Thursday, January 31, 2008

Didn't we do this last year? (Pancake Recipes)

Oh well...the next Recipe Carnival will be hosted at Pancake Recipes, and the theme (obviously) is "National Pancake Day (send in your favorite pancake recipes, toppings, syrups, etc.)."

Here's our entry from last spring's pancake theme. Maybe I can come up with something new this time.

The whole truth about The Common Room

I missed this (slow to catch up this week even with Google Reader). On Wednesday (because it was Winner Wednesday), Homeschool Blog Awards interviewed our friend the Deputy Headmistress.

"What gets me out of bed and helps me start the day cheerfully?

Lunchtime. =) If not lunch, then at least a cup of coffee."

So now we know...

Books Read in January

I don't usually keep a list of these, largely because there are a lot of books I never get quite to the end of and it makes me feel guilty. Kind of like those years when I was almost done university and I had to keep explaining that I was done, well, more or less, I only needed a couple of credits, and they were electives.

But I did finish, really finish, these books over the past month. One of the Mitford books squeaked in because I read it during a car trip on December 30th, but close enough.

Aristotle for Everybody, by Mortimer J. Adler (okay, I skimmed a few parts, but I will be going over it all more carefully when The Apprentice starts philosophy next week)

Ballet Shoes and The Westing Game (re-reads with the Squirrelings) (We also watched the new BBC movie of Ballet Shoes but did not like it; we much prefer the 1975 version.)

Happiness™, by Will Ferguson (loaned to me by someone with a strange sense of humor; don't run out looking for this because some parts of it are quite offensive. I'll post about that one later on).

The first, third, fourth and fifth books in the Mitford series. I don't usually like things labelled "Christian fiction" or "womens' novels," but these are an exception. (I have nothing against Christian writing but I don't like Christian-bookstore-writing.)

The book of Isaiah (only six chapters to go, so I think I'll reach my goal).

Funny squirrelings

Mama Squirrel (reading from Exploring Creation With Astronomy): "That's Venus. Of course, you will know that it's not a star at all. It's a burning hot planet with lava and heat-trapping clouds made of sulfuric acid swirling madly around it."

Young Squirrel: "Sounds like Daddy's sinuses."

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Of uncertain times and lipstick

Have you heard about the Lipstick Effect?

No, that's not the thing going around awhile back that pointed out how much lipstick the "average" woman might ingest during her lifetime (anywhere from 4 to 6 to 9 pounds, depending on who you believe).

This Lipstick Effect says that during uncertain economic times, certain kinds of products will continue to be consumed.
"But in the face of uncertain income, the logic goes, we still need indulgences, however modest. And the lipstick effect was one of the more popular ways to express that. It goes like this: In times of economic uncertainty, certain products still prosper. Lipstick, as a cheap pick-me-up alternative to the more extravagant retail therapy offered by, say, a new pair of Ferragamos, was one of these."--Murray Whyte in The Toronto Star, Jan 27/08
Or ties rather than new suits. One could take this idea to quite ridiculous extremes: pine-tree air fresheners become the hot item rather than new cars. Bookmarks rather than books. Soothers rather than babies.

The article also points out that Mrs. Fields Cookies were introduced during a recession--but did very well, one must assume because of the same "little indulgences" mindset.

This would seem to fit in with the recent advice that we may all have to tighten our belts and shell out for Botox only once a year, not every three months.

Mama Squirrel's mind goes off in several squirrel directions at once at this point, so like the Confused Philosopher...

...she will finish her thoughts with a few unrelated questions.

1. If I have never eaten a Mrs. Fields Cookie and I don't buy lipstick anyway, how will I know we're into economic uncertainty? (Possible answer: look for the picket signs.)

2. What do I make of this story from Hungry Planet?

"....We took a 40-foot longboat three hours up the Pomats River to the village of Sawa [in New Guinea]....It was a small, poor place deep in the rain forest, a collection of wooden huts without running water, electricity, telephones, or roads of any kind....As we were talking, the older boy pulled a dry brick of instant ramen noodles out of its wrapper and munched it down."

3. What if your big indulgence is peanuts to me? Or vice versa? Do most of us really need to be encouraged to indulge ourselves more than we do? As the Deputy Headmistress has often pointed out, just because you're on food stamps doesn't mean you can't spend your share on pop and chips; and as Mr. Fixit often observed during his years in the service industry, just because one is on welfare and lives in a place with mold growing on the walls, it doesn't follow that one lives without cable TV; in fact, one is probably more likely to want it because (overgrown lipstick effect) one needs some entertainment.

4. We often read Proverbs 31 but skip the first seven verses, especially verse 7: "Let them drink and forget their poverty and unhappiness." Ah, the lipstick effect--sounds much nicer than saying the booze/smokes/drugs effect, doesn't it?

Have a cookie, on me. (Or some liverwurst and a cracker...) And a smile--it's free.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Flipping through the weekend papers

Grandpa Squirrel brought over some Toronto papers from the weekend. Bits and pieces from an after-dinner browse through the Globe and Mail Books section:

The week's Challenge (Warren Clements' column) was "to combine the names of a well-known person and of a food item, and to describe the new individual." The winner was "Sean Penne: He's known for his short fusilli...."; but I also liked "Dr. Phyllo: a layered personality, but rather flaky."

Three kids' books that sound like ones I'd like to read: The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett; Previously by Allan Ahlberg (another book involving fairy-tale characters); and Iron Hans, retold by Stephen Mitchell. One "kids'" book I think I'll take a pass on: "Before I Die."

A book of short stories called "writing [that] utterly obscures itself: author invisible, art luminous."

A biography of Ernest Rutherford, who (according to the reviewer) said, "In science there is only physics, the rest is stamp collecting." "In Rutherford's hands, the atom lost its reputation as a spongy blob of positive and negative electrical charges....All things nuclear--medicine, energy and war--became possible." That sounds like a book Mr. Fixit might like.

And a review of In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, by Michael Pollan. The review is called "Eat right or diet trying." "The most interesting aspect of Pollan's manifesto lies not so much in what we should eat (and avoid) as in why and how we arrived at this place...."

So many book reviews, so little time.

