Wednesday, June 29, 2005

On Marriage

This is the Squirrels' fourteenth wedding anniversary. The irony of celebrating this on this particular day in Canada is not lost on Mama Squirrel. The newspapers are full of people of various stripes celebrating or worrying according to their different viewpoints. "The word husband used to mean someone who herds cows," whines one columnist. "I am not a cow."

Mama Squirrel prefers the imagery of Jean Richards' picture book God's Gift (a creation story):
God continued making creatures, some large, some small, some round, some tall. Finally He asked Man, "Which of these creatures wil be your partner?"

"They're all splendid creatures," said Man sadly, "but not one of them is right for me. I want someone who is almost like me but just different enough."

Happy anniversary, Mr. Fixit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Ponytails' Exam: The Miraculous Pitcher

Ponytails' story is The Miraculous Pitcher, from Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder Book.

Once there was a lady and a man and then there were visitors. In this country whenever there were travellers, big dogs would come and chase them and bite them. But when royal people came, they weren't allowed to be bitten, but the dogs didn't know that. So when they tried to scare the royal people, the people who owned the dogs would come and bang the dogs.

And the visitors came in [Baucis and Philemon's] house with no trouble. One of them was carrying a long stick. It was a magical stick and it started to walk around when it came to dinner. And the lady and the man were very poor, so they didn't have much to give them except grapes and bread. And then they didn't have very much milk in their pitcher. Then somehow the stick made more milk, so they never ran out of milk again. It was like a fountain.

Then the travellers said thank you for the nice meal. That's all I can remember.

In the mind of Crayons

1. Crayons, age 4, perusing an alphabet place mat: How come the O is HERE but not HERE? The alphabet goes H, I, J, K, L O MEN O P.

Mama Squirrel: I know that's how it sounds, but really it's L, M, N, O, P (pointing to the letters).

Crayons: No, it's L O MEN O P.

Mama Squirrel: I know that's how it sounds, but the O really goes here. That's just where people put it in the alphabet.

Crayons: Well, we could cut it! (referring to the place mat)


2. Crayons (playing kitchen): Would you like some goose jam?

Mama Squirrel: Do you mean gooseberry jam?

Crayons: No, goose jam. It's what gooses put on their bagels.

King Arthur

This is one of the exams that I wrote this week–it’s about King Arthur, The Once and Future King. I didn’t actually interview anybody–it’s fictional.

This morning on CNN news, we go to Stonehenge for an eye-opening experience–we will broadcast on live television a conversation discussing two books in The Once and Future King series, The Sword in the Stone, and The Queen of Air and Darkness. The conversation will be between the author, T. H. White, and King Arthur, the main character of the books. Let’s go over now . . .

King Arthur: As I was saying, T. H., you’ve documented my life remarkably!

White: Why, thank you! But I must say, I have a couple of questions for you.

KA: Go ahead. I, also, must ask you some questions.

W: What was it like when Merlin turned you into things?

KA: It was most enjoyable. The room would start to spin, it would go all black for a minute, and I would be a fish–or a deer.

W: Neat! So . . .did Merlin actually move Stonehenge?

KA: I am sworn to secrecy.

W: Oh–that’s too bad. What did you learn as an animal (or bird)?

KA: I learned life lessons and morals, the value of human life. I also learned about those animals.

W: The value of human life?

KA: When I was an ant, it was so tedious, absurd, and frustrating that I now highly value my life.

W: That’s interesting! You said that you have some questions for me?

KA: Why, yes. For one, King Pellinore was much more absurd than you wrote. Most of the time, the Questing Beast chased him! And he didn’t even know it.

W: That’s not a question.

KA: A comment, I agree. Why did you make Merlin so disgusting at the beginning of the book?

W: With the owl on his shoulder? I do admit that I stretched the truth a little bit.

KA: Not a little bit. That did not happen to him.

W: Very well, I’ll keep that in mind.

KA: What is all this mixed-up history? The events which took place in these books did not happen then. What have you done?

W: Since I wrote The Once and Future King more for pleasure than to make a bestseller, I did things my own way.

