• 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.

Science songs, updated

I just had a comment from Monty Harper on an old post about science songs. The original post was about his 2010 Kickstarter science music CD, “Songs from the Science Music Frontier”. Monty wrote yesterday that he’s recording a follow-up science CD for kids, “More Songs from the Science Frontier”, and is running another Kickstarter campaign to fund it, now through December 13th. As Monty writes, “A pledge of $5 or more will get you an immediate download of the first CD!” You can also find Monty on YouTube to hear his songs.

That 2010 post also mentioned the early sixties six-LP “Ballads for the Age of Science” series by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer (covering space, energy and motion, experiments, weather, and nature), which we loved when the kids were little. You can read about the songs here. The original online link we used is now unavailable, though you can find it through the Wayback Machine. Not sure if the music files are still available there, though.

I imagine the link was taken down because because the albums have all been re-released, likely due to the popularity online thanks to nostalgia buffs and home schoolers among other, on iTunes and, since last month, as a CD set (at Amazon here), thanks to Argosy Music (headed by Hy Zaret’s son Robert), Harbinger Records, and Naxos. According to Argosy’s website, “These albums and their songs are available for sale as meticulous digital restorations, done by Irwin Chusid, of the original 1961 recordings in all their monophonic glory. One happy listener of these new restorations asked ‘How did you get such amazing quality on the iTunes songs?’.” There’s a nice, long (two-page) article here at Broadway World, from which,

For the first time in over fifty years, Harbinger Records will release “Ballads for the Age of Science,” the most successful educational recordings of all time, as a six-CD box set.

Featuring more than four dozen original songs written by Hy Zaret, co-author of the iconic popular song “Unchained Melody,” and Lou Singer between 1959 and 1961, the albums introduced scientific concepts and terms using catchy, easy-to-learn lyrics and music to grade school students across America in the early 1960s.

The CD box will be available in stores nationwide on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. The albums are available from Harbinger Records and through downloads on iTunes. They are distributed by Naxos USA.

The article has more biographical information on the late great Hy Zaret and Lou Singer.

Shift in focus

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The one or two people who are still checking in here from time to time will know that with life getting busier and also a shift in priorities (kids getting older, with fuller schedules, among other things), there hasn’t been much blogging around here for several years.

But we have a new project and a new shift in focus for our family, which I’m planning to document on the blog; just as well, I suppose, since my youngest will be 13 before the end of the month and our home schooling is on the downward swing. We’re building a new house on the farm, which has been in the plans since we first married 19 years ago. We’d hoped to get started several years ago, the spring after my father died, but between being away from home and then my mother dying, and spending more time than any of us could have thought possible looking after estate and business matters, there wasn’t enough time or energy. We’re starting now and over the moon to finally be able to do this. Tom is a builder so we’re building it ourselves. The kids are helping, and the past month or so, since finishing harvest, we’ve been moving trees (fruit trees and shelterbelt trees) out of the way, stripping top soil from the site (which until now has been an alfalfa field) and hauling it away. Yesterday Davy hauled 40 loads of soil excavated by the backhoe. So this will definitely be a home school project — very hands on! Speaking of which, one book we’ve been using over the years and highly recommend is Math to Build On: A Book for Those Who Build by Johnny and Margaret Hamilton.

The other week Tom laid out 2×4’s on the ground so we could get an idea of what the floorplan would look like. Two days ago the backhoe arrived, and yesterday the excavating finished and forms preparation, for the concrete. We’ll be working on the house while Tom looks after project for clients, so it’ll be about a year for construction, but we want to get the concrete done before winter settles in.

My lovely new hole in the ground,

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The backhoe and operator were hired, the dump truck is ours is being driven by Davy,

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And our new driveway (in this picture, leading toward the house),

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Tom in the Case, and Daniel (age 14) in the yellow loader at right,

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Driveway between the vehicles,

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The digging turned up another digger, this Northern Pocket Gopher. The kids took him to safety, but he turned up again yesterday afternoon while they were working on the forms. Apparently he likes company. Northern Pocket Gophers, unlike Richardson’s Ground Squirrels (which around here are colloquially called gophers), don’t hibernate over the winter.

