• 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.

By default…

I seem to be on a blogging summer vacation.

The kids had their swim club windup last Thursday, and today is the last day, so that’s the last of the year’s lessons and activities. Friday afternoon we left for Saturday’s big regional 4H softball tournament, spending the night with friends. Since Saturday the temperature has been in the high 80s, low 90s, and more humid than usual for here, so last night we barbecued our pizza again, with the nifty little grill pans we found at Sears on deep discount ($2.94 each) the other week; something similar is here. I love the new pans because homemade pizza tastes even better on the grill, it cooks in half the time, and the kitchen isn’t heated up. The garden is giving us lettuces, spinach, swiss chard, and radishes, and the zucchinis have enormous yellow flowers.

I finally got around to reading The Devil Wears Prada (I grabbed almost the first thing — avoiding the Louis L’Amours — from the library’s paperback section on Friday, just before we hopped in the truck), at the softball tournament, and I don’t know what the fuss was about. Every character beyond Miranda thoroughly unsympathetic. The New Yorker, eh? I kept thinking of what Helen Fielding would have done with the same material. Now I’m going to catch up with some Lawrence Block, because if it’s hot outside, it’s time for something hard-boiled. Which reminds me, I have to make devilled eggs before tomorrow night’s fireworks for Canada Day — in honor of which I’ve pulled up a few posts from the archives:

Something more traditional

Quintessential Canada ahead of Canada Day (more Mike Ford music here)

Happy Canada Day!, because it’s not Canadian without Stompin’ Tom

Poetry Friday + one, for Canada Day

More Canada Day fun and festivities, with Sir John A.

Poetry Friday: Poems for the First and Fourth, with the poetry of Bliss Carman

Tonic and toast

Last night the kids and I were on the way home from swimming when we caught the tail end of an interview with Freddie Yauner, a new graduate of the Design Products program of the Royal College of Art in London, on the CBC radio show “As It Happens”.

Mr. Yauner, 26, is making waves at the moment for his Guinness World Record-setting Highest Popping Toaster in the world (2.6 meters, or 8.5 feet, up in the air), which he has nicknamed “The Moaster”.  Mr. Yauner launched the toast the other day as part of the Royal College’s graduate show (running through July 5 for anyone in or near London); he built the Moaster in three months using a high-pressure carbon dioxide gas system and mechanical ram.  The contraption is, according to this website, “powered by a microchip which times the filament and then sends a 24v charge to a solenoid, which releases the gas into the ram, which pushes the pivoting arm upwards very very quickly”.

The toaster is part of Mr. Yauner’s “Because We Can” project, which

aims to produce extreme or superlative products, ‘the biggest, the best, the fastest’, as a critique of the current state of design and consumerism. We want to associate ourselves with objects that pretend to make us better or fulfil our dreams, always offering us more. We are, consciously or unconsciously, allowing ourselves to be told what we need and what will complete our sense of self as we see it in image form, and are content in ‘hyperreal’ space. Self-deception is so easily accepted, that it is almost a necessity.

Yauner is equally happy developing new products for consumer markets, as he is working on critical research projects. He brings the same processes and ethics to both areas of design, with emphasis on user engagement and interaction.

Some more of his thoughts and quotes, which I found online because I wasn’t able to copy down parts of the interview while driving, and which I find impressive and thoughtful and a true tonic:

From Freddie Yauner’s page at the Royal College website,

Today’s consuming culture encourages us to want everything bigger, better and faster, leaving us living our lives in a hyperreal world, where we are willing to self-deceive to fulfil desires.

From his website page for another project, “The Fastest Light in the World”:

Today’s consuming culture encourages us to want everything bigger, better and faster, leaving us willing to self-deceive in order to fulfil conformist desires.

Should we design to encourage this?

And this:

Funny how little money and lots of effort is often so much better.

You can find a variety of interesting things at Mr. Yauner’s website, many that would inspire the youngsters at home, including

Be the hit of the next science fair with a “Make Your Own Moaster Kit”, coming soon; if you’re interested, send an email to freddie [at] freddieyauner [dot] co [dot] uk

a time line of the history of time, created as research for his “World’s Fastest Digital Clock” project (digital time to a millionth of a second)

the slow water project: “We want to address this problem of water usage in the garden, encouraging the usage of as much rainwater as possible, making the task of rainwater collection one of enjoyment that works in harmony with the garden.”  More here in this Slow Water article.

And don’t miss his dissertation (awarded with distinction), “The Importance of Being Idle“, on the idea that “Idleness is not laziness, it’s productive creative thinking time”, with the conclusion that “idleness needs to be deliberately factored into the cramped working timetable of the modern creative artist.”  Just the thing to read on a slow, summer day.

