Monday, October 31, 2011

Bob Newhart and Hallowe'en: Boo.


Carlin: I don't know, Doctor Hartley, I just hate the holidays.

Bob: Halloween was rough, huh?

Carlin: Really the dregs. No one came to trick or treat all night. And I had special treats made up, too. Here, have a butter dish. (He hands a plastic butter dish to Bob)

Bob: I wish Emily and I had thought of that. We just gave out candy.

Carlin: A butter dish is forever. Why don't you read it?

Bob: (Opens the lid of the butter dish and reads the inscription.) 'Happy Halloween, kid. From Elliot Carlin. Boo.'"

Crayons' Favourite Hallowe'en Song

(Actually the version we downloaded awhile back was sung by Roy Rogers. Rosemary Clooney recorded it too, but hers is a bit jazzier.)

What do you wear to physics class on Halloween?

Possibly The Apprentice's most original costume ever. 

Or maybe not.  We can't be certain.

(A shirt and vest, man's cap, bow tie, and little glasses borrowed from Crayons, who found them at the thrift store.  Plus a small box with a toy cat in it. )

Friday, October 28, 2011

Book lovers come in all kinds

Loud and just possibly slightly inebriated thrift-shop customer*: I can't find anything as (expletive) good here as the (expletive) book I just finished, and I don't want anything (expletive) not as good as that, because that book was just the best (expletive) thing I ever read.

Aren't you curious to know just what the book was? But I guess we'll never know.


*Not the shop where we volunteer, another one. We stopped by because they were having a sale.

How do you stretch your homeschool dollars? (Lots of links)

This year's Old Schoolhouse Review Crew has a Blog Cruise Question this week about homeschooling on a budget. The links to their responses are posted here.

You might also want to have a look at last week's Homeschooling on the Cheap Carnival. The next one will be posted there tomorrow.

Little kids like good poetry!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Found at the thrift store

This was our day to sort books and toys at the thrift store.  The summertime avalanche of books has slowed to a trickle (I think it has something to do with the end of yard-sale season), but there were still enough on the sorting shelves to keep Mama Squirrel busy for the afternoon.

The two books we brought home:


A book about the Avro Arrow for Mr. Fixit.  Mama Squirrel just about choked when she started browsing for that photo, and realized that the "nice coffee table book" was actually something collectors want money for.  Honestly, she was not intending to rip off the thrift store for three dollars; she just thought Mr. Fixit would enjoy the detailed techie photos. 

And James Herriot's Treasury for Children (believe it or not, we have never owned an actual copy of this book--just individual titles).

(Crayons/Dollygirl bought a boxed set of Magic Treehouse books, too.  So I guess that makes more than two.)

For anyone puzzled by the buffalo song...

Dollygirl returns

After a bit of a hiatus, our Dollygirl has updated her blogWhat does a fifth-grader rant about?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Carnival of Homeschooling #304: Rollerskating in a Buffalo Herd Edition


In honour of singer/songwriter Roger Miller, who died nineteen years ago today...

And in celebration of some really unusual homeschool activities...or maybe they're just the usual, for homeschoolers...

We welcome you to the 304th Carnival of Homeschooling.

Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you've a mind to

What do homeschoolers do all day?


The Tiger Chronicle presents Bubble Science.  Have you ever made antibubbles?

 The Homeschool Co-op presents Bridging Art & Science: Watercolour Wednesdays.  "Inspired by the Waldorf concept that watercolours paints are wonderful for experimenting with colour mixing, and beautiful because kids can see the light through the colours they are using, we thought we’d give them a try."

Ya can't take a shower in a parakeet cage
Ya can't take a shower in a parakeet cage
Ya can't take a shower in a parakeet cage
But you can be happy if you've a mind to

All ya gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it

Homeschool Happymess: A Naturally Inspiring Approach to Education presents Writing Assignment: Seeing Myself Through the Eyes of Another. "This week Quantum is completing an assignment in which he has to describe himself (in the third person) through the eyes of a grandparent."

The Misadventures of My Homeschooling Clan presents Apple Hill.  "Our family took a field trip to Apple Hill (a collection of apple growers and pumpkin patches and craft fairs in the foothills of Northern California)."
Nirvana Homeschooling presents Elephant study using Elephants Can Paint Too!  "Little BBQ chose the book Elephants can Paint Too! by Katya Arnold at the library. I decided to turn this short and easy nonfiction book into a small unit study for him."

Well, ya can't go a-swimmin' in a baseball pool
Ya can't go swimmin' in a baseball pool
Ya can't go swimmin' in a baseball pool
But you can be happy if you've a mind to

Ya can't change film with a kid on your back
Ya can't change film with a kid on your back
Ya can't change film with a kid on your back
But you can be happy if you've a mind to

Sage Parnassus shares a poem and other autumn links in Walnuts Plumping.

Read Aloud Dad presents Phenomenal Picture Books: The Little House. "A lovely, inspiring book that will gently remind us about the greater scheme of things, every time we read it."

CTK Insights presents 2×1 rectangle to a square by Socrates .  "Which of the two methods by Japanese masters to dissect a 2x1 rectangle into a square would have been chosen 2000 years earlier by Socrates?"

Ya can't drive around with a tiger in your car
Ya can't drive around with a tiger in your car
Ya can't drive around with a tiger in your car
But you can be happy if you've a mind to

All ya gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down do it, do it, do it

What do homeschoolers worry about?

No fighting, no biting! presents "Am I doing a good job?"  "As we contemplate sending some of our children to public and Catholic school, I wonder if homeschooling has prepared my children well."

