Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Want to dress like Joyce Radway?*

What did those 1925 dresses look like anyway?

Lots more pictures at that link.

(*Joyce Radway is a character in Grace Livingston Hill's 1925 novel Not Under the Law.  Besides upholstering beds and saving burnt dinners, she can also make a dress overnight.  By hand.  With a collar and cuffs and a turned belt.)

Monday, March 28, 2011

What's in the slow cooker? Sweet Butter Chicken

Although we haven't been finding such astounding meat deals lately as we did last month, we did pick up some boneless chicken thighs on Saturday so that I could finally try Donna-Marie Pye's Sweet Butter Chicken recipe.  (Mentioned previously.)  Planning to go with it:  basmati rice, thawed pita bread (on sale), cut into wedges, carrot sticks.  Our current batch of lentil sprouts are about a day or so away from being big enough to eat, otherwise I'd use them too.

UPDATE--after all that, how did it turn out?  Generally, everybody liked it, and the package of thighs turned out to be one of the less-greasy variety (that's good).  But for the amount of ingredients and work that it took, I think I prefer our Thai-style curried chicken recipe.  With a whole can of evaporated milk combined with tomato paste, this chicken tasted (to me) somewhat as if I had dumped a can of tomato soup into it and added curry spices.  Would I make it again?  Not sure.  But it was interesting.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Saturday thrifting, mostly books

Mostly books again this week...I needed more inspiration for an upcoming workshop.

Low Cost, no Cost Ideas for Youth Ministry $1 (I think I'll give that one to our church's youth director)

The Easter Activity Book, by Susan Vesey, 25 cents (this is an Easter-season twin to a book I posted about last Christmas)

Theme Units Kids Adore: from Ants to Zoos, Gr K-3, 50 cents

Make it Work! Plants: The Hands-On Approach to Science, 50 cents

Hieroglyphs from A to Z: A Rhyming Book with Ancient Egyptian Stencils for Kids, by Peter Der Manuelian, 50 cents. A perfect example of how to ruin an attractive and interesting book with lackluster and unnecessary rhymes.

15 Fun and Easy Games for Younger Learners: Math, by Susan Julio, 25 cents

Ancient Egypt: Facts, Stories, Activities, by Robert Nicholson and Claire Watts, 50 cents

Ancient Greece: Facts, Stories, Activities, by Robert Nicholson, 50 cents

The Usborne Time Traveller Book: Pharaoahs and Pyramids, by Tony Allan. This is one of the original-style Usborne books--it's been around since 1977. We have the Time Traveller bind-up in hardcover that includes this one plus Castle Times, Vikings, and Romans.

I Wonder Why Zippers Have Teeth, and Other Questions about Inventions, 50 cents

I Wonder Why Pyramids Were Built, and Other Questions About Ancient Egypt, 50 cents

NIV Compact Dictionary of the Bible, $1.50

Out of of the Storm, by Grace Livingston Hill, copyright 1929, 1920's or 30's printing, $1.  Last time we were at this store, I picked out two others from a bunch of these vintage GLH's; today there was only this one left.  Be warned that it contains an overdose of racial stereotyping and Aunt Jemima dialect (did they clean that up in the newer paperback edition?).  But Grace Livingston Hill's 1920's take on movie-making is interesting...also some back-bedroom brain surgery (did you know famous surgeons made house calls, scalpel in hand?)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Things we've been doing

1. Shovelling snow. A lot of snow. The most snow that fell in 24 hours in the past four years, and that includes a blizzard three years ago. Having this much snow on the ground, but still having daylight at 7 p.m. to shovel it by, is something my head can't quite put together.

2. Making crackers (a recipe from the first Tightwad Gazette book). The Squirrelings are starting a Homemaking unit about making things from scratch.

3. Getting ready for the local homeschool conference.

4. Getting to "Cornwallis surrenders" in Crayons' history book. (Seemed like the War of Independence would never end.)

5. Ponytails realized that she never did what she wanted to do with some of her yard-saled fabric, so she's been making plans for that. Plus, The Apprentice gave her a box of clothing pass-ons to refashion for spring!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Something new for Canadians: Blog Linkup

Click on the button to find out more. Wednesdays are link-up days!

(Hat tip to Mom Loves Books.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Butterscotch-Chocolate-Chip-Chunk-Oreo Monstrosicookies

Some of you may be wondering what a girl is to do when she's finished school in the middle of a school year and job prospects are not the finest.

This is what I'm doing, anyway.

These frightening monoliths made themselves known to me at our last young adult event, and I decided to recreate them this afternoon. They're Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip cookies, which would be right up there with anything from This is Why You're Fat if only they were deep-fried.

Obviously they are catching on, despite the quadruple-bypass potential, because they're gaining on the Neiman Marcus in popularity. I came by the recipe, originally from Picky Palate, via my youth coordinator, via Amandaleine, via Bon Appetit (who refers to them as the turducken of cookies), via Becky Bakes. Viral cookies, anyone? Mine vary slightly in that I used half butterscotch chips, one quarter chocolate chips and one quarter chocolate chunks, as we were terribly short on chocolate chips. I also was stuck with store-brand chocovanilla sandwich cookies, because Oreo Double Stufs are awfully expensive to buy just to bake with. So get your Stairmaster warmed up...


1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 package Double Stuff Oreo cookies
I know the amounts sound crazy, but that is really how much dough you will need to successfully cover a whole bag of Oreos.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.

Cream butter and both sugars together until well combined. Beat in eggs and vanilla.

In a separate bowl mix the flour, salt and baking soda. Slowly add to wet ingredients along with chocolate chips until just combined.

