Friday, July 31, 2020

From the archives: a few useful things for teaching your own

First posted March 2016

Some useful stuff for teaching parents:

Discover Reading, by Amy Tuttle. How an experienced homeschool mom applies Charlotte Mason's early reading lessons.

Let's Play Math, by Denise Gaskins. Just about everything you need to be a great homeschool math teacher, all in one book. I was impressed by the fact that this is not just another book of website links: it's something I actually enjoyed reading (even without anybody homeschooling here now).

Some things you might like to listen to:

The most recent episode of The Mason Jar, with guest Naomi Goegan. You too can do nature study!

And more nature study: The Deputy Headmistress reads from a CM-era conference paper. The Reverend Thornley is said to have been a favourite guest with the student teachers at Ambleside.

Episode 13 of Your Morning Basket. About Plutarch. With I hope you enjoy it. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Nature of Thrifting (Part Two)

A big part of thrifting is being adaptable, but also knowing what it's worth to you to fix, clean, or make over. I bought a pair of grey pants a couple of weeks ago, but they turned out to have an extra-wide elastic panel around the waist that I didn't like, plus that panel was a bit stretched out and I wasn't sure if I could ever make them fit well enough to be worth it. Yesterday I found a similar pair, without the panel, so yay!

But on the same trip, I found a skirt: teal and grey, in a style I liked, but too big. That one, I decided, was worth working on to make it fit. It took all morning because I'm a slow pinner and sewer, but I did get it to a wearable state. Yay again.
So are you up for a game?

What do you think this set of three little bowls was intended for?
How many things could you use them for?

Sauce for Chinese food or sushi? Salsa?

Cute little prep dishes when you're cooking?

Used-teabag holders?

Holding your rings?

Something to hold the violets or dandelions your kids bring you without any stems?

Tiny little desserts or salads?

Candle holders?
Well, this is what they're meant to be:
Bread dipping oil bowls.
But sometimes it pays to think outside the bowl.

A Strange-Holidays Wednesday Hodgpodge

Rolling into another week with the Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer the questions on your own blog, then hop back to From This Side of the Pond to share answers with the whole wide world. Here we go-

From this Side of the Pond

1. Last time you moved house? Something you've learned in moving house?

We moved from a house to an apartment in 2017, and from the apartment to a townhouse a year ago last week. Our youngest Squirreling is preparing to depart from the nest soon.

Something we've learned? That a good moving company can be totally worth it, even if the move isn't far away. And that stuff always takes more boxes than you think.

If you get the chance, measure the cupboards, figure out what will fit where, and see if it would help to adjust some of them, or if you're going to have to leave something behind.

Also, if you're moving into or out if a place with an elevator, buy one of those flat carts with a tall handle like the package deliverers use. We found ours at a home store, I think.  Saves carrying boxes.

2. Move mountains, move along, make a wrong move, moved to tears, get a move on, move up, move over, move out of the way, move the deck chairs on the Titanic, move it!...pick one and tell us how it fits your recent circumstances.

I moved some books and clothes along to the thrift store last week.

Here's a moving-along quote from Elizabeth Goudge:
The barn was facing them, and the old storm-twisted oak tree bent over the ate to lay its branches on the roof of the old barn. It was studded with new green leaves, coral-tipped, and they made a sort of canopy over the gate. Ben was out of the car in a flash and had opened it.
"Always thought this gate led to into a farmyard," said  George as he drove forward.
"I didn't," said Caroline softly. "I always had a feeling it led somewhere wonderful, but I was afraid to go and see, in case it didn't." (Pilgrim's Inn)

3. What have you been doing to make yourself move (aka stay fit-active) during these strange times?

I am not an exerciser anyway so I am not missing gyms. I just do my normal.

4. This week's calendar includes celebrations for the following foods-

National Coffee Milkshake Day (Sunday), National Creme Brûlée Day (Monday), National Milk Chocolate Day (Tuesday), National Chicken Wing Day (Wednesday), National Lasagne Day (Wednesday), National Cheesecake Day (Thursday), and National Avocado Day (Friday)

Which one on the list would you be most inclined to celebrate? Which would you be most inclined to skip?

