• 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.


I just read Tim Rutten’s “The Perils of Palin” in the LA Times, from which:

Although she supports the teaching of creationism in public schools, [Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee] Palin thinks it should be presented alongside, rather than instead of, evolution. “Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both,” she said during her gubernatorial campaign. “I say this too as the daughter of a science teacher. … Don’t be afraid of information, and let kids debate both sides.”

Well, no. There is no debate, only “teach the controversy” pull-the-wool hucksterism from the Discovery Institute’s “intelligent design” campaign which belongs nowhere near a science class — though certainly in a religion or current events class — or anyone running for US federal office.

Just in case, here’s a back-to-school refresher for all of us, including science students and teachers from Alaska to Hawaii to Alberta, about the word “theory” from editor-in-chief John Rennie of Scientific American:

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty — above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses.” No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution — or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter — they are not expressing reservations about its truth. In addition to the theory of evolution, meaning the idea of descent with modification, one may also speak of the fact of evolution. The NAS defines a fact as “an observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and for all practical purposes is accepted as ‘true.'” The fossil record and abundant other evidence testify that organisms have evolved through time. Although no one observed those transformations, the indirect evidence is clear, unambiguous and compelling. All sciences frequently rely on indirect evidence. Physicists cannot see subatomic particles directly, for instance, so they verify their existence by watching for telltale tracks that the particles leave in cloud chambers. The absence of direct observation does not make physicists’ conclusions less certain.


Poetry Friday: Poems for peasants

I fell off the Poetry Friday bandwagon with a loud thump at the beginning of the Summer, when it seemed as if we were always gone, or getting ready to go somewhere, on Fridays (and sometimes Thursdays). But with school starting next week, I’m ready to haul myself back up; in fact, that’s me above, at left in the pointy hat.

After I’d decided that this would be the week of the big climb, I had a note from Susan Thomsen at Chicken Spaghetti letting me know that the Poetry Foundation article she had mentioned earlier this year is now up at the PF website: “Home Appreciation”, subtitled, “Homeschoolers are turning a million kids on to poetry — through fun, not homework. Here’s how you can do it too.” I’m tickled to be mentioned in Susan’s article, along with other home schooling mums Karen Edmisten and Jenny at Little Acorns Treehouse, delightfully encouraging librarian Adrienne Furness at Homeschooling and Libraries, and Julie Bogart of Brave Writer. Thanks so much, Susan. By the way, don’t miss Susan’s Poetry Friday article at the Poetry Foundation, if you haven’t read it yet.

If you’ve found your way here from the PF article, welcome to Farm School. The Poetry & Broccoli post mentioned by Susan is here. More Farm School poetry posts are here, and can also be found if you scroll all the way to top of this page (well past the bandwagon) and to the right and click on the tab that says “Poetry”. You can also try the similarly titled “Poetry” WordPress tag, which has everything here I’ve slapped with the tag, including all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts.

I’ve dithered long enough, so here’s my poem for the day, which, I admit, I love especially for its first line and the word “earlily”, and which I dedicate to the sweet poets visiting our fields, pastures, and gardens all Summer.

Wild Bees
by John Clare (1793-1864)

These children of the sun which summer brings
As pastoral minstrels in her merry train
Pipe rustic ballads upon busy wings
And glad the cotters’ quiet toils again.
The white-nosed bee that bores its little hole
In mortared walls and pipes its symphonies,
And never absent couzen, black as coal,
That Indian-like bepaints its little thighs,
With white and red bedight for holiday,
Right earlily a-morn do pipe and play
And with their legs stroke slumber from their eyes.
And aye so fond they of their singing seem
That in their holes abed at close of day
They still keep piping in their honey dreams,
And larger ones that thrum on ruder pipe
Round the sweet smelling closen and rich woods
Where tawny white and red flush clover buds
Shine bonnily and bean fields blossom ripe,
Shed dainty perfumes and give honey food
To these sweet poets of the summer fields;
Me much delighting as I stroll along
The narrow path that hay laid meadow yields,
Catching the windings of their wandering song.
The black and yellow bumble first on wing
To buzz among the sallow’s early flowers,
Hiding its nest in holes from fickle spring
Who stints his rambles with her frequent showers;
And one that may for wiser piper pass,
In livery dress half sables and half red,
Who laps a moss ball in the meadow grass
And hoards her stores when April showers have fled;
And russet commoner who knows the face
Of every blossom that the meadow brings,
Starting the traveller to a quicker pace
By threatening round his head in many rings:
These sweeten summer in their happy glee
By giving for her honey melody.

