• 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.

Old friends

I’ve learned from Susan’s Chicken Spaghetti weekend reading list that Beverly Cleary, the eternal Ramona, is alive and well and will be celebrating her 90th birthday on April 12th; just as remarkable an achievement, all 39 books she has written since 1950 have remained in print. But her last, Ramona’s World from 1999, marks the end of the line and, according to the Newsweek interview, though Mrs. Cleary “admits she’s made ‘notes on another book,’ she doesn’t plan to write it. ‘It’s important to know when to stop,’ she says.”

Stopping by Mrs. Cleary’s own website, though, I learned that Ramona Quimby, Henry Huggins, and Ribsy will live forever in bronze at the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden for Children in Portland, Oregon.

And from Kelly at Big A little I learned that Mike Mulligan’s and Mary Anne’s friend Dickie Berkenbush (misspelled in 70 million copies as Birkenbush) is alive and well at 81, and was recently profiled by The Boston Globe. My kids were thrilled to learn that little Dickie, who in real life as in print came up with the idea of using Mary Anne to provide steam heat for the new town hall, grew up to serve as both the fire chief (for 37 years) and police chief (for 10) of Popperville, er, West Newbury, Massachusetts. The interview came about to publicize the special display mounted by Mr. Berkenbush’s wife Sue at the GAR Memorial Library in West Newbury, celebrating the life and work of author and illustrator Virginia Lee Burton, a close friend of the Berkenbush family. The exhibit runs through next month.

I’m such a big fan of Burton’s, with clear memories of borrowing Katy and the Big Snow and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel from the library week after week during my own childhood, and a newfound adult appreciation for her lyrical The Little House and Life Story, that the other year I bought a copy of Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art for myself, from BookCloseouts. Highly recommended, for her own life story and her beautiful art.


Poetry as broccoli, and a wrap-up for National Poetry Month

With apologies to Joyce Kilmer (poems are made by fools like me):

I think that I shall never see,
A poem lovely as a tree,
Unless it is my broccoli.

A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
Nearby a child with mouth, too, pressed,
‘Gainst vegetable with ranch sauce dressed…

In her Young Readers column last week, The Washington Post‘s Elizabeth Ward (tip to Kelly at Big A little a) took National Poetry Month to task for rendering the subject thoroughly unappetizing to kids:

The American Academy of Poets obviously didn’t consult children when it decided in 1996 that poetry deserved the kiss of death as much as black history or crime prevention and gave it its own official month. The result has been a decade of Aprils reinforcing the idea of poetry as broccoli: You’d like it if you’d only try it, kids, and besides, it’s good for you!

Erm, maybe yes, maybe no. I can see Ward’s point, which is much the same as my father’s curmudgeonly take years ago upon discovering National Children’s Day — “What on earth do they mean? Every day is children’s day!” But for the kids who aren’t going to have any broccoli or poetry at all unless someone reminds the adults in their lives once a year, a national month isn’t such a wretched idea. And you can’t really blame the Academy for trying to fill the breach — as we’ve seen, schools are busy redesigning and/or gutting curriculum (poetry got the old heave-ho a long time ago); compared to iPods, poems are hopelessly old-fashioned, compared to X-Box hopelessly boring; and, I could be wrong about this, but I have the feeling that not too many parents read poetry to or with their kids. Not to mention the fact that poetry can often take some time and effort, and the former at least seems to be in very short supply these days. So what’s an Academy to do, short of sneaking into kids’ rooms at bedtime?

Of course, I come at thoughts on the subject from a decidedly peculiar vantage point; I have kids who enjoy both broccoli and poetry, and sometimes, over lunch, even at the same time. And it didn’t happen by accident, though it didn’t require a lot of work either. In fact, I suspect that my kids like both broccoli and poetry, for many of the same reasons:

  • Broccoli and poetry have each been a fixture and a staple of our daily diets, so the kids have just grown accustomed to the fact that they’re around, in the air, in the fridge, on the table, on the shelf. It just wasn’t an option, as far as my husband and I were concerned, not to offer our kids the same tasty treats we enjoy (this is part of that old chicken nugget theory, by the way). I’m also a big fan of poetry for every occasion. If you haveFavorite Poems Old and New selected by Helen Ferris on the shelf, you can find poems for and about the seasons, holidays, historical figures, not to mention cleaning the house and getting the mumps.
  • I try to serve up each tastefully. Raw broccoli can look like trees, or trees with snow (dip or ranch dressing), or keep other brightly colored vegetables company on a pretty plate. When I cook it, I try not to overdo it into grayness and mush (this is also useful to remember when helping your kids learn something by heart, too). For very special heart attack occasions I’ll even make Blender Hollandaise for drizzling. When it comes to poetry, especially for young children, illustrated books, spoken poetry, well-written poems, on subjects that are particularly appealing (though not necessarily {gag} “relevant”) can make all the difference. Poetry Speaks to Children (book and cd), Caroline Kennedy’s new A Family of Poems, and My Kingdom for a Horse are all marvelous examples of poetry that can appeal to children on many different levels, certainly not just as printed words on the page.
  • The kids have a say and a hand in what and how much poetry and broccoli they consume. Daniel prefers his broccoli raw, and his poetry fairly muscular; Davy enjoys his broccoli both raw and cooked, and prefers poetry more moving and pastoral (erm, about transportation and farming); Laura is stretching her wings to include such things as hollandaise sauce and Shakespeare, though she’s always happy with something about horses and fairies.

