• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2014 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

“Part of nature”

Zoologist, anthropologist, and author of The Naked Ape Desmond Morris salutes Charles Darwin as a “Hero for our age” in The Daily  Mail [emphasis mine]:

There is a strange object sitting on my desk as I write. It is a shiny sphere of fossilised, primeval slime. Known technically as stromatolites, this blue-green slime was the original ooze from which all life on this planet evolved.

This painfully slow process began about 3,000 million years ago and has led, ultimately, to us, the extraordinary human species.

Whenever my gaze happens to fall upon my lump of fossilised slime I experience a strange sensation, a deep respect, for I am looking at my most ancient ancestor.

Yours, too, unless you still believe in the tale of Adam and Eve and a talking serpent in the Garden of Eden.

In a few weeks, on February 12 to be exact, the scientific world will be celebrating the bicentenary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the man whose theory of the gradual evolution of living things has changed the way in which most of us see the world in which we live.

Thanks to him, we see ourselves as part of nature, instead of separate from it and superior to it. If it weren’t for him, we would not be concerned about the way we have, in our arrogant past, ravaged the small planet on which we live.

What kind of a man was Charles Darwin? To the naive mind he is sometimes pictured as a giant intellect of Victorian England, with his long, flowing white beard and his solemn expression, the product of a brilliantly studious education and intense academic application.

Well, no. In reality he was a mess, both physically and mentally, which makes his gigantic contribution to human understanding even more extraordinary.

Read the rest here.

“A true and precious stone”

I wasn’t going to go through this week’s New York Times “Books Update” newsletter which arrived yesterday by email, but I’m glad I reconsidered this morning, for there in my inbox was Phyllis McGinley (1905-1978).

Because Miss McGinley is the mind behind “The Year without a Santa Claus”, which was originally the following:

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and also several other Christmas titles and poems (one of which I used last year for Poetry Friday).  But it’s not because of her holiday writings that Phyllis McGinley, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her poetry, makes the paper this week.  Rather, it’s because she was once, as Time Magazine called her, the poet laureate of suburbia (and also “the literary protagonist of the point of view that the keeper of the home is the most important woman in the world”); in 1950, she sang its praises in “Suburbia: Of Thee I Sing”.  In her New York Times essay, television critic Ginia Bellafante writes [links mine, as usual]:

McGinley is almost entirely forgotten today, and while her anonymity is attributable in part to the disappearance of light verse, it seems equally a function of our refusal to believe that anyone living on the manicured fringes of a major American city in the middle of the 20th century might have been genuinely pleased to be there. McGinley received her Pulitzer the same year that Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road,” the basis for Sam Mendes’s new movie, made its debut. To Yates, Connecticut wasn’t dull; it was tragic, the end of something. Since the ’60s, versions of the same idea have prevailed almost without interruption — in fiction, in film, on television, in the countless illustrations of grinning fathers presiding over barbecues, kitschy images in which we are meant to see portraits of mournful delusion. From Cheever to “American Beauty,” we have tended to read mythologies of suburban lament as if they were reportage.

McGinley loved Westchester in no small measure because it was so much easier than the place she came from. Born to a struggling land speculator and his pianist wife in 1903, she moved with her family from Oregon to Colorado, where she was put to work farming at a young age. When she was 12, her father died and the family moved again, to live with a widowed aunt in Utah. “We never had a home,” McGinley told Time in 1965, “and to have a home, after I got married, was just marvelous.” McGinley was not thrown into marriage by default. Having taken to musical theater at the University of Utah and won college poetry prizes, she came to New York in her 20s and found work writing commercial jingles and later teaching. Having married happily at 33, she loved domesticity the way a woman can only when it has come late to find her. McGinley’s life with her husband, Bill Hayden, was, her daughter Patsy Blake told me recently, “a sanguine, benign, adorable version of ‘Mad Men.’ ” The couple entertained avidly: the regular guest list included Bennett Cerf, the drama critic Walter Kerr and leading advertising executives of the day.

(One would be remiss not to mention that the genial dinners would also have included Bennett Cerf’s wife, Phyllis — Ginger Roger’s cousin, Dr. Seuss’s collaborator and ad agency colleague, and the mover behind Random House’s “Beginner Books” series for children — as well as her neighbor Walter’s wife, the playwright and humorist Jean Kerr, author of the very, very funny Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Snake Has All the Lines, Penny Candy, and How I Got to Be Perfect.  Oh, to have been a martini shaker on the wet bar…)

But what caught my eye in Ms. Bellafante’s essay was this:

“A liberal arts education is not a tool like a hoe . . . or an electric mixer,” McGinley wrote [in her volume of essays, Sixpence in Her Shoe], dismayed at a world she thought was conspiring to make women feel as though any acquired erudition would be wasted in a life of riffling through recipe cards. “It is a true and precious stone which can glow as wholesomely on a kitchen table as when it is put on exhibition in a jeweler’s window or bartered for bread and butter.” She went on to dismiss the already benighted suggestion that Bryn Mawr was a threat to what ought to get done in a kitchen. “Surely the ability to enjoy Heine’s exquisite melancholy in the original German,” she wrote, “will not cripple a girl’s talent for making chocolate brownies.”

