Friday, August 18, 2017

From the archives: Churchill and magnanimity

First posted July 2011

Seen in the New York Times Book Review: Harry V. Jaffa's review of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, The University of Chicago Press).
"Some time in the 1920s, the Conservative statesman F. E. Smith — Lord Birkenhead — gave a copy of the “Nicomachean Ethics” to his close friend Winston Churchill. He did so saying there were those who thought this was the greatest book of all time. Churchill returned it some weeks later, saying it was all very interesting, but he had already thought most of it out for himself. But it is the very genius of Aristotle — as it is of every great teacher — to make you think he is uncovering your own thought in his. In Churchill’s case, it is also probable that the classical tradition informed more of his upbringing, at home and at school, than he realized.

"In 1946, in a letter to the philosopher Karl Löwith, Leo Strauss mentioned how difficult it had been for him to understand Aristotle’s account of magnanimity, greatness of soul, in Book 4 of the “Ethics.”

"The difficulty was resolved when he came to realize that Churchill was a perfect example of that virtue. So Churchill helped Leo Strauss understand Aristotle! That is perfectly consistent with Aristotle’s telling us it does not matter whether one describes a virtue or someone characterized by that virtue. Where the “Ethics” stands among the greatest of all great books perhaps no one can say. That Aristotle’s text, which explores the basis of the best way of human life, belongs on any list of such books is indisputable."

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Today is National Thrift Shop Day (and here's the new Project 333 page)

I just finished putting together my seventh seasonal #Project333 page. Out of 34 pieces of clothing and shoes for this fall (yes, I went over 33 this time), 24 are from thrift or consignment stores. So about 3/4 of my clothes, and most of my extras like belts and scarves, are on their "second life."

If you've followed us for awhile, you'll know that some of our furniture (like our dining room table) also came from the thrift store, and so did many of our books, records, baskets, craft supplies, toys (when the Squirrelings were younger), homeschool materials (ditto), and small appliances. It's also, sometimes, a source of items for Mr. Fixit to repair and restore.

These are the things we know about thrift stores: You can get nice things, sometimes unique or scarce things. You can pay less than retail. (Hopefully always, but even thrift stores do get mixed up or carried away on prices.) You can find wool sweaters when everything in the regular store is acrylic, and mixers with glass bowls when everything else is plastic. You can find the exact not-made-now model of bread machine that matches the previous one that conked out.

However, the benefits of thrift stores go beyond what you take home yourself.

Sales at our local MCC store benefit Mennonite Central Committee projects around the world, including disaster relief.  The store is also a great volunteering opportunity for many people (Lydia's experiences volunteering at a thrift store may have just helped get her a part-time job.) Shops representing other non-profit organizations will have similar goals and benefits. When you donate items, you're helping. When you shop, you're helping.

Would it work just as well to close down all the stores, have people just donate money instead, and send all the old stuff to the landfill?

Maybe. But it wouldn't be half as much fun.
Bead necklace, found at the MCC store today

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Back to the Wednesday Hodgepodge



From this Side of the Pond

1. Do your actions match your words? Elaborate.


Does anybody ever do everything the way they want to and say to? I know St. Paul had a problem with that.

But probably yes, more or less, because I hesitate to blather about things I haven't tried myself. Like parenting boys.

2. Sick as a dog, go to the dogs, dog days of summer, dog tired, it's a dog's life, every dog has it's day, can't teach an old dog new tricks...now doggone it which saying could most recently be applied to your life?


An old dog, new tricks: I am looking at furthering my own education in the near future. I am not worried about the course content as much as I am about handling assignments online. If that sounds funny, considering that I have done other computer tasks like formatting books, just figure that every "old dog" has her particular cyber-bogeys.

3. Your favorite book featuring a dog in the storyline? What makes it a favorite?

I couldn't choose between


a) Mine for Keeps and Spring Begins in March, by Jean Little. Who wouldn't want a Westie after reading those?

b) the Mitford books, even if I can't imagine owning a dog as big as that.

c) The Ark, by Margot Benary-Isbert. Lots of dogs in that one.

4. What's something you hope to one day have the confidence to do?

Take a plane across the ocean. So far I've only gone as far as Texas.


5. August 16th is National Tell a Joke Day. So tell us a joke.


Knock knock.
Who's there?
Billy Bob Joe Penny.
Billy Bob Joe Penny who?
Seriously, how many Billy Bob Joe Pennys do you know?

(From Knock-Knock Jokes for Kids, by Rob Elliott.)

6. Insert your own random thought here.


The other night I had a dream that I was chasing three people through our apartment parking garage...I'm not sure whether I thought they were villains or whether I was just trying to get an interview with them. I woke up suddenly and thought, "I know who they are! They're the three women from A Wrinkle in Time, and the three weird sisters from The Prydain Chronicles. They can't fool me." I was hoping I would get the better of them or at least find them in the next dream, but they didn't reappear. I was disappointed, especially because my dreams aren't usually that archetypal (or even coherent).

The other funny thing about that dream is that one of the mysterious people was wearing the same grey poncho I bought recently. So I thought maybe I was trying to catch up with myself.

Which is what I seem to be doing a lot of lately, anyway.

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

When we get clouds (#2)...

...sometimes we get hot-air balloons too.

Preview of my fall Project 333 page

"Perfection is highly overrated and you are working with pieces you love, so it will be hard to pick the wrong items." ~~ Courtney Carver
Who's counting?

I've gone back and forth on the question of whether to set a number limit on clothes. Thoughtful people have pointed out that it's more important to have a functional wardrobe, one that meets your needs and that you're happy with, than to limit yourself to a predetermined amount of clothes; or not to wear something nice that you own just because it's not in this season's capsule. 