Here are some recent Farm School posts on the poems and poetry books our family has enjoyed lately:

* Something different, an old list from “What We’re Reading, Watching, Listening To & Playing With: The Poetry Month Edition”

* Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month

* Poetry Is Life

* Poetry sings

* Poetry festival selections I

* Poetry festival selections II

* Poetry festival selections III

* Irving Layton, 1912-2006

Our newest addition to the farm

The first calf of the year was born this afternoon, on a beautiful warm spring day. Okay, so we got nine inches of snow yesterday, but Tom was able to clear away a lot of the snow around the corrals with the tractor, and after some telltale grunting earlier today, we knew to move the heifer into the calving barn, so she could continue the birthing process in privacy and more comfort. Mother and calf — we can’t tell yet if it’s a little bull or heifer — are busy bonding and doing well.

Added Tuesday morning: The kids asked me last night for this poem instead of a story as usual.

The Pasture
by Robert Frost

I’m going out to clean the pasture spring;
I’ll only stop to rake the leaves away
(And wait to watch the water clear, I may):
I sha’n’t be gone long.–You come too.

I’m going out to fetch the little calf
That’s standing by the mother. It’s so young
It totters when she licks it with her tongue.
I sha’n’t be gone long.–You come too.

Homeschool heresy

I’ve decided something akin to heresy in my local home school support group circle — we won’t be attending the provincial homeschool conference and trade show (i.e. shopping binge) next month.

For the first two years of our homeschooling, the big provincial conference and trade show definitely provided something I couldn’t find elsewhere, particularly when it came to companionship and curriculum, because I was so new to homeschooling and living in the boonies to boot. But now with a few years of experience and confidence under my belt, not to mention ever-more bulging bookshelves, and a better grasp of what’s available online (for both companionship and curriculum), Tom and I can save our money and wear and tear on the truck tires.

The first year we had a grand time. I got to ogle and fondle books and programs I had only read about in catalogues. There were a few speakers and subjects we were interested in, such as Donna Ward on Canadian history, and a few we didn’t even know we’d be interested in, like Steve Demme of Math-U-See, who made a big impression on Tom and left him marvelling, “I wish I had been taught algebra this way.” This from my husband the math whiz, so I figured there must be something to it, which is why we supplement Singapore from time to time with MUS.

Last year I signed us up mainly so I could follow Jim Weiss around for two days and listen to him speak; I’m sure he must have thought the crazy woman who kept showing up in the back of the room was a stalker, but he was very gracious when I bought one of his CDs and asked him to autograph the kids’ favorite, which I had brought from home. I particularly enjoyed his talk on how to teach history with stories, and the importance of narrative. He repeated some bits from Merle Miller’s oral biography of Harry Truman — “When I was in politics, there would be times when I tried to figure somebody out, and I could always turn to Plutarch, and nine times out of ten I’d be able to find a parallel in there. … It was the same with those old birds in Greece and Rome as it is now. I told you. The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know” — and I was in heaven.

But this year’s slate — “How NOT to Be the ULTIMATE Homeschooling Mom”, “World View and Home Education”, “Maintaining Hope Amidst Tears”, “How Does Dad Fit into Your Homeschooling?”, among other things — doesn’t hold much appeal, and I think we’re pretty well set for books and curriculum for the next year or so. Laura will be starting fourth grade, and that will be mostly a continuation of whatever books we’re using now; plus we’re stretching out SOTW3 into two years, and quite honestly we’ve done more unschooling science than chemistry with Living Learning Books. Next year, Davy will be my third child in about as many years to head through first grade, so I’m more than ready for him. Plus I still have several gift cards for Chapters as a result of trading in some miles in our Air Canada Aeroplan accounts, which should come in quite handy.

I also have to admit that I don’t really seem to have all that much in common with many of the other homeschooling parents I meet at the conference beyond the obvious fact that, yes, we are all homeschoolers. The first year, it was a tremendous kick (and a huge relief for Tom) to see an entire hall full of home educating parents and think, yes, there are others out there. But on closer inspection, of and by us, it seems that as classical secular types, few homeschoolers in this neck of the woods know what to do with us. The more urban secular types tend toward unschooling and think we’re tormenting and traumatizing our kids with Latin and history and poetry memorization, plus they seem to avoid this large, fairly sectarian gathering in favor of smaller, more nonsectarian ones in Edmonton and Calgary. The more rural types are, well, considerably more conservative politically and less secular than we are, and I feel a bit out of my element when public prayers and such are offered up at the conference and other get-togethers, or that I’m expected to nod in agreement as I pass the creation display where a large toy plush gorilla sits with a sign, “I’m not your grandfather!” Thank goodness for the internet, where through yahoo groups and blogs I’ve been able to assemble my own community, where I can get information and inspiration, fun and friendship, tea and sympathy (well, comfort really), at any time. And this seems like a very good time to say a very heartfelt thank you to all who stop by here, especially the regulars, and to those whose blogs have become my own stopping places.

The other favorite part — the two of us spending a whole weekend together, staying in a hotel, going out to eat, doing a bit of shopping, having long talks in the truck on the long drives there and back — well, we had a chance to do that twice last year, at the homeschooling conference and the organic farming conference, and who knows, there may be a bed and breakfast in our immediate future….

Besides, this year it would be wonderful to be able to take some longer trips with the kids, who are turning into some wonderful and enjoyable companions, maybe to Calgary to see the Glenbow Museum (Laura has been the only one of our kids to go, but she was three months old at the time and snoozed the visit away in the Baby Bjorn), or Drumheller, Alberta, to see the dinosaurs and the Badlands and the Hoodoos. In a weak moment, Tom even mentioned going to Vancouver, to visit some island friends of ours who are transferring to the Four Seasons Hotel there. And we’re thinking of surprising Daniel with a trip to the waterpark at West Edmonton Mall, and possibly even an overnight stay in the Wild West room at the Fantasyland Hotel, for his birthday next month. It’s not the Four Seasons, but it could be a swell birthday bash.

