Wednesday, February 23, 2011

We are around...sort of...

Due to computer issues, we are able to be online this week just long enough to check emails.

But we'll be back to posting in a few days.

Friday, February 18, 2011

What's for supper? Really cleaning out the fridge

(Groceries tomorrow)

4 bone-in chicken breasts, cooked in the slow cooker with sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, and leftover carrots--it tasted like roast chicken
Mashed potatoes
Leftover bean-pepper salad
Tightwad Gazette Cuban bread (a homemaking lesson from this morning)

Dessert: choice of pears cooked in apple juice (with yogurt or milk), canned pineapple, bran muffins, pumpkin cake  (I had a can to use up)

On kitchens, big, small, and minimal

The Deputy Headmistress has a post about minimalist kitchens today on Frugal Hacks.  Not as in decorating, but in function.

Well, I just reposted the Treehouse Kitchen questions and answers, which, strangely enough, I got from the DHM a few years ago.  And you can even see pictures of what we had for dinner last night.  (Thanks, Ponytails.)

And yes, I do like having a big kitchen.  We also have a pantry/cold room in the basement, to store extra groceries, the turkey platter, and all those sorts of things.  And having lived here for a long time now, we've had the leisure to stash, somewhat, and to pick up a few extra gadgets very cheaply at yard sales: a popcorn popper, a sandwich maker.  We also inherited a bunch of the grandparents' kitchen tools and pots and jars, some of which are still in the pantry.

But it wasn't always that way.  Mr. Fixit and I have lived in smaller places, with smaller kitchens, and we definitely had less stuff then.  Of course we had fewer people, too, so we got by with smaller baking dishes and fewer plates and forks.  We've almost always had a toaster oven, a food processor (wedding present), a Crockpot, and a pressure cooker.  We got by for many years without a microwave, and we had a "real" blender for only a short time--I have a 20+-year-old immersion blender, or we use the food processor.

I think the key to going "minimal" is to know what you're going to cook, most of the time, and the minimum of equipment that you need to cook and serve those dishes.  If you want to make muffins frequently, you want muffin pans.  If you make a rice a lot, maybe you want a rice cooker, or at least a dependable pot with a tight lid.  My mom didn't do that much chopping, so she got away with a couple of not-so-great knives; for me, having at least one good big knife around is basic.  I've found that a big 4-cup glass measuring cup is so useful that I'd hate to be without it, or at least something of similar size (any quart-size plastic container would do); I also hate cooking without a whisk and a rubber spatula.

And even if you don't cook a lot, think about what you buy ready-made, and what you need to pop open, store, and serve that.  If you buy unsliced bread, you need a good bread knife, and something to slice it on.  Same with cheese.  If you get takeout Chinese food, it's very helpful to have an assortment of serving spoons, the kind you get in flatware completer sets.  (Check thrift stores.)  We also inherited a couple of lidded serving bowls that have been very useful for more than just mashed potatoes: I use them for mixing instant pudding, making yogurt, steaming couscous, serving salad; and since they're ovenproof, you can even bake in them or at least keep things warm in the oven. 

What are your own kitchen basics?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A second French lesson on camels...and a bit of Raffi

A followup to the first magazine-based lesson from earlier in the week:

This lesson was a lot simpler than the felt story.  We just read the article about Pato, the camel who lives at the Granby zoo.  Because the story referred to several body parts (Pato's back, leading someone by the nose), I asked the girls to point to particular body parts on the camel illustrations.  And we sang the French equivalent of "Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes." (The little girl in the video is doing the actions to Raffi's version of the song from his "Rise and Shine album--one of the Apprentice's favourite tapes when she was little.)

That's all.

What's for Supper? Wednesday and Thursday, Cleaning out the Fridge


Lotsa Leftovers.