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There are no words for how excited I am finally to start. The new house will be only the second I’ve ever lived in (third if you include my parents’ house in the West Indies where we stayed for eight months 10 years ago), and will likely be the only house I’ll be involved in building. I’ve dreamed of houses for about 40 years, and when I left for college, I took my binder of shelter magazines with me. I still have some of those pages, and can’t wait to see them come to life.

*  *  *  *

Book recommendations for those thinking about building a house:

Designing Your Dream Home: Every Question to Ask, Every Detail to Consider, and Everything to Know Before You Build or Remodel by Susan Lang

Home Plan Doctor: The Essential Companion for Anyone Buying a Home Design Plan by Larry W. Garnett

Get Your House Right: Architectural Elements to Use & Avoid by Marianne Cusato and Ben Pentreath, with Richard Simmons and Leon Crier

Creating a New Old House: Yesterday’s Character for Today’s Home by Russell Versaci 

Summer’s last gasp

Summer gasped its last sometime last month, but I’m only now getting around to posting these pictures.

I have boxes and boxes of tomatoes still, here are a few, and the last of the eggplants. This was the first year I grew eggplants, and they did surprisingly well.

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Yes, that is a propane tank at far right. No, that’s not where it belongs.

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A small garter snake took up residence this summer under our deck, and liked to sun itself on the concrete pad in front of the house,

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A blog reader recommendation: my blog reading is down considerably but I still prefer a blog reader for speed and efficiency. When Google Reader died, I went back briefly to Bloglines (of course, I ended up at Google Reader when Bloglines was first killed off). But I just couldn’t get comfortable reading there. I tried all the new options and didn’t like any of them, and finally (can’t remember how, maybe here?) found InoReader, which I like very much, and which is easy, fast, free, and good looking.

September

It’s been so long since I last blogged that I nearly forgot my user name and password for Word Press. Oops.

It was a fast, and extreme, summer. One minute it was June, now it’s already September. We had heavy rains, heavy wind, and hail. Severe thunderstorms almost daily. Our garden and crops, including hay, were hailed out; fortunately, the hay crop on land we rent from Tom’s father about 10 miles north of here wasn’t as badly affected, so we were able to get a second cut.

It’s been so wet and damp that in early August I ended up buying something I never thought I’d have to, a dehumidifier. This, after all, is the prairies, where the air is so dry that one of my wedding gifts from my inlaws 18 years ago was a humidifier. The idea seems ridiculous now.

The hail took off all of the paint on the west side of the house, so some of Tom’s crew and the kids repainted the house, so all looks nice now. I’d been thinking of repainting the front door for some time, and having the entire house repainted was just the kick in the pants I needed. I was tired of the dark green door after all this time (white house, dark green trim and door, and dark green deck), but needed a color that would play nicely. I liked yellow, but it’s too light for a farmhouse door. Red seemed too Christmassy year-round and would clash with the (non-red) flowers in the spring and summer. I finally settled on a dark purple, Benjamin Moore’s Peerage, which makes me very happy, though Tom and the kids — especially Laura, who’s never been a fan of purple — have reserved judgment. I’m just glad I didn’t have to go through five, or 50, shades of eggplant or plum to find the one I like. We’re still waiting to reshingle our roof while Tom looks after all of his clients; besides, if we’d been in a hurry to reshingle after last year’s hail storm, it would have been a huge waste of time.

In early August, Laura attended her 10-day Young Ornithologists’ Workshop at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario and had a wonderful time. If you have a young Canadian birder, we highly recommend this program, which is free (except for travel costs) to the selected participants. The kids learned to band birds, including hummingbirds, and make study skins. Here are a few pictures of and by Laura from her stay,

Did you know that placing a hummingbird on its back immobilizes it?

Laura banding a bird in the lab,

Making a study skin of a red-winged blackbird that died hitting a window,

The lighthouse at Long Point,

Laura also went off with the provincial turkey vulture specialist to check on nests and young vultures in July, and then several weeks later returned to help band them,

The kids each had a week at 4H camp and loved it, as usual, Davy on his own to junior camp and Laura and Daniel to intermediate camp. And Laura and Davy won at the club level for the beef project books. This coming year, Davy and Daniel will be intermediates and Laura is a first year senior.

