Monday, August 30, 2010

An insoluble problem (from Punch, 1855)


It has been judiciously suggested that everybody's education should include the knowledge of common things. A little of this science would hare saved the lives of many brave men in the Crimea. What a pity it is that the War Office authorities and the Commissariat should never have been taught any of it, as they evidently have not! Had they possessed the slightest knowledge of common things amongst them, would the troops in the Crimea ever have had served out to them rations so irrational as green coffee? Wheat or beans in the crude state the human grinders may deal with, the human stomach being very empty, and nothing better at hand to fill the void. But green coffee berries for an article of food, and no means of utilizing them but jaw teeth!—What did the Commissariat and the War Office imagine that the molars would do with such materials! Wise teeth indeed it would take to dispose of diet of that sort. That this mistake may not again occur, and by way of example to matrons, housewives, and others capable of instructing Downing Street and the Horse Guards in the knowledge of the things above alluded to, a few remarks may be offered with respect to one of those things, namely, that same common thing,


Coffee is not produced by nature in the form in which it occurs to us at the breakfast table. It is not found in a liquid state. It is a berry, that is to say, a quantity of berries; the fruit of a plant cultivated in Arabia and the West Indies, and in the Conservatory at Kew Gardens. Plenty of Coffee may be seen in every grocer's shop in London and the United Kingdom. Heaps of it are piled in the shop windows; and the berries of which these heaps of coffee consist are some of them brown and others green.

Green coffee differs from green tea. Green tea is fit to make the beverage called tea, but green coffee is not fit to make that denominated coffee. Green tea is not simply the verdure of the tea plant, unmanufactured. But green coffee is merely raw coffee; it is coffee unprepared for use. When prepared for use, coffee is brown. It is prepared for use by being roasted. The roasting is not performed with a spit, or by means of a jack. The green coffee berries are put into iron cylinders which are turned by steam engines over a fire. By this operation they are browned. The roasting of coffee is a business of itself, requiring large premises, and much labour. It might indeed, at a pinch, and after a fashion, be managed in a frying-pan. In the absence of any frying-pan, a fire-shovel, perhaps, would serve. But without steam engine, without cylinder, without frying-pan, without fire-shovel, it would hardly be possible to roast coffee anyhow, and without fire, certainly, coffee could be roasted nohow. Coffee, therefore, should be issued to troops ready roasted, and not green, as they are always unprovided with steam-engines and cylinders, and generally almost as badly off for frying-pans and fire-shovels.

When coffee, by the process of roasting, has been changed from green to brown, it has to undergo another operation, before it can be employed in concocting the drink which bears its name. Those Ministers and Commanding and Commissariat Officers, whose breakfast-rooms are not too highly elevated above their kitchens, may sometimes, of a morning, have remarked a rumbling sound ascending from the culinary regions. This is occasioned by the manoeuvre of grinding the coffee, which is effected with a hand-mill. Hand-mills also not abounding in armies, and coffee-grinding being essential to coffee-making, mere coffee-berries, though roasted and not green, afford the soldier a nearly insoluble problem, even when he can get enough hot water for the solution of his coffee: which is not always the case. The pestle and mortar may present a substitute for the mill, but in yielding them to a mess, the surgeon runs the risk of getting himself into a scrape. Nutmeg-graters would answer better; but where there are no nutmegs the graters must needs be few. Coffee, therefore, should be supplied to soldiers not only ready roasted, but ready ground: if issued whole, it should be accompanied with a sufficiency of graters; and if issued green, as well as whole, there should likewise be an equally liberal distribution of fire-shovels or frying-pans, as well as plenty of coke or charcoal.

Here some account of that common thing, the making of coffee, might be added; but the knowledge of this is not necessary to the authorities, who are not encamped before Sebastopol: for them it will suffice to know what are the conditions indispensable for that purpose. Let them only give the soldier the possibility of making his coffee, and the soldier will make it well enough, no doubt.

Cheaper than Babci? Maybe

Sandy at recently posted about the extreme frugalism that her family members practised. She wants to know how many things on her list you've tried yourself.

Well, as I wrote in her comments, not much along the really yucky or questionable lines. My parents tried to be "economical" but only in generally accepted ways--no scraping pigeon droppings. Powdered milk, no air conditioning till I was ten and then it was one window unit, haircuts by a family friend, lots of hand-me-downs, one car until my younger sister learned to drive, occasional Spam dinners, things made out of overgrown zucchini, and the first generation of generic groceries. But that's what everybody did in the soaring-inflation 1970's. I don't think my mom ever had a clothes line, though--they seemed to go out of style for awhile along with nursing babies.

One of my grandfathers, though--he probably would have given Babci a run for her money. I think he wore the same suits for years. He didn't own or drive a car, so he rode everywhere on a bicycle, until he just physically couldn't anymore. He hunted wild mushrooms in the woods that turned deep black when you cooked them--my mother was always a bit nervous about those, but nobody ever frizzled up from them. He fed his cat on absolutely unthinkable pieces of fish and meat that he got for free or nearly so. (The cat outlived Grandpa.) Eventually, though, the extreme frugality got mixed up with increasing dementia, and he started stockpiling things like tin cans and old gloves, that really weren't useful, and reheating things too many times, until it was obvious that he shouldn't be trying to live on his own. Until then, though, he was one of our Depression-surviving frugal role models...not the first one that came to mind for me when I started writing this, but probably one of its true black belts.