Clothes from last spring's 10x10 Challenge

Still the questions keep coming. How do some minimalists manage even less than 33 items, jewelry and sunglasses included? Is resistance to fewer clothes a fear of being stripped down of my protective layers, in the same way that I want to turn the radio on when the room is too quiet?  Is my problem that I need to let go of too-comfortable excess? Or just that I can't decide on pink over green? 

I'm still working on those.


Life as it is

I try to stay honest about my typical day and week, and say no to clothes from some other life (one in which I'm taller, younger, and dress up for work). I admire Downton-Abbey-style vintage hats, but they would be a bit odd to wear around the apartment. I also don't have any real use for a new travel satchel, although I enjoy thinking that I'd like to pack clothes and go somewhere more often. I'll probably be away overnight just once during the fall, for a weekend retreat on Lake Erie.


“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.” 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

A Treehouse summer quiz: Answers


1. The last thing Mr. Fixit fixed was

a) Mama Squirrel's favourite Charlotte Mason souvenir pen that needed refilling
b) a little RCA Victor transistor radio that Grandpa Squirrel gave him for his birthday

He worked on both of these: the radio works fine, but the pen won't click. (We need another size refill.)

2. This week Lydia reached what milestone?

a) She got her first driver's license

It took visits to three different testing offices, due to crowds and cutbacks; but when she finally got to write the test, she aced it.

3. Who/what does Mama Squirrel have a ticket to hear in Toronto at the end of August?

b) Courtney Carver on The Tiny Wardrobe Tour

4. Lydia's school robotics team was one of 150 local individuals and groups that received awards from a Member of Parliament at an open-air ceremony this week. When they got to the 125th award, what happened?

c) A thunderstorm drenched everyone

5. Better late than never: which Star Trek series are we finally getting around to watching?

a) Deep Space Nine

6. Who made Mr. Fixit's birthday cake?

a) Mr. Fixit (second one, for a family party)
b) Mama Squirrel (first one)

7. The high school course Lydia is most looking forward to in fall is:

c) enriched drama

8. Which of these things did come with us when we moved?

a) a complete set of Three Stooges DVDs
c) a coffee mug shaped like a Polaroid camera

9. Where does Mr. Fixit make hamburgers now?

b) around the back of the building

10. Why can't The Apprentice take the ferry to the Toronto Islands this summer?

a) flooding
b) nasty mosquitoes

Both: the water from the flooding caused a rise in virus-laden mosquitoes. Maybe next year?

Sunday, August 06, 2017

A Treehouse summer quiz

By way of catching up, here's a quiz for you to take about the new Treehouse and the Squirrels who do or don't live here now. See how many of these you can guess right. Answers will be posted soon.

1. The last thing Mr. Fixit fixed was

a) Mama Squirrel's favourite Charlotte Mason souvenir pen that needed refilling
b) a little RCA Victor transistor radio that Grandpa Squirrel gave him for his birthday
c) Muffin's leaking water bottle

2. This week Lydia reached what milestone?

a) She got her first driver's license
b) All her wisdom teeth came through at once
c) She got a job teaching swimming to small children

3. Who/what does Mama Squirrel have a ticket to hear in Toronto at the end of August?

a) Coldplay
b) Courtney Carver on The Tiny Wardrobe Tour
c) The Prime Minister of Canada

4. Lydia's school robotics team was one of 150 local individuals and groups that received awards from a Member of Parliament at an open-air ceremony this week. When they got to the 125th award, what happened?

a) They passed out popsicles to everyone
b) They called a break for everyone to do some Swedish Drill
c) A thunderstorm drenched everyone

5. Better late than never: which Star Trek series are we finally getting around to watching?

a) Deep Space Nine
b) Enterprise
c) Voyager

6. Who made Mr. Fixit's birthday cake?

a) Mr. Fixit
b) Mama Squirrel
c) He didn't have one because he hates cake

7. The high school course Lydia is most looking forward to in fall is:

a) co-op accounting
b) accelerated biology
c) enriched drama

8. Which of these things did come with us when we moved?

a) a complete set of Three Stooges DVDs
b) a vintage toboggan which we are using as wall art in our bedroom
c) a coffee mug shaped like a Polaroid camera
d) A and B
e) A and C

9. Where does Mr. Fixit make hamburgers now?

a) in the bathroom with the fan going
b) around the back of the building
c) on the balcony

10. Why can't The Apprentice take the ferry to the Toronto Islands this summer?

a) flooding
b) nasty mosquitoes
c) they doubled the fare
d) she is not in Toronto anyway, she's touring Scotland

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Sauerkraut and Marshmallow Bananas

From this Side of the Pond

1. Growing up, were you close to your grandparents? Tell us one or two specific things you remember about them.


I've written about my mother's parents before, here and here. The biggest thing was that they were always there. They were a dependable, constant, steady presence. That doesn't mean they couldn't come up with surprises ("we're renting out our house for the winter and going to Florida this year"), but their there-ness never changed, even through hard things. A lot of things remind me of them, including the bags of marshmallow bananas at the discount store.

2. What's an item you were attached to as a child? What happened to it?

My father's typewriter?

My dolls, including a Crissy I got for my birthday when I was six. I should have taken better care of her over the years, but she and some other toys were put into a storage area that was abused by a family cat, and let's just say that almost everything in there had to be put to the curb. That was years ago, and I didn't expect to have another Crissy...then Lydia, the Squirreling formerly known as Dollygirl, was given her own vintage Crissy, and I had fun reconstructing some 1970's clothes for her.

3. When you look out your window, do you see the forest or the trees (literally and figuratively)? Explain.


The whole deal. We're on the fifteenth floor.