Laura turned 15, the boys were responsible for cutting and baling most of the hay again. The boys also looked after a neighbor’s grass, and Daniel had a job limbing a neighbor’s spruce trees with the chainsaw. While the boys were haying, a oil company set up a lease for some exploratory drilling. Tom’s parents’ stopped in to survey the work, and the older supervisor told that on one of his first days, he saw a tractor apparently driving around on its own. He went back to his work trailer for his binoculars, and realized it was just a very young, smaller than usual driver (Davy), and he told my inlaws how impressed he was with the boys’ care and stick-to-itiveness, especially when dealing with breakdowns and especially in comparison to his own crew.

We’re all looking forward to getting a new sofa, from the Crate+Barrel sale; with any luck we can place our order next week on a trip to the city. Our current sofa is 22 years old, from Macy’s in NYC, and in dire need of reupholstery and slipcovers — the arms have no padding whatsoever, and the cushions have tears, rips, and the edging/cording that has popped its confines. But I’ve been able to find only one place nearby (sort of) that does reupholstery. The downside is that they don’t do slipcovers, and, the deal breaker for me, it’s a smoking establishment so the workshop reeks of cigarettes. I’m not about to take a down-filled sofa there. So it looks like it’s a new sofa for us, hurray. We’ll move the old sofa to the basement and keep our fingers crossed that a new non-smoking reupholsterer moves to town!

My mother-in-law decided to cut back on her canning, so I made 30 quarts of dill pickles, in addition to the usual mustard pickle and Evans (sour) cherry jelly. I have a case of peaches in the kitchen at the moment, and when they ripen, I’ll can those. I ordered a case of green BC pears, also for canning, and they’ll come later this month. We like crunchy pickles, so I don’t use a hot water bath. But I worry about poisoning my family so like to keep the jars in the fridge and yet who has room for an extra 30 quarts of pickles in the average fridge? So I bought another refrigerator from Sears (some people have wine fridges, we have a pickle fridge…), the cheapest model, then realized I could swap our 18-year-old fridge for the new one. Of course, only after we made the switch did we realize that the old refrigerator was much better arranged, and I should have paid a bit more for more than the bare bones model. Oh well. But now we have room for all of our pickles and no worries about botulism and salmonella.

Some flower pictures from July and August, most from the greenhouse. These are my little water gardens, which I’ll overwinter in Rubbermaid tubs in the basement (it will be the third year of doing this),

I was excited to find a small container of pitcher plants at the nursery in May,

Laura’s canteloupe’s at the end of July; they’ve grown so much since that one has a t-shirt “sling” to keep the stem from breaking,

Datura, very toxic but very interesting to watch as it grows; that’s a little metal hedgehog garden ornament hanging onto the side of the pot,

Datura seed pod, which prompted the kids to rename the plant Audrey; we’re going to save the toxic seeds to start more toxic plants next spring,

The pink mandevilla, which likes to climb. I tried to overwinter both of last summer’s mandevillas but failed; however, the lobelia in last summer’s pots must have reseeded itself, because blue blossoms starting blooming in March and haven’t quit,

The red mandevilla, which has no climbing desire at all,

Because of our short summers, in June the nurseries around here start discounting plants like mad; I found this night-blooming jasmine for a song at Home Hardware on one of Tom’s quick tool runs. It’s now about a foot-and-a-half across, and I’m hoping it doesn’t do too poorly in the house until next spring,

Lophospermum, one of my favorite plants. I overwintered one, and found another this spring for $5,

One plant I don’t have a picture of is a passionfruit vine I found at one of the nurseries in town, another June “rescue”. It has been going great guns and has taken over one corner of the greenhouse, all the way up to the roof and back.

The Virginia creeper is turning red and has lovely dark bluish purple berries, the geese are flying loudly and thickly overhead…

Looking more like a lamb

I see I missed blogging last month, but our immune systems deserted us from the beginning of February for five weeks, and I’m still coughing and hacking away and variously tending ailing kids and husband when they aren’t tending me. The worst part was being seriously under the weather, with yet another bad case of the flu, when JoVE and her daughter were here from Ontario for a visit. I felt like a cross between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Typhoid Mary, prone on the sofa, unmoving except to spew germs. JoVE said she doesn’t blame me at all for infecting her, but I don’t really believe her! We did have a lovely visit and she brought beautiful blue and white presents to remember them by. I’ll have to photograph them and put the pics up here.

Fortunately, though Tom has been sick too, we’ve managed to take turns so that whenever we needed to get the kids anywhere, there’s an able, driving adult. The kids were tough, learning to deal with 4H public speaking, curling, and other things through sickness. Some recent things we’ve been up to:

:: the boys surprised themselves by winning first place at 4H district public speaking for their presentation, “How to Make Yorkshire Pudding”. By rights they were supposed to go on to the 4H regional competition two hours away (yesterday), but it was the same day as 4H district curling, which they decided would be more fun. And it was. Curling is winding down and will be finished in the next few weeks. In fact, the high school curling provincials were held in our town the other week, and the kids were each asked to carry a flag for one of the teams when they were piped onto the ice at the start.

:: Laura’s 4H cow had her calf, a little heifer named Phoebe, on Friday. We’re in calving mode now, going out at night twice to check on the heifers and cows. The sleep deprivation gets harder each year as we get older. But we may not have this problem next year — cattle prices are at a record high and we are worried about drought conditions (see below), so Tom’s thinking about selling some of the herd. Something to talk about in the middle of the night when we’re wide awake after checking  on the cattle.

:: We’re all gearing up for the Music Festival. The kids are busy practicing their pieces. The boys have two poems each and Davy is playing O Canada on the guitar, while Laura has nine entries: one of her 4H speeches, a sacred reading from Confucius on art and music, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, “Dulce et Decorum Est”, a prose passage from one of the Flavia mysteries, and Roald Dahl’s revolting rhyme about Little Red Riding Hood; as well as three songs — an English art song, an Italian art song, and a musical theater piece. Aside from working with the kids, am also sorting out all the publicity/promotions for the festival. Is it wrong to focus on the fact that in one month it will all be over?

:: Our current readloud is To Kill a Mockingbird, which all the kids are enjoying. I couldn’t find the PBS American Experience documentary “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy” in our Canadian library system, but I did find it on YouTube, which has been helpful. Also helpful is the PBS teacher’s guide for “Scottsboro”, and the following online lesson plans: Library of Congress lesson plan, To Kill a Mockingbird: A Historical Perspective”; Edsitement’s “Profiles in Courage”.

:: Our weather and seasons usually don’t respect the calendar, but it has been such a oddly mild winter that it does seem for the first time in most people’s memory, we will actual Springlike weather to coincide with the equinox. We had about an inch of snow the other week (where as much snow fell in one day as we’d had until then this winter), but it didn’t last long. On Thursday, the temperature was +8 Celsius (46 F) , and +6 C yesterday. The forecast for the end of the week is 10-11 C (about 50 F). And on Friday the kids spotted the first arriving Canada goose. I think everyone had been expecting that winter would eventually arrive, but we may get Spring first before Winter ever comes. Though we usually do have a Spring snowfall in March and/or April, with a heavy branch-breaking snow…

:: We are still mulling over our flooring choices for the new addition and rest of the kitchen and entry. Until yesterday we were considering vinyl groutable tile from Home Depot or Lowe’s, but while at Home Depot yesterday to pick up stair nosing for one of Tom’s upcoming commercial project, we came across Allure’s vinyl plank option, and it is now in first place. It would be much faster, without the grouting and with the fact that it’s a floating system, and fairly comparable in price to the vinyl groutable tile, which is quite inexpensive. The planks are flexible, which would be helpful for our 60-year-old house with uneven floors. And I’d definitely prefer a wood look to a tile look for that part of the house. We decided on the Hickory colorway, which is in stock; I prefer the Barnwood colorway, but it’s special order and with Home Depot an hour away, too difficult to co-ordinate. If we like it, I can see trying to convince Tom to use it to replace the 18-year-old carpeting in the living room, hallway, and three upstairs bedrooms. Well, at least the living room to start.

