Monday, July 30, 2007

Never lie on the floor, and other pieces of wisdom

Did I ever link to these? "Oasis of Sanity: Mrs. H's class rules" have been tacked up in the Treehouse since they were first posted earlier this year. Much wisdom there for homeschoolers as well as classroom teachers (although "Don't touch the bell" may not apply).

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Yesterday was one of those infrequent trips downtown to the thrift shop with the great book corner. I brought home two plastic bagfuls of books--32 in all, plus several Highlights magazines, for a total of $11.55. Most of them were kids' books, and most of them had some kind of school value. I wasn't trying to create a whole curriculum this time, but I did have two rules to play by: nothing we already had, and no outright junk. Most of the books were 25 or 50 cents each.

Here's the list of what I found, and some comments.

Kristli's Trees, by Mabel Dunham. This is the only thing I sold right away, at the used bookstore around the corner; it netted me $4 off another book that we needed for school. (I knew there was a copy sort of hidden at the back, which is why I hauled my two heavy-enough-already bags in there after the thrift shop. And no, I didn't hide it.) (Oh, and if you've never heard of Kristli's Trees, it's a children's story with local interest, and it's been out of print for twenty-five years, so any copies are sought after.)

Something else vintage but likely without much real value since it's ex-library and not in great shape: Becky's Birthday, by Tasha Tudor. (Peach ice cream?)

Two books for us older ones: Under the Tuscan Sun, and a Jan Karon Mitford book. (We don't have any of them.)

Prayer for a Child: that one's a gift for someone else.

Something for French: Tous les tutus doivent ĂȘtre roses, an easy-reader book I used with The Apprentice. I still have the vocabulary cards we made for it around here somewhere.

Something schoolish: Winter Activities, a book of reproducible winter-and-holiday-themed busywork pages

Books for science this year or anytime: a kids' introduction to electronics, David Suzuki's book about the five senses (I used that with The Apprentice when she was younger), Sharing Nature with Children by Joseph Cornell.

A few easy books for Crayons to read: The Fire Cat, The Jungle Joke Book, How St. Francis Tamed the Wolf, Come Back Amelia Bedelia, and James Marshall's version of Red Riding Hood.

A couple of things for Crayons' language arts and other schoolwork next year: More Surprises (easy-reader poems) and several issues of Highlights magazines; also a different edition of A Child's Garden of Verses (okay, I broke the rule with that one but it's not exactly what we had, right?). (I'll do a post later about things you can do with Highlights and other magazines--I used to use them a lot when the Apprentice was Crayons' age.)

Chapter books I still need to check out: Jingo Django (a novel about gypsies), Aunt Vinnie's Invasion by Karin Anckarsvard,The Mystery of the Auction Trunk, The Family Under the Bridge, and The Wombles (the book that inspired the TV series).

Just for fun: How to Draw Bugs, a Precious Moments colouring book, a dolls-of-the-world colouring book, a book about juggling, a Dr. Who Choose-Your-Own-Adventure (that was for Mr. Fixit), three Highlights Magazine Hidden Pictures activity books, and a book about making your own hairbows. And a photo book about The Muppet Movie, to add to our small collection of Muppet books. (I didn't say everything had to be practical.)

Too hot to bake?

You can always try Chocolate Microwave Cake. (No dairy, no egg.)

We baked ours in a casserole that was a bit smaller around and a bit deeper than the suggested 8-inch square pan; and (probably because of that), the baking took 11 minutes instead of their 6 to 8. But still.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Betty Crocker got it right (The Brownie Recipe)

We have tried brownie recipes that require melting chocolate squares (they turned out dry). We have tried cookie brownies and no-bake brownies (both of which are good in their own ways). But we always come back to the Cocoa Brownies recipe from the Betty Crocker Cookbook (red paperback edition from the '80's). The Squirrelings like them. My brother-in-law likes them. Mr. Fixit, who does not like sweets much, has been known to enlarge his "little sliver" into a decent-size piece. He even got creative on the weekend and made "Googly Men" (otherwise known as happy faces in a bowl) with two squares of brownie for eyes, a scoop of ice cream for a nose, and a piece of banana for a mouth.

So this is the recipe, for no reason in particular except that my mamma taught me that sharing's nice.

