• 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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First window

Preparing to install the first window in the new house, fittingly in the tower (all photos by second son),

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And it’s in,

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The tower has six windows, one of which will be operable; the east wall of the living room (the photo just above is facing east) will have window near the tower, so with both of those open we’ll be able to have nice cross breezes from Spring through Fall.

 

Tower rising

Tom (at right) and crew (including older son, at left) started building the tower today. And the windows arrived earlier this week.

Photos by younger son,

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Using the invaluable telehandler,

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A few shots I took this evening,

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Inside the tower,

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Spring

Spring arrived with a cold snap, heavy winds, and the possibility of snow. The overnight temp is forecasted to be -20C, with a wind chill of -30. Not ideal for calving, especially since we had three calves last night and one this morning. Tom and the kids spent part of the moving calf sheds into the pens for extra shelter.

One of my amaryllises from two years ago started sending up a flower stalk, and began blooming over the weekend (ignore the brown on the edge of one of the petals). Right around the same time I picked up these tulips at the florist shop in town, and they’re still hanging on.

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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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First floor

We have a floor, and wall construction is beginning. We also have warmer temperatures (a difference of about 40 degrees in less than week), much appreciated by us and all the animals, especially the cows who’ve started calving.

The new floor; the hole in the floor at left is for the staircase, the bump out at right is the windowed dining room (all photos by son #2),

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Standing in the dining room, with the kitchen at left and staircase ahead,

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Making the floor for the tower,

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Making a wall,

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One of the oddest — and cutest — looking calves I’ve seen in 20 years,

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A baby hiding in the straw,

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Our new portable windbreaks, with initial construction at a nearby Hutterite colony, with final welding by the kids,

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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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June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

NeverStop

National Poetry Month 2013

PoetryMonth2013

I haven’t written a National Poetry Month post in a good long time, not since 2010, though poetry is still an important part of our lives, both reading and learning by heart (the kids all recited poetry for the music festival last month, and did wonderfully). What follows is pretty much a re-run of 2010′s post, with a few changes – some bits and pieces from some of previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Jessica Helfand and featuring the line, “Write about your sorrows, you wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful.” from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living. The Academy of American Poets helpfully offers Poems for Every Occasion.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2013:

Stefanie’s post, Celebrating Poetry, at her wonderful blog, So Many Books:

I know I kvetch now and then about how the designation does a disservice to poetry, corralling it into one month as though April is the only month one can bother to notice and read poetry. And while I still hold to that belief, at the same time I also think that if a month-long poetry blitz in schools and libraries touches just one child (or adult) and turns her/him on to poetry and inspires her/him to become a reader of poetry, then the month is worth it.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

Caroline Kennedy has a new children’s poetry book out: Poems to Learn by Heart, illustrated with paintings by Jon J. Muth. See below for CK’s other collections.

And don’t forget last year’s anthology, Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart by Mary Ann Hoberman (American children’s poet laureate from 2008-2010), illustrated by Michael Emberley.

The current Cybils children’s poetry book winner is BookSpeak!: Poems About Books by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon. The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Salas has a free extras for the book here.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2013 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here (where you can also find the current schedule).  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

A few years ago, poet J. Patrick Lewis asked, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library. I have to say, Crayola continues to surprise the heck out of me by doing this every year.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)

Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth

The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series; search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires (out of print now but well worth finding)
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video or on television, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning; a travesty that it’s not on dvd
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi; out of print for some crazy reason…

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell; another out of print gem
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh; out of print (try your library)

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

From my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Childrenpoetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive, which includes lots of American poetry and poets too

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac podcasts

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Happy Easter

from Farm School.

Spring on the farm (all photos by Laura):

The 4H Outdoor club was asked by the local Habitat for Humanity to build some birdhouses for HfH to sell as a spring fundraiser. We had all the kids over to build 45 nestboxes in our shop, 36 for HfH and nine for members. Tom and the boys cut all the pieces ahead of time,

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Besides school, 4H, curling (today will be the end of the season), and the music festival, we’ve been busy this month with calving, made considerably easier for the new mothers and the rest of us by a new portable (on skids) calving barn we built. Tom was worried that if March came in like a lamb, it would go out like a lion. He was right. Davy (now 12 and a half) with a barn resident,

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One of our new babies, on a snowy morning (we had another dusting early today),

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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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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.

May daybook

No, I have no idea what happened to April. A very short, very fast month.

Outside my window…

Spring was springier in March, which came in like a lamb and went out like a lion. April very lionish as well, at least weatherwise — cool, blustery, and dry. May so far is cool, blustery, and wettish.

