• 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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More food for thought: connections and disconnections

I’ve been cogitating for the past week or so on the things I read in Natalie Angier’s science book The Canon, partly in preparation for my regurgitation earlier today and partly in preparation for the kids’ science studies next year (informal plans for which I hope to post before too long). So everything was rolling around in my head quite nicely when my I started to read one of the books from my father’s recent parcel*, Barbara Kingsolver‘s latest, the nonfiction Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, just published in May and which I’m enjoying very much. It sounds very much of a piece with her 2002 book of essays Small Wonder, which JoVE has mentioned at least once to me in her comments here. (My request was down pretty low on the interlibrary loan list, but after opening the package, I canceled the hold and requested Small Wonder instead.)

So on page 11 of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I discovered this passage (emphasis mine),

Many bright people are really in the dark about vegetable life. Biology teachers face kids in classrooms who may not even believe in the metamorphosis of bud to flower to fruit and seed, but rather, some continuum of pansies becoming petunias becoming chrysanthemums; that’s the only reality they witness as landscapers come to campuses and city parks and surreptitiously yank out one flower before it fades from its prime, replacing it with another. (My biology-professor brother pointed this out to me.) The same disconnection from natural processes may be at the heart of our country’s shift away from believing in evolution. In the past, principles of natural selection and change over time made sense to kids who’d watched it all unfold. Whether or not they knew the terms, farm families understood the processes well enough to imitate them: culling, selecting, and improving their herds and crops. For modern kids who intuitively believe in the spontaneous generation of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, trying to get their minds around the slow speciation of the plant kingdom may be a stretch.

What Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp, a biology professor, calls “agricultural agnostics” (he and their daughter Camille are co-authors of the book, by the way). Which of course handily echoes what I had read not too long before in The Canon (one of the bits I posted earlier today):

Farmers, too, were natural scientists. They understood the nuances of seasons, climate, plant growth, the do-si-do between parasite and host [and this is much more true of present-day farmers who farm in more traditional, less conventional methods without synthetic chemicals that kill the parasite and injure the host]. The scientific curiosity that entitled our nation’s Founding Fathers to membership in Club Renaissance, Anyone? had agrarian roots. …”The average adult American today knows less about biology than the average ten-year-old living in the Amazon, or than the average American of two hundred years ago,” said Andrew Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Department.

There’s a reason this place is called Farm School and there’s a reason we’re not budging.

Of course, The Canon goes off in one direction, toward science education, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, toward another. Here’s a hint:

When we walked as a nation away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial. Now, it’s fair to say, the majority of us don’t want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints. Except as straw-chewing figures in children’s books, we don’t quite believe in them anymore. When we give it a thought, we mostly consider the food industry to be a thing rather than a person. We obligingly give 85 cents of our every food dollar to that thing, too — the processors, marketers, and transporters. And we complain about the high price of organic meats and vegetables that might send back more than three nickels per buck back to the farmers: those actual humans putting seeds in the ground, harvesting, attending livestock births, standing in the fields at dawn casting their shadows upon our sustenance. There seems to be some reason we don’t want to compensate or think about these hardworking people. In the grocery store checkout corral, we’re more likely to learn which TV stars are secretly fornicating than to inquire as to the whereabouts of the people who grew the cucumbers and melons in our carts.

Much as Michael Pollan did last year with his Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, Kingsolver urges us to rememember that we are what we eat and reconsider what we put in our mouths. Kingsolver does it by eating locally and tending her own patch of earth as lyrically as she writes.

Which reminds me of this article, on farmers who write, from last week’s New York Times (I think it’s a pesky Times Select story, so if Bug Me Not doesn’t work, email me and we’ll sort things out). To even things out, here are some free recipes from the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website.

Now off to the farmers’ market with you!

* Also in the package — thanks, Pop — and on the go at the moment:

The Fight for English: How language pundits ate, shot, and left by David Crystal, inspired, as you can no doubt tell, by Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The Unfinished Canadian: The People We Are by Andrew Cohen


Science summer school

Herewith some choice bits from science writer Natalie Angier’s latest title, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science, in the hopes that, especially if you’re the parent of school-age children, educated at home or elsewhere, you might consider adding this to your library list or bookshelf, possibly the latter for a handy one-volume (under 300 pages) reference.

