• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Advice for a new year

When I was growing up, New Year’s Eve meant staying up late, eating hors d’oeuvres, knocking the bubbles out of the Champagne with a swizzle stick (what can I say? I’m a cheap date) and watching and listening to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians from the ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria.

While the song everyone remembers is their rendition of Auld Lang Syne, the one nowadays that seems most appropriate to me is this one (which you can hear here):

Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)
Music by Carl Sigman and lyrics by Herb Magidson, 1948

You work and work for years and years,
You’re always on the go.
You never take a minute off, too busy makin’ dough.
Someday, you say,
You’ll have your fun when you’re a millionaire –
Imagine all the fun you’ll have in your old rockin’ chair.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by as quickly as a wink –
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

You’re gonna take that ocean trip, no matter, come what may.
You’ve got your reservations but you just can’t get away.
Next year, for sure, you’ll see the world,
You’ll really get around –
But how far can you travel
When you’re six feet under ground?

Your heart of hearts, your dream of dreams,
Your ravishing brunette.
She’s left you and she’s now become somebody else’s pet.
Lay down that gun, don’t try, my friend,
To reach the great beyond;
You’ll have more fun by reachin’ for a redhead or a blonde.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by as quickly as a wink –
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

You never go to nightclubs and you just don’t care to dance;
You don’t have time for silly things
Like moonlight and romance.
You only think of dollar bills tied neatly in a stack;
But when you kiss a dollar bill, it doesn’t kiss you back.

Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink.
The years go by as quickly as a wink –
Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.

On the seventh day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

seven swans a-swimming.

Which is a delightful, restful thing to do after you’ve been flying around all day, especially when you were turned into a swan against your will in the first place.

The fairy tale most of us know as “The Six Swans”, as retold by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen (his version is known as “The Wild Swans”), is the original German tale of “The Seven Swans”, which had been around for ages before the others got their hands on it and performed swan surgery; who knows, perhaps the Grimms found six a more pleasing and symmetrical number. Some 30 years after they included “The Six Swans” in their 1812 compilation of fairy tales, the German writer Ludwig Bechstein (1801-1860) stuck with the traditional “Seven Swans” for his own compilation, originally a much more popular collection of children’s tales. But the Grimms ultimately won out, as evidenced by the fact that few of us nowadays know Bechstein’s name.

In fact, I couldn’t find much on the original, given the pervasiveness of the Grimms’ tale. For more on “The Six Swans”, don’t miss SurLaLune’s comprehensive listing. In the meantime, here’s Andrew Lang’s version of the Grimm tale from his Yellow Fairy Book:

A king was once hunting in a great wood, and he hunted the game so eagerly that none of his courtiers could follow him. When evening came on he stood still and looked round him, and he saw that he had quite lost himself. He sought a way out, but could find none. Then he saw an old woman with a shaking head coming towards him; but she was a witch.

‘Good woman,’ he said to her, ‘can you not show me the way out of the wood?’

‘Oh, certainly, Sir King,’ she replied, ‘I can quite well do that, but on one condition, which if you do not fulfil you will never get out of the wood, and will die of hunger.’

‘What is the condition?’ asked the King.

‘I have a daughter,’ said the old woman, ‘who is so beautiful that she has not her equal in the world, and is well fitted to be your wife; if you will make her lady-queen I will show you the way out of the wood.’

The King in his anguish of mind consented, and the old woman led him to her little house where her daughter was sitting by the fire. She received the King as if she were expecting him, and he saw that she was certainly very beautiful; but she did not please him, and he could not look at her without a secret feeling of horror. As soon as he had lifted the maiden on to his horse the old woman showed him the way, and the King reached his palace, where the wedding was celebrated.

The King had already been married once, and had by his first wife seven children, six boys and one girl, whom he loved more than anything in the world. And now, because he was afraid that their stepmother might not treat them well and might do them harm, he put them in a lonely castle that stood in the middle of a wood. It lay so hidden, and the way to it was so hard to find, that he himself could not have found it out had not a wise-woman given him a reel of thread which possessed a marvelous property: when he threw it before him it unwound itself and showed him the way. But the King went so often to his dear children that the Queen was offended at his absence. She grew curious, and wanted to know what he had to do quite alone in the wood. She gave his servants a great deal of money, and they betrayed the secret to her, and also told her of the reel which alone could point out the way. She had no rest now till she had found out where the King guarded the reel, and then she made some little white shirts, and, as she had learnt from her witch-mother, sewed an enchantment in each of them.

And when the King had ridden off she took the little shirts and went into the wood, and the reel showed her the way. The children, who saw someone coming in the distance, thought it was their dear father coming to them, and sprang to meet him very joyfully. Then she threw over each one a little shirt, which when it had touched their bodies changed them into swans, and they flew away over the forest. The Queen went home quite satisfied, and thought she had got rid of her stepchildren; but the girl had not run to meet her with her brothers, and she knew nothing of her.

The next day the King came to visit his children, but he found no one but the girl.

‘Where are your brothers?’ asked the King.