4. Do you like sour candies? Which of the 'sour' foods listed below would you say is your favorite?

grapefruit, Greek yogurt, tart cherries, lemons, limes, sauerkraut, buttermilk, or kumquats 

Have you ever eaten a kumquat? What's your favorite dish containing one of the sour foods on the list?

Sauerkraut is a staple around here. We go back and forth between the fine-cut Bavarian style and a coarser Polish type. They're both good.

Lemons? Lemonade. Buttermilk? Pancakes. The rest are good too.

But I haven't eaten a kumquat in years.

5. July 1st marked the mid point of 2017. In fifteen words or less, tell us how it's going so far.


Fifteen or less?

One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve fourteen fifteen home. (I didn't have to cheat there because we don't have a thirteenth floor.)

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

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Thrifting with Mama Squirrel

Do you know the verse in Ecclesiastes 11 that says to cast your bread on the waters, and that after many days you will find it again? It's a strange metaphor with different possible contexts (including sowing seeds), but what it implies is a releasing, a non-clutching attitude towards whatever it is. And there's a promise that in the letting go, there will someday be a return.

I think that happened today, somewhat. I have been slowly collecting a bag of thrift store donations ever since we moved, and today I added a few more things I'd been holding onto. A maxi dress, because I'm not as tall as I think I am. An extra pair of pants. A set of salad spoons I keep thinking we'd use but we didn't. A shirt I bought last year but which always felt like someone else's. With storage at a premium here, there's no room for things that I just wish I used. Giving them away means admitting, somewhat, that I make mistakes on things. Well, of course I do. But cutting them loose means the final farewell. No more chance to redeem those particular less-than-brilliant moments.

So off we went, dropped off our bagful of donations, and had a look around the store. Our looking is somewhat limited these days: we don't need more furniture. We don't need a waffle maker or a coffee pot. We don't need toys or children's books.

I do need fall shoes, so I looked at all those, but didn't see anything workable. I browsed through the dresses (nothing) and skirts (nothing). In what used to be the dollar-deal section, now renamed 75% Off, I found one long-sleeved pink top I liked.
Okay, one nice find is a good enough return for a short trip. I headed towards the checkouts, back through the "boutique" of women's clothes. And that's where I found it, hanging with some sweaters in the middle of everything. A DKNY Cozy sweater, the real thing, in like-new condition. It even fits.
How can I explain why this is so good? Let's just say...it's a useful piece of clothing that's fun to play around with. I had a couple of previously-thrifted imitation versions, but one was too tight and the other developed nasty holes in all the wrong places.  Yay, I get to try again!

It was totally worth giving up the salad spoons.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Crafting: a new old kit

I was at a local yarn/fabric outlet store, and came across a bunch of craft kits by a company called One Stick Two Stick. Reading the package inserts (plus a bit of online research) showed that these kits came out about ten years ago and were designed by Maggie Pace. The company website is now defunct. They originally sold for US$15.99, but our store is selling them for about three dollars Canadian.

What these are: kits that include patterns and materials (yarn, zippers) to make either crocheted or knitted, and then felted, pouches, bracelets, hats (I don't think our store had the hats), and a larger pouch called the Sushi Wallet. Each of them contains enough materials to make more than one item, with the stated intention that you make an extra for a friend!
I bought the Keychain Pouches kit. It came with three small balls of bamboo/wool yarn, zippers, and instructions for both knitted and crocheted versions. As you can see in the photo below, I'm partway done crocheting the main parts of the pouches (very easy). After that you sew them together, make trims with the leftover yarn, and felt them in the washing machine or in hot water. The zippers are sewn on at the end.
I've never done any felting before (at least not on purpose), and I'm not sure how our crotchety apartment-sized washer will feel about a tiny load in hot water; so I may look up the alternative no-washer felting directions. 

Keep your eyes open for old/new stuff at outlet and thrift stores--you never know what you'll find.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Less. More. The right to fry onions.

What more can be said about more vs. less stuff?

I remember a vintage Mad Magazine parody of home renovations, where weekend handyman projects involved turning an extra bathroom into a messy closet, and a knotty pine rec room into an attractive cement-walled basement. Perhaps satires of minimalism (if they don't already exist) will feature trendoids Upsizing, knocking around in Giant Over-sized Houses.

Some people object to the term "minimalism," preferring "intentional" or "conscious" over a word suggesting a cold, unreal sort of asceticism. Others object to hyper-romantic notions that small is necessarily better. Sometimes a family's needs change. A couple I saw in a video had lived in a tiny house for a year, but decided to give it up when they had a baby. They wanted to give her some floor space for crawling and toddling.

One writer complained that cooking caramelized onions for three hours in a tiny apartment created an indelible reek in everything she owned, including her bra. Comments on that story were largely unsympathetic, tending mostly towards "so don't cook onions for three hours." She did make the important point, though, that small-space living isn't always glamourous or fun, and it isn't for everyone.

For those who make a deliberate, conscious choice to live smaller, or with fewer possessions or clothes, does the romance rub off faster than the smell of the onions?

Or is the secret more in adapting? We live in a generous-sized apartment, with an eat-in kitchen and enough floor space for several (hypothetical) crawling babies. I probably wouldn't cook caramelized onions here, although we have baked cabbage rolls without too much olfactory distress. (To be honest, I didn't caramelize onions in our house either.) But we don't let garbage or laundry sit around too long, we wipe down damp things, and we clean the guinea pig's cage fairly often. We do have a kitchen vent fan, and a pretty good cross-draft when the balcony door is open, but why push your luck?

And in the end, we're not talking about onions at all, are we? We're talking about the things we feel entitled to do and have, never mind the consequences to us or those around us. Or to human beings half a world away who pick our coffee beans and sew our t-shirts.