Cocoa Brownies

1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter (softened if necessary. I just use the tub kind)
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs (or just 1 if you want them fudgier or are short on eggs)
2/3 cup all-purpose or unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional, we leave them out)
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Chocolate chips for topping (optional--our addition)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix sugar, margarine, vanilla, and eggs. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spread in greased 8-inch square pan. Top with a handful of chocolate chips if you want. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean (don't overbake), 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and cut in squares.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Frugal but fattening

A bits-and-pieces dessert: you need vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, and a lot of broken bits of brownie.

No, I didn't have a kitchen disaster, although that could get you there as well. But recently I made a large pan of regular-old-brownies for company, and I had a lot of little bits and ends that didn't cut well. I broke them all up--not into crumbs, but into small pieces--froze them in a plastic container, and then thawed them just before making dessert. I made the fudge sauce while I was making dinner too.

And you can figure out the rest: a small helping of brownie bits in the bottom of the bowl, a scoop of ice cream on top, and sauce on top of that. We felt completely decadent.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back from the beach

If you took the hint from the dolphins and sand on my avatar, you might have figured out that we have been having a family holiday over the last couple of days. Nothing turned out exactly as expected, but we just went with the flow and it all turned out fine anyway.

Most of our family trips have not been overnighters, but this time we decided to find a place to stay. We did the normal 2007 thing you do when you need to find a B&B: perused the Internet. We booked a family suite at what looked like a reasonably priced place, just outside of the town we wanted to visit (which, since we've been watching a lot of Green Acres lately, we'll call Pixley--the bigger town with the movie theatre).

So we drove all morning, had lunch at the Pixley A&W, visited a terrific local museum AND a homeschool supply store, and then headed for...Hooterville.

Hooterville turned out to be just that: Drucker's store and the Shady Rest Hotel. Unfortunately, Uncle Joe turned out to be slightly inebriated, the rooms weren't ready, and the downstairs appeared to function as the Hooterville pub. When we got a look at the kitchen we decided it might be a good idea to see if there was any alternative accommodation in Pixley.

Which there was. A very nice motel with two rooms next to each other, an indoor pool and a hot tub. We considered the etiquette of the situation: backing out of a verbal arrangement (no deposit on the room), vs. the risks of staying at the Shady Rest. We phoned Uncle Joe and said that we'd had a change of plans, then checked into the motel with no little relief.

The place we had in mind for dinner was closed, and Pizza Hut couldn't squeeze us in, but we found a Harvey's that served Swiss Chalet chicken, and that was fine. One thing we notice about small-town fast-food restaurants is that they're way cleaner and friendlier than the urban ones we usually avoid. I've never before had someone wiping tables at A&W ask how I liked my meal.

And the rest--it may not sound too exciting, but a morning in the pool and an afternoon walk on the beach was just what everyone needed. We're home, and we're tired, but it was worth it. We'd happily go back to Pixley again...just not Hooterville.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Trust and Okay

One blog leads to another: the always-thoughtworthy Wittingshire posted a quote from George Wiegel, and Wittingshire was linked to by The Paragraph Farmer, which I got to by following the Deputy Headmistress's Sunday Hymn Post. Okay, those are the credits: this is the bit of the quote I liked:

"A thoroughly secularized world is a world without windows, doors, or skylights: a claustrophobic, ultimately suffocating world."

Imagine never hearing the soaring words of Holy, Holy, Holy--Reginald Heber's words, or Nolene Prince's chorus from Isaiah 6:3, I don't care which--I always hear both of them flying out the windows, through the skylights, up past our small selves here. It's the poetry of the words as well as their literal meaning that opens those windows, though. Otherwise we might as well just have "What a mighty God we serve, what a mighty God we serve." Not the same at all.

Again from one blog to another: Lawrence Henry wrote this in the American Spectator, the JunkYardBlog commented on it, and the Deputy Headmistress picked that up as well.

"IT IS AN INTERESTING PARADOX. Churches devoted to rigorous, difficult theology -- real Christianity, in short -- have largely adopted praise music, mainly to get people in the doors. In doing so, they have denied their parishioners an intimate connection with the art, the music, the poetry, and the history of the faith of our fathers, embodied in hymns.