‘Alas! dear father,’ she answered, ‘they have gone away and left me all alone.’ And she told him that looking out of her little window she had seen her brothers flying over the wood in the shape of swans, and she showed him the feathers which they had let fall in the yard, and which she had collected. The King mourned, but he did not think that the Queen had done the wicked deed, and as he was afraid the maiden would also be taken from him, he wanted to take her with him. But she was afraid of the stepmother, and begged the King to let her stay just one night more in the castle in the wood. The poor maiden thought, ‘My home is no longer here; I will go and seek my brothers.’ And when night came she fled away into the forest. She ran all through the night and the next day, till she could go no farther for weariness. Then she saw a little hut, went in, and found a room with six little beds. She was afraid to lie down on one, so she crept under one of them, lay on the hard floor, and was going to spend the night there. But when the sun had set she heard a noise, and saw six swans flying in at the window. They stood on the floor and blew at one another, and blew all their feathers off, and their swan-skin came off like a shirt. Then the maiden recognised her brothers, and overjoyed she crept out from under the bed. Her brothers were not less delighted than she to see their little sister again, but their joy did not last long.

‘You cannot stay here,’ they said to her. ‘This is a den of robbers; if they were to come here and find you they would kill you.’

‘Could you not protect me?’ asked the little sister.

‘No,’ they answered, ‘for we can only lay aside our swan skins for a quarter of an hour every evening. For this time we regain our human forms, but then we are changed into swans again.’

Then the little sister cried and said, ‘Can you not be freed?’

‘Oh, no,’ they said, ‘the conditions are too hard. You must not speak or laugh for six years, and must make in that time six shirts for us out of star-flowers. If a single word comes out of your mouth, all your labour is vain.’ And when the brothers had said this the quarter of an hour came to an end, and they flew away out of the window as swans.

But the maiden had determined to free her brothers even if it should cost her her life. She left the hut, went into the forest, climbed a tree, and spent the night there. The next morning she went out, collected star-flowers, and began to sew. She could speak to no one, and she had no wish to laugh, so she sat there, looking only at her work.

When she had lived there some time, it happened that the King of the country was hunting in the forest, and his hunters came to the tree on which the maiden sat. They called to her and said ‘Who are you?’

But she gave no answer.

‘Come down to us,’ they said, ‘we will do you no harm.’

But she shook her head silently. As they pressed her further with questions, she threw them the golden chain from her neck. But they did not leave off, and she threw them her girdle, and when this was no use, her garters, and then her dress. The huntsmen would not leave her alone, but climbed the tree, lifted the maiden down, and led her to the King. The King asked, ‘Who are you? What are you doing up that tree?’

But she answered nothing.

He asked her in all the languages he knew, but she remained as dumb as a fish. Because she was so beautiful, however, the King’s heart was touched, and he was seized with a great love for her. He wrapped her up in his cloak, placed her before him on his horse. and brought her to his castle. There he had her dressed in rich clothes, and her beauty shone out as bright as day, but not a word could be drawn from her. He set her at table by his side, and her modest ways and behaviour pleased him so much that he said, ‘I will marry this maiden and none other in the world,’ and after some days he married her. But the King had a wicked mother who was displeased with the marriage, and said wicked things of the young Queen. ‘Who knows who this girl is?’ she said; ‘she cannot speak, and is not worthy of a king.’

After a year, when the Queen had her first child, the old mother took it away from her. Then she went to the King and said that the Queen had killed it. The King would not believe it, and would not allow any harm to be done her. But she sat quietly sewing at the shirts and troubling herself about nothing. The next time she had a child the wicked mother did the same thing, but the King could not make up his mind to believe her. He said, ‘She is too sweet and good to do such a thing as that. If she were not dumb and could defend herself, her innocence would be proved.’ But when the third child was taken away, and the Queen was again accused, and could not utter a word in her own defence, the King was obliged to give her over to the law, which decreed that she must be burnt to death. When the day came on which the sentence was to be executed, it was the last day of the six years in which she must not speak or laugh, and now she had freed her dear brothers from the power of the enchantment. The six shirts were done; there was only the left sleeve wanting to the last.

When she was led to the stake, she laid the shirts on her arm, and as she stood on the pile and the fire was about to be lighted, she looked around her and saw six swans flying through the air. Then she knew that her release was at hand and her heart danced for joy. The swans fluttered round her, and hovered low so that she could throw the shirts over them. When they had touched them the swan-skins fell off, and her brothers stood before her living, well and beautiful. Only the youngest had a swan’s wing instead of his left arm. They embraced and kissed each other, and the Queen went to the King, who was standing by in great astonishment, and began to speak to him, saying, ‘Dearest husband, now I can speak and tell you openly that I am innocent and have been falsely accused.’

She told him of the old woman’s deceit, and how she had taken the three children away and hidden them. Then they were fetched, to the great joy of the King, and the wicked mother came to no good end.

But the King and the Queen with their six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.

I wish all of my readers a New Year of happiness and peace, and lifetimes of happily ever after.

* * *

One thing I can’t help you with are resolutions. I like New Year’s, and staying up till midnight, and noisemakers and funny hats, and having a special dinner of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and I miss Guy Lombardo, not to mention watching the ball drop in Times Square (we get only two channels, neither one of which broadcasts the NYC festivities). And I love buying my new calendar, and flipping the page, and thinking about how we already (already!) have more daylight. I don’t even mind all of the contrived year-end “best of” lists. Though I am finding this end-of-year business coming ’round faster and faster each year.

