• 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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Adding to the walls

The basement walls will be nine feet high, so Tom added wooden “parapet” walls to the poured concrete walls to raise the height.

Some of the parapet walls under construction (all photos by Davy),

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The tower parapet wall  is made from a recycled corrugated steel granary, modified in size (pressed down from 19 feet to 14 feet). Tom started by making a template from plywood, which he set on an OSB base,

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Putting the tower parapet wall in place with our telehandler,

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Some of the walls in place,

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Next up: construction of concrete footings and frost walls for the garage, covered veranda, and covered deck

*  *  *

Over the holidays, we had periods of lovely weather (around 0 C, even slightly above freezing) including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, alternating with bloody cold -30 C (not including wind chill), wind, and snow. We had some nice weather last week, but the weekend was frigid again, and after a cold day outside, we enjoyed the warmth of the house with a viewing of “Slap Shot”, venison sausages with red cabbage,  twinkling lights on the tree, and the faint jingling of the Swedish angel chimes. The next day I started the undecorating, including removing each and every piece of contraband German lead tinsel, for re-use. Here’s to a new year and the promise of warming later this week…

“McCracken, also known as Dr Hook for his scalpel-like prowess with the stick, has been known to carve a man’s eye out with a flick of the wrist. There’s a carnival-like atmosphere here. The crowd is gathered and, well, you can feel it, there’s an air of expectancy.”

Merry Christmas

from our (farm) house to yours.

'Bringing Back the Tree' by Angela Harding

“Bringing Back the Tree” by Angela Harding, a greeting card reproduced from a lithograph; also available directly from the artist, and available as a tea towel, too

(For the first time in years, we didn’t head north to cut down a tree. I thought we’d save some time, with busy weekends and daylight so brief, by buying a tree. I found a lovely one in a store lot on the day we took the chickens and turkeys to be butchered, and the kids loaded it up for me.)

A re-(re)-post to celebrate 30 years of “A Christmas Story”: I triple-dog dare you

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(This month marks the 30th anniversary of the modern classic, “A Christmas Story”, one of my all-time favorite holiday movies. In fact, the older I get, the more I like it. So I’m reposting this from 2006 and 2008. I’ve checked and updated the links, and there’s some new content, too. Not to mention blog snow, which my daughter the far more successful blogger told me about. Merry merry from Farm School!)

New content!:

“‘A Christmas Story’ Turns 30″

NPR: Cleveland Celebrates 30 Years Of ‘A Christmas Story’

Video of  ‘A Christmas Story’ Pole Scene Re-Created on NYC Subway

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen (author of the new Eminent Hipsters) wrote a Slate article last year, “The Man Who Told ‘A Christmas Story’: What I learned from Jean Shepherd”. Twelve-year-old Fagen was introduced to Shep’s radio show by his “weird uncle Dave”, “a bit of a hipster” himself…

The 30th anniversary Blu-Ray edition

“A Christmas Story”: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic by Caseen Gaines

Tyler Schwartz’s A Christmas Story Treasury from Running Press, a short scrapbook with recipe cards for Mom’s Christmas turkey, a replica of the telegram notifying the Old Man about his “major award”, and so on.

“A Christmas Story” 2014 wall calendar

The musical version of “A Christmas Story” returns to New York City, at Madison Square Garden from Dec. 11 to Dec. 29, featuring Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) as the narrator

The tourist organization Positively Cleveland is celebrating the 30th anniversary, including a special Christmas Story run tomorrow (runners are encouraged to carry a Leg Lamp or wear a Bunny Costume), and a contest to Light up the Holidays in CLE. You can win (what else?) a Leg Lamp. Unfortunately, we’ve all missed the 30th Anniversary Celebration & Convention on Nov. 29-30.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: Jean Shepherd’s original November 25, 1963 WOR radio evening broadcast, where he spent almost an hour talking about the impact of JFK‘s presidency, and his death, on American life. An MPR documentary produced by Matt Sepic with the assistance of Shepherd’s biographer, Eugene Bergmann.

Flicklives’ A Salute to Jean Shepherd, featuring A Christmas Story page

And, as always, TBS will be running its annual 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon from Christmas Eve to Christmas evening.

