Friday, August 31, 2012

In the bottom of the Treehouse: Mr. Fixit's Man Cave


Photo by Mr. Fixit. Copyright Dewey's Treehouse 2012.

Crissy's new clothes (with link to online patterns)

For Crissy fans, one of the best sites out there is CrissyAndBeth.com. Beth has very generously scanned in all the commercial patterns that were made for Crissy (and Velvet) from 1969 through the early 1970's--that is, the actual tissue-paper pieces.  My mother had some of these patterns and made clothes for my own Crissy and my sister's Velvet; I don't think any of ours are still around, though--the patterns or the clothes.  The CrissyAndBeth sewing page also has photos of Crissy and friends modelling hand-sewn clothes.

I tried printing out some of the pattern pieces a couple of years ago, but the printer we had at that time kept shrinking the pieces to fit the page, even when I asked it nicely not to, so I gave up.  Recently we got a colour printer that is more co-operative (remind you of our sewing machine?), so I tried again.  The pattern pieces printed out beautifully, especially in colour.  The Simplicity patterns are very, very easy to follow...well, some of them are a little bit fussy with getting elastic in the right place, sewing lace on, and so on, but generally they're meant to be easy to sew.  Almost too easy in some places--where some doll clothes books would have you turn under an edge and then turn it under again and hem, these patterns just say to turn edges under a quarter inch and sew them down, which can leave a bit of a raw edge.  Elastic on pants is just sewn across a turned-down waistband, rather than put through a casing. If you are a fussier sewer, you could do more than the minimum for things like that.  But I think a lot of the appeal of these patterns is in the choice of fabric and trims, rather than in detailed sewing techniques.

From Simplicity pattern 8519, I made a "dress" (or a smock top), a vest, and two pairs of flared pants.  If you put the vest with the top, they go together in kind of an unexpected 1970ish way.  A little bit Russian, a little bit Sunshine Family.  The dress or top is supposed to have lace around the neck and wrists, but we went with rickrack instead.
I remember my mom sewing one of these capes (Simplicity 9698), so it was a step back in time for me to recreate one for Dollygirl's Crissy.  The fabric is red corduroy, from a rummage-saled pair of pants.  There was just enough useable fabric to cut the back, two fronts, and two hood pieces.  The ribbon trim is craft-type, not meant for clothes; but I liked the old-world vibe of the print, plus its stiffness gives a bit of structure to the cape.  I've seen this cape made up with softer lace trim, but I like it better with this edging.  The pattern instructs you to turn back the edges of the cape and sew the trim along the turned-back piece, but with the stiff ribbon I just sandwiched it along the edges and topstitched it down.

About the only thing we think Crissy still needs is a nice maxi-dress, peasant style, maybe in green to go with her shoes.  But that will have to wait until we replenish our fabric a bit.

All photos by Mr. Fixit.  Copyright Dewey's Treehouse 2012.  Simplicity patterns made available by CrissyAndBeth.com.

Making the most of Treehouse collections: dolls and more

We are Squirrels, and don't forget it.  We may not be parts-stashers, but we do like to collect things.


These are Red Rose Tea Figurines. Some of them were Mr. Fixit's grandma's. Some were Mama Squirrel's. The shelf had hung in a corner of our rec room for a long time, kind of hidden and dusty. We decided to move it up to the kitchen.

Dollygirl's TY Teenie Beanie Boppers. (Also here.) She has been collecting these at yard sales and thrift shops for several years; I think only one was bought new.  Mr. Fixit helped her spray paint and frame a piece of pegboard, so now the Boppers can all hang out together.


Mr. Fixit's restorations are part of our living room decor--they come and go, and we make room for them while they're in the Treehouse.  The glass-fronted cabinet was the grandparents', and it holds a group of dolls handed down from both sides of our family.

All photos by Mr. Fixit, copyright Dewey's Treehouse, 2012.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the archives: Crayons' reading lessons and a loud rag doll

Originally posted September 2005. Crayons (Dollygirl) was four-and-a-quarter.

Becky

Today I invented a new reading game for Crayons. On the computer, I made a page with twelve boxes, and in each box I typed a reading word, in big letters. About half of them were new words. I printed out two copies, and on one of the copies I cut the words out, in squares that were a little smaller than the boxes.
The first thing we did was some matching. I put the individual words on the floor beside the sheet with the boxes, and asked Crayons to match the words with the ones on the sheet. I asked her which words she knew for sure, and she took those off and read them. Then I went over the new words with her, showing her which ones rhymed with a word she knew, and which one was the same as an old word plus an "s" (mat, mats).
Then I took all the words in my hand, and asked Crayons to "pick a card, any card." Each word she picked, she read and then put in its matching box. At this point Crayons decided to make the game more fun by bringing in the Apprentice's old rag doll who has acted as "assistant reading coach" for all the Squirrelings. Becky (the doll) is known both for her constant sneezing and for her fear of bees (both the flying kind and the alphabet kind, and she often can't keep the two straight). So that added a little suspense, since we knew that at any moment the word "bee" was going to come up, and that guaranteed a screech from Becky.
And that was the lesson. We'll use the same pieces again a couple of times (we don't do reading lessons every day). Then I'll probably take the individual words, print out a matching set (or cut up the master sheet) and paste them to half-index cards, to add to our card game (see below).
By the way, if you're curious, the old words were bee, mom, wee, dad, mat, and go. The new words were hat (she sort of knew that one), fat, meet, feet, mats, and tee (we did not define what kind of tee that is, the object here is to learn to sound words out and learn some sight words, rather than worrying about exceptions.)

From the archives: schooltime games with magnetic letters

First posted August 2005.

The Squirrels have a pile of magnetic letters and numbers--the kind that aren't supposed to be safe for little ones because the tiny magnets in them might come out. Some of the letters are thirty-five years old and the magnets are still intact, but that's not the point. Because there are parts of about four different sets, it's hard to make one whole alphabet (we have about five capital E's but not one capital I). However, Mama Squirrel came up with some homeschool possibilities for them this week (besides just sticking them all over the fridge, which is what the squirrelings mostly did when they were toddlers).

1. Mama Squirrel and Crayons just sorted out the letters into two (more or less) capital-letter alphabets plus small piles of lower-case letters and numerals. We've done the same thing with rubber letters.

2. Preschool memory game: make a row of about four to six letters or numbers (or more if you want to make it harder). Hide your eyes and the other person hides one or two of the letters. What's missing? (Crayons played a funny trick on Mama Squirrel: she hid one of the letters behind her back and replaced it with another one the same. When Mama Squirrel said she hadn't taken anything away at all, Crayons showed her how duplicitous she had been.)

3. Preschool sorting game we haven't tried yet: take a handful of capital letters and a handful of lower-case letters (we only have a few of those anyway) and sort them into two piles, capitals and lower-case.