I can also think of a couple of great-great aunts who lived in a small village a few miles from where we lived. I don't think their house (where they'd always lived) ever had running water. Even when they were that old and, you wouldn't think, very strong, they got along with a pump. How they managed their laundry and baths and so on at that point, I'm not even sure.

Some things we've been doing for so many years now that they're just second nature. I don't know if our kids always understand things like saving breadcrusts for crumbs, washing out Ziplocs (yes, I do, unless they're really horrible--and sorry, Ellie Kay, I know you think that's insane), and not having many TV channels. But they do get the idea behind yard-saling, making things, re-modeling (Ponytails has been experimenting with re-fashioning clothes), and even re-gifting (The Apprentice refurbished her own Barbie house last year as a gift for Crayons). They enjoy the free garden food (we don't get so many huge zucchini) and the apples from our two trees, and the stuff that Mr. Fixit gets to fix up like CB radios and walkie-talkies. They do get it, even when they think the older generation (that's us!) worries too much or takes things too far. I think that's always the same...then things swing back around.

We salute Babci, and Grandpa, and all our role models.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Veggie Times on Google Books (and other magazines too)

I just figured out that you can look at a whole lot of back issues of Vegetarian Times via Google Books--and search those issues too. Just as a sample, here's a search for Brownies.

Takes me back!

But this is even neater--take that same page of results, and click "Magazines" on the left-hand sidebar. You get even more articles about Brownies (or whatever you're looking for), including 1950's issues of Life magazine.

The world of information is more and more in-your-face all the time--or maybe, in this case, in-your-mouth.

Song for a Sunday: The Second Chapter of Acts

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Want to go to a potluck?

The Common Room is hosting Potluck Saturday today--send your links in to your favourite potluck recipes. I sent over a pan of Lemon Delight.

Friday, August 27, 2010

To be alive, to be really alive (Frederick Buechner quote)

I found this in Buechner's memoir The Sacred Journey, where he remembers a hungry, cold, wet supper during his infantry training. Just before this he has been talking about St. Francis of Assisi and his Canticle to the Sun--"the madness of throwing away everything he ever had or ever hoped to have for love of the creation no less than of the creator...."
"With a lurch of the heart that is real to me still, I saw suddenly, almost as if from beyond time altogether, that not only was the turnip good, but the mud was good too, even the drizzle and cold were good, even the Army that I had dreaded for months. Sitting there in the Alabama winter with my mouth full of cold turnip and mud, I could see at least for a moment how if you ever took truly to heart the ultimate goodness and joy of things, even at their bleakest, the need to praise someone or something for it would be so great that you might even have to go out and speak of it to the birds of the air."

I wanna be a sock monkey too

Dollar Store Crafts posts the answer to someone else's problem: a sock monkey costume. Oh and by the way--the wearee is over six feet tall.

But no problem is too big or too strange for the intrepid Heather.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ambleside Online...isn't that too much British history?

If you want to consider this a commercial for Ambleside Online, that's fine...maybe it is. Come check it out if you like. But it's more just an unfolding of what we are doing for our history studies this year.
"We, believing that the normal child has powers of mind which fit him to deal with all knowledge proper to him, give him a full and generous curriculum, taking care only that all knowledge offered to him is vital, that is, that facts are not presented without their informing ideas."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
A question that comes up a lot about the curriculum we use is that it seems--especially at first glance--to be first of all very British-centered, and second of all American (as in United States of America, white, European). What about world cultures? What about globalism? What about the Incas and the Songhai Empire and the Haida? What about Canadian Confederation? Why is the American history book written by an English author?

I have a couple of things to say in response. First of all, I have to be very honest: none of my Squirrelings (so far) just love history best and can't get enough of it; the family tendency is more towards science. I am saying that only so that I can't be accused of teaching the kids more history than what I consider the minimum; and they don't usually go searching for extra. Even The Apprentice did her one Ontario-required history credit in Grade Ten, and that was it--chemistry and mathematics and graphic design and English and hairstyling didn't leave much extra schedule room or homework time for more courses requiring a lot of reading. (Yes, you heard that right--Ontario secondary school students are only required to take ONE history course, and that's 20th-century Canadian history.)

BUT...even doing the minimum, and mostly using the suggested Ambleside Online books (with some substitutions for Canada and for what we can't find), our Squirrelings are still getting a very broad look at a lot of history. I would venture to say that it's as extensive as some of the other homeschooling programs out there--you just don't notice it right away. Now some of this is just going to be touched on during any school year--there is no way that we can go into everything in depth. But isn't that the same no matter what your method or curriculum? Nobody can teach or learn everything there is about everything.

Some examples...

Ponytails is doing what Ambleside calls Pre-Year-7. It's a combination of Year 6 books plus a few other books from previous years, plus a couple of others from higher years since she is really in Grade 8. One of the main books used in Year 6 and/or Pre-Year-7 is Genevieve Foster's Augustus Caesar's World. Roman history, right? More classical dead white guys?

Well, in addition to the life of Augustus Caesar, a summary of The Aeneid and a chapter on Roman gods, this book covers a fair amount of Old Testament history, Egyptian mythology, famous Greek and Roman philosophers, Mayan civilization, "Children of the Sun" (Incas), Lao-tzu, Confucius, Hindu beliefs, the story of Buddha, Zoroaster, and the life of Jesus. Not all in great detail, as I've said--but how much can you do in 325 pages?

