• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Growing with Grammar: a review

A friend of mine, Tamy Davis, has just finished her new third grade grammar book, Growing with Grammar, the first in what will be a series. Homeschoolers, especially secular homeschoolers in search of a rigorous grammar program, will be delighted.

Since we were lucky enough to be part of the test group, we’ve been using the program now for about a month. I, and others who’ve already started using the program, have shared our thoughts on it here, in a testimonial at the GWG website, and here, in a review at The Denim Jumper.

The timing of the test group couldn’t have been better. Laura had been working in Rod & Staff’s Beginning Wisely grammar program since September. While grammar is one of her favorite subjects, she was beginning to balk at the the unending religious references, even when we changed names to brothers, aunts, favorite dolls, and book and movie characters. I had thought that we could work with R&S knowing that it was religious but not proselytizing. I had hoped that we could, because I really want something thorough for the kids.

Tamy saved our bacon. I had hoped secretly in my heart that GWG would be “as good as” R&S’s highly touted (even by secular hs’ers) program. Guess what? It’s better, yes, better. This, aside from the secular aspect — which means it can be used by families of any faith or no faith — is why:

— it doesn’t involve a lot of writing, which is especially nice for reluctant writers. But the exercises are incredibly thorough, and include a lot of review of previously covered material (and each exercise contains references to the original lesson in the manual, so you or your child can go back for more review if necessary). In fact, the 230-page workbook is just seven pages shorter than the manual. How’s that for thorough? But it’s fun, sort of like a Mad Libs book but educational and not disjointed or overly silly. The student exercises are a combination of rewriting sentences as well as underlining, checking or circling the right answer, and completing sentences with a few extra words.

— both the manual and workbook are spiral-bound, so they lie flat on the table. Why should something so small make me so happy? Because books that flop shut of their own volition despite your best efforts do not make for extended, happy, learning periods. And the spiral-bound workbook is bound at the top, which makes it very nice if you have a lefty. I have a lefty and two righties, so this is much appreciated.

— there’s no teacher’s guide, because one isn’t needed. Just the manual, which you read through with your child, and the student workbooks. Very nice to get your budding grammarian doing more independent work.

I’ll give Laura the last word: “I like that the activity pages [workbook] are fun, I can work on them by myself, and it’s about kids like me and families like mine.” And she’s getting a solid foundation in third grade grammar. Sold!


Crash, bang, boom, or, Throw the bums out

Oh dear, is that the sound of a Liberal minority government falling that I hear?

I rather imagine that it would sound something like Fibber McGee’s hall closet

A Night at the Opera

We’re off to the little city tonight to see Alberta Opera’s production of Rapunzel. Tom is knocking off work early, because we have to leave here around 5 p.m. and the curtain is at 7.

Interestingly, when I called to order tickets, the woman who replied sounded rather reluctant to take my money, reminding me that the performance was on a Monday night, at 7 p.m. Alright, without my morning coffee I was a bit dense, but finally, after her tentative, “Well, it is a school night,” my own curtain rose and light dawned. “That’s okay,” I told her. “We home school.”


Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

I’m particularly thankful as a born American and naturalized Canadian that I have two official opportunities each year to be thankful, and so many unofficial opportunities and reasons.

Many of the things I’m thankful for this year are the same things for which I’ve been grateful for years, in no particular order:

my husband, who is kind, thoughtful (in all senses of the word), strong, a hard worker, a good earner, a great dancer, and blessed with masses of common sense and a terrific sense of humor, and so frugal that he enjoys leftovers; he is a dandy father who enjoys taking the kids along for the day, whether it’s for building, farm chores, paying bills in town (at such fun spots as the farm supply store, automotive shop, and lumber yard), or hunting at dawn. And because he turns a blind eye to the boxes of books, and the bills for boxes of books, that arrive here regularly. And, as always, a special giving of thanks to my sister-in-law, who 12 years ago decided that her wedding had to take place in rural Alberta instead of downtown Toronto, and who kept insisting that her brother take me along to run pre-wedding errands.

