Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Thrift store seek and find (and a hack for the height-challenged)

Many times the things I find at the thrift store are somewhat accidental; which is, of course, part of the fun of thrifting. Today, though, I had one thing in mind: a grey cardigan, and it had to be a nice one, not something grandpa would wear for yard work. I recently re-donated two grey blazers I wasn't wearing, so now I didn't have any grey "third layers." Since most of my pants and skirts are grey, that was definitely a gap. But I did not want a blazer (or I would have kept the other ones). OK then, a cardigan. But would this be a day when a grey cardigan might magically appear?

I checked through all the likely cardigan spots in the store, including the plus sizes, the blazer rack, the pullovers (sometimes one kind of sweater gets hung with another), even the women's suits, because you never know. I passed up any sweaters that were very lightweight or very embellished. This was the winner, and actually the only one that fit what I was looking for:


I liked the stripes; they lighten up the dark grey a bit. The sweater goes well with my grey corduroy skirt, and with my pants. It's warm enough, but not so heavy I'm bending under the weight (like one I bought last year). So Yay, to quote Vanita Bentley.

Here's the trick I promised: the large amount of fabric in a shawl-collared cardigan can easily swamp petite people. The easiest fix is to fold the collar and the front edges under. You're not trying to hide buttons or fancy collar details, so it still looks fine, just a bit more streamlined.

As always, thank you to the nice people who donate such good stuff to the MCC store. (Maybe somebody else out there will be blogging about their new grey blazer.)

Thursday, January 18, 2018

From the archives: Homeschooling and the walls of Jerusalem

First posted September 2014; edited slightly

In this millennial world, about twenty years after we first lost ourselves in homeschooling in that pre-Internet era back there with the dodo bird, public education bounces around (more than ever) between union power struggles, billionaire buyouts, and never-ending struggles with philosophy and course content.  And this is mostly in the "first world," where it comes down to those who do want to paradigm-shift their way out of what some call the industrial-revolution or Prussian models of education...and those who don't.  In other parts of the world, more chaotic, often less affluent, but also less bound by teachers' unions, less tied to the big-red-schoolhouse tradition, there seems more room for innovation.

Sounds a bit like North American churches, but that's another post.

I'm thinking about our family's almost two decades of living, to a large extent, on the fringes of the educational system, at least regarding the elementary schools.  (For those who don't know us, one of our older girls went through the Ontario public high school system, the other is still there.)  Our goal, all along, has been to let the power of ideas change us (and I had never seen a Ted Talk video until a year ago). It has not been to line up with the government schools. 

Mortimer J. Adler in How to Read a Book says that a reader must come to terms with an author, that is, to make sure that they are (so to speak) on the same page in vocabulary and terminology, that he's not getting left behind in the discussion by a failure to understand how that author uses language.  I feel like that happens too often, even after twenty years, millennial or not, when we talk about school.  All you have to do is read the comments after any major online article or video about homeschooling, and watch the insults and misconceptions flying free.  If I haven't paid a lot of attention to public education over the past two decades, the commenters equally haven't paid enough attention to where homeschooling has come from and where it might be going.

And of course, why should they care, and, equally, why should I care at all what some dingbat in a faraway American state thinks about homeschoolers' right to exist?

It reminds me of a passage from Nehemiah that was read in our church yesterday.  Nehemiah got a government grant (along with royal permission) to go spearhead the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, that, as our pastor put it, Nebuchadnezzar had previously done such a fine thorough job of knocking down.  Each family living near each part of the wall worked on "their" section, and somehow they managed to get the whole thing rebuilt in fifty-two days. That included all the time they had to waste fighting off their opponents and enemies.  But they did it, each one taking responsibility and then joining their work together. A ground-up job.  Like a lot of homeschoolers and small-schoolers, they just did what needed to be done, and then had a great party at the end.

Imagine if all that wall-building was planned out by one of our current urban construction planning departments? They'd probably still be at it.  And if the educational walls were planned out by...oh, you see where I'm going with this?

