• 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.

World Science Festival 2010

I’ve been remiss in posting World Science Festival 2010 information, despite all the emails I’ve been receiving.  This year’s festival will be held in New York City on June 2-6, with 40 events scheduled and an opening night gala honoring Stephen Hawking, featuring “a performing arts salute to science”.  The Festival is the creation of renowned physicist Brian Greene, who is tireless in his efforts to popularize science in general and physics in particular.  The Festival’s mission is to “cultivate and sustain a general public informed by the content of science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.” Best of all, the World Science Festival “takes science out of the laboratory and into the streets, theaters, museums, and public halls of New York City”.  If we could be in New York in early June, we would be at the Festival!

There are free events and young people/family events (many are both), including:

The James Webb Space Telescope at Battery Park (June 1, 2010, 11 AM to Sunday, June 6, 2010, 6 PM): A full-scale model (80 feet long, 37 feet wide and nearly 40 feet high) of the world’s most powerful future space telescope, a successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope ,will be on public view in Battery Park, along with interactive exhibits, videos about the Webb Telescope,  and scientists on-hand to answer questions.  On Friday June 4 from 8-11 PM, the venue will host “From the City to the Stars”:  “Join professional and amateur astronomers at the base of the full-scale, tennis court-sized James Webb Space Telescope model for a free evening of star-gazing in Battery Park. John Mather, Nobel laureate and the Webb telescope’s senior project scientist; John Grunsfeld, astronaut, physicist and “chief repairman” of the Hubble Telescope and planetary astronomer Heidi Hammel, with journalist Miles O’Brien moderating, will be with us to talk about the discoveries anticipated when the world’s most powerful space telescope, the successor to the Hubble, launches in 2014.  It will be a festive evening of appreciating the vast wonders of the cosmos. Bring your telescope if you have one or plan to use one of the dozens we’ll have set up.” FREE

Eye Candy: Science, Sight, Art (Thursday, June 3, 2010, 7-8:30 PM): “Are you drawn to Impressionism? Or more toward 3D computer art? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Or is it? Contrary to the old adage, there may be universal biological principles that drive art’s appeal, and its capacity to engage our brains and our interest. Through artworks ranging from post-modernism to political caricature to 3D film, Margaret S. Livingstone and Patrick Cavanagh join cartoonist Jules Feiffer and others in an examination of newly understood principles of visual perception.”

Mathemagician and the Mathemagician’s Apprentice (Saturday, June 5, 2010, 11AM – 12:00 noon):  “Mix math with magic and the result is thrilling. Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin returns in an encore presentation, with mesmerizing feats of mental mathematical gymnastics. Followed by Mathemagician’s Apprentice … where Benjamin will divulge his secrets of doing lightning-fast mental math. … Apprentice limited to 50 people, ages ten and older, and is an hour long. Arthur Benjamin is a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. A professional magician, Benjamin can also multiply large numbers faster than a calculator, figure out the week day of any date in history and has memorized the decimal numbers of pi out to 100 digits.” Dr. Benjamin is the co-author, with Michael Shermer, of Secrets of Mental Math: The Mathemagician’s Guide to Lightning Calculation and Amazing Math Tricks.

Cool Jobs (Saturday, June 5, 2010, 5 – 6:30 PM): “Imagine hunting extraterrestrial life for a living. Or getting paid to study South African penguins. Meet scientists with some of the coolest jobs in the world; watch as a neuroscientist scans a brain and a robot inventor brings his complex and novel creations to life. Get inspired by the possibilities. Participants include roboticist Dennis Hong, neuroscientist André Fenton, astronomer and extraterrestrial life hunter Jill Cornell Tarter, and aquatic biologist Pamela Schaller.”