Barbara Frank at Thriving in the 21st Century presents "Don't Let Your Kids Grow Up to Be Debt Slaves." "Parents insistent on college for their homeschooled grads may be setting them up for a life of debt slavery."

Surviving Motherhood presents How to Protect Your Kids from Financial Stress.

Parenting Squad presents Dealing with F Bombs and Other Foul Language from Mommy and Child.

Everything Home with Carol presents My Husband Won't Help with Homeschooling.

Well, ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
Ya can't roller skate in a buffalo herd
But you can be happy if you've a mind to


Hoof in mouth disease:

Alasandra's Homeschool Blog presents Josiah Cantrall American Non Thinker.  "Public Schools do not prevent parents from sending their children to private schools or from homeschooling them. And in many states homeschool restrictions are very lax and do not provide any undue hardship on parents wishing to homeschool. Without public schools many children would not receive even a basic education as their families would not have the resources to provide an education for them. To the detriment of not only the children, but the communities in which they live."

Ya can't go fishin' in a watermelon patch
Ya can't go fishin' in a watermelon patch
Ya can't go fishin' in a watermelon patch
But you can be happy if you've a mind to


Want to meet even more homeschool bloggers?
Tea Time with Annie Kate presents Homeschool Professional Development with Blog Carnivals.  "For a quick online professional development break, I like to visit homeschool and educational carnivals.  They are a great opportunity to learn, meet inspiring people, and network, either by commenting or by submitting blog posts."

At the tail end:
Dewey's Treehouse presents Let's Get More Than Wet (good quotes for homeschoolers).

The Retread Parent presents My Mother, the Homeschooler: Something She Did Right.  "My mother doesn't realize that I learned to homeschool at her knee. She wouldn't call it homeschooling. She wouldn't even call it child development. But her activities to keep 6 kids occupied and actually learning something were quite good for the time. Some could be applied today."
The Queen of Carrots presents Real ideas for random homeschoolers, posted at Introducing the World.  "Truly random people don't need organizing advice from organized people--they need their own approach. Here's some ideas that have really helped me in homeschooling, and I'm about as random as they come."
And that's the end of our carnival.  If you participated this week, have a look to make sure I linked up properly and got everything the way you wanted it--and please link back!  As always, you can submit entries here or here.  Many thanks to the Cates for continuing the Carnival of Homeschooling.
Lyrics to "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" by Roger Miller, from The Return of Roger Miller, 1965, Smash Records

Monday, October 24, 2011

Let's get more than wet (good quotes for homeschoolers)

"Some people walk in the rain, others just get wet."
--Roger Miller, American singer/songwriter, 1936-1992

Here's a probably-apocryphal story about Albert Einstein's wife:
"Mrs Einstein in an American Lab":  Before they immigrated to the US, the Einsteins endured the severe economic situation in post WWI Germany. Mrs. E saved old letters and other scrap paper for Albert to write on and so continue his work. Years later, Mrs. Einstein was pressed into a public relations tour of some science research center. Dutifully she plodded through lab after lab filled with gleaming new scientific napery, The American scientists explaining things to her in that peculiarly condescending way we all treat non-native speakers of our own language. Finally she was ushered into a high-chambered observatory, and came face to face with another, larger, scientific contraption. "Well, what's this one for?" she muttered. "Mrs. Einstein, we use this equipment to probe the deepest secrets of the universe," cooed the chief scientist. "Is THAT all!" snorted Mrs. E. "My husband did that on the back of old envelopes!"  (One source of this story--but since it's been repeated word-for-word across the Internet, it's hard to give proper credit.)
It's not the equipment you have: it's what you do with it.
"If we cannot find something, even at starting from the open door, to teach us about Why and How, we must be very short-sighted, or very shallow-hearted."--Charles Kingsley, Madam How and Lady Why
Half a dozen excellent books...well, maybe a full dozen...studied with attention, could give one a first-rate education, and a course in writing as well. (John Ruskin agrees.)
"This was one thing meant by Dennis when he said there was 'suthin peculiarsome' about Abe.  It seemed that Abe made the books tell him more than they told other people.  All the other farm boys had gone to school and read 'The Kentucky Preceptor,' but Abe picked out questions from it...."--Carl Sandburg, Abe Lincoln Grows Up
All ya gotta do is put your mind to it
Knuckle down, buckle down, do it, do it, do it 
--Roger Miller

Shifting some gears this week

Fifth-grader Crayons is pretty clear about what parts of this year's school she really likes, which parts she tolerates, and which parts she...well...do we actually want to hear our kids say that they don't like some of our hard-worked, hard-planned homeschool?  Do you go with more structure or less?  Make it more fun?  Just do something different?  It depends on the subject.

Literature and history are going pretty well, so we're not making any changes there.  Today we learned about William "Tiger" Dunlop, founder of Goderich (Ontario), who supposedly got his nickname from throwing snuff at an attacking tiger.  (Not in Ontario--this was during his army days in India.)

But we're not so crazy about Learning Language Arts Through Literature.  While Mama Squirrel likes the writing prompts and the dictation passages, she agrees that a certain percentage of the suggested activities aren't the most exciting.  We got partway through the lesson on Tennyson's "The Eagle," which was fine; but the rest of the lesson, and the next one, were too much grammar (not the focus this year) or just not what our time is best spent on.  So we're jumping to the lesson on Story of a Bad Boy, which contains good interesting words, like "inextricably," and a couple of useful writing ideas.  Rather than write the whole passage as dictation (the usual method in this book), I used the copywork generator at WorksheetWorks.com to set it up as lines for Crayons to copy.  (Her cursive handwriting still comes out better when she has a model.)  We'll do the suggested work on use of apostrophes and capitalization, and Crayons will do some writing about a favourite holiday (the literature passage is about the Fourth of July).