We’re finished calving and that went fairly smoothly. The kids are busy working with their steers and other cattle (they each have a steer and Laura also has a heifer and a cow-calf pair) for 4H beef club achievement days at the end of the month. Yesterday was the annual 4H highway cleanup, where kids clean up months’ of litter tossed out of vehicles by irresponsible adults.

From the schoolroom…

I think I mentioned in my last post that we read To Kill a Mockingbird which the boys in particular seemed to enjoy. We followed that up with the movie, and then, because everyone quite liked Gregory Peck, we had a special screening of “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” with a discussion of anti-Semitism in North America. Next up in American movie studies, and continuing with courtroom drama, we have “12 Angry Men” with Henry Fonda.

For political science/current events, between the American presidential campaign and our recent roller coaster provincial election (the Progressive Conservatives were a lock to win, the Wild Rose Party all of a sudden came out of nowhere and was poised to win a majority, the PCs ended up winning a majority, oy), the kids are all now old enough (Daniel just turned 13) to make it through George Orwell’s celebrated 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which they are now reading, writing, and discussing their ways through. I also managed to find a copy of Frank Luntz’s Words that Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear in the library system, which is good, because I had no desire to further enrich Mr. Luntz by having to purchase the book. I disagree mightily with his methods, all the more reason it’s important to understand them, and how to parse the rhetoric, especially for young future voters.

For something a bit lighter, our new readaloud is a rereading of My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell, which Davy scarcely remembers.

I let Laura pick the Shakespeare play for spring, and she chose Romeo and Juliet. Although Davy had his reservations, he and his brother were transfixed by a story that had more violence and adolescent hotheadedness than romance. In addition to readings, we also watched the Zeffirelli version, followed by the Leonardo di Caprio version which all three kids found very unsettling for various reasons (Florida, the music, the abridging, and “That’s Temple Grandin?”). We’re going to add in a showing of  “West Side Story”, even though it’s in fairly regular rotation in this house, and also tossed in another viewing of “Much Ado” this time for comparison purpose the benefits of age, maturity, and waiting a bit). We found “Shakespeare in Love” at the library the other week, which is centered around Romeo and Juliet, and Laura now wants to see “Twelfth Night”, which is mentioned at the end; we’ll see what versions the library has. And I discovered that our library system has a DVD copy of “Romeo and Juliet” with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer; I think the boys are Romeo’d out, but Laura would probably enjoy this version if only to see what it looks like with MGM’s long-in-the-tooth teens.

We are beavering away at math, with decimals, percents, pre-algebra, and algebra. This year isn’t as easy for Laura as last year, but I’ve seen the lightbulb go on about having to work on a subject despite the difficulties and drudgery with her realization that she likely will pursue some sort of career in wildlife biology.

Which reminds me, have just ordered a copy of the newly (as in last week) published Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson. Mr. Thompson has a biology lab kit available for those living in the US, and is also working on his forthcoming title, Illustrated Guide to Home Forensic Science Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture (which will also have an accompanying kit available). According to Mr. Thompson, the Illustrated Guide is “intended to be used in conjunction with a standard first-year biology textbook. The book coordinates well with Miller-Levine Biology and the free CK-12 Biology, which are the two texts we recommend, but it’s easy enough to coordinate with any of the common homeschool biology textbooks”.

For whatever it’s worth, we have and use Stephen Nowicki’s biology text (bought cheaply secondhand at Abebooks), in great part because we have his biology course on dvd, and also Trefil’s and Hazen’s The Sciences: An Integrated Approach (also cheap secondhand at Abebooks). Throw in a couple of out-of-print Charles Harper books for the boys (The Giant Golden Book of Biology and The Animal Kingdom, and it’s a bit of a mishmash, but it works for us.

Here’s a link to a free PDF of a draft version of the Illustrated Guide to Home Biology Experiments.

In the next few weeks…

In extracurriculars, besides getting ready for beef club achievement days, the kids are in the home stretch for this year’s play, “Alice in Wonderland”, with opening night a week from Thursday. Laura got off her application for the birding internship in Ontario, and we get word on the 15th whether she makes it or not; only six kids nationally are chosen, so our fingers are crossed. She’ll take her learner’s permit test tomorrow, so more fingers crossed for that.

