juice; toasted peanut butter and jam sandwiches; milk

Lunch: 2 cans soup with crackers; sandwiches made with a can of fish or other meat plus mayonnaise

Supper: “Lunch Meat and Noodles,” a recipe from the One-Burner Gourmet. You cook these things together: 1 can cream soup, ½ cup milk, 1 can of luncheon meat (cut in strips), ½ a green pepper, chopped (or celery), 1 tsp. dried onion (or some fresh), 1 can peas (use the liquid to add to the dry milk), and 1 tsp. salt. Simmer all this while you cook some noodles or other pasta (you could save out some of the boxed macaroni), and add this to the pot as well. Rice could be substituted. 2 cans of fruit for dessert.


Breakfast: Fried lunch meat and potatoes; toast; milk

Lunch: 2 cans pork and beans; boiled potatoes; bread, milk, cookies.

Supper: “Soup and Vegetable Chowder,” another One-Burner Gourmet recipe. The success of this would depend on what cans were in the hamper. The recipe calls for 2 cans cream soup, 2 cans chicken soup (like chicken noodle, chicken with rice, etc.), 2 cans corn, 1 can lima beans, 1 can milk (or dry substitute), salt and pepper. You are supposed to add everything together except the milk, simmer for 10-15 minutes, and then add the milk just before serving but don’t boil it. Dessert is something I used to make when I was younger; you cut the crusts off bread, [update: flatten each piece with a rolling pin or something similar], roll them up with jam or peanut butter, secure with a toothpick, and spread a bit of margarine on the outside. Bake them in the oven for a few minutes until they’re toasty. Not fancy, but little kids like them. (Think jam burritos.)


Breakfast: 4 oz. juice; cereal with milk; toast and jam or peanut butter

Lunch: Tuna and Green Bean mixup: A can of cream soup, a can of tuna, a can of vegetables, and enough milk to moisten; doubled if enough food is left in the box. Serve with toast and cookies.

Supper: Whatever’s left: could be potatoes, pork and beans, canned vegetables, and bread. Milk if there’s still some left.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

Short On...? Carry On, Part Two: Breaking the Soup Rules

The best soups in the world may be made with bones and the ends of vegetables, but not all of us have those things all the time. You too can make soup, which as others before me have pointed out, is just wet food.

But even wet food tastes better with some stuff in it to give it a) ballast and b) flavour. These are some soups created and eaten by the Treehouse squirrels over the past many years. I've chosen the ones with the shortest and/or most flexible ingredient lists.

It Appears to Be Soup

Ingredients: 4 cups of chicken stock, 2 cups of water, 1/2 cup green lentils simmered in the stock/water, then some cooked rice, leftover chopped potato, and frozen mixed vegetables added and cooked until it was soup. 

Directions: Simmer it all together. You know it's soup when it stops looking like a potful of water with vegetables and lentils floating in it.

"We Are Never Going to Use This Coleslaw Mix" Soup

Ingredients: 1 bag pre-shredded cabbage, carrots, barley, canned pinto beans, sloppy joe seasoning (homemade mixture), and a few lentils (since we had them)

Directions: Simmer it all together.

Freezer Minestrone

Ingredients: Several small containers of leftover pasta sauce and beans that had accumulated in the freezer, along with a box of chicken broth, a bit of frozen spinach, a bit of pasta, and a few mushrooms.

Directions: Simmer it all together.

Sort of Mexican Soup

Ingredients: Leftovers from the Hillbilly Housewife's Lentil-Rice Taco Stuffing; enough water or broth to make it soupy; one can pinto beans, drained; some frozen corn, half a cup or so of salsa. 

Directions: Simmer it all together. Add corn and salsa near the end of cooking.