3. Grade Three alphabetizing game: Take a handful of letters and put them in alphabetical order, as fast as possible. It doesn't matter if there are doubles.

4. Grade Three fractions game: Take all the numerals you can find and put in them in a container. Draw a line on paper to be the dividing line in a fraction. Pull two of the numerals out and put one on top, one on the bottom. What's the fraction? What does it look like? We had some plastic fraction pieces, marbles and other things sitting around while we did this, so we tried to come up with different ways of showing. Ponytails made 3/2, so she took three of the plastic "half" pieces. Mama Squirrel made 7/9, and there are no ninths in the plastic pieces, so she took seven blue marbles and two white ones, and said that 7/9 of the marbles were blue.

5. The obvious: spell things with the letters. Spill a handful and see who can make the most words the fastest. (Of course the squirrelings may not learn any "i" words, but Mama Squirrel will come up with something else for those.)

Moral: even incomplete things can still be kind of fun and educational, right?

Quote for the Day: Virginia Haviland on dumbed-down books

"We must all recognize that factors other than word count-the look of the page, the space between lines, the amount of illustration and size of margins-contribute to making a book easy to read.

"Again we may ask whether we are being attracted to fool’s gold by a false snob appeal of the term 'classic,' if we accept abridgements and watering-down of texts because we believe that the slow or lazy child must read Alice in Wonderland or Treasure Island in one form or another. Is it not dishonest to allow children to think they are truly reading the classics when they read them in abbreviated form?"

--Virginia Haviland, "Search for the real thing: Among the “millions and billions” of books," Library Journal, 1961. Quoted in "Initiative and Influence: The Contributions of Virginia Haviland to Children’s Services, Research, and Writing,"  by Karen Patricia Smith.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thrift store Wednesdays: I left most of them there.

The books weren't quite to the ceiling in the back room, but they were coming close this week. I emptied several boxes during my shift this afternoon, but, like Bartholomew's hats, they kept coming back. It's that time of year.

Funniest title seen this afternoon...well, I thought it was funny...Till Death Do Us Part (Unless I Kill You First). It's a book about resolving marital conflict.

I brought home the other four books from Scholastic's graphic poetry series (they had been on the shelf since last week and nobody bought them); an updated copy of God's Smuggler for Dollygirl to read for school; and a copy of Rumer Godden's translation of Prayers from the Ark.

Pineapple cake for a potluck

Tonight was our homeschool group's annual picnic/barbecue. The group provides burgers and hot dogs, and everything else is potluck. I brought Tortellini Salad--the same dressing as the one I used here, but with slightly different salad ingredients. I used a package of dried cheese tortellini, cooked until just tender; a package of grape tomatoes; a package of little tiny mushrooms (they were the same price as regular-sized ones); a chopped red pepper; and a few canned black olives. I left out the extra cheese as I didn't think it would hold up well, and it was fine without it. At least it was all gone by the end of the picnic, so I guess that meant it was all right.

I also took a pan of Ruth's Pineapple Cake, from the Harrowsmith Cookbook. This recipe has been around for years but it's still good, and it's very easy to make. It does get a bit sticky, though, so it's best eaten the same day you make it.

Ruth’s Pineapple Cake

2 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups crushed pineapple, un-drained (= 19 oz. can)
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional--our homeschool events are nut-free, so I leave them out)

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth (just with a wooden spoon is fine).

Scrape into greased jelly roll pan (a 10 x 15-inch pan) and bake at 325 degrees F for 35 minutes or until brown but not too brown. Cut in squares for serving (use a sharp knife and try to work around the bits of pineapple--otherwise you'll get ragged pieces).

From the archives: On language arts and things that go bump at bedtime

Originally posted August 2006. Ponytails was going into the fourth grade.

In looking at the overall plan for Ponytails' school year, I see that she's going to be writing geography "postcards"; keeping a history notebook (a trimmed-down version of a Book of the Centuries); and doing some writing (and nature-notebooking) for Botany. She'll be doing oral narrations for many of her other books, and maybe transitioning into some written work there as well. And do we ever use a dictionary for those other subjects? Does she ever ask me how to spell a word? Do I ever point out that she should have used a comma here or there? Do questions about what certain expressions mean, or what a biography is, ever come up in the rest of school or the rest of life? Of course, and we take full advantage of them.

So what's left for the dreaded Language Arts time? Well, some definite work on careful penmanship. Some work on spelling; I've decided to kill two Archaeopteryxes with one stone and work through a list of prefixes and suffixes, helping Ponytails find words that use those beginnings or endings, and learning how to spell them at the same time.

And since Peter Pan is one of the books we're going to read together this term, the noun-verb-synonym-quotation marks lessons, once a week, are going to come out of that. It's not as hard as you'd think to take a paragraph or so from a book and work with it for twenty minutes. For instance:
Of all delectable islands the Neverland is the snuggest and most compact, not large and sprawly, you know, with tedious distances between one adventure and another, but nicely crammed. When you play at it by day with the chairs and table-cloth, it is not in the least alarming, but in the two minutes before you go to sleep it becomes very real. That is why there are night-lights.--Peter Pan
Within that paragraph, we could find three words with the suffix -ly. We could look up "delectable," "compact," and "tedious" (although I think Ponytails learned "tedious" from watching Arthur); look up synonyms for "tedious" and "alarming"; pick out six adjectives, six nouns, and a couple of verbs.

On a more advanced level, we could look at the structure of those long sentences (with the understood "it is" before "not large and sprawly") and try rewriting them in shorter sentences; we could talk about what Barrie meant by "crammed" (were those sentences supposed to sound somewhat crammed?); we could talk about his non-standard use of "sprawly" (it is in the dictionary, but I think my fifth-grade teacher would have red-lined it); and we could look at the two hyphenated words that we don't spell with hyphens. We could even talk about what Barrie meant by saying that things that aren't scary in the daytime become alarmingly real at bedtime! (I think we have an Amanda Pig story about that, and of course there's always Bedtime for Frances.)

If I were into creative writing assignments, I might suggest writing a poem or other piece of writing about nightlights and bedtime worries.

If I were my fifth-grade teacher, I would require writing a paragraph on said subject with a topic sentence and a definite conclusion.

But since I'm not, I think we'll leave it at whatever level of discussion or creativity seems worthwhile at the time.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A shot of colour, for half the price

I had a big old white vintage bedsheet. We used a little piece of it for a sewing project, but there was lots left and I thought I might dye it blue and make a kitchen tablecloth.

