• 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 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    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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Ups and downs

Ups: our first trip to the beach this trip. The kids had all but forgotten about it until our beachside visit to Four Seasons for lunch on Sunday, but since then having been begging for more. The beach I chose — near the house of our gardener, to whom we gave a lift on the way — isn’t one of the best ones, not a lot of sand above the high tide mark and no shells for gathering, but nice and private and surrounded by a coral reef which makes for some excitement. The kids had a wonderful time digging canals (“just like in Holland” called out Laura, remembering some of our SOTW3 reading), and then she started collecting coconut husks “for a palisade,” she told the boys. Then the boys realized that instead of shells, they could collect bits of coral, some of them quite large, all broken off by the waves from the reef offshore.

I reminded the kids that the ocean, even on the considerably calmer Caribbean side (the Atlantic side is so rough few dare to go in), isn’t as safe as the pool and to be careful. When I mentioned the tide and the undertow, five-year-old Davy looked around rather panicked, and then I realized he thought I was talking some animal-like being that might grab him. So I had to explain that I was talking about the force of the water, and he relaxed, but not too much (which is good).

When the tide finally claimed the last bit of beach, and the kids were thorougly breaded with sand like little Wiener schnitzels, we headed home, where the kids showered all together and my wonderful husband made pina coladas, virgin and rum-laden, for each of us.

Downs: the pina coladas were followed by our French fairy godfather cooking French sausages — andouilles — for about the fifth night in a row. Even Daniel, who’s quite fond of sausages, stood by Tom at the barbecue tonight and whispered, “Sausages? Again? Why can’t we just have steak?” And the particular sausages tonight were particularly unappealing, essentially sausage casing around sliced tripe, which was just too much for my mother, who has been known to eat and like tripe. Not quite “Fear Factor” territory, though I did think of that scene in “Alien” when, rather disconcerted, I had cut into my sausage only to have the contents spill out in innardlike fashion. To their credit, the kids have been doing a dandy job of dealing with the gourmet concoctions, even without the reward tonight of fancy chocolates at the end; though to be on the safe side tonight, I set a tiny little metal condiment dish full of ketchup next to each of their plates.

Tomorrow is his birthday, for which he’s cooking duck breast, accompanied by what he called “my recipe” of sauteed cabbage, which I apparently made last year. I can’t recall either the occasion or the recipe, but I found it in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. Just heat some olive oil (or sesame oil) and garlic, and cook cabbage, and had some hot chili pepper to taste. I hope that’s what he’s expecting. And my parents and I are hoping that the duck breasts, which he brought with him a week ago and refused to store in the freezer, a) won’t be past their “best by” date and b) won’t be served rare, just in case.

Another up: we’re concerned enough about food poisoning and the possible surprise of yet more sausages that we’re not even going to bother with the State of the Union address. Hey, are there any more pina coladas?

Thought/quote of the day

From Sense and Sensibility:

“[B]ecause they were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical: perhaps without exactly knowing what it was to be satirical.”

Island life

The weather hasn’t been typically tropical, unless you’re talking about hurricane season, which is supposed to be over and done with. The Christmas winds have turned into Valentine winds, starting long after they should have finished and considerably stronger than usual. Our first few days were quite nice but rather breezy, and the second half of the first week was downright miserable with near gale force winds and sheets of rain. Then we had some lovely weather (bordering on, I shouldn’t even think it though Laura said it out loud, “almost TOO hot”) from last Monday until Friday. Yesterday it turned crummy again, raining and windy, though today we have “only” the wind.