*  *  *

Various links, inspired by the inspiring and imaginative Freddie Yauner:

Two from Vance Packard, both of which I have in the original paperback (would you believe 35¢?): The Hidden Persuaders (1957) and The Status Seekers (1959).

A Nation of Sheep (1961) by William J. Lederer (co-author of The Ugly American), about the foreign policy implications of complacency, lack of creativity, and the power of propaganda. True then, truer now.

Inspired: How Creative People Think, Work and Find Inspiration by Kiki Hartmann and Dorte Nielsen

Jerome K. Jerome‘s Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1886) and Second Thoughts of an Idle Fellow (1898)

In Praise of Idleness (1923) by Karel Capek

In Praise of Idleness (1932) by Bertrand Russell

The Idler magazine, founded in 1993 by Tom Hodgkinson (see below) and Gavin Pretor-Pinne; the title comes from Dr. Samuel Johnson’s essay series, published in 1758-9.

How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson; out recently in paperback (though minus the delightful original cover artwork), and a book for the hammock if ever there was one.  Hodgkinson also authored the recent How to Be Free and edited, with Dan Kieran, the new Book of Idle Pleasures.  This last title puts me in mind of Barbara Holland’s Endangered Pleasures.

**More to come, I hope in this section**

Discover books and read, and learn, forever

Last month historian David McCullough addressed graduates at Boston College’s 132nd commencement.  You can watch a video of the speech or read the text.

I had a hard time excerpting because I found so much it tremendously worthwhile and inspiring, so here is a good deal of Mr. McCullough’s speech, “The Love of Learning” (links and emphases mine, as always):

It’s said ad infinitum: ours is the Information Age. There’s never been anything like it since the dawn of creation. We glory in the Information Highway as other eras gloried in railroads. Information for all! Information night and day!

A column of air a mile square, starting 50 feet from the ground and extending to 14,000 feet contains an average of 25,000,000 insects…. James Madison weighed less than a hundred pounds, William Howard Taft, 332 pounds, a presidential record…. According to the World Almanac, the length of the index finger on the Statue of Liberty is 8 feet.. .. The elevation of the highest mountain in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock, is 3,487 feet…. The most ancient living tree in America, a bristlecone pine in California, is 4,700 years old…

Information is useful. Information is often highly interesting. Information has value, sometimes great value. The right bit of information at the opportune moment can be worth a fortune. Information can save time and effort. Information can save your life. The value of information, facts, figures, and the like, depends on what we make of it — on judgment.

But information, let us be clear, isn’t learning. Information isn’t poetry. Or art. Or Gershwin or the Shaw Memorial. Or faith. It isn’t wisdom. Facts alone are never enough. Facts rarely if ever have any soul. In writing or trying to understand history one may have all manner of “data”, and miss the point. One can have all the facts and miss the truth. It can be like the old piano teacher’s lament to her student, “I hear all the notes, but I hear no music.”

If information were learning, you could memorize the World Almanac and call yourself educated. If you memorized the World Almanac, you wouldn’t be educated. You’d be weird!

Learning is not to be found on a printout. It’s not on call at the touch of the finger. Learning is acquired mainly from books, and most readily from great books. And from teachers, and the more learned and empathetic the better. And from work, concentrated work. Abigail Adams put it perfectly more than 200 years ago: “Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought with ardor and attended with diligence.” Ardor, to my mind, is the key word.

For many of you of the graduating class, the love of learning has already taken hold. For others it often happens later and often by surprise, as history has shown time and again. That’s part of the magic.

Consider the example of Charles Sumner, the great Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, whose statue stands in the Boston Public Garden facing Boylston Street. As a boy in school Charles Sumner had shown no particular promise. Nor did he distinguish himself as an undergraduate at Harvard. He did love reading, however, and by the time he finished law school, something overcame him. Passionate to know more, learn more, he put aside the beginnings of a law practice and sailed for France on his own and on borrowed money, in order to attend lectures at the Sorbonne. It was a noble adventure in independent scholarship, if ever there was. Everything was of interest to him. He attended lectures on natural history, geology, Egyptology, criminal law, the history of philosophy, and pursued a schedule of classical studies that would have gladdened the heart of the legendary Father Thayer of Boston College. He attended lectures at the Paris medical schools. He went to the opera, the theater, the Louvre, all the while pouring out his excitement in the pages of his journal and in long letters home. Trying to express what he felt on seeing the works of Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci at the Louvre, he wrote, “They touched my mind, untutored as it is, like a rich strain of music.”