Hey, where did that come from?

Because just as small spaces have inconvenient, less fun limitations, other intentional-conscious-minimalist decisions have their downsides too. If you buy expensive fair-trade organic coffee, you're probably going to drink less of it. If you wear 33 clothing items for three months, you may be fed up with your two or three pairs of shoes long before the season is over.

But you are getting less caffeine, and saving money on shoes. And saving time and energy spent figuring out which shoes to wear. And maybe putting money back into a people-helping coffee business, or the local store that sells it. Does that give you new resolve to stick with it?

You make the choice, you make a change, or at worst, you accept the situation you're in and try to find its good points. Maybe the tiny place where you can't fry onions is allowing you to live in a great city for awhile. Or letting you live on a smaller income. Or keeping you from having to own a lawn mower and a snow blower.  Maybe you have a bigger place, but having a tiny wardrobe or less stuff will allow you to share a smaller room and closet with your husband, and open up a bedroom for a parent, adult offspring, or friend to move in. (My grandparents did that for my aunt and uncle, and their toddler. Years later, the same aunt and uncle used their own basement as a granny flat for my grandparents.)

It's not about the adjectives. It's not about the fun-honeymoon side or the later second-thoughts side of choices. Everything may have advantages and disadvantages. So don't let either the fads or the critics blow away your decisions.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Frugal Finds and Fixes: When summer kicks in

The Big Picture: Mr. Fixit is our Treehouse money watcher. His report is that moving to this apartment was a good financial choice. Our electric bill is lower, the water bill is included in the rent, and we don't have to plan for a new furnace.
The dining table can also be a workbench.

Food, not always very frugal but staying even: We have less money "invested" in food now, because we have less storage space for it. On the negative side, I would say that, as a smaller family with members who have various eating habits, we waste more food than we did when five people all ate the same dinner at the same time. (A big pot of soup is not always practical.) We still try to eat up leftovers for lunch, and we try to pick out the on-sale thing if possible.

Media and entertainment: Radio, library DVD's, and whatever incarnation of television Mr. Fixit is trying out. That's been mostly Netflix for the last while. I find it funny when one of my moved-out daughters says, "I just watched an old movie on Netflix," and it's the same one we watched. Which isn't really a coincidence, since I guess everyone out there gets the same new additions.

Critter entertainment: Muffin has been cavorting with shapes folded out of newspaper. He likes the old paper cup/paper hat thing (the same shape I was using to line the compost pail), because he can a) hide under it b) walk across the floor under it and think that nobody can see him, and c) chew a hole in the side and peek out when he gets bored with that.

Thrifting and yardsaling:
One local church always has a rummage sale on Canada Day, and we usually go. This year I paid a total of fifty cents for two things: a package of tiny candles (hard to find!) for our Christmas angel-chimes decoration, and a game in a tin called Shut the Box. It was missing its dice, but that was no problem. 

The only trouble with the candle for the angel chimes is that I can't quite remember if they made the cut when we downsized and packed to move. We had a big pile of "maybes," and I'm not sure if the chime went into the bins or to the thrift store (possibly for lack of candles). I'm not hauling out the bins to check, so I guess we'll find out at Christmas.

In any case, I have a little pack of candles for a quarter. And a game that we played several times over the weekend.
Thrifted grey blazer for the fall. Less than ten dollars, unless you add in the wound to my pride by the cashier. (I'm not a senior citizen yet).
Denim-blue cotton top, same trip.
Like-new grey corduroy pants for fall. Best find of the week at $2.

This and that: Half price flower baskets from Walmart. We bought two for the balcony.

Books finished in the first half of 2017: Minimalism and Ecumenism

This year's January-June reading was neatly divided in half: "We'd like to move" and "We're moving." Pile of online mysteries = anxiety because things weren't happening fast enough. Pile of downsizing and simplifying books = looking for HELP when things started to happen faster than we'd thought. 

You might think, from this list, that I never look at Charlotte Mason's books, much less the Bible or certain other things that I go back to a lot. I do; it's just that I don't find myself coming to the last page of those very often, so they don't end up on a GoodReads list (where I've been tracking books).

Christian Thought and Faith; Philosophy

Freedom of Simplicity
Foster, Richard J.

The Spirit of the Disciplines : Understanding How God Changes Lives
Willard, Dallas

The Pilgrim's Progress (re-read)
Bunyan, John

C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason
Reppert, Victor

Restoring Beauty: The Good, the True, and the Beautiful in the Writings of C.S. Lewis
Markos, Louis

The Ecumenism of Beauty
Verdon, Timothy

Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation
Pieper, Josef

The Arts and the Christian Imagination: Essays on Art, Literature, and Aesthetics
Kilby, Clyde S.

Mere Motherhood: Morning times, nursery rhymes, and my journey toward sanctification
Rollins, Cindy

The Power Of Generosity
Toycen, Dave

Minimalism, Organizing, and Lifestyle

Shelter for the Spirit: How to Make Your Home a Haven in a Hectic World
Moran, Victoria

This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live
Warnick, Melody

Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More
Boyle, Erin

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste
Johnson, Bea

The More of Less: Finding the Life You Want Under Everything You Own
Becker, Joshua

Throw Out Fifty Things: Clear the Clutter, Find Your Life
Blanke, Gail

Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman (re-read)
Ortlund, Anne

Gift from the Sea (re-read)
Lindbergh, Anne Morrow

Things to Wear

The Wardrobe Wakeup: Your Guide to Looking Fabulous at Any Age
Johnson, Lois Joy

How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing
Freer, Alison

Magnifeco: Your Head-to-Toe Guide to Ethical Fashion and Non-toxic Beauty
Black, Kate

Homemaking, Food, and Decorating

The Gentle Art of Hospitality: Warm Touches of Welcome and Grace
Ellis, Alda

Making Home: Adapting Our Homes and Our Lives to Settle in Place
Astyk, Sharon

Private Places
Wilson, Judith

Downsizing Your Home with Style
Ward, Lauri

New Cottage Style: A Sunset Design Guide

Survival Food Handbook
Groene, Janet

Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Recipes for Two
Hensperger, Beth

History

A History of England
Arnold-Forster, H.O.