* * *

From December 1, 2006:

Just in time for Christmas, the cockles of my heart warm to learn that one of my favorite holiday movies has come to life:

Switch on your leg lamp and warm up the Ovaltine. The Christmas Story House and Museum will be ready for visitors starting Saturday. Imagine being inside Ralphie Parker’s 1940s home on Christmas Day. Stand on the staircase where Ralphie modeled his hated bunny suit. See the table where Ralphie’s dad wanted to display his tacky leg lamp. Gaze out a back window at the shed where Black Bart hid out. …

This past weekend saw the grand opening of The Christmas Story House. The house, used primarily for exterior shots in the 1983 filming, was renovated to look just like Ralphie’s home in the movie by owner Brian Jones, a lifelong Christmas Story fan.

At the museum gift shop, you can buy a chocolate BB rifle or a replica leg lamp from Red Rider Leg Lamps, started by Jones in 2003. And, I hope, a copy of Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, on which the movie was based. Ho ho ho!

*  *  *

Interestingly, I had a comment on the post last month [2008] — while we were away — from the people at the tourist organization, Positively Cleveland, about their “What I Want for Christmas” essay contest, which had a December 3 deadline.

There were two contests, one for those ages 16 and under and one for those 17 older. Prizes for the junior set included, among other things, a $100 gift certificate to Pearl of the Orient, the official Chinese restaurant of A Christmas Story House and Museum; a four-pack of general admission tickets to A Christmas Story House and Museum; and a four-pack of general admission tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  No BB guns, however, because you’d shoot your eye out.

Prizes for the oldsters were pretty much the same, except a full-size leg lamp was substituted for the restaurant gift certificate.

Any fan of A Christmas Story has probably stumbled over the latest curiosities, two new fan flicks: Road Trip for Ralphie and Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold Christmas Story.   Makes you wonder what Jean Shepherd might make of all this humbug.  Creeping meatballism, perhaps?

On the other hand, for pure unadulterated Shep, you can try the Jean Shepherd Netcast and The Brass Figlagee. Merry Christmas, fatheads!

Happy Thanksgiving

to Farm School’s American friends. Tomorrow is a regular work and school day here, and while our turkeys get to survive the day, it’s only until next week, since they’re destined for customers’ Christmas tables…

(all photos by Davy)

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And this lucky fellow, a Buff Orpington-Red Rock Cross rooster we raised, gets to stick around for a good long time. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Beginning the basement

This past weekend Tom and crew, including the kids, prepared the forms for pouring concrete on Tuesday,

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The bump-out, above at left, is the dining room. We’ve decided, based on our recent addition, that we prefer a dining room with windows on three sides — lots of light and lots to see. On the second floor, the bump-out will be our bathroom. The smaller rectangle at the bottom of the picture is part of the garage where our cold storage and three large plastic tanks/cisterns for rainwater collection will go, under the garage’s main floor.

The orange insulated tarps were for the cold weather and snow expected, and received, on Saturday night and Sunday,

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We needed more tarps, and when Tom couldn’t reach the local fellow who rents insulated tarps in time, Daniel found a deal on some tarps on Kijiji (Canadian Craigslist) and we made a quick, unexpected trip to the city Monday afternoon.

Tom was well pleased with his deal, and at least until it got dark, I was able to start reading Natasha Solomon’s latest, The Gallery of Vanished Husbands. I finally read her The Novel in the Viola (published as The House at Tyneford in the US) over the summer and enjoyed it very much — I have a weakness for stories about Vienna, and about England between and during the wars. The kids were happy because the tarp location was near the Cabela’s store, so we stopped in on the way home and somehow a pop-up ice fishing shelter ended up in our cart. We’re considering it an early Christmas present for them…

Speaking of the holidays to come, just received an email that Lee Valley is offering free shipping from today, Nov. 7th, to the 14th, in Canada and the US, on orders of at least $40.

Merry Christmas from Farm School

"A Jane Austen Christmas" by Amanda White (Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, JA's home, 1809-1817) cut paper collage

“A Jane Austen Christmas” by Amanda White
(Chawton Cottage, Hampshire, JA’s home, 1809-1817)
cut paper collage

The stockings are hung, the amaryllis is blooming, and the tree is lit and be-tinseled. We have an ample stash of poppycock, mince tarts, my grandmother’s almond crescent cookies, and more, all safely squirreled away from Tom and the kids so we have something to show for our efforts on Christmas and Boxing Day. Oh, and a moose roast from a hunting friend and crown roast of pork for Christmas dinner. The wooden snowflakes and festive holiday bunting are hung at the windows. The kids run up and down the hallway with rolls of wrapping paper, whispering and giggling. It’s cold, snowy, and very Christmassy outside but we are warm, happy, and cozy in our house, looking forward to relaxing and visiting with family and friends.

