• 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)

The educational minimum

We have come so far down the trail of thinking that people go to school in order to become foot-soldiers in the economic battle, as if paid employment were the sole meaning of life, that we scarcely understand what Aristotle meant by saying “we educate ourselves so that we can make a noble use of our leisure”. In contrast to this remarkable view, today’s dull-witted, pedestrian, pragmatic view seems to be that the educational minimum must be whatever is enough in the way of literacy and numeracy to operate a check-out till. That was what a recent secretary of state for education and hammer of the classics, the alauricular (I bet he does not know what that means) Charles Clarke, publicly thought.

A.C. Grayling, quoted in The Guardian earlier this month, debating “Is the Renaissance scholar dead?”, with Adrian Monck. More on former UK education secretary Clarke here.

The debate, sponsored by the independent think tank Agora and The Guardian as part of their rethink series about education in the 21st century, had Prof. Adrian Monck & Simon Woodroffe answering in the affirmative, with Prof. Grayling & Stephen Bayley took the other (victorious) side. For those unable to be in London on April 8, a summary of the debate is here.

And the prior debate was “Should ‘elite’ remain a dirty word in education?”. Delicious stuff. More here and here (scroll down).

The last debate in the series, Religion is the greatest threat to scientific progress and rationality that we face today”, took place today. According to Agora’s website (scroll down), a video podcast of the event “will appear on our website. If you would like to be notified when it becomes available, please email us.”

Just a bit more of Prof. Grayling to close,

There are those – surely, in other countries and times only? – who would like most in the population to be drones, not too questioning or well-informed, not too apt to criticise, and easily persuadable about things, especially at election times when a few promises about tax cuts and the like can do away with the need to ask people to think (in this case, who to vote for). The reason why such a reductive and manipulative view is wrong is precisely the reason why a broad liberal education, an education for life and not just for work, matters.

Four words


* 12 inches since Saturday. Four more to come today supposedly. The only way we can get into our corrals is with the tractor, since ever more snow keeps falling and drifting in over the road; it’s over four feet deep in places. Two baby calves born, one last night and one early this morning, and despite the weather both doing well. We did need the moisture, though I was hoping it would come in a color other than white.  Maybe “clear”.  We are thinking warm, melty thoughts, and keeping the shovel handy. You knew I couldn’t keep to just four words, didn’t you?

Call of the wild

One of my Google Alerts picked up this article, “German Tots Learn to Answer Call of Nature” from The Wall Street Journal earlier in the week. From the article,

Each weekday, come rain or shine, a group of children, ages 3 to 6, walk into a forest outside Frankfurt to sing songs, build fires and roll in the mud. To relax, they kick back in a giant “sofa” made of tree stumps and twigs.

The birthplace of kindergarten is returning to its roots. While schools and parents elsewhere push young children to read, write and surf the Internet earlier in order to prepare for an increasingly cutthroat global economy, some little Germans are taking a less traveled path — deep into the woods.

Germany has about 700 Waldkindergärten, or “forest kindergartens,” in which children spend their days outdoors year-round. Blackboards surrender to the Black Forest. Erasers give way to pine cones. Hall passes aren’t required, but bug repellent is a good idea.

Trees are a temptation — and sometimes worse. Recently, “I had to rescue a girl” who had climbed too high, says Margit Kluge, a teacher at Idstein’s forest kindergarten. Last year, a big tree “fell right before our noses.”

The schools are a throwback to Friedrich Fröbel, the German educator who opened the world’s first kindergarten, or “children’s garden,” more than 150 years ago. Mr. Fröbel counseled that young children should play in nature, cordoned off from too many numbers and letters.

Interesting how the idea of kindergarten has changed, isn’t it?  By the way, all three of my kids have either been stuck in, or fallen out of, a tree (in some cases, both), and it’s generally not a mistake they make twice. Outdoor schools aren’t anything new (back in 2003 The Christian Science Monitor ran an article about the “forest kindergartens”), but I’m glad to see that the idea is still striking a chord with North Americans, and that there those who believe that nature in general, and mud and winter in particular, are not to be avoided or endured but enjoyed and celebrated. It reminded me of the outdoor winter schools I’d read about perhaps 10 years ago, in one of the Scandinavian countries, Denmark or Sweden I think, where the children spent all day out of doors in the depths of winter — playing, learning, eating lunch, and even answering the call of nature too.