I checked out fabric dye at the mill-ends outlet store today. They had basic little hockey puck tins for $3 each, or the fancier packets for $5. A piece of fabric the size of the sheet probably would have taken three tins or packets, plus whatever fixatives you might use. So a total of $9 to $15, plus the free sheet. And there are no guarantees of how it's going to turn out. I've seen warnings online about how "general purpose dyes" don't always cover as fully or as nicely as you want them to.

Then I went into the back corner of the store where they have fabric remnants. For $7, I bought a lovely piece of blue broadcloth big enough to cover our kitchen table.

Plus I still have the sheet.

Sometimes it's better not to be too creative.
(Of course, there's always crepe paper:

She was wearing a little old crepe de chine waist that she had dyed a real apple-blossom pink in the wash-bowl with a bit of pink crepe-paper and a kettle of boiling water. The collar showed neatly over the shabby dark-blue coat, and seemed to reflect apple-blossom tints in her pale cheeks. 
There was something sky-like in the tint of her eyes that gave the young man a sense of spring fitness as he looked at her contentedly.--Grace Livingston Hill, The Enchanted Barn)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Funky Doll Sofa, Almost Free (Tutorial)

Dollygirl's 18-inch dolls have lots of clothes, but they're short on furniture.  To help them out, I made this oversized chair, or sofa--depending on how many dolls (or guinea pigs) are squeezed onto it.  It requires a bit of sewing, but no gluing or nailing.

Start with one rather old hinged-lid chicken wings box, or anything else of that sort.  If you don't have an old hinged-lid chicken box but do have a box with its own lid, about the size of a child's shoebox, you can tape the lid to the back of the box and use that. 
Add one cut-down cereal box, stuffed with newspaper.  The cereal box needs to be the same size as the first box.  Stuff it inside, tightly.  Or you could just stuff the first box and then cover the seat with a piece of cardboard.

Now you have something that resembles a bed with a bookcase headboard.  Stuff the "bookcase" part with more crumpled newspaper.
Now it's time for some cutting and sewing. Take a child-size skirt, or the equivalent in other fabric. (Dollygirl had an old corduroy skirt she'd grown out of a  long time ago.)  Sew it into a tube that will fit nicely around the box.  When you slip it over the box, it should give you almost, but not quite, enough fabric to completely slipcover the sofa.  Sort of like a fabric tissue box cover, or a tea cozy.  It doesn't have to be perfect, because you're going to make a second piece to fit over the top. 
Here is the second piece of fabric (photo below).  I don't know how well you can see this in the photo, but I hemmed around the bottom and also wrapped it around and sewed in two places, making two corners that stand up.  It's not mandatory, but I thought it gave the top piece a better fit.
Now you slip that piece over the back of the sofa, tucking it in behind the seat.
If you have any fabric left, you can make cushions for the sofa. I made two tube-shaped pieces that work as arms for the couch, and two square ones. I machine-sewed them, leaving one side open; stuffed them with quilt batting (you could use any kind of stuffing), and hand-sewed the last side of each.
That's all!
Photos by Mr. Fixit, Dewey's Treehouse, 2012

Linked from Mad Skills Link Party #118 at Mad in Crafts, and from the Festival of Frugality.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

What dolls do on a hot day



Lemonade stand made by Dollygirl.  Crissy's bellbottoms and Abby's sweater by Mama Squirrel.

Photographs by Dollygirl, Dewey's Treehouse, 2012

Friday, August 24, 2012

What's for supper? Pizza chicken

Tonight's menu:

Pizza chicken (cut-up chicken breasts cooked with canned pizza sauce, green peppers, and mozzarella cheese)
Whole-wheat spaghettini

Banana-Bread Sundaes (a fancy-dessert-glass concoction of a bit of banana bread, a bit of mostly-thawed banana, a bit of mostly-thawed yogurt, a spoonful of peach jam, and some frozen strawberries warmed in the microwave)

Quote for the Day: "Call forth its riches"

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Two Canadian girls named Audrey (book reviews)

Come, Thou Tortoise, by Jessica Grant

The Factory Voice: A Novel, by Jeanette Lynes

Do all Canadian first novels feature a quirky main character named Audrey?

These two do, anyway.

They got written down on my "to read" list when they first came out (probably because of Globe and Mail book reviews), but it was only recently that I took them out of the library.

Grant's "Audrey" is, if you read the blurbs, supposed to be of low intelligence.  I don't understand that, based on her intensity, her precocity (read the chapters about her early life), and her ability to play with words in both French and English.  I think this is really just a woman who lives very much inside her own head, and who manages to cope more or less successfully with events around her even if she stresses everyone else out.  She'd be a great challenge to play on film.

And then there are the chapters narrated by her somewhat literary pet tortoise, Winnifred.  Some reviewers found those too precious, too unbelievable, or just confusing.  I liked them, though.  I think Winnifred is more able to be objective about things than Audrey is.  She may be stuck inside a shell, but in some ways it's bigger than Audrey's.

I liked the fact that Audrey found an equally "quirky" and unexpected soulmate, after giving up on Cliff, the rock climber.  (What is it with these books and giving people ridiculously appropriate names?  The test pilot in The Factory Voice is named Orville Loftus.  Think about it.)

What I didn't like:  the twist to the storyline, near the end of the book, that gave a different meaning to many of the earlier events.  (Think Akbar and Jeff.)  While there was nothing explicit about it, it changed the novel, for me, into something that I no longer considered suggesting that my high schooler read.  Besides that issue, there are some other passages with mature language and/or content.  Between the enjoyable and the less-enjoyable parts, I'd have given the book four out of five; based on the ending, I'm dropping it to three for adults, two for youngers.

The other "Audrey" is one of four main female characters in The Factory Voice.  Again, there is some profanity and adult content, enough of it that I was getting a bit nervous towards the end, waiting for another big plot bomb to go off.  It didn't this time, which was a relief.  The Factory Voice is set in and around a World War II aircraft factory in Northern Ontario, and it involves a little bit of romance, a little bit of wartime espionage, a little bit of necessary first-novel quirkiness.  Audrey is a teenage runaway from the prairies, who lies about her age and gets a job selling snacks to the factory workers.  Like Grant's Audrey, she has her own way of talking, and her own dreams (she'd like to put the wings on the airplanes).   But the novel frequently shifts viewpoints, and we get equal time with other characters: an engineer, an unhappy riveter, and a stenographer who wants to be a famous journalist (but who settles for writing a gossipy plant newsletter called The Factory Voice). 

I found this one thought-provoking, as it creates a sympathetic view towards those who didn't support the war, including those whose political sympathies (usually leftist) got them sent to detention camps, and those who (for one reason or another) helped them escape from the authorities.  On the other hand, weren't those who caused sabotage, to airplanes for example, equally responsible for injuries or possibly death?  The characters in the book are generally likeable, or at least they have understandable motivation to do what they do; but they may be somewhat idealized.  The "wanted guy" turns out to be very caring, helpful and loyal; in real life, I'm thinking he probably would have been someone to steer clear of.