Astronaut Diary: Life in Space (Sunday, June 6, 2010, 11:30 AM – 1:00 PM): “Astronauts who’ve lived on the International Space Station and ‘walked’ in space tell all: what it’s like to ride on a space ship, and to eat, sleep, exercise, and even do science—in space. Come hear firsthand from the world’s most intrepid explorers—including astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Leland Melvin and Sandra Magnus—and Dava Newman, designer of an innovative spacewalking suit, about what it’s like to soar upward and leave our home, planet Earth, behind.” FREE

Icarus at the Edge of Time (Sunday, June 6, 2010):  “What if Icarus traveled not to the sun but to a black hole? This 40-minute, 62-piece orchestral work is a mesmerizing adaptation of Icarus at the Edge of Time, Brian Greene’s book for children. A re-imagining of the Greek myth, which brings Einstein’s concepts of relativity to visceral, emotional life, it features an original score by Philip Glass, script adapted by Greene and David Henry Hwang and film created and directed by Al + Al. Performed live with narrator Liev Schreiber and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, conducted by Brad Lubman.”

World Science Festival Street Fair at Washington Square Park (Sunday, June 6, 2010, 10 AM – 6 PM), FREE:  The New York University/Washington Square Park area will become a science wonderland when the World Science Festival Youth and Family Street Fair returns to New York City on Sunday, June 6. This free, day-long extravaganza showcases the intrigue and pure fun of science with a non-stop program of interactive exhibits, experiments, games, and shows, all meant to entertain and inspire. Join us for a day of family fun”. Some highlights of this year’s Fair include: Discovery Theatre and Author’s Alley, The BioBus, Museum of Mathematics, Franklin Institute Traveling Scientists, NY Hall of Science, Math for AmericaNYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Come and Play at the Games for Learning Lab, Liberty Science Center, Philadelphia Zoo on Wheels, Discovery Labs, Central Park Zoo’s Wild Life Theater, Robotics & Mechanisms Laboratory. FREE

A complete list of events is here. While some events are already sold out, note that tickets may be available at the door 30 minutes before the event.

Spotera!*: Recapturing a writerly fairyland

A few weeks ago The Guardian featured a lovely article by Valerie Grove as part of the marvelous “Life in Writing” series, an overview of her new biography of Kaye Webb, So Much to Tell, to be published in Canada next week in time for Puffin’s 70th anniversary.  Miss Webb established the Puffin Club for young readers in the 1960s, and I was a devoted member across the pond in the early seventies.  I wrote a bit about the Puffin Club just over a year ago, here.  And while I didn’t get Mars Bars from Roald Dahl, I did spend afternoons with Ezra Jack Keats and author Ben Lucien Burman and his wife, illustrator Alice Caddy, who gave us Puffineers autographed copies of the Catfish Bend books.

Miss Webb rather fell into children’s book publishing, having read only few children’s books in her youth,

Her luck was to arrive at the dawn of a second “golden age” in children’s books in the 60s. Enduring classics were being written by authors such as Philippa Pearce and Rosemary Sutcliff. Improved colour printing brightened picture books and inspired illustrators such as Brian Wildsmith and Quentin Blake. American publishers (Grace Hogarth, Marni Hodgkin) infused the scene with transatlantic know-how. New magazines gave guidance for parents on the best new books for their children; soon there was the Bologna children’s book fair, and the broadsheet papers were devoting whole pages to reviews of children’s fiction.

What Webb brought to the changing scene was her enormous personality. She acquired new titles, brokering deals with the enterprise of an innocent. She cajoled hardback publishers – still sceptical and snooty about paperbacks – to yield up rights. She founded a Children’s Book Circle, wooed librarians and booksellers. She commissioned in her distinctive style: “Darling! I’ve got this wonderful idea, you have to do it, come straight round, it’s your big chance!”  …

Only months after taking the position at Puffin, Kaye Webb’s mother died and her husband, the celebrated cartoonist Ronald Searle, abruptly left her and their two teenaged children, for his lover in Paris, informing her by letter.  But, Ms. Grove, writes,

The Puffin job proved the making of her: she set about establishing the brand as the marque of excellence in children’s literature, and increased sales by 300% within a year. To the Narnia books and Noel Streatfeild she added Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians [Grove has also written biographies of Dodie SmithLaurie Lee, and my father's beloved John Mortimer]. Soon, authors needed no persuading: “I could have all the authors I wanted,” Webb said. Roald Dahl, who had taken years to get his children’s books published in Britain in 1967, actually asked to be in Puffin (at a 17.5% royalty, which he repaid in astronomical sales.)

