Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Visitors from Ebay Forum? (April 2008)

Welcome to our blog! It might be nicer if I knew what y'all were looking for...

Living each day [updated to fix links]

Christy at Training Hearts at Home is heading up "Heartschooling Day" this Thursday, March 1st--tomorrow.

From Christy's blog:

"This Thursday, March 1st, will be the 1-year anniversary of the
passing of our dear Missey Gray. If you didn't have the priviledge
of knowing Missey, you can peek into her life at her blog....

"One of Missey's entries on her blog talks of how she is
she is putting away all the formal school work and just enjoying the
holiday season with her children... playing, baking, etc.
So 'Heartschooling Day' is a day to put away all the formal stuff
and just enjoy being with our children. Do what THEY want to do.
Cuddle and read, go to the park, bake something together, get down
on the floor and play Barbies or trucks. Whatever! As long as
you're ALL laughing and making precious memories together.

"Please join us in honoring this much-loved and very-missed momma."

You can post your thoughts and plans on Training Hearts at Home.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Of mermaids and cream strudel

Ponytails and Crayons have had an interesting term so far with our composer and artist studies: Felix Mendelssohn for composer, and John Constable for artist. I had done both of them several years ago with The Apprentice (Constable was our very first-ever picture study artist), but you never do anything just the same way twice--do you? It's been somewhat patched together, but I think it's given the girls a few things that they'll remember about each of them.

Here are some of the notes and links to the pieces we've listened to and the paintings we've looked at.


We started out reading the Mendelssohn chapter in Boyhoods of Great Composers Book One, by Catherine Gough (and illustrated by Edward Ardizzone). The chapter ends at the point where he wrote the Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, so I played them some of that, and also the Scherzo which I know they love (sounds like elves dancing through the woods). We have this CD of the music.

The next time around, we looked up pictures of Fingal's Cave online and I put together a short information sheet about the cave and about Mendelssohn's visit there (and about how it became a tourist attraction because of his music--even Queen Victoria made a trip there). As we listened to the music (officially called Overture: 'The Hebrides,' Op. 26 on our CD), Ponytails drew her version of the mouth of Fingal's Cave, with people in a boat rowing past it. I loved that!

I noticed that the same set of CDs also had Mendelssohn's The Fair Melusina on it, so we read the story from The Book of Legends by Horace E. Scudder, online at The Baldwin Project. The girls coloured pictures of mermaids while they listened to Scudder's version of the story, which is slightly different from the one given in the CD's liner notes. I have to admit that the music came pretty second fiddle to the story that time. Sometimes if you really want to listen to something, you should just listen--no background, no stories. For Fingal's Cave, it worked great--we had just enough notes to help everyone understand that the first part of the piece is about echoes in the cave, and the second is about going out on a choppy sea; it was easy to hear that in the music. Listening to Melusina was a lot harder--not that it was very long, but trying to connect the story with the music was more difficult.

The last pieces we did (so far) were fun: two pieces written for clarinet, piano and basset-horn (which isn't a horn at all, it's a kind of clarinet). I found them on The Art of the Clarinet, featuring Peter Schmidl, Madoka Inui, and Pierre Pichler. The liner notes for this really brought the music to life! I wish I could copy them out here; briefly, Mendelssohn had a clarinet-playing friend, Heinrich Baermann, who had a basset-horn-playing son Carl; and the Baermanns were also famous cooks. According to the story, Mendelssohn wrote the pieces as a kind of thanks for their excellent meals. Of the first "Concert Piece" he wrote: "A grand duet for steamed dumpling or cream strudel, clarinet and basset-horn, composed and humbly dedicated to Baermann senior and Baermann junior." On the second part of the second piece, he said that "I wanted to give you a memory of the last dinner, when I had to write it, the clarinet depicts my feelings of longing, while the basset-horn adds the rumbling of my stomach."

And on that note, I think the picture-study details will have to wait for another post.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Found in a fortune cookie

"A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you."

(The cookie neglected to mention the author of the quote: Thomas Leonard, 1944 - 2003.)

Homeschooling with passion

Elisheva writes about how her son finally uncovered his true passion (and the clues were there all the time)--and how that fits into their homeschooling. Don't miss this--it is what the freedom to homeschool, and to do it in a way that really lights fires (in this case, maybe campfires) for our children is really about.

If you want to read the musings of a homeschooled-till-now highschooler (who is passionate about many things), check out Katelyn in Cyberspace. (And don't say "lasagnas" around her.)

Mama Lion's daughter Priscilla was lucky enough to go to a L'Abri conference; her comments (with more promised) start here.

And Tim's Mom's oldest explains (passionately?) that he's had a little too much physics lately.

Yeah, sounds like a real good solution

More and more absurdity from the German government. (Thanks to

How would asking the Busekros family to give up custody of their other children "solve" any problems? Well, maybe it would "solve" the government's problem of what to do with people who still insist on acting like they live in a free country.

Just think of all those people who stampeded towards the west when the wall went down. Maybe they should have stayed on the east side--seems like people had just as much little freedom behind the Iron Curtain.

Friday, February 23, 2007

German tyranny continues

More on Melissa's story, and an update to that here (thanks to

Pray. And write, and email.

"And that Yopp...
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard!"

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pure Comfort

"Beany found....that no male found I Surrender perfume any more alluring than the spicy smell of cinnamon rolls right out of the oven."--The Beany Malone Cookbook

Crayons has been fighting yet another cold-and-cough, and the Squirrels are feeling (literally) under the dreary weather. Time for a comfort food dinner: Beef in Onion Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Salad, and Orange Dumplings.

Crockpot Beef in Onion Gravy

I clipped this from the April/May 2002 Taste of Home magazine; it was sent in by Denise Albers in Illinois. And look at that: it's online already. Denise is right: it is very good, and it is very simple. But I was puzzled by "2 tablespoons beef broth"; did she mean bouillon powder, or wet broth? If she meant wet broth, it seems pretty pointless since you're slow-cooking beef cubes all day and they make lots of broth. But I put in a spoonful of beef bouillon powder just to be on the safe side.

Also, I mixed some of the hot gravy with a spoonful of flour at the end and then cooked it on high for a few minutes, because it seemed too thin. We got more than the suggested three servings out of it, even if you don't count Crayons not really eating anything. More like four plus some leftovers.