Along with that book, Ponytails will be reading Susan Wise Bauer's Story of the World, Volume 4: The Modern Age, the chapters covering from 1865 to probably just past World War II (depending on time). Just grabbing some topics at random from those chapters, she'll be reading about Japan's Meiji Restoration, the Dutch East Indies, the War of the Pacific (in South America), Ned Kelly (Australia), the colonization of Africa, Brazil's republic, and Abdulhamid the Red (events involving Turkey and Armenia). And we'll be adding in chapters from a book of Canadian history, because our perspective on the late 19th, early 20th century is a bit different from what you get in the U.S. history books, and because that's what Ontario school kids study in grade 8.

To me, that sounds like we're going to have more trouble sticking down all the loose pieces than we are getting out of any Anglo/European history rut. And that doesn't include what might come up through studies in geography (Kon Tiki, Heidi's Alp the Book of Marvels), Christian Studies, and other subjects.

Crayons, in Grade 4, will be basing her history readings on Genevieve Foster's George Washington's World. Oh--a year all about the War of Independence, right? Maybe we can sneak the United Empire Loyalists in there somewhere...

Well, yes. But the book also includes chapters on Catherine the Great, Captain Cook, Quianlong/Ch'ien Lung, the French Revolution, the Kalmucks, Hokusai, Fray Junipero, and ballooning with the Montgolfiers...and the Loyalists are in there on page 174. Not bad for a fourth-grade history book. Besides that, she'll be doing some Bible Geography and Archaeology, learning about Pompeii (in Fabre's Story Book of Science, and supplemented with an illustrated book we have), reading about Christians who made an impact on several different countries (Hero Tales), and hearing about some important periods in British history (Noel Streatfeild's The Fearless Treasure). Oh, and reading stories from classical mythology (Bulfinch's Age of Fable) and from Native Canadian traditions (Canadian Children's Treasury). (Note: only Foster's book and Age of Fable are specifically included in AO's Year 4. The others are our own choices, but they are similar to books used in AO years.)

Again, that's almost too much, too wide--not too little, too narrow. If we can fit even two-thirds of that in and have each girl remember maybe half of that two-thirds--that may still be better than what some public-schooled children will take away from social studies this year. There's a reason we've stuck with AO all these years, even when we've had to adapt it a little...well, there's more than one reason, but the one I'm thinking of is this: we have a big long paper timeline, the Timechart History of the World. When it's sitting on my desk (it's too tall for the bookshelf), it kind of blends into the wall and you don't notice it much. But when you really want to look at it, you have to fold it out--and it goes all the way across the room--and that's just the last six thousand years or so that it covers. And then you start looking at the timelines, seeing the connections, seeing the empires come and go, seeing the little thumbnail drawings of people; and you not only start to get a sense of how big history is, but how interconnected we all are. It's a bit tricky too to get it all folded back up again.

Ambleside Online is a bit like that--you have to unfold it to see what's in there, but once you do, you get kind of immersed and start to make connections. Even if you're not a born history student.
"The days have gone by when the education befitting either a gentleman or an artisan was our aim. Now we must deal with a child of man, who has a natural desire to know the history of his race and of his nation, what men thought in the past and are thinking now; the best thoughts of the best minds taking form as literature, and at its highest as poetry, or, as poetry rendered in the plastic forms of art: as a child of God, whose supreme desire and glory it is to know about and to know his almighty Father: as a person of many parts and passions who must know how to use, care for, and discipline himself, body, mind and soul: as a person of many relationships,––to family, city, church, state, neighbouring states, the world at large: as the inhabitant of a world full of beauty and interest, the features of which he must recognise and know how to name, and a world too, and a universe, whose every function of every part is ordered by laws which he must begin to know.

"It is a wide programme founded on the educational rights of man; wide, but we may not say it is impossible nor may we pick and choose and educate him in this direction but not in that. We may not even make choice between science and the 'humanities.' Our part it seems to me is to give a child a vital hold upon as many as possible of those wide relationships proper to him. Shelley offers us the key to education when he speaks of "understanding that grows bright gazing on many truths.""--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
This post is linked from the Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Frugal Homeschooling: Is there a homeschool store in your cupboard?

Last spring I made a list, not of every book in the house, but of what we had in the way of homeschool resources. I set it up in the same way as my favourite homeschool catalogue, so that I could "shop" from it. I didn't include library books, but I did include downloaded e-texts and software.

A homeschool catalogue usually starts by listing how-to-homeschool books and parent resources. My list started like this:

General Books

Debra Bell—Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling
Ruth Beechick books—primary, grades 4-8
Books Children Love, other books of books
Homeschool Your Child For Free
Classical Curriculum (Berquist)
Charlotte Mason Companion
CM Home Education series
The Blackboard Book, by Eleanor Watts (e-text)
Free printables and websites, 2010 edition (e-text)

Next section in a typical Christian homeschool catalogue: Bible study resources. Again I just made a list that started like this:

Bible Study

Bibles—several translations
What the Bible is All About for Young Explorers
Old Testament 2-year Survey Class, by Meredith Curtis (e-text)
The Holy Land in the Time of Jesus
Everyday Life in Bible Times (NG book)
Bible for Today, 3 vols.
Barclay’s Gospel commentaries
Desiring God / Future Grace

And so on through Spelling Skills, Handwriting, Grammar, Math, History, Science, Music.