I’ve decided that since I can’t do anything about the weather, and since most people in North America reading this are annoyed with me anyway for being in the West Indies in January, I’m just going to ignore it. Which includes letting the kids go swimming a) even if it’s raining and b) when it’s sunny even though they should be doing math because, let’s face it, the sun won’t last and the math will always be here. I’m also going to make lemonade out of lemons when it comes to the fact that, probably because of holiday and trip-planning induced brain fog, I completely forgot that Daniel was perilously close to the end of Singapore 1A and that I meant to bring along the start of 1B. Oops. So his formal math lessons may be coming to a screeching halt sometime next week, though I think I might have him nearby when Laura starts more multiplication work (four times tables) shortly. And continuing in the lemonade spirit, in part thanks to the weather and the fact that we have way more than our usual two channels (not to mention my father’s incredible video collection) at our disposal, I’ve added some extra TV to the rotation. You might even go so far as to call it the new Boomerang homeschool curriculum, with oodles of old cartoons, especially Hanna-Barbera gems like Top Cat, Magilla Gorilla, and Wally Gator. Oh, with some National Geographic and Animal Planet thrown in.

Our day starts pretty early, at least on the sunny days. We have breakfast on the verandah, joined by some of the banana quits (little yellow birds) trying to steal sugar crumbs from the table, and while Tom and the kids have eggs or pancakes, I enjoy my toast and guava jam, with fresh coffee made by my father.

After breakfast, Laura and Daniel do a bit of math, which as you can see by the above is turning into a very little bit of math. And it’s distracting too — lizards climbing up and down the columns, the sound of the lawn mower from the end of the garden. So soon it’s pool time, and Tom has installed the unauthorized homemade diving board, which makes the kids shriek with joy. One of our very kind neighbors, a widower approaching 80, who lives on the ridge above my parents’ place, stopped me at the bank the other day to tell me how much he enjoys the sound of children’s laughter. Bless him for another 80 years.

By then, it’s time to follow around Dad, or Grandpapa, or the gardener, or plant the watermelon seeds from yesterday’s lunch, or help me make lemon squares for dessert, and then time for lunch. After which it’s time for some reading and reading aloud; our family readaloud at the moment is “Owls in the Family” by Farley Mowat, Laura is working her way through the collected stories of Felicity (one of the American Girls), I’m rereading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen as I do every trip here, and I’m reading Hakim’s History of US/volume 2 to everyone.

If it’s a normal day with normal weather, the hottest part of the day is over and the kids spend another hour or two in the pool, while I play lifeguard and read some more and the houseguest tries to swim laps in between crazy diving children. Yes, I have suggested (in both official languages) that he take his exercise before or after us, with no luck. I don’t mind, and the kids sure don’t, if he doesn’t.

Another reason I’m willing to put up with my parents’ French houseguest — not only did he arrive with about 40 pounds of delicacies from France (fancy chocolates but no unpasteurized Brie) but he’s also doing most of the dinner time cooking. Last night we had spicy lobster with Basmati rice, the night before Moroccan sausages with couscous, and sometime this week duck breasts with cognac and walnuts. Not exactly as I would prepare the main ingredient in the case of the lobster and duck, but hey, I’m willing to put up with a lot in exchange for enjoying such delicacies.

Speaking of food, my parents took us all to lunch at the Four Seasons resort this afternoon. The kids think Four Seasons is a magical place (and having seen how there seemed to be no wind there at all today, I’m inclined to agree) and had a marvelous time; Laura in particular had been quivering with excitement ever since hearing the news, because getting all dressed up in one’s best sundress to go to a fancy restaurant and ordering from a menu one can read all by oneself is about as good as it gets. We had a table by the beach, and after enjoying lunch they were able to run down to the sand and play for a bit while the adults enjoyed their pina coladas and tropical sorbets. And in full hearing of my father, an elderly Englishwoman leaned over to me on her way out of the restaurant and purred, “Congratulations, dear. What beautifully behaved children.” I thanked her and flushed, and it wasn’t all the rum.

Four meme

Because I owe Maitresse a meme and four is ever so much easier and shorter than 15 lol, especially over the holidays and while getting ready to leave on a trip. La Mai, I’ll give 15/Books my best shot after returning and unpacking…

And because four is my favorite number (and if I tell you that four is blue, will you think I’m nuts? I did, till I read several years ago about synesthesia. Five is orange in my head, by the way, and two is yellow.).