my three kids — healthy, joyful, and smart cookies all. They enjoy spending time with each other, with us, and discovering all there is to discover each new day. They have lively bodies and lively minds and are a joy to spend time with every day, something I’m mindful of when I encounter non-homeschooling parents who laugh too loudly when they say, “Oh, I couldn’t spend all day with my kids.”

our little house on the prairie under the huge prairie sky, warm, comfortable, and cozy, about to bulge out with a kitchen addition suitable for homeschooling (bookcases on the east wall!), dontcha know. And the four seasons, each so different, and some not as long as others (which can be a good thing and a bad thing). And speaking of pioneer life, I’m thankful for hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, central heating, good roads, and supermarkets. And those butterfly bandages in the medicine cabinet.

a freezer full of our own beef, chickens, ducks, geese, venison, rhubarb, and saskatoons; and shelves of Mason jars filled with our own home-canned pears and peaches, cranberry sauce, and apple sauce.

the Zabars care packages from my parents, collected annually during our visits down south — tubes of garlic paste, Zabar’s freshly ground Mocha-Java, *real* pepperoni and unpasteurized Brie

our library and the magic of interlibrary loans, which brings books and audiobooks nearly to our door from across the province

the upcoming change to visit Grandmama and Grandpapa, loving grandparents and parents extraordinaire.

And a few new things this year:

Laura’s discovery of the joy of reading (and her newfound artistic abilities),

Daniel’s discovery of his ability to read

Davy’s discovery of the joy of writing, which has brought him to discovering the necessity of the ability to read

hibernating bears

kittens that made it to adulthood without discovering fan belts in trucks or coyotes in the back yard (aka Back 40)

our close friends, who are now 15 minutes away instead of two-and-a-half hours

Amazon.ca, which has seen the errors of its customer-unfriendly ways and has started shipping orders qualifying for “free shipping” in a timely manner rather than holding them hostage

and last but not least, all of my new invisible imaginary online friends, most of them other home schooling mothers, and all of them smart and smart alecky, strong, funny, and kind, who have opened doors, windows, and hearts for me. I thank you.

Happy Birthday, my tan-faced prairie boy

Now we are five, and I love you even more now than when I first held you in my arms, even if you did wake me up at 5:30 this morning to open your presents. But you know, the presents really are all mine.

O Tan-Faced Prairie Boy
by Walt Whitman

O tan-faced prairie-boy,
Before you came to camp came many a welcome gift,
Praises and presents came and nourishing food, till at last among the recruits
You came, taciturn, with nothing to give — we but look’d on each other,
When lo! more than all the gifts of the world you gave me.

The not so Amazing Race

Not a particularly meaningful entry for my 100th post (tee hee), but I’m having difficulty getting interested in the current edition of the Amazing Race. Especially since the Gaghan family with the two little kids was eliminated. After last night, all I have to say is, what she said. And I’m glad I’m not taping episodes for my kids anymore. Sigh.

Something immeasurable and almost indescribable

From The New Yorker, November 30, 1963, by E.B. White:

When we think of him, he is without a hat, standing in the wind and weather. He was impatient of topcoats and hats, preferring to be exposed, and he was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the cold and the wind of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger. He died of exposure, but in a way that he would have settled for — in the line of duty, and with his friends and enemies all around, supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in a like position, that he did not fear the weather and did not trim his sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and to cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the world and its people.”

From a letter to Robert Kennedy from E.B. White, recipient of the Presidential Measure of Freedom, December 1963: “The accomplishments of presidents in office are usually measured in rather exact terms, but your brother gave the country something immeasurable and almost indescribable, for which we all will be forever grateful.”

