Thursday, December 31, 2009

On Cranberries

Living Without Money posted a recipe for Cranberry Vinaigrette.

We had part of a bag of cranberries left too, as well as a part package of ginger snaps.

So this is what I made for New Year's Eve dinner: Cran-Apple Crisp. It's similar to this one I made last year--the bottom is a combination of apple sauce, chopped apples, frozen cranberries, and dried cranberries. But the topping is different: ginger cookies run through the food processor and then mixed with half a cup of flour, a cup of rolled oats, and enough oil to make it moist. I also drizzled some homemade pancake syrup over the top (before baking) instead of adding any extra sweetening. Bake for half an hour to forty minutes, until the apples and cranberries are cooked and the topping is toasted but not scorched.

Good with vanilla ice cream.

Mama Squirrel: 2009 Survey for the New Year

(Borrowed from The Common Room)

1. What did you do in 2009 that you'd never done before?

Made Rice Krispie squares in the Crockpot.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

The only resolution I made was to read a list of library books and listen to a few CDs. I read about half the books on the list, but the CDs got left behind.

For this year? I'm still working on it.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth or get pregnant?

Nobody really close, but a couple of my homeschooling friends had additions to their families.

4. Did anyone close to you get married? No.

5. Did anyone close to you die? Crayons' hamster Snowball passed away this fall.

6. Travel? Just back to 1891 with Crayons, and to the 1850's with visiting friends.

7. Did you move anywhere?

That is a touchy question around here. The fact that we'd like to find a new Treehouse is very stale news to most of our friends. So far it hasn't happened, although we've come mighty close this year.

8. What was the best month?

Maybe September, maybe December.

9. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?

A robot to do the laundry.

(I could have said, a straightforward real estate deal; but I won't.)

10. What date(s) from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

I looked up "Happenings of 2009" and also flipped through the kitchen calendar, but couldn't come up with anything that really "etched."

11. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Nothing stupendous. Getting homeschool on track for this fall. Making Christmas presents. Getting on the TOS Review Crew. Planning Crayons' horse party. Making pineapple daisies. Sewing jeans for a Crissy doll. Working with the local homeschool group and going to the spring conference. Teaching Vacation Bible School.

12. What was your biggest failure?

Don't want to talk about that.

13. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing that bandaids or Ibuprofen couldn't fix.

14. What was the best thing you bought?

A package of Swiss chard seeds. (We were still picking chard in December.)

A boxful of knitting needles at a rummage sale.

A boxful of book treasures in April.

15. Whose behavior merited celebration?

The Apprentice, for getting an apprenticeship. Ponytails, for becoming a very good crocheter and making herself a hat. Crayons, for demonstrating amazing thrift shopping abilities. Mr. Fixit, for rediscovering his turntable repair abilities.

And Snowball, for demonstrating incredible acrobatic abilities and hamsterness right to the end.

16. Whose behavior made you appalled and/or depressed?

All the parties named in this post.

17. Where did most of your money go?

Groceries, books, groceries, dentist, groceries.

18. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Finally solving one of my own Book Stumpers: "I bought this book used in the 1970's and it disappeared somewhere along the line; I've searched for various boarding school series but can't seem to find the right one. The main character is Patricia (Pat), who has a best friend, Eunice. Their class (maybe in a previous book?) has won some kind of a prize, a holiday aboard a boat. When the girls get on board, they discover that another girl named Tiny (sort of a protege of Pat's?) has stowed away in a basket. Something happens to the boat and they all end up shipwrecked--and at that point my memory fails me on the plot. I know they all get rescued and it ends happily--nothing nasty."

The book turned out to be School on an Island, by Rita Coatts, 1949.

I don't know if that merits "really, really, really excited," but maybe one "really" anyway. Now I just need to find my Mother Goose book.

19. What song will always remind you of 2009?

Food Court Musical.

20. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
ii. richer or poorer? About the same.

21. What do you wish you'd done more of? Not sure.

22. What do you wish you'd done less of? Not sure.

23. How will you be spending New Year's Eve/Day?

Planning the winter term? Actually we're thinking maybe a Three Stooges party on New Year's Eve.

24. What was an unexpected surprise? Not sure.

25. Did you fall in love in 2009? No, I'm sticking to my first choice.

26. What was the best concert you've been to this year? An outdoor opera with Crayons.

27. What was your favorite TV program? Emergency! Or maybe ALF.

28. Do you dislike anyone now that you didn't dislike this time last year? Yes, but I'm not telling.

29. What was the best book you read? Reading Like a Writer; Rough Crossings; Heart of Mid-Lothian; The Silver Brumby; The Bone Sharps; Essays of Elia; Marva Collins' Way; and one I'm reading right now, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

30. What was your greatest musical discovery? Not sure.

31. What did you want and get? A 7 liter Crockpot, and Stephanie O'Dea's Crockpot book.

32. What did you want and not get? Besides another Treehouse...I wanted Mr. Fixit to be finished with all his post-last-year medications and checkups and all that. He really is feeling much better now.

33. What was your favorite film of this year? I was going to say Rupert the Squirrel, but The Apprentice thought that was going too far. So now I'm not sure.

34. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? Spent it at home. I'm ignoring the second question.

35. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Seeing the CPSIA scrapped. (You thought I was going to say finding a Treehouse?)

36. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?

Um...

37. What kept you sane?

Blogging. Not having to count sodium amounts after January. Cryptoquotes. Listening to Jazz FM and Theater of the Mind with Mr. Fixit last thing at night. Repeated visits to the Psalms and some of the Major Prophets (I find curses on the Assyrians oddly comforting).

38. What political issue stirred you the most?

The CPSIA, even if it's not a Canadian issue. Yet.

39. Who did you miss?

By death or distance? A lot of people. By retirement? Our dentist and our former pastor.

40. Random Memories from 2009?

The flu epidemic. The too-cold summer. The sunny, dry November. The Apprentice's choir concerts. Great yard sales, but missing The Apprentice there because she had to work Saturdays. Sunday dinners with Grandpa Squirrel. Crayons' rapidly expanding Beanie Bopper collection. Friday afternoon co-op gym and crafts. Various dance classes. Outwitting the sewing machine.

Crissy on Christmas

She walked a few steps to the toyshop. She did not know how it came to be there and she thought she was in her St. Agnes's bedroom and it was filled with toys. Then: "Not toys," said Ivy, "a toy," and she was wide awake. She did not even see Abracadabra glaring at her with his green eyes; she looked straight at Holly.
She saw Holly's dress and socks and shoes. She is red and green too, thought Ivy. She saw Holly's hair, brown eyes, little teeth, and beautiful joints. They were just what Ivy liked, and, "My Christmas doll!" said Ivy. --The Story of Holly and Ivy, by Rumer Godden. More here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

That's a lot of pantries (January Grocery Challenge)


MoneySavingMom and friends have a January frugality challenge: eating more or less from your pantry, saving as much money on groceries as possible, and adding in any personal goals that go along with that, such as donating a certain amount of money to a food bank. And you can add in your link to those of others--there are already well over a hundred people signed up.

