Saturday, April 22, 2017

What's for supper? A new chili recipe

Tonight's dinner menu: Wendy's Copycat Chili Seasoning Mix, plus chili recipe, at Grandma Bee's Recipes.

Tweaks: Since I had only a pound of meat, I cut the seasoning in half. I kept the other amounts about the same, though.

Verdict: I have no idea if this tastes like Wendy's chili. It's what I'd call diner or homestyle chili, not overly ambitious but tasty just the same. Easy to make in the slow cooker, and would work well as a freeze-ahead.

Moving stuff continues

I had a basic plan for the new kitchen cupboards, but today I decided to do a dry run in 3-D. I cut our Saturday paper into pieces the size of the shelves, marked the heights with sticky notes, and set things up. The advantage to this over-planning: when you call something the "tea shelf," it helps to see that the current teabag holder is not going to fit in that space. I found another basket that works. 
What didn't fit on any of the newspapers went either in the thrift store basket or in a garbage bag. A few larger things (like the bread machine) will go into the storage room/pantry in the new apartment. Ponytails was here today, and she took a couple of things she can use in her own apartment. 
I found these folding cooling racks at a yard sale. Unfolded, they may work well to hold dish cloths and towels. (I will have to check the counter space in the new kitchen to make sure that idea works.)

And oh man, you wouldn't believe the workshop. Mr. Fixit has cleaned it out almost to the walls.

So we are getting somewhere.
Dewey has found a safe perch to watch the carrying and packing and reorganizing.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

From the archives: the golden age of science publishing?

First posted February 2007, edited slightly.

On the "Golden Age" of children's science publishing: I'm just guessing but I think it started just after WWII and probably extended sometime into the sixties. I'm not talking so much about the little kids' Read-and-Find-Out books, although some of those are semi-classic too (like Benny's Animals And How He Put Them In Order), but something more; a collaboration between scientists, writers, and well-known (or well-known later) childrens' book illustrators. These books were written...let's appeal to junior George Baileys ("Then I'm coming back here and go to college and see what they know…and then I'm going to build things"), Little Eddies, and Homer Prices. Kids like my dear Mr. Fixit who wanted to know how things worked, and who weren't scared off by having to read information instead of getting it delivered in multimedia format.

I picked up three books like this at the thrift shop last week. One is The Story of Sound, by James Geralton. (James Geralton is the pen name of Harvard physics professor emeritus Gerald Holton.) The illustrations are by Joe Krush; you might have seen Beth and Joe Krush's illustrations in The Borrowers or Gone-Away Lake. The cover is terrible, especially with the dustjacket missing; the title is boring (gee, thanks Uncle Max, just what I wanted, The Story of Sound).

But the text draws you in, keeps you interested, and teaches you something along the way. Some examples (they're not consecutive paragraphs):

Wind whistling through a forest may sound mysterious and frightening. But we can now explain that noise quite simply. When the wind hits a branch or a leaf, or a blade of grass, its smooth flow is broken up--just as the pillars of a bridge break the passing stream into small whirlpools and eddies. The eddies of water try to stay and hide right behind the pillars. The little eddies of air, too [no, not those Little Eddies], lie behind the twig or blade, leaf or telegraph wire, while the wind that rushes past pushes them lightly back and forth. The whirls of air vibrate to and fro behind their hiding place, like a flag on a stormy day that flutters from its pole. This vibration of whirling air sets up sound waves, just like any other vibration!
Hot gases, too, like the exhaust from the engine of a car, expand quite rapidly. To make one's automobile trips pleasanter a muffler is usually attached which lets the gas expand more slowly through a widening tube of metal. Thus the noise is deadened a little.
Now we have come to a large and interesting family of noises: those made by explosions! [ooh yeah]
The other two books are sixties paperback reprints of earlier books: Everyday Weather and How It Works, by Herman Schneider, illustrated by Jeanne Bendick; and Research Ideas for Young Scientists, by George Barr, illustrated by John Teppich. The George Barr book in particular is terrific and asks all kinds of questions that young scientists can find answers to: How far did your helium balloon travel? What accounts for the force of a collision? How quickly can you stop your bicycle? Does a blindfolded person walk in a circle? What is the traffic picture at a busy corner? [I'm visualizing Policeman Small here...] Why are ships pointed? How reliable is your camera's shutter?
"Have you been getting poor snapshots lately, even though you used the recommended exposure? Maybe your shutter speed is not what is supposed to be....The next time you use a roll of film, save your last shot for this test. Take a record player, with an extension cord, out into the bright sunlight. Use the standard 78-rpm speed. Place a 10- or 12-inch record on the turntable. Tape a thin white paper strip to the record from the center to the edge....[take a picture while it's going around]....When the picture is printed, measure the angle with a protractor--or compare it with the one shown in the diagram...."
Of course the experiments (like that one) are sometimes anachronistic; other experiments involve roller skates, milk bottles and "stapling machines" ("Dad, can I use that 'stapling machine' you have on your desk?" "Sure, Beaver"). But many of them are still workable; and some of them are more relevant than ever (How much water is wasted in your home?).