Ms. Angier’s writing style is often too breezy for me (verging on blowzy at times), but the book is a useful scientific tutorial, particularly valuable for those of us who tend to feel more comfortable in the humanities than the sciences. I especially appreciated all of the interviews and quotes from scientists in a variety of fields, all of whom come across as human and deeply interested in sharing their not particularly difficult or esoteric but fascinating passions. Unfortunately, the book has no footnotes but does have a reference section at the back, compiled by chapter, citing books as well as articles and web sites. I’ve added some other articles and book titles I’ve found, linking to the various scientists mentioned in the quotes below (the links are all mine and not Angier’s).

From Angier’s introduction, on why she wrote the book and why one should want to study science — forget about promoting “greater scientific awareness” for the abstract greater good:

There’s a reason why science museums are fun, and why kids like science. Science is fun. Not just gee-whizbang “watch me dip this rose into liquid nitrogen and then shatter it on the floor” fun, although it’s that, too. It’s fun the way rich ideas are fun, the way seeing beneath the skin of something is fun. Understanding how things work feels good. Look no further — there’s your should.

Angier talked to Peter Galison*, a professor of the history of physics at Harvard, who

marvels cheekily at the thoroughness with which the public image of science has been drained of all joy. “We had to work really hard to accomplish this spectacular feat, because I’ve never met a little kid who didn’t think science was really fun and really interesting,” he said. “But after years of writing tedious textbooks with terrible graphics, and of presenting science as a code you can’t crack, of divoring science from ordinary human processes that use it daily, guess what: We did it. We persuaded a large number of people that what they once thought was fascinating, fun, the most natural thing in the world, is alien to their existence.”

Still explaining the reasons behind the book, Angier writes,

It’s not that I wanted to take dumbing-down to new heights. In peppering sources with the most pre-basic of questions and tapping away at the Plexiglas shield of “everybody knows” until I was about as welcome as a yellow jacket at a nudist colony, I had several truly honorable aims. For one thing, I wanted to understand the material myself, in the sort of visceral way that allows one to feel comfortable explaining it to somebody else. For another, I believe that first-pass presumptions and nonexplanatory explanations are a big reason why people shy away from science. If even the Schlemiel’s Guide to the atom begins with a boilerplate trot through concepts that are pitched as elementary and self-evident but that don’t, when you think about them, really mean anything, what hope is there for mastering the text in cartoon balloon number two?Moreover, in choosing to ask many little questions about a few big items, I was adopting a philosophy that lately has won fans among science educators — that the best way to teach science to nonscientists is to go for depth over breadth.

From Angier’s first chapter, “Thinking Scientifically”**:

Even more than the testimonials to the fun of science, I heard the earnest affidavit that science is not a body of facts, it is a way of thinking. I heard these lines so often they began to take on a bodily existence of their own.”Many teachers who don’t have a deep appreciation of science present it as a set of facts,” said David Stevenson, a planetary scientist at Caltech. “What’s often missing is the idea of critical thinking, how you assess which ideas are reasonable and which are not.”

What’s also missing is the fun:

“When I look back on the science I had in high school, I remember it being taught as a body of facts and laws you had to memorize,” said Neil Shubin, a paleontologist at the University of Chicago. “The Krebs cycle, Linnaean classifications. Not only does this approach whip the joy of doing science right out of most people, but it gives everyone a distorted view of what science is. Science is not a rigid body of facts. It is a dynamic process of discovery. It is as alive as life itself.”” …

But when you treat it as if it’s not alive,

When science is offered as a body of facts, science becomes a glassy-eyed glossary. You skim through a textbook or an educational Web site, and words in boldface leap out at you. You’re tempted to ignore everything but the highlighted hand wavers. You think, if I learn these terms, maybe I won’t flunk chemistry. Yet if you follow such a strategy, chances are excellent that you will flunk chemistry in the ways that matter — not on the report card in the backpack, but on the ratings card in your brain.

Some ideas on why so many just aren’t comfortable with science or scientific principles any more:

A number of scientists proposed that people may have been more comfortable with the nuts and bolts of science back when they were comfortable with nuts and bolts. “It was easier to introduce students and the lay public to science when people fixed their own cars or had their hand sin machinery of various kinds,” said David Botstein of Princeton. “In the immediate period after World War II, everybody who’d been through basic training knew how a differential gear worked because they had taken one apart.”Farmers, too, were natural scientists. They understood the nuances of seasons, climate, plant growth, the do-si-do between parasite and host [and this is much more true of present-day farmers who farm in more traditional, less conventional methods without synthetic chemicals that kill the parasite and injure the host]. The scientific curiosity that entitled our nation’s Founding Fathers to membership in Club Renaissance, Anyone? had agrarian roots. …

“The average adult American today knows less about biology than the average ten-year-old living in the Amazon, or than the average American of two hundred years ago,” said Andrew Knoll, a professor of natural history at Harvard’s Earth and Planetary Sciences Department. “Through the fruits of science, ironically enough, we’ve managed to insulate people from the need to know about science and nature.”