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

Sunday mornings after breakfast are my favorite time with the radio, because that’s when CBC’s “The Sunday Edition” with Michael Enright is on, followed by lunchtime with Stuart McLean and the Vinyl Cafe. I’d listen to Michael Enright read the phone book, though I’d rather listen to him talk about it, because I know he always has something interesting to say.

The other weekend, “Sunday Edition” treats included an interview with bestselling author Sarah Dunant who always sounds so wonderfully enthusiastic, and a feature on the history of the saxophone. But my attention belonged to the last part of the six-part series, “Poetry Is Life and Vice Versa” with Bruce Meyer. I’ve found over the years that anything with Dr. Meyer on CBC is worth catching. Not only is he a very companionable radio friend, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s a poet himself, as well as a scholar of literature and poetry with, among other things, several books of poetry, some short stories, two books of interviews with Canadian writers, and two textbooks to his credit.

I missed the first four installations of “Poetry Is Life” because of our trip, so I was delighted to find that all of them are available for free online as audio files; each segment is about half an hour long, and the segments are: How Poems Sound (Jan 22/06); How Poems See (Jan 29/06); How Poems Think (Feb 5/06); How Poems Dance (Feb 19/06); How Poems Feel (Feb 26/06); and How Poems Read (Mar 12/06). And because the series has been so popular, it will be available for sale on CD in mid-April, just in time for National Poetry Month, tra la.

From what I heard the other weekend and today, this series seems to be as good as Meyer’s two previous ones for CBC Radio, The Great Books and A Novel Idea: An Exploration into the Evolution of Story Telling. The Great Books series was also made available on audio, in three parts, and if you dig around you can find the cassettes, or, preferably, the cds. Or you can get Meyer’s book, The Golden Thread: A Reader’s Journey Through the Great Books, which covers Homer, Virgil, the Bible, Dante, Shakespeare, up through A Room of One’s Own and The Wizard of Oz; the book is out of print in the US but still available in Canada. The audio version of the Novel Idea series, too, is apparently still available on audiocassette.

I know, covering the Great Books isn’t a particularly original idea, having been covered already and in great depth by everyone from Harold Bloom (How to Read and Why) and Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren (How to Read a Book) — which has even spawned a study guide, How to Read ‘How to Read a Book’ by Maryalice Newborn — to WTM guru Susan Wise Bauer (The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had), but Meyer does it well. One of the nice features of Dr. Meyer’s book is that it’s very conversational and accessible, considerably less pedantic than some of the other works on the subject, and yet more learned and less how-to-ish than others. It’s definitely, as the subtitle says, a reader’s journey rather than an expert’s lesson, with a particularly learned friend along for the ride.

Paging Charlotte Mason. Miss Mason to the front desk, please…

Yesterday’s New York Times reports that

Thousands of schools across the nation are responding to the reading and math testing requirements laid out in No Child Left Behind, President Bush’s signature education law, by reducing class time spent on other subjects and, for some low-proficiency students, eliminating it.

Which means that the educrats have twisted already twisted enough legislation to wring any possible joy or educational benefit from the curriculum. Now, don’t get me wrong. I tend to think that kids, especially in the early years, need a solid foundation in reading and math. But I don’t think that spending hour after boring hour on math and reading will help any child learn math and reading, let alone to love math and reading, especially if that time is spent in the later years rather than in, say, Kindergarten or first grade.

At Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School in Sacramento, about 150 of the school’s 885 students spend five of their six class periods on math, reading and gym, leaving only one 55-minute period for all other subjects.

About 125 of the school’s lowest-performing students are barred from taking anything except math, reading and gym…

Maybe, just maybe, if the schools considered reading and math so important in the early years, through about fourth grade, then maybe the poor junior high school students wouldn’t have to be forcefed, like miserable geese, a diet of little more than reading and math.

“Only two subjects? What a sadness,” said Thomas Sobol, an education professor at Columbia Teachers College and a former New York State education commissioner. “That’s like a violin student who’s only permitted to play scales, nothing else, day after day, scales, scales, scales. They’d lose their zest for music.”

And if you don’t believe him, what about this poor eighth grader?

“I hate having two math classes in a row,” Paris said. “Two hours of math is too much. I can’t concentrate that long.”

And both classes are, argh, back to back.

If Miss Mason is busy, maybe Marva Collins can have her way…

Paperwork season

Last night brought another four inches or so of snow, and it’s still falling; I feel sorry for the early geese and bluebirds.

So while the kids are out playing with the new unexpected gift, Tom and I are settled down, he in the living room with the TV set to curling, and I at the kitchen table accompanied by CBC radio, to start working on this year’s organic farming certification paperwork. I’m hoping that we’re done by tonight, so I can photocopy the whole shebang and Tom can mail it off in town tomorrow. Yes, I know I should get back to work, but I’m taking a break without any paper involved.

Between March and April, we (mostly I…) have the organic application; the first quarter of GST receipts, expenses, etc.; and then, ta da, a couple of homeschool paper pile bonanzas — our second visit of the year from the facilitator, to make sure we’re on track with the province’s requirements (a joke but the kids and I still have to spend several hours on this when there are so many other more fun and useful things we could be doing), and filling out the homeschool resource expense form. I hate this time of year, and I’m actually pleased when the weather isn’t unseasonably springlike, because it’s always much easier to concentrate on the nasty but necessary task at hand.

Right about now, for oh so many reasons, I’d be happy to settle for mud season.

