Thursday, October 02, 2014

From the archives: Enough, already.

First posted October 2, 2012.
I heard the tail end of a news item on the radio this morning, something about a study concluding that a lot of people have too much clutter and stuff.

Leaving aside the question of who gets paid to study that (what a world), and the comment that we all know that anyway, they may have been referring to researchers at Princeton who say that living with clutter has a negative effect on peoples' brains.

The Princeton study is cited in a post by Marlene Alexander at Walletpop Canada"How Having Too Much Stuff is Costing You."  Marlene writes, "[The study] found that disorder blocks your ability to focus and limits your brain's ability to process information. Clutter wears you down mentally so you're more likely to become frustrated and stressed."

But there's also a September 29th article in the St. Catharines Standard, by Thane Burnett of the QMI Agency, "Our ancestors would be impressed, but being buried by all our stuff is not making us happier."  From the article:  "We don't just use shopping buggies, we push flatbed carts.  Children in North America make up a small percentage of the world's population but play with at least 40% of all the world's toys -- many which are ignored in their closets.  We cling to sweaters that aren't worn, cookbooks never stained by buttery fingers, photo albums eclipsed by digital files we also don't keep in order, piles of sports equipment growing fatter from sitting idle, and on some hanger [sic] a ski jacket from 1983."
I plead...only semi-guilty to consumption and clutter.  I try not to hang on to what I can't possibly use, even among my beloved books.  I download Kindle freebies, but if I haven't given them more than a few minutes a month later, I delete them.  This summer I added a few extra shoes to my closet, but that's because I was down to a worn pair of church shoes and a ratty pair of sneakers.  We've parted with no-longer-useful gifts, even those that held memories of their donors. We've used a lot of the older things (furniture, tools, dishes, toys) that have come our way; in fact, finding and restoring now counts for a good chunk of our family income.
However, compared to a lot of people in the world, our family is still overloaded and wasteful.  It doesn't matter how many loads of stuff we take to the thrift store, how many cloth napkins I sew.  It's more a matter of the huge gap between those of us in North America who think we live fairly simply or on small incomes, and a lot of other people who lack even clean water and a safe place to live.
So what motivates us?  Increasing guilt, refusing to enjoy what we do have because there are many who still need?  I should, what, refuse to make lasagna with cheese and meat, or refuse to make it with cheese, or refuse to make it at all, or refuse to eat it at all, or refuse to eat at all?   If it's hard deciding how much stuff is enough, how do we decide how much un-stuff is enough?

Sounds a bit like the sermon on John the Baptist that I heard at church this weekend. Repent, he hollered, all you people who find yourselves part of systems that hurt instead of heal. Do what you can to change what's stuck.  Live as honestly as you can, sharing where you can and trying not to support or excuse abuse and injustice.  As the Princeton study says: live in a way that doesn't wear you down or drown you in a sea of stuff, whatever that means for you and your family: big house so you can have lots of company, tiny house so you can live with less, whatever.  Make your home welcoming; preserve the past without stumbling over it.
How else can we then live?

Ironically, I do have a 1980's ski sweater that my mother knit for me.  It's a great colour, it's warm, and it reminds me of her every really cold day when I wear it.  I'm keeping it.

Start with a word (Lydia's Grade 8)

"The smallest significant element in a book is, of course, a single word."  ~~ Mortimer J. Adler, How to Read a Book
Today's plans and readings:

Three pages from How to Read a Book.  Adler says that in the early chapters of his book, he was explaining how to break a book down.  Now he's going in the opposite direction: starting with the smallest units, the words and terms; then building up to propositions (which are composed of terms) and arguments (which are composed of propositions).  Or you can think of it as going from words / phrases, to sentences, to collections of sentences (paragraphs).
Picture Talk: Titian's "The Madonna of the Rabbit" or "Madonna and Child with St. Catherine and a Rabbit."  Interesting audio descriptions here.  (I haven't listened to them all the way through, so no guarantees.  I do know that he mentions St. Catherine's vision of her marriage to Jesus, which is just a little...well, okay.)