In Nehemiah's day, enemies tried to stop the building of city walls.  In our day, years after all the educational fuss should have stopped, some people still challenge our builders' permits. I wish they could stop hollering long enough to pay attention and watch how it's done. Lay on a few bricks instead of throwing them. Watch what kinds of wall-building are popping up around the world, and maybe learn some new construction ideas. What's been broken down and left to crumble can be put back together, even by those of us who didn't go to masonry school. The world is changing and that doesn't mean we need less DIY, it means we need more. More Nehemiahs to kick off the projects.  More local team leaders to connect the workers. More brave souls to just pick up the bricks or the rocks and do what needs doing.

More to plan the party and blow the horns. 


(It doesn't have to be just about our own families; there are projects and schools and learning needs everywhere.)

Monday, January 15, 2018

On the longevity of clothes...or not

I'm taking time out from studying the philosophy of adult education (really) to throw out a few thoughts on why we do or don't, should or shouldn't keep clothes around for years. It's two years since I started following Project 333, a.k.a. trying to get my own clothes thing together, so it seems like a good time to pause and remember what this was about in the first place.

I just read a post that could be summed up as "better but fewer, keep them forever" by a minimalist blogger. My reaction was "that could really make you feel guilty." My own first clothes page from two years ago has maybe ten things on it that I still own, and those were all fairly new (or new to me) then. Ironically, some of those ten things were the cheapest, the ones that theoretically should have fallen apart by now, like the stereotypical $8 grey t-shirt. So, point number one: cheap does not always equal lousy.

Do I see myself keeping what I have now for several more years? I probably will, because I like what I have, and  I'm wearing almost everything I own regularly. I don't have the particular problem of wearing 20 per cent of the clothes 80 per cent of the time. On the other hand, I have re-donated many of the clothes I tried out during the past two years. I got tired of them, the style was too young or too old, they made me look even shorter than I am, or whatever. Thank you, departing clothes, for teaching me what doesn't work, as Marie Kondo would say.

The last point is one on which I do agree with the article, and that is that you should not feel guilty about skipping whole categories of closet must-haves if they don't work for you. I've said it before myself, but it's always worth repeating: you may not be a pants person, or a white shirt person, or a little black dress person, or just a 2018-round-hole person. You may walk through an entire mall full of clothes, and dislike everything you see, because you are not "that" woman. You may also spend fifteen minutes at a thrift store, and find your favourite dress ever. It's not all about what things cost, or where they're made; it's also about how much we do or don't buy into what's new, what's normal, what everybody else buys; it's about what works for us. I had a classic denim shirt, but I recently handed it down to my daughter because it didn't work with anything, and fastening  the teeny little buttons drove me crazy. I like pullover tops better. Simple as that.  Ask who made your clothes, and think about the planet and the rivers and the landfills. But wear what makes you happy, hold onto it awhile if you can, and let the rest go.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Quote for the day: Jacques Barzun echoes Charlotte Mason

"One of the virtues of learning anything is that it takes one out of oneself and into a subject--something independent existing out there, in the world of fact or ideas, or both. To pull the mind back into self-concern and self-excuse is not only a hindrance to learning, it is also a deprivation of the feeling of community with others." ~~ Jacques Barzun, Begin Here

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Quote for the day: you make it sound easy

"It's harder to begin a sentence well than to end it well. As we'll see later, to end a sentence well, we need only decide which of our ideas is the newest, probably the most complex, and then imagine that complex idea at the end of its own sentence. The problem is merely to get there gracefully." ~~ Joseph M. Williams, Style: Toward Clarity and Grace

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Never too late

From this Side of the Pond

1. January is National Mentoring Month. Have you ever had a mentor? Been a mentor? How would you rate the experience?

Not formally, on either end. There are people who have been my role models, often without knowing it, so I guess they are/were also mentors. (Can people in books be mentors?)

2. What current trend makes no sense to you?


Most of the current T.V. shows, both prime time and talk shows, at least such as I've seen of them (stuck in waiting rooms etc.).  Watching them makes me think I am from another planet.

3. I saw a cartoon on facebook highlighting a few 'weird' things that make you happy as an adult. The list included-writing with a nice pen, having plans cancelled, freshly cleaned sheets, eating the corner brownie, cleaning the dryer lint screen, and sipping coffee in that brief time before anyone else wakes up. (Credit for the cartoon goes here) Of the 'weird' things listed which one makes you happiest? What is one more 'weird' thing you'd add to the list?


All those things can be nice, with the exception of the lint screen. Corner brownies tend to have dry edges, though.

