• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 17/Grade 12, 15/Grade 10, and 13/Grade 9.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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October

In the last five weeks or so, we’ve poured the concrete for the garage and workshop floors, and for the basement floor. In preparation for which, after exhausting the supply of the nearest Home Depot, we spent a long day in September driving around the big city to four other HDs buying out all of the rigid foam underfloor insulation. Tom put in everything for in-floor heating in the basement, but we don’t know that we’ll actually need it with the insulation; it’s there, though, just in case, because it’s a lot easier to put in now than later. The concrete is the last of the really season-sensitive projects for the house. In between projects for clients, Tom and the kids can do more framing for the second floor, and get the roof trusses on, through the winter.

It’s been a long, gorgeous autumn, one of the nicest and longest I can recall in 20 years, which has made all of these projects possible; of course, part of the reason it’s been long is that fall started so early, in late August. But the early cold nights made for very colourful leaves and for whatever reason they’ve been hanging on the trees. In the past month, we’ve enjoyed temperatures of 15-20 Celsius (60-70 Fahrenheit), with a few days in the high 20s. Though this is all supposed to come to an end this weekend — winter, and snow, are on the way in a few days.

Here’s the concrete floor for the workshop (over which will be a small apartment — we’re thinking we can rent it out, or one of the kids can live there, or Tom and I can move there in our dotage and let the next generation have the main house), which is at the west end of the garage,

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The garage floor with rebar, before pouring the concrete,

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The garage entrance to the house; on the left in the house is the bathroom (though there will also be a bathroom in the garage for anyone who needs to clean up from particularly messy building, farming, and gardening projects involving lots of chaff, oil, etc.), and on the right is the walk-in pantry,

 

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Stairs to the basement entrance, the cold room (to store root vegetable and canning), and the area where we will store three large tanks collecting rainwater (under that square),

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View from the other direction,

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Before pouring concrete,

 

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After pouring concrete,

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Aside from usual school subjects, Daniel, who is 15-1/2 and in Grade 10, is doing the provincial registered apprenticeship program in carpentry with his father; the program lets high school kids get a head-start on an apprenticeship, and we figured that Daniel might as well get credit for work he’s doing anyway. Daniel and Laura are also doing the Green Certificate program, sort of a farming apprenticeship; again, this way they get credit for work they’re already doing. The kids are all taking the provincial hunter education program online; Daniel went first and already got his license in the mail. Laura is off to Washington, DC in early November with her father; she’s been doing a biweekly segment on a birding radio show, and they are celebrating the 500th show with a live broadcast from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; they are very generously and kindly flying Laura out, and Tom is going along for fun and security (mine more than hers). She was also a nominee for the Chamber of Commerce employee of the year award, not bad for her first summer job. 4-H has started, and curling too.

 

Another house

This one is for the chickens. We’re up to three coops now. Neighbours asked if we wanted their old chicken house, unused for several decades and not needed or wanted by the current generation. Laura, who had ordered day-old chicks in May to replace some of the tired old layers, and who had also hatched out several dozen exotic varieties (Chocolate Orpingtons, Lavender Orpingtons, and some more Ameraucanas) in the incubator, jumped at the offer. Laura and Davy spent an afternoon fixing the door, windows, and getting it ready for occupancy and winter. Next spring or summer it’ll get a coat of red paint to match the other two coops.

Getting ready for the trailer,

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On the move from their farm to ours,

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At home,

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Some of Laura’s chickens (photographed by her last month), some of whom will be getting a new home,

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Walls

The late June weekend before Tom’s operation was a mad rush to raise the exterior and interior walls on the first floor.

This is a long post, more for us than for anyone else, so click away now if you’re not keen on lumber. I wanted something to remember this special time, especially because a few days later Tom had such a difficult time having to set down his tool belt and hammer for several months.

Here you can see some of the stamped concrete from the porch (done a week or so prior), and some of the completed walls to be erected; Davy rolled out the foam that went underneath the walls,

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Putting up/pulling up the very first wall, Friday after supper, June 27th,

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The view through the very first wall, with Daniel running the telehandler,

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Up, up, and away,

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The front of the house, with the entryway, adjacent to the “tower room” off the living room,

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Joining the two walls,

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Part of the front of the house — from left, the front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area off the living room,

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The entire front, with, from left, bathroom (full barrier-free bathroom with shower, not a powder room), office/home school room, front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area,

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From left, tower sitting room (off the living room), entry hall window, front door, office/home school room, bathroom,

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Readying one of the interior walls (the wall between the office/home school room and the entry hall),

 

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Standing up the second interior wall, between the entry hall and the living room,

 

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Bracing the interior walls,

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The windowed dining room, to the left of the kitchen,

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The dining room again, with the windows and French door to the porch,

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The kitchen and, beyond that (if you look carefully you can see a post marking where the wall goes), the pantry; the door in the centre is to the garage; the window at far right is in the bathroom,

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Dining room at far left (beyond the orange ladder), kitchen window (to the  left of the yellow ladder), and pantry window; we decided to make a smaller kitchen, easier to navigate, with a good size pantry nearby,

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Tom taking measurements in the pantry,

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Kitchen, pantry, and garage entry,

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Dining room from the outside,

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Insulating the garage and basement foundation and backfilling,

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A visitor to the work site,

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Now that we’re done with the second cut of hay and our greenfeed, Tom and crew are back at work on the house, floors and the second story before the snow flies. Onward and upward…

Grow where you are planted

Most years I plant sunflowers, though there are always a number of volunteers, thanks to all of Laura’s bird feeders around the yard. This spring there were even more, despite the cool spring temperatures but maybe because of all the rain we had until the end of July. I transplanted a bunch to the former strawberry beds south of the house, so there were several rows of beautiful sunflowers.