Angier on “plain-truth poems of science”:

To say that there is an objective reality, and that it exists and can be understood, is one of those plain-truth poems of science that is nearly bottomless in its beauty. It is easy to forget that there is an objective, concrete universe, an outerverse measured in light years, a microverse trading in angstroms, the currency of atoms; we’ve succeeded so well in shaping daily reality to reflect the very narrow parameters and needs of Homo sapiens. We the subjects become we the objects, and we forget that the moon shows up each night for the graveyard shift, and we often haven’t a clue as to where we might find it in the sky. We are made of stardust; why not take a few moments to look up a the family album? “Most of the times, when people walk outside at night and see the stars, it’s a big, pretty background, and it’s not quite real,” said the Caltech planetary scientist Michael Brown [which link led me to this, which definitely gives me pause]. “It doesn’t occur to them that the patter they see in the sky repeats itself once a year, or to appreciate why that’s true.”

One of Angier’s best concrete tips for parents of young children, which she did mention in her CBC radio interview the other month:

Another fail-safe way to change the way you see the world is to invest in a microscope. Not one of those toy microscopes sold in most Science ‘n’ Discovery chain stores, which, as Tom Eisner, a professor of chemical ecology at Cornell, has observed, are unwrapped on Christmas morning and in the closet before Boxing Day. Not the microscopes that magnify specimens up to hundreds of times and make everything look like a satellite image of an Iowa cornfield. Rather, you should buy a dissecting microscope, also known as a stereo microscope. Admittedly, such microscopes are not cheap, running a couple of hundred dollars or so. Yet this is a modest price to pay for revelation, revolution, and — let’s push this envelope out of the box while we’re at it — personal salvation. …”Yes, the world is out there, over your head and under your nose, and it is real and it is knowable. To understand something about why a thing is as it is in no detracts from its beauty and grandeur, nor does it reduce the observed to “just a bunch of” — chemicals, molecules, equations, specimens for a microscope. Scientists get annoyed at the hackneyed notion that their pursuit of knowledge diminishes the mystery or art or “holiness” of life. … A rose is a rose is a rose; but the examined rose is a sonnet.

I’ll leave the rest for you to discover, from the individual chapters explaining the various sciences (physics, chemistry, biology — a chapter each on molecular and evolutionary — astronomy, geology, statistics, and calibration), except for this tidbit from the chapter on physics, which caught my eye as I plan the kids’ rejiggered science program for the fall:

As the science of starter parts and forces, physics can also be defended as the ideal starter science. Yet standard American pedagogy has long ruled otherwise. In most high schools, students begin with biology in tenth grade, follow it with chemistry, and cap it off in their senior year with physics, a trajectory determined by the traditional belief that young minds must be ushered gently from the “easiest” to the “hardest” science. More recently, though, many scientists have been campaigning for a flip in the educational sequence, teaching physics first, the life sciences last. Leading the charge for change is Leon Lederman, a Nobel laureate in physics and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois… .Lederman and others argue that physics is the foundation on which chemistry and biology are built, and that it makes no sense to start slapping the walls together and hammering on the roof before you’ve poured the concrete base. They also insist that, taught right, physics is no “harder” than any other subject worth knowing. Some schools have adopted the recommended course correction, and others are sure to follow.

Another modest price to pay for revelation is the cost of The Canon, under $25 at most booksellers in North America, so you can read the rest in the comfort of your own home. Two opposable thumbs up.

* In the linked interview, Dr. Galison recommends the following science books for children — English physicist Russell Stannard‘s “Uncle Albert” (that would be Einstein…) trilogy, The Time and Space of Uncle Albert, Black Holes and Uncle Albert, and Uncle Albert and the Quantum Quest (which seem available only secondhand in the U.S. but can be bought new in Canada); and Peter Sis’s “sophisticated and beautiful [picture] books” on Galileo and Charles Darwin. He also recommends the following for nonscientists: The First Three Minutes by Steven Weinberg, who won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1979; QED by Richard Feynman; and The Elegant Universe by string theorist Brian Greene.