McGinley’s point, an eternally divisive one, was clear: a woman who enjoyed herself as a wife and mother should not submit to imposed ambitions. McGinley was a Democrat and socially liberal — in 1968 Nelson Rockefeller appointed her to a bipartisan committee to study the abortion issue, and she came out resolutely on the side of choice. And yet she shared with Phyllis Schlafly the paradox of promoting traditionalism (in Schlafly’s case virulently) as she pursued a more digressive course for herself. It was McGinley’s salary, according to her daughter Patsy, that allowed Patsy and her sister to attend private school in Greenwich, Conn., and later Wellesley and Radcliffe. In “The Feminine Mystique,” Friedan chided McGinley, her Larchmont friend the playwright Jean Kerr and Shirley Jackson for betraying women, and themselves, by refusing to emphasize their sizable aspirations.

The Time interview mentioned above was part of the magazine’s June 1965 cover story on Miss McGinley, “The Telltale Hearth”, still available in the archives and including a bit more from Sixpence,

“A liberal arts education,” she writes in Sixpence, “is a true and precious stone which can glow just as wholesomely on a kitchen table as when it is put on exhibition in a jeweler’s window or bartered for bread and butter. To what barbarian plane are we descending when we demand that it serve only the economy?”

I’ll leave the last words to Miss McGinley. First, some advice to writers which I read aloud in the kitchen today now that we’re in thank-you-note season,

“I’m sure there are many gifted women who could write, but don’t have the discipline. You have to make yourself do things that are cruelly difficult. The only difference between a man and a woman is that a woman puts her family first, but the actual discipline is a cruel thing.”

And lastly, this little ditty,

Stir the eggnog, lift the toddy.
Happy New Year, everybody!


Merry Christmas, eh?

The great Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) offered this little Christmas tale in 1910:

Hoodoo McFiggin’s Christmas
by Stephen Leacock

This Santa Claus business is played out. It’s a sneaking,
underhand method, and the sooner it’s exposed the better.

For a parent to get up under cover of the darkness of
night and palm off a ten-cent necktie on a boy who had
been expecting a ten-dollar watch, and then say that an
angel sent it to him, is low, undeniably low.

I had a good opportunity of observing how the thing worked
this Christmas, in the case of young Hoodoo McFiggin,
the son and heir of the McFiggins, at whose house I board.

Hoodoo McFiggin is a good boy — a religious boy. He had
been given to understand that Santa Claus would bring
nothing to his father and mother because grown-up people
don’t get presents from the angels. So he saved up all
his pocket-money and bought a box of cigars for his father
and a seventy-five-cent diamond brooch for his mother.
His own fortunes he left in the hands of the angels. But
he prayed. He prayed every night for weeks that Santa
Claus would bring him a pair of skates and a puppy-dog
and an air-gun and a bicycle and a Noah’s ark and a sleigh
and a drum —  about a hundred and fifty dollars’
worth of stuff.

I went into Hoodoo’s room quite early Christmas morning.
I had an idea that the scene would be interesting. I woke
him up and he sat up in bed, his eyes glistening with
radiant expectation, and began hauling things out of his
stocking.

The first parcel was bulky; it was done up quite loosely
and had an odd look generally.

“Ha! ha!” Hoodoo cried gleefully, as he began undoing
it. “I’ll bet it’s the puppy-dog, all wrapped up in
paper!”

And was it the puppy-dog? No, by no means. It was a pair
of nice, strong, number-four boots, laces and all,
labelled, “Hoodoo, from Santa Claus,” and underneath
Santa Claus had written, “95 net.”

The boy’s jaw fell with delight. “It’s boots,” he said,
and plunged in his hand again.

He began hauling away at another parcel with renewed hope
on his face.

This time the thing seemed like a little round box. Hoodoo
tore the paper off it with a feverish hand. He shook it;
something rattled inside.

“It’s a watch and chain! It’s a watch and chain!” he
shouted. Then he pulled the lid off.

And was it a watch and chain? No. It was a box of nice,
brand-new celluloid collars, a dozen of them all alike
and all his own size.

The boy was so pleased that you could see his face crack
up with pleasure.

He waited a few minutes until his intense joy subsided.
Then he tried again.

This time the packet was long and hard. It resisted the
touch and had a sort of funnel shape.

“It’s a toy pistol!” said the boy, trembling with
excitement. “Gee! I hope there are lots of caps with it!
I’ll fire some off now and wake up father.”

