• 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, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)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"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "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."

    "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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Popping in…

I’m at the library for my weekly 60 minutes on the computer to check email, most of which seems to consist of deleting obscene spam at www.mail2web.com.

My last week has included:

a six-hour long annual meeting with the organic inspector; I thought he was moving in. I promise I’ll never again complain about the two-hour semi-annual visits from our home school facilitator;

thanks to on and off again showers, on and off again harvesting and a suddenly full septic tank, resulting in not being able to use any water at home for over 12 hours. Coincidence or not that we’re reading about life at the courts of Henry VIII and his daughter, and how they would have to leave their palaces for airings out, and how ripe the elaborate outfits must have been? Yes, I appreciate running water inside my house, but only when it’s really running.

our first field trip of the season, to the fire training school in town, which attracts students to its 12-week courses from all of the over the world. The kids had a ball.

mooning over the TEAC LP to CD contraption in the Hammacher-Schlemmer Christmas catalogue. It’s $399 US, but I have hundreds of LPs, many of them from my dad’s old collection (before he moved to CDs, which he found out this summer in the tropics can in fact go moldy — it’s the labels. Who knew?) and being able to transfer them to CD would be a fabulous, not to mention incredibly educational lol, resource.

starting SOTW3. Finally. Hurray!

Must dash, before I turn into a pumpkin and the librarian removes me bodily…

Down for the count until further notice

My laptop died last Thursday night, so there won’t be much blogging going on until it’s fixed. I’m writing this from the computer at the library, and hope to get my laptop to an authorized Apple type — the closest one is about two and a half hours away — within the next few weeks. So there may be nothing new here for about a month.

On the other hand, that gives me lots of time to clean the house, read stories with the kids, go for walks (keeping eyes peeled for bears, of course), clean up the garden and plant our tulip bulbs, and can some more pears. Stay tuned!

P.S. Tom’s brother returned home Saturday night. A sudden dramatic improvement, thank goodness. Looks like he’ll need some speech therapy for a bit of a stutter, but other than that he’s almost all back to normal, and fortunately his sense of humor is still intact.

Not a good week

On Monday morning, Tom’s youngest brother — 37 years old and the father of three kids under the age of 11 — had a stroke.

Fortunately, neither he nor his wife had left for work yet, and she was able to get him into their van to drive to the small hospital nearby. Assessing his amnesia and beyond-bloodshot eyes, the doctors and nurses realized right away that he needed to get to the experts at the University of Alberta hospital — two-and-a-half hours away — immediately. We got the news just as the ambulance was taking off, in a phone call from my sobbing mother-in-law. Fortunately and unusually, Tom was at home, having stopped in to pick up some more tools.

We spent the next 24 hours waiting for news. By Tuesday afternoon, we’d learned that it was definitely a stroke — we still haven’t heard much more than that — but in a way that information has been confusing for the family. How could someone so young, so healthy, so strong (he’s a big guy who’d still be playing intramural hockey if his knees had held up), and presumably without any of the risk factors (we’re not sure about the high blood pressure) get a stroke? Or as a friend of both Tom and his brother said to me yesterday when he phoned for any news, “If Mike can get a stroke, then anyone can.”

Aside from jumping every time the phone rings and being consumed with wondering what life will be like for Mike, his wife, and their kids after this and if (please, please, please) it will ever go back to normal, or near normal, the other thought all of us have had is that one. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone — to me, my husband. And we won’t have any warning.

I thought back to the day before this all happened. I don’t care too much about leaving a sinkful of dirty dishes, a kitchen floor that needs mopping, a pile of unfiled papers, or even a head that needs shampooing when the ambulance comes and life as I know it is gone forever. But…did we remember to check on the kids last night and watch them for a bit as they slept, the quilts rising and falling gently with their breaths? Did I agree to the pleas for “just another chapter” for their bedtime readaloud or did I firmly shoo them to bed so I could jump in the shower? Did Tom and I have a chance to talk for a bit before bed, rather than just exchanging a quick list of what we each needed the other to do the next day? Did we all remember goodbye kisses when Daddy left in the morning? Did I decide to fold laundry in the living room with the kids while we all watched our new kids’ DVD of Midsummer Night’s Dream rather than hop on the computer quickly to check my email? We have more yeses than nos when we do the tally, which is good.

Then again, you can’t really live each day as if it might be your last, can you? But I think you can try to do your best, especially for your own family and for yourself. I’m haunted right now by the fact that those memories of that last day of doing your best — or not — may be what you take with you in that ambulance, that hospital bed, and beyond. This is definitely a time for time, and patience, and waiting, and seeing. And hoping.

Best news I’ve had all day…

The Amazing Race: Family Edition begins on Tuesday, September 27th. Hurray!

