• 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.

The blossomest blossom

When I was in New York in November, I found the following one Sunday in a New York Times interview with Colin Firth.  I clipped the paragraph and have been carrying it around in my wallet ever since.

[Firth] mentioned a famous television interview in which the British playwright Dennis Potter, dying of cancer, marveled at the flower he could see from his window.  “It is the whitest, frothiest blossomest blossom that there ever could be,” Mr. Potter said then.  “Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were.”

The interview, with Melvyn Bragg, aired in April 1994, several months after Potter was diagnosed and several months before he died.  Here’s the original quote,

Below my window in Ross, when I’m working in Ross, for example, there at this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west early. It’s a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying “Oh that’s nice blossom” … last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you; you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance … not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it.

Colin Firth reminds me, because he starred in the film adaptation [which nowhere near approaches the quality of the book], of Blake Morrison’s achingly beautiful And When Did You Last See Your Father?, which I read a few years ago and think I’d like to reread one of these days, but not anytime soon.  Morrison too lost his father very abruptly to cancer.


The road to history

Beloved of home schoolers, the writer and illustrator Jeanne Bendick, who from what I understand just celebrated her 91st birthday on February 25th, has a new children’s history book, Herodotus and the Road to History (Bethlehem Books, September 2009).  From the BB page for the book,

Best-selling author Jeanne Bendick takes us for another informative—and amusing—journey into places and events of long ago. Herodotus and the Road to History, written in the first person, details the investigative journeys of Herodotus—a contemporary of the Old Testament prophet Malachi—as he takes ship from Greece and voyages to the limits of his own ancient world. His persistence, amidst disbelief and ridicule, in the self-appointed task of recording his discoveries as “histories” (the Greek word meaning “inquiry”), means that today we can still follow his expeditions into the wonder and mystery of the “barbaric” north, Syria, Persia, and Egypt. Jeanne Bendick’s lucid text, humorous illustrations and helpful maps entertain and instruct as they open the way for readers young and old to join Herodotus . . . on the road to history.

Small Press Bookwatch in December noted,

Herodotus and the Road to History is a fictionalized account of the travels of Jeanne Bendick, detailing the story of Herodotus, the man who is often referred to as the father of history. Facing criticism in his day, Jeanne Bendick does well in presenting a thorough story of the man and his travel with many charming, simple illustrations. Herodotus and the Road to History is a fine pick for younger readers with an interest in history.

Jeanne Bendick‘s other books in print, all staples on most home schoolers’ bookshelves, include Along Came Galileo (Beautiful Feet Books, 1999), Archimedes and the Door of Science and Galen and the Gateway to Medicine, the last two part of  Bethlehem Books’ “Living History Library”, Worth noting that another book in the library, The Mystery of the Periodic Table by Benjamin Wiker, is illustrated by Mrs. Bendick.  Here you can find a timeline of BB’s books.

According to the biographical note for the Jeanne Bendick papers at the University of Oregon libraries,

An author and/or illustrator of over one hundred books, Bendick is particularly noted for her comprehensive research, clear text, and simple illustrations; her work reflects her ability to hold a reader’s interest even when elucidating a complex principle or invention. Much of what she has written clarifies the areas of television, movies, time, shapes, numbers, ecology, astronomy, heredity, and science history, urging in her readers a basic understanding followed by the curiosity to learn more.

On November 24, 1940, she married Robert Bendick [see which], a photographer who became one of the first three cameramen at the emerging CBS-TV network. This connection enabled her to work in the television field as a story editor and scriptwriter for series such as NBC-TV’s The First Look from 1965-1966, and Giant Step, 1968, as well as a segment for ABC-TV’s 20/20 titled “Evolution/Creation.” …

Bendick has commented, “One part of the job I set for myself is to make those young readers see that everything is connected to everything-that science isn’t something apart. It’s a part of everyday life. It has been that way since the beginning. The things the earliest scientists learned were the building blocks for those who came after. Sometimes they accepted earlier ideas. Sometimes they questioned them and challenged them. I want to involve readers directly in the text so they will ask themselves questions and try to answer them. If they can’t answer, that’s not really important… Questions are more important than answers… If I were a fairy godmother, my gift to every child would be curiosity.”

If you like garage and library sales, keep your eyes peeled for Mrs. Bendick’s older, out of print titles such as Exploring an Ocean Tide Pool, How to Make a Cloud, and Why Things Change: The Story of Evolution.

Belated birthday greetings, Mrs. Bendick, many happy returns, and many many thanks all of the wonderful books, including the newest.