But no resolutions, because I don’t make them. In part because I know that if I made ‘em, I wouldn’t keep ‘em. This is supposed to be a festive season, and stopping to think about general improvements takes away from the festivities, at least for me. I also find that I deal with life and self-improvement the same way I do with our home schooling — tinkering on the go. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I saved all of the changes to implement in January. If something isn’t working, I’d rather fix it when I notice it, rather than saving up a big wad o’ changes for the new year, which I find just too dreadful to contemplate. It’s rather like not making the various, and individually manageable, quick fixes your vehicle needs through the year, waiting instead to push your rattle-trap jalopy, with an overwhelming list of repairs, into the garage on New Year’s Eve. No thanks. I’d rather start the year with a few last leftover Christmas cookies and a chocolate truffle or two, a hot cup of coffee, and the new Spring gardening catalogues.

So Bah Humbug to resolutions, and a happy and healthy 2008 to all!

On the sixth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

six geese a-laying.

And when they’re done laying, they sing.

Or rather, chant.

(Careful readers will count seven geese, not six. But look again and you’ll see that goose #7 is not long for the choir, or this world.)

The manuscript illumination is from Das Gänsebuch, or, The Geese Book, a medieval German chant book, illustrated by Jakob Elsner (c1460-1517). Shortly after its completion (begun in 1270, the work took more than 200 years), the Lorenzkirche, or church of St. Lorenz, at Nüremberg commissioned a massive two-volume collection of music of the Mass liturgy for their choir, comprised of school boys and young adults; what they made of some of the illustrations one can only imagine. The volumes, completed between 1504-1510, measure 30″ by 50″, and the first volume alone apparently weighs 85 pounds. Both volumes can be found at The Morgan Library in New York.

Some of the music can be found on the Naxos CD, Das Gänsebuch (The Geese Book): German Medieval Chant, performed by the Schola Hungarica of Budapest, under the direction of the thoroughly unwolfish László Dobszay and Janka Szendrei. For a fascinating account of how the music came to be heard again after 500 years, and finally recorded, read this ASU (Arizona State University) Magazine article about “Opening The Geese Book“, a research project by Corine Schleif, an associate professor of art history at ASU, and Volker Schier, a German musicologist.

Although the Lorenzkirche was badly damaged by air raids in 1945*, The Geese Book survived World War II unharmed, and, according to the ASU article,

came into the hands of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The group’s founders trace their roots back to a patrician family in Nüremberg. The Kress Foundation helped the church rebuild after Nüremberg was bombed. In return, the church presented The Geese Book to the foundation.

Interestingly, The Geese Book project, which was started in 2000, was supported in part by a grant from the Kress Foundation.

* The church was rebuilt in 1949-52.

On the fifth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

five gold rings.

Enough with the birds already. How about some lovely old gold, including five rings found on King Tut’s mummy?

The website at the previous link has a children’s page, “Color Me Egypt“, including a link to Amira’s World, a blog by a 14-year-old girl living in Luxor.

(Notice how I neatly sidestepped Olympic rings and human rights concerns. Not to mention filthy air.)

* * *

We spent all afternoon at the provincial park in town with friends for a more or less impromptu home schoolers Christmas sledding party. It was wonderful — hardly any planning, just a hill, sleds, a fire, and enough hot chocolate, hot dogs, and buns to go around.

If I don’t get Day 6 up tomorrow, it’s because of all the gorgeous snow that keeps falling, slowly, gently, and the fog that has crept in (on snowshoes rather than little cat feet), both making such vast amounts of hoarfrost that everything, from spruce boughs to overhead power lines, are sagging from the weight. We’re not too concerned, since we have a house still stuffed with goodies, and would be happy to continue our weeklong evening Monopoly games by candlelight. And it does look pretty, just what you’d expect for the 12 days of Christmas.

On the fourth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

four calling birds.

Apparently “calling birds” is a corruption of the original “colly” or “collie” bird, the European black bird; from the Middle English “col”, or coal. And the European blackbird (Turdus merula) is really a small thrush with a melodious call, or song.

I’m going to skip any recipes for blackbird pie (it probably tastes like chicken, away), in favor of this nifty wooden mechanical model

from Mechanical Monkey in Cornwall, England (they have ballista, trebuchet, and catapult kits, too).

Poetry Friday: Poems for late December

An old favorite, and something new, at least to the blog.

I Heard a Bird Sing
by Oliver Herford (1863-1935)

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December
A magical thing
And sweet to remember:

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.

Time, You Old Gypsy Man
by Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962)

Time, you old gypsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?

All things I’ll give you
Will you be my guest:
Bells for your jennet
Of silver the best;
Goldsmiths shall beat you
A great golden ring;
Peacocks shall bow to you;
Little boys sing.
Oh, and sweet girls will
Festoon you with may.
Time, you old gypsy,
Why hasten away?

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome,
Morning, and in the crush
Under Paul’s dome;
Under Paul’s dial
You tighten your rein —
Only a moment,
And off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb,
Off to another
Ere that’s in the tomb.

Time, you old gypsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?

* * *

The last Poetry Friday roundup for 2007, and some Ogden Nash, can be found over at MsMac’s Check It Out.

With get well wishes for MsMac, and wishes for a happy and healthy New Year to all, from Farm School!

On the third day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

three French hens

#1. It’s impossible to get the legendary Poulet de Bresse in North America, but we can come close with the Blue Foot Chicken. Though it’s better if you don’t mind when the butcher hands over a defeathered chicken with the feet and head still attached, French style.

#2. Finding French chicks, however, is easier. You can get old French breeds, such as the Crèvecoeur; Faverolle (see illustration above, a lithograph by Harrison William Weir from The Poultry Book by W.B. Tegetmeier, London, 1902); Houdan; and the very rare La Flèche, as day-old chicks.