We are all of us, kids included (who will be granted a special once-a-week bedtime extension), very excited. We will of course be rooting for the families with younger kids. And I’ll be wondering how these four-member teams will make a go of things, when most of the couples in the previous Races seemed challenged by the concepts of co-operation and teamwork. Tee hee…

Here is New York

It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible. Every time the residents brush their teeth, millions of gallons of water must be drawn from the Catskills and the hills of Westchester. When a young man in Manhattan writes a letter to his girl in Brooklyn, the love message gets blown to her through a pneumatic tube — pfft — just like that. The subterranean system of telephone cables, power lines, steam pipes, gas mains and sewer pipes is reason enough to abandon the island to the gods and the weevils. Every time an incision is made in the pavement, the noisy surgeons expose ganglia that are tangled beyond belief. By rights New York should have destroyed itself long ago, from panic or fire or rioting or failure of some vital supply line in its circulatory system or from some deep labyrinthine short circuit. Long ago the city should have experienced an insoluble traffic snarl at some impossible bottleneck. It should have perished of hunger when food lines failed for a few days. It should have been wiped out by a plague starting in its slums or carried in by ships’ rats. It should have been overwhelmed by the sea that licks at it on every side. The workers in its myriad cells should have succumbed to nerves, from the fearful pall of smoke-fog that drifts over every few days from Jersey, blotting out all light at noon and leaving the high offices suspended, men groping and depressed, and the sense of world’s end. It should have been touched in the head by the August heat and gone off its rocker.

Mass hysteria is a terrible force, yet New Yorkers seem always to escape it by some tiny margin: they sit in stalled subways without claustrophobia, they extricate themselves from panic situations by some lucky wisecrack, they meet confusion and congestion with patience and grit — a sort of perpetual muddling through. Every facility is inadequate — the hospitals and schools and playgrounds are overcrowded, the express highways are feverish, the unimproved highways and bridges are bottlenecks; there is not enough air and not enough light, and there is usually either too much heat or too little. But the city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin — the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan, mighty and unparalleled.

E.B. White, Here is New York, 1949

Lions and tigers and mother bears, oh my

One of our neighbors, from the acreages just south of our farm, sped up our driveway after supper tonight. Especially because of the kids, he wanted to warn us about a mother black bear and cub he had just seen ambling around their property headed in our direction.

Right away, new rules, wide eyes, somber nodding heads:

  • No kids allowed the run of the farm or allowed unchaperoned on bikes to their friends at the acreages, especially not by way of the through-the-woods shortcut.
  • Stay by the house.
  • No more walking to the mailboxes for any of us; Laura and I went this afternoon, just a few hours before finding about our new furry neighbors (yikes).
  • If there’s a bear in the yard, 1) do not get between her and the cub, 2) get into the truck (or garage) as quickly as possible if you’re closer to the truck (or garage) than the house.
  • The garage door must stay closed at all times.
  • Oh, and if you hear bear noises, especially the bear cub crying for its mother, get in the house as soon as possible. And if you see the cub and the mother is nowhere in sight, do not even think of playing with it. GET IN THE HOUSE NOW.
  • Do not touch Daddy’s gun, especially if you see it outside of the locked gun closet where it usually lives. There was a reason Charles Ingalls kept his gun on hooks over the front door, for handy access. We haven’t told the kids the part about Daddy making sure it was loaded tonight, and that he’s going to keep it with him when he’s in the truck, especially with harvest upon us, which means late nights, in the dark, and walking around fields from tractor to truck. It’s 10:45 pm and I’m just the teensiest bit nervous about Tom being out of doors tonight.

Am I babbling yet? Not only is this bear family much too close, but in the last week or so we’ve heard about entirely too many bear attacks, including two fatal ones (in Ontario and Manitoba), across the country. There was a rash of bear attacks, some fatal, earlier this summer too. And in June we found a three-year-old male black bear three miles north of our house in a neighbor’s field; that was a week after a black bear was discovered on the golf course in town, and subsequently shot by the local wildlife conservation officer. Remind me why I left NYC again?

PS A big thank you to our wonderful neighbor for the warning. It is much appreciated by this mama bear.

Plum crazy

My late Viennese grandmother’s recipe for plum torte, and one of my favorite ways to eat Italian prune plums:

Viennese Plum Torte

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (aka 4 oz. aka 8 tbsp. aka 1 stick)
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
2 eggs
12 prune plums, halved and pitted
Topping: sugar, cinnamon (approx. 1 tsp), half a lemon (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9″ springform pan (you can also use a pie plate).

Cream sugar and butter in Mixmaster until light and fluffy. Add flour, baking powder, salt, eggs, and mix well.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Place the plum halves in the batter, skin side up. Sprinkle lightly with additional sugar and cinnamon to taste, and squeeze lemon over all the plums (you might not need all the juice).

Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove and cool. Can be refrigerated or frozen. Serve warm or cooled, plain or with vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream.