• 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.

Free clip art

I like older engravings, so I tend to be rather unsatisfied with a lot of the free clip art I run into.  But the free illustrations from the Clipart ETC website, an online service of Florida’s Educational Technology Clearinghouse (providing digital resources for the state’s schools), I like very much.  The index of the 38,000 or so available pictures is here.

Students and teachers may use up to 50 clip art illustrations “in any non-commercial, educational project (report, presentation, display, website, etc.) without special permission”.



My last post was more than two weeks ago. Since then we’ve been a bit busy with haying, out of town relatives, the fair, and my inlaws’ 50th wedding anniversary celebrations.

I cleaned the house from top to bottom, because I knew once far-flung visitors and anniversary celebrations and the fair arrived, I wouldn’t have the time. It still looks pretty good, and now the kids are allowed back in the living room, preferably without Lego.

Tom’s parents were delighted with their golden anniversary festivities, especially Tom’s mother. I think my father-in-law was both happy that his wife was happy and relieved when it was all over. My mother-in-law and I were in charge of supplying of the flowers, so I was relieved when the big day came without hail flattening my garden. None of the festivities were to my taste, but then neither of my two small weddings — both to Tom, one in our cow pasture behind the house and the other in my parents’ West Indian cactus garden — fit the traditional North American model, mainly because I couldn’t see spending so much money, and time, arranging something that would have me too frazzled on the big day to enjoy it much; speaking of which, I had a good laugh reading this. I told Tom that when and if we ever make it to our 50th anniversary (he’ll be 85 and I’ll be 80 — we got a much later start than most people around here), I’d like dinner at a good restaurant with the children and the grandchildren, and then he can take me out dancing.

We spent time with family from Toronto and Germany, and the kids and I especially enjoyed getting to know our distant European cousins, who spoke better English, and drank less wine and beer, than expected. The only hitch in the proceedings was the afternoon and evening they spent at our place, touring the farm and having dinner. In between the hamburgers on the grill and marshmallows at the fire pit, one of Rick’s Canadian cousins tossed Davy like a softball and broke his arm. We didn’t know at the time (9:30 in the evening) that the arm was broken, but it was a good guess; we confirmed with the hospital in town that the earliest we could come in for an x-ray was the next morning at 8:30. Since I was busy working at the fairgrounds in the exhibit hall the next day, Tom took Davy for his x-ray and cast. Davy’s been a tough little kid, no tears except when he thought he wouldn’t be able to go on the rides at the fair (no problem once I signed a waiver at the carnies’ “guest relations” trailer). Two weeks and two days to go in the cast, which has so many signatures you can barely see the fiberglass.

Voles invaded my two raised bed gardens. I made the discovery when I noticed that my clematis, draped all along the trellis and laden with blooms about to open, looked droopy. The reason — a wretched vole had chewed through the stems two inches above the ground. Looking around, I saw that many of the evening scented stocks had been similarly sawed off above-ground, and some wilted looking beets had been chewed off below ground. I armed the kids with mouse traps and brought one of the cats from our corrals, and the four of them have made a good dent in the vole population — 12 down, and no apologies from me.

The fair. I spent last Monday and Wednesday working at the fair grounds, and then the fair itself was this past Thursday-Saturday. Bright and early Thursday we delivered the kids’ hens for the chicken show (they won second place in the dual-purpose breed category, though not Grand Champion or Reserve Grand champion), then drove Tom over to the parade grounds then back to the traditional annual extended family viewing spot, then picked Tom up and hurried to the lunch for parade participants, then to the chicken show. Then off to the exhibit hall to see how everyone did (quite well, especially Davy and Tom in the agricultural divisions, Davy in the Lego division, and Laura and Daniel in the art divisions). Bright and early Friday we got the kids in the truck and their cattle in the trailer (Laura’s cow-calf pair and the boys’ two heifer calves) for the junior beef show; the three kids brought home six ribbons, two firsts (including Laura’s for best two-year old cow-calf pair, and Daniel’s for best peewee [nine and under] showmanship), three seconds, and a third, and Davy did a marvelous job handling his calf despite the cast. After that it was time for the rides, and I found a bench in the shade along the midway and sat there with my book while the kids and their friends raced from ride to ride. And surprisingly, Davy never lost his copy of the release form, which had to be shown to the ride operators who asked for it. Dinner, the grandstand show, and then we pried the kids away from the midway around 11 pm. Saturday I managed to do a few loads of laundry and watered the garden before we headed back in. Oh, and at the end of each day, as we’ve done for the past few years, we collected the baby chicks hatched out as part of the incubation display, and brought them home.