But that's fiction for you.  Three and a half out of five; parental previewing definitely recommended first, and then only for older teens.

Pack some clean underwear...that's all.

Have you ever heard of Jessi Arrington?

She recently packed just underthings for a week-long TED Talks event, and found everything else at thrift shops when she got there.  (I found this linked from our MCC shop's site.)

Adventurous, no?

Free for Kindle this week: Joyce Swann's "Looking Backward," and some frugal homeschooling thoughts

The DHM tweeted recently that she remembers when Joyce Swann was writing columns for Practical Homeschooling Magazine, and "intimidating everybody."  I read her daughter Alexandra's autobiography, No Regrets, near the beginning of our homeschooling years, and I felt a bit intimidated too...but at the same time, I was a bit reassured that if Joyce could do it with ten children and through assorted major life crises, I should certainly be able to teach just one.  (This was before Ponytails and Dollygirl were born.) 

Earlier this month, the Swanns' website offered No Regrets as a free Kindle download.  I re-read it and thought it was still interesting.  BUT:  this week they are offering Joyce's book, Looking Backward, which I think is more useful for homeschooling parents.  You might expect that a homeschooling guide by someone who "intimidated everybody" and taught all her kids through elementary school, high school, university, and graduate school before they were out of their teens would be...scary.  But Mrs. Swann seems to be all about reducing students' burdens, rather than giving them unnecessary ones.  She is probably the first homeschooler I've ever heard to recommend having kids write IN their textbooks.  Deface them.  Highlight them.  Underline them.  Fill in the blanks.  Treat them as consumables.

Huh?

Well, you do need to understand that this family used the Calvert correspondence school, which sends out a fresh batch of textbooks for every student, and you can't pass them on to anyone else afterwards.  Which is one reason I  backed off from any idea I ever had of using Calvert (I actually did look into it, based both on the Swanns' book and Susan Schaeffer Macaulay's recommendations)...the one-child, no-passing-on deal didn't sit well with me.  But whatever...since they were forced to use brand-new books for each student, they treated the books as worktexts and wrote in them.  Joyce also had the kids respond orally, if it made things easier; and she used memory work tricks, like singing poems to familiar tunes.

So while you might not want to have a student write in a brand-new hundred-dollar-plus science textbook, the point comes across here, and I've heard some similar thinking in Charlotte Mason's books:  dreary copying, for instance, just so you can then underline the subject and the verb in a sentence, does nothing to build character and is usually a waste of time.  And if you're buying used materials frugally (as we usually do), and you have no plans to pass them on, unmarked, to someone else, why not do as you like with them?   Really, why not treat a thrifted French or math textbook, that cost a dollar or two and that might have gone in the recycling anyway, in whatever way makes the most sense for you and your student?  University students do it all the time.  If you print out articles or chapters of e-texts, you probably mark them up freely as well.  So if it makes your life easier, and your students' work less burdensome, then I agree with Joyce:  just do it.

Homeschooling books for free on Kindle are rare:  take advantage of this one while it lasts.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's for supper? on the frugal side

Tonight's menu:

Spicy Lentil Soup with Kielbasa
Pita bread from the bottom of the freezer, cut in triangles, sprayed with olive oil, and crisped in the oven

Fruit crisp made with leftover cereal (run through the food processor), frozen blueberries, leftover cranberry sauce, and the end of a jar of jam

From the archives: To be alive, to be really alive

First posted August 2010

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

What's for supper? Turkey Fajitas

We've been making the same Chicken Fajitas recipe for years--when we actually do use a recipe.  Sometimes we just cook chicken or turkey with salsa and call it done. 

Tonight we had some leftover white turkey meat, and green peppers, and tortillas...so we had Turkey-Pepper Fajitas with Cheddar cheese, sour cream, and olives for those who like olives (me).  I cooked a pot of rice to go with them.  (I know fajitas aren't supposed to be served with cheese, but too bad.)

Here's the recipe, since I don't think I've ever posted it here.  It was clipped from a newspaper years ago, so I don't know whose it was originally.  It's online here, but I don't think the contributor created the recipe.

Chicken Fajitas (or Leftover Turkey Fajitas)

3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or leftover chicken or turkey meat)
2 tbsp. lime juice (we use lemon juice because it's what we usually have around)
2 tbsp. salsa
1 clove garlic, minced (or garlic powder)
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
Few drops hot pepper sauce (optional)
8 7-inch flour tortillas
1 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion sliced, and/or 1 green or red pepper, sliced in strips (we often use just one or the other)
Black pepper (optional)
Toppings:  salsa, sour cream, etc.

If using raw meat:  cut into thin strips, place in a bowl, and add lime juice, salsa, garlic, chili powder, cumin, and hot pepper sauce.  Stir well and set aside.  (Because we had already-cooked turkey meat, I just sprinkled the mixture on the plate of turkey and let it sit while I got other things ready.)

In large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Saute onions and peppers until tender-crisp, three or four minutes.  Remove from skillet and set aside. 

Add chicken and any juices in bowl to skillet.  Cook, stirring, until chicken is cooked through.  Return onions and peppers to pan.  The mixture should be quite moist; if necessary, add a little more salsa.  Add black pepper if wanted.  Stir over high heat until very hot, about one minute.  Spoon chicken mixture onto warm tortillas.  Add desired toppings and roll up.

Cooked Turkey Variation:  I stir-fried the green pepper strips for a few minutes, then added the chopped, cooked turkey that had been sprinkled with the salsa mixture.  I just let it all heat through and that was it.  I did add a bit of water so that it wouldn't get too dry.

Linked from Easy Back to School Meals at The Common Room, August 2013.

In memory of Phyllis Diller: we have lost an entertainer.

From the archives: Cheaper than Babci?

First posted August 2010

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

Well, as I wrote in her comments, not much along the really yucky or questionable lines. My parents tried to be "economical" but only in generally accepted ways--no scraping pigeon droppings. Powdered milk, no air conditioning till I was ten and then it was one window unit, haircuts by a family friend, hand-me-downs, one car until my sister learned to drive, occasional Spam dinners, things made out of overgrown zucchini, and the first generation of generic groceries. But that's what everybody did in the soaring-inflation 1970's.
One of my grandfathers, though--he probably would have given Babci a run for her money. I think he wore the same suits for years. He didn't own or drive a car, so he rode everywhere on a bicycle, until he just physically couldn't anymore. He hunted wild mushrooms in the woods that turned deep black when you cooked them--my mother was always a bit nervous about those, but nobody ever frizzled up from them. He fed his cat on absolutely unthinkable pieces of fish and meat that he got for free or nearly so. (The cat outlived Grandpa.) Eventually the frugality got mixed up with dementia, and he started stockpiling things like tin cans and old gloves (i.e. trash), and reheating things too many times.  Until then, though, he was one of our Depression-surviving frugal role models...not the first one that came to mind for me when I started writing this, but probably one of its lifelong black belts.

