Monday, January 30, 2012

From the archives: a winter day six years ago

Originally posted January 25, 2006.  Updates added January 30, 2012.

Time: 3 p.m.

View from the window:

Snow.  (Like this.)

Snow on the swingset, on the fences, all over the back yard.

2012: Yes, it's the same today!

Listen In

CBC radio playing in the kitchen  2012:  Crayons and I are listening to "The Underground Railroad" from Adventures in Odyssey, while she chooses an "artifact" to draw.

It's too quiet upstairs. I'd better make sure nobody's cutting their hair off. [Postscript: I found The Apprentice reading The Bells on Finland Street to Ponytails. Crayons was also not doing anything particularly scary.]

2012:  also listening for the doorbell, since Ponytails should be back soon from writing a first-semester geography exam.  The Apprentice has an extra-busy day at the university today.

Supper Plans

Spaghetti and meat sauce; reheated garlic breadsticks (from the Hillbilly Housewife site--those have become a favourite around here); lettuce and mushroom salad; brownies. [Postscript after dinner: Oops, forgot about the breadsticks. I knew there was something else I was going to do.]

2012:  Spaghetti pie, and maybe I'll make breadsticks too.

Other sounds

The ding of the garlic-shaped timer to say that the brownies are supposed to be done. But they're not. (I love my timer. I found it at a yard sale after the buzzer on our stove quit working, and it still makes me smile.)

2012:  Don't have that timer any more--it broke, and I miss it.

In the Living Room

Agh! It's tidy!

(Some CM mammas are coming over tonight to talk shop.)

Beauty in the Common Things

DHM's recipe for crockpot cereal (we used shortgrain brown rice and pearl barley).

Bach on the CBC.

A set of magnetic words (Magnetic Poetry), that we bought so long ago that the only extra word we added was The Apprentice's name. (I guess we should add a couple more now.)

Crayons asking for more Little Tim books, please.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Crayons' Grade Five: Focus on The Underground Railroad, Week 1

This week's school schedule covers only Monday through Thursday, because this Friday is a school holiday.  I borrowed a couple of ideas for this from "Charlotte Mason Undercover," an article on CM-style co-op lessons, by Jeannette Tulis.  As I mentioned previously, we are including some "workbook" activities, mostly map work, from a purchased unit study.


Bible, hymn
Poem (see handout)
History: The Last Safe House, pages 22-23, 16-17
Online activity: National Geographic Site,  “Underground Railroad” simulation
Workbook: map activity 1
Find an artifact to draw in to the “sketchbook” while listening to a CD
Adventures in Odyssey, “Underground Railroad,” episodes 2 & 3


Bible, hymn
Poem (see handout)
Plutarch’s Life of Dion: oral narration
History: The Last Safe House, pages 20-21, 34-37, 54
Workbook: map activity 2
Underground to Canada, chapters 1, 2: oral narration
Activity: The Underground Railroad for Kids, page 45: Make a handbill

Bible, hymn
Poem (see handout)
History: The Last Safe House, pages 40-43; Canadian history textbook pages 261-267
Workbook: points of the compass
Folk songs: Follow the Drinking Gourd
Underground to Canada, chapters 3, 4: oral narration
Choose an artifact to draw in the “sketchbook”
Drawing while listening to music

Bible, hymn
Nature study
Poem (see handout)
History: The Last Safe House, pages 56-59; Canadian history textbook pages 268-272
Workbook: Latitude and longitude; read about Secrets & Codes
Activity: The Underground Railroad for Kids, page 54: Code Words
Underground to Canada, chapters 5, 6: written narration
Possibly:  a craft or cooking activity

Saturday, January 28, 2012

From the archives: Make It Do

First posted January 28, 2007

Make It Do has always been one of my favourite topics. Except that the phrase Make It Do sounds a bit grim, like Grin and Bear It. I prefer the DHM's question What Do You Have In Your Hand? Or in your cupboard...or on your bookshelf. What DO we have in this camp kitchen to feed the vegetarians? (I talked the cook into putting some of the soup into another pot before he added meat.) What can we do with all this coloured telephone wire in the crafts room? (Braided bracelets for eighty campers.) What would you do with these hypothetical food hamper groceries for four hungry people for three days? (That was for a community nutrition class--and I got a good mark on that one! Nobody else thought of making peanut butter balls...)  [In 1996 or thereabouts, we weren't as worried about peanut allergies.]

What's In Your Hand is Ma Ingalls and blackbird pies. It's popsicle sticks and Cheerios for math, and teaching phonics with a pile of old Highlights magazines. It's all those recipes invented to use up things like rhubarb that really don't taste so good on their own. (OK, I know there are people who chew on raw rhubarb...) It's how my friend Marsha and I once taught Sunday School in a un-child-friendly college classroom: we stuck pictures up with Stick-tack and took them down again every week, brought old couch cushions to sit on and our own toys to play with, and let the kids colour at the adult-sized tables. And they really did manage fine without mini-sized chairs.

It's a dull prairie cabin with sunflowers planted around it. (Virtual sunflower seeds if you can help me remember where that story came from, because I've forgotten.) [2012 update: I still haven't found the story.  Any ideas?]