A bit of Googling and I found that Forest Schools have also become quite popular in the UK in the past 10 or so years. In 2006, all 49 pupils at Pott Row First School, Norfolk, received waterproof suits (I just love the accompanying photo of the child in the rain clutching a pencil); at the time the school’s goal was to provide half of all lessons outside within two years. In England you can find special weather gear at places such as Raindrops, which offers children’s outdoor clothing from Scandinavia. The company’s director, Nikki Horne, writes on the website,

Having a Finnish mother I spent many years in Finland and always admire how well dressed Scandinavian children are whilst playing outside – no matter the weather. It is not an unusual sight to see children dressed from head to toe and playing outside in thick snow or harsh rain in sub zero degrees. If the clothing is right there should be no reason why not to play outside in such conditions.

Poetry Friday: From the tower, for children

I was delighted yesterday to find online Alison Lurie’s New York Review of Books May 1st Rapunzel reviews and essay, “The Girl in the Tower“. Which brought to mind the delightful poem below by the late Liverpudlian painter and poet, Adrian Henri, from our copy of The Macmillan Treasury of Poetry for Children, with a foreword by the late Cornish poet, Charles Causley (1917-2003). From Causley’s foreword:

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.’

I’ll continue with Charles Causley’s foreword next week for Poetry Friday. In the meantime, I’m off to feed the lambs.

Any Prince to Any Princess
by Adrian Henri (1932-2000)

August is coming
and the goose, I’m afraid,
is getting fat.
There have been
no golden eggs for some months now.
Straw has fallen well below market price
despite my frantic spinning
and the sedge is, as you rightly point out,

I can’t imagine how the pea
got under your mattress. I apologize
humbly. The chambermaid has, of course,
been sacked. As has the frog footman.
I understand that, during my recent fact-finding tour of the Golden River,
despite your nightly unavailing efforts,
he remained obstinately froggish.

I hope that the Three Wishes granted by the General Assembly
will go some way towards redressing
this unfortunate recent sequence of events.
The fall in output from the shoe-factory, for example:
no one could have foreseen the work-to-rule
by the National Union of Elves. Not to mention the fact
that the court has been fast asleep
for the last six and a half years.

The matter of the poisoned apple has been taken up
by the Board of Trade: I think I can assure you
the incident will not be

I can quite understand, in the circumstances,
your reluctance to let down
your golden tresses. However
I feel I must point out that the weather isn’t getting any better
and I already have a nasty chill
from waiting at the base
of the White Tower. You must see the absurdity of the
Some of the courtiers are beginning to talk,
not to mention the humble villagers.
It’s been three weeks now, and not even
a word.

a cold, black wind
howls through our empty palace.
Dead leaves litter the bedchamber;
the mirror on the wall hasn’t said a thing
since you left. I can only ask,
bearing all this in mind,
that you think again,

let down your hair,


* * *

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to The Well-Read Child for today’s round-up.


We’ve been busy here, recovering from the Festival and celebrating the kids’ successes (including Laura’s big wrap-up prize for most outstanding student performing in three disciplines and going on to provincials for poetry/public speaking and musical theater), doing some more Spring cleaning (I still have a few walls to wash and all of the windows except the lovely big new one in the bedroom, but I’m going to hold off on the window-washing because we’re expecting some unseasonably cold weather — -7C — and snow), attending a 4H livestock workshop, and having the semiannual home school facilitator meeting. I’m failing miserably trying to keep up with blog reading and writing, but have found a couple of interesting links

* Ruth at Traveling Jews has a terrific post with a selected survey and reviews on Science for the secular homeschooling family. On a similar subject, Lynn at bore me to tears has The latest on science-free science curriculum.

* The kids have been intrigued by news of the World’s Longest Beaver Dam found with Google Earth, which happens to be in Alberta. A very long drive from here, but the kids are ready to sally forth.

* Nicole at Baking Bites has all sorts of tasty goodies: news of a Giant Ice Cream Cone Cupcake Pan, which looks adorable, a review of How Baking Works: Exploring the Fundamentals of Baking Science by Paula Figoni, and a recipe for nectarine turnovers, which I plan to save for summertime

* Via John at Confessions of a Science Librarian, his mention of the new Clifford Pickover book, Archimedes to Hawking: Laws of Science and the Great Minds Behind Them (Oxford University Press, April 2008)

