• 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.

Following up on “What to Do About Alice?”

Children’s author Barbara Kerley was kind enough to leave another message the other day letting me know that the classroom activities for her new biography of Alice Roosevelt, What To Do About Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy — whether your classroom is in a school, in a home school room, or at the kitchen table — are up and ready at her website.

What To Do About Alice? should be on bookstore shelves this Saturday, March 1st.

I’ll leave you with a tidbit about Alice’s childhood from Stacy Cordery’s recent adult biography Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker:

One of Alice’s earliest memories of her father occurred when she was still living with Auntie Bye. For the first time in months, Alice was about to see her father. The two-and-a-half-year-old waited at Auntie Bye’s side by the stables at the Meadowbrook Hunt Club to greet TR when he completed the fox hunt. Theodore had ridden furiously that day, and returned with a broken arm, torn clothing, and a bloody face. As he ran toward his daughter, Alice screamed. He caught her tightly. Helpless in the grip of the bloodied, sweaty man who did not look anything like her father, Alice screamed again. Theodore shook Alice to quiet her. She screamed louder. He shook harder. “It was a theme,” Alice commented wryly, “which was to be repeated, with variation, in later years.”

Your inner fish

Busy around the house yesterday, we were listening to CBC’s “Quirks and Quarks” science show, and I was delighted to hear the engaging Dr. Neil Shubin (whom I quoted here*, from Natalie Angier’s recent book, The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science).  You can listen to the interview here.

Dr. Shubin, who’s also provost at Chicago’s Field Museum, was discussing his new book, Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon, January 2008); if you go to the previous Amazon link, you’ll find some photographs from Dr. Shubin’s research expedition and a brief review of the book by Oliver Sacks, who calls it “my favorite sort of book — an intelligent, exhilarating, and compelling scientific adventure story, one which will change forever how you understand what it means to be human.”

More on the book here:

University of Chicago Chronicle

Review from The Guardian (note the much funkier UK cover)

* From The Canon:

“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.”

Bathroom break

We started remodeling our main bathroom (there’s one in the basement, thank goodness) last Sunday. Five people and hard water have been hard on the little room for the past 13 and a half years.

The original plan, as of last Sunday, was to replace the aging plastic tub surround

with ceramic tile and to replace the hideous pink linoleum I’ve hated since it was new 14 years ago. Tom bought the house and started fixing it up before we met, and let’s just say I married the frugal type who wasn’t about to say, upon noticing the way my face fell upon first seeing the hideous pink stuff, “Oh darling, if it’s really not to your taste, I’ll just rip it out and you can pick whatever else you like and I’ll install it immediately.” Instead, he suggested I could pick out something else as soon as the pink stuff wore out. When in fact, the tub surround gave out before the linoleum (and all I can say is, thank goodness for the former).

Tom started work last Sunday just before bedtime so of course the boys had to jump in and help; note the pajama bottoms on one member of the Junior Wrecking Crew,

As of Monday morning, however, when Tom had a chance to take a look at the tub to determine that the bottom was quite rusted out, the original plan — and the tub — went out the window. Well, the front door. We spent all afternoon on Family Day at the little city, which has two big box stores (Totem and Home Depot, for which I won’t apologize) with goodies we can’t find elsewhere. Once we settled on a good, inexpensive tub, Tom decided that we should replace the toilet as well. So upon returning home, out went the old toilet. And in went the new subfloor, with lots of elbow grease from the Junior Set,

who have each had their own hammers for years, and who also know to wear hearing protection,

Today’s big project was the installation of Tom’s and the kids’ ceramic surprise, an homage to my parents’ West Indian home, where we were lucky enough to spend seven months five years ago,

I guess this would be considered bathroom schooling, as the kids learn masonry techniques at their father’s knee,

A couple of shots of the day’s work, short of grouting, which happens tomorrow (the dark tiles in the center of the second photo are actually a royal blue, the same tiles from the “water” element of the mosaic, though they look black here),

Painting is also on the schedule for tomorrow. The pale peach on the walls (which admittedly clashed with the pink linoleum, but not a problem if one was determined to determinedly ignore pink linoleum) will be replaced by a very, very pale yellow. And then the new toilet can go in, and there will be celebrating throughout the land.