Pressure-cooker soup made with dried white beans, a few canned tomatoes, a bit of pasta, celery, and the last onion
Sandwiches made with this and that


Graham crackers


Pork Meatballs
Frozen hash browns baked with homemade soy sauce-milk gravy--I baked the meatballs first, then added them to a casserole full of hash browns, poured the gravy over it, and baked the whole thing for awhile longer
Bean salad made with a can of mixed beans and some chopped green pepper
Canned pineapple, bran muffins

Photos by Ponytails

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Great stuff on Like Merchant Ships...and doll clothes links

Meredith doesn't post much anymore on Like Merchant Ships, but she keeps her Tumblr page updated with lots of links to cool, frugal and beautiful things she finds online.  And lately there have been some great links:  homemade cake sprinkles, Ponytails' favourite Toad-in-the-Hole eggs, and a link to the HomeJoys blog

I especially enjoyed looking through HomeJoys (lots of bread tutorials there, if you're looking for help) and discovered that Gina used the same doll pattern book I did to make her daughter's doll some clothesGladsome Lights used another of Joan Hinds' books to make baby doll clothes from old clothes.  Oh, and how did I miss this?--she has also made 18-inch doll clothes.

Crayons has been asking for a couple of new things for Crissy and Crystal--I have not had a lot of time for sewing and crocheting but will post photos if we can get them put together.  Somehow it was easier to squeeze it all in when I was crazy busy before Christmas.

Tightwad Gazette Revisited: On Used Things and Hacks

In Tightwad Gazette III, Amy Dacyczyn wrote:
"Even frugal parents who bring home yard-sale toys for their kids still give them only new toys for Christmas.  The new merchandise is given with more honor and enthusiasm, even when the quality is the same.  Kids learn that new is better...."
In the same article ("A New Way to Look at Used Things"),  she wrote:
"Conversely, it's also wrong to assume that used is always a better value.  Each has benefits."
And on one of our Abundance posts a few years ago (linked below), Alison commented:
"This is one of my pet peeves as well. I'd love to be like my grandparents, using household items 40 and 60 years after purchase but as you all have pointed out, that's not easy to do these days even if you are well-intentioned and determined."
Has anything changed since Amy's mid-90's musings on the mystique of new stuff?

As far as we Squirrels are concerned, no.  In fact, I'd say we're even more likely to be spending our money on certain types of used things than we were back then, thanks to Ebay, online used booksellers, and so on. "Vintage" has become a funkier cousin of "used."  And in some ways it is easier now to hang on to older things we still have, because it's now easier to find parts to fix them. 

I think our family has even moved to a level of used-stuff-appreciation beyond what we might have considered normal fifteen years ago...particularly in the area of gift-giving to each other, or in acquiring what you might call more frivolous, optional, or hobby items.  That comes partly out of the fact that what's out there in new stuff (for instance, toys) in our price range is pretty junky.  If you have a lot of money to spend, there are things out there of higher quality; but if you have to choose, say, between one new $10 item from the discount department store, and $10 worth of nice thrift-shopped stuff,  the used stuff usually wins out, and not just because you can get more of it.  When we're buying gifts for people outside our own family, though, we almost always buy something new, unless we know them really well.

And that's the catch.  I don't think our way of looking at stuff is very well accepted outside of the circle of people like Frugal Hacks fans and Treehouse readers.  If you're reading this, the odds are that you're probably a bit out of the mainstream too.  If you go, for instance, onto a forum discussing the Tightwad Gazette books, you'll read a lot of "ughs" and "that's borderline child abuse" and so on, especially from parents who I think are a bit younger than I am.  When we talk to people starting families, they take it for granted that they'll be buying all-new baby gear. Ecology is big and all that, but at the same time, kids growing up in this century are more conditioned than ever to be entitled to all the new toys that they want.  And that includes toys for grownups--electronics, huge amounts of clothing and shoes, new furniture whenever the old stuff gets a bit tired, fancy sports and exercise equipment whenever we make a new fitness resolution, and so on.

Amy pointed out some of the benefits of used stuff, when you can find it:  that, as I said, you can simply get more of what you want (a big bucket of used Lego vs. a small new package), or that you can find an older, better-made item from a used source.  I've heard people complain about newer slow cookers, that they often cook too hot and burn food, and that older ones are actually better.  As the commenter to our post said, you might find something older and still working, and find that it keeps on going practically forever.  (In the case of our older cars, though, current legislation forced them off the road even though they were still running fine.)  Or you might find that you can solve a problem or have more fun without buying anything at all...or just choose to keep using something even if it's no longer shiny or perfect.  I've posted about some of Crayons' "toy hacks," such as the time she took her own toys and set up something similar to a widely-advertised dolls' winter cabin.  At Christmas time, she set up one of her dolls in a shoebox sleigh, tied to (yard-saled) plastic horses...Mama Squirrel contributed a dollar store "snow blanket" for the snow.