*JoVE and I were writing back and forth, off blog, about the recent Lenore Skenazy article in The New York Sun, about Skenazy leaving her then nine-year-old-son at Bloomingdale’s and letting him, at his request, find his own way home. Now Skenazy has a blog (with a familar but nifty template), Free Range Kids. Not to be confused, by the way, with the nifty home schooling blog Free Range Academy. I find Skenazy’s adventures, especially the reaction to her articles on the matter, more interesting than her son’s adventure. I grew up in New York, and though the city is considerably safer now than it was in the seventies, I was riding to school on the bus from West 96th Street to East 62nd Street on my own, or with young friends, by the age of 10; and, on the way home from school, ranging along Madison Avenue with a friend stopping in at stores to add to our growing business card collections; the worst thing that ever happened was a couple of Browning boys, true upper class twits I realized years later, jumping out from around a corner to yell at us, “When did you last see your gynecologist?!” (The subway was another matter. I had a very unpleasant episode on the subway in eighth grade, going downtown during rush hour — to take the entrance exam at Stuyvesant — with my mother and some fellow with wandering hands. The memory still makes me shudder.) Anyway, as you probably already know from the green “Courting Danger” button above, over the pink zinnia, I thoroughly approve of a dash of benign neglect when raising children. Not for nothing is our unofficial family and home school motto, BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.

New from Jay Hosler

Via P.Z. Myers at Pharyngula, news that biologist and cartoonist (and Farm School favorite) Jay Hosler has a new book out, Optical Allusions.

I’ve written before, here and in comments at other blogs, about Dr. Hosler’s earlier titles, The Sandwalk Adventures: An Adventure in Evolution Told in Five Chapters and Clan Apis).  He writes about the new book on his website; here’s an excerpt:

Optical Allusions is a science comic book funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The aim of this work is to develop and test a chapter of a non-majors biology text book in comic form. This particular chapter will contain 9-10 short stories focusing on different aspects of eye biology and evolution. The stories are linked by a common protagonist, Wrinkles the Wonder Brain, and his ongoing quest to find his employers’ lost eyeball.

Why a science comic? Well, the trend in science proficiency in the US is not a good one …

My hope is that comic stories will present science in an engaging fashion and provide students with a context that will help them retain the material. Each chapter will be followed by two pages of text that will expand upon the ideas in the story as well as provide study questions, etc.

You can find a PDF file with an excerpt of the new book here, and you can buy it from Active Synapse. And here‘s a 2005 NPR interview with Dr. Hosler.

Home from the hill

Well, home from three days at the performing arts festival (piano, voice, and speech arts), which was a hill of its own.

We returned to find that it’s finally, really Spring here in our corner of the prairies. I’ve had pussy willows in a vase for a few weeks, the geese have been flying overhead in small groups for the same time, and about 10 days ago we saw our first bluebird. But on Tuesday, the sun finally came out after many dreary days. The same day, there seemed to be geese everywhere, in the fields and on the sloughs in and in the sky in great clouds. We drove home from the Laura’s piano competition that afternoon to discover a flock of several dozen robins in the bush just south of our house. The birds seem to be everywhere, not just magpies and sparrows, and fluttering about everywhere. Nearly every stand of trees has a hawk standing sentinel. And the best gift of all — as Tom opened the front the door this morning, he was greeted by the meadowlark’s song.

Which is a wonderful, very seasonal way to celebrate all of the kids’ successes at the festival. Laura, who struggles with piano lessons and practice, was gratified to receive praise and second place from the adjudicator. Davy sang his “Huron Carol” beautifully the next day, wearing his mukluks, and took second place to a 12-year-old friend with five more years of singing lessons and experience. That evening, Laura won the musical theater solo award for her song, “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning” from “Annie Get Your Gun”. And then all three got up to do “Moses Supposes” from “Singin’ in the Rain”; we turned it into a trio (in the movie it’s a very athletic duet with Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor) with a few easy dance steps (I can’t sing in tune and have no professional dance training, but you’d be surprised what you can pick up from a lifetime of watching MGM musicals — I had to laugh when the adjudicator praised the “simple but effective choreography”).

Yesterday we dispensed with the singing and dancing and moved on to speech arts. Daniel won the award for Canadian poetry, for reciting “My Toboggan and I Carve Winter” by Jane Wadley; Davy took second place, for “My Moccasins Have Not Walked” by Duke Redbird. Yes, he wore his mukluks. Both poems are in the Canadian children’s anthology Til All the Stars Have Fallen, recently republished in paperback. The boys also did lovely, expressive jobs with their Kipling poems. Laura took the narrative poetry award for reciting “Jabberwocky”, and was delighted when the adjudicator said that Laura’s recitation was one of the best she has ever heard at a festival, and almost up there with one of the adjudicator’s favorite professional recordings. The icing on the cake came at the end of the day, when Laura received the award for her 4H speech. And of course there was the treat of listening to the other entries. We are lucky to have some very, very gifted young people in our area, whose families still believe in the value of speech arts.