Thanks to our local CBC radio station, which has a weekly feature on new and noteworthy podcasts, I learned about the website for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which covers Great Britain; I think Charlotte Mason, were she around today, might find it a wonderful supplement to H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story. Yet another reminder that the best history is a story.

The podcasts are here, and there’s a new one every two weeks. Since January 2007, the podcasts have featured everyone from Alistair Cooke to Boudicca, to Roger Hargreaves and Princess Caraboo. And Jimi Hendrix, Edith Cavell, George Harrison, Pocahontas, Madame Tussaud, and more.

You can also sign up for a free biography every day by email. Earlier this month you would have been treated to the life of

Fiennes, Virginia Frances [Ginny] Twisleton-Wykeham-, Lady Fiennes [née Virginia Frances Pepper] (1947–2004), polar explorer and expedition organizer, was born on 9 July 1947 at Mount Alvernia Nursing Home, Godalming, Surrey, the third of four children of Thomas Roy (Tom) Pepper, who owned chalk quarries at Amberley in Sussex, and his wife, Janet Christine Maclntyre, née Brown. The family lived in Pulborough, then Lodsworth, Sussex. She attended schools in Eastbourne and Bath, and secretarial college in Winchester.

Read the rest about the intrepid Ginny, who headed up the White Nile by hovercraft, here.

My favorite advice from the folks at OUP: “If you’re bemused, the BBC has a friendly introduction to podcasts.”

Poetry Friday and Big Birthday Bash week #2: George Washington

A letter and a poem written in 1775 or 1776 to General George Washington (born on this date in 1732) from Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784):

To His Excellency
George Washington

I have taken the freedom to address your Excellency in the enclosed poem, and entreat your acceptance, though I am not insensible of its inaccuracies. Your being appointed by the Grand Continental Congress to be Generalissimo of the armies of North America, together with the fame of your virtues, excite sensations not easy to suppress. Your generosity, therefore, I presume, will pardon the attempt. Wishing your Excellency all possible success in the great cause you are so generously engaged in. I am,

Your Excellency’s most obedient humble servant,
Phillis Wheatley

Celestial choir! enthron’d in realms of light,
Columbia’s scenes of glorious toils I write.
While freedom’s cause her anxious breast alarms,
She flashes dreadful in refulgent arms.
See mother earth her offspring’s fate bemoan,
And nations gaze at scenes before unknown!
See the bright beams of heaven’s revolving light
Involved in sorrows and veil of night! The goddess comes, she moves divinely fair,
Olive and laurel bind her golden hair:
Wherever shines this native of the skies,
Unnumber’d charms and recent graces rise.

Muse! bow propitious while my pen relates
How pour her armies through a thousand gates,
As when Eolus heaven’s fair face deforms,
Enwrapp’d in tempest and a night of storms;
Astonish’d ocean feels the wild uproar,
The refluent surges beat the sounding shore;
Or thick as leaves in Autumn’s golden reign,
Such, and so many, moves the warrior’s train.
In bright array they seek the work of war,
Where high unfurl’d the ensign waves in air.
Shall I to Washington their praise recite?
Enough thou knw’st them in the fields of fight.
Thee, first in peace and honours,—we demand
The grace and glory of thy martial band.
Fam’d for thy valour, for thy virtues more,
Hear every tongue thy guardian aid implore!

One century scarce perform’d its destined round,
When Gallic powers Columbia’s fury found;
And so may you, whoever dares disgrace
The land of freedom’s heaven-defended race!
Fix’d are the eyes of nations on the scales,
For in their hopes Columbia’s arm prevails.
Anon Britannia droops the pensive head,
While round increase the rising hills of dead.
Ah! cruel blindness to Columbia’s state!
Lament thy thirst of boundless power too late.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,
Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.
A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,
With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! be thine.

* * *

George Washington’s letter in reply to Miss Wheatley:

Cambridge, February 28, 1776.

Miss Phillis,
Your favour of the 26th of October did not reach my hands ’till the middle of December. Time enough, you will say, to have given an answer ere this. Granted. But a variety of important occurrences, continually interposing to distract the mind and withdraw the attention, I hope will apologize for the delay, and plead my excuse for the seeming, but not real neglect.