Use Your Creativity is about surprise and discovery, instead of just "I suppose I can make do with it." It's Athena's kids retelling stories with Playmobil. It's Ponytails' coloured-pencil drawing to go with Mendelssohn's Fingal's Cave. It's Homeschool Radio Shows' Fourth Annual Make-Your-Own-Radio-Show Contest. It's Meredith's closet makeover and tree-frog-painted table. It's two balls of Dollarama yarn that got turned into one pair of slippers (for Crayons), a dolly hat and scarf, and a couple of hair scrunchies. (You couldn't buy all that even at Dollarama for the two dollars the yarn cost.)

Make It Do is combining two or more parts to make something better than a whole. Instead of waiting for the perfect thing to arrive, the perfect homeschool curriculum to be written, or our body to revert to the perfect size, we use what's there. Can we use it a little differently? Do we need to adapt, go faster/slower, make it more challenging, skip the questions or tests, include more hands-on activities? Or should we use just the best part of it? (For Meredith: Every cloud has a cashmere lining.)

We're using a not-perfect curriculum for math; but it doesn't matter that it doesn't cover everything, because there are lots of ways to learn the things that it doesn't include, and it's kind of interesting having a break from the same workbook all the time anyway. Combining resources for homeschool science can make a stronger overall program than trying to pick one perfect textbook or study guide. We just got an Astronomy book for next year's school--but we also have an old Sky Science experiment kit and several books about the solar system, so we'll combine what we have.

And Make It Do is finding new ways to use what you already have. Cutting holes into the bottom edges of a cereal box is one surefire way of getting kids to notice long-neglected marbles (you shoot them at the holes). You can use wooden blocks to build temporary furniture for plastic trolls. You can learn new rules for cards, checkers, or dominoes.

Not what you ordered? Not just what you hoped for? Make it do. And have fun.

Crochet Class Number Two: Make a Scrunchie

Did you crochet along with us last time?

Today the girls will be getting together again, and the planned project is a hair scrunchie.   Scrunchies are endlessly variable...searching for "crocheted scrunchie" will bring up all kinds of patterns. 

The basic idea is this:  take a coated ponytail elastic, and in this case, cheaper is not better: you don't want the ends to pop apart in a week.  Make a slip knot with the yarn--any kind is fine, and scrunchies are a great place to experiment with little bits of novelty yarn.  Attach the yarn to the hair elastic, using a slip stitch; in other words, hold your slip knot against the elastic, bring the yarn over the hook, and pull that through both the elastic and the slip knot so that they hold together. It's really easier than it sounds, but if you have trouble, watch one of the videos linked below.

All attached?  The very simplest version is to single crochet around the elastic, filling it up as much as possible, just like last week's pipe cleaner ornaments. Slip stitch to end off, and work in the ends.  That's what I had the slightly younger group of girls do a couple of years ago, and some of them found it fairly challenging.  However, a much nicer scrunchie can be made by combining chain and single crochet stitches, for instance, chaining five in between each single crochet stitch.  If you're confident enough to do a second or third row, you can keep going and make an even bigger, loopier scrunchie.

Here’s a good video, except that she’s using double crochet instead of single crochet. Here’s another one I like:  (this one has a pattern of five chains, one single crochet; she also shows you how to add beads without stringing them on first). One more. (Notice that everybody has a slightly different way of getting the yarn locked on the hair elastic?)

One thing to remember from today's lesson is that chains are used in more than one way in crocheting.  When you learn to crochet, you're probably shown chains as just a base for learning to make the other stitches: you make a chain of a certain length, then you work crochet stitches into those chains (something we'll be doing in the next class).  But they're also used within the crocheted work, both to begin rows (getting the row started at a certain height by making one or more chain stitches) and to make spaces or loops.  Lacy doilies are full of chain stitches.  If you've ever seen something crocheted in a mesh pattern, or filet crochet, that's usually a combination of single crochet and chain stitches.

Another example of chains used to leave a space: when I crocheted a hat for a doll with a ponytail, I just stitched along to a certain point and then made a chain of about ten stitches, skipped over the same number of stitches in the previous row, joined the chain back to the work with a slip stitch, and then kept crocheting.  When I got back around to the chain, I worked ten stitches over the chain (just like crocheting over the hair elastic) and then just kept going from there.  That created a big "buttonhole" in the side of the hat.

Last example of chains as spacers:  last week I made a big "granny square" for a baby afghan.  The granny square has been a popular crocheting motif for years; usually you make a lot of small ones and sew them together, but I hate sewing things together so I made one big one instead.  Anyway, the pattern for a big or small granny square is the same:  you work, usually, in blocks of three double crochet stitches (double crochet is a bit taller than single crochet--you "yarn over" first, and then bring the loops off in two steps) with a chain stitch in between each group of three.  Corners are made, usually, with two groups of three double crochet stitches, and three chain stitches between those--that's what makes the square corners.  If you want to know more, check out You-tube videos on granny squares, or most basic crochet books will show you how they're made. 

Does all that sound like too much information if you're just trying to make a scrunchie?  Well, the point of this project is that you can think of the chains as loops to dress up the scrunchie, and the single crochets more just as "connectors."  Use whatever combinations you like with this project--you really can't go wrong.