Using a cookie scoop take one scoop of cookie dough and place on top of an Oreo Cookie. Take another scoop of dough and place on bottom of Oreo cookie. Seal edges together by pressing and cupping in hand until Oreo cookie is enclosed with dough.
I don't have a cookie scoop, it works just as well if you free-form it around the cookie with your hands and perhaps the aid of a teaspoon.
Place onto a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and bake cookies 9-13 minutes (it took me even longer than that) or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

Makes about 2 dozen colossal cookies!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Frugal substitute: Leftover Sweet Potato Cake

Southern cooks have done this for years--used pureed (cooked) sweet potato where Northerners might use pumpkin, such as in pie.

But have you ever tried it in Pumpkin Cake? It works very well. Just make sure you puree the sweet potato very well--you can mix all the wet ingredients in the blender or food processor, just to be sure. I added a sprinkle of cinnamon-sugar on top before baking--sweet potato always tastes good with a bit of extra cinnamon.

Beats putting out a couple of dollars for a can of pumpkin.

(And of course you can do the same thing with any winter squash that you can get to puree smooth.)

Making coleslaw, the quick way (it's also lower-sodium)

What's that stuff? McCormick's No Salt Added Table Shake Seasoning. What does it taste like? Dried veggies, with a hint of lemon, and something like curry. And yes, there are corn syrup solids in it, so if you don't do corn syrup, this won't be for you.

What do we use it on? Mostly things like baked fish that go well with lemon and the curry-ish flavour. Sometimes veggie dip. More recently, Mama Squirrel has discovered that it makes a good substitute for seasoned salt in the Betty Crocker Coleslaw recipe (the type made with a mayonnaise dressing). In fact, right now that's the favourite coleslaw around here, beating out our usual oil-and-vinegar version. It's even easier if you use pre-cut coleslaw mix; this week it was 99 cents a bag at Food Basics.

Here's the recipe, from Betty Crocker's Cookbook.

1/2 cup dairy sour cream or plain yogurt
1/4 cup mayonnaise or white salad dressing (we use salad dressing)
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt or no-salt seasoning
1/8 tsp. pepper (I just throw a little in)
1/2 medium head cabbage, finely shredded or chopped (about 4 cups), plus 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/4 cup) OR half a bag coleslaw mix (we get the Colorful Coleslaw Mix: shredded green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrot)

Mix up everything but the cabbage and onion (or coleslaw mix). Mix in the veggies. If you make it with sour cream, sometimes it seems to need a bit more moisture--you might add just a little milk. Chill until ready to serve.

Linked from Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap, March 2011

Saturday, March 19, 2011

If you and your house were on a desert island

Yesterday I mentioned that I'd found a copy of Flanagan's Smart Home, by Barbara Flanagan.

The subtitle of the book is "The 98 Essentials for Starting Out, Starting Over, Scaling Back."

That concept is introduced at the beginning of the book, but seems to get lost a bit in discussion of whether the items described are durable, well-designed, and/or eco-friendly.  Flanagan doesn't explain exactly how or why she came up with 98 "essential" items for a home--she does say that she was aiming for 100 but that it came out at 98.  As someone said in a review of the book (I think on Amazon), her magic 98 didn't include a toilet plunger...someone else said they can't live without a roll of duct tape.  We could probably debate the "essentialness" of such things as a salt cellar, an electric blanket, a headband flashlight, and a floor lamp in the bedroom; and whether a microwave AND a toaster oven should be essential (yes, we have both, but I admit they do take up a lot of counter space). Also, "98" refers to the number of different items, not the sheer number of objects; for example, "fork" counts as one item, although most households would have more than one.  "Night table" assumes that you have just one.  "Bookcases" count as one item, but books don't figure into the count at all.  She also recommends vinyl records (Mr. Fixit would appreciate that), but the records themselves aren't counted with the 98.   Neither are personal items or clothing.

In contrast to today's "essentials" (based, perhaps, on what a single person living in a small condo would need), here are the useful items acquired by Joyce Radway in Grace Livingston Hill's Not Under the Law (1924/1925), on the first day that she starts housekeeping in a house about the size of a garden shed:

Wooden box, pile of newspapers, and a few peanut shells (came free with the house)
Thread, needles, thimble, pins
Enough cheese cloth for window curtains
Blue and white chintz
Half a yard of white organdie
Blue and white checked apron
"Canned alcohol and a little outfit for cooking with it"  (No, that doesn't mean an apron and chef's hat!)
Paper plates and cups
A sharp knife
A pair of good scissors
A hammer
A can opener
Some tacks
A few long nails
A broom, a scrubbing brush, soap, a galvanized pail, and a sponge
Several wooden boxes and two nice clean sugar barrels (she makes chairs out of those)
Two more aprons (she needs them for a temporary job)

But "one couldn't just exist if one was working, one had to have things tolerably comfortable for resting and eating or one couldn't do good work.  So she went back to her little house and sat down to think.  The conclusion of her meditation was that she decided to buy a saw."

So she takes the train into the city and buys:

A Bible (used)
The saw ("the best of steel")
Gray denim for upholstery
Flowered cretonne to cover her box dressing table
"A lot of wire springs, some upholstery webbing, and twine, a long, double-pointed upholstery needle, and several pounds of curled hair and cheap cotton."
Some personal items like a hairbrush and nightgowns

"It really cost very little to live when one was careful.  As for heat and light, she did not need either at this time of year....Sheets and pillow-cases were not expensive when one bought remnants of coarse cloth and hemmed them; and washing was not hard to do with the outside faucet and drain so near."

One person's salt cellar is, I suppose, another person's saw.

The interest in Joyce's shopping list (fantastical and overly optimistic though it is--living in a garden shed does present some practical problems that GLH never goes near), and the value of the Smart Home book, is similar to the effect that Material World has on its readers.  (You know, the book where people around the world put all their worldly goods out in front of their houses.)  Each one makes you ask yourself--could you live with less?  If you have lived with little, or have been through a bad emergency situation, or have lived with inconveniences such as having to cook in the garage for a season, you might not find the idea of "essentials only" particularly romantic or desirable.  Most of us want enough stuff to be at least comfortable.