All of this counting and listing had a couple of purposes. One was just a general figuring out of what we had--a chance to count our blessings, if you like, and to realize how much we really didn't need to buy, how much was already right there for us to use. The other reason was to take that information and "shop" with it. From this "homeschool store," what would I buy to use for math this fall with Crayons? What resources could I combine to put together a French program? And was there something really lacking, that I couldn't figure out a way around?

Most of what we plan to use this year came from our own "store." We got planners for about a dollar apiece. We did end up buying new Key to Algebra workbooks for eighth-grader Ponytails, because that made the most sense. Later in the year I'll download the next Math Mammoth level for fourth-grader Crayons. I also bought John Hudson Tiner's Exploring the World of Mathematics from a friend who was done with it, and a set of Calculadder 2, although I'm having second thoughts about using it this year...that's something I need to talk over with the Squirrelings.

I bought a printed-out copy of Write with the Best Volume 2, although I do have my own copy of the file, to save myself the trouble and paper of having to reprint it. (You have to print out the whole book with that one--all or nothing.) And there have been a few other things that popped up along the way, mostly secondhand--like The Canadian Children's Treasury and Science on a Shoestring. Very recently someone on the Canadian used-curriculum exchange list posted a few items for sale, including some historical colouring books that fit with Crayons' history, and a couple of other things, so I have my order in for those. (I try to sell a few books here and there myself to even things out.)

Some printer paper, and I guess we're set.

To sum up: homeschooling is not totally free, even when you shop mostly from the cupboard...but it does help. You could say that I should figure in some amortized cost for books that I had bought previously and used for one or two other people. You could also say that I should include things like printer ink (some people do), staples, any books I haven't bought but might, any lessons or outings that we haven't registered for or attended but might, or even Teacher Appreciation Presents.

Hey, everybody's got a wish list.

This post is linked from the Festival of Frugality.

And get that writing and drawing garbage out of my classroom--whaddaya think this is?

One more good reason to homeschool:

"In public school (yes, we’ve been there too… so I speak with authority on this subject) he used to get beaten up by the “tough” kids because he’d rather draw and write stories at lunch break … and the teachers told him (you won’t believe this)… “well, maybe he should keep his art and writing for at home and play football here at school so he can fit in more” !!!!"-- "The Cost of Homeschooling" at Mom Loves Books

Frugal Homeschooler Roundup

It's this week's Cruise question for new and returning Old Schoolhouse Review Crew members. How do you homeschool frugally? Or simply "how do you afford to homeschool?" There were lots of responses, so please check it out.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Song Stuck In My Head

Right now the song Tiny Dancer by Elton John is in my head. I love this song. What songs have been stuck in your head lately? Blue jean baby, L.A. lady, seamstress for the band...


Thursday, August 19, 2010

A favourite poster, if you like quilts

Not a blog poster--a wall poster!

I ordered The Quilts of Lancaster County poster years ago from the Heritage Center Museum Store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I think I saw an ad for it in a magazine and liked it. Later, Mr. Fixit had it framed in a dark red frame that matches the lettering on the bottom. It's hanging over the desk in our rec room.

The description is slightly wrong, though--it shows 25 quilts, not 5.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some really interesting stuff, or, I should be doing other things but these are so very cool

Twisty breadsticks at A Vision to Remember (a guest post by Kara of Creations by Kara)

Really, really cute little matchy tops for sisters (made out of one skirt!) at At Second Street

And the 47th Penny Pinching Party at The Thrifty Home (lots of links)

Isn't that enough to keep anybody busy for awhile?

Mary Grace posts on focus and waiting

A beautiful post from Books and Bairns.

(Hoping for good news soon, about "Seven" AND Bee.)
"Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment, I've no cause for worry or for fear"--Karolina W. Sandell-Berg

Let's make muffins

The heat level went down enough yesterday that we decided to make some of Chef Earl's Muffins. Chef Earl is Earl Johnson, who was the subject of a favourite Canadian Living article which also featured Potage Paysanne, a soup we try to make at least once a year just because it's so much better than the ingredients make it sound (turnip, leeks, parsnips--shudder). The story of how he won over the high school students in Winnipeg also made it into Reader's Digest.

His muffin recipes are a bit fancier and sweeter than my usual throw-it-in-the-bowl formula, but once in awhile--like the soup--they're fun to make. The recipes for Streusel Apple Raisin Muffins and Black Bottom Muffins made 24 large muffins and 24 half-size muffins, respectively. I found it was just as easy to get all the dry ingredients mixed for both (put the 2 cups flour for one in one large bowl, then the 1 1/2 cups flour for the other in another bowl, and so on), mix up the wet ingredients for both, and then finish putting both recipes together and bake them at the same time. If you have an extra willing pair of hands around, it helps too. (Ponytails put the Streusel muffins together.)

Note on the Black Bottom Muffins: they call for cream cheese, but I've substituted both sour cream and drained (thick) plain yogurt, and both work fine. They do tend to get sticky if they sit around, so you would probably want to keep them refrigerated or frozen.

Especially if it's the middle of August.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Abundance of the heart...on the many ways of looking at money

Lately we have needed to take a close look at the Squirrel family finances, to see where things could possibly be managed a bit differently. For awhile we were so comfortable knowing approximately how many acorns we needed in any given period, and what they would cost, that we had stopped keeping careful count. But the cost of acorns has gone up, and they are as hard as ever to find, and hard as well to keep track of. Sitting down together with pencil and paper (and the online stuff here), we realized that we were eating through our store of them a little too fast and that we needed to get a handle on that. Quickly.