Wishing you all a peaceful, joyful Christmas, from all of us at Farm School.

Thank yous

to JoVE at Tricotomania, for the Christmas present of a hand-knit pair of mittens,

inspired by the colors of the Caribbean my parents loved so much. As you can see from some of my West Indian pottery, JoVE’s color sense is bang on,

JoVe and her daughter are coming for another visit next month, for a weekend, and we’re all very excited.

And thank you to Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles, for feeding my Downton Abbey fixation and letting me see what all the “Military Wives” fuss is about. “Military Wives” is heart-warming and inspiring, but I have to admit my heart belongs to Downtown, season two and especially the special Christmas episode. Find a cowboy in the middle west, indeed!

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?

Halloween garland

Here are some photos of Laura’s latest project. We missed Halloween at home last year, and don’t think we did much the year before since we were in between returning home from the visit to my parents where my father had brain surgery and was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and my return to NYC to help him through radiation. So the autumn holidays were put on the back burner. Which is why, I think, Laura has started extra early this year. We were in the big city the other week and stopped off at Michael’s, where she found a Martha Stewart paper punch,

And somehow poking around on the Michael’s website, she searched for “Martha Stewart” and found a bunch of how-to videos, including one with a punch techniques demonstration. With all the new windows in the dining room addition, we’ve been kind of bunting/garland* crazy this year, so Laura decided to make one for Halloween, using orange and black construction paper (we are still using the stash I bought at the dollar store when the kids were little) cut in strips 1.25″ x 9″ .

* Bunting madness: I have become a confirmed etsy shopper in the past two years (especially for unique birthday and Christmas presents) and early this year discovered Jaime Mancilla‘s lovely fabric buntings. Let’s just say I looked through lots of buntings before I found Jaime’s. First I bought a couple of springy and summery ones, for Easter and Daniel’s birthday and beyond. Here is the Spring one (all bunting photographs by Jaime Mancilla from her etsy shop site),

Summer,

We were all so pleased that I decided to surprise the kids with an Autumn/Harvest banner from Jaime’s store (and indeed, when most years we are so sorry to see summer go, we were thrilled on the first day of September, when autumn had been here for nearly a month, to finally hang the new banner),

but then Jaime surprised me by including a Christmas banner — which was next on my shopping list — in the parcel,

Isn’t that beautiful? The fabric colors, prints, and style are just right — fun but not too cutesy, and elegantly simple. Highly, highly recommended. The buntings each come with three strands (10 flags and three feet long each), for a total of nine feet, which stretches nicely across the three windows on the north wall. I sewed all of the strands in each bunting together for one long length, and then used 3M Command hooks on the casing, which pleases my builder husband. By the way, Jaime also makes adorable mini buntings for cakes for all occasions, including Halloween.

Knickers in a twist

We fly back to Alberta on Sunday, and I’m disheartened though not surprised at new regulations that require we spend the entire flight from NYC to Toronto, and the last hour from Toronto to Edmonton, in our seats, without anything in our laps, not even a book; being allowed to the bathroom only with an escort; and with our one carry-on bag each in the overhead compartment unavailable to us for the duration of the flight. I plan to stuff my pockets with Tylenol (for adults and children — goodness knows we’ll need it) and lip balm.  I don’t want to even think of my three children, ages nine, 10, and 12, being patted down. I suppose it would be too much to ask for the airports to quit patting down children and concentrate instead on lone adults with no luggage  and one-way tickets paid for with cash.  Just an idea.

Of course, given that previous would-be terrorists have used liquids and shoes, which are now allowed on-board only in limited quantity and after a security check, respectively, I suppose I should be happy that Air Canada and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board have, at least not yet, neither required checks of underpants nor limited solid substances.

However, given the latest updates from Transport Canada –

Passengers travelling to the US are advised that no carry-on baggage will be permitted, with the exception of a small purse, diaper bag, laptop bag. Roller bags and backpacks must now be checked in. Carriage of any carry-on item will result in lengthy security delays for the customer. To minimize inconvenience, airlines strongly recommend that customers travelling to the United States travel with no carry-on items whenever possible.

