• 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.

Poetry Friday: The scary season

by Valerie Worth (1933-1994)

After its lid
Is cut, the slick
Seeds and stuck
Wet strings.
Scooped out,
Walls scraped
Dry and white,
Face carved, candle
Fixed and lit,

Light creeps
Into the thick
Rind: giving
That dead orange
Vegetable skull
Warm skin, making
A live head
To hold its
Sharp gold grin.

From Halloween: Stories and Poems, edited by Caroline Feller Bauer and illustrated by Peter Sis (1989), one of my recent treasures from the library’s autumn book sale.

For more poetry fun, and tricks and treats galore, head over to Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children for the Halloween 2008 edition of the Poetry Friday Roundup.

*  *  *

The kids and I are heading for town late this afternoon for trick or treating, and I’m delighted that we’ll still have the last bit of Daylight Savings Time left to wander about the streets in some daylight.  It’s also supposed not supposed to be freezing or snowing, which is unusual for these parts.  So we’re all prepared for a very enjoyable evening, even before the chocolate.

Our home school facilitator meeting went well, again, and the kids were over the moon with the first meeting of junior curling.  They were the last ones off the ice. Not having been raised in Canada, I find watching curling not quite as exciting as watching paint dry, but Tom loves the sport especially for the strategy.  It’s something the kids can do with Tom, whether they are playing together or watching it on TV, and it’s a lifelong sport the kids will be able to participate in when they’re old and gray and creaky.  It’s also inexpensive compared to hockey, and a part of their heritage.  And I’ll be able to catch up on my reading at the rink…

Next week should be fairly quiet around here, which is good because I’m alternately excited and exhausted by the entire election process.  At this point next Wednesday can’t get here soon enough, probably regardless of the outcome.  I just want the circus to leave town. And then we start getting ready for our NYC trip, so my blog writing and reading will continue to be light to nonexistent…


A smarter defense

Nicholas Burns, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 until his retirement in April, in Newsweek on why “We Should Talk to Our Enemies”:

One of the sharpest and most telling differences on foreign policy between Barack Obama and John McCain is whether the United States should talk to difficult and disreputable leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. In each of the three presidential debates, McCain belittled Obama as naive for arguing that America should be willing to negotiate with such adversaries. In the vice presidential debate, Sarah Palin went even further, accusing Obama of “bad judgment … that is dangerous,” an ironic charge given her own very modest foreign-policy credentials.

Are McCain and Palin correct that America should stonewall its foes? I lived this issue for 27 years as a career diplomat, serving both Republican and Democratic administrations. Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find the real wisdom and logic in this Republican assault against Obama. I’ll bet that a poll of senior diplomats who have served presidents from Carter to Bush would reveal an overwhelming majority who agree with the following position: of course we should talk to difficult adversaries—when it is in our interest and at a time of our choosing.

The more challenging and pertinent question, especially for the McCain-Palin ticket, is the reverse: Is it really smart to declare we will never talk to such leaders? Is it really in our long-term national interest to shut ourselves off from one of the most important and powerful states in the Middle East—Iran—or one of our major suppliers of oil, Venezuela? …

The real truth Americans need to embrace is that nearly all of the most urgent global challenges—the quaking financial markets, climate change, terrorism—cannot be resolved by America’s acting alone in the world. Rather than retreat into isolationism, as we have often done in our history, or go it alone as the unilateralists advocated disastrously in the past decade, we need to commit ourselves to a national strategy of smart engagement with the rest of the world. Simply put, we need all the friends we can get. And we need to think more creatively about how to blunt the power of opponents through smart diplomacy, not just the force of arms.

Talking to our adversaries is no one’s idea of fun, and it is not a sure prescription for success in every crisis. But it is crude, simplistic and wrong to charge that negotiations reflect weakness or appeasement. More often than not, they are evidence of a strong and self-confident country. One of America’s greatest but often neglected strengths is, in fact, our diplomatic power. …

America faces a complex and difficult geopolitical landscape. The next president needs to act more creatively and boldly to defend our interests by revalidating diplomacy as a key weapon in our national arsenal and rebuilding our understaffed and underfunded diplomatic corps. Of course he will need to reserve the right to use force against the most vicious and implacable of our foes. More often than not, however, he will find that dialogue and discussion, talking and listening, are the smarter ways to defend our country, end crises and sometimes even sow the seeds of an ultimate peace.

A refreshing, educated, experienced counterpoint to the “Stand up and fight” rhetoric. And of course, without sowing the seeds of an ultimate peace, there’s always work for the belligerent and bellicose. Read Nicholas Burns’ entire piece here.

Waylaid by pumpkins

I had every intention to keep blogging through last week but getting ready for our giant pumpkin carving party (the pumpkin was big at 270 pounds, though not as big as last year’s, and the party kept getting bigger as Tom and the kids invited everyone they ran into) derailed my plans, especially when the forecast called for gale-force winds and we realized we had to turn the garage into an auxiliary kitchen/living room because the day-long festivities couldn’t be held outside as planned. And all of that bumped into my big autumn housecleaning and getting ready for our home school facilitator meeting (tomorrow), the beginning of junior curling season, two 4H meetings, and a meeting with the director/writer of the new community theater production.

I made vats of chili, dozens of gingersnaps, we grilled oodles of hot dogs, and the party festivities included carving the giant pumpkin and various smaller ones, pressing cider, a treasure hunt, and games including guess the weight of the big pumpkin. Tom and the kids had decorated with square straw bales, pumpkins and apples everywhere, streamers, and the odd spider.  A good time was had by all.