** Excellent for teaching kids to think scientifically is a book we discovered through the Noeo Science website, not surprisingly titled How to Think Like a Scientist by Stephen P. Kramer and illustrated by Felicia Bond (the “Mouse Cookie” lady, as one of my kids calls her).

Lastly, a summer science bonus, for those rainy days you’re not outside playing in puddles, via the Feynman website: physics coloring pages from Physics Central.

Poetry Friday: Poems for the First

A Happy Canada Day to all, with some poetry to mark the occasion.

Rivers of Canada
by Bliss Carman (1861-1929)

O all the little rivers that run to Hudson’s Bay,
They call me and call me to follow them away.

Missinaibi, Abitibi, Little Current–where they run
Dancing and sparkling I see them in the sun.

I hear the brawling rapid, the thunder of the fall,
And when I think upon them I cannot stay at all.

At the far end of the carry, where the wilderness begins,
Set me down with my canoe-load — and forgiveness of my sins.

O all the mighty rivers beneath the Polar Star,
They call me and call me to follow them afar.

Peace and Athabasca and Coppermine and Slave,
And Yukon and Mackenzie–the highroads of the brave.

Saskatchewan, Assiniboine, the Bow and the Qu’Appelle,
And many a prairie river whose name is like a spell.

They rumor through the twilight at the edge of the unknown,
“There’s a message waiting for you, and a kingdom all your own.

“The wilderness shall feed you, her gleam shall be your guide.
Come out from desolations, our path of hope is wide.”

O all the headlong rivers that hurry to the West,
They call me and lure me with the joy of their unrest.

Columbia and Fraser and Bear and Kootenay,
I love their fearless reaches where winds untarnished play–

The rush of glacial water across the pebbly bar
To polished pools of azure where the hidden boulders are.

Just there, with heaven smiling, any morning I would be,
Where all the silver rivers go racing to the sea.

O well remembered rivers that sing of long ago,
Ajourneying through summer or dreaming under snow.

Among their meadow islands through placid days they glide,
And where the peaceful orchards are diked against the tide.

Tobique and Madawaska and shining Gaspereaux,
St. Croix and Nashwaak and St. John whose haunts I used to know.

And all the pleasant rivers that seek the Fundy foam,
They call me and call me to follow them home.

Carman, Canada’s unofficial poet laureate and a cousin of Canadian poet Charles G.D. Roberts, wrote this c1925.


The round-up is over at Shaken & Stirred today. Thank you, Gwenda. Grab a glass and a swizzle stick, and enjoy a weekend a poetry, fireworks, and freedom.

Oh, and just a reminder: I do believe in either a weak moment or a brief flicker of responsibility I offered to host Poetry Friday here at Farm School next week, July 6th. So if you sometimes read this blog but haven’t participated in Poetry Friday yet, I hope you’ll think about sharing a favorite poem — yours or your family’s — or even a poem you’d like to learn more about or share with your kids. Put your thinking caps on.

Latest edition of the Carnival of Children’s Lliterature is up

Mary Lee and Franki have the June edition of the Carnival of Children’s Literature ready at their blog, A Year of Reading. Good news, indeed!

Poetry Friday: A warning to children

This poem is wonderful to read aloud, to any children nearby or just to yourself.

Warning to Children
by Robert Graves (1895-1985)

Children, if you dare to think
Of the greatness, rareness, muchness,
Fewness of this precious only
Endless world in which you say
You live, you think of things like this:
Blocks of slate enclosing dappled
Red and green, enclosing tawny
Yellow nets, enclosing white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where a neat brown paper parcel
Tempts you to untie the string.
In the parcel a small island,
On the island a large tree,
On the tree a husky fruit.
Strip the husk and cut the rind off:
In the centre you will see
Blocks of slate enclosed by dappled
Red and green, enclosed by tawny
Yellow nets, enclosed by white
And black acres of dominoes,
Where the same brown paper parcel —
Children, leave the string untied!
For who dares undo the parcel
Finds himself at once inside it,
On the island, in the fruit,
Blocks of slate about his head,
Finds himself enclosed by dappled
Green and red, enclosed by yellow
Tawny nets, enclosed by black
And white acres of dominoes,
But the same brown paper parcel
Still untied upon his knee.
And, if he then should dare to think
Of the fewness, muchness, rareness,
Greatness of this endless only
Precious world in which he says
He lives – he then unties the string.