But there was more. Something else touched him deeply. At lectures at the Sorbonne he had observed how black students were perfectly at ease with and well received by the other students. The color of one’s skin seemed to make no difference. Sumner was pleased to see this, though at first it struck him as strange. But then he thought, as he wrote, that maybe the “distance” between blacks and whites at home was something white Americans had been taught and that “does not exist in the nature of things.”

And therein was the seed from which would later arise, in the 1850’s, before the Civil War, Charles Sumner’s strident stand on the floor of the United States Senate against the spread of slavery. From his quest for learning he brought home a personal revelation he had not anticipated and it changed history.

But perhaps, overall, John Adams is as shining an example of the transforming miracle of education as we have. John Adams came from the humblest of beginnings. His father was a plain Braintree farmer and shoemaker. His mother was almost certainly illiterate. Because a scholarship made possible a college education, the boy discovered books. “I discovered books and read forever,” he later wrote and it was hardly an exaggeration. At age 80, we know, he was happily embarking on a 16-volume history of France. When I set out to write the life of John Adams, I wanted not only to read what he and Abigail wrote, but to read as much as possible of what they read. We’re all what we read to a very considerable degree. So there I was past age 60 taking up once again, for the first time since high school and college English classes, the essays of Samuel Johnson and works of Pope, Swift, and Laurence Sterne. I read Samuel Richardson’s Clarisa, which was Abigail’s favorite novel; and Cervantes — Don Quixote — for the first time in my life. What a joy! Cervantes is part of us, whether we know it or not. Declare you’re in a pickle; talk of birds of a feather flocking together; vow to turn over a new leaf; give the devil his due, or insist that mum’s the word, and you’re quoting Cervantes every time.

“I cannot live without books,” Thomas Jefferson wrote to Adams late in life, knowing Adams would understand perfectly. Adams read everything — Shakespeare and the Bible over and over, and the Psalms especially. He read poetry, fiction, history. Always carry a book with you on your travels he advised his son, John Quincy. “You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”

In a single year, according to the U.S. Department of Education, among all Americans with a college education, fully a third read not one novel or short story or poem. Don’t be one of those, you of the Class of 2008.

Make the love of learning central to your life. What a difference it can mean. If your experience is anything like mine, the books that will mean the most to you, books that will change your life, are still to come. And remember, as someone said, even the oldest book is brand new for the reader who opens it for the first time.

You have had the great privilege ofattending one of the finest colleges in the nation, where dedication to classical learning and to the arts and sciences has long been manifest. If what you have learned here makes you want to learn more, well, that’s the point.

Read. Read, read! Read the classics of American literature that you’ve never opened. Read your country’s history. How can we profess to love our country and take no interest in its history? Read into the history of Greece and Rome. Read about the great turning points in the history ofscience and medicine and ideas.

Read for pleasure, to be sure. I adore a good thriller or a first-rate murder mystery. But take seriously — read closely — books that have stood the test of time. Study a masterpiece, take it apart, study its architecture, its vocabulary, its intent. Underline, make notes in the margins, and after a few years, go back and read it again. Make use of the public libraries. Start your own personal library and see it grow. Talk about the books you’re reading. Ask others what they’re reading. You’ll learn a lot.

And please, please, do what you can to cure the verbal virus that seems increasingly rampant among your generation. I’m talking about the relentless, wearisome use of the words, “like,” and “you know,” and “awesome,” and “actually.” Listen to yourselves as you speak.  Just imagine if in his inaugural address John F. Kennedy had said, “Ask not what your country can, you know, do for you, but what you can, like, do for your country actually.”

The energetic part so many of you are playing in this year’s presidential race is marvelous. Keep at it, down to the wire. Keep that idealism alive. Make a difference. Set an example for all of us.

Go out and get the best jobs you can and go to work with spirit. Don’t get discouraged. And don’t work just for money. Choose work you believe in, work you enjoy. Money enough will follow. Believe me, there’s nothing like turning to every day to do work you love.

Walk with your heads up. And remember, honesty is the best policy; and yes that, too, is from Cervantes. Travel as much as you can, and wherever you go, before checking out of a hotel or motel, always remember to tip the maid.

My warmest congratulations. In the words of the immortal Jonathan Swift, “May you live all the days of your life.” On we go.

See?  I told you so.

More McCullough:

John Adams (the HBO miniseries is now on DVD)

1776 (and also the illustrated version, apparently one copy still available at BookCloseouts)

Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt (11 copies at BookCloseouts)

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

The Johnstown Flood


Farm School posts: “Education Truly Begins at Home” and Teaching, and learning, history with passion

Ex libris

Sadly, I don’t have a color printer, but if you’re less frugal and thrifty than I am and you need some lovely colorful bookplates eminently suitable for young bookworms, head over to thrifty crafter and graphic designer doe-c-doe where you can download a beautiful design.