#3. Make any chicken tastier by cooking it à la Française. Clotilde Dusoulier chez Chocolate & Zucchini has a wonderful recipe for Le Poulet de Muriel.

Bon appétit!

On the second day of Christmas

(also known as Boxing Day, also known as the day Farm School residents refuse to go to town or anywhere near emporia crowded with mad shoppers. Sledding, skiing, and eating Christmas cookies and leftover popovers for breakfast, however, are all encouraged.)

my true love gave to me,

two turtle doves.

The Turtle Dove: oil on canvas by Sophie Gengembre* Anderson (1823-1903).

*”Gengembre” is a variation of “gingembre”, the French for ginger, so it seems appropriate to share Baking Bite‘s recipe for Vanilla and Ginger Scones, which will go well with the leftovers, whether it’s roast beef, turkey, goose, or ham.

On the first day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

a partridge in a pear tree.

(The gifts have been unwrapped, toys are being played with, new books read, outfits admired, the doll house is being adorned with its new finery — Santa Claus outdid himself with this one and I’ll seek if I can get some photos up in the next while with mention of an amazing Canadian source — and I’m testing out a new popover recipe for tonight, to accompany the roast beast.)

* * *

The partridge is a detail, the centerpiece in fact, of a lovely Christmas card that arrived yesterday from London. The work, “…And a Partridge in a Pear Tree”, is by Hazel Lincoln, and the card is being sold in aid of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Merry Christmas, from James Thurber and Farm School

Eighty years ago on this date, The New Yorker published this piece, still a classic (and longtime Farm School favorite), by James Thurber.

A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)
by James Thurber

I
t was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

“Father,” the children said.

There was no answer. He’s there, all right, they thought.

“Father,” they said, and banged on their beds.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said.

“Go to sleep,” said mamma.

“We can’t sleep,” said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.

“Can you sleep?” asked the children.

“No,” I said.

“You ought to sleep.”

“I know. I ought to sleep.”

“Can we have some sugarplums?”

“You can’t have any sugarplums,” said mamma.

“We just asked you.”

There was a long silence. I could hear the children moving again.

“Is Saint Nicholas asleep?” asked the children.

“No,” mamma said. “Be quiet.”

“What the hell would he be asleep tonight for?” I asked.

“He might be,” the children said.

“He isn’t,” I said.

“Let’s try to sleep,” said mamma.

The house became quiet once more. I could hear the rustling noises the children made when they moved in their beds.

Out on the lawn a clatter arose. I got out of bed and went to the window. I opened the shutters; then I threw up the sash. The moon shone on the snow. The moon gave the lustre of mid-day to objects in the snow. There was a miniature sleigh in the snow, and eight tiny reindeer. A little man was driving them. He was lively and quick. He whistled and shouted at the reindeer and called them by their names. Their names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.

He told them to dash away to the top of the porch, and then he told them to dash away to the top of the wall. They did. The sleigh was full of toys.

“Who is it?” mamma asked.

“Some guy,” I said. “A little guy.”

I pulled my head in out of the window and listened. I heard the reindeer on the roof. I could hear their hoofs pawing and prancing on the roof.

“Shut the window,” said mamma.

I stood still and listened.

“What do you hear?”

“Reindeer,” I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mamma sat up in the bed and looked at me.

“How would they get on the roof?” mamma asked.

“They fly.”

“Get into bed. You’ll catch cold.”

Mamma lay down in bed. I didn’t get into bed. I kept walking around.

“What do you mean, they fly?” asked mamma.

“Just fly is all.”

Mamma turned away toward the wall. She didn’t say anything.

I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler’s pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn’t say anything.

He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, “Merry Christmas and good night.” I went back to bed.

“What was it?” asked mamma. “Saint Nicholas?” She smiled.

“Yeah,” I said.

She sighed and turned in the bed.

“I saw him,” I said.

“Sure.”

“I did see him.”

“Sure you saw him.” She turned farther toward the wall.

“Father,” said the children.

“There you go,” mamma said. “You and your flying reindeer.”

“Go to sleep,” I said.

“Can we see Saint Nicholas when he comes?” the children asked.

“You got to be asleep,” I said. “You got to be asleep when he comes. You can’t see him unless you’re unconscious.”

“Father knows,” mamma said.

I pulled the covers over my mouth. It was warm under the covers. As I went to sleep I wondered if mamma was right.

* * *

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

Oscar Peterson, the Canadian jazz piano virtuoso whose Christmas CD we played only yesterday on our tree hunting expedition, died yesterday evening of kidney failure at the age of 82. He died at home in his sleep.

Many thanks, Mr. Peterson, for so many years of pleasure.

Odds and ends

Things to do before our big extended family Christmas Eve:

Bake one more braided loaf (the dough is rising) and some more cookies. And possibly an almond roca-ish candy.

Wash kitchen floor (done — ha!)

Wrap Tom’s presents for the kids, while they’re all out this afternoon delivering Christmas cheer, baking, and cards. Which would be easier if said presents did not include the requested two bucksaws (to make cutting wood for the daily bonfires easier) and a royal blue halter for for the colt (for Laura). I cut apart some cardboard boxes from our recycling corner for the saws, so the package shape doesn’t give the contents away, and to keep the blades away from the edges. The halter fit perfectly into the box that arrived yesterday, in the nick of time (the post office is closed Saturdays, and none of us is planning to be in town on Monday), with the kids’ Sploids.