If travelling with a laptop bag, diaper bag, camera bag or other such item, the bag may only contain items confined to the bag’s original function. (For example, a laptop bag can only contain computer equipment, or a diaper bag can only contain infant necessities.) As a guideline for purse size, the footprint of the bag should be similar to that of a letter size sheet of paper (216mm x 279mm or 8.5″ x 11″).

– I can only imagine that more travellers will be inclined to stuff what they can in their pockets and underpants. Patented panty pockets, perhaps?

The Science of Christmas

Since 1825, December has been the month for The Royal Institution of Great Britain’s “Christmas Lectures for Young People”, established by Michael Faraday, who presented 19 of the early lectures himself. According to the RI, the lectures “serve as a forum for presenting complex scientific issues to children in an informative and entertaining manner, and are particularly well-known for students’ participation in demonstrations and experiments”.  Since 1966, the lectures have been on television thanks to the BBC, and many are available free online; registration, which is free, is required and highly recommended.

Some notable lectures and lecturers: in 1964, Desmond Morris on “Animal behaviour”; in 1973, David Attenborough on “The language of animals”; in 1977, Carl Sagan on “Planets”; in 1991, Richard Dawkins on “Growing Up in the World” (which is also free online here).

This year’s lecture is “The 300 million years war” presented on Saturday, December 5th by Prof. Sue Hartley:

Plants might seem passive, defenceless and almost helpless. But they are most definitely not! Thanks to a war with animals that’s lasted over 300 million years, they’ve developed many terrifying and devious ways to defend themselves and attack their enemies. Vicious poisons, lethal materials and even cunning forms of communicating with unlikely allies are just some of the weapons in their armoury. Using these and other tactics, plants have seen off everything from dinosaurs to caterpillars.

You can watch a number of Royal Institution lectures for Children at the RI’s web archives.

Also available online at the RI website: games (What’s Inside an Element?, The Science of the Elements Quiz, Build Your Own Skeleton, and more) and pages of educational resources for teachers and others.

Trip report, part 3: NYC, Columbus Day

On Columbus Day, we thought we’d head off in search of model railroads, first at The Red Caboose store on West 45th, just off Fifth, and then at the NYC Transit Museum shop in Grand Central.

Never a dedicated Columbus Day parade goer, it never dawned on me that 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues would be part of the staging area for the parade.  The first tip-off came at 6th Avenue, where a cop had the street barricaded off, but like the New Yorker I used to be, without thinking I just put my head down and kept walking as though I belonged on the street, hoping that Tom and the boys would do the same. It worked and before long we were at the end of the block looking for the little hidey-hole that is The Red Caboose. We found it, but the news wasn’t good: the door was padlocked. It was then that I realized that the owner probably figured that with all the parade nonsense going on on the street outside, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile to come in and open up the store.  The boys were very, very disappointed.  So too were the three men who arrived just after we did, standing morosely in front of the padlock.

The boys cheered up a bit when we found the Batmobile parked outside.  Who knew that Batman is Italian?

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I managed to snap them in front of the car just before Batman zoomed off,

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The boys above are looking rather shifty, because they were distracted by a high school band still rehearsing. We didn’t know why they couldn’t rehearse with their hats on (speaking of  hats, Davy very pleased with his new Zabar’s ball cap),

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Italia truck, the front,

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Italia truck, the rear,

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Say what you will about the recently re-elected Mayor Bloomberg, but the streets are a darn sight more flowery (and clean) than they used to be,

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And my favorite parade floats of the day, the traditional … garbage trucks,

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Then we headed a few blocks over, through more barricades, to Grand Central to the MTA Transit Museum Store, where last year in late November — I realize now it was probably a holiday special — the store had an amazing, enormous Lionel train display.  The kids were crushed to find out that the space was now occupied by an exhibit, “The Future Beneath Us”.

