Sunday, January 15, 2017

Talking about food, for a change

Meals at the Treehouse have changed a lot over the years. This past year or two, we've simplified a lot: maybe making the same main dish we used to, but with less fuss about sìde dishes, and hardly any on-purpose desserts unless there's a special reason. Simplifying wasn't a philosophical or even a health-related decision, just a practical one. If you cook it or bake it, somebody has to eat it, and somebody also has to do the cleanup; and with fewer people here to both eat and do dishes, it makes sense to give everyone a break. I've even learned a few new tricks, such as cooking a pot of rice (any kind), freezing half of it, and then microwaving the leftovers for almost-instant rice another night. The toaster oven also gets lots of use.

I started making a cupboard/freezer inventory this weekend, and I was almost embarrassed to see how long the list was. It's definitely time to do some eating from the pantry. What makes it harder to plan that out, these days, is that with more informal or spur-of-the-moment meals, I'm not "feeding" people so much as just making the food available. (Keeping English muffins, eggs, and cheese in the fridge, for instance, so that Lydia can make her favourite fast meal.)

So here are some tentative plans for this week's dinners. Lunch is often leftovers, and breakfast is up to each person (unless maybe we make hot cereal).

1. On hand: whole chicken, some barbecue sauce, ingredients pre-mixed for whole wheat bread, salad greens. Menu: chicken in the slow cooker, bread in the machine, salad. Bonus: Leftover chicken for sandwiches or pasta (see #4), and some of the bread in the freezer.

2. On hand: frozen cranberries, sugar, jar of chili sauce, ground pork, other ingredients for meatballs, rice, frozen broccoli. Premake: homemade cranberry sauce. Menu: pork meat balls with sauce made from chili sauce and some of the cranberry sauce; rice, broccoli.

3. On hand: bacon, homemade syrup, blueberries, eggs, other ingredients for pancakes. Menu: pancakes and accompaniments.

4. On hand: cooked chicken, spaghetti, parsley, Parmesan cheese, a jar of Alfredo sauce, salad greens. Menu: Chicken Alfredo and salad. There's also a bit of pizza dough in the freezer, so I might thaw that and turn it into breadsticks.

5. On hand: stew beef, and vegetables for stew; frozen whole wheat bread. Menu: Slow cooker stew, carrot sticks, bread, cheese. Bonus: probably some leftovers.

6.  Bonus stew meal.

7. On hand: vegetables, rice, canned beans, canned tomato sauce, salsa, and I think some chicken broth. Menu: either homemade vegetable soup, or some kind of a rice and beans meal, with salad or whatever.

Extra things to make: banana muffins, with the two that are in the freezer; and maybe some granola with Christmas-baking extra coconut.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Here is the Winter's End Project 333 update

Three months, 34 pieces of clothing. (I didn't quite squeeze it to 33 this time.) Most of them are from earlier lists, and a few are new-to-me.

I thought you might need some reasons for clicking on the page:

* you can read why I was inspired by a scarf I didn't buy.
* you can see what a mama squirrel wears inside the nest
* you get to see a happy selfie of me with shorter hair.

Good enough?

Friday, January 13, 2017

Shopping fun with Mama Squirrel

It was time for one of those not-often walking trips uptown. Actually I didn't have to walk there this time, because Mr. Fixit was having lunch with a friend and dropped me off near the stores.
At the bookstore: calendars for half price (we were using a freebie in the kitchen, and I thought sea turtles were nicer than photos of recipes we won't make), and the November/December issue of Faith Today. I was hoping for the Jan/Feb issue, but it's not in the store yet.
At the consignment store: two things I was especially looking for, and that I hadn't been able to find at the thrift store. First, a knitted vest.
And then a grey cardigan. I tried on about ten different ones before settling on this wrap style. (I was feeling very picky, and the others were all too dark, too light, too small, too fuzzy, or too overpriced.)
I stopped at the grocery store and picked up emergency lettuce for Muffin, and some half-priced onion-poppyseed buns. That store always has the best clearance baking.
Mr. Fixit picked me up at the library, where I found a for-sale book about cooking like a cheap mid-century Francophone.
Which made me hungry enough that I came home and ate one of the buns with cream cheese. Bon appetit.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Frugal finds and fixes, long-overdue update

It has been awhile since we posted a Frugal Finds and Fixes, so here is a new installment.