*  *  *

Other Herodotus resources for children:

The Boys’ and Girls’ Herodotus by John S. White; free online too

Stories of the East from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

The Story of the Persian War from Herodotus by Alfred J. Church; book version from Yesterday’s Classics or free online from The Baldwin Project

Herodotus resources for older readers:

The Landmark Herodotus, edited by Robert Strassler and translated by Andrea Purvis (Pantheon, 2007); the NY Review of Books essay is here

Herodotus by James Romm (Yale University Press, December 2008); The New Yorker review of the Landmark volume and Romm’s volume is here

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski; published two years ago, Kapuscinski’s last work

Just out this month — The Way of Herodotus: Travels with the Man Who Invented History by Justin Marozzi

Herodotus on the Web

Herodotus at MIT

Herodotus to listen to:

At LibriVox

I’m not sure where to start…

so I’ll just jump in here with both feet.  I’ve blogged a few times since early October but didn’t mention anything about our family circumstances. Here goes.

In late September, we were starting school, finishing harvest, and getting ready for our October trip to NYC to visit my parents, and then our trip to DC with my father.  Then my mother phoned from their house in the West Indies to say my father was behaving oddly, and even before the GP down there said anything (because of experience with my father- and brother-in-law), it sounded rather like a mini-stroke.

If only.

My parents headed for NYC and doctors and tests, I emailed my sister in Kenya to tell her the news and she jumped on a plane.  We jumped on our regularly scheduled plane in early October, but instead of the usual grandparents’ visit, we arrived in time for my father’s exploratory brain surgery.  We decided to continue on to Washington with the kids so at least we’d be on East Coast near my parents and to provide some distraction for the kids, and it was in a hotel room there that we got news of the prognosis, brain cancer (glioblastomoa multiforme, grade 4, which is pretty much the worst case scenario).  The best the doctors could offer was 12-18 months with radiation and oral chemotherapy following the operation to remove what they could of the tumor.

Tom and the kids and I returned home in late October, the kids went trick or treating, and I ran around running errands and wriggling out of commitments and appointments so that I could return to NYC for six weeks, taking over for my sister as my father started daily radiation treatments and a pill regimen he loathed.  Realizing that if my parents and I were left on our own in the apartment for Christmas and New Year’s, the holidays would be a pretty grim affair for them, I had an easy time convincing Tom to come to NYC with the kids on a cheer-up mission.

In early December, based on some of our observations, the radiation oncologist scheduled an MRI to assess the results so far, only to learn that the tumor was growing “as if it were dosed with Miracle Gro”.  The radiation and chemo weren’t having much of an effect, and my father’s personality was already so changed from early October, before the operation.  Brain cancer seems to me to have more in common with Alzheimer’s and even autism than any of the other cancers I’ve encountered.  The truly bad news was a revised prognosis of six months or less, so needless to say our holidays were bittersweet.

After our determined effort to have a New Year’s celebration and the arrival of my sister and her daughter from Kenya, we headed back home, thinking that my father would have at least a few more months and we’d make another trip to New York.  But the day we left and the day after, my father had two bad falls, was unable to get up, and ended up in the hospital for some physical therapy.  He was doing well, well, as well as could be expected under the circumstances, and after about a week was expected to come home, when he died suddenly.  I think we’ve all been stunned more or less ever since, a second helping of stunned since the initial diagnosis in October.  I had just been unpacking and doing laundry in more or less of a daze after being away from home for six weeks when I started repacking for a three-week trip, from which I returned earlier this month, helping my mother and sister to tidy the apartment and sort through boxes and stacks of papers and such at the office.  The dizzying pace of events since late September and months away from home have been discombobulating.  I’m still meeting people at the grocery store who remember seeing me last in November, just before leaving to see to the radiation, who kindly ask how my father is doing.  It’s heartbreaking to tell them the latest.

To boot we’re dealing with a couple of extra difficulties in the extended family, including the unexpected death of my father’s close friend (who was also my brother-in-law’s father) and yet more cancer, which makes me hope that for all of us the rest of the year will be decidedly boring and undramatic.

In the meantime, there are lots of distractions at home to keep us busy: the Olympics, especially the curling and hockey; 4H public speaking (the kids all did very well, with Laura and Daniel getting first place at the intermediate and junior levels of their club, and Davy getting second place in junior; the older two go to Districts tomorrow); the music festival, with the kids’ entries and me as promotions co-ordinator; the annual organic certification application which has to be in by the end of March; seeds to start; and making sure all the tax paperwork is in before I take off in early April. Oh, and maybe some blogging, too.