We did make it back to The Red Caboose a few days later, no parades, and it was open.  It’s a crowded basement treasure trove, the sort of place any train-crazy eight- and 10-year-old boys would love. Packages of HO and other scale people, animals, and vehicles are stapled to any available surface. There are display cases, stacks, and open boxes of model trains, cars, and other items. We spent at least an hour in there, some of which I spent on a stool in a corner with my eyes closed, wedged in between various merchandise and paraphernalia, trying to block out the incessant sound of a train whistle. But the boys loved it (or did I say that already?). And I shot myself in the foot early on in the visit by discovering, and mentioning to Tom, a no-longer-being manufactured Skilcraft Visible Cow kit, brand new and still wrapped in plastic. Tom thought it was too good to pass up, so, yes, it came home in our luggage, to keep our Skilcraft Visible Horse company.

Poetry Friday II: Be Mine

excerpt from
Love-songs, at Once Tender and Informative –
An Unusual Combination in Verses of This Character

by Samuel Hoffenstein (1890-1947)

Maid of Gotham, ere we part,
Have a hospitable heart –

Since our own delights must end,
Introduce me to your friend.

—–

If you love me, as I love you,
We’ll both be friendly and untrue.

—–

Your little hands,
Your little feet,
Your little mouth –
Oh, God, how sweet!

Your little nose,
Your little ears,
Your eyes, that shed
Such little tears!

Your little voice,
So soft and kind;
Your little soul,
Your little mind!

—–

Had we but parted at the start,
I’d cut some figure in your heart;
And though the lands between were wide,
You’d often see me at your side.

But having loved and stayed, my dear,
I’m always everywhere but here,
And, still more paradoxical,
You always see me not at all.

from American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, compiled by John Hollander

* * *

Samuel (Sam) Hoffenstein was born in Lithuania in 1890, emigrating to the United States at the age of four with his family.  After graduating from Easton College in Pennsylvania in 1911, he found work as a staff writer for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. By 1912, he was in New York City, working for The New York Sun, where he started as a reporter and worked his way up to drama critic.  It was around this time that Sam Hoffenstein wrote and published his rather gloomy first volume of poetry, Life Sings a Song (1916) and left The Sun to work as a press agent in the city. Life was followed by his first book of light verse, Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing in 1928, and Year In, You’re Out in 1930.  The following year, Sam Hoffenstein moved to Los Angeles to work in the talkies.

In 1933, Hoffenstein helped Cole Porter and Kenneth S. Webb compose the musical score for The Gay Divorce, the stage musical (Fred Astaire’s last Broadway show) that became the film The Gay Divorcee, the first film to make the classic romantic pairing of Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Hoffenstein and Webb would win an Academy Award for the score.

Hoffenstein wrote scripts for a variety of movies, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March (1931), for which Hoffenstein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Adaptation, with Percy Heath; Love Me Tonight (1932); The Great Waltz (1938); The Wizard of Oz (1939), uncredited; Tales of Manhattan (1942); Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains (1943); Laura with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews (1944), for which Hoffenstien was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, with Jay Dratler and Elizabeth Reinhardt; and Cluny Brown (1946).

Sam Hoffenstein died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1947 at the age of 57, three days after his final volume of verse, Pencil in the Air, was published.  His Time Magazine obituary noted,

Died. Samuel Hoffenstein, 57, master writer of satiric light verse (Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing); of a heart attack; in Los Angeles. A wry-writing favorite of Manhattan’s wry-minded literary set in the late ’20s, Hoffenstein (who had written, I’d rather listen to a flute in Gotham, than a band in Butte) disappeared into Hollywood as a scenario writer, later explained: “In the movies we writers work our brains to the bone, and what do we get for it? A lousy fortune.”

I’ll end with some lines from some of his best known lines, from the 1928 Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing,

Poems of Passion Carefully Restrained So as to Offend Nobody: II

When you’re away, I’m restless, lonely,
Wretched, bored, dejected; only
Here’s the rub, my darling dear,
I feel the same when you are here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Valentine links

Jess at How About Orange has “a little round up of Valentine things” to print or make

Valentines for scientists (HT to Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles)

I’ll keep adding anything I find to this post instead of making any new ones…

“A true and precious stone”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And lastly, this little ditty,

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


Merry Christmas, eh?

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

Hoodoo McFiggin’s Christmas
by Stephen Leacock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort and joy

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

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

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

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

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With very Merry Christmas wishes from Farm School!