Our public library is subscribed to the video-teaching website, and I am planning on using it to improve some of my computer skills. Homeschoolers might find some of their techie courses interesting. They also offer quite a bit on photography and videography.

We had a homemade pizza night this week instead of getting takeout. Pizza dough is easy in the bread machine, and pizza is a very forgiving, use what's in the fridge kind of meal. We topped ours with mushrooms, peppers, salami, canned pasta sauce, and some mixed bits of grated cheese on top. The only bad thing about baking pizza at home is that it always sets off the smoke alarm, and even after we push the "never mind" button, it continues to hiccup for awhile. This never happens with frozen store pizza, just homemade (I think because we set the oven higher).

Tonight's dinner was sausage, ranch potatoes, frozen green beans and carrots, and blueberry muffins that I thought of at the last minute. This is nothing new, but we continue to use the toaster oven, slow cooker (s), and microwave as much as possible, turning on the big oven only when the food or the pan won't fit into anything else.  That would include cookie sheets, muffin pans, and the roaster (the handle makes it too tall).

Yesterday we dropped some of our clearing-out stuff at the thrift store, and had a look around inside. Mr. Fixit found a vintage Polaroid camera. Lydia (who was off school due to predicted bad weather that took its time appearing)* found some books. Mama Squirrel found a t-shirt for herself, and a black shirt from the dollar rack, that looked nice on Lydia but was missing a cuff button.

*When the storm finally showed up, it was a midnight thunderstorm with pouring rain. Basements were undoubtedly flooded, but, thankfully, not ours this time.
That's what button bags are for.
I also mended some leggings while I had the needle still threaded. I hate threading needles, but every time I buy needle threaders, they break. Somewhere out there, there must still be some decent ones for sale.
Finally, stay tuned over the next week or so, because it's almost time for a new Project 333 update.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Day...six. Random Epiphanies. (Last Numbers post)

January 6th: Epiphany. The visit of the Magi. Also a moment of sudden illumination.

Here are some epiphanies I've had about things, tools, clothes, clutter, and living the life.

1. I once read about an after-school tutor who travelled around with a very small box of teaching tools. It might have been a cigar box, might have been a shoebox. At any rate, he had a few little things he used over and over to help kids with reading and math. Something like, a few pieces of Lego, some stickers, a couple of little cars, some markers and index cards.  This guy was admired for his creativity and success in teaching.  So, why do we so often think we need a fancier set of tools for (you fill in the blank)? Look what Johnny Appleseed did with some seeds and a spade.

2. Don't try to clean blueberry stains from your vintage kitchen counter with baking soda. The pattern will disappear along with the blueberries.

3. Snow doesn't shovel itself. But you can feel happy about making safe places for people to walk.

4. Two days after you pay too much postage to order some used books you really wanted, you will be sent a free e-copy to review of something else that's wonderful (and 300+ pages long). Which is a good thing, undoubtedly, but also a reminder of the need for trust, patience, and not stepping ahead of God's timing.

5. I think packages of notecards or postcards make great gifts for people.  Maybe with a pen as well. Because there is nothing quite as personal as having to put the words on paper in your own handwriting. If your handwriting is like mine, it's also humbling. Not Ma Ingalls here, at all.

6. Why is shorter hair supposed to be less work? I recently got a short, layered cut, and I realized that I'm now lacking the benefits of gravity in drip-dry hairstyling. If I don't mess with it, it's a mess.  Those of you who think the shorter grass is greener should ponder before pruning.

Happy 2017! And if you're Ukrainian and/or Orthodox, Merry Christmas.

Quote for the day: Not born free?