And as Amy says, there are times when we buy new because that makes sense.  We bought some homeschooling books new this year because they were what we needed, and because we chose to support a family-run homeschool store with our purchases.   We bought Crayons' new boots at the discount department store, because we didn't have any bigger ones that fit her and we didn't feel like fooling with used boots.  We bought brand-new heavy-duty plastic shelving for storage (on sale), because we were tired of restacking cardboard boxes and we had no source of comparable used shelving.  We bought a couple of new snow shovels (for obvious reasons).  

But we'll keep on buying as much as we can used...both for our own needs, and just to prove that, often, you can get more for less.

Related posts:
Second-Hand Pants Song (link to You-tube video)
Abundance Post: Make It Do
Abundance Post: Wear it Out
Postscript to Wearing it Out

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's for Supper? Pakistani Beef Curry and Blueberry Crisp

Tonight's dinner:

Pakistani Kima from The More with Less Cookbook, adapted to use cauliflower and other ingredients we had in the fridge
Brown rice
Homemade tortilla chips (flour tortillas cut in triangles and crisped in the oven) (taking the place of chapatis or pappadums)
Yogurt, cottage cheese, applesauce
Blueberry crisp (incorporating the end of a box of bran flakes into the topping); yogurt or milk

Pakistani Kima (our adaptation)

1/2 chopped onion
1 or 2 cloves garlic
1 lb. ground beef
1 tbsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt (much less than the recipe calls for)
dash pepper
dash each cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric
1 good cupful diced canned tomatoes
1 small head cauliflower, cut up (instead of potato)
1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
(The recipe calls for frozen peas, but we didn't have any)

Either saute the onion and garlic in some oil and then add the beef; or brown the meat until it is almost done (what we did) and then add the onion, garlic, and spices.  Either way, get everything in the pan up through the spices.  Then add in the tomatoes and whatever other vegetables you like.  Cover and simmer 25 minutes, checking to see if it needs more liquid.  Serve with rice.

From the Archives: In the Treehouse Kitchen (with 2011 updates)

First posted February 2006.  I thought it would be fun to see what's the same and what's different, five years later.

Our friend the DHM at The Common Room started a Meme for Monday. In other words, a quiz game to play and pass on, in this case about our kitchens and cooking habits.

1. How many meals does most of your family eat at home each week? How many are in your family?

Two adults, one teenager, two younger children. We eat most meals at home, maybe eat out once a month. Mr. Fixit sometimes stays at work over lunch and goes out for a burger. 2011: As of this month, we're back where we started: The Apprentice, done with high school brown bagging and microwaving, is home for most meals again.

2. How many cookbooks do you own?

I thought I had quite a few, but definitely not as many as the DHM's guess of 300. Maybe 40? I have some doubles for the girls (for when they're out on their own someday). 2011: about the same.  I've acquired a few new ones, but have given some away as well.

3. How often do you refer to a cookbook each week?

Including my binder of printouts and clippings? Probably several times a week.

4. Do you collect recipes from other sources?

The Internet is one of my favourite sources as well, particularly recipes from friends' blogs. I also think the recipes from Canadian Living turn out pretty well. As Mama Lion said in her responses, the Internet has definitely changed my cookbook-buying habits and also my clipping-and-saving habits. Reading the Hillbilly Housewife's site alone has been the equivalent of a new cookbook.  2011: There are a couple of other blogs that have become useful over the past five years--Grocery Cart Challenge and A Year of Slow Cooking are two frequent recipe sources.

5. How do you store recipes?

The ones I like go into a binder. Clippings I'm just thinking about go in an accordion file.

6. Do you follow recipes pretty closely, or use them primarily to give you ideas?

Depends on what it is. I've read so many recipes for things like lentil soup that by now I just notice "oh, they put in oregano and carrots, maybe I'll try that." But some recipes work so well just the way they're written that I don't want to change them. I like recipes that give you variations and suggestions for substitutions, because I don't always have whatever-it-is on hand.

7. Is there a particular ethnic style or flavor that predominates in your cooking?

How about this: Post-vegetarian/tightwad/comfort food with a few shots of Mennonite and Schwabian. (Mr. Fixit's family cooked in an Eastern European style that combined German, Hungarian and Croatian cooking influences.)  2011:  Add a sprinkle of low-salt seasoning.