As a special motivator, Mama Squirrel took the best words from the passage and put them into a list at SpellingCity.com.  Spelling City has a lot of new activities and several improvements from when we used it a couple of years ago: you can write in your own definitions (we had to write one in for "squibs," which wasn't in their dictionary), make up your own sentences  ("They bought squibs and Roman candles"), and have the whole spelling list print out as even more copywork.  (Which I did.)

On the math end, Mr. Fixit is working with Crayons to finish the second "month" of Math Pet Store, and we are dropping mixed numbers and other regular work to do a bit of math history.  Today we learned about days, months and years.  Lunar year: 354 days.  Solar year: 365.25 days.  Result: big discrepancy.  Solutions:  varied according to the culture.  The Hebrews added on an extra month every so often.  The Babylonians came up with a 360-day year, but since they weren't farmers they didn't care too much if the weather was a bit off.  Finally the Romans, whose calendar was really in a mess, came up with Leap Year.


In French, we're incorporating Fun with French, a British book which is fairly recent but which seems to have all but disappeared.  It's a contemporary version of a kids' picture dictionary: there are two-page spreads about sleepovers, computers, skateboarding, and so on.  The "Sleepover" page, the one we're using this week, gives us a chance to practice asking "Do you like my pajamas?"  "No, I do not like your pajamas."  "Do you like my CD player?"  "Yes, I adore your CD player."  There are also suggested useful phrases such as "What CD do you want to listen to?"  We posted those on the kitchen wall, for the benefit of the older Squirrelings. 

We're also continuing to use Mission Monde (especially for opening conversations and review), and each day this week Crayons will also have one worksheet of homework from L'Art de Lire, reviewing days of the week, numbers, and the verbs she has learned.  Homework with Mimi Mouse is fairly painless.

And that's all the news here...

What's for supper? Autumn veggies and leftover pork

What's on hand tonight?  Half a package of whole wheat tortillas, leftover boneless pork chops, a bag of grated cheese, tomato sauce, chicken broth, red and green peppers, butternut squash, rice.  I could have chopped the meat and peppers and made fried rice, but I went with Pork and Pepper Tortilla Stack instead.   I used this very easy enchilada sauce recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking (except I used a can of no-salt sauce instead of crushed tomatoes, since that's what I had).

The menu:

Pork and Pepper Tortilla Stack
Butternut Squash (baked in the toaster oven)
Rice

Grapes
Chocolate lunchbox cakes (bought on sale)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mama Squirrel, the Social Blogging Butterfly: Updated


Dewey's Treehouse will be hosting the next Carnival of Homeschooling (the 304th). The deadline is Monday night, so please send in your submissions!

And if you hadn't noticed, Gayle at Grocery Cart Challenge is away for a few days, and she has lined up several guest bloggers to fill in.  Today it's our turn!

Clip art found here

The Secret of Willow Castle, by Lyn Cook

Who is Lyn Cook?

As a little girl, I knew her only as the author of my beloved 1960's Brownie Handbook.


But she also wrote other Canadian children's books, including The Bells on Finland Street, Samantha's Secret Room (a favourite of the Squirrelings), and this volume that Mama Squirrel rescued from the thrift store:
It's gently-paced historical fiction, written in Lyn Cook's include-lots-of-facts style.  The Canadian Materials for Young People couldn't help sneering when they reviewed a reprint in 1985:
"This reprint of the Lyn Cook classic (originally published in 1966) is designed to appeal to a new generation of readers. Although the merit of the book and the writing have not changed, the tastes of young readers have. It is doubtful this story, which weaves together the lives of Cousin John Alex (later better known as Sir John A. Macdonald), the well-to-do and slightly rebellious daughter of the "Laird of Napanee," and an orphaned young girl, will claim the enthusiastic reception accorded it by earlier readers who were more avid readers of historical fiction.

"Readers who do enjoy this genre, however, will be rewarded for their persistance in plowing through a lot of historical detail by an interesting story, replete with coincidences, which provides an accurate picture of life in the 1830's in an Ontario backwoods settlement."
That's not the most encouraging description! And they're right, in a way; yes, tastes have changed, and yes, too much detail can sometimes be tedious. But there's a reason that many of Lyn Cook's novels have hung on, though this particular one has been pretty much forgotten, and it's the same reason that the Brownie Handbook went from being a list of badges into a story that girls actually wanted to read: she's a good writer. Her characters are real (even when they're chatting away about Champlain's voyages or the issues of slavery), and they have an honest appeal for young girl readers who haven't been spoiled too much by current publishing trends.

Anyway, I think it's worth adding to Crayons' free-reading shelf this year.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Quote for the day: "The magic hat that annihilates time and space"

"One of the great functions of reading, and especially of novel reading (which is in reality one of the most important influences in education, is to widen the sympathies by throwing the reader into a larger circle of life than his own; by putting on his head Teufelsdröckh's magic hat, that annihilates time and space. This is what the great books do so magnificently, and what the second and third-rate books do so miserably and falsely. Think of the splendid series of experiences that becomes the possession of the boy or girl when first they have read through the eight great books of George Eliot. What a world is opened up even by a single novel like Romola; what sympathies are stirred by Adam Bede; what insight into the misunderstandings that flow from mere differences of character is the gift of The Mill on the Floss; what realisation of the struggle between generous ideals and mean circumstances is awakened by Middlemarch!