Well, since I just read about this five minutes or so ago, I'm not sure yet if this is something we can do or not--I guess I'll have to check out the state of the Treehouse pantry.

Old Days, Smart Ways

Old Days, Old Ways (home of the underwear doll clothes) has got to be one of the most wonderful inspirations for frugal doll dressing--every time I go over there I learn something new. Check out the "Dollar Store Santa Dollies," which aren't dressed as Santa at all but are complete baby doll "layettes." With diaper bags to carry it all in.

Creativity flourishes.

Doll cape from a Santa hat

Crayons' two big dolls will be fighting over this one. (Featured on Dollar Store Crafts.)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Muffin-tin Advent Calendar

Something to remember for next year, maybe.

Fashionably late

It took us seven months to arrive at Thrifty Decor Chick's Goodwill blog party.

Just say we're fashionably late.

Enjoy TDC's photos of her finds and re-dos, and then there are Linky posts by 114 other thrift shop mavens. (Oh neat, here's another version of repurposed furniture turned into a play kitchen.)

Rupert the Dancing Squirrel

Okay, here he is:

What's in your hand? Post-Christmas thoughts, and memories



As I was saying in a previous post, everyone's idea of Christmas is different. And there are also so many combinations of people, houses and events that your ideas of what you DO on Christmas can also be very different--and can change rapidly from one year to the next. I never "spent" Christmas (as in "slept over") at someone else's house, but we spent most of our young-years Christmases being trotted from one relative's house to another, joining in with one aunt and uncle's plum pudding and gifts here, with another person's holiday-in-a-glass there (we didn't get any of that, if you're wondering), and with my grandparents' potluck-and-turkey to end off the day: think Whoville for that last one. Think noise noise noise noise, Dah Hoo Dor-Aze (can't spell that) and roast beast. I totally related to those scenes from The Grinch.

For years there was even a brunch at another aunt's house, although that eventually got moved to Boxing Day. My grandparents had a New Year's Eve card party for their friends (and usually kept us there overnight so that my parents could go out). And the country cousins had a big family dinner on New Year's. So although I remember my mother making all kinds of holiday preparations (baking like crazy), and my dad doing most of the decorating, I don't remember them ever actually hosting The Dinner on one of the actual holidays. In other words, I didn't get much practice at it.

And now it's up to us most years--not a very big dinner, only a few guests (sometimes only one, more often three), but we still want to make it special. Because it's fairly small, some of our preparations and ideas can wait until the last minute--we're not making forty napkin rings or anything. And I've found--because our Christmas Days tend to be kind of quiet anyway--that I actually enjoy leaving some of the table decorating and even crafting until the Day Of. (Did any of you ever watch a Rankin-Bass Christmas special with the song "Save a Little Christmas for Christmas?")

This year, a couple of days before Christmas, I pulled out a thrift-shopped copy of Corinne Clawson's Holiday Orna-gami, a small paperback that includes several bound-in squares of holiday-coloured paper for folding. I pulled out the yellow squares and tried the star in the book--not bad. The other sheets were a sort of dull green and red that tweaked vague memories of Christmases around 1971, in the era of lick-and-stick Christmas stickers (we used to put them all over tissue-paper-wrapped canned goods to go under a tree at church), crepe-paper-wrapped crackers with paper hats (I think they banged better than this year's dollar-store version), and mod-looking greeting cards. Maybe it was just that we'd been working on restoring the 1972 Crissy doll for Crayons, or that I knew Mr. Fixit had also bought the Squirrelings some vintage Hot Wheels tracks (we already have the cars), or maybe it was that 1973 magazine that Crayons had brought home from the thrift shop (maxi skirts, rick rack, styrofoam and metallic sunbursts)...but somehow my mind was back there with those colours from a time before laser printers, when church bulletins were hand-typed and Gestetnered, and posters were lettered with markers and stencils.

Is all that too much to fit into a few squares of paper? Or was it the other way around...anyway, I started folding those sheets into small baskets, and remembered that I'd bought tiny chocolate bars and Swedish berries to fill them. Those became our table favours.

On Christmas, when I was cleaning up used and unused gift wrap, I noticed that we still had quite a long piece of unused wrap in some of those same vintage-looking reds and greens: have you ever noticed that some of the Made-in-Wherever dollar store wrap looks like that anyway? It might be the lead paint (joking)...anyway...the paper was decorated with the word "Noel," and it gave me an idea. I covered our long table with an off-white table cloth (and the card table we use as an extension with a red plastic cloth), and rolled out the gift wrap down the table. The Apprentice fixed the paper to the cloth with some fix-your-dress-strap tape she had (it came in a vintage-looking package, which seemed appropriate), and we added our regular dinner plates (our good ones had too much pink in them), red paper napkins, the red and green baskets, and gold-and-cream party crackers. Not bad.

We still needed a centerpiece, but that wasn't hard. We put the candle jar we'd made in the middle of the table (remember we filled in between the jars with gold wire-type tinsel?), and The Apprentice took her pliers (all girls should have pliers) and twisted and hot-glued some more of that gold tinsel into a couple of groovy-looking little Christmas tree shapes, to flank the big jar.

And that was our Merry Christmas table: 1971 meets 2009.

Oh--you wanted to know what we had to eat? Turkey (and tofurkey for the vegetarians), mashed potatoes, canned cranberry sauce, frozen green and yellow beans (Europe's Best brand tastes better than fresh this time of year), crockpot stuffing, rolls, salads and pies brought by the guests, and a cookie plate. We were going to have homemade vanilla ice cream, but the cream turned out to be bad at the last minute so that was scrapped. But nobody minded much.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post Christmas Post: A Non-Stupid Christmas

The one thing I've noticed about typical Christmas celebrations is that there are very few typical Christmas celebrations...especially among those whose Christian beliefs have played a larger-than-normal part in how they celebrate. (Think about the irony of that...) Or don't. Sometimes that makes for very surprising variations--devout Christians who don't "do" Christmas at all, or those who celebrate Christmas for fun but don't pretend it's the birth of Jesus, or those who plan the whole thing as a big birthday party for Jesus, or who celebrate the Old Testament holidays in the autumn, or those whose Christmas does center around church but who also include secular customs like Santa and stockings.

And then there are the Charlie Browns who are just tired of the "whole commercial racket," wish the whole thing was over, and take everybody to the beach for Christmas.