Oh. And I have to perform pompomectomies on the boys’ mad bomber hats. They’ve been wanting them for several years now, but I was reluctant to buy any lined with real fur, because of the price and the fact that the fur means I can’t toss them in the washing machine. Several weeks ago, the boys noticed mad bomber hats in the drugstore flyer, and I went to investigate while they were at play rehearsal. It turns out the hats, in a variety of candy colors, are intended for teenage girls. But underneath all the pink and lilac headgear, I found one in red and one in neon green, meant to be chartreuse, I think. Lined with washable fleece, and under $30 for both. Only one slight hitch — an oversize pompom dangling from each flap. I figure I can take care of those with a sharp pair of scissors, as long as I manage to dispose of the evidence.

Figure out what’s for supper tonight.

And tomorrow we head north for the tree.

In case you haven’t guessed,

from all those photo-
graphs and stories of children frolicking in the snow and -20 weather, we here at Farm School like winter. In fact, we love it!

We also like the winter solstice, with the idea that more daylight is on the way (hurray!), and two of our favorite books to read on the first official day of winter (though we’ve been having unofficial winter fun for more than a month now) are

Happy Winter by Karen Gundersheimer, which is out of print but worth tracking down. I’ve written about it before here and here; and

I Like Winter by Lois Lenski. Grandpapa bought this tiny book for Davy a number of years ago and it’s delightful. There’s even a musical arrangement by Clyde Robert Bulla of the verses:

“I like winter, I like snow,
I like icy winds that blow.
I like snowflakes, oh so light,
Making all the ground so white.
I like sliding down the hill,
I like tumbling
in
a
spill!”

Other favorite Winter Solstice reading:

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer

The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the
Winter Solstice
by Carolyn McVickar Edwards

While the Bear Sleeps: Winter Tales and Traditions by Caitlin Matthews

Shingebiss: An Ojibwe Legend by Nancy Van Laan

Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root

And some handy dandy blog posts the subject,

from Audrey at A Small Corner of Nowhere

and from Nika at Progressive Homeschool

* * *

Graphic above by Dale McGowan, author of Parenting Beyond Belief, from his Meming of Life blog. And thanks to Lynn at Bore Me to Tears, where I learned about the graphic.

Poetry Friday: Christmas and Solstice favorites

I’ve posted the first two poems before, and figured it’s the time of year to visit old friends.

The first poem isn’t a proper poem, and I’m not a proper Jethro Tull fan. But I do like the words on the winter solstice.

The Christmas poems comes from a charming Random House Pictureback holiday anthology, Diane Goode’s Christmas Magic: Poems and Carols, published in 1992 and probably out of print but worth tracking down, especially because Diane Goode is the Diane Goode who did such a marvelous job illustrating When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, and other delicacies. Ms. Goode also has excellent taste in children’s Christmas poetry. I found our copy at the local Goodwill shop when Laura was a baby.

Ring Out, Solstice Bells
by Jethro Tull

Now is the solstice of the year,
winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Join together beneath the mistletoe.
by the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out those bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out.

In the Week When Christmas Comes
by Eleanor Farjeon

This is the week when Christmas comes.

Let every pudding burst with plums,
And every tree bear dolls and drums,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every hall have boughs of green,
With berries glowing in between,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every doorstep have a song
Sounding the dark street along,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every steeple ring a bell
With a joyful tale to tell,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every night put forth a star
To show us where the heavens are,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every stable have a lamb,
Sleeping warm beside its dam,
In the week when Christmas comes.

This is the week when Christmas comes.

Merry Christmas
from St. Nicholas Magazine*

M for the Music, merry and clear;
E for the Eve, the crown of the year;
R for the Romping of bright girls and boys;
R for the Reindeer that bring them the toys;
Y for the Yule log softly aglow.

C for the Cold of the sky and the snow;
H for the Hearth where they hang up the hose;
R for the Reel which the old folks propose;
I for the Icicles seen through the pane;
S for the Sleigh bells, with tinkling refrain;
T for the Tree with gifts all abloom;
M for the Mistletoe hung in the room;
A for the Anthems we all love to hear;
S for St. Nicholas — joy of the year!

*St. Nicholas Magazine was an American children’s magazine published by Scribner’s from 1873 to 1941; its first editor was Mary Mapes Dodge, best known for writing Hans Brinker. I’m lucky to have one of Henry Steele Commager’s hardbound anthologies of the magazine, from 1948, which includes at the end a selection of works by children in the “St. Nicholas League” — the contributors include a 17-year-old Edna St. Vincent Millay (an Honor Member then, in 1910); Eudora Welty, age 15 (in 1925); Stephen Vincent Benét, age 15 (1914), and his brother William Rose, age 16 (1902); Cornelia Otis Skinner, age 11 (1911), who would go on to write one of the funniest books ever; Sterling North, all of eight in 1915; and Rachel Lyman Field, age 16 (1911). If you’re interested in learning more about the magazine, this comprehensive website is a wealth of information.

* * *

Gina at AmoxCalli is the festive holiday host for today’s Poetry Friday Round-Up. Thanks, Gina, and greetings of the season to all!

