• 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.

Happy Halloween!

We’re heading into town — kids in costume, of course — after lunch for music lessons and errands (it seems I have several parcels, with any luck Cybils-related, to collect). And once all the music lessons are done, we’re meeting friends for a quick non-sugary supper before the kids head out for trick or treating. I’m holding my breath because the forecast for today, including this evening, is unseasonably warm; daytime highs of around 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit, and not below freezing in the evening. Though the kids eagerly agreed with my suggestion to wear longjohns “just in case”.

Now all I have to do is to keep my fingers crossed for more M&Ms than Smarties in the treat bags….

* * * *

by Molly Capes

Bolt and bar the front door,
Draw the curtains tight,
Wise folk are in before
Moonrise tonight.

Halloween, Halloween,
Chestnuts to roast,
A gift for the fairy,
A prayer for the ghost.

Who will have their fate told
This night is known,
Whose hand is full of gold,
Who goes alone.

Halloween, Halloween,
Snapdragon blue,
A lover for me
And a fortune for you.

Stars shiver blue and green,
Moon’s wide and white;
There tattered clouds between
Witches take flight.

Halloween, Halloween,
Apples a-bob,
Elves at the keyhole
And imps on the hob.

“Twelve” calls the deep bell
To the hollow night;
“Twelve” whisper steeple tops
Far out of sight.

Halloween, Halloween,
Fires burn high,
Who shall say certainly,
Who can tell truthfully
What solemn company
Pass through the sky?

From Ghosts and Goblins: Stories for Halloween, compiled by Wilhelmina Harper and illustrated by William Wiesner, originally published in 1936 with a revised edition in 1965 (and now unfortunately out of print). The acknowledgments page credits The London Evening Standard for the above poem, which would have been writtten prior to 1936.

Our big squash-o-lantern

On Saturday we had an autumn/early Halloween squash carving party with some friends.

The guest of honor was the 570-pound squash we picked up earlier in the month at the pumpkin festival.

The squash spent most of the month in our shop, and on Saturday morning Tom brought it, on a pallet, with the tractor to our garage, so everyone, including the squash, would stay warm in the rather chilly temperatures.

Tom tried a knife at first, and for the features, it wasn’t too bad.

But for the top, where the flesh is six inches thick, Tom decided
that Daniel’s small hatchet was better,

It’s the Great Squash, Charlie Brown!

Tom transporting the Great Squash to its final resting place,
at the end of our driveway,

Carefully sliding out the pallet,

After the carving, we went indoors to warm up with apple cider, chili, curried pumpkin soup, carrot cake, and goblins’ toes.

The view at night, with the help of a trouble light,

Canadian independent booksellers respond to strong dollar

Just announced, from Audrey’s Books, Edmonton’s longstanding (50 years) independent bookseller, via The Edmonton Journal [emphases mine]:

The strength of the Canadian dollar and the complaints of customers have convinced Audrey’s Books of Edmonton to cut prices, even if that means selling at a loss.

Co-owner Sharon Budnarchuk said Monday the store is now selling books at their listed U.S. prices and will continue to do so through Dec. 31. The move mirrors a similar discount promotion undertaken a week ago by a major independent bookseller in Ottawa.

“We were very concerned about how the Christmas season was going to go,” Budnarchuk said. “We’ve put a great deal of money into inventory, and you don’t want to see the whole thing disappear.

“We’re hoping we’re going to generate a ton of business that will cover what we initially have to eat because we’ll replace all this stock by buying American.

“We’ve been buying from the Canadian distributor at this stupid price.”

Once those Canadian-bought books are sold, the store will replace some of them by buying from U.S. distributors in U.S. dollars, she said.

The prices of many books on Audreys bestseller shelves were set when they went to print months ago. At that time, the Canadian dollar was worth substantially less than its U.S. counterpart.

Canadian booksellers have been badgering distributors to reduce their prices on imported books as quickly as possible, Budnarchuk said, but it just isn’t happening fast enough.

With the book industry one of the few that lists its prices in both Canadian and U.S. dollars, booksellers like Audreys have been left on the firing line when consumers demand to reap the benefit of a better exchange rate.

Audreys co-owner Steve Budnarchuk, immediate past president of the Canadian Booksellers Association, flew to Ottawa Monday as part of a CBA delegation scheduled to meet today with Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

“The minister needs to understand it’s not the retailers’ fault,” Sharon Budnarchuk said. “We’re buying in Canadian funds.

“He keeps saying go and shop where the price is the best. Well, all you’re doing is sending them all down to the U.S. and online in the U.S. And that’s outrageous.”

