• 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.

Nine is fine

Today is Daniel’s birthday and it’s a fine sunny Spring day.  The frogs are singing, the birds are twittering and making nests, and the gophers are poking out of their holes.

One of Daniel’s presents this morning was the Marty Robbins CD Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1959) which we listened to with breakfast (pancakes, bacon, strawberries, and homemade chokecherry syrup); the purchase was prompted by an interview I heard with with Corb Lund, one of the kids’ favorite singers, about the release of his new album full of story songs, inspired and influenced by the many balladeers and singers of story songs, from Marty Robbins to Johnny Horton.  Since my father introduced the kids to Johnny the other year with great success, I figured it’s Marty’s turn now.

One of my favorites on the new CD is “A Hundred and Sixty Acres” (you can listen to a snippet here), which, if you substitute “prairie” for “valley”, seems to be a dandy theme for a boy newly nine:

I got a hundred and sixty acres in the valley
Got a hundred and sixty acres of the best
Got an old stove there that’ll cook three square
And a bunk where I can lay me down to rest.

Up at dawn to greet the sun
I’ve forgotten what a care or worry means
Head for home when day is done
With my pocket money jinglin’ in my jeans.
I’ve got a hundred and sixty acres full of sunshine
Got a hundred and sixty million stars above
Got an old paint hoss, I’m the guy who’s boss
On the hundred and sixty acres that I love!

Up at dawn to greet the sun
I’ve forgotten what a care or worry means
Head for home when day is done
With my pocket money jinglin’ in my jeans.

I’ve got a hundred and sixty acres full of sunshine
Got a hundred and sixty million stars above
Got an old paint hoss, I’m the guy who’s boss
On the hundred and sixty acres that I love!
Got an old paint hoss, I’m the guy who’s boss
On the hundred and sixty acres that I love!

*  *  *  *

Tom is working around here today, starting on a new pole shed at our corrals.  Daniel is delighted with the day’s schedule, and the kids will be outdoors most of the day, helping Tom, halterbreaking calves, and inspecting the new kittens born yesterday.

*  *  *  *

I’m happy to say that the performances of “Joseph” went very well, especially after the minor technical glitches of the opening night performance were sorted out, and by Saturday and Sunday the cast and orchestra came together beautifully.  A full house for all three performances, too.  And it was lovely to be able to spend my birthday at the theater (not to mention cake when we finally got home, starving).  Sunday, after the final show, I ducked out of the set dismantling and cleaning up effort for 15 minutes to run to the greenhouse before it closed, to pick up a flat of pansies.  And yesterday I planted my sweet peas.  Nine is fine, and so is 44!

Poetry Friday: A little trust and encouragement

An anonymous but appropriate and still fairly well-known bit of American doggerel, near as I can figure from the 1940s or thereabouts. From our small, battered copy of the Arrow Book of Funny Poems, collected by Eleanor Clymer and published in 1961 by Scholastic:

The wind riz
And then it blew,
The rain friz
And then it snew.

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz.
I wonder where
The flowers is.

Spring has spring,
Fall has fell,
Winter’s here
And it’s cold as…heck.

Last week I promised more of the foreword by the late Cornish poet, Charles Causley (1917-2003), from our copy of The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children. Here’s the first bit again,

What do we mean by the phrase ‘poetry for children’? For me W.H. Auden, writing of the work of the great Walter de la Mare, answered this question once and for all. ‘It must never be forgotten,’ he said, ‘that, while there are some good poems which are only for adults, because they pre-suppose adult experience in their readers, there are no good poems which are only for children.’

I remember wondering, in my earliest years as a primary school teacher, why my so-called ‘poetry’ lessons invariably fell flat, although made up of what I believe to be perfectly acceptable ‘children’s’ verse of the day: simple songs and jingles, light verses about animals, comic tales of those who were judged to be ‘characters’, and the like. All these offerings were accepted politely by my captive audiences, though clearly without much enthusiasm. Shamefully, I had failed to remember the excellent advice of a wise and experienced tutor. ‘Never forget,’ he had said. ‘Feed the lambs.’

and here’s the middle part,

Then, one lucky day, I arrived before one of my classes with the wrong set of books, only one of which was of poetry: a newly-acquired selection of English and Scottish traditional ballads made by Robert Graves. I’d had no time to study it properly, and retreat was out of the question. I opened the book and began to read.

Young Beichan he was a noble lord
And a peer of high degree;
He hath taken ship at London Town,
For that Christ’s Tomb he would see.

He sailèd west, and he sailèd east
Till he came to Galilee,
Where he was cast in prison strong,
And handled cruelly.

At this point, out of sheer nerves, I muddled a turn of the pages. In the small silence while I put things right, I was startled by a boy’s voice from the middle of the class. ‘Go on, then!’ And I knew that, at last, I’d secured a genuine audience, if only of one. I also knew that perhaps, as far as my work as a teacher was concerned, I’d discovered one key to the world of poetry for children.