Orange Dumplings

Mark this as an occasion: an original Treehouse recipe! Actually it's a combination of two other recipes: the much-Googled Butterscotch Dumplings (Twenty-Minute Dessert) from Food That Really Schmecks, and the sauce from Baked Orange Pudding in The Harrowsmith Cookbook Volume Three. I have made that Orange Pudding before, but I just couldn't be bothered tonight washing the extra sauce pot and heating the oven, so I decided to do it all as one. Ta da...(and they were very good too).

Sauce: 1 cup sugar, 1 tbsp. flour, 1 tbsp. butter, juice & rind of 1 or more oranges (I used one orange and then topped it up a bit with orange juice from the fridge), 2 cups of boiling water. Combine the sugar and flour in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid; add the boiling water and the remaining ingredients. Let it come to a boil and then simmer while you mix the dumplings.

Dumplings: 1/3 cup sugar, ½ tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. butter, 1½ 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 (my grandma's method is to drop dumplings only in spots where it's bubbling); cover and let boil gently (do NOT take the lid off) for about 15 minutes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

CMers, don't miss this

Javamom has a great post about what Charlotte Mason education is about--AND she includes some photos from a 1930's Parent's Review magazine (with ads). I have a bound volume of the 1903 Parent's Reviews, and they didn't have any graphics or ads like that at all back then! PR had really changed its look 30 years later--and yes, those little tidbits are fascinating. Like looking at WWII ladies' magazines--the ads are the best part ("cheer up our soldiers by wearing our brightest shade of lipstick!").

(Thanks to Mother Auma who pointed me in Javamom's direction today.)

Agh! We missed our own party!

I knew there was something I'd forgotten to do.

Dewey's Treehouse is officially two years old as of two days ago.

Happy birthday to us!

And sorry about missing the acornfest.

Out of the deep freeze

And about time, too.
"It was very cold in the deep freeze and the tiny doll began to feel rather stiff, so she decided to walk about and have a good look at the place. The floor was crisp and white just like frost on a winter's morning...."--The Little Girl and the Tiny Doll, by Edward and Aingelda Ardizzone
Reasons to be happy today

1. There is already (at 8 a.m.) some slush on the driveway instead of an ice floe. Mr. Fixit didn't even plug the block heater in last night. Enough said.

2. Homeschool Hacks will be hosting this week's Carnival of Homeschooling, up sometime today.[Update: it's up now here.] I'm happy there are so many people sending in good stuff every week! (We will be hosting again in May.)

3. Crayons' coughing that kept us up last night doesn't appear to have left any lasting damage except for tired parents. I'm happy she's feeling well enough to kidnap The Little Girl and the Tiny Doll almost before I can finish typing the quote.

4. The Apprentice is already off at what to her seems an unearthly hour, to write a math competition at the high school. Some of our homeschool group are writing the same competitions today. I'm happy we were able to plug into that again this year.

5. It's Shrove Tuesday!

6. We had an awesome blueberry cake for dessert last night. Too bad it's all gone, but I'm happy everybody liked it.

7. It's Joshua Slocum's birthday. Also Phil Esposito's birthday, Vincent Massey's birthday, and Buffy Sainte-Marie's birthday. How many of those people do you know?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

apples and oranges

"I don't clean my eye out with a chainsaw."--Gayle Erwin, "The Nature of Jesus"

The Deputy Headmistress recently posted about why homeschooling isn't (or shouldn't be) a third-rate imitation of public schools; how we usually find methods and materials that work better out of the classroom. I quoted her here; and I've posted some of my own ideas about that before.
"Apples and oranges. The original question was, are homeschooling parents competent to teach their children? Should their competency be judged on whether or not they can find any use for a Guided Reading Beach Ball or 35 Must-Have Assessments?"--"Between Two Worlds," October 2005
One reason I haven't sent my children to government schools (until this year, more on that later) is that I haven't felt we needed to take advantage of what they were offering. We do accept some government perks such as occasional low-income heating rebates; most of these we don't even need to apply for, they just arrive (based on our tax returns); and they help make it possible for us to live on one income. So I can take no high ground on claiming independence from all government assistance. And--something that some non-homeschoolers don't realize--we do pay school taxes even though we homeschool. (Every property owner pays school taxes, even if they don't have kids! How do they think we'd get away with not paying taxes? But I digress...)

So we're certainly entitled to send our children to public schools; and we live within walking distance of two of the highest-ranked elementary schools in the city, so it's not a problem of the schools being particularly dreadful. But just as the DHM has said about people being "entitled" to food stamps, just because you're entitled doesn't mean you should take what's offered. School buildings are expensive; so are heating, and desks, and books, and teachers, and janitors, not to mention buses. Teachers complain that they're overworked as it is. I feel it would be somewhat selfish of me to take that "for free" when I'm capable of teaching my own without using up more of the local school board's limited resources. It's actually more efficient (creates a smaller footprint?) for my children to learn at home. Please don't take that as criticism of people who do choose to use public schools; it's simply the position that our own family is in.

How is homeschooling more efficient? Two ways in particular:

1. Efficiency in teaching--or should that be, in learning? Even on days when we don't get in a full quota of "school," I see learning happening. Someone picks up a calculator and we play an impromptu game of "Century." (Something like blackjack.) The five-year-old decides she's going to write a book (never mind that it ends up being one page and a cover). The nine-year-old tries to devise her own kind of music notation. Someone asks me how to spell something, or follows recipe directions, or goes out to help Daddy with a job in the garage. Please note that we are not using "chainsaw methods" here--although we are not unschoolers by any means, we do take advantage of natural learning opportunities, many questions and attempted answers, many small minutes, and they add up.

We are not a copy of a public school or even a Christian school. We are a family, and like any family we have our ups and downs, sometimes frustration, occasionally heartache. My kids are not "perfect classical kids." They fight over the colour comics, they do not have perfect handwriting, and they sneeze on each other.

