• 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.

Yo walks in beauty, like the night

The current issue of New Scientist reports on new American Speech.

To which I can only add, sure, why the hell not?

may i feel said yo
by E.E. Cummings

may i feel said yo
(i’ll squeal said yo
just once said yo)
it’s fun said yo

(may i touch said yo
how much said yo
a lot said yo)
why not said yo

(let’s go said yo
not too far said yo
what’s too far said yo
where you are said yo)

may i stay said yo
(which way said yo
like this said yo
if you kiss said yo

may i move said yo
is it love said yo)
if you’re willing said yo
(but you’re killing said yo

but it’s life said yo
but your wife said yo
now said yo)
ow said yo

(tiptop said yo
don’t stop said yo
oh no said yo)
go slow said yo

(cccome?said yo
ummm said yo)
you’re divine!said yo
(you are Mine said yo)

Dangerous things

The last TedTalk to make a big impression on the home education blogs and groups was Ken Robinson’s, on how schools educate children to become good workers rather than creative thinkers.

The next TedTalk to start making the rounds and already making a splash is Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do by Gever Tulley of The Tinkering School, a summer program to help kids ages seven to 17 learn to build things. The talk comes from Tulley’s book in progress, Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do; click the book link and you’ll find some of Tulley’s labels which should be familiar to Make fans; we here at Farm School are always keen on subversive labels and stickers. As I once quoted Charles Darwin,

“Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life as one can, in any likelihood, pursue.”

Gever Tulley and Matt Hern, author of Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn’t Always Better (and whom I wrote about here) certainly seem to be on the same wavelength.

Oh — those five (really six) things? Not including playing with power tools at age two, which Tulley mentions at the beginning of his talk (and one of these days I’ll have to write about my daycare program for Laura when I was pregnant with Daniel; it consisted of sending Laura to work with Tom, her father the builder, six days a week to build a house for a client. Power tools, scaffolding, ladders, and openings to the basement without stairs, were a given. Needless to say, they’re all whizzes with power tools by now.)

1. Play with fire

2. Own a pocket knife (better yet, two or three or four, one for each pair of pants)

3. Throw a spear (or a paper airplane, or a baseball)

4. Deconstruct appliances (Tulley suggests a dishwasher, but radios and toasters are great good fun, and if you don’t have a dead one of your own, you can find them cheap and ailing at your local Goodwill or Salvation Army store)

5. Break the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (which we apparently do routinely)

6. Drive a car (or truck or tractor if you have no cars about)

Some helpful related links

Interview with Jean Liedloff, author of The Continuum Concept

Kitbashing in the homeschool with Willa at Every Waking Hour and Mama Squirrel at Dewey’s Tree House

GeekDad, where I first read last week about Gever Tulley’s TedTalk

Boing Boing

Make Magazine and Maker Faire (where the motto is “Build, Craft, Hack, Play, Make”)

Make Blog

Craft Magazine

Craft Blog

And, of course, the usual Farm School ramblings about childhood fun, danger, acceptable risk, responsibility, and independence.

The Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival is up

The New Year’s edition of the Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival is up, hosted by Terrell at Alone on a Limb. Terrell writes,

Learning in the Great Outdoors is intended as a trading center for those who use, or want to use, the environment as an integrating context for learning. If you are a teacher, a nature center educator or naturalist, a homeschooler who wants to use the environment in your studies, an amateur or professional botanist or zoologist or geologist or other science buff, a parent, a student — anyone with an interest in sharing the environment with children, please join us!

Not only are there some nifty and fun posts and pictures to keep you reading for quite some time, but news of some new (and new to me) and helpful blogs, including Open Wide, Look Inside, with links for using poetry and children’s literature in just about every subject, from Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

So head out for the limb. After all, as Will Rogers said, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” Thanks, Terrell, for some terrific New Year’s reading when we all finally head indoors.

Announcing the Cybils shortlist for Middle Grade/Young Adult Nonfiction

The official announcement has been made over here, at the Cybils blog. You can find the remaining short lists up today, too, including Nonfiction Picture Books, one of our family’s favorite categories.

In alphabetical order:

Marie Curie (volume 4 in the Giants of Science series) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Boris Kulikov; Krull’s Isaac Newton made it to last year’s short list
Viking Juvenile

The Periodic Table: Elements With Style! created (and illustrated) by (Simon) Basher, written by Adrian Dingle

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything, translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press

Tasting the Sky: a Palestinian Childhood by Ibtisam Barakat
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam, and the Science of Ocean Motion (from the Scientists in the Field series) by Loree Griffin Burns
Houghton Mifflin

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sís
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Who Was First?: Discovering the Americas by Russell Freedman (whose Freedom Walkers won this category last year)

Getting down to brass tacks now is the Judging Panel, comprised of

Tracy Chrenka at Talking in the Library
Emily Mitchell at Emily Reads
Camille Powell at Book Moot
Alice Herold at Big A little a
Jennie Rothschild at Biblio File

* * *

It was a wild ride. Five panelists, one newborn baby, a couple of holidays over several months, and 45 nominated children’s nonfiction books published in 2007 — on the subjects of history, science, mathematics, reference, biography, memoirs, humor, how to, essays, popular culture, music, and more. Much more.