Tom and junior helpers contemplate the design,

The finished face,

One of the smaller pumpkins, carved by someone who didn’t bother with the gutting first,

The big pumpkin on its straw bale, in front of the house. It was a dark and stormy afternoon,

Illuminated, at night,

Rescue, and a moose

I just received a digital card reader from my father in civilization — thanks, Pop! — so I could salvage the last batch of photographs from my dead or dying Kodak EasyShare; I didn’t even realize such things existed. It’s a little marvel — I put the camera’s card in the reader, the reader in the Mac Mini, and all of a sudden here are my missing photographs. I’ll probably post them in a few installments.

The moose we saw in a farmer’s field on the way to the pumpkin festival at the beginning of this month,

Tom thought we should take a closer look, but the moose thought otherwise,

He finally got away from us by running into a stand of trees.

More wildlife, this time a muskrat on the driveway, on its way to deeper water across the road in which to spend the winter. It’s been dry enough for the past few months that many of the ponds and sloughs have dried up.

Still twisting in the wind

Here’s a bit of friendly advice to the Canadian Liberal Party: It’s not about more money. You can’t buy vision with more money. More money will not guarantee that the leader listens to advisers, or has the savvy to make hay out of unforeseen circumstances. Money also won’t buy a party united behind the leader; I could hear Michael Ignatieff grinding his teeth all the way across the Canadian Shield.

Announcing this afternoon that he is stepping down, Stéphane Dion said, “I still think that if we would have been equipped to explain why I’m fighting for my country, what kind of leader I would have been, what kind of prime minister I would have been and what kind of policy we’re proposing, we would have won this election and we would have today a much better government than the one we have,” and “It has been a mistake to go ahead with the Green Shift because we are not equipped to explain what it was”.

By “equipped” M. Dion means more campaign funds. But he had the attention of the Canadian media, and a number of bloggers for five weeks. In our household, we heard news reports just about hourly on CBC radio about each of the parties, including the Liberals. The nightly news, CBC and CTV, covered each of the parties, including the Liberals. All of the news outlets had strong online presences with up-to-the minute updates. Did M. Dion make the most of the free coverage? Honestly, no. Indeed, it was a mistake to go ahead with the Green Shift because the Liberals weren’t able or equipped in any sense to explain what it was.

However, if by “equipped” the Liberals mean instead a vision and a clear message, and the ability to stay on message, as well as flexibility and being able to think on their feet when presented with the virtual gift of an economic crisis and an incumbent Prime Minister who’s not nearly as warm and fuzzy as he thinks he is, then they just might be on to something.

And that advice, my friends, is free.

The value of art, even in troubled times

Carol Vogel at The New York Times writes about lean days ahead for museums, but ends on a hopeful note:

And some directors argue that museums are not simply a great escape, but good value compared with a movie that can cost about $12 and end in two hours. At a museum, many said, visitors can spend an entire day and often take in a movie, too.

Then there’s the more cosmic view. “Art doesn’t lose its emotional or artistic value,” [Michael] Govan [director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art] said. “That doesn’t change no matter what the economy.”

So go to a museum, and shop at Target too, if there’s one near you.  While some corporate sponsors of museums, such as Lehman Bothers, have disappeared, The Times reports that “discount retailer Target, for instance, continues to finance 1,500 free days a year at more than 70 museums across the country even though it reported that its sales are down 3 percent from this time last year.”  At MoMA in New York, for example, admission is free for all visitors during Target Free Friday Nights, every Friday evening, 4-8 p.m.  More Target-sponsored museum programs and schedules here.

Semi-radical, unacademic, and too much fun

The New York Times covers “Anti-Schoolers”, a piece on the growth of home education in the Big Apple:

Benny’s parents [“with two PhDs and an MD between them”] aren’t home-schooling in the traditional sense, by hewing to a curriculum, nor are they strictly “unschooling,” that is, following the teachings of John Holt, a progressive educator who promoted a child-led learning movement that is a wildly democratic subset of the home-schooling world. Rather, theirs is an ad hoc, day-by-day exploration into what it means to be a stay-at-home parent and child in an accelerated culture like New York. In a city where the race to be on top can start in infancy, the disconnect between these parents’ choices and the New York City norm is vast, as Ms. Rendell [Benny’s mother] learned recently.

Read the rest here.

Most interesting to me, aside from an engaging look at home schooling and “out-in-the-world” families in NYC, was the comment from Ms. Rendell’s editor at a “hip online magazine” for which Ms. Rendell wrote about her family’s home educating adventures: ” ‘what got people going,’ was a sense that these readers ‘were being out-hipped or out-cooled,’ as [the editor] put it, that they were ‘feeling jealous on some level that Joanne had the opportunity to stay home with her son’.” Because I’ve found that many of the stronger anti-home schooling sentiments seem to come from those who find that our family’s very personal educational choice makes them feel defensive about their own choices. As Ms. Rendell herself notes in the article, “one’s choices, if different from another’s, can seem like an affront.”

Poetry Friday: Poems for plumbers

and sixpacks and other on-the-(Main)-Street types:

Men Say They Know Many Things
by Henry David Thoreau

Men say they know many things;
But lo! they have taken wings —
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows
Is all that any body knows.

Note On Intellectuals
by W.H. Auden

To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say
Is a keen observer of life,
The word Intellectual suggests straight away
A man who’s untrue to his wife.