And next time we'll get into the "real stuff": figuring out where the stitches go, when there isn't an elastic.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What's for supper? (Day before groceries)

Broccoli quiche, made with Parmesan cheese, yogurt, leftover vegetables, powdered milk, eggs, and a whole wheat pat-in crust
Leftover sausage and a bit of perogy casserole
Baked potatoes
Rye bread
Carrot and celery sticks, canned black olives

Peach crisp with milk or yogurt (canned peaches and peach jam)
Extra cookies and fruit, because we ended up having a friend stay to supper

Baby afghan, baby "stress toys" (crocheting)

Yarn: Red Heart Super Saver (mostly.  I think the dark brown might have been another brand--I bought that awhile ago).
Pattern: Just a big granny square
Photos: Mr. Fixit. Copyright 2011 Dewey's Treehouse.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Travelling the Underground Railroad (Crayons' Grade 5)

We don't usually do unit studies in our homeschool.  But I had thought about spending a couple of weeks during February emphasizing the Underground Railroad.  We are just about at that point in our Canadian history book, February is Black History Month, and so on.

So I was very interested to come across an ad for a homeschool mom's unit study on that topic, and went so far as to ask Mr. Fixit to pay to download it.

I'm not going to name the study or the company, because I was very disappointed in what we received.  What we got, we'll use, but it certainly is skimpy.  However, I did make a list  of other related material that we are going to work into February's school.  Here are some ideas:

Adventures in Odyssey Episodes #314-316, "The Underground Railroad."  We borrowed these on CD from a friend.  Note that they are a bit intense--not for the youngest children.

The American Girl Addy books, from the library.  I took the six books out from the library last weekend, and Crayons has already read through all of them.  They're quite well done, and they cover not only Addy's early life and escape from slavery, but also what life was like afterwards for her family in Philadelphia.  Each book has historical notes in the back.

The Last Safe House, by Barbara Greenwood (combines story, historical notes, and a few activities)

Underground to Canada, a novel by Barbara Smucker (there's a chapter-by-chapter study guide here)

Freedom Train, by Dorothy Sterling (biography of Harriet Tubman)

Poems from this website

Composers such as William Grant Still and Joe Sealy

One book I found which I did not like that much:  The Underground Railroad for Kids.  Maybe it was the title,  maybe it was just the fact that the library's copy was so beat up, but it just didn't seem like the sort of book you would want to turn kids loose with--more than intense, this one was a bit on the Martyr's Mirror end of things.  There are lots of great photographs, which you could use selectively. Some interesting activities, but they're the sort of projects we probably would end up just reading about, not doing.

ADDITIONS: I forgot that we have a copy of Life in Lincoln's America, by Helen Reeder Cross, which is the perfect sort of book for finding "artifacts." 

And I forgot to add something we already watched:  a Wishbone episode called "Bark That Bark." Not totally about the Underground Railroad, but it does incorporate a version of "The People Could Fly."

And there are lots of websites, of course.

More ideas?

Related posts: Schedule for the first week of this study, Four poems by Arna Bontemps

Linked from the Carnival of Homeschooling

What's for supper? Sausage and things

Tonight's dinner menu:

Perogy casserole, made with shell pasta instead of lasagna noodles because that's what we had
Farmer's sausage baked with sauerkraut

Banana muffins and brownies

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Found at the thrift store

Today was the first Wednesday in a long time that I did not work primarily on books.  I was asked awhile back to help with some data entry work for the store, so today was my training day.

But I did find a few books towards the end of the afternoon.  And Crayons found a bathrobe, which she needed.  And a Jean Little book she had wanted to read.

(We do have a copy of the Blue Fairy Book, but it's the Puffin Classics edition and it's missing about five of the stories that are included in the Dover book.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What's for supper? Chinese Beef Thing and Baked Squash Doughnuts

Sounds luscious, doesn't it?

Actually, this was the menu:

Rouladen-cut beef (we get it already flattened at the store--resembles minute steaks), cut in strips, cooked slowly in a covered skillet with hoisin sauce, beef broth, and a chunk of ginger, and with frozen green beans added towards the end
Brown rice

Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts, but made with a mixture of cooked butternut squash and apple butter because we didn't have any canned pumpkin.  It worked fine!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crocheting check-in, and a note on gauge (now with photos)

Last weekend I posted some notes about our first crochet class. The girls (and a couple of moms who came) all did splendiferously. Later that day I went to Walmart and picked up a big skein of blue Red Heart Super Saver, and two smaller multicoloured skeins of the same. You'll see complaints about RHSS all over the Internet, but I like the colours and it's affordable (especially at Walmart), so I keep using it.

I decided to use some of the blue yarn to make a hat for the Apprentice, like the red one shown on the cover of that pattern book. I often do "forget" to do a sample swatch and check the gauge before jumping into a project (yes, I know it's one of the ten rules), but this time I wanted to be really careful. Good thing too, because it took three swatches and two changes of hook before my stitch size lined up with the pattern. But I got it worked out, and the Apprentice liked her hat fine. (Photo coming)

So I started a second hat, using the Primaries mix above. This time I didn't bother to check the gauge, since I had worked it all out the first time. And you can guess turned out bigger than the first one. Not miles bigger, but enough that I probably should have gone back to the original hook size. Same Red Heart Super Saver--but the multicoloured yarn was slightly heavier and also had a bit different texture (what RHSS critics call "scratchy").

Go figure.