What an absolute delight to work on the MG/YA nonfiction nominating panel alongside Susan at Chicken Spaghetti, Vivian at HipWriterMama, Mindy at Proper Noun Dot Net, and KT at Worth the Trip, all under the leadership of master wrangler and organizer Jen Robinson. The other panelists made the job of distilling the 45 nominated titles down to seven as easy as possible under the circumstances, and I continue to be amazed at how smoothly our negotiations and jockeyings went. Thank you each, thank you all for several marvelous months.

While we had a fraction of the books some of the other panels had to read (though more than I had to deal with last year on the poetry panel), our hunting and gathering skills were put to work tracking down titles for which review copies weren’t furnished. So I’d also like to thank the patient and quick-working libraries in our system that sped books to me, often shortly after processing. And lastly, a big thanks to my kids, who put up with a good deal of questioning, poking, and prodding about what they liked and didn’t about the the books they read, with and without me.

And special thanks, again, to Anne Boles Levy and Kelly Herold for coming up with the idea of the Cybils and organizing everything.

One of the reasons I wanted to serve on this particular panel is that for our family, and so many other home school families we know, high quality nonfiction titles are the backbone of our curricula, as well as our some of our children’s favorite free-time reading. I wanted, through the Cybils, to be able to publicize some of the best of the bunch, so you and your kids can include these new gems on your “to read” lists.

The other reason is that I realize, sadly, that for many non-home schooling families, nonfiction children’s titles are considered the second rate, second tier, B List, utility grade, inferior choice when it comes to children’s books, and I wanted to be able to use an opportunity like the Cybils, with such a terrific short list of books of marvelous depth and range, to show that children’s nonfiction is not only chock full of superior choices, but every inch the equal of fiction.

I’d like to encourage other readers and fans of children’s nonfiction, especially those who are concerned about what children’s nonfiction author Marc Aronson calls “nonfiction resistance”, to keep up with the subject on Marc’s blog, Nonfiction Matters.

And one final note — a raft of terrific children’s 2007 nonfiction titles didn’t make it to the list of nominees to be considered for the above short list. If your favorite wasn’t nominated, it’s because you didn’t speak up for it. Don’t let that happen next year.

World War I by blog

I picked up The National Post while in town on Saturday afternoon, and found this article about a blog created by Bill Lamin of Cornwall, using his grandfather Harry Lamin’s letters home from the front during World War I. Grandson Bill is posting the letters 90 years to the date they were written by grandfather Harry.

The blog is WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier.

Bill Lamin has also created a blog with entries from the official War Diary of the 9th Battalion of York & Lancaster Regiment.

Quickie thumbnail reviews of Cybils middle grade/young adult nonfiction nominees, Part I

Not all of them, just the ones the publishers were kind enough to send along, because with the short list ready to be announced tomorrow, I want to finally finally finally pick up the pile of books from the carpet and put things away — on the shelves for the keepers, in the library bag for donation for the rest. Some of the links that follow are Cybils Amazon associate ones.

Smart-Opedia: The Amazing Book About Everything
translated by Eve Drobot
Maple Tree Press

This one is up first because every minute this one has been out of Davy’s possession, it’s been almost physically painful. For me too, what with the constant noisy reminders and bee-like buzzing around (“Could I please have my Bookopedia back now? Now? Soon? Now? Please? M-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-m!). In fact, he took such an instant like to this book right after it arrived — and it was one of the first, thank you very much to the kind folks at the Canadian publishing house, Maple Tree Press — that I decided to give it to him for his birthday. I told him it was his present from the Cybils and Maple Tree. And then promptly took it back to put on the pile for consideration. We’ve been having a tug of war over it ever since, and more than once I’ve had to steal it out of the bed of a sleeping child.

Smart-opedia is about as close to the entire world in only 200 charmingly illustrated pages as you’re going to get, with entries on everything from animals and art, history and human rights, to space and cyberspace, most with a double-page spread. Entertainingly and clearly presented, this is a one-volume reference book that eight- to twelve-year olds (and probably their younger and older siblings, and parents too) will be reaching for even when no homework assignment is in sight, one reason why you might want to consider springing for the hardcover instead of the only slighter cheaper paperback edition. Home schoolers will find this delightful for free, pleasure reading. By the way, those charming illustrations are the work of no fewer than 17 different artists, who’ve somehow managed to make their styles look of a piece. Very similar in style and tone as the Usborne reference books, but nowhere as busy.