Or maybe it's just that I hang out with the wrong people. I'm thinking about something we saw a bit of on TV once called "Christmas Confidential,", about the dreadful holiday excesses and National-Lampoon-style house decorations and inflatable nativity scenes and spangled office-party outfits (makeup to match) and Santa Claus bikinis and church performances with more cast members than a small town and people stampeding at shopping malls and food, food, food...

All that seems kind of far removed from our Crayons' excursion to the thrift shop (everybody got tiny stuffed toys, figurines, and Mama Squirrel got a bell that she's threatening to ring for school time)...or the bead bracelet that Ponytails made me...or the Voskamps' "praying to be a womb for God" around a wooden Nativity spiral...or Bread and Honey's musings on "Pretending to be Mary." Or families who give just one present apiece (because they have ten children) , or three presents (because that's what Jesus got), or no presents.

Or from the reality of those who are having very quiet holidays (or barely noticed them) because of family griefs, illnesses and other stresses. Or people who have to work on Christmas or who are exhausted from the last week behind a cash register or a shampoo chair. Did you know the mega-supermarket was still open into the evening on the 24th? I know, because we had a celery emergency. Should I be grateful because that saved my stuffing, or be annoyed (and guilty) because our perceived needs don't let these businesses just close their doors early?

The fact that we barely set foot in a shopping mall this past month doesn't make our Christmas any holier than anybody else's. It's an everybody-makes-their-own-choices kind of culture now anyway...and I guess in some ways that's good, it means that the Neighbourhood Decorating Committee isn't going to harass us about our lack of lights, and it means that it's okay to have frozen green beans with Christmas dinner instead of that thing with the french fried onions. Who's going to tell? But I will continue to plug for a non-stupid Christmas.

Whatever that means to you.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Strange signs of the times

Ponytails and I had to stop in at Dollarama a couple of days before Christmas. The store was packed--we were glad we only needed a couple of things, but it didn't make the lineups any shorter.

But the thing that got me was--the end-of-aisle Valentine displays.

Ho. ho. ho...

Favourite Christmas Messages From the Blog World

What Spending Christmas in a Barn Really Teaches Me, at Holy Experience (it's always hard to pick just one of Ann's)

A Vintage Christmas Treat at A Dusty Frame

A Few More Christmas Decorations, at Coffee Tea Books and Me

C.S. Lewis on Christmas at Bona Vita Rusticanda Est

Hurry Up at Jamside Up

Thoughts on a little baby [a real one!], an anxious nation, and Christmas, at Liberty and Lily

Christmas Memory: Santa at CM, Children and Lots of Grace

Christmas Stories, at Mother-Lode


There are some heavy hearts, poignant memories and prayer requests as well:

A Very Difficult Time at Beck's Bounty

Lee's Boss at A Dusty Frame

The Boy with the Perfect Heart, at Here in the Bonny Glen

How to make a Barbie house

Just in case you ever need to know this:

Two temporary versions:

Foamboard and Duct Tape Barbie Size House, at Frugal Abundance (that's Miss Maggie's blog)

Cardboard Barbie House at Filth Wizardry

And one fancier one:

A Barbie House Made From "Trash," at Proverbs 31 Living

All Chocked Up

Funniest package copy from this year's holiday:

"WARNING: Do not remove the snap strip from the cracker, if the snap strip falls out of cracker do not pull it. When pulling cracker hold away from face. Pull cracker with a sharp tug, arms length away from face, breakable objects, other people and pets. Crackers contents are not suitable for children under 3 years old. Small parts-CHOCKING HAZARD."

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas from the Squirrel Family

Toyland and the CPSIA


The Wall Street Journal posted "There is No Joy in Toyland," summarizing the effects of the CPSIA on the toy industry, particularly on small businesses.
"To cope with annual testing costs running to half a million dollars or more, domestic retailers and manufacturers like Challenge & Fun, Inc., Constructive Playthings, and ETA Cuisenaire (a maker of educational tools), have reduced payrolls or limited product lines. Many small apparel companies, including JenLynnDesigns, have either closed shop or exited the children's apparel market completely."
Publisher's Weekly also updates on the recent decision "to extend the stay of enforcement on the independent lead testing and certification provisions of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act for one more year."

But in the meantime, places like the Mother Nature Network mourn that the CPSIA hasn't moved fast enough.

Photo found here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Still really, really good

This is as close as we get around here to Christmas fruitcake. In the oven as we speak...jazzed up a bit with fresh cranberries and what was left of the chopped candied ginger after we made Double Ginger Cookies.

"Way to go, Idaho"

Make It and Love It has instructions for a FELT Mr. Potato Head. And Mrs. Potato Head. I even know some teenagers who would get a kick out of this one. (Linked from The Crafty Crow, along with 39 other gifts parents can make for their children. And hat tip for that post to The Common Room.)

[UPDATE: aw, no--Hasbro decided Mr. Felt Head looked too close to the original and asked the creator to take it down. Sorry about that. Details here.]

The Prince of Peace

I don't usually post links to radio sermons, but I had the local Christian station on this morning and caught most of Dr. Charles Stanley's "The Prince of Peace, Part 1" on his "In Touch" program. "No matter what your circumstance."

It's worth listening to. You can also get copies from the In Touch website. And there are printable study notes as well.

December is the Dining Room

Decorated by Living with Lindsay, and posted at Dollar Store Crafts.

Yeah, that's what I have to work on today. Our dining room table has been covered with the Advent wreath and its associated mess (song sheets, pencil crayons, Bible) for the past month, but it's time to clear that off and start thinking about putting some actual food on it.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hot and spicy

What do you do with the cloves and cinnamon sticks left over from making cider beetles?

How about spice hot pads? (These instructions are the same as the ones in The Tightwad Gazette Volume 1.)

Very easy, and now we have two new hot pads.

From the site meter: feed us!

Recent rankings for Treehouse posts people have visited in the last few hours:

13 http://deweystreehouse.blogspot.com/
10 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...s-new-christmas-book-quiz.html
4 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...two-no-bake-candy-recipes.html
4 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...3/white-vegetable-lasagna.html
3 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...-cashew-salad-our-version.html
3 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...ocolate-cake-thats-not-so.html
3 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...rry-sauce-canadian-living.html
2 http://deweystreehouse.blogspo...06/12/christmas-day-lunch.html

Do we detect a pattern here?

Monday, December 21, 2009

December is needs...so many... (MCC kits)

Do you have extra fabric to use up?

Dollar Store Crafts posted very good directions for making a drawstring "loot bag." Or Santa Sack, or whatever you'd like to call it.

The Mennonite Central Committee website also has bag instructions.

Want something to put in them?

If you make a 16 x 22 inch bag, you can fill it with supplies for AIDS care, and take it to an MCC drop-off location.