Night of the long pitchforks

Sadly, my entire 12 years in Alberta have been lived under the regime of Tory Premier Ralph Klein, whose enormous political missteps (from turning up drunk at a homeless shelter and lambasting the residents to gutting the health care system to eliminate the debt, and now that we’re rolling in money planning not to fix health care but to privatize it) have always vanished in an Unsinkable Molly Brown routine that makes Ronald Reagan in his Teflon suit look like a piker.

Last night, after a three-and-a-half hour emergency caucus meeting, Alberta politician Lyle Oberg, who made some recent intemperate and not particularly politically savvy comments, was not only stripped of his cabinet post (Infrastructure & Transportation) but also suspended from caucus. Earlier this month after much too much coy dithering, Klein finally made some formal plans about his departure, saying he’d leave in October 2007. Okay, here’s your bag, don’t let the door hit you on the way out! Bye-by— But then he moved that date into 2008, depending on the results of next weekend’s leadership review. Which of course means the official campaign to replace him won’t begin for a year and a half, but Klein has directed that any leadership hopefuls in cabinet resign their posts by June 1 of this year, to ensure a “level playing field.” Makes me think of the neighborhood kids no-one ever wanted to play with because they made up the rules as they went along, so that they always won, and you…didn’t. Not helped by the fact that they were always the ones with all the marbles or the baseball bats.

Why the big emergency? Because Oberg recently told a meeting of his constituency association back in Brooks, Alberta, that he wouldn’t ask members to support Klein during the leadership review. According to an Edmonton Journal report on the meeting, Oberg said “there is a leadership vote coming up, and a week ago I was ready to come up here and say that you should support Ralph. Today I am going to stand here and say you must vote with your conscience [note to American readers: voting your conscience, if it means voting against caucus, is a huge no-no in Canadian politics, even more so in Alberta; not, however, that this makes Oberg any kind of political hero]. I will not stand here and say you must support Ralph.” According to another reporter present, “at that point the constituency members burst into cheers and applause.” Oberg also called Klein’s directive that ministers wishing to succeed him leave cabinet by June 1 was “a bombshell” and could backfire, and added, “When I take off the gloves, my gloves come off completely…Everything is fair ball now, everything is open. It’s going to be very interesting what happens in the next while.” He also warned that “if I were the premier, I wouldn’t want me sitting as a backbencher… I know where all the skeletons are.”

Interestingly, Klein missed yesterday’s meeting because of a convenient previous engagement and on Wednesday had said through a spokeswoman that he had no plans to fire Oberg because of his remarks: “The premier said sometimes people say things they shouldn’t and they regret it and he accepts that, but he’s part of this team and they will get through it.”

So who pulled the pin? As I see it, the responsibility can be doled out three ways. Oberg obviously made some unwise comments and got carried away much too early. The Tory caucus also had all ten fingers in the pie; after Oberg was booted from caucus last night, its chairman announced, “In our PC caucus, we work as a team. We have informed the Premier of our caucus decision and he supports what caucus has decided”; apparently the team didn’t much care for the idea about Oberg knowing whereall of their skeletons are hidden. Though I do find both scenarios — caucus is acting on its own, presenting a fait accompli to the premier, or caucus doing his dirty work, while he gets to stand around innocently, with a “Who, me?” expression on his face — rather disconcerting. But the biggest blame goes to Klein (yes, you) who started playing this “long goodbye” game two years ago, when he first announced his intentions to retire. With any luck, enough responsible Tories next week will tell Klein with their votes what they think about his Cher-style farewell tour, and bring his childish fits, strongarm tactics, and long goodbye to a swift and merciful end. And with even more luck, when the election finally does roll around, Albertans will decide they’ve had enough of the Tory Team’s games and machinations and elect a party that actually has a reasonable plan for the province’s future. But then what do I know? I’m just an American-born home educating housewife…

What the cat dragged in

A repulsive piece of grammar is like a mangled frog left by the cat in the middle of the kitchen lino. It is not necessarily ill-intentioned, but the repellent effect increases according to the frequency of the offence.

So writes the ever-delightful and pseudonymous language maven Dot Wordsworth in her lively and not particularly complimentary review of The Cambridge Grammar of English (thanks to Joanne Jacobs for the tip). She further endeared herself to me by writing that

Grammar is a question of manners, practically of morals. Please don’t take me for a language policewoman. Prepositions at the ends of sentences are easy to live with. For us to casually split an infinitive seems no worse than for a Frenchman to split the negatives ne and pas with an interposing verb.

On the other hand, “Whatever”, that infuriating response from the passively aggressive, is just rude.

Among the other rude and repulsive pieces of grammar cited by Wordsworth are “like”,

as in, “I was like, ‘Wow!’ He was like, ‘Come off it’.” It is hardly a bit of grammar at all, more a kind of oral punctuation. The people who use it, usually young or would-be young, are extremely annoying.

Almost as annoying as The Cambridge Grammar, written by professors Ronald Carter and Michael McCarthy, who are nowhere near as discriminating as Wordsworth, choosing, as she writes, the “Panglossian ideal” that “Everything that is is right”:

English as she is spoke possesses all the rules of grammar needed to construct new sentences never heard since those days at the dawn of our language when half-drunk Angles settled down in their smoky mead halls to hear the well-loved tale of old Beowulf. By listening to millions of words, a child learns the rules of his mother tongue. The wee creature may make mistakes, saying “wented”, perhaps, instead of “went”, by false analogy.

Wordsworth finishes up,

To refuse to correct the children’s spelling mistakes and grammatical blunders in their writing robs them of the chance to gain employment. Grammar for beginners must be as fiercely prescriptive as playing scales is for anyone who wants to play the piano.

Without a knowledge of grammar, the young will be no more able to write down their thoughts coherently than they could text-message without knowing how to use a mobile phone. This will frustrate them, and relegate written English to the same kind of ghetto of incompetent self-expression with which we are familiar from graduates of art schools who have never learnt to draw.