Romances and Mysteries

Fletchers End
Stevenson, D.E.

Vittoria Cottage (Drumberley Book 1)
Stevenson, D.E.

The Yellow Room
Rinehart, Mary Roberts

Brat Farrar
Tey, Josephine

A Shilling for Candles (Inspector Alan Grant, #2)
Tey, Josephine

The Franchise Affair (Inspector Alan Grant, #3)
Tey, Josephine

To Love and Be Wise (Inspector Alan Grant, #4)
Tey, Josephine

Dead Man's Folly
Christie, Agatha

Other Stories

An Old Fashioned Girl
Alcott, Louisa May

The Spartan Twins
Perkins, Lucy Fitch
(I'm not sure how they ended up in there.)

The Dean's Watch
Goudge, Elizabeth

Wise Blood
O'Connor, Flannery

Doomsday Book (Oxford Time Travel, #1)
Willis, Connie

Blackout (All Clear, #1)
Willis, Connie

All Clear (All Clear, #2)
Willis, Connie

Poetry

The Sighting (Wheaton Literary Series)
Shaw, Luci

Books about Books

Books for Living
Schwalbe, Will

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Liberty and Laundry

From our Hodgepodge Hostess: "Happy July 4th Hodgepodgers! And if you're joining in from outside the US of A, then happy Tuesday! Here are the questions to this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge. Answer on your own blog then jump back here tomorrow to share answers with all your friends and neighbors."

1. When and where were the best fireworks you've ever seen? Speaking of fireworks...do you know your hot buttons? The things people can say and/do to set you off? When was the last time someone pushed one of your hot buttons?


The best fireworks I ever saw were two years ago, in Toronto, at the end of the Pan-Am Games. The second-best were a few nights ago, for Canada's 150th Birthday, from our multiple-stories-up balcony. We could see fireworks all over the city, near and far, from little backyard displays to the mega-blastoff from the downtown city hall. There were fireworks here on Victoria Day too, but not like this.

OK. Hot buttons. How about just a mildly warm button? I got asked a couple of days ago if I wanted a senior's discount at a Salvation Army thrift store. Minimum age sixty. (Mr. Fixit's reaction: "I would have taken it." Thanks, sweetie.)

2. Have you hosted any outdoor summer parties this year? Attended any? What makes for a great outdoor party?


I was invited to a backyard reunion last month, but we got rained out; I'm hoping to make the rain date later this month.

3. What does freedom mean to you?


Freedom of thought, if it actually exists. Charlotte Mason said that we are not perfectly free to think or say exactly what we like, though, because our duties of love and justice override "freedom." Mrs. Lynde may be proud of speaking her mind, but if others have to pick up the broken pieces behind her, that's not freedom, it's encroachment. Committing to love someone or to treat them with respect means back-burnering your own freedoms: the freedom to be pushy, rude, mean, or negligent. Recognizing an authority means not exercising any right you have to act entirely on your own. Still, you have the liberty to make those choices.

4. July is National Cell Phone Courtesy month...what annoys you most about people's cell phone habits?


I don't have a phone, so I'm not a good one to judge. 

Probably the obvious things, like having loud conversations in public places.

5. What's your current summer anthem?


Not an anthem, but an earworm: Mr. Fixit is re-watching as many episodes of Hogan's Heroes as he can find (between all the other things he does), so that theme song has been playing nonstop.

6.  Insert your own random thought here.


Lydia is still looking for a summer job. It's not easy being a teenager and trying to slot yourself into employment, especially when it's only for a few weeks. The first summer job I had was at seventeen, when I was hired as a kitchen helper AND laundress at a summer camp for adults with special needs. The AND there was a big problem; multitasking between those two jobs would have kerfuffled anyone, much less a teenager trying to please the directors, the cook, the other kitchen staff, the counselors, and the middle-aged guest who was afraid to allow his prized rock-band t-shirt off his back and out of his sight. His intuition was probably justified, because every time I got a load of laundry in, I was called back to the kitchen to chop onions or wash more dishes. The unwashed and unsorted camper laundry got piled up so high that they finally gave up and let every cabin do its own for the rest of the summer.  I did get the rock-band shirt back to its owner, so I wasn't a complete laundry failure.

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

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

That's the way it always goes

I realized that my online-library copy of Organize Tomorrow Today expires tomorrow. So I'm reading it today.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Made in Canada.



I am made in Canada. Like this old phonograph record, that came with a bilingual board game we were given at school in sixth grade. It was an optimistic, everybody's-friends collection of songs.

This weekend is the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Not everyone is delighted about that. According to certain voices of those inhabiting the northern part of this continent, my ancestors were land-robbers, murderers, and worse.

It's very confusing. I don't think that my Scottish-immigrant milling relatives thought of themselves as robber barons. Or my German-industrialist forebears who fled nineteenth-century unrest in Europe, and helped found the town of Hespeler. Or the other Scottish relatives who farmed in the bush and sang Psalms in little log and stone churches.

I don't think that's what my several-greats-grandfather was thinking about when he hauled his family up here from Pennsylvania.



Were they all wrong?