8. What's your favourite kitchen task related to meal planning and preparation?

Taking something out of the oven that smells good. And maybe puttering around before supper time, getting everything on the table.

9. What's your least favourite part?

Peeling things.

10. Do you plan menus before you shop?

I usually have several meals in mind but I don't always know when we're going to have them.

11. What are your favourite kitchen tools or appliances?

Crockpot, toaster oven, timer. And Mr. Fixit's power grinder that sharpens knives, but that's in the garage.

12. If you could buy one new thing for your kitchen, money no object and space not an issue, what would you most like to have?

A gas stove and new curtains.  2011:  another breadmaker--ours finally gave out.  And a big  flat griddle to make pancakes on.  And one of those handy taps that run beverage-hot water.

13. Since money and space probably are objects, what are you most likely to buy next?

A blender, if I can find one at a yard sale. (I want to make milkshakes.)  2011:  We did buy a blender and used it for awhile; but the parts wore out quickly, so now we don't have one again.  :-( 

14. Do you have a separate freezer for storage?

Yes, we just got one.

15. Grocery shop alone or with others?

We all go together on Saturdays, and then Mr. Fixit goes to the butcher's when he's at that end of town.  2011: we don't go to the butcher's any more, but we do usually still shop on Saturdays.

16. How many meatless main dish meals do you fix in a week?

It depends on the week. Usually a couple of nights a week, and then I guess you could count "meatless leftovers" the next day!

17. If you have a decorating theme in your kitchen, what is it? Favourite kitchen colours? (And yes, I spell Canadian; doing it the other way is like walking backwards for me.)

A theme? "Homeschool Contemporary." Blue and yellow flowered wallpaper. I have a few vintage china things out that I like, roosters and funny-face jam jars.

18. What's the first thing you ever learned to cook, and how old were you?

My mother let me put bacon on the Kraft Pizza Mix when I was about three...

19. How did you learn to cook?

Brownie Cooking Badge when I was nine?

"1. Prepare a breakfast, set the table and serve the breakfast. It should include: juice, cooked cereal, boiled or poached egg, toast and milk. Tea or coffee for adults.

2. Prepare and pack the following in a lunch box:
a) A sandwich made with meat, poultry, fish, cheese, egg or peanut butter filling. [I guess tofu spread wasn't an option?]
b) A raw vegetable, washed and prepared, such as carrots, turnip or celery sticks.
c) A raw fruit or cooked or canned fruit in a leak-proof container.
d) Simple cookies you have made.
e) A hot drink in an insulated container.
Prepare and serve, at a table or on a tray, a lunch or supper to include:
a) Hot soup, either homemade or canned.
b) A sandwich made with meat, fish, poultry, cheese, egg or vegetable filling; with a raw vegetable served on the side.
c) Canned fruit.
d) Milk, tea or coffee for adults."

I also learned from making a lot of dinners during high school (my mom often got home from work right at supper time) and from working for a chef in a camp kitchen one summer. I did NOT learn from the one year of grade 7 home ec I took.

[Oh, I forgot to say that I took a Community Nutrition Worker course ten 15 years ago. But that wasn't about learning to cook--it was more about budgeting and shopping, and getting people to try things like lentils.]

20. Who else would you like to participate?

Has to be somebody else with a blog, right? OK, I tag Marsha at the Abarbablog. 2011: It's up to you!

On crises and blessings

Jeanne posts about trying to get homeschooling back to "normal" after the floods.  One thing she found helpful was Ambleside Online's Helping Hand Emergency Learning Plan, or AO-HELP.  Like the rest of the AO website, this curriculum is free for the using--even more so, since it was designed to use almost all online resources.  It was created in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but with the hope that any parents or caregivers going through a hard time--family or national--might make use of it.

The Deputy Headmistress has some thoughts on what it feels like to be "Yanked" out of a comfortable place.

Brenda, as she often does in her Sunday posts, has some good thoughts about God's blessings.

And one more reassuring post, at Educating Mother"I am able to..."

Monday, February 14, 2011

How homeschoolers do things: French lessons and camels

Part One:  Weekend Planning Time

The Apprentice brought home a few issues of a French-language children's nature magazine, Coulicou Hibou, from the discard shelf at the library.  Canadians will recognize these as a French version of the Owl and Chickadee magazines.  (I've been searching online for the French version, but can't find much--maybe it's not being published now?)
So pretend you're looking over Mama Squirrel's shoulder--this is what I do when I'm first looking at a book or magazine that might or might not fit well with our plan for the year--in this case, what we're already doing for French.