"When God Himself gave His ten commandments to the children of Israel, He did not impose an arbitrary rule. Drawing on the principle of propriety, He expressed ten laws that, if they followed them, would lead them to treat things as they ought to be treated (Worship the Lord, honor your parents, leave the neighbors stuff alone, etc.) and, since that is how reality is structured, they could be free. Not just free from Egypt, but free to be His people who knew them and what led to their flourishing." ~~ Andrew Kern, "Writing as a Liberating Art," Circe Institute blog

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Day...five. Five ways to not bring it all home with you.

Link for the day: 10 Ways To Redefine Your Purchase Process, at An extract:

"Cultivate a museum mentality. Living more simply doesn’t mean you don’t want more. The desire for more dissipates but in my experience, it doesn’t go away completely. Instead of finding gratification in the owning, find it in appreciation for the item. For instance, when you walk through a museum you can fully appreciate the art without owning it. The same goes for new clothing, gadgets and other things. When you desire, admire. Don’t acquire."

Well, I did acquire something at the antiques barn this morning (while admiring and appreciating a lot of other things I didn't want to buy). A pile of books will be going out the door here, but a few more are coming in, because they're more relevant, more needed, or just more special.
This wasn't in the greatest shape (as you can see from the spine), but it was a Charlotte Mason/PNEU standard in the upper forms (even if she got the title wrong):
 "Mr Arnold Forster has done in this volume for children and the illiterate, what Professor Green did in his Shorter History of England for somewhat more advanced students, awakening many to the fact that history is an entrancing subject of study." (Home Education
In the meantime, the "donate" baskets are filling up:

And the "sort these out, put away" things are getting organized.
And what does this, if anything, have to do with the number five? Besides the fact that Charlotte Mason's students read Green's History starting in the fifth form? How about five ways to have fun, enjoy and appreciate things without wanting to own them permanently?

1. Antiques barns are good for window shopping, because there are so many things there that you probably either can't afford, don't have room for, or wouldn't want even if they were free. This morning I saw (among other things) a 1962 cardboard Barbie Dream House (it's adorable, but what would I do with it?), a toy telephone I had when I was four, and some little ceramic cottages like one we were given as a wedding gift. Would I like to have a whole village of tiny cottages? The thought ran briefly through my head, but it was fairly easy to quash. One's enough.

2. Use your hunter-gatherer instincts in a way that doesn't take up permanent space. Hunt down school or hygiene supplies for mission projects, or make hats or teddy bears for charity. Or do some Google or database searching for names of forgotten things. Or get into a hobby like collecting seeds (that will go into the ground or get given to other people). Or become an expert on something gigantic, like cathedrals or the Grand Canyon.

3. Use those Charlotte Mason mental visualization skills to store up lovely things. The trend now is to say "don't keep it, take a picture of it," but as we've been told repeatedly, people now are often so busy snapping pictures of everything from breakfast to graduations that they miss "being in the moment" for them. And then they have to hope their camera or computer doesn't lose the files. Go against the trend and just look without photographing. Draw a picture or copy a quote if you really have to.

4. Take a trip to a butterfly conservatory, a rock museum, or a donkey farm, whatever suits your interests and ethics. Skip the gift shop, obviously. Small towns known for boutiques and antique shops are a riskier choice, but you can always go with just enough cash for ice cream.

5. Mr. Fixit's contribution: create an avatar and enjoy some virtual reality. I actually found this suggestion quite funny, because years ago the girls and I had Yahoo avatars on the blog, and our little people got to wear all the fun costumes and pose in front of the hundred and one background scenes. Those were the days.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Day...four. In the midst.

Previous posts in the New Year's Numbers series

Link for today: Four ways to declutter at, includng the Four Box method. My four boxes became five, because I couldn't remember if there was a difference between "keep" and "put away," and when I remembered that "sell" was also a category, that made five.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Day...three. (Part Two)

“Is there not glory enough in living the days given to us? You should know there is adventure in simply being among those we love and the things we love, and beauty, too.” ~~ Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron
So...I said I would ruminate over the past year's post-midlife-clothes-crisis closet experiment.