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

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

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Yes, it's been a slow week

What's up in the Treehouse?

Mr. Fixit is fixing (and selling) as many things as he can.  Unfortunately, that didn't include our water heater, which suddenly quit after fifteen years, or our mattress, which gave its last bounce after twenty-plus.  Even Mr. Fixit has his limits. But clocks and radios--that, he's very good at.

The Apprentice is still cutting hair and getting ready to go back to classes.

Ponytails is getting geared up for Grade 10.

Dollygirl is trying to ignore the fact that school is around the corner.  Well, actually her school is in the basement, not around the corner, but you know what I mean.

Mama Squirrel is working on a lot of small projects.  Mr. Fixit and Dollygirl have one in progress too (not a radio). When a few of them are done, we'll do a photo post.

Till then...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Quote for the day: "The best year ever."

"I think this is going to be the best year ever all because I reread Towards a Philosophy of Education."--Cindy Rollins, "The First Day of Year 25," at Ordo Amoris.

Go, Cindy!

Monday, August 13, 2012

"If you paid attention, you'd be worried too."**

I downloaded a free e-book on the Kindle store the other day.  The last time I checked, it was still free.

It's written by a teacher and school administrator with over ten years' classroom experience.  It's a short book of thoughts on becoming a more effective teacher.

That, I won't argue with.  The world needs more effective teachers.

What I did have a problem with were sentences like the following:
"Only when you devote this amount of emotional drive and dedication can you take the student to their potential heights."

"Only until a student is assessed of their knowledge before you and then after you can you claim to have taught."

"Many parents were honest enough to tell me during a parent conference, "I was bad at school, so their going to be bad at school." 
I admit that spelling, punctuation, and grammar are not the most important things in life.

However, I think they ought to be just a little bit important to a teacher and school administrator.

'Nuff said.

**Theme song from Monk, composed and sung by Randy Newman

Homeschool Horizons' First Birthday Party

Hey, Canadian homeschoolers:  did you know this month is Homeschool Horizons Magazine's first birthday party?  And did you further know that if you subscribe (or re-subscribe) during the party, you not only get a better subscription deal, but you can win special prizes as well?

And did you even further know that Homeschool Horizons has a monthly CM column, along with lots of other good stuff to read?

So now you know. 

From the archives: it's still a good quote

First posted August 2006

The Deputy Headmistress posted this in the middle of something else on The Common Room:

"Which all reminds me of this quote from Terry Pratchett's Wee Free Men:

"...if you trust in yourself..."

"Yes?"

"...and believe in your dreams..."

"Yes?"

"...and follow your star..."

"Yes?"

"...you'll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy.""

From the archives: "Am I missing something?"

First posted by The Apprentice on August 19, 2006.

We watched Doctor Who episode "Age of Steel" this afternoon. And reflecting back on it, it strikes me as very odd.

Mickey is typing in code, to a computer, trying to hack into the system. HOW COME EVERYONE WHO DOES THIS ON A TV SHOW KNOWS HOW TO TOUCH-TYPE AND KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT TO TYPE, PLUS THEY TYPE AT LIKE 200 WPM? You know exactly what I mean. He's just sitting there, fingers moving over the keyboard, (like lightning), no mouse, staring at the screen. You can't see what he's typing, and neither can he. The guy with him, Jake, is identical in the manner of computer accessing (but Mickey's better). How is it possible that every computer on every show is possible to hack into by typing stuff?

Where my daddy squirrel works, password protecting files, changing passwords, et cetera, is not allowed. So if someone does that (not too often), he has to get in somehow. He's told me how he did it, and it's not as easy as TV makes it out to be. I mean, it's easy (most of the time), but it's not fast. You have to use some sort of cracker, and it takes a looonnnggg time. And I know for a fact that HE DID NOT SIT THERE AND TYPE RANDOM CHARACTERS INTO A BLANK SCREEN.

~♥~the apprentice~♥~

Saturday, August 11, 2012

What's for supper? Chicken and dumplings.


I realized I have a lot of chicken so thawed some this morning without knowing what I was doing with it. I've been stirfrying a lot lately so I wanted to try something a little different. Martha Stewart's Chicken and Dumplings recipe looked promising. I halved the recipe and used mixed peas and carrots with some onion flakes for the vegetables. I would watch the salt as I feel I oversalted a bit, and wasn't a big fan of the broth I used. Make sure you stir more often than the recipe requires...mine wanted to stick to the bottom of my Corningware. I used chicken thighs...the nutty flavour really added to the dish but breast would have been better in terms of texture.

What's for supper? Enchiladas

Tonight's dinner menu (just three of us here): chicken-cheese enchiladas, made with the leftovers from last night's chicken.

A sign of the times: the packages of large flour tortillas, that used to contain eight, have been cut to six. Large humph for that.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What's for supper? Hot chicken on a bun

Tonight's dinner menu:

One chicken from the freezer, cooked in the slow cooker with a little barbecue sauce, served on hamburger buns
Green beans

Brannies (brownies made with chocolate and bran cereal)
Pears

Vanilla Magic Milkshakes

We all might have books inside of us

But not all of us manage to get them out.

Exceptions: 

Melissa Wiley:  Fox and Crow are Not Friends, and two others coming out at the end of this month.

Bryana Johnson:  Having Decided to StayBryana is the daughter of Lindafay at Higher Up and Further In.

Congratulations to both.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

What's for supper? Sausage and Bean Helper.

Today I cooked up a batch of Miss Maggie's Family Favorite Pinto Beans.  I started them in the pressure cooker, because I worry about putting red beans straight into the slow cooker (do pintos count as red beans? Probably not, but I would rather be overcautious than sick).  Then I decided not to do them in the slow cooker anyway, but just cook them for the afternoon on the stove with Miss Maggie's spices.  (Because of time, not worry about toxins.)

That worked.

When they were done, I took about half the beans and liquid, and mixed them in a skillet with the remains of last night's sausage, sliced up, and last night's pasta, two little garden tomatoes, and some chopped celery.  I let that cook about half an hour, and added a bit of cheese on top.

And tomorrow I'll probably puree the rest of the cooked pintos, and freeze them in small amounts.  Instant refried beans, if tortillas ever go on sale again or if I get ambitious enough to make my own.  Multicultural food note:  around here, pita bread is often cheaper than tortillas, and, depending on what style you get, it can work just as well for things like fajitas.