I love bookplates, probably because when I was young my father made sure that my sister and I had an ample personalized supply from the now defunct Antioch Bookplate Company (though Googling Antioch led me to Bookplate Ink, which carries some of the old designs).

Two more bookplate links, because you can never have enough bookplates:

Stanford University Libraries’ Bookplate Exhibit (with a page of bookplate links)

Free printable bookplates from Anne Fine’s nifty website (which I first mentioned in a post celebrating international literacy day)

Thought for the week, after a busy weekend

The family that weeds trees together (Saturday), and cleans out chicken coops together (Sunday), stays together.

And goes to the community picnic tonight together too…

Sunday garden stroll

I’m fudging a bit today. These are my lilacs, not from my garden here at the house, but from the small field near our corrals, about a mile and a half from the house, where we hope to build a new house in the next few years. When we planted the lilacs — just the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), not any particular named varieties — several years ago when we started shelterbelts of trees and shrubs around the farm, they were little more than twigs. Now some of the lilacs are as tall as I am, and they’ve been flowering magnificently, and in a variety of shades, from white to the usual lilac color, to an almost reddish. The thought of living there before too long, in a house surrounded once a year by lilac blooms, delights me. And because I always need to gild the lily, after building the house I’d like to have a special spring/early summer bed near the house with peonies, lilacs beyond the common ones (gardeners in the U.S. can find a nice selection here), and roses.

Yesterday we again weeded our miles of trees. I replaced some of the little ones that didn’t make it with some rooted golden willow branches. Tom and the kids had been in town last month when they passed a hotel where someone was pruning the willows. My bunch asked if they could have the branches, then brought them home and stuck them in pails of water where they’ve leafed out and sprouted oodles of roots. Ta-da — free trees, and the branches didn’t end up at the landfill site either.

For more garden pictures, head over to a wrung sponge, where Cloudscome hosts the weekly Sunday garden stroll.

Summer links

Some summery links in honor of the Solstice:

To Eat:

Homemade Ice Cream Drumsticks, from Nicole at Baking Bites. And don’t miss Nicole’s Summer Fruit Recipe Index.

Yesterday Tom found strawberries at the store almost as tasty as the ones from the garden, so he stocked up. It will be a strawberry weekend. I’ve also been thinking about the tall iced coffees my mother, sister, and I used to enjoy at the outdoor café at Lincoln Center, and if we’re making fresh homemade strawberry milkshakes, I just might make myself a coffee milkshake.

To Read:

Two of my favorite mystery writers have new books out for summer: Ruth Rendell’s latest Inspector Wexford mystery, Not in the Flesh. And Lawrence Block’s latest John Keller thriller, Hit and Run (out next week). Both reviewed in The New York Times tomorrow by crime doyenne Marilyn Stasio.

I heard Gretta Vosper on a CBC radio call-in show the other week, plugging her new book, With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important Than What We Believe. Sounds especially intriguing for those intrigued by the ideas of John Shelby Spong. Rev. Vosper is a pastor at Westhill United Church in Toronto, and founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity. Not for everyone, certainly provocative for some, but eye-opening and thought-provoking.

I realize I’m probably the last one to stumble onto the news, but I just discovered the other week that James Mustich, of the late great Common Reader book catalogue, is the editor-in-chief of the Barnes & Noble Review, the big bookseller’s online publication. I’ve been having fun going through the lists and reading the reviews.

Are We There Yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations by Susan Sessions Rugh. My idea of a summer vacation has always been enjoying the comforts of home while everyone else clears out, whether home was the Upper West Side or rural western Canada, where for some reason even the farmers decamp for the lake on the weekends. And growing up in NYC, we didn’t have a car and my parents didn’t drive. But there’s something oddly appealing about this nostalgic look about seeing the USA in your Chevrolet back when gas was cheap and families stayed together for the summer. I enjoyed The Washington Post review by Sue Kovach Shuman, who includes the tidbit that “the Ford Motor Company even promoted its sedans as ‘America’s schoolhouse on wheels’ “, but fear the title might be “too American” for our library system.

To Watch:

Mediterraneo” on DVD, sent to us by my parents. Thank you very much! Tom has heard me babble on and on about the movie and will finally get to see it this weekend

To Listen to (otherwise known as music to garden to):

Make Someone Happy” by Sophie Milman

Half the Perfect World by Madeleine Peyroux

Barenaked Ladies’ “Snacktime“, and not just for kids either.