* * *

John Clare (1793-1864) was the son of a farm laborer and an English poet. In his lifetime he was known as “the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet”, he died in a lunatic asylum in obscurity, and today is considered England’s foremost nature poet. His works are also subject to a bizarre copyright battle.

Clare worked alongside his father from a young age, but was sent to school for three months each year until he turned 12. He published his first volume, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery at the age of 27, followed the next year by The Village Minstrel, and Other Poems, both to great acclaim. He cut as dashing a figure as his fellow Romantic poets, but outlived them considerably; however, Clare spent his last years — more than 20 of them — in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he continued to write poetry, including his most celebrated work, I Am, until his death at age 70. He also has a blog, and a luscious David Austin rose.

* * *

Charlotte at Charlotte’s Library has today’s Poetry Friday round-up, where you can find lots of poems to get you through the Labor Day weekend and into the school year. I’m also looking forward to catching up with Charlotte’s Summer posts.

Travelling light

Slow and steady seems the way to start our travels once again this year.

In the past week or so, I’ve seen a few emails go by at online home schooling groups about parents in a tizzy about their families’ first day back to “school”, and some of them are experienced home educators. Once again, I think I’m missing some of the important home school genes — I lost the I-have-to-go-to-the-HS-conference gene a few years ago, and I am definitely missing the planning/scheduling one; of course, I’ve learned from our experiences that my best laid plans get shoved aside by last minute adventures, and that we do tend to work best just by doing the next thing. Prompted by phone calls from guitar and voice teachers, I had thought we’d start up our formal studies, as usual, right after Labor Day — though it seems to be arriving awfully early this year — but beyond that hadn’t given much thought to just what we’d do that first week.

As I’ve written before, the first day the kids get to start the morning by exploring their goodie bags, with fun school supplies, some new books and audiobooks, and such. And then…

Well, I could have planned a full day for everyone, starting with seatwork around the kitchen table — math, spelling, grammar, and such — followed by readalouds in the afternoon. Then I realized, while sitting in the middle of the garden yanking out carrots, that for me planning is much like packing for a trip, or the way I’m supposed to pack for a trip, and this is most certainly a voyage of learning. Rather than trying to pack every last thing in that suitcase — I have a tendency to pack for every last eventuality, and I suppose to carry on the metaphor that would mean scheduling to avoid educational gaps — I have to remember what the experts say: pack your bag, then remove half.

So I’ve decided that we’ll start as we have for the past few years, removing the first half of the day, the seatwork, and once the kids are done admiring their new things, we’ll start off with readalouds. In fact, I think we’ll spend our entire first week reading aloud — history, literature, science, and probably even some math. I’ll add math in the next week, and English the week after. That gives everyone including me a chance to get used to the new schedules; it doesn’t help that next week brings the first music lessons since May, and my first library board meeting since June.

Now if only I can follow my own advice the next time I’m faced with a suitcase.

(PS For others who like to Travel Light — highly recommended.)

The Perils of Progymnasmata

taken too far.

Mickey Mouse and natural selection

Interesting article in The New York Times on science education and learning to talk about, and teach, evolution in Florida’s public school system, and the benefits of learning to pull one’s punches.