As the t-shirts say, I’m with her. And if you enjoy Wordsworth’s thoughts and writing, it’s well worth tracking down her “Mind Your Language” column for The Spectator, preferably the print version at a decent local library, since all the good stuff is held hostage by the greedy grasping online subscription edition. Gah.

By the way, if you want an Oxbridge book for adults on English grammar and want something a) good, b) slim, and ) far cheaper than the above-reviewed doorstop, try A Grammar of the English Language, written by William Cobbett in 1820 as a series of letters to his 14-year-old son and available from Oxford University Press in a handsome paperback edition. As Cobbett writes in the introduction, addressed to young James,

The particular path of knowledge to be pursued by you, will be of your own choosing; but, as to knowledge connected with books, there is a step to be taken before you can fairly enter upon any path. In the immense field of this kind of knowledge, innumerable are the paths, and GRAMMAR is the gate of entrance to them all. And if Grammar is so useful in the attaining of knowledge, it is absolutely necessary in order to enable the possessor to communicate, by writing that knowledge to others, without which communication the possession must be comparatively useless to himself in many cases, and, in almost all cases, to the rest of mankind.

Something told the wild geese…

that it’s spring. They’re back. We saw two yesterday overhead, flapping determinedly over the snow, not too far from the house. Can the gophers be far behind?

In other spring fever news, I bought a new set of sheets for the master bedroom, floral cotton with a heavy thread count, while we were at Sears yesterday (on the way to buy drywall lifters for Tom’s next job, the remodeling of a local grocery store — gather ye rosebuds where ye may), which makes me very happy. One of the few disadvantages to living here is the well water, which has a habit of making white/whitish fabrics dingy before too long. And who wants dingy sheets for spring?

You don’t say

“Book ban hasty: Clifford OK, so is Disney” read the headline at the LA Daily News earlier this week, on the subject of the Antelope Valley school board’s decision earlier this month to remove 23 books from a list of books to consider purchasing for the school library. Among the books caught in the dragnet were, as I wrote then, “some of the usual suspects like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and a couple of Artemis Fowl titles, but also some more unusual and you’d think innocuous ones like Clifford the Big Red Dog, Disney’s Christmas Storybook, and Princess School: Beauty Is a Beast“.

Now comes news, and I hope you haven’t been holding your breath this whole time, that some of the axed books were selected by mistake because — this can’t possibly be — the trustees hadn’t bothered to read them. Of course, we already knew that some of the selections “were books with which they were unfamiliar”; I snarked several weeks ago about

two enormous, wrong lessons the Antelope Valley students are learning from the board’s decisions. First, that it’s correct to judge a book by its cover, disapproving of a title with which one isn’t even familiar; is it too much to expect these trustees, even the ones who aren’t former teachers, to read the books bothering them? It’s not as if these are doorstop tomes such as War and Peace that might be expected to tax bears of little brain and their ilk. We’re talking Princess School, people, which isn’t much longer or more taxing than the average shopping list.

Here’s the official, it’s-alright-we-just-ran-out-of-time explanation from this week’s paper:

Trustees indicated that these books, such as three bilingual Clifford the Big Red Dog books and Disney’s Christmas Storybook were not objectionable, but were nevertheless lumped in with the rejected books.

Board member Marlene Olivares explained at Thursday’s meeting that there was a three-day weekend before the Feb. 16 meeting, and there was not enough time to check out all the books.

“When it came time to say which were acceptable and which ones weren’t, they picked a bloc of books that had Clifford and Disney, that they really had no problem with, but they were in the same group that they did have concerns about,” trustee Maurice Kunkel said. …

[School Superintendent] McNabb said once the guidelines [with which McNabb is charged with developing] are approved, the Clifford and Disney books will be brought back for approval.

McNabb said Olivares said the board should have first set aside the entire 68-book list, resolved their concerns, and then brought the matter up for board consideration.

Olivares declined Friday to comment.

Just two more words from me on the matter, and I’m done. I still think that the school library can come up with something better than the Disney Christmas Treasury, which is just twaddle amd a waste of precious school funds, not to mention gray cells. Second, trustee “Kunkel said the board wants books that ‘build character by looking at the bright side and are anti-witchcraft and anti-criminality’.” Be afraid, be very afraid. And if you’re in Antelope Valley, voting might not be a bad idea.

Thanks to Camille at Book Moot for following up on this.

UPDATE: Melissa at Here in the Bonny Glen has more on this as well.

More from the correspondence file

In this evening’s in-box:

Becky, I am not going to argue about all of this further because you obviously have your mind made up and that’s fine with me. The only thing that I can say is Gena absolutely thinks the death of that child is horrific. We just talked about it last week and she even states something to that effect on her blog (I don’t have the time right now to go find it). I know what conversation she had with that journalist and her remarks were TOTALLY taken out of context.

I did not in any sense belittle your choice to boycott or to unsubscribe from my list. But NONE of these people involved in this boycott know Gena personally and that’s what I mean by not knowing “ALL the facts.”

The Suarezes are my friends and I will stand behind them through this situation because I KNOW them and their family and I also know first-hand what kind of parents they are.

I wish you well .. sincerely, I do.

Sent in reply:

Dear xyz,

As I mentioned previously, I wrote initially only to explain my unsubscription, which seemed the polite course of action given the circumstances. I wrote the second time because, in all honesty, I was quite surprised to receive any more of a response than something along the lines of, “I appreciate your concerns, and while I don’t share them, I can see your point. Thanks for letting me know.”