This year’s batch of shelterbelt trees, somewhere between 900 and 1,000, are arriving at the county depot on Friday, so we’ll be planting them on the weekend. As usual, Mother’s Day tends to be more like Arbor Day around here…

I’m thankful…

The kids all did very well at the local music festival in March, and had some good fun. The boys each recited two poems, and Daniel surprised himself and us by winning one poetry category (lyrical) instead of his sister. He also won best speech arts for 12 and under. Laura sang two art songs, performed “Worst Pies” from “Sweeney Todd” for musical theater (she did a wonderful, very funny job, especially with the double portion of pizza dough I made for her to sling around), and had half a dozen speech arts entries. She won a number of awards, including best overall speech arts, and she and Daniel were recommended to the provincial music festival for speech arts, and Laura for musical theater. Unfortunately, provincials are the week after the play and a few days before achievement day, and Davy’s session is on Wednesday and Laura’s sessions on Thursday, so we are spending the night in the city, not the best time to be away from home. We will probably have to leave Daniel at home with Tom’s parents, so he can do all the farm chores and especially look after the 4H animals.

Laura’s been getting more and more wrapped up in her birding. Unlike her mother, she’s a dedicated blogger and keeps up with her birding posts. She joined a listserv for provincial birders last month, and was welcomed warmly by members who seem happy to see someone younger as well as outside the two main urban centers. Invited by one of the members, we attended the town of Tofield’s nature day and Snow Goose chase last weekend, organized by the big city nature club, and Laura was able to meet some listserv members in person. More on the day below.

Around the farm…

Late in April, I had a phone call from the big oil company putting in another pipeline across the road through our neighbor’s pasture. The rep asked if we would give permission for a two-man wildlife biology survey crew to come on our land and check for various species. We can’t do anything to stop the pipeline  – and at any rate, we’re dependent on our vehicles and the pipeline oil that powers them, living too far from town to walk or even to bike, especially from November to April and especially with any purchases too large for a bicycle basket. But we can do our small part to make sure that various animal populations and habitat are taken into account and looked after before, during, and after construction.

So I said yes, and also asked if Laura could go out with the crew, because I thought it could be mutually beneficial. She knows the land and wildlife like the back of her hand and could help the crew get the information they need (for example, they were looking for sharp-tailed grouse here and there are none), and I thought it would be good for Laura to see first-hand the work wildlife biologists do in the field. Apparently, asking to go along was fairly odd question — we were the first ever landowners to ever ask — but the pipeline company checked with the survey company, and everyone said yes.

The two young men who turned up on Monday are dedicated professional biologists and personal birders; in fact, one spent a fair amount of time going back and forth with Laura about their year birds and spring migrants they’ve seen so far. If I’ve learned anything about most birders, it’s that they are dedicated list makers and keepers. The other biologist, when he first arrived around 5 am, while standing in our driveway, quizzed Laura by asking her what birds she could hear at the large slough (pond/wetland) across the road in our neighbors’ pasture. Since it’s filled with thousands of Snow Geese, it’s pretty hard to make out much besides their honking, but Laura listed a number of other birds, including one (Green-winged Teal) the biologist hadn’t been able to hear. So with that, off we went, and spent some time in the pasture recording early morning birdsong. We met later in the morning for several hours and Laura led the way to a good viewing spot by the slough where the crew set up their spotting scopes, much to Laura’s delight because she’s been wanting a scope for a year now.

And based on comments in her letter of reference for the internship, from the local college biology instructor who leads our naturalist society and has been Laura’s unofficial mentor, and from the survey crew (as well as their boss, the company’s senior wildlife biologist) about her levels of knowledge and interest — Tom and I don’t know any other young birders so we weren’t sure if her interest and abilities are average or above average — we’ve decided to let her go ahead with the purchase of a spotting scope. She’ll be using her own money, and has decided to get one of the top-level Swarovski scopes, though not with HD to save some money. She’s decided that she’d rather pay more for a top quality scope she should be able to use for a good long time, through her university studies and as she starts a career. The fellow we’re working with at the store said Laura’s selections should give her at least 20 years’ enjoyment.

This TED talk by Canadian professor Larry Smith, “Why you will fail to have a great career”, which I heard on last week’s CBC Sunday Edition radio show, is as good a reason as any for encouraging Laura to pursue her present hobby as a career. Last week, the Sunday Edition also ran David Martin’s essay, “My Government Valedictory”, which along with the recently announced federal job cuts are all good reasons to consider avoiding government jobs; some of the cuts will be at bird, and birders’, haven Point Pelee.

I am thinking...