Favourite thrift shop find this weekend

10 vintage (1960's) Jack and Jill magazines for fifty cents apiece. (The downtown thrift shop might have let them go for a dime each, but this was the cleaned-up uptown store where you don't get such good deals.)

Reason it was the favourite weekend find: Crayons, Ponytails, Mr. Fixit AND Grandpa Squirrel all took turns looking at them after tonight's pork-on-a-bun* and sweet potato fries. Mr. Fixit was most entertained by the ads for '60's toys: Crayons is very annoyed that you can't still send in a quarter (or whatever it was) for a set of genuine Indian beads or a jailhouse-lock-and-key.

*Piggy feetnote: this was the first pork roast we've had in a very long time--the supermarket had them almost half price yesterday so we got one, and Mr. Fixit cooked it in the slow cooker on top of some sauerkraut.

Catching up

It's been one of those January weeks when you just know that the weather will be getting better someday but you are also starting to feel a bit like you're in a Little Winter on the Prairie book that just goes on and least we had a couple of nice clear days this week with lots of sledding snow, as well as a couple of bone-chillers.

By mutual and almost unspoken consent, the Treehouse is in a less-sugar, more-liverwurst zone as of this month. It's one thing to declare a New Year's resolution that you're going to eat healthier...we didn't officially agree on anything like that, there just seems to be an understanding that, much as we adore the homemade sweet things, there are good reasons to simply forcefully cut back and emphasize less-sweet alternatives leave the Chips Ahoy on the shelf. The Squirrelings don't mind too much, as long as there are still lots of things around to eat. Mama Squirrel has been making fruit-yogurt-and-protein shakes for mid-morning snacks (for some reason I keep thinking of Heaven Can Wait), and the Squirrelings will happily eat liverwurst or cheese on crackers. Not hummus, though--Mama Squirrel generally gets that to herself.

In almost a parallel way of things, I (Mama Squirrel) have found myself caught up in reading through the book of Isaiah--again not by any kind of resolution, but simply from a need to be nurtured in the Word--a drawing to the feast rather than a written-out demand to Read Your Bible. My goal is to be done (Isaiah, not the whole Bible) by the end of the month. (I find a Bible handbook is a big help with Isaiah, since otherwise I'm never sure when he's talking about the Assyrians or the Babylonians or something that hasn't even happened yet.)

There are winter winds out there that try to shake our Tree. Sometimes they feel like they will blow right through it. Trying to stay healthy--physically and spiritually--is one way we are fighting back.

That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth
--Martin Luther

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'll have one of those real ones, please

You reap what you sow--sometimes beyond. I have great sympathy for big brother Tim, whose preschool sister Miss M. is horning in on his LOTR books.

A couple of weeks ago I culled some of our bookshelves and put the extras and giveaways in a box. I asked the Squirrelings to have a look through it and please make sure I wasn't giving away anything that they really wanted.

Crayons went through it and came up with a pile up to her knees of books she wanted. Not anything I'd read to her or that she'd read herself--these were books that, for some reason or other, she Just Wanted to Keep. The list included an extra copy of Kidnapped ("I've been dying to read that book!"), a 3-volume Ladybird set about great artists ("Mama, look, it has Van Gogh in it!"), Plays Children Love, Modern Plays, Pauline Johnson's poems, Maryanne Caswell's memoir Pioneer Girl, Hind's Feet on High Places, and a book of Hanukkah riddles. And about three others that I convinced her we did already have other copies of. And a book of fairy tales (do you know how many other books of fairy tales we have?).

Most of those books were nothing I'd pick for a six-year-old. Truth is, other than the fairy tales and maybe the artists, I doubt she'll even find them interesting for a long time yet. But I can see it happening already: the bug is there. This will be a girl who asks for her own box at library sales.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Links to links

If you don't mind a couple of rabbit trails:

Meredith linked to some interesting frugality posts today...

and Melissa's Monday Links included As Cozy as Spring's Patchwork Pink. (DHM, I think you'd like that one.) And here are her Tuesday Links: Newfoundland, Debussy, and more.

Thanks, both M's!

The busiest rodent around

Crayons was reading a poem out loud and said that it was by "Annie Mouse."


Oh....boy, that Annie Mouse has written a lot of poems! (I'll let you figure that one out.)

Alleluia! By Ponytails!

Here is a nice hymn!
But you have to sing higher cause it's a man singing!

Happy Singing!

mama squirrel's note: that's Fernando Ortega.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why support support groups?

It seems like I keep reading posts, and comments on posts, that are down on homeschool support groups, especially Christian-oriented homeschool support groups.

I'd like to throw in a few cents' worth from the other direction.

I've been a member of a city-wide Christian homeschoolers' group since 1995 (we pull in a few people from outlying areas as well). We have somewhere around 150 families registered; we get maybe half that at a typical parents' meeting. (Some people take their kids to daytime activities but never come to parents' meetings.) It's not the only group in town; there's a secular/unschooling-oriented homeschool network, a couple of other medium-sized groups that I know of, and I think some smaller group-of-friends or specific-church-type small groups. There's also some crossover between the groups; some people are members of more than one group at a time, or move back and forth. Occasionally we share an activity (a couple of years ago the unschoolers' group started a choir and invited our group's kids to be part of it).

It's not required that one sign a statement of faith to become a member, although it is required if you are going to serve on the Steering Committee. It is required that you understand that the group is run on Christian principles ("Christian" as defined by the Apostles' Creed), which means that you can't get upset if we open the meeting with prayer or if the speaker-for-the-night decides to talk about how God healed somebody from something. When you register, you can write in what church you attend if you want, but it's not required.

Our monthly meetings are for parents (and little babies) only. That used to be just because of space and so we could focus on parent topics (they're usually structured around a speaker either from within the group or invited from somewhere else); now it's also because of liability (it would cost us extra in insurance if we allowed children to come to the evening meetings). We have a monthly newsletter with announcements of activities that are organized by members; the Steering Committee doesn't usually set up children's activities and field trips, but it supports what activities the members themselves organize. If you want your kids to go on a Pizza Hut field trip, you organize it, collect the people and the fees, and we'll put it on the calendar (and try to make sure nobody else schedules something for that day). If you want to start a soccer club, you find the place and the people and we'll post it in the newsletter. Nobody's required to come to any meetings or go on any activity. In fact, although I should probably get some kind of attendance award myself (I've missed very few meetings in thirteen years), my kids don't get to a lot of the daytime activities, for very good but too-diverse-to-explain-here reasons. Some members of the group run a kind of weekly learning co-op, but again, that isn't an official run-by-the-group activity [that is, the steering committee is not involved in its administration at all]; what happens there is their own affair although those who join do have to be registered (i.e. paid) members of the group (due again to liability issues).