Four jobs you have had in your life:
junior account exec at a public relations agency in D.C.
congressional aide to a Congressman (D-CA)
picture researcher at the family historical picture library
farmer

Four movies you could watch over and over:
I Know Where I’m Going
Swing Time, with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers
The Grapes of Wrath, with Henry Fonda
Some Like It Hot

Four places you have lived:
Manhattan
Vermont
Washington, D.C.
Alberta

Four TV shows you love to watch (bearing in mind we have only two TV channels):
Law & Order (especially Criminal Intent)
The Amazing Race
The Sopranos
What Not to Wear (unfortunately, only when we go to hotels or visit my parents so no, the novelty has not yet worn off. And I enjoy Clint so much more than that long-haired buffoon.)

Four places you have been on vacation:
Manhattan
Prague
Zadar (in the former Yugoslavia/present Croatia)
Montreal

Four websites you visit daily (well, almost):
Google
Amazon.ca
Bloglines
Blogger

Four of your favorite foods:
Homemade chocolate pudding (heck, anything chocolate, as long as it’s the good stuff)
Scrambled eggs cooked very slowly, made with farm eggs and fresh cream, and served with hot buttered toast
Breyer’s coffee ice cream
Leftover pork tenderloin, which was marinated in Dijon mustard, curry powder, and garlic and then grilled, in a sandwich on crusty French bread with mango chutney and tomato slices

Four places you’d rather be right now:
Vermont
home
here
Somewhere picturesque with LOTS of snow and a fireplace (the grass is always greener)

Anyone else? I’m not tagging, but you’re free to play along. And delurk, too, if you’d like.

New homeschooling blog

A homeschooling, invisible online friend of mine has a new blog, Kitchen Table Learners. Not only is Frankie a dedicated homeschooling mother to her son, but she’s also den mother to his cub scout troop. The kind who doesn’t flinch at painting 100 popsicle sticks blue for centerpieces for a den banquet. As someone who lasted one year as one of two leaders to the boys’ Beaver group (eight boys, two of them mine, under the age of 8), my hat’s off. And fun pictures of their homeschool classroom, aka Teeny Tiny Classroom; is it just me, or does anyone else like to see what others are doing for organization and storage…

Welcome, Frankie!

Alive and well, though wet and windswept

We arrived safe and sound on Sunday the 15th, after two full days of travelling. The first surprise was learning that my parents, who had changed their arrival date several times already — they had planned to arrive at their home before us for a proper welcome– weren’t going to arrive the next day but Wednesday (which changed to Friday, which changed to yesterday, but I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to fly with colds, coughs, and the flu). The next surprise was the nearly complete absence of sunshine. Instead, lots of clouds, then buckets of rain, and wind. Great huge gusts of it. The winds are traditional over the holidays, and are in fact known as “the Christmas winds”, but they’ve been coming about a month later for the past few years.

Otherwise, we’re all doing well and getting acclimated to life in the tropics. The kids have decided that a little bit of rain isn’t going to keep them from the pool (“It’s wet anyway,” explained Daniel to his silly mother), and only two of the kids have been attacked by fire ants. And, despite my best efforts to do some shopping for my parents, no real milk or Heinz ketchup for the table. So we’re making do with powdered milk and Hunt’s…

Island School: All dressed up and nowhere to go (until tomorrow morning, that is)

The end is in sight. Which is a pity, because now some of us are left with not a lot to do, in order to keep the house tidy. Next time we go, I’m contemplating sending the kids out to a hotel until it’s time to leave. This morning I actually found myself suggesting that they watch television instead of painting pictures.

Herewith a few necessary items from our bags:

Bug spray and sunscreen, because while available down south, everything costs two to four times as much, as in $20 U.S. for the two-liter container of Breyer’s ice cream. Just about had me leap across the cash register and kiss the startled cashier on the cheek when we returned from our seven-month stay. Not to mention a generous supply of antifungal cream for the entire family (living in the tropics isn’t all sunshine and bougainvillea) as well as butterfly bandages. On the kids’ first trip, Daniel swung a kid-size metal golf club too close to his two-year-old brother, which is why Davy now has a dashing scar — fairly faint to those who don’t know and love him well — on the bridge of his tiny nose. Tom and I weighed the pros and cons of having the local doctor stitch him up, and decided that he might end up with a bigger scar from a crummy sewing job, not to mention the even more real possibility of infected stitches (remember that fungus business?), then tried to locate some butterfly closures at the local pharmacies. Nada, not even at the well-stocked gift shop at the chi-chi American golfing resort. In the end Tom ended up cutting some out of regular Bandaids, but given the tendency toward liveliness and accidents in our household, better to travel with the real thing.