From Death of a President by William Manchester:

In his notes to himself [an unnamed Cabinet member] observed that Lyndon “does not have this sense of the time and the age and the forces which John F. Kennedy had to such an unusual degree.” The cachet was gone. It had been odd: “Jack Kennedy was never really outgoing in a sense with people that you felt close to him, but yet he had that peculiar quality that so endeared him and commanded such loyalty and devotion…that quality was there until I could almost say that you love that man [despite] his somewhat taciturn New England attitudes.”

Excerpts from John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention, Los Angeles, July 15, 1960:

… We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future. As Winston Churchill said on taking office some twenty years ago: “If we open a quarrel between the present and the past, we shall be in danger of losing the future.”

Today our concerns must be with that future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.

All over the world, particularly in the newer nations, young men are coming to power — men who are not bound by the traditions of the past — men who are not blinded by the old fears and rivalries — young men who can cast off the old slogans and delusions and suspicions. …

For I stand tonight facing west on what was once the last frontier. From the lands that stretch 3,000 miles behind me, the pioneers of old gave up their safety, their comfort and sometimes their lives to build a new world here in the West.

They were not the captives of their own doubts, the prisoners of their own price tags. Their motto was not “every man for himself” — but “all for the common cause.” They were determined to make that new world strong and free, to overcome its hazards and its hardships, to conquer the enemies that threatened from without and within.

Today some would say that those struggles are all over — that all the horizons have been explored — that all the battles have been won — that there is no longer an American frontier.

But I trust that no one in this assemblage will agree with those sentiments. For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won — and we stand today on the edge of a new frontier … a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils — a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats. …

… I tell you the New Frontier is here, whether we seek it or not. Beyond that frontier are uncharted ares of science and space, unsolved problems of peace and war, unconquered pockets of ignorance and prejudice, unanswered questions of poverty and surplus. …

For courage — not complacency — is our need today — leadership — not salesmanship. And the only valid test of leadership is the ability to lead, and lead vigorously. …

Can a nation organized and governed such as ours endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction — but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space and the inside of men’s minds?

Are we up to the task? Are we equal to the challenge? …

All the lost boys and girls

Laurie Gough’s article in yesterday’s National Post is one of the saddest and dispiriting I’ve ever read. Gough, an author who pays the bills by teaching, writes,

In recent days, the Canadian media has focused its collective gaze on Kashechewan, the tiny native community on the shores of James Bay in Ontario. Much has been made of the town’s contaminated water, which has sickened hundreds of residents and forced many to be evacuated. But having lived and worked in Kashechewan, I can report that water problems are just the tip of the iceberg. In almost every respect, Kashechewan is a very sick place.

Kasechewan is a recent Canadian scandal, about drinking water supplies on the Cree reserve, in northern Ontario, contaminated with E. coli. Many of the reserve’s residents were evacuated to cities in southern Ontario, and the provincial and federal governments have promised millions in aid, to fix the water supply, houses, and schools. Gough’s article, about her brief time teaching in a Kasechewan school, makes me wonder if those millions will make any difference in such a sick place that may not be able to be healed. What we need to do is to turn the clock back, well before the misbegotten idea of reserves was put forth. I’ve quoted much of Gough’s searing article, making for a long post, but you’ll get no apologies from me. And you should really click on the link above to read the article in its entirety, including Gough’s worst example of student behavior.

My experience in Kashechewan generated a complete unravelling of almost everything I believed. Until then, I romanticized Third World and native cultures. Unfairly, I put those people on a pedestal, somehow expecting them to be wiser than people from my own culture, more connected to the land, perhaps even possessing an ancient knowledge that our culture had lost eons ago. …

Let me relate some highlights of that first morning: Dead animals were thrown around the classroom — mice, sparrows, small rats. At one point, something I thought was the tail of a mink torpedoed toward me. When the rusty-coloured object landed on my desk, I looked down in horror at the braid of my hair. I reached up to feel my newly cropped hairstyle. Somehow, during the chaos, one of the kids had put his or her scissors to use. The curtains were torn down and used as a giant hammock. Books were cut up, scribbled upon and chewed. Nothing I did to try to prevent any of this had any effect. I was a non-entity. Already I’d aged five years and lost my voice. My hands were shaking. It was 10 a.m. I’d “get used to it,” the other teachers told me.

