• 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.

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light

April is National Poetry Month, brought to you for the 13th year by the Academy of American Poets.

Why poetry? Because, as Dylan Thomas wrote in

Notes on the Art of Poetry

I could never have dreamt that there were such goings-on
in the world between the covers of books,
such sandstorms and ice blasts of words,
such staggering peace, such enormous laughter,
such and so many blinding bright lights,
splashing all over the pages
in a million bits and pieces
all of which were words, words, words,
and each of which were alive forever
in its own delight and glory and oddity and light.

New to me, Poetry Web Resources. Something for everyone.

Coming Tuesday, April 1st, and just in time for the big monthly shindig, is PBS’ new website, Poetry Everywhere (not yet working at this typing but my fingers are crossed). Also from PBS in April, on the 14th, is the new “American Experience” biography of Walt Whitman

Harcourt Children’s Books is generously offering an assortment of goodies “Free for Teachers” (and Harcourt has a wide definition of teachers, for which I’m grateful):

The items on this page are available free to teachers, school and public librarians, reading specialists, PTA members, homeschoolers — anyone involved in the educational needs of children. You’ll find a variety of materials suitable for classroom or library use for children in grades Pre-K through 12.

Materials are available while supplies last, and only one request for each kit will be honored per user. Allow 2-4 weeks for delivery. New items will be made available on a regular basis, so be sure to check back with us periodically. We also make available downloadable versions of materials in Adobe Acrobat format (PDF) wherever possible. …

You can also visit our Teacher Tools page for more downloadable items such as teacher guides, activity kits, sticker sheets, and more.

Among the goodies:

New! Celebrate National Poetry Month and Young People’s Poetry Week 2008!
Welcome, teachers and librarians! We’re delighted you’re interested in celebrating National Poetry Month and Young People’s Poetry Week (April 14-20, 2008) with our free classroom kit. …

More free poetry curriculum for your classroom! Our kits from 2007 [featuring Douglas Florian] and 2006 [featuring Mary Ann Hoberman] are still available …

The Academy of American Poets, also known as Poets.org, is taking a leaf from New York City’s poetry book and celebrating the first national Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 17th; the Big Apple has been at it, inspired by the poem below I’ve loved for many years, since 2002:

Keep a Poem in your Pocket
by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers (1914-2000)

Keep a poem in your pocket
and a picture in your head
and you’ll never feel lonely
at night when you’re in bed.

The little poem will sing to you
the little picture bring to you
a dozen dreams to dance to you
at night when you’re in bed.

So —
Keep a picture in your pocket
and poem in your head
and you’ll never feel lonely
at night when you’re in bed.

You’re supposed to pull the poem out to share it with others. If you’re up for newfangled poetry in your pocket, try Poets.org’s MobilePoets.org: “The entire collection of over 2,500 poems on Poets.org, as well as hundreds of biographies and essays, is also available in a mobile format which provides free and direct access to poetry in the palm of a hand”.

Luddite that I am, I rather like this more old-fashioned method — free printable stationery from Scholastic so you and your child can copy out a favorite poem to keep in your pocket. Or order some bookmarks to share from Owl Square Press, such as “Rise Up Reading”, with a poem by Pam Muñoz Ryan and artwork by Jim Ishikawa,

My old Cybils friend, Sylvia Vardell, has the wonderful resource, the Poetry for Children blog

Speaking of the Cybils awards, the recent lists of 2007 Cybils poetry nominees and finalists are handy for library browsing and bookstore shopping.

The Poetry Foundation has a nifty children’s page, full of kidlit names you will likely know

The folks at Crayola are celebrating, and have some projects for your children, from Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe coloring pages (I kid you not), to Crayola poetry (a version of the Magnetic type), and lesson plans (25 of them).

April is Poetry Month in Canada, too, and includes Young Poets as well, who get their own week April 7-13.

The Children’s Book Council has a PDF of 2007-2008 Poetry Books for Young People. One of the few things at the CBC I don’t like is the suggestion to “Host a Bad Poetry Reading“. If there’s a worse way to inspire a love of poetry, especially good poetry, in children, I can’t think of it.

If you look at the very top of this blog, you’ll see a green tab labeled “Poetry”. Most of my general poetry posts (not the Poetry Friday ones, though) are there, including

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (March 2006)

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli (aka “Poetry as broccoli, and a wrap-up for National Poetry Month”, March 2006)

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources (April 2006)

Poetry sings (February 2006)


A man and his wolf

There’s a new BBC2 documentary, part of the “Natural World” series, about Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) and his wolf Lobo, one of the subjects of Seton’s Wild Animals I Have Known. The new documentary isn’t to be confused with the 1962 Disney live action movie, “The Legend of Lobo”.

In The Telegraph, Steve Gooder, director of the new production “Lobo: The Wolf that Changed America” (airing in the UK on April 2nd and again on April 6th), a BBC/WNET Thirteen production narrated by David Attenborough, writes about the documentary and an appreciation of Ernest Thompson Seton:

It was the moment Ernest Thompson Seton had been waiting for. After months of frustration, the professional wolf hunter finally had his quarry in his sights.

He raised his Winchester rifle and prepared to put a bullet between the eyes of “Old Lobo”, a notorious wolf that had killed hundreds of cattle.

But, face to face with his adversary for the first time, something deep within the hunter changed. He slowly lowered his gun and decided to take Lobo back alive.

The year was 1894 and it was a moment that would prove a crucial turning point, not just for Seton, but also for the fate of America’s wilderness and its wild creatures.