But how do you know where to stop?

Do you have a list of 98?  498?  998?

Does everybody need a salad spinner?

What's your take?

Friday, March 18, 2011

When less is more

In life, and in homeschooling:

Getting Freedom from Debt posts about her family's recent experience Accepting Survival Mode.
"I had to take a step back, and look at what was really important, and what absolutely had to be done. It wasn’t easy giving up on my day to day tasks. I no longer needed my Home Management Binder because there was no time, no home, and no schedule. I couldn’t make meals without a kitchen, let alone make them from scratch. Although, I was getting pretty good at using a microwave!"
Cindy (Ordo Amoris) posts about Homeschooling in the Shallows.
"More and more I feel as if in spite of my 29 years in the homeschool community and my relative success with my sons, I am out of touch with the movement. It has become such a flurry of activity it is hardly recognizable anymore. This is conflicting. It is conflicting in the same way The Shallows offers a problem with no solution. It does not offer a solution because there might not be one."
And Juanita at Places Where Grace Is begins a series of posts on Lent.
"A quiet, purposeful beckoning.
An inviting Him into the denial of self.
An emptying of a part of me to make room for His fullness."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

You thought your reading list was challenging?

"A discussion of Little Women included everything from a lesson on the Civil War to an explanation of the allegory in The Pilgrim's Progress, which the little women in Alcott's novel loved to act out.  When the children studied Aristotle, they learned the principles of logical thinking.  Plato's Republic led to de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which led to a discussion of different political systems, which brought in Orwell's Animal Farm, which touched off a discussion of Machiavelli, which led to a look at Chicago's City Council."--Marva Collins' Way (1982)

And how did Marva Collins get so smart?

"I read constantly in order to tie together fragments of information and interweave subjects.  As a business major in college I had not taken many courses in the arts and sciences.  My education was about the same as that of the average grammar school teacher, merely a sampling of some basic courses.  I had to teach myself more.  I read with an urgency so I could teach my students what they needed to know.  I believe a teacher has to keep polishing his or her skills.  You can't take the attitude 'I know how to teach,' and resist learning anything new."
"Theodore shouted, 'Hey, Mrs. Collins, that's cool.  Everything links into something else, doesn't it?'
"Marva beamed.  'Now you've got it.  Every scholar, every writer, every thinker learned from those who came before.  You are all becoming so erudite, we are going to have to dub you MGM--'Mentally Gifted Minors.'"

It's not just me then? (Mama Squirrel, fantasy, and science fiction)

If you ever glance over at Mama Squirrel's Reading List in the sidebar there, you might notice that since the beginning of this year I've read the entire C.S. Lewis Space Trilogy, the Wrinkle in Time books up through A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and two Lloyd Alexander books.

The Space Trilogy I thought was amazing.  Some of the technical devices that Lewis used to tell the story were genius...for example, the scene in Out of the Silent Planet where Ransom is interpreting a lot of important-sounding but really insane propaganda into the language of Malacandra.  It's not only funny, but it's a clever way to both interpret what's being said for us (could you follow all that yourself without help?), and also to show how weak the argument is when it's stripped naked, so to speak.  That Hideous Strength (the third book) would be an awesome book to give to an older teenager who had studied something about fascism.  (And what is it with C.S. Lewis and bear characters?)

Lloyd Alexander, I'm still acquiring a taste for--I like his characters, though, and I can see why girls would like Princess Eilonwy.  The short stories are very thoughtful...they're a bit like Tolkien's stories like "Smith of Wootton Major." 

As for Madeleine L'Engle's science-fantasy books, I've always been careful about them since reading A Landscape with Dragons.   But I recently reread her memoir Two-Part Invention, and when I followed that up with some online searches, I came across the comment that if you want to know what she honestly thought, and what her family's life was really like, you should read her science fiction--not her memoirs or other supposed-to-be-true books.  (Isn't that an intriguing thought that you could apply to other writers and artists as well?  Read their stories, look at their paintings, listen to the music--the truth comes out in unexpected ways.)  Although I had read A Wrinkle in Time years ago, it wasn't exactly my cup of tea; I didn't particularly like the three old ladies.  I never did read it to any of the Squirrelings.  But I really do like the two books that follow it, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet...I think L'Engle was probably at her creative peak through the years she wrote those.

So when I saw a copy of Many Waters (written in the 1980's) at the thrift store, I picked it up, thinking I would at least finish reading those four books that are often grouped together.  By the end of the first few chapters, though, I was baffled.  The style didn't sound like L'Engle's earlier books; the whoosh-you-off-somewhere plot had no point to it; there were un-family-friendly references; and, mainly, it just sounded like some hammered-out book that anybody could have written.   When I checked out the reviews on Amazon, I saw that other readers said the same thing:  "loved the first three, don't bother with this one."

Well, I'm glad to find out it's not just me.  But disappointed too.

I think I'm done my fantasizing binge for now.  (But I might pick up the next Alexander books next time we're at the library, if I remember.)

Linked from It's Your Turn at Educating Mother, March 2011.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's in your hand? (Slow cooker books, and tonight's supper, and keeping things in perspective)

Today we are planning to be out in the afternoon, so I suggested that our household staffer Mr. Crockpot attend to dinner.

Recently I bought a slow cooker book...the second such book I've bought new in two years, I'm not sure what's come over me.  Well, I did have a gift card.  I actually did feel a little strange about that because I had first bought a different, more "intellectual" book with the card and then taken it back to the store (something I hardly ever do), and while I was there, the author of the slow cooker book was in the store doing a demonstration and selling copies of her newest book ...so basically I traded "look-I'm-stretching-my-brain" for "look-what's-for-supper."  One of those never-ending mommy-blogger tensions, right?

I like the new book, although it doesn't lend itself especially well to experimentation...I think that's the difference between cookbooks written by professional home economists (like this one) and those whose recipes aren't "developed" so much as just "made up."   For the same reason, the ingredient lists tend to be fairly long and there aren't a lot of substitutes suggested.  These are mostly...not all, just mostly...what I think of as company recipes.  (That's not to say that they're unrealistic--the author also has a family and often inserts comments about her kids' reactions to certain dishes.  Just that I don't always have everything called for, and it's not always clear where you can adapt and where you shouldn't.)

I've been trying to collect up the ingredients for Butter Chicken for several weeks now, and finally I have the evaporated milk, the jar of tikka paste, even some lime juice...but I don't have the boneless chicken thighs called for.  I do have some bone-in thighs in the freezer, and some boneless chicken breasts...so do I want to try it out with some other part of the bird, or should I wait until we find a sale on boneless thighs?  I know they'd go well with the curry sauce, and I hate to waste all those ingredients on something that could have been better if I'd just been patient.  Especially when I'm not going to be home to keep an eye on it.

Or I could just throw some of the breasts in with one of our standbys, like sauerkraut.

Okay.  What's really on hand today?  Vegetables have all been expensive the last few weeks.  I did get two tubs of sliced mushrooms on sale, and they really need to be used up.  There's also a red pepper--those weren't too outrageous (green peppers were more).  And we have canned tomatoes and tomato paste.  There we go--Chicken Cacciatore, made without anybody's recipe.  Eight partly-thawed chicken breast halves, 1 can tomato paste, 1 lb. sliced mushrooms, 1 cut-up red pepper, a bit of salt and pepper, a bit of garlic powder, and a spoonful of dried marjoram.  Pasta to be cooked when we get home.

I'll get around to the Butter Chicken, and probably some of the other new recipes...like the Butter Chicken, what I usually do if I'm hoping to make something new is write a few of the needed things (the ones I might not normally buy) into each week's grocery list, and see if they're within the budget...when they're all or mostly there, we make the dish. 

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to chicken, mushrooms, and pasta--glad that I didn't have to throw out the mushrooms--and thankful that we have hot water and electricity and a freezer and a Crockpot, and leftover soup from yesterday, and end-of-winter roads that just have a few potholes in them, and a roof that has somehow stayed leak-free over the winter, and Internet that works, and books on the shelf, and spring coming.  And thankful for many other things.

In a world that seems to be very shaken, we are incredibly fortunate.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Just because it's kind of awful...hoof hoof

Pearls Before Swine

(If you never read Pearls Before Swine, you need to know that the crocodiles are always trying to catch the zebras.  But you probably figured that out already.)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thrift store finds from this weekend

Why so many books this weekend?  Mama Squirrel is working on a new thrifted-curriculum project and getting ready for a conference workshop.  But she did notice that the thrift store has raised its book prices a bit recently.


Black church dress for Crayons, $1

Red skirt for Mama Squirrel, $1

Game kit:

Explorations: The World of Languages, Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages, 1980, $1  (devised as late-'70's propaganda for a bilingual Canada, but maybe useful and/or fun for homeschool)


The Tarantula in My Purse, and 172 Other Wild Pets, by Jean Craighead George, .50

It’s Magic, by Henry Gordon, .50

Elizabeth I, by Jacob Abbott,  $1

Boy Craft, Classic Reprint Series, $1  (reprint of a 1920's book)

Amo, Amas, Amat and More, by Eugene Ehrlich, $1

Coles Notes, Macbeth in Everyday English, $1

Coles notes, Macbeth Questions and Answers, $1

What does the Bible Say About… , by Ken Anderson; Nelson A to Z Series, $2

The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope, Penguin Popular Classics, $1

Funny Stories, chosen by Michael Rosen, Kingfisher, $1

The Marquis’ Secret, George MacDonald, ed. Phillips, Bethany House, $2

The Fisherman’s Lady, ditto

Snappy Jazzy Jewelery, by Katie Gayle, Sterling Publishing, .50

Let’s Hide the Word, Gaither/Dobson, $1.50

Beauty for Ashes, Hill, $1

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's for supper? (what to do with leftover mustard sauce)

Do you know what this stuff is?

It's Oktoberfest mustard.  It's kind of sweet, and you put it on German sausages, especially served on buns.

I make my own, from a Canadian Living recipe I clipped years ago (see below).  It's easy to make, but the recipe makes more than we put on the sausages for one meal, and I'm never sure what to do with the rest of it.  (Duh, of course I could cut it in half, but I don't usually think of that while I'm making it.)

Tonight it finally dawned on me that if I mixed the leftover sauce with some honey and butter, it would work just fine for Honey Mustard Chicken.  And it did.

Tonight's menu:

Honey Mustard Chicken, with the last of a jar of sauerkraut
Noodles, peas
Rice pudding for anyone that wanted it, only because I had a bit of leftover rice and the oven was on
Bran muffins, also because the oven was on
Fresh fruit as requested.

Here's the mustard recipe:

Oktoberfest Mustard, as printed in Canadian Living Magazine sometime around 1980

2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/4 cup prepared mustard (not dry--you want regular hot dog mustard here)
3 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup white vinegar

Melt butter in small suacepan.  Whisk in flour and cook over medium heat until bubbling.  Stir in mustard, sugar, and milk.  Cook over low heat until thick and smooth, stirring constantly.  (This takes only a couple of minutes.)  Remove from heat and add vinegar; whisk until smooth.  Pour into glass jar or other container; cover and refrigerate.  Makes about 3/4 cup.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Why there weren't enough children's books...and why there aren't enough children's books

[Baker:] Where are you off to?
[Belle:] The bookshop. I just finished the most wonderful story about a beanstalk and an ogre and a -
[Baker:] That's nice. ...
Have you ever found your own particular suddenly meshing with a much larger general?  For instance, when you read those books about Boomers and GenXers and Beepers, and you suddenly realized that that 40ish guy you knew who worked a McJob and lived in his parents' basement with a reel-to-reel tape recorder wasn't that unique?

