• 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.

New camera

I haven’t had a camera for a few years — Laura started borrowing mine and then just absorbed it. When I wanted a picture of something, I’ve had to borrow a camera from the kids, or ask them to take a picture for me. I noticed that Best Buy had a little Canon Powershot A1400 on sale for $70, and it has good reviews at Amazon. The viewfinder was a nice surprise, because I sometimes have difficulty seeing the LCD display outdoors in bright sun.

I went out the other evening, just before sunset, to take some pictures to give it a whirl.

One of the many welcome puddles at the corrals,

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In addition to the portable windbreaks, we also got some portable fence panels which are very handy,

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The base of the portable panel,

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Summer snapshots

A bit late, but a few photos from my summer. No hail this year for the first time in three years, thank goodness, but very dry and lots of hungry voles.

The garden and a number of my containers were full of sunflowers, none of which I planted — all came thanks to Laura’s birds and the birdfeeders full of sunflower seeds,

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The boys’ new projects. The goal is lamb chops,

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Lilac season

Laura took these for me the other day. The lilacs are finally in bloom.

I checked some old posts and was surprised to realize most of these we planted seven years ago, in May 2006; I wrote then that “Most of the little saplings don’t look like much, especially the lilac, larch, and chokecherries, which resemble nothing more than twigs stuck in the ground.” Some of the lilacs, and all of the larch, tower over us now, but the lilacs are covered with blossoms, so I can get to them easily with my snips.

You could give me any plant in the world, but the two to which I have the most visceral reaction, the two which say spring to me, are tulips and lilacs. Though clematis is now up there too, one of the first plants to bloom in the garden, especially with the success of Clematis “Blue Bird” (a Canadian hybrid), which I rescued from a Canadian Tire last year mid-summer and which is doing very well, and quite pretty.

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Winter into Spring

We’re enjoying and making the most of the longer days, especially since we’ve started calving. Tom built a new portable calving barn, which has already earned its keep because March came in like a lamb and has turned into a lion. Spring seemed on the way until winter redoubled its efforts — the last few days have been down to the -20s C again and blizzardy, with wind and snow.

Inside though we’re thinking of spring and getting ready for the Music Festival. And happy to have 4H public speaking behind us, including Laura’s stint as a master of ceremonies at Regionals. Laura and I also managed a trip to the college’s open house for its environmental science department (Laura is considering the wildlife and fisheries conservation program), and the annual naturalist society sleighride and snowshoe outing.

Work has begun on the new oil pipeline across the way. All sorts of trucks and machinery, including what the boys told me are Argo all-terrain off-road vehicles, which look like mini tanks, arrived, and a good portion of the trees and bush were cleared. The three dozen deer who call the woods home seem a bit discombobulated, missing the trees but also enjoying the new cleared terrain and playing on the new snow-covered mounds.

The household hyacinth (my grandmother’s favorite spring flower, as soon as she saw them at the store in February or March, winter was over for her) — please excuse the chamber pot,

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On the way to check the cows one evening, Laura took this picture of a Snowy Owl,

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Family Day fishing derby

Tom and the kids made it home after 10 pm last night, with fish, all sorts of prizes (jackets! ice fishing tackle! exercise equipment! tape measures! a toque!), and leftovers from a very tasty dinner. The weather was lovely, just above freezing, but it made for very slushy, very wet fishing. About 200 people at the lake altogether.

Davy had the best luck, catching two northern pike (known as jackfish in these parts), both over three-and-a-half pounds, the smallest of which won the prize for smallest fish by the youngest angler in the 11-15 age category. The prize for biggest fish caught all day went to a 4 lb, 11 oz jackfish. Davy of course arrived home quite excited and ready to go ice fishing again. Very soon. And fish on the menu here very soon, too.

All photos by Laura, except for the last one (two fish), which is by Davy,

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Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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Breathe

We’ve survived all the May activities, and are now looking forward to a less hectic few months, though the fair is at the end of next month and we have to start preparing.

We got all the shelterbelt trees planted; the kids had fun in the play (“Alice in Wonderland”) and despite some grumbling from the boys about not doing theater next year (the thrice weekly rehearsals for the last few months get to be a bit much), they now think they want to do theater again in the fall; we got to the city for the provincial music festival even though the two days away was quite disruptive with 4H; Laura passed her learner’s test after two tries and has her license; the spotting scope Laura bought arrived and has been pronounced excellent; our naturalist society had the May species bird count (for which Laura was awake and in town for 6:30 am); and all the cattle and kids comported themselves well at the 4H show and sale. Daniel in particular got a very good price for his steer, and Laura and her heifer won reserve champion for showmanship.