One more Chesterton quote: on the enjoyment of waiting

"...most of the inconveniences that make men swear or women cry are really sentimental or imaginative inconveniences—things altogether of the mind. For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train. Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a railway station and wait for a train? No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures. Because to him the red light and the green light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon. Because to him when the wooden arm of the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and started a shrieking tournament of trains. I myself am of little boys’ habit in this matter. They also serve who only stand and wait for the two fifteen."--G.K. Chesterton, "On Running After One's Hat," in All Things Considered.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Thrift store Wednesdays: I did look for stuff besides books

I really didn't intend to bring home nothing but books once again.  I even took a short list with me of some things I wanted for crafts and around the house.  But since I couldn't find any of those things, I settled for books.

Three Cherry Ames books, not in great shape but okay for reading

Woe is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English, in Plain English, by Patricia T. O'Conner--also slightly mangled but useable. [UPDATE: I was not impressed by the boogers and other fifth-grade language in this book, and I think we have most of the information elsewhere.  This one's going back to the store--or maybe into the recycling.]

Three volumes in a really interesting Scholastic series called Graphic Poetry. Each book includes only one or two poems, with notes and several pages of illustrations.  Several in the series came in at the same time--I just picked out three that I thought I could use with Dollygirl (Alootook Ipellie, Raymond Souster, and Maxine Tynes).  Parental note:  I would recommend previewing these, especially for the artwork.  (Uh-oh footnote--I just read the Ipellie poem and realized it's about seal hunting.  That one's not going to sit well with Dollygirl.)

Shake, Rattle, & Learn: Classroom-tested ideas that use movement for active learning, by Janet Millar Grant

Time Great Inventions: Geniuses and Gizmos: Innovation in Our Time.  Lots of photos: I thought this would be a good supplement for our twentieth-century term.

For Mr. Fixit:  Modern Nostalgia: Mixing Personal Treasure and Modern Style, by Anna Kasabian and Nora Richter Greer.

What's for supper? Really Fast Ratatouille

I left a few sausages in the slow cooker this afternoon, but had only a few minutes to add side dishes when we came in the door from the thrift shop and a couple of errands.  This was the menu:

Farmer's Sausage
Pasta (the last of the animal-shaped noodles)
Really Fast Ratatouille, made with garlic, fresh Roma tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, and seasonings

Plums and yogurt.

Dollygirl brings you...Abby's Camping Trip

Crayons/Dollygirl has (finally) put together her photo post about her doll Abby's camping trip.  (Mentioned here.)  Good work, Dollygirl!

(The Evil Sewing Machine has been behaving pretty well lately.  So Abby has a new red dress and pinafore as well--we just have to take a picture.)

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Carnivals This Week, with updates

The Carnival of Homeschooling: Let's Play School Edition is hosted by HomeschoolJourneys.com, the new online home of Beverly from HomeschoolAbout.com.

The Charlotte Mason Blog Carnival is up at Jimmie's Collage.  It's a short one.

And the Festival of Frugality: Beware of Little Expenses Edition is at Buzzraid. Looks like we didn't get in this time around, but check it out anyway (following the trend, another short one).

Monday, August 06, 2012

From the archives: a really hard book endings quiz

First posted July, 2005. I came across this in our archives, and realized that I didn't even remember a couple of the answers. Amazing what holes appear in your memory after seven years. Good luck...the answers are here.

Here's a book quiz, made up of the endings of books! You can post your answers in Comments, but how about just saying which numbers you know, so you don't give it away to the others?

1. They waved their handkerchiefs until they turned the corner from New Dollar Street into Elm Street. Now they could no longer see the yellow house. Good-by, yellow house! Good-by!

2. That room was full to the brim of something beautiful, and Betsy knew what it was. Its name was Happiness.

3. The other [thing] is that back in our own world everyone soon started saying how Eustace had improved, and how “You’d never know him for the same boy”: everyone except Aunt Alberta, who said he had become very commonplace and tiresome and it must have been the influence of those Pevensie children.

4. None throws away the apple for the core.
But if thou shalt cast all away as vain,
I know not but ‘twill make me dream again.

5. The mouse hurried to his safe home.
He lit the fire,
he ate his supper,
and he finished reading his book.

6. And Montmorency, standing on his hind legs, before the window, peering out into the night, gave a short bark of decided concurrence with the toast.

7. To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced, that the General’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny,, or reward filial disobedience.

8. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

9. I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her. ALTERNATE ENDING I was very glad afterwards to have had the interview, for in her face and in her voice, and in her touch, she gave me the assurance that suffering had been stronger than XXX's teaching, and had given her a heart to understand what my heart used to be.

10. And Rose drew him in, and set him in his chair, and put little Elanor upon his lap.
He drew a deep breath. 'Well, I'm back,' he said.

(Isn't that last one the ultimate great ending? And no, it's not The Odyssey.)

Chesterton quote for the day: What matters in the end?

"Brief as is the career of such a book as this, it may last just twenty minutes longer than most of the philosophies that it attacks. In the end it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds. It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought."--G.K. Chesterton, "The Case for the Ephemeral," All Things Considered

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Chesterton quote for the day: on the desire for success

"At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man, but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?"

--G.K. Chesterton, "The Fallacy of Success," All Things Considered

Saturday, August 04, 2012

From the archives: "Things to read and think over"

Originally posted August 2006. 

This Week in Education hosts the 78th Carnival of Education, and it looks like there's a lot here this week. What would Charlotte Mason think of a "School of Rock approach to education?" (Is working on a class software project enough to educate young consciences in wisdom, or is it too utilitarian? Does it touch what Ruth Beechick calls the "heart" side of education?)

Scheiss Weekly has a few things to say to homeschooling parents who don't want their progeny to have to suffer through all those boring classes that they don't think they ever used. The guest blogger at Edspresso looks at students as customers [2012 updated link] (rather than as one of many ingredients in a final product). (Is that a good analogy or does it also miss the mark?) Don't miss Rebecca's comment, about the lack of what she calls "discrete chunks" in education. Here's a sample:
But what if the customer wants the information parceled out in discrete and sequential chunks, removed from the larger context? For instance, one of my children is at soccer camp this week, and I am fully expecting that the cost of this camp will include passing, dribbling, and shooting drills removed from the context of a soccer game. I'd be really upset if the camp was all games from beginning to end. Another child takes piano lessons, and I am fully expecting that the cost of the lessons will include his instructor asking him to isolate and practice every measure in a piece of music that causes him trouble. I'd be really upset if he was told to only play pieces from beginning to end, no matter how many notes he dropped or where the rhythm went. How can we expect him to know the joy of playing in time with a group of fellow musicians? Yet another child of mine just got a skateboard, and he is happily practicing over and over again how to balance going forward on the level, before he tries turning left or right or going uphill or downhill. It's only natural for him to start out that way. (from Rebecca's comment on the post "Serving the Customer")
(I think what Rebecca's talking about would fit into the idea that "Education is a discipline." CM also referred to the "disciplinary subjects" which were the ones that required the kind of systematic, bit-upon-bit work Rebecca describes.)