Stop there a minute and go back to those last two words. Liability issues. If anything other than the Internet has really changed support groups in the last decade, liability is it. It's more than just worrying about whether we might damage the meeting place or whether one of our own group might get hurt during an activity. These days liability goes far beyond that; and that's why, in the last couple of years, we have added that requirement that each member sign a form stating that they do understand how our group operates; and that's why we can't allow non-members to come along on trips now. (You don't have to be a member to come to a parents' meeting.) It's not because we're nasty or exclusive. It's because we, the large group and especially the Steering Committee, don't particularly want to get sued.

Why do I support my support group? I'm a big girl now in the world of homeschooling; I don't particularly need to hear speakers talk about getting started or how they get their kids "off the refrigerator"--well, sometimes I do. I have lots of online support, and we're even getting a bit more local interest these days in CM.

To be honest, I couldn't imagine homeschooling without this group of parents. Some of them have come and gone over the years, but a number of the core people have been there about as long as I have, and we've swapped books, kid funnies, you name it since our now-teenagers were preschoolers.

And more than that--I'm proud of our group. I'm proud of what we do in the local homeschooling community. We organize an annual conference (including seminars and curriculum vendors) that usually gets 600 to 800 people attending. We have a library of books and other resources. We are a forum that's encouraged homeschoolers to teach each other (sometimes getting over some very big butterflies to do so) so that we can do a lot better job teaching our children. Sometimes we're just a place to find a sympathetic ear or shoulder.

I'm proud of the fact that we're an unabashedly Christian group, but also not exclusive. The fact that we function with only the most-needed policies means that, as a group, we can (and must) stay neutral on issues that would distract from our purpose of supporting and encouraging each other. One example: some Ontario homeschoolers keep in close touch with a local school board; others, on principle, do not and prefer to stay "under the radar." Our group decided years ago not to officially support either position; it was simply too hot a potato to handle at meetings. Out of courtesy for each other, we've usually managed to quickly move on to other more important issues.

In some ways, that makes us more vulnerable these days. On the other hand, it's increased our understanding of what really holds our group together.

One of these years I will no longer be homeschooling; my season will be over. I will miss the monthly gatherings, and the fun (yes, it's mostly fun) of keeping the library going. I will miss the sense that whoever's sitting beside me is just as concerned about education and their children's needs as I am; it's a sense that eliminates a lot of the usual shyness I tend to feel in large groups. What I will take from these years is a knowledge of how a surprisingly diverse (yes, we are!) bunch of parents who share those concerns have been able to work together and produce something that's helped hundreds of families.

So I think this group has done a good job.

Ponytails has a puzzle for you

Click to Mix and Solve

That would be a Big Bang

A Treehouse slip of the tongue:

"Here, Grandpa, you can take these nuts home and open them with a firecracker."

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Shoppe"d Out

We live in a part of Southern Ontario that has become a hi-tech centre of sorts, and which seems to be increasingly affected by a gust of big-city sophistication blowing from Toronto.

At least if you read (and believe) enough of the media.

A couple of years ago, our favourite all-purpose '60's-style smaller-size mall started undergoing a makeover, which is still continuing. More than a makeover--more even than plastic surgery--one might go so far as to say that They Created a Monster. (Cue 50's drive-in sound effects. Godzilla vs. Rodan.)

Half of the mall was actually cut off; new shoppes were built on. A Crepe Corner. An Expensive Toy Shoppe. Several more Too Expensive For Me Places. The corner restaurant with the duct-taped seats and all-day pancakes became a Seafood Cuisine House. The fast-food stop at the other end of the mall disappeared, along with anything (like tables in the open areas) that might encourage non-shoppers from parking their not-so-beautiful blue jeans for awhile. [Grammatical oops--okay, I know that last sentence doesn't make sense. I was trying to say that they took out the tables to KEEP people from parking themselves.)

Recently I heard that the supermarket in the mall (one of the last remaining vestiges of what used to be) will be closing as well, when its lease is up. The parent company wants to get out of its lower-end-of-the-market stores and focus on its more upscale ones.

It's good for the city's image. It's good for the owners of those little upscale businesses.

It's not good for the rest of us who just want a burger during lunch or a place to pick up some of those there pork rinds Bubba. Or maybe a birthday present for a little friend, but not one that costs THAT much?

Mr. Fixit and The Apprentice went into one of the Shoppes just before Christmas to buy mechanical pencil leads. This Shoppe carries things like $200 fountain pens and other gifts as well as pencil refills. When The Apprentice asked for them, the woman (obviously sizing up Student With Backpack and Dad in Parka) said with more than necessary snark, "You didn't have to come here, you can buy those anywhere."

Well, excuuuse me. Business must be good.

Truth be told, we don't all carry those wireless communicators around. Some of us have never even had a latte.

And some of us are still looking for a place to take a grandma shopping for foot insoles and J-Cloths [dishrags]. Know What I Mean?

File under: This Urban Chic Thing is Getting the Best of Me.

(Antidote: Barbie Goes to the Mall.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

My perfect super hero! By Ponytails!

I tried the super hero quiz!
And this fits perfect!
Your Superhero Profile

Your Superhero Name is The Composite Ghost
Your Superpower is Dance Dance Revolution
Your Weakness is Dust
Your Weapon is Your Celestial Belt
Your Mode of Transportation is Capsule

I LOVE to dance!
And I hate dust!
And I LOVE belts!

When you take what they're offering (managing extracurriculars)

How do we manage recreational dance lessons for two girls on a single income?