Each issue is 24 pages long; the cover says that it's aimed at (French speaking) children between four and eight. Some pages have very little text or are puzzles; some have longer stories.

I'm flipping through a December/January issue; there's an article about the praying mantis, which fits with our general theme this year of insects; but the language is a bit advanced.  There's a two page spread with facts about the province of Quebec. Something to keep in mind.  There's a long story about Christmas presents, toys, and wanting a puppy...good for everyday vocabulary, but maybe a bit long.

Here's a fun page--hand shadows on the wall, how to make a swan, a bird, and a rabbit. I can imagine using that with the verb "faire," which means "to make, to do." Crayons makes a bird. Ponytails, make a rabbit. Who can make a swan?

Another issue...there's a page of facts about camels. And a photo story about a young camel named Pato who lives at a zoo. That one's probably at about the right level. OK, it looks like this issue is mainly about camels...there's another story about a camel in the Gobi desert, and it has something to do with (oddly enough for the Gobi desert) Christmas. Oh, cool...matching finger puppet cutouts for acting out the story. Or you could use them on a felt board.

Part Two:  Monday Lessons

So that's what we did.  The little figures--several of them--were glued on to fuzzy backing paper (leftovers from Sunday School, years ago) and cut out.  We also needed a key (used one from the junk drawer), a sun (drawn on a yellow Post-It), two Post-Its saying "Dec 24" and "Dec 25", and a bunch of bright cut-up bits of paper to represent feathers.  In the story, the camel and his friend the rooster run away to the desert for the day and can't find their way back; luckily, the rooster is prescient enough to throw a trail of feathers behind him.  That's about it...oh, and a bit of plastic netting--that was to show the camel's enclosure. And a paper Christmas tree (drawn on a Post-It), a cutout of a gift, and a cutout of holiday food--the camel's keepers were busy celebrating while the animals ran off.

What did we do with it?  Mama Squirrel read the story from the magazine, showing the cutout figures as we read.  We didn't translate words as we went along unless it was absolutely necessary.  Afterwards, Ponytails retold the story, partly in English and partly in French, using the cutouts.  Mama Squirrel held up a few of the cutouts and asked for the French words for things like camel, gift, and sun.

At that point the lesson suddenly ended because of an unrelated phone call, but that was enough for one day anyway.  The next lesson will be on Wednesday--stay tuned for an update.

Rabbit-trailing here...French camel stuff online? Facts and colouring pages. More colouring pages.

Here's a children's song:

The words are here.

What's for supper? St.Valentine's Day Dinner

Garlic bread rounds (cut from a submarine bun, spread with margarine and garlic powder, and broiled in the toaster oven)

Salad (lettuce, celery, apple,  homegrown sprouts, and dried cranberries for colour)

Chicken Cacciatore with fusilli (recipe below)

Cocoa Ricotta Cream in fancy dessert dishes, with star sprinkles (left over from a birthday)

Chicken Thighs Cacciatore

I put about eight partly-thawed boneless chicken thighs in the Crockpot, and added about a cupful of diced canned tomatoes, half a chopped onion, and a generous sprinkle (at least a tablespoonful) of tarragon dressing mix.  That cooked on high for about five hours, until the chicken was cooked through but not yet falling to pieces.  About an hour before dinner, I added a package of fresh mushrooms and a can of tomato paste...the tomato paste could have been added earlier, but I wasn't sure how much thickening the sauce would need.

We served sauce and pasta separately, but you could combine them for serving if you prefer.  We also had grated Mozzarella cheese  on the table for topping--no deals on Parmesan lately.

Tarragon...making the most of a mix

Dried tarragon is not something I always have on hand, even though it tastes good in a white sauce.  It's probably not on most people's basic-pantry lists.

But I did buy some before Christmas, because I needed it for two different kinds of dressing mix intended for gifts--Tarragon Dressing Mix and Dilled Dressing Mix.  The recipes came from Diane Phillips' book The Perfect Basket.  (Ours is older than the edition shown there.)

After making up our food baskets, I had some of the tarragon mix left.  The trouble is, hardly anyone here likes homemade salad dressing.  Mr. Fixit is strictly a bottled Thousand Island fan, and the girls often don't use any dressing at all.