By the way, I’ve been adding any birding material, all of the writing and some of the photography, to Laura’s high school portfolio, inlcuding the letter of recommendation and nice email note from the survey crew’s wildlife biologist, who turned up on the provincial listserv and wrote her offlist. Laura also wrote a blog post about our nature day visit last weekend to Tofield. She was asked if her post could be used as an article for the club’s newsletter, and she’ll receive a published copy, so a copy of that will go in the portfolio as well. I think it might be helpful in the next year or two to make a book of her blog with Blurb or some such, as a record of her birding and writing.

Aside from the birds to be seen outdoors, there were many wonderful exhibits in the town’s community center: several owls and hawks from from the city zoo; well-known Canadian naturalist John Acorn (who used to have a marvelous children’s show on CBC, “Acorn the Nature Nut”, now available on dvd); here are the two nature nuts together,

a live Burrowing Owl from a nearby bird observatory, which Laura got to hold,

a Bugs & Beetles wetland display; and a gorgeous taxidermy display of mounted owls from the Royal Alberta Museum. My favorite, though, were the yard-long garter snake, enormous Malaysian katydid, and scorpion, also from the Royal Alberta Museum; here is Katy,

displayed by the enthusiastic Pete Heule, the Museum’s Bug Room Co-ordinator (know as the Bug Guy on his features for CBC radio, which we enjoy very much).

In the kitchen…

Plans for tonight include Banana Batter Cake with Coconut Caramel Sauce, apparently an Asian variation of sticky toffee pudding, found in last November’s issue of British House & Garden magazine, originally from Australian chef and restaurateur Bill Granger’s book, Bill’s Everyday Asian (recipe here).

Some books we’re reading…

Designing Your Perfect House: Lessons from an Architect by William J. Hirsch (me)

The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose (Laura), new and very good

All of Baba’s Children by Myrna Kostash (Tom), a personal and general history of Ukrainian Canadians

Finally, Friday night the whole family went to see “The Artist”, which was playing at the little movie theater in town, which is owned and run by a friend of ours. We don’t get a lot of first, or almost first, run movies in town, so this was a huge treat, especially since we’d seen lots of clips at the awards shows earlier this year and were quite eager for the movie to come out on dvd. Next month on the big screen — either “Bringing Up Baby” or “The Philadelphia Story”, two favorites which would be wonderful to see on the big screen.

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.

Greenhouse school

[I am warning you now -- if you aren't in the slightest interested in gardening or greenhouses, click away fast. What follows are proud parent photos, but I'm worse than any proud parent because I never submitted anyone I know other than my husband and both sets of our parents to pictures of our adorable babies. But my plant photos I'm putting on my blog for all to see. I am truly besotted.]

My latest educational endeavor: figuring out the ins and outs of my new greenhouse, which is a grand adventure for all of us.  The boys helped build it, Davy has his tomatoes started from seed growing in it, Laura has two pumpkin plants and three ground cherries growing in there, and Daniel helps me attach various things to the walls. The greenhouse is part zoo (we’ve found everything from flies, bees, dragonflies, butterflies and moths, and one lost hummingbird in there), part vegetable garden, part flower garden, part school (we are all learning lots), and part mental health clinic, for me at least. I smile when I see it, I smile when I’m in it.  And I have a hard time leaving it, especially to make meals for other people.

UPDATED to add some greenhouse book links at the bottom of the post, for Jane at Read, Learn, and be Happy who commented below.

I promised Sheila some pictures quite some time ago, so here they are:

The greenhouse, now situated between the back of the house and our cattle pasture. The floor for the moment is plywood, on skids, just a temporary arrangement until we build the new house and get the greenhouse situated over there. Definitely not until at least next summer, quite possibly/probably the summer after. The permanent floor at the permanent location will be concrete or gravel,

Tom built the benches out of plywood, just something quick. We had planned to get something like the Dura-Bench panels, especially after finding out about the more easily obtainable (at least in this part of the world) poultry flooring, but all of a sudden the greenhouse was finished, pulled behind the house with the tractor, and open for business.  And I needed benches. This is the the view on the left, starting with an Early Girl tomato, bought started at the nursery about 12″ high, but going great guns,

I ran a double piece of twine from the leg behind the tomato up to one of the trusses, since the tomato has surpassed the tomato cage,

Davy’s unidentified heirloom tomatoes, started from seed saved from his favorite plant last summer, on top of the center table (one bell pepper at far left), and various squashes and tomatoes (and one pot of scarlet runner beans, bottom left) on the floor,

The scarlet runner beans never have leaves this large when grown outdoors in the ground,