Poetry:  Sidney, "My true love hath my heart"; cummings, "i carry your heart."

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

What's for supper? Extreme toaster-ovening

If everything fits, why not?

Tonight's dinner:

Mini quiches, made earlier in the day.  Half spinach-cheese, half leftover vegetable-cheese.
Baked potatoes.  A few leftover meatballs. Leftover Beany's Beans.  A can of corn.

Cherry crisp, compact-sized, made from frozen cherries and a blended-up mixture of cereals / flour / sugar / oil.

Quote for the day: The Parish of the Infinite

"In order that the flavour and scent of existence may not be lost, we must have within ourselves some consciousness of this impelling power that may lead us to travel deliberately through our ages, realizing that the most wonderful adventures are not those which we go forth to seek. We shall then, perhaps, have some glimmering idea of what [Robert Louis] Stevenson himself meant when he said, "whether the past day was wise or foolish, to-morrow's travel will carry me body and mind into some different parish of the infinite." The conception of ourselves and our children as citizens of the "parish of the infinite" is undoubtedly one that must give us pause." --"The Open Road," by Frances Blogg (also known as Mrs. G.K. Chesterton), in The Parent's Review, Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 772-774

School plans for the first of October: Befuddled? (Updated with monkeys.)

Some ideas for today's school with Lydia:

I'm trying to think of a way to work in the first audio installment of The Screwtape Letters, recorded by John Cleese in 1989, via a link at The Common Room today. Maybe it will be our school opener today--the first letter is about Screwtape's technique for basic distraction.  There's also a very important line in Letter #1, that might go by if you don't notice where Lewis snuck it in:  Screwtape jeers that "It sounds as if you supposed that argument was the way to keep him out of the Enemy's [God's] clutches.  That might have been so if he had lived a few centuries earlier.  At that time the humans still knew pretty well when a thing was proved and when it was not; and if it was proved they really believed it.  They still connected thinking with doing and were prepared to alter their way of life as the result of a chain of reasoning."

Screwtape insists that it's a demon's job not to teach but to "fuddle" us.  And that leads in...sort part of a chapter of Daughter of Time.  Lots of fuddling there.

Lydia has the rest of the morning to figure out her own work:  math, AO readings, and so on.

Later we will read chapter 6 of Whatever Happened to Justice?, "Enforcement of Early Common Law." Mostly it's about restitution.  In the really early days (under common law), it was less common for someone to be imprisoned as punishment for a crime, because who wanted to pay taxes to support prisoners?  It was more common to pay fines and such to the victim, making restitution.

(What happened with that?  Well, I found this story about monkeys in a cage getting sprayed with ice water, in a book I am reading myself, and I thought it was a great introduction to chapter 7 of the book, about how custom is different from common law.  Why we do the things we do, and which of those things should be important enough to be laws.  So I just highlighted a couple of the main points from chapter 6 and said we'll get back to that when we talk more about force and policing.  I read the monkey story, and we focused on chapter 7 and then also read chapter 8 which is very short. What's homeschooling for if not to be flexible?)  (Monkey slide found here.)

And we'll work on French (Internet nouns and verbs, quite fun actually), and see if we can get into our review of Latin a bit (Mica, mica, parva stella).

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

For fun and for Susan: Three new words

My writing friend Susan Barclay has a post up at Inscribe today, in which she has challenged herself to use three words that are new to her.  So I looked up three new words in the dictionary too, and incorporated them into this bit of story.  See if you can figure out which ones are my words before you get to the end.

And give it a try yourself.

The procession passed by as the two small brothers watched, each holding tightly onto one of Gianna's hands.  The priests, the hymn singers, the men carrying gonfalons on poles, all plodded by, and Renzo asked her again what the banners were for.  And once again she tried to explain that it was because of the plague, the plague that had taken away the boys' parents two years since, the same plague that was now spreading again. Maybe God would be gracious this time and the prayers and the procession would keep it away from their town.  

