Thursday, 18 August 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "The New Treasure Seekers" - By: E. Nesbit

Alisdair and I finished reading "The New Treasure Seekers" last night ~ while we were waiting for Isobel as she was participating in an evening Daily Vacation Bible School program.  The book is narrated by Oswald Bastable (in the third person) but was authored by Edith (or just plain E.) Nesbit.  We have already read three other titles by this British writer, (two of these featured other tales about the Bastable children), so we enjoyed learning more about Oswald and his siblings.  Sometimes, for a joke, I call Alisdair "Oswald!"

This story was first published in 1904.  It's amazing how we can still delight in the antics of the Bastable children more than 100 years after the author first wrote of them with pen and paper. 

The first chapter tells a tale about "H. O." (which is short for Horace Octavius Bastable) who attempts to stowaway on a trip to Rome with his newlywed "Uncle" and his wife.  Luckily he was discovered and soon returned to his home!

Then the Bastable children attempt to perform an act of charity -- collecting money to give "poor folk" a nice Christmas.  They do manage to gather some funds and purchase ingredients to make a Christmas pudding.  However, everything soon backfires.  "We washed our hands as well as the currants.  I have sometimes thought we did not get all the soap off the currants.  The pudding smelt like a washing-day when the time came to cut it open.  And we washed a corner of the table to chop the suet on.  Chopping suet looks easy till you try" (Page 29).  Later, they tried to boil the pudding, but due to a lack of coal it was not cooked as long as it required.

"We went out into the streets.  They were pretty quiet -- nearly everybody was eating its Christmas dessert.  But presently we met a woman in an apron.  Oswald said very politely -- 'Please, are you a poor person?'  And she told us to get along with us.  The next we met was a shabby man with a hole in his left boot.  Again Oswald said, 'Please, are you a poor person, and have you any poor children?'  The man told us not to come any of our games with him, or we should laugh on the wrong side of our faces.  We went on sadly.  We had no heart to stop and explain to him that we had no games to come.  The next was a young man near the Obelisk.  Dora tried this time.  She said, 'Oh, if you please we've got some Christmas pudding in this basket, and if you're a poor person you can have some.'  'Poor as Job,' said the young man in a hoarse voice, and he had to come up out of a red comforter to say it.  We gave him a slice of the pudding, and he bit into it without thanks or delay.  The next minute he had thrown the pudding slap in Dora's face, and was clutching Dicky by the collar.  'Blime if I don't chuck ye in the river, the whole bloomin' lot of you!' he exclaimed.  The girls screamed, the boys shouted, and though Oswald threw himself on the insulter of his sister with all his manly vigour, yet but for a friend of Oswald's, who is in the police, passing at that instant, the author shudders to think what might have happened, for he was a strong young man and Oswald is not yet come to his full strength, and the Quaggy runs all too near" (Pages 35 and 36).

Other adventures follow the children.  Archibald, an unpleasant cousin, comes to visit and the revenge for his nasty behaviour comes in the form of a bar of "Maple's dark bright navy-blue indelible dye - won't wash out" (Page 55).  Archibald thinks it is soap and accidentally dyes himself all over.  The colour only began to wear off days later!

The children go to visit the Editor (who publishes Albert's Uncle's stories) and they tell him how wonderful a particular chapter of the story was.  Unfortunately, the children have actually read the tale elsewhere, prior to it being printed in that particular magazine, and so the Editor realizes something isn't as it should be.

Another day they rent a room to a man who is mentally ill and who draws artwork on the walls of the cottage in the night!  They get involved in a smuggling operation and go door-to-door selling goods without a license (and are caught by a policeman who wishes to pursue charges.)  The children also get into other scrapes, during the course of the novel, but they always manage to get themselves extricated from their troubles, in the end.

In the final chapter, "The Poor and Needy" (Page 213) Oswald says:  "When you think about yourself there is a kind of you that is not what you generally are but that you know you would like to be if only you were good enough.  Albert's uncle says this is called your ideal of yourself.  I will call it your best I, for short.  Oswald's 'best I' was glad to go and talk to that boy whose father was in prison, but the Oswald that generally exists hated being out of the games.  Yet the whole Oswald, both the best and the ordinary, was pleased that he was the one chosen to be a detachment of consolation."