How about...filling Christmas stockings?


4. What's the last good thing you ate?


The chicken soup Mr. Fixit made Saturday night, and that we ate for lunch on Sunday and Monday.

5. Describe life in your 20's in one sentence.

Version One: Worked at a university, met my husband, got married, bought a house, homebirthed a baby, homeschooled a kindergartner (ok, I was thirty, but close enough). 


Version Two: Stopped repairing my glasses with twist ties.

6. Insert your own random thought here.


Having read all three of Marie Kondo's books now (including the manga one), I have found points to differ on, and not just the usual animism issues. A big KonMari principle is that you tidy your space once and for all, and there are good reasons for that, but I'm finding the opposite is true here. We continue to improve and refine things, several months after moving. I worked on our clothes-and-linen closet last weekend, not the clothes but everything else that Kondo would call "cloth komono": tablecloths, towels, tote bags. All you see on the top shelf now are matching cloth bins...much more peaceful. Strangely enough, there was room at the end to add something: a basket of old towels and rags that we use for messy stuff, that had been taking up too much space in the storage room.

So maybe KonMari would say that wasn't part of the original tidying, but just an improvement of storage. She might also say that all the cloth things wanted to be together, including the cleaning rags. Whatever...my point is that you can always make things better, and later is not too late.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Thrifted scarf: roses in January

The weather since Christmas has been icicles-hang-by-the-wall. Now we've gone from bitter cold to slop and slush, with the predictable result of one Squirrel (so far) feeling a bit ungood. There's definitely something yucky going around.

On a brighter note...how about a scarf featuring orange and fuchsia on a background of...I don't know, sort of olive-grey? It's bigger than it appears--it can even be a shawl. The floral pattern is on only one side, and the reverse shows very subtle little dots. You'd think at first that means "hide the backside," but I actually like the dots showing here and there. (DUH moment: I just figured out that it's meant to be reversible.)

I found it on my way out of the thrift store this morning, along with a book about Leonard Cohen for Mr. Fixit, and Joseph M. Williams' writing book Style for me. (One from this year's want-to-read list, so I was happy about that.)

Monday, January 08, 2018

From the archives: Charlotte Mason, and peeling back the veil

First posted January 2014

In one of Ellis Peters' medieval mysteries, The Leper of St. Giles, the diseased beggars living near Shrewsbury wear cloaks and veils that allow only their eyes to show. This encourages rough treatment by others passing by; the beggars are more like shadows or ghosts than real people, individuals, flesh and blood beings.  But Brother Cadfael, reflecting on the times he has treated some of their sores (through his work as the abbey's herbalist), says that he has found sharp minds, unique personalities behind the veils..."by a thousand infinitesimal foibles of character that pierced through the disguise, they emerged every one unique."  He has the gift of seeing what others miss.

In The Living Page, Laurie Bestvater says, "One of Mason's primary purposes for making history the 'pivot' of her curriculum is to allow the child to see the flow of history and to think of himself within it."  She points us to Philosophy of Education, page 273, where Charlotte Mason calls history "the proper corrective of intolerable individualism."  So history, as a way of seeing, cuts us down to size but also shows us where we belong; gives us a place and time but makes it clear that there are other places and times that matter just as much.

But we have to see it.  However we can make that happen, for ourselves and our children.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Epiphany Candles

Happy Epiphany! (Or Christmas, if you're celebrating!)

Frugal Finds and Fixes: Hats and Jackets Again

A brief and frosty Frugal Finds and Fixes
Frugal and more organized: three inexpensive cloth bins, which fit perfectly under the shelf in our biggest kitchen cupboard. They come in sets of two, so we put the fourth one on the bottom shelf of Mr. Fixit's desk, to hold office supplies. It looks better than the cardboard box that had been there since we moved in.
Free and fun: a library "date morning." Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit spent a couple of entertaining hours checking out our closest library branch.
Frugal fashion finds: a thrifted fedora (wouldn't you call it?). Howard the Bear is modelling it right now, but Mama Squirrel is going to wear it once we're out of strictly-toques weather. The label inside the hat shows that it came from a children's-wear chain (although the thrift store hung it with women's hats). That might explain why it is marked Large but fits Mama Squirrel. Never say I don't tell all here.
Also from the thrift store: a purple jacket with a ruffled neckline and a zipper closing. (Shown here with a previously thrifted grey dress.) Often I find clothes that are officially too big, which therefore need to be belted up or trimmed down. This jacket had the opposite problem: it's one size on the small side, but it's fine unzipped, and that's the way I'd be most likely to wear it anyway.