And a bit of non-verse poetry courtesy of Frank Capra:

“I don’t read no papers, and I don’t listen to radios either. I know the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber, and I don’t have to read it. ”

Guess the movie without the help of Google and win my undying admiration.

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup, where you can find more poetry fun and edification.

The same, just a bit more so

I didn’t get a chance to write about the Canadian election earlier today, but then again, not much changed. The Conservatives won, again, and it’s a minority government, again, despite the fact that the election was called because the PM called the situation unworkable. Since yesterday I’ve heard the the past five weeks described as both “Seinfeldian” and the “Groundhog Day” election. The Liberals took a bigger drubbing though, and the NDP made some headway, with seven more seats than last time, including the first seat in 20 years in Alberta, and the first in more than 20 years in Newfoundland & Labrador. Was it worth it, financially and otherwise? I tend to think probably not, especially because one of the victims was voter turnout — a record low. Not helped by confusion at polling places over new ID rules, especially at Dalhousie University.

What I find mystifying is that this election was Stephen Harper’s to lose. He was chomping at the bit to call the election, ready with a new warm sweater vest and eager to project a new warm image. For Pete’s sake, he was talking about a majority parliament. But when the PM was handed a worldwide economic crisis on a silver platter, instead wearing that sweater vest day in and day out and setting up a series of 21st century fireside chats with Canadians to show he understands their concerns, he chose to play the aloof stockbrocker tossing out tips — buy low, he urged, and told his mother to sit tight. His loss, Canada’s gain. Now if only we can try to make some headway on Afghanistan, the environment, proportional representation, and a host of other issues.  Probably best not to hold your breath, though.

In the meantime, of course, there’s already talk of a Liberal leadership review, where we get to watch the party implode like an old Alberta hospital.  I’ll just mention for the sake of any Canadian urban elite types reading along that today I heard a couple of older Albertans shivering in their boots discussing the specter of “Ignateef” and Trudeau II.

The one joy in all of this has been watching my children interested and engaged in the process and the outcome, having to pull them away from CBC and the returns last night, and waking up to the news that “It’s a Conservative minority, Mom!” from my not-quite eight-year-old. Here’s to to the next go-round, in two, three, or four years…


Edwin Way Teale, in his Autumn Across America (subtitled “A naturalist’s record of a 20,000 mile journey through the North American autumn”), 1950:

There is a midsummer. There is a midwinter. But there is no midspring or midautumn. These are the seasons of constant change. Like dawn and dusk they are periods of transition. But like night and day and day and night they merge slowly, gradually. As Richard Jeffries once wrote, broken bits of summer can be found scattered far into the shortening days of fall. Only on calendars and in almanacs are the lines of division sharply defined.

And writingly beautifully about the bane of my existence, as I try to get the house ready for our giant pumpkin carving party,

…all the thistle thickets were dusty that day. Here, too, the gray autumn dust had settled. It coated my shoes. It surrounded my feet in a moving cloud when I strode through the dry vegetation. Dust — the bane of the immaculate housewife, the cause of choking and sneezing, the reducer of industrial efficiency — dust to a naturalist represents one of the great, essential ingredients in the beauty of the world.

If it were possible to banish dust from the earth, the vote probably would be overwhelmingly in favor of it. Yet subtract dust from the 5,633,000,000,000,000-ton atmosphere that surrounds the globe and you would subtract infinitely more. You would rain blue from the sky and the lake. For fine dust, as well as the molecules of vapor and the air itself, scatters the blue rays and contributes color the the heavens above and reflected color to the waters below. You would eliminate the beauty of the autumn mist and the summer cloud. For every minute droplet of moisture in fog and cloud forms about a nucleus of dust. You would hat the rain and never know the whiteness of drifted snow. For raindrops and snowflakes and hailstones also come into being about a center of airborne dust. You would remove the glory of the sunrise from the world and wipe all the flaming beauty of the sunset from the sky. For sunrise and sunset, as we know them, are the consequence of the rays passing through the hazy, dusty air near the surface of the earth where the blue rays are filtered out and the red and orange rays pass through. …

Nearly as much as the scent of leaf fires in the dusk, the smell of dusty autumn weedlots is part of the early memories of the fall. During our westward travels with the season I asked many people what scent first came to mind at the mention of autumn. To some it was the fragrance of ripe grapes, to others the kitchen smells of canning and jelly-making, to others the aroma of the apple harvest; to most, I think, it was the scent of burning leaves, but to more than I expected it was the mingled odor of the weedlot, the smell of ragweed and sunflower and sweet clover and dust, the very breath of autumn’s dryness.

(Little pie pumpkins from the kids’ garden this summer)

Harold Bloom’s advice

Harold Bloom, the author, literary critic, and professor, in today’s New York Times, “Out of Panic, Self-Reliance” (emphasis mine):

The similarities between the crashes of 1837 and 1929 are evident again today. I am not an economist or a political scientist, but having been born in 1930, I retain poignant early memories of the impact of the Great Depression upon my father, a working man who struggled to maintain a family with five children in a very hard time. I am a scholar of literature and religion, and would advise whoever becomes president to turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose influential vision of America was deeply informed by the crisis of 1837

Read the rest here. Some Emersonian essays for potential Presidents to read:

“Self-Reliance”, from Essays, First Series; one of lessons that made the deepest impression on me in reading Marva Collins’ Way was her teaching of the essay to even her youngest students (“‘Now’, she said, ‘self-reliance means to believe in yourself. … Mr. Emerson is telling us to trust our own thoughts, to think for ourselves and not worry about what other people tell us to think’.”)