British-born Seton had grown up with wolves on the Canadian frontier and written the definitive manual on how to catch them. More than two centuries earlier, his Scottish ancestors had helped wipe out the last of Britain’s wild wolves.

Yet there was another, less bloodthirsty, side to Seton. His backwoods childhood had left him with a real love and fascination for nature and he would eventually go on to become both a leading light in America’s emerging conservation movement and a tireless advocate for the protection of wolves.

It should be on WNET Thirteen and other PBS stations later one, but didn’t have much luck finding any particulars.

It strikes me that the documentary would be well paired with the Library of Congress’s collection on The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920.

We’re big fans Ernest Thompson Seton, who was a naturalist, author, wildlife artist, and founder of the Woodcraft Indians organization as well a founder and first Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of America. Some of our favorite ETS books from the Farm School bookshelf:

Wild Animals I Have Known, which includes the story of Lobo, the King of Currumpaw (also available free online at The Baldwin Project)

Woodcraft and Indian Lore: A Classic Guide from a Founding Father of the Boy Scouts of America

Art Anatomy of Animals

Two Little Savages

Rolf in the Woods: The Adventures of a Boy Scout With Indian Quonab and Little Dog Skookum

* * *

More Ernest Thompson Seton links:

The Ernest Thompson Seton Pages, maintained by Ron Edmonds; including his biography and also the Blue Skies Today blog, an online journal “designed to provide a community for all people interested in the life, works and philosophy of Ernest Thompson Seton and Woodcraft to share thoughts, writings, poetry, questions and information.” Ron Edmonds at Blue Skies also points you to this audio download of Seton’s “The Wolf That Talked Too Much”.

Works by ETS at Project Gutenberg, including The Arctic Prairies : a Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles in Search of the Caribou; Being the Account of a Voyage to the Region North of Aylemer Lake. So far, nothing yet online at LibriVox.org.

Online edition of ETS’s The Birch Bark Roll of the Woodcraft Indian League of America

The Philmont Museum and Ernest Thompson Seton Memorial Library at the Philmont Scout Ranch (owned by the Boy Scouts) in Cimarron, New Mexico. Seton’s widow Julia donated his personal library and many works of art, including Seton’s painting, Triumph of the Wolves, and also Lobo’s pelt.

Manitoba Author Publication biography

The Seton Centre in Carberry, Manitoba; Seton and his brother lived on a homestead near Carberry in the 1880s and 1890s, and it was here that he began to write. The Mammals of Manitoba was published in 1886, followed by The Birds of Manitoba in 1891. The following year he was appointed Provincial Naturalist.

The Academy of the Love of Learning has a connection to Seton. From the website: “The mission of the Academy for the Love of Learning is to awaken, enliven, nurture and sustain the natural love of learning in people of all ages. We seek to encourage and cultivate the powers of critical thought, imagination, curiosity, innate sense of purpose, wonder and inspiration, and an ongoing awakening of the heart.”

In 2003, the Academy purchased the old Seton Castle, the last residence of ETS, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Here’s the link to the online Seton Art Exhibit, planned, it sounds, for later this year; the page does have one work, Seton’s “Sleeping Wolf” painting.

Seton’s biography from the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; with some of his chipmunk illustrations

Paul Giambarba‘s 100 Years of Illustration blog has several recent posts featuring Seton’s artwork: Ernest Thompson Seton’s The American Bison or Buffalo; Ernest Thompson Seton — 2; Ernest Thompson Seton — 3

And, on film:

“The Legend of Lobo”, Walt Disney, 1962; on DVD once upon a time. Check your local library.

“King of the Grizzlies”, Walt Disney, 1970; available on DVD. Based on Seton’s The Biography of a Grizzly (1900, here at Gutenberg).

“Chico, the Misunderstood Coyote”, Walt Disney, 1961; apparently not generally available in any format

And while CBC Television has produced two shows about Seton — “Ernest Thompson Seton, Keeper of the Wild” (1974) and “Seton’s Manitoba” (1984), both of which seem to have sunk into vaults without a trace — the National Film Board of Canada seems to have ignored him completely. Curious.

Our Maggie and Our Anne

Still plowing through weekend papers:

In The Guardian, Margaret Atwood’s salute to Anne of Green Gables and “Annery”:

Nor is this process at an end: from the Anne of Green Gables Licensing Authority that gives the nod to all collateral products, expect more Anne boxed sets, Anne notepaper and Anne pencils, Anne coffee mugs and Anne aprons, Anne candies and Anne straw hats, and Anne — well, what else? Anne lace-edged pantaloon underclothing? Anne cookbooks — oops, we already have those.

Past the Annery is a moving tribute not just to Anne and L.M. Montgomery but to Marilla Cuthbert, too:

There’s another way of reading Anne of Green Gables, and that’s to assume that the true central character is not Anne, but Marilla Cuthbert. Anne herself doesn’t really change throughout the book. She grows taller, her hair turns from “carrots” to “a handsome auburn”, her clothes get much prettier, due to the spirit of clothes competition she awakens in Marilla, she talks less, though more thoughtfully, but that’s about it. As she herself says, she’s still the same girl inside. Similarly, Matthew remains Matthew, and Anne’s best chum Diana is equally static. Only Marilla unfolds into something unimaginable to us at the beginning of the book. Her growing love for Anne, and her growing ability to express that love – not Anne’s duckling-to-swan act – is the real magic transformation. Anne is the catalyst who allows the crisp, rigid Marilla to finally express her long-buried softer human emotions. At the beginning of the book, it’s Anne who does all the crying; by the end of it, much of this task has been transferred to Marilla. As Mrs Rachel Lynde says, “Marilla Cuthbert has got mellow. That’s what.”