"I will pray too," said Renzo, but his brother Rafe was distracted by the sweet and toy sellers who were calling noisily over the sound of the chanting and flutes.  He pulled on Gianna's hand.  

"Could we, could we just go and see, please?"  She was grateful for a reason to stop watching the dour procession, even for a few minutes, and let Rafe and Renzo pull her along past the booths and wooden carts.   As they passed a cart loaded with trinkets and bright jewellery, her own attention was drawn to the carved pendants and pins, and she made the boys stop while she examined a lady's face carved in shell.  They stamped their feet impatiently, bored by such female fripperies, so she gave them each a small coin and made them promise to meet her at the sweet seller's.  Then she turned back to the cameo.

"Do you like my glyptography?" asked the large, bearded man behind the cart.

"Is that what it's called? I've never seen anything like it," Gianna said.

"Puh, this is nothing compared to what my father used to make.  But these days gemstones are getting too scarce for carving, so I'm forced to use shells."

"You made this yourself?  Out of a shell?"  She couldn't imagine what he might be asking for something so fine, and whatever it was would be more than her uncle would ever give her to spend, but still she was fascinated.  "Do you come from around here?"

"No, I'm from the coast.  I was on my way to the university, hoping to sell some carved seals there, but I heard there was going to be a procession here today and thought it was a good chance to unload a few of my ladies.  What's with all the banners?  Is it a saint's day or something?"

"No, you didn't know?  They bring those gonfalons out only when there's plague."  His cheerful look disappeared.

"There's plague here?"

"No, but we've heard it's going through some of the towns nearby."  The man shuddered.

"Well, we're both alive today and that's something," she smiled, trying to see where the boys had gotten to.  "I've heard that a sad soul can kill you quicker than a germ."

"A good gnome!" he said.


"An aphorism.  A true saying.  I shall write it into my book of gnomology."  He produced a bundle of loose papers from behind the cart.

"That's a book?"

"It will be.  Someday," he said, opening a cloth sack full of uncarved shells.  "Just the way these shells will someday all have faces on them.  And someday won't get any work done, either.  Can I be rude enough to ask you your name?"

"Gianna.  Gianna Pagnotti."

"Well, Gianna Pagnotti, I'd like to put your face on one of my shells.  What would you think of that?"

But her answer was drowned out by a sudden scream from the direction of the sweet seller's booth.

Did you figure out the three words I was trying to use?

glyptography:  The art or process of carving or engraving on precious stones  

gnomology:  a collection of gnomes or aphorisms.  gnome:  a short, pithy expression of a general truth; aphorism.

gonfalon:  a banner suspended from a crossbar, often used in religious processions as a way to plead for divine intercession to prevent or cure the plague.

Cameo found here.

Poppy Seed Squares (photo post)

Welcome to the Treehouse kitchen!  Today we are making Poppy Seed Squares from The Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume Three, a recipe contributed by Tracy Willemsen of Prince George, BC.
1 3/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt

1/2 cup butter, melted, or you can substitute oil
1/3 cup honey
2 eggs
2 tbsp. milk
1 tsp vanilla

1 cup coconut
1/2 cup poppy seeds
icing sugar for dusting (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Combine wet ingredients and beat until smooth.  Stir in dry ingredients, coconut and poppy seeds.  Spread evenly in a greased 9 x 13 inch pan.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, watching to make sure they don't get too brown.

Cut in bars while still warm.   Dust with powdered sugar if you want.  Makes about 24 squares.

What's planned for supper: Orange Ginger Pork Meatballs (the easy way)

Tonight's dinner menu, on guitar and choir night:

Orange Ginger Pork Meatballs, the easy way.  That is, make meatballs, and heat them in what's left of the VH Orange Ginger sauce.

Rice, and frozen Oriental--style vegetables (I think we still have some, I'll have to look)

Apples, apricots, and maybe some cookies.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Summer or fall? Last days of warm

 Maple in front of our house--always one of the first to turn red
 Beside our house--still blooming
 Why you need to look very, very closely at these flowers: they're covered with bees today!