I don’t want or expect any sort of argument. That we disagree on this subject is obvious by the fact that I felt the need to unsubscribe in the first place.

All best wishes,


Boycott business

I realized last night that one of my Yahoo groups is sprinkled with mentions of The Old Schoolhouse (TOS) magazine, its free offers for new subscribers, and that the list owner has a blog through homeschoolblogger which is advertised at the bottom of the Yahoo posts. So I unsubscribed but also sent a private email to the list owner explaining my reason,

Dear xx,

Just wanted to let you know that I’ve unsubscribed to xyz Yahoo group because I’m boycotting The Old Schoolhouse Magazine and their homeschoolblogger.com over their support of the Pearls’ book.

I’ll miss my subscription, and hope that you’ll consider switching your support from TOS.

Many thanks and all the best,


This morning I received a reply — sorry, you won’t be able to read it in its entirety because I don’t think that’s quite right — which prompted me to send my own reply, which I am going to share, along with the pertinent parts from the list owner’s reply, highlighted in blue.

Dear xxx,

>This whole thing has been blown WAY out of proportion

Considering that a four-year-old boy died at the hand of a parent who suffocated him by wrapping him in a sheet, and that his body, and those of his two living siblings, were found to be covered with heavy bruising, and that these ideas for discipline and training were taken by the mother from the Pearls’ book, “To Train Up a Child” — which book and authors have at the very least the tacit endorsement of Gena and Paul Suarez at The Old Schoolhouse Magazine — I don’t think it’s possible to consider that this subject “has been blown WAY out of proportion”.

>I know the hearts of The Suarez’ and they are NOTHING but the most Christian people I have ever met.

I can’t claim to know the hearts of the Suarezes. What I know of Mrs. Suarez’s character rather than her heart is limited to what I’ve read in the magazine, its website, and her blog; and her current blog posts, since the tragedy, give me conisderable pause.

I’m particularly dismayed and concerned by Mrs. Suarez’s comments on her blog, where, rather than offering any comments of condolence or the horror of the tragedy, she was rather more busy criticizing what she considers the “liberal media”, but not denying, retracting, or apologizing after the fact for her newspaper quote,

“[The Pearls] are talking about something that would fit in a purse,” Suarez said. “The only way you can kill a child with that is by shoving it down his throat.”

Primarily, she was unhappy that the quote was taken out of context. And yet Mrs. Suarez has no problem mustering outrage at public school teachers who wield knives or make students eat pencil shavings, in one case, as Mrs. Suarez points out, with allegedly fatal consequences.

As for the Suarezes being good Christians, I tend to think that my own standard of Christian behavior is rather different, more in line with that demonstrated at Gentle Christian Mothers.

>If you would read the Disclaimer on the inside pages of their magazine, it plainly states the following:

Disclaimers are all well and good and in quite a few cases legally binding, but there is nothing that says that having a published disclaimer discounts one from being able to examine matters on a case-by-case basis, and deviating from said published disclaimer, especially when a case such as the present one arises. When someone hides behind a legal disclaimer rather than using his or her heart and head to make an exception, I do have my doubts about any concern, which in this instance certainly hasn’t even been professed.

>I think that [disclaimer] says it all. TOS is a HOMESCHOOLING magazine … NOT a parenting magazine.

You see, the fact that TOS is a homeschooling magazine, and a business endeavor established by a homeschooling family rather than, say, an enormous Time Inc. juggernaut gives one all the more hope that when certain situations arise, they can be examined carefully, rather than routinely dismissed based on the fact of the existence of a legal disclaimer.

And I’ve been a home educating parent long enough to know that one of the arguments in favor of homeschooling that we homeschooling parents bring up exceedingly often, often to the annoyance of non-homeschooling parents, is precisely that homeschooling and parenting cannot be divorced, and few of us would wish it so. And to use the word “parenting” to describe what the Pearls are advocating — and yes, I have seen and read the book — is thoroughly inappropriate.

>They have never taken a stand saying that they “support” the Pearls’ advice, so I’m not sure why everyone is all in a tizzy over this.

On Mrs. Suarez’s own blog, “No Greater Joy” is listed under “Ministries I Like,” which presumably is a choice she made without any financial enticement or coercion. And at no point since young Sean Paddock’s death have Gena or Paul Suarez made any comments distancing themselves from the Pearls’ punishment methods.

Morever, TOS offers one of the Pearls’ books (“No Greater Joy”) as part of its free gift package for new subscriptions; the Pearls have been scheduled to appear alongside the Suarezes on part of their European tour next month; and the Pearls are contributors to TOS as well as valued advertisers. This goes way beyond the usual strictly business publisher/advertiser relationship. And many publications, large and small, do have advertising standards in place for material that contravenes their standards and which they will not accept.

There is no tizzy. What there is is a boycott, which is a policy of nonintercourse, in this case the exertion of financial pressure on sites and organizations that support, host, or passively allow Pearl endorsements; some are even boycotting Amazon.com*, which continues to carry “To Train Up a Child.” And, because of previous pressure, Barnes & Noble no longer sells new editions of “To Train Up a Child”, though used copies of “No Greater Joy” are still available there.

>Would everyone be boycotting TOS if all of a sudden, everyone HATED [insert popular math text/program], but TOS continued to allow them to advertise in their magazine? I think not and this is exactly the same thing that is happening.

I think not either, but mainly because this is most certainly not exactly the same thing. Hating [a popular math text/program] and disapproval of a book that promotes an extreme form of corporal punishment are two completely unequal propositions. However, if you’re asking if homeschoolers would also boycott a very popular math book/program — even if that math book math is an integral part of most homeschoolers curriculum, unlike the Pearls’ book — if the math curriculum author were found to be, say, promoting hate speech or child abuse or neo-Nazism, I can’t speak for others, but I certainly would. There are other math books and programs in this world, just as there are other books on children’s discipline, other free blogging sites, and other homeschooling magazines. Then again, depending on the item and one’s principles, one can also do without.