The spread between Canadian and U.S. pricing is slowly closing, but the gap remains noticeable to any consumer who can do the math. The U.S. listing price for the new Alice Sebold novel, The Almost Moon, is $24.99, $4 less than in Canada. The new Ken Follett thriller, World Without End, sells for $35 in the U.S. and $42 in Canada.

Full parity with U.S. prices may be too much to ask for, given the extra costs involved in getting American books across the border, including shipping fees and customs brokerage fees.

Penguin Group (Canada) has said it plans to sell U.S. books to Canadian retailers at as close to par as possible in the new year. The Canadian publisher is working toward bringing its pricing to within 1.1 per cent of par by January.

Other publishers, such as Random House Canada and Harper Collins Canada Ltd., have been giving discounts of about five per cent to retailers, but only on new titles. Random House has offered a 10-per-cent adjustment on their backlist titles, but they’re still selling $21 paperbacks in Canada that sell for $14 in the U.S.

Budnarchuk says these are very nervous times at her store, a fixture in the city for more than 32 years.

“This is a scary thing. We’re hoping that the book buyer in Edmonton is going to turn around and say, ‘Wow, here are some people who care about customers’.”

It’s worth bearing in mind, too, that not all Canadian independent booksellers can afford to cut prices. Ottawa’s Perfect Books has a letter from owner Pat Caven on its website that reads in part,

The American price you see pre-printed on your book next to the Canadian price is often times close to or exactly our cost. If some bookstores have made the desperate decision to honour those prices, they are either independently wealthy or have been bullied into it by all this specious media coverage. The fact that these bookstores are making the reader choose to keep that money by paying American or support the bookstore by paying in Canadian is an insult to the customer. Putting the decision in the consumer’s hands is an ugly choice that I won’t force my customers to make even if I could afford to. By turning this price war into a skirmish between those independents that survived the upheaval of Chapters, Costco and Pharma Plus entering the field makes the situation all that much more discouraging.

This situation will not be remedied overnight. There are no quick fixes. The publishers have been passing on some small incentives to us that allow us to alter the prices on the new release fall books and have sent notices that they will continue to do so until the spring.

All we can ask of you is the understanding and patience you have already shown us over the years. We will try our hardest to keep you as informed as possible and thank you for making individual, neighbourhood bookstores possible.

* * *

Audreys Books, Edmonton

Collected Works, Ottawa

Perfect Books, Ottawa

Good deals — and not-so-good deals — for Canadians

Want to celebrate the rise of the up-up-and-away Canadian dollar, currently worth $1.05 US? Here’s some information gleaned recently.

To kick things off, here’s a good deal for just about everyone, as long as you don’t already have a subscription to Smithsonian Magazine: the magazine is offering a special introductory rate

United States: 12 issues for $12
Canada: 12 issues for $25 USD
Foreign: 12 issues for $38 USD

Compare this to the renewal rate of $29 annually for U.S. subscribers; $42 USD for Canadians; and $55 USD for foreign subscribers. So this is a dandy time to get a subscription if you don’t already have one. It’s a magazine the whole family can enjoy.

Other Good Deals:

Lee Valley, the wonderful Canadian woodworking and garden tool company, is celebrating its 30th anniversary with 20 percent off all books to the end of this month (this means you have ’til Halloween). Favorite Lee Valley titles from the Farm School book shelf include Boy Craft and Lee’s Priceless Recipes; and Daniel has The Boy Mechanic series from Popular Mechanics on his wish list for when he’s older. I also keep eyeing Workshop Math and Construction Geometry as possible math texts for Daniel and Davy in high school, when they might find something with practical applications more appealing.

LL Bean: Not only does your Canadian dollar go much further nowadays for cross-border shopping at LL Bean, but now through December 16th, Bean is offering free shipping to Canada with no minimum purchase.

Not-so-good deals, or, Canadians caveat emptor:

Lego: Thinking that with the Canadian dollar above par I could finally head to Lego.com to do some shopping for the kids, since what I can buy online from Chapters.ca and Mastermind (which, by the way, is offering free shipping in Canada on orders over $100, until November 18th) is fairly limited. On a hunch, I checked the price of the Lego digger (item #7248), and lo and behold it’s $29 CAD for Canadians but only $19.99 USD for Americans. Hmmm…. No reply yet to the inquiry I sent along via customer service wondering whether they would be willing to consider an adjustment for Canadian customers. I’d like to buy some more Lego soon for the kids, for Christmas and for Davy’s birthday next month, but I’m not willing to pay the Canadian mark-up and shipping and duty, so I just might add on to the K’NEX set we just received and which has been a huge success (will write more and post pics later on), and/or buy some more Lincoln Logs (now part of the K’NEX family) to add to the kids’ collection. Especially because the fine folks at Canadian Home Education Resources sent along some CHER “customer appreciation dollars” (think Canadian Tire money but better) toward our next purchase. Now that’s a lesson in customer service the companies in this nether section could learn.