Crayons said she would like that hat, even though it was a bit big, and she also requested a smaller one for one of her dolls.  The doll has a side ponytail, so I left a gap for her hair.

I also brought home some scrap yarn from the thrift store: the fuzzy, furry eyelash kind. I used it to make a long, skinny boa scarf--two strands held together to make a long chain and then three rows of double crochet. Almost three, because I ran out of yarn just before the end of the last row, but it's not too noticeable. Fuzzy eyelash yarn isn't a great choice for beginners, because it's really hard to see where your stitches are--I just guessed as I went along. On the other hand, it's very forgiving, even if you run short of yarn or have to work in a lot of ends (the yarn was in small balls and scraps that I had to work together), because mistakes just disappear into the fluff.

Did any of you try the bead bracelets or the snowflake ornaments? Have you been making anything else? Crayons has been making jewelery for her dolls this week. My friend Krakovianka does awesome things with thread--but if you want a lesson in that, you'll have to go to Krakow.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

What's everybody doing today?

Just in case anyone was expecting a crochet lesson--our next gathering isn't until next weekend.  But maybe I'll post a "weekend update."

The Apprentice is at a weekend conference on the theme of Failure.  (Yes, really.)  Well, actually it's about interdisciplinary education, but the speaker topics are on failure.

Ponytails is going bowling with two friends from her improv comedy team.

Crayons is going to visit a friend that she met years ago in a dance class and who's now in the Saturday sewing/crochet group.  Turns out she lives only a couple of blocks away.

Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit do not have any meetings to go to or classes to plan for or anything else too pressing today. Mama Squirrel wants to go to the library.  Mr. Fixit will probably work on his clocks and radios.  And there are always groceries...and some snow to shovel...

How's your weekend shaping up?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Quote for the day: "Writing springs new experience into being"

In an article first published in The Writer magazine, the late poet William Stafford asked the question, "How can we carry our most fervent feelings right into the living room of our readers and still be firm, solid, satisfying, convincing?" Near the end of the article, he listed examples of stories and poems that "make the reader encounter the human involvements that command our emotions," including David Copperfield and Emily Dickinson's "I heard a fly buzz when I died."

So here's the quote:
"Writing--literature--springs new experience into being; it is much more than just partially achieved recollections transferred from a fervent author to an accepting reader: a new life springs into focus, by being told. To create means to change, to change writer and reader.

"I never came back to earth after reading Chekhov.

"Now when I reach for my book--or my pen--Mr. Murdstone raises his heavy cane. I hear a fly buzz. Beyond the hedge in a gush of color and laughter Mr. Dick releases his gigantic, staggering kite to the wind."--William Stafford, "Being Tough, Being Gentle," reprinted in Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer's Vocation

Crayons' Year 5: A quiet Friday

On today's homeschool menu:

Singing "Holy Holy Holy" (not the Heber hymn, the Schubert Sanctus that I learned during a brief stint in the Presbyterian Church of Canada)

Singing "Ontari-ari-ari-o" (we usually sing something Canadian on Friday mornings)

Online math game

Reading about William Tyndale in Makers of the English Bible

Short keyboard (music) lesson

Plutarch's Life of Dion, half of lesson 4. King Dionysius keeps the philosopher Plato trapped in his palace in Syracuse, and sends Plato's older friend Dion off to Greece, because he wants Plato to be his (and only his) best friend forever. 300ish B.C. is not that far removed from the experience of some ten-year-olds!

(short break here)

Picture study: Mary Cassatt, Woman and Child Driving.

Cursive writing practice

Silas Marner, most of chapter 10, and written narration

Lunchtime:  reheated minestrone, bagels, and Magic Milkshakes (Mama Squirrel recently received the lovely gift of a Ninja blender, so we're making things we haven't had for awhile)

Helping shovel snow, and sliding down our hill

That's about where we're at now...some things left to do like laundry and cleaning.  Also we're going to work in a chapter of Ballet Shoes.

And it's the weekend!

Written narration by Crayons: Silas Marner

Silas Marner's comfortably isolated existence has been interrupted by the theft of all his savings.  Although the robbery devastates him, it also brings him into closer contact with his neighbours. This narration is from a section near the end of chapter 10.

Dolly Winthrop came to Silas’s cottage one afternoon with her little son Aaron and a basket full of lard cakes Silas greeted her a little shyly “I suppose you didn’t hear the church bells?” she asked “I did.” He said “but don’t you know this is Sunday?” she asked “I do.” He said “but you were working!” she accused “well I always do.” He said

“Um well yes…” she said slowly “I brought you these!” she handed him the box of lard cakes. “Thanks” he said then she talked for a while about church and then she said: “Well now Aaron get up and sing your song!” Aaron did and the only thing Silas thought he could do was give the boy a lard cake then she talked some more about church then said: “Well we most be going. Do consider church. Goodbye. Aaron, bow!” Aaron bowed and then they left Silas was a rather glad they had gone.

Illustration found here

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Found at the thrift store

It was a busy afternoon at the thrift store.  Several boxes to empty, lots of empty shelves to fill.  Today's finds:  five books and four balls of yarn.  And some nightwear for Crayons/Dollygirl.