>I’m sorry you feel that you cannot continue to support a stay at home, homeschooling family business

I can appreciate the position of small, family-based business caught in a boycott, but what I cannot do is continue to support a stay-at-home homeschooling family at the expense of the principles I value and that I am teaching to my children, especially when I haven’t seen any cogent arguments from the pro-TOS camp. Among our own guiding principles are these:

Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.
(Albert Schweitzer)

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. (Edmund Burke)

Long before we began homeschooling, we were a family with only one spouse working, and the primary business here is farming, so we’re more than familiar with financial strain and doing without, and even with being caught in a boycott of sorts when the export of Canadian cattle was halted because of BSE. Many small family farms were caught in a squeeze, and toward the end it was more politics than legitimate health and safety concerns, which made the situation all the more untenable.

>but we are all adults and are allowed to make our own decisions.

>I just wish everyone would get ALL of the facts before they choose to make such rash choices.

We are indeed, all adults that is, and I thought it was only polite and reasonable to let you know of the reason behind my decision to unsubscribe, when I could easily have chosen to unsubscribe without any explanation.

But to have you call that decision “rash”, to suggest that those participating in the boycott do not “ALL of the facts,” and to belittle my choice, and by extension my principles and values, hardly seems good business sense from someone who would like my financial support to continue, and makes me rather hesitant to resubscribe even if xyz Yahoo group were to withdraw its support from TOS and its blogging arm. As you wrote, we all make our own decisions.

Yours truly,


* those interested in petitioning Amazon.co.uk about the book can go here.


Today was poetry day at the Arts Festival, and we moved in from just before 9 a.m. until around noon. A long morning, between the recitations and adjudications, but it went very well. First, once he was done with both of his poems, Davy sat on my lap fairly well. Toward the end he did get kind of floppy, and while Laura was reciting the St. Crispin’s Day speech, he had to chime right in, and not softly either.

The adjudicator went very easily on all of the younger kids, and had helpful words for all. My three got five first places between them (two poems each — of course, it helps if you, like Davy, are the only competitor in your category…), everyone got a couple of certificates to gussy up the homeschool portfolios, Laura won a cash prize for doing the best of the seven- and eight-year olds, and best of all —

Daniel told me at the end how much fun he’d had,

and there was not a peep or an inkling from anyone, not last night or this morning, about being anxious, nervous, or otherwise unhinged about the prospect of standing up to speak in front of a crowd of strangers. I’m delighted and proud. I’m also one sneaky mama, who’s kept mum about the possibility of nervousness on purpose, so as not to put the idea into anyone’s teeny tiny head. There are enough peculiar ideas floating around in there without my planting any. Though I did have to do some damage control afterwards when Daniel was found repeating what his grandmother had told him earlier in the day, after he stalled on a line — “You’re forgetful,” she told him, “just like Papa.” Naturally, being just like beloved Papa is always a good thing, so Daniel swallowed this one hook, line, and sinker. I had to tell him, and it seems to have worked already, that a) he is most certainly not forgetful (he’s got an almost visual memory), b) Papa is not overly forgetful, and c) grrr, sometimes people tell us something that isn’t true when they’re trying to make us feel better about a mistake we’ve made.

Which was all followed by an afternoon with friends at their house, with chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade bread, chocolate chip cookies, sledding, Spring cookie baking and decorating (happy Spring, by the way), and as my nice Saskatchewanian homeschooling friend puts it, a jolly chin-wag over tea. I was ready to ask for a few sleeping bags so we could just stay a bit longer, instead of heading home for dinner.

Getting ready

Yesterday was spent readying the corrals for the new calves who should be arriving shortly. Tom moved portable steel panels through the deep snow to make a chute/alley way from the big permanent pen, where the 10 hugely pregnant heifers are currently confined (to make sure they don’t have their babies out in the snow-covered pastures, hidden away in the trees, where the newborns might freeze to death or fall victim to coyotes), to the big shop building where Tom houses machinery and tools the rest of the year.

We moved the tractor out, and Tom set up some more panels to make a small labor and delivery pen, where the mother can deliver, and we can help if necessary, in relative comfort out of the weather. I can’t tell you how many three-o’clock-in-the-mornings I spent, before Tom built the shed, outside in the driving snow, covered with manure and blood and other assorted warm liquids, holding a cow’s tail out of the way so that he could ease out a calf stuck at the hips.

Once the pen was set up, the kids and I got our pitchforks and filled it with fresh straw from a big round bale. Now we sit tight and wait for the calves to come.

By the time we got back to the house, everyone’s cheeks seemed permanently pink, so we sat down with some hot chocolate and the recently dug-out copy of The Parent Trap with Hayley Mills.

April in Paris with chocolate

Chloé Doutre-Roussel, who is the esteemed chocolate-buyer for London’s Fortnum & Mason, finally came out with the book she’s spent a lifetime of tasting and working towards. The compact size of her book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, belies the depth of information within.

“The Chocolate Connoisseur is a must have for any chocolate lover, and it’s my current bedside reading. Chloé, who was tapped to be the chocolate-expert by Pierre Hermé at Ladurée in Paris, was recently featured in the New York Times, and it’s a sweet treat to read about her chocolate adventures. There’s notes on tasting and sampling, comparison of brands with lots of opinions, a few decadent recipes, and some facts and fallacies explained and de-mystified. Very recommended reading for all.”