And the days at the fair were hot, hot and sunny. So much so that thunderheads gathered in the sky Saturday afternoon, and yesterday we had prolonged thundershowers and lightning.

Yesterday, Rick’s sister and her family came over for brunch before their return (today) to Toronto. We ate pancakes and pineapple and caught up on the latest news, then showed them the filly, kittens, and chicks. Then we headed to town to work at the museum, which is staffed entirely by volunteers. No-one else could be found, so we were it. Not a bad gig for the afternoon, though, especially with no visitors to worry about; I sat outside on the front steps in the shade with the aforementioned book and a glass of water and had a dandy time.

Now we rest and recuperate and enjoy some quiet time. I have the garden to look after — I picked a big bowl of string beans, green and royal burgundy, this morning, and have raspberries to pick when today’s showers stop. The rest of the garden will be ready soon, and more wild berries too; the kids have already been picking saskatoons. And Laura to get ready for a week of sleepaway 4H camp in mid-August (another NY Times article that had me laughing is here). So I can’t promise to resume regular blogging any time soon. But I’ll try, at least ’til I get sidetracked by the next thing that needs doing…

Beyond the box

For many of us, choosing to educate our children at home is thinking outside the box, one reason why we tend to be regarded as odd by those still in the box.

So I was interested to read an article in today’s New York Times, “Unboxed: If You’re Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow” (registration is free or use Bug Me Not). I’m always glad to have my own anecdotal impressions supported by several decades of research. Here’s an excerpt from Janet Rae-Dupree’s article (links are mine, not the Times‘):

Why do some people reach their creative potential in business while other equally talented peers don’t?

After three decades of painstaking research, the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck believes that the answer to the puzzle lies in how people think about intelligence and talent. Those who believe they were born with all the smarts and gifts they’re ever going to have approach life with what she calls a “fixed mind-set.” Those who believe that their own abilities can expand over time, however, live with a “growth mind-set.”

Guess which ones prove to be most innovative over time.

“Society is obsessed with the idea of talent and genius and people who are ‘naturals’ with innate ability,” says Ms. Dweck, who is known for research that crosses the boundaries of personal, social and developmental psychology.

“People who believe in the power of talent tend not to fulfill their potential because they’re so concerned with looking smart and not making mistakes. But people who believe that talent can be developed are the ones who really push, stretch, confront their own mistakes and learn from them.”

In this case, nurture wins out over nature just about every time.

While some managers apply these principles every day, too many others instead believe that hiring the best and the brightest from top-flight schools guarantees corporate success.

The problem is that, having been identified as geniuses, the anointed become fearful of falling from grace. “It’s hard to move forward creatively and especially to foster teamwork if each person is trying to look like the biggest star in the constellation,” Ms. Dweck says.

In her 2006 book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, she shows how adopting either a fixed or growth attitude toward talent can profoundly affect all aspects of a person’s life, from parenting and romantic relationships to success at school and on the job.

Read the rest of the article here.

* * *

I can’t apologize for not posting much lately. I have lovely new outdoor furniture from Sears (dark brown wicker, resin over metal, with soft cushions that can be left out in the rain that continues to shower us almost daily). We’re trying to get the hay baled in between those showers. The kids have had friends over, and have discovered an old abandoned fort in the woods behind a neighbor’s house. With Laura’s help, the boys are getting their calves halter-broke, to show at the fair. We are eating from the garden, salad and Swiss chard and spinach, usually fresh in salads, and from the freezer — Creamsicles and Fudgesicles. And the saskatoons are early, so there’s berry-picking as well. I’ve been tidying madly, even defrosting the old upright all-freezer in the basement, because once extended family starts arriving on Thursday and we start having 50th wedding anniversary, family reunion, and museum parties and getting ready for going to the fair, my untended house will need all the help it can get just to coast. And for some of the new arrivals, the kids and I are brushing up our German. Unfortunately, my Oma never taught me how to say “think outside the box” auf Deutsch, but I do remember a bit beyond auf Wiedersehen, though my ders, dies, and dases seem to be rather jumbled.

(And danke sehr to my father who sent along Cranford, part one of which I enjoyed highly until much too late last night.)

We cannot brag

What a country. And not quite a week after Canada Day.

Today, Monday, the Ontario government announced it would award Steven Truscott a $6.5 million compensation payment. In 1959 — 49 long years ago — the 14-year-old boy was wrongfully convicted of the murder of a schoolmate and sentenced to hang (the jury took less than four hours to convict him); he was the youngest person ever sentenced to death in Canada. In 1960, the sentence was commuted to life in prison, and he was released on parole in 1969. While in prison, Mr. Truscott was given LSD by psychiatrists to solicit a confession.