Behind the tomatoes, Laura’s ground cherries, which I started from seed,

To the right of the door, some herbs on the bench (several different basils, cilantro, lavendar, rosemary), and Laura’s gallivanting pumpkin; the heater, which thankfully hasn’t been needed for several weeks, is at far right,

Laura’s pumpkin down below,

The shade-loving plants — fern, ivies, fuchsia — live under the bench,

Back to the left side of the greenhouse, on the bench. A few strawberry pots (and one teeny tiny avocado seed). There are berries on the plants and one is getting awfully ripe; the main benefit about growing strawberries inside is avoiding the marauding, starving robins and gophers, who love the berries as much as we do,

Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) blooming in same pot with not-yet blooming canary bird vine (Tropaeolum perearinum), started from seed, on the same tuteur found at Winners (Canadian version of TJ Maxx). I very briefly considered spray painting the tuteur black, then came to my senses and realized that once the vines start growing, it doesn’t matter what color it is. Both vines are growing so quickly that once in the morning and once in the evening I need to tuck the “escaped” ends in and around,

Laura’s Gerbera daisy, which she picked out at Wal-Mart. I have no shame. This one is great fun to watch, the flowers start as small green buttons, then slowly the stem lengthens and unfurls and bloom turns upwards, pinkens, and opens to several times the size of the original button. And very easy to water, because it lets you know by getting slightly, but obviously, limp, rather like a tired Southern belle.  Just add water,

Dragonwing begonia, which Laura, who came to the nursery with me, did not like. I’m glad I have veto power,

Variegated purple ornamental pepper plant, just picked up at the nursery on sale because it was on sale and also needed adopting,

Canna lily, rescued from Home Depot last week (I know, I know, it’s a sickness). Just began to bloom yesterday,

This is my lophospermum “Wine Red” vine; not much to look right now at but I’m terribly pleased with it since I, with my mother-in-law’s help for four months, managed to overwinter it. And as of March I didn’t think it would make it or, if it did, amount to very much, since the leaves on the middle section of the vine — only about a foot long in total — were drying up and turning yellow.  Even now, the middle section is a little dry and spare, but there are lovely new leaves at each end. This is the very first bloom since last summer,

Firecracker vine (Manettia luteorubra) and another (also not-yet blooming) canary bird vine, on another, larger tuteur from Winners,

Castor bean plant. I’ve wanted one of these for a while but didn’t know how it would hold up to our climate. The green strip on the plastic wall is masking tape so I can mark the plant’s growth, which has been rapid.  I wasn’t expecting the funky inflorescence quite so soon,

Some of the geraniums I overwintered, and at far right a hanging basket I rescued from the great outdoors after three days of rain and wind,

A mandevilla I found last week, on sale for $5 (with some lobelia I planted in front). The nursery kept cutting back the mandevilla to keep it under control, so it has three or four stems, all of which have blooms now. I found some bits of lattice left over from our deck, and nailed them to the studs. Mandevillas are the kind of plants I’ve never been able to grow before, without the greenhouse, since the summers, especially the evenings, just don’t get warm enough,

Another, um, mandevilla, rescued two days after the first from Home Depot. And marked down considerably ($8) and considerably longer than the other mandevilla. I had to do surgery on the cheap plastic trellis it came with, and around which it was wound with a vengeance,

Blooms coming,

Cosmos with sweet potato vine in the “infirmary”; the sweet potato vines were badly damaged by frost at the of last month, even in the greenhouse (Tom and I found it was -2 C in there at 5 am when we arrived to turn on the heater) but are making a good comeback,

Right side of the greenhouse, looking toward the door,

While I was taking pictures, a moth landed nearby (can you see it, in the middle of the picture?),

Heading out. That’s a water tank you can see on the back of the tractor. And the step stool is one of the things we brought back from my parents’ apartment.  For years it sat in the kitchen, under the telephone, and it’s where we sat while talking. It’s in remarkably good shape considering its age (close to 50 years, like me), and the fact that it made the trip home in the back of our pickup truck in January, since there was no room left in the cargo trailer. That chair and another, an old rush one, were piled up high in the back a la Beverly Hillbillies, and I suspect it’s the main reason we didn’t have to worry about theft from the truck and trailer overnight in parking lots. I’m sure people thought we were hauling our nearly worthless possessions about, judging from the junky-lookingpile in the back of the pickup.

I found small solar-powered fairy lights with round wicker covers on sale at Home Hardware, and finally put the three Ikea solar-powered white lanterns I’ve been saving for a few years to good use.  When it’s finally dark, around 10:30 pm now, it looks lovely in the greenhouse,

If you’re still here, thanks for indulging me!