Ms. Drobot has done a masterful job singlehandedly translating a team effort originally published in France; near as I can tell, this is the original French version, from publisher Editions (Fernand) Nathan. Maple Tree recommends this for ages nine to 12, but I’d follow the original publisher and get it into kids’ hands much earlier, at ages six or seven or whenever they’re reading well on their own. By the time they’re nine or 10, it will be a good friend and constant companion. This one’s definitely a keeper for us.

From Slave to Superstar of the Wild West: The Awesome Story of Jim Beckwourth
by Tom DeMund
Legends of the West Publishing Company

A solid and engaging biography of American frontiersman Jim Beckwourth, From Slave to Sueprstar of the Wild West has definitely been a labor of love for author DeMund, who self-published the book and sent it along to me with a delightful letter. The book is written in a very companionable, casual tone, the author more or less taking the young reader aside to tell his tale, made all the more interesting by the fact that it’s true.

Aside from the word “Awesome” in the subtitle (I tend to find it overused and it makes me cringe), there’s very little about this book I didn’t like. And a great deal that I did, especially Chapter 0, “Why Write — or Read — a Book about Jim?”, which functions as the author’s historical note the reader. Not only is at the front of the book where it should be, along with instructions to “Please read this Chapter 0 before charging on to Chapter 1”, but it also includes a Special Note on Names of Groups,

To be considerate of people’s feelings today, I should use the words African American, Native American, and Hispanic American. But during Jim’s lifetime those words were unknown. Because this book is all about Jim’s time (around 1800 to 1866), I’ve used the words used in that era. African Americans were called Negroes or blacks, Native Americans were called Indians, and Hispanic Americans were called Mexicans. know that I’m not being incorrect by modern standards, but for proper historical flavor I’ve used the words from the years between 1800 and 1866. I hope you won’t object.

Short, sweet, to the point, and much appreciated. The back of the book includes a timeline, comprehensive bibliography, and index. The Wild West is a popular subject around here, so this lively, comprehensive biography is definitely a keeper for us. Especially ecommended for ages eight or nine to 12 or so.

Another Book About Design: Complicated Doesn’t Make It Bad
by Mark Gonyea
Henry Holt and Co.

A vibrant, punchy explanation of basic graphic design for kids ages eight to 12 or so. A very effective way of presenting concepts such as color, shape, size, and space to a young audience, and a boon to young designers and design fans, who likely won’t look at their favorite comic books the same way. A keeper, and we plan to take it along to the next art lesson to show the kids’ teacher.

Artist to Artist: 23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children about Their Art
compiled by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

For families who read a good deal of picture books, this book will be an absolute delight. You’ll find many old and exceedingly talented friends here, from Mitsumasa Anno, Eric Carle, Tomie dePaola, and Mordicai Gerstein, to Steven Kellogg, Leo Lionni, Wendell Minor, Alice Provensen, Sabuda and Reinhart, Maurice Sendak, Rosemary Wells, and Paul O. Zelinsky. Each artist gets four pages, with one page of text to tell the first-person story of how he or she (though the 23 artists represented are almost all men), grew into, and as, an artist; two pages of how they make their art; and the last page as a self-portrait. A very special book for children, and their parents, who want a peek into the artist’s studio. When Davy picked up the book, it opened immediately to Sabuda’s and Reinhart’s special pop-up, and Davy gasped. As Robert Sabuda writes in his section, “all of the hard work is worth it when someone opens the pop-up and exclaims ‘WOW!'”. This book gives you the how and the wow. A keeper for us.

Ox, House, Stick: The Story of Our Alphabet
by Don Robb, illustrated by Anne Smith

This is the kind of title that home schoolers tend to snap up, while the general reading public gives it a wide berth, in part because the material is considerably more interesting for those kids who already know something about ancient history and even, dare I suggest, some Latin and Greek (at the very least word roots). Which is a shame, because Don Robb gives a brief overview of the history of our alphabet, followed by a story for each letter, all delightfully illustrated by Anne Smith in her first children’s book. A wonderful addition to ancient history and English — and ancient — language studies, not to mention the perfect book to hand to the son or daughter who asks where the alphabet came from. And to those youngsters who think of the alphabet as something to be texted with thumbs, well, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Robb is also the author of the picture books This Is America: The American Spirit In Places And People, illustrated by Christine Joy Pratt; and, especially useful this year, Hail to the Chief: The American Presidency, illustrated by Alan Witschonke

Across the Wide Ocean: The Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea
by Karen Romano Young
Harper Collins (Greenwillow)

A fascinating account about the how the mysterious deep is navigated, in turn, by a sea turtle, a sailboat, a whale, a submarine, a shark, and a container ship. Young discusses currents, magnetic force, and navigation in a lively fashion. Unfortunately, the book’s design is too lively, and too dark as well, in shades of blue meant to evoke the ocean. By the end I was feeling more than a tad dizzy and seasick, which was a shame because with some restraint, this would have been a perfect ride. A keeper, but the kids will have to read it on their own next time.

Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math Without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail
by Danica McKellar
Hudson Street Press

Somewhere in this world there’s a happy medium between Hollywood actors who have co-authored groundbreaking mathematical physics theorems and Disney Princess Queen Bee Wannabees who detest math. This book isn’t it.

Which is a great shame, because underneath, way way underneath, all the cutsy-ness and pop culture expectations of girls worried about breaking nails and “running through the snow in pearls and four-inch heels” (as Ms. McKellar tells us her sister did, and at Harvard Law of all places — like, ohmygod!), and the execrable title, is a decent guide to upper elementary/middle school math, with some handy tips and tricks.

The entire style of the book undermines Ms. McKellar’s message, that “math is actually a good thing”, because “Most of all, working on math sharpens your brain, actually making you smarter in all areas. Intelligence is real, it’s lasting, and no one can take it away from you. Ever.” Especially when you are having trouble staying upright tripping across Harvard Yard in your four-inch heels. Though much as Ms. McKellar keeps telling her audience how cool it is to be smart, it’s hard to believe it as she tries so hard to appeal to her “I’d rather be shopping” audience. Another duality that disturbs me is the fact that though the book is meant for middle school girls, it goes on and on about bikini waxes, “perfect black heels”, sparkly diamonds, and iced lattes. Maybe middle school in Hollywood is different than it is here. And what the heck do they shop for when they hit high school?

As the home schooling mother of a 10-year-old daughter who has her struggles with math, this might have a been a good choice with a different presentation. Laura’s just too much of a tomboy, and isn’t as steeped in pop culture and worried about her looks as the book assumes she is, so the approach would be a huge turnoff for. A good choice for middle school girls who don’t favor the Teen Cosmo style, by the way, is Math Smarts: Tips, Tricks, and Secrets for Making Math More Fun! by Lynette Long for the American Girl Library. And for girls and boys, Marilyn Burns’s Math for Smarty Pants. By contrast, as you can probably guess, I don’t much care for Burns’s The I Hate Mathematics Book, either. I understand the idea behind the “I Hate Math”/”Math Sucks” type of books, but introducing ideas like that kids when they’re having trouble tends to cause more trouble than it solves. I’d like to see Ms. McKellar follow this book up with another one for young girls who, as she was 20 years ago, are unapologetically smart, interested in math and science even when the work gets tough, and like their studies. You know, the ones who would rather draw, ride horses, read a book, go for a hike, help a friend, or practice gymnastics than go shopping. And the ones who know that iced lattes at age 10 will stunt their growth, if not their bank accounts.

On the twelfth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

twelve lords a-leaping.

At first I considered the Lords of the Dance.

Like the Nicholas Brothers, or Russ Tamblyn in “West Side Story”.

Leapin’ lizards.

Or Baryshnikov.

But then I thought of my darling children and their shining faces on the twelfth day of Christmas, and knew it had to be marvelous, incredible leaping Lipizzaners

For more about Lipizzaner horses, Laura recommends:

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry; available new from from Sonlight

Album of Horses, also by Marguerite Henry

The 1963 movie “Miracle of the White Stallions

and for your own wee riding school, Schleich’s Lipizzan horse family

And to all a goodnight.

With that, folks, Christmas is officially over at Farm School as of tomorrow and if I have the energy — after the 12 days of Christmas, this recent blogging spurt, and the Cybils (short list to be announced Sunday, which I’ll post here after swilling my coffee) — the tree will be “planted” in a snowbank outside and the decorations returned to their boxes.

But will they change Titty’s name?

From tomorrow’s London Times:

BBC hopes youth of today will thrill to Swallows and Amazons
by Ben Hoyle, Arts Reporter

It’s as far from a toxic childhood as you are likely to get. Captain John, Able Seaman Titty and Ship’s Boy Roger are to set sail again in a big-screen adaptation of the Arthur Ransome classic Swallows and Amazons.

Inspired by the success of The Dangerous Book for Boys, the BBC is betting that camping, fishing and messing about in dinghies will seem as thrillingly exotic to modern children as any special-effects-laden superhero movie.

The producers believe that the resourceful young heroes of Swallows and Amazons and the book’s idyllic Lake District setting possess an allure that they did not have when the tale was last filmed in 1974, before childhood hobbies became as sedentary, solitary and technology-driven as they are today.