"If the taste of young people be gradually formed and developed by such [small] steps.... until they arrive at love for Stevenson, Scott, Austen, the Brontes, Thackeray, George Eliot, Meredith, they will at least have a fair chance of escape from being "at the mercy of every book that interests them," or of being captivated by Superfluous Women, Women who Did, Heavenly Twins, Mighty Atoms, and the rest of the ephemeral brood. They will gain too sensitive an ear to desire Keynotes or Discords. "--Ronald McNeill, "The Choice of Literature for the Young," in The Parent's Review, Volume 8, no. 9, 1897, pgs. 561-568; 624-630

Time's almost up (HSBA nominations)

See the HSBA button right there in the sidebar?  If you click on it, it will take you right to a post about the Homeschool Blog Awards nomination process, and from there you can link to the nominating form.

Which will only be good until tomorrow night.

So make a homeschool blogger happy and nominate him/her/them in one of the categories.  (Did you know there are categories for Special Needs Bloggers?  V-Loggers?  Homeschool Dads?  Best crafts and projects?  None of which we fit into, so you know I'm not trolling here for nominations...)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Link of the day: Plutarch

"Why Read Plutarch?" , by Cindy, of the Dominion Family/Ordo Amoris,  on the classical Circe Institute blog.  There are some interesting thoughts in the comments as well.
"Plutarch who? It took many years of hearing the name and the book mentioned before I had the faintest stirring in that direction. To tell the truth I wasn’t ready to appreciate the author at all. But as time went by, I began to trust Charlotte Mason and her ideas; this inevitably led to reading Plutarch’s Lives aloud to my children."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

What's up for school this week? (Ponytails and the Apprentice)

Ponytails continues with her high school classes in Canadian Geography, French, Integrated Technology (the current unit is on horticulture), and Math. 

And the Apprentice has six midterms.  Enough said.

What's up for school this week? (Crayons' Grade Five)

I find it's easy to get into a rut by sticking to the parts of the curriculum that are already going well, and letting the other things slide a bit.  It's important to keep things balanced, though, so this week I want to make sure that we do some nature study, that Crayons has time to work on an applique she started a couple of weeks ago, and that we read only enough at a time to let her narrate properly.

Bible: We are just getting to the part of Samuel where Saul comes into the story. We finished Ephesians and are studying some of the Psalms.

Math: We are only on "February" of Math Pet Store, but we have also been doing Key to Fractions and assignments from Critical Thinking's Math Detective.

Grammar and Composition: Learning Language Arts Through Literature is going along steadily, if not terribly excitingly. This week's work is mostly based on Tennyson's "The Eagle." Crayons is supposed to write a description of an animal, and later write her own poem using "The Eagle" as a model.

French: I've been posting about this, so I won't go over it again. We are a bit behind where I expected to be in Mission Monde, but that's really okay because we're still doing way more French than we did last year. Or the year before. We've been adding what I call "power verbs": the ones that let you say things like "I want" and "I can." Very useful because you can use them with other verb infinitives, to say (for example) "I want to dance."

Literature and Shared Books: We are partway through Great Expectations, and it's going very well; Crayons asks if we can read it even on the days it's not scheduled. We are reading Tennyson's poems and some miscellaneous poems from an anthology. Madam How and Lady Why is not a real favourite, but the "Coral Reef" chapter has been easier to follow than the one before it. She just finished Carry On, Mr. Bowditch as extra reading.

History: We spent a short time on the War of 1812, and are now back to talking about the settlement of Upper Canada (Ontario) in the early 1800's. This week the textbook talks about the region where we live, so that's a good chance to get out and see history up close. We are also speeding through Trail of the Conestoga.

Science and Nature Study: The ABCs of Nature has been getting short shrift, as we have been putting more time in on simple machines (Dad's focus) and Bones, Muscles and Joints (Mom's topic). But that's okay...we can always pick it up later. This week's machines topic: levers.

Citizenship: We are almost halfway through Plutarch's Life of Poplicola.

Fine Arts: We have not gotten many projects done from Artistic Pursuits, but try to get something done in it about every other week. This week we will be reading the "What  is American Music?" chapter in the Young People's Concert series. We'll probably use some of the video as well.

Friday, October 14, 2011

No-sugar apricot treats: gluten-free, dairy-free

I found this recipe in a Company's Coming Kids' Lunch cookbook, but the identical recipe was posted on a vegan forum six years ago. So I'm not sure who borrowed it from whom. In any case, these are easy and very good. I did think they were a bit strong on the orange peel--next time I would use just a spoonful rather than the whole thing. Cut into small slices, they would look nice on a holiday cookie plate.

Apricot Logs/Balls/Slices

1.5 cups dried apricots (about 40--or a 300 g bag)
1 Tbsp water
juice of 1 medium orange
Grated peel of 1 medium orange (or less, see above)
1/2 cup flaked coconut
Flaked coconut, for coating

Measure apricots and water into casserole dish or large measuring cup. Cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes until moist and plump. (Lacking a microwave, you could pour a bit of boiling water over them and cover, or steam them briefly.) Put the apricot mixture and orange juice into a blender or food processor. Blend, stopping the blender and stirring often, until the apricots are very finally chopped. Pour mixture into a medium bowl.

Mix in the orange peel and first amount of coconut. Divide the mixture in half. Roll into two 6-inch (15 cm) logs.

Place the second amount of coconut on waxed paper. Roll the logs in coconut until well coated. Cover each log with plastic wrap. Chill about 3 hours. Cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces.