Math-U-See: We’ve been using Math-U-See to supplement Singapore Math, and Davy just completed the old Foundations set, which I had bought secondhand. Considering the purchase of one teacher pack and one student kit each for the new Gamma, Delta, and Epsilon levels for my bunch, I saw on the website that while shipping for Canadian customers is free at the moment, each level would cost me $78 CAN, for a total of $234. Buying in the US, the same three levels would cost me $165 US, with an additional $14.50 for shipping, for a total of $179.50. That’s a difference of $54.50, which seems rather high to me, given the present exchange rate. And so I wrote to the local MUS rep. To which I received the following reply,

Well as of today the Canadian dollar is going down [it bounced back quite nicely, thank you]. We purchase and print our books in Canada because the Canadian version is different so we pay more then the American version. We have taken off our 8% postage plus 5.00 shipping charge and that is as far as we can go. Sorry. Thanks [Rep’s Assistant]

I wrote directly to the company after that — no reply from anyone there — and back to the rep, too,

Dear [Rep’s Assistant],

Down, I suppose, is a relative term, considering that it’s at $1.02 so far today and fell only in response to David Dodge’s comments yesterday.

Could you tell me please whether the Canadian version contain substantially more material than the US version?

Many thanks, ME

And the final word on the matter — and you thought the customer was always right — from the rep’s assistant,

The Canadian version contains both the metric measurements and the imperial measurements. The US version has only the imperial measurements. Yes it is a result of David Dodges comments and the radio said the dollar is at 99 cents today and continuing down either way this is the solution that [Canadian MUS representative’s name] and Steve Demme came up with seeing as the Canadian books are printed in Canada and cost signifigantly [sic] more than the US version. [Signed, Rep’s Assistant]

Call me cranky, but I can’t imagine that each level has $18 worth of additional metric material. And it still seems rather a slap at Canadian customers, who have been paying more for the same items all along, from 62 cents to the dollar to a buck five; and then there’s the little matter that after a full week I’m still awaiting a reply to the email I sent directly to the company. At this point, I’m considering secondhand MUS again — new doesn’t seem to be much of a bargain, especially if I can’t factor decent customer service into the price — and going back to Singapore Math for now, supplemented by Developmental Mathematics by L. George Saad.

And with that, happy — and careful — shopping!

Poetry Friday: Halloween is Coming edition

This poem is sadly appropriate because the woods and fields are most certainly wintry this October morning, covered with more than just a dusting a snow and it is still snowing; even sadder, my children are delightedly pulling on snow pants to go out and shovel as I type. Temperatures are supposed to rise a few degrees into the the 30s today, so while I’m urging the thermometer up, the kids are urging more snow down. Drat.

The Witch in the Wintry Wood
by Aileen Fisher (1906-2002)

This is the story of timid Tim
who thought that witches went after him
when the night was dark and moon was dim.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

This is the tale of how Tim one night
didn’t start home until candlelight
when the sky was black and the snow was white.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

He walked through the woods like a frightened goat,
hist muffler twisted around his throat,
expecting to jump at a witch’s note:
“Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.”

Out of the night came a sheep dog’s yowl,
which Tim was sure was a witch’s howl,
a terrible witch on a wintry prowl.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

Tim, the timid, began to race,
certain he sighted a witch’s face
back of each shadowy hiding place.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

He ran through the woods on his lonely trek
till horrors! a hand went around his neck,
holding his headlong flight in check.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

Around his throat went a witch’s hand
that jerked poor Tim to a sudden stand.
His heart was water, his legs were sand!
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

Nobody knows how long he stood
with that hand on his throat in the silent wood
until he could find some hardihood…
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

Then he looked around like a shaky calf,
thinking of words for his epitaph,
and “Oh, ho, ho!” he began to laugh…
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

For what he saw was a funny sight —
it wasn’t a witch at his throat by night,
but a pine branch pulling his muffler tight!
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

The more Tim chuckled, the more he thought
how most of his fears were like mufflers caught
and stretched much tighter than mufflers ought.
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

And the end of this story of timid Tim
is — nevermore, when the night was dim,
did he fear that witches were after him!
Woo-HOO, woo-HOO, woo-HOO.

* * *

This poem is from Ghosts and Goblins: Stories for Halloween, compiled by Wilhelmina Harper and illustrated by William Wiesner, which I found on the shelf of the little village library while the kids were art lessons. The book, originally published in 1936 with a revised edition in 1965 (and now unfortunately out of print) includes not just stories — mostly folk tales from around the world, including several by Joseph Jacobs — but also poems — Carl Sandburg’s Theme in Yellow, Walter de la Mare’s Someone — and is great readaloud fun in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Wilhelmina Harper compiled several other holiday anthologies, also out of print, including Easter Chimes, The Harvest Feast, and Merry Christmas to You. Worth searching your library for.