Because of them, and other bridge-builders and teachers and farmers and storytellers and members of Parliament, I am made in Canada. I have a Canadian passport, and a Canadian university degree. I have Canadian art on the walls (including a recent print by a Serbian-Canadian painter). I listen to Gordon Lightfoot and Oscar Peterson. I was a Girl Guide with a maple leaf Citizenship badge. I saw Karen Kain dance in 1972, and I met Jean Chretien in 1988. I watched Polka Dot Door, Readalong, and CUCUMBER (not to mention Tiny Talent Time and Uncle Bobby). I wore snowsuits big enough for three children, and skated after school (badly). I eat Smarties and butter tarts. I think paper money should be all different colours.

Canada is my home. Happy 150th birthday to my country.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

From the archives : A woeful feeling

First posted June 2007.


"I have a woeful feeling, as if the double O of doom were sticking in my throat." ~~ James Thurber
From [an] ongoing discussion about Big Words (of course some people would call it just blog chatter, since we're all supposed to be non-professionals not entitled to consider these things):

The Deputy Headmistress weighs in again on all of this, and mentions a high-ranking clergyman who says (in big words) that he would like to simplify church language for the rest of us.

"Why is he allowed words the rest of us aren't? Is it because they taste yucky, so we won't like them anyway?"
Ah! I love it, it makes so much sense. Not that any of us believe in a conspiracy to limit our language or turn us all into Alphas, Betas...Epsilons...
The DHM's reference to "yucky" refers to a motherly deception she once tried to keep one of her offspring from asking for the pop she was drinking. (She is very, very sorry now and will never do it again.) It reminds me of some friends of ours who used to give their toddler plain yogurt while they were eating ice cream. It worked--until he got old enough to notice that there was a difference! (And it NEVER worked when the younger ones came along.)

And goodness knows I do like yogurt myself--I have some yogging on the heating pad as we speak. But speaking strictly in terms of "something somebody else has that's better than what you've been given"--is it possible that we've been gradually slipped more and more yogurt in place of the Vanilla Chocolate Chip that might give us ideas about Mocha Almond Fudge or even White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle?

Like our toddler friend (who's now an almost Goliath-sized teenager), demand your semantic rights as loudly as you can, and be a voice for the vocabulary-impaired.

"Black showed his teeth and made a restless gesture. 'Taking a single letter from the alphabet,' he said, 'should make life simpler.'

"'I don't see why. Take the F from life and you have lie. It's adding a letter to simple that makes it simpler. Taking a letter from hoarder makes it harder.'"--James Thurber, The Wonderful O

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Frugal finds and fixes: thrifted dress

Yesterday Lydia and I went to the Large Chain For-Profit Resale Store, the one I usually avoid because the clothes are a bit overpriced, and because I prefer to support the non-profit shops. The one advantage to this store is its size: if you know you want shoes, shorts, whatever, they have lots to choose from. In fact, it's so big that they have "summer dresses" sorted from just "dresses." While Lydia was looking at t-shirts, I had a look through "dresses." This is what I found.
It was marked as XL on the label, and size 17/18 on the store tag, which sounds huge for me. But I was looking at the dress itself, not the label, and it seemed about the same size as my other dresses. I was looking at the colour (grey-blue or blue-grey, you choose), and the fabric texture (a medium-weight knit). I was looking at the neckline, and the way the fabric draped, and the banded bottom that would make it easy to change lengths.

And it did fit, pretty much.

But it's better with a belt.
I didn't even mind having to pay the slightly-more-than-usual Large Chain price, because it's the sort of dress I'd even buy new if I could find one new. Except I don't usually. So that made me a very happy thrifter.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

When you choose less space: it's not all that exciting, and that's okay

Note to potential downsizers: if you've been in one space for awhile, you may be used to certain things a certain way, and you're not sure you're up for a change. Additionally, photos of tiny houses and articles on apartment websites can make you feel like there must be a rare Zen art to finding cute ways to stash things. Figuring out how to cleverly store the laundry soap in a no-storage laundry closet can be as stressful as moving itself.

But it doesn't have to be that hard.
This is our so-easy-I-forgot-to-think-of-that laundry soap storage: on top of the washer.  Nobody's going to photograph it for Buzzfeed or Pinterest. It was just the obvious place to put the detergent bottle.
This is the only real storage we have in the bathroom that Mr. Fixit and I use, which is also the main bathroom: there's a very shallow medicine cabinet, and the space under the sink, which holds two plastic dishpans, which hold anything we'd rather not leave out. You can buy all kinds of shelf things for bathrooms, but we don't have room for them. And this is the point: we don't have that much to store in the bathroom anyway, so it works out.
This is our totally unexciting entrance closet. It has an old Stack-a-Shelf unit for shoes. It has coats. It has a few things on a shelf, and a basket for paper recycling. 

Are you seeing a pattern here? 

We are not in love with having to organize and store stuff. I do not say that out of lack of sympathy for those who are honestly crushed for space. And we do have a very nice storage room slash pantry, which a lot of other apartments we looked at did not have. Without that, we'd have a whole lot more hooks on the wall, vacuum cleaner in the coat closet, etc. etc. So you might think I just don't know what small and cramped is, or I've forgotten what life is like with little children,  and you could be right. (I did live in a studio apartment before I got married. It was usually a mess.)

This is the best advice I can give from a couple of middle-aged Squirrels (and Squirreling), who have gone from smallest to small to pretty good-sized, and back to small again: if at all possible, have a little less stuff than you think you have room to store. Then you will probably find you have a spot for it, or at least that you don't have to go out of your way to devise storage for it. Ten of something requires a special shelf or box; one or two, you can slip in or under something else, or store in the empty space on the washing machine. If you can live with the one or two, you have solved the problem.

