• 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.


Last fall, Tom and the kids returned from an auction sale with an impulse purchase, a bred Paint mare and her little colt. The kids named the mare Joy and the colt Thunder, and all winter we watched Joy grow bigger and bigger. We knew she would have a foal, but not when, and while we don’t have much horse experience, we did know that foakk much more quickly an unexpectedly than a cattle birth. And we’ve all been rather expectant for the past few weeks.

Yesterday morning we were overjoyed but not entirely surprised to see this sight upon arriving at the corral,

Here, you can see the filly nudging her poor, tired mother to get up so she can have a drink, which she did every hour for about ten minutes.

The little filly is still unnamed, and mother and daughter are doing fine. As is big brother Thunder.

Poetry Friday: The rhythmical gladness of June

The kids had their last swim practice of the week yesterday, and we decided to celebrate the arrival of the weekend and summer by roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over the fire in the garden. We sat there, lazing around, trying to keep the dog from eating the hot dogs and watching the flowers (the daylily started blooming yesterday) and the birds (we have goldfinches now), and I read my lovely new book* and the kids rode around in the grass on their bicycles.

And then there was a yell and Davy came running toward me babbling about a baby goose or duck. In his hand was a duckling, a blue-winged teal probably, based on the other ones we’ve found and raised over the years. We searched the area where Davy found it, but no other babies, or eggs, or any sign of a nest. We checked all of the other duck nests in the yard we know of (there’s a reason we don’t mow our grass for most of the summer), and no sign of any other babies. And then another duckling emerged, skittering across the concrete pad in front of the garage. Mystifying. So know we have Jack and Quack in a box in the kitchen, cheeping away. It doesn’t seem to be summer around here without birds in a box in the kitchen. We’ll raise them, as we’ve raised other orphans we’ve found, though usually we’ve had to hatch them first, and then release them before fall to make the annual flight with their brothers, sisters, and cousins.

Bird Language
by Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892)

One day in the bluest of summer weather,
Sketching under a whispering oak,
I heard five bobolinks laughing together
Over some ornithological joke.

What the fun was I couldn’t discover.
Language of birds is a riddle on earth.
What could they find in whiteweed and clover
To split their sides with such musical mirth?

Was it some prank of the prodigal summer,
Face in the cloud or voice in the breeze,
Querulous catbird, woodpecker drummer,
Cawing of crows high over the trees?

Was it some chipmunk’s chatter, or weasel
Under the stone-wall stealthy and sly?
Or was the joke about me at my easel,
Trying to catch the tints of the sky?

Still they flew tipsily, shaking all over,
Bubbling with jollity, brimful of glee,
While I sat listening deep in the clover,
Wondering what their jargon could be.

‘Twas but the voice of a morning the brightest
That ever dawned over yon shadowy hills;
‘Twas but the song of all joy that is lightest,–
Sunshine breaking in laughter and trills.

Vain to conjecture the words they are singing;
Only by tones can we follow the tune
In the full heart of the summer fields ringing,
Ringing the rhythmical gladness of June!

Sherry at Semicolon is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up, a dandy way to celebrate summer’s arrival, with or without ducklings. Thanks for rounding up, Sherry, and also for that peek at your family’s beautiful poetry book.

* There are about 100 copies left at Bookcloseouts, at $1.99 each. Highly recommended at twice the price.

Picturing America

The National Endowment for the Humanities has a new project, Picturing America, in co-operation with the American Library Association.  From the NEH website:

Great art speaks powerfully, inspires fresh thinking, and connects us to our past.

Picturing America, an exciting new initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities, brings masterpieces of American art into classrooms and libraries nationwide. Through this innovative program, students and citizens will gain a deeper appreciation of our country’s history and character through the study and understanding of its art. …

Because “democracy demands wisdom,” NEH serves and strengthens our Republic through promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.

As part of the program, more than 26,000 American schools and public libraries will receive “40 large, high-quality reproductions of great American art and a comprehensive teachers resource book to facilitate the use of the works of art in core subjects”, around August 2008.

This project appeals to me in so many ways, as a home educating mother, as the daughter of parents who established (and still run) on of the top commercial historical picture libraries, as a once and always student of history, and as someone interested in North American education who has been sad to see subjects such as history and arts get left behind as part of NCLB.

Last month, John Updike gave the NEH’s 37th annual Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, and his subject was the Picturing America initiative, “The Clarity of Things: What Is American About American Art?”.  “It was my idea,” he said in the lecture, “invited to give the 2008 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, to use some of these forty works, with others, to pose the question, ‘What is American about American art?’ ”.