Spreading the love

Not particularly Christmassy, but I’ll forget entirely about posting this if I attempt to save this article from yesterday’s New York Times ’til after the holidays. Here’s a taste. You can read the whole thing here (registration is free or use Bug Me Not):

At 71, Physics Professor Is a Web Star
by Sara Rimer

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Walter H. G. Lewin, 71, a physics professor, has long had a cult following at MIT. And he has now emerged as an international Internet guru, thanks to the global classroom the institute created to spread knowledge through cyberspace.

Professor Lewin’s videotaped physics lectures, free online on the OpenCourseWare of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have won him devotees across the country and beyond who stuff his e-mail in-box with praise.

“Through your inspiring video lectures i have managed to see just how BEAUTIFUL Physics is, both astounding and simple,” a 17-year-old from India e-mailed recently.

Steve Boigon, 62, a florist from San Diego, wrote, “I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes.”

Professor Lewin delivers his lectures with the panache of Julia Child bringing French cooking to amateurs and the zany theatricality of YouTube’s greatest hits. He is part of a new generation of academic stars who hold forth in cyberspace on their college Web sites and even, without charge, on iTunes U, which went up in May on Apple’s iTunes Store.

In his lectures at demonstrate electrostatics. Wearing shorts, sandals with socks and a pith helmet — nerd safari garb — he fires a cannon loaded with a golf ball at a stuffed monkey wearing a bulletproof vest to demonstrate the trajectories of objects in free fall.

He rides a fire-extinguisher-propelled tricycle across his classroom to show how a rocket lifts off.

He was No. 1 on the most downloaded list at iTunes U for a while, but that lineup constantly evolves. The stars this week included Hubert Dreyfus, a philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and Leonard Susskind, a professor of quantum mechanics at Stanford.

Last week, Yale put some of its most popular undergraduate courses and professors online free. The list includes Controversies in Astrophysics with Charles Bailyn, Modern Poetry with Langdon Hammer and Introduction to the Old Testament with Christine Hayes.

MIT recently expanded its online classes by opening a site aimed at high school students and teachers. Judging from his fan e-mail, Professor Lewin, who is among those featured on the new site, appeals to students of all ages.

Some of his correspondents compare him to Richard Feynman, the free-spirited, bongo-playing Nobel laureate who popularized physics through his books, lectures and television appearances.

With his wiry grayish-brown hair, his tortoiseshell glasses and his intensity, Professor Lewin is the iconic brilliant scientist. But like Julia Child, he is at once larger than life and totally accessible.

“We have here the mother of all pendulums!” he declares, hoisting his 6-foot-2, 170-pound self on a 30-pound steel ball attached to a pendulum hanging from the ceiling. He swings across the stage, holding himself nearly horizontal as his hair blows in the breeze he created.

The point: that a period of a pendulum is independent of the mass — the steel ball, plus one professor — hanging from it.

“Physics works!” Professor Lewin shouts, as the classroom explodes in cheers. …

Read the rest here.

Shades of gray

I’ve spent more time in my kitchen and out in the snow than online, but I’ve tried to do some catching up while waiting for batches of cookies in the oven.

I was surprised, and I gather I wasn’t the only one, by the recent New York Times article, “Huckabee Draws Support of Home-School Families“, not because the reporter made it sound as if most home schoolers support the Huckabee candidacy, but because he made it sound as if most American home schooling families are Republican and evangelical Christians. And as if the HSLDA speaks for most American home schoolers, and as if it should be speaking on anything other than its own method of home schooling. Which it shouldn’t. But I digress.

Of course, I’ve also read a fair amount online about libertarian home schoolers for Ron Paul, and Mormon home schoolers for Mitt Romney. Though I haven’t read much about home schoolers voting for the only candidate who is actually home schooling — John Edwards.

For the record, I’m the only one in this household eligible to vote in next year’s U.S. election; and yes, I envy my all-Canadian husband, who has one less thing to think about next year; though we may be facing a Canadian federal election, too, in which case we’re probably going to vote for different parties, which throws that family unity business mentioned in The Times out the window. I’m a registered Democrat (I started off as an Independent in college but wanted to vote in the primaries when I moved back to NY), would have voted Independent in 1980 had I been old enough, have never voted Republican, and based on the current slate don’t plan to start now. I’d sooner vote for Santa Claus than any of the Republican candidates. Some of the Democratic ones, too, come to think of it; and no, I’m not swayed by moneyed talk show hosts either. I also tend to think that the best and brightest stay far, far away from politics, especially the nasty and expensive business of Presidential politics, and don’t blame them a bit. So what we get tends to be the wealthy middle to bottom of the barrel. I seem to remember a number of people like that from my college days, and can’t say I’d want any of them taking care of my legal or health matters, let alone in the White House.

Of all the issues facing Americans, and North Americans, a candidate’s thoughts on home schooling are at the very bottom of my long list. Below, say, where he or she stands on gardening. Unless that gardening is somehow related to the Farm Bill. But that would make things complicated, wouldn’t it? And we can’t have complicated.

A manual for childhood

This came across my Google Alerts, and strikes me as worth reprinting. From David Phillips, the publisher of The Spring Grove Herald in Minnesota (additional links are mine, not Mr. Phillips’):

PUBLISHER’S NOTEBOOK: Do children need a manual for childhood?
by David Phillips

As the Christmas shopping season kicked off a few weeks ago, I recommended buying a book as a gift. That’s because, according to a recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts, reading provides some amazing lifelong benefits for individuals and may just preserve our civilization.