“Prudence”*, from Essays, First Series

“Wealth”**, from The Conduct of Life

Five years ago, Professor Bloom reminded us that the Sage of Concord still had much to teach us; as Prof. Bloom wrote in The Guardian then,

Fundamentally, America in 1860 and in 2003 are little different. Our current bruisers (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al) are distinctly not “frank and direct, and above falsehood”, because they come from the corporate world, but certainly they know “how much crime the people will bear”, and much of the opposition we can muster is, alas “snivelling”. An uncanny ironist, as a prophet must be, Emerson is archetypically American in his appreciation of power: “In history, the great moment is, when the savage is just ceasing to be a savage, with all his hairy Pelasgic strength directed on his opening sense of beauty – and you have Pericles and Phidias – not yet passed over into the Corinthian civility. Everything good in nature and the world is in that moment of transition, when the swarthy juices still flow plentifully from nature, but their astringency or acridity is got out by ethics and humanity.”

Self-reliance has been a popular subject here at Farm School, both our home school and the blog, because I think it’s one of the most important lessons and virtues we can learn ourselves and teach our children. Preferably before we are in dire need of a bit of it. A few other posts:

Back to school

All roads lead to home and hard work

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

Little Heathens and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle in The Christian Science Monitor

More from Millie Kalish

* Here’s a bit from “Prudence”: “But what man shall dare tax another with imprudence? Who is prudent? The men we call greatest are least in this kingdom. There is a certain fatal dislocation in our relation to nature, distorting our modes of living, and making every law our enemy, which seems at last to have aroused all the wit and virtue in the world to ponder the question of Reform. We must call the highest prudence to counsel, and ask why health and beauty and genius should now be the exception, rather than the rule, of human nature? We do not know the properties of plants and animals and the laws of nature through our sympathy with the same; but this remains the dream of poets. Poetry and prudence should be coincident. Poets should be lawgivers; that is, the boldest lyric inspiration should not chide and insult, but should announce and lead, the civil code, and the day’s work. But now the two things seem irreconcilably parted. We have violated law upon law, until we stand amidst ruins, and when by chance we espy a coincidence between reason and the phenomena, we are surprised.”

** And a bit from “Wealth”: “Every man is a consumer, and ought to be a producer. He fails to make his place good in the world, unless he not only pays his debt, but also adds something to the common wealth. Nor can he do justice to his genius, without making some larger demand on the world than a bare subsistence. He is by constitution expensive, and needs to be rich.”

A harvest dessert

Just in time for Canadian Thanksgiving, and with part of the big box of BC apples remaining, I found a lovely, simple, and tasty recipe in the current issue of Harrowsmith Country LIfe Magazine (October 2008). I made it last night to rave reviews, and will probably double it to take to Thanksgiving dinner at my inlaws tomorrow.

Apple Cream Cheese Squares
recipe by Darlene King, Food Editor at Harrowsmith Country Life Magazine; I’ve added my notes in parentheses

Pastry base:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I prefer unbleached)
1/3 cup sugar (I used slightly less, and if you have vanilla sugar in a jar, so much the better, even with the addition of the vanilla below)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup (6 oz.) butter

8 oz. cream cheese (1 package, softened at room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/3 cups sugar (again, I used just a bit list)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
4 cups apples, peeled, cored, and sliced (this worked out about four large apples, and I used Macintosh)
1/4 cup sliced almonds (I used more for good nutty coverage…)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Lightly butter the sides of a 9″ by 9″ baking pan and line the bottom with parchment (I buttered the entire pan and omitted the parchment, because I forgot to buy another roll last week, and it worked fine).

Place the flour, sugar, vanilla, and butter inthe bowl of a food processor and whirl until crumbly (I don’t like using my food processor for this sort of stuff so I just whisked the dry ingredients together and worked the butter, and then vanilla, in by hand; fast and easy and nothing extra to wash). Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the prepared pan and, using your hands, press the mixture into the pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges and set. Remove fro th oven and cool briefly on a rack.

Place the cream cheese, sugar, egg, and vanilla in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth (again, I left the food processor on the shelf; instead, I cut up the softened cream cheese into small bits, put it in a medium bowl with the sugar and vanilla and mixed it with my handheld mixer, then added the egg and beat more until the mixture was smooth). Spoon/pour the mixture over the cooled pastry base.

Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl, sprinkle over the sliced apples, and toss lightly with a fork. Arrange the apples over the filling (it doesn’t matter how you arrange them because the nuts will cover them). Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the apples (this is where I found that 1/4 cup of nuts wasn’t enough and added more so that you couldn’t see the apples underneath). Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool completely before serving. (Though you might like to taste it while it’s still a bit warm from the oven…).

(The fallback camera, a little Olympus FE-210 we won in a raffle, appears to be working, though anything taking with the Kodak is still stuck in there)

Things get more interesting in Canada

with only a few days to go.

Our tone deaf Prime Minister suggested this week not once, but several times — even with the CBC news anchor who asked if the PM if he wasn’t sure he wanted to restate his message — that now is a dandy time to buy some stocks at bargain-basement prices. (Of course, it would also be a good time to assert some of that Arctic sovereignty and buy Iceland cheap, too.) According to polls, talk of a Conservative majority all of a sudden seemed to be evaporating.