BOOK LINKS, from my previous post:

Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion by Shane Smith, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt; as soon as I saw Ms. Leggitt’s lovely cover, I knew this was the book for me, since I am planning on putting a comfortable chair near the door for surveying my new domain. Underneath the pretty pictures, full over very practical and useful advice.

The Greenhouse Gardener by Anne Swithinbank, which also goes by the title The Conservatory Gardener, and which I had to buy from Book Depository because it’s no longer in print in Canada though apparently so in the US.

Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger. Not only an account of the building of her conservatory garden in Maryland, but also a history of green- and glasshouses.

Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses; I’ve long been a fan of EC. Definitely more useful for those in more temperate climes.

As I wrote last month, am once again reminded by Cicero’s quote over on the left, “Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.”

Springing forth

The leaves on the trees are finally unfurling.  No, not all of them, but lots, and we finally have a haze of green around us.  The perennials are coming up nicely. I know because at 6:30 this morning I heard loud mooing much too close to the house and there were several cows and their calves who had squeezed through a hole in the fence and made it down to the pasture by the house where the fence, naturally, wasn’t closed.  So after shooing them back through the fence and closing it, I did a brief tour of the raised beds.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how warm it was this morning compared to other mornings, when the temperatures have been around freezing.

The greenhouse is about an hour away from being finished and pulled by tractor to its new home behind the house.  Tom and his helpers built it in front of the garage so it was easy to unload building supplies and for an easy power supply.  On Mother’s Day afternoon, we dropped the kids off at rehearsal (the performances, finally, are Thursday-Saturday for “Willy Wonka”) and then headed to the recycling center, where next to the plastics bin we discovered several large stacks of enormous black plastic nursery pots for trees, perfect for growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplants in the greenhouse.  A very nice Mother’s Day present, though not nearly as nice as the breakfast in bed (heart-shaped pancakes, with bacon), flowers, greenhouse, nursery gift certificate, handmade cards, and seven-course meal.

Because I cannot do anything properly without reading about it, I have been reading my Bookcloseouts treasure, Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger, ordered before I realized I would have my own greenhouse to play in anytime soon. Ms. Kassinger details field trips to Logee’s and Glasshouse Works, where I spent far too much money as a single girl in the early nineties, though unfortunately exclusively by mail order and never in person; in fact, I used to keep the catalogues by the bed, and remember them well — the Logee’s catalogue was small and slim, and fit into a jacket pocket for easy subway reading, and the one from GW was large and floppy, on newsprint.  Have also ordered the following, from Amazon.ca and Chapters:

Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses; I’ve long been a fan of EC and have been looking for an excuse to buy his latest.

Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion by Shane Smith, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt; as soon as I saw Ms. Leggitt’s lovely cover, I knew this was the book for me, since I am planning on putting a comfortable chair near the door for surveying my new domain.

The Greenhouse Gardener by Anne Swithinbank, which also goes by the title The Conservatory Gardener, and which I had to buy from Book Depository because it’s no longer in print in Canada though apparently so in the US. Also ordered from BD, Debo Devonshire’s Wait for Me! because I couldn’t wait any longer, but sadly not Miss Buncle Married, which I have a feeling sold like hot cakes upon its recent Persephone reissue.

Am once again reminded by Cicero’s quote over on the left, “Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.”

Tom determined that the days are nowhere near long enough, and so hired a drywaller to finish the walls in the new dining area.  The fellow has been here for three days, and the sanding has begun, so the plastic is up and the dust is flying. When I drop off the kids for today’s full dress rehearsal, I’ll swing by the paint store for chips.  I’m horribly consistent, so I am planning to pick the same yellow as the rest of the kitchen, and we’ll repaint the kitchen walls and also the cabinets (which will be the same cream color I chose 12 years ago, too). The kids and I will prime and paint, and I have to choose casing for the windows too.  Then flooring, and Tom was even talking about the Ikea base cabinets for the east and west sides of the room (there will be base cabs on either side of the table, and shelves above them; sort of a modified Welsh dresser, for dining room as well as home school accoutrements), so we may well have a trip to Ikea in our future shortly. Which is good, because I think I would like these solar lights for the greenhouse:

I’ll take some pictures of the new greenhouse and the dining room as soon as I can find a camera I am able to use, and a cable.  For all the cameras and cables floating around the house, none of them seem to be mine any more.