The other teachers were wrong. I never got used to it. It never got better. But at least I had the advantage of knowing that if I really wanted to I could escape that sad little ice village and join my own culture again. These children and their parents were caught in a no-man’s land, lost between two worlds — one foreign, the other going extinct.

As time went by, I realized that very little native culture remains today in sub-Arctic Canada. Once, small bands of nomadic Cree roamed the territory, hunting, fishing and gathering. Today, most live in villages year-round in pre-fab houses, unemployed, on welfare and getting their highly processed food at the Hudson’s Bay store. The vast quantities of sugar consumed daily by the kids is evident in their rotting teeth. Here and there, some of the old ways still exist: Twice a year, school is shut down for a week-long goose hunt. (The children were excellent goose callers, as they demonstrated daily in class.) But otherwise, it’s simply a squalid imitation of the white man’s world.

I was astounded by the discipline problems in the school — until I observed the cause: These children’s lives weren’t structured in the way of most children’s lives in the south. Children are rarely told what to do or not to do. They may sleep at a different house every night. Meals are rarely eaten together as a family. When I would ask the kids what they had for lunch, Mars bars, Coke and potato chips were the usual replies.

Television, it seemed to me, was the main culprit in destroying what little the people had left of their culture. Within a year of the first TV’s arrival in the village in the late 1980s, the nurses told me, children began to fight regularly and swear at the teachers — behaviour that had previously been rare. No longer were they content with their homemade toys; they wanted plastic guns instead.

In the times when the Cree embraced a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle, their ancestors’ parenting methods would have worked. Allowing children to roam freely without rules helps them develop useful survival skills. But now that the people no longer hunt and gather to survive, this child-rearing method no longer works. Children typically become depressed and hostile by their early teens. The anger lasts into adulthood, where it’s often accompanied by hatred toward all outsiders. Teachers would sometimes be pelted with rocks and snowballs as we walked down the road. Across the river, someone had hung the female principal’s dog by a noose so it dangled dead on her front porch when she stepped out to work one morning.

Most parents were not the least bit interested in encouraging education or reading to their children. One reason, I had to remind myself, was that up until the 1960s, generations of parents had been taken away to residential schools at early ages. No wonder many of these adults had few parenting skills: They’d never had the chance to learn such skills from their own parents.

It was also evident that the very few who did manage to get away from the reserve to complete their educations rarely returned. This was understandable — but it meant the community had few educated, positive role models. …

After three months, I began waking up with headaches and dark circles under my eyes. One day in class, I think it was the day when the kids had stolen my house keys — they regularly stole things, but I really needed those keys — I felt so defeated and exhausted that something in me simply gave up. I sat at my desk and watched bleary-eyed as they whirled around the room like dervishes, destroyed every remaining book and sprayed glue into each other’s faces. I couldn’t fight it anymore. In one last-ditch effort, I invited the parents into my class to help me, but none of them showed up. …

I had gone to Kashechewan naively looking for a culture that no longer exists. Instead, I found abuse everywhere — of children, women, animals and even the land itself, supposedly the subject of so much cultural veneration. On the reserve, open sewage was emptied into the streams; garbage was thrown all over the place; and every year, on Dead Dog Day, stray dogs were shot and thrown into the river, turning the water an alarming, brilliant red.

I have no idea what the answers are. But I do know I came away with the feeling that somewhere along the line, a great injustice had been done to those kids. In time, they will turn into equally dysfunctional adults, never having had the chance to succeed and thrive in a healthy community.

How on earth do you help? What on earth do you, can you, do?

The 100 most important Canadian books

as determined by The Literary Review of Canada. Not the 100 greatest, or the best, but the most important, arranged in chronological order. Everything from Jacques Cartier to Anne of Green Gables to Peggy Atwood.

Get cracking!