You missed National Lipstick Day, today! Which is a complete bummer in summer 2020, unless maybe you do Zoom calls every day. 
Annabelle Edge Lipstick - Brigitte | London Drugs
My favourite right now, when I do get to not have something over my face: Annabelle's Brigitte

(My husband said, "Are you supposed to eat the lasagna wearing lipstick?")

5. Next week's Hodgepodge lands in August! I know!! Raise your hand if you feel like July flew by in the blink of an eye? Now bid farewell to your July acrostic style. If you don't know what that means click here.


6.  Insert your own random thought here.

Today's project, besides regular work, is taking in a thrifted grey plaid skirt with buttons down the front. I take a US/Canada size 8, but I liked this one enough to buy a 13 (whatever that is). I'm trying to do this one right (instead of doing a couple of lazy waistband tucks), so I've unhemmed it, picked off two ugly patch pockets which were going to half-disappear anyway, and the next step is to trace an existing skirt, open up the waistband a bit, and sew new side seams. And re-do the hem. For me and my "evil sewing machine," that's a lot. Stay tuned to see if it's a miss or a go.
It's not perfect, but it's wearable.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Autumn in July: 13 Pieces, 13 Outfits

Part One is here

Along with some new (thrifted) clothes that seemed to draw on the colours in the scarf above, I pulled out some things I'd had for awhile, for a total of 13 somewhat random pieces. (You will notice there's no blue denim, because that's too easy.) Here they are:

Dark teal-blue rayon top
Dark pink long tank top, off-white shirt, the top shown above (too dark in this photo), and a striped t-shirt (because fall here isn't always about cold weather).
Brown-grey leggings, navy jersey pants, grey pinstriped jeans
Vintage tweed skirt; grey denim skirt. That's probably twice as many skirts as I'd normally put into a small wardrobe, but I wanted to play around with the greens in the tweed, and the grey skirt goes with everything. I could probably have done without one of the leggings or the jersey pants, too, but I wanted one navy bottom to go with the blues and greens.
New thrifted find: magenta cotton cowlneck tunic top
New thrifted crewneck pullover
New thrifted grey cardigan (horrible colour in the photo: just trust me, it's grey like a grandpa sweater).
The colour is way off on this photo, sorry. This is a new thrifted find: a grey-blue cardi-wrap. These had their moment about ten years ago, and I've thrifted a couple of them over the years, then moved them on; one always seemed too long, and another was too tight in the arms. This one isn't exactly loose in the arms, but it will layer over thin tops like the teal one above.
The 13 outfits I came up with are shown without any accessories, shoes, scarves or anything else. I'll save that for another post. 

The top plus the skirt looks a bit disconnected here, but in real life I think it will work, especially with a belt.
This is the same top, but the colour should be that purple you're seeing in the photo above.
I wanted to show this tank top with the cardi-wrap, which would make 14 outfits, but I forgot to take that photo.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Nature of Thrifting (Part One of Four)

I read a complaint by a social activist that people who think they're doing something for justice by buying clothes secondhand aren't doing the right things, or enough of them. Her point, as I understand it, is that buying a used t-shirt doesn't educate us about capital-I Issues, nor does it channel money into capital-B Businesses owned by capital-P People that the social activist wants us to patronize. Like small independent fashion designers.


Well, that's like saying that just putting money into a church collection plate isn't the same as getting out there and "working for the Lord." Agreed that it's not the same, but it's still important. There are front-liners, there are second-stringers, there are supporters. Some people will always stay in the back rooms of ministries, or just be names on donor lists and prayer chains, but that Does Not Make Them Less Valuable.

When you  choose to buy something secondhand, or swap or re-use or buy-not, it is a small act, but it is felt.

It is felt because of what you didn't do. Because you chose to buy-or-not-buy your X from already-existing sources, you most likely chose not to buy a similar X new. That's a vote for the environment, against pollution and packaging and garbage dumps, all that industrial-nasty stuff. Some people would also say that it's a vote against "slave labour" or unjust practices which are commonly perpetrated mainly against women.