Bathing suits. I take back everything I’ve ever said about Sears‘s nasty habit about publishing the Wish Book in September and the fall/winter catalogue in April. I had thoughts of suggesting naturism to Laura upon discovering over the holidays that none of her summer bathing suits fit any more — one had lost its elastic and the other two, thanks to a big fall growth spurt, were downright cheeky. And just where is one supposed to buy bathing suits in rural smalltown Alberta in January? Saved by the lovely woman at Sears, who told me that though none of my choices from last summer’s catalogue were still available, I could order sight unseen from the new catalogue, only just back from the printer that very day. Wowee — now that’s customer service! She described a couple of suits to me in my price range (that would be “cheap and serviceable”), I ordered two of each in two different sizes, just to be sure (of course Sears has an easy and cheerful return policy). Laura is now the proud owner of two handsome and well-fitting swimsuits.

Our new readalouds (some are repeats for those who were too young the first time around to remember much): Owls in the Family by Farley Mowat, Gentle Ben by Walt Morey; Eagle Mask by James Houston; Davy’s island must-have, the Ladybird Classic edition of Treasure Island; and two of our old stand-bys, Grimm’s Fairy Tales (our older edition is illustrated by the wonderful Leonard Weisgard) and Canadian Wonder Tales. No, this list isn’t final, subject to substitutions, suggestion, and the battling fears of 1) we’re taking along too many heavy books and b) what if we run out of books so far from home.

Presents for our friends: Canadian books (especially multiple copies of Wild Alberta: A Visual Celebration by Wayne Lynch) and music (<a href=”http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000BPO6NQ/qid=1137169571/sr=1-1/
ref=sr_1_3_1/702-1714200-2731251″>Sarah Harmer, <a href=” http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0008KLV7S/qid=1137169350/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/
103-7518925-3551814?s=music&v=glance&n=5174″>Bedouin Soundclash, the latter of whom are very popular with our West Indian-East Indian friends from Guyana); Crayola Twistables colored pencils; the Klutz Solar Car Book kit (batteries, like everything else, are hideously expensive down there); Sudoku puzzle books from the supermarket; and little Clikits kits for Laura’s friends.

And the various goodies and treats that some of us pine for but are allowed only on airplanes: chewing gum (I don’t care what the dentist tells me about the benefits of Mal…) and those keep-fresh(?)-forever packages of crackers and cheeselike substance. And Davy’s bright idea — those mini boxes of cereal, especially those types that don’t usually find their way into our cupboards — Fruit Loops, Corn Pops, and Frosted Flakes. Ahh, vacation…

Vote early (if not often)

If you’re Canadian, you can start voting today in the federal general election. Go Green, enjoy your ability to vote socialist with the NDP (Tommy Douglas lives, well, sort of), give the Liberals a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, or try to the keep the Conservatives on the back benches. Just vote. The kids and I are off today after lunch — polls open in town at the Seniors’ Centre at noon — so I can perform my civic duty and pick up some more packing tape.

And if you’re not Canadian and still want to vote, the polls are now open over at the Best of Blogs (BoB). While I’m new to blogging — both the reading and writing of — and I haven’t heard of most of the nominees, which can only bode well for my ability to get other things done around the house, there are some terrific writers out there. In between travel stuff, I’ve been enjoying working my way through the food blogs, all of which are new to me.

Speaking of which, I’ll have to nominate Stingy Scholar next year. He’s had a couple of great links in the past few days, perfect for homeschooly types — King Arthur Resources and today’s Textkit for Latin and Greek. Thanks, SS.

Is it just me?