1. When we started years ago, we had some help from the squirrel grandparents.
2. When that wasn't there, we just worked it in somehow.
3. More recently, the government has been offering an incentive to low-income families who want to get their children involved in some kind of sports/fitness activities: the cost (up to a certain amount) comes off your taxes. (Dancing counts; the Apprentice's voice lessons don't.)

There ain't no such thing as a free lunch. We're well aware of that; we've read Uncle Eric; and we know that there are people out there who would not approve of our accepting what the government really has no business doing anyway. However, we figured it's available, and it helps, and dancing at the community centre is exactly what they're aiming at: a way for our girls to have fun and get some exercise. An important note there is that this level of dancing doesn't require any kind of special clothing or even special shoes, although we have bought ballet shoes for the girls each year. It's quite a different financial commitment from the one year of studio dance lessons that The Apprentice took when she was small--that $80 tutu for the end-of-year recital (plus the required photograph in it, not free) set our finances upside-down. (We were also going to have to pay full price for tickets (not cheap) just to see her be a rosebud for two minutes. Not that we didn't want to see it, but that was just impossible. We just waited backstage and then took our Rosebud home to bed.)

We don't go as far as asking for reduced-price lessons (which ARE available as well here at many city-run facilities); that's just not our style. We managed before the tax rebate without expecting to pay less than anyone else. But for anyone who's having real financial issues but wants to get their children involved in sports or crafts programs, at least at the "just for fun" level--you might want to look into that as well. Also, some community centres (or even private places) might trade a parent's volunteer hours for all or part of the cost of the programs.

(Dancing footnote: As far as quality of lessons/facilities goes: yes, I know the community centre doesn't have sprung floors, and the teachers aren't always of studio calibre (although sometimes that's not the case; one teacher they had was moonlighting from her studio job). But again, that's not our primary concern.)

Better than Five Little Peppers

When I was thinking through "count your blessings" books yesterday, there's one that slipped my mind. It's a bit of a jump from Five Little Peppers, but it's a fun read--Meet the Malones, published in 1943. You can read the first chapter online. The prices are quaint but the cash-flow problems are still relevant (not that most of us would blow the budget on a horse):

Mr. Chips' limping became more pronounced as the miles grew. Mary Fred's happy exultancy had slowed down, too. Now the chant inside her seemed to keep time to that querulous tune, "What you goin' to do when the rent comes 'round?" Only the words were, "What you goin' to do when you get your horse home? What you goin' to say? How you goin' to pay?"

That was it! How was she going to pay? Fifteen dollars to Mack besides the steady output for hay and oats for Mr. Chips. She hadn't thought of that when she had said so impulsively, "I'll buy Mr. Chips."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Your Superhero Profile

Your Superhero Name is The Commodore Frog
Your Superpower is Super Strength
Your Weakness is Tummy Rubs
Your Weapon is Your Ice Army
Your Mode of Transportation is Motor Home

More Frugal Thoughts

Continued from this post.

OK...some more thoughts on dealing with frugality burnout.

1. This is something that has worked for me: keep a notebook page or some other sort of journal of small blessings, especially of the financial/found stuff/little answered prayers kind. Then you can go back over it when you're feeling discouraged, and remember when you had that hunk of leftover whatever in the fridge and a recipe for using it up dropped in your lap; or the time you were out of milk and the neighbour sent you home with some because she bought the wrong kind (and she didn't even know you were out of milk); or the time you made a great frugal meal and EVERYBODY liked it. Or the times you have taken your taxes to the accountant and he tells you right out how amazed he is at how you guys manage so well (because he sees a whole lot more people who make a whole lot more money and are in a whole lot more mess). (Score bonus points if he asks YOU for frugal tips).

All of the above (except for the bonus points) are things that have happened to us.

And then you can keep a list of Big Blessings as well, just to keep things in perspective.

2. Hand in hand with #1: Think of things that you made from scraps or found frugally that are every bit as nice as something you could have bought if you'd had more cash to blow. It's related to what Amy Dacyczyn calls the "wow factor." Somebody mentioned having this crazy urge to go out and spend a whole lot of money on a very expensive restaurant meal, just because they've said "no" to it for so long. OK, it's a fun idea. Bring on the lobster thermidor. But when you think about it, is the "wow factor" you get from that meal (or something similar) enough times bigger and better that it justifies the cost?

I'm thinking here of Meredith's adorable play areas for her little girl (here, scroll down for photo, and here). Simple and classy. Would a $129.99 version look better or provide more play value? Doubtful.
I'm thinking of the Christmas presents we made for each other this year (and if you read here much, you know that not every Christmas is a handcrafty one for us). Things hit the mark here this year because they were well thought out--even the joke things like this little thrift shop version of Mr. Fixit. [photo] I know The Apprentice likes to read in bed, so I made her a neckroll pillow (made from yardsaled yarn and long-leftover stuffing). Ponytails knows Mr. Fixit likes a hot drink in the morning, so she made Daddy's Morning Drink Kit.

And I'm thinking of our somewhat-improvised Christmas dinner.

And you know what...I'm thinking of some of Mr. Fixit's working-full-time, well-paid female co-workers, who admit every year that they find Christmas more of a bother than anything else, because they're so stressed and rushed trying to get everything done, wrapped, cooked and sent. Would I trade places with them FOR THE BETTER INCOME? Not a one. Now get this straight before you misread that: I appreciate and thank every female person who has waitressed for us, cashiered for us, delivered our mail, and otherwise helped us this past holiday season, not to mention those who were "only" volunteering their time. (I don't go so far as to thank the telemarketers, though.) I am not dissing any mom with kids who has to work, loves to work, or who has seriously thought this through and knows that what she's doing is right even if she's not crazy about her job. Nobody needs to be dumped on because she has chosen to work outside the home, any more than we need to be dumped on because we have managed/chosen not to.

I am simply saying: at this point, if you offered me a good job with the result that we "didn't have to be frugal anymore," I'd probably turn it down. I'd rather be frugal, and occasionally pout over somebody else's shoe closet, than lose what we have gained by knowing our own limits and working within them.

And that's all. (Except for the photo, and I promise it's worth coming back for.)

The year of the burnouts?

After posting our mantra about frugal contentment, I've been noticing that some other longtime Frugalistas and stay-at-home-moms have been feeling a little less than content lately.