KA: A final question. Is my life really as intriguing as you advertise? You truly think that?

W: King Arthur, I love the story of your life deeply. Thank you for spending this time with me. I’m so glad that you like my books.

And now, CNN weather with Bob McChang—over to you, Bob.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

From Ponytails: The Wars of the Roses

I finished history for this year, almost. I'm doing history about the Wars of the Roses. It's where one side is red and one side is white. How this happened, one king said, "Which side are you fighting for?" And they were standing in a patch of white and red roses. So one house was called Lancaster and one was called the House of York. And one of the kings said, whoever wants the House of York to be king, stick a white rose in their hat. And whoever wants to vote for the House of Lancaster, stick a red rose in their hat. (Wouldn't that poke them, though?)

Monday, June 20, 2005

Thinking in colours

It's funny that the Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room just posted about homemaking and (not) worrying about needing to be June Cleaver, because this weekend Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit watched the movie Pleasantville. Mama Squirrel does not recommend this movie for families; it contained enough adult material to make her blush even though she was only watching it with Mr. Fixit. Mama Squirrel also (deliberately) has not read any reviews or criticism of the movie yet, because she wants to comment on it as it came across to her without getting cluttered up with what other people think it was about.

Pleasantville, for those who haven't seen it, is a kind of a Back-to-the-Future story about a teenager and his sister who get zapped, not back into the actual 1950's, but into the black-and-white world of his favourite old sitcom (think Leave it to Beaver), a place where beds only come in twin size, books have no writing inside them, and people exist in a kind of static, unchanging, naive reality (since they are only really characters on the show). As the two of them begin to interact with this world, their ideas and actions start to bring parts of Pleasantville (and some of its characters) into full colour; books start to have real contents, and the artificial stability of the town comes crashing down.

There is a huge amount of symbolism in the movie–-rain as rebirth (it never rains in Pleasantville), roses and D.H. Lawrence, forbidden fruit; besides the main metaphor of things (people, ideas) turning from black and white into colour. There's also a strong and interesting emphasis on the role of books in this renaissance, including a big book burning scene and the city’s decision to close the public library along with “Lover’s Lane.” It's interesting that, at the end of the movie, the sister (who never cared about school) decides to stay in this "time" (which wasn't really any time at all) so that she can go to college.

So reality, unreality; Pleasantville, as it was created, was obviously unreality. Northrop Frye contends that our whole everyday world of small amusements and hassles is unreality, and that our "real" talk about ideas (about literature, for example) is what lasts, what counts. From David Cayley's interview with Frye (from the book Northrop Frye in Conversation):
Cayley: ....You’ve often written about the unreality of the real world, and my sense of what you mean is that when one comes into the presence of Milton, to take your example, one then enters what is truly real. The educational journey is from unreality to reality in your view.

Frye: Yes, the unreality being what’s out there and reported in the papers, and the reality being what remains stable or improves. If I look over the seventy-seven years I’ve lived in this ghastly century....I see only one thing that has remained stable during that time, and that’s the arts. I would include religion with the arts, by the way.

Cayley: And can you say what you mean by stable?

Frye: Something that’s there and won’t go away.

Cayley: What was your advice to students [during the student protests of the 1960's]? What was the way you wanted students to take?

Frye: It was the way of the intellect and the imagination. Those are the powers that you’re given and things you’re responsible for....the demand for relevance, which was, again, an anti-intellectual movement among students, meant of course that they wanted every lecture, every classroom meeting, every gathering of students to be an exciting existential experience. They wanted to shuck off the steady repetitive practice, which is the only thing that does contribute to the real advance of either the intellect or the imagination.....the demand for relevance was, to my mind, the absolute antithesis of what education is about. Education is a matter of developing the intellect and the imagination, which deal with reality, and reality is always irrelevant.