So we are back to tracking even small expenses each week, in the same sense as a dieter regards a piece of chocolate cake--not as absolutely forbidden food, but as a choice to make that may or may not be worth what it costs in calories. Mama Squirrel has also been reading money-related books (from the library, of course), and when she was there last week she noticed Rich Dad, Poor Dad on the shelf and brought it home for Mr. Fixit, since he had mentioned wanting to read it.

Mr. Fixit read some parts of RDPD to Mama Squirrel and The Apprentice, and we were not greatly impressed, especially when he seemed to be dissing employees who stick with jobs they don't love, saying that people keep working for pay out of fear. (Actually it's because we like to keep on having food in the fridge.) Well, that's definitely a different viewpoint from the I-use-double-coupons-mom-type frugal books making up the rest of the library pile.

However, on thinking it over, Mama Squirrel agrees with one, and pretty much only one, general point in Rich Dad, Poor Dad: that the difference between feeling trapped by having/not having/wanting/worrying about money (what he calls "poor") and feeling free (what he calls "rich") is something that could be labelled an attitude of abundance. It's something like the "glass half full" attitude. For Christians it's tied in to knowing that our Father owns the cattle on the thousand hills, to understanding a little bit of what Jesus meant by "consider the lilies," and what the feeding of the five thousand meant.

It's difficult to pin down an exact definition, and I don't think Rich Dad Poor Dad offered much more than that hint. But then I started thinking about what I was going to post about anyway: things like the menu plan I just made up from recipes in the $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook (from the library) and from what we've stored in the Treehouse freezer, and how I just discovered that there was one recipe I really wanted to make, Pizza Wraps, that needed one ingredient we didn't have, pepperoni, and how I looked in the meat drawer and found that Mr. Fixit had bought a whole stick of it.

But it goes even beyond that. It's an understanding that joy is not letting yourself be squeezed by whether you have 200 or 100 or 50 acorns left in the jar for the rest of the week. The upside-down way (or, in Rich Dad's terms, the rich way) to look at it is not how little is left, but how amazing it is to have that much left to use. The challenge and the blessing is to end up with even a little left over at the end that can be used as an extra thank-you to God for his abundance.

So the quiz question is: does that mean it's not worthwhile or not Christian to read a book about saving money? Does that mean we're not thinking abundantly? Should we just keep eating the acorns and trust that God will never let us get right to the bottom of the jar? (I had the most interesting experience like that with an almost-gone jar of peanut butter--I kept thinking it was empty enough to throw out, but there always seemed to be a little left in the bottom. I don't know if it was a mirage or a miracle; all I know is that there was enough.)

Budgeting, in this sense, is an exercise in trust, and an opportunity to celebrate God's gifts. How was it that we managed to get through so many days without "our shoes wearing out" and so on (Deuteronomy 29:5)? How amazing is it that we found whatever it was we needed on sale that day?

There is a season for simply walking in trust, but there is also a season for keeping careful accounts, as an act of faithfulness in small things, in our small carefulnesses as well as marvelling at God's faithfulness in return.

This post is linked from the Festival of Frugality at Frugal for Life.

Up at Ann's, down at the DHM's, across the world at Jeanne's

A farmhouse I've never laid eyes on in this lifetime (though we're only a few miles away) but that I (and many of you) have become familiar with through the generosity of Ann's words and photos. Catch up with the Holy Experience family as they prepare for a new season of learning at home.

And the Deputy Headmistress walks us through the Common Room family's kitchen and dining room, as part of the Four Moms series of posts.

Ruth Anne says goodbye to the cottage and sabbatical, and rejoins her church family.

As Jeanne says, "it is good to be home."

Monday, August 16, 2010

Old Days scores again

I am not going to link to just one post at Old Days, Old Ways--you really need to just go over there and browse through this summer's posts. Highlights: photos of a miniature Victorian scene, a few very clever combinations of thrifted items, and the completed photos of an ongoing "nightmare quilt" that turned out very well after all.

Well worth a visit.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

52 Free Dress Patterns!

Looking for some new dresses? Why not make some? Craft Stew has rounded-up FIFTY TWO free dress patterns and tutorials! Wow! Which is your favourite? 


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tie-dye Cupcakes!

"Our Life in a Click" did tie-dye cupcakes for a tie-dye party! These are very colourful! I saw this through another blog. I wonder what people's tongues would look like after these!


Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's for supper? Sausage pasta with cherry tomatoes

This is Mama Squirrel's lighter version of a recipe that Canadian Living ran last November and that we adapted as well. I guess you'd call this the summer edition...small fresh chard leaves instead of big hoary late-fall ones...tiny fresh tomatoes instead of diced...and done in a skillet instead of baked.

Sausage Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes


Two or three mild Italian sausages, uncooked, sliced (although you could use leftover cooked ones)
Several fresh mushrooms, sliced thin
A bowlful of very sweet, fresh cherry tomatoes
Half a can of no-salt chickpeas, drained and rinsed
A small bowlful of baby chard leaves, with the accompanying earwig discarded, rolled up and sliced thinly (EWW correction: discard the earwig, slice the chard!)
Cooked fusilli or other spiral pasta, enough to feed about four people
Some grated mozzarella or Parmesan don't need too much

In a nonstick skillet, start cooking the sliced sausage; cook until all the pink is gone. Add cherry tomatoes and sliced mushrooms; cook for several minutes and drain off excess fat/liquid. Add chickpeas and continue cooking until everything is pretty much done the way you want; stir in pasta and chard, top with grated cheese, and let it all heat through for a few minutes. If you turn the heat down or off, it can sit for a few minutes without complaining too much.