I thank you most sincerely for your polite notice of me, in the elegant Lines you enclosed; and however undeserving I may be of such encomium and panegyrick, the style and manner exhibit a striking proof of your great poetical Talents. In honour of which, and as a tribute justly due to you, I would have published the Poem, had I not been apprehensive, that, while I only meant to give the World this new instance of your genius, I might have incurred the imputation of Vanity. This and nothing else, determined me not to give it place in the public Prints.

If you should ever come to Cambridge, or near Head Quarters, I shall be happy to see a person so favoured by the Muses, and to whom Nature has been so liberal and beneficent in her dispensations.

I am, with great Respect, etc.

* * *

For more Poetry Friday, head over to Kelly Herold’s Big A little a, where you’ll find today’s Round Up.

Sorry this is so brief and rushed. It’s been another busy week, with more 4H public speaking (tonight) to prepare for, and especially the bathroom project which began on Sunday night and has seen us travel twice already to the little city for supplies. What was going to be a fairly simple remodeling effort, mostly replacing the plastic tub surround with ceramic tiles, and also the (pink and gray — ugh) linoleum, turned a little more exciting on Monday as the tub went sailing through the kitchen that morning. We have fairly hard water here on the farm, and Tom found that the tub bottom was getting quite rusty. And then we found a very reasonably priced new toilet to go with the new tub. Tom and the junior work crew have been going great guns: the new (neutral!) flooring is in, so is the tub, and the new concrete board for the tiles is up and joint-filled. Tiles to come later today and tomorrow, tomorrow we paint, and then the new toilet goes in. I’ve been taking pictures and might have some up over the weekend.

Off to listen to Laura one more time…

Just because

Two of my favorite things — out-of-print, vintage children’s books* and presents — combined as free printable gift tags, from the generous and talented doe-c-doe. Download them here as a PDF file. Can’t you see the one above tied to an Easter basket?

* In this case, English Is Our Language 3, published by the state of Kansas in 1950; illustration by Beryl Bailey-Jones.

Reviews here and there

David Elzey at the excelsior file has a review of What To Do about Alice?: How Alice Roosevelt Broke the Rules, Charmed the World, and Drove Her Father Teddy Crazy, by Barbara Kerley, with illustrations by Edwin Fotheringham. David calls it “a great book” and “a tidy biography of a colorful, spunky girl who happens to have been real.” Read the rest here.

By the way, in my previous post about the new Alice Roosevelt biographies for adults and children, Barbara Kerley stopped by the comments to say,

Thanks so much for introducing Alice to your blog readers. Alice captivated me from the moment I ‘met’ her (in the pages of a history magazine at my local library). I thought you’d be interested to know that I am putting together an Alice section in the “For the Classroom” page of my webpage — activities that teachers and homeschooling families can explore to extend the book. I plan to have it posted by the book’s publication date of March 1st. (Yikes! I better get busy!) My website address is: http://www.barbarakerley.com.

Stay tuned and don’t forget to check Ms. Kerley’s website after the beginning of next month.

Also at excelsior file recently: not a very good book, but a very good, pulls-no-punches review.

* * *

Michael Barton at The Dispersal of Darwin has a thorough review, with illustrations, of The Voyage of the Beetle: A Journey around the World with Charles Darwin and the Search for the Solution to the Mystery of Mysteries, as Narrated by Rosie, an Articulate Beetle by Anne H. Weaver, illustrated by George Lawrence (which I’ve mentioned here, here, and here). Michael also mentions a review of the book at John Hawks Anthropology Weblog, which is actually an interview with author and anthropologist Anne Weaver. Among other things, Dr. Weaver mentions the book’s website, which she says she hopes “will evolve into a substantial resource for teachers, with classroom activities as well as an ‘Ask Rosie’ e-mail feature”.

Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray has read Voyage of the Beetle at home and writes, “I most heartily recommend Voyage of the Beetle, a book I just finished reading to my son and he adored. It’s very funny and also explains Darwin’s theories in a way that even a six-year old could understand. (It’s written for 9-12 yr olds.)”

I also found this recent newspaper article about the book, “Santa Fe author Anne Weaver hopes her book about Darwin gets kids stoked about science