Lentil Soup Isn't So Bad 

Ingredients: 3 cups chicken broth plus an equal amount water; Some green lentils--maybe half to two-thirds of a cup dry; 2 carrots, sliced; 1/2 bunch celery, including some leaves, sliced; salsa 

Directions: Rinse the lentils and check for pebbles. Bring the broth and water to a boil, and add the lentils and vegetables. Turn down the heat and simmer until the lentils are soft enough to eat and the vegetables are cooked. I poured in some mild salsa partway through--maybe half a cup, just enough to season it up and add a bit of onion and tomato.  Add more water if it needs it as it's cooking.

Dead-easy Navy Bean Soup (slow cooker) (Adapted from Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely)

Directions: Soak one pound navy beans (half a 900 gram bag) overnight.

When you get up in the morning, discard the soaking water.  Throw some frozen chopped onion, the beans, a couple of bay leaves, and 1 litre (quart) chicken or vegetable broth into the slow cooker, and turn it on high.

Later, when you're feeling more awake, add in sliced carrots and/or celery.  I didn't have celery so I put in some celery seed.  Keep the soup cooking all day, on high for part of the time if your day is getting short.  When the beans seem like they're pretty soft, add in salt and pepper; I also added a bit of cumin. Add a little water if it seems to need it, but don't add TOO much.

You can turn it off and let it sit for awhile before you eat, to let it thicken and cool a bit.

Slow Cooker Split Pea Soup We've Been Making Forever

Adapted from a recipe in The Perfect Basket, by Diane Phillips. Can be halved and cooked in a smaller slower cooker. If you don't have fresh vegetables, you can substitute frozen "spaghetti mix" vegetables (a mixture of onion, celery, and pepper).


2 cups yellow split peas (one of the little bags from the grocery store)
1/2 cup brown rice (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 tsp. dried marjoram
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. white pepper (I didn't have any so I used black pepper)
1 quart chicken or vegetable broth plus more water as needed
Some chopped frozen onion
A couple of carrots, peeled and chopped
Three stalks of celery, chopped

If you weren't going to do this in the slow cooker, you could start by sauteing the vegetables in a bit of butter or oil, then adding the split peas, broth, and seasonings. I just put everything into the 3 1/2 quart slow cooker, adding water to fill it maybe three-quarters full. I set it on High for a few hours, then turned it to Low partway through the afternoon when it was bubbling hard. I think it would work fine to leave it on Low all day.

Hamburger Soup #1 

This is what I did: browned a pound of ground beef, drained off most of the fat, added in some chopped onion and celery and let them cook a few minutes.  Added a can of pasta sauce and several cans of water; when it boiled, I added a cupful of what the grocery store packaged as "soup mix." That is, a mixture of lentils, grains, and small beans.  I let that simmer for a couple of hours, stirring it to keep from sticking, adding water if it needed it.  You could probably do it in the slow cooker too. Later I added chopped zucchini, a few mushrooms, and pasta bowties, along with extra basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  That's it, and it made a lot. 

Hamburger Soup #2

This recipe is descriptive, not prescriptive: don't go cooking one potato to copy this.

Ingredients: 1 lb. extra-lean ground beef; splash of olive oil for flavour; salt, pepper; lots of sliced celery (or part onions); 3 fat, ripe tomatoes; 1 cup leftover pasta sauce and half a can tomato paste (plus maybe a cupful of water, or two cupfuls--depends on whether you want it to be more like stew or more like soup); 1 cooked potato and about a cupful of cooked yellow beans; 1 cupful frozen peas (add at the end)

Directions: In a large pot (I used a Dutch oven), brown the ground beef; drain if necessary but I didn't because there was almost no fat left in the pan. Add a little oil if necessary and add in the celery; cook until softened a bit. Add salt and pepper whenever you want. Add in tomato ingredients plus as much water as seems right, plus cut-up leftover vegetables. Mama Squirrel left the beans in nice long bean-sized pieces.

Bring it all to a boil, turn down and let simmer for about an hour. (Low enough so it doesn't burn, but just enough to bubble a bit.) Add the peas right at the end.

This doesn't have much seasoning in it (other than the salt, pepper, and what's in the pasta sauce) and you might think it's too bland; feel free to doctor it as you like.