It is a hope backed by the National Theatre, where a musical of Swallows and Amazons is in the pipeline, and at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, where an exhibition on Ransome’s work will open later this year.

There are 12 Swallows and Amazons adventures and BBC Films is close to acquiring options on all of them. Jamie Laurenson, executive producer for BBC Films, is hoping for a cinema release next year. He said: “It’s a great story and a fantastic adventure.”

If Swallows and Amazons is to work, Mr Laurenson said, it also needs to make the natural world genuinely frightening. “For a modern audience you need to bring out that feeling of danger. It’s only implied in the action because of when it was written, but it’s about children taking on adult responsibilities. The youth of today are cosseted. We rail against couch potatoes and obesity in children but ban conker fights [see aforementioned Dangerous Book], so I think this is very timely.”

Ransome would have agreed. He was a charismatic man with a love of the outdoors. In a life packed with adventure he married Trotsky’s secretary and may have spied for the Bolsheviks before settling down in the 1920s to work as an occasional foreign correspondent and angling columnist for the Manchester Guardian. He made his breakthrough as an author with Swallows and Amazons, which was published in 1930. …

Purists should be reassured that they will still be set in the prewar years, he added. “I think that period feel is part of their charm.”

Geraint Lewis, chairman of the Arthur Ransome Society, said that the modest nature of the stories themselves was an important element of their appeal. “Ransome was a very good writer and his deceptively simple style has endured. They have never gone completely out of fashion but there does seem to be a welling of interest in them now,” he said.

And the related leading article, also in tomorrow’s Times,

No Duffers
Don’t just watch Swallows and Amazons — be them

From an ancient farmhouse on a peaty fellside, into the jump-cut mayhem of X-boxes and preteen blockbusters, come John, Susan, Titty, Roger and a gaff-rigged dayboat called the Swallow. They’ll fill her up with bread and cheese and tents stitched by their mother. They’ll sail her from a Peak in Darien to an island in the “great lake in the North”. They will find a secret harbour and the perfect campsite. Nearby, still warm, there will be embers. Undeterred, the Swallow’s crew will unroll their sleeping bags and wake to the hearstop-ping sight of an arrow in the gnarled bark of the great tree at the high end of the island.

Oh, to be under surveillance by a faceless enemy armed to the gunwales and master of the timing of her attack! Yes, hers, because the Amazons will soon reveal themselves, not just to the Swallows but to a global audience of millions courtesy of BBC Films. The rights to Arthur Ransome’s books may not be in the bag but they’re being hotly pursued. A feature is planned, and possibly a franchise. Time’s wheel has alighted on the most wholesome of all parallel children’s universes as the best bet for a filmic expression of everything that Nintendo is not.

Good luck to the producers. What greater thrill can there be for any child, in any age, than to create her own world in the real world and be allowed to risk her life in it? For that is the explicit premise of Swallows and Amazons, set out in the children’s father’s legendary telegram sent from his naval ship on service in the Far East: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WONT DROWN. Tough love was never since so tough (and in any case has long since been outlawed by social services). But this was the green light that sent Roger hurtling down towards a mythic Coniston to tell his siblings their great adventure was a “go”. Let the film version spawn thousands more like it – real ones, rich with the smell of wet rope, burnt camp-fire sausages and lichen on granite. Because Tomb Raider takes some beating.

In other words, paddle your own canoe, and mess about in your own dinghy.

On the eleventh day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

eleven ladies dancing.

And a few of their friends,

You might know them as Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) “Dancing Ladies”, because they look like little swaying dancers in brightly-colored ballgowns. Especially if you are in the garden early in the morning before that first cup of coffee and without your glasses.

The picture above is from the online catalogue of Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine, which offers a great variety, including organic and heirloom seed. Imagine a whole garden full of dancing ladies, for the bargain price of $1.80 — the cost of a packet of seed.

This is the season gardeners love, planning the new year’s garden while snow is still on the ground. For me this involves stacks of printed gardening catalogues (and no, it’s just not the same online, though I do request them by email), a pen, Post-It notes, and a graph paper pad filched from Tom.

This recent Sioux City Journal newspaper article includes a number of good US seed and plant houses to contact for catalogues.

And here’s an online Guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening, and Catalogs, from DavesGarden.com. Very, very thorough, and includes Canadian seed and plant companies as well; there’s a nifty “Browse by North American State/Province” feature.

Canadian Gardening magazine has its 2007 list online.