The kids have been asked to perform the trio routine, and Laura her poem, for the final concert on Sunday. So a very happy, and tired, bunch. As soon as we arrived home yesterday evening, Laura and I crawled into my bed and watched Danny Kaye. I fell asleep, and woke up to find Tom cooking dinner and serving the cake we had bought on the way home to celebrate.

And apparently Laura has been recommended to provincials for speech arts. I don’t have all the details yet, and don’t know that I want them anytime soon. The house is in dire need of some tidying up, I’d rather be outside, and we have animal babies to check on…


In yesterday’s New York Times Sunday Book Review, Lewis Hyde reviewed the new title The Craftsman by Richard Sennett (Yale University Press, March 2008). From the review:

… Sennett’s book gathers case after case in which we see how the work of the hand can inform the work of the mind. Moreover, it is through his insistence that thought arises in relation to craft that Sennett comes to one of his more intriguing interventions, a reimagining of the Enlightenment in terms not of ideas but of how craftsmen learned to work.

“The hand is the window on to the mind,” Immanuel Kant wrote, and Sennett asks that we not pass through that window until we have adequately studied the hand. For Sennett the emblematic Enlightenment publication was Diderot’s “Encyclopedia, or Dictionary of Arts and Crafts” [still in print, abridged, here]. In 35 volumes, this great work told its readers how to keep bees, make cider or wooden shoes, cure tobacco, prepare hemp, build a windmill, grind wheat, or — in the case that Sennett expands upon — make paper as it was then produced at the great L’Anglée factory south of Paris. The Enlightenment as pictured by Diderot arose from the conversation between craftsmen and all the stuff — the wood, the gold, the papermaking rags — that met their hands. The material world speaks back to us constantly, by its resistance, by its ambiguity, by the way it changes as circumstances change, and the enlightened are those able to enter into this dialogue and, by so doing, come to develop an “intelligent hand.”

Using craftsmen as symbols of the Enlightenment turns out to be part of an argument that Sennett is conducting with one of his teachers, Hannah Arendt. In her own portrait of the human condition, Arendt distinguished between the world of animal needs and a “higher” world of art, politics and philosophy. This division is, for Sennett, a serious philosophical mistake with serious ethical and political consequences. It isn’t only that it demeans those who labor with their hands, but that it fails to recognize one of the foundations of good citizenship and cannot then imagine the kind of democracy in which governance is widely diffused, not given over to expert elites.

For it is Sennett’s contention that “nearly anyone can become a good craftsman” and that “learning to work well enables people to govern themselves and so become good citizens.” This line of thought depends, among other things, upon the Enlightenment assumption that craft abilities are innate and widely distributed, and that, when rightly stimulated and trained, they allow craftsmen to become knowledgeable public persons.

And what is it that such persons know? They know how to negotiate between autonomy and authority (as one must in any workshop); how to work not against resistant forces but with them (as did the engineers who first drilled tunnels beneath the Thames); how to complete their tasks using “minimum force” (as do all chefs who must chop vegetables); how to meet people and things with sympathetic imagination (as does the glassblower whose “corporeal anticipation” lets her stay one step ahead of the molten glass); and above all they know how to play, for it is in play that we find “the origin of the dialogue the craftsman conducts with materials like clay and glass.”

The assumption that craft abilities are widely diffused leads Sennett into a meditation on our love of those intelligence tests by which we supposedly single out the very smart and the very stupid so that some will go to college and others go to bagging groceries. Sennett points out that such sorting ignores the “densely populated middle ground” where most of the population is actually found. Rather than celebrating a “common ground of talents,” we tend to inflate “small differences in degree into large differences in kind” and so legitimate existing systems of privilege. Thinking of the median as the mediocre creates an excuse for neglect. This is one reason, Sennett argues, that “it proves so hard to find charitable contributions to vocational schools” while currently the wealth of the Ivy League schools is compounding at an astounding rate.

Read the rest of the review here.

Mud pies and bibliobituaries

One of our favorite books, especially for Spring, is Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls by Marjorie Winslow, illustrated by Erik Blegvad, whose Great Hamster Hunt, also out-of-print, is still on my shelves.