:: The kids are on a judging team with their 4H beef club for the Western Canadian Judging Competition later this week, with a number of intercollegiate and other 4H groups. They’ll be judging livestock and crop classes (beef , dairy, sheep, horses, seeds, forage, crop ID), and a mystery class.

:: We are getting close to done with 4H baking club, which has its achievement day in about a month. We have one last project meeting this week, and have to plan achievement day. We’re thinking of something along the lines of an “Iron Chef” potluck, where the kids do the cooking at home, focusing on a particular type of meal (main course, dessert, salad) with a particular/secret ingredient, and bringing the results in for dinner with family and friends.

January daybook

A very happy belated new year to all.

I have to admit I’m glad to see the back of 2011. I had high hopes for it being better than 2010 — I didn’t have any more parents to lose, after all — but in the end it seemed I spent most of the year hostage to lawyers, accountants, bankers, and two executorships. And worrying as Monopoly-like amounts of money went flying about to pay bills and taxes. Soul sucking and exhausting.

For such a long time until last year, our days, weeks, months always seemed to expand as necessary, magically, to fit our various activities or adventures. Whenever it seemed we were, or I was, at a limit, that limit would move out just a bit, like a favorite pair of sweatpants. But in 2011, I learned that life is not an endlessly expanding pair of pants. There are indeed limits to limits, and the elastic snaps like a rubber band, which smarts and also sends a whole bunch of things flying in the process. This year, I need to get out of the hostage situation, by any means necessary.

Outside my window…

it looks more like spring or autumn than winter. There’s no appreciable snow, thanks to an unseasonably warm December and January, with temperatures just around freezing. Today was 5 C above zero, and last Wednesday the temperature climbed up to 11 C (52 F) which was, unsurprisingly, record-breaking. The kids spent some of the holiday days skating on the frozen slough (pond) across the road, but in general the boys are quite unhappy with the lack of snow, going to bed every night with hopes of waking up to a blizzard for proper winter fun. It has been great weather, however, for adults, especially adults who need to drive.  And with the solstice, a wee bit more of daylight every day, which is most welcome. But this is Canada, so I’m assuming winter will be here soon enough, and I’d rather have my snow in January and February than May and June.

I’m thinking…

of my father, who died two years ago this week. It doesn’t seem like two years, but then a year ago we were preparing our cross-continent odyssey. I thought of my father often last month as we baked cookies, because the workhorse of the kitchen is the Kitchenaid mixmaster he gave us for Christmas five years ago. Especially handy for double recipes of my grandmother’s Viennese vanillekipferl, ground almond crescents, without which it isn’t Christmas around here.

And of Tom’s uncle, who is dying of kidney failure. Our holiday preparations and festivities alternated with hospital visits. Tom’s uncle, wanting to end the pain and misery, had originally refused to continue with dialysis. But the doctor persuaded him to continue through Christmas, for the sake of his family. We sit and wait, but we also tell stories, remember, and laugh.

I’m thankful…

for our relatively peaceful Christmas at home. It was lovely, and much needed. We went off to the woods for a tree, which the kids put up by themselves and then decorated. They had great fun planning Christmas gifts for us and each other, and put much thought into their choices. Laura made a lovely quilled (paper filigree) picture of two chickadees, Daniel ordered a lovely pair of blue and white earrings from Etsy for me, and Davy picked out the perfect pair of beeswax tapers for our silver candlestick holders. Much thought, and much love, in evidence.

Laura sang beautifully two of the songs she’d been practicing all autumn, “Gesù bambino” (in English) and “Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind” (some verses from “As You Like It” set to music), at her December recital, and also at a women’s holiday breakfast, the annual Christmas dinner at the nursing home for residents and their families, and the town’s Christmas dinner for the public. While Laura sang at the town dinner, the boys helped deliver meals for shut-ins.