You will notice that this is not a very tomatoey dish. If you insist on more tomatoes, you could add part of a can of sauce.

You will also notice that there isn't any extra seasoning added; this is because the sausage we get is already pretty flavourful. Otherwise I would have added some pepper.

(What's for dessert?)

When it's better the second day (dessert)

We had some of last night's steamed pudding left--mostly a thick fruit mixture (raspberries, rhubarb, peaches) and just a bit of the cake part.

This is what I did with it: in five fancy dessert glasses, I layered plain yogurt, leftover pudding (making sure each serving had a bit of cake), a smaller blob of yogurt, and then a spoonful of grated chocolate. (Mr. Fixit buys bittersweet chocolate bars at the downtown grocery store where they don't cost much.)

Better than your average leftovers.

Now I could do that: crocheted Fluffy Bath Puff

Just Make It: Handmade by Annabelle has directions for a Fluffy Bath Puff. (Featured on a Dollar Store Crafts roundup.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What's for supper? (Mama Squirrel muses on sweet potatoes)

The Deputy Headmistress noted today that the subtitle of Martha Rose Shulman's 1982 cookbook Fast Vegetarian Feasts says something more about today's fast-fast-fast culture than was intended at the time: "Delicious, Healthful Meals in Under 45 Minutes!"

Wow, have things changed that much? I spent an hour puttering on tonight's supper and didn't think a lot about it, especially because I was doing other things as well while things cooked...but then we wash dishes by hand here too. To me that's just how long dinners take, unless you're having scrambled eggs or it's already in the slow cooker. I mean, even waiting for a pizza to come takes forty minutes.

What was tonight's supper? Kind of a smorgasbord, more food than we needed but some of it needed to be cooked and used up, so I cooked it.

Baked salmon fillets (the only thing that went in the oven, and that was the toaster oven)
Leftover sweet and sour turkey meatballs
Sliced sweet potatoes cooked on the stove top and with some chard leaves added at the end
The last bit of yesterday's bread (first time I've used the bread machine in awhile)
Fresh cherry tomatoes and cucumbers
"Steamed Pudding," made with frozen raspberries, fresh rhubarb, and a couple of peaches (it's not really steamed like Christmas pudding--you heat the fruit in a pot and then drop a pancake-like mixture on top, cover the pot and simmer for twenty minutes)

We like to eat, okay? And if it takes awhile--that's fine too. That's what at-home time's about. How hard is it to peel a couple of sweet potatoes, slice them and put them in a pot? It's not like you have to flambe them. How hard is it to slice a cucumber and arrange it on a plate around a bowlful of baby tomatoes? (Total time about two minutes?) How hard is it to put some fruit in a pot, mix about five batter ingredients, plop them on top, and then let the magic of electricity do its thing?

I don't think it's just that people are lazy these days, that cooking has become a thing that comes out of a package. I think it's partly that cooking is presented as too hard by people who are too snobby, who make you worry too much about what goes in the pot with the sweet potatoes, exactly how you're supposed to cut them, exactly how done is done and all that, especially if your mother never showed you how to cook sweet potatoes. People cooked food before they had critics to tell them they were doing it wrong. Unless you burn them black because you forget to add any liquid, you cannot do it wrong, as long as they're the way you like to eat them when they're done. If you like mushy sweet potatoes (I don't), cook them to mush. If you like them cut very thin, cut them very thin. You're the boss of how you want to cook your food--now isn't that more empowering than opening a jar?

Just saying.

A Christmas post? Already?

Well, I was re-reading a book we have called The Perfect Basket. (We have an earlier edition.) It's actually a combination of two earlier books, according to an Amazon review: food mixes for gift giving, and general suggestions for things to put in gift baskets. I like the mix ideas better than the basket ideas, because when you start putting things in a basket (or a bucket or a mixing bowl) the cost can add up very fast. Even a Christmas stocking full of dollar-store things will quickly run well over a few dollars, unless it's a very small stocking.

But that made me think of one of the Deputy Headmistress's Frugal Hacks posts from last Christmas, about thrift shopping/grocery shopping for presents that sort of go together--for instance, a shark book and a shark toy, or a nutmeg grater with some nutmegs. (If you remember, we actually did find a real nutmeg jar and thought of that suggestion.)

And that gave me a couple of ideas to expand on...because it's the middle of summer, prime yard-saling season here, and because I've passed over a few things lately that could, if I had been feeling really creative, have been turned into gifts. I'm still a bit iffy on how much anybody would have wanted the ceramic squirrel-on-a-walnut, even if I had filled the walnut with, say, walnuts...but you never know.

Idea Number One: Focus on basket themes that, besides being appropriate for at least one someone in your life, lend themselves to frugality. For instance, a basket based on someone's favourite decade. Where else are you going to find REAL 1980's stuff except at a yard sale? (Or maybe in your own closet or basement, and then it's free.) Think movies, fad items, magazines, music, toys, gadgets, cookbooks, kitchen items--whatever suits the person. There are stores and online places where you can find favourite candies from each decade, but that might run your costs up. Our nearby bulk store carries some retro candies that don't cost much. Hampstead House (book overstocks in Toronto) is offering a reproduction 1956 guide to entertaining that would be a fun gift along with retro things, but you could probably find an original book like that at a grandma's garage sale.