So what to do with this mixture?  Or with any other similar herb or salad dressing mixture that doesn't exactly suit your style?

1.  Mix it with sour cream, yogurt, tofu, etc. for a dip or to serve on potatoes.
2.  Use instead of Italian seasoning for things like soup, spaghetti sauce/chicken cacciatore, and meatloaf.  This works very well for us, since two Squirrels are allergic to the rosemary that's usually included in commercial Italian seasoning.
3.  Use in white sauce instead of plain tarragon.
4.  ??  (I'm still finding ways to use it up.  It did make a lot.)

The recipe for the Perfect Basket dressing mix is:  1/2 cup dried tarragon, 1/4 cup dried thyme leaves, 2 tbsp. dry mustard, 2 tsp. salt (can be reduced), 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper.  Shake it up before using.


It's Ponytails! I thought I would do a post about love here. Enjoy!

It's Valentine's Day! Here are some love(ly) quotes:

"Friends... They cherish one another's hopes. They are kind to one another's dreams."

-Henry David Thoreau

"I love you, not because you are perfect, but because you are so perfect for me."


"A friend loves at all times..."

-Proverbs 17:17

A friend is someone we turn to
when our spirits need a lift,
A friend is someone we treasure
for our friendship is a gift.
A friend is someone who fills our lives
with beauty, joy, and grace
And makes the whole world we live in
a better and happier place.

-Jean Kyler McManus


Saturday, February 12, 2011

On prayer and culture

"As Thomas Merton wrote, when it comes to prayer, we are all beginners. 
"We get bored and distracted. Our mind quickly wanders to a million different things, and we begin to feel the pressure of the world creeping in, demanding that we cut our prayer time short. Even Theresa of Avila, that great Catholic master of prayer, admitted to shaking the sands in her hourglass to make the time go by faster. There are great stories that reflect these mundane moments as well.  
"I remember when I was younger my mother took me to see The Fiddler on the Roof. I got a kick out of Tevye, the Russian milkman who is always talking to God. At one point his horse is injured and he is forced to drag the milk cart on his own. Discouraged, Tevye looks to God to make sense of things:   'I can understand it when you punish me when I am bad; or my wife because she talks too much; or my daughter when she wants to go off and marry a Gentile, but . . . what have you got against the horse?'"--Michael Flaherty, President of Walden Media
Read more here.  Hat tip to Suitable For Mixed Company.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Are you a curriculum junkie?

Are you looking for one magic product that's going to solve all your homeschooling problems?
Do you have a lot of stuff you thought you'd use and didn't but that you're still hanging onto?
Or, on the other hand--do you have the fullest table every year at the used curriculum swap?

Books and Bairns wants to know...and she has links to some other online discussion on this topic.

As for, not junkies here.  Book lovers, yes...but, if anything, I tend to be under-interested in more "packaged" homeschool materials.  Partly because I can't afford to jump onto any curriculum bandwagon that's going to require more than a few dollars' output...that may mean that we miss out on some great but pricey stuff, but that's just the way things are.  Also because you can come up with a lot of your own great ideas by using books such as Ruth Beechick's 4-8 guide...and that does save on bubblewrap.

But even if something's cheap or free...well, I might try it out, and I have (otherwise I would never have signed on for the year of Review Crew), but generally I already know what has worked well for us and where we're headed, so I'm cautious about making big changes even with free stuff.  Knowing that Ambleside Online gives us year-by-year direction has been a huge blessing to us over the past decade--and has kept me out of many curriculum rabbit trails.  As for the subjects not directly covered by AO--math, languages, extra science--we've taken it year by year and switched mainly when we ran out of levels (Miquon Math).

What's your junkie status?

(Related post: Is there a homeschool store in your cupboard?)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What's for supper? Bratwurst and bits and pieces

Tonight's supper menu:

Bratwurst sausages, cooked in a skillet with enough water to steam
About a third of a bag of perogies, boiled and then added to the skillet
A bit of sauerkraut, added to the skillet at the end

Mixed sweet potatoes and black beans from last night, spread in a pan and breadcrumb topping added--an improvement on plain reheated leftovers
Applesauce, cottage cheese

Dessert:  whatever's around.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Thursday Homeschool Plans

9 a.m.: New hymn (see video), Tennyson's poems, and several pages from Marva Collins' Way, which we are reading parts of both for Black History Month and for some character building/academic inspiration.