Cozy Crochet: 26 fun projects from fashion to home decor, by Melissa Leapman

Radio wizard: Edward Samuel Rogers and the revolution of communication, by Ian Anthony (that was for Mr. Fixit)

Leaving Home: Survival of the Hippest, by Andie Parton and Lynn Johnston (about roomies, finances, keeping food in the cupboard, and stuff like that). That was for the, she isn't actually leaving home yet, but it's good survival stuff anyway.

Northrop Frye: A Biography, by John Ayre.

And Queen Victoria's Children, by Daphne Bennett.  That one will probably be a gift for a monarchy-loving relative.

Most interesting thing I didn't bring home today:  a souvenir book from the 1979 King Tutankhamun exhibit,  with two original ticket stubs still stuck in the book.

Learn to sew like it's 1889: from a vintage Home Journal


I would like to make a practical suggestion, and tell exactly how I made of my own little girl an accomplished needlewoman. I commenced when she was eight years old by cutting and planning her doll's plain clothes for her, such as skirts and aprons, making myself the more particular things, such as dresses, drawers, sacques and bonnets. I taught her to hem, fell, overseam and gather. Early in life she learned that no really first class seamstress ever finished the making of a set of undergarments with uncovered seams. She was taught, as a little girl once said, to "gather like a lady," and always to use a double thread.

When her gathering had been finished, I taught her to lay gathers without the aid of pin or needle. I find many ladies who still adhere to the old time custom of "stroking" them, which is tedious and often injurious to fine, thin goods. For those who do not understand this particular "knack" I will explain. When the apron, or other garment, as the case may lie, has been gathered, draw up the thread as tightly as possible, stick in the needle and wrap the thread around it to prevent slipping. Now take the gathers in the left hand between the thumb and forefinger, and with the thumb and forefinger of the right hand, pull tightly over the nail of the forefinger of the left hand, and if done according to directions, beautifully laid gathers will be the result. In this, as in everything else, "practice makes perfect."

For a number of years this little maid has taken upon herself the making of the pillow cases for "Papa's" night pillow, and receives for her work, from the aforesaid "Papa," a little money consideration, and from her "Mamma" a great deal of praise for well executed work. I cut and baste them for her, she then overhands them, hems and finally puts on the finishing touches in the shape of neatly worked buttonholes. A pillow case, by the way, is an excellent article to commence your instruction on, as it embraces the most important kinds of sewing, and is plain, straight work throughout.

When she was proficient in plain sewing I taught her to darn, first of all giving her a gay bright darning bag, to hold her unmended hosiery. This bag was supplied with embroidered flannel leaves containing some long slender needles. The pocket held a pair of scissors, thimble, cards of black, brown, navy blue and white darning cotton. This pretty bag I gave her when she was ready for her first lesson, with the request that when her work was finished the cotton, scissors and thimble should be put in the pocket, the needles in the leaves, and the bag hung on its proper hook. I gave her her first lesson on a pair of stockings very little worn. Seating her at my side I showed her how to go back and forth with her darning needle, until the hole was covered, then to cross it, weaving in and out until a smooth, flat surface was the result....

After she was thoroughly up in the rudiments of sewing she was encouraged to do some fancy work, which, from her knowledge of plain, prosaic work, will bear the scrutiny of close attention much better than if she had been allowed to commence with the ornamental first. At fifteen she is nearly as fond of her dolls as at eight, and so proficient has she become in the art of sewing, that she can make from a Parisian hat down to a pair of well shaped crocheted bootees.

It was not always "clear sailing" in these lessons of ours, little tempests sometimes arose that seemed likely to upset the frail bark, the thread would snarl or break at the most inopportune times, a pucker would sometimes appear in the heel of the stocking, but patience and perseverance, those wonderful elements of success, finally conquered. --Annie Curd.

From Ladies' home journal and practical housekeeper, Volumes 5-6, July 1889

Sunday, January 15, 2012

From the archives: a day that really schmecked

Originally posted January 15, 2007

Today's the day! It's also the day that would have been Edna Staebler's 101st birthday. In honour of that, and to celebrate the reissue of her first cookbook, Food That Really Schmecks, Jasmine at Cardamom Addict organized a good-schmecking roundup of recipes. I counted (I think) eleven bloggers who are linked from Jasmine's page, including our Schnitz Pie post.
Happy birthday to Edna. And thanks again to Jasmine and WLU Press for sponsoring this.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Teaching a crochet class: here are the rules, and here's how we're starting

This weekend Mama Squirrel has agreed to start teaching some of Crayons' friends how to crochet. (The same girls who usually sew together on Saturdays, only we're doing crochet for awhile instead.) We did something like this two years ago in a homeschool co-op, but the girls there were slightly younger. This time the average age is ten, plus there are a couple of moms who want to hang around and learn as well, so I'm hoping we can do a bit more than we did in the other class.

Want to learn along with us?  For the first class, you will need some worsted-weight yarn (not too dark a colour), a few pony beads to go with your yarn, a crochet hook somewhere between 4.5 and 5 mm (that's metric sizing--Americans need an H hook, or something around that size), and a yarn needle for weaving in loose ends.  Also some white yarn and a pipe cleaner, plus a cookie cutter for shaping the pipe cleaner into a nicer shape, plus some sparkly fabric paint or other trim of your own choice.

Here are Mama Squirrel's Rules for Crocheting.