Just ordered from interlibrary loan

The one on the right, in case you can’t read it, is Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent, by the husband-and-wife chef team of Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid.

I am definitely doing the library happy dance in the kitchen, even though I am number eight for Talk to the Hand. Utter bloody rudeness, indeed.

What to give the man who has everything

Okay, Tom doesn’t have everything, but he’s a pretty content guy who seems to have everything he needs and wants, which makes finding Christmas and birthday presents for him an annual difficulty for me. He doesn’t collect anything other than tools, about which I still know next to nothing (I bought him a lovely English chisel set from Lee Valley for our first Christmas together, only to find that he already had three similar sets), and isn’t interested in much that’s technological, so that rules out a whole host of giftable “toys.” (Which, of course and thank goodness, is what gives me the freedom to blog about it lol.)

I tend to think that a book is always the perfect gift (especially because it’s the one I most like to receive). But though Tom loves books and loves to read, between long days of building and farming he just doesn’t have the time to read as much and as often as he’d like.

Well, I just figured out how to give him time.

Last month he finally bought a new, okay, newer, truck to replace his collapsing 1978 Ford pickup. It has a moonroof, controls to move the pedals, heated leather seats, and all sorts of other luxurious and handy dandy features, including — ta da — a six-cd changer. One of the first days driving the new truck, he happened to hear part of a CBC rebroadcast of Ronald Wright’s A Short History of Progress. Unable to hear all of it, he asked if I could get the whole set from the library. I did, and we were able to listen to the entire thing, with very patient kids in the back seat, on our six-hour odyssey to pick up the laying hens.

So it occurred to me the other day that for Christmas I could get Tom a cd holder, maybe binder style, and fill it with audio books he would enjoy and could listen to while driving. I’m thinking of Krakatoa by Simon Winchester, Collapse by Jared Diamond, A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong (which I hope to blog about when I get the hardcover from interlibrary loan), and (the unfortunately abridged) Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill, which I would love to be able to discuss with Tom. That should get him through the first part of 2006.

If and when I figure out how to give myself the gift of time, you’ll be the first to know lol.

Reading aloud

Patricia Storms, who has a way with words and pictures (her own and others), at her blog BookLust asks the questions,

“Do you remember being read to as a child? and Would you like to be read to now, as an adult?”

Good questions, and ones that have particular resonance for me as a home schooling mother with a passion for books and reading, especially because I want to pass that passion along to my children. Interestingly, not many of the commenters at BookLust remember being read aloud to. I don’t either, though I know my parents did. I’m also pretty sure that they were more than ready enough to hand over the job to their newly independent reader.

As home schoolers, readalouds play a large part in our days, and in our lives. Some of our more enjoyable readalouds this year have included Caddie Woodlawn, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the rereading, for the umpteenth time, of the collected works of Robert McCloskey. I read aloud to the kids in the afternoon (usually for history and science), and then before bed. When they were younger, I’d read to them before naptime; as a toddler, Laura came to associate the collected tales of Beatrix Potter with naps and would ask for the “sleepy bunny” stories. I often read bits and pieces aloud to Tom (especially when he’s driving and especially when he’s tired), he reads interesting finds aloud to me, and we all enjoy listening to audio books together, particularly the treasures from Naxos. Until recently, Laura would read aloud to me (now, she explains, “reading aloud doesn’t let me read fast enough”), and some of my most pleasant memories from the past few years include cooking or doing laundry with my little blonde daughter perched on a countertop nearby, book in hand, lisping her way through Harper & Row’s various I Can Read series and, later, the Magic Tree House books.

I’ve even admitted to a few friends our variation on “car schooling” — in our case, “bed schooling,” because most of our readalouds, whether for history, science, or just for fun, take place in the master bedroom on the bed, where there are enough pillows and room for everyone, either to snuggle up or to stretch out with coloring pages. Had I known then what I know now, I might have asked my husband to spring for a king size bed, or, what one family I know has, an enormous mattress right on the floor, perfect for sprawling with books, magazines, cats, and just about anything else you can think of.