I’ll leave the last word to Katharine S. White, E.B. White’s wife, an editor at The New Yorker, and ardent and opinionated gardener. After she retired from her editing duties, in the late 1950s, she began a series of garden pieces for the magazine. More than a few columns were reviews seed and nursery catalogues, which Mrs. White considered as seriously as any other American literature. After Mrs. White’s death in 1977, her husband collected them into a delightful volume, Onward and Upward in the Garden. From her first piece, dated March 1, 1958,

For gardeners this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogues, making lists for their seed and plant orders, and dreaming their dreams. It is the season, too, when the amateur gardener like myself marvels or grumbles at the achievements of the hybridizers and frets over the idiosyncrasies of the editors and writers who get up the catalogues. They are as individualistic — these editors and writers — as any Faulkner or Hemingway, and they can be just as frustrating or rewarding. They have an audience equal to the most popular novelist’s, and a handful of them are stylists of some note. Even the catalogues with which no man can be associated seem to have personalities of their own.

Before we examine the writers and editors, let us consider the hybridizers, and the horticulturists in general. Their slogan is not only “Bigger and Better” but “Change” — change for the sake of change, it seems. Say you have a nice flower like the zinnia — clean-cut, of interesting, positive form, with formal petals that are so neatly and cunningly put together, and with colors so subtle yet clear, that they have always been the delight of the still-life artist. Then look at the W. Atlee Burpee and the Joseph Harris Company catalogues and see what the seedsmen are doing to zinnias. Burpee, this year, devotes its inside front cover to full-color pictures of its Giant Hybrid Zinnias, which look exactly like great shaggy chrysanthemums. Now, I like chrysanthemums, but why should zinnias be made to look like them?

By the way, any Katharine White fans who have despaired of ever reading more of her garden writings would be very happy with Emily Herring Wilson‘s 2003 compilation, Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence, the latter a talented and prolific garden writer.

Poetry Friday: That’s life

by Charlotte Brontë

Life, believe, is not a dream,
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day:
Sometimes there are clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make the roses bloom,
Oh, why lament its fall?
Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by,
Gratefully, cheerily,
Enjoy them as they fly.

What though death at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though Sorrow seems to win,
O’er hope a heavy sway?
Yet Hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell,
Still buoyant are her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.
Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

* * *

Mary Lee and Franki at A Reading Year aren’t content to celebrate the new year and their blogiversary with just a four-day blog birthday gala. No, they’re hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up too! Thanks, Mary Lee and Franki, and all best wishes for the new year.

Banned in Boston

One of the funniest obits I’ve read in a long time, from today’s New York Times for the late great Ruth Wallis:

Ruth Wallis, a cabaret singer of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s who was known as the Queen of the Party Song for the genteelly risqué numbers she performed for happy, and very occasionally horrified, listeners worldwide, died on Dec. 22 at her home in South Killingly, Conn. She was 87. …

Ms. Wallis, who began her career performing jazz and cabaret standards, soon became known for the novelty songs — more than 150 of them — she wrote herself, all positively dripping with double entendre. Even today, only a fraction of her titles can be rendered in a family newspaper, among them “The Hawaiian Lei Song,” “Hopalong Chastity,” “Your Daddy Was a Soldier” and “A Man, a Mink, and a Million Pink and Purple Pills.” Her signature number, “The Dinghy Song,” is an ode to Davy, who had “the cutest little dinghy in the Navy.”

In 2003, Ms. Wallis’s work was the basis of an off-Broadway revue, “Boobs! The Musical: The World According to Ruth Wallis.”

Though Ms. Wallis performed in some of the most glittering nightclubs in New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and elsewhere, her career was largely overlooked at the time. Few mainstream newspapers, after all, dared print even faintly suggestive titles like “Johnny Has a Yo-Yo,” “De Gay Young Lad,” “Stay Out of My Pantry” and “Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew.” Nor could they reproduce Ms. Wallis’s lyrics, in which body parts, real or merely implied, tended to loom large.

In Boston, Ms. Wallis’s songs were banned from the radio. In Australia, her records were seized by customs agents when she arrived there for a tour. Both incidents only made her more popular, according to later news accounts.

Ruth Shirley Wohl was born in New York City on Jan. 5, 1920. She chose her stage name in honor of Wallis Warfield Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, her son said. …

Long may the party continue!

Still sniffing around the kitchen: Chemistry with the Curious Cook

More apologies. I’ve been meaning to post links to all of Harold McGee‘s “Curious Cook” columns in The New York Times but fell down on the job. I was reminded by yesterday’s column, so below is the list. Once again, you need to register to read NY Times articles, but registration is free.

Harold McGee is the author of the classic On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, and also of its (apparently out-of-print) follow-up, The Curious Cook: More Kitchen Science and Lore, from which the Times column takes its name.

* * *

Dip Once or Dip Twice?, January 30, 2008

The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen, January 2, 2008; go to The Curious Cook website, where you’ll find a link to this NPR column by Bill Buford on Mr. McGee and heat.