Idea Number Two: Since it sometimes takes awhile to find enough thrift-shopped/yard-saled basket-worthy things, decide on one or two themes and start collecting up anything that fits. Not that many people are probably into sharks, so choose themes like apples, strawberries, teddy bears, cats, horses and so on. Once you've narrowed your focus, you'll probably start noticing things at sales (or on sale, or in your cupboard) that fit right in and that you would have ignored before. You don't need to get carried away, just a few co-ordinating things can make a basket-type gift special.

Idea Number Three: Go for either the severely practical or the dangerously silly. On the practical side: give a basket of emergency supplies, like candles, matches, flashlight, batteries, vitamins, first aid kit. Or things that are needed in quantity, like postage stamps and bus tickets. Or make a tightwad gift pack for a frugal friend or wanna-be: sandwich bags or foil (for washing and rewashing), calculator, DIY tools, piggy bank, used copy of The Tightwad Gazette, coupon organizer, rubber spatula.

Dangerously silly? Also mostly for those who don't think there's anything wrong with giving or receiving used items: give a nice selection of weird,wonderful and inexpensive. Dancing hamsters come to mind.

Idea Number Four: Use some of the typical basket/filling ideas, but concentrate on items that you have on hand or that you come across at thrift shops, or maybe on sale at the grocery store. How many of these would you skip over at the thrift store?: small rolling pin, cookie cutters, any kind of containers that might hold cookies or other baking, doilies, cutting board, cloth napkins, butter knives (to give with a teacup, scone mix etc.), trays, jars, clear canisters, Bundt pan (to hold homemade cake mix), funny or pretty mugs (to hold candy canes and cocoa mix), knitting needles (I don't see crochet hooks as often, not sure why), a cassette of fiddle music (maybe to go in a Little House basket?), seed sprouter (for a health food basket)...endless possiblities.

Idea Number Five: Get inspired by a book. The last Hampstead House catalogue had a lot of possibilities that could go well with gift items, and you can often find similar titles at thrift shops. Examples: Heart-Friendly Cooking. Chocolate Recipes. Green Clean. Guide to Walking in Canada. Shameless Shortcuts (a book of household hints). Porridge. Taking Tea. And so on.

Idea Number Six: Go totally original, but (repeat this carefully) do not go overboard if your aim is to keep the gift under a certain dollar amount. The following ideas could be made either inexpensively or VERY expensively, so keep it in mind: A new-homeschooler basket with a timer, pens, paper, Nerf ball, anti-stress vitamins, how-to-homeschool book, math manipulatives, magnifying glass, favourite readaloud, Sharpies, etc. A Little House in the Big Woods/Little House on the Prairie basket with a sunbonnet, small rag doll, candy sticks, jar of plum jam, string of beads, homemade pancake mix, Little House craft or cookbook or paperdolls, maybe some Lincoln Logs. An "I love my 18-inch doll" pajama party set with handmade matching pajamas or nighties and/or slippers for girl and doll, matching pillowcases (handmade, they're easy), popcorn, cocoa mix, marshmallows.

And of course you can go with more usual basket themes, like sewing or crocheting supplies, but again, be careful--these days even spools of thread cost more than you'd think. Maybe pick out one more expensive and wanted item, and fill in with scavenged and inexpensive things, like (thrift-shopped) pattern magazines.

Good hunting.

Why there is more to life (and math) than long division (thought for the day)

"In our age of calculators and computers, we must question how much time even good students of arithmetic should spend working pages of problems of ever-increasing size....Curriculum improvements come slowly in the school world. But homeschoolers have an advantage. With just a decision of one or two people, you can make any changes you want. Will you skip the pages with three- and four-place divisors and let your children, instead, learn some BASIC computer programming? The choice is up to you."--Ruth Beechick, You CAN Teach Your Child Successfully (1984)

P.S. In case you're too young to know this, BASIC here refers to the programming language, not the fact that it was basic.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why we can trust God (thought for the day)

"....Trying to get it right is a dangerous thing, Timothy, and He does not like it."

His head pounded...."What do you mean?"

"I mean that getting it absolutely right is God's job....Must I remind you that your future belongs to God, and not to you? Please unlock your gate, Timothy. Leave it swinging on the hinges, if you will. This thing about our future must go totally out of our hands. We cannot hold on to it for another moment."--Jan Karon, These High, Green Hills

Sunday, August 08, 2010

One WOW party idea (or maybe for a science co-op?)

Little Men in My Library has a detailed post about a science-themed party they hosted.

Saturday's yard saling and thrift shopping and just not paying too much overall

We are trying hard to stick to useful stuff, not just the giant ceramic walnut with a squirrel on top that I saw at a yard sale yesterday morning and left right where it was. (Kind of like this one.) (Now if I had seen this one instead, I might not have been able to leave it there.)

What did we bring home?

The Bible Book of Lists, by Joy MacKenzie and Shirley Bledsoe--looks very useful

The Story of the Church, by Walter Russell Bowie

The Sacred Journey: a memoir of early days, by Frederick Buechner

Little Women Living Classics kit--not a book, a "treasure chest" with embroidery stuff, a card game, map of Civil War battles and so on--just a couple of the paper dolls and a booklet of game instructions are missing (OK, that IS practical. Not that things are missing, but that there's a brand-new mini-embroidery set in there plus all the historical stuff.)