Moral: don't be scared off by boring titles or cover art showing tin-can phones; there's gold in some of them thar Golden Age books.

Lost in wonder, time and space: Pope John Paul II on beauty

"On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude...
"Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that 'beauty will save the world'.
"Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savour life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. Artists of the world, may your many different paths all lead to that infinite ocean of beauty where wonder becomes awe, exhilaration, unspeakable joy."

~~ Pope John Paul II, Easter Sunday 1999; quoted here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Hodgepodge: On the Fly

From this Side of the Pond
Notes from our Hodgepodge Hostess: "Hello Hodgepodgers! I have lots of catching up to do after a week away, but in the meantime here are this week's Wednesday Hodgepodge questions. Answer on your own blog, then hop back here tomorrow to share answers with the universe. See you there!"

1. Tell us about a time you felt like you were 'flying by the seat of your pants'. says that to fly by the seat of one's pants (or trousers, if you're British) is to "Decide a course of action as you go along, using your own initiative and perceptions rather than a predetermined plan or mechanical aids." Maybe these days we need to rephrase it to something like "getting across town without the aid of Google Maps' route finder."

A lot of my life has felt like that, but it`s not necessarily a bad thing. 

2.  When or where would you most like to be 'a fly on the wall'?

How about on Noah's ark? Because the flies on the wall would probably be the least crowded.

3. 'Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.'-Henry David Thoreau

Would you agree? Why or why not?


I think it was the last time I participated in a Wednesday Hodgepodge, that the theme was slowness and patience. At that time we were waiting for something important to happen that did seem frustratingly elusive. However, if we hadn't kept chasing it, it wouldn't have just come and sat on our shoulders either. So sometimes sitting and waiting is enough, but other times you need to be persistent. This might also be true of happiness...not an end in itself or something to be pursued for its own sake (as I think Thoreau was saying), but you can take definite actions and make choices that do create more happiness for others or for yourself.

4. Share a favorite movie, book, or song with flying in it's title, lyrics, or theme somewhere.

5. What is one task or chore you tend to do 'on the fly'? Is this something that really needs to be done another way?

The boring bits of housework are an obvious target. Mr. Fixit is a better house cleaner than I am, and he is always more patient with the small details of things. But I am good at organizing stuff and cleaning up messes.
Last year's board game purge

6. What was happening the last time you thought to yourself or said aloud, 'Wow, time flies when you're having fun', and you meant it.

The last time I thought about being married for twenty-five-plus years. (I hope my husband is reading this.)

7. This Thursday is National Garlic Day. Will you add garlic to your menu on Thursday? Do you like garlic? What's your favorite dish made with garlic?

Mmm, garlic...I never heard of National Garlic Day, and I'm not sure what we're eating tomorrow. These days I am often not sure at all what we're having for dinner. We are trying to eat everything in the chest freezer (no room for that in the apartment), and there isn't much left in there anyway by now; we're trying not to buy too many extra groceries, although we're just moving across town, so a trip over there with food isn't that big a deal. It's just the principle of the thing, as the Melendys liked to say.