Zen not required.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Shiny happy rainbow


Seen from our balcony. The funny part was, we could hear people on other balconies also oohing and aahing and calling each other to come out and look. Rainbows make people neighbourly?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

I bought a craft magazine

Better Homes and Gardens Make It Yourself, Spring/Summer 2017

I picked up a new BHG craft magazine, and decided to make the most of it. The price was (C)$7.99 plus tax, so if I can find 16 different ways to use this issue, then I figure fifty cents an idea is a good bargain. Helpful tips and cool products count too.

1. Cover idea: "Grown-Up Craft Camp." That's awesome! Why don't we do that at church? How about a Charlotte Mason moms' handicraft / nature day? Everybody knows somebody who could take this idea and make it the most fun ever.

2. Cover promotion:  "A Free Cross-Stitch Pattern Every Month." I can't see myself downloading the August flipflop pattern, but the June jam jar is nice. Related thoughts: I am just an occasional stitcher, so small and simple projects are best.

3. For the book list: Care Packages, by Michelle Mackintosh. Related thoughts: maybe some of the craft ideas would be nice in a care package or a gift basket.

4. For those of us noted for our black thumbs: several ways to produce artistic-looking fake houseplants from materials such as crepe paper and river rocks. Here's one of the designer's websites.

5. I especially liked the rock cacti idea. Here's the original tutorial on Salt and Pepper Mom.

6. Handmade books, using Coptic stitching for binding. (I've seen this called Japanese stitching too.) Similar instructions.

7. Another crafty stuff book to look for: Connect with Nature, by Anna Carlile.

8. This would be fun for a tea party: turning small red paper honeycomb balls (the poofy things for parties) into strawberry shapes, just by recutting the paper backing shape (the part you stick together) and adding a green top.

9. A good site for me and my "evil sewing machine": BHG's howtosew.com.

10. "I could do that": 1/2-inch diameter rope, hot-glued in a spiral to a cardboard circle. What it's for: party placemats, especially if you can find colourful rope. Sounds like a good way to use up a stash of ancient macrame leftovers. (These can't be washed, so they're for one-time events or at least for non-messy parties. Or you could reserve them for centrepieces.)

11. Maybe for that grown-up craft party: white cotton napkins, dyed in ombre patterns. (Think Easter eggs.) Related thoughts: not everything hand-dyed has to be bright and tie-dyed. Especially if you're using natural dyes, you can come up with softer-coloured options.

12. I like the photograph of a living-room table holding large fern fronds in a glass vase. Mr. Fixit is fragrance-sensitive, so in addition to the houseplants we don't have, we also keep cut flowers to a minimum. But some green leafy stuff would be okay.

13. Another photo I liked: jars filled with felt "canned" peaches, cucumbers, and tomatoes, which I assumed were needle-felted or something complicated like that. Actually they are simple shapes with a bit of added embroidery. What makes them look not-like-kids'-crafts is that you use wool felt, the "real" stuff, not the synthetic version from the chain store craft aisle. Also, I think, the appeal is in the grouping. Not one tomato slice, but seven. Not just tomatoes, but peaches and cucumbers. It's the same with the handmade cacti: one is okay, but a small grouping of different types makes it less random and more interesting.

14. Again, sometimes it's how you put things together. Case in point: a party table with rope placemats under the plates, and hand-dyed napkins on the plates, and stand-up placecards on top of those. Plus paper flowers and a handmade banner. For a special party, even just a rope-placemats kind of occasion, turn the celebration dial up full blast. It doesn't have to cost much.

15. There's an almost-hidden bonus in that party photograph: a purchased table runner with a white stencilled lace pattern on each end. Not hard to do that. I can imagine using the same fabric-paint technique on a thrifted tablecloth, or a fabric remnant.

16. But I cannot ever see myself being desperate enough to cover a flower vase with cut-off plastic spoons.

17. Bonus way to use the magazine: pass the issue on to a crafty friend who's been under the weather.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Found antiquing: books, teapot (and giant teddy bears)

Mr. Fixit and I heard about an antiques place off of our beaten track. We took a ride out there earlier this week. It turned out to be mostly old furniture: interesting, but not really what we were after.

But I did find this teapot, something just for fun.
They had a few books, at very low prices because I think they deal more in big stuff.
What are the mystery books?
The Royal Road to Romance, and The Call of England by H.V. Morton, that intrepid motor adventurer.

When I took my things to the front, the only one behind the counter was a giant teddy bear. I wasn't sure he was completely trustworthy, so I waited for a human helper. A man appeared, counted things up and said "ten dollars." While I was getting the money out, he asked if I had the time, because the power had been out. I said my husband had a phone with the time, so they started talking. I handed him the ten dollars, and he said, "So, it's ten fifty." I started fishing for more quarters, but then I realized he meant the time, not the total.

Now that we're all straightened out...

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: Your flag, my flag



1. The Hodgepodge lands on June 14th this week, Flag Day in the US of A. Do you fly your country's flag at home? Sometimes, often, or every single day? Have you ever visited the city of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia)? Did you make a point of seeing The Betsy Ross House? Have you ever made a trip to Baltimore? If so, was Fort McHenry on your itinerary? (where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write The Star Spangled Banner)

I have never been to any of those places. I did go to Walt Disney World during the Bicentennial.

(There is some extreme political incorrectness in "America on Parade": you've been warned.)



2. Red flag or white flag? Which have you encountered most recently? Explain.

I take it you don't mean the Maple Leaf on the Canadian flag?

Neither, really, that I can think of.

3. Are you a stay in the car listen to the end of a song kind of person? What kind of person is that?

Someone who likes to see things through to the finish, not leave loose ends? Or just someone who's compulsive about listening to the ends of songs?

