• About Farm School

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

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

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

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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