However, over the space of two days this week I catalogued this list of activities that went on here, most of them outside of "regular learning time." Let's see...we had an art lesson with Jan Brett, and Ponytails did a couple of fraction pages. Crayons did some pages in a yard-sale pre-writing workbook (trace the round snowmen and draw scarves on them). We read a chapter of Sajo and the Beaver People and a story from the Red Fairy Book. The younger ones had lots of imaginary play with Lego blocks, and then got out every preschool jigsaw puzzle we have (the ones they haven't done for a year) and built them all over the floor. [Clarification on "imaginary play"--not that they imagined they were playing, but they were using all their imaginary people. When little girls play Lego, it gets combined with storytelling. Little people made of stacks of Lego blocks get new hairdos and redecorate their rooms.] They played in the snow, and helped shovel it. Ponytails made a quick batch of peanut-butter treats. She noticed that my Valentine's Day bunch of tulips had opened up and looked just like the flower diagram in the Botany book, so we got that out and compared. (We also read this week about seed dispersal and how that helped inspire the invention of Velcro.) The younger squirrelings watched "The Borrowers" (the old movie with Eddie Albert), listened to Dad's Bob Dylan and Neil Young tapes, went to their dance lessons. Two of them built their own Stonehenges out of building blocks, after looking at Constable's painting. We looked at a map of southern Ontario, flipped it over to look at Northern Ontario, and noticed how far north of that Hudson Bay goes (to get an idea of Really Cold. We're reading about fur traders and Arctic exploration). Ponytails cleaned out a dishpan full of her old papers and magazines, reading things to me as she went (such as how astronauts blow their noses in space). During that time I was writing on the couch with Crayons beside me, who is determined to read through the entire Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by herself. ("What's a burr?" she asked. A what? Oh, a bureau. A fancy word for dresser. "Okay." There, simple vocabulary lesson accomplished.)

And, and, and--the highlight--the electric typewriter. It was Ponytails' idea to drag it out of the basement and start typing on it, but all THREE of the Squirrelings needed a little refresher course on the pre-computer keyboard. (Where's the Enter key?) Ponytails typed a letter to a friend. Crayons just typed.

2. Efficiency in evaluation--Government schools spend huge amounts of time and money on standardized testing and other methods of evaluating progress. Our long-term goals in education are to "produce" (unfortunate word) capable, educated adults who can think logically, act responsibly, read intelligently, write clearly, show compassion, and have a working relationship with the world and its Creator. I don't think there is a standardized test that can measure those things.

As a slightly apologetic afterthought, we do have a Squirreling attending public high school part time, so I'm not in a position to say that government schools are completely useless to us. It was more efficient for The Apprentice to take some of the courses she really wanted (like drama and hairdressing) in group classes and in well-equipped labs. For our family, it works best for her to do that at the local high school, rather than looking for private opportunities or homeschool classes. Sometimes the high school classes seem to waste time watching videos. I miss the unlimited time at home when we could just read something and not worry about whether it was counting for a credit. But it is a moving-on step for The Apprentice, so I'm glad that she has the opportunity to try out these things that we can't provide at home.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

What do you find at your rummage sales?

Rummage sales are a different kettle of fish than thrift shops; mainly because things like books aren't screened quite so well. You're more apt to find the musty, the weird, and the almost-used-up mixed in with the cool stuff; but on the other hand, you sometimes find one person's whole stash of childhood books, or Grandpa's history obsession. When you can get a shopping bag full for a couple of dollars, though, it's not worth going through everything to see how many pages are coloured in or whether the fractions pages are exactly what you need. Better just to fill the bag and then sort (and dump if necessary) when you get it all home.

We filled a family-sized bag at a church sale this morning (the first rummage sale we've been to in months); the girls found some craft bits and pieces, a nice picture frame, and a couple of little china ornaments for their rooms. The clothes were nothing to get excited over, although we did pass people coming out with stuffed garbage bags, so I guess everyone has her own idea of what's worthwhile.

I was paying particular attention to the boxes of books because of a workshop I'm doing next month, on using thrift shop and yard sale materials to round out homeschool curriculum. So what I put in the bag this time wasn't so much what my own Squirrelings need for school, but Exhibit A of what one good rummage sale might net you. And I think this was pretty typical, including the couple of things that turned out to be garbage:

A nursery rhyme songbook, very slightly musty (Ponytails can use it with our keyboard)
An NIV New Testament
A New Webster's Dictionary
Several story books: The Sword in the Tree, Lynd Ward's The Biggest Bear (very worn), Robert McCloskey's Lentil, Jerome (an interesting '60's book about a frog prince who stays a frog, but it's too wizardy for most homeschoolers I know), Red Riding Hood, and The Dancing Palm Tree, a book of Nigerian folk tales which looks pretty good
5 childrens' word search books, partly used
A Mark Trail nature colouring book (good only for a few animal cutouts)
2 Golden Step-Ahead math workbooks, slightly used (one is grade 4 level and might be a good supplement for Ponytails)
A Beaver Scout handbook--pretty useless
Splitting the Atom: A yo-yo trick book that I gave to Mr. Fixit
Chalk Around the Block, a book of games like hopscotch to play outdoors
Insects Indoors and Out, by Hortense Roberta Roberts
Three how-to-draw animal books, one by Ed Emberley
An old edition of Inside 25 Classic Childrens' Stories, by Miriam J. Johnson
A mostly-used Christmas colouring book that sneaked in with the puzzle books (dumped that)
Part of a Discovery toys card game--but too many of the cards are missing to make it useable
A hardly-used Veggie Tales Silly Singalong colouring book

There were a couple of other things I might have taken as well (if I were looking hard for school things), but didn't: a big coffee-table book with photographs of Canada; more so-so childrens' books; classical music cassettes in dubious condition; a game of Careers and a game of Snakes and Ladders, both in good condition; binders and storage tins; and a couple of plastic dollar-store gizmos to practice addition and subtraction.

So I now have my Exhibit A. If you want to know what I'd do with it (other than the obvious do-the-math-problems), I guess you'll have to come to the workshop. :-) [Update: or you can read the posts I wrote about it, starting here.]

Friday, February 16, 2007

Of chainsaws and firehoses...