Davy and his steer,

Laura was rather distracted on the last performance day of “Alice” after learning that she’s accepted for the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop and is very, very excited, especially since only six kids from across Canada are selected each year. We’re all tickled and proud. The participants live at the field station with staff and learn to band birds and go on a variety of excursions. And she’ll finally get to meet other young birders. Now we have to get her to Long Point, Ontario, on Lake Erie, and while she’d like to have us drive — more birds to see, and the chance to stop at Point Pelee — it’s a poor time to leave the farm, and Tom’s construction work, for so long, so we’ll put her on a plane.

Usually the kids get the day off after the long beef club Achievement Days weekend to sleep in, but one of Tom’s apprentices called in sick  just as Tom was hoping to finish one of the many roofs to reshingle. So the kids were pressed into service to help. Then Laura was up for 24 hours the next day as part of the Baillie Birdathon. She saw 79 species in one day, and so far has raised around $800, including a very generous donation from Edmonton’s Wildbird General Store, which we were lucky to be able to visit on our way home for provincials.

As far as activities, we have 4H achievement day left to do, for the baking club. We’re hoping for a quick and easy cookout with members, families, and friends. The boys have been contracted to do some gardening and landscaping jobs for neighbors, and Laura is planning to disappear into the fields and trees with her scope and camera.

I’ll end off with some quotes from author Zadie Smith’s recent blog post on libraries in The New York Review of Books; the council in her mother’s London neighborhood intends to demolish the library centre along with a bookshop, in order to replace them “with private luxury flats, a greatly reduced library, ‘retail space’ and no bookshop”:

What kind of a problem is a library? It’s clear that for many people it is not a problem at all, only a kind of obsolescence. At the extreme pole of this view is the technocrat’s total faith: with every book in the world online, what need could there be for the physical reality? This kind of argument thinks of the library as a function rather than a plurality of individual spaces. But each library is a different kind of problem and “the Internet” is no more a solution for all of them than it is their universal death knell. Each morning I struggle to find a seat in the packed university library in which I write this, despite the fact every single student in here could be at home in front of their Macbook browsing Google Books. And Kilburn Library — also run by Brent Council but situated, despite its name, in affluent Queen’s Park — is not only thriving but closed for refurbishment. Kensal Rise is being closed not because it is unpopular but because it is unprofitable, this despite the fact that the friends of Kensal Rise library are willing to run their library themselves (if All Souls College, Oxford, which owns the library, will let them.) Meanwhile it is hard not to conclude that Willesden Green is being mutilated not least because the members of the council see the opportunity for a sweet real estate deal.

All libraries have a different character and setting. Some are primarily for children or primarily for students, or the general public, primarily full of books or microfilms or digitized material or with a café in the basement or a market out front. Libraries are not failing “because they are libraries.” Neglected libraries get neglected, and this cycle, in time, provides the excuse to close them. Well-run libraries are filled with people because what a good library offers cannot be easily found elsewhere: an indoor public space in which you do not have to buy anything in order to stay.

In the modern state there are very few sites where this is possible. The only others that come readily to my mind require belief in an omnipotent creator as a condition for membership. It would seem the most obvious thing in the world to say that the reason why the market is not an efficient solution to libraries is because the market has no use for a library. But it seems we need, right now, to keep re-stating the obvious. There aren’t many institutions left that fit so precisely Keynes’s definition of things that no one else but the state is willing to take on. Nor can the experience of library life be recreated online. It’s not just a matter of free books. A library is a different kind of social reality (of the three dimensional kind), which by its very existence teaches a system of values beyond the fiscal.

I don’t think the argument in favor of libraries is especially ideological or ethical. I would even agree with those who say it’s not especially logical. I think for most people it’s emotional. Not logos or ethos but pathos. This is not a denigration: emotion also has a place in public policy. We’re humans, not robots. The people protesting the closing of Kensal Rise Library love that library. They were open to any solution on the left or on the right if it meant keeping their library open. They were ready to Big Society the hell out of that place. A library is one of those social goods that matter to people of many different political attitudes. All that the friends of Kensal Rise and Willesden Library and similar services throughout the country are saying is: these places are important to us. We get that money is tight, we understand that there is a hierarchy of needs, and that the French Market or a Mark Twain plaque are not hospital beds and classroom size. But they are still a significant part of our social reality, the only thing left on the high street that doesn’t want either your soul or your wallet [emphasis mine].

Read the rest here.

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