Variation: shape the mixture into 1 inch balls. Roll in the coconut and chill.

Who said George Eliot was boring?, or, Ooh, such language

From a book I'm currently reading, Scenes of Clerical Life, first published in 1857. It's not a novel but three loosely-linked stories.  For those interested in Charlotte Mason and the PNEU Schools, this was assigned to the high schoolers in Form IV when they studied the mid-to-late nineteenth century, along with Cranford, Carlyle's Heroes and Hero Worship, and Tennyson's The Princess.

This is from "Mr Gilfil's Love-Story." Lifelong friends Caterina Sarti and The Reverend Maynard Gilfil (he's in love with her, but she is mooning after a cad who is otherwise engaged) are having a heart-to-heart.

'....If it were not that Sir Christopher [her adopted father] and Lady Cheverel would be displeased and puzzled at your wishing to leave home just now, I would beg you to pay a visit to my sister. She and her husband are good creatures, and would make their house a home to you. But I could not urge the thing just now without giving a special reason; and what is most of all to be dreaded is the raising of any suspicion in Sir Christopher's mind of what has happened in the past, or of your present feelings. You think so too, don't you, Tina?'

Mr. Gilfil paused again, but Caterina said nothing. She was looking away from him, out of the window, and her eyes were filling with tears. He rose, and, advancing a little towards her, held out his hand and said, --'Forgive me, Caterina, for intruding on your feelings in this way. I was so afraid you might not be aware how Miss Assher watched you. Remember, I entreat you, that the peace of the whole family depends on your power of governing yourself. Only say you forgive me before I go.'

'Dear, good Maynard,' she said, stretching out her little hand, and taking two of his large fingers in her grasp, while her tears flowed fast; 'I am very cross to you. But my heart is breaking. I don't know what I do. Good-bye.'

He stooped down, kissed the little hand, and then left the room.

'The cursed scoundrel!' he muttered between his teeth, as he closed the door behind him. 'If it were not for Sir Christopher, I should like to pound him into paste to poison puppies like himself.'

From the archives: Kitbashing, a way of life

Originally posted December, 2007

Kitbashing. Do you know what that is? I used to get dollhouse magazines with examples of kitbashing, and I know car modellers who do the same thing. You want to build something customized...like, if you'll pardon the example, a haunted house...so you buy a regular dollhouse kit FOR THE COMPONENTS...or two or three kits...and change, combine or otherwise customize them to suit your purposes. Roof from here, walls from here and so on.

I was thinking through a whole blog post about kitbashing as a kind of frugal philosophy...a variation of what's in my hand...but this essay beat me to it. [link updated]
"Sure, what I call "kitbashing life" has been stated before in a multitude of forms, from the impressive "Adopt, Adapt, Improve" of the Knights of the Round Table to the cliched "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." But I've found that since I started kitbashing toys, I've really taken this sort of attitude to heart...it's more than just words of advice, it's something I live by."
The inverse of this philosophy is missing out by not being able to see the parts, just the whole. I wrote once here about going to a yard sale and buying, for $2, some bits and pieces of craft supplies packed in a $14.98 plastic container--that several people had passed over because they didn't like those particular bits and pieces, or they ONLY wanted the bits and pieces and didn't notice the container. Sometimes you get a better deal buying a whole junker whatsit with a good part you need, than you do trying to get a new part alone. (Or sometimes, in that case, it's the package that's the best find of all.)

I was thinking about that this week when I noticed that a local fabric-plus-more outlet store has reduced its prices on several educational-type kits for kids. You might have seen them: they are large boxes, six kits (each marked with a school grade), and each one has a different theme and project booklets. The sixth grade one, I think, is called Flying (it contains things to make kites and gliders); the fourth grade one is a Top Secret Spy kit with fingerprinting dust and so on; the first grade one is just art and craft supplies. The outlet store had them for $5.99 for quite awhile, now they're $3.99. Somebody told me their dollar store had the same kits--incredibly--for $1 apiece.

And they're sitting there. How come? Maybe because of the grading thing: what sixth grader wants to be given a box marked "Grade Two?" Or maybe because of the whole-parts thing: maybe you don't want to be a top secret spy, but you sure could use a magnifying glass; who couldn't use a big boxful of craft supplies? How much paint and glue can you get even at the dollar store for that price?

I guess the company boxed themselves in (pun intended).

Of course the most frugal--I mean, the only sensible way to do the kind of kitbashing I'm talking about--is when you can get the pieces-in-the-whole for less than you'd pay for them separately. But even better is when you find a poor old forgotten whole--maybe in a dusty or dented or otherwise bedraggled package--for almost nothing, and it turns out to have one or two pieces of gold in it. A bag of tangled yarn with leftover knitting needles thrown in. A bag of weary-looking stuffed Santas and snowmen with, somehow, one very cute Dora the Explorer doll in there too; and the thrift shop was not going to parole Dora without her cellmates. (We bought the bagful--it was worth it for the doll, and the Santas found new homes too--they turned out not to be as awful as they'd first appeared.) A set of books for almost nothing, in which one volume turns out to be exactly what you need. Would you pass up the set and pay more than that for a different book?