What's for supper? This and that

Tonight's dinner menu:  odds, ends, and leftovers.

Beany's Beans (photo below), with bacon cooked separately
Baked sweet potato pieces
Steamed quinoa
Bowls of last night's homemade chicken soup

Store-bought ginger snaps, and a package of dried apricots---unexpected great deal at the drugstore.

Homeschooling, still frugal thrifty cheap but hard to write about it

I used to post a lot about ways to save money homeschooling--how to recycle, make your own, use the library and other freebies, read thrifted books, visit the neighbour with the bird feeder. Sometimes it was hard to see what people were spending homeschool money on at all, when there were so many low-cost ways to keep K to 6's busy learning.

These days my thrifty-homeschooler posts are fewer, but there are reasons for that.  Although there are certainly more ways than ever to spend homeschool dollars, I think people are also more aware of free online resources.  There are whole websites set up just to let you know about good deals and freebies, and about the whole world of online stuff., for example.

Also, I think I don't mention as much about "ways we do math for less" or whatever, because an eighth grader tends to be using the same materials pretty much every day.  The elementary grades make better "homeschool copy."

Finally, we don't homeschool frugally just for the sake of frugality (if anyone does), so it's sometimes hard to write about it from that perspective.  If you read here much you might possibly know that I've mentioned that the math book we're using (Math: A Human Endeavor) was a chance find about ten years ago, and that I got the workbook through a used source right afterwards,  when the prices were still reasonable, and then The Apprentice ended up using only a few lessons in the workbook because she had way too much other homework in her public school courses.  So math this year is basically free. I didn't give it to Lydia in the sense of dumping leftovers, but because she needed a different kind of math this year and there it was. We also already owned this year's grammar course, writing books, Bible and devotional books, and most of the books required for Ambleside Online Year 8. But I can only say "I found that one at the thrift store" so many times.

If I had to boil down any frugal homeschooling advice I have left, it might come out like this:

1.  Whenever possible, use what's available to you, assuming it's in decent shape and appropriate for your students' needs, rather than going out and spending money on something else.  Lydia has asked to bring Latin back into the curriculum this fall, after a four-year break; so for the time being, we're going to go back to the course that we were using then, reviewing what she learned in the fourth grade and getting to the bits that were too hard then.  It's appropriate for her needs because it teaches ecclesiastical pronunciation and some of her "uses" for Latin could include vocal music.  It's frugal because it's on the shelf and I don't have to print out online textbook pages.

2.  Same as Number One: use what comes your way whenever you can.  We started kindergarten almost twenty years ago with a program that is still used by many with young children.  It required tracking down a lot of specific picture books, some of which (even though the program itself was quite new) had gone out of print.  It seems to me that it would have been better for homeschoolers to have used maybe a few of those lessons with books they could access, then get brave enough to branch out with their own good books, rather than get too devoted to finding everything on the list.

3.  Same as Number Two:  make use of local resources.  I heard only recently that we had a nearby weather research station that gave tours--but then I found out that it's been closed, so I had to scratch that off the field trip list.  Since this is the year that we're doing lot of ecology and weather studies, that was disappointing.  However, we do have parks and galleries and concerts and libraries and a university with an earth museum and a number of other things--not for weather trips, I mean, but for other opportunities.  And some of them are cheap or free.

4.  Don't overuse You-tube, but don't overlook it either, especially for music.  And science help. And math.  And craft tutorials.  But a little goes a long way.

5.  Focus on high-quality, longterm, meaningful units, books, lesson plans, outside activities.  Fewer books, but better ones. More time on Old Narnia, less on the rules of writing.  To quote from someone who has just discovered the power of books:
"In this book, he was gettin' to be Sam and see what somebody named Sam was up to...they give him this book for a present an' he was gettin' to be Sam.  That was his favorite thing about books--they took you off to other people's lives an' places, but you could still set in your own chair by th' oil heater, warm as a mouse in a churn."  ~~ Jan Karon, Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (the newest Mitford book)
Cartoon found here. 