In between banishing dust bunnies, putting out new sheets and towels (hey, says Tom, is there room for a couple of halogen spotlights for your dad and our friend the Caribbean chicken farmer?), examining science experiments in the fridge (oops, and don’t forget the camera!), and reading my email, I’ve spent the better part of the week compulsively examining our plane tickets and insurance documents “just in case.” As if overnight the dates on the tickets might change, or someone’s passport suddenly expire. As it is, Davy is good until 2010 with his new passport, and the rest of us can rest until late next year.

I think it’s just the voice of experience, though. Last year, upon receiving our Air Canada tickets purchased online, I discovered that Master Davy had been relegated to a different flight, all by his lonesome, at the ripe old age of 4. Fortunately, one quick call got him on the same plane with the rest of us. And this past holiday season, my sister and her family in Kenya were getting ready to leave for the airport to spend Christmas and New Year’s with my parents in New York when — three hours before departure — my sister discovered that her daughter’s passport had expired earlier in the month. Double oops…

Mixed bag o’ links

With apologies, because I have time only for links, and not all of them, right now:

According to The Sacramento Bee earlier this week, It’s Hip to Be Gramatically Correct. Doesn’t that make you feel better? Reporter Gina Kim wonders if the “language-maven type: the one with a sharp pencil in her bun who gasps in horror at misspelled words and corrects the grammar of strangers” is becoming cool, nay, hip. Proof? The success the other year of Eats, Shoots & Leaves and the recent publication of the illustrated Elements of Style by Strunk & White and the newly revised Woe Is I by Patricia O’Conner (and I’d be happy for some kind of review/comparison that would let me know why/whether I really need a second edition on my shelves). Tom will be happiest about this quote, “I think people who use grammar correctly are sexy because it means they’re smart.” And for other self-styled grammar cops out there, there’s a test at the end of the article to enjoy.

And it’s Carnival time, not just in the Caribbean. Second week of Carnival of Unschooling over here at Atypical Homeschool (Melissa’s wonderful Tidal Schooling article, recommended here yesterday, made it over there in the nick of time). And another Carnival, this one the Carnival of Homeschooling over at Henry and Janine Cates’ blog, Why Homeschool. I suggested an article (not mine, but one on Bean Dip on the never apologize/never explain/never defend philosophy I tend to follow with unbelievers) for the first one but never had a chance to mention it here. Thanks and congratulations to the Cateses and Ron and Andrea.

George Will on Ed Schools vs. Education over here, though I think his concerns are the tip of a very big iceberg.

Back to the feather duster, the industrial-size garbage can, and the clean sheets (or as Daniel said earlier today on seeing his room, “Wow, Mom, it looks like we’re moving, not going on vacation!”)…

BoB time

Because procrastinating by reading blogs is more fun than packing, I found out that some of my favorite blogs have been nominated for Best of Blogs (BoB) awards: Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen and Maitresse at Alexander’s Maitresse, and Doppelganger at 50 Books. Congratulations! Voting to come, I think.

Here’s the page for Best Education/Homeschooling Blog nominees, by the way. We have to support our own, don’t we…

Another great Wednesday post

Doppelganger at 50 Books has wonderful post on writing well, about George Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language, which I think should be required reading for all high school students (along with lashings of E.B. White, with and without Strunk).

And if you like that one, try Orwell’s Why I Write.

Schooling with the tides


Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen has a brilliant post on Tidal Homeschooling today:

The truth is, I couldn’t find any label that completely fit my family, so I made up my own. I call us “Tidal Learners” because the ways in which we approach education here change with the tide. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re flighty or inconsistent, changing direction haphazardly. We aren’t Fiddler Crab Homeschoolers. What I mean is that there is a rhythm to the way learning happens here; there are upbeats and downbeats; there is an ebb and flow.

Read the rest. It’s lovely, lyrical, and has particular resonance for me right now as we get ready to set sail from our farm school to an island school.

The value of a dollar

Or ten. Or, in which Calendar Girl, Bionicle Boy, and Twinklette go shopping.