Lindsey writes:
Cheerful frugality. Meredith talks about this quite often. I've lost my knack for it. Being cheerful about being frugal. In some ways, I'm just tired of struggling paycheck to paycheck. (I know, I know, you spend all you make no matter what you make does apply to most working may not be better) I'm tired of barely getting by. I'm tired of being a few paychecks from disaster. I'm tired of always searching for the best deal or bargain. Maybe I could describe this as frugal burnout? Is that real? This is a very big factor in my thinking of going back to work in some capacity. Sigh. Is frugal burnout real? This I would love some comments and input on...
Meredith herself posted about "When You Don't Feel Frugal," and linked to a post about seeing perfect mommies at the YMCA and wondering why your hair doesn't look like that.

Anything I can say runs the risk of sounding smug...but it's the farthest thing from my mind. [Wanting to feel smug, I mean--not whether or not we want to be frugal! I can see you could take that either way.] Here are some thoughts, though, for anyone feeling like it would just be more fun to do it the way it seems like everyone else does.

1. Read Janel's post at Frugal Hacks: "When Your Want-To Is Broken." Very good advice there, including getting enough sleep and "keeping the frugal life enjoyable." (All work and no play...)

2. Get hold of Mary Ann Cahill's old book The Heart Has Its Own Reasons, especially if you're questioning your decision to stay home with young children. As I've said elsewhere: good book, bad title. Lots of personal stories reminding you of why you are doing what you're doing--and practical advice as well from families whose situations ranged from middle to low income and even out of work.

3. If you can't find that book, read some literature that makes you appreciate how good we really do have it, even if we're not YMCA mommies. If Little House in the Big Woods is too shopworn for you, you could try Robinson Crusoe. (Too extreme? Maybe The Moffats, or Margot Benary-Isbert's The Ark, or the first book from the Caroline series where Caroline's widowed mother is struggling to take care of her children.) Peter Menzel's photo book Material World is good too. (Borrow it from the library, of course.)

I'm short on time this morning but I'm planning on coming back later to add a few more thoughts. More Here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

I'll take that as a compliment...I think

"Watching the Stooges is funnier when you're watching too, Mom."

(Mr. Fixit bought us a stack of Three Stooges videos for a Christmas present.)

Sea songs with Crayons

"Put him in a walnut until he's sober, put him in a walnut until he's sober..."

Some actual content, not just a link

Yes, I am programmed to do more than just link to everybody else's blogs.

Let's see, this week so far:

1. We're trying some family experiments in boosting protein (a.k.a. slowly moving toward cutting down sugar). We have, in the usual Treehouse fashion, stick-tacked lists of peoples' favourite protein-dense foods on the kitchen wall as a reminder. So far the younger Squirrelings think this is actually fun; they were very impressed by the Big Protein Count of the beef with mushroom sauce we had tonight.

2. We have several readalouds going at once, some school-related and some more like dessert. Books on the go with one or more Squirrelings include the D'Aulaires' George Washington (this is a lot of fun, if you can imagine George Washington being fun), The Westing Game, Little Clearing in the Woods (a Caroline book), and Ballet Shoes. I'm also waiting to start The Light Princess with Crayons.

3. There's snow, but not really enough to have fun in. Big dumps aren't fun to clear out, but we sort of need one to bring back the sledding.

4. The Apprentice is heading towards the end of her first semester (exams the end of this month). Next month we start Intro to Philosophy at home along with her new school classes.

5. I'm having rummage sale withdrawal...need...junk...books...puzzles...the end of January is usually when they start up again!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Bedtime to remember

Adventures on Beck's Bounty posted recently about restarting one of their family traditions: bedtime tea and storytime.

Isn't it great when it's one of the kids who points out that you haven't done whatever it is for so long and that it's really time you should start it again?

Carnival of Homeschooling

Consent of the Governed hosts this week's Carnival of Homeschooling.

On pencils

Don't miss this--Barb posted a new lesson in her Drawing With Children series, and there is some excellent information here about drawing with pencils (and what kind of pencils to get).

Got a Milk Calendar?

You may remember Jasmine, the Cardamom Addict and food guru, as the organizer of A Day That Really Schmecks (exactly one year ago today!). This week she pays tribute to that icon of Canadian walldom, the Milk Calendar (and its January recipe, Roast Beef Dinner Salad). Jasmine even has plans to make The Milk Recipe a monthly event.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What makes you so special?

Meredith really wants to know--at least, what makes you, if you're a frugal blogger, different from all the rest of the frugal bloggers on the roll at Frugal Hacks. Check out the post AND the comments for links to some interesting-sounding blogs. I also liked the twist in her conclusion:

"Not coincidentally, narrowing my blog focus to the themes that please my readers most has also helped me focus my own frugality at home."

As for us? Well, I tried to pin it down in our own Frugal Hacks interview:
"I sometimes feel like I need to apologize for some things I can’t provide to the frugal blog world, such as brilliant craft ideas, wardrobe plans, or amazing décor tips. (I read other peoples’ blogs for those.) My particular frugal talents seem to be finding uses for bits and pieces, especially in the homeschooling area. Some of our most-visited posts have been about using scrounged materials for homeschooling."
And I know some people liked this bit at the end:
"A big part of frugality is cultivating contentment, trying to get a bigger sense of reality, realizing that most people in the world get along with a lot less than what the media seems to promote as 'normal.'”
I've never dumpster-dived; I don't live on the lowest budget ever heard of (although we're statistically below average, like a lot of one-income families). There are lots of places I know we could improve (and that's why I like reading all those other frugal bloggers!). But if there's anything we have learned or tried that might work for someone else--I'm happy to share it here.

Paradise Lost and Beowulf are unreadable

Becky at Farm School posted this piece of intelligence from somebody who doesn't give us much credit for being able to read our own language.

To quote the DHM: Bwa ha ha. She can bwa ha a bit louder than most since her own daughter wrote a study guide for Beowulf while still a teenager.

Monday morning

1. The snow's back!

2. The Carnival of the Recipes: Literary Edition is up at The Common Room. Here's an entry to start the morning with: "Veteran Military Wife presents No More Cereal for Breakfast posted at Life Lessons of a Military Wife."