So I was delighted to see it receive a lengthy “salute” from independent bookseller Alison Morris on her blog, Shelftalker. In the post, Alison mentions the concept of bibliobituaries, odes to out-of-print books. Isn’t that the perfect term? As someone with a keen fondness for books, especially children’s books, that are OOP, I’ve found the biggest advantage of a strong Canadian dollar to be the ability to purchase a number of OOP treasures from the U.S. through abebooks.com.

A couple of my favorites, still on my shelves after more than 30 years, well deserving of bibliobituaries I should write one of these days:

The Golden Name Day by Jennie D. Lindquist and illustrated by Garth Williams, which I read and reread. I wanted to be Swedish and live in the country with a large extended family and yellow rose wallpaper. The title was a Newbery Honor Book in 1956, and Miss Lindquist was the second editor of The Horn Book, from 1951 to 1958; here’s a 1953 letter to Miss Lindquist from Laura Ingalls Wilder, with the latter’s gingerbread recipe.

The Windmill Summer by Hila Feil and illustrated by Fred Brenner. As I’ve written previously, it’s about Arabella who runs away from her large family to live by herself in a windmill shaped like a ship with a large wire whisk, olives, coffee ice cream, Yoohoo, Mallomars, and copies of Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking, Swallows and Amazons, and The Hobbit, among (many) other things. A book that doesn’t deserve to be out of print. And for the past 20 years or so I’ve harbored the thought that maybe Arabella grew up to be another of my dear book friends, Laurie Colwin

A daily gift for National Poetry Month

Sherry at Semicolon is offering a post a day for National Poetry Month.  Here’s the initial post, and you can find the others by searching the blog (under the “Picture Book Preschool” block on the right) for the term “NPM”.  From Sherry’s first post,

April is National Poetry Month, and I intend to give you a gift this month: a poem a day and a suggested poetry activity or poetical thought each day. If I miss a day, forgive me. If my poetical selections displease you, again forgive. If you enjoy deceptively simple poetry and light verse that’s not always so light and meaning cloaked in the language of poetry, you might have a good time celebrating Poetry Month with me.

Speaking of semicolons, while Canadians debate the future of the penny, the French are up in arms over the semicolon.

The real Canadian two-tier system

And it ain’t health care.

Air Canada, which charges for each pillow and sandwich and is just a wee bit shy of requiring passengers to load their own luggage on the plane, is now offering “On My Way”, a new “travel assistance service”, which seems to be what most airlines, including West Jet, have traditionally offered — meal vouchers, rebooking tickets — at no extra service whenever a flight is delayed or cancelled.  But service is a concept increasingly foreign to Air Canada. You can read more here. From which,

Michael Janigan of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa wasn’t impressed. He suggested Out Of My Way as a more fitting name.

“It’s part and parcel of a continuing effort to try and make the service extended to you when you buy a ticket less and less. The expectation would be that if you paid for a flight, you’d be rebooked on the next available flight. I’m hesitant to figure what’s next with the airlines. Maybe washroom privileges (for a fee)? We’ll have to wait and see.”

Janigan said new fees like On My Way suggest it’s time for Transport Canada to take a stand and set minimum standards to protect passengers. “We can’t rely on airlines to set appropriate rules for what passengers are and are not entitled to.”

In the meantime — fly West Jet.

And avoid Heathrow’s new Terminal 5.

Our newest little April fool

Laura’s 4H heifer finally had her calf the other day. We arrived at Bunny’s pen to find her in labor. If you look carefully, you can see the calf’s front hooves poised to make an exit.

Laura the midwife with her beloved Bunny.

Here’s one of the first glimpses of Giacomo Benny (Benny for short), a little bull, still wet behind the ears and everywhere else.

Mother and calf doing very well — Bunny is an exceedingly diligent and attentive mother — and Laura is mightily pleased.

Room with a view

Here’s an (admittedly not very good) photo of the old bedroom windows yesterday, with Davy peeking in. He’s standing on the scaffolding outside. Tom had already stripped off all the trim.

And here’s the opening today, minus the windows and most of the wall. Enlarged, in fact, almost from floor to ceiling. The plastic isn’t the easiest thing to see through, but it’s keeping my bedroom and the rest of house fairly tidy.

Earlier today Tom and his assistant built the bump-out that will extend the window area by several feet, because the final vision is a bay window with window seat. I’ve asked Tom if the bottom part of the window seat can be open shelving, since I’m thinking it would be a good place to store more (shh….) books.