The Liberals were feeling rather buoyed by the change until leader Stéphane Dion appeared yesterday on Canadian network CTV, in what is now being called the “botched interview flap”. Immediately afterwards the Conservatives were back to making hay. For those who like to diagram political sentences, here’s the question that tripped up Dion, whose first language is French:

“If you were prime minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?”

Usually, from what was bandied about on the radio news, such interviews with candidates are taped and retaped, with various corrections and questions rephrased, the edits remaining on the cutting room floor. But in this instance the execs at CTV felt obliged to air all of the footage.

According to The Globe & Mail, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe “says Canadians demand that French political leaders speak English fluently, but that English-speaking leaders can get away with mangling French.”  As evidenced by the fact that while showing reporters a clip of Dion’s CTV gaffe, Harper, speaking French, used the incorrect French word for “trillion”.  And, writing in La Presse today, Sylvain Larocque noted

M. Harper a admis qu’il avait déjà eu du mal, lui-même, à comprendre des questions posées en français, sa langue seconde. Mais à ses yeux, le malaise de Stéphane Dion «n’est pas une question de langue du tout». [Mr. Harper has admitted that he has had difficulties himself understanding questions asked in French, his second language.  But in his eyes, Stéphane Dion’s difficulty “is not at all a question of language”.]

And to help mix a bit of cement with that hay, despite weeks of protesting that the Canadian economy is hunky dory no matter what’s happening down south, the Conservatives today announced not a bailout: the federal government “will use taxpayers money to buy $25-billion in insured mortgages from banks to free up space on bank balance sheets so they can lend more money to Canadians”.

Now to decide if Canadians are more concerned about a PM out of touch with their economic concerns, or a candidate grappling with the subjunctive in a second language. Thank goodness for the chance to sit out the dizzying turns of events with some turkey and pumpkin pie before heading to the ballot box.

Poetry Friday: An autumn repeat

It’s been a long and busy week so not only am I late with my Poetry Friday post but I have a repeat of a favorite poem. In other words, I’m choosing “Choosing Laughter” again.

The morning started with the first snowflakes of the season, ugh. It’s warmed up a bit, to all of 2.4 degrees Celsius, in other words, barely above freezing, so now we have cold rain. Bah. In other news, the little chicks we brought home from the fair in late July grew so well that yesterday when we took them to the nearby Hutterite colony for butchering, they dressed out around 10 to 12 pounds each. I’m thinking that chicken pot pie would be a wonderful Saturday night dinner. When talk turned to where on earth we would put 63 broilers, Daniel earned his keep by remembering that he had seen in last week’s paper an ad for a deep freeze, free to a good home. It turned out that the older owners were looking for a way to get the old deep freeze, still in good working order, out of their basement. Tom, a brother-in-law, Davy, and Daniel were happy to oblige, and now I have a collection of five deep freezes.

The kids picked all of their little pie pumpkins, which also grew well and most of which turned orange on the vine, a first for us.

I potted up the rest of my garden plants that I couldn’t bear to let the frost take. They’re on the windowsill of the bedroom now, adjusting to their new indoor surroundings. I’ve started making some applesauce out of the remaining apples. Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving, and Tuesday is election day.

In history reading, we’re up to the Civil War, and I can finally take out the little Playmobil soldiers I bought years ago on sale at a Winners store and tucked away.

I’ve realized that my lovely little Kodak EasyShare C875 is probably broken, with autumnal pictures inside.  Recharged, and then new, batteries don’t seem to help.  I’d been having trouble moving pictures from the camera to the computer, and tried even harder over the weekend so I could share the moose we saw on the way to the pumpkin festival.  No luck.  I have no idea where around here to get it fixed, of they’re fixable, so it may well have to wait for NYC next month.

Here’s part of my Poetry Friday post from last autumn; I left out the biographical sketch, which you can find in the original post.

* * *

I’ve always liked the idea of Barbara Howes’s “carnival hour” so much better than the “arsenic hour” I started hearing about when my three were tots. As the Poetry Foundation’s wonderful online biography notes, Miss Howes’s “verses paint a world of family, natural surroundings, and the wisdom inherent in natural inclinations” (emphasis mine).

Early Supper
by Barbara Howes (1914-1996)

Laughter of the children brings
The kitchen down with laughter.
While the old kettle sings
Laughter of children brings
To a boil all savory things.
Higher than beam or rafter,
Laughter of the children brings
The kitchen down with laughter.

So ends an autumn day,
Light ripples on the ceiling,
Dishes are stacked away;
So ends an autumn day,
The children jog and sway
In comic dances wheeling.
So ends an autumn day,
Light ripples on the ceiling.

They trail upstairs to bed,
And night is a dark tower.
The kettle calls; instead
They trail upstairs to bed,
Leaving warmth, the coppery-red
Mood of their carnival hour.
They trail upstairs to bed,
And night is a dark tower.

from Poetry for Pleasure: The Hallmark Book of Poetry (1960), selected and arranged by the editors of Hallmark Cards, who did a surprisingly good job, all things considered

* * *

Children’s author Anastasia Suen is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at her blog Picture Book of the Day.  Thanks, Anastasia!

Sister Bernadette’s Barking Campaign, or, Hot air, baloney, and twaddle

We classically home educating types are known to enjoy diagramming sentences, so JoVE sent me the recent Slate article by Kitty Burns Florey, “Diagramming Sarah”.

Why do we attach such importance to sentence diagramming? Because, as Ms. Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences, explains, “diagramming a sentence provides insight into the mind of its perpetrator. The more the diagram is forced to wander around the page, loop back on itself, and generally stretch its capabilities, the more it reveals that the mind that created the sentence is either a richly educated one — with a Proustian grasp of language that pushes the limits of expression — such an impoverished one that it can produce only hot air, baloney, and twaddle.”

