No, I have no idea what happened to April. A very short, very fast month.
Outside my window…
Spring was springier in March, which came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. April very lionish as well, at least weatherwise — cool, blustery, and dry. May so far is cool, blustery, and wettish.
We’re finished calving and that went fairly smoothly. The kids are busy working with their steers and other cattle (they each have a steer and Laura also has a heifer and a cow-calf pair) for 4H beef club achievement days at the end of the month. Yesterday was the annual 4H highway cleanup, where kids clean up months’ of litter tossed out of vehicles by irresponsible adults.
From the schoolroom…
I think I mentioned in my last post that we read To Kill a Mockingbird which the boys in particular seemed to enjoy. We followed that up with the movie, and then, because everyone quite liked Gregory Peck, we had a special screening of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” with a discussion of anti-Semitism in North America. Next up in American movie studies, and continuing with courtroom drama, we have “12 Angry Men” with Henry Fonda.
For political science/current events, between the American presidential campaign and our recent roller coaster provincial election (the Progressive Conservatives were a lock to win, the Wild Rose Party all of a sudden came out of nowhere and was poised to win a majority, the PCs ended up winning a majority, oy), the kids are all now old enough (Daniel just turned 13) to make it through George Orwell’s celebrated 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which they are now reading, writing, and discussing their ways through. I also managed to find a copy of Frank Luntz’s Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear in the library system, which is good, because I had no desire to further enrich Mr. Luntz by having to purchase the book. I disagree mightily with his methods, all the more reason it’s important to understand them, and how to parse the rhetoric, especially for young future voters.
For something a bit lighter, our new readaloud is a rereading of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which Davy scarcely remembers.
I let Laura pick the Shakespeare play for spring, and she chose Romeo and Juliet. Although Davy had his reservations, he and his brother were transfixed by a story that had more violence and adolescent hotheadedness than romance. In addition to readings, we also watched the Zeffirelli version, followed by the Leonardo di Caprio version which all three kids found very unsettling for various reasons (Florida, the music, the abridging, and “That’s Temple Grandin?”). We’re going to add in a showing of “West Side Story”, even though it’s in fairly regular rotation in this house, and also tossed in another viewing of “Much Ado” this time for comparison purpose the benefits of age, maturity, and waiting a bit). We found “Shakespeare in Love” at the library the other week, which is centered around Romeo and Juliet, and Laura now wants to see “Twelfth Night”, which is mentioned at the end; we’ll see what versions the library has. And I discovered that our library system has a DVD copy of “Romeo and Juliet” with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer; I think the boys are Romeo’d out, but Laura would probably enjoy this version if only to see what it looks like with MGM’s long-in-the-tooth teens.
We are beavering away at math, with decimals, percents, pre-algebra, and algebra. This year isn’t as easy for Laura as last year, but I’ve seen the lightbulb go on about having to work on a subject despite the difficulties and drudgery with her realization that she likely will pursue some sort of career in wildlife biology.
Which reminds me, have just ordered a copy of the newly (as in last week) published Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a biology lab kit available for those living in the US, and is also working on his forthcoming title, Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (which will also have an accompanying kit available). According to Mr. Thompson, the Illustrated Guide is “intended to be used in conjunction with a standard first-year biology textbook. The book coordinates well with Miller-Levine Biology and the free CK-12 Biology, which are the two texts we recommend, but it’s easy enough to coordinate with any of the common homeschool biology textbooks”.
For whatever it’s worth, we have and use Stephen Nowicki’s biology text (bought cheaply secondhand at Abebooks), in great part because we have his biology course on dvd, and also Trefil’s and Hazen’s The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (also cheap secondhand at Abebooks). Throw in a couple of out-of-print Charles Harper books for the boys (The Giant Golden Book of Biology and The Animal Kingdom, and it’s a bit of a mishmash, but it works for us.
Here’s a link to a free PDF of a draft version of the Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments.
In the next few weeks…
In extracurriculars, besides getting ready for beef club achievement days, the kids are in the home stretch for this year’s play, “Alice in Wonderland”, with opening night a week from Thursday. Laura got off her application for the birding internship in Ontario, and we get word on the 15th whether she makes it or not; only six kids nationally are chosen, so our fingers are crossed. She’ll take her learner’s permit test tomorrow, so more fingers crossed for that.
This year’s batch of shelterbelt trees, somewhere between 900 and 1,000, are arriving at the county depot on Friday, so we’ll be planting them on the weekend. As usual, Mother’s Day tends to be more like Arbor Day around here…
The kids all did very well at the local music festival in March, and had some good fun. The boys each recited two poems, and Daniel surprised himself and us by winning one poetry category (lyrical) instead of his sister. He also won best speech arts for 12 and under. Laura sang two art songs, performed “Worst Pies” from “Sweeney Todd” for musical theater (she did a wonderful, very funny job, especially with the double portion of pizza dough I made for her to sling around), and had half a dozen speech arts entries. She won a number of awards, including best overall speech arts, and she and Daniel were recommended to the provincial music festival for speech arts, and Laura for musical theater. Unfortunately, provincials are the week after the play and a few days before achievement day, and Davy’s session is on Wednesday and Laura’s sessions on Thursday, so we are spending the night in the city, not the best time to be away from home. We will probably have to leave Daniel at home with Tom’s parents, so he can do all the farm chores and especially look after the 4H animals.