Repost: I triple-dog dare you

From December 1, 2006:

Just in time for Christmas, the cockles of my heart are warmed to learn that one of my favorite holiday movies has come to life:

Switch on your leg lamp and warm up the Ovaltine. The Christmas Story House and Museum will be ready for visitors starting Saturday.Imagine being inside Ralphie Parker’s 1940s home on Christmas Day. Stand on the staircase where Ralphie modeled his hated bunny suit. See the table where Ralphie’s dad wanted to display his tacky leg lamp. Gaze out a back window at the shed where Black Bart hid out. …

This past weekend saw the grand opening of The Christmas Story House. The house, used primarily for exterior shots in the 1983 filming, was renovated to look just like Ralphie’s home in the movie by owner Brian Jones, a lifelong Christmas Story fan.

At the museum gift shop, you can buy a chocolate BB rifle or a replica leg lamp from Red Rider Leg Lamps, started by Jones in 2003. And, I hope, Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash. Ho ho ho!

*  *  *

Interestingly, I had a comment on the post last month — while we were away — from the people at the tourist organziation, Positively Cleveland, about their “What I Want for Christmas” essay contest, which had a December 3 deadline.

There were two contests, one for those ages 16 and under and one for those 17 older.  Prizes for the junior set included, among other things, a $100 gift certificate to Pearl of the Orient, the official Chinese restaurant of A Christmas Story House and Museum; a four-pack of general admission tickets to A Christmas Story House and Museum; and
a four-pack of general admission tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  No BB guns, however, because you’d shoot your eye out.

Prizes for the oldsters were pretty much the same, except a full-size leg lamp was substituted for the restaurant gift certificate.

Any fan of A Christmas Story has probably stumbled over the latest curiosities, two new fan flicks: Road Trip for Ralphie and Shooting the Eye Out: The Untold Christmas Story.   Makes you wonder what Jean Shepherd might make of all this humbug.  Creeping meatballism, perhaps?

On the other hand, for pure unadulterated Shep, you can try the Jean Shepherd Netcast and The Brass Figlagee. Merry Christmas, fatheads!

Repost: Christmas on Huckleberry Mountain

I found the following a couple of years ago when I was looking for a review of the then-new live action movie of Charlotte’s Web.

*  *  *

While at the website, I happened to notice on the sidebar a link to a special Holiday Posting of Lois Lenski’s memories, entitled “Christmas at Huckleberry Mountain Library“, published by The Horn Book in 1946, the year Miss Lenski won the Newbery for Strawberry Girl:

Huckleberry mountain library — the only rural library in Henderson County, North Carolina — is open for two hours every other Sunday afternoon to the mountain children, and was to be open on December 23. Packages of books from three of my publishers arrived on the 22nd, just in time for library day.The library is a small log building, with a rock chimney at one end, sitting at the foot of the mountain, shaded by long-leafed pines. There had been three deep snows — more than this locality experiences in an entire winter — so the low-hung branches of the pine trees and the roof were white and glowing in the bright winter sun.

The children always come early, the young librarian, an educated mountain girl, said. The hours are from two to four, but often they are there by one-thirty. She has to open the door as soon as she gets there and keep it open, even at the risk of being very cold because the open door is a sign of welcome. If the children see the door closed, they may turn around and go home!

Through the weekdays, the building is unheated. So we went over early, to put up some greens and a little Christmas tree, and to get a fire started. Some young pine trees had been cleared out of the woods near by, and these Stephen chopped up. We had brought some dry wood, kindling and newspapers with us. The fireplace was filled with snow, and the chimney was very cold, so in spite of all our efforts, we never did get what you would call “a roaring fire” or any noticeable amount of heat in the room. …

The children looked so pretty as they came down the road across the snow. They were all dressed in their best — their coats and caps and mittens of bright colors — and had their hair neatly combed. They did not look ragged or tousled as they usually do at home. I was struck by the beauty and sweetness of their faces. Their natural shyness and quietness make their sweetness all the more appealing. There is a large proportion of redheads among them, evidence of a strong Scotch strain. They are apt to be small for their age. A boy, who looked to me to be about six, told me he was ten and in the fifth grade. Their clothes were pretty but not warm. The girls had thin cotton dresses on under their light summer-weight coats. Some (especially a group who had come all the way down the mountain) came in shaking and shivering, and their bare legs were blue with the cold.

Read the rest of Lois Lenski’s holiday account here. A warm holiday thank you to the folks at The Horn Book for rekindling and sharing the memories.

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