1. If you make a mistake, go back and fix it. It’s easier to fix it NOW than to wish you had at the end.

2. Make your hook do the work. Don’t pull the yarn off the hook with your fingers.

3. Don’t work too tight.

4. Don’t let the yarn split.

5. Don’t work too long without a break—do something else and let your muscles relax. Otherwise you can hurt yourself.

6. If you’re following a pattern for something where size matters, make a sample swatch (test piece) first and measure the gauge (the size of your stitches). You might have to change hooks or try another kind of yarn. But if you are making a small item, or making up your own pattern, it’s not so important.

7. If you’re using a new skein of yarn, pull from the inside.

8. Ask for help if you’re not sure of something. If you can’t find someone right there who knows, there are lots of places to find crochet help online.

9. Don’t crochet while eating chocolate-chip cookies.

10. Don’t crochet in the bathtub.

In our first class, we're going to start by learning to chain stitch--what else?--but we're going to jazz it up a bit by stringing pony beads on the yarn first, and incorporating them into the chaining (slide them up as you want them). Instant friendship bracelets. We started doing this last summer at VBS, and the kids really liked it. Some of them chained with hooks, and some just used their fingers--it works either way.  Leave a decent-length tail at the beginning (for a wrist tie), then just start chaining--chain a few stitches, slide up a bead, chain a couple more stitches, slide up a bead, and so on until it's long enough.  End off (you can find out how to do that online--really simple), and leave a tail of yarn the same length as the other end.  Tie around your wrist.

After a break, assuming everybody's caught on to chaining, we're going to single-crochet around pipe-cleaner loops. The advantage to this is that you can concentrate on making the stitches without having to worry about putting them into chain stitches, which can be a bit frustrating for beginniners. If you've ever tried to learn to crochet, you'll know what I mean.  Make the pipe cleaner into a circle, attach the yarn with a slip stitch (look this up online if you don't know how--leave a bit of a tail), and start single crocheting around.  Keep going until the pipe cleaner is covered.  Join the two ends together with a slip stitch and end off, leaving a tail of yarn.  Either tie the two ends together in a bow for a hanger, or weave them into the crocheting with the yarn needle.

The pipe-cleaner loops will probably be finished for homework. Next time, or whenever they're done, we'll shape them around a snowflake-shaped cookie cutter, and then paint them a bit with glittery fabric paint. I had planned on using sparkly yarn for this, but couldn't find anything thick enough; so we'll just use plain white yarn and add the sparkles afterward.  I used two strands of white cotton yarn, which looked pretty good; but when you're just learning, I think one strand is a better idea.
If you don't have a snowflake cookie cutter and want to try this, you could use green yarn and call it a Christmas wreath.  Or use another shape--a heart would be nice, if you can find a cutter that is about the same size around as your pipe cleaner.  (Cut the pipe cleaner first if you need to.)

The nice thing these days about crochet class (or just about anything else) is that if you get home and forget everything you learned, you can easily find an online tutorial.  Ehow has good ones for basic crochet stitches.

Let me know if there's something you can't figure out!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

From the archives: a quiz for Ponytails, Crayons, and The Boy

Originally posted January 10, 2007. Ponytails (then in the fourth grade) made up these questions and answered them herself; then we posted answers from Crayons (in kindergarten) and from Crayons' friend Schmoo's brother, then known as The Boy.

Ponytails' Questions and Answers

How much snow is there on the ground where you live?
--Enough to shovel but not enough to make a snowman.
How do you make a snowbear?
--You make a humongous ball and a little ball, and five snowballs.
Do you know the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
Do you like the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
--Yes, but it's a little depressing.
What do you put in baked peanut butter cookies?
--1 egg, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of peanut butter.
Do you like writing stories?
--Yes! I'm writing one right now. Well, I kind of finished it, but I might put some finishing touches on it.
You can answer these questions too!!


Answers by Crayons:
How much snow is there on the ground where you live?
--Enough to make five snowmans.
How do you make a snowbear?
--Well, you make a big ball, you make five snowballs and a little ball.
Do you know the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
Do you like the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
--No, I hate it!
What do you put in baked peanut butter cookies?
--A whole bag of chocolate chips and a whole bag of marshmallows! And a little tiny bit of peanut butter.
Do you like writing stories?
--It's kind of hard.Would you like to write a story?

Answers by The Boy:
How much snow is there on the ground where you live?
How do you make a snowbear?
--I don't know.
Do you know the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
Do you like the song "The Minstrel Boy?"
--I don't know??!
What do you put in baked peanut butter cookies?
--Peanut butter.
Do you like writing stories?
Would you like to write a story?
--Yes. I'm going to be an author. Or an illustrator. Or both.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Found at the thrift store

All I brought home today was Jerry Bridges' The Pursuit of Holiness.  And a couple of Star Trek-related books for Mr. Fixit.  Crayons found a little book about towel origami.

Best book I almost bought:  an omnibus volume of Graham Green's novels.  But I figured we had most of the ones included already.

Funniest book seen today, and it's only funny because there always seems to be at least one copy of The Celestine Prophecy on the thrift store shelf:

The Cellulite Prophecy: An Adventure

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quote for the day: So there.