I’m very much looking forward to many of the readalouds I’ve planned this year to go along with our history and literature studies this year, pegged to Story of the World, Volume 3: Early Modern Times: Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, the Nonsense Rhymes of Edward Lear, Alice in Wonderland, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, Gulliver’s Travels, and more. I’m in a bit of a rush, so I’ll try to add links to the specific editions we have later on.

So what about you? Do you remember being read to as a child? Do you like being read to? Do you read aloud much with your kids now?

Semper ubi LONG sub ubi

Hey, we are classical homeschoolers, and this is Alberta in November, so I have to admit that it was one of the first thoughts to pop into my head when the temperatures dipped down below zero (in Celsius at least). Way down, to -19C last night. Brrr. Right now, it’s warmed up to an almost balmy -2C, and the sky is overcast, which can mean only one thing: snow.

As I sit here in my long johns with a nice warm cup of coffee, and Laura sits nearby on the register reading, I think back to ninth grade, where thanks to my father’s insistence I was one of only two high school students and the only girl in a Latin class filled with fifth-grade boys. One of the first things my new classmates taught me was “semper ubi sub ubi”, which literally translated means “always where under where.” Which of course cracks up the average boy, whether he’s in fifth grade or ninth. The very English Mr. Smith, very old school, was our firm, demanding, but exceedingly kind teacher, and in retrospect I suspect he must have been a bit relieved at having an older student, especially one who didn’t snicker at the mention of Lesbos and was rather moved by some of Catullus. I loved Latin, and dear, dear, old Mr. Smith, so much that I took Latin for all four years and in 10th grade added ancient Greek. Both stood me well in high school, and into college, and I can still remember more than just the underwear business. And I still treasure the pottery mug, with my name and the year, Mr. Smith commissioned from the school’s art teacher as my graduation present; now cracked, it sits on my desk and holds pens and pencils.

Hey, I suppose I could teach the kids some of my “winter” Latin. And won’t Dad be surprised?!

Why we love going to dentist

We camped out at the dentist’s office yesterday for nearly three hours so all three kids could have their check-ups (and Laura ended up with sealant on her molars; she was delighted to hear that she, like her beloved horse, has deep grooves). Not as bad as it sounds because

1. thanks to checkups every six months since they were tots (and before that, they’d sit quietly on me or nearby while I had my checkups), they lie there like champs, with their mouths wide open. Even when they don’t have to.

2. thanks to the check-ups every six months, no cavities again. Well, there was that one horrible time when the youngest was too young for teeth and the eldest was old enough to more or less (apparently more) take care of her own and somehow middle child’s mouth got neglected by Mommy — not a good tendency with his tendency away from vegetables and other healthy snacks and toward anything sweet — who was just so tired from looking after various children’s ends and other odds and ends, and somehow middle child ended up with six, count ’em, six, cavities. All at one time. In that teeny tiny mouth. Oh. my. god. I think it was more traumatic for me than for Daniel. I am able to think about it now but am still secretly waiting and hoping for all those cavitied baby teeth to fall out. Soon, damn it.

3. I didn’t have to pay this time. Whoopee! I didn’t even mind that I had started writing out the check (which I can use next week when I go for my own check-up). Because this is Canada, land of national health care (see item no. 6), and because we go to the dentist twice a year, one child’s visit annually is covered under the provincial health care system. (Of course, we could be like the other people in town and go once a year at most. At twice a year, a schedule started by my mother who grew up in war-torn Yugoslavia and ended up with dentures in her twenties, we are the village oddities.) I couldn’t remember that the kids’ visits in the spring had been on our dime, so it was a pleasant surprise to have the receptionist tell me no need to pay. Especially because this was a visit with x-rays and sealant. And I’m not going to mention the braces that I can see marching toward at least two of the kids. Did I mention we farm and have no private insurance that covers such niceties?