I started thinking awhile back about what kids' books used to be like, back when I was growing up--we'll say from the '60's through the '80's.  There were some things that puzzled me, or that I thought I had misremembered.  But I put a lot of that down to growing up in Ontario (rather than in the catalogue-happy U.S.) and in a small-town, working-class kind of place where you wouldn't expect to find a lot of bookstores.

I don't remember most kids I knew owning a lot of books.  My sister and I actually did better than most:  our mom got us the Parent's Magazine Press picture books by mail (Miss Suzy and the rest), plus we got several monthly magazines over the years, plus we were taken to flea markets and odd places where we found older treasures, plus my mom had been a teacher and had a few anthologies and such things around.  Also, we had a great public library, and a fairly good school library. But the standard at-home books of the time were the drugstore, supermarket and discount department store books:  Wonder Books, Little Golden Books, Dr. Seuss, anything printed by Whitman-Golden...and some series books that were easy to come by like Trixie Belden and the purple-bound Bobbsey Twins.  Most homes might have a few older hand-me-down classics around--Grandpa's copy of The Water Babies, or an older sister's cache of Scholastic books.

What there weren't a lot of...from the way things looked to me then...were places where grown-ups bought interesting books--or a lot of grownups who seemed to want to buy or read them.  Most living rooms had chairs, ash trays, televisions, but not bookshelves.  (One of my great-aunts was the exception--she had a little painting/sewing room with a wallful of books.)  And most children's picture books--again, other than the inexpensive ones like The Poky Little Puppy--and novels--other than the short list of real classics--were borrowed from the library.
So I thought about this--realizing that I was fortunate to have been gifted early on with old-but-cherished copies of Winnie the Pooh, Heidi, and Fifty Famous Fairy Stories...and wishing we had held on to that long-gone Mother Goose that I've never been able to identify...and wondering when all that changed...

And then recently I came across this, in Perry Nodelman's 1990's book The Pleasures of Children's Literature:
"In the mid-1980's, the sales of children's books in North America skyrocketed.  The most obvious reason was that the children of the so-called baby-boomers....were beginning to read.  Furthermore, the baby-boomers seemed more willing, or able, than their parents had been to buy children's books.  Because many of them had put off having children until much later in their lives than had been typical, many had already established careers.  Even those well off were often in two-career marriages.  There was more money to spend on relatively nonessential things like children's books."
Yes!--I thought--everybody during the '70's worried about money.   And yes, I think it's true that the later, younger '80's parents wanted more for their kids, wanted to buy them more stuff, wanted them to "read" more (in a qualified sense), had higher expectations (also in a qualified sense).  The inconsistent part, though, is that the parents of the kids I knew were usually as generous as they could afford to be when it came to Christmas and birthday toys...but we hardly ever asked for specific books.  First of all, the Sears catalogue didn't carry books, except for a few Dr. Seuss and baby titles. Besides, wasting your Christmas wishes on books seemed akin to the dentist suggesting you ask Santa for an electric toothbrush.

And though I loved books myself, I didn't have a strong desire to own more than a few.  The library had all my favourites, and surely they would be there forever.
"Meanwhile, the political climate meant that government at all levels had less money to spend on libraries.  According to Adam Hochschild [New York Times Book Review 1994], 'fifteen or twenty years ago, some 85% of all children's books were sold to school or public libraries.  This figure has plummeted'....The dramatic increase in the proportion of books purchased by parents and other relatives transformed the children's book business....Now, the people who buy the most books aren't experts, and they have no way of choosing books other than to try to figure out what the children they know might like.  This means, primarily, things they or their children are already familiar with."--Nodelman, 1996/1992
So there's the crunch, you see.  All of a sudden there was more money and more interest in buying children's books.  But according to Perry Nodelman, that did not mean that parents (and kids with money to spend) immediately went out and started buying the same sorts of books that discriminating librarians and teachers had once chosen for them.  Other than picture books, which did survive as something fairly easy to market, the rapidly changing publishing industry and bookselling industry started to concentrate only on
"1.  Reprintings and new editions of favorite books from the baby-boomers' youth: books by Dr. Seuss, book versions of classic Disney cartoons.

"2.  Other movie and TV tie-ins; books about characters the baby-boomers' children were already familiar with from other media.

"3.  Books about new characters, but ones that came in series, so that once children became familiar with these characters they could read new books about them again and again."--Nodelman, 1996/1992
Now obviously there is more to the last twenty years of children's publishing than that; otherwise how could the Horn Book have survived?  Obviously there are still at least a few good books for older children still being written and still being published and still being sold.  But I think Perry Nodelman makes some good points...and his timeline of the change in the mid-1980's comes more than coincidentally close to that pre-1985 CPSIA ruling (outlawing pre-1985 children's books because of supposed lead hazards).  Why have we been fussing about that for the last few years?  Because those pre-1985 books, lots of them, are the good ones, the lasting ones.  Not the TV tie-ins, not the "classic Disney," but the real stuff.

And I learned something else from Nodelman's chapter about publishing.  This is about the U.S., so I'm not sure how it relates to Canada (other than the major publishers being in the U.S.), but it's interesting anyway:
"In the early 1980s, in order to encourage aggressive sales, the U.S. government raised the taxes charted on goods left in warehouses at the end of each year.  As applied to books, this meant that publishers could no longer afford to keep large numbers of titles on their backlists.  Books that had been in print for decades suddenly became unavailable.  Now, only those titles that still sell widely remain in print for very long."
I mentioned this to The Apprentice, and she pointed out that maybe this will change again with the advent of electronic book readers and publishing on demand. Maybe so.  Maybe in the near future there won't be any such thing as an out-of-print book.

But will there be anything left that we care to read?