From the article,

One thing we can’t learn, of course, is whether [Sarah Palin’s] words are true or make sense. Part of the appeal of diagramming is the fact that just about any sentence can be diagrammed, even when it is gibberish. Cats chase mice and Mice chase cats present the same kind of entity to the diagrammer. So does Muffins bludgeon bookcases. If it’s a string of words containing a certain number of parts of speech arranged in reasonably coherent order, it can be hacked and beaten into a diagram.

Once we start diagramming political sentences, the diagram’s indifference to meaning can be especially striking. Stirring words like “I have a dream,” the magisterial Declaration of Independence (a staple of diagramming teachers), bald-faced lies (“I am not a crook”), and crafty shadings of the truth (“I did not have sexual relations with that woman”) can be diagrammed with equal ease. But some politicians—our current president included—offer meanderings in the higher realms of drivel that leave the diagrammer groping for the Tylenol (“Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream”) or the gin bottle (“I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office”).

Read the rest, including more diagramming, here.

And good news — Ms. Burns Florey has a new book coming out in the new year, Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting, on January 23, National Handwriting Day and John Hancock’s birthday (there’s also a new novel). Which makes me very glad I decided over the summer to practice handwriting along with the kids, thanks to my own home educating purchase.

Cybils nominations

Nominations for the Cybils children’s book awards opened on October 1, and you can head over and nominate your one favorite 2008 title in each category until the October 15 deadline:


Easy Reader

Fiction Picture Books

Non-fiction Picture Books

Non-fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult

Middle Grade Fiction

Fantasy and Science Fiction

Young Adult Fiction

Graphic Novels

Even if you don’t have any titles to nominate — and you probably do — the lists make fascinating reading, especially if you’re looking for something new and different to read, buy, borrow, or gift…

Lowering expectations

From today’s Sunday (UK) Times:

Britain’s most senior military commander in Afghanistan has warned that the war against the Taliban cannot be won. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said the British public should not expect a “decisive military victory” but should be prepared for a possible deal with the Taliban.

His assessment followed the leaking of a memo from a French diplomat who claimed that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador in Kabul, had told him the current strategy was “doomed to fail”.

Carleton-Smith, commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which has just completed its second tour of Afghanistan, said it was necessary to “lower our expectations”. He said: “We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”

Read the rest here. The Brigadier-General’s comments as reported and received in Canada.

Squeezing out the last bit of Banned Books Week

Ed Darrell at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub has taken it upon himself to organize an Impromptu Banned Books Week Carnival, with a host of posts.  Lots of great posts, including some other roundups.  And many thanks to Ed and Millard for including my last post of the week.

In this part of the world, there are still two and a half hours left to Banned Books Week — let the celebrations continue!

Banned Books Week: Day 8: The tale of the trial balloon

Banned books came up early last month even before the usual reminders of the annual weekly commemoration, thanks to the Republican vice presidential nominee. Now, for all of Sarah Palin’s faults, it’s worth mentioning one more time that the lists of books she has supposedly banned that are circulating — I’m aware of two — are fake. The first one, making the rounds of the blogs, is a joke; just read the titles. The second one, addressed by the Huffington Post and Snopes among others, has been lifted wholesale from the Adler & Robins “public service report”, as anyone who has checked banned book lists this week knows. Both lists have continued to circulate in all seriousness, which I find rather distressing, from the standpoints of both humor and truth, both of which seem to be lacking.

However, Gov. Palin’s early history as Mayor of Wasilla does seem to have something to do with the rumors’ lingering lives. Back in 1996, when Palin first became mayor, she asked city librarian Mary Ellen Emmons if Ms. Emmons would “be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so”, as reported by by Rindi White in last month’s Anchorage Daily News [I’ve added the various links, and the emphasis]:

According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired. The censorship issue was not mentioned as a reason for the firing. The letter just said the new mayor felt Emmons didn’t fully support her and had to go.

Emmons had been city librarian for seven years and was well liked. After a wave of public support for her, Palin relented and let Emmons keep her job.

It all happened 12 years ago and the controversy long ago disappeared into musty files. Until this week. Under intense national scrutiny, the issue has returned to dog her. It has been mentioned in news stories in Time Magazine and The New York Times and is spreading like a virus through the blogosphere.

The stories are all suggestive, but facts are hard to come by. Did Palin actually ban books at the Wasilla Public Library?

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, The Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her — starting before she was sworn in — about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Emmons told The Frontiersman she flatly refused to consider any kind of censorship. Emmons, now Mary Ellen Baker, is on vacation from her current job in Fairbanks and did not return e-mail or telephone messages left for her Wednesday.

When the matter came up for the second time in October 1996, during a City Council meeting, Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla housewife who often attends council meetings, was there. …

“Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ‘What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?” Kilkenny said.

“I was shocked. Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the line of, ‘The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.'”

Palin didn’t mention specific books at that meeting, Kilkenny said.

Palin herself, questioned at the time, called her inquiries rhetorical* and simply part of a policy discussion with a department head “about understanding and following administration agendas,” according to The Frontiersman article.