From our secondhand copy of the Oxford Book of Poetry for Children, compiled by Edward Blishen with illustrations by Brian Wildsmith (OUP, 1963). Originally published in Graves’s The Penny Fiddle: Poems for Children, 1960, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone.

* * *

Robert Graves was born at Wimbledon, England, in 1895. Though celebrated for his books, including his classic World War I autobiography and raw account of the war Good-Bye to All That (1929), and I, Claudius (1934), and work as a critic and classical scholar and translator, he considered himself foremost a poet. During the Battle of the Somme in 1916 he was badly wounded and left for dead. In 1929, he left England and eventually — with brief stays in Cairo and, during the Spanish Civil War, the United States — settled in Majorca, where lived until his death in 1985. For Michele at Scholar’s Blog‘s thorough biography of Graves, go to her War Poets website, Counter-Attack.

The Robert Graves Archive is a marvelous online resource; it includes his poetry, audio files of Graves reading, multimedia resources, and various scholarly materials on the web.

* * *

A Wrung Sponge has today’s round-up, and some Wallace Stevens. Thank you!

"Wow. Oh boy" indeed.

In today’s Globe and Mail.

Jumping J, for JoVE, to see if it can be done…

Because I can’t resist a challenge (there, another fact/habit about me...)

1. Famous singer/band: Jo Stafford, especially her album Jo + Jazz

2. Four letter word: jute

3. Street name: Jermyn Street, London

4. Color: jade green

5. Gifts/presents: jewels, or (more cheaply) jewel cases with favorite CDs and DVDs

6. Vehicle: jitney

7. Items on a menu: jicama with jerk chicken

8. Boy Name: James

9. Girl Name: Jane

10. Movie Title: The Journey (1959), Deborah Kerr, Yul Brynner; 1956 Budapest, and Ron Howard’s movie debut. Sadly not on DVD yet, but I still have my homemade video.

11. Drink: juice

12. Occupation: jack-of-all-trades

13. Flower: Jacob’s Ladder (I have taller ones with white flowers, and shorter ones with blue flowers, and both varieties smell heavenly)

15. Magazine: Jack & Jill, one of my favorite magazines as a child

16. US City: Jackson Hole, Wyoming

17. Pro Sports Team: Utah Jazz (NBA)

18. Reason for Being Late for Work: jail

19. Something You Throw Away: jetsam (and flotsam)

20. Things you shout: In a Viennese accent, “Jesus, Maria und Joseph!”

21. Cartoon character: Jerry, of Tom & Jerry

Eight things meme, and an extra

Camille at Book Moot tagged me some time ago for the Eight Habits/Things About Me meme. The taggee is supposed to list eight facts or habits about him- or herself, and, Camille explains,

The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog.

Eight (not particularly interesting) habits/things about me, then:

1. I like lots of milk in my coffee (a friend in college used to ask me if I’d like a little coffee with my milk) and I drink it slowly. Which means it’s almost always cold before I’m finished drinking. This is a trait I apparently inherited from my mother.

2. I sleep with socks on for most of the year.

3. Some items from my childhood scrapbook (before scrapbooking became a competitive sport): ticket stubs from the circus (Ringling Brothers, April 6, 1974) and a Mets game (vs. San Francisco, July 7, 1974); a pressed and dried edelweiss flower, a present from relatives after their trip to Europe; an autographed notes from Ezra Jack Keats (“It’s been a pleasant sharing this afternoon with you”) and Ben Lucien Burman (“with warmest good wishes from all us critters at Catfish Bend“), both of whom came to speak at my Puffin Books children’s club meeting); and autographed photographs of Jimmy Cagney, Mae West, and Gene Kelly.

4. I can’t fall asleep without reading a bit.

5. I don’t have enough bookcases or bookshelves. I doubt that I ever will.

6. I miss Eugene T. Maleska.

7. For years until the kids were born, I had the same lunch every day — a tuna sandwich and an apple. Then I decided it might be helpful to demonstrate that variety and moderation in all things are good.

8. I haven’t used an ATM machine in the past twelve-and-a-half years.

I think most folks have been tagged, so I’ll skip that part. But if you want to play along, go ahead, and leave the link in the comments, please.