I could relate to this explanation as I know there are gaps between "the person I am" and "the person I wish to be -- or think I am in my own mind."

"The New Treasure Seekers" is both a thought provoking and amusing piece of literature from a bygone day.  It's well worth the read!

"Oswald is a delightful narrator and the stories
 he tells are among Nesbit's best." -- Gore Vidal

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

READING ~ 150 Books Read ~ Onward to 175!

Since it's summer, we have not been as regular with our reading ... we've been busy having fun at Daily Vacation Bible School, visiting Grandma and Grandpa and jumping on our "new to us" trampoline!  But Isobel's tally of picture books read has now surpassed the 150 mark.  There are so many good books out there.  Every trip to the library is an exciting adventure because we never know what stories will unfold when we open the covers of the books we've borrowed.  Laughter and tears ~ learning and fun, all wrapped up in the written word.  We are looking forward to reading more as school begins again and we are back into something of a routine again.

SPORTS ~ Soccer Was Fun For Isobel ...

Isobel enjoyed participating in the 2011 Manitou Youth Soccer Association earlier this Spring.  Since there was a lack of interest for older age groups, there were only teams for the Under 6 and Under 8-year olds.  Practices began on Wednesday, May 11th and continued until Wednesday, June 22nd, every Monday and Wednesday evening (starting at 6 p.m.).  Isobel's group played for 45 minutes at a stretch.  On the last day, the children played a fun game against the parents.  The players also received frisbees with "Manitou Youth Soccer" printed on them.  Too bad it's such a long wait until the next soccer season begins!

Thursday, 4 August 2011

BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt" ~ By: Deborah Hopkinson

What can I saw about "Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt?"  This is a SWEET picture book about what it was like to be a slave and to decide to runaway, via the Underground Railroad, to freedom.  Deborah Hopkinson's text is accompanied by bright paintings done by the artist, James Ransome.  Ransome dedicates his contribution to the book to "Emma Ransom, the first slave of Pattie and General Matt W. Ransom, and all other Ransom slaves on Verona Plantation."  It's obviously a family connection...

This fictional story begins before Clara "was even twelve years old" and is told from her perspective.  Although we don't know if an actual Clara ever existed, the touching story is based on facts taken from the lives of those who were slaves and managed to escape through the Underground Railroad.

Clara was "sent from North Farm to Home Plantation 'cause they needed another field hand.  When I got there, I cried so much they thought I was never gon' eat or drink again.  I didn't want to leave my Momma."  Clara works with another slave, known as "Young Jack" and eventually begins to adjust to her new way of life, though she is still secretly determined to find her Mother.

The dialogue is written in an Afro-American southern dialect and outlines how her Aunt Rachel (who "was raising me now" although "she wasn't my for-real blood aunt") taught Clara to be a seamstress so that she could avoid the harsh conditions out in the fields.  While working in the house she overheard many things and was able to create a "map" to freedom sewn out of scraps of cloth, leftover from her sewing projects.

"I worked on the quilt for a long time.  Sometimes months would go by and I wouldn't get any pieces sewn in it.  Sometimes I had to wait to get the right kind of cloth -- I had blue calico and flowered blue silk for creeks and rivers, and greens and blue-greens for the fields, and white sheeting for roads.  Missus liked to wear pink a lot, so Big House, the Quarters, and finally, the Big House at the North Farm, they was all pink."