Also yesterday, we had our semi-annual home school facilitator visit, who managed to make me feel good, and satisfied, about our efforts even though I have been managing estate matters and a business in NYC more than home schooling my children. Since Laura will be starting Grade 9 next year, we talked a bit about high school, though in Alberta at least it doesn’t start until Grade 10. I’ll be going by what I’m used to, which is 9-12.  And I am going to try to remember to be guided by the Gilbert Highet quote, also over there on the left, from his book, The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning,

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.

Finally, since this post feels rather naked without some pictures, I’ll add the ones from Daniel’s 12th birthday celebration the other week — his “hamburger” cupcakes made by his loving but not particularly crafty mother, who was egged on by Sheila, who does this sort of a thing at the drop of a hat and very well too. Surprisingly, though, they turned out quite well.  Unsurprisingly, I forgot all about taking any pictures until there were only three left, and of course they were the least successful of the bunch.  But you can get the general hamburger-ness of them,

You can see the original version here.

Getting to know you

Davy and a new calf,

Spring scenes

I uploaded a bunch of pictures from our camera to the computer before the end of May and thought I’d post some here so you can see what we’ve been up to around here.  Most of the pictures were taken by Davy.

House (English) sparrow eggs, found in a swallow’s nest box by Davy,

In early May we went to a nursery/greenhouse after picking up our 210 shelterbelt trees.  Trees are wonderful, but a greenhouse in May is even better.  Not all garden ornaments, however, are wonderful, and the kids are under strict orders from the garden and taste police to never ever bring home dwarves or elves.

Laura’s rabbit finally, after the fourth try, had a successful litter of babies,

After a few weeks, their eyes opened and the fur came in,

We learned recently that adult rabbits love mangoes, so much so that they’ll even eat part of the pit/stone,

Our cat commune, with several mothers sharing several litters of kittens, born a few weeks apart,

A boy and his kitten,

Since the fair last year, I’ve had Daniel’s prize-winning bird house, in the shape of a grain elevator, sitting on the plant stand the kids made for me last Mother’s Day.  All this time I’ve considered it ornamental, but the tree swallows in the yard had other ideas.  Here’s a female who seems interested in taking possession,

Look around to see what she thinks of the neighborhood,

Sold!  Laura thoughtfully left a little bit of excelsior nearby for feathering the new next.

Bait and switch

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

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

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

Glowing embers

Elspeth Thompson first came to my attention several years ago through her writings about the environment, self-sufficiency, and ethical living in The Guardian and about gardening in The Telegraph.  I was captivated by her idea to turn two railway cottages into a cottage — could anything be more charmingly English? — her photographs, love of poetry, and by the way, as someone at The Telegraph noted, she found the ethereal in the everyday.  She had a wonderful blog mostly about the railway cottage adventure, Off the Rails but with poems, pictures, and other bits and bobs, and a very new gardening blog started only last month, Gardening Against the Odds, where she wrote about unlikely gardens in unpromising places.  Elspeth Thompson could make a stone in a desert sprout leaves, and she could write about it enchantingly. I began to seek out her books, Urban Gardener and A Tale of Two Gardens, collections of her Telegraph columns; The Wonderful Weekend Book: Reclaim Life’s Simple Pleasures, which just came out in paperback.  And I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Homemade: Gorgeous Things to Make with Love co-authored with Ros Badger, which I want to get for Laura’s summer birthday.  Ms. Thompson sparkled so much through her writing that I can only imagine what it must have been like to know her.

It was catching up at her blog yesterday, when I really should have been packing or cleaning, that I learned the terribly sad news of her death on March 25th from a note by her husband Frank Wilson, who wrote,

It is with the deepest sadness that I must tell you that my beautiful and beloved wife Elspeth died on Thursday 25th March aged 48.

She brought her family and friends so much happiness during her short life and she loved to share some of the things that brought her happiness through her writing. She was loving, warm, wonderful and generous and she will be missed by many.

According to the obituary in The Telegraph, “In recent weeks … she had been suffering from an extreme depression; she took her own life last Thursday.”

Several years ago, Elspeth Thompson was one of the last writers to interview Anita Roddick before the latter’s sudden and untimely death. From that interview,

“The most exciting time is now!” [Anita Roddick] declared, as we prepared to leave. And it was easy to believe that, of ourselves as well as her, as we sped down the drive. It is lined with chestnut trees – some ancient, some planted when Roddick moved in.

Typically impatient, she tried to stop the designer planting small trees: “I’ll be dead before they’re fully grown!” He persuaded her that they would grow quickly. What a great sadness that she will never see that happen.