Since I was so late with this one, I’ll add an extra meme, Scattergories, that I haven’t been tagged for, and that I’ve seen over at Frankie’s Kitchen-Table Learners and at Karen‘s blog; the versions are a tad different (I opted for the one with flowers instead of celebrities, thereby avoiding bald Britney). Using the first letter of your (blog) name, come up with answers for the following categories:

Name: Becky

1. Famous singer/band: The Beatles.

2. 4 letter word: book

3. Street name: Broadway

4. Color: blue

5. Gifts/presents: books, to give and receive

6. Vehicle: boat

7. Items on a menu: Bananas Foster

8. Boy Name: Benjamin

9. Girl Name: Beth

10. Movie Title: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946); starring Myrna Loy, Frederic March, Dana Andrews, Virginia Mayo, Harold Russell, Teresa Wright, and Hoagy Carmichael. Directed by William Wyler. A World War II homecoming.

11. Drink: beer (Big Rock Pale Ale, from Calgary)

12. Occupation: bean counter

13. Flower: buffalo beans, one of my favorite Alberta wildflowers. They’re coming to the end of their season now. Other wildflowers coming into bloom now — bastard toadflax, pincushion beardtongue, northern bedstraw, field bindweed, blue-eyed grass, viper’s bugloss, bunchberry, and butter-and-eggs.

15. Magazine: The Beaver, the magazine about Canadian history

16. US City: Boulder (and here’s a Canadian one — Brampton, Ontario)

17. Pro Sports Team: Boston Bruins (NHL)

18. Reason for Being Late for Work: Bushed. Or bushwacked.

19. Something You Throw Away: broken bits

20. Things you shout: Blast!

21. Cartoon character: Bugs Bunny.

Celebrate late Spring with a Country Fair!

The Country Fair of homeschooling is open again, so grab a lemonade or a cotton candy and meander through the barns or past the pie-eating contest...

Thanks, Doc, for taking the time to put it all together!

For the birds

Late last spring, the kids asked if we could have “bird school” all summer. So, in addition to our various field guides, we pulled all of the bird books off the shelves and grouped them together in the living room on the coffee table. Indoors and out, the kids read the various books themselves, to each other, and asked for readalouds of others. I kept meaning to put all of the titles in a post, but never got around to something so linky and time-consuming.

But Susan at Chicken Spaghetti has, in a recent post on Bird Books for Children that she and her son have been enjoying. The list includes books, websites, and blogs, including a link to Kelly at Big A little a‘s bird book bibliography earlier this year.

And don’t forget Chris Barton‘s bird book post from last fall, either.

A better late than never reminder for the (Late) Late Spring Edition of Dawn’s Field Days

Dawn at By Sun and Candlelight has this season’s installment, in words and plentiful pictures, of the latest Field Day, just in time for late Spring. Rainbows, skinks, flowers, birds and bird books — something for everyone, especially on an early Spring morning or a quiet, rainy day. Thank you, Dawn, for the wonderful idea and for continuing, season after season.

Keys to my heart

A very happy Father’s and Grandpapa’s Day to my father, and a happy Father’s Day to Tom, with whom I’m also celebrating 13 lucky years of wedded bliss. He and the kids — who made us a fabulous breakfast of homemade pancakes and bacon with whipped cream and fresh pineapple — went out this morning to see our new bull, bought from a neighbor on Friday, and later today there just may be some fishing.

For Tom, my joy and only dear, from his Becky Thatcher,

The Key of My Heart
(traditional, author unknown)

Madam, I will give you a new lace cap,
With embroidery on the bottom and insertion at the top,
If you will be my bride, my joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with me everywhere.

Sir, I will not accept of your new lace cap,
With embroidery on the bottom and insertion at the top,
I won’t be your bride, your joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with you everywhere.

Madam, I will give you a new silk gown,
With nineteen gold laces to lace it up and down,
If you will be my bride, my joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with me everywhere.

Sir, I will not accept of your new silk gown,
With nineteen gold laces to lace it up and down,
I won’t be your bride, your joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with you everywhere.

Madam, I will give you a little silver bell,
To call up your servants if you should not feel well,
If you will be my bride, my joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with me everywhere.

Sir, I will not accept of your little silver bell,
To call up my servants if I should not feel well,
I won’t be your bride, your joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with you everywhere.

Madam, I will give you a little greyhound,
Every hair upon its back worth a thousand pound,
If you will be my bride, my joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with me everywhere.

Sir, I will not accept of your little greyhound,
Every hair upon its back worth a thousand pound,
I won’t be your bride, your joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with you everywhere.

Madam, I will give you the key of my heart,
To lock it up for ever, that we may never part,
If you will be my bride, my joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with me everywhere.