3. Don't forget to send your sketches of something that keeps you warm in to Sketch Tuesday (at The Heart of Harmony), due by tonight.

4. Nightmares of death, reflections on living at Holy Experience.

5. Something else to read: Kim's post about In the school of faith, at The Upward Call. What's the best way to prepare for any kind of a ministry? a) study the most current methodologies, b) study the Bible, c) a & b, d) other? Can you choose a) without b)? Can you stick with b) and give a) a miss?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Our morning

This snowless week, and a fairly dry although not very pretty Saturday without any dance lessons or pressing need for (regular) groceries (as in canned goods), led to a Squirrel family Saturday morning adventure. We don't often go right downtown, and almost never with all five of us together; Mama Squirrel sometimes goes down on the bus, alone or with one Squirreling in tow, and Mr. Fixit occasionally has something to do down there; but we rarely have a reason to go as a family.

So off we set, after a brief stop at the library, to check out the new-and-improved downtown farmer's market which someone had assured us was fairly deserted on Saturdays, not like That Other Market where all the tourists go. We couldn't even get parked nearby! Maybe our informant goes there at 7 in the morning or something. So we settled for Plan B. We parked the car on another downtown street, took everybody for some fair-trade coffee, juice, and baking at the "hemp café," and then headed for a German deli that Mr. Fixit couldn't believe was still downtown (he used to go there with his own squirrel mama). Mama Squirrel was very happy because her favourite thrift shop was a few doors away from that, and she, Ponytails and Crayons looked around in the thrift shop while The Apprentice and Mr. Fixit went and bought buns and Meat Loaf (that's a cold cut) and Swiss cheese and a couple of other things in the deli. Mama Squirrel picked up half a dozen books (including a copy of Miss Suzy--oh, the reminiscences), a Steve Green Christmas tape, and a sweatshirt for Crayons, paying the astronomical total of $3.35. (It's about the only thrift shop she knows of these days where everything isn't $5 and up per item. Or something like that.)

So we didn't get to the market, but we did have some fun. The Squirrelings got to ooh and ah over all the handmade stuff for sale in the café. The Apprentice got to see the inside of a hock shop (they went in there after the deli). (NB: not to pawn anything, just to look around!) Crayons bought a cute little cocker spaniel for 20 cents of her very own money. And there wasn't any ice to slip on. (Next week, of course, we'll probably be snowed under again.)

When it doesn't pay to think too hard

[A calculus student, Orozco] remembered the test they had given him in the second grade: make or break, genius or dunce. There was a picture of a man on a bicycle beside a picture of a truck. The truck was smaller, at least in the picture.

"Which one do you think is heavier?" the lady asked.

Orozco recalled being overwhelmed by the possibilities. The bicycle might have been made of lead. The truck could be paper-mâché [sic]. The man on the bicycle resembled Fats Domino; that would certainly make a difference.

"The man on the bicycle," he said. He assumed that was why they never put him in the gifted program.

--Escalante: The Best Teacher in America, by Jay Mathews; quoted in Math Power, by Patricia Clark Kenschaft

"Show and Tell Friday" at Kelli's House

Hosted by Kelli every week, with a Mr. Linky to keep track of everybody's show-and-tells. (Rules and details are in the post.) That sounds like it might be fun!

I am free!!!!!

I am a recovering nasalholic for 3 days now. My nasal spray, inhaler and decongestant tablets are banished from my life after 20 some years of illicit relationship. Thanks to my new little friend Neti! In the morning and evening I fill Neti up with saline solution and flush out my sinuses. It's like a flashback to another time when I could smell food while breathing through both nostrils.
Time will tell if I must return to my old ways but for now it's an amazing low tech, non-pharmaceutical,low cost solution (saline that is)!! Mr. Fixit

Weekend meditations

Consider Ann's Seven Daily Rungs, if your life's ladder is feeling unbalanced.

Paper Stars

Epiphany is over, but I'm saving these directions for next year: I followed a bunny trail from My Home Sweet Home over to Bunny Trails because I wanted to see how these pretty stars were made.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Didn't you always wonder about that?

"Why does IKEA furniture have weird names?" has the answer.

There, now you can sleep tonight.

Parenting with the Sticklebacks

From Among the Pond People, by Clara Dillingham Pierson

"And now the red and blue markings on the Stickleback Father grew paler and paler, until he did not have to fight at all, and could call upon his friends and see how their children were hatching. One fine day, his first child broke the shell, and then another and another, until he had an hundred beautiful Stickleback babies to feed. He worked hard for them, and some nights, when he could stop and rest, his fins ached as though they would drop off. But they never did.

"As the Stickleback children grew stronger, they swam off to take care of themselves, and he had less to do. When the last had gone, he left the old nest and went to the pool where the dull-colored [female] Sticklebacks were. They told him he was not looking well, and that he hadn't managed the children right, and that they thought he tried to do too much.

"He was too tired to talk about it, so he just said, "Perhaps," and began to eat something. Yet, down in his fatherly heart he knew it was worth doing. He knew, too, that when spring should come once more, he would become red and blue again, and build another nest, and fight and work and love as he had done before. "There is nothing in the world better than working for one's own little Sticklebacks," said he. "

Favourite things at school this week

Crayons: I liked The Pond People. I liked how it's sort of short and nice.

Ponytails: I liked doing Benjamin West, and Calculadder, and School Zone. Benjamin West is a very good painter. Happy weekend! I liked Geography too. The wheel was invented in Iraq, and Abraham was in Iraq, and Jonah, and Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abenego. (Also known as Rack, Shack and Benny.)

Chickpeas and paprika (Gypsy Soup)

Coffeemamma posted a recipe today for Gypsy Soup on her Castle Kitchens food blog. I made some for lunch too as I had almost everything called for--except vegetable broth, I had to use chicken bouillon. No sweet potatoes, so I used squash (but that's in the recipe). And saddest of all, I had to wuss out by using sweet Spanish paprika instead of the better Hungarian stuff. The photo is Mr. Fixit's Grandma's favourite brand; I just scoop a little of the bulk-store version, but they were out last time I was there.