Saturday, April 04, 2020

Short On...? Carry On: Part One (Archives Post)

First posted 2007, edited slightly
Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking of frugality only in terms of getting good bargains. What is important to remember is that often we can save the most money by not spending at all.--Crystal in "Saturday Savings Smorgasbord" at Frugal Hacks 
Sometimes, frugal as we Squirrels are, it's hard to wrap my brain around that. I have a hard time understanding how those pioneer families managed on their infrequent trips to a store for sugar, salt and shot...or how people concerned with simplicity (who haven't engineered the whole thing ahead of time, stocking up on every possible thing they might run out of) manage to go on one of those no-buying-anything-at-all shopping unbinges.

I mean, some things are obvious to me: if you need to wrap a present and haven't saved up all the bags everybody else has given you presents in, you find some creative wrapping, even the thoroughly-clichéd colour comics. If you're short on baking powder, you can combine baking soda and cream of tartar, assuming that you do have cream of tartar. It makes more sense to use up the getting-dusty bag of split peas to make soup than it does to complain that the canned stuff hasn't gone on sale lately. If you don't have a crib, you can use a playpen (we did). And the list of ways to amuse children and improvise free toys and games can and does go on for pages. That, I get.

But it isn't a toy famine that we're usually experiencing here, nor a lack of furniture. We have more than enough kitchen equipment, lots of books to read, and a flip of the switch provides us with free radio entertainment and edification. What we run out of are the small things. Socks that fit growing feet. Tape. Printer paper. Working ballpoint pens; and I don't think the backyard crows would lend me any quills. Flour (and therefore all the things we make with flour). Toilet paper; and I have no burning desire to start substituting catalogue pages in that regard. Baking powder when there isn't any cream of tartar around. Foil. A VCR that quit working and that Mr. Fixit can't resuscitate. How do you manage without spending at all when life today seems like one big pile of little receipts?

"'What do we need to get in town, Caroline?'

"Ma said they did not need anything. They had eaten so many fish and potatoes that the flour was still holding out, and the sugar, and even the tea. Only the salt was low, and it would last several days."--On the Banks of Plum Creek
Could I actually go any length of time without buying anything? I know there are so many things you can improvise, and many more that you can just do without. But then there's the really good candy corn for Thanksgiving from the Bulk Barn...and some classical CDs from Dollarama that will make great stocking stuffers and Secret Sister gifts...and the purple sweater I found at a rummage sale Friday night (I do need sweaters). And the Turkish Cookbook I got there for a quarter, and a spool knitting set as well. (Crayons thought those were both awesome.) And dancing-class shoes for the younger Squirrelings, because their last-years' pairs are worn out (call them the 2 Dancing Princesses); those cost more than a couple of dollars, but we didn't want them to have to dance in their bare feet.

And that aseptically-packaged apple juice from Giant Tiger for 77 cents a box (amazing deal)...and, if you don't think we should be eating candy and drinking juice (too much sugar), how about the pumpkins and apples and squash and broccoli and the most excellent popcorn that will be gone all too soon when the farm stand closes up for the season? And we just bought a hot-air popper at a yard sale for $2...and a couple of VCRs for about the same price, no kidding. I said VCRs, not videos. See, you have to admit, sometimes spending is just fun. And smart; check the big box stores, VCRs are quickly disappearing from the shelves, and then how are you going to watch all your Star Trek videos?

So while my preferred way of dealing with don't-have-that problems is trying to see another way around it, I'm not going to stress out with guilt over the things we do buy. 

"And in the lean-to they found a boughten broom! There seemed no end to the wonders in this house."--On the Banks of Plum Creek

Friday, April 03, 2020

How Homeschoolers Do It (Archives Post): More Than a Checklist

First posted January 2015 

The province of Ontario has had a common-to-all-schools curriculum for about twenty years now. The guidelines for each grade, each subject area are available online. Some homeschoolers make use of them, some of the time. Occasionally they have been useful: a few years ago when I was trying to get our Apprentice approved for grade 10 mathematics, I could see how far the grade 9 content went. When we created a few of our own high school courses (grade 10 Canadian history, grade 11 philosophy), I used the basic questions and themes of the courses, but chose our own materials and methods. So yes, sometimes it has been helpful, usually when an outside party (the public school) is involved.