This from David Lebovitz’s blog, my new spring favorite and almost as good as being in Paris yourself. And from the Publisher’s Weekly review at Amazon (see the link above),

Her approach is that of an unabashed and evangelical snob, a bracing combination of Mary Poppins and Miss Manners. Along the way, Doutre-Roussel skewers some sacred cows—Belgian chocolates, Godiva—and lists with approval a dozen brands most people have never heard of, with, fortunately, mail-order and online sources to find them and instructions on how to savor them when found. This is a beautiful little book, chockfull of charming pictures, maps, charts and graphs, sidebars and boxes of advice, lore and even a few recipes.

Since I have plans that prevent me from being in Paris next month, I will be indulging my spring fever and year-round chocolate fixation by tracking down a copy of The Chocolate Connoisseur, and seeing if I can convince French Family Friend (formerly French Houseguest) to send us another box of yummy chocolates, especially the ones with the raspberry centers.

Poetry festival selections III

Laura has two choices as well, though instead of fitting into the lyrical or narrative category, her first choice, part of the St. Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V has been slotted into the solos section under Shakespeare, for 8 and under; she was inspired last summer during our very long Shakespearean rabbit trail at the end of SOTW3, when she got the chance to watch my old video of the Kenneth Branagh production. Her Canadian choice is by Sir Charles G.D. Roberts (1860-1943), known as the “father of Canadian poetry” for his inspiration to those who followed, including his cousin Bliss Carman (1861-1929), considered by many of his contemporaries as Canada’s unofficial poet laureate. Roberts, Carman, two others — Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott — were known as the “Confederation poets”. Which is much more about Canadian poetry than I knew several months ago!

Excerpt from the St. Crispin’s Day speech,
from Henry V by William Shakespeare

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The Brook in February
by Charles G.D. Roberts

A snowy path for squirrel and fox,
It winds between the wintry firs.
Snow-muffled are its iron rocks,
And o’er its stillness nothing stirs.

But low, bend low a listening ear!
Beneath the mask of moveless white
A babbling whisper you shall hear
Of birds and blossoms, leaves and light.

Poetry festival selections II

Here are Daniel’s poems. Again, the A.A. Milne poem, also from When We Were Very Young, is one of the official festival selections for Narrative/Dramatic Poetry Solos for ages six and under; the other is his own choice for Canadian Poetry Solo.

Before Tea
by A.A. Milne (from When We Were Very Young)

Has not been seen
For more than week. She slipped between
The two tall treees at the end of the green…
We all went after her. “Emmeline!”

I didn’t mean —
I only said that your hands weren’t clean.”
We went to the trees at the end of the green…
But Emmeline
Was not to be seen.

Came slipping between
The two tall trees at the end of the green.
We all ran up to her. “Emmeline!
Where have you been?
Where have you been?
Why, it’s not more than week!” And Emmeline
Said, “Sillies, I went and saw teh Queen.
She says my hands are purfickly clean!”

Winter Weather Watch
by Robert Heidbreder (from Eeenie Meenie Manitoba)

What weather’s in the West today?
Snow, snow — come what may!

And on the Prairies? Out that way?
Snow, snow — buckets they say!

And by the Great Lakes? Round there, eh?
Snow, snow — without delay!

And in Quebec what’s under way?
Snow, snow — a white souffle!

And in the Maritimes today?
Snow, snow — in every bay!

But what about up north, I say?
Snow, snow — it’s there to stay!

Dig out your skis, snowshoes, your sleigh,
Your slick dogsled,
Go out and play!

Count me in

I don’t have the heart or stomach after reading this article (and it’s well worth clicking the links on the sidebar for “related content” for the rest of the story), to dig around for any more pertinent links on the death by his adoptive mother of four-year-old Sean Ford Paddock; the official cause of death was suffocation after being tightly bound, in blankets; his back and buttocks, as well as the bodies of his eight-year-old sister and nine-year-old brother, were covered with severe bruising.

Many thanks to Carlotta who was on this subject before a particular episode turned into a tragedy, and to Daryl, Frankie, and everyone else for spreading the news.

Erin go bragh

To Read:

How the Irish Saved Civilization, part of Thomas Cahill’s wonderful “Hinges of History” series

Celtic Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

Treasury of Irish Myth, Legend & Folklore by William Butler Yeats

Brendan the Navigator: A History Mystery About the Discovery of America by Jean Fritz; about the legendary Irish monk’s voyage in his little leather coracle

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, picture book biography written and illustrated by Tomie De Paola

Fair, Brown & Trembling: An Irish Cinderella Story, written and illustrated by Jude Daly

Shamrocks, Harps, and Shillelaghs: The Story of the St. Patrick’s Day Symbols by Edna Barth
my children love Barth’s series about the holidays, with their simple pen and ink illustrations (photocopies make very nice coloring pages)

To Taste:

Irish recipes from 101 Cookbooks (which means yes, they’ll work and be tasty):

Irish Mum’s Brown Bread

Kiss Me I’m Irish Coffee

To Listen to:

James Galway & The Chieftains in Ireland

If I Should Fall from Grace With God by the Pogues

To Watch:

The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara; director John Ford (born Sean Aloysius O’Fearna) at his sentimental best.

The Informer with Victor McLaglen. More John Ford, this time during the Irish Rebellion. Don’t just take my word on this one; it won Oscars for Ford, McLaglen, also for best score and best screenplay.

To Enjoy:

The Fiddler of Dooney

by William Butler Yeats

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney,
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Moharabuiee.

I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the Sligo fair.

When we come at the end of time,
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’
And dance like a wave of the sea.

UPDATE: For more St. Patrick’s Day treats, including more Yeats, head over to The Bonny Glen, with its Yeats-inspired tagline. Thanks, Melissa!