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.

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.

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 Domestic-Church.com 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 say...to 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

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 Cooksrecipes.com 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.

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.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

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.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

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.]

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.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

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."]