Sir, I will accept of the key of your heart,
To lock it up for ever, that we may never part,
I will be your bride, your joy, and only dear,
To walk and talk with you everywhere.

From my copy of The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes, gathered by Iona and Peter Opie* with charming pen and ink drawings by Paline Baynes (Penguin Books, 1970); from the back cover:

The Opies [Peter died in 1982, and Iona continues to write] have three chidlren, and live in a Victorian family house in Hampshire, which, as a necessary milieu to their studies, is steadily being filled with old and rare children’s books, toys, games, pictures, and the paraphernalia of bygone nurseries.

I quite like the idea of “a necessary milieu” to our studies, but, as usual, I’m rambling off the subject…

* A very interesting Time Magazine article from 1959 (more than 40 years before The Dangerous Book for Boys), which begins: “Have children forgotten how to entertain themselves?”

Poetry Friday: Up by the bootstraps edition

I missed Poetry Friday last week in the thick of things — Spring busy-ness on and off the farm — but saw yesterday via Poetry Friday founder Kelly at Big A little a that our own Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti has a terrific article on the origins of Poetry Friday, “Thank Goodness It’s (Poetry) Friday”, at the Poetry Foundation website. Included with the article is a sidebar of “A Few of the Many Poetry Friday Regulars”, including Farm School. To which I offer great thanks, and a yikes. Though the kick in the pants is just what I needed. It’s time to pull up my poetry socks, and my bootstraps, too.

So here, in honor of Father’s Day, and my father, who adores a good bowl of soup (or a bowl of good soup) is

Beautiful Soup, So Rich and Green
by Lewis Carroll

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau-ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau-ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo-oop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two p
ennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau-ootiful Soo-oop!
Beau-ootiful Soo-oop!
Soo-oop of the e-e-evening,
Beautiful, beauti-FUL SOUP!


Today’s round-up, with a bit of original Poetry Friday haiku, is at The Simple and the Ordinary. Thank you, Christine!

PS Speaking of beautiful and green, the Poetry Friday button above is lovely, but does anyone have a version that’s a tad lighter? My 43-year-old eyes are having trouble with the black on dark olive green. And you know, after engaging in conversation this morning with another homeschooler about the merits of Andrew Lang’s lovely color Fairy Books series, ably reprinted year after year by Dover, it occurs to me that a rainbow of Poetry Friday t-shirts and mug, say, from Café Press, would be a thing of beauty. Especially if the proceeds went toward providing poetry and other books for children.

You pick

the lesser of two weevils:

Doll Web Sites Drive Girls to Stay Home and Play, as reported by The New York Times yesterday (free registration or use Bug Me Not)


The Daring Book for Girls, the not very daring but very manufactured response to The Dangerous Book for Boys, pandering to those who say they are offended by a “boys only” tome and hoping, no doubt, to strike the same nerves and chords as has The Dangerous Book. Coming in time for Christmas 2007.

As I sit here tapping away, wearing my father’s old blue dress shirt over my husband’s t-shirt (it’s a bit cool here this morning), while Laura slurps her cereal and reads her brother’s copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys breezily ignoring the last two words in the title and thoroughly unaware of the Cartoon Doll Emporium, Club Penguin, Cyworld, Habbo Hotel, Webkinz, WeeWorld and Stardoll, I wish you a summer of uncomputerized, unmanufactured, unfettered fun.

Canada’s alternative alternative

Just a snippet from yesterday’s Globe & Mail article on the new Canadian creation museum, in Big Valley, Alberta. It cost only a fraction of the U.S. version’s $27 million, but interestingly while its U.S. counterpart is known as the “creation museum”, the Canadian version bills itself as the “creation science museum”. Read the rest here:

The museum sits about 60 kilometres north of Drumheller’s Royal Tyrrell Museum, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of dinosaur bones, and Mr. Nibourg wants his 900-square-foot facility to serve as an “alternative view” of Earth history.

It is filled with everything from a “fossilized teddy bear” meant to show how quickly an object can appear fossilized, to a scroll that claims England’s Henry VI can be traced back to Adam and Eve, to fossils offered as proof of the Biblical flood.

If you happen to find yourself in southern Alberta this summer, do yourself a favor and head to the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Drumheller, a member of the Alliance of Natural History Museums of Canada. The Royal Tyrrell has a wealth of programs for children and families, including nine different summer programs — make a fossil cast, hike the Badlands, excavate at a simulated dig site, prospect for fossils, and more — and a science camp. Also, during the school year, “University, college and school students [including homeschoolers] with accompanying teachers and chaperones are admitted free when they are visiting as part of a school group”. And did I mention that the nifty gift shop is online? Where you can find the Royal Tyrrell’s own Resource-a-saurus Rex, a teacher’s guide to palaeontology for use with grades K through 12.