Friday, January 05, 2018

For a cold Twelfth Night: two poems

Poet Malcolm Guite's blog posts for yesterday and today are two poems by others, that remind us that winter can be beautiful and awe-inspiring (rather than just irritating, slushy, and too-cold-for-anything). Here are a few lines:

Rocky Mountain Railroad, Epiphany, by Luci Shaw

I mind-freeze for the future
this day’s worth of disclosure. Through the glass
the epiphanies reel me in, absorbed, enlightened.
Torrents, methinks, that heard a mighty voice,
And stopped at once amid their maddest plunge!
Motionless torrents! silent cataracts!
Who made you glorious as the gates of Heaven
Beneath the keen full moon? 

Thursday, January 04, 2018

From the archives: book lover in the making

First posted January 2008. Crayons (Lydia) was six and a half.

 You reap what you sow--sometimes beyond. I have great sympathy for our young AO friend Tim, whose preschool sister Miss M. Is horning in on his Tolkien books.

 A couple of weeks ago I culled some of our bookshelves and put the extras and giveaways in a box. I asked the Squirrelings to have a look through it and please make sure I wasn't giving away anything that they really wanted.

 Crayons went through it and came up with a pile up to her knees of books she wanted. Not anything I'd read to her or that she'd read herself--these were books that, for some reason or other, she Just Wanted to Keep. The list included an extra copy of Kidnapped ("I've been dying to read that book!"), a 3-volume Ladybird set about great artists ("Mama, look, it has Van Gogh in it!"), Plays Children LoveModern Plays, Pauline Johnson's poems, Maryanne Caswell's memoir Pioneer GirlHind's Feet on High Places, and a book of Hanukkah riddles. And about three others that I convinced her we did already have other copies of. And a book of fairy tales (do you know how many other books of fairy tales we have?). 

 Most of those books were nothing I'd pick for a six-year-old. Truth is, other than the fairy tales and maybe the artists, I doubt she'll even find them interesting for a long time yet. But I can see it happening already: the bug is there. This will be a girl who asks for her own box at library sales.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Wednesday Hodgepodge: First of the Year

From this Side of the Pond

1. It's that time of year again...time for Lake Superior University to present a list of words (or phrases) they'd like to see banished (for over-use, mis-use, or genera uselessness) in 2018. You can read more about the decision making process and word meaning here, but this year's top vote getters are-

unpack, dish (as in dish out the latest rumor), pre-owned, onboarding/offboarding, nothingburger, let that sink in, let me ask you this, impactful, Cofefe, drill down, fake news, hot water heater (hot water doesn't need to be heated), and gig economy

Which of these words/phrases would you most like to see banished from everyday speech and why? Is there a word not on the list you'd like to add?


I don't even recognize some of these! (I do know that Cofefe was only an accidental "word.")

I don't know about hot water heaters, but hot water heating is a logical phrase. As in, some apartments have radiators because they have hot water heating. 

Pre-owned is a euphemism I don't mind. It's nicer than second-hand. Or you could just say new-to-me.

2. What's something you need to get rid of in the new year?


We've already decluttered so much that there isn't much left to work on. Today I read the manga version of Marie Kondo's The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and that did inspire a bit of paper sorting.

3. Where do you feel stuck?


On a writing project.

Plus I also have to do a research paper for a course I'm taking, but I'm not far enough into that yet to feel stuck, more just a little anxious.

4. January is National Soup Month. When did you last have a bowl of soup? Was it made from scratch or from a can? Your favorite canned soup? Your favorite soup to make from scratch on a cold winter's day?


We eat soup semi-regularly. Canned soup is mostly a quick lunch fallback; if it's for dinner, it's probably homemade. Mr. Fixit makes his grandma's chicken soup with a whole chicken. I make slow cooker soups with beans or split peas.

5. Tell us one thing you're looking forward to in 2018.


Celebrating our first year as non-homeowners.