Is the "ivory tower" of the study of the humanities reality or unreality? Are our everyday lives ("the trivial round, the common task") just black and white? (Frye said that an arts degree was useless; and that if it wasn't, then it wasn't worth much.) Is reality just when we write about the books we're reading, or when we post pictures of our cats or our family trips? This is one place where I think Frye forgot something: although our conversations about the "real stuff" (like literature) may bring the colours into our everyday existence, it doesn't necessarily follow that everything else is black and white or unreal. Mama Squirrel prefers to think that because we have these opportunities to think and talk in living colour, the colour finds its way into the rest of our lives rather than being something separate.

And for those who are always trying to define what a living book is, Mama Squirrel has a suggestion: "a book that makes you think in colours."

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Frye on education

I found a great quote not by Northrop Frye but about him, on a website by Jean O'Grady of the University of Toronto, who is Associate Editor of Frye's Collected Works (still partly in progress, from what the site says). The complete article is Northrop Frye at Home and Abroad: His Ideas. But the part I thought would be of interest to those who have studied Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy is this:
Frye's rather subdued, egoless presence as a teacher is therefore deliberate: he aimed at being a transparent medium between student and work. The source of authority in the classroom is not the teacher but the writer being studied, and the impersonal authority of the subject itself. He went so far as to say that the relation between teacher and student was rather an embarrassing one, and that the best moments in the classroom were those in which it was obliterated by a joint vision of the subject. In the light of this glimpsed vision provided by culture, the student will be a radical critic of what is: far from becoming a ‘well-rounded’ individual, with its comfortable overtones of contentment and softness, he is likely to be maladjusted and crochety. Like Socrates, the teacher has for his aim that of corrupting youth.

Sometimes Frye wondered if it was too late, when a student reached university, to influence his mind, already pre-programmed by TV and advertisements. He became involved then in schemes for earlier education, helping to found a Curriculum Institute in which university professors joined with elementary and high school teachers to suggest improvements in the curriculum, and later overseeing the production of a series of English readers for grades 7 to 13. His ideal early childhood education began with rhythm and chant and fantastic stories, with the enduring narratives of the Bible and classical myth, and encompassed at ever deeper levels the narratives of comedy and romance, tragedy and irony. His concern was to keep the imagination in play, for only through imagination could the individual think metaphorically and engage in the play of mind through language that constructed reality in human form.

Isn't that true, that "that the best moments in the classroom [are] those in which [the relationship between teacher and student is] obliterated by a joint vision of the subject?" It's one of the advantages of homeschooling, especially as our children get older and we find ourselves often learning alongside them instead of, as some like to accuse us, playing teacher.

For those interested in reading more about Frye's works and an overview of his Anatomy of Criticism, Jean O'Grady's main webpage is here. Mama Squirrel also picked up another interesting book about him this weekend: Frye in Conversation, by David Cayley.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Blog Tag with Books

Kathryn Judson, at Suitable for Mixed Company, has a game of blog tag going over books. Here is her question:
Imagine that a local philanthropist is hosting an event for local high school students and has asked you to pick out five to ten books to hand out as door prizes. At least one book should be funny and at least one book should provide some history of Western Civilization and at least one book should have some regional connection. The philanthropist doesn't like foul language (but will allow some four-letter words in context, such as expressed during battle by soldiers). Otherwise things are pretty wide open. What do you pick?

No restrictions on whether I actually own the book, or whether it's in print?

All right. Since we're giving these books to high school students, I'd give them some books to help them use their brains. Richard Mitchell's Graves of Academe to help them sniff out verbal and educational garbage; Terry Glaspey's Great Books of the Christian Tradition (or the newer version that has a different title) so that they'll know what other books they're missing; Mathsemantics: Making Numbers Talk Sense, by Edward MacNeal (or some other similar book, but I do have Mathsemantics and I'm slowly working my way through it); and Lee Strobel's The Case for a Creator, to help them ask good questions in science classes.

For Western culture, I'd hand out Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. Not so much for the church issue, but for the excellent essays on people like G.K. Chesterton, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and John Donne (written in the context of a funeral for an AIDS victim).