When I realized myself that it was getting harder to find the kind of children's books that I used to like myself, and the books that were recommended by authors like Gladys Hunt and Dorothy Butler, I started bringing home any of the good ones that I could find at library sales and thrift shops, from other homeschoolers' for-sale lists, from yard sales, from anywhere.  I have a lot more children's books now than I did as a child.  That's all right, because I've had the excuse of having young Squirrelings for almost two decades now.  But am I going to sell them all off (the books, not the Squirrelings) when the last one leaves home?

Not on your life.

Image obviously copyright and owned by Walt Disney, although I found it on somebody else's blog

You mean Smart Meters DON'T save us money?

Gee, who would have thought?

What's for Supper? Stir Fry

Tonight's dinner:

Beef Green Bean Stir Fry, except I'm making it with ground chicken instead of beef, and adding in sliced-thin leftover lasagna noodles (they look really interesting along with the green beans)
Almonds and chow mein noodles

Vanilla pudding, cookies

How homeschoolers do things: rescuing a poor neglected science dictionary

We have two science dictionaries on the homeschool shelf.  One is a highschool-level Usborne book.  The other is the Scholastic Science Dictionary, by Melvin Berger.

The trouble is, what do you do with a science dictionary?  It sounds like a good thing to have on the shelf, which is why I bought it.  But science textbooks (and other kids' science books) have their own glossaries and definitions.  If you come across a science-related word in another book, you're more likely to just look it up in a regular dictionary, or online.

I felt a little sorry for our neglected science dictionary, and I was also looking for a couple of new science things for Crayons to do for school.  I also had a spiral-bound pack of coloured index cards.

So:  every day we open the science dictionary to the next letter of the alphabet.  (Today was G.)  I hold the book, Crayons closes her eyes and points.  Whatever word comes up is the science word of the day.  (She gets one second choice.)  She writes the word and its definition on the next index card in the pack, and illustrates it if appropriate.  If there's something more to explore about the word, we look it up online.  (The Wikipedia entry for Binary Stars showed an animation of stars orbiting.)

Today's word?  First pick was GPS--Crayons said she'd take Door Number Two.  That was Graph.

The point of all this, besides making a rather random ABC book on file cards?  I think it's to get a sense of the range of science--to realize that Chalk and Epoxy are part of the science world as much as Algorithms (that one was fun) and Flowers.  And maybe to open up the doors to a little online exploration.  And (shh) to give a little nudge to the idea that reference books do have some use after all.

Well, it's working for us.

Banana cake, a little different

Ponytails asked me to post about this because she said it was amazing.

Ingredients:  1 batch standard muffin batter (I added a teaspoon of vanilla); two sliced bananas; one cup chocolate chips.

Directions:  Scrape half the muffin batter into a greased 8-inch pan.  Top with sliced bananas and chocolate chips.  Cover with remaining batter (it's okay if it doesn't quite cover).  Bake at 350 degrees for about half an hour or until it tests done.

If you eat a piece of the cake still warm from the oven, the chocolate chips will be gooey and the bananas will have that slightly strange, hot, cooked taste (like a baked banana) that some people like and some people really don't.

But if you chill it, the chocolate chips revert to a rich kind of cold chocolate chunkiness, turning the whole deal into a chocolate-banana-muffin-sandwich-cake.

You could probably get the same results with individual muffins.

So if you ever start making plain muffins and decide too late that you would rather have had banana bread, or just want a change, try it this way.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

From the archives: "Be a rebel. Don't do subjects."

Originally posted July 2006 
Another post from Karen Edmisten, who's been following Amyable's CM postings. Karen notes, "For example, when we read about Archimedes, were we reading about history or math or science? The kids, ahem, didn't really care which category it fell into."

Sometimes--especially as our progeny get older and we get into that mess of categories known as "credits"--it's tempting even to pass on a good book that doesn't fit nicely into one of those categories. Biographies can fall in there with the uncategoricals--and they're often the best books we read! (Is Plutarch a subject?) We can't break knowledge down into spoon-size bits and decide what goes in the mouth when. (Charlotte Mason referred to that as the horse that gets one bean a day.)

My own school was supposedly into unit studies, interconnectedness and all that progressive 1970's stuff (learning centers with headphones, open-ended "activity cards", and few textbooks around that I can remember, other than a few rather deadly language and spelling texts). But even so, there are things I learned about without ever making connections to their wider significance. I remember playing with magnets and dutifully making diagrams of which way the iron filings went; but I didn't learn until years later that those magnets had any connection at all to electricity--not only that magnetic compasses helped explorers find the new world, but that magnets made the doorbell work. Mr. Fixit, of course, seemed to pick those things up without being told, but he was a Mr. Fixit (or a Mr. Taker-aparter) from diapers on--and he was a Boy. My own completely unproven theory is that Girls--at least those who aren't parented by a Mr. Fixit--especially need that greater interconnectedness, or they will grow up (as I did) not really understanding much about how the world works (or even how the doorbell rings).

Here's the quote which inspired Karen's post:
"One thesis, which is, perhaps, new, that Education is the Science of Relations, appears to me to solve the question of curricula, as showing that the object of education is to put a child in living touch as much as may be of the life of Nature and of thought. Add to this one or two keys to self knowledge, and the educated youth goes forth with some idea of self management, with some pursuits, and many vital interests."--Charlotte Mason
Yes, we need to teach history, and geography, and as much knowledge as we can give of the world and the universe we live in and how it works, and the people who live and have lived on this planet--and of the King over it all. But we need to teach it as an all, not just as parts.

Friday, March 04, 2011

What's for supper? Beef and cabbage soup

Tonight's dinner:

Canadian Living's Beef and Cabbage Soup (without the rice, but with leftover sausage and sauerkraut added in)

Peasant Bread

Fruit yogurt, or last night's blueberry crisp, or an apple

Thursday, March 03, 2011

What's for supper? Sausage and polenta

I like dinners that make people come in and say, "Something smells good in here."