And more from Lapham’s Quarterly

“The most successful tyranny is not the one that uses force to assure uniformity but the one that removes the awareness of other possibilities, that makes it seem inconceivable that other ways are viable, that removes the sense that there is an outside.”
— Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind

Just received the latest newsletter from the editors of Lapham’s Quarterly, which I wrote about last week. From which this in a recent “Déjà vu“, the Quarterly’s online feature:

we couldn’t quite keep away from the presidential race entirely, and we pose the question of whether or not Alexander Hamilton would have deemed pastor Rick Warren’s Saddleback Forum, held some ten days ago in Lake Forest, California, constitutionally appropriate.

And this on the forthcoming issue:

On the print side of things, Lapham’s Quarterly Volume I, No. 4, “Ways of Learning,” is due in bookstores and newsstands on September 16. Contributors include Helen Keller, Allan Bloom, Anna Politovskaya, and Stanley Fish, with some of A. J. Liebling’s so-called “Boxiana” thrown in for good measure.

Mark your calendar.

And since I always seem to post something only to stumble across yet another mention of the same person or same subject, I’m not surprised to find that journalism and sociology professor Todd Gitlin, whom I mentioned just in the previous post (look down), is Lewis Lapham’s guest this week on the very worthwhile radio program The World In Time. You can listen to all but the most recent interviews as podcasts and at Lapham’s On Air archives; interviewees include Kenneth C. Davis, Tom Brokaw, Anthony Lewis, David McCullough, Tariq Ali, Bill McKibben, Diane Ravitch, Victor Davis Hanson, Cullen Murphy, Eric Foner, Simon Winchester, and Stephen F. Cohen. And more, many many more.

More on the American paradox

From Terrence McNally’s (no, the other Terrence McNally) recent interview at AlterNet with Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason:

That’s really the American paradox. For example, there is no country that has had more faith in education as an instrument of social mobility. No country in the West democratized education earlier, but no country has been more suspicious of too much education. We’ve always thought of education as good if it gets you a better job, but bad if it makes you think too much.

Similar to the quote from Todd Gitlin I quoted the other month: “Here lay a supremely American paradox: The same Americans who valued the literacy of commoners were suspicious of experts and tricksters.”

Up up and away

I heard a bit about the University of British Columbia’s new tree canopy walkway on CBC radio this morning, in between Olympic and vice presidential updates:

Media Release [from the University of British Columbia] | Aug. 22, 2008

UBC Opens New Tree Canopy Walkway

Today, the UBC Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research officially opened its newest campus attraction, the Greenheart Canopy Walkway, the only treetop walkway of its kind in Canada and one of only two in North America.

The 308-metre walkway, which reaches heights in excess of 17.5 metres, enables visitors and researchers to experience the unique biodiversity of a Pacific Coastal Rainforest canopy, which includes treetop mosses, lichens, birds, insects and other invertebrates, and offers “bird’s eye” views of Metro Vancouver and the Fraser River.

Sustainable construction technology has been used to secure the walkway’s eight platforms and nine bridges to trees in the UBC Botanical Garden’s 15-hectare David C. Lam Asian Garden. Instead of using invasive fasteners that can damage trees, the walkway is secured by a patented “Tree Hugger” system of interlaced steel cables, provided by Greenheart Conservation Company, a private eco-attraction company from Vancouver. The cable system is designed to expand allowing for normal tree growth.

“The Greenheart Canopy Walkway gives students, researchers and visitors unprecedented access to the rarely seen forest canopy of the Pacific Northwest,” says Murray Isman, Dean of UBC’s Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “This unique eco-attraction will be a destination for education and interactive learning, adding to UBC’s reputation as a global leader in research, teaching and sustainability.”

Greenheart built the walkway and its staff will guide visitors through the course in season-specific, interactive educational tours based on the expertise of faculty and staff from the UBC Botanical Garden and the Faculty of Land and Food Systems.