To get their priorities in order, I'd give them Edith Schaeffer's What is a Family? Also I'd give out a copy of Material World, by Peter Menzel; that's the one where families all over the world put their belongings on their front lawns and let Menzel's crew take a picture of them with their stuff. I know it's ten years old but it's still what people would call an eye-opener. He has a new book coming out called What the World Eats. [Update: the title has been changed to Hungry Planet; it still hasn't been released, but you can read about it on Amazon here.]

For humour, something by Chesterton–-maybe The Man Who Was Thursday, since I just finished reading it and I think my own just-turned-teenager should read it too.

For regional interest, I'd choose a book on Canadian culture and literature by Northrop Frye--either The Modern Century or The Bush Garden (a book of essays and reviews on Canadian poetry). Or maybe a biography by John English--he has written several important books about former Prime Ministers of Canada.

And for all-purpose education and entertainment, a volume of Shakespeare’s plays.

Who's next to be tagged? Mama Squirrel picks Coffeemamma at Our Blue Castle.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Dinner with the Squirrels, Part One

Mama Squirrel has friends, online ones and nearby ones, who eat healthier meals than the Squirrel family does. She has friends who use more thrifty tricks and feed more people for probably less money than she spends to fill up five squirrels. She has friends who actually decant their bulk spices out of their baggies before they get used up, who can tell the difference between real and fake vanilla, who can things, who make their own tortillas and who grow their own potatoes. So she is somewhat diffident about posting a view of the Squirrel world of food (aside from barbecue nights).

However, to her credit, Mama Squirrel is good at a couple of things. One is using up bits and pieces of leftovers–squirrel instincts can make use of just about anything. Another one is rooting out recipes that you can get in the pan before the oven’s finished heating, and ones that are easy to learn off by heart. With her cooking roots going back to some wonderful hard-times-trained homemakers, Mama Squirrel also likes recipes that use very basic groceries in different ways. In the last couple of years, she’s also become better at making some of the squirrels’ favourites a little less carb-heavy (or at least making the carbolicious part optional for those who just want a little).

So with those things in mind, here are a few Squirrel kitchen favourites and food quotes. Most of the recipes were not invented by the Squirrels, so credit is given where possible.

Honey-Mustard Chicken (adapted from the Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume 1)

Spread a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts with the following mixture: 2 tbsp. butter or margarine, 2 tbsp. prepared mustard, 1/4 cup honey, and a little salt and pepper. Bake in a covered casserole for about an hour or as long as it takes your chicken to cook through.

(The original recipe called for twice as much sauce and 10 chicken drumsticks, and suggested dipping the chicken in the mixture before baking. We like our quicker way better, though.)


Sweet Potatoes or Squash

Either cut sweet potatoes (the orange ones, not the real yams) into chunks to fill a casserole (you don’t have to peel them); or slice a butternut squash horizontally (scooping out the seeds) and fill the casserole with those. Drizzle with oil (olive oil preferred), sprinkle with salt and pepper, and add enough water in the bottom of the casserole so that the pieces don’t scorch. Bake covered at about 350 degrees, for about an hour depending on how big your chunks or slices are. (Even easier: scrub sweet potatoes and bake them whole on a greased pan in the oven while you bake something else.) Good with chicken (above) or some barbecued farmer’s sausage.

“Vegetables can be cooked much more precisely by taste and experience than they can by numbers. You know very quickly how full the salad bowl needs to be to serve everyone, which bowl (or combinations of bowls) needs filling in order to make a vegetable dish. Cook more when it’s a dish you and your family just love and can’t get enough of. Cook less when it’s a dish that people aren’t so fond of, or perhaps one that you’re trying out for the first time.”–Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking

Sausage and Sauerkraut

Take some uncooked farmer’s sausage (or paprika sausage, or honey-garlic, or whatever the butcher is selling that you like). Put it in a casserole on top of some sauerkraut (we like the kind that comes in a glass jar). Bake at 350 degrees, covered, for at least an hour (we usually allow an hour and a half, especially if the sausage is still a little bit frozen). Serve with potatoes, or frozen perogies, or sweet potatoes. If you put some cut-up broccoli in the pot of boiling water with the perogies, then you have your whole meal done.