Friends don't let friends hot-glue dried-out pens (not-so-good book review)

Upcycling Celebrations: A Use-What-You-Have Guide to Decorating, Gift-Giving & Entertaining, by Danny Seo.  Running Press, 2012.

I don't write many reviews of books I don't like.  Why bother?  But occasionally there's one that's just so disappointing that I feel it's my civic duty to say so.

There's such a thing as TASTE. Popcorn and cranberries are nice to hang on a Christmas tree, if you're short on ornaments. Balled-up plastic bags are not.

Of course, yes to upcycling.  Yes to using what's in your hand.  Yes to frugality and simplicity, and not having to go to the party store.

But no to Thanksgiving turkey place cards made out of potatoes and crayons. No to a jug full of white styrofoam hearts stuck on "branches from the yard." And when it comes to a Happy Holidays sign with letters made out of dried-out pens hot-glued together...just...NO.

If you want to be crafty and frugal but not have your party decor look like you ransacked the garbage pail, there are better sources of inspiration.  Not recommended.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Jan Karon's Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good (book review)

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: A New Mitford Novel, by Jan Karon.  G.P. Putnam's Sons / Penguin Books U.S.A., 2014.

If I could beam myself to one literary place to spend an afternoon just before Christmas, I think I'd go to Mitford.

A blurb somewhere warned that the newest Mitford novel "contains death."  That made me a bit leery of reading it, as we had been treated to a good dose of funerals in the last couple of Mitford installments.  However, without giving too much away, this one does not contain any big shockers you won't like; no major characters drop dead.  A few of them are obviously not doing so well these days, and there are a couple of close calls (a joyriding teenager wrecks Father Tim's Mustang), but for most of the book that's about as far as it goes. There also aren't any Barlowe siblings left to track down, so that ends that long-running subplot.

But there are surprises.  The best one is Coot Hendrick.  For most of the series, he's been on the fringe, somewhat despised, seemingly there mostly for rural comic relief.  In this book, he takes the stage, in more ways than one (you'll have to read it to find out).  It's a reminder that nobody is too far outside the circle, what Dallas Willard called the "divine conspiracy," to be drawn in, to become important and valued, to be able to give something in return.  I will never think of Sam I Am in quite the same way again.

As she often does, Jan Karon brings everything to a climax over the Christmas season.  If you liked Shepherds Abiding, you will, almost guaranteed, like this one too.  Like Shepherds Abiding, a lot of the plot centers around the Happy Endings bookstore, but there's a twist this time: Father Tim and crew are holding things together there while the owner faces her own crisis.

And as always, there are some serious talks about faith, among the faithful, the somewhat-interested, and those still on the run.  I like Father Tim's young "mini-me," a boy saving his allowance for a copy of Wordsworth.  I like the online Scrabble players. I can deal with the slightly melodramatic characters involved in the limousine subplot (no, it's not Edith this time).  About the only character that I really don't buy is Mr. Edelman who runs the shoe store; he's a little too "oy" to be believable these days.

I don't know whether this is meant to be the last Mitford book or not. There are some loose ends, some things hinted at that never get really developed, but such is life.  For those who have missed Mitford while Father Tim went wandering through Mississippi and meddling in Ireland--this is definitely recommended.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday rummage sale: mostly books

September is a great month for church sales.  This morning I spent four dollars and got a bunch of books ( a quarter apiece), a basket, and a few other odds and ends: Buzz Lightyear cake toppers, a memory-improvement game, and a kids' backseat kit that might have a few possibilities for school fun stuff. [UPDATE: the memory game still had its game wheel, wipe-off markers, and a little white board, but it was missing the 192-page book that was supposed to fill up most of the box. Maybe the donor just forgot...anyway, we got some markers.]