And then things get truly exciting:

Webb had always encouraged her son, John, to be fearless. She once drove him to Chesil Bank in Dorset, the setting for J Meade Falkner’s Moonfleet, and suggested he dive in and test out the fierce undercurrent that had wrecked many ships. Children liked to have adventures away from their parents, as children do in books. Heedless of health-and-safety, she took readers to see real puffins, on the precipitous Yorkshire coastline. In fact, the first Puffin Club adventure, a trip to Lundy Island, could have been disastrous. The boat almost capsized in choppy seas. Webb had to tie the children down and pray that none were flung overboard. After that she collaborated with Chris Green, the schoolmaster founder of Colony Holidays, lifeline to many frazzled mothers confronted by long school holidays in the 60s and 70s. There were Puffin holidays, winter and summer, at castles such as Featherstone in Northumberland, or vacant boarding-schools, where the children (benignly supervised) could scamper in fields and woods, write and perform plays, bird-watch, build boats, produce newspapers, sing round campfires. Webb scorned parents who apologised in advance that their “shy” children would be reluctant joiners-in. There was no such thing, Webb said, as the shy child.

Nobody doubted that Webb enjoyed her jamborees as much as the children did. Conflating Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes, she would dress up as a wizard, a cat or a silver fairy queen at “Guyween” fireworks-and-bonfire parties. The chaotic Puffin office seemed to hold endless celebrations; it was always someone’s birthday, an excuse for balloons, jellies and “Puffins pleasure” cocktails, filling the Penguin HQ with shrieks of laughter. Every Puffineer got a personalised greeting, each birthday. They were effusively grateful. “Thanks awfully for my purple bag,” wrote one prize-winning child. “I think it’s super and a marvellous prize. Did someone make it specially? If they did, could you thank them terribly?” Puffineers became substitute grandchildren for Webb, before she had one of her own.

After which come the late seventies, and the end of that second golden age,

doubts began to be voiced at Penguin about whether Webb was sufficiently aware of deprived children whose homes were not book-lined. Was she doing enough to attract the reluctant boy reader, or appeal to ethnic minorities? Webb bridled in self-defence. She cared little for social engineering, only about upholding the high standards, and imaginative writing of the kind adults could enjoy reading aloud time and again. …

In 1978, aware of the threat to literacy from television, she organised a Time Capsule containing books, messages from authors and from readers, ceremoniously buried (by Patrick Moore) in the garden of Penguin headquarters at Harmondsworth, to be opened by the grandchildren of the “Puffin Guardians” in 100 years’ time. Only 10 years later, noting the rise of the computer and a less biddable, less bookish generation, Webb told me the capsule would probably have to be exhumed much earlier.

Her successor at Puffin, Tony Lacey, launched the popular Fighting Fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons books aimed firmly at boys, to Webb’s dismay: what had become of literary merit? Puffin Club membership dwindled, the magazine was no longer cost-effective, and was closed down in 1987. Her long retirement was afflicted with crippling arthritis – she had often had to conduct Puffin business from her hospital bed – and she died at 82 in 1996. She did not live to witness the Harry Potter phenomenon. She would certainly have been horrified to learn that in 2009 it was reported that many children go through their schooldays without ever reading “a whole book”.

Read the entire article, “Queen of the Puffineers”, here.  Long live the Queen.

*  *  *  *

* The reply to the secret Puffin password “Sniffup!” Together, they spell out, backwards, Puffins are tops.  Indeed.

Bait and switch

Just one reason why we farm organically: “Farmers Cope With Roundup-Resistant Weeds”, from last week’s New York Times.

Daniel, who turned 11 the other week, is delighted this year to be old enough to drive the big John Deere tractor to cultivate the fields.

We’re off later this morning to pick up our shelterbelt tree order to plant around our fields.  This year, though, it’s only 200+ rather than 2,000+, to replace some of the trees the deer have eaten and trampled.  And luckily for me, the shelterbelt tree pickup warehouse is near a wonderful greenhouse…

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