Picturing America Picture Gallery

Picturing America Educators Resources page, where you can download for free the full pilot version of the Resource Book (all 118 pages)

Additional resource page, with links to the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art “Exploring Themes in America Art” website

123 Book Meme

Kris Bordessa at Paradise Found has tagged me for a book meme I’ve seen on a number of blogs but have managed to avoid so far. But because my blogging has been, and will probably continue to be, pretty limited during the growing season, I’ve decided to take Kris up on it. I’m also aware that I owe Monica at educating alice a post for the Passion Quilt Meme she tagged me for months ago; do I dare admit that I find absolutely paralyzing taking the perfect picture that sums up what I’m most passionate about, for my children to learn?

So here are the rules for the 123 book meme:

1. Pick up the nearest book.
2. Open to page 123
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people, and acknowledge who tagged you.

In fact, it’s not as easy as I thought. The nearest book at hand is Roget’s Thesaurus and doesn’t have sentences. The next nearest book is one of my newest Bookcloseouts purchases, My Gardening Journal, which is so new that page 123, one of the blank pages for me to fill out in the “Inspirations” section, is still blank. The next book, our latest re-readaloud, the wonderful Log Cabin in the Woods: A True Story about a Pioneer Boy by Joanne Landers Henry (think of Farmer Boy set in Little House in the Book Woods), has only 60 pages.

One more chance then, and a book I just brought home from the the Goodwill shop. This is what happens, I think, in a house with lots of books.

There was the day when my wife and I sat silently on a hill overlooking a fairly large lake that lay some seven miles north of our property and watched a hunter and its usual quarry at peace with each other. We had set out at first light of a lovely spring morning, and had walked along an ancient trail that twisted and turned through a mixture of terrain cloaked by profuse and diverse plant growth. For the first half hour of our trek, we walked through rocky land on which grew isolated pines and spruces and where mosses and ferns and berry bushes grew in companionable splendor; then the land dropped and we had to wade through marshy places and cross ponds by stepping along the edge of beaver dams, our vision restricted to no more than a few yards ahead because of the multitude of sapling poplars that competed for growing space.

From The Zoo That Never Was, by R.D. Lawrence (my copy is Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981; hardcover, first edition). The Zoo is Ron Lawrence’s account of the wild menagerie he and his wife Joan established in 1965 at their 350-acre property in Ontario.

You can find a complete R.D. Lawrence bibliography here. While Zoo is new to me, the kids and I have read and enjoyed Paddy, about raising a baby beaver, and all Canadians and Canadaphiles who enjoy the great outdoors should have a copy of Lawrence’s The Natural History of Canada, either the original or revised edition.

From a post five years ago by Canadian naturalist, artist, and writer Barry Kent MacKay after Lawrence’s death:

Ron was born at sea, on September 12, 1921, in Spanish territorial waters, but aboard a British vessel. That was appropriate as his father was English, his mother Spanish, and to me Ron was a perfect blend of the two cultures, his Spanish temper and romantic flare modified by classic British reserve. …

In 1954 Ron immigrated to Canada, a country at peace, and a country that embraced what he yearned: the solitude of wilderness. He worked briefly for The Toronto Star, but his main interest was in getting away from people and human affairs, and into wilderness. He was, like many Europeans, fascinated by the concept of wilderness still inhabited by bears and wolves and chose a country where there was still such wilderness to be found. He settled into a cabin in the forest at Lake of the Woods, living off the land as a labourer and logger. …

In 1958 he left his homestead and took his sole companion, part dog, part wolf, Yukon, to explore still more remote areas of the Canadian wilderness, roaming far from civilization in the wild places of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, B.C., the Yukon and the Northwest Territories and south into parts of the United States, such as Yellowstone National Park.

For one 14 month period he lived with Yukon in the B.C. wilderness with no contact with any other human during that period. In 1961, he left the wilderness, and as journalism and writing seemed to come effortlessly to him, he worked for a couple of newspapers in Winnipeg, before coming to Toronto, where he met and married his first wife, Joan Frances Gray. He
earned money writing for the old Toronto Telegram, while maintaining wilderness property north of the city. He worked as a publisher for a weekly journal for awhile. His beautiful and beloved wife, Joan, featured in his earlier books, tragically died young, and he sold his farm and moved to BC, where he wrote Voyage of Stella and Ghost Walker.