The kids each got $10 from an aunt and uncle for Christmas, and over the holidays the money was definitely burning holes in their pockets. Usually we ask that they save their money — they don’t get allowances, mainly because until recently only Laura had a good understanding about money and most of the time she (and we) forgot all about allowances whenever Sunday, allowance day, rolled around. Besides, I was raised with my parents buying most of what my sister and I needed, which allowed them to have a say over what we wore, read, and played with; though I have to say I don’t remember too many occasions where I asked for something so outrageous (in quality or quantity) that it was denied. Frye boots and platform sandals come to mind, and looking back I’m more than relieved my mother said no. Of course, I was raised in a family where my allowance was a quarter until I started high school, when it was was raised to 50 cents, and then my father always gave us the chance of double or nothing by not talking all Sunday lol.

So watching how my three decided to spend their money, and on what, was a pretty interesting exercise. Laura went first, on Monday, when we went to the little city 40 miles away so Tom could get some building supplies (all the stores in our nearby town were closed for the holiday). Since the boys wanted to go with Tom to Totem Hardware, which not only sells tools but gives away freshly made popcorn, always a big draw, I asked Tom to drop the two of us off at the mall, where I needed a few things for our upcoming trip. At first Laura was rather taken by a Narnia calendar she saw in Zeller’s, but it was $7.99 and she didn’t seem entirely convinced by her choice. Then we happened on the free-standing calendar stand with more calendars than one usually sees all in one place, and Laura went straight past the six dozen different dog breed calendars to the kids’ Make Your Own Calendar 2006, which she had received as a present a few years ago and enjoyed very much. Very canny choice, because all the calendars were 50 percent off, so she still has another $4 to spend one of these days. She’s been busy coloring, drawing, and stickering every since. So busy that she hasn’t though much about spending the rest, though she did mention bringing it along on vacation and asking if she could exchange it for the local currency.

Yesterday, the boys decided that they would spend their money on our weekly trip to town. Our first stop was the drugstore, where again I had a few more items on my trip list to cross off, and which the boys found a pretty tantalizing place. Daniel, like any good red-blooded Canadian boy, was first seduced by the NHL winterwear display. After realizing that he had less than half as much as needed for the logo-ridden winter hats (called toques up here) and gloves, he found a gaiter, which is basically a circular scarf, like a hat with the top cut off. Very handy for avoiding strangulation while playing, and a nice extra layer. The gaiter, with the Edmonton Oilers emblem, was item number one for quite some time, but then Daniel decided it was “too practical” and wanted to see what was available in town drugstore number two. In the meantime, Davy ended up in the stationery/school supply aisle (he is oh so definitely my child), where he was dazzled by the display of glitter markers (appropriately called “Twinklette”). I was dazzled by the price ($1.99 each, yikes), but explained that if he really wanted them, he could buy 5 for his $10 (I had decided the Christmas money didn’t have to include the seven percent tax). His mind was made up, and he picked out yellow, dark green, purple, gray, and orange, studiously avoiding the pink.

At drugstore number two, Daniel was temporarily enamored of a couple of farm sets (though it’s hard to get too excited when we already own lots of plastic animals and yards of little plastic fencing), a John Deere combination key chain/flashlight/bottle opener (where it was pointed out that a) he has lots of key chains already and still no keys, b) he has a much bigger and better flashlight, and c) he has no need of bottle openers), and some Lego Bionicles. Still hedging his bets, he asked if we could head over to the local department store, which has a pretty good toy department in the basement. Where he went up and down the aisles, stopping for an in-depth study of more Bionicles, especially Knights. After talking me into a quick review of the the True Value Hardware store, where his first choice was either a jackknife or a utility knife on a keychain (vetoed for safety’s sake), it was back to the department store to fondle the Bionicle Knights some more. He finally decided on King Mathias, who started getting built in the back seat while still on our rounds. I still can’t see the point of Bionicles compared to regular Lego, but Daniel is delighted by his purchase, and I was more than happy to see all the thought he put into the matter. Especially after I caught the tail end of Oprah’s show (apparently a repeat from September) on getting out of debt the other day, the segment with the two teenagers who spend about $600 U.S. each a month on Mommy’s and Daddy’s credit cards. Double yikes. As Oprah’s money whiz of the day, Dave Ramsey, said, if you’re not teaching your kids about the value of a dollar before they leave life under your roof, you’re not doing them any favors. In fact, I think he mentioned the words “child abuse” and also told the 18-year-old daughter that he wouldn’t want his son dating her. Definitely some tough love for those who think they want to give their kids “everything.”