...and other more-than-you-need tools, that the ever-astute Deputy Headmistress mentions in her post on homeschooling, Using the Right Tools and Methods.
"I would agree that homeschooling is sometimes dreadfully inefficient in a distinctly negative fashion, but where I think this is most true is when we homeschoolers are using 'arrangements designed for other situations,' using chainsaws to butter our bread, fire hoses to water our gardens, and workbooks designed to assess the learning of 25 strangers in an institutionalized setting to teach a single second grader who could communicate what he knows just as well over a dinner conversation with his family."
The DHM also wants to know how the goals of an institutional school compare with our goals.

Let me think that one over and I'll get back to you.

Thinking about Lent

Lent starts next week--without nearly the fanfare of the beginning of Advent (unless you're in Mardi Gras territory). Maybe pancakes the night before, but other than that, most people won't notice.

I'll have to get our assortment of celebration books off the shelf again and see what we haven't done for awhile. Most years we go back and forth between old favourites like Before and After Easter and Celebrating the Christian Year. We have a felt banner (made when The Apprentice was small) that has symbols to add each week and then each day; but I don't like doing the exact same thing every year. Sometimes we've worked in themes like Pilgrim's Progress or Narnia, usually closer to Resurrection Sunday. It's definitely harder to find family-friendly devotional activities for this time of year.

I found this list of readings at and thought it looked interesting. They suggest using the readings Jesse-tree fashion and posting them (or symbols of them?) in the shape of a cross. There are possibilities there...

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A golden age in science publishing?

If there was a Golden Age of Scholastic books, there was also a Golden Age of childrens' science publishing. I'm just guessing but I think it started just after WWII and probably extended sometime into the sixties. I'm not talking so much about the little kids' Read-and-Find-Out books, although some of those are semi-classic too (like Benny's Animals And How He Put Them In Order), but something more; a collaboration between scientists, writers, and well-known (or well-known later) childrens' book illustrators. These books were written...let's appeal to junior George Baileys ("Then I'm coming back here and go to college and see what they know…and then I'm going to build things"), Little Eddies, and Homer Prices. Kids like my dear Mr. Fixit who wanted to know how things worked, and who weren't scared off by having to read information instead of getting it delivered in multimedia format.

I picked up three books like this at the thrift shop last week. One is The Story of Sound, by James Geralton. (James Geralton is the pen name of Harvard physics professor emeritus Gerald Holton.) The illustrations are by Joe Krush; you might have seen Beth and Joe Krush's illustrations in The Borrowers or Gone-Away Lake. The cover is terrible, especially with the dustjacket missing; the title is boring (gee, thanks Uncle Max, just what I wanted, The Story of Sound).

But the text draws you in, keeps you interested, and teaches you something along the way. Some examples (they're not consecutive paragraphs):
Wind whistling through a forest may sound mysterious and frightening. But we can now explain that noise quite simply. When the wind hits a branch or a leaf, or a blade of grass, its smooth flow is broken up--just as the pillars of a bridge break the passing stream into small whirlpools and eddies. The eddies of water try to stay and hide right behind the pillars. The little eddies of air, too [no, not those Little Eddies], lie behind the twig or blade, leaf or telegraph wire, while the wind that rushes past pushes them lightly back and forth. The whirls of air vibrate to and fro behind their hiding place, like a flag on a stormy day that flutters from its pole. This vibration of whirling air sets up sound waves, just like any other vibration!
Hot gases, too, like the exhaust from the engine of a car, expand quite rapidly. To make one's automobile trips pleasanter a muffler is usually attached which lets the gas expand more slowly through a widening tube of metal. Thus the noise is deadened a little.
Now we have come to a large and interesting family of noises: those made by explosions! [ooh yeah]
The other two books are sixties paperback reprints of earlier books: Everyday Weather and How It Works, by Herman Schneider, illustrated by Jeanne Bendick; and Research Ideas for Young Scientists, by George Barr, illustrated by John Teppich. The George Barr book in particular is terrific and asks all kinds of questions that young scientists can find answers to: How far did your helium balloon travel? What accounts for the force of a collision? How quickly can you stop your bicycle? Does a blindfolded person walk in a circle? What is the traffic picture at a busy corner? [I'm visualizing Policeman Small here...] Why are ships pointed? How reliable is your camera's shutter?
"Have you been getting poor snapshots lately, even though you used the recommended exposure? Maybe your shutter speed is not what is supposed to be....The next time you use a roll of film, save your last shot for this test. Take a record player, with an extension cord, out into the bright sunlight. Use the standard 78-rpm speed. Place a 10- or 12-inch record on the turntable. Tape a thin white paper strip to the record from the center to the edge....[take a picture while it's going around]....When the picture is printed, measure the angle with a protractor--or compare it with the one shown in the diagram...."
Of course the experiments (like that one) are sometimes anachronistic; other experiments involve roller skates, milk bottles and "stapling machines" ("Dad, can I use that 'stapling machine' you have on your desk?" "Sure, Beaver"). But many of them are still workable; and some of them are more relevant than ever (How much water is wasted in your home?).

Moral: don't be scared off by boring titles or cover art showing tin-can phones; there's gold in some of them Golden Age books.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Watching the world fill up with snow

If you haven't had enough of the snow (those of us who are still digging out), Tenniel at School at Home recently posted a bunch of Snow Lesson Plans.

More blogs, more posts, old friends

Tootle has a link on her blog to I Have to Say, who's just moved to a new blog address. Randi has homeschooled for 13 years and has a flair for making things out of dish towels. Cool.

A brand-new blog from a Canadian homeschooling mamma: Piratemum's Bring Me That Horizon. If you click on her other blog there to the right, Itty Kitty, you'll find out what Piratemum and her crew are dreaming of doing one of these days.

Those CMers who want to catch up with Debi can find her online here. If it's been awhile, you might want to start with this post. Her blog reflects on her journey of fear and faith.

Another name I remember well from CM message boards is Donna C., and her blog is here.

This isn't a blog, but any of you who remember "Vicki in Yugo" from Debi's CM board might like to see their family mission page (they are currently serving in Montenegro).

Another Valentine's treat (or April Fool's joke)

Last Sunday night we made a special treat for dessert: Pizza Cake. We adapted our recipe a long time ago from an April Fool's idea in Family Fun Magazine. We don't use red frosting for the tomato sauce, though; I prefer to make a sauce out of jam or preserves.