Tonight's dinner:

Italian sausages, baked on sauerkraut (really, they taste fine together)
Baked sweet potatoes
Sliced polenta rounds, topped with a mixture of olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley, and baked in a hot oven for about ten minutes

Blueberry-Applesauce Crisp  (frozen blueberries) and yogurt

Robinson Crusoe making pottery, by Crayons

Created in Paint by Crayons

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

What's for supper? Barbecue Meatball Mini Subs

One of this week's dinners:

Salad (made from a half-price bag of mixed greens, plus chopped carrots)

Sweet potato fries (just sweet potatoes cut into long strips and sprayed with pan spray before baking)

Meatballs (one-quarter of this recipe), made small, baked on a cookie sheet and then added to simmering barbecue sauce;

served on dinner rolls (the More Expensive Supermarket often has these for half price on Saturday afternoons, if we happen to be in the neighbourhood),

 and topped with shredded old Cheddar cheese.

Photos:  Ponytails.

Footprints in the Snow: Crayons illustrates Valley Forge

(Artwork done using Paint)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Book of Three in Lego

Specially for the Deputy Headmistress.

From the Archives: Cookie Connections (on fractions and division)

Originally posted January 2007

One of the common themes you hear around homeschoolers is that so many lessons can be taught through real life. One that irritates me is "teach writing by writing thank-you notes." Unless we're getting married or having a baby, most of us just don't have to write that many thank-yous, and I assume that most of our children are in neither position. The other one is fractions-by-cookies. "Make cookies. Look at what they're learning."

Well, yes. But I have an issue with the "just make cookies" idea, besides dental objections. It's true I had my own first exposure to fractions by making cookies with my mother. ("It says put in 1, funny line, 2 cups of peanut butter. What's that mean?") But there's more to math than just recognizing what 3/8 of a cup looks like, or even that if you put two of those together you get 3/4 of a cup. There seem to be an awful lot of excellent cooks out there who still get nervous around fractions. Some of them are homeschooling moms, and that worries me.

One of the most interesting arithmetic concepts--that my teachers somehow forgot to point out in school until we did algebra--is that multiplication, division, and fractions are all interchangeable. Connected. Once you understand this, arithmetic gets so much easier.

Consider 2/3 of 5.

In Miquon Math you learn that the word "of" can be written "x." As in "times." If something doesn't make sense to you with the word "times," try substituting "of." Or the other way around. So 2/3 x 5 is the same as 2/3 of 5. If you don't know what 2/3 of 5 is, you can figure it out with multiplication. Everybody knows how to multiply fractions, right? (much easier than learning to add them) So 10/3, or 3 1/3. Simple. Little kids can get "of." You write "1/2 x 10," and they say 5. They've just multiplied fractions.

And then there's that cancelling-out maneuver. When you add this to your arsenal, you have some powerful arithmetic tools going for you. You know what I mean, right?

Like 3/10 x 5/9. Of course you can multiply the tops and the bottoms, and you end up with 15/90. And then you can fool around reducing, and you get 1/6. But sometimes that's a lot of work. So you can cancel out the numbers that criss-cross; and you know why, don't you? Because

3/10 x 5/9 is the same as 3 x 5 over 10 x 9 (I'm not sure how to get those to line up properly).

And you could write that 5 x 3 over 10 x 9; and you could split those back up and write 5/10 x 3/9 . And if you reduced the fractions before you multiplied, you'd have 1/2 x 1/3 = 1/6.

Well, just in case you need a reminder on this--you don't need to go through all that moving around. You can do the same cancelling out by checking the numbers that are criss-cross with each other in the original equation. The 3 and the 9 cancel out, and the 5 and the 10.

The third point I wish my teacher had remembered to pass on is that fractions are also division. The "funny line" is not just a fraction marker, it's a division sign. 2/3 means 2 divided by 3, or how many 3's in 2, or how much pizza do 3 people get if they split 2 pizzas? Obviously they each get 2/3 (you could have figured that out even without doing fractions), but isn't that still kind of mind-boggling? You say 2 divided by 3, you write 2/3, and you already have your answer.

And what's 5/3 of 2? Obviously, still 10/3. 3 1/3.

What's 5 divided by 3? How many 3's in 5? 5/3, or 1 2/3.

What's 10 divided by 3? How many 3's in 10? 10/3, or 3 1/3.

What's 1/3 of 10? 10/3.

Multiply 1/3 x 10/1. 10/3.

Fractions? Division? How come we're doing all this multiplying all of a sudden? Zing: connections.

This is why I like Miquon Math [and other programs that teach this way]. I like bigger ways of looking at things than the "this year we do multiplication, next year we do division" approach. And that's why I think you do need to go beyond cookies--unless you have an awful lot of them and a very sharp knife.

What's been happening in the Treehouse?: School Plans

Usually I have written out a daily schedule for each girl, for a month at a time, based on where we need to be by the end of the month.  But as always happens, some things you get ahead in and some things you get behind.  This month I'm planning more by the week, and we'll see how that goes.

The notes are deliberately rough--they're at the kind of "maybe" stage that such plans usually take on before you get really doing them.