9:20 a.m.: Crayons do math and Bible Geography with Mom. Ponytails work on independent math and other work.

9:50 a.m.: French: We are supposed to be reading from Les Insectes, but the book has temporarily disappeared so we may have to do something else. Also: French Bible copywork.

10:10 a.m.: Crayons take a break, Ponytails work with Mom.

10:30 a.m.: Ponytails take a break, Crayons do English with Mom. Review the parts of speech, and read two pages about how to make the most of watching educational "T.V. specials." Which shows how old that book is.

10:50 a.m.: "Educational T.V. Special." To be decided...we were going to watch a Christian dinosaur video that Mama Squirrel picked up from a freebie box, but after checking it out online it appears that there were quite a few issues with this movie, so we will choose something else.

Lunchtime: Ponytails work with Dad.

1 p.m.: Crayons do geometry (from Math Mammoth Grade 4) and finish a chapter from George Washington's World. Ponytails finish independent work and do any needed work with Mom.

2 p.m.: Group reading from Bulfinch's Age of Fable. Homemaking lesson: read several pages from the Food chapter in Hidden Art of Homemaking, and do some baking together.

3 p.m.: Teatime.

What's for supper? Fish and veggies

Tonight's supper:

Baked Alaskan pollock (frozen block of fish)
1 large sweet potato, sliced and baked
Canned black beans, baked along with the sweet potato
Reheated couscous
Cottage cheese
Banana mini-muffins

Monday, February 07, 2011

Food prices will be going up...again

One of Grandpa Squirrel's recent weekend papers (The Star) ran this article about projected rising food costs in Canada.

If you search Google News for related articles about higher food prices, you'll see similar articles in papers from the UK and Australia.

Actually I hadn't thought that prices around here had been that bad lately--it has seemed like we've been getting more groceries for the money, at least at the discount supermarket. We've found some very good deals on meat and day-old bread. But according to the article, we're in a bit of a safe bubble around here (check out this new-model upscale grocery)--and it could pop any time.

Not to spread black clouds around...but it's always good to be reminded. You never know when your saving skills may be what keeps your family going.

How homeschoolers do things: science at home

Check out the blog At Home Science for some very keen experiments and book ideas. Many of the recent posts are drawn from studies in one of Paul Fleisher's Secrets of the Universe volumes.

(Thanks to the Ambleside Online list member who pointed this blog out!)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Quote for the day: the centre is poetry

"To try to teach literature by starting with the applied use of words, or 'effective communication', as it's often called, then gradually work into literature through the more documentary forms of prose fiction and finally into poetry, seems to me a futile procedure.  If literature is to be properly taught, we have to start at its centre, which is poetry, then work outwards to literary prose, then outwards from there to the applied languages of business and professions and ordinary life."--Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination

Arithmecode Puzzles (free math supplement from the newspaper)

If you get a Canadian newspaper, it may run Dave Mitchell's weekly Arithmecode puzzle.  Here's a sample.  The answer is always a five-letter word, and you have to work through the clues in order to figure out all five of the letters.

If you don't, check out his website:  you can buy the puzzles in booklet form, and they come in different levels (junior etc.).

Our local paper has been running Arithmecode for years, and I used to give the weekly pages to The Apprentice, as a supplement to her regular math work.  When she was too young to understand some of the clues (things involving percentages and so on), I'd work those parts with her and then have her do the parts she knew how to do. 

Recently I've started doing the same with Crayons.  I work it with her, showing her what the more advanced clues mean (what is 200% of something?).  Sometimes I even let her use a calculator--because punching in a series of decimal numbers accurately is a skill in itself.  She usually figures out the word by about the fourth letter.

I figure that the puzzle's there for the doing, and we're already paying for the paper--might as well get all we can out of it.

P.S.  Recently our newspaper has also been running the serial stories available through  They've done Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water and are now running Keep Your Eye on Amanda, about raccoons. 

From the not-so-long-ago archives: A book for a snowy day

First posted February 2010

Today there's so much snow here that you couldn't even see the front steps, much less walk down them. (Mama Squirrel fixed that--she's hoping for some packages, and anybody who's ever seen NFB's Special Delivery (a piece of animation for adults, not children) will know why you have to keep things clear for the mail carrier.