Laura also had a table at one of the December farmer’s markets in town, to sell her quilling (greeting cards, ornaments, gift boxes, and some framed quilling pictures) and also birchbark candle holders. I had seen some on Etsy and told the boys I’d love something similar as an early Christmas present. We had a birch tree that blew over in a storm, and the kids became so proficient and had so much fun turning out the log candleholders for me that they figured they could make some to sell. The candleholders proved so popular I wasn’t left with many for myself; here are a couple I managed to pinch, with cedar from the garden,

In the kitchen…

things have slowed down considerably. We made braided loaves of Christmas fruit bread, mince tarts, kipferls, rum balls, thumbprint cookies. Laura made several batches of gingersnaps, for her voice teacher and the library staff. Davy made brownies with crushed candy canes for the guitar teacher. Although we had turkey on Christmas Eve at my inlaws’ house, Christmas Day dinner was roast beef and Yorkshire pudding here. For New Year’s Eve, we had our usual hors d’oeuvres buffet, with devilled eggs, hot crab dip, smoked salmon, crudites, and more.

Chili and rice tonight. I’ve been smitten for the past few months with my new Le Creuset 5.2 liter red enameled cast iron Dutch oven, though Le Creuset of course would prefer it to be known as a French oven. I had no say in the size or color, since I got the lovely heavy beast for Air Miles in the last chance/clearance section. Just when I had become despondent about finding anything I liked and could actually use, after sorting through the entire Air Miles rewards website, I found the magic pot and grabbed it immediately. It arrived almost as quickly, and we have been making good use of it every since — chili, baked beans, soups, stews. I can finally see what all the fuss is about for such an expensive pot. Not only does the pot make everything taste better, but it is ridiculously easy to clean. With its layers and layers of enamel, there is, apparently, no such thing as “baked-on grime”. Truly magic.

I’m wearing…

a brown Fair Isle cardigan and sweatpants (elastic intact, thank you very much)

I’m creating…

a bit of order. We spent several days over the holidays at Home Depot for in-stock, ready-to-assemble cabinets for the dining area, and then assembling them. It took us three trips, including one to the big city after exhausting the supply of the HD in the little city. We had bought the Ikea butcherblock countertops over the summer.

Now I’m deciding where to put what. I’ve already put away all the board and card games, which used to live on the floor under the roll-top desk in the living room, and the kids’ home school books and things, which I used to keep in plastic dish tubs on the kitchen floor under the china cabinet.

Speaking of creating, last month I made an advent calendar for the kids, which is about as crafty as I get. We would usually get the German paper kind, with a glittered woodland scene (no candy), the same sort I’d had as a child. From time to time I could find them in the drugstore at Christmastime, but it’s been getting harder. And I decided it would be nice to have something we could reuse, and also something particularly fun for the kids, considering our holidays of late. On a number of blogs I’d seen the kind made with muslin bags, so I decided with the help of Etsy, a hot glue gun, and rubber number stamps, to try something different,

A few bags had candy, but most had things like Christmas kleenex packages (from the dollar store) and mini Christmas crackers and nutcracker ornaments (from Loblaws). Great fun.

We also hung snowflakes from the windows in the dining room. I found some lovely laser-cut wooden ones I found on Etsy (here and here) and at Chapters, which Daniel spray painted white for me,

I’m going…

slightly less crazy, I hope.

I’m reading…

Death Comes to PemberleyP.D. James’s Jane Austen confection, just perfect for the holidays; I was so keen to get a paperback edition rather than hardcover that I didn’t look carefully at the cover on the Chapters website and ended up with the large print version, which made me laugh when I opened the parcel and realized what I’d ordered. But it’s perfect, very easy on my old eyes, and delightful to read without drugstore reading glasses. The large print aspect is considerably more exciting than the actual mystery, which isn’t one of James’s best. She’s worked well around the constraints of the very basic early 19th century policework, but Darcy and Elizabeth are, sadly, both stiff and anemic.

For Christmas, I gave Laura the latest Flavia de Luce novel, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, and as soon as she’s done with it, I’m going to borrow it to read. In the meantime, I’ve started it on audio CD from the library, and was delighted to find that reader Jayne Entwistle appears to be channelling plummy-voiced Joan Greenwood when voicing the character of British film actress Phyllis Wyvern, who has come to Flavia’s run-down house, Buckshaw, to shoot a movie.