"[Mathematician Leonhard] Euler moved to Germany to be at the royal academy there, but did not get along with the Germans, who enjoyed long philosophical discussions not to his taste. Catherine the Great of Russia invited Euler back to the St. Petersburg academy and he was more than happy to come back. At that time, the philosopher Denis Diderot, an atheist, was visiting Catherine's court. The empress asked Euler to argue with Diderot about the existence of god. Diderot, in the meantime, was told that the famous mathematician had a proof of God's existence. Euler approached Diderot and said gravely: 'Sir, a + b/n = x, hence God exists; reply!' Diderot, who knew nothing about mathematics, gave up and immediately returned to France."--Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem, by Amir D. Aczel

(The same story is online here (see #16), as told in Mathematics for the Million, but with a note that it may not be plausible.  But it's still interesting.)

Whatever happened on January 10th?

49 BC – Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, signaling the start of civil war.

1776 – Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense.

1811 - Norwester David Thompson 1770-1857 crosses the height of land of the Rocky Mountains on the Athabasca Pass; he will ascend the Columbia River to its source, then descend it to Astoria, becoming the first person to explore and map the whole length of the river.
1815 - British government bans Americans from settling in Canada.

1863 – The London Underground, the world's oldest underground railway, opens between London Paddington station and Farringdon station.

1920 – The Treaty of Versailles takes effect, officially ending World War I.

1929 – The Adventures of Tintin, one of the most popular European comic books ever, is first published in Belgium.

It's also the birthday of more famous people than I can list.  Here's just one:  Gisele MacKenzie, performing with Roger Williams, who died just three months ago.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Back to school: all we've done so far

I did have a schedule for today, but we seem to be going at it very slowly.

As of lunch, we have gotten through one chapter of Silas Marner* (first chapters of things are always slow), two pages of math, and one history lesson about what happened when the prairie people started doing all their business with the Americans down south, in the middle of the 1800's. (One factor that led to Confederation a few years later.)

Just call it quality rather than quantity.

UPDATE: In the afternoon, we watched a Wishbone episode, started reading a French story, and practiced some chords on the digital piano. Crayons also did some Pet Store Math with her dad.

*Yes, we are making the experiment of reading Eliot with a fifth grader. Or at least trying a few chapters and seeing how it goes. We got through Great Expectations last term, and that's really no harder.

Do we pick our mental mentors, or do they pick us? (and more long sentences)

Best thing I read in this weekend's papers:
“Who are these figures who take residence inside our heads,” Pico Iyer asks in The Man Within My Head, “to the point where we can hear their voices even when we’re trying to make contact with our own?”

“Who put them there?... “ Iyer adds, noting how, if he were to choose a “secret companion, an invisible alter ego,” he would select someone more “dashing” than British novelist Graham Greene. Greene, he admits, “is not a hero or a counsellor” to him. Instead, he is the ongoing presence who whispers the “secrets and fears” that burrow to the core of Iyer’s preoccupations. --Charles Foran, "He shoots! He waits! How a young writer found Samuel Beckett", in The Globe and Mail
For Pico Iyer, it's Graham Greene.

For Charles Foran, it's Samuel Beckett.  Foran doesn't try to write like Beckett, he says: "Much as I adore his mordant, cadenced prose, I’ve never tried to write like him. Nor do I have either the temperament or courage to address so frontally the strangeness, and unease, of being human. Most writers, it should be said, stop short of where Samuel Beckett starts."  For him, Beckett is more of a reminding voice, something that keeps him on track with where he wants to be in his own writing.
George Bailey: Well, you look about the kind of angel I'd get.
Do you have an imaginary "mentoring relationship" with someone you've never met?  Is it someone you "chose", or did they "choose you?"

P.S. Pico Iyer has an essay here called "The Writing Life: The point of the long and winding sentence." "Not everyone wants to be reduced to a sound bite or a bumper sticker."

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Friday, January 06, 2012

Pearl Bodine's Sweet Potata Pie

Mr. Fixit got a Beverly Hillbillies DVD for Christmas and we've been watching some of the early episodes.  I had a video on this post showing Cousin Pearl and her friend Homer Winch ("do this and I'll bake you a sweet potata pie"), but it's been removed from You-tube--sorry!

There are lots of ways to make sweet potato pie. This is the way I made one tonight, out of leftover mashed sweet potatoes. The recipe is actually "Squash Pie" from Food That Really Schmecks, but it works fine with sweet potatoes too. It's a lot less spicy than most pumpkin pie recipes, which I think some kids would like.

Pearl's Man-Catchin' Sweet Potata Pie (or Squash Pie)

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust (I used a deep-dish pie plate)
2 cups milk (I used slightly less because I thought the sweet potato might be a bit wet)
1 1/2 cups pureed sweet potato or squash (if you've just cooked it, let it cool slightly--otherwise just use it chilled)
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
1 1/4 cups sugar (I used only a cup)
1 tsp. salt (or less, I used less)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Cinnamon (or cinnamon-sugar), nutmeg

Combine sweet potato or squash, eggs, flour, salt, and sugar; gradually add the milk. Pour mixture into the unbaked pie shell. (If you have too much filling, you could bake some in a separate dish without a crust.) Sprinkle with cinnamon or cinnamon-sugar and a bit of nutmeg. The recipe says to bake it at 350 degrees for 40 minutes or until set; I gave it 10 minutes at 425 degrees and then turned it down to 350 for about 45 more minutes. When I took it out, it still seemed a bit jiggly, but it did slice without a problem about ten minutes later.