Happy Birthday, Grandpapa!

For Grandpapa, a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, on his birthday,

The Fable of the Magnet and the Churn
by W.S. Gilbert

A magnet hung in a hardware shop,
And all around was a loving crop
Of scissors and needles, nails and knives,
Offering love for all their lives;
But for iron the magnet felt no whim,
Though he charmed iron, it charmed not him;
From needles and nails and knives he’d turn,
For he’d set his love on a Silver Churn!

His most aesthetic,
Very magnetic
Fancy took this turn —
“If I can wheedle
A knife or a needle,
Why not a Silver Churn?”

And Iron and Steel expressed surprised,
The needles opened their well-drilled eyes,
The penknives felt “shut up,” no doubt,
The scissors declared themselves “cut out,”
The kettles boiled with rage, ’tis said,
While every nail went off its head,
And hither and thither began to roam,
Till a hammer came up — and drove them home.

While this magnetic,
Lover he lived to learn,
By no endeavor
Can a magnet ever
Attract a Silver Churn!

Worth reading

o Stephanie at Throwing Marshmallows has a terrific post about Feminism and Homeschooling.

o David Harsanyi of The Denver Post writes that Adults, not boys, have changed. Just a sampling:

What makes The Dangerous Book for Boys somewhat contentious, though, is its implicit assertion that boys and girls are very different. That boys and girls are interested in different things and, gulp, excel at different things as well.

And according to Jim Hamilton, a program coordinator with Colorado 4-H, it’s the adults who need help, not the boys.

Hamilton contends that in his 20 years of involvement with Colorado youth development, boys haven’t changed very much at all. What’s changed, he claims, is the reaction adults have to the activities boys tend to engage in.

“What boys do isn’t necessarily what I’d call dangerous, anyway,” explains the father of four. “But they have a need to push their own limitation. And it hurts them when we won’t allow that to happen. Sometimes it forces them to learn and deal with those limitations on a bigger stage – where it’s much more difficult. Then people overreact. Boys are often on the edge. And that’s basically what adults react to in a poor way.”

o The BBC’s correspondent in America, Justin Webb, this past Saturday, on America’s great faith divide and his visit to the creation museum:

There is nothing remotely convincing about the Creation Museum and frankly if it poses the threat to American science that some American critics claim it does, that seems to me to be as much a commentary on the failings of the scientific establishment as it is on the creationists.

There is a reason, I think, why theocracy will never fly in the United States and it has been touched on, inadvertently, by George Bush himself.

Mr Bush often makes the point that the philosophy of the Islamic radicals, full of hate and oppression, would not be attractive to people who truly had the freedom to choose.

Similarly the philosophy of the Old Testament, so much celebrated by some evangelicals here, has a limited power to enthral free people.

At the Creation Museum, goggle-eyed children watch depictions of the Great Flood in which children and their mums and dads are consumed, because God is cross.

In a nation of kindly moderate people I am not sure this is the future.

I put my faith – in America.

Poetry Friday: Poetry and science

I arrived at the library yesterday evening to return some books to find Natalie Angier’s The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science on the new titles shelf by the front door. Yippee. Started it last night.

We have a homeschool field trip to the vet clinic, the boys are submitting essays for a contest sponsored by the local skateboard club and newspaper to win a skateboard, and the organic inspector comes tomorrow. And today will be a hot one, close to 30 degrees C (over 80F). It may not be summer, but it’s definitely summery.

*  *  *

This one by E.E. Cummings, a lifelong Unitarian, from our out-of-print copy of A Treasury of Great Poems, English and American, selected by Louis Untermeyer, seems appropriate this week. Apologies for the goofy type size; apparenty I can’t have Cummings’s type arrangement and proper type size at the same time…

O Sweet Spontaneous Earth
by E.E. Cummings (1894-1962)

O sweet spontaneous
earth how often have
fingers of
purient philosophers pinched

, has the naughty thumb
of science prodded

beauty ,how
oftn have religions taken
thee upon their scraggy knees
squeezing and

buffeting thee that thou mightest conceive
to the incomparable
couch of death thy

thou answerest

them only with


* * *

Suzanne at adventures in daily living has the week's round-up.
Thanks, Suzanne!