A few blogs, including Alicia Paulson’s Posie Get Cozy and Lisa’s Amid Privilege. I’ve long been a reader of Posie, and this year had been following along as Alicia and her husband came very close to the adoption of a baby they had long hoped for, only to have things fall apart at the very last minute, after the baby’s birth. It has been more than a year of waiting followed by heartbreak and dashed hopes. In her year-end blog post, Alicia wrote,

Almost twenty years ago I had a panic attack on an airplane in mid-air. Tears streamed down my face. I closed my eyes and was back in my grandma’s spare bedroom, in the warm dark with the night-light left on in the hallway, my grandparents sleeping in their twin beds on the other side of the wall. Safe.

I’ve conjured that place several times this past year, trying to find purchase in my life and in what has, at certain times, felt like being in free-fall. I think that’s how most of life is, in a lot of ways. You step forward, and step forward, and then you touch back — everything still here? Still here. Okay. Forward again (then). Life pulls you forward, even when you feel tired. I never was an adventurous person, in my own opinion; I always had big plans but only for little, mostly prosaic things. I always was and still am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Winter suits me. When I look back on 2011, I am, I have to admit, still sort of bewildered and shaken, not sure what happened or even what to do next. I’m trying to be at peace with that gauzy, half-blurred feeling, and on certain days think it is easy to just — let it go away from me, a long piece of crinkled muslin tossed up and carried off into the wind. On other days I seem to wear it, spiraled and close, like a scarf. Maybe I’ll just lose it somewhere, and not even notice. Leave it on a bench or a bus. I won’t mind.

I kept nodding as I read this. The last year has been one long panic attack, it seems, with safety on the other side of the door but for some reason so many hurdles, probably banker’s boxes full of files in my case, in the way of that door. I too, am happiest in slow, mostly quiet places, with long, mostly quiet days. Of course, my version of quiet days includes a number of extracurricular activities for the kids (two 4H clubs, what on earth was I thinking?) and various volunteer projects for Tom and me. But it works for us. Or at least it did, until all sorts of other things got tossed into the mix. I’d love to leave the lawyers, the business, the house, on a bus. One going fast, and far far away from here.

At Amid Privilege, Lisa wrote the other day,

Only a reminder that in the New Year, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love. To revel, again, in all the ways learned to fold laundry, change sheets, and make Nina Simmond’s Chicken Hot And Sour Soup. At 55, years of good work give us the right to ease up, but we can also serve without obligation. Teasing out those specifics is the greatest privilege of our later years.

Yes, we can resolve to enjoy, again, taking care of those we love and I shall. To borrow from Emily Dickinson, hope isn’t just the thing with feathers. Hope is also the thing with fabric swatches, with a full soup pot, with another chapter in the math book, with new green shoots.

That’s my amaryllis Limonia (cream with yellow throat) coming up, in an old chamber pot. And the new Ikea butcherblock countertop in the dining room, with the original Ikea finish. I’d hoped to sand it off and try some Waterlox, but Tom was too fast for me. We’ll see how it holds up. I may yet try Ikea’s own Behandla.

I’m looking forward to…

finishing up the dining room. We still need flooring, as you can see in the pictures below. And cushions (probably no-sew) for the window seat, though I did order some blue fabric, Waverly’s Barano Indigo, which is on the way,

Tom wasn’t too crazy about the idea of window seats but the kids and I insisted; it’s a wonderful place to sit and read, drink a mug of something hot, eat a bowl of soup, and look out the window and watch the birds in the spruce tree at the feeders. I can’t remember which one of us came up with the idea of using the Home Depot in-stock over-the-fridge cabinets, they are just the right height.

Ignore the little ghostly squares from the picture frames in each photo, and apologies for my poor picture taking. The plants (you can see the banana in the top photo, far right, and the Boston fern on the window seat) are some of my greenhouse refugees. The rest are in my bedroom, the office, and the basement. The ones in the second photo are sequestered on old cookie sheets so the butcherblock stays dry and undamaged.

You can see just where the remaining drawers need to go. As spring approaches and the sun gets stronger, we’ll need bamboo blinds on the east and west windows, because, as we learned last year, the sun is blinding at mealtimes.