It is also felt because of what you did do, or what your thrifting money does by going into the funds of a charitable organization or ministry. Mennonite Central Committee, for example, posted this on its website in 2019:

So it's all about choice, isn't it? I can support a small business by buying its products, if I can afford them and if they have something I need myself, or can use for my own business, or want to give to someone. Or I can support a ministry or charity that has worthwhile goals. Or I can make a hundred other choices.

But don't ever think that any of those choices are too small to be noticed.
Top and skirt from Salvation Army Thrift Store

Monday, July 20, 2020

From the archives: Couch, classroom, doesn't matter

First posted January 2016

One long-running feature of Dewey's Treehouse has been Grandpa Squirrel's Sunday newspapers. The Squirrelings' Grandpa has been sharing his Toronto newspapers with us since before the blog got started, and they've been the source of many discussion-worthy stories here.

Here's the latest, from the New York Times International Weekly section of the Toronto Star: Tom Brady's piece "Nurturing Students, Naturally." (2020: link no longer works)

It starts out with a description of the "forest schools," the trendy kindergartens where children spend a large part of the day outdoors (while, as he notes, their parents are probably working indoors in cubicles).

But then he switches to a brief but tantalizing story about two school districts in New Jersey. Because the link above may not stay active, I'll type out the relevant part:

"Consider Union City, New Jersey, which, like its neighboring city Newark had failing schools for decades. But then Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to Newark's schools in 2010.

"Today, Union City's schools are performing better.

"The school district there, led by Fred Carrigg, faced two challenges head on. They taught more classes in Spanish so the three quarters of their students who were learning English did not fall farther behind. They turned youngsters, many of whom came from homes without books, into capable readers...To get students excited about books, the schools assigned daily reading and writing assignments, even in subjects like art and science.
Meanwhile, Newark spent tens of millions on outside consultants.

"'The real story of Union City is that it didn't fall back,' Mr Carrigg told The Times. 'It stabilized and has continued to improve.'" 
Doesn't that just blow you away? I have no way to verify that story or any of its results...I'm trusting the NYT and Tom Brady that they got it right. But why should it be surprising? It's a very old story, one that Marva Collins would have recognized; one that Dorothy Canfield Fisher described in 1916.
"Elizabeth Ann had not understood more than one word in five of this, but just then the school-bell rang and they went back, little Molly helping Elizabeth Ann over the log and thinking she was being helped, as before.They ran along to the little building, and there I'm going to leave them, because I think I've told enough about their school for ONE while.It was only a poor, rough, little district school anyway, that no Superintendent of Schools would have looked at for a minute, except to sniff." (Understood Betsy)
Winning the grant lottery...or having a rich fairy not always an advantage, whether in education, business, or anything. Especially if the bureaucrats take the gift and spend it on more bureaucracy.

Sometimes the solution is not more money...or more consultants, more Superintendents of Schools. And it's not about making things easier or more fun. It's about actually getting students to read and write. Regularly, with purpose, with excitement; and whether that happens in a "poor, rough, llittle district school," or on the living room couch, or in the Union City schools, doesn't matter.

From the archives: A Wonderful Reason to Homeschool

First posted March 2016

Have you ever been part of or worked for an organization whose goals, you eventually realized, were the exact opposite of what you assumed they should be?

First "How a Generation Lost its Common Culture," by Patrick Deneen, at
"During my lifetime, lamentation over student ignorance has been sounded by the likes of E.D. Hirsch, Allan Bloom, Mark Bauerlein and Jay Leno, among many others. But these lamentations have been leavened with the hope that appeal to our and their better angels might reverse the trend...Broadly missing is sufficient appreciation that this ignorance is the intended consequence of our educational system, a sign of its robust health and success...What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, history-less free agents, and educational goals composed of content-free processes and unexamined buzz-words like 'critical thinking,' 'diversity,' 'ways of knowing,' 'social justice,' and 'cultural competence.'”
And then go and read Brandy's Afterthoughts post, "The Origin of Nature Knowledge in a Charlotte Mason Education."
"I remember a number of years ago when my oldest child was reading  Secrets of the Woods...This book made him long to spend extended time in the woods, and it enticed him into holding still and listening for movement, and then seeing what there was to see. It changed a boy that once romped wildly along the path into someone who tried to be quiet as a mouse. To this day, he behaves differently out on a trail because of that book."
That is why.