This month’s composer studies:  Edward Elgar--later works

This month’s picture studies:  Woldemar Neufeld

This month’s nature studies:  TBA

This month’s hymns and folk songs:
Review:  Christian Dost Thou See Them; All My Hope on God is Founded
New:  Tell me the story of Jesus; At Calvary (need links to music)

This month’s art and craft activities:
Homemade cornstarch clay/bread dough clay/Sculpey
Crocheting (doll vest, hat)
Ponytails: Sewing group during March Break

Sugar study / maple syrup
Edith Schaeffer on writing and on reading together

Other planned activities:

Preparing for Easter
Possible field trip:  syrup museum
Games:  Quiddler, ?
St. Patrick’s Day
Homeschool drama performance


It Couldn't Just Happen, by Richards (week’s chapter):  Family Tree
Week’s poetry:
Week’s Latin:  Finish lesson 7 (review & quiz), start lesson 8
Week’s French:  Zoo study
These Happy Golden Years:  13-18
Marva Collins' Way:  5, 6
Week’s Age of Fable, by Bulfinch:  18, 19, 20

Continue Christian studies and lit  
Continue math and science
Week’s history:  Story of the World Volume 4 by Susan Wise Bauer, chapter 26; Canadian history
Continue composition and grammar

Week’s math:  p 60-64, geometry
Week’s English:  Alpha Omega 149-155, copywork based on those spelling rules
Week’s science:  Physics Lab in the Home, chapter 1: Plumbing.  Science Alphabet A-E.
Crusoe:  pages 106-121
Week’s history:  George Washington's World by Genevieve Foster, pages 209-211, 212-215, 215-216; timeline book
Bible lessons

Monday, Feb 28

Picture study

Tuesday, March 1

Ponytails:  Whatever Happened to Justice:  Instability chapter

Homemaking: Writing

Wednesday, March 2  (afternoon appt.)

Ponytails: Foster: Golden Eagles Come Home

Thursday, March 3

Jack & Jill 15
Homemaking: Writing

Friday,  March 4

Ponytails: Foster: Out of Persia

Shakespeare:  Macbeth

WEEK TWO (3 days)

Richards (week’s chapter):  Amazing & Wonderful
Week’s poetry:
Week’s Latin:  Finish lesson 8 (quiz)
Week’s French:  Finish lesson 7
Finish chapter from The Fearless Treasure by Noel Streatfeild (London Town)
Happy Golden Years:  19, 20
Marva Collins:  7
Week’s Bulfinch:  21

Continue Christian studies and literature
Continue math and science
Week’s history:  Bauer 27, Canadian history
Continue composition and grammar
Work on French with Mom

Week’s math:  p 65-68
Week’s English:  Alpha Omega p 155-157; copywork
Week’s science:  Physics Lab chapter 2: Faucets & Pipes.  Alphabet F, G, H.
Crusoe:  pages 121-126
Week’s history:  GW’s World 217-218
Bible lessons

Monday, March 7

Tuesday, March 8  (Shrove Tuesday)

Hidden Art of Homemaking:  “Drama”

Ponytails:  Justice:  Democracy & the Constitution

Wednesday, March 9   (Ash Wednesday)

Ponytails:  Foster:  We Still Call it Sunday

Thursday, March 10:  EXAMS

Friday, March 11:  EXAMS

SPRING BREAK: March 14-18


Richards (week’s chapter):  In God’s Image
Week’s poetry:
Week’s Latin:  Do Lesson 9, including quiz
Week’s French:  Start Lesson 8
Happy Golden Years:  21-25
Marva Collins:  8, 9
Week’s Bulfinch:  22, 23

Continue Christian studies and literature
Continue math and science
Week’s history:  Bauer 28, Canadian history
Continue composition and grammar

Week’s math:  p 69-74, geometry
Week’s English:  Alpha Omega p 157-161; copywork
Week’s science:  Physics Lab chapter 3:  Water Seeks its Own Level.  Alphabet I-L.
Crusoe: pages 126-143
Week’s history:  GW’s World 219-220, 220, 221, 222
Bible lessons

Monday, March 21


Tuesday, March 22

Homemaking: “Drama”

Ponytails:  Justice:  The Constitution

Wednesday, March 23

Ponytails:  Foster:  Herod & the Temple

Thursday, March 24

Homemaking: practical skills / Sugar Study

Jack & Jill 16

Friday, March 25

Ponytails:  Foster:  Hillel

Shakespeare:  Macbeth


Richards (week’s chapter):  A Sure Word
Week’s poetry:
Week’s Latin:  Start lesson 10; finish if possible
Week’s French:  Finish lesson 8
Happy Golden Years:  26-end
Marva Collins:  10, 11
Week’s Bulfinch:  24, 25, 26

Continue Christian studies and literature
Continue math and science
Week’s history:  Bauer 29, Canadian history
Continue composition and grammar

Week’s math:  p75, 76, chapter test; geometry
Week’s English:  Alpha Omega p 161-168; copywork
Week’s Science:  Phys Lab chapter 4 & 5:  Surface Tension, Hot & Cold.  Alphabet M-P.
Crusoe:  pages 144-161
Week’s history:  GW’s World 223-225, 226-228, 229-230
Bible lessons

Monday, March 28
Tuesday, March 29

Homemaking:  practical skills / Sugar Study

Ponytails:  Justice:  Competing for Privilege

Wednesday, March 30  (afternoon volunteering)

Ponytails:  Foster:  Law of Moses

Thursday, March 31

Homemaking: practical skills / Sugar Study

Jack & Jill 17

Friday, April 1

Shakespeare:  Macbeth

What's been happening in the Treehouse?: Doll Spa

Hair:  The Apprentice and Crayons
Gowns:  Crayons and Mama Squirrel
Photos:  Mr. Fixit

What's been happening in the Treehouse? Rummage sales and thrift shops

It's harder these days to even find rummage sales around here. Because who puts ads in the paper these days? And the shopper paper has gone to a mostly-blab format with only a page or so of classified ads. Some sale notices go onto Kijiji, so I do check there; but it seems harder in general to know when the good ones are happening.

Anyway, we did go to one, but mostly found just books--not that that's a bad thing. A whole stack of Penguin Classics: Geoffrey of Monmouth, Sir Thomas Malory, Chaucer, Tolstoy, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And a few came home this weekend from the library sale shelf as well. Crayons has been busy working her way through those.

As for thrift shops: Ponytails and Mama Squirrel are on the brink of a new adventure in volunteering. More on that one later.
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