In 1973 he returned to Ontario where he married Sharon Frise. I can attest that they were deeply and satisfyingly in love, and lived on 100 acres of wilderness property in the Haliburton Highlands in the company of their companion wolves, Tundra, Taiga, Alba, Bridget, Leda and Numa, working to rescue and rehabilitate wild animals (helping more than 900, with a very
high success rate).

“I seek acquaintance with Nature, — to know her moods and manners. Primitive nature is most interesting to me. . .”
Henry David Thoreau, 1856

(I’m not keen on tagging, so if you want to play along, leave a message in the comments, please.)

In the garden, around the house, and on the farm

this past week. I want to participate in Cloudscome’s weekly Sunday garden stroll at a wrung sponge, so below are a few pictures taken in and near the garden, though from a few days ago, not today.

Releasing our seven painted lady butterflies on Tuesday morning,

The ruby-throated hummingbird coming to the feeder off the deck, on a cloudy day, with Virginia creeper tendrils reaching out. I’ll have to spend more time this summer practicing taking better shots of the male and female.

Speaking of lousy photos, here’s one I took through the kitchen window in the rain of the male hummingbird sitting in the spruce tree where we think they have their teeny tiny nest,

In the pasture, several hundred feet from the house, a newborn whitetail fawn. We find one or two a year, and each time I still marvel at the instinct that keeps the baby motionless except to breathe. When the kids and I arrived home on Thursday evening close to nine, Tom beckoned to us to change our clothes, grab the camera, and follow him. He had come home for dinner, saw the doe, accompanied by two yearlings and four small legs, then watched as the first three took off. He followed and came upon the fawn in the grass,

* * *

Today we’re recovering from yet another long busy week, culminating in yesterday’s very long all-day swim meet in the little city down the road. Well, I’m recovering, at home alone. Tom, who in all the craziness forgot to phone any of the museum volunteers to see who could be there this afternoon, decided to man the place himself with the kids. He’s president of the board, so it’s a good lesson in the buck stops here for them, and a good way for the four of them to celebrate Father’s Day back in time, while I am wash out swimsuits, tidy the house, and inspect the garden.

It’s been a soggy week, with rain on Monday and Tuesday, a very heavy shower on Friday with hail, a downpour all of yesterday (nearly an inch of rain in our gauge when we arrived home last night), and yet more at 4:30 am. Now, after lunch, the sky is showing a bit of blue and the sun is trying to come out.

A few weeks ago we had two of our steers butchered, one for ourselves and one for friends. On Monday, the butcher phoned to say that the meat was ready to be picked. Which meant (aside from rib eye steaks on the barbecue for Father’s Day dinner tonight) a quick trip to the outskirts of the big city on Tuesday to deliver two sides of beef to our friends. We had just enough time to dash into the city proper to an unusually nice Sears store, because the kids all needed new sandals, Laura needed a new swimsuit before the old one disintegrated, and we found ourselves in the midst of a big clearance sale (for Sears cardholders, an extra 25 percent off anything already on clearance, for Monday and Tuesday only). On Thursday after swim practice the kids’ were invited by one of the women’s groups in towns to entertain at their annual dinner, so my trio sang, danced, and recited poetry. On Friday Laura handed in one of her 4H binders, a great deal of effort (especially the feed records, an effective way to bring arithmetic to life and to convey the importance of numbers) between two covers. The other binder for the other club is due in early August. She and I also took a number of bags and boxes of outgrown clothing and books weeded from the shelves to the Goodwill shop. Yesterday, they swam. I can’t tell you the pride I feel when I watch all three do the butterfly and smooth flip turns, neither of which I’ve mastered, and when I watch my seven-and-a-half year-old swim a very elegant front crawl or my newly nine-year-old hold his own on the 11-12 year-old relay team. And Laura blazed through the pool with her backstroke.

A a bit of sad news this week, too. Tom came in early yesterday morning from looking after the animals, before we headed to the swim meet, with the news that two of three newborn kittens had been killed, including Davy’s kitten Cougar, pictured here last week. We don’t know whether by the fox that got the chicken, the skunk we’ve seen around, or by one of the male cats. But we did know we couldn’t tell the kids yesterday. I broke the news this morning, before they headed out to do chores. Oh the tears we’ve all shed. Fortunately, I had taken some pictures of the kittens last week, and I’ll have to get prints made for the kids.

Nature writing and writers

Am slowly going through scads of Google Alerts and finding some good stuff.