The walkway will be accessible to people living with disabilities, thanks to a motorized wheelchair device that will arrive in September 2008. UBC’s Botanical Garden will use revenues from the walkway to support and expand existing horticultural, educational and research programs.

“Nature tourism is considered one of the fastest growing markets in the tourism industry,” said Ian Green, president and co-founder of Greenheart, which has used “Tree Hugger” technology in eco-attractions in National Parks in South America and Africa. “We are helping to develop viable long-term businesses that support the local economy while also creating sustainable conservation strategies that leave a minimal footprint on the environment.”

There’s more on the treetop walkway here, including some photographs (and hours, fees, and proper footwear), at the Botanical Garden website. What a nifty field trip the walkway would be!

Beware of barbarians bearing lattes

Via 3quarksdaily, where Morgan Meis is a Monday Musing editor:

From “Notes From a Barbarian: Reconsiderations of a canon-less world” by Morgan Meis, in The Smart Set*:

The idea of a “canon” is in tatters. A canon needs an established cultural authority, and there is no guiding authority in culture anymore. There are no real gatekeepers. The barbarians aren’t merely at the gates — they long ago passed through the gates and are comfortably strolling around town. They are ordering lattes at the museum café right now. More honestly, perhaps, it should be said that we’re all barbarians. We are them and they are us. This is a terribly bothersome situation to some people, usually to the very people who still think they can show a difference between themselves and the barbarians. They don’t want to be barbarians. The most succinct response to such people is: tough shit. The task at hand is to deal with the world as it actually is, not as you wish it were. …

So, with the collapse of the canon we’re a little bit lost, drifting amidst a sea of cultural troubles. But we’re also freer. The entire cultural landscape gets freshened up. We get to look at things anew and decide if we really do like them, and why. We step out from under the thumb of an authority that, for all its usefulness, often seemed arbitrary and authoritative merely for authority’s sake. There was power — too much power maybe — lurking inside the canon, with its terrible weapon of exclusion. That power has faded away. We’re alone again, confronting the world like children, barbarian children with only a few tattered and mutually contradictory maps to assist us.

Read the entire essay here.

(By the way, Farm School’s favorite book for barbarian children.)

* No, not Mencken’sThe new one.

Georgian Summer

“Let us live and act so that the borders will not divide people, but bring them closer together.”

Alexander Dubček, who was leader of Czechoslovakia until 40 years ago today, 21 August 1968, when Soviet tanks rolled into the country to put an end to the Prague Spring and Mr. Dubček’s hopes for “a free, modern, and profoundly humane society.”

* * *

According to Deutsche Welle on 21 August 2008,

The Kremlin announced it had begun its first substantial troop pullbacks in Georgia, but army-operated road and rail checkpoints remained in place throughout the areas occupied by Russian forces.

Combat elements of Russia’s 58th Army were evacuating the vicinity of the north Georgian town Gori and would return to Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetia over the next two days, a Russian army spokesman told the Interfax news agency on Thursday, Aug. 21.

The first 100-vehicle column had reached the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali by 9 a.m. Thursday morning, the official said.

Georgian media showed images of Russian tanks and personnel carriers moving north from Gori, but Russian road checkpoints remained in place, eyewitnesses said.

* * *

Speaking with your children about current events? Peter Sís’s The Wall is highly recommended.

Poor sportsmanship

Much easier to reprimand a 21-year-old overnight sensation for celebrating than to reprimand, let alone condemn, the host country for breaking its Olympic promises and continuing to spout the myth that the Games have opened China, isn’t it?

And why, when faint criticism comes, does it come from an IOC spokeswoman and not Jacques Rogge?

A hub for home schoolers

As many of us are starting to think about getting back to school and the return of formal studies, here’s a handy article by Lora Shinn, “A Home Away from Home: Libraries & Homeschoolers”, in the August 1 issue of School Library Journal:

Homeschooling families are everywhere these days. They’re on television, giving interviews after winning national spelling bees. They’re in the paper, profiled after making Olympic trials. They’re on the radio, talking about the growing popularity of homeschooling as an educational choice.