Not until 2007, 48 years after Mr. Truscott’s trial, did the Ontario Court of Appeal declare the conviction a miscarriage of justice and acquitted Mr. Truscott of the murder. The attorney general of Ontario apologized on behalf of the government.

In addition to the $6.5 million, Mr. Truscott’s wife Marlene will receive $100,000 for income lost while working ceaselessly to clear her husband’s name. Which, if you were curious, works out to slightly more than 10.3 dollars a day, not including weekends, and not including her efforts before they were married in 1970.

In the gallery of Canada’s wrongfully convicted, Donald Marshall, convicted at age 17 of murder, received a settlement of $1.5 million after spending 11 years in jail.

Thomas Sophonow was awarded $2.5 million after spending four years in prison.

David Milgaard spent 23 years in prison and was awarded $10 million.

Maher Arar received $10.5 million in compensation and an apology from the federal government in 2006 after he was deported to Syria by U.S authorities on his way home to Canada, imprisoned for 374 days, and tortured, under the American policy of extraordinary rendition.

In thoroughly unrelated Canadian news, the national sport’s annual free agent carnival was held last week.

Marian Hossa was signed to a one-year, $7.4 million deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Brian Campbell signed a contract with the Chicago Blackhawks for more than $56 million over eight years.

Wade Redden reportedly signed with the New York Rangers for six years for an average of around $6.5 million a year.

Michal Rozsival re-signed with the Rangers, a four-year contract worth $20 million, up considerably from the $2.3-million he earned last season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed Ryan Malone to a seven-year contract apparently worth more than $31 million.

In the autumn of 1959, a few days after Steven Truscott was sentenced to be hanged, the late great Pierre Berton, then working as a columnist for The Toronto Star, wrote Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old. The poem, unlike the hurried trial, caused a public outcry and the following year helped lead to the sentence’s commutation to life in prison.

Requiem for a Fourteen-Year-Old
by Pierre Berton

In Goderich town
The Sun abates
December is coming
And everyone waits:
In a small, dark room
On a small, hard bed
Lies a small, pale boy
Who is not quite dead.

The cell is lonely
The cell is cold
October is young
But the boy is old;
Too old to cringe
And too old to cry
Though young —
But never too young to die.

It’s true enough
That we cannot brag
Of a national anthem
Or a national flag
And though our Vision
Is still in doubt
At last we’ve something to boast about:
We’ve a national law
In the name of the Queen
To hang a child
Who is just fourteen.

The law is clear:
It says we must
And in this country
The law is just
Sing heigh! Sing ho!
For justice blind
Makes no distinction
Of any kind;
Makes no allowances for sex or years,
A judge’s feelings, a mother’s tears;
Makes no allowances for age or youth
Just eye for eye and tooth for tooth
Tooth for tooth and eye for eye:
A child does murder
A child must die.

Don’t fret … don’t worry …
No need to cry
We’ll only pretend he’s going to die;
We’re going to reprieve him
Bye and bye.

We’re going to reprieve him
(We always do),
But it wouldn’t be fair
If we told him, too
So we’ll keep the secret
As long as we can
And hope that he’ll take it
Like a man.

And when we’ve told him
It’s just “pretend”
And he won’t be strung
At a noose’s end,
We’ll send him away
And, like as not
Put him in prison
And let him rot.

The jury said “mercy”
And we agree —
O, merciful jury:
You and me.

Oh death can come
And death can go
Some deaths are sudden
And some are slow;
In a small cold cell
In October mild
Death comes each day
To a frightened child.

So muffle the drums and beat them slow,
Mute the strings and play them low,
Sing a lament and sing it well,
But not for the boy in the cold, dark cell,
Not for the parents, trembling-lipped,
Not for the judge who followed the script;
Save your prayers for the righteous ghouls
In that Higher Court who write the rules
For judge and jury and hangman too:
The Court composed of me and you.

In Goderich town
The trees turn red
The limbs go bare
As their leave are bled
And the days tick by
As the sky turns lead
For the small, scared boy
On the small, stark bed
A fourteen-year-old
Who is not quite dead.


We had the radio on in the truck as we were finishing up chores and heading home for lunch today when we heard a story on CBC about Louison Fosseneuve, aka Captain Shot — “At six foot three, with hawk-like features, scraggy beard, and piercing eyes, he looked more like a gunslinger from the American wild west than the king of the Athabasca scowmen.”  That got the kids’ attention right away.