Anyway--if you're looking for snow books and your kids are a bit past The Snowy Day but maybe not ready for The Long Winter, here's a book that our Squirrelings enjoyed at that age: Oliver and Amanda and the Big Snow. How could we not identify with a snow book that starts out with "Digging Out?" (The Oliver and Amanda books are structured like Frog and Toad, with four or five short stories in each one.)

And if you're really an expert on snow stories, you can always go back to our Carnival of Homeschooling: Snowed-In Edition, and see if you can identify the bits of books there. (Answers here.)

On Snowstorms and Preparedness

Yes, we have some of this too.  And there's supposed to be more.
"Nobody knows what will happen," Pa said.  "Prepare for the worst and then you've some grounds to hope for the best, that's all you can do."

Laura objected.  "You were all prepared for the worst last winter, Pa, and all that work was wasted.  There wasn't one blizzard till we were back here and not prepared for it."

"It does seem that these blizzards are bound to catch us, coming or going," Pa almost agreed.

"I don't see how anybody can be prepared for anything," said Laura.  "When you expect something, and then something else always happens."

"Laura," said Ma.

"Well, it does, Ma," Laura protested.

"No," Ma said.  "Even the weather has more sense in it than you seem to give it credit for."--Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

From the archives: Where were you when the blizzard hit?

First posted January 28, 2007.  See the original post  for several interesting responses.  The photo below was found here.

January 28th, 1977 was the first day of the Great Lakes Blizzard of 1977. If you never realized just how significant that snowstorm was--well, it has its own page on Wikipedia, so there you go.

Some people associate this storm with Buffalo. We didn't live in Buffalo, we lived in the same part of southern Ontario we do now. But you need to understand the connection we had with Buffalo, because of TV and particularly because of Channel 7 WKBW, the home of Eyewitness News, Commander Tom, Rocketship 7 (the show that featured Gumby and Davey and Goliath), and all the other cool American shows that we saw thanks to the marvel of cable TV. We were about as familiar with the goings-on in Buffalo as we were with things at home: weekly deals at Bell supermarkets, Muscular Dystrophy Carnivals, how the hockey team was doing, what was on fire...and later on, reminders to "remember the hostages in Iran." (I never hear the Sabre Dance without thinking of hockey.)

Anyway...on January 28th, the storm hit, and it lasted until February 1st. Think of the beginning of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Think of The Long Winter and Snowbound with Betsy. It was That Kind of a Storm. I know winters were worse back then, but this was the one we remembered. According to Wikipedia,
In the hardest struck areas snowmobiles became the only viable method of transportation. In Western New York and Southern Ontario, snow built up on frozen Lake Erie and the snow cover on the ground over land at the start of the blizzard provided ample material for the high winds to blow around into huge drifts. The combination of bitter cold, high winds, and blowing snow paralyzed the areas most strongly affected by the storm. Lake Ontario was not frozen, which meant that Northern New York did not have to deal with previously accumulated snow blowing off the lake’s surface. This did allow for considerable lake effect snow to occur, that when coupled with the existing snow cover and wind also created paralysis.
Here's another interesting page that says, "By the night of Friday, January 28, 1977, thousands of people were stranded in office buildings, schools, police stations, fire halls, bars, factories, cars, houses and in the homes of strangers. Most highways were impassable, train lines were blocked and airports were closed."

Mr. Fixit's dad was coming home from work that afternoon and ended up leaving his car several blocks away because the streets were so filled with snow abandoned cars that he couldn't get through. He was also only wearing a light overcoat! He couldn't find their house but managed to get to the neighbour's and stayed there until he could make it home--next door. [Update: that's Mr. Fixit's account. Grandpa Squirrel says that he did get to his house, banged on the door and rang the doorbell--but the power was out, everybody was in the basement keeping warm around the fireplace, and nobody could hear him to let him in!] A few miles to the south, Mama Squirrel was just happy to be let out of school early for the day, and she remembers her own dad bringing somebody who got stranded at work to spend the night.

And it just kept snowing! This page details some of the serious and sad results of the storm, as well as this "disaster": "Four Buffalo Braves professional basketball games were postponed as well as two Buffalo Sabres hockey games."

As a tribute to Eyewitness News and the Storm of 1977, here's a very short audio clip of Irv Weinstein saying that Buffalo has been declared a disaster area. (Unfortunately, I can't link to more than the site; but a search on that page for Blizzard will get you to the right place.)

What were you doing in January 1977?
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