I’m so very saddened to think of Elspeth Thompson’s death, especially in the spring, with her garden waking up and waiting for her.  In her first, and only, blog post at Gardening Against the Odds, she wrote on March 7,

Why do we garden? And why does the passion with which we garden so often seem to be in inverse proportion to the conditions in which we do it? This is a question on which I often ponder while weeding my seaside garden or cycling down London’s sooty, smelly Brixton Road. This last month, three instances of what I call “gardening against the odds” have made me ponder even more. Number one is a balcony in a concrete council block that I pass on my bike ride into the centre of town. Every summer, this tiny, unprepossessing space – it can’t be more than 6 x 4ft – and overlooking a busy road – is a riot of sweetcorn and sunflowers. I’ve never once seen the owner, but like to fantasise that it’s one of the many local residents who came over from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, for whom beans and corn in the back yard mean independence. Anyway, it does cheer me up as as I ride past.

The second is a roadside verge down near the south coast, in the village where we spend most of our weekends. On a turning off the busy sea road into a modern housing estate, someone has taken the trouble to plant a narrow strip of “no-man’s land” with bearded iris, sisyrinchiums, white astrantia and low-growing grasses and campanulas. It’s such a beautiful piece of planting, I’m surprised it doesn’t cause traffic accidents. And it seems to me all the more beautiful for it being completely selfless – it reminds me of that old hippy tenet to “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”.

The last instance, and one it makes me sad to write about, concerns the father of a close friend of mine, who recently died from cancer. Some weeks ago, having just been told the worst by the hospital, he became agitated that he had not been able to order and sow seeds of the balsam flowers (Impatiens balsamina) that he and his wife have always loved to grow in their garden. You could call it displacement anxiety, but I could understand this gnawing concern about his favourite seeds, which were no longer offered by the mail order company that he habitually used. Sensing the comfort he would have in knowing the garden would be full of these sweet-smelling flowers all summer, even if he might not be there to see them. I helped to track down the seeds, he sowed them and a few weeks after his death his widow sent me a small tray of seedlings to plant in my own garden.

So what is this human urge to garden – to fill our living space, no matter how small – with living plants; to embark on this passionate collaboration with nature, however seemingly inauspicious the circumstances? After 20 years of travelling to write about gardens, it is by no means just the great and grand gardens that remain in my memory. If anything, I remember all the more vividly the hundreds of tiny patches – on strips of rooftops, sun-baked shingle, even the tops of narrow boats or travellers’ converted buses – all conceived and tended with the deepest love and care. I remember the nonogenarian who was still planning (and did, in fact finish) an ambitious water cascade in his garden in Oxfordshire; the front garden fashioned from blue and white painted breeze blocks and car-tyre containers in rural Barbados; the miniature Versailles behind a modern housing estate in Holland; the woman who raises homegrown vegetables, including 20 types of basil, on a tiny roof terrace in Chelsea.

It is in honour of these and all the many other “gardeners against the odds” that I am planting out John Bloom’s balsam in my garden this afternoon.

And that, years later, I am beginning this blog.

Would that she had been able to continue living, gardening, blogging.  I’ll end here with the poem Elspeth Thompson posted this past New Year’s Eve, “Twenty Blessings” by Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark,

Twenty Blessings
by Thomas A. Clark

May the best hour of the day be yours.
May luck go with you from hill to sea.
May you stand against the prevailing wind.
May no forest intimidate you.
May you look out from your own eyes.
May near and far attend you.
May you bathe your face in the sun’s rays.
May you have milk, cream, substance.
May your actions be effective.
May your thoughts be affective.
May you will both the wild and the mild.
May you sing the lark from the sky.
May you place yourself in circumstance.
May you be surrounded by goldfinches.
May you pause among alders.
May your desire be infinite.
May what you touch be touched.
May the company be less for your leaving.
May you walk alone beneath the stars.
May your embers still glow in the morning.

Blessings on Elspeth Thompson, her husband and young daughter.  May they always be surrounded by goldfinches.

Sunday surprise

We’re off tomorrow to see Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe, the CBC radio show which is on its spring tour through western Canada.  The surprise is that five tickets, together, were still available when I decided to call on Tuesday evening (having determined that the kids’ theater rehearsal had been canceled).  I had bought tickets last August for the Christmas show in Edmonton, which Tom, his mother, and the kids attended.

Also on the tour are The Good Lovelies, who found out on the tour bus this week that they’ve been nominated for a Juno, the Canadian version of a Grammy.

We’re all looking forward to the concert, and to listening to The Vinyl Cafe on the radio as usual on Sunday at noon before heading out to hear it live.  Twice in one day, and live to boot!

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