Smaller bags can be filled with school supplies, health supplies, sewing supplies, or relief supplies (these don't go in a drawstring bag). Receiving blankets can wrap an assortment of baby clothes. New items only, and very specific items as shown on the MCC website: but you can also drop off just some of the supplies, and they will be packaged by volunteers. You also don't have to sew the cloth bags yourself--you can drop things off in a box or a plastic bag. Or if you like to sew, you could just make the empty bags and send those.

Many needs...many ways to help.

December is A New Christmas Book Quiz

"Can such a large thing as Christmas be in a dolls' house?"--Rumer Godden

What books do the following holiday quotes appear in? (A couple of them are repeats from previous quizzes--we all have our favourites.) Answers are here.

1. 'They have been a long time getting here,' said Anne, looking at the postmark on the brown paper. 'Poor little things, spending Christmas in a parcel.' 'They don't mind about Christmas,' said Nona quickly.....[like them], Nona had come from far away, and could feel for them.

2. On Christmas morning, the Plantaganets woke to hear real carol singers in the street outside. 'Peace and good will among men,' sang the carol singers. 'And among dolls,' said Mr. Plantaganet. 'I hope among dolls.'

3. The rest of the fieldmice, perched in a row on the settle, their small legs swinging, gave themselves up to enjoyment of the fire, and toasted their chilblains till they tingled; while [their host], failing to draw them into easy conversation, plunged into family history and made each of them recite the names of his numerous brothers, who were too young, it appeared, to be allowed to go out a-carolling this year, but looked forward very shortly to winning the parental consent.

4. "We'll be lucky if we each get one present," said Susan. "Maybe we won't get any present at all," said Neddie. "Maybe Santa Claus won't be able to come, because it's snowing so hard...." "That doesn't make any difference to Santa Claus," said Betsy. "He always comes. Come on, let's help Santa Claus. Let's make presents."

5. "My first fruitcake of the Christmas season, and already there are hungry [children] waiting to eat it all up. Why, I used one whole cherry and one walnut in this cake....And no one is going to get a bite until Christmas day."...."Heaven knows we'd have a skimpy Christmas around here without Aunt Lily," [mother] said. [Note: even if you can't get the exact title of the book, can you get the right series?]

6. [He] looked at his stocking.
"This stocking is not big enough
for a fire truck and a football
and a storybook and six new games,"
he said. "I think I need a new one."
He saw the warm socks
that Father wore for shoveling snow.
"That is better," he said.
He hung up one of Father's socks.


7. "Tomorrow will come Christmas," she told C., 'and we will put candles on the tree, ja, and in the windows, too, to make a light for the Christ Child." "Really and truly?" cried C. She had never heard anything so wonderful. Her family had a lovely party every New Year's Eve, which Mama and Papa called "Hogmanay" in the Scottish tradition. But they did not celebrate Christmas....All the next day, as she helped Mama scour the parlor floor with sand, C. was thinking of that star and the tree and the wonderful cookies.

8. One evening, just before Christmas, snow began falling. It covered house and barn and fields and woods. W. had never seen snow before. When morning came he went out and plowed the drifts in his yard, for the fun of it. [The children] arrived, dragging a sled. They coasted down the lane and out onto the frozen pond in the pasture.

9. At last, the presents! So many, such wonderful presents! Emily opened a puppet John had made for her, a new dress from her parents, Harriet the Spy from Mr. Bloomfield and The Long Secret from Kate's mother, a hand mirror from Sophie, a five-cent package of Kleenex tissues and some Lifesavers from James. He had given everyone the same presents. "Two each," he boasted happily, basking in their laughter.

10. [The] house was dark in front, but when they got out of the sleigh and tiptoed around the corner they saw the kitchen windows, warm and yellow, and in one of them, above the sash curtain, the old man's head, snowy as that of Santa Claus. He was working at something, wearing his spectacles....they began to sing: "God rest ye merry, Gentlemen / Let nothing you dismay..." Up came Mr. T's head, startled. He left his chair and now the kitchen door flew open. He stood there in the lighted rectangle, with Battledore rubbing herself against his ankles and Hambone wagging his old tail in the background. In his hand Mr. T. held a sock: he had been mending. "Thank you. God bless you. Merry Christmas," he said when they had finished. "And now come in, and we will have a party!"

December is trying not to spill the beans

If you're not a Squirreling, you can come have a look in Mama Squirrel's gift closet.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

December is...some Christmas humour (repost from 2008)

That's one big baby...

A lady desired to communicate by electricity to her husband in the city the size of an illuminated text which she had promised for the Sunday-school room. When the order reached him it read, "Unto us a child is born, nine feet long by two feet wide."

--from English as She Was Wrote

Friday, December 18, 2009

Toys for Tightwad Tots

Felt gingerbread "cookies" to play with...

Five little snowmen at Frugal Family Fun Blog...

Crayon Wallets, also at FFFB...

And a Yarn-Ball Sofa for a stuffed kitty. (The Squirrelings find the funniest things on Webkinz.)

Which is your favourite?

Maestro Classics (TOS Review)

This review has been edited and updated since it was first posted.

Are you looking for last-minute Christmas presents for your kids? Or somebody's kids? Especially homeschooled kids who like music and stories?

Well, maybe it's a bit too late for Christmas...but maybe for Epiphany?

I have a solution for you.

Go on over to the Maestro Classics website.

Watch the little bald guy at waving the baton at the top of the screen. Make sure the sound's on, because he's telling you the story of Swan Lake...or something else, it's different each time. Except that you only get to hear the first few lines...

So click on the Listen to Samples page. Hey, it's Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel! And the Tortoise and the Hare! Casey at the Bat! And Juanita the Spanish Lobster!

OK, I'd never heard of Juanita the Spanish Lobster either, but you can see all the tracks listed and listen to short samples here, including "O Juanita a la Elvis."

If your kids like the kind of combined classical-music-and-storytelling you get with Peter and the Wolf (and guess what, Maestro Classics does sell that too), they'll probably really like these recordings.

The cost? Seems like a deal: US$16.98. But there's more: there are music-class lesson plans to go along with several of the stories, free for downloading and labelled for appropriate grade levels. There are free articles on the website about the importance of music in childrens' lives. And each CD has more than just one story-plus-music--you can see the contents for each one on the website. The Tortoise and the Hare, for example, has a fun song about The Pretzel Vendor of Paris.

You can also see the numerous awards and good reviews that these products have gotten. Unfortunately my own review can't go any further than this, because my review-copy CD got sidetracked in the mail and we're waiting for a replacement copy. (Maybe it will come today after all.) But based on the website information and the samples, I think it's safe to say that, even if the recordings are a bit on the young side for my kids, they're still a quality product and worth passing on the information about.