Were any books censored or banned? June Pinell-Stephens, chairwoman of the Alaska Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee since 1984, checked her files Wednesday and came up empty-handed. Pinell-Stephens also had no record of any phone conversations with Emmons about the issue back then. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time. Books may not have been pulled from library shelves, but there were other repercussions for Emmons. [According to a School Library Journal article, Pinnell-Stephens, also noted as a friend of Emmons’, said that “[Palin] essentially forced Mary Ellen out … She all but fired her.”]

Four days before the exchange at the City Council, Emmons got a letter from Palin asking for her resignation. Similar letters went to police chief Irl Stambaugh, public works director Jack Felton and finance director Duane Dvorak. John Cooper, a fifth director, resigned after Palin eliminated his job overseeing the city museum.

Palin told The Daily News back then the letters were just a test of loyalty as she took on the mayor’s job, which she’d won from three-term mayor John Stein in a hard-fought election. Stein had hired many of the department heads. Both Emmons and Stambaugh had publicly supported him against Palin.

Emmons survived the loyalty test and a second one a few months later. She resigned in August 1999, two months before Palin was voted in for a second mayoral term. …

From The Frontiersman article from December 1996 mentioned above:

In the wake of strong reactions from the city’s library director to inquiries about censorship, Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin on Monday was taking pains to explain her questions about censoring library material were “rhetorical.”

Library Director Mary Ellen Emmons last week said Palin broached the subject with her on two occasions in October – once Palin was elected mayor Oct. 1 but before she took office on Oct. 14, and again in more detail on Monday, Oct. 28. Besides heading the Wasilla City Library, Emmons is also president of the Alaska Library Association.

The issue became public last Wednesday, when Palin brought it up during an interview about the now-defunct Liquor task Force. Palin used the library topic as an example of discussions with her department heads about understanding and following administration agendas. Palin said she asked Emmons how she would respond to censorship.

Emmons drew a clear distinction Saturday between the nature of Palin’s inquiries and an established book-challenge policy in place in Wasilla, and in most public libraries.

“I’m not trying to suppress anyone’s views,” Emmons said. “But I told her (Palin) clearly, I will fight anyone who tries to dictate what books can go on the library shelves.”

Palin said Monday she had no particular books or other material in mind when she posed the questions to Emmons.

Emmons said in the first conversation, before being sworn in as mayor, Palin briefly touched on the subject of censorship.

But on Monday, Oct. 28, Emmons said Palin asked her outright if she could live with censorship of library books. This was during a weak [sic] when Palin was requesting resignations from all� [?] the city’s department heads as a way of expressing loyalty.

“This is different than a normal book-selection procedure or a book-challenge policy,” Emmons stressed Saturday. “She was asking me how I would deal with her saying a book can’t be in the library.”

Monday Palin said in a written statement she was only trying to get aquatinted [sic] with her staff at the time. “Many issues were discussed, both rhetorical and realistic in nature,” Palin added.

Emmons recalled that the Oct. 28 conversation she pulled no punches with her response to the mayor.

“She asked me if I would object to censorship, and I replied ‘Yup’,” Emmons recounted Saturday. “And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) would get involved, too.”

Emmons said Palin asked her on Oct. 28 if she would object to censorship, even if people were circling the library in protest about a book. “I told her it would definitely be a problem the ACLU would take on then,” Emmons said

Asked who she thought might picket the library, Palin said Monday, “Had no one in mind … again, the issue was discussed in the context of a professional question being asked in regards to library policy.

“All questions posed to Wasilla’s library director were asked in the context of professionalism regarding the library policy that is in place in our city. Obviously the issue of censorship is a library question… you ask a library director that type of question,” Palin said

“Palin also said Monday censorship issues would not involve any departments other than the library.

Emmons said she has been offered help if it is ever needed on censorship issues from the state library association‘s Intellectual Freedom Committee and the National Freedom to Read Foundation.

Palin called Emmons into her office Monday to discuss the censorship questions again.

Palin also attended Friday’s staff meeting at the library, but without mentioning censorship, Emmons said.

“I’m hoping it was just a trial balloon,” Emmons said, “because the free exchange of information is my main job, and I’ll fight anyone who tries to interfere with that.”

The timing of the issue comes at a time when Emmons is trying to get the book-challenge policies of the Wasilla Library and of the Palmer City Library in line with the Mat-Su Borough policy, revised in December of last year.

Emmons described the new borough policy as “a very good one.”

It is a step-by-step blueprint of procedures for anyone wanting to challenge the selection and availability of library material, Emmons explained. “it is a good process, and almost all public libraries have one.”

The borough’s policy was revised mainly to replace the borough manager as the final decision maker with a formal Reconsideration Committee. Mat-Su Borough Manager Don Moore said Saturday that changes were made, with the blessings, after a dispute that was resolved about two years ago involving a challenged book at the Big Lake Library.

Emmons said the current Wasilla policy, which she described as written in more general terms than the borough’s, also worked procedurally in a book-challenge case last year. Emmons said then-council-woman Palin was distressed about the issue when it came up, indicating she was aware of the city’s book-challenge policy.

Emmons said in the conversations with now-Mayor Palin in October, she reminded her again that the city has a policy in place. “But it seamed [sic] clear to me that wasn’t really what she was talking about anyhow,” Emmons added. “I just hope it doesn’t come up again.”

Meanwhile, Emmons said she is working with borough libraries boss Bruce Urban and Palmer Library Director Janice Sanford, in the hope of getting the cities to adopt a book-challenge policy identical to the borough’s.