If you are a parent, two books you may have considered are “The Dangerous Book for Boys” and “The Daring Book for Girls.” That these two books are on the best seller lists raises some interesting questions, perhaps more intriguing ones than the study showing how little people read for pleasure today.

The books are manuals for youth on how to be, well, kids. The book for girls shows them how to do such activities as press flowers, jump rope, use a pencil to put up their hair, play slumber party games, set up a lemonade stand, do hand clap games, tell ghost stories, play jacks, pitch tents and have endless adventures. The book for boys explains things such as how to make paper airplanes, skip stones across water, play in the backyard, tie knots, go fishing and build a treehouse.

Has childhood changed so much in our modern world that we need a manual to explain how to enjoy childhood?

Perhaps so.

It isn’t just that the cell phone, computer screen and television set have replaced good, old fashioned romping around, parents are so protective today that it seems every single moment of youth has to be scripted. Even the authors of one of the books add a disclaimer that “all of these activities should be carried out under adult supervision only.”

Although no study has been done on this subject, the lack of unstructured play in youth today may lead to negative consequences on our economic, social and civic life, similar to what the recent study found was happening due to our lack of reading.

Of course, in this ultra-serious age, advocating seemingly mindless play is a tough sell. We all know reading is serious stuff and many people became worked up over the study on the consequences of not reading. Mention play, though, and people will shrug it off as a cute byproduct of being young, not something that could lead to the downfall of civilization.

After all, we have, as a society, made it difficult to play. Even preschool children are plopped in front of a computer or television screen in hopes of giving them an edge in soaking up knowledge. Academic learning, and testing, is starting earlier than ever. Parents insist on scheduling their children’s lives so they become as booked as adults. Fear prevents adults from encouraging children to freely roam the parks and dwindling public green spaces.

As surprising as the best selling manuals on how to be children is the need for new occupations and organizations that advocate play.

For example, in England, a new professional, called a “playworker,” is trained to facilitate play with children in adventure playgrounds and other settings. These professionals don’t lead the children in play, but encourage it. And in the United States there is an Alliance for Childhood, which states that the benefits of play are so impressive that every day of childhood should be a day for play.

This harkening back to a time when children played from morning to night, running, jumping, playing dress-up and creating endless stories out of their active imaginations may appear as mere nostalgia. However, fun time really does have many serious benefits.

Play is the way children learn about themselves and the world. Through play, children learn to get along with others and sort out conflicts, develop motor skills, practice their language skills, boost their independence, self-esteem and creativity, relieve stress and improve their psychological well-being.

In a 2004 project of the Alliance for Childhood, researchers interviewed experienced kindergarten teachers in Atlanta. These teachers described how play had disappeared from their curriculum over the preceding 10 years, and reported that when they gave children time to play, the children “didn’t know what to do” and had “no ideas of their own.”

The alliance concludes that for those of us used to the fertile, creative minds of 5-year-olds, this is a shocking statement that bodes ill for the development of creative thinking. It points to a sad future for our society if citizens have no ideas of their own.

I’m not saying to throw away those books and move on to the next great cause. But, we should all realize that meaning is not always transparent to us, that purpose doesn’t have to end in a pre-determined goal.

Allowing your children to explore the world through playfulness may be the most lasting gift you can give this holiday season. So, turn off the television, refrain from directing their activities and give the kids some space to be silly and childish.

Your children will thank you when they become creative, well-adjusted adults. And, they may remind you that play isn’t reserved just for young children. Playfulness is a worthy trait in adults as well, but that is another chapter in this never ending story.

Have a merry, and perhaps at times, even silly, celebration this holiday season. Best wishes from the staff of Bluff Country Newspaper Group.

By the way, for any adults interested in the subject of children’s play, you can’t do better than the classic work by Iona and Peter Opie.

It just occurs to me to wonder if anyone has thought to ask Mrs. Opie (Mr. Opie died in 1982) her thoughts on The Dangerous Book for Boys, or on the present need for Dangerous Books for Boys and Daring Books for Girls.

Poetry Friday: North

North
by Philip Booth (1925-2007)

North is weather, Winter, and change:
a wind-shift, snow, and how ice ages
shape the moraine of a mountain range.

At tree line the chiseled ledges
are ragged to climb; wind-twist trees
give way to the trust of granite ridges,

peaks reach through abrasive centuries
of rain. The worn grain, the sleet-cut,
is magnified on blue Northwest days

where rock slides, like rip-tide, break out
through these geologic seas. Time
in a country of hills is seasonal light:

alpenglow, Northern lights, and tame
in October: Orion, cold hunter of stars.
Between what will be and was, rime

whites the foothill night and flowers
the rushes stilled in black millpond ice.
The dark, the nightfall temperatures

are North, and the honk of flyway geese
high over valley sleep. The woodland
is evergreen, ground pine, spruce,

and deadwood hills at the riverbend.
Black bear and mink fish beaver streams
where moose and caribou drink: beyond

the forests there are elk. Snowstorms
breed North like arctic birds that swirl
downhill, and in a blind wind small farms

are lost. At night the close cold is still,
the tilt world returns from sun to ice.
Glazed lichen is North, and snowfall

at five below. North is where rockface
and hoarfrost are formed with double grace:
love is twice warm in a cold place.

* * * *

If you need hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows to warm you up after reading that, see the previous post.