"The quilt got bigger and bigger, and if folks knew what I was doin' no one said.  But they came by the sewin' room to pass the time of day whenever they could. 'By the way, Clara,' a driver might tell me.  'I heard the master sayin' yesterday he didn't want to travel to Mr. Morse's place 'cause it's over twenty miles north o' here.' "

"Or someone would sit eatin' Cook's food and say, so as I could hear, 'Word is they gon' plant corn in the three west fields on the Verona plantation this year.' "

"When the master went out huntin', Cook's husband was the guide.  He come back and say, 'That swamp next to Home Plantation is a nasty place.  But listen up, Clara, and I'll tell you how I thread my way in and out of there as smooth as yo' needle in that cloth.' "

"Then one night the quilt was done.  I looked at it spread out in the dim light of the cabin.  Aunt Rachel studied it for the longest time.  She touched the stitches lightly, her fingers moving slowly over the last piece I'd added -- a hidden boat that would carry us across the Ohio River.  Finally, they came to rest on the bright star at the top."

"She tried to make her voice cheery.  'You always did like to make patterns and pictures, Clara.  You get yourself married to Young Jack one of these days, and you two will have a real nice quilt to sleep under.' "

" 'Aunt Rachel, I couldn't sleep under this quilt,' I answered softly, putting my hand over hers.  'Wouldn't be restful, somehow.  Anyway, I think it should stay here.  Maybe others can use it.' "

" 'Aunt Rachel sighed.  'But aine you gon' need the quilt where you goin'?' "

"I kissed her.  'Don't worry, Aunt Rachel.  I got the memory of it in my head.'  It rained hard for three days the next week.  Me and Jack left Home Plantation in a dark thunderstorm.  The day after, it was too stormy to work in the fields, so Jack wasn't missed.  And Aunt Rachel told them I was sick.  We went north, following the trail of the freedom quilt.  All the things people told me about, all the tiny stitches I took, now I could see real things.  There was the old tree struck down by lightning, the winding road near the creek, the hunting path through the swamp.  It was like being in a dream you already dreamed.  Mostly we hid during the day and walked at night.  When we got to North Farm, Jack slipped in through the darkness to find what cabin my momma at.  Then we went in to get her and found a little sister I didn't even know I had.  Momma was so surprised."

" 'Sweet Clara!  You growed so big!'  Her eyes just like I remembered, her arms strong around me."

" 'Momma, I'm here for you.  We goin' North.  We know the way.  I was afraid they wouldn't come.  But then Momma say yes.  Young Jack carried my sister Anna, and I held on to Momma's hand.  We kept on as fast as we could, skirting farms and towns and making our way through the woods.  At last, one clear dark night, we come to the Ohio River.  The river was high, but I remembered the place on the quilt where I'd marked the crossing.  We searched the brush along the banks until at last we found the little boat.  'This was hid here by folks in the Underground Railroad,' I said.  The boat carried us across the dark, deep water to the other side.  Shivering and hungry and scared, we stood looking ahead.  'Which way now?' Jack asked me."

"I pointed.  The North Star was shining clear above us.  'Up there through the woods.  North.  To Canada.' "

"Sometimes I think back to the night we left when Young Jack came to wake me.  I can still see Aunt Rachel sitting up in her bed.  She just shook her head before I could say a word."

" 'Before you go, just cover me with your quilt, Sweet Clara,' she say.  'I'm too old to walk, but not too old to dream.  And maybe I can help others follow the quilt to freedom."

"Aunt Rachel kept her word.  The quilt is there still, at Home Plantation.  People go look at it, even folks from neighbouring farms.  I know because some of them come and tell me how they used it to get free.  But not all are as lucky as we were and most never can come.  Sometimes I wish I could sew a quilt that would spread over the whole land, and the people just follow the stitches to freedom, as easy as taking a Sunday walk."

"Let My People Go"
A painting by James Ransome

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

SWIMMING ~ Summary of Swimming Lessons

Alisdair participated in the Battlefords Homeschool Association's session of swimming lessons that began in April and concluded on June 17th.  The sessions were held for an hour every Friday afternoon at the Kinsmen Aquatic Center in North Battleford.

His instructor "Patrick" wrote the following on his "Canadian Red Cross Water Safety Programme Progress Card":

"Alisdair is an eager learner.  Alisdair worked very hard this lesson set and continues to try new skills.  Alisdair has improved so much since the beginning of lessons.  Willing to blow bubbles out of his nose and glide through the water.  Continue to work on flutter kicks and floats.  Continue to work on Level 1 skills.  Good luck."