This is how we do it: I bake half of a white cake mix in a foil pizza pan. (You can bake the rest of the batter in a cupcake pan at the same time and save it for another time, if you want just one. One pizza cake serves about six eager eaters.) Usually I like to make cakes from scratch, and you could use any plain cake recipe you like; but for this recipe it seems the toppings are the exciting part and a mix will do fine underneath. If it bakes slightly unevenly, that's okay.

I make a sauce from a good dollop of red jam (say half a cup), enough water to bring it up to a cup, and a tablespoonful of cornstarch, cooked together until thick and clear. You might want to double that if you like lots of sauce (I did). (Note: jam thins as it heats, so you might want to try a bit less water than the math would say; I think my water level came up to about a cup and a half rather than two cups.) Raspberry and strawberry jam both work fine. This time around I used about half a jar of E.D. Smith Triple Fruits Raspberry. You could probably just use straight preserves too, if they're thin; but I think that would be too sweet.

When the cake is baked and fairly cool, spread it with the fruit sauce. Sprinkle it with something to resemble grated cheese; some people might like coconut, but we prefer a square of grated white chocolate. You can sprinkle it on after the fresh fruit (see below), but we think it looks better sprinkled on first.

And then decorate, randomly or in lovely patterns, with your choice of fruit toppings. Since our grocery store featured blackberries this week (an unusual treat, even in the summer), we got a small box of them and put them on the cake along with sliced bananas and canned pineapple chunks. But you could also use kiwi fruit, strawberries, small orange sections, or whatever else is available. (Note if you're using bananas or anything else that might turn brown: serve as soon as possible after decorating. We made the cake in the afternoon and refrigerated it until dinner, and the banana slices were already starting to discolour just a bit.)

If you're feeling creative and have a pizza box, you can serve it from the box as Family Fun shows; but otherwise it's just fine from the foil pan. Actually I baked it in three foil pizza pans stacked together, for stability; and when I served it I had the foil pan sitting on top of a glass cake plate. I put our pizza cutter out for fun, but a cake lifter will do just as well.

Now Ponytails and Crayons both want pizza cake for their birthdays.

Peanut Butter Granola Treats

Something easy to make for St. Valentine's Day if you don't want chocolate!

We have not had a microwave in the Treehouse for very long; we never felt we needed one. But a relative donated his to us a little while back, so we've been experimenting with paper-bag popcorn and single-serving hot chocolate recipes. Yesterday Mama Squirrel decided to use up some of a giant batch of the DHM's granola by making some of these treats. The recipe is from where it's called Peanut Butter Granola Bars, but I don't think these are much like granola bars--they taste good (Ponytails says they're delicious, delectable AND yummy) but they didn't cut very neatly. So Treats, not Bars.

Peanut Butter Granola Treats

1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1 tbsp. butter or margarine
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter (you can eyeball this if you don't like scraping peanut butter out of a measuring cup)
2 cups granola cereal (homemade or storebought)

Combine sugar, syrup and butter in a medium bowl. Microwave on High until sugar dissolves, about 2 to 2 1/2 minutes, stirring once. Add peanut butter; mix until smooth. Blend in granola. Press mixture firmly into a greased 8-inch square pan. (We like to use a slightly smaller but deeper casserole, so you get fewer cookies but thicker ones.) Refrigerate until set, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from pan; place on cutting board; slice into bars and serve. [OR slice messily into pieces right in the pan.] Makes 16 bars.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Yes, you can vote now

In spite of toxic clouds and sick family members, Everyday Mommy managed to get all those pages of nominations whittled down to two or three in each category (based on the number of nominations) for the Hidden Treasure Blog Awards.

So you can go vote. (Did any of my nominations make it in? No, but the finalists look pretty interesting too. And that lady really does Febreze her dog.)

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mom goes off to play, or the Thrift of it All

Mama Squirrel's idea of a fun afternoon out is taking the bus downtown to sort through the bookshelves at her favourite thrift shop. Even if it's bitter cold outside...or maybe because it's been bitter cold and it's been too hard to get out much this week, even for furry squirrels. So an afternoon of shopping was welcome...and worth it, especially because she hasn't been able to get down to this shop since before Christmas.

Mama Squirrel arrived at the thrift shop with good intentions, fueled by pretty blogs filled with vintage gingham, ladies' hats, and other imaginative decor. She dutifully trekked around the housewares but saw nothing much besides old zippers and sad-looking picture frames. The half-price deal was all on men's suits, which we don't need. So she quickly found herself in her usual back corner, happily flipping through an unusually large selection of childrens' books.

For $4.50, she brought home an armload of 18 books.  Even with bus fare, that's a pretty good deal; and it's entertainment too.

Mama Squirrel has a couple of sort-of collections going, and the Piece de Resistance of this trip was an addition to the Eleanor Farjeon/Edward Ardizzone collection: The Old Nurse's Stocking Basket (for a quarter!).  That in itself was enough to cheer up a winter day.

The other collection is strictly for fun and nostalgia: a bunch of vintage Scholastic paperbacks from the '60's and '70's. They were the staples of school libraries and classroom bookshelves, and if you follow the lost book requests at Stump the Bookseller, a lot of them are very well remembered (or not-so-well remembered). Those were the days when Scholastic Book Services published a lot of their very own semi-classic titles: everything from the Mushroom Planet books to Norman Bridwell's A Tiny Family (that's one we don't have, though) and John Peterson's The Secret Hideout, to biographies of Harriet Tubman and Marco Polo, and The Ghost of Dibble Hollow (a childhood memory of Mr. Fixit). And The Secret Language (do you remember ickenspick and leebossa?).

Anyway, we added a few to that collection today too: Casey, the Utterly Impossible Horse (do you remember that one?); The Three Dollar Mule, by Clyde Robert Bulla; and two of the above-mentioned Secret Hideout books. Oh, and a biography of Johnny Appleseed. They're fun and they can be good, non-intimidating reading practice for the eight-to-ten-year-old set.

Especially when you get them for a quarter.

And Mama Squirrel filled out the bag with a fat hardcover of the Peterkin Papers (I was pretty sure our paperback was missing some of the stories), King of the Wind, three 1950's science-made-fun books, a couple of colouring and puzzle books, Child of China, and Paddington Marches On.