Hockey Day in Canada

It’s the annual Hockey Day in Canada on CBC today, and wouldn’t you know, it’s actually snowing outside. First time in months, and great big fluffy flakes at that. We’re going to celebrate by undecorating the tree and playing outside in the snow…

Trivial and liberal

For Christmas I decided to treat myself to some of the items that had been languishing on my Amazon wish list, items whose purchase I couldn’t much justify because they were just for me, or just for fun, or just nice extras rather than necessities. Pitiful, isn’t it? Things like the Sam Cooke Portrait of a Legend cd and the Swingin’ for Schuur cd, with the very swingin’ Diane Schuur and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson — because, really, I have a lot of Sam Cooke and Diane Schuur on vinyl (but it’s so nice now to be able to play them on the cd player in the kitchen or driving around) — as well as my latest read (admittedly not the best choice to start digging into while getting ready to leave on a long trip), The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric: Understanding the Nature and Function of Language, by Sister Miriam Joseph. I’ve wanted this one for a few years, even before we started home schooling, ever since seeing it mentioned in A Common Reader catalogue. But it always seemed like a nice extra as long as the kids are as young as they are.

It wasn’t until getting my hot little hands on it earlier this week, when I got to read it backwards, starting with Sister Miriam’s biography, that I learned the book is actually her version of a textbook for the college freshman course she began teaching in 1935: “Since no existing textbook was adequate for the course Sister wrote her own.” So what it is is actually a fairly brief (265 pages, not including author bio, notes, or index) overview of the nuts and bolts of the trivium, written simply enough for first-year college students (well, from the thirties, which says more about the state of most present-day high school education than anything else), and so far quite agreeable and tolerable to non-Catholics. The chapters, in order, include The Liberal Arts; The Nature and Function of Language; General Grammar; Terms and Their Grammatical Equivalents: Definition and Division; Propositions and Their Grammatical Expression; Relations of Simple Propositions; The Simple Syllogism; Relations of Hypothetical and Disjunctive Propositions; Fallacies; A Brief Summary of Induction; and Composition and Reading. Nifty. A good overview for the homeschooling parent, especially for those of us who don’t like surprises down the road, or aren’t keen on spending time reinventing the wheel.

I’m up to page 22, and my favorite part so far, beyond the first sentence where Sister Miriam explained, “The liberal arts denote the seven branches of knowledge that initiate the young into a life of learning“, is learning the motto of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland: Facio liberos ex liberis libris libraque. In other words, “I make free men of children by means of books and balances [laboratory experiments].” Good stuff, as one of my old college history professors used to say. Am wondering if I can get Tom to build a new house so he can carve this over the new massive wooden doorway….

Irving Layton, 1912-2006

Before moving to Canada, I didn’t know much about the vibrant and prolific poet Irving Layton and his writing except for the fact that he had been nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Layton, larger than life for most of his life and full of the fullness of feeling, died yesterday at the age of 93.

William Carlos Williams wrote about him, “When I first clapped eyes on the poems of Irving Layton I let out a yell of joy… for the way he greeted the world he was celebrating, head up, eyes propped wide.… He inhabits the medium [of poetry] and is at home in it, passionately.… With his vigor and abilities, who shall not say that Canada will not have produced one of the west’s most famous poets?”

I first discovered the magic of Layton’s poetry through the magic of farming, and my 1958 edition of The Penguin Book of Canadian Verse:

The Bull Calf
by Irving Layton

The thing could barely stand. Yet taken
from his mother and the barn smells
he still impressed with his pride,
with the promise of sovereignty in the way
his head moved to take us in.
The fierce sunlight tugging the maize from the ground
licked at his shapely flanks.
He was too young for all that pride.
I thought of the deposed Richard II.