And they’re definitely in your library.

According to a 2003 study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), when homeschoolers were asked about their primary source of books and/or curriculum, 78 percent named their public library. Leah Langby, the library development and youth services coordinator at Indianhead Federated Library System in Eau Claire, WI, says her husband homeschools their two children. “It is nearly impossible to homeschool without that amazing resource unless you have a ton of money for materials,” adds Langby, referring to her local public library.

Consider passing along a copy of the article, with its suggestions for “programming, resources, and specialized services”, to your librarian, and if your librarian is the helpful and supportive type, a thank you note and a plate of homemade cookies (or flowers from the summer garden) might be a dandy way to start off the new learning year. If your librarian hasn’t always been helpful and supportive and your library isn’t the sort of home schooling haven described, well, the article just might be helpful in changing a mind or two.

Hat tip to Adrienne at the Homeschooling and Libraries blog; Adrienne is children’s librarian of most home schoolers dreams, and her first book is the recent Helping Homeschoolers in the Library.  Thanks, Adrienne!

The company of books

I haven’t paid too much attention to the Barnes & Noble website since moving to Canada in 1994, because I rarely buy books online from the U.S. But earlier this year I learned — I can’t quite remember how — about The Barnes & Noble Review. Not only is The Review an

online publication that aims to bring serious readers smart and useful appraisals of current books, music, and films (on DVD), as well as reconsiderations of important past works. It will accommodate many voices, publishing exclusive material from a wide range of established critics, reviewers, and authors.

But its editor-in-chief is James Mustich, founder of the late great book catalogue A Common Reader, which I continue to miss greatly. It was A Common Reader that brought Ernst Gombrich’s A Little History of the World, and so many other delights, to my attention. So when James Mustich talks about books, or gets others to talk about books, I listen*. And take notes. And add to my library lists, reading lists, wish lists…

Some of the others talking about books include A.C. Grayling, who reviews history books; Michael Dirda; Lisa Von Drasek on children’s books; John Freeman; Katherine Powers of the Boston Sunday Globe‘s the literary column “A Reading Life”; and author Dava Sobel.

There are interviews, by Mr. Mustich and others, of authors, from Jonathan Franzen, Salman Rushdie, and Ted Sorensen (on political campaigns past and present), to Geraldine Brooks, Nicholson Baker, and Philip Pullman (on the storyteller’s art).

Great fun is the Five Books feature — five books on a particular subject, and they include bridges, forensics, gardening, swimming, ancient Rome, wine, Paris, baseball, and elections.

And each week there’s The Long List, a selection of 50 books, CDs, and DVDs. I have just one not necessarily low-tech request, though. In addition to the Digg, Del.icio.us, Facebook, Reddit, and StumbleUpon features available for The Review (none of which I use or really understand), would it be possible to have an RSS feed for each week’s new Long List?

I’m delighted that Mr. Mustich has found another way to share treasures, new and old, with other readers and kindred spirits.

* Though I miss the lyrical, evocative, sometimes breezy, blurbs, as much about the books as about how they make you feel. But because I saved several catalogues, I can still go back and read them. And add to my library lists, reading lists, wish lists…

The clearest way

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
John Muir

I’ve been rereading Muir since our friend died last week. Which reminded me that nature writing has been a popular subject this summer, both at Granta and at Lapham’s Quarterly.

Granta‘s Summer issue, “The New Nature Writing”, includes an article by Mark Cocker, which is a lovely wide to tide yourself over while waiting for Crow Country to swim across the pond; I’m getting very close to ordering the book from The Book Depository. Also Jonathan Raban’s article on “the de-landscaping of the American West”. From Jason Cowley’s editor’s letter,

When we began to commission articles for this issue we were interested less in what might be called old nature writing – by which I mean the lyrical pastoral tradition of the romantic wanderer – than in writers who approached their subject in heterodox and experimental ways. We also wanted the contributions to be voice-driven, narratives told in the first person, for the writer to be present in the story, if sometimes only bashfully. The best new nature writing is also an experiment in forms: the field report, the essay, the memoir, the travelogue. If travel writing can often seem like a debased and exhausted genre, nature writing is its opposite: something urgent, vital and alert to the defining particulars of our times.