I don't think the success of it has been in trying to wear radically different clothes (I'm not). It's in knowing more what I'm looking for at a certain time; why I bought two pullover sweaters on my last thrifting trip, instead of, maybe, buying a pair of pants (I have enough) or a dress that I might wear once or twice. Or instead of bypassing the clothes at all and heading for the books. I was looking for a plain navy sweater, and when I found a green henley-style one as well that matched a favourite scarf, and the green sweater turned out to be a was just icing on the clothes cake. A year ago, I was pretty random about what went into the mix; now I have more of a plan.

The second benefit, ironically, is that I'm more aware now of certain clothing brands and stores I hadn't paid attention to before. Longtime shopaholics would not understand this, but if you don't go looking at clothes much, of course you don't know what's out there and how things are changing. While I was looking the other way (or was hiding out in the book store), several Canadian clothing chains went belly-up, and others came in that I'd never heard of. I also noticed (I've posted about this before) that my default places to shop (like the discount store) have taken a dive in clothing quality. The t-shirts and sweaters might not have been great before, but now they mostly look like they'd last about two washings and then be...garbage. Like we've been talking about. So the past year has been an unexpected education, in different ways.

Initially I resisted the numbers aspect of Project 333 because I didn't want to get legalistic about it. I still don't think that setting a number limit on clothes is the best plan for everyone. For me it has helped in the same way that a "desert island" game might help someone else focus on what's important to them. If I knew that I had room in my mini-closet for only a couple of dresses, what would they look like? What would I wear them for? What kind of shoes or other things would I need to wear with them? Would I need skirts too, or would pants be enough? I don't wear shorts much outside the house in the having one or two pairs is plenty for me.  I'm not as crazy about turtlenecks as I used to be; but I might try the round necklines I've always avoided. I still can't wear white, and it's not just the lights in the changing rooms. And you know what I think about black...although I caved in this Christmas and found a fake-velvet midi skirt on the dollar rack. It was headed for Lydia's closet, but she decided she didn't want it, so I wore it with sweaters over the holidays. I think I've become more open to experimentation and change, although when something is a "no," it doesn't get a second chance.
The best thing, for me, is that all this came together around the time I turned 50. Big numerals there, people. 50 is not a bad thing. 50 means you are old enough to wear what you like because you're old enough to know that you like it.
Col. Jessup: I would appreciate it if he would address me as "colonel" or "sir." I believe I've earned it.
Judge Randolph: Defense counsel will address the witness as "colonel" or "sir."
Col. Jessup[to Judge] I don't know what...kind of unit you're running here.
Judge Randolph: And the witness will address this court as "judge" or "your honor." I'm quite certain I've earned it. Take your seat, Colonel.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the number Four...

Day...three. (Part One)

Sunday's post about One
Monday's post about Two

As Schoolhouse Rock used to say, three is a magic number. Three Squirrelings. Three meals a day. The number of a current writing project. Faith, hope and love.

Three threes make up Project 333, and by an interesting coincidence we just watched the documentary Minimalism last night. Courtney Carver, the originator of Project 333, appears in the film, talking briefly about what propelled her into a more-with-less lifestyle. I've been trying to follow a Project 333 plan for the past year, so this is a good time to think about what's working, why I'm doing this, and what's ahead.
One of the people interviewed in the documentary said that the problem isn't that our culture isn't too materialistic, it's that it's not materialistic enough. She meant that we are so surrounded with so much stuff that we don't properly appreciate any of it. In the days when children's toys were expensive and scarce, a stuffed rabbit (let's say) became a cherished possession; but now (says one confessing much experience of this particular overload), decorators show us how to hang a hundred stuffies in grape-like bunches from the ceiling. I saw a photo like that yesterday, and it made me wonder where the child fit into that picture, and if he ever really noticed the toys again once they were strung up like that. I wondered if he had one or two held-back "friends" for company down below.

Deliberately limiting the number of clothes we wear is somewhat artificial, a response to a first-world problem. But it's a step towards, maybe, a healthier relationship with "stuff." Janice at The Vivienne Files is starting a no-shop year herself.  There is a lot of freedom in saying "I have enough."