4. We left with a bagful of loot — one prize each from the prize room (Laura got a braided, beaded bracelet; the boys, little plastic parachutists who’ve been making appearances down the stairs and into the basement), new toothbrushes and garishly colored and flavored floss, a pack of gum each (the dentist must be part of some Gum-ola scheme, because besides the gum I got a spiel about how this one brand of gum is actually good for our teeth. Yeah, right, more like good for the dentist’s business) which I intend to save for a plane trip after the holidays. And something new for those with no cavities — three coupons for a free movie rental. Double wowee.

5. Laura, a natural worrier like her mother, had her fears about the various bumps and gaps in her mouth allayed first by the hygienist and then by the dentist. The bumps are the belated arrival of her six-year molars (and yet not-quite-five-year-old Davy’s x-rays showed that his six-year molars have just started breaking through the bone now). I tried to explain, but of course a mother isn’t nearly as reliable as a trained professional.

6. Best of all and completely non-tooth related, the hygienist assumed that we’re the same age. To which I will only say a) Ha! and b) I am delighted that at 41 and after nearly three hours in a dentist’s office I can apparently pass for 35. I am so delighted, in fact, that I plan to overlook the fact that the wonderful, younger hygienist from Saskatchewan admitted that she had never heard of famous Saskatchewanian Tommy Douglas (father of national healthcare — called Medicare, by the way, and not be confused with the other Medicare in the U.S. — in Canada, not to mention Kiefer Sutherland’s grandfather, ex-father-in-law of the newest Mr. Bennet, and winner of CBC’s Greatest Canadian contest the other year). “I’m not that into politics,” she explained.


Well, thanks for everything, and see you in another six months!

Confessions of an idiotic Luddite

I don’t know whether I should blame my recent computer woes on being an idiot or a Luddite, so maybe I should claim both. The good news is there was no “hard drive” or “hard disc” failure as my father had feared. Instead, I was out of self-imposed commission because in the heat of editing and rewriting an article on homeschooling for a friend much too late at night, one of my fingers apparently grazed the F7 key, which on my PowerBook is the “spanning” key, used by those of us with external monitors (unlike the graphic designers and gaming types whose advanced computer skills require these monitors, I got my monitor last spring when the screen on my laptop gave out and I refused to pay the $800 to replace it).

Reminds me of all those chimps sitting at typewriters in the hopes of cranking out a Shakespearean sentence, except in reverse.


Over on the right side — under “What We’re Reading, Watching & Listening To” — are some new listings. Instead of using all that extra time in the last month and half gained from not having a computer to, say, become an obsessive house cleaner, I decided to use it to add some more books and movies to our days. Wouldn’t want Tom to get the wrong idea about life without a computer, eh?

As Squeeze would say, "I’ve Returned"…

Tom, the kids, and I went to Edmonton yesterday, mainly to get Davy’s passport sorted out (three tries at the photos, and one application mailed off but returned by functionaries), which we did and successfully to boot. Very nice since we’re supposed to be in another country in about two months. As a bonus, we stopped off at the Apple repair place and picked up my languishing laptop which is now in apple-pie order (and just in time to start ordering books from Amazon etc. for far-flung family for the holidays). So I’m now back in business, blogging and otherwise. Hooray.

Extra bonus — after the computer store, we went to the former Provincial Museum, now renamed (by Good Queen Bess II when she was here in the summer for the centennial celebrations) the Royal Alberta Museum. Not too big, but lots of fun things to see, including the requisite taxidermied specimens, an exhibit called “Kid Stuff” with toys from the 50’s and 6o’s that all of a sudden made my pulse race (did I ever think I’d see the brightly colored boxes from Colorforms or Magic Rocks again?), dinosaurs (featuring, of course, Albertasaurus), Canadian gems and minerals, and a nifty exhibit on Native life, the Gallery of Aboriginal Culture. But the highlight was a chance to chat with the bug wrangler in the Bug Room, as we went around feeding and misting his very live charges. The kids were quite taken by the Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, because we’ve learned recently that my parents will be spending the holidays with my sister and her family in Kenya, where they live; Christmas will find them on Madagascar, and while Santa may not find them, the hissing cockroaches just might. Or as Laura put it, “Grandmama will be lucky because she’ll be able to hear them before she sees them.” I’ll have to double-check and see if my mother really considers that a benefit lol.