So yes, the garlic...I made garlic bread on the weekend with some leftover Mini Pretzel Croissants from Walmart. I split them in half, arranged them on a toaster oven tray, spread them with margarine that had been mixed with garlic powder, sprinkled them with dried parsley and a bit more garlic powder, and set the oven to medium-toast. We had the garlic toasts with a frozen pizza and some salad, and it was about as good as being at Nameless Pizza Restaurant. Just missing the jug of root beer.

8. Insert your own random thoughts here.

Meals may be random, the seat of the pants may be random, but it's all coming together. Three Hodgepodges from now, we will be already settled into our "walking in the air" apartment. 

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

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

How to unsquirrel (more moving stuff)

For years, our passion was picking up any acorns that seemed useful. There was lots of room to squirrel them away. Tool acorns. Craft acorns. Lots and lots of little acorns for the Squirrelings.

Over the past while, we've been unsquirreling. And since getting the go-ahead to move, we have put the pedal to the metal on cleaning out the Treehouse. We actually have some spaces now that look like this:
Cupboard that once held homeschool supplies. The shelves are not really falling out, it's just a weird camera angle.

And this:
Cupboard previously filled with board games, Christmas overflow, and extra fabric

Some of our unsquirreled stuff has gone to new homes, via Kijiji, our homeschooling friends, and the thrift store. Some of it, nobody else would seriously want.

The things we still like, want, and have room for are getting packed up:
Even the living room is taking on that "ready to move" look.
The fireplace is not coming with us.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

From the archives: Now we really do have a "Real Easter Update."

First posted April 2006. Lydia was just about to turn five.

New readers can unintentionally provide a lot of humor. 

At lunch, Mr. Fixit was looking at something that came in the mail, and Crayons [Lydia] was looking over his shoulder. "Real...Easter...Update," she read. A real Easter update?

Oh, a real estate update.

I think I preferred Crayons' version!

Easter baking

These are what I'm calling Easter Morning Muffins, and they're going in the freezer to save for our church's annual bring-your-baking-before-church event this Sunday. Also known in MB circles as the Paska Party.

What's in them, besides sprinkles? Basic muffin batter, white chocolate chips, one banana, and a spoonful of raspberry jam.

(This is Paska. I don't make Paska.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Birds and gardens: my Project 333 clothes for summer

My Summer Page  (this is the link)

This spring/summer brings change here in much more than clothing. We are in the middle/muddle of moving from a house to an apartment, which means that I've been busy with things other than what to wear, and also that I'm going to have less closet and drawer space when the moving is done. So, Project 333 to the rescue. Also the new (to me) idea of a One Week Wardrobe, which is another way of saying, "I have enough."
File:Breakfast in the Garden, Frieseke.jpg
 Breakfast in the Garden, by Frederick Carl Frieseke,
also called Teatime in a Giverny Garden. Tea, breakfast, it's all good

From the archives: A school day five years ago

First posted April 2012. Crayons (Lydia) was doing AmblesideOnline's Year Five.

We read the last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, and sang Morning Has Broken.

Crayons started a Math Mammoth worksheet about months and years.  Her homework is to calculate how many days old she is.

We read a little bit of Evangeline.  Evangeline is still waiting for it to be tomorrow so that she can go hunt down Gabriel.  But these are my favourite lines from this section:
Then from his station aloft, at the head of the table, the herdsman...spake to his guests, who listened, and smiled as they listened:--
"Welcome once more, my friends, who long have been friendless and homeless,
Welcome once more to a home, that is better perchance than the old one!
Here no hungry winter congeals our blood like the rivers;
Here no stony ground provokes the wrath of the farmer.
Smoothly the ploughshare runs through the soil, as a keel through the water.
All the year round the orange-groves are in blossom; and grass grows
More in a single night than a whole Canadian summer..."
Aw, c'mon, we do get summer here too, you know.
We read about Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in June, 1897, using this short guide to the Royalty and Empire exhibit created in 1982.  This led into a discussion about Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee, and the Queen's family, and what happened to Princess Margaret Rose (Crayons remembered her from an American Girl movie), and the hats that the princesses wore to The Wedding (which was a year ago yesterday).

Crayons did some copywork, and we did a quick review of the writing lessons about paragraphs.