This isn't a no-shop year for me; I'm still filling in some gaps, mostly for the warm weather that will eventually arrive here (said hopefully on a dreary January day). I might even do some thrift-makeover sewing if I find something interesting to work with. But I think it's going to be a year of trying to focus in, of "use it or lose it."

To be continued...

Monday, January 02, 2017

Day...two. (On garbage restrictions and making things out of nothings)

Yesterday's post about One

The number Two has a particular significance right now in terms of Stuff. In a very few weeks, our area moves to limited garbage pickup, and we will be allowed the equivalent of two fifty-pound garbage bags per week, and garbage over the limit will have to be tagged with (you guessed it) Two-dollar bag tags. Except that the idea of a fifty-pound garbage bag seems excessive, especially since they also have a rule (quite logical) that the bag has to be able to hold whatever's inside it. Right now a limited pickup seems weird and hard to get used to, but I suppose it will be like the introduction of always having to use telephone area codes from a few years back: after awhile you can't remember what it was like just to type in a seven-digit number.

So the question is not only how we are going to be able to master the art of packing and lifting fifty-pound garbage bags (says I, who have never in my life had to weigh garbage), but (more relevant) what's going or not going inside those bags. Which comes back to the questions of what we buy, what we use, how we use it, how we dispose of it. Because if we buy a thing, at some point it, or its outsides or insides, are going to be left somewhere. And obviously, the fewer things that end up in those Two bags, the better.

For us, the main alternative is going to be the Green Bin (food waste, paper napkins, pet bedding).

The second strategy is something we already try to do: use things longer and in different ways so that we don't have to buy as many new things. I am not of the school that thinks hot-gluing dried-out pens in a wreath shape makes a pretty wall decoration (if you remember a certain book review I wrote awhile ago); but I do hang onto things and try to make them work in new ways. The photo below was our not-quite completed hall decoration this Christmas (I added some red beads to the cups later on). The inner and outer glass jar parts were bought several years ago, and the bits and pieces inside the jar were a lot of absolutely useless trimmings from old thrifted candle rings. It's sitting on one of those wicker holders you use with paper plates, surrounded with pinecones cut from more candle rings, and tied with some ribbon that came on a gift. I even had the red candle in our stash. The doily and cups were inherited from Mr. Fixit's grandma.
More to the point of this post: Where Is It Now? As of yesterday, the cups, doily, and flat basket are back in the cupboard. I stored the ribbon and pinecones...maybe we'll use them again. The jar full of trimmings is also in a cupboard. I may use it as-is next Christmas, or maybe not.

The third strategy, and one that I think we may have more trouble with, is using fewer containers that have to be disposed of. Buying refill or bulk options, things like that. I like mixing my own sloppy joe and taco seasonings (and there's no package to throw away), but it's never been under coercion. We don't shop at warehouse club stores, or buy the giant economy size (especially with just three people, one guinea pig); but we may have to double-think anything that comes in a non-recyclable box.

Will the Limit of Two make much difference to the way our Treehouse runs? I'm trying to see it as a learning opportunity rather than an annoyance...and it's not like we have a choice in the matter. So stay tuned.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

There is no day of the year as focused on One, First, Beginning, as New Year's Day is. Well, the first day of school comes close, but it doesn't usually include that great big unsullied One.

Courtney Carver wrote a post six years ago called The Power of One, and she has revisited it on other posts since then. Why do we need so many multiples, extras, backups?, she asked. What if you limited certain possessions or activities to a one-and-only? Or, for things that come in sets, one set?

The all-commanding nature of a One can appeal to us, while still being sometimes unreachable or impractical. I can think of situations where a spare is not excess but common sense, or where it is an opportunity for giving. An extra sandwich in your lunch means the chance to share. Every little kid needs a backup pair of mittens. And, as in one of the last Mitford novels, you do not want to be buying toilet paper one roll at a time.

There's also the long-cherished idea of having an "everyday" and a "Sunday" or "special" whatever-it-is. In Josephine Tey's novel Daughter of Time, Mrs. Tinker makes a point of wearing her "blue" on important occasions. Some people will remember the "red plate" tradition, a way of honouring one person at a meal. Bringing out a "best" tablecloth or pair of earrings or bottle of something can be the way we mark a celebration.