6. Insert your own random thought here.


Niagara Falls is frozen, and I'm a bit chilled myself. It's probably a good time to break out the split peas.

Linked from The Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Monday, January 01, 2018

What Sudoku taught me about planning and fresh starts

Sherlock Holmes: What is that? (balloon with a face drawn on it)
John Watson:  That is… me. Well, it’s a me substitute.
Sherlock Holmes: Don't be so hard on yourself. You know I value your little contributions.
John Watson: Yeah? It's been there since nine this morning.
Sherlock Holmes: Has it? Where were you?
John Watson: Helping Mrs. H. with her Sudoku. (Sherlock, "The Six Thatchers")
A chance line in a T.V. show...it was enough to make me curious about something I had missed out on. Besides, I was getting bored with the newspaper's daily crossword (too much Mamie Eisenhower and Alma Gluck). So I set out to learn something new-to-me.

If you don't know this already, Sudoku is a logic puzzle, not a math game. It's not like the magic squares that require you to add things together. You just have to figure out where the numerals 1-9 go, so that there are no repeats in the row, the column, or the mini-section (1/9 of the whole grid). Puzzles ranked "easy" have more numerals already filled in; "hard" ones have fewer clues. The one in our free weekly newspaper seems almost impossible to solve; I may need Dr. Watson's help.

After several months of increasing Sudoku addiction, I noticed some parallels to other parts of life, such as making plans and decisions. Here's one: don't waste time worrying about every possible permutation for every square. Start with the easy, obvious steps; then look for "criss cross" places that rule out several possibilities at once (that's hard to explain, but just trust me that it reduces tedious pencil-scratching).  By that time, even on the hard puzzles, you should have enough numerals filled in so that you can start pencilling in pairs of "either-ors": in this row, we have a 1 or a 3 in this box, and a 1 or a 3 in another box. That's almost as good as nailing it down for sure.  But then you leave those either-ors alone, move on to another bit somewhere else, and sooner or later they'll get solved.

There is a similarity here to jigsaw puzzles: you do as much as you can on the flowers, then go work on the sky or the frame for awhile. It's also like the sort of logic puzzles where you figure out that either Joe or Jim lives in the red house, and Bill is either the doctor or the movie star. You eliminate what absolutely won't work, and limit your choices to the few remaining possibilities. The secret is not in bringing in extra information to overwhelm the brain, or in thinking about all the maybes, but in figuring out the path or the plan that actually works. Finding the key that does fit.

And if you end up with a gridful of too many either-ors? Rub them all out, keeping only the numerals you know for sure. Start again as if you had a new puzzle with a few added clues. With the clutter gone, you see fresh possibilities.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Favourite posts of 2017, #12: Christmas countdown Week 12, The Waits

One week till Christmas! Scroll down for a treat at the end.
Last week's post ended the chapter (and the book, Parents and Children). This week we go back to the poem Charlotte Mason used to open the chapter. "Waits" in much earlier times were paid civic musicians. By the nineteenth century, they were roving amateur players and singers. In this case, Christmas carollers.

The Waits!
     Slowly they play, poor careful Souls,
     With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
     Unwitting how their music rolls
     Away the burden of the year.
     And with the charm, the homely rune,
     Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given,
     When all our pulses beat in tune
     With all the stars of heaven.'


          ––JOHN DAVIDSON.

In the Spirit of Charlotte Mason:

The Scottish poet John Davidson (1857-1909) has been called "the first of the Moderns," and is said to have influenced T.S. Eliot. Davidson was the author of an 1893 book called Fleet Street Eclogues, which owed inspiration to Spenser's Shepeardes Calendar. It is a series of poems that follows a group of big-city journalists throughout one year, as they get together to drink, tell stories, and complain about the world, beginning on New Year's Day and ending on Christmas Eve. 

The version of the poem printed above does not seem to exist outside of Charlotte Mason's writings. Davidson's Eclogues were written in play format, like this:

Basil 
Hush ! hark ! Without : the waits, the waits ! With brass, and strings, and mellow wood. 
 
Menzies
A simple tune can ope heaven's gates ! 

Sandy
Slowly they play, poor careful souls, 
With wistful thoughts of Christmas cheer, 
Unwitting how their music rolls 
Away the burden of the year.