Homer would have been mighty pleased.

Linked from Four Moms and Sweet Thangs, Feb. 9/12

Oh my, now that's a poem

Jeanne (or anyone else), here's a Canadian poem you can twist your lips around.

From the archives: Epiphany 2008

First posted January 2008

Overheard in Squirreldom:

Squirrel 1: It's Epiphany this weekend.

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

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

Squirrel 1: Oh no, like on Arthur's Christmas? [Update: You-tube link added]

Squirrel 2: Give me another piece of camel.

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

Squirrel 3: Hummus.

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

Squirrel 2: No it isn't.

Squirrel 1: Yes it is. Martha ate hummus.

All the squirrels puzzle over this one...

Squirrel 2: You mean haggis!

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

Squirrel 1: Oh. Phew.

We celebrate Epiphany

The Magi
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939)
Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Found at the thrift store: mostly for school

We are still on school holidays because Ponytails' school doesn't start until next week.  So Mama Squirrel decided to bring home a few school-related books to jumpstart some winter planning.
Who Rules in Science?: An Opinionated Guide to the Wars, by James Robert Brown (that was for The Apprentice)
Crossing Unmarked Snow: Further Views on the Writer's Vocation (Poets on Poetry series), by William Stafford (this one's for me!)  The Amazon review recommends reading Stafford's Writing the Australian Crawl first, but I think this one's pretty cool on its own.
Write Source 2000 (for English class)
Seven Men Who Rule the World From the Grave, by Dave Breese
How Math Works: 100 Ways Parents and Kids Can Share the Wonders of Mathematics, by Carol Vorderman
Fractals, Googols, and Other Mathematical Tales, by Theoni Pappas
National Geographic Body: The Complete Human.  For some reason, we got several almost-new copies of the same book (the 2007 edition), and I decided to bring one home.  Seems very readable, and the photography is amazing. Parental warning:  not recommended for casual student browsing.

Funniest book seen today:
Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, by Vincent Lam.  Not because the book is funny, but because it had been stacked for pricing with the health books.
Okay, well, it is medical fiction.  But still.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Why my New Year's resolutions do not include decluttering

"I have a whole room just for trying on clothes."  --Ken Doll, Toy Story 3
At least not systematically.
I thought about pursuing the 366-item declutter challenge, but decided that it's not an especially useful focus for us right now.  Why?

1.  Sure, I could give away or sell a hundred books this year (Summer update: I did!)...but I'll probably replace them with others (Summer update: I think I did that too.)

2.  We did some haven't-used-it-since-we-moved-in decluttering some time back, so we really don't have a lot of complete white elephants taking up space.

3.  My decluttering is usually the kind that ends in the paper recycling bin or in the trash.

4.  In some cases, I actually need to get a few more things, not discard them.  I am down to a couple of pairs of almost-trash shoes, mostly because I hate shoe shopping and have hard-to-fit feet.  One reason I like winter--I can often get away with just snow boots.

5.  The kind of pack-squirreling I do usually ends up in a finished product.  Sooner or later, and later is okay.  I don't buy groceries that I know we will not eat (okay, the jar of Tandoori paste was a wash for us), school books that are unlikely to be read, or expensive hobby materials for something I'm only potentially interested in.  But I do buy interesting pieces of fabric, balls of yarn, yard-saled science kits, Parmesan cheese on sale, dollar-store seasonal napkins (because for us, those make dinner a bit of a party), and older books that need a home.  I bought a whole boxful of thrifted Christmas-type trims and other mess in December, and Crayons helped me sort through it, discard what was just awful, and think of ways to use the rest.  In fact, those made up a large part of our decorations this year--we didn't even get all of our usual trees and angels out of storage. Question is, now that we're putting away the seasonal stuff--will that small treasure trove become just more clutter?  Should I send it all back to the thrift store?  No, I think I'll keep most of it--I had fun decorating with the bits and pieces, and we can use them again.

Mr. Fixit got homemade handkerchiefs in his stocking again this Christmas...mostly because I still had a large piece left of the white fabric that came from a church sale, that became hankies and sachet innards two Christmases ago.  Use it or lose it.

6.  I don't like to declutter things that belong to other people.  There are some Squirrelings (ahem) who could stand to trim down on toys or might benefit from cleaning out storage spaces.  But that's just a suggestion.

7.  Finally, and this goes with number 6: some clutter just goes with being a family.  Strangely enough, Crayons and Ponytails are re-watching Toy Story 3 this morning, which takes its whole premise from Andy's mom demanding that he get rid of his beloved toys since he's now going to college.  "He called us junk! How could he?" "This doesn't make any sense," says one of the toys.  I'm in agreement with that.  Yes, there's a time to move on; but in our haste to declutter, I wonder if sometimes we push that too hard, too fast.  I had a high school friend whose mother (even a step up from Andy's mom) demanded that bedrooms be kept as clean as convent cells; personal possessions were regularly discarded to the point of having no personal possessions.  But surely there's a middle ground on this.

So maybe we're better with a resolution to use what's in our hands, make our stuff last longer, be more organized, use things in different ways, look for ways around perceived "needs," and thank God always for what he has given us to use and enjoy.  And to pass on what others can use--but just not so much by the numbers.
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