“I was wishing you could have stayed a little girl, even with all your queer ways,” says Marilla in one of her weepy passages towards the end of the book. Marilla has finally allowed herself to make a wish, and now it’s been granted: over the past hundred years, Anne has stayed the same. Good luck to her for the second hundred.

Read the entire article here.

I’ll be spending tonight

at home with Paul Gross. Well, I’ll be at home, on the couch, and he’ll be on television, in the first part of the CBC political thriller miniseries Trojan Horse, the sequel to H20 (fictional but timely) the other year. Here’s the Globe & Mail interview before it disappears. If it does, try this instead.

We’re also looking forward to Paul Gross’s next project, the movie Passchendaele, coming in November.

UPDATED TO ADD: Great good fun so far, and so many favorite faces, including William Hutt in what I assume must have been one of his last filmed roles. Also Saul Rubinek, Martha Burns, Susan Coyne, and Kenneth Welsh. And how funny to have a President Stanfield, the name, according to some, of “the best Prime Minister Canada never had” as well as iconic Canadian longjohns.

Conditional love, or, Going, going, gone

Maybe I missed the memo, but when oh when did “had went” and “would have went” become so popular? Perhaps when teachers quit writing verb conjugations on the blackboard?

I realize I live in the boonies in the back of beyond, and I know the local school system, erm, needs work (there’s a reason we home school, you know — and that we have a blackboard in the kitchen, which I’m not afraid to use).

This is, after all, rural midwestern Canada, a place where it’s not uncommon to hear people you know, old and young, say things such as “Her and I went shopping together”, “Me and her can’t make it that day”, “I seen him at the store, ” and, “Me and her seen them at the store.” Even from provincial politicians and cabinet members, and 4H public speaking events, where the judges don’t say anything because a) their knowledge of grammar is just as limited or b) they don’t want to damage anyone’s self-esteem*. There are even people around here who say “tooken” when they mean “taken”, and believe me when I tell you it takes all my inner strength to find a spot on the horizon and stare at it hard.

But all of a sudden not too long ago I realized that I was hearing adults who should know better — some of whom live in big cities back East and have jobs on the radio and television and some of whom are supposed to be, oh say, broadcast professionals — saying things such as, “I had went to the doctor”, or “We would have went along if it had been possible.” I heard one example on CBC Radio this week.

I also realize that there are those who say that the English language is a fluid, ever-changing living thing, and invoke Shakespeare when discussing that fact that it has been standardized for a relatively short period of time, and call those of us who find the changes upsetting or grating old-fashioned.  This is more than just the pet peeve of a curmudgeon.  George Orwell began his landmark 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” so:

Most people who bother with the matter at all would admit that the English language is in a bad way, but it is generally assumed that we cannot by conscious action do anything about it. Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse. It follows that any struggle against the abuse of language is a sentimental archaism, like preferring candles to electric light or hansom cabs to aeroplanes. Underneath this lies the half-conscious belief that language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes.

Read that last sentence again.

In America, Richard Hofstadter in 1963, John Taylor Gatto, and most recently Susan Jacoby in her Age of American Unreason (which easily could be The Age of North American Unreason) have famously and variously written about anti-intellectualism in modern Society. Todd Gitlin wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education after the American election of 2000,

Thirty-seven years have passed since the appearance of the last substantial book to take seriously, in the words of its title, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. Richard Hofstadter’s tour de force, appearing in 1963, is actually a product of the 1950’s. Like many intellectuals, Hofstadter was disturbed by the general disdain for “eggheads,” haunted by Joseph McCarthy’s thuggish assault on Dean Acheson and his Anglophilic ways, and dismayed by Eisenhower’s taste for Western novels and his tangled syntax (which was not yet understood to be, at least sometimes, not simply incompetent but deliberately evasive). Had not Eisenhower himself in 1954 (no doubt in words written for him by another hand) cited a definition of an intellectual as “a man who takes more words than are necessary to tell more than he knows”? (How much more congenial was Stevenson, who once cracked: “Eggheads of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your yolks!”)

Probing for historical roots of a mood that was sweeping (if somewhat exaggerated by intellectuals), Hofstadter found that “our anti-intellectualism is, in fact, older than our national identity.” He cited, among others, the Puritan John Cotton, who wrote in 1642, “The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee”; and Baynard R. Hall, who wrote in 1843 of frontier Indiana: “We always preferred an ignorant bad man to a talented one, and hence attempts were usually made to ruin the moral character of a smart candidate; since unhappily smartness and wickedness were supposed to be generally coupled, and incompetence and goodness.”

Yet, according to the historian Lawrence W. Levine, the illiterate Rocky Mountain scout Jim Bridger could recite long passages from Shakespeare, which he learned by hiring someone to read the plays to him. “There is hardly a pioneer’s hut that does not contain a few odd volumes of Shakespeare,” Alexis de Tocqueville found on his trip through America in 1831-32. Here lay a supremely American paradox: The same Americans who valued the literacy of commoners were suspicious of experts and tricksters.

By the way, it occurs to me that Gitlin’s Media Unlimited (originally published in 2002 and revised last year, and which seems to have come out of the Chronicle article) ties in with the conversation over at Sippican Cottage, which is all of a very large piece.