Macaroni and Cheese, the Real Kind

Works best with already-cooked (yesterday’s) whole wheat macaroni, because then you don’t have to dirty another pot. But in any case, you need enough cooked macaroni to fill up your greased casserole; enough shredded Cheddar cheese to mix in with the macaroni (or you can cheat if you don’t want to get the grater out, and just cut up a piece of cheese into small chunks), and canned evaporated milk (the Squirrels use the 2 per cent kind). Salt and pepper too, and a little prepared mustard if you want. You might not need the whole can of milk if you’re just making it for a few people; see what looks good (soupy is not good). Canned milk is kind of important here, because it makes the sauce creamier. A little margarine on top might help the sauce out too, but it’s optional. Bake it all together until the cheese is pretty much melted; give it a good stir, and then top with bread crumbs (we use dried ones), dot with margarine, and finish baking until the crumbs are toasted. Serve with Canadian gravy (that means ketchup).

It is possible to make this exact same recipe starting with uncooked macaroni–the Squirrels have tried it and found it acceptable although a little chewy. But in that case you have to use enough milk to cook the pasta, allow extra time, and stir it several times during the baking.

Butterscotch Dumplings (from Food that Really Schmecks, by Edna Staebler)

(Edna calls this recipe 20-Minute Dessert.)

Sauce: 1 cup brown sugar, 2 cups boiling water, 2 tbsp. butter or margarine. Stir this all together in a large pot till the sugar has dissolved; simmer while you mix the dumplings.

Dumplings: 1/3 cup sugar, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. butter, 1 ½ cups flour, 1 tbsp. baking powder, about ½ cup milk. Cream the sugar, salt and butter; add flour mixed with baking powder alternately with enough milk to make a stiff batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls into the boiling sauce; cover and let boil gently (do NOT take the lid off) for about 15 minutes. Serve with vanilla yogurt, milk, or anything else you like.

“Supper is always mostly made from just what we’ve got that needs eating.”–“Bevvy Martin,” quoted in Food that Really Schmecks


Vegan Gingerbread from The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (the fastest you’ll ever make)

1 cup molasses; ½ cup oil; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 cups flour; 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. baking soda in one cup of hot water.

This is the way I mix it: start the kettle boiling for the hot water, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure the oil in a one-cup measure, then use the greasy cup to measure the molasses. Beat them together with a whisk. In a small bowl, combine the ginger, flour and salt; and by this time the water is hot so you can put that in the same 1-cup measure and dissolve the soda in that. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses and oil, alternately with the soda water. When it’s all mixed, bake in a greased square pan or small casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until it tests done.

Now, every time Mama Squirrel has mixed this up, the batter has seemed to need a little something–it seems a little thin. For awhile Mama Squirrel always added some wheat germ to the batter (and sprinkled some on top as well), but lately she has been adding some rolled oats (the 5-minute kind) instead, and using whole-wheat flour, and all the Squirrels seem to prefer it this way. Serve plain or with milk or yogurt. The Squirrels have been known to finish this off for breakfast.


Fruit Crisp from Whole Foods for the Whole Family

Bottom part: canned or cut-up fruit such as chopped apples or pears, or canned peaches, enough to fill a small casserole or square pan (if you have four or five eaters; if you have more, use a bigger pan) Mama Squirrel doesn’t add any sweetener to this part, but sometimes she adds dried fruit or some cranberry sauce (to apples).

Top part: this is the part Mama Squirrel likes because it’s easy to memorize. Half a cup of brown sugar, half a cup of flour, half a cup of wheat germ, half a teaspoon of cinnamon, one cup of rolled oats; mix it all with half a cup of oil. The wheat germ can be omitted or substituted for if you don’t have it; we have just used more rolled oats, or some crushed breakfast cereal (corn flakes are good with peaches). Spread over the fruit and bake it all for about half an hour at 350 degrees or until the topping doesn’t look raw.