We also read about how Alexander treated the female relatives of Darius after the battle of Issus (kindly), and about the reluctant king Abdalonymus of Sidon. (It's a good story, even if it seems like kind of a historical urban myth.) Crayons recreated both stories with her dolls afterward.

Oh, and we started reading Orphan at My Door, by Jean Little, one of the Dear Canada diary series.  It begins in the spring of 1897, is set in our part of Ontario, and it mentions the Jubilee, which is particularly important to the main character because her name is Victoria.  And that seemed an appropriate way to end the school day.  If you don't count a swimming lesson tonight.

More moving things

What's up in the moving-in-less-than a month Treehouse?
I have been fussing about my spice jars, and looking at Pinterest, and wondering exactly how much screwing of things to cupboard doors I could get away with in a rental where they even made us sign a form swearing we would never use sticky contact paper.

Right now, they are sitting double-stacked in a basket on the kitchen counter. It may not be the best way ever to store them, and alphabetizing is out, but I kind of like them like that anyway, and I might just try it for awhile. It would save on screws, at least.

This is called pulling everything out to pack...and making choices about what comes along.
This is called a room that's emptying fast:

Thursday, April 06, 2017

From the archives: If I could give the Squirrelings one thing

First posted April, 2010

When it comes down to personal application of Charlotte Mason's philosophy, we've done better at some things here than at others....and knowing that our homeschooling achievement isn't perfect is probably as it should be. We are human beings, after all, trying to take hold of what's offered but doing so, often, rather imperfectly. 

Some people find it strange that the original PNEU programmes defined so strictly what was to be done at each level during each term, since Charlotte Mason talked so much about the individual. But was it as cookie-cutter a curriculum as that sounds? Let's look at that for a minute. Each student was assigned certain pages in certain books to read or have read to him/her. Each one had a certain number of memory assignments--though those could vary, they were things like "Two hymns by Keble." Each one was expected to keep nature journals and, when old enough, history records (century charts, books of the centuries etc.). Each one was expected to make certain handicrafts (such as "a child's dress.") Each one was to be learning arithmetic, French, etc., though it was thought more important that each one be making progress than that a particular level be reached each term.

So--yes, it was all laid out, and there was a suggested timetable of subjects, and Charlotte Mason felt that the PNEU was doing parents and teachers a favour by going through the publishers' lists and picking out the best in-print choices at the time--plus having a few books specially written by PNEU members and friends. But what wasn't spelled out in the programmes is more "suggestive," as Miss Mason might say: what the children were supposed to think about such and such a fairy tale, what ideas they were supposed to take from a passage of Plutarch, or what vocabulary and what multiple-choice-type facts they were to have learned from a science chapter. Susan Schaeffer Macaulay tells a story about her childhood visit to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and how she "discovered" a famous painting by Rembrandt. She points out that nobody told her to stop looking at it, or what to think about it, or even what it was about. She just absorbed what she needed from it. The freedom that was given within a PNEU term was not in the assignments (find three catkins and three tree buds) but in the ideas; in each student's "digestion" of all this material, in each one's response, and in each one's growth.

Still, I think if our own family has erred in our application of CM, it's often been on the too-relaxed end rather than in the too-rigid...the parent's and child's comfort zone pushes our own natures forward, but those laws of learning have a voice of truth that we can't ignore. I think that, for instance, often our Squirrelings go away too fast after listening to something read aloud, when according to Charlotte Mason's plan they should stick around to discuss it a bit more. For one reason and another, we've read school books aloud at an older age than is probably ideal, and we've delayed written narrations for the same reason-and-another. I've never sat under a tree with my knitting and demanded that they go look at some other tree and then give me a full description so that I can identify it--I probably wouldn't know what it was either. I thought the Squirrelings were getting a pretty good overview of what's in the Bible, and they could even sing the Old Testament and New Testament books in order, but then I realized that they still didn't know how to find even the books quickly, much less chapters and verses. (We're working on that.) I'm not sure if they know what a catkin is, or a fjord. And I sometimes think that we could have done better at cultivating habits of perfect attention from the time that they were small...although, being Squirrels, that isn't something that comes naturally.