Alisdair was disappointed that he didn't earn his first badge (he did get some fun tattoos though!)  Personally, I thought he was very successful as he had been terrified of water prior to beginning lessons.  Once, when we spent the night at a hotel, Alisdair wouldn't even get in the water until he had the life preserver to hang on to as he floated in the pool with us nearby.  So, to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool (while wearing a life jacket) -- or to use the slide at the edge of the pool to get into the water -- was a major success!

I told him that, since I have never really taken any swimming lessons, we should take a session together (with a private instructor) ... Guess time will tell if I am brave enough to try it!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

MUSIC ~ "Let Thy Mantle Fall On Me" ~ By: Floyd W. Hawkins

During the week of July 18th through 22nd, Alisdair attend a Daily Vacation Bible School at the Church of God in Christ Mennonite, just outside of Neilburg.  On the Friday evening, the children and teachers presented a program for parents and members of the community to attend.

Alisdair's group recited Psalm 100 and Psalm 23 (Verses 1 through 6) before singing a hymn I had never heard before.  It was called "Let Thy Mantle Fall On Me."  Both the words and music were written by Floyd W. Hawkins (it was copyrighted in 1962 by the Lillenas Publishing Company).

The words of this hymn should be the heart cry of each and every believer.  It was very encouraging to hear the young folk seeking an outpouring of more of the Holy Spirit upon their lives.  Perhaps you are also unfamiliar with this song.  Here are the words:


1) Elijah was God's prophet;
Elisha stood close by,
And ere the prophet left him,
He heard his servant cry:


Let thy mantle fall on me!
Let thy mantle fall on me! (on me!)
A double portion of Thy spirit,
Lord, Let thy mantle fall on me!

2) Then Elijah made the promise
That, if faithful he would be,
His petition would be granted,
And God's glory he would see

3) As Elijah rose to heaven
In a chariot of fire,
He did not forget his servant,
Who expressed one strong desire.

4) In the Upper Room they waited --
"Twas the faithful Christian band -
And their pray'r was heard and answered
Over in the gloryland.

5) That pray'r of early Christians
Long ago and far away
Is the cry of all God's children;
And He's just the same today.

COOKING/BOOK REVIEWS ~ "Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off" ~ With Recipe For Amelia Bedelia's Sheet Cake

I remember laughing and enjoying books about "Amelia Bedelia" when I was a youngster, so we picked up a couple titles featuring this confused housekeeper/maid when we were at the main library last week.  In "Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off" the heroine runs a bakery for a friend.  At the back of the book a recipe for "Amelia Bedelia's Sheet Cake" is provided.  Of course the children wanted to try making the recipe!  It called for just nine simple ingredients (that we already had on hand) -- so we made some cake on Saturday afternoon.

The verdict?  Delicious and super easy.  Probably easier than using a packaged cake mix and an electric mixer.  It definitely tasted better than a mix!  Why so easy?  All the ingredients were dumped directly into a 9 x 13 cake pan and then mixed together with a fork!  Couldn't be simpler!


3 cups flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup cocoa
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups water

Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cocoa directly into an ungreased 9" x 13" pan.  Add oil, vinegar, and vanilla.  Pour water over all ingredients.  Mix with a fork until smooth.  Bake at 350 degrees  for 25 to 30 minutes.  Cool the cake and ice it in the pan with your favourite frosting (we used a purchased container of prepared icing).

While we were at the library, we also borrowed "Amelia Bedelia Goes Camping."  The poor woman had never been camping before and "pitched the tent" by throwing the bag with the tent inside into the bushes!  She certainly has a lot to learn. 

According to the list on the back of "Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off," there are 23 different "Amelia Bedelia" adventures.  Two down ... and 21 to go ... that's some serious reading still to do!

... Dry ingredients ...

... Adding liquid ingredients ...

... Stir! ...

.... Ready for the oven...

... Baked and cooling ...

... Iced and ready to slice...

... Delicious! ...