Oh well...I think we got the gist of the soup anyway.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Crayons' Language Worksheets

Sometimes I make up worksheets like this for Crayons so that she can work independently while I'm reading with Ponytails. This is what I wrote for this morning; it's based on Snowshoe Thompson, by Nancy Smiler Levinson. (I leave spaces between things so she can write answers.)

Read pages 14 to 21.

Copy this on your lined paper:

“I am making skis to deliver the mail,” he said.

Here are the chopping words from page 18: Whack! Thwack! Can you think of any other good words that sound like chopping?

How about hammering?

How about a grilled cheese sandwich sizzling in a non-stick frying pan?

You make up one of your own….

Where is Norway? (Look on the kitchen map. Ask for help if you need it.) Is it close to the north or the south? What do you think the weather must be like there?

Do you know what snowshoes are? Ask for help looking for a picture of them. Draw a picture of somebody wearing snowshoes.

Our ancient history timeline reappears

Mostly for Canadians (sorry!): Last year when Ponytails was doing ancient history, I mentioned the British Museum ancient history book/timeline that we used, and some people wanted to know where to get one. The every-month's-different bookstore we got it from, Hampstead House Books in Toronto, is offering it in this month's catalogue, for anyone who'd like a copy. (You can order it online.) I don't get paid to say that--just wanted to let you know.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Books? Or school?

I read something today that my friend the DHM posted: a snip from an old book that talked about teachers--even way back when--being of kind of a different mindset from yer average "readin' family." It made me think of some notes I had written a couple of years ago for a talk on CM. I'm pasting some of what I wrote then as a kind of followup and general agreement that this disconnect between schools/teachers and learning from books was (and is) both peculiar and very sad.

(I had been talking first about Charlotte Mason's enthusiasm for getting children outside, and wanted to use that as an analogy for her thoughts on books...)

Charlotte Mason felt that children often weren't getting exposed to a lot of ideas, either, if they had limited access to books or if they were being taught just to recite information and do the most basic kind of reading; to her that was like being shut up in another kind of room. At one point she wrote that education was like opening a door, or many doors, and she might have had that image in mind when she wrote that. (Doors can lead out as well as in!) She said that the goal of education was establishing and continuing as many of those natural relationships (with things and thoughts) as possible; so the mark of an educated person was that he would find life itself to be endlessly interesting. There's a story that Charlotte Mason asked one of her new teaching students why she had come to the college, and the young lady said that she had come there to learn to teach. Charlotte Mason said sternly, "My dear, you have come here to learn to live." I always thought that was an awfully arrogant thing of her to say, but I think I'm finally starting to appreciate what it means.

Unfortunately this kind of thinking was pretty much eclipsed during the 20th century by demands for passing more exams and preparing more workers, as well as a lot of other 20th century influences. But in 1987, Susan Schaeffer Macaulay wrote a book called For the Children's Sake, which reintroduced parents to Charlotte Mason's methods and philosophy. At about the same time, Karen Andreola got her books reprinted, and CM methods started to gain some interest among North American homeschoolers. Most of us reading these books about ten years ago felt like we were largely on our own, wading through all this Victorian prose and trying to get a picture of an education that was a lot different from what we remembered from school. One of my favourite illustrations from For the Children's Sake is a question that we're to ask ourselves as homeschooling teachers, Sunday School teachers, school principals, or whatever our teaching role is: if Albert Einstein got to sit in on science class with our sixth graders, would he be interested in what they're doing or doze off? How about if St. Paul could sit in on a kindergarten Bible lesson? Or Shakespeare sat in on eighth grade English? Is it possible even to imagine the kind of lessons that could hold their interest?

One of the keys to that would be who's doing most of the talking in the class, and another would be where the information is coming from. Charlotte Mason believed that children were able to deal with real knowledge, the great and noble ideas found in living books, without the teacher having to filter out the information for them first, or predigest it for the children and then make a sort of little mental nourishment pill for them out of what was left. She thought that teachers usually did way too much talking, lecturing, and questioning, and children not enough thinking and talking; and that schools provided way too little reading material (she complained about too little being spent on good books, and too much being spent on fancy manipulatives, models and other things that seemed to do a lot of the children's thinking for them. Sound familiar?). The kind of talking she wanted the children to do wasn't only discussion of what they had read or the teacher had read to them; she also wanted them to narrate back what they heard--not word for word, but in as much detail as possible. Then after that they could discuss some of the big ideas and questions in what was read--including asking their own questions. And that was Charlotte Mason's idea of a worthwhile class, and one that maybe even Einstein or Shakespeare would have wanted to stay awake for.

If you love books...I mean, really really love books...

This is the kind of book review you will not want to miss. (Charles Foran's Globe and Mail Books review of CULTURAL AMNESIA: Notes in the Margin of My Time, by Clive James)

"Hey Cinderella" still rocks

Long long ago, many centuries ago...well, almost forty years ago...a guy named Jim Henson was getting very popular with his Muppets, especially with that new Sesame Street thing. Earlier that same year, the Muppets...a few of them...starred in a TV special called "Hey, Cinderella." (The Muppet Frog Prince followed two years later. "They call me Sir Robin the brave...")

Do you remember? (Are you old enough?)

We picked up a video of "Hey, Cinderella" over the holidays (real cheap at the used bookstore) and the Squirrelings (done schoolwork for the day) are watching it for the third time. The scenery is low budget, Prince Charming went on to fame as a Toronto weatherman, and the pacing is slower than later Muppet productions. The whole thing definitely has a 1969-TV look to it. But it's also very well done, and as I said, the kids are watching it again. The only Muppet in it you'd recognize is Kermit, and this is Kermit with an edge, not the sometimes frenzied/sometimes cool Kermit of later years, but a somewhat cynical and grumpy bit-of-a-loner frog who doesn't get invited to royal balls. (He does get a wedding invitation at the end, though.) There's also a large, slightly-scary Muppet named Splurge, who has a radish-fixation that's good for a running gag relating to the shape of Muppet noses.

The Fairy Godmother is played just for laughs; she's a nightclub magician who has never been able to get that pumpkin trick right, and she cheerfully if confusedly tells Cinderella that she's sure she'll be able to turn her from a puppet into a real boy.