I find the years...particularly the school years...slipping away too fast, and with them, the number of chances we have to start fresh, learn new habits, rediscover what learning is about. And, ironically, I seem to understand this education thing better as my Squirrelings get closer to leaving the nest. (Well, they're not THAT close yet, but you know what I mean.)

If I could give the Squirrelings one thing during the next homeschooling year--which will probably be Ponytails' last before high school--it would be to increase their love of learning, that sense Charlotte Mason described as "everything seems to fit into something else"--and to extend it to some of the areas that stay at the edge or just outside of their personal circle of relationships. History and geography, even with good books, are often too far away from their own world to seem real. Literature sometimes seems to have just too many pages; math is unending (I'd like to try some math journalling with them), and French verbs are just made up to pester people. Isn't the boredom of doing something because somebody's making you do it what we're trying to avoid? So do we then make our curriculum easier, drop books or subjects, expect less, if this way doesn't always cause a sort of earthquake of learning? What do you do when, after all your well-thought-out planning, your kids find more to discuss from an Arthur episode than from a history chapter?

The lesson I've had to learn myself is to be patient with both the teacher and the students; and not to take the teacher's striving for "nice lessons" too seriously. (Charlotte Mason said much the same thing--that we cannot depend too much on our own wisdom in presenting lessons.) I've come to the conclusion that some students, in some subjects, will be like lettuce, springing up quickly and obviously; others are more like carrots under the ground, that must not be yanked up before they're ready. I've also had to remember that squirrels have a habit of taking acorns but then burying them to be used much later.

These are the things I saw the younger Squirrelings doing today: catching a Red Admiral butterfly...and letting it go again after we figured out what it was. Noticing that the centres of forget-me-nots look like embroidery. Finding forget-me-not poems in two Flower Fairies books. Designing a crocheted hair scrunchie. Helping cheerfully with chores and projects. Practicing on a yard-saled recorder. Standing in the driveway singing. Playing an online word game and beating the grownups. Putting together an awesome photography/Powerpoint nature assignment with music. Improvising orange-cream cheese filling for blintzes. Re-reading Magic Elizabeth (this makes several times). And yes...playing on the Stuffed Animal Site after school work was done. We celebrate our childrens' growth in the sometimes unexpected places, and trust for the rest...

Which doesn't mean that there still isn't room for teacher improvement as well. Definitely there are things in which I'd like to boost our CM-ness, without violating the uniqueness and particular gifts of these Squirrelings. But that'll keep for another post.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Frugal Finds and Fixes: the Packing to Downsize Edition

What have we done lately that's a frugal find or a fix?

Umm....we found an an affordable apartment, to which we will be transferring such of our accumulated possessions as we are choosing to take with us.

Notice I did not say as many as we possibly can jam in.

The apartment itself came up quickly (we signed the lease less than a week ago), but we've been "un-jamming" for quite awhile now. I won't say that moving is easy, but at least we have a pretty good idea of what will fit. And what won't.
{Current Treehouse living room)

We are trying to "shop our house" as much as possible, rather than buying new things. Even in a small apartment, there are surprises, and places where we can try out things that didn't work in the Treehouse. Small example: the kitchen cupboards here go all the way up to the ceiling. In the apartment, there is about a foot of space above the cupboards. So a couple of nice almost-forgotten baskets are probably going to go up there.

Another example: there's a perfect corner for Muffin the Guinea Pig, right near the kitchen.
Another example: we bought a deacon's bench years ago, in our first house, but in this house it's always been in someone's bedroom. The apartment entrance has a niche for it, right by the door.
Our current kitchen table and chairs will take over as dining room furniture.
Our new bedroom is a bit smaller than the one we have now, and we need to use the shorter of our two dressers as a nightstand. But the only way that worked, with the way the door opens, was for Mr. Fixit's dresser to be on my side of the bed. We both saw the obvious answer at the same time:  let's trade (dressers).
I am very happy about the fact that we will have not just one, but two bookcases in our dining area. Plus the china cabinet, in which I just recently managed to get the dishes arranged nicely. Plus the cool retro-style glass-fronted cabinet that Mr. Fixit's grandpa made.
The nice thing about having come this far, in adulthood and family life, is that I know what we really use, and what, contrary to popular advice, should come along.  I know which combination of serving bowls we use for a "Sunday dinner." I know that we have rarely used the cups that came with our everyday dinner set (we almost always use drinking glasses or larger coffee mugs), and have NEVER used the saucers that go with those cups. So they went.