Oops--no doilies today. I really did try. But I guess my lower nature just took over.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Blogs I'm noticing

In a Spacious Place, Willa's blog. Some amazing posts about Charlotte Mason, homeschooling plans, and homeschooling special-needs children.

Ms. A's Living Without Money (found through Like Merchant Ships) Like Meredith's blog, this one is detailed, full of pictures, and makes you feel like you too might be able to manage some of this frugal stuff.

Folded Gingham: another one of these lots-of-photos, vintage, thrift-shopping blogs that I could browse in for a lot longer. I really like those Valentine pins too.

No...must...resist...I don't wear aprons...I am not a crafty person...don't have a rotary cutter, don't rubber-stamp, don't slice up old books...must...hold out...weakening...

I guess pigs have wings now too

When I read blogs, pieces and threads often come together--even if the posts aren't on the same subject at all. I've been thinking about that long essay-post that Sallie and others have linked to: Home Economics, Sustainability and the Mommy-Wars at Casaubon's Book. [2014 UPDATE: that blog is no longer there.] Whether you're an apron-wearer or not, survival for families (according to that post) seems to boil down to two things: needing less and staying together (not just staying married, but staying close to our children as well). And do you see this--those two things are SUBVERSIVE. Sorry for the capitals, but I'm shouting that. It is Not Normal to plan your lifestyle so that you need less (so that you then have to earn less or work less and can spend time doing other worthwhile things that you like better or that are more important). It is Not Normal to spend evenings at home together--as the author of that post says, to treasure not some single saved-up-for event in your memories (like a trip to Disney World), but rather the repeated memory of "the way it usually is"--everyone being in the same room, reading or working or doing whatever it is that defines our family's life. Did you notice that word "working?" The author of the post points out that whether mom goes out to work may not be the main issue here--the problem is more that both father's and mother's work has moved far out of family life; most children have little idea of what their parents actually do, and they have no way to participate in that work. (If you don't believe that's possible, read Little Nino's Pizzeria. Or Understood Betsy.)

Okay--so I've just saved you printing out all those pages (although I still think you should read the whole essay if you have time), and we agree (don't we?) that it's a good thing to think outside the cultural cliche box and be subversive enough to say "let's work on needing less" and "let's choose work, education and play that lets us build parent-child and sibling relationships." Not easy, but let's assume we agree that those are indeed good goals.

Now, while we're huddling together in the corner awaiting the shower of rocks from those who think we're endangering society, I have a third subversive proposition for you. I've said it before and I'll say it again: to be truly subversive these days, you have to read.

Being a subversive reader is getting easier than it used to be; it doesn't even mean you have to read old books anymore. How about the unabridged versions of more recent books? Melissa Wiley shared the news that her publisher will be abridging her Martha and Charlotte Little House books. She says, "They are significantly shorter; in some cases more than a hundred pages have been cut from the original edition." Because of this, Melissa has decided not to continue to add to those series of books but to work on a different project.

These are books that were written with a young audience in mind. We are not talking Silas Marner here. Why would a publisher feel this is necessary? The only answer I can think of is that people won't buy the original versions; and the only reasons I can think of for that are that kids have no attention span and/or can't read the originals. Or have nobody to read them to them.


And so my third proposition. To stand against so much of what is wrong out there, read. Teach your kids to read. Buy unabridged books and refuse the butchered versions (especially those that are done--like Melissa's--without the author's approval or co-operation).

Do not settle for what's offered in the school-market book fliers or what's on the kids' shelf at the chain bookstore, although that would at least be better than no reading at all. If you have tiny ones, look for a copy of Babies Need Books, by Dorothy Butler. (I used that when the Apprentice was small, and Dorothy almost never steered us wrong.) For older ones, get a copy of Books Children Love or Honey for a Child's Heart. And then go beyond those: let your children see what you're reading. Share a poem with them or the funny part from the otherwise-unsuitable book. Teach them to sing hymns with words that are too big, or teach them to use tools or (like Miss Read) to do sewing that they shouldn't be able to do because it's not in the curriculum. Maybe they can even make aprons...

Be brave. Live subversively. Need less. Stick together and hold hands.

And read books.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Very small things

Sometimes God sends little reminders of his faithfulness through very small things. Even non-essential things. Some people would call them coincidences. But I've seen enough of them to know that there's more than luck or coincidence behind them. There were a couple of times years ago when we were down to the last drop in the milk carton--and Mr. Fixit came home from work that night with free milk he got by filling his work van up with gas. The gas station used to offer coupons for milk and juice when you filled up, but in most peoples' cars it would take a few fill-ups to get free milk. Since Mr. Fixit had to fill his van's big gas tank, he could earn a carton in one running-on-empty visit; and his boss certainly didn't want the milk. But we did.

Recently we were down to our last bit of Stick-tac. Oh, woe is me, right? Not really a big deal. We can buy more at Giant Tiger. The trouble is that with the cold weather we have not been out buying more than basic groceries, so I haven't had a chance to get there. Two days ago I opened a box to look for some highlighters--and there was an almost-new package of Stick-tac. Ha...I knew we had more somewhere. Or is it just that God takes care of us? In any case, I offered up thanks and stuck up some school work.

And there was the peppermint tea. Mr. Fixit hasn't been feeling so well, on and off. A few nights ago he asked me if we had any peppermint tea. I said no, I didn't think so; I was pretty sure I knew what we had in the basement pantry and I didn't go down to look. The next day I went down looking for something else and there were two boxes of tea I'd forgotten about that we'd bought on sale, weeks ago: one was peppermint. Of course you can call that just mom-brain forgetfulness; I mean, it wasn't like the peppermint tea just magically appeared. Right? I still say thank you...because it was THERE.

Sometimes when you're bothered by the big things, it's the little things that remind you--God's THERE.

A view from the blog

At least one blogger I know has been musing about what she does and doesn't blog about. Like Mama Lion, there are parts of life-offline I'm eager to talk about, and others that I ignore. Awhile back (during Advent) I was invited to join a Christian bloggers' ring; and I hesitated on that one, because, although we are a Christian family, spiritual issues aren't always the focus of our blog. I don't feel like we fit too well into the "blogs of beauty" image either. Our blog is just...our lives. It's about the things that make us laugh and the ways we get on. And an occasional gloat when we find things at yard sales.