The writers collected here are all on some kind of journey of discovery, as the best travel writers were, but at a time when so many of us are concerned about the size of our carbon footprint, they have no need to travel to the other side of the world to understand more about themselves and their relation to the world they inhabit. In this sense, many of the stories in this issue are studies in the local or the parochial: they are about the discovery of exoticism in the familiar, the extraordinary in the ordinary. They are about new ways of seeing. Many of the pieces can also be read as elegies: we know how our world is changing and what is being lost and yet we are powerless to prevent the change.

Lewis Lapham’s summer issue, “The Book of Nature”, includes old writings — by John Muir, Thoreau, Henry Beston (who was also Elizabeth Coatsworth’s husband), Rachel Carson, Hitler, and Countee Cullen on New York City — and also new ones, from Frederick Turner on “The Art of Nature”, and Bill McKibben on “Living Deliberately”, among others. From editor Lewis Lapham’s preamble,

The texts in this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly go in search of an understanding of what we mean by nature, ask where to mark the boundaries between mind and matter, body and soul, the human and the nonhuman, between what’s out there in the woods and what’s in here with the endorphins and the organelles. Absent an answer to the questions, I don’t know how we call off the dogs of planetary ruin. The steadily multiplying world population (projected to increase from 6.5 billion to 9.1 billion people by 2050) is likely to impose unbearable burdens on increasingly scarce supplies of earth, air, fire, and water. The arithmetic suggests that we have no way of avoiding calamity without first giving up our belief that somehow there is an irreconcilable difference (substantive and spiritual as well as moral and aesthetic) between what is “natural” and what is “artificial.”

More booms in the backyard

The boys were standing behind me this morning as I was quickly clicking through my Bloglines subscription and I could hear audible gasps and “Put that back up again!” when I clicked on today’s GeekDad post by Kevin Kelly on Rubber Band Machine Guns.  So they were beside themselves when I clicked the post’s link to Backyard Artillery.  Kevin’s not familiar with the company and neither am I — are any readers? — but that didn’t stop us from having a great deal of fun admiring their wares.

Related links:

The Courting Danger page here at Farm School, featuring links to the following books, which you really should have on the shelf before contemplating a purchase from Backyard Artillery:

Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices by William Gurstelle

The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery by William Gurstelle

Whoosh Boom Splat: The Garage Warrior’s Guide to Building Projectile Shooters by William Gurstelle

And this opinion piece from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Why Safe Kids Are Becoming Fat Kids”.  Nothing new except for the tidbit that New York kids have a new risk to deal with on hot summer playgrounds — the rubber safety matting installed for their protection gets hot enough to burn tender tootsies.  You’d think it would be easier to tell your kid to put on shoes than to hire a lawyer to sue the Parks Department, but I’m the wrong person to ask, since I traded an office with a view of the Empire State Building for the chance to let my kids knock out their loose teeth falling from rope swings (which is what Davy did the other month) and out of trees.

So put on some shoes, kids, build an onager, get some exercise, and tell the secretary to cancel that call to the lawyer!


I’m wrapping presents for Laura’s birthday on Saturday:

The Misadventures of Maude March by Audrey Couloumbis

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer (An Enola Holmes Mystery)

Beware, Princess Elizabeth by Carolyn Meyer (Young Royals series)

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Mythology, edited by Dugald A. Steer, from Candlewick’s Ology series

Practical Quilling by Anne Redman, found on sale at BookCloseouts

Hello, Cupcake! by Karen Tack & Alan Richardson

And a new grownup Timex watch, a Sarah Harmer CD, and dolls for her American Girl dolls (both bought on sale the other year).