Do I stay in the car listening to the ends of songs? I don't listen to songs in the car, so I can't say. I remember a couple of times when I was much younger, asking my mom to drive around the block again so we could hear the rest of the latest top 40 song on the radio. But that was before you could easily click the button and listen to anything you wanted, when you wanted it.

4. What are some of the traits or qualities you think a good dad possesses? In other words, what makes a good dad? What's an expression you associate with your father?


To answer the last question first, "that's a lulu." If it's not a lulu, it might be a humdinger.

Finding the balance between protecting kids and letting them try their wings is something all good dads have to figure out.

My kids would also assume that any good dad should know how to hook up a stereo.

5. What's one rule you always disagreed with while growing up? Is that rule somehow still part of your adult life? Is that a good or bad thing?


I have told this story before, but here goes. At my very first school, we were marched down to the school library once a week and told to choose a book. The books were arranged by height: first grade books on the bottom shelves, and so on up to fifth or sixth grade. The first day of library time, I spurned the picture books on the bottom, and climbed my little jumpered self up to a higher literary plane, only to be hauled back down again by the book police, I mean librarian. To her credit, it did turn out okay, even after she ratted me out to the teacher, because on later visits she would pick out special books I might like. But why just for me? Maybe other first-graders would have liked to choose from those books too. The very bad idea of books labelled only for this or that grade or age stuck with me forever, and when I had my own kids, I tried not to say "you are too young or too old." That is why we had four-year-olds talking about "deadly faints" and "gallant ships," and listening to that famous composition "Tchaikovsky's Cannibal."

6. Insert your own random thought here.


Another little transition about to happen here: Lydia is in her last week of tenth grade (except for exams), and she is hoping to hear back about a summer job. The hazy days of summer await us.

Linķed from The Grand Old Wednesday Hodgepodge at From This Side of the Pond.

Monday, June 12, 2017

From the archives: Most Families Today

First posted May, 2005. Yes, we were house-hunting since the blog started. 

Yesterday Mama Squirrel and Mr. Fixit went to an open house at a nearby nest. The real estate agent pointed out the small breakfast bar in the kitchen/dining area, and said that he thought it could be made even longer, because, you know, in most families these days that’s where the kids eat, and the table is just for “formal meals.”

Today a financial-advice show came on the radio during lunch time, and again Mama Squirrel heard the phrase, “most families today.” As in, most families today need a second income. Most families today have a mini-van or an SUV. Most families today have a mini-van or an SUV with a backseat filled with fast-food wrappers. Most families today don’t eat dinner together. Mama Squirrel was so annoyed that she clicked off the radio without waiting to find out which “most families today” cliche was up for discussion. She paced around the kitchen with her furry tail bristling indignantly (as the squirrelings calmly ate their hot dogs), muttering, “Most families today! I’m so sick of hearing that! And how come whatever most families are doing, isn’t what we want to do?”

P.S. Mama Squirrel asked Ponytails to finish the sentence "Most families today..." Ponytails answered "homeschool."

Summer clothes update

I added a Midsummer Update (with photos) to this summer's Project 333 page. Scroll to the bottom of the page and you'll see it.

Friday, June 09, 2017

When you choose less space: Kitchen cupboards

Do you remember my post about plotting out our new kitchen by putting dishes and pans on rectangles of newspaper?

Well, quite a lot of that worked well, and knowing where things would go was extremely helpful on moving day, when I just wanted to unpack boxes as fast as possible and with no awkward surprises. Because we had early access to the apartment, we were even able to change the heights of a few shelves ahead of the move (had to have somewhere to put the blender and cereal boxes).

Once we got settled, there were a few things that got changed. You never know exactly how things will fit until you've lived with them a bit.
There is room in the dish cupboard for fifteen mugs, six glasses, four cereal bowls, and so on. (Too many mugs for three people, but we are fond of them.) I bought a wire rack to prop up small plates and two extra bowls. The red Pyrex belonged to Mr. Fixit's grandmother.
Casseroles, serving bowls, plastic things, and a tray of vitamins and stuff, in a cupboard over the sink. Usually the small Crockpot lives up there too, but it has dinner in it right now.
Baking things, mostly, in a cupboard over the counter. I sometimes use the glass mixer bowls for serving food.
The blender and cereal cupboard, over the stove. There's also a cupboard over the fridge, but it's awkward to access so there's not much in there...the extra muffin tins, things like that.
Bread, tea/coffee, and some small things up top in a basket.
Under the counter: pots and pans (we've used the same set since we were married), storage containers, mixing bowls, and a few staple foods.  There is one other lower cupboard for cleaning supplies and garbage bags.
Drawer #1: cutlery and serving spoons. The divider boxes were yard-saled.
Drawer #2: tools
Drawer #3: seasonings. There is a Drawer #4 where Lydia keeps lunchbox foods and a set of mini cutlery. She also has a basket on the fridge for water bottles and her lunch bag.

That's it, mostly. Most of the pantry food is in the storage room, and so are two large pots, the popcorn popper, and the coffee percolator. Dish towels are in a rack on the counter, and the hot pads and oven mitts are in a basket. The wooden spoons and spatulas are in vintage wooden canisters on the counter (I've already posted a photo of those).

So this doesn't look very minimalist? No, it wouldn't all fit into a Tiny House kitchen. If we'd ended up with a smaller kitchen, we would have had to pare down the trifle bowl, the rolling pin, and the coffee mugs. If we were more eco-conscious, we would have swapped all the plastics for mason jars, and have gone off cold cereal completely. I'm sure there are lots more valid criticisms people might have.

But this is our space. This is where we are at. We brought what we found most useful, and let a lot of other things go.