UPDATE (December 28th): we received the CD just before Christmas and it was just as good as I expected it to be--even the little booklet that comes with the disc is fun and helpful (there are puzzles, pictures of musical instruments, etc.). According to the flyer we received, there are two CDs "coming soon" that sound even more interesting to Mama Squirrel than the current line of children's books, nice as they are: "The Soldier's Tale" with music by Stravinsky, and "My Name is Handel." I don't have any more information than that about them.

You can see more reviews of Maestro Classics on the Review Crew website.

Dewey's Disclaimer: We received this CD for free, for purposes of review. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

P.S. Public libraries will likely have at least one or two titles from this publisher. I had a little trouble at first finding them in our local library's online catalogue; but when I tried "Stephen Simon" (the conductor) under "author," I came up with several of them. You might also try "London Philharmonic Orchestra"; but in our library system that orchestra has over sixty entries, so the author search was quicker.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Where the forest meets the corn fields"

Heartfelt seasonal ponderings from Brenda and Ann.

(A "quiet Christmas in the country" is not always what we city folks imagine it to be.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The candy that did turn out?

That wouldn't be the chocolate-pretzel clusters in the Crockpot...although a couple of the Squirrelings did like those. Mama Squirrel just made one too many substitutions in that recipe, and the salty pretzels, while interesting, were just a little too...salty.

What did turn out well--it's really almost failproof--is Canadian Living's Quick Fruit and Nut Fudge. Made just like the recipe says, except we leave out the nuts and use dried cherries for the fruit. And we use homemade sweetened-condensed-milk substitute. Cut them small, and they're incredibly good, especially with the slightly tart dried cherries. We've actually posted the recipe here before; which is why Mama Squirrel figured that these, at least, would defy her tendency to mistake-prone-ness this week. And she wasn't wrong.

December is Fixing Food Mistakes

Sleepless nights with a coughing Squirreling, plus the general dark days and "gotta get this done" stress of school-plus-holidays, have left Mama Squirrel in...well, let's just say she's not been at her brightest lately.

That became obvious this morning when even a so-easy pan of Magic Cookie Bars turned out crumbly and...just kind of strange. Not burned or anything, but not anything you could put on a cookie plate.

After thinking it over for awhile, Mama Squirrel turned to one of her best friends...well, besides the human friends...the food processor.

Into the f.p. went most of the cookie bars, a cupful of raisins, and a splash of orange juice. Vmmmm went the f.p. When it started to grrrt instead of vmmmm, Mama Squirrel stopped it, rolled the mixture into balls, rolled those in coconut, and put them in mini baking papers (mini muffin cups). The papers are not required, but we had one other kind of candy that DID turn out already in papers, and this way we can mix and match.

Salvage operation successful.

Mama Squirrel is now going to take a nap. After she shovels the steps.

What's the Apprentice up to?

The Apprentice is quite capable of speaking for herself (she's in Grade Twelve, after all), but since she hasn't been around here much I will offer a brief update.

This semester has been very heavy-duty, with math, chemistry and physics all at the same time--and it's not done yet. The Apprentice is more than happy to have a Christmas break coming up.

She has also been keeping busy taking voice lessons, singing in concerts with her youth choir, volunteering at church, and working at the hair salon. Also she has a road test scheduled for just after Christmas--well, it's scheduled, anyway. We're hoping the strike will be settled by then.

Some days it seems like her furry tail just flashes past the Treehouse and she's gone again.

So Mama Squirrel is happy as well that she'll have a little extra time to hang around the nest.

Grade Three Examinations, Term One

Recitation:

1. Recite to Dad the Bliss Carman poem you memorized this term.

Christian History:

1. What sorts of places are Annie and Drew visiting this year with Mr. Pipes? Tell about one of their adventures. (Book: Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation)

Bible:

1. Tell what you know of Hezekiah’s tunnel, and what it was for.

Literature:

1. We are almost finished the novel Lassie-Come-Home. Tell what you know of Lassie’s journey so far and of one of the people or families she has met.

OR

1. Tell what you know about the story of the Swiss Family Robinson.

2. How did King Arthur get his Round Table? (Book: Howard Pyle's King Arthur)

History:

1. Tell what you know about the beginnings of New France. OR Tell the whole story of “The Feast of Eat Everything.” (Book: Canada's Story)

Spelling:

1. Write the sentences that I will dictate to you.

Reading:

1. Read aloud, passage to be chosen by me.

Math:

1. Explain why there are no vampires in the world. (Book: Mathemagic)

2. Arrange these fractions from biggest to smallest: ½, ¾, 5/6, 2/2, 1/100


Responses so far (dictated):

Christian History:

Annie and Drew visited Worms. But I'm not going to tell you that adventure today. I'm going to tell you the adventure of Lady Kitty falling in the moat. Mr. Pipes, Annie and Drew and Lady Kitty all went out for a snack one day, and they went outside to just finish up. And all of a sudden Lady Kitty jumped onto the end of a cannon. "No," squealed Annie, as Lady Kitty fell into the moat. "Oh no, no, no!" cried Annie. "Don't worry, Annie," said Mr. Pipes. But Drew had been studying the cannons. "Hey," he said. "I'm sure that Lady Kitty fell just from that cannon over there. And look," he said, jumping into the moat with a SPLOTCH. "Oh dear, I'm afraid he's jumped into the moat," said Mr. PIpes. "Drew," Annie screamed. "Over here," yelled Drew, from inside the moat. All of a sudden a sodden Drew came out of the moat with a sopping Lady Kitty. "Oh Drew," she said, and she hugged Lady Kitty. "Meow, meow," said Lady Kitty. Then she hugged her brother. "Ribbit, ribbit," echoed out of his hand. "Why Drew," said Mr. Pipes, "I see you've picked up a friend." "Yeah," said Drew, digging into his hands and brining out a spotted frog. "I'm going to name him Rinkydink." The End.

Literature:

Lassie: Lassie met these old people, and they were very nice to her, but one day she scratched at the door because she had this memory, but she couldn't quite remember what it was. But then she remembered--it was time to go get the boy. She started walking up and down before the door. And the woman said, "Hey girl, what's up? I've already given ye a nice walk today." And when the man came home that evening, the soman said, "Dear, I think we ought to let the dog go." "Why?" he asked. "Because you see she's been pacing a lot up and down in front of the door like she has to get out." "Aye," he said, "You're right, she should go." So together they went and got Lassie, and they let her go. And they watched the beautiful figure walk walk walk away from the house. The End.

King Arthur: King Arthur got his Round Table for a dowry, a present from Lady Guinevere's father. Lady Guinevere was very beautiful and the wedding was very big and beautiful. Afterwards King Arthur asked Merlin to help him establish the Round Table. "The first knight I'll choose," said Merline, "will definitely be you, King Arthur. And the second one will be Sir Pellias, because I don't know which is better, you or Sir Pellias." So Merlin went on choosing until they had quite a few. But soon a new knight comes up to sit on the seat Perilous, the seat if which the wrong knight sits in, he shall die immediately, or have bad luck forever. The End.