Tricia has today’s Poetry Friday round-up, and a lovely Dusting of Snow, over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Sorry today’s entry is so skimpy — the kids and I have to plow through some pretty big snow drifts shortly to do the farm chores so we can get to town in time for today’s special performance for students of “Blithe Spirit”. Tomorrow evening Tom and I go. The kids have been primed with a viewing of David Lean’s movie version with Rex Harrison on DVD, and are keen to see Mme. Arcati and Elvira in the flesh, as it were…

Confections for cold afternoons

I’ve been meaning to share one of Laura’s new, easy 4H recipes, perfect for frosty December afternoons — homemade marshmallows.

I’d been intrigued since first hearing Martha Stewart talk about them — who knew you could make marshmallows, and that they were made out of real food? — but they seemed so darn complicated. I tend to prefer dessert recipes that don’t require me to keep an eye out for the “hard ball stage”, and much as I enjoy kitchen chemistry, I’ll leave cooking for engineers to hardier souls; though the pictures at the website are handy, especially if you don’t have the chance to watch a bunch of 4H kids in action.

However, I was delighted to learn that in the capable hands of Laura’s club leader the other month, the recipe is amazingly simple. So simple that we were able to duplicate the results on our own the next weekend, which was a good thing because Daniel and Davy quickly ate up the samples Laura brought home. Unlike most of the other recipes I’ve seen, this one includes no candy thermometer, wet pastry brushes, or corn syrup (in fact, a grand total of five ingredients — water, sugar, gelatin, vanilla extract, and salt).

They’re not only easy to make, but much tastier than the store-bought version. Especially if you insist, as we do, on gilding the lily — rolling them in toasted coconut or crushed candy canes, or dusting with a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and either cinnamon or cocoa (and you can make chocolate marshmallows by adding a tablespoon or two of cocoa to the recipe below). You could substitute the vanilla extract in the recipe below with some peppermint flavoring, too. My favorite way to serve, and eat, the marshmallows is to cut them in largish pillowy squares and roll them in toasted coconut, served alongside rather than in my hot chocolate. The kids like theirs with crushed candy cane, which does look spiffy before it starts to melt in the mug (see photo). By the way, homemade marshmallows make a lovely — inexpensive too — homemade Christmas present, especially tucked in a bag with a container of Ghirardelli hot cocoa mix or drinking chocolate.

Easy Homemade Marshmallows

Mix together (I do this in the measuring cup):
2 packages of unflavored gelatine (for example, Knox brand)
½ cup water

Then mix together in a large pan and heat over low/medium heat until dissolved:
2 cups white sugar
½ cup water

Add gelatin mixture to pot with sugar mixture, and bring to a boil.

Remove pan from stove and cool, for about 15-20 minutes. While you’re waiting, you can grease an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ pan with butter, vegetable oil, or Crisco and then dust with confectioner’s sugar; I’ve also had good luck greasing the pan, then lining it with wax or parchment paper and greasing it again, with a final layer of confectioner’s sugar. Then to the cooled mixture add

½ tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

With a hand mixer (or you can transfer the entire mixture to the large bowl in your stand mixer), beat the mixture until it’s white and thick and looks like Marshmallow Fluff.; this should take about 15 minutes.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and let the marshmallows set until cool. Either tip the marshmallows out (you may need a knife or spatula) or pull out and peel off the wax/parchment paper. Cut into squares, roll in toasted coconut, cinnamon, or more confectioner’s sugar. Serve on a cold afternoon.

Lockdown

If we lived around Edmonton and if the kids were older and attended public school, we might be dealing with the following situation next week, as described in this excerpt from a letter from the principal sent home yesterday with students:

An Important Notice to the [School] Community

Five weeks ago, a student reported to a teacher that he had read a graffiti message in one of the school bathrooms. His recollection of the message was that it said – December 18, 2007 Massacre. Following the report of the incident to the school administration, the student and two of his friends were interviewed. They indicated that they had seen the message on the inside of a bathroom stall. When taken by the school administration to the washroom in question, the writing was no longer there. The police were notified and an investigation ensued.

At the same time as the police investigation began, the teachers were notified of the details above and directed to report any incidents, information or student conversations related to December 18th.

To date there has been no evidence uncovered either by the RCMP or by the school staff that would suggest any danger to students. Over the last four weeks, the RCMP and the school administration have followed up on three occasions where teachers have reported students introducing the subject in class. Each time the students involved appeared to be engaging in the retelling of what they have heard from others and the stories appeared to have no substance.

However, many students seem to have become aware of a story related to the writing. I have heard some of these and they represent significant exaggerations based on the full investigation conducted by the RCMP and the school administration, yet the seriousness of the concern demands action on the part of the school.

On December 18th, we will be undertaking the following:

  • Students will be entering the school through only the two front doors
  • Students will not be allowed in hallways during classes
  • Teachers will be locking their classroom door[s] throughout the day
  • Outside doors will be locked all day
  • Students will be asked to leave their back packs in their lockers
  • An increased RCMP presence will be in the school all day.

I must repeat, there has been no evidence of any real threat to the staff and students … since the writing in the washroom was reported.

The precautions above represent a level of response that the staff at [the school] and the RCMP believe is necessary. Together we believe the safety and comfort of all concerned is our primary goal and is best served by the precautions outlined above.

Precautions or no precautions, I rather doubt I’d be sending even a 16- or 17-year-old Laura, Daniel, or Davy to be locked in a classroom for most of the day, with doubtlessly armed RCMP officers patrolling the halls.

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