Not in the carnival, but also worth reading: Ann Voskamp's August column in Christian Women Online, Habits and Horizons: Blazing New Trails. [2012 update: try this link instead.] If your kids are enjoying holidays a little too much and you hate having to grapple with setting up good school-year habits all in the same week as getting into new books and finding the map you stored that goes with this year's history--go read Ann's wise words. (Not all homeschoolers are even on holidays right now--some people are just finishing a school year and some have already started the next. I know more than one family that starts their "new year" every January. But this is still good advice for whenever good routines need to be re-established.)

From the archives: Just a perfect day

Originally posted August 11, 2006.  Crayons/Dollygirl was five.

Crayons: This is a very fun day.

Mama Squirrel: Uh huh?

Crayons: I have nothing to do but sit back, relax, and read books.

(This said while shivering in a lawn chair on the back porch--this is an August morning, and it starts to get chilly in the mornings now--with a stack of ten picture books beside her. She is trying to get them all read so she can win a book bag in the public library's summer reading program.)

(Mama Squirrel is reading Plutarch's Titus Flamininus beside her, but at least Mama Squirrel realizes that it's cold enough to be wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. Mama Squirrel takes compassion on Crayons and goes and gets a jacket to drape around her so that she doesn't have to interrupt her reading marathon.)

Chesterton quote for the day: on wealth and success

"We must not have King Midas represented as an example of success; he was a failure of an unusually painful kind. Also, he had the ears of [a donkey]. Also (like most other prominent and wealthy persons) he endeavoured to conceal the fact. It was his barber (if I remember right) who had to be treated on a confidential footing with regard to this peculiarity; and his barber, instead of behaving like a go-ahead person of the Succeed-at-all-costs school and trying to blackmail King Midas, went away and whispered this splendid piece of society scandal to the reeds, who enjoyed it enormously. It is said that they also whispered it as the winds swayed them to and fro. I look reverently at the portrait of Lord Rothschild; I read reverently about the exploits of Mr. Vanderbilt. I know that I cannot turn everything I touch to gold; but then I also know that I have never tried, having a preference for other substances, such as grass, and good wine. I know that these people have certainly succeeded in something; that they have certainly overcome somebody; I know that they are kings in a sense that no men were ever kings before; that they create markets and bestride continents. Yet it always seems to me that there is some small domestic fact that they are hiding, and I have sometimes thought I heard upon the wind the laughter and whisper of the reeds."

--G.K. Chesterton, "The Fallacy of Success," All Things Considered

Friday, August 03, 2012

What's for supper? Mrs. S's Curry Casserole

Mrs. S. was the grandmotherly lady who lived beside us for many years (the lady who was entertained by the Geography Songs being belted out on the swingset).  The first week we moved in, she showed up with a curried chicken casserole...which I thought was kind of funny, since she was Irish through and through.  No matter; this kind of chicken dinner always makes me think of her. 

It was too hot to bake tonight, so the chicken casserole became a chicken skillet.

P.S.  Yes, I know this is not an authentic curry.  But it's good anyway.

Tonight's dinner menu (cleaning out the fridge):

Mrs. S's Curry Casserole/Skillet, with optional garnishes of slivered almonds, raisins, chow mein noodles
Brown rice
Sweet potatoes (peeled, cut up and cooked in a pot)
Cottage cheese, applesauce

Chocolate microwave cake with vanilla yogurt and/or rasberry sauce mixed with frozen blueberries

Chicken Curry Casserole/Skillet (this is a very approximate recipe)

Cooked chicken--about two cups, cut up
Any vegetables you want, cut up in the food processor (onions, green peppers, carrot)
Chicken broth, or water plus bouillon powder
1 cup milk
2 tsp. curry powder
2 tbsp. cornstarch
Salt and pepper
Rice and garnishes

If you're making this on the stovetop, combine the chicken, vegetables, and broth or water plus bouillon in a skillet.  Cover and simmer until the vegetables are starting to get tender.  In a measuring cup, whisk together the milk, curry powder, and cornstarch.  Add to the hot mixture and continue cooking until thickened and heated through.  Add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve over hot rice, and pass raisins, nuts, or whatever other garnishes people like.

If I were making this in the oven, I'd probably make a sauce of the broth, milk, curry powder, and cornstarch on top of the stove, pour it over the chicken and vegetables, and then bake it for half an hour.

Overheard in the doctor's office

If this looks familiar, it's because I had it posted earlier in the week, then took it down to make room for other things.

Mr. Fixit had to go to the doctor this week. While he was checking in, the phone rang and the receptionist's conversation went something like this: "No, we can't treat concussion here. Is your little girl bleeding?...Is she conscious? No, you really need to take her to emergency."

She hung up, and an older lady sitting in the waiting room said, "Oh dear, that sounded serious." The receptionist gave kind of a let-me-tell-you huff, and said, "We've had a whole string of calls like that this morning. Some boys playing high jump and one of them broke his wrist...etc. etc. etc."

Ping--light bulb goes on.

It's Olympics week.

(We are not laughing at head trauma and broken bones, honestly, and we sincerely hope the little girl wasn't seriously hurt. It's just the timing...like an episode of Emergency.)

Chesterton quote for the day: the theology of laughter

"In order to understand vulgar humour it is not enough to be humorous. One must also be vulgar, as I am. And in the first case it is surely obvious that it is not merely at the fact of something being hurt that we laugh (as I trust we do) when a Prime Minister sits down on his hat. If that were so we should laugh whenever we saw a funeral. We do not laugh at the mere fact of something falling down; there is nothing humorous about leaves falling or the sun going down. When our house falls down we do not laugh. All the birds of the air might drop around us in a perpetual shower like a hailstorm without arousing a smile. If you really ask yourself why we laugh at a man sitting down suddenly in the street you will discover that the reason is not only recondite, but ultimately religious. All the jokes about men sitting down on their hats are really theological jokes; they are concerned with the Dual Nature of Man. They refer to the primary paradox that man is superior to all the things around him and yet is at their mercy."

--G.K. Chesterton, "Cockneys and their Jokes," All Things Considered

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Book Review: Toss, Keep, Sell!

Toss, Keep, Sell!: The Suddenly Frugal Guide to Cleaning Out the Clutter and Cashing In, by Leah Ingram.  About $US10 on Amazon.com, in either paperback or Kindle format.  (I borrowed a copy from the library.)