Maybe that's not kitbashing exactly, but you know what I mean. Look at parts as well as wholes--and never mind the holes. Instead of buying all new embroidery floss and tapestry yarn, consider using what you find in the half-used kits at rummage sales--I see those all the time. Half-used latchhook kits, too. Obviously this only makes sense if you like latchhook pictures of old mills and things, and I don't, especially, so for me this is not a good kind of kitbashing. But I'd pick up a partly-used package of floss or yarn, if it wasn't cut into little latchhook pieces. I've found partly-used party kits (usually with some leftover paper hats and unused noisemakers)--even the slightly Boy ones are fun for Mr. Fixit's family-only birthdays. (He doesn't mind Ninja Turtles or robot warriors, even if we have to combine a couple of themes to give everybody a hat and a napkin.)

Recently some Squirrelings and I were talking about doing fabric painting, and we realized that, between two or three paint-a-something kits they had been given, we could put together enough colours to do the project we had in mind. As Meredith says, better than a trip to the Big M (not McDonalds).

Keep an open mind, and kitbash when you can.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Shoo-fly Pie and Thanksgiving

In Mabel Dunham's historical novel The Trail of the Conestoga, the Bricker family has just crossed the Niagara River after many days on the road from Pennsylvania.

"It's the Promised Land," cried Sam, laughing good-naturedly and swinging the water-pail. "Look once, there's the Jordan River,"—he pointed to the Niagara—"and back there's the wilderness. We was forty years in it, not?"  "It seemed so," thought Annie.

But John was determined to be literal. "Forty days, it was," he said, "forty days exactly, for I counted them. And what for a river do you think the Jordan is?"

"Too hungry to tell you now," replied Sam, refusing to be depressed by his brother's prosiness. "Come, Little Johnny, fetch the dishes, and me and you'll set the table. Got some shoo-fly pie, Annie?"

"Shoo-fly pie," said Annie.  "It'll go a long time till we have that again."
The table was a deal one of the drop-leaf variety, which folded into a tiny corner when occasion demanded but spread two broad, obliging wings at meal-time. Around it the little company gathered for their first breakfast in Canada.

It was when Sam was drinking the last draught of coffee from his saucer that there was borne in upon his mind the importance of this day in the history of the Bricker family. Even in old age they would recall this first morning in Canada and all the events which should transpire in it. He proposed that they should celebrate it in some appropriate way.... He told Little Johnny to set the benches in rows, and get out the Bible and hymn-book. He induced John to read the account of the crossing of the Jordan, and then they all knelt together and said "Our Father."

And how they sang! Sam started the tunes as well as he could, while John and Annie and even the children joined in. Soon the silent woods reverberated with the long-metered hymns....

At daybreak on Monday the journey was resumed. A corduroy road followed the course of the river, and this the Brickers took, trusting that it would eventually lead to the Mennonite settlement, which was said to exist somewhere along the shores of a great lake called Ontario.--Mabel Dunham, The Trail of the Conestoga

Photo of the Vineland Cairn found here
Pie photos by The Apprentice, October 2011

HSBA 2011 nominations are now open

More details here.

So go nominate somebody!

The great wide road, the adventure we are given: a sort of manifesto

This week's Charlotte Mason blog carnival combines a Parent's Review article with Chapter IV of Towards a Philosophy of Education, "The Basis of National Strength." The theme common to them both seems to be delight--delight in knowledge, and delight in life, as opposed to indifference and a constant need for others to entertain us.
"....I write as an old woman who remembers how in the [eighteen-] sixties and seventies "countenance" was much talked of; "an intelligent countenance," "a fine countenance," "a noble countenance," were matters of daily comment. The word has dropped out of use; is it because the thing signified has dropped out of existence? Countenance is a manifestation of thought, feeling, intelligence; and it is none of these, but stolid indifference combined with physical well-being, that we read in many faces to-day."--Charlotte Mason, Towards a Philosophy of Education
"In order that the flavour and scent of existence may not be lost, we must have within ourselves some consciousness of this impelling power that may lead us to travel deliberately through our ages, realizing that the most wonderful adventures are not those which we go forth to seek. We shall then, perhaps, have some glimmering idea of what [Robert Louis] Stevenson himself meant when he said, "whether the past day was wise or foolish, to-morrow's travel will carry me body and mind into some different parish of the infinite." The conception of ourselves and our children as citizens of the "parish of the infinite" is undoubtedly one that must give us pause."  -- "The Open Road," by Frances Blogg (also known as Mrs. G.K. Chesterton), in The Parent's Review, Volume 11, 1900, pgs. 772-774
In this chapter, which was originally published in the London Times, Charlotte Mason talks about the countenance showing our interest in or indifference to the world, and how that affects the spirit of the nation.  She points out, though, that genuinely educated people are "not brought up for the uses of society only."  We are not cogs or dogs, as Mary Pride has termed it; not bricks in the wall.  Frances Blogg talks about life that retains its flavour and scent, that is more than mere existence.  We are given thoughts from Mr. Burns (the cabinet minister, not the cartoon character) and Socrates:
"Now personal delight, joy in living, is a chief object of education; Socrates conceived that knowledge is for pleasure, in the sense, not that knowledge is one source, but is the source of pleasure.  It is for their own sakes that children should get knowledge."--Philosophy, p. 302
In other words, education is for us.  For our own selves, for the children, and any interested others.  This is why Charlotte Mason emphasizes many books, important books, living books--because studying those books gives us power to think clearly, to make good judgments (meaning, for the good of society), and finally, to give us a life that is more than just passing time.  "But to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."  She mentions, as she always does, that we don't respect or really love children by keeping their educational prospects arid, confined, shallow; we need to allow them to swim out deeper, to climb higher, and to go around more unknown corners than they have been generally allowed.
"Education, then, to [Stevenson] was a journey, full of the delights of wide landscape, fresh invigorating air, or alternate sunshine and shadow, the great wide road stretching infinitely before--leading to that heart of its own, the beat of which he so longed to hear. There can be no liberal education when the eyes are closed or the ears sealed. In this, as in everything else, the wayfarer must live to the full extent of his being. Pitfalls he must find on that journey, blind paths perhaps, but through it all the philosophy of belief in the essential goodness, the actual significance of things created, the state of being 'in love with life.'"--Frances Blogg
P.S. for Charlotte Mason trivia seekers:  who is this Mr. Burns she quotes on page 300?  My guess.  More here.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