I have to wrap this up to try out my repaired clothes dryer, so I’ll get back to grammar and quote Jacoby from American Unreason,

It is all reminiscent of the exchange among Alice, the March Hare, and the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare tells Alice. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.” The Hatter chimes in, “Not the same thing a bit! Why, you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’.” In an ignorant and anti-intellectual culture, people eat mainly what they see.

That explains a lot. I must have sympathetic indigestion.

* That strong sense of self-esteem no doubt will come in handy as an adult when you find yourself reporting the national news on live television: “The President would have went to Camp David but the helicopter was broken.” Because there will be a few of us who notice.

Sunday catch-up

English celebrity Katie Price (apparently also known as Jordan when she’s modeling for Page 3 of The Sun and Playboy; Wikipedia seems more than adequate here if you haven’t heard of her either) is in the middle of a book brouhaha in the UK. In 2006, Random House UK handed over a £300,000 advance to have Ms. Price’s name on the ghostwritten series, Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies. Now Katie Price’s Perfect Ponies: My Pony Care Book has been shortlisted for the WH Smith Children’s Book award; the other four books on the shortlist are Born to Run by Michael Morpurgo, Horrid Henry and the Abominable Snowman by Francesca Simon, Kiss by Jacqueline Simon, and That’s Not My Penguin, a fuzzy Usborne board book by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells. Writing in The Guardian Books Blog, Guy Damman writes that the Katie Price title [links all from The Guardian]

has been spurring the literary commentariat into action. Shock and indignation at the fact that a ghostwritten book should be included in the shortlist for such an award have found expression in numerous quoted sources from Tracy Chevalier to Robert Harris.

One response to the outrage, however, assumed a more reasonable, thought-provoking form: Michael Rosen, children’s laureate, made the interesting point: “We get too hung up about authorship. None of us writes a book entirely on our own. We get help from editors, or ideas might come from conversations with our families, or children. The issue is whether the book’s good, not who has written it.”

The point is rarely made, in fact, that most literary awards, with the exception of the Nobel prize, are awarded to books, not to the individuals who cash the prize cheques. But Rosen’s wider point — “we get too hung up about authorship” — is rarer still, and is all the more refreshing for it.

A glance at the world of film, where credits now often run to over 10 minutes, is instructive. Although, when discussing Oscar nominations for best film, the names we think of are usually those of the relevant directors, it is the producers — those “unseen hands” who carry overall responsibility for seeing a writer’s pitch carried to worldwide celluloid distribution – who take away the statuette.

Read the rest here. Too hung up on authorship, eh?

Also at The Guardian Book Blog, John Freeman writes, “Has reading about books replaced the real thing? The sheer amount of reviews we can now access has taken some of the joy out of books”:

Say you spend just one hour a day reading about books — in a year you’ll have burned up two weeks of your waking life. Never had time for Moby Dick or Remembrance of Things Past or Crime and Punishment? There’s your reading window.

In truth, these equations are always misleading, because the time we spend skimming or grazing on reviews is not ideal for reading fiction. Flicking over to a website has become our mental fidget, a way to satisfy our constant desire to be “out there” when we can’t be — whether it’s because we’re sitting at an office, or waiting for the potatoes to boil.

On a related note, Roger Sutton at Read Roger is reading and enjoying Hard Books.

And, saving the last for the best, Sippican Cottage demonstrates the accuracy of the old saying, a sound mind in a sound body. From the former,

I encounter an enormous and growing number of people who have no frame of reference for the whole world, and everybody and everything in it, except that which they learned from watching, listening to, or reading entertainment. But unlike the elderly I mentioned, they are not using the TV to remind them of a world they have already participated in. They are deriving their reality from the flickering screen. Every single thing they say or do is filtered almost entirely through the lens of movies, teleplays, and magazines — paper or virtual — things that use reality only as a veneer, if that, and simply to lend verisimilitude to wholly fictitious inventions.

It is now possible to walk up to any stranger on the street, and be as likely to find a person whose views on every subject are shaped entirely by bad song lyrics as any other education. Or their understanding of economics is entirely seen through the prism of Michael Douglas yelling into a satellite phone. Love is one hour fifty-five minutes of a hooker that looks like Audrey Hepburn being wooed by a captain of industry. The only talk they have is small, and consists solely of misremembered quotes from Fletch. Their response to any query about the meaning of their life might elicit not St. Augustine, but Lloyd Dobler:

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.

I have no idea what you’ve got, but I know I don’t want it, is an interesting worldview.

Read the rest here, because it gets even better.

Robert Fagles (1933-2008)

From Chris Hedges‘s article in The New York Times, “A Bridge Between the Classics and the Masses”, April 13, 2004:

On his deathbed, the Roman poet Virgil asked that the manuscript of his greatest work, The Aeneid, be destroyed. It was, after a decade of writing, still flawed. And perhaps, as some have suggested, this gentle man, who knew much of human suffering and pain, struggled with his glorification of empire and the reigning Roman imperial house.

These themes of empire and death, of human tragedy, of the pain of duty and the loss of love and the horror of war, have consumed one Virgil translator, Dr. Robert Fagles, for nearly as long as it took Virgil to write the epic poem. Dr. Fagles has worked day after day, month after month, and now, year after year since beginning his work in 1997, in a window-lined room in his house on a back road here.

He struggles to take the highly inflected Latin and render it in English, to make sure Virgil’s deep pessimism, his doubts, disappointments and understanding of our incompleteness are passed on to a new generation of readers.