Over the last two or three decades, I have read a lotta, lotta, lotta clutter and organizing books.  Some inspired me to get busy and do something; some were interesting, some were boring.  Some had good ideas, and a lot were the same old stuff.  Recently I've downloaded several free Kindle books about organizing, home management, and clutter, and most of them are the same old stuff.  One of them might grab you at the right moment and become your friend, but really there isn't much new to say about "toss what you don't need, organize the rest."

So I know I've found a keeper when a) I enjoy reading it and b) I actually get a couple of new ideas that c) work.  Someone named Books and Chocolate already reviewed Toss, Keep, Sell! on Amazon.com, and that's pretty much what they said, too.  There are a few ideas I couldn't exactly relate to, like making money reselling Tiffany and Prada stuff that you might have gathering dust (??), but overall I liked her ideas, particularly about re-purposing unused items in other rooms.  Of course we've done that lots of times, but reading the book sparked a couple of new ideas I hadn't thought of before.  Yesterday I did some cleaning out in our dining room--not where we eat all our meals, this is more of a space where we have holiday dinners and sew and do homework in between, so it gets messy.  I cleaned out the buffet, got rid of a couple of old tablecloths and a bunch of polyester napkins that we never use, and realized that I could use the built-in cutlery tray in the top drawer for our good cutlery.

Why I never thought of that, after living here for almost fifteen years, I don't know, but I had always kept the "good" set of cutlery (wedding gift) in a wooden box (wedding gift) on top of the china cabinet.  But the knife holder had broken loose inside the box, and half of the good cutlery had migrated into the everyday drawer in the kitchen anyway because we were short on spoons.  So...short end of the story...the good cutlery, what we don't need for every day, now lives in the buffet.  Which gave me a nice empty wooden box...which was twice the size of the small jewelery box I'd been stuffing my beads and earrings into for years.  So now I have a bigger jewelery box, and Dollygirl has my old box since she didn't have one at all.  Everybody wins, and the top of the china cabinet is suddenly clear too.

The format of the book is room-by-room, which is pretty typical.  But I think what it sets it above the norm are the personal examples and the sum-it-up charts, as well as the up-to-date suggestions such as using Craigslist and E-bay.

So...this is a new addition to my short list of favourite clutter/organization books.  (Others are It's Here...Somewhere, by Alice Fulton, and Don Aslett's For Packrats Only.)

Chesterton quote for the day: the honest poor

"You speak of people who laugh through their tears; it is our boast that we only weep through our laughter. There remains always this great boast, perhaps the greatest boast that is possible to human nature. I mean the great boast that the most unhappy part of our population is also the most hilarious part. The poor can forget that social problem which we (the moderately rich) ought never to forget. Blessed are the poor; for they alone have not the poor always with them. The honest poor can sometimes forget poverty. The honest rich can never forget it."
--G.K. Chesterton, "Cockneys and Their Jokes," All Things Considered

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Thrift store Wednesdays: Mostly for school

Things I did at the thrift store today:  arranged a memorial rack of Maeve Binchy novels.  Put several books out on quilting (and the philosophy of quilting, and Amish quilts).   Emptied several miscellaneous boxes onto the backroom shelves.  Emptied two whole boxes of books straight into the recycle bins, because they smelled of mildew.  (The thrift store doesn't want stinky books.)  Put out ALL the craft, decorating, sewing, and home repair books that we had in the back, because I know the Book Boss doesn't like doing those, and I wanted to give him something to smile about when he comes in tomorrow.

What I brought home was mostly for the upcoming school year.
The Usborne Illustrated Dictionary of Maths (2003, British edition)

Eine Kleine Deutschmusik: Learning German Through Familiar Tunes, The SingLingual Method, by Uwe Kind. This came in awhile back but it was still sitting, and I decided to buy it myself. Where else are you going to find such useful phrases as "Wo haben Sie Deutsch gelernt? In einem Abendkurs"** set to the tune of Santa Lucia?  (No, Dollygirl is not learning German, but we might try one or two of these just for fun.)
Nelson Science: Characteristics and Classification of Living Things. Written for Canadian public schools (1997); short and basic.

Klutz Tissue Paper Flowers: Good Enough to Fool Bees. Like new: it still has all its tissue paper and pipecleaners.

** "Where did you learn German? In an evening class."

What's for supper? Spaghetti-style sloppy Joes

Tonight's dinner menu:

Whole wheat hamburger buns with tomato-meat sauce (leftover sauce I had frozen) and mozzarella cheese
Peas
Leftover salad and raw veggies

The remnants of the Crockpot Applesauce Cake I made last night, with vanilla yogurt and raspberry sauce

Book Review: Castle Dor

I've never read any fiction (until now) by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, although I admire his lectures and his Oxford Book of English Verse.

I've also never read anything by Daphne du Maurier, that I can remember (although I've seen Rebecca a couple of times).

But I came across a copy of Castle Dor, which "Q" started and Ms. du Maurier completed after his death (it was published in 1961), and I was curious enough to read it through.

The concept is that by some mystical working of fate, the legend of Tristan and Iseult (Isolde) is brought to life again by a pair of star-crossed 19th-century lovers.  It's not just a retelling, like Till We Have Faces or Rumer Godden's A Breath of Air: these characters seem to be more possessed by their older counterparts, and are therefore doomed to make the same choices and suffer the same consequences.  (You don't have to know the legend ahead of time, because other characters are familiar with the story and discuss it in detail.)  Some of the parallels are so clever and literary (such as name of the dog Pettigrew, a parallel to Iseult's dog Petit Criu), that the book, in some ways, is almost a tour de force, especially since it's written by two people.

However, I can't say I really enjoyed it. Although by today's standards it's very tame, it's still definitely an adult book. Besides the fact that the main storyline is about adultery, there's a certain style--I don't know whether it's purely du Maurier or whether Quiller-Couch wrote this way too--that I can only describe as mid-20th-century ladies'-book-club steamy.  Charged-up.  Nothing is described, but everything is implied, and it was all a little much for this squirrel.

One out of five.

Chesterton quote for the day: "it is so hard to be frivolous"

"It is so easy to be solemn; it is so hard to be frivolous. Let any honest reader shut his eyes for a few moments, and approaching the secret tribunal of his soul, ask himself whether he would really rather be asked in the next two hours to write the front page of the Times, which is full of long leading articles, or the front page of Tit-Bits, which is full of short jokes. If the reader is the fine conscientious fellow I take him for, he will at once reply that he would rather on the spur of the moment write ten Times articles than one Tit-Bits joke. Responsibility, a heavy and cautious responsibility of speech, is the easiest thing in the world; anybody can do it. That is why so many tired, elderly, and wealthy men go in for politics. They are responsible, because they have not the strength of mind left to be irresponsible."

--G.K. Chesterton, "The Case for the Ephemeral," All Things Considered
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