What got mine was a comment about the Captain by none other than Emily Murphy, the first woman magistrate in the British Empire and one of the Famous Five.  As she wrote of their 1912 meeting in her book Seeds of Pine (under her pen name, Janey Canuck):

“Antoine presents me to Captain Shot, an Indian who has been on this river for forty-eight years. The captain is seventy-three* . … I say that Antoine “presents me” and I say it advisedly, for the North levels people, by which is meant the primitive north where they live with nature. In this environment, the man who builds boats and supplies food or fuel, is the superior of the man or woman who writes, or pronounces theories. I may be able to hoodwink the people up south as to my importance in our community, but it is different here.”

You can read more about Captain Shot and his adventures here at the Lac La Biche Mission Historical Society website, which is a particularly comprehensive, well researched, and well written source of provincial history.

To really love this country

My mother reminded me this afternoon about a very good Canada Day column by Judith Timson in yesterday’s Globe & Mail:

Teach your kids to really love this country
by Judith Timson

On this Canada Day, I wonder: How do you instill a love of country in your children that isn’t hand-over-heart rote patriotism? How do you help them understand they are living in a paradise of benefits and beauty? Or make them want to, as grown-ups, become good citizens and give back to their country?

You start by stepping outside.

American psychologist and author Mary Pipher (The Shelter of Each Other) says that as grown-ups we tend to remember three things about our childhood: special meals, vacations and time spent outdoors. She counsels families who want to stay intact and healthy to get outside together, whether it’s for a walk, a picnic or a camping trip.

It’s also the best way to instill in kids a love of their country.

When I think of how we experienced Canada with our children – now grown and off doing their own thing – certain indelible and nostalgic scenes roll out in my mind like a well-worn travelogue.

There was that glorious whale-watching excursion on the Bay of Fundy, a cold sunny day in which the kids, too stubborn to have listened to us about bringing warm clothes, ended up going down in the hold and borrowing old — smelly, they said — woollen hats and sweaters, finally warming up as we held our breath and waited for the sight of a whale.

When a magnificent right whale burst out of the water, the sight wiped out any carapace of coolness they had carefully constructed and replaced it with pure awe. Score one for Canada.

There was, clear across the country, that road trip to Tofino, B.C., where we saw a black bear by the side of the road amid the ancient tree trunks and tiptoed around mounds of seaweed and shells on an uninhabited beach. We were at the far edge of Canada, a wild place, but we had somehow ended up in a goofy highway motel, lending a cheesy truck stop ethos to the whole trip, despite the natural beauty. The kids loved it. Score another one for Canada.

There have been two cottages — a rental in Haliburton, Ont., where for many summers we almost took for granted glorious sunsets over the lake and the loons calling to each other. One adventuresome night we drove kilometres to the Algonquin Park wolf howl, where hundreds of adults and children stood outside their parked cars and listened intently as human wolf howlers tried to elicit the real thing. Of course we swear we heard those wolves, just as more than 126,000 other people have sworn they have since the 1960s. According to the park’s website, since 1990 there has been a success rate of 88 per cent of people hearing wolves. In other words, not perfect, but pretty darn close. How Canadian is that?

And finally, the extended family paradise – a log cabin in the Laurentians on the smallest of lakes where our children spent part of each summer with cousins, aunts and uncles and grandparents, going into the local small town where they had to practise their French and where they learned what real poutine tasted like. They still feel a sense of belonging to this place that will never fade.

These are our family’s sterling outdoor Canadian moments, countervailed as every family well knows by the hideous ones, for instance the three-day Temagami camping trip in Ontario during which no one seemed to speak a civil word through the rain, and a holiday in Vancouver during which the kids, to my chagrin, thought sitting inside on a gorgeous day watching Ferris Bueller’s Day Off was a perfect West Coast activity

We have raised two different kids — one who is unregenerately urban and the other who balances her city student life with the deep need to work up North every summer.

I’ve never heard either of my children profess any overt love of country or express how it feels to them to be Canadian.

But I’ve heard each of them relay to me in minute detail their memories of these outdoor experiences. When they do, I realize they are talking a particular type of patriotic shorthand for being a part of Canada and loving it.

This country is so vast and so beautiful that I have profound regrets over what we didn’t show them, restricted by those cottage interludes, summer camp and by our own challenges and imaginations.

We didn’t show them (or ourselves for that matter) Newfoundland, and neither of our kids has seen a prairie field or the wonders of Alberta’s Banff or Lake Louise.