However, the idea of One's Enough, at least in the everyday, gives us a chance to focus; even, perhaps, to value, cherish, practice loyalty, and see the uniqueness of our One Thing, like The Little Prince's rose. So with that in mind, here are some of my Ones.

1. One new handicraft this year. I was a book winner on Sew Mama Sew's Handmade Holidays posts, and sometime in the New Year I will be getting a copy of Sew Illustrated, a book of zakka embroidery projects. This is all new to me, but I'm game.

2.  One neighbourhood takeout pizza place, and one go-to Chinese restaurant. This saves us from having to keep track of all those coupons from other chains.

3. One general stream of ethnic food tradition: we lean towards Eastern European cooking rather than Indian or Tex-Mex or Japanese. Not that those other things aren't fun sometimes, but they all have their own must-haves in the fridge, in the cupboard, with the pots and pans. If I cooked Asian all the time, I'd want a rice cooker and probably a wok; if I made curry regularly, I'd need all the spices. I worry more about running out of sauerkraut than I do salsa.

4. One pair of blue jeans. For awhile I didn't have any, then I had one plus a backup pair that didn't fit quite as well. Now I'm back to one. Some people might call them mom jeans, but I don't care.

5. Related to #3, I have one favourite recipe for brownies, one for oatmeal cookies, one for rolls, and so on.

6. One husband. Because there is only one Mr. Fixit.

Over the next few days I will be posting about Two, Three and Four. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas things to eat

Cookies and chocolate
Fruit Pizza (for breakfast)
Napkin and cutlery bundles
Lunch, brunch, or whatever you call it. The rice cooker belongs to Ponytails. The salads and sandwiches are also guest contributions.
Heat-and-eat cabbage rolls
Persimmons (Ponytails' contribution), blueberries, blackberries, and mini oranges.

From the not-long-ago archives: Ranch-spiced Potatoes (two ways)

Recipe posted January 2015

Christmas 2016 update: I made this for Christmas Day brunch, in the slow cooker (four hours on high, cut the potatoes fairly small), and it worked fine. I also left out the sugar and cut the pepper in half.

The ranch dressing mix is from Stephanie O'Dea's book More Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, but I've cut it in half for this recipe. The mix doesn't appear on her website, and I haven't found it anywhere else, although there are lots of other ranch seasoning mixes out there. Most of them use dill, and this one doesn't, which is one reason my family likes it. If you have some other ranch or seasoning mix you like, give it a try instead.

Ranch-Spiced Potatoes

6 to 8 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cubed (large dice)

1/4 cup butter or margarine

Seasonings, to total about 1/4 cup:
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. dried minced garlic or garlic powder
1 1/2 tbsp. dried minced onion, or onion flakes
1 tsp. black pepper (or less)
1 tsp. sugar (optional)
1 1/4 tsp. paprika
1 1/4 tsp. parsley flakes

Optional: sour cream

Grease a large casserole dish or pan (it doesn't have to have a lid). Put the potatoes into the pan. Melt the butter or margarine and mix in the combined seasonings. Stir into the potatoes. Bake uncovered at 400 to 425 degrees F for about 45 minutes, stirring once during cooking, and probably when you take them out to make sure they haven't stuck to the pan. You can add in some sour cream near the end of the cooking time, but we don't usually bother.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Joy to the World

Isn't this a beautiful image for God's joyful Creation?

From the beginning You spoke the Word
And from creation Your song was heard
You taught the stars in the sky to sing,
Almighty Father let everything you've made
Give praises to Your holy name
Let everything on earth proclaim

Let the whole world sing
Sing hallelujah to the King
Let the whole world sing
Lift up your voices, let them ring, let them ring

Merry Christmas to you all.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

In the week when Christmas comes: Christmas Eve!

Let every pen enfold a lamb
Sleeping warm beside its dam,
     In the week when Christmas comes.

~~ from "In the Week When Christmas Comes," by Eleanor Farjeon