His translation, nearly complete [now complete, and only just in paperback, but spring for the hardcover], follows his versions of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles and The Oresteia by Aeschylus, all published by Penguin Books. These translations of ancient Greek classics have sold some two million copies.

”There are many readers who hunger for substance,” Dr. Fagles said. ”I do not despair. I know they are out there, and I hear from them often.”

On his desk was an open copy of Virgil in Latin, sheets of paper and Dr. Fagles’s printed manuscript. He works about four or five hours a day.

The Aeneid is a cautionary tale,” he said. ”It is one we need to read today. It speaks of the terrible price of victory in war, for Virgil knew that victory is finally impossible, that it always lies out of reach. He saw the unforeseen aftermath, the way war could all go wrong whether from poor planning or because of the gods on high. He knew the sheer accumulation of death, the destruction, the pain we inflict when we use force to create empire.”

Every age needs classics translated into the idiom of the moment. It gives the works new vitality, new meaning. It offers to the living a connection with those who went before, the accumulated wisdom of the past, a protection from a dangerous provincialism.

”In Virgil, as in Homer, you find great reservoirs of memory,” he said. ”You find the restorative power of love set against a world of violence. There is sadness in the poem. There are innumerable losses. War wages on too long. Nearly every book in The Aeneid ends with certain death. Aeneas reaches out to the ghosts of those he loved, always beyond his grasp.”

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday

Nothing here today — we’ve been waylaid by the big hockey tournament in town, where we spent a good chunk of today cheering on the children’s friend and the rest of the team (they won, hurray!) — but head over to Gina at Cuentesitos, who’s hosting this week’s Poetry Friday roundup.

Uh-oh Canada

I forgot.

I recuperated and got busy with Easter, and then Tom’s birthday (Tuesday) and Laura’s 4H field trip to a nearby bakery (also Tuesday and delicious), and then got thoroughly sidetracked by some Spring cleaning and shopping (yesterday).

Which means I missed getting anything ready for Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray‘s literary salute to Canada. But plenty of others weren’t sidetracked. Lots of good stuff to read, especially if you’re a Pierre Berton fan, which you should be.

And while I didn’t have a post for yesterday, I’ll just offer this little tidbit: Pierre Berton‘s children series, those slim yellow paperbacks which have been out-of-print for a while, have been reissued by Fifth House/Fitzhenry & Whiteside in bindups as a new series, “Pierre Berton’s History for Young Canadians”. Think of PB as a northern David McCullough for the junior set:

The Battles of the War of 1812 by Pierre Berton, with a foreword by Charlotte Gray

Exploring the Frozen North by Pierre Berton, with a foreword by Eric Wilson

Canada Moves West by Pierre Berton, with a foreword by Arthur Slade

The Great Klondike Gold Rush by Pierre Berton, with a foreword by Ken McGoogan

And for adults and older children, this Spring Penguin is launching “Extraordinary Canadians” (the website seems to need work, but there’s lots more here from The National Post — JoVE, look away): biographies of 20 of Canada’s “most influential historical figures” by 18 of Canada’s best contemporary writers; such as this biography of Nellie McClung by celebrated historian Charlotte Gray. The series editor is the writer (and husband of the former Governor General) John Ralston Saul. I saw the series mentioned on the Amazon.ca home page the other day and meant to explore further, but do you think I can get the little “Extraordinary Canadians” blurb to pop up now?

Clouding the glow with angels and liars

Before The Globe & Mail makes it disappear, from today’s news (I’ve added the links and italics myself):

OTTAWA — China’s ambassador has rejected Canadian criticisms of his country’s actions in Tibet as uninformed, and called assertions of rights violations “irresponsible.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have reacted to China’s crackdown in Tibet by calling on the country to respect human rights and open dialogue with the Dalai Lama. However, Chinese Ambassador Lu Shumin warned yesterday against interference in his country’s internal affairs.

At a rare press conference in Ottawa, he said the Dalai Lama is a dishonest separatist who has been “lying for decades,” and is behind violent and criminal riots in China.

Mr. Harper, who last November angered China by meeting the Dalai Lama, last week issued a statement that the Buddhist leader’s “message is one of non-violence … and I join him in that call.”

Yesterday, Mr. Lu said statements like those of Mr. Harper and Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, who called on China to respect human rights and peaceful protest, were ill-informed.

“If they want to come to a conclusion to express their concerns, they have to make clear, understand [clearly], what has happened [and] secondly, what is the nature of the event, before they can make a remark,” Mr. Lu said. “Otherwise, any remarks made accusing China of so-called human-rights suppression or things in that direction, I would consider that as irresponsible and inappropriate. And it’s interference in China’s internal affairs.”

Mr. Lu insisted that videos of riots in Lhasa show criminal violence, not peaceful protest. The Chinese reports emphasized the “restraint” of police.

The ambassador also said the footage shows that the Dalai Lama’s “clique” instigated the violence, although he did not specify where such evidence can be found, as he asserted, on the Internet. He said the Dalai Lama purports to be an angel but is a dishonest separatist.

“Dalai Lama has been telling lies to the world for centur- for decades. … It’s wrong,” Mr. Lu said.

The ambassador said the Dalai Lama has no concerns for human rights, arguing rights were not respected in Tibet before 1959. He quoted Ernst Schäfer, who led a quixotic 1938 Nazi mission to find a lost master race in Tibet, and approvingly compared Tibet and Nazi societies. [More here and here about Germans in Tibet.]

Dermod Travis, executive director of the Canada Tibet committee, said that if Mr. Lu’s claims of restraint by Chinese authorities were true, the region would have not been closed to foreign journalists until a chaperoned tour of hand-picked reporters was organized yesterday.