Spelling:

1. The bride has a long dress.
2. Meet me at the swings.
3. Wintir [sic] frost can kill plants.
4. We have snacks on paper plates.

Math:

1. The reason there are no vampires in the world is because a vampire takes at least one person for a meal each day. So that vampire bites a person, which becomes a vampire, and that vampire bites a person, which becomes a vampire, you see? f There wouldn't be enough people to feed all those vampires, so that's why there are no vampires in the world. At least not that we know of...mwa ha ha.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

3P Learning / Mathletics (TOS Review)

3P Learning, the home of Mathletics, is a web-based math service, providing children a chance to compete with students from around the world, or to rack up points by working through grade-specific content, which includes step-by-step animated support. There is access to additional games at Rainforest Maths, and the students get to go shopping for clothing and backgrounds for their character with the credits they earn from many of the above activities. There are also games that reinforce math concepts. In other words, the students have a variety of ways to interact with math.--from the Review Crew blog

This is a website (or sites, since different countries are assigned their own sites) that our Squirrelings caught onto quickly; it has a format that's familiar to kids who frequent the stuffed-animal or imaginary-pet sites where you play games and win points or other currency that can be exchanged for virtual "stuff" like improvements to your pet's house. The main difference here, that I can see, is that most of the games involve math skills (appropriate to the student's grade level). The site is more extensive than just games; there are lesson segments and even workbooks (see our note at the bottom); but the games, and especially being able to play against other subscribers, seem to be the main attraction. That and being able to fancy up your avatar with the points you've earned. (Someone out there understands tween girls.)

Do kids enjoy it? Do they learn math?

"On Mathletics I like to play the games that I win by doing math. I do subtraction and addition and graphs and multiplication. Sometimes they're adding games, sometimes they're just games. Like catch the tomato. When you win stuff you get a certificate, and you get a gold bar. And when you get a certificate, it goes in the Bronze Cafe or in the Silver Balcony or the Gold Computer. And I just love the Rainforest Maths, even though they're too young for me. ("Do you think it actually helps you with your math?") It helps me learn my math but it also helps me have fun while I'm doing my math. I wish we could never ever quit it."--Crayons, Third Grader

"It improved my division and multiplication drills. I liked playing with people from around the world. It was fun to see who you'd end up with. I liked having the avatar. I thought it looked like me. The activities, like the actual math lessons, were okay. Except that I could never find the instructions...like the area of a circle, it wouldn't tell you how to do it. I think it was this question mark button, but when I clicked it, it wouldn't let me go. I thought it was an overall pretty good program. 4.5 out of 5."--Ponytails, Seventh Grader

Does Mathletics support homeschoolers?

"While Mathletics is used in schools in over 200 countries, they also support homeschooling. You can view a six page brochure about Mathletics and homeschooling here. "--from the Crew blog

Any frustrations?

While I appreciate that the program is available in a format tailored for Canadians and those in other countries, it was somewhat frustrating not being able to access the parent site even to write this review. If you're in Canada and you click on http://www.mathletics.com/ , you're automatically redirected to http://www.mathletics.ca/.

I also remain somewhat confused about the availability of printable workbooks; on the Canadian site, I don't even see a button to download them. An email from the company indicated that workbooks were only available for download by schools, but Review Crew members in the U.S. said they could access them with their trial memberships. So if that's a feature that interests you, you might want to clarify the question of their availability to individual families.

My final frustration is simply the price difference between American and Canadian subscriptions. The Review Crew blog says that "Mathletics [costs] $59 per student per year. If you know the Human Calculator’s favorite number (hint: it’s ‘9’!) and you enter that when asked, you can purchase a single child subscription for $49.95 for a year at their website." This applies only to users in the United States; the subscription price in Canada is $99 per child per year, with a small discount for additional children in the same family. This difference in price seems excessive, and in fact it's the only reason I won't be renewing our subscription although the girls have said they'd like to continue.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew website.

Dewey's Disclaimer: A 45-day subscription was received free for review purposes. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

December is Chocolate...and Cookies

I posted this previously:

"Malted Milk Buttons and Crispy Rice Shortbread, two variations on a Master Dough recipe that I found in a (thrifted) December 15, 1998 Woman's Day magazine and which were adapted (with others in the same food article) from One Dough, Fifty Cookies by Leslie Glover Pendleton."

But Mama Squirrel came up with a variation all our own! The problem with writing it out is that it was made from only half the Master Dough recipe, since the idea is to make a big batch and split it between two variations. (We mixed the other half of the dough with Rice Krispies.) And the Master Dough recipe, which I assume is copyrighted by the author, contains such difficult-to-halve ingredients as three egg yolks and 4 3/4 cups of flour. But here's the basic idea:

Make a shortbread-type dough containing unsalted butter, sugar, salt, egg yolks, vanilla, and flour. (No baking powder.) To a batch of dough made with about 2 1/2 cups flour, add half a package of (dry) instant chocolate pudding mix, and a cupful of small chocolate chips. Press into a greased 9 x 13 inch pan, pre-cut into squares, and bake for half an hour at 350 degrees. Re-cut the squares after they have cooled slightly. Drizzle with a glaze made from powdered sugar mixed with a little milk, just enough to let it drizzle from a spoon.

For some reason (mainly because they're very tasty), these improvised squares have been everybody's favourite so far these holidays. As in, they're gone. Maybe we'll make some more.

Here are some other cookies we've made and posted about in the past:

Date-Walnut Bars
Rigglevake Cookies
No-bake Chocolate Fruit Balls
Gluten-Free Dutch Chocolate Chip Cookies
Lemon Poppyseed Shortbread
Tofu Fudge Chews
Peanut Chocolate Butterscotch Bars (link only)
Doreen Perry's Cookies
Betty Crocker's Brownie Recipe
Cappucino Thumbprints
Chocolate Hazelnut Crescents
Double Ginger Drop Cookies (LINK FIXED!)
Snickerdoodle Blondies
The Best, Bar None
Two No-Bake Candy Recipes (one of our most-visited posts)

Monday, December 14, 2009

December is Putting Together

What are we putting together?


Cider Beetles and Cider Reindeer, inspired by posts at Stonecroft Women of Katy, Elfster, and Chaos in the Kitchen. They're sitting on ice-cube trays because they wouldn't sit nicely on their backs otherwise.
Cost: Hard to estimate: a bag of oranges, brown sugar, and the spices...but you can subtract the insides of the oranges (you scoop them out before drying the peels) and the extra spices we still have on hand.