"Mainstream churches, which have left Christianity behind for liberation theology, "peace and justice" theory, deconstruction, and modernism, still cling to the hymnbook, to the hard work of teaching choirs to sing in harmony, and to the expense of maintaining pipe organs.

"If only they took as good care of the faith."

I won't get into the issue of who's practicing "real Christianity." But I do know exactly what they're talking about. Church-wise and music-wise, I have been almost everywhere. I grew up in the most mainstream of mainstream, heavy on Isaac Watts and the Wesleys, with a midweek helping of holy roller on the side. Since we've been married our places of worship have varied from strictly-pipe-organ (did you know Lutheran hymns are older and harder than "the norm?") to have-to-audition praise team.

The congregation we've been part of for the last while was actually formed partly out of this same question of worship style and content: those who rebelled against "My All in All"/overheads/praise bands, among other things. Since we meet in a rented assembly room, singing is accompanied by a piano and led by a song leader (there isn't usually a choir). Ironically, "My All in All" is included in the hymnal they chose; I think we sang it a couple of weeks ago. That hymnal is full of other little surprises, too: every so often I get hit with a chorus I haven't sung since the '80's and never really wanted to hear again. But generally we're on the same track: the hymns we sing at home often get sung at church as well.

Occasionally I've thought that I should make a list of my favourite hymns. Just in case, you know? But I think the list would be too long--so almost anything in The Mennonite Hymnal would be fine, with a couple of exceptions. With apologies to The DHM, I'd have to request that if this particular squirrel ever goes paws-up, the rest of the fur-bearers would please refrain from singing Be Still My Soul. I like Sibelius and I used to like that hymn until they started using it at every single funeral. Blech. Every time I sing it now I get depressed.

But I have one more thing to throw in here about hymns, in case you think I've gone too far off the original point. And it has a lot to do with that last paragraph: I wasn't kidding about wanting hymns--real hymns--at my funeral, whenever I eventually get to shed this mortal coil. I don't care if every person there has to stumble through the words and doesn't know the music, I want some songs with meat on them. How can you get through any kind of a crisis without knowing that "on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand?" This is something we've lost as a culture, especially during the worst times: being able to cling not only to the words of Scripture we know, but the poetry of the Psalms and hymns that has been written over and over on our hearts. How many families are there who hang up the phone after good or bad news and reach for the hymn book? Crayons once goofted on the name of the hymn "Trust and Obey." She called it "Trust and Okay," but I think that's closer to the truth of what I'm saying.

When I sing, "With ever joyful hearts, and blessed peace to cheer us," I think of the pastor who wrote those words during a plague. When I hear about "sorrow and love flow mingled down," I know something of Christ's love for us during our worst times. When I hear some of the "get people in the doors" stuff--I don't hear anything. It's not that older hymns are just macaroni and cheese to me, a matter of emotion and familiarity and comfort; it's not just style and taste. It's what they are filled with that goes flying away from me myself, past what I know, to something bigger than I am.

God is here within us,
Soul, in silence fear Him,
Humbly, fervently draw near Him.
Now His own
Who have known
God, in worship lowly,
Yield their spirits wholly.
--Gerhard Tersteegen, 1729

Monday, July 02, 2007

A little rhubarb

That's what we had--our still-skimpy plant yielded up about a cupful of diced rhubarb this week. Enough for muffins, but it was pretty hot to turn on the oven. I flipped through rhubarb dessert recipes, and saw a photo of raspberry-rhubarb parfaits.

Well, we could do that, except we didn't have any raspberries. But we did have some leftover canned pineapple in the fridge. And homemade yogurt, and granola. And a microwave oven...

So this is what I did: combined the rhubarb, the pineapple (about a cupful of tidbits), a quarter cup of sugar, and a spoonful of water in a glass measuring cup. (You probably don't need the water, but I'm still new at microwaving and I wasn't sure if it needed a bit of liquid.) I microwaved it on High for a couple of minutes, until the rhubarb was soft.

Then the girls and I layered granola, yogurt, and the rhubarb mixture in our fanciest stemmed glasses (this amount made five small desserts with no leftovers). We also added a spoonful of raspberry jam on the top of each, mostly for colour, and chilled them until dinnertime. And they were very elegant and delicious.