“Food is food only if it is eaten, so we make things that the people we are cooking for can relish and enjoy.”–Edward Espe Brown, Tassajara Cooking

Monday, June 13, 2005

Once More Under the Bridge

The Squirrelings have been watching the 1940's version of Henry V, and it is so good that Mama Squirrel would like to recommend it to any home squirrelers doing the early 1400's in history, or learning about Shakespeare or his time period. For those who have never seen it, it was made in Britain during WWII, which meant not only that the patriotic theme was especially appropriate but also that props were in short supply, especially anything made out of metal--so they had to use painted wooden swords and so on. (Mama Squirrel asked the Apprentice what the film company might be most short of during the war, and she said, "Male actors?" After Mama Squirrel stopped laughing, she acknowledged that that likely would have been a problem as well in a movie needing lots of extras, but she doesn't know how they got around that one.) They stepped neatly around the tacky-prop problem by setting most of the film right on the Globe Theatre stage in Shakespeare's time, complete with a booing, cheering audience, people walking around selling fruit, hats that get left backstage, and a rain shower partway through! As the film goes on, the "Chorus" character encourages you to imagine you're right there on the battlefield or whatever, and the settings become more realistic.

Oh, and the title of this post? As King Henry shouted "Once more unto the breach, dear friends!", Crayons (just turned 4) looked puzzled and asked, "Why are they going under the bridge?"

(She was also a little upset that the Falstaff character died during the film, and when we told her it was just pretend, for the movie, she looked relieved and said, "It was just a deadly faint, then." (A favourite phrase from Diana and her Rhinoceros, see post here.))

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Egg Corns

While commenting on a sort-of-related post at The Common Room, Mama Squirrel heard for the first time about Egg Corns. Being a Squirrel, she naturally got very excited, thinking this was something to eat, but no. These Egg Corns are a recently-coined term for a particular language mistake that people make, like Spoonerisms and Mondegreens. The official Egg Corn website seems to be here, and you can see a whole catalogue of examples of this kind of error.

So what is an egg corn? It's a mis-hearing or mis-understanding of a word or phrase, often because the person is unaware of its origins. Sometimes a particular egg corn gets to be widespread. Mama Squirrel had already heard the example pre-Madonna instead of prima donna, which is on the Eggcorns website. But it might be just one person who misunderstands (like the egg corn thing, which came from someone thinking that's how you spell acorn). It shouldn't be a mishearing of a song lyric, though, because that's a Mondegreen. Other common ones are people saying that something "peaks their interest" or "touches a cord," or that you "pour over something." One might say that those are just misspellings, but the point of an egg corn is that there's also some misunderstanding of the phrase's meaning. Check out the website and you'll see what the difference is.

Mama Squirrel found a great example of an Egg Corn this past week in a book which shall remain nameless but which could probably have used some copyediting. The book mentioned the different kinds of dancing you could take--ballet, jazz, and flamingo.

More Rhubarb

I guess Mr. Fixit had been asking for rhubarb around the office too, because when he went to work yesterday he was sent off to another friend's to pick up some more! And this second batch of rhubarb has some funny connections for the Squirrel family which are too long to explain, but to make it short, the people with the rhubarb came from the same part of the world as Mr. Fixit's grandparents, and this rhubarb is a whole different type than the first pieces we were given to plant; this is a European kind and it was more of a big root (the other kind came in smaller stalks). So Mama Squirrel hopes The Apprentice means what she says about loving rhubarb.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Pink Crayons

Hi! This is Crayons. Did you know that I turned four? Well, there's a printer at our house. It goes out with paper in it. Well, we can print lots of colouring pictures!

I know what to do when I have a quiet time [She means naptime, not timeouts]. Play on my bed. I play with my baby toy apple. I play with my big polka dot ball. I keep losing some of my toys.

Did you know that I have some family? Did you know that I have my friend Uncle Dewey, and my koala and my bear are friends with me?

Well, I want to barbeque by myself [Crayons is starting to get silly]. (That says b-b-b-barbeque?) Well, I sing. I'm gonna sing for you now [Picks up Duplo microphone and starts to sing]. For down in my heart . . .

Rhubarb and Psammeads

Hi, this is Ponytails! I have a cold.

Today we were planting rhubarb. We planted some in my garden.