See Through History: Ancient Rome, by Simon James (an illustrated book with transparencies)

A big boxful of ribbon for $2

Some knit fabric that Ponytails bought--how cool is that? (It's something she wanted.)

About $50 worth of groceries from Giant Tiger--enough to hold us for awhile

A pair of lace-up runners for Crayons, also from Giant Tiger

Graph paper and page protectors for The Apprentice's fall term, also from Giant Tiger

And The Apprentice brought me home three free Family Circle magazines that the hair salon was cleaning out. I appreciated that very much.

Sharing what we know (around the blogworld)

The Deputy Headmistress has created a long, generous post summarizing a lot of things that more people should know about eating frugally. Some of those ideas we've tried here, some we haven't.

CM, Children and Lots of Grace posted awhile back about the Absolute Best Homeschool Method Ever.

Art Projects for Kids shares an art teacher's favourite art supplies. (HT to A Dusty Frame.)

For Ponytails: How to make a skirt out of a t-shirt, really fast. (Also linked from A Dusty Frame.)

You can study moths and fireflies at Handbook of Nature Study, chop wood at At Home on the Rock, and check out Brenda's pantry at Coffee Tea Books and Me.

Thanks to all of you who share your lives and talents with the rest of us!

Friday, August 06, 2010

Gratitude Ten

1. Sun-warmed cherry tomatoes on the plant
2. The smell of tomato leaves
3. The prickliness of zucchini leaves
4. Just-forming tiny zucchini...this reproduction continues to astonish me
5. An invention that takes up the entire rec room floor
6. A homemade doll as small as your thumbnail
7. Gail Vaz-Oxlade's budgeting website
8. Pencil crayons left over from thirty years ago, still mixed in with the new wasn't easy to write your name in such a small space...Peacock Blue was my favourite
9. Far-away Nephew turning three
10. Mr. Fixit's vacation-week cooking

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Done making the French workbooks--gathering up the pieces

Relief--the French curriculum is ready for this year!

Why is our French curriculum costing so little? Because I'm using and re-using almost everything I can find on our shelves to meet the grade 4 and grade 8 Ontario standards. The public library is helping too--I found several kids' books about bugs in French, and some of them were even Canadian. (I don't usually worry about the provincial curriculum, but in this case it was most useful for setting reasonable limits on what to include.)

Here are some of the bits and pieces we're using:

Apprendre à écrire sans faute, 1993 edition. I just found this at the thrift shop and it would be a great supplement for around grade 8, since it does something completely different than the "regular" curriculum. Meant for French-speaking students, it's a workbook where you fill in word endings or a choice of two or three words--the sorts of things French students might mix up. Think homophones. Is this where you use ses or where you use ces? (they sound the same but mean something quite different). It would also be very good for encouraging dictionary skills, since you wouldn't expect English-speaking students to know all the vocabulary that's included.

The Kids Can Press French & English Word Book (pulled apart for vocabulary pages)

Ma vie de mouche. Translation of Diary of a Fly. Very silly but fairly easy to read. Borrowed from the library.

French is Fun: Lively Lessons for Beginners, Book A. 1987 edition we bought used about ten years ago. The Apprentice used it for a year and it's pretty worn. Ponytails can use it to save me from having to write out some of the grammar explanations.

Online edition of of the Louis Segond Bible

Je Veux Chanter, by Carole Silvera and Marianne Petit-Clerc. A really long story around this little book of praise choruses...I bought it from a church in Quebec in 1984, where they used it regularly for evening worship.

Collins Robert French School Dictionary (this is our little dictionary)

Collins Robert French English English French Dictionary, 1984 printing (this is our big dictionary). Won in high school as a book prize.

Bescherelle Complete Guide to Conjugating 12000 French Verbs--bought used who knows how long ago, probably at a yard sale. If you don't know what a Bescherelle is, I can only compare it to the Strong's Concordance of French verbs. According to Wikipedia you can get them in other languages as well.

Ma grammaire d'observation 4e, by Daniel Poulin and Claude Simard (1984 edition). Bought from the same big booksale where I found Les Insectes. Just charts of verbs and endings, but meant for younger (French-speaking) school kids.

Several copies of Enfants Québec magazine from the library discard rack. We can ignore the pregnancy stories and use the bits about children's clothes, toys and food. The ads are also very helpful for learning current expressions.

Les Insectes: texte de Marie-Claude Ouellet. As I've mentioned before, this was my main source of ideas for our lesson binders.

Prières Dans L'Arche, by Carmen Bernos de Gasztold. A classic, available in English as well (Prayers from the Ark, translated by Rumer Godden). And there are bugs in it! Oh, and check these out on You-tube--the prayers come to life!

How to Draw Bugs, by Michelle Petty Just an add-on.

And...two bug sticker/activity books I bought on sale at the bookstore. Whoah, something bought new! They're not in French either--just for fun and bug familiarity. As I mentioned before, I also took some very old unused bug stickers to make flash cards, and the Apprentice also contributed some bug stickers from her stash.

Curriculum Blog Hop

Want to see what other homeschoolers are using this year? Want to post your curriculum choices? Link up to the Curriculum Week Blog Hop at Heart of the Matter Online. (I haven't linked yet, I'm just passing it on.)
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