We realized last week that, thanks to the birds, some of the sunflowers made it beyond our yard — one is blooming across the road, in the neighbor’s pasture, where the pipeline project still has some soil to re-grade. It makes me smile every time I go by.

And completely unrelated, we’re off to see the RCMP Musical Ride. It’s our third time — the provinces are all on a four-year rotation (much like The Well-Trained Mind), and next time they come around, we may be madly off in all directions…

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Some summer scenes

Something cheerier for this post, and an attempt to catch up.

4H beef club achievement days in late May; the kids each did well with all of their animals (the boys each had a steer and a heifer; Laura had a steer, heifer, and cow-calf pair), and Laura also received her platinum award for diary points. Davy, at left, and Daniel at right, with their animals,

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In June, we had to do some fencing at our far pasture before we could move the cattle in; since we were there for hours at a time, cookouts were an easy way to have meals in the field:

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The shelterbelt lilacs in the field where we’re building the new house were beautiful this year with lots of blooms and lots of growth, thanks to heavy spring rains:

 

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In late July, I had a pile of leftover grated cabbage, intended for coleslaw (a meal I catered at the country fair), so I turned it into sauerkraut, in my mother-in-law’s old 10-gallon crock:

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What we did on our summer vacation, or…

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Wild blueberries in the woods, August 2014 (photo by Laura)

*  *  *  *

…life since my last post, on April 9th.

On April 11th, Tom had a biopsy for prostate cancer, after concerning results from his PSA test and then a physical exam. On April 13th, his father had a severe stroke and was close to death for several weeks. On May 9th, Tom got his diagnosis of prostate cancer which came as a shock no matter how prepared we thought we were, and surgery was scheduled for July 3rd, with a six-week recovery period. Given the sharp rise in his PSA, the biopsy results and his Gleason score, surgery rather than any other alternative therapies seemed prudent. The good news is that the pathology report was clear and the cancer seems to have been confined to the prostate, which is the best news we could have hoped for. But it’s also surgery whose consequences include complications such as incontinence (enough that many men refuse to undergo what can be life-change surgery), and we’re dealing with those now. If you or a loved one are dealing with prostate cancer and have any questions, feel free to email me (email address at left). I will say right now: get your PSA tested, especially if there’s a family history, as there was in this case going back at least several generations. Some relatives haven’t been tested, which we can’t fathom. It’s a simple blood test.

My father-in-law’s stroke has been much more complicated and much less hopeful. While he is no longer near death, as he was in the first weeks — so much so that his sons and some of the grandchildren built a casket for his cremation — he remains unable to stand or walk, and the stroke combined with his Alzheimer’s (and his Alzheimer’s might well have been brought on by two earlier strokes) has wreaked havoc with his memory and his speech, which especially at the end of the day can descend into gibberish. He’s no longer the husband, father, and grandfather he was, which has been a profound blow to each of us. He moves into the nursing home later this week. More bossy advice: make sure you, and the elderly parents in your life, have personal directives (living wills) and powers of attorney in order; if you need a thorough form for a personal directive, I highly recommend this one for its specifics. And talk about the details with each other and your kids. We have talked a good deal about what makes a good life, what makes a life worth living, and what we each think about so-called heroic measures.

My mother-in-law and I are dealing with somewhat similar situations, 25 years apart, though for her there will be no recovery. She is dealing with the loss of her husband, because, in her words, he’s not the man he was and “I lost him several months ago”. And instead of eagerly anticipating our 20th wedding anniversary or a possible one week holiday to BC in June, as we had hoped, we were instead driving to dates for bone scans and pre-surgery appointments. Either way, at 50 or at 75, the prospect, and reality, of losing the love of your life is considerable, and overwhelming.

We’ve had some highs since things started going wonky — Daniel’s 15th birthday and my 50th at the end of April, Laura passing her road test to get her driver’s license in June and her 17th birthday, as well as the most recent nifty progress on the house (the walls are up) in early July, just before Tom’s surgery; however, one of the hardest things Tom ever had to do was put away his tool belt and hammer, knowing it would be several months before taking them up again. The kids have stepped in and stepped up to do all sorts of work. At the beginning of June, Laura started a full-time job in town, to which she’s been driving herself since late June; it was a relief to head to the hospital in the big city knowing that the kids could cope with the farm and house on their own, without taxing the extended family’s resources any more than they already have been. The boys started haying a few days after Tom got home from the hospital, doing their work and his cheerfully without any complaints, with Tom supervising from the truck or a chair at the edge of the field. The boys have also been planning their “farm diversification project” — more sheep, some goats, and some pigs. Davy has been using Google Maps to plot how many fence posts they need to cross-fence some pasture for more livestock. The kids all went to 4-H camp and had a collective ball. We picked wild blueberries after we dropped them off and after we picked them up — three ice cream pails full (I think this is a western Canadian measure — I checked a plastic lid and it says “4 litres”, so we have 12 litres, eight of which I’ve turned into jam, blueberry muffins, and blueberry crumb cake, which lasted not quite 12 hours in this house).

But we’re all here. A little worse for wear and in dire need of a vacation or three, but still here.

First window

Preparing to install the first window in the new house, fittingly in the tower (all photos by second son),

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And it’s in,

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The tower has six windows, one of which will be operable; the east wall of the living room (the photo just above is facing east) will have window near the tower, so with both of those open we’ll be able to have nice cross breezes from Spring through Fall.

 

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