Still to wrap —  a Lego set because her brothers always seem to get all the Lego. Though I could have done without the bit where Toys R Us sent me the small 8″ square box with another woman’s order of baby bottle nipples instead of the rather larger Lego box, and the subsequent 45 minute phone call to sort things out and have the correct order sent out, and ASAP on Toys R Us’s dime, to arrive in time for Saturday.  I hope.

My idea of a vacation

I just finished reading Corby Kummer’s account of “Dining with Dionysus” from the September 2008 issue of The Atlantic, about his visit to the Greek island of Kea for cooking courses offered by Aglaia Kremezi* and her husband Costas Moraitis.

Heavenly, from the description of the relaxed and relaxing course —

Many courses are intensive and technique-heavy. This one isn’t. Instead, it is designed as a week that will give you a very enjoyable view of a culture, and demonstrate the equation every cook should know: simplicity + necessity = great cuisine.


More than long kitchen sessions, convivial meals on the stone terrace under a grape arbor and long afternoon hikes and boating excursions are the order of the week.

to the description of the meals —

like the lamb chops from a neighbor’s animal, rubbed with a Middle Eastern spice mixture and grilled over a wood fire (always a good way to grill lamb; single-cut chops are the best to grill, for easy lifting and plentiful burnt bits).

(But then I had my sweet sixteen party at a Greek restaurant.)

Best of all, as usual, there is a recipe. This one is for risotto with orzo, grated zucchini, lemon, and feta:

It’s foolproof, and can be adapted to any number of vegetables you find at the farmer’s market or (overgrown) in your garden. It shows how crumbled feta becomes a thick, creamy sauce that absorbs and amplifies other flavors—and what a difference the two cornerstones of Greek cooking, olive oil and lemons, can make to a seemingly familiar dish.

To serve six as a main course or eight as a side dish, heat seven to eight cups of chicken or vegetable broth or, if you don’t have broth, water. In a large skillet, heat 1/2 cup of olive oil and add four or five cloves of peeled and thinly sliced garlic and four cups of diced or grated zucchini or yellow squash. Sauté, stirring, for 10 minutes over medium-high heat; the squash will exude a good deal of liquid. Add 1/2 cup of white wine, a pound of orzo, and salt and pepper to taste, and stir to coat the pasta with oil. Pour in three cups of broth and continue to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently and adding more liquid as needed. The pasta can be al dente, for the risotto effect, or cooked completely through, as you like.

Remove the cooked orzo from the heat and add 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, three tablespoons of grated or shredded lemon zest, and 1 1/2 cups of feta cheese, mashed with a fork (and now: magic sauce). Buy the least salty feta you can find (if you get the feta fetish, as you should, order several of the barrel-aged fetas from http://www.zingermans.com), and save some of the crumbs for garnish. Snip over the risotto whatever combination you like of fennel fronds, fresh dill, and mint. That is, let the garden tell you how to season an irresistibly Greek, and simple, dish.

You can read the entire article here.

* Corby Kummer on Ms. Kremezi’s cookbook here.

I was poking through the upcoming

September/October 2008 “School” issue of Horn Book, looking for titles to put on my “new books to order from the library” list, when I discovered this in the listing of articles:

“Books as family? In a homeschool, they are, Sherry Early explains.”

How wonderful! Congratulations, Sherry! And I am dearly, dearly hoping that since the subject includes home education, dear Roger will see fit to make the article one of the ones that is available free online, for those of us who don’t have Horn Book subscriptions. Not for lack of wishing, Roger!

I’m also looking forward to reading the piece on the Children’s Literature Application Test (CLAT) by my blog friend Monica Edinger (who but for a twist of fate and geography might be teaching my kids in New York) and co-author Roxanne Hsu Feldman.

Home chemistry buffs

in and around Massachusetts might want to be a bit more careful with their home chemistry labs.