Our microwave is several years old, and we won't be taking it with us; we'll have to retrain ourselves to be microwave-less. The toaster oven is still working well (after the struggle with bad models that we had a few years ago), so it's a keeper. The blender and two slow cookers (big and small) are necessities. I'm also taking a couple of the more frivolous appliances: the bread machine and the hot air popcorn popper. I would miss being able to make pizza dough, potato rolls, and popcorn, more than I care about being able to reheat a plate of food. (We will probably go through less plastic wrap as well.)

Finally, a frugal fix: Mr. Fixit spray-painted a big biscuit tin brown, to hide some ugly printing; and that's going to hold my drawerful of spice jars. There are only a few drawers in the new kitchen, and they're all going to be needed for other things (like forks), so the jars will have to sit somewhere else, and the tin will corral them.

Stay tuned for more Treehouse moving fun over the next few weeks.

Friday, March 31, 2017

A very big Treehouse announcement

We have found ourselves a new Treehouse.

It's much, much higher up, in a much taller tree. But it's big enough for three Squirrels and a guinea pig. (Among the multiple forms we signed was one asking for Muffin's name and what colour he is. Maybe I should have filled one out for Dewey, too.)

Most of the other details are...still up in the air.

But we do have the keys. Prettiest thing I've seen in a long time.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

From the archives, but not these archives

Almost exactly six years ago, I wrote a guest post for SouthernMel's blog Educating Mother. Which I had totally forgotten about until today.

Here's the link.

Now I need to go track down a couple of those books I said I was going to read. Which I got sidetracked on and didn't.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Five

Why did I choose the photograph of the afghan and the chair for this series of posts?

Both of those objects represent our family habit of giving things a longer-than-expected life, even when we didn't intend to. I crocheted the afghan as a gift for my parents in 1987. When my mother passed away nine years ago, my dad returned the afghan to me, and it has been in our living room ever since. The chair is quite old. It was scrounged from my parents' basement, also about thirty years ago; it spent some time in off-campus university housing, may have gone back to the basement for awhile, but wound up here again. It is not the most comfortable chair in the world, unless you sit on a cushion; and the arms are a bit wobbly; but it does have character.

Last week Mr. Fixit and I were sitting downstairs in the 1960's panelled rec room (which was our main homeschooling space until two years ago); and we were talking about where the things in the room came from. I said "bookshelves, we bought those over a few years as our book collection grew; the chair and loveseat, we bought those new; the computer table was the kitchen table from your pre-marriage apartment, and we found it at a yard sale; the coffee table was here in the house when we moved in; the T.V. stand was an antique bought from a friend; the T.V. came from someone we knew who was getting rid of one," and so on. It's about the same as the rest of the house, a conglomeration. Some things we chose. Some things chose us.

And that is what I wanted to finish up the week by saying: that one secret of more contented living is just accepting and being comfortable with the things you have. Adding a cushion, so to speak. Re-heeling your boots twice if you need to (54 seconds into the video). Making the best of them. Making them yours.

From the archives: Exploding with creative energy

First posted April 2005

The Deputy Headmistress at The Common Room has been troubled by something on another blog that wonders how those who support conservative politics can also happily mingle with poetry (and, to extend the thought, with intelligence).

At the risk of boring with yet another quote from Northrop Frye, I'd like to offer this, from the very same page of The Bush Garden where I found the quote about weasel words.