* * *

Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children had a wonderful Poetry Friday birthday post for Aileen Fisher in September of last year.

* * *

The last Poetry Friday round-up for October 2007 — boo! — can be found today at
at Sandhya Nankani’s Literary Safari. Because yesterday was St Crispin’s Day, Michele at Scholar’s Blog has the St Crispin’s Day speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V, one of Laura’s favorite passages to recite.

10 ways to get you to read a book…

from the BBC Magazine website, which has an article on the top 10 “factors that could influence the next sales behemoth”. Few of which will gladden the heart of the professional critic — no doubt as it should be, according to Sir Howard Davies — especially:

Factor #1, “Word of Mouth”: “Who do we really trust? When the chips are down, it’s the opinions of our friends and family and colleagues that matter in all things. When you’re trying on an item of clothing you don’t scratch around for a piece of pertinent fashion journalism, you just ask a mate to have a quick look.”

Factor #9, “Praise for”: “Once upon a time in the monomedia world, the reviewer was king. Powerful newspaper literary critics bestrode the world of publishing like colossi. Now not so much. As Mr Rickett [Joel Rickett, deputy editor of The Bookseller] notes: “People themselves are the reviewers now on Amazon and on all kinds of sharing websites. Reader response has almost supplanted the top-down role of the critic.”

* * *

By the way, the latest online edition of The Bookseller includes an interview with Peter Usborne of Usborne Books, including his thoughts on children’s nonfiction:

Now Usborne wants to turn the spotlight back on traditional non-fiction publishing. “I initially thought that the internet would kill non-fiction, because teachers would tell children to use the internet to help with homework. But if you key in ‘castles’ [on a search engine], you get 900,000 possible websites. The internet is an inadequate resource for children.”

Although space that retailers devote to children’s non-fiction has declined, Usborne believes it is time to address this. “People’s attitudes are beginning to change. I really believe that we can bring back non-fiction and make it a success again, but that is up to the trade as much as the publishers. I hope that they will start to back non-fiction again.”

Revisiting the chicken nugget theory

Living in my little hole on the prairie, I completely missed the brewing brouhaha over sneaky/deceptive kiddie food books.

But I still hold to the “chicken nugget theory” of kids’ food (not to mention children’s books, or any other kind of twaddle), which Jennifer Steinhauer wrote about last year in her Sunday NY Times article “Generation Pad Thai“. Ms. Steinhauer lists some chefs’ rules at home for making sure their kids “not only eat better [but are] better eaters”:

1. Make your children eat at the table from a very young age. Jody Adams, the chef at Rialto in Cambridge, Mass., said that her children — Oliver and Roxanne — never had highchairs. “It was really hard, because 2-year-olds throw food. But I saw the benefit in treating the dinner table as something that was important and that everyone had to participate in.”

2. Make them eat what you do, even if you have to purée it. “If we ate butternut squash and carrots, so did they,” [Hugo] Matheson said, “and sometimes with fish. I just really thinned it with cooking water.” Grant Achatz, the chef and owner of Alinea in Chicago, treated his 4-year-old to a 10-course dinner. “He didn’t finish everything, but he tried every course, which included white truffles, crab, bison,” he said. Do not feel compelled to top this.

3. Pack lunches fashioned from leftovers. “If we go for Thai food,” said Naomi Hebberoy, a chef and owner of the Gotham Building Tavern in Portland, Ore., her daughter, August, “takes pad Thai the next day.”

4. Eschew Baggies filled with Goldfish. (Car rides are exempt.) “If kids are hungry, they’re going to eat,” Dolich said. “If you fill them up on Bugles, they won’t.”

5. Buy them the most expensive chocolate you can afford. Who craves Ho Hos when they’ve had Scharffen Berger? I do. But I wasn’t raised on the good stuff.

Lest you think this is some culinary tomfoolery, these are the food ways our forefathers hewed to. “Historically, there was no such thing as children’s food,” said Andrew F. Smith, who teaches culinary history at the New School in New York. “Babies would eat what adults ate, chopped up, until Gerber created baby food in 1927.” “Children’s meals” didn’t exist until the McDonald’s Happy Meal came along in the late 1970’s, Smith said, and only when snack-food producers concluded that their real market was children did they start sponsoring events and advertising in the 1950’s.

And if you want to take a page from Barbara Kingsolver, too, have the kids grow the vegetables for an infinitely better appreciation of the green stuff, even without brownies.