I like that in the Five Children and It, everybody wants The Lamb. The Lamb was the baby. All the four other children were named Anthea (her nickname was Panther), Jane, Robert, and Cyril. One of their maids was named Martha. And they found a Psammead in the sand pit, and their mother wasn't there, she was visiting their sick grandmother. One time Jane wrote a letter and she said, "Dear Mother, I hope Grandma is feeling better. We found...(she paused because she was trying to think of Psammead; they looked it up in the dictionary but it wasn't there because they were looking in the S's when it was in the P's)...We found a Thing. Right now is post time, your loving girl, Jane."

What I was talking about everybody wanting the baby, is that Robert wished one time by accident, he wished that everybody wanted the Lamb. There was a rich rich lady; she snatched the baby away from them because she wanted it; and they had to run and run after it, and the lady went into a house. And the two coachmen were saying, No, I want the baby; no, I want the baby! Then Cyril, the oldest, he sneaked into the carriage and picked up the sleeping baby, and he was safe again.

Rhubarb

Some divide the world into two kinds of people. Mama Squirrel thinks there are two kinds of women: those who are still picking, cooking, freezing and eating rhubarb; and those who can't spell it, won't eat it, and don't care anyway.

Somehow, pride in this (neglected) corner of womens' life appeals to Mama Squirrel. Cleaning the nest does not thrill her by any means, but cooking is something she enjoys, and participating in the rites of rhubarb makes her feel a kind of sisterhood with those who have faithfully saved rhubarb recipes and created ways to make use of this weird dessert-thing-that-isn't-sweet.

When Mama Squirrel was very young, she did not like stewed rhubarb at all--it was right up there with turnips and canned peas. It was a weird brown colour, it was mushy, it was too sweet but still tasted bad. It also didn't help that one of Mama Squirrel's daddy's favourite teases was "Do you think the rain's going to hurt the rhubarb?" Now she not only eats rhubarb but bakes it into pies and crisps, and has ventured out with a pair of scissors to cut some off the neighbours' plant (it's okay, they asked her to). Then the neighbours moved and the rhubarb disappeared. This spring Mr. Fixit started saying the Squirrels needed their own rhubarb plant, but they didn't know where to find any.

Yesterday Mr. Fixit visited his massage therapist and mentioned our lack of rhubarb (having a back massage, unlike having your teeth fixed, does allow you a chance to converse with your health practitioner). The massage therapist, an enthusiastic gardener herself, knew someone nearby who had a backyard full of it and who would be happy to give us a piece--so Mr. Fixit came home with a pot full of rhubarb.

The young squirrels, needless to say, are only mildly thrilled with this acquisition (a pizza plant would have been more to their taste), but they are outside as Mama Squirrel types this, helping Mr. Fixit plant the rhubarb.

[Update: for rhubarb recipes on this blog, click on the "rhubarb" label at the bottom of this post.]

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Truth Revealed

Mama Squirrel has discovered this scientific truth:

The fastest way to get young squirrels interested in reading is to start packing or opening boxes intended for a homeschoolers' book sale.

All of a sudden every single book is their favourite again, including The Foot Book and The Norfin Trolls Laugh Out Loud. "Have we ever read this one?" "Crayons hasn't read that one yet!" "You can't sell that!" "No, actually, that's going in the Free box." Wails of anguish...

Someone told Mama Squirrel that they have resorted to doing such packing in the middle of the night, out of sheer self-preservation. Lacking such a sense of stealth (and preferring to sleep in the middle of the night), Mama Squirrel has been using the basement rec room of the Treehouse to box up the extra, outgrown, unwanted, unloved books. And the squirrelings have been unboxing them just as fast. There are now books all over the floor of the nest and Mama Squirrel is ready to start pulling her fur out. She can't decide if The Norfin Trolls are closer to the Albatross or Poe's raven:

This twaddle all over the Treehouse floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!

Or maybe she will see them, like the Velveteen Rabbit, reborn and hopping back up on the shelf to join the Real Books.

(This idea makes Mama Squirrel very nervous and she wonders if she should tape the boxes shut this time.)
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