Yet as time naturally ran out on the childhood summer excursions, I came to the conclusion that maybe the very best way to instill a love of Canada in your children is to leave them with their childhood memories and the conviction and the curiosity that there is so much more to see.

It’s all up to them now.

I.N.K.’s Spectacular Fifteen Book Blast Giveaway

The bloggers at I.N.K. — Interesting Nonfiction for Kids — who also happen to be the authors of some of the most interesting nonfiction for kids nowadays* have come up with a dandy way to begin the school year in the autumn. The group at I.N.K. is giving away 15 autographed illustrated nonfiction books to one lucky winner. The titles include a variety of subjects, from sports, science, natural history, biography, math, history, geography, and poetry. All of the details are here at this post, and I confirmed with I.N.K. founder and contest organizer Linda Salzman that Canadians are indeed eligible (thank you, Linda and I.N.K. for your generous rules!).

An overview of the rules:

We’d love to hear from teachers, librarians, homeschoolers, writers, or anyone else from across the country [U.S. and Canada] who is promoting nonfiction.

Here are the rules. Each entry must consist of two parts:

1. In one sentence or less, tell us why you read the I.N.K. blog.

2. In as much space as you need, describe what you’ve done to support and encourage nonfiction in your classroom, library, home, or community. Photos are a plus.

We will select the winner based on the strongest, most original and all encompassing approach to getting nonfiction noticed.

All entries should be submitted by email to: interestingnonfictionforkids at gmail dot com. We will send you an email letting you know we’ve received your entry.

Entering the contest implies your consent to use the contents of your entry on our blog for promotional purposes.

The deadline to enter is Friday, September 5th. The winner will be announced on the I.N.K. blog.

Talk about starting the school year off with a bang! And here are the 15 books to be won:

Jennifer Armstrong‘s title of the winner’s choice

Don Brown‘s title of the winner’s choice

Vicki Cobb‘s We Dare You! Hundreds of Science Bets, Challenges, and Experiments You Can Do at Home, with Kathy Darling (Skyhorse Publishing, 2008)

Sneed Collard‘s title of the winner’s choice; his Pocket Babies and Other Amazing Marsupials was a 2007 Cybils nominee for middle grade/young adult nonfiction

Susan E. Goodman‘s See How They Run: Campaign Dreams, Election Schemes, and the Race to the White House (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Jan Greenberg’s Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World (Abrams, 2008)

Steve Jenkins’s Sisters and Brothers: Sibling Relationships in the Animal World, written with Robin Page (Houghton Mifflin, 2008)

Kathleen Krull‘s The Road to Oz: Twists, Turns, Bumps, and Triumphs in the Life of L. Frank Baum (Knopf, 2008) or any other title of the winner’s choice

Loreen Leedy‘s Missing Math: A Number Mystery (Marshall Cavendish, 2008)

Sue Macy‘s Swifter, Higher, Stronger: A Photographic History of the Summer Olympics (National Geographic, 2008 Edition)

April Pulley Sayre‘s Trout Are Made of Trees (Charlesbridge, 2008)

David M. Schwartz‘s Where in the Wild?: Camouflaged Creatures Concealed … and Revealed with Yael Schy and Dwight Kuhn (Tricycle Press, 2007); a 2007 Cybils nonfiction picture book finalist.

Tanya Lee Stone‘s Elizabeth Leads the Way: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Right to Vote (Henry Holt, 2008)

Gretchen Woelfle‘s Jeannette Rankin: Political Pioneer (Calkins Creek, 2007); also a 2007 Cybils nominee for middle grade/young adult nonfiction

Karen Romano Young‘s Across the Wide Ocean: The Why, How, and Where of Navigation for Humans and Animals at Sea (Harpercollins, 2007); another 2007 Cybils nominee for middle grade/young adult nonfiction

In our home, and especially because we home educate, we rely tremendously on high quality children’s nonfiction books.  We use textbooks mainly as a last resort, and when we do they certainly can’t convey the thoughts, ideas, information, and knowledge that a well-written, often beautifully illustrated children’s trade book can.  What continues to astound me monthly as new titles come out is the nearly endless list of subjects covered by children’s nonfiction books.

* The I.N.K.lings include Susan E. Goodman, Jan Greenberg, Don Brown, April Pulley Sayre, David Schwartz, Sneed B. Collard III, Sue Macy, Anna M. Lewis, Tanya Lee Stone, Steve Jenkins, Loreen Leedy, Kelly Fineman, Dorothy Patent, Kathleen Krull, Karen Romano Young, Jennifer Armstrong, Vicki Cobb, Linda Salzman, and Gretchen Woelfle.