Basil
And with the charm, the homely rune, 
Our thoughts like childhood's thoughts are given, 
When all our pulses beat in tune 
With all the stars of heaven.
But what about the thought itself? Why did Davidson's lines speak so clearly to Charlotte Mason?

As "Sandy" says, the waits are simple people who offer their gifts freely and without any agenda...like children. "Basil" agrees that the music, at least for awhile, seems to restore his connection with eternal things.

These "hard-bitten" journalists, viewing the world with cynicism but also longing for a simpler, more innocent and joyful world, mirror our own time very well. The poem also adds poignancy to Charlotte Mason's words at the beginning of the chapter.

"Children necessary to Christmas Joy––In these levelling days we like to think that everybody has quite equal opportunities in some direction; but Christmas joy, for example, is not for every one in like measure. It is not only that those who are in need, sorrow, or any other adversity do not sit down to the Christmas feast of joy and thanksgiving; for, indeed, a Benjamin's portion is often served to the sorrowful. But it takes the presence of children [or waits?]to help us to realise the idea of the Eternal Child. The Dayspring is with the children, and we think their thoughts and are glad in their joy; and every mother knows out of her own heart's fulness what the Birth at Bethlehem means."
Things to do this week:
This is our last visit to the wonderful 1977 world of Family Circle Christmas Helps. The cute pair of dolls on the cover reappear in this week's "Bountiful Brunch" photo, which features Broiled Breakfast Steaks, Marbled Waffles, and Continental Fruit Compote. And that's just breakfast; "Dinner that Dazzles" takes up the next three pages.
Maybe that's what Peg Bracken meant by "full-color double-page spreads picturing what to serve on those little evenings [or Christmas mornings?] when you want to take it easy. You're flabbergasted. You wouldn't cook that much food for a combination Thanksgiving and Irish wake." (The I Hate to Cook Book, 1960)

But celebrations are important, aren't they? Certain cooking aromas in the house make things seem right and untroubled, and bring back memories of our yesteryears. Holiday food and good company can lift the spirits of even the cheeriness-ambivalent.
"One mile north of the Mitford monument, Old Man Mueller sat at his breakfast table in the unpainted house surrounded by a cornfield, and, with his dentures soaking in a jar by the bed, devoured a large portion of the cake Esther and Gene Bolick had brought him last night on Christmas Eve. He didn't have any idea why they would bring him a cake every Christmas...All he knew is, if one year they forgot and didn't show up, he'd set and bawl like a baby." [He also gave a piece to his dog.] ~~ Jan Karon, Shepherds Abiding
So to wind up this series, I have found a dessert recipe that seems the perfect way to share the season...and it's much easier than Esther's cake. You can see the whole thing at Sizzling Eats20 Minute Snowflake Cream Puffs. Go have a look, I'll wait.
You cut large snowflake shapes from prepared puff-pastry sheets; bake them; cut them in half horizontally; then fill with your choice of something nice, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

This seems to be the holiday dessert with infinite possibilities, depending on your dietary needs and budget. You can make or buy gluten-free puff pastry, if that's what you need; commercial brands of puff pastry are often vegan-friendly. (Where we live, Tenderflake pre-rolled pastry now uses "simpler ingredients.") You can use whipped cream or a substitute topping; or go for some kind of mousse, lemon filling, even a scoop of frozen dessert. The sheets of pastry come pre-rolled, so kids or other helpers could cut out snowflake shapes, and also fill the baked shells. If you don't have a snowflake cutter, you could try a star, or a plain circle (or use a cardboard template for a shape you like). 

I'm also thinking that you could add a drizzle of raspberry sauce, or chocolate sauce, and some fresh berries, fancy citrus peels, or whatever you like on top.

That is what we'll be having here on Christmas Day! I'm very grateful to Sizzling Eats for posting the recipe.

And we wish you a joyous holiday season, with all the gladness and joy of the Birth at Bethlehem.