Another good review of American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, edited by Bill McKibben (Library of America, April 2008). I’ve had this on my wish list for a few months since reading the Washington Post review by Gregory McNamee. The latest review is by Brian Sholis for Metro Times Detroit (the city’s “weekly alternative”), who writes that the new book

represents a Herculean effort on the part of author and activist Bill McKibben, its editor, to bring together the texts most relevant to an audience unfamiliar with the topic. It is matchless in its heft, generous in scope (included are Sierra Club founder John Muir and Marvin Gaye), and, with a detailed chronology in its back matter, serviceable in its depth. …

…nearly all of the writers we associate with the movement, from the middle of the 19th century to the present, appear here, including Henry David Thoreau, Muir, John Burroughs, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez and Michael Pollan. So do a handful of unexpected figures, from P.T. Barnum to Philip K. Dick to R. Crumb. A library that included this volume and Thomas J. Lyon’s utilitarian 2001 book This Incomparable Land: A Guide to American Nature Writing would offer fragments from or information about many of the books important to mainstream discourse on the topic.

Bill McKibben also has The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces from an Active Life out this Spring (Holt, March 2008).

More books on nature writing:

The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook: A Creative Guide by John A. Murray

Nature Writing: The Tradition in English, edited by Robert Finch and John Elder (which I believe is a hardbound, non-college text edition of the Norton Book of Nature Writing by Finch and Elder)

Writing About Nature: A Creative Guide by John A. Murray

Writing Naturally: A Down-To-Earth Guide to Nature Writing by David Petersen

The Alphabet Of The Trees: A Guide To Nature Writing, edited by Christian McEwen and Mark Statman

A Natural History of Nature Writing by Frank Stewart

A Crow Doesn’t Need A Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra, illustrated by Diane Boardman (unlike the other titles in this list, good to use with younger children)

There is, not surprisingly, a website called Nature Writing. And a blog, On Nature Writing, though it’s been inactive since February.

The Library of Congress offers its science reference guide on Nature Study, Nature Writing: Past and Present

Nature Writing Resources from the English department of Virginia Commonwealth University, and also from Grand Valley State University in Michigan

Advice on keeping a nature writing journal, with brief excerpts from The Sierra Club Nature Writing Handbook, via Cal Poly

Writing about Nature and Environmental Issues, from MIT OpenCourseWare

The state of nature writing in the UK, from Robert Macfarlane’s columns for The Guardian: “Upwardly mobile” (September 2007) and “Call of the wild” (December 2003) are two, and his “Common Ground” columns listed here. Mr. Macfarlane is author of the recent Wild Places and was interviewed for Bookslut in 2004 following publication of his Mountains of the Mind.

New to me

A post from the new to me Daddy Types blog came across in my Google Alerts, and I discovered some interesting things:

First, a post about the New York Times article on Chris Burden’s erector set for Rockefeller Center.  We are big A.C. Gilbert fans around here.

Second, a children’s wall unit made from wooden shipping pallets.  Nifty.  Probably not for my living room, but maybe in a garage or shop building, or playhouse.

More on butterflies

The last painted lady crawled out of the chrysalis this morning. We’ve added some blooms — petunia, calibrachoa, catmint — to the mayonnaise jar to keep the butterflies in nectar. The kids are delighted with our success, for which we have Boreal Northwest to thank, especially for their free shipping offer that made the purchase possible. Thanks to Boreal too for the extra two caterpillars — all seven hatched — and the nifty wall poster.

And speaking of butterflies, all yesterday afternoon I was kept company by an Anise Swallowtail, who flitted from flower to flower and pretty much ignored my presence. I first spotted it in front of the house, on the chive blossoms,

Then it flew to the raised flower bed, mostly perennials, behind the house where I was digging and transplanting and watering. It found the irises, new since I bought them last Spring at a church flower sale while the kids had art lessons. You can also see old man sage in the background on the left, and monkshood leaves on the right,

Then it discovered the catmint, which is as close to lavender in look (though not scent, sadly) as I can get up here,

And just this year for some reason the meadowlark has discovered our (salvaged secondhand*) television aerial and fondness for singing from on high,

Some flowers without butterflies, including more irises (tall and thin and short and squat, and all from that church sale),

and columbine blossoms. All in all a delightful Sunday in the garden, capped off with much-needed rain in the evening. And more this morning, enough to fill up the rain barrels and bring some ducks to the driveway. Laura reported seeing a fox scent-marking some bushes in the front yard, too. I’ll have to camp out on the deck by my new hummingbird feeder so I can get photos of the male and female, which seem to have a nest nearby. Oh, and Davy reports checking up on one of our bird boxes; he found some tiny pink baby swallows inside.