He said riots in Lhasa on March 14 occurred after a March 10 crackdown on peaceful protests of Tibetan monks.

Mr. Lu’s Ottawa press conference reflects Chinese concern that an international outcry over the situation in Tibet could cloud the glow they had hoped to create with this summer’s Beijing Olympics.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hinted Tuesday that he might boycott the Games. Groups, including the Canada-Tibet Committee, have called on Mr. Harper to skip the Games.

Meanwhile, representatives from a coalition of Tibetan advocacy groups met with Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge yesterday to ask that the Olympic torch not pass through Tibet in June. Though sympathetic, Mr. Rudge appears to have been cool to suggestions his committee press Beijing organizers to change the route.

No surprise that “buffoon” is a French word

Main Entry: buf·foon
Pronunciation: \(ˌ)bə-ˈfün\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French bouffon, from Old Italian buffone
Date: 1585

* * *

Encore un roi du crazy. From today’s radio news this morning (emphasis mine, as usual):

Having France’s highest honour bestowed on him didn’t stop former Alberta premier Ralph Klein from recalling how he used to get mad at his cousins for speaking French.

France’s ambassador to Canada was in Calgary on Wednesday night to present Klein with the Legion of Honour for his role in nurturing ties between Alberta and France, which invests in the province’s oilsands.

“The Ralph Klein years have been happy years for the relation and partnership between Alberta and France,” said Ambassador Daniel Jouanneau in naming Klein a chevalier, or knight, of the order.

Created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the award is France’s highest honour. Klein joins the ranks of Queen Elizabeth II, U.S. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and comedian Jerry Lewis.

“C’est un grand plaisir. Merci, merci. Thank you. Enough of my Diefenbaker French,” Klein said to laughter from the audience.

The former premier told CBC News the award recognizes his commitment to French culture in Alberta: “The reason is I enjoy the French community. My uncle was French …. He had a son and a daughter.

“Their names were Romeo and Juliet — totally French — and they spoke French all the time, and I was so mad at them for speaking French that I used to say, ‘For God’s sake, speak English.’

“And of course, they would continue to speak French just to annoy me,” he chuckled.

Klein joins a list of other Canadians honoured by France, including Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and dozens of soldiers who helped liberate France in the Second World War.

“This is like receiving the Order of Canada — only from a foreign country,” said Klein.

Classy, eh? Perhaps France still needs a King.

Early Spring snaps

The only thing green things in my garden (where the snow has melted) — nice young stinkweed. And oh what a healthy crop already. It figures it would be a weed!

The farm team (so called because they’re in their coveralls and tractor dealership gimme caps):

Sadly (ha!), the box of ice skates has been consigned to the storage building until November 2008. I hope.

Daniel with one of the new arrivals — the golden boy with the golden calf. I can’t remember what time of day I took this, but it’s all natural light with no help from me, the camera, or iPhoto afterward,

Davy decided to get in on the fun,

Sleeping in the sun,

Finally, a few shots of Easter goodies.

I suprised the kids (and myself, after that flu) with some Bonnat-style Martha Stewart chocolate-filled eggs. Under the weather with limited patience and time spent vertically, I simplified some of MS’s methods. For starters, I made a hole with my small, sharp and pointy cake tester. I enlarged it slowly by chipping away with the tester and didn’t bother with pins, utility knives, or drills. One small “tool” and I was fine. Also, I found I didn’t need to get rid of the eggy inside by blowing with a rubber ear syringe or anything else. Mix up the eggy inside gently, then shake, also gently. Fast and easy. Then, maybe because of our dry Alberta climate, the empty shells didn’t need more than one day to dry completely.

For the chocolate filling, I found some Callebaut chunks at the supermarket and didn’t bother cutting them up any more; I also dispensed with the double boiler, scraping, heating pad, and spreading on a clean smooth work surface. I put the chocolate chunks in a glass bowl and zapped them in the microwave for 30 seconds a shot, two or three times; the Cooking for Engineers website has good information on the whys and hows of tempering chocolate.

I don’t have any clean unused egg cartons, just recycled ones from our eggs, so I set the empty shells in egg cups to fill. It was also how I presented the eggs to the kids, who thought they were getting soft boiled eggs for Easter breakfast. The expressions on their faces were priceless. Mom has almost as magic as the Easter Bunny…

Science shopping

Even with no plans to attend a home school conference or convention this Spring (the big one next month conflicts with a. calving, b. Arts Festival, c. previously scheduled 4H activity, and d. calving), something in the air has compelled me to start making shopping lists of educational resources and waving my credit card around.

Today it was science shopping, motivated mainly by Boreal Northwest‘s free shipping offer, which expires at midnight tonight; the new website design has some glitches, but I think I managed. I ordered the painted lady butterfly larvae (the “replacement” set of five larvae is enough for my little class), some pH strips, and a few more test tubes for our collection.

Then, because Boreal doesn’t carry any animal model kits, I hopped over to Efston Science and ordered the Skilcraft visible horse model, useful since our mare Joy is pregnant and should have her foal in the next while. And, after seeing the Skilcraft visible cow model at an agricultural show last year and thoroughly disappointed that it has been discontinued, darn it, I settled for the only other option in the visible cow arena, the Bitz visible cow model (which seems awfully stingy compared to the nice Skilcraft one; you can see the Bitz box here, by the way). It goes well with the farm, home school science, and also Laura’s 4H beef club (I’m thinking she can bring it to a meeting for show and tell when it’s done).