Laura’s been getting more and more wrapped up in her birding. Unlike her mother, she’s a dedicated blogger and keeps up with her birding posts. She joined a listserv for provincial birders last month, and was welcomed warmly by members who seem happy to see someone younger as well as outside the two main urban centers. Invited by one of the members, we attended the town of Tofield’s nature day and Snow Goose chase last weekend, organized by the big city nature club, and Laura was able to meet some listserv members in person. More on the day below.
Around the farm…
Late in April, I had a phone call from the big oil company putting in another pipeline across the road through our neighbor’s pasture. The rep asked if we would give permission for a two-man wildlife biology survey crew to come on our land and check for various species. We can’t do anything to stop the pipeline – and at any rate, we’re dependent on our vehicles and the pipeline oil that powers them, living too far from town to walk or even to bike, especially from November to April and especially with any purchases too large for a bicycle basket. But we can do our small part to make sure that various animal populations and habitat are taken into account and looked after before, during, and after construction.
So I said yes, and also asked if Laura could go out with the crew, because I thought it could be mutually beneficial. She knows the land and wildlife like the back of her hand and could help the crew get the information they need (for example, they were looking for sharp-tailed grouse here and there are none), and I thought it would be good for Laura to see first-hand the work wildlife biologists do in the field. Apparently, asking to go along was fairly odd question — we were the first ever landowners to ever ask — but the pipeline company checked with the survey company, and everyone said yes.
The two young men who turned up on Monday are dedicated professional biologists and personal birders; in fact, one spent a fair amount of time going back and forth with Laura about their year birds and spring migrants they’ve seen so far. If I’ve learned anything about most birders, it’s that they are dedicated list makers and keepers. The other biologist, when he first arrived around 5 am, while standing in our driveway, quizzed Laura by asking her what birds she could hear at the large slough (pond/wetland) across the road in our neighbors’ pasture. Since it’s filled with thousands of Snow Geese, it’s pretty hard to make out much besides their honking, but Laura listed a number of other birds, including one (Green-winged Teal) the biologist hadn’t been able to hear. So with that, off we went, and spent some time in the pasture recording early morning birdsong. We met later in the morning for several hours and Laura led the way to a good viewing spot by the slough where the crew set up their spotting scopes, much to Laura’s delight because she’s been wanting a scope for a year now.
And based on comments in her letter of reference for the internship, from the local college biology instructor who leads our naturalist society and has been Laura’s unofficial mentor, and from the survey crew (as well as their boss, the company’s senior wildlife biologist) about her levels of knowledge and interest — Tom and I don’t know any other young birders so we weren’t sure if her interest and abilities are average or above average — we’ve decided to let her go ahead with the purchase of a spotting scope. She’ll be using her own money, and has decided to get one of the top-level Swarovski scopes, though not with HD to save some money. She’s decided that she’d rather pay more for a top quality scope she should be able to use for a good long time, through her university studies and as she starts a career. The fellow we’re working with at the store said Laura’s selections should give her at least 20 years’ enjoyment.
This TED talk by Canadian professor Larry Smith, “Why you will fail to have a great career”, which I heard on last week’s CBC Sunday Edition radio show, is as good a reason as any for encouraging Laura to pursue her present hobby as a career. Last week, the Sunday Edition also ran David Martin’s essay, “My Government Valedictory”, which along with the recently announced federal job cuts are all good reasons to consider avoiding government jobs; some of the cuts will be at bird, and birders’, haven Point Pelee.
I am thinking...
By the way, I’ve been adding any birding material, all of the writing and some of the photography, to Laura’s high school portfolio, inlcuding the letter of recommendation and nice email note from the survey crew’s wildlife biologist, who turned up on the provincial listserv and wrote her offlist. Laura also wrote a blog post about our nature day visit last weekend to Tofield. She was asked if her post could be used as an article for the club’s newsletter, and she’ll receive a published copy, so a copy of that will go in the portfolio as well. I think it might be helpful in the next year or two to make a book of her blog with Blurb or some such, as a record of her birding and writing.
Aside from the birds to be seen outdoors, there were many wonderful exhibits in the town’s community center: several owls and hawks from from the city zoo; well-known Canadian naturalist John Acorn (who used to have a marvelous children’s show on CBC, “Acorn the Nature Nut”, now available on dvd); here are the two nature nuts together,
a live Burrowing Owl from a nearby bird observatory, which Laura got to hold,
a Bugs & Beetles wetland display; and a gorgeous taxidermy display of mounted owls from the Royal Alberta Museum. My favorite, though, were the yard-long garter snake, enormous Malaysian katydid, and scorpion, also from the Royal Alberta Museum; here is Katy,
displayed by the enthusiastic Pete Heule, the Museum’s Bug Room Co-ordinator (know as the Bug Guy on his features for CBC radio, which we enjoy very much).
In the kitchen…
Plans for tonight include Banana Batter Cake with Coconut Caramel Sauce, apparently an Asian variation of sticky toffee pudding, found in last November’s issue of British House & Garden magazine, originally from Australian chef and restaurateur Bill Granger’s book, Bill’s Everyday Asian (recipe here).
Some books we’re reading…
Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect by William J. Hirsch (me)
The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose (Laura), new and very good
All of Baba’s Children by Myrna Kostash (Tom), a personal and general history of Ukrainian Canadians
Finally, Friday night the whole family went to see “The Artist”, which was playing at the little movie theater in town, which is owned and run by a friend of ours. We don’t get a lot of first, or almost first, run movies in town, so this was a huge treat, especially since we’d seen lots of clips at the awards shows earlier this year and were quite eager for the movie to come out on dvd. Next month on the big screen — either “Bringing Up Baby” or “The Philadelphia Story”, two favorites which would be wonderful to see on the big screen.