A Blue Blood New in Name Only, December 5, 2007

Stalking the Placid Apple’s Untamed Kin, November 21, 2007

Organic, and Tastier: The Rat’s Nose Knows, October 3, 2007

The Essence of Nearly Anything, Drop by Limpid Drop, September 5, 2007

Ice Cream That’s a Stretch, August 1, 2007

Testing Whether the Crunch Is All It’s Cracked Up to Be, July 4, 2007

Extra Virgin Anti-Inflammatories, June 6, 2007

The Five-Second Rule Explored, or How Dirty Is That Bologna?, May 9, 2007

The Red-Meat Miracle, and Other Tales From the Butcher Case, April 4, 2007

What’s a Great Way to Get a Fish Fried? Give It a Shot of Vodka, March 7, 2007

In a Bottle, the Scent of a Mouse, February 7, 2007

Trying to Clear Absinthe’s Reputation, January 3, 2007

When Science Sniffs Around the Kitchen, which kicked off the series, December 6, 2006

* * *

And, not part of The Curious Cook series, but also interesting, The Times ran this article, “Food 2.0: Chefs as Chemists” the other month.

Retro chemistry

I’m so far behind in my Boing Boing reading that it’s not even funny — GeekDad I can manage (and there’s a nifty post today about sorting/storing Lego) — but my spidey sense started tingling when I read Melissa’s frog post at Here in the Bonny Glen.

Melissa links to an article from the 1934 issue of Modern Mechanix and Inventions, reprinted over at the Modern Mechanix blog, which is new to me — a veritable treasure trove. And looking down the blog’s list of categories I came to “Chemistry” and got ridiculously excited. Heaps and heaps of articles, mostly from Popular Science and mostly by Raymond B. Wailes, author of my old childhood favorite Manual Of Formulas: Recipes, Methods and Secret Processes. By the way, here’s a spiffy article by Norm Stanley on the subject of amateur science that mentions Mr. Wailes, from the Society of Amateur Scientists website.

There are also categories for History, Science, Toys and Games, and enough other subjects to keep the retro heart beating quickly all year.

Define "recently", please

From a post today on The New York Times politics blog, The Caucus (emphasis mine):

Will Iowa’s conservative Christians turn out in force for Mike Huckabee? …

Despite a negligible organization here last summer, Mr. Huckabee pulled off his second place finish in the Ames straw poll in August with help from the strong support of Iowa’s home-school families. It is unclear how many evangelical Christians in Iowa teach their children at home — some estimates are over 10,000 — but the network of families is tightly connected and highly motivated. They come together in groups and online to share curriculum information, form sports teams, and stage other activities. And many, aware that homeschooling was illegal in almost every state until recently, fear that if they relax their vigilance politically[,] teachers’ unions will push to take away their rights.

While you could hold The Times‘s feet to the fire for such an inane comment and wish for a little more old-time New Yorker-style fact checking, I’m fairly certain that the little gem above resulted not only from the fact that Times reporters are so darned busy sorting out just how Stewart and Colbert are going to tap dance around the writers’ strike, but also from an organization that happens to be mentioned in the post’s very next paragraph, an organization you would think (are meant to think) has home schoolers’ best interests at heart. Heck, the organization even has the words “home school” right there up front in its name — Home School Legal Defense Association. So you might, just might, be forgiven for thinking that they want what’s best for homeschoolers.

But you’d be wrong. I’ll admit that when we first started home schooling, very abruptly partway through Laura’s first grade year, I had no idea of the lay of the land and which way was up, so in addition to a few particularly lousy curricula choices, I also signed up for a year with HSLDA. It took me about a year, until the subscription renewal arrived, to get my bearings and figure out that the organization has a vested interest in keeping homeschoolers fearful. Because the more afraid we are, and the more we’re made aware of just how far on the edge our educational choices are, the more willing we’re going to be, supposed to be, to cough up $100 each year. Do the math when HSLDA says it “is tens of thousands of families united in service together, providing a strong voice when and where needed.” That strong voice is supposed to help all of the little people, those home education families with quavering voices quaking in their shoes.

And for shame trotting out that ancient NEA bugbear. The determined but ineffectual old dears have been trotting out the same anti-home education resolution annually at the big convention since 1988, and HSLDA knows it. By the way, does anyone else find it amusing, even without considering HSLDA reaction, that Mike Huckabee and the NEA get along so well?

Once I’m again, I’m reminded that Raymond Moore, the pioneering home schooler who with his wife established The Moore Foundation and who died last year, was right when he wrote his White Paper on “The Ravage of Home Education Through Exclusion By Religion” 10 years ago, all about HSLDA. The last two links include a lot to read, but are most worthwhile. Mr. Moore, who was 80 or so when he wrote his White Paper, refused to quake and quaver or put up with HSLDA nonsense.

New Hampshire, here they come. You can have ’em.