And yet in Toronto, a propane factory can be built in the midst of a residential neighborhood with nary a peep from the authorities.


Recent finds at BookCloseouts

Some old and new favorites at BookCloseouts, in no particular order, with the reminder that none of the links in this post are affiliate links.  But I will share the latest $5 off coupon (good until December 31, 2008): coupon number/code: Longfellow; password: bookcloseouts.com

Oh, Rats!: The Story of Rats and People by Albert Marrin, illustrated by C.B. Morgan; hardcover picture book by the well-known children’s nonfiction writer featuring a rather different view of world history. Originally $16.99; 16 copies left at BCO for $7.99 each. If you loved Robert Sullivan’s Rats and your kids enjoyed Mark Kurlansky’s The Cod’s Tale, then Oh, Rats! is for you. Read more about Marrin’s Oh, Rats at Amazon.

Beware, Princess Elizabeth by Carolyn Meyer, from her Young Royals series.  BCO has 100 copies available at $2.99 each. More here on the book.

Nine Days a Queen: The Short Life And Reign Of Lady Jane Grey by Ann Rinaldi. Available at BCO as mass market paperback ($1.99), library bound edition ($5.99), and hardcover edition ($5.99).  I bought Beware, Princess Elizabeth and the Nine Days paperback for Laura, who’s keen on historical fiction.  More on Nine Days here at Amazon.

The World’s Wisdom: Sacred Texts of the World’s Religions, edited by Philip Novak with a foreword by Huston Smith.  I’ve had this on my wish list for a while, and decided to buy it when it turned up at BCO.  One of the categories in the speech arts division at our music/performing arts festival is a sacred text reading, so it will be a useful resource for the festival as well as for our history and religion studies.  More on the title at Amazon.

An Unlikely Friendship: A Novel of Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Keckley by Ann Rinaldi, about the friendship of young Mary Todd and a former slave who purchased her freedom to become a dressmaker; available as a hardcover for $6.99 (previous link) and scratch and dent hardcover for $4.25.  More on the book at Amazon

Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener by Dominique Browning; in paperback for $4.99, in hardcover for $9.99.  After discovering Ms. Browning’s Around the House and in the Garden earlier this summer (part of BCO’s gardening sale for $1.99), I became an ardent fan of her moving, insightful, lyrical writing. And you don’t need to live in the suburbs or garden much to appreciate Paths of Desire.

Tottering In My Garden: A Gardener’s Memoir by Midge Ellis Keeble ($2.99); Mrs. Keeble is a long-time Ontario gardener who rather fell into gardening as a young mother, with great success.  Because her husband Gordon, who died in 2006, was the one-time chairman and CEO of CTV, Mrs. Keeble was able to hire a good deal of help in building all of her gardens.  But still lots to learn, and to enjoy, in this book.

And I’d be remiss not to mention a math/science title that JoVE mentioned recently at her blog Tricotomania:

First You Build a Cloud: And Other Reflections on Physics as a Way of Life by K.C.  Cole (BCO also has a good supply of her Mind Over Matter).  JoVE’s review of First You Build a Cloud.

And a few titles no longer at BCO but worth tracking down:

How Little Lori Visited Times Square by Amos Vogel, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. While this one isn’t at BCO any more, it’s well worth finding at the library, especially for families who live in or love New York. I remembering borrowing this from the Bloomingdale branch, several miles north of Times Square, more than once. And while Little Lori is gone, BCO has several dozen Maurice Sendak books available (just search with his name), from to Little Bear and Chicken Soup with Rice to What Do You, Dear? and What Do You Say, Dear?

CookWise: The Secrets of Cooking Revealed by Shirley Corriher.  If you love to cook or enjoy kitchen science and kitchen chemistry with the kids, you want this book on your shelf. And if you’re a Shirley Corriher fan (or need a holiday gift for the baker in your life), you’ll be happy to know that she has a new title, BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking, coming out in October