On not throwing out food, or, let's rustle up some grub

Sometimes saving money on groceries is as easy as not buying what you know you won't eat. This assumes, however, that you know not only what you are going to eat but also what you, if you're the cook, are going to cook, and how you're going to cook it. It also assumes that you're going to need the whole piece or package or pound of whatever it is, or that you have a plan for the rest that won't involve even more leftovers.

Since this is not a perfect world and we are not clairvoyant at the supermarket, this does not always happen, at least in our treehouse. Factor in time pressures, unexpected events (people not home, flu bugs, fridge dying) and a certain amount of sheer laziness, and it's even more likely that at least some of what we buy is going to end up not getting consumed before it's green/blue/brown, stale, or freezer-burnt.

The way around this is not just more meal-planning, although that helps, but combining the planning with flexible recipes AND a personal repertoire of easy things you know how to do with whatever-it-is. One year during university I shared an apartment with roommates, and one of the visiting parents left a six-quart basket of tomatoes. That basket sat in the corner of the kitchen until...well, let's just say it wasn't too attractive by the end.

I'm not saying that we should all have gone out that weekend, bought cilantro, and canned the tomatoes into salsa. But we could probably at least have made a decent pot of chili out of them. Still, they weren't my tomatoes, so I stayed out of it (and away from it).

Over the years I've had my share of similar use-it-up challenges. Did you ever notice that certain things are hard to use up just because they're either not attractive or accessible in their usual state? Humorist and homemaking writer Peg Bracken pointed out that leftover cake is not a problem, because what you do with leftover cake is eat it. Same with leftover cheese, leftover chocolate, and so on.

But what about the dried beans, the too-large bag of carrots, the cantaloupe you bought on sale, the jar of sauerkraut, the half-head of cauliflower, and all those frozen blueberries? Our hungry ancestors would have been delighted to have had this problem, and you know how they would have solved it? Cooking it up, and eating till it was all. (All gone.) It didn't matter if it wasn't on the menu--whatever it was would have been sliced and put on the table, or put into the soup or the pie, and it would have gotten eaten.

So if you want to use stuff up, that's your first strategy: put it out with whatever else is for supper, or what's in the lunch bag. This is especially important if your family's at all polite or shy about eating what's in the fridge. Put it out there and let people enjoy it.

Strategy two, especially useful if you have young children, is to put it in a form that's easy to eat. That means melon balls, chunks, or slices, instead of a whole cantaloupe staring sadly from the fridge shelf. At that point you might also notice that you have two bananas and an orange, and there you go, fruit salad. Fruit kebabs. Or just eat the cantaloupe; the point is to eat it. I have found a peculiar thing about those big round rice cakes: they often get left in the cupboard UNLESS I quarter them (sharp knife, be careful) and put them out on a plate or in a bowl with other snacks. Somebody must have had the same idea, years ago, when they invented the idea of eating raw turnip sticks.

In the same way, make half the bag of carrots into carrot sticks. Cook up the beans and freeze them.  Get things ready to eat, or to add to future meals.

Strategy three is the what's-in-your-hand principle, the same one that the great-greats used. I recently followed a recipe for sweet-potato salad, and thought I would try it again if I had extra sweet potatoes. This week I had a large head of cauliflower in the fridge, so I used half of that, along with just one sweet potato, to make the same salad recipe; and it also turned out fine.

Sauerkraut is an easy one for us--we use it as a base for cooking chicken breasts or any kind of pork, in the slow cooker or in the oven. If you're a vegetarian, you can try it with potato chunks.  Omnivores can combine all three.

Frozen fruit is likely to go into a crisp-type dessert, or the sort of thing I made earlier in the week (graham crackers, vanilla yogurt, and blueberries), or as fruit sauce on top of pancakes.

A final tip: know your particular food foe, and figure out a way to defeat its demise. Bags of potatoes that rot before you remember to eat them? The other half of the cauliflower? Leftover meat? A half-gone package of cream cheese? Don't look for complicated recipes to use them up; find simple things that you will actually do and that your eaters might actually eat. If you don't like sour things, or don't have a friend who does, or aren't going to a potluck anytime soon, then making bean salad with leftover beans is not a solution. But bean soup might be.  Making a potato casserole uses up as many potatoes as you have...and "potato casserole" could be as simple as cooking cut-up (sliced or chunked) potatoes in some broth or milk, and adding a little seasoning...and that could be in a pot, in the oven, or in the slow cooker.  Add some of the carrots and an onion, and you're on your way to stew.

To misquote Bloom County's Milo, "it's food and we're going to eat it."  There's not much simpler than that.  And happy Canadian Thanksgiving.

This post is linked to Festival of Frugality #301 and The Common Room: Four Moms Discuss Keeping the Food Budget in Control as Prices Rise

Friday, October 07, 2011

French lessons this week

I like it when miscellaneous materials just come together right. Serendipity.