No, my poor child, you will not wake your father with
that. It is a useful thing, but it needs not caps and it
fires no bullets, and you cannot wake a sleeping man with
a tooth-brush. Yes, it was a tooth-brush — a regular
beauty, pure bone all through, and ticketed with a little
paper, “Hoodoo, from Santa Claus.”

Again the expression of intense joy passed over the boy’s
face, and the tears of gratitude started from his eyes.
He wiped them away with his tooth-brush and passed on.

The next packet was much larger and evidently contained
something soft and bulky. It had been too long to go into
the stocking and was tied outside.

“I wonder what this is,” Hoodoo mused, half afraid to
open it. Then his heart gave a great leap, and he forgot
all his other presents in the anticipation of this one.
“It’s the drum!” he gasped. “It’s the drum, all wrapped
up!”

Drum nothing! It was pants —  pair of the nicest little
short pants — yellowish-brown short pants — with dear little
stripes of colour running across both ways, and here
again Santa Claus had written, “Hoodoo, from Santa Claus,
one fort net.”

But there was something wrapped up in it. Oh, yes! There
was a pair of braces wrapped up in it, braces with a
little steel sliding thing so that you could slide your
pants up to your neck, if you wanted to.

The boy gave a dry sob of satisfaction. Then he took out
his last present. “It’s a book,” he said, as he unwrapped
it. “I wonder if it is fairy stories or adventures. Oh,
I hope it’s adventures! I’ll read it all morning.”

No, Hoodoo, it was not precisely adventures. It was a
small family Bible. Hoodoo had now seen all his presents,
and he arose and dressed. But he still had the fun of
playing with his toys. That is always the chief delight
of Christmas morning.

First he played with his tooth-brush. He got a whole lot
of water and brushed all his teeth with it. This was
huge.

Then he played with his collars. He had no end of fun
with them, taking them all out one by one and swearing
at them, and then putting them back and swearing at the
whole lot together.

The next toy was his pants. He had immense fun there,
putting them on and taking them off again, and then trying
to guess which side was which by merely looking at them.

After that he took his book and read some adventures
called “Genesis” till breakfast-time.

Then he went downstairs and kissed his father and mother.
His father was smoking a cigar, and his mother had her
new brooch on. Hoodoo’s face was thoughtful, and a light
seemed to have broken in upon his mind. Indeed, I think
it altogether likely that next Christmas he will hang on
to his own money and take chances on what the angels
bring.

Comfort and joy

From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, “The First of the Three Spirits”:

When the clock struck eleven, this domestic ball broke up. Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig took their stations, one on either side the door, and shaking hands with every person individually as he or she went out, wished him or her a Merry Christmas. When everybody had retired but the two ‘prentices, they did the same to them; and thus the cheerful voices died away, and the lads were left to their beds; which were under a counter in the back-shop.

During the whole of this time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation. It was not until now, when the bright faces of his former self and Dick were turned from them, that he remembered the Ghost, and became conscious that it was looking full upon him, while the light upon its head burnt very clear.

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four, perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Not that I’m planning to send out Christmas cards…

which I haven’t done for the past several years.  But if that was the plan, these would be the pictures:

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(Laura, Daniel, and Davy aboard the four-masted Peking at South Street Seaport last month)

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(Davy, Daniel, and Laura in the front yard with their new Christmas hats, January 2008)

With very Merry Christmas wishes from Farm School!

Don’t try this at home

Matt Apuzzo at the Associated Press tries to find out how the banks are spending their bailout moneyOur bailout money.  Try these answers at the bank the next time you need to borrow some money:

“We’re choosing not to disclose that,” said Kevin Heine, spokesman for Bank of New York Mellon, which received about $3 billion.

And,

“We’re declining to [disclose that information]” (Thomas Kelly, speaking for JPMorgan Chase, which received $25 billion)

And,

“I just would prefer if you wouldn’t say that we’re not going to discuss those details.” (A spokesman for New York Mellon Corp.)

Not for nothing is it called the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  That giant sucking sound you hear?  Down the toilet.  Which means you might want to turn up the Christmas carols and pass the rum balls…

Science resources and a bit of pre-holiday homework

From science writer and blogger Carl Zimmer, who writes at The Loom:

1) Year of Science 2009:

The Coalition On The Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), a grassroots network, is putting together a massive celebration of science stretching across all 12 months of the year. Museums, scientific societies, and other groups will be presenting lectures, science cafes, special blogs,  exhibits, and the occasional Banana Slug String Band concert. Every month will have a theme, from evolution (February, the month of Darwin’s birthday) to astronomy (July, in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the summer Galileo first trained his telescope to the sky). And if you want to join the happening, COPUS wants to hear from you.

2) Homework time:

The National Academy of Sciences has a survey they’d like people to fill out to help them figure out what kinds of educational materials about science, engineering, and medicine they should publish in print and on the web.

I just took it, and can assure you it’s quick and painless. And along the way they pointed me to some pdf’s that look helpful.

Back to baking…

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