The DHM posted at Frugal Hacks with an inexpensive gift suggestion: a nutmeg grater from the thrift shop, some whole nutmegs, and a batch of something made with nutmeg plus the recipe. We were at a Salvation Army store a couple of weeks ago and I spotted a very nice cork-topped container labelled "Nutmeg." (There were a couple of jars for other seasonings but I left those there.) No graters, but I found a small one at the dollar store; and that plus a small bag of nutmegs will make a good gift for someone who likes to cook.
Cost: Grater, $1.25 (our dollar store has been raising its prices). Nutmegs, about $2. Jar, $2.


And at the same Salvation Army, we found a Large Glass Thing


and a Skinny Glass Thing


that fit nicely into each other



to make a candle holder like those we linked to previously. We decided to skip the candleholder glued to the bottom--it was big enough as it was. The dollar-store candle


was a bit tall for the inner tube, but no matter--it will burn down quickly enough. Mr. Fixit stuck the two parts together, and we added some sparkly wire trim between them, donated by a friend at our homeschool co-op.

Cost: Large jar, $2.99 (the Salvation Army is pricey sometimes). Skinny jar, .99. Candle, .50. Glue, negligible. Trim, free.


Photo Credits: Ponytails

December is Doing

We have been busy the past couple of weeks. The sewing machine has been running at a speed to rival the Grinch's; the oven and the Crockpot have been working busily; and in between that we go out and shovel the snow. Or this weekend it's been slush and freezing rain. So better to think about the warm things inside.

Frugal Family Fun Blog posted about these Pocket Hand Warmers awhile back, and Mama Squirrel was so taken with them that she decided to make some too, using rummage-saled ribbon and a pair of Mr. Fixit's jeans. (She did ask first.)

Cost: minimal for the ribbon; free for the jeans (since Mr. Fixit couldn't wear them anymore); minimal for the rice and thread.


As you can tell, the hardest thing about them is getting them all the same size (ours weren't) or always quite even (ours weren't). But that's not a big deal. Mama Squirrel is going to make some more and this time they'll be perfect.

Last month I asked your advice on sachet fillings for the scent-sensitive. The idea that appealed most was using peppermint, and Mama Squirrel just happened to find organic dried peppermint (also known as tea) at the health food store.

We had some nice crisp white fabric that came in a rummage-sale box--it might have been muslin, we're not sure. Anyway, we sewed that into 5 x 7 rectangles and stuffed them with cotton balls and a tablespoon of peppermint.

Then we got out the vintage hankies (mostly yard-saled over the years) and played around with ribbon, lace and other trims (rummage-saled and thrift-shopped earlier this year). None of the hankies had to be cut; any little stitches or gluing was done on the ribbon. Mama Squirrel was inspired mostly by the photos on the Primrose Design website, but we made our hankies cover the whole pillow, and skipped the button trim.



This one has a crocheted flower added on--we found a couple of handmade ones in with a bag of lace and trims.


This one is tied with a strip of tatting...Mama Squirrel liked that against the ribbon design of the handkerchief.

We packaged them in zipper bags with a printed-out tag (it also says "From the Squirrel Family Workshop" on the blocked-out part.
Cost: pretty much free, since we already had the hankies and the trims were bought at yard-sale prices. Two bags of dollar-store cotton balls filled six sachets.

And that white fabric inspired another sewing project, but we can't tell you about it yet because somebody might peek.

More "doing" coming up...stay tuned.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

December is snow...and more snow...and more snow

Well, we were starting to wonder!

But going out three times today to shovel it was enough convincing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Dewey's Quiz By Ponytails

Dewey did it so I will!


1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Hot Chocolate

2.Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Umm, both.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Mr. Fixit, my dad doesn't put them up that often but when he does, colored.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No!

5. When do you put your decorations up? When we feel like it about this time in December though. The tree gets put up later.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Turkey and cranberry sauce.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: I still am a child but I think the best is getting togther with family and eating.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I am not sure.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Yes.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? With a mixture of ornaments. From birds and bells, to Rudolph's monster.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? Dread it a little love it a little.

12. Can you ice skate? Yes.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My sled.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? The real meaning and giving and family.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? The Christmas pie, Lemon Meringue.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? The Christmas play at church, I am oldest in the children's class so I usally get a good part.