Watch the King, though, if you want to see some of what Henson's puppet artistry could accomplish even on a low budget. How many hand puppets at that time could maneuver a smoking cigar in and out of their mouths?

It was worth waiting all this time to see it again.

P.S. You-tube options: I can't find "Hey Cinderella" on You-tube, but if you search for "Jim Henson's Frog Prince" it will come up in five parts. It's really interesting to see the difference in style between the two shows; by 1971 Kermit sounded more like his Sesame Street self, and the whole production is a bit livelier.

I finally gave in (Chocolate Truffle Pie)

Way back when (actually it was Christmas of 2000), Kraft sent around a recipe flier with a recipe for Chocolate Truffle Pie. I saved it but never got around to making it, mostly because it calls for ten squares of semi-sweet chocolate. In fact, I resented those ten squares of chocolate so much that I wrote an article for an e-newsletter pointing out that you could get about as much wow-factor out of a slow-cooker chocolate dessert that only required a few spoonfuls of cocoa. Much more economical and better for you.

But this Christmas I didn't bake much with chocolate. We didn't make chocolate crescents. We didn't even make Mr. Fixit's favourite chocolate fingers. That was mostly because both of those recipes call for ground hazelnuts, and I had already blown the baking budget on other things. (Mr. Fixit decided he liked the double gingers best this year anyway, and he's asked for another batch when I can get the preserved ginger for them.)

So we hadn't overloaded on chocolate, and I did have some whipping cream, and it was Epiphany...and I gave in and made it.

Ratings? It was very easy to make. Everybody seemed to like was a lot like very fudgy brownies...because after all, it's almost all chocolate. I think Chocolate Tofu Pie has a richer chocolate taste in some ways (and a full recipe of that has about as much chocolate in it as this pie); and the Apprentice's Cocoa Ricotta Cream has that very sinfully-good chocolate-paste texture if what you're looking for is just pure, over-the-top chocolate. But overall it's a good recipe to know about...especially if you use real whipped cream on top and not that Whipped Stuff that the website recommends.

A jumble of stuff! By Ponytails!

This is a website you should check out!
It is E-cards. You click on the one you like and then it tells you what to do!

Have you ever read:The Church Mouse. It is a good book with other books that are like it!
That is all I can think of saying!

~~~Ponytails :-) B-)

What is it with you squirrel eaters

Someone's Google search that found our blog today (sorry Dewey):

squirrel sweet and sour

Sorry, that's one recipe I won't be posting.

My Heart's in the Highlands

One of our Squirrelings requested that we learn some Scottish folksongs this term, "like Martha would have sung." It's not inappropriate, as probably the biggest part of our combined family genealogical pie is Scottish.

So here are a few that I picked out--we're going to start with Wild Mountain Thyme and Loch Lomond and throw in Donald, Where's Your Trousers? (Donald wears a kilt.)

Any other suggestions for tunes that younger girls could handle?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Looking for Epiphany ideas?

Here's an Epiphany devotion (from last year) about gifts--I really like it but it's not easy to print out. (I think it's easier if you save it first.) It has some practical ideas for ways we can "crown Him King."

Combining Three Kings and community health

I kind of like this approach to a holiday--how about you?

Twenty-six cats, twenty-one dollars

An interesting blog to check out: Ashley at Twenty-Six Cats is embarking on the SAHM life and is finding it a bit of an adjustment.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Upcoming CM carnival

A reminder from Jacci:

"Wanted to send out a little call for submissions for the upcoming Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival. We're coming back from a holiday break and I'd love to see a good turnout for Donna-Jean (she's hosting). If you have something to submit, that would be great! If you'd like to post a little request for submissions, that'd be extra great :) "

Deadline is Monday night!

Not much difference (this is for Melissa)

Overheard in Squirreldom:

Squirrel 1: It's Epiphany this weekend.

Squirrel 2: That's the Three Kings, right?

Squirrel 3: Mom said we could maybe have medieval food. Or you could have, you know, like what the Three Kings ate.

Squirrel 1: Oh no, like on Arthur's Christmas?

Squirrel 2: Give me another piece of camel.

Squirrel 1: No, like what Arthur's dad really made.

Squirrel 3: Hummus.

Squirrel 1: Ewww. That's part of a sheep's insides...

Squirrel 2: No it isn't.

Squirrel 1: Yes it is. Martha ate hummus.

All the squirrels puzzle over this one...

Squirrel 2: You mean haggis!

Squirrel 3: Hummus is just chickpea dip. You've had hummus.

Squirrel 1: Oh. Phew.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Slow blogging week (or is that snow blogging)

Although Mr. Fixit has gone back to work, we are still in that twelve-days-of-Christmas limbo when the calendar seems a bit off (is it Friday already?) . I've been doing more blog reading than writing (and there are some very good posts out there, including the DHM's contribution today to Frugal Hacks); it's easier to keep up now with Google Reader.

I'm working on the younger Squirrelings' school work for the nine weeks between now and March Break. That's shorter than a normal term, but it's the point where a couple of our books end, and it gives us a chance to stop there and get ready for Easter. (I know Easter is becoming a unPC word around a lot of Christians, but it's still shorter to spell than Resurrection Sunday, so you know what I mean.)

I've also been working on a grade 11 philosophy course for The Apprentice (it's an introduction, not everything you'd ever want to know). The main books we're using are Adler's Aristotle for Everybody (because Adler says studying Aristotle taught him to begin thinking philosophically), and How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig, because it asks some of the same good questions and presents possible answers from a Christian perspective, and also because (from a homeschooler's point of view), having a book that's partly written as a discussion between real (or even hypothetical) people gives us a chance to participate in that discussion, even years later and in another place. We have several other books that I'm including parts of as well (so we can talk about nihilism and existentialism and the other things that the ministry of education thinks we should be covering), but those are the two main ones.

For anyone who doesn't know, The Apprentice has been taking three of her four courses at the public high school, and one at home with me. We're finishing up a semester of Canadian history, and the philosophy course will begin in a month. But I wanted to get it planned out now.

And that's what I've been doing.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Perfect Storm

And we have one today, lists of clichés aside.

Happy New Year (and I'm glad we don't have to go anywhere!).
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