‘No money in bull calves,’ Freeman had said.
The visiting clergyman rubbed the nostrils
now snuffing pathetically at the windless day.
‘A pity,’ he sighed.
My gaze slipped off his hat toward the empty sky
that circled over the black knot of men,
over us and the calf waiting for the first blow.

Struck,
the bull calf drew in his thin forelegs
as if gathering strength for a mad rush . . .
tottered . . . raised his darkening eyes to us,
and I saw we were at the far end
of his frightened look, growing smaller and smaller
till we were only the ponderous mallet
that flicked his bleeding ear
and pushed him over on his side, stiffly,
like a block of wood.

Below the hill’s crest
the river snuffled on the improvised beach.
We dug a deep pit and threw the dead calf into it.
It made a wet sound, a sepulchral gurgle,
as the warm sides bulged and flattened.
Settled, the bull calf lay as if asleep,
one foreleg over the other,
bereft of pride and so beautiful now,
without movement, perfectly still in the cool pit,
I turned away and wept.

The Word of the Week is "Confiscate"

The day after Boxing Day I started confiscating the kids’ favorite toys, clothes, and books, to aid my packing efforts. A week from Saturday we’re departing Alberta for sunnier climes (and donkey spiders, flying giant cockroaches, and mosquitoes that require half my family to take extra-strength Benadryl) to visit my parents for a month. It’s the second year in a row we’ve done this, after our seven-month stay back in 2002-2003. The timing works out well — it’s the only sort of slow period all year for Tom, in part because his apprentice is required to take a two-month college course. We’re all hoping for a mild winter in our absence, the kids because they don’t want to miss any really good snowstorms or too much skating, and Tom and I because we feel guilty enough already leaving his parents with our daily farm chores (feeding cows and chickens and washing eggs).

Thirty years ago my parents took their first kid-less vacation to the West Indies, and loved it so much that they were determined to find some land and build a house. Which they finally did about 20 years ago, though they have yet to move down full time. Yes, I love it down there, though I was never crazy about spending Christmas in the Caribbean, with an artificial tree to boot (in fact, Tom and I got engaged the year I left the family holiday early, just after New Year’s, to rendez-vous with him in Toronto in the midst of a huge, beautiful, snowstorm — yes, my family and friends thought I was nuts both to get engaged only a few months after meeting and to trade a vacation of sun and sand for one with snow). And a four-week stay at my parents’ house is not as much of a vacation as, say, two weeks in a hotel where someone else does the cooking and shopping. Though life with a unfenced pool is much less fraught now that the kiddies all swim and dive like dolphins.

So there probably won’t be a lot of blogging going on, though I hope to check in from time to time, on my father’s computer.

There will be some schoolwork — a bit of math, grammar, history, and lots of fun readalouds (the kids and I are still deciding which books to bring along) — though we’ll be unschooling science for the duration. Helping Grandpapa tend to the four-acre tropical garden, going to the beach, star gazing on warm evenings, and one or two sessions at the hands-on aquarium (where you get to pick up and hold various sea creatures) should do the trick.

Off to confiscate some more underwear. Oh, and some Lego…

New Year’s day


“Hockey on the Pond” by Silvia Armeni

As I sit here at 11 a.m. in my pajamas in front of the computer with my mug of coffee and no plans to make (and therefore break) any resolutions, New Year’s day has started off marvelously well, with a breakfast of pancakes and bacon (not cooked by me) and a CBC radio interview with (Baroness) P.D. James plugging her latest and talking about murder mysteries as “the literature of comfort”; as she said this morning, at the end there’s always a solution, provided by humans by dint of human intelligence and human perseverance, though there’s not always justice or fairness. Which is a very good explanation for why I enjoy the genre so much.

In a couple of hours, our friends will arrive (two kids, a daughter Laura’s age and a son Daniel’s age) for a game of hockey on the pond. We had a skiff of snow overnight, and though the weather warmed up to around 32F overnight, we’re hoping the ice is still solid for skating. The two dads have planned to make a bonfire so we can roast marshmallows and hotdogs (with some kubasa — Ukrainian sausage — for the adults), so everyone is pretty excited.

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