Oh, and Tom is still working on our new farmhouse table, which is still in the shop. The new table will take up much more floor space, especially width-wise between the cabinets, but am sure we’ll be able to manage.

The hardboard placemats, below, we found in Hereford on our honeymoon 17 years ago, and had lived in a closet until Tom put them up the other week. The blue and white transferware prints by Australian artist Kerri Shipp I found at her Etsy shop early last year, just after our return from NYC to clear out the apartment; I was in need of cocooning and retail therapy, and I thought the prints would be a fun nod to our Spode and Burleigh plates. Laura was very impressed with my taste when the prints arrived just before some others by Kerri appeared in a Spring issue of Martha Stewart magazine. It’s wonderful to have some of our favorite things up where we can enjoy them every day.

Around the house…

One of my favorite things…

A Christmas present, for the dining room of course, a new-to-us old clock, via Etsy. Made in England, c1940-1950, I think,

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Back to school, as well as music festival work, a 4H meeting, lots of curling, getting started on 4H speeches and presentations, a visit to the orthodentist, some hospital visiting.

I suppose if I were blogging more regularly, this wouldn’t be such a giant post, would it?

Daybook

Outside my window…

the garden is dead. We had the first killing frost last night, -6 Celsius (it was -10 at my inlaws’ house). The sweet peas, cosmos, clematis, lavatera, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and even the zinnias under sheets (had we known it would be lower than -1, we would have used two layers) are all gone. I moved much from the greenhouse into the house, and it looks sad in the greenhouse now. But the kitchen looks like a florist’s shop, and the banana plant is wondering why it’s in the living room.

I am thinking…

how quickly the cold weather came on, after 30+ temps last week, though it has been autumn here for the past month.

I am thankful…

that Tom got the propane heater late last night for the greenhouse, when we realized the thermometer wasn’t finished moving at -2.

for a warm oven, containing peach cobbler.

From the learning rooms…

we are doing a quick run-through the 20th century before beginning another cycle of ancient history. We are focusing on the perils of populism, in the 20th century, and now.

We watched “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the version with John Boy. We are bouncing around a bit, based on what’s available and when from the library. Next up is the 1998 Disney movie “Miracle at Midnight”, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WWII, starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.

In the kitchen…

more dill pickles, and canning peaches.

I am wearing…

an apron, and longer pants, because it’s cold in the house. I finally succumbed and turned on the furnace this morning.

I am creating…

good food and small skeptics.

I am going…

to town quickly to pick up a parcel with Laura’s newest voice book for lessons, and batteries for her camera.

I am wondering…

how to fit all my greenhouse plants in the house.

I am reading…

Elle DecorTraditional Home, and Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, which though terribly sad goes well with our history readings (writing in The Guardian, Sarah Waters called it “A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War”).

Also, new from the library, 101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan, and How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.

I am hoping…

I have enough Ziploc bags on hand for the sliced peaches.

I am looking forward to…

cabinets in the dining room. We may have found some at Home Depot, the sort you can pick up in boxes and walk out of the store with. As long as everything is in stock, which is the rub.

And at Ikea on the weekend, we managed to get the long out-of-stock Numerar butcherblock countertops for the dining room. They’re oak, which I wouldn’t want for a kitchen, but for the dining room they’re fine.  The plan is for base cabinets on the east and west walls, topped with the butcherblock countertops, and then open shelving on the walls.

I am hearing…

the hum of the furnace. Very odd after so long without it. The kids were delighted, and ran to the registers with quilts.

Around the house…

there are plants, fruit, and vegetables in every spare nook and cranny.

I am pondering…

Professor Helen Zoe Veit’s editorial in favor of a return to Home Economics in the classroom, originally published in The New York Times. From which:

One of my favorite things…

peach cobbler

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Laura has her second babysitting engagement, which she finds thrilling.  Putting together the Ikea sideboard, which will be our under-the-chalkboard table, since it is not too deep. I may have the kids sand the sideboard, so I can stain it, because it’s a light pine which doesn’t go with much in the kitchen. And possibly painting the chalkboard, which is an old school board and green. Am thinking black might be a nice change.

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