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 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'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


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


The Sighting (Wheaton Literary Series)
Shaw, Luci

Books about Books

Books for Living
Schwalbe, Will