17. What tops your tree? A angel or star.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Both, I like getting other people's presents.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? The songs I play on the keyboard and The Huron Carol.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? Yum!



~~~Ponytails

Asking Why

Brenda posted most movingly ( "When I Stop Asking Why" ) on how she's managed to keep a positive attitude even through hardships.
"Send us to Africa but not the unemployment line! I'll suffer in the Sudan feeding the poor but don't give me diabetes or cancer. We offer ourselves as a living sacrifice but with... boundaries. Then we complain when He uses us in a different way than we planned."

December is Plans

Big ones, small ones, some of them holiday-related, some not. Some of them get changed. Some of them we just decide there aren't enough days in the month for. Some sound like fun...maybe...for somebody...but not realistic for us.

If your plans this month include gift giving (and you still do have a few days to worry about it, if you're as behind on stuff as I am), I like this list of stocking stuffers at Grocery Cart Challenge. And there are some new ideas for frugal doll clothes here and here (both posts by the talented hands at Obsessively Stitching).

Monday, December 07, 2009

December is Dewey's Holiday Meme (Repost from 2006)

This is my blog but I nevver get to rite anything bekuz Mama Squirrel is always hogging it. So today I am taking kontrol of the keeboard and I get to anser all the questions.

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Neither, I like root beer flotes.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? I am not suposed to tell.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? On my tree/house? All cullers and as many as Snoopy's doghous.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No, I like it for an apetizer.

5. When do you put your decorations up? Mr. Fixit puts them up for Dewey when he should be resting his tired bones in front of the television Hey wait a minit, this is my meem and I get to rite...Well, I did put up my own reeth on the door.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish? Pizza.

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child: Curling up in a warm attic with my fourtteen brothers and sisters.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? I pwomised I would never never tell that he cheets at cards--oops.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? I open EVERYBODY'S gifts on Christmas Eve becuz I cant stand the susspens. But don't tell them.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree? I don't have one, I just share with the hummans.

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it? I like it becuz it's eazier to see the cats' footprints and go the uther way.

12. Can you ice skate? I am a very talented squirrel. I can do a lot of things. I have even been on staje at church. But I cant ice skate because I don't aktualy have feet.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? The Chipmunks' Christmas Album.

14. What's the most important thing about the Holidays for you? Keeping away from Uncle Louie for another year. [Uncle Louie is always after Dewey for that fifty bucks Dewey owes him...]

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Boosh Butch Bûche de Noël (thank you Mama Squirrel). You no...Yool Log. Something about being a Squirrel, we have a thing for desserts made out of wood.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? Riding along in the car and waving at people out the window. Sometimes they wave back.

17. What tops your tree? Well, I tried climbing up there once becuz I wanted to talk to that pwetty angel that the Apwentice made. But she wouldn't even say halo to me.

18. Which do you prefer giving or receiving? Giving. One year I rode along with Santa and helped him give out all the presents. I am very good at going up and down chimnies.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song? Chesnuts, Akorns and Walnuts Roasting on an Open Fire But It Wasnt My Fault!

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum? They make my fur too stikky.

Our last full week of school before holidays

Everyone:

101 Famous Poems
Mr. Pipes and Bible stories
King Arthur: finish Book One
Swiss Family Robinson, up to page 141 (try to get to page 166 during exams next week)
Artistic Pursuits, continue
Nutrition, finish up the unit we're on
Mathletics website
Independent reading lists

Ponytails:

Math, science and photography with Dad
Finish Larry Burkett's Money book
Finish The Ocean of Truth
Analogies if you have time
History--continue daily work

Crayons:

Lassie Come Home--finish before Christmas
Mathemagic, pages 136-143
All About Spelling, continue Level 2
Canada's Story, chapters 9 and 10

How to Make the CPSIA Sound Like a Good Thing (Ho Ho Ho)

If you search Google News for updates on the CPSIA, you come up with media articles like the following:
"Parents will continue to swarm toy stores, especially, grabbing goodies for the little ones right up until Christmas Day. This year, they can rest easier than in the past because new toy safety regulations are protecting children more than ever, said Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"'This is supposed to be a joyous time of year,' Tenenbaum said. 'We don’t want to learn that a child [sic] injured or killed because he didn’t understand safety standards of toys.'”
No, we don't want a child to be injured or killed with booties.

But let's just stay on the safe side, hm?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Quote For Sunday (Advent II)

"He found himself grinning all the way down the hall.

"Something was stirring in him, something strong and deep and definite. Suffice it to say he was beginning to know that Christmas was coming--not just on the calendar but in his very soul.

"This morning, Cynthia's reading had explained everything:

"'The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory.'"--Jan Karon, Shepherds Abiding

Two boxes: more than enough

Meredith at Like Merchant Ships recently referred to an old post of hers about how and why she keeps their holiday decorations limited to two boxes.

Consider her reasons why...and then could we consider applying the same logic to homeschool materials?

Now there are many different ways to think about that, and part of it is defining what we call "homeschool materials." The Mennonite Central Committee has an ongoing project where churches and individuals fill drawstring bags with school supplies: notebooks, pencils, a ruler and so on. It's hard to learn without having access to those most basic items. Then there are the "book basics" that most homeschoolers have, like reference books; and homeschool gadgets and gizmos, like timelines and maps, letter tiles, math rods. And beyond those, there are Books--often hundreds, sometimes even thousands of them. Some people don't even think of Books as school supplies, but for us they're basic too.

No way you're getting all that in one box.

And even if you limited the "box" to one year's worth of school for one child, you'd still probably want to store the rest for future years. Children aren't like Christmases, after all; you can use the same angel year after year, but you can't do the same math book over and over.

But the concept is still worth thinking about; and it's something I'm pondering even more during this year of being given access to extra freebies and gadgets (some of them very good and useful). It's something I have to deal with when I consider our array of well-used electric kitchen appliances--you all know how fond I am of my toaster oven, and the Crockpot is a pretty close second. What's good? What's useful? What's too much?

Many of us are blessed with a whole Treehouse to live in...but could you move your homeschooling, cooking, decorating to a tiny apartment or a trailer? What would stay, what would go? Would the kids' desire to hold on to every old toy suddenly be resolved by necessity?

What if someone came and asked you to put everything out on the front lawn for a photo? That thought's enough to make me finish this post and go clean up the living room.

Two boxes? It may not be practical in all respects...but it's worth thinking over.

Friday, December 04, 2009

What's for dessert? Brownies in a Mug in the Crockpot

We just got a 7-quart Crockpot! Giant Tiger had them on sale and we decided to make it an early Christmas present. This is after 18 years with a 3 1/2 quart pot Which Still Works...but after reading so many good "6 quart" recipes in Stephanie O'Dea's new book, I really really really wanted to try some of them. I lured Mr. Fixit into this by telling him that he could cook bigger chickens and roasts if we just had a bigger slow cooker...and besides, we had some space for it in a big kitchen drawer since our waffle iron bit the dust.

So far we've only made two things in it, both of them frivolous. I tried out Steph's Rice Krispies Treats, since I had both Rice Krispies and marshmallows, and for dessert tonight we're having her Brownie-in-a-Mug. I used the homemade brownie mix from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures, and that seemed to be about the right amount for five coffee mugs. (We managed to get five in the pot, I guess because it's a 7-quart rather than a 6-quart. Good thing, since there are five of us.)

I'll let you know how it turns out!

Update: The brownies-in-a-mug turned out all right, but they were awfully sweet for our taste...I think I prefer the microwaved cake-in-a-mug. (We usually split even that one between a couple of eaters.) But I can see how it would be a fun dessert to have with some whipped cream on top.

December Is Deciding

Deciding to make Christmas a season of change.

Deciding to decorate. Sometimes it's a struggle.

Or deciding to undecorate. Also for good reasons.

Deciding on simple practices for a peaceful Advent. (Ann, we hope you are recovering from this week's misadventure.)

Deciding not to observe Advent...but rather to celebrate Christ daily.

Wishing God's blessings and loving care on all your stories and your decisions...

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

December is An American Christmas Carol

A favourite Christmas movie from 1979, with Elora, Ontario (a place we've been many times) standing in for a New Hampshire town, and featuring many Canadian actors, including Michael Wincott as the leader of the carollers.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Nurturing Readers--some good advice

Beth at The BrewCrew wrote this guest post for the HSBA website. The photos are great too!

December is Gingerbread (egg-and-dairy-free)

Reposted from June 2005, because it's still our favourite gingerbread

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

1 cup molasses; ½ cup oil; 2 tsp. ginger; 2 cups flour (whole wheat tastes best in this recipe); 1 tsp. salt; 1 tsp. baking soda in one cup of hot water. Wheat germ or oatmeal, optional.

This is the way I mix it: start the kettle boiling for the hot water, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Measure the oil in a one-cup measure, then use the greasy cup to measure the molasses. Beat them together with a whisk. In a small bowl, combine the ginger, flour and salt; and by this time the water is hot so you can put that in the same 1-cup measure and dissolve the soda in that. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses and oil, alternately with the soda water. If you're mixing in some wheat germ or oatmeal, you don't have to get that all stirred in perfectly--just mix it around a bit. Bake in a greased square pan or small casserole for 35 to 40 minutes or until it tests done.

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