"[Poet Irving Layton] speaks of 'the holy trinity Of sex revolution and poetry', and each of these is conceived as an explosion of creative energy against the inhibitions of prudery, exploitation, and philistinism respectively; a trinity more or less incarnate in Freud, Marx, and Whitman." ("Letters in Canada," 1953)
(Again on Layton, 1954)"....the ironic eye does not have free play; it is oppressed by a conscience-driven and resentful mind which sees modern society as a rock pile and the poet as under sentence of hard labour."
It might help to remember what was going on with a lot of poetry during the 1950's when Frye wrote these reviews of Layton: there were a lot of Angry Young People doing the coffeehouse thing, Ginsberg and Kerouac and all that. But I think the basic thought hasn't changed so much in 50 years. Some people still think that to be into the third part of the "trinity," you have to be into the first two as well. I think that's why some of the people in Mama Squirrel's creative writing classes were so weird, or really wanted everyone to know they were weird, or just pretended they were weird, because it kind of went with the turf. Anger poetry was good, exploding against things was good (even if it wasn't good poetry, it was Saying Something, right?). So do poets, or those who read poetry, have to have a rock pile to pound at? Was Whitman as revolutionary as Freud and Marx? Is that why Mama Squirrel doesn't like Whitman much?

And can Christians still manage to have an intelligent discussion about something like this without being called pseudo-intellectuals? Francis Schaeffer thought so, and so did C.S. Lewis.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Four

A piece of fortune-cookie make-it-your-own wisdom:
You are not everything. You cannot be everything or do everything or want everything or have everything. It is madness to even think about trying.

The most interesting thing I read this week (besides Connie Willis's Doomsday Book) was a series of blogposts about decorating and home styles for the sixteen Myers-Briggs personality types. These were not about whether extroverts like bright colours, or traditionalists like French Provincial. The focus was on pulling out the very particular strengths and needs of each type, and incorporating those into the creation of a living space. Those who thrive on systems and organization are great at planning traffic flow and labelling pantry jars. Those who love a meeting-of-minds will enjoy having a comfortable space for it. The TLC people need a fully-stocked guest room. According to the author of these posts, one temperament in particular wants home to be a welcoming but secure place, so it makes perfect sense for them to pay special attention to doors. Some of our home-creating may help us find balance; for instance, painting soft colours in a relaxing space for those who spend stressful workdays analyzing things. However, one of the posts warns that...and this is the important thing...when you go too far into "I should be more (you fill in the blank), or more like (my sister, my best friend, my favourite blogger)," you are setting yourself up for trouble.

Even if you don't know anything about Myers-Briggs, this is very sensible advice. It also explains why so many people get so overwhelmed with sites like Pinterest. Or why a certain type of clothing advice works great for some people (you love numbered charts and planning a wardrobe for the next three months) and not for others (it's all about the mood you happen to be in today). It even explains why homeschoolers espousing the same principles and philosophy of education can do things so differently: focusing on their planning binder, or on creating a great learning space, or making sure there are lots of field trips, or cataloguing their books. It's like people who prefer maps to written directions, or those who cook from instinct vs. those who follow recipes faultlessly. The lie that our overloaded consumer minds believe is that we have to not only taste everything on the menu, but then reproduce it ourselves, like art forgers who copy every style without finding their own.

And where this meets "minimalism" or "conscious consumerism" or "intentional lifestyle" is just that simple. Know what you and your co-habitants need and want and love. Let the rest go.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Make It Your Own, Part Three (Updated)

Let's focus on clothing today. And since I've been quoting Charlotte Mason, what did she have to say about that?

Quite a bit, really. Since she lived from the 1840's to the 1920's, her experience of clothes and shopping went from the era of "I just go to Mrs. O'Grady and tell her what I want" through most of the changes in the Mr. Selfridge era, such as the introduction of ready-to-wear. But her advice, written from the 1880's through her old age, remained much the same:  Dress more-or-less appropriately for your lifestyle, in a way that you can afford (if you're wealthy, support the local shoemaker by buying higher-end shoes). Shop with specific needs in mind. Don't run around too much looking for bargains. And don't be anybody's nightmare customer.

We might also mention some of the principles from Part One.