It's a view from up here in the (currently snowed-over) Treehouse. What I see going past our door, both in cyberspace and in real life.

And it's a view of the more public rooms of of the Treehouse, and the Squirrels who live in it. We're happy to show you our bookshelves, our kitchen, and our Christmas tree, but the doors are politely closed on the laundry room and the trash bin.

We don't post many pictures of the Squirrel family, not because we look like Shrek, but because we like our faces to belong to us and not to just anyone out there with Photoshop. Blogging is its own kind of snapshot-making.

And reading other peoples' blogs is like looking through their windows, and seeing them wave back. We're coming up on our second Treehouse anniversary, and it feels like a nice neighbourhood to be living in. (You're all invited over for the acornfest on February 18th.)

'Snow laughing matter

Yesterday Crayons and I were looking at Granfa' Grig Had a Pig (And Other Rhymes Without Reason from Mother Goose), by Wallace Tripp. It's been around for years, but we got a copy only a short time ago at a library sale.

It's not this rhyme that made me laugh, but the picture that Tripp put with it:

"The fox gives warning,
It's a cold frosty morning."

This particular fox is standing in front of a weather map with a pointer; a porcupine in overalls and headphones operates the TV camera.

(If you've never seen Granfa' Grig and you like Father Fox's Pennyrhymes, you'll like this one too. If you've never seen either of them, you've missed out. "There was a chap, his name was Bert, he ate the buttons off his shirt.")

Monday, February 05, 2007


A delightful quote from the Miss Read book that Coffeemamma lent me:

'And while we're at it,' continued Mr Willet loudly, brushing aside this interruption, 'what's become of them copies of the hymn-books done in atomic-sulphur?'

Mr Annett looked bewildered, as well he might.

'You know the ones, green covers they had, with the music and atomic-sulphur written just above. I'm used to 'em. We was all taught atomic-sulphur years ago at the village school, when schooling WAS schooling, I may say--and all us folks my age gets on best with it!'

'I believe they are in a box in the vestry,' said Mr Annett, pulling himself together, 'and of course you can use the copies with tonic solfa if you prefer them. They'd become rather shabby, that's why the vicar put them on one side.'

Mr Willet, having had his say, was now prepared to be mollified, and grunted accordingly. -- Village School, by Miss Read

Abundance Post: Do Without

[Previous posts on this topic are this one (an introduction), Bring on the Marching Band (Use It Up,) Wear It Out, a postscript to Wear It Out, and Make It Do.)

"Bob the Tomato: Larry, how much stuff do you need to make you happy?
Larry the Cucumber [thoughtfully]: I don't know. How much stuff is there?"

"Do without" is not culturally correct these days. It's negative. It sounds like lacking, poverty, need, deprivation. Why should we ever have to do without? If we've gone without, why should our children have to?

How do we reverse this and celebrate abundance?

Think of no-limits excess. Have you seen Veggie Tales' Madame Blueberry (the source of the quote above)? After her giant spending spree at Stuff-Mart, her house collapses.

Have you ever seen those homeschooling posts that respond to "what your kids must be missing?" They usually run like this, "Yeah, we miss out on a lot...peer pressure, drugs, walking to school in freezing rain, bullying...." Well, in the same way I am happy that we do without a lot of things by doing without.

We do without a great deal of debt and its accompanying worry, fear and headaches.

We do without the need for even more storage space (and after living in this house for nine years with five people, I think we would soon be in Madame Blueberry's situation if we didn't put some limits on acquisition).

We do without a lot of the unhappiness and arguments that come when people feel like they're being shortchanged (not getting whatever it was they thought they needed, or whatever it was somebody else got). [Clarification: I don't mean the unhappiness is caused by the doing without, but by focusing on whether you have it or not. Example: I'm not particularly unhappy that I have never flown to Bermuda during March Break.]

We do without the mistrust that comes when you have to worry that your partner's bounced a cheque or run the credit card to its limit...again.

If we did not "do without," we would have to do without some other things that we value. Homeschooling--because I would have to work outside our home to pay for those extra things. Weekends together--because Mr. Fixit would be spending more hours catching up on work (at the better-paying techie job he'd probably have to find). The opportunity to share, to make do, to learn the skills of creating and fixing.

Yes, we do without--and I'm glad.

How to shovel snow, by Ponytails

[Reposted from 2006]

How to shovel snow.
First you will need a shovel. Than you need to have a place with some snow. Than when you have got to your snowie place you take your shovel and dig gently. When you have got some snow on your shovel you dump it some where else. Than keep doing that till your done. And that is how you shovel snow.


[Mama Squirrel's comment: Yep, that about sums it up.]

A poem for today

Winter-Time, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.

Before the stars have left the skies,
At morning in the dark I rise;
And shivering in my nakedness,
By the cold candle, bathe and dress.

Close by the jolly fire I sit
To warm my frozen bones a bit;
Or with a reindeer-sled, explore
The colder countries round the door.

When to go out, my nurse doth wrap
Me in my comforter and cap;
The cold wind burns my face, and blows
Its frosty pepper up my nose.

Black are my steps on silver sod;
Thick blows my frosty breath abroad;
And tree and house, and hill and lake,
Are frosted like a wedding cake.

Friday, February 02, 2007

If you give a mom some library books

(For Crayons)

If you give a mom some library books, she'll read you If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, because it's one of your friend Baby's favourites.

Reading about the Mouse's snowman will make her think of All You Need For a Snowman, so she'll read that to you as well.

All that snow will make her think of always winter and never Christmas, so she'll read you Lucy Steps Through the Wardrobe.

Stepping through the wardrobe will remind her of jumping through a picture frame, so she'll give you your choice of a Katie book, since you have three of them out. You choose Katie Meets the Impressionists.

The Degas "Blue Dancers" in Katie will remind her of Ponytails' book Ballerina, so she'll send you to get that. But since you don't really want to read it, she'll settle for George and Martha. (Thanks to the Beehive for that link.)

And thinking of hippos will make her think of elephants, so she'll read you A Quiet Night In.

Reading that will make her think of big messes, so she'll send you to dig out If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

And reading that will make you ask for...

a hug. And you'll get one.

Can't get enough Schmecks?