Then, because Tom was looking over my shoulder, he suggested that I type “model engine” into the search box, because he figures the kids should know vehicle anatomy as well as livestock anatomy. He also has fond memories of one from his school days. Of the two choices, the Smithsonian Motor Works at Efston vs. the Revell Visible V-8 Combustion Engine 1/4 Scale Operating Model Kit at Boreal, we opted for the former with visibly firing spark plugs. It’s about half the price too.

I’d like to think that all three models will last through next year, but I know my bunch and I’ll be lucky if they have any left to start off the new school year in September.

By the way, if you have a thing for visible engine scale models (unlike yours truly, who never thought she’d be Googling let alone buying such things), there’s a rather nifty website on the history of such things over here. One V8 engine model looks pretty much like another to me, but I rather like the old 1950s boxes.

Richard Widmark (1914-2008)

Hollywood actor Richard Widmark died on Monday at the age of 93; he was also Sandy Koufax‘s father-in-law for a time. The New York Times obituary, by Aljean Harmetz, is here. From which,

In reality, the screen’s most vicious psychopath was a mild-mannered former teacher who had married his college sweetheart, the actress Jean Hazelwood, and who told a reporter 48 years later that he had never been unfaithful and had never even flirted with women because, he said, “I happen to like my wife a lot.”

He was originally turned down for the role of Tommy Udo [in Kiss of Death — see previous link] by the movie’s director, Henry Hathaway, who told Mr. Widmark that he was too clean-cut and intellectual. It was Darryl Zanuck, the Fox studio head, who, after watching Mr. Widmark’s screen test, insisted that he be given the part. …

Movie crazy, he was afraid to admit his interest in the “sissy” job of acting. On a full scholarship at Lake Forest College in Illinois, he played end on the football team, took third place in a state oratory contest, starred in plays and was, once again, senior class president. …

A passionate liberal Democrat, Mr. Widmark played a bigot who baits a black doctor in Joseph Mankiewicz’s ‘No Way Out’ (1950). He was so embarrassed by the character that after every scene he apologized to the young actor he was required to torment, Sidney Poitier. In 1990, when Mr. Widmark was given the D.W. Griffith Career Achievement Award by the National Board of Review, it was Mr. Poitier who presented it to him. …

Mr. Widmark told The Guardian in 1995 that he had not become a producer to make money but to have greater artistic control. “I could choose the director and my fellow actors,” he said. “I could carry out projects which I liked but the studios didn’t want.”

He added: “The businessmen who run Hollywood today have no self-respect. What interests them is not movies but the bottom line. Look at ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ which turns idiocy into something positive, or ‘Forrest Gump,’ a hymn to stupidity. ‘Intellectual’ has become a dirty word.”

He also vowed he would never appear on a talk show on television, saying, “When I see people destroying their privacy — what they think, what they feel — by beaming it out to millions of viewers, I think it cheapens them as individuals.” …

Mr. Widmark, who hated the limelight, spent his Hollywood years living quietly on a large farm in Connecticut and an 80-acre horse ranch in Hidden Valley, north of Los Angeles. Asked once if he had been “astute” with his money, he answered, “No, just tight.” …

Well into his later years, the nonviolent, gun-hating Mr. Widmark, who described himself as “gentle,” was accosted by strangers who expected him to be a tough guy. There is even a story that Joey Gallo, the New York mobster, was so taken by Mr. Widmark’s performance in “Kiss of Death” that he copied the actor’s natty posture, sadistic smirk and tittering laugh.

“It’s a bit rough,” Mr. Widmark once said, “priding oneself that one isn’t too bad an actor and then finding one’s only remembered for a giggle.”

To my kids, Richard Widmark will always be remembered as Jim Bowie and “the good captain”, and to me he’ll always be one of Hollywood’s brightest lights, and a decent man to boot.

Other obituaries and appreciations:

The Associated Press

The Times Online (UK)

Canadian science sale

Just until tomorrow, Wednesday, March 26, at midnight.

Boreal Northwest is celebrating its new website redesign by offering free shipping on all orders of at least $25.

Fine print: Use “Promo Code BM25 during checkout. (Applies to standard ground shipments only – excludes air freight and overweight items. Offer expires at midnight, March 26, 2008.”

Spreading the news

Bella Dia has an announcement:

I have a new blog called The Crafty Crow! I have seen so many great kids crafts in blogland that I wanted a blog to keep them all in one place with a bit of organization thrown in. I would love it if you would check it out and tell me what you think.

Cassi at Bella Dia and Cami at Full Circle are sisters, which accounts for all the talent and crafty-ness, not to mention a tremendous spirit of generosity in sharing that talent and crafty-ness with the rest of us. Thank you very, very much, and great good luck to The Crafty Crow!

Happy Easter from Farm School

(The picture is from last summer, but the good wishes are current!)

Under the (Spring) weather

After three nutty busy days at the beginning of the week (library board committee meeting, semiannual teeth cleaning and checkup, and music lessons, and that was without two meetings I couldn’t squeeze in), Daniel and I got sick. For me that was aside from the three consecutive days of headaches — first migraine, next day headache, and then just plain run of the mill. Daniel awoke at 3 a.m. Tuesday with a bad earache, was unable to sleep until about 7, when he feel asleep for the rest of the day. Wretched mother that I am (blame the sleep deprivation), I bundled him into the truck Wednesday afternoon and drove his unconscious little body around town as the others made it to lessons and I ran Spring/Easter errands. Payback came when I awoke, if you can call it that, the next morning feeling all achy.