(Too-literary Footnote: I am really trying to like Saul Bellow.  Mr. Fixit is reading one of those novellas in the photo, and I started the other one.  His, apparently, is about the Holocaust.  Mine is about a really bad marriage, or marriages, since I think the main character has three ex-husbands as well as the current one she doesn't like.  I am really, really trying, but thirty pages of it was about all I could stand.  I guess that one will go to the thrift store.)

Friday, September 26, 2014

When Lydia sets the schedule (Grade 8)

Lydia wrote out her own schedule for today's school.


Folk songs (Barbara Allen, Star of the County Down)
Finish chapter in How to Read a Book
Finish chapter in Daughter of Time
Watch the second half of the Anna Russell guide to the Ring operas
Practice memory work
Write Unit One science test
Work on one "Be a Girl Guide" challenge (she is not a Girl Guide, but these are Things You Should Know How to Do)
Plutarch's Life of Crassus, Lesson Four


Math: A Human Endeavor
Write in Reader's Journal
Do the next bit in the Writing a Speech Unit in Write with the Best
Go outside with a Nature Notebook.

(I couldn't have done it better myself.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What's up at the Treehouse? Busy day

Ponytails is busy with Grade Twelve, her part-time job, and several extracurriculars.

The Apprentice has found herself a full-time job, which she started this week.  Still out of town, but now she'll be working weekdays instead of weekends.

Lydia, the Squirreling formerly known as Dollygirl, will be leaving shortly for a whole-day What Every Babysitter Should Know course. It's run by St. John Ambulance, but today's session was arranged through a homeschool group.

So just for her:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's for supper? Pasta Fresca (photo post)

The story of tonight's dinner:
Picked a bunch of tomatoes from the garden.
Found a recipe for Pasta Fresca in Moosewood Cooks at Home.
Gathered up pasta, cheese, seasonings.  Blended chopped tomatoes with garlic and olive oil.  You cook the pasta and mix it with the sauce and cheese, without more cooking.
We didn't have fresh basil so I decorated the top with strips of spinach instead--and more chopped tomato and cheese.

Also on the menu:  mixed green beans and peas; leftover chicken from last night; thawed mango cubes, and muffins made with leftover vanilla Magic Milkshake.

Photos by Mama Squirrel and Ponytails.  Copyright 2014 Dewey's Treehouse.

Dewey's Treehouse, inside and out (photo post)

Living room
Bone china flowers inherited from Mr. Fixit's grandma.
One of Mr. Fixit's specials.
Cookbook browsing
Corner of the kitchen (the picture on the wall is my spice wheel)
Chocolate-chip muffins
Backyard apple tree
Hosta aren't supposed to blossom this time of year.

September tomatoes (photo post)

From the archives: Jacques Barzun, and do we just stumble through?

First posted September 2009.

Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning, by Jacques Barzun. (blog post at Wide Awake Minds)

Krakovianka posted this on Jacques Barzun's 100th birthday, but I'd put it to the back of my mind until I picked up this book at the library.

So far this is very good stuff.
Take one familiar fact: everybody keeps calling for Excellence--excellence not just in schooling, throughout society. But as soon as somebody or something stands out as Excellent, the other shout goes up: "Elitism!" And whatever produced that thing, whoever praises that result, is promptly put down. "Standing out" is undemocratic.--page 3
And this echoes Charlotte Mason:
The result for them is that learning, homework, teachers, tests, grades, standards, promotion form a great maze--mostly make-believe--that they have to stumble through in order to be let go at last and, thanks to a piece of paper, get a job.

Of course, some go on to college--as many as 58.9% of high school graduates in 1988 were in college or on the point of entering. But with some exceptions, their experience there will not differ greatly. So-called higher education repeats the lower in form and substance: the sole aim is "to qualify."
And one more:
....educationists have persuaded the world that teaching is a set of complex problems to be solved. It is no such thing. It is a series of difficulties. They recur endlessly and have to be met; there is no solution--which means also that there is no mystery. Teaching is an art, and an art, though it has a variety of practical devices to choose from, cannot be reduced to a science.
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