Beginning in this simple fashion, it became increasingly clear to me that given a little trust and encouragement, children are as capable of interpreting the signs and signals, the secret messages of poetry, as adults are venturesome enough to make available to them. It was Sir John Betjeman who defined such secret messages with wonderful simplicity as ‘tones of meaning beyond the surface one’.

Few children in this or any other age can be entirely unfamiliar with the ancient patterns of birth, love, marriage, infidelity, betrayal, sickness, old age, death. All these elements form part of the fabric of our early popular poetry, presented in a simple-seeming and undidactic manner as it reflects the ways of the world.

Who can resist a tale well told? The ballad moves with breathtaking speed and clarity (no excess of words here), the narrative leaping forward from stanza to stanza like the images in a film. The total absence of sentimentality, the lack of moralising on the part of the narrator, are all essentials in this plainly-spoken form that, with its sturdy companion the folk-song, have held their places securely in our culture over the centuries. ‘The young are a secret society,’ said the Czech novelist and playwright Karel Capek, ‘and the old have forgotten that they once belonged to it.’ It’s the business, surely then, of those of us no longer children, to try to remember.

I’ll post the final part of the foreword next week.

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has today’s Poetry Friday round-up. Thanks for hosting, Tricia!

Curtain Up

Tonight’s the big night and the kids are very, very excited. A bit pooped from yesterday’s full dress rehearsal, but very, very excited nonetheless. It’s going to be a busy weekend, with Friday and Saturday evening performances, and one Sunday afternoon too.  Tom got a sneak peak at the orchestra last night, and said it sounds quite good.  I’m excited to see how it will all come together.

Mother’s Day photo contest

Crissy at Soliloquy is hosting a Mother’s Day photo contest:

In honor of my late grandmother, Grace, and my mother, Cindy, I am hosting a Mother’s Day photo contest. I am looking for your favorite photograph of a grandmother or a mother and her children.

The deadline is May 7th, and more details are here and here.  Now grab your camera, or the family photo albums.

Suburban Green

Canadian home educating blogger Billi-Jean, who writes at My Bountiful Life… announced a new project for Earth Day yesterday (our own earth is white and frozen, so there wasn’t much celebrating in our little corner yesterday):

Suburban Green Is People

In her first post, Billi-Jean writes,

So here we are, a family of four, in the suburbs in a town sandwiched between two Big Cities, surrounded by freeways and where long commutes to work are the norm. Is it possible, here, where the neighbourhoods are designed as if cars live in them instead of people, to make *real* reductions in our consumption of resources and production of pollution? … To make tangible, measurable differences?… To do more than drag a Blue Box to the curb every week and consider that to be enough (all the while knowing that it isn’t… Not really)?

I believe it is possible. I’m just not sure how to go about it, beyond those easy things we cling to so we feel better. We have always tried to be more conscious and have developed earth friendly habits that I would consider successes, but there have been a lot of failures too and so many options that we’ve never even attempted. Part of the reason that so many of us have less success than we’d like, is that the information about which “green” habits really work for families and actually make a positive difference for the environment is scattered, misleading, polluted by advertising and, to be honest, trite.

(If the blog title rings a little bell, see if you can remember any of the movie clips that aired the other week to announce the death of Charlton Heston.)

Speaking of hands

Laura at Seabird Chronicles has a post about “Crafts for young children” — activities and projects toddlers can do by themselves — inspired by a toddler/preschool summer camp she’s planning. The camp planning in turn has inspired the idea for a Craft Swap:

You prepare and mail a box of fun craft ideas/supplies to your swap partner then receive a box for you and your child! For example: stickers, textured/colorful paper, a wooden object to paint, stamps, craft supplies like popsicle sticks or pipe cleaners and a list of things to do with them, specialty markers/crayons, and anything else you can think of (plan to spend about $10 not including shipping).

Swap partner information will be sent on May 5. More details on the Craft Swap here.

Many thanks for the tip to Irene Hoofs at BloesemKids. From what I know of BK and what I saw at Seabird, I rather suspect the quality of these children’s crafts will be above average…


One of my favorite writers, science professor and naturalist Chet Raymo, wrote a recent post “Hand to Mind” at his blog Science Musings* about The New York Times review of Richard Sennett’s new book, The Craftsman; I highlighted some excerpts of the Times review here.

Prof. Raymo hasn’t read the new book yet, but has some wonderful thoughts on the subject. Here’s just a bit from his post,

The purest way to live, it has always seemed to me, is with what might be called a Benedictine balance of manual labor, intellectual work, and prayer. The closest I have come to achieving this is on the island, where part of each day is given over to reading and writing, part to woodworking and household maintenance, and part to paying attention, usually while walking. Yes, I know. It’s our brain that by most accounts defines our humanity — that gray stuff locked out of sight in the strongbox of the skull. But it’s with our hands that we make physical contact with reality. Our hands are our emissaries to the world.

Read the rest here.

* Prof. Raymo has the Science Musings blog and the Science Musings website (where you can find his thoughts on Benjamin Franklin and plate tectonics, among other things)