* promoting community and relationships between people, including a local economy and traditions such as skills and handicrafts
* living orderly lives with integrity, or what Charlotte Mason called "straight living and serviceableness"
* living with contentment, trusting God for our needs
* not being like the Bible's "fat cows of Bashan," rich people who were impervious to the suffering of others
* working for both justice and mercy
* valuing creativity (however we might define that)
* caring for creation (Did you know this is World Water Day?)
* caring for weak and marginalized people ("no matter how small"), since they are individuals created in God's image

So I read all this as: we don't want our clothes to be a disorganized mess. Selfishness is bad. Using our brains is good. We don't want to promote bad agricultural practices, and we definitely don't want to support business practices that treat people badly, especially because if we believe in "a liberal education for all," that includes people who work in factories in other countries. We do want to support small businesses that add to a local economy. We don't want to get anxious about having nothing to wear, since we were told to consider the lilies of the field. Agreed so far?

To be blunt, if we say we believe in all or most of those things, we have no business buying cheap jewelry likely assembled by children (not to mention the ecological impact of the materials used). We may also have no business buying expensive jewelry made with stones that were mined at the cost of people's lives or health. If we say we live by such and such a principle, then we need to do it. We especially need to model those choices for those (such as our children) who are watching to see how much what we do mirrors what we say.

But  those principles certainly do cut down our "choices." 

And sometimes one value runs up against others. I recently ordered a skirt, something I had thought about for quite awhile from a company that specializes in sustainable, high-quality products. All good, except that when I tried the skirt on, it clung in all the wrong places. A tall twenty-something model can get away with more than a height-challenged, married-and-modest middle-ager. (Never say I'm not absolutely transparent here.) The skirt went back, lesson learned. 

My default shopping arena, as Treehouse readers know, is our local Mennonite Central Committee thrift store. When I shop there, I'm supporting MCC's worldwide projects. I'm giving clothes a second chance. I'm stretching our somewhat tight household budget. I'm practicing creative thinking when I look at how something could be shortened, or changed a bit.

The challenge with thrifting is the principle of shopping based on specific needs. Charlotte Mason may have visited her dressmaker with "one dress, black silk" firmly in mind, but in the here-today, gone-tomorrow world of thrift stores, the three P's are patience, persistence, and Providence. Making thrift stores a part of saner shopping isn't about looking for a J. Crew haul. It's still important to shop with a basic plan, an awareness of your clothing needs (or your children's), even if you head right for the dollar rack. On one trip, you might look mostly for neutral basics, and you will probably find lots of them: dark pants, white shirts, whatever. Next time, you could look for the absolutely individual, thriftshoppy, fun stuff to mix with the neutrals. (The Vivienne Files website has been doing a series of posts about how a plain, basic wardrobe becomes much more individual with the addition of colours and accessories. Or even with more neutrals, if that's your thing, but still saved from boredom.)

You may have to bridge some colour or function gaps for awhile, and that's okay. I still haven't found a plain skirt I like to replace the one that went back; but I do have some dresses, so it's all good.

I am posting this as is, slightly unfinished, because (strangely enough) we are headed to the thrift store. I will let you know later if I find anything interesting.

UPDATE: Well, that turned out to be slightly more "interesting" than we anticipated.

While I was looking at the dollar-rack clothes, Mr. Fixit was doing his usual scan for electronics and whatnot. A man was looking at an eight-dollar cassette deck, the sort of thing my husband likes. He put it back on the shelf and walked away, so Mr. Fixit picked it up and started heading for the front. The man came back and started yelling that he was just going to get a cassette to try in the machine, and that M.F. was stealing his cassette deck, all in some not-very-nice language. M.F. was a bit startled by this, but he just said to the man, "Okay, it's not worth having a heart attack over a cassette deck, take it if you want it." Which he did. One of the managers heard what happened, and she apologized to Mr. Fixit for the other customer's rudeness. But, just...people are really strange when it comes to "stuff," aren't they? (Maybe we should call that one "Take It Your Own.")

As for my own shopping: I tried on a blue sweater from a Nice American Catalogue Company (I don't see those often), but it was hopelessly big; and a jacket which was labelled my size but was somehow too tight around the arms. There were no shoes that fit, except for a pair of short boots that I liked but that showed too much wear on the heels (although the uppers looked fine). No skirts even worth trying on. I did bring home one lightweight acrylic sweater, good for spring, half price for $2.50. It's green, not blue (my camera is somewhat colourblind). I didn't go in looking for a green sweater, but it's a colour and style I like, and it will go with other things I have. 
Including my favourite thrifted scarf.
So there you go.