A Day That Really Schmecks, Part Two, is up at Jasmine's Cardamom Addict blog.

My nominees

I have a problem choosing blog posts for the Hidden Treasures contest--and not just because I know so many excellent bloggers! The problem is that most of my favourite blogs could be nominated in almost any category; and some of these posts could also fit into more than one slot. I know some great homemakers who also post about faith; I know great moms whose posts are full of humor. So I tried to pick a different blog for each category and I only wish there were more (categories, not blogs). If you especially like these posts, please consider nominating them as well (see the link in the sidebar).

Children and Family: Coffeemamma shares Breathtakingly wonder-filled news. (January 2006)

Faith: Athena thinks about what she'd like to be like when she's old. Short and to the point! (October 2006)

Marriage: The Deputy Headmistress reminds us of the importance of saying I Love You--in many ways. (November 2006)

Motherhood: Melissa remembers her daughter's battle with leukemia and considers all of her "amazing treasures." "They are miracles, all of them. Especially that golden girl beaming at her little brother as she lifts the spoon to his laughing mouth." (Here in the Bonny Glen, January 2005)

Homemaking: Krakovianka attempts to reconstruct Danuta's Walnut Cake. (May 2006)

Humor: The Beehive prepares for Hurricane Rita. (September 2005)

Life: Donna-Jean's The Gifts of Christmas (Liberty and Lily, December 2006)

A morning's work

Yesterday's special activities were fun, but we do need to get some "regular school" done today. Nothing too hard, though.

Bible: Friday is our Proverbs day, and we just pick whatever chapter matches the day of the month. So we'll read part of Proverbs 2.

Picture Study: Constable's Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop's Grounds
A chapter of Sajo and the Beaver People
Short math lesson to review something we learned earlier this week
Ponytails needs to work on her geography "Pizza Book"
Shakespeare story: continue Henry IV

And after lunch we are meeting Coffeemamma and her youngers at the library. It's been too long already since we've gotten together!

Happy Gwoundhoggs day

Dewey sends his "best wegards" to Wiarton Willie and hopes there will be a quick end to this cold snap. ("My tail is fweezing off!" "Dewey, what are you talking about? You spent last night with Crayons' stuffies." "I'm still cold.")

Hint that it has been very, very cold this week: we have a block heater plugged in to the Vibe to make sure it can crawl out of bed like the rest of us.

P.S. for the Abarbablog: Shubenacadie Sam has already made his prediction.
Winter is on its last legs, according to Nova Scotia's Shubenacadie Sam, the first of Canada's weather-predicting groundhogs to poke his nose out and make his forecast Friday.

The confused-looking rodent emerged from his enclosure near Halifax, took a good look around, and did not see his shadow.

Shortly afterwards, Pennsylvania's prognosticator of prognosticators, Punxsutawney Phil, followed suit with the same positive prediction.
(And, for those with whom I've been discussing peculiar regional pronunciations: yes, I do know that you say that "Shu-ben-A-ka-dee." I was realio trulio there once and I remember.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A post to nominate

I'm thinking through some of the best blog posts I've read in the recent past--although I don't think there are any time limits on the Hidden Treasure contest. This Christmas post by Donna-Jean was one of my favourites, although I'm not sure what category to nominate it in--"Life," I guess.

And this post from a year ago on Our Blue Castle--maybe in "Children and Family"?

Maybe the Common Room's recent post Connections, although there have been many others there that are worthy of nomination. Also "Children and Family," I guess, since there isn't a Homeschooling category. (But you can't nominate more than one post per category.)

So many blogs, so many posts. And a whole week to think back.

Treasure Nominations Now Open

Just a reminder that the nominations are open now for the Hidden Treasure hunt (see the link in our sidebar). The posts that get the most nominations will end up being voted on--so if you have a favourite, let the rest of us know too!

Happy 100th Day of Homeschool!

This is our hundred day of school this year. Crayons and I have been counting and bundling popsicle sticks since September, and this morning we made it to 10 bundles of 10. So this is how Ponytails, Crayons and I are celebrating (thanks to many Internet suggestions and a few ideas of our own):

Read Psalm 100
Sing Hymn 100: Ye Servants of God, by Charles Wesley
Sing Chorus 100: Living Bread, by Jan Willson
Show the 100 things you brought or that you're wearing (Ponytails wore pants with a hundred stripes, Crayons wore shorts with hundreds of flowers, and Mama Squirrel is wearing a vest with hundreds of little gold balls on it)
Read 100 Hungry Ants
Make big hearts with 100 things we’re thankful for!
Have an 100-word spelling test OR Put 100 words in alphabetical order. (We did 25 words, that was enough!)
Do an 100-piece puzzle.
Have a popcorn guessing game (which jar has 100 popcorn kernels? Answers later).
Bounce a ball 100 times, OR How many times can you bounce a ball in 100 seconds?
Have 100 seconds of quiet.
At 10:30, eat 100. (a pretzel stick and two round cookies)
At 10:40 (the 100th Minute), do 100 exercises and end with 10 cheers.
Guess what you will be doing 100 minutes from now. Set a timer to check.
Do dot-to-dots with 100 numbers, or do a hidden word puzzle with 100 words.
Read Tom Kitten, a book that was published 100 years ago.
Run in place for 100 seconds.
Help fold 100 pieces of laundry. (Amazingly, the pile in the living room did turn out to have exactly 100 pieces of clothing in it! That got us as far as lunchtime!)

Sing some silly 100 Days songs.
Play roll-the-dice and see who gets to 100 first.
Who can stack 100 pennies first without letting them fall? [Our record turned out to be stacking 32 pennies without them falling over.]
Go outdoors and make 100 snowballs. [This is a very cold day! The Squirrelings settled for a few slides down the hill and then making a hundred footprints in the snow.]
Come in and warm up. [Hot chocolate!]
Make a necklace with 100 beads while you watch a movie that is 100 minutes long. (You don’t have to watch the whole movie.) Before it starts, figure out what time it will be over if you watch the whole thing. [Hint on the movie: the big blue wet thing.]
Help make 100 Bean Chili for supper. [Crayons: "I don't like beans." Ponytails: "But this is 100 Bean Chili!" Crayons: "I don't like Chili, either." Mama Squirrel: "Too Bad."]
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