On the tenth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

ten pipers piping.

Now, you have your traditional bagpipes, and your pan pipes, piping bags for decorating cakes and cookies, lead pipe cinches, and more. But some of my oldest Christmas memories involve buying my father a new pipe. One year, when my sister and I didn’t have much money, it was a corncob pipe, like Frosty’s, from the tobacconist/newstand on the corner of Broadway and 91st. But one year my mother bought my father a meerschaum pipe, though it wasn’t nearly as elaborate as it could have been; then again, the less elaborate, the better the chances that my father would smoke it in public.

Here’s a selection from Altinok Pipe of Ankara, Turkey, from the fairly elaborate to the downright fanciful.

For a better view, and many, many more designs, go directly to the website, which also tells you all about the mineral that is meerschaum (German for “sea foam”), and how it is mined.

And now I get to say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

Another Charlotte Mason resource

I’ve been meaning to write this post for several months now, which of course means I’m behind and I apologize.

Penny Gardner, author of The Charlotte Mason Study Guide, who has been a long-time home educator sharing her wisdom through her writings and seminars, is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Study Guide with an expanded and revised edition. Also available now is a secular version. Each guide is available for $5 as a digital e-book to download.

And don’t miss Penny’s nature journaling page or her wonderful lists — of general links and living books and nature links and books.

Speaking of a secular approach to Charlotte Mason, there’s also a secular CM group at Yahoo. From the group description,

“We have no expectations that you are of any particular faith, or any faith at all, nor that you have read (and digested) in full the collected and/or abridged and/or modernized works of Charlotte Mason; dabblers and dilettantes are welcomed and encouraged. We do, however, expect tolerance, respect, civility, a general open-mindedness, a genial sense of humor, and a willingness to share information and resources (especially whenever you hear of twaddle-free literature on sale).”

The great outdoors, and a carnival

I had a very nice note this morning from teacher Terrell Shaw, to let me know that he has put some original poetry to my photograph of a robin’s egg. As I replied to him, the kids got quite a kick out of seeing my photo accompanied by his poem; and in the midst of a Canadian winter, the idea of robins and their eggs gives me a little thrill, not to mention hope for Spring.

In addition to his Virtual Classroom website, which has storytelling podcasts to which you can subscribe and a science notebook, Mr. Shaw also mentioned that he is going to be hosting the Learning in the Great Outdoors Carnival, at his blog Alone on a Limb. Deadline for submissions is tomorrow, so I gather that it should be up early next week. Consider sending in a recent post, especially if you and your family have been enjoying winter fun.

Heartening reminders

From Christopher Isherwood’s review yesterday of Kevin Kline’s “ultimately, and happily, triumphant” year on stage:

…his Cyrano is utterly free of self-regarding, starry showboating. The quiet delicacy he brings to the role graces it with a fine sense of psychological truth. Beneath the feathered hats and slicing swordplay, Mr. Kline creates an affecting portrait of a man whose passionate nature is channeled, at painful cost, into a lifetime of determined self-sacrifice and unspoken devotion.

Such a virtuous path feels radically out of step with our self-regarding times, in which it is assumed that every 12-year-old in the country should broadcast his or her likes, dislikes, friends, enemies and distant crushes to the world of the Web. …

The roster of plays regularly recycled for major productions seems to be narrowing by the year as audiences are assumed to be ignorant of — and indifferent to — anything without a brand-name writer attached to it, preferably an American of 20th-century vintage or an Elizabethan hailing from Stratford. The popular success of Mr. Kline’s “Cyrano” stands as a heartening reminder that the sometimes denigrated power of a star name can be put to healthy use, allowing a play to retain its hard-earned stature as an enduring popular classic, to shake off the dust and live to fight another day. Edmond Rostand may not be Shakespeare, and “Cyrano” is no “Lear,” but for three delicious hours Mr. Kline made me forget that.

On the ninth day of Christmas

my true love, a genuine hepcat, gave to me,

nine drummers drumming.

#1 Gene Krupa

#2 Buddy Rich

#3 Art Blakey

#4 Max Roach

#5 Chick Webb

#6 Louie Bellson

#7 Kenny Clarke

#8 Cozy Cole

#9 Joe Morello

And some jazzy extras, just for fun:

#1 vs. #2 (you modern types can see it here on YouTube)

#1 + #2

#2 vs. #4

If it’s January 2nd,

then tomorrow must be the Iowa caucus. And just in time for the last leg of the horrendously expensive marathon that is American politics, suze has put together a new blog, Homeschoolers For …, with the tagline, “Because there is no such thing as ‘the homeschool vote’ “.

Speaking of which, don’t miss the lovely, talented, and funny* Mrs. G.’s nifty campaign button.

Updated to add: *And incredibly generous, too. Thanks!