From the archives: Learning Outside the Box

First posted September 2016; edited slightly

Every adult has particular memories of school, or school supplies. For those of us who started school in the 1970's, it might be Bic Banana pens, or (for the Canadians) packs of Laurentien/Laurentian pencil crayons. Newsprint fliers for Scholastic paperbacks. Library books that had pockets and cards in them. Glue in clear bottles with rubber tips (or, earlier, the ever-discussed white paste in a jar that the bad kids would eat). And of course the also-ever-discussed smell of ditto-machine fluid.
I've often talked about my "experimental '70's" elementary education. Some parts of that were good, or at least fun; other things we could have done without. The photo above is a 1960 SRA Reading Laboratory (SRA meaning Science Research Associates, which should tell you a lot right there). We used a box like this maybe once a week in the 1970's. I didn't hate it. I liked, somewhat, the challenge of jumping ahead through those coloured levels. Each learning card had a story, which I thought was sort of like reading a Sunday School paper. The activities were a bit like doing word games. And I suppose I thought that it was better than some other things they might have had us doing instead. (This blogger isn't even that charitable, although she does include the fascinating story of where the first "box" came from.)

I found a scanned-in review of this, also from 1960, and this is what it said:
"This is a U.S.A. attempt to individualize reading instruction in a large class with a wide range of reading ability. A triumph of pedagogical ingenuity combined with superb industrial design, it provides, in a container 16 x 8 x 8 inches, sufficient material to keep a class of forty students with a reading range of over six years purposefully busy for at least fifty-four periods...The levels, each of which is identified by a distinctive colour, are very carefully graded and cover a reading range of approximately 7.5-15 years and are designed to interest children from 9 to 12 years. The material, however, is stimulating and so attractively presented that the laboratory would be acceptable to most children up to the age of fourteen years."
Are you excited so far?
"The laboratory consists of:--  150 Power Building Cards, 15 at each of 10 levels, all very attractively illustrated and laid-out, which give carefully planned training in reading for comprehension, word recognition and semantic skills; a Key Card for marking each Power Builder; 150 Rate Builder Cards..."
and so on and so on and so on.

If I told you that the review of the learning kit came from a journal called The Slow Learning Child, would that make a difference?

"I am jealous for the children; every modern educational movement tends to belittle them intellectually; and none more so than a late ingenious attempt to feed normal children with the pap-meat which may (?) be good for the mentally sick*..." (Charlotte Mason, Philosophy of Education)
*"Mentally sick": obviously the terminology for cognitive disability has changed a great deal since 1923.

And that, I think, was what was wrong with this attractively presented triumph of pedagogical ingenuity. It taught us to read reprinted stories on folded cards, answer multiple-choice questions about main idea, and work through lists of antonyms. You might become very good at answering main-idea questions and picking out antonyms, just like you might master the technique of shaking chicken parts in a bag of something that comes out of a package and then putting them in the oven for the required time. It's a programmed skill, but it doesn't make you a chef.

And those cards didn't make us readers.

According to the blog post I linked above, the teacher who first came up with the idea was working with seventh graders and had too limited a budget to get fancy consumable materials, so he cut and pasted some workbooks to make them re-useable. (Shades of some homeschoolers, yes?)  But here's the thing...he could have used books. He could have done what Marva Collins did (without a box). He could have asked the students to narrate, to tell and write about the books they were reading. He could have taken advantage of the natural world around them.  Maybe I have the completely wrong impression, and they spent every afternoon reading classic novels and going out for nature walks. He could have done a lot of things, and maybe he did, I have no idea.

But I think he should have skipped the box.

At any rate, we can. Our boxes these days may look like computer pages instead of shiny cards, but they're no more real or necessary than SRA kits were in my classroom. Don't buy or do the things that make you feel more like a teacher. Do what matters for the students. Do the things that really feed mind-hunger. Nurture the readers and writers, curious human beings, creative spirits, and care-takers of all kinds.