(I’ve included this post as part of cloudscome’s weekly Sunday Garden Stroll at a wrung sponge.)

Painted ladies

Our seven painted lady caterpillars arrived several weeks ago, in mid-May. I had ordered five, and two extra were tossed in for good measure. Their nutrient dried up while we were away for the music festival provincials, so we transferred the hungry little critters into an empty mayonnaise jar and, after some research, started feeding them fresh young thistle shoots and hollylock leaves. About 10 days after arrival, they started forming chrysalises.

Yesterday morning, as we were preparing to take off for achievement day, there was a yell and everyone came running, gathering around the mayonnaise jar,

We could have kept it for a few days, but without a decent halfway house, it seems kinder to release it, so we put it one of the pots on the deck, where it blended in quite well,

A couple of the other chrysalises were rocking and twirling furiously as they hung from the cheesecloth lid, but no new emerged ladies as of yesterday evening. This morning, however, there were two more, and in the afternoon, another two. A final one to go, so we are doing very well. Below you can see, though not clearly for which I apologize, three ladies (one below and two above) and at least one chrysalis (dangling at the top),

Chocolate truffle cake with chocolate caraque

Laura’s cake for her 4H baking project,

Chocolate cake recipe from The Fanny Farmer Cookbook by Marion Cunningham (13th edition, p. 565, Family Favorite “Chocolate Cake”).  Decorator’s chocolate buttercream recipe and chocolate caraque (chocolate curls) recipe from Great Cakes by Carole Walter.  Chocolate truffle recipe from Su Good Sweets

It sold at the silent auction for $50, which is earmarked for spending at the dollhouse store (highly recommended, especially for Canadians), so she’s a pretty happy little girl.  She was also commissioned to bake another cake just like it.  Laura tied with a couple of other kids for highest score on the displays and highest price for cake sale, and 4H is done till Fall (hurray!), so we celebrated last night roasting hot dogs at the fire pit and going to see the new Indiana Jones movie. Tom and I thought it was fairly weak — I especially didn’t like all the computerized effects — but the kids certainly enjoyed their first crack at Indy, especially on the big screen.

Happy Belated Birthday, Grandpapa!

From all of us, including Davy and Cougar,

and in case you didn’t notice Davy’s new smile above, here’s a better look,

and Laura and Daniel too.

though all three look as if they’d rather be doing anything but posing for the camera. The boys have fixed smiles, and Laura’s gaze is elsewhere. That’s because what they’re standing in front of is their new old camper, a gift from a thoughtful uncle, and to where they plan to run away and live all summer, and I was holding things up.

Tom and the kids moved the camper to the back of our “100 Acre Wood”, so they’ll be living in a little forested glade. In fact, as we arrived there this morning, a deer ran in front of us and one of the boys suggested the camper would be a good place to sit quietly and watch animals. Here are the kids moving in, though I don’t think you can make out the axe in Daniel’s hand.

The pantry is full of provisions,

and there’s a comfy space to lay three small heads,

Would more could you want when school is out for summer?

Happy Birthday, Grandpapa, and we’ll have a picture of your chocolate truffle cake — from Laura’s 4H achievement day — later on!

Speaking of new books…

Kathy Ceceri, who blogs at Home Chemistry and writes for a variety of magazine, including the “Hands-on Learning” column for Home Education Magazine, announces the publication of her new book, Around the World Crafts: Great Activities for Kids who Like History, Math, Art, Science and More!

As Kathy writes on the website:

Learn about different times and places as you make authentic-looking reproductions that really work!

Over 15 projects for home, school or youth groups using everyday, kid-safe materials.

Reviewing the new chemistry book

I wrote about the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson as soon as I read about it. Earlier this week I ordered it, and a number of other books, and it should be here shortly.

Now this morning I see at GeekDad that John Baichtal has a comprehensive review of the new book, which comes as an antidote to “‘spa science’ and ‘candy chemistry’ and other pseudoscientific pap”.  As John points out,

Today is the DIY era, and we don’t need a set to learn about chemistry. All we need is the internet and the Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments by Robert Bruce Thompson.

In the book’s introduction, Thompson makes two basic points: that commercial chemistry sets are dying, and that science education is getting worse. He tells the story of Jasmine, his young neighbor who told him that her middle school only teaches 15 minutes of science per day. He thought he’d let her use the pro-quality chemistry lab he has in his basement, but without a guidebook she’d be lost in all the possibilities. It was this situation that induced him to write the book.

Read the rest here.