We practiced conjugating the French verbs "to like" and "to eat." I like, you like, he likes. I had Crayons do a verb exercise in L'Art de Lire, and we talked about a couple of other verbs. "Porter" is to wear or to carry. A "porter" carries your luggage. A "portage" is when you have to get out of the canoe and carry it. My grandpa, who spoke very little French otherwise, liked to say "Comment vous portez-vous aujourd'hui?" Literally, "How do you carry yourself today?"

Then we used the Usborne French for Beginners book and tape, which, what do you know, has a lesson called "What do you like eating?" What are you eating? I'm eating a pizza. She is eating fries. He is eating bread. Do you like fish? I like bananas. And so on. The Usborne lesson briefly covers the partitive article (how you say "some bananas" instead of "the bananas." In French you can't say just "bananas.")

We looked in the picture-vocabulary section of Crayons' notebook from last year, which is also her notebook from this year since I inserted the Mission Monde workbook into the front of it. I asked her questions and had her repeat phrases about the foods pictured in an illustration: do you like cookies? We eat tomatoes.

Then we turned to a picture page about school supplies, and got a bit silly. The baby is eating the pen. The monster is eating the desk. Whatever works.

Next week we'll do more with Mission Monde. As I've said, I like that curriculum too, but I am finding we need to supplement a bit, especially to build up the bits that Crayons did not learn previously (i.e. where Mama Squirrel has slacked off). You can only go so fast.

As a postscript, it is always interesting to hear what the grade 9 French class and the university class are doing. In the Apprentice's class this week, they were also talking about food and working on the partitive article. The Apprentice said that a lot of the students had trouble distinguishing between what you would say at the store (I buy some coffee, I am buying a turkey) and what you say when you're eating or drinking that food item (I am drinking a (cup of) coffee, I am eating some turkey, as opposed to the entire thing). The Apprentice says she wasn't sure whether it was actually a language difficulty or just university-student ignorance of grocery shopping!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

What's for supper on election night? Reuben Enchiladas

I made up something new tonight.

We had some leftover Reuben Chicken (chicken breasts cooked with sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing)...almost enough for dinner, but a bit on the skimpy side as is. We had a package of whole-wheat tortillas, and a box of chicken broth. We had some uncoloured sharp Cheddar cheese.

So: I rolled what was left of the chicken-and-sauerkraut up in the tortillas, along with a strip of cheese for each one; arranged them in a casserole, and poured a cupful of chicken broth over top (mixed with a bit of chili sauce as well). I added an extra squirt of Thousand Island dressing on top. Lid on and into the toaster oven at 350 degrees. Ours turned out just moist enough--but you might want to check them partway through and make sure they're not getting too dark on the bottom.

Non-traditional, but good. We had the enchiladas with brown rice and green beans. Dessert was dairy-free chocolate pudding.

Found at the thrift store: hot or cold? Infinitesimal?

Yesterday's thrift store shift was mostly about digging through the backlog of children's books.  Plus keeping up with the usual incoming boxes of everything under the sun (in the book corner, I mean).

This is a fun one I put out for sale (but didn't buy):

I had never seen one of these touch-and-feel art board books, but there's a whole series of them.  Wow, what will they think of next?
A picture book about Mary Anning: I brought this home for Crayons/Dollygirl.
Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming, by Bjorn Lomborg. I thought this would interest the scientists in the treehouse.
The Hot Topic: What We Can Do About Global Warming, by Gabrielle Walker and Sir David King.  Considering there's an endorsement on the front cover from David Suzuki, this is obviously written from the more PC point of view.  But still interesting.

What's Mama Squirrel reading?  She is working very hard at one of the books we found last week:

(Even arts majors should know something about how the universe works, right?)

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

What's for supper? What's to use up?

Tonight's menu:

Potatoes, cut up and cooked in the crockpot along with a tiny bit of leftover pork roast, a spoonful of margarine, a cup of chicken broth, some leftover mustard sauce, some milk, pepper, dried onion, and smoked paprika.  Basically, scalloped potatoes.

A bit of thin-sliced smoked pork loin from the Euro-butcher, fried up in the non-stick pan.  Basically, back bacon.

Last night's salad:  spinach, celery, green pepper, and pink beans.

Corn bread

Dessert:  layered graham crackers, blueberries (from a frozen package), and vanilla yogurt (the discount grocery had all the flavoured yogurts on for a dollar last week)

Monday, October 03, 2011

Teach the child, not the book (French comments)

So far I do like the Mission Monde curriculum we're using this year.  I particularly like it mixed with Usborne Beginners and the L'art de lire materials...that gives us some variety.

The only negative is that there is a lot expected in a short time.  That's partly because we are using Level 3, and students are expected to have picked up some grammar points in earlier levels that Crayons is just learning now.  But seriously, expecting even keen Grade 5 students to be able to handle all this on a written test by the end of the first unit (that is, next week) is a lot:

--present tense of the "to be" and "to have" verbs
--days of the week and months
--present tense of the "-er" verbs (a common regular verb form)
--three prepositions
--words for weather and seasons
--some information about Burundi
--two phonics sounds
--numbers 1 to 69
--two more irregular verbs, "to be able to" and "to want to"
--words for and, but, then, or
--any other vocabulary that has come up, including which gender the nouns are

Put it this way:  even Ponytails' grade 9 French class hasn't covered or reviewed all that yet this year.

We've covered about half of that material:  one phonics sound, the "to have" verb but not the "to be" verb, and so on.  Compared to the way we've slacked off on French in previous years, I think we're making great progress.  So if I want to test Crayons next week, I'm going to write my own test.  And it's going to be mostly oral.

We use the material; it doesn't use us.
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