That's my back-to-school post.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

The Intentional Thrifter: An Autumn Story in July

(A story in the style of The Vivienne Files)

She finds it hard to pin down her favourite colour.  Sometimes it's blue. Sometimes it's green. Sometimes it's rose pink, plum, or even magenta.

But at least she knows that all those colours go pretty well with grey. Also navy, but she's putting her fall efforts into grey. So she pulls out last year's clothes, and uses what she's learned from The Vivienne Files to put a basic group of neutral things together.
Grey t-shirt, off-white shirt, jean-style Tencel shirt; blue jeans, grey pinstriped jeans, grey denim skirt
Short-sleeved grey sweater, off-white t-shirt, grey t-shirt dress, striped t-shirt, grey cords, grey fleece cardigan
Revolve dress from

It seems she has enough to cover her back, but that there are some extra things that could help these clothes out. A pair of grey pants that aren't jeans or cords; a plain-ish, grey sweater that isn't a t-shirt. And maybe a pullover in a different colour.

She starts browsing a bit online, but can't seem to find the right things, right size, right price. A lot of things are out of stock. She does wonder, somewhat grumpily, why she's bothering. Her lifestyle was already pretty casual, but with all that's going on this year, her reasons to dress up now are pretty much zilch. Her clothes budget is also small, because she's decided to put some money into a good pair of shoes.

But one hot afternoon she puts on the accoutrements one currently needs to go shopping, and drops into a thrift store. Unfortunately, these days she can't try anything on, so it's all about estimating what will fit. The best thing about this store is that the prices are pretty low, so if she makes a mistake it's not a huge deal.

First, the pants rack. Narrowing it down by size, then colour and style, leaves only a couple of maybes. She goes with a dark grey pair that are a size up from her normal, but it's a forgiving sort of style, so she crosses her fingers and puts them in the cart.
Now to hunt for grey sweaters. She finds one she likes, with all its tags missing, including the fabric label; her best guess is that it's mostly cotton. It looks like it would work well with the pants.
Hey, what's that? An Ann Taylor Loft cardigan, and it definitely looks like it would fit.  Too good to pass up.
There's a pullover sweater in a bluish teal that will go with a scarf she recently acquired. It will be a good replacement for a red one she had that was a similar style, but that was shedding little balls of fur everywhere.
She's also been thinking about blouses, so she has a quick look along the long-sleeved-tops rack. This catches her eye: a cowl-neck cotton tunic in magenta, with sort of a pattern in the fabric that you miss at first glance. It's something that could be dressed up or down. Size Large, but it could still work.

Her thrifting instincts say "That's enough." She buys the five items for about the same price as one blouse she had looked at online. And she is very pleased.

Coming soon: Adding colour and making outfits.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Intentional Thrifter: Summer Blues

Given the constraints on thrifting recently (e.g.  unpredictable store hours, no change rooms, no yard sales or rummage sales, the consignment store has closed forever), we have still been doing all right. Mr. Fixit has found a few things to restore, and we also bought a small bookcase for the living room. We used to have a floor radio in that space, but since it got sold awhile back, Mr. Fixit suggested that a bookcase would work well there. Mama Squirrel did not complain about that idea, and recently we did find a nice one.
It is, obviously, riskier to buy clothes when you have no way of trying them on first. However, it's not the clothes I have had a problem with recently, it's the books: the few I've bought were just not what I expected. Well, one of the tank tops from a previous trip did have several small holes in it that I did not notice until later. (Saving it for pajama wear.) But overall, I think I've been lucky. 

Blue jersey wrap top or cardigan. It's a brighter blue than this (something like the tank top shown in the next photo), but the lighting was poor.
White, very lightweight shirt
Striped summer pants. The hems are unfinished, but I think that's the way they're supposed to be. I've been wearing them with the white shirt.

Accessories, obviously, are less risky.

Pink glass necklace from an antiques market
Floral cashmere scarf from another antiques place (something to save for fall)

And for our house: a painted round bowl I'm using as a candle holder, and two packages of round candles that came up at the very next stop.