But why would you want to base a whole education on something so nebulous? The outlines are either so general and vague that you don't have a clue as to what to do with them; or they are so super-comprehensive that, again, you don't even know where to start. It's like looking at a restaurant menu with too many options but nothing to eat. Paper Pizza, if you like.

But I don't like. I don't like complicated where things could be simple. And I don't like lack of substance, even if the substance takes pages and pages to lack.

This past week, my eighth grader and I worked on a short section from How to Read a Book, which pertained not only to reading but to all communication: how do you say "I understand what you said, but I disagree," without prejudice or undue emotion, but with enough specific details to support your position? And how do you deal with the fact that some people will, no matter what, resent the fact that you're disagreeing, because nice people shouldn't be disagreeable? Adler points out the difference between disagreeing with someone because they are underinformed, misinformed, or haven't analyzed the case logically or thoroughly enough, and just being contentious. How many adults do you know that don't seem ever to have learned this? But instead of making it a checkmarkable lesson, wouldn't it be simpler to say "every eighth grader should read and discuss (non-contentiously) chapter 11 of How to Read a Book?"
We read the first two chapters from C.S. Lewis's second Space Trilogy book, Perelandra (Voyage to Venus). The book begins with the narrator's walk from a train station to a friend's house, on an errand that he is anticipating about as much as a root canal. It's getting dark. He imagines voices, or are they imagined? Maybe he should just go back...and then he gets to the house, his friend isn't there, and in the darkness he falls over something like...a coffin. Is the hair standing up on your neck yet? Should we go on to the next chapter, or would you rather fill out a vocabulary worksheet, or do a lesson on Lewis's use of descriptive adjectives? No?

We read about a journey through Tanzania. We read about Jessica's elopement with Lorenzo, and the opening of the three caskets. We looked at Albrecht Dürer's series of self-portraits. What did it mean when he painted himself as a "dude?" Why, another time, did he seem to pose as Jesus Christ? How do we create and re-create ourselves, showing ourselves first one way, then another?
Lydia finished reading 13 Things That Don't Make Sense (science)She worked on graphing equations. She wrote a summary of the return of Odysseus, from her reading of Edith Hamilton's Mythology. She wrote a business-like email describing herself briefly and requesting information about auditions for a play (real life, not a school exercise). She also knit like crazy all week, ran out of things to knit, went out Thursday night to buy more yarn (consumer education and estimation skills), and had a Lollipop Doll finished by the end of the next day (perseverance).
We read Tennyson's poem "Ulysses." "I am a part of all that I have met; / Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough / Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades / Forever and forever when I move." Isn't that a good description of a lifelong passion for adventure...and learning?

But...those things we did this week don't all fit on a neat matrix, a checklist. I don't know if I can find them in the Ontario Grade Eight Common Curriculum.
□ Identify a variety of reading comprehension strategies and use them before, during, and after reading to understand increasingly complex or difficult texts
□ Demonstrate understanding of increasingly complex and difficult texts by summarizing important ideas and citing a variety of details that support the main idea
□ Develop and explain interpretations of increasingly complex or difficult texts using stated and implied ideas from the texts to support their interpretations
□ Extend understanding of texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, by connecting the ideas in them to their own knowledge, experience, and insights, to other familiar texts, and to the world around them
□ Analyse a variety of texts, both simple and complex, and explain how the various elements in them contribute to meaning and influence the reader’s reaction
□ Evaluate the effectiveness of a text based on evidence from that text
□ Identify the point of view presented in texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts; give evidence of any biases they may contain; and suggest other possible perspectives
I think that all means...read the book.
"Come, my friends.
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew... "
 -- Tennyson