Favourite posts of 2017, #11: Christmas Countdown Week 4, Something for Everyone

First posted October 23, 2017

9 weeks until Christmas...
"The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
> But here the world's desire.)"
~~ G.K.Chesterton


Here is this week's passage from Parents and Children:

"Humility Unconscious of Self.––Humility does not think much or little of itself; it does not think of itself at all. It is a negative rather than a positive quality, being an absence of self-consciousness rather than the presence of any distinctive virtue. The person who is unaware of himself is capable of all lowly service, of all suffering for others, of bright cheerfulness under all the small crosses and worries of everyday life. This is the quality that makes heroes, and this is the quality that makes saints. We are able to pray, but we are hardly able to worship or to praise, to say, 'My soul doth magnify the Lord' so long as in the innermost chamber of our hearts we are self-occupied.

"The Christian Religion Objective
––The Christian religion is, in its very nature, objective. It offers for our worship, reverence, service, adoration and delight, a Divine Person, the Desire of the world. Simplicity, happiness and expansion come from the outpouring of a human heart upon that which is altogether worthy. But we mistake our own needs, are occupied with our own falls and our own repentances, our manifold states of consciousness. Our religion is subjective first, and after that, so far as we are able, objective. The order should rather be objective first and after that, so far as we have any time or care to think about ourselves, subjective."
In the spirit of Charlotte Mason:

In the children's book Understood Betsy, Betsy trudges home to the farm on a late winter day, having failed a test at school. She plans to tell every gory detail to Cousin Ann, who is busy making maple syrup, because that is what she would have been expected to do in her "old life" with Aunt Frances. Cousin Ann asks her bluntly, "Do you really want to tell me all this?" Betsy says, "Um, no." Cousin Ann says, "Fine. Here's some syrup, go make some snow candy." (I'm paraphrasing, but you get the point.)

This passage moves into the idea that even being overly focused on our own sinfulness, weakness, mistakes, things we have done and things we have left undone can, in a certain sense, become tiresome, a sort of pious navel-gazing. When soul-searching becomes soul-scraping to the point that we cannot accept God's assurance of His love and forgiveness, we may no longer call it humility.

In the same way that parents are directed to provide a healthy table but to discourage children from over-noticing what they are eating ("I like, I don't like..."), they are to train children in good habits, teach them that they have a Saviour, that they certainly do sin and need to repent, but not allow too much focus on the endless stream of mistakes, too much attention-seeking for either good or bad behaviour. Would we as parents enjoy having a child who came to us constantly, needing to tell and re-tell about the failure or the quarrel or the cheating, even after the situation had been resolved? Do we chatter about ourselves (good things and bad) too much, to the Lord, to each other, or as self-talk? Do we have too many self-help books cluttering our shelves?

The goal expressed in this passage is for us to focus fully on "the beauty of the Divine Person, the Desire of mankind."

Things to do this week

Frontier Gingerbread

In the 1977 Family Circle Christmas Helps magazine that inspired this countdown, the projects suggested for "nine weeks till Christmas" include baking gingerbread, making appliqued toaster and can-opener covers (I think I'll pass), covering wooden boxes with fabric (I like those), and making sets of needlepoint coasters. Here's a page from PlanetJune (a crochet designer's blog) with photos of some crocheted but non-Christmassy coasters and other things that may inspire you. [I also mentioned the annual Handmade Holidays roundups on Sew Mama Sew, but they did not run those this year.]

If you're not a crafter, you could decide to buy handmade gifts through a fair-trade shop like Ten Thousand Villages. Or from a craft sale or a church bazaar.

If you're more into recycling, you could buy second-life crafted items from a thrift store.

And if you're a minimalist and/or live in a tiny house, maybe you will be happier just looking at photos of other people's stuff, and thinking, "So glad that's not me."

Here is the 1970's-vibe recipe for "Frontier Gingerbread" that was included in the magazine. If you prefer, you could replace the egg, or you could even try leaving it out...our usual gingerbread recipe does not have an egg in it, and it works fine.

Frontier Gingerbread

makes one large oval or one 9x9x2 inch cake

Ingredients

2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, melted
1 cup light molasses
1 egg
1 cup hot water

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together with a wire whip in bowl. Blend the other dry ingredients into melted shortening in a large bowl. Beat in molasses and egg with wire whip. Add flour mixture alternately with hot water. Beat mixture until smooth.

Pour into a well-greased and lightly floured 10-inch oval au gratin pan or a 9x9x2 inch baking pan.

Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) 45 minutes; or until top springs back when pressed with fingertip. Cool in pan on wire rack to cool completely. Serve with whipped cream or fruit sauce, if you wish.