Today is the first day I’ve been out of bed, and out of pyjamas, and I have to say I did pick a dandy time to get so out of commission for the first time in years. Thursday the kids took wonderful care of me and occupied themselves, from making and bringing hot beverages, to doing their math in bed with me. Tom stepped in on Friday. Daniel, though, hasn’t rallied, and hasn’t slept much since 3 a.m. this morning.  He asked earlier today if I could leave a note for the Easter Bunny to please hide his eggs indoors. Poor kid. But again, nice to have a quiet, slow, long weekend to be sick and, with luck, recuperate too.

Fortunately, I have all the Easter candy already for the big hunt. I have a frozen ham from the neighbor’s hog we just had butchered, and some of last fall’s apple cider to defrost tomorrow, some fresh asparagus, tulips on the table, and I am going to see if I have enough energy to bake some brioche bread for tomorrow. I am also going to try to make some homemade cherry ice cream, which seems springy (the cherries are the bottled kind from Hungary). I boiled some eggs this morning for the kids to color; they’re excited that for the first time in their memory, they have white eggs to color, thanks to three very productive white Leghorns we adopted this summer. Laura and Davy have written a play about Peter Rabbit, complete with elaborate set (in a corner of the living room) and hand-printed program. The performance will be tomorrow.

No promises about more blogging any time soon, so Happy Spring and Happy Easter. Oh, speaking of estrus and fertility and all that, we’re up to six calves now — Frank, Ricky, Asterix, Obelix, Patty (the calf born closest to the 17th), and one yet unnamed heifer. Laura’s 4H heifer is getting awfully close (and enormously big), and Laura is getting quite excited. There’s also a good chance that one of last summer’s kittens, who was in heat the other week, is pregnant. More farm babies — just as it should be this time of year.

Off to the kitchen…

Something new for the vernal equinox

While ordering our favorite children’s Spring solstice book — Ellen Jackson’s The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth — I noticed that another favorite seasonal author, Wendy Pfeffer, has a new book out this year, A New Beginning, illustrated by Linda Bleck (January 2008, Dutton). It’s on order throughout our library system; you might have better luck and find it already on the shelves at yours.

Seasonal offerings from Wendy Pfeffer:

We Gather Together: Celebrating the Harvest Season, illustrated by Linda Bleck

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice, illustrated by Jesse Reisch

and, coming soon (according to Ms. Pfeffer’s website), The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice

Seasonal offerings from Ellen Jackson:

The Summer Solstice, illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis

The Autumn Equinox: Celebrating the Harvest, illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis

The Winter Solstice, illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis

Seasonal offerings (poems and paintings) from Douglas Florian:




Winter Eyes

Roget redux

Just about two months ago, when I hosted Poetry Friday on Peter Mark Roget‘s birthday, I celebrated the man with his entry for “poetry”.

If you didn’t get enough Roget then, you can now find online last week’s Washington Post review, and this week’s New York Times‘s review of what the latter calls “Joshua Kendall’s fine new biography”, The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget’s Thesaurus (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008). From Thomas Mallon’s review in The Times:

The “categorical imperative” means something quite different, but it does sound like the right term for the self-protective psychological urge that drove Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), creator of the Thesaurus, to classify and categorize all manner of things over a long lifetime. Madness did not just run in his family; it galloped, sped, sprinted, dashed and made haste. …

Roget himself turned out humorless and judgmental, beset with a “paranoid streak” as well as melancholy and shyness, not to mention a horror of “dirt and disorder” — the Thesaurus entry for “uncleanness” is a lollapalooza. So one can scarcely be surprised by the refuge he seems to have taken in workaholism and an assortment of small compulsions, including his “obsession with counting.” (“I every day go up at least 320 steps.”) He took particular pleasure in an ability to control the movements of the iris in his own eye.

First among his coping mechanisms stood list-making, an activity well under way by the time he was 8 years old. Peter Roget’s tallies of “beasts,” “parts of the body” and things “in the garden” proliferated and comforted, and in some small way fulfilled a “desire to bring order to the world.” Kendall, a freelance journalist, deals gently with his subject’s tendency to classify instead of experience whatever surrounded him. (Roget calls to mind, in fact, a recent New Yorker cartoon that has someone saying, “It’s not a word I can put into feelings.”) With no Thesaurus at hand, the young man generally categorized landscapes as “beautiful” or “not beautiful” and people as “ordinary” or “peculiar.”

Jonathan Yardley writes in The Post,

The compilation of lists may seem a strange way to manage life’s vagaries, but “Roget managed to stave off madness,” which ran in his family, by doing so: “As a boy, he stumbled upon a remarkable discovery — that compiling lists of words could provide solace, no matter what misfortunes might befall him. He was particularly fond of cataloguing the objects, both animate and inanimate, in his environment. As an adult, he kept returning to the classification of words and concepts. Immersion in the nuances of language could invariably both energize him and keep his persistent anxiety at bay.”

The most interesting part, I thought, was this (from The Times):

Never quite intended as a book of synonyms (Roget thought there “really was no such thing,” given the unique meaning of every word), the Thesaurus was constructed as a crystal palace of abstraction, each of whose 1,000 lists pushes a reader, often antonymically, to the next, “certainty” leading to “uncertainty” leading to “reasoning” leading to “sophistry.” The truth is that most users of the Thesaurus have never made head nor tail of the system and have just availed themselves of the index — added by Roget almost as an afterthought — to find what they are looking for.