Glad to be back.

P.S. I see that the fine folks at http://www.welltrainedmind.com were kind enough to add Farm School to their list of blogs. A big thank you to them, and a welcome to everyone who has stopped by — with apologies to those who’ve found till now only sporadic postings.

Remembrance Day II

From Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain:

When the sound of victorious guns burst over London at 11 a.m. on November 11th, 1918, the men and women who looked incredulously into each other’s faces did not cry jubilantly: “We’ve won the War!” They only said: “The War is over.”…

Late that evening, when supper was over, a group of V.A.D.s [Volunteer Aid Detachment nurses] who were anxious to walk through Westminster and Whitehall to Buckingham Palace prevailed upon me to join them…. After the long, long blackness, it seemed like a fairy-tale to see the street lamps shining through the chill November gloom.

I detached myself from the others and walked slowly up Whitehall, with my heart sinking in a sudden cold dismay. Already this was a different world from the one that I had known during four life-long years, a world in which people would be light-hearted and forgetful, in which themselves and their careers and their amusements would blot out political ideals and great national issues. And in that brightly lit, alien world I should have no part. All those with whom I had really been intimate were gone; not one remained to share with me the heights and depths of my memories. As the years went by and youth departed and remembrance grew dim, a deeper and ever deeper darkness would cover the young men who were once my contemporaries.

For the first time I realised, with all that full realisation meant, how completely everything had hitherto made up my life had vanished with Edward and Roland, with Victor and Geoffrey. The War was over; a new age was beginning; but the dead were dead and would never return.

Edward was her brother, Roland Leighton her fiance, and Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow friends of brother and sister. In her will after death in 1970, Miss Brittain directed that her ashes be scattered on her brother’s grave on the the Asiago Plateau because “for nearly 50 years much of my heart has been in that Italian village cemetery.”

Remembrance Day

Anthem for Doomed Youth
by Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, —
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Thoughts on returning home from the weekend’s organic farming seminar in Regina, Saskatchewan

“Pasture Management”
by E.B. White

Down here below the pasture pond,
O’er the lovely lea,
I went spraying the bushes
With 2, 4-D.

(For young, susceptible annual weeds, apply one to two pints per acre.)

I had read my bulletins,
I was in the know.
The two young heifers
Came and watched the show.

(Along ditches and fences rows, use 2,4-D when weeds are in a succulent stage. Won’t harm livestock.)

Rank grew the pasture weeds,
The thistle and the bay;
A quiet, still morning,
A good time to spray.

(Control weeds the easy way with Agricultural Weed-No-More–not by chemical burn but by hormone action.)

Suddenly I looked and saw
What my spray had found:
The wild, shy strawberry
Was everywhere around.

(An alkyl ester of 2, 4-D is produced by reacting an alcohol with the raw 2, 4-D acid. The result is an oily liquid that sticks to weed leaves.)

What sort of madness,
Little man, is this?
What sort of answer to
The wild berry’s kiss?

(Any 3- or 4-gallon garden pump-up sprayer can be used, after the standard nozzle has been replaced with a new precision nozzle.)

It seemed to me incredible
That I’d begun the day
By rendering inedible
A meal that came my way.
All across the pasture in
The strip I’d completed
Lay wild, ripe berries
With hormones treated.

(The booklet gives you the complete story.)

I stared at the heifers,
An idiot child;
I stared at the berries
That I had defiled.
I stared at the lambkill,
The juniper and bay.
I walked home slowly
And put my pump away.
Weed-No-More, my lady,
O weed no more today.

(Available in quarts, 1-gallon and 5-gallon cans, and 55-gallon drums.)