The Washington Monthly had a few more interesting items on September 13 [links provided in original]:

ABC News added a report this week, explaining that Palin took office thanks in large part to the strong backing of her church, the Wasilla Assembly of God, which, right around the time Palin took office, “began to focus on certain books” the church wanted to see removed from shelves.

as well as this bit in an AP article,

The Rev. Howard Bess, a liberal Christian preacher in the nearby town of Palmer, said the church Palin and her family attended until 2002, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was pushing to remove his book from local bookstores.

Emmons told him that year that several copies of Pastor I Am Gay had disappeared from the library shelves, Bess said

There’s a good wrap-up here at the ALA’s American Libraries. And according to a Sept. 10 USAToday article [links added],

on its website, the city of Wasilla posted a statement asserting that no books at the library have ever been banned.

The statement notes that the library has a policy to handle requests to remove books. During a period of more than two decades four books have been challenged by library patrons, including a book in 2005 by television comedian Jon Stewart, America (The Book), according to the city.

Another book challenged there, in 1997, was Heather Has Two Mommies; the book remained on the shelf. The city’s statement is a good reminder, as well as a primer for any newly elected officials hoping to, learn to understand and follow administration agendas (ahem):

In accordance with the Wasilla Public Library Collection Development Policy, “All viewpoints and opinions on controversial subjects will be represented whenever possible… Wasilla Public Library recognizes the right of every citizen to read and gather information, and his or her right to freedom from censorship by other persons. Many books are controversial and any given item may offend some persons. … This library holds censorship to be a purely individual matter and declares that –- while anyone is free to reject for himself books and other materials of which he does not approve – he cannot exercise this right of censorship to restrict the freedom of others.”

And so Banned Book Week comes to an end here at Farm School for this year. If you’ve been reading along, thanks for indulging me and for reading all those much-too-long quotes I enjoy larding my posts with. Read a book, open a mind (or two), and learn something. Oh — and don’t forget to vote.

The week’s posts:

Banned Books Week: Day 8: The tale of the trial balloon

Poetry Friday/Banned Books Week: Day 7: All the scolding

Banned Books Week: Day 6: I’ll be finked

Banned Books Week: Day 5: Running with scissors

Banned Books Week: Day 4: Boo

Banned Books Week: Day 3: Just lousy

Banned Books Week: Day 2: What big teeth you have

Banned Books Week: Day 1: Banned in Boston

* While one of the definitions of “rhetorical” is, rather aptly, “emphasizing style, often at the expense of thought”, I believe the word the Mayor was hunting for is “hypothetical”.

Poetry Friday/Banned Books Week: Day 7: All the scolding

A twofer for today, to cover both Poetry Friday and my little celebration of Banned Books Week. I laughed when I read that a librarian in Boulder, Colorado, in 1988 had removed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl from the shelf to keep in a locked reference collection (from which books presumably didn’t circulate) because the librarian thought the book embraced “a poor philosophy of life” — what Ursula K. Le Guin referred to as ethical crassness”. Perhaps eating too much candy, or supporting the idea of a lottery? Or possibly the wretched ideas of consequences, however fantastic, for being a great big greedy nincompoop, always chewing chewing gum, being spoiled and spoiling (after all, Veruca Salt and her parents both go down the chute), and of course watching too much television.

Also touching on the issue of censorship — with changes Dahl made to the first edition — and the role of fantasy vs. realism (such as the idea of being imprisoned for life in a candy factory) is this this long and fascinating exchange, mainly between children’s fantasy author and critic Eleanor Cameron and Dahl, in the pages of The Horn Book in 1972-73.

“Veruca Salt!” sang the Ooompa-Loompas.
“Veruca Salt, the little brute,
Has just gone down the garbage chute,
(And as we very rightly thought
That in a case like this we ought
To see the thing completely through,
We’ve polished off her parents, too.)
Down goes Veruca! Down the drain!
And here, perhaps, we should explain
That she will meet, as she descends,
A rather different set of friends
To those that she has left behind –-
These won’t be nearly so refined.
A fish head, for example, cut
This morning from a halibut.
‘Hello! Good morning! How d’you do?
How nice to meet you! How are you?’
And then a little further down
A mass of others gather round:
A bacon rind, some rancid lard,
A loaf of bread gone stale and hard,
A steak that nobody could chew,
An oyster from an oyster stew,
Some liverwurst so old and gray
One smelled it from a mile away,
A rotten nut, a reeky pear,
A thing the cat left on the stair,
And lots of other things as well,
Each with a rather horrid smell.
These are Veruca’s new found friends
That she will meet as she descends,
this is the price she has to pay
For going so very far astray.
But now, my dears, we think you might
Be wondering –- is it really right
That every single bit of blame
And all the scolding and the shame
Should fall upon Veruca Salt?
she the only one at fault?
For though she’s spoiled, and dreadfully so,
A girl can’t spoil herself, you know.
Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?
Who pandered to her every need?
Who turned her into such a brat?
Who are the culprits? Who did that?
Alas! You needn’t look so far
To find out who these sinners are.
They are (and this is very sad)
Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.
And that is why we’re glad they fell
Into the garbage chute as well.”

* * * *

More Poetry Friday fun and today’s roundup to be found over at Stacey’s and Ruth’s Two Writing Teachers. Thanks for hosting, Stacey and Ruth!

And my previous Banned Book Week series posts:

Banned Books Week: Day 6: I’ll be finked

Banned Books Week: Day 5: Running with scissors

Banned Books Week: Day 4: Boo

Banned Books Week: Day 3: Just lousy

Banned Books Week: Day 2: What big teeth you have

Banned Books Week: Day 1: Banned in Boston