• 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.

Halloween garland

Here are some photos of Laura’s latest project. We missed Halloween at home last year, and don’t think we did much the year before since we were in between returning home from the visit to my parents where my father had brain surgery and was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and my return to NYC to help him through radiation. So the autumn holidays were put on the back burner. Which is why, I think, Laura has started extra early this year. We were in the big city the other week and stopped off at Michael’s, where she found a Martha Stewart paper punch,

And somehow poking around on the Michael’s website, she searched for “Martha Stewart” and found a bunch of how-to videos, including one with a punch techniques demonstration. With all the new windows in the dining room addition, we’ve been kind of bunting/garland* crazy this year, so Laura decided to make one for Halloween, using orange and black construction paper (we are still using the stash I bought at the dollar store when the kids were little) cut in strips 1.25″ x 9″ .

* Bunting madness: I have become a confirmed etsy shopper in the past two years (especially for unique birthday and Christmas presents) and early this year discovered Jaime Mancilla‘s lovely fabric buntings. Let’s just say I looked through lots of buntings before I found Jaime’s. First I bought a couple of springy and summery ones, for Easter and Daniel’s birthday and beyond. Here is the Spring one (all bunting photographs by Jaime Mancilla from her etsy shop site),


We were all so pleased that I decided to surprise the kids with an Autumn/Harvest banner from Jaime’s store (and indeed, when most years we are so sorry to see summer go, we were thrilled on the first day of September, when autumn had been here for nearly a month, to finally hang the new banner),

but then Jaime surprised me by including a Christmas banner — which was next on my shopping list — in the parcel,

Isn’t that beautiful? The fabric colors, prints, and style are just right — fun but not too cutesy, and elegantly simple. Highly, highly recommended. The buntings each come with three strands (10 flags and three feet long each), for a total of nine feet, which stretches nicely across the three windows on the north wall. I sewed all of the strands in each bunting together for one long length, and then used 3M Command hooks on the casing, which pleases my builder husband. By the way, Jaime also makes adorable mini buntings for cakes for all occasions, including Halloween.



Outside my window…

the garden is dead. We had the first killing frost last night, -6 Celsius (it was -10 at my inlaws’ house). The sweet peas, cosmos, clematis, lavatera, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and even the zinnias under sheets (had we known it would be lower than -1, we would have used two layers) are all gone. I moved much from the greenhouse into the house, and it looks sad in the greenhouse now. But the kitchen looks like a florist’s shop, and the banana plant is wondering why it’s in the living room.

I am thinking…

how quickly the cold weather came on, after 30+ temps last week, though it has been autumn here for the past month.

I am thankful…

that Tom got the propane heater late last night for the greenhouse, when we realized the thermometer wasn’t finished moving at -2.

for a warm oven, containing peach cobbler.

From the learning rooms…

we are doing a quick run-through the 20th century before beginning another cycle of ancient history. We are focusing on the perils of populism, in the 20th century, and now.

We watched “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the version with John Boy. We are bouncing around a bit, based on what’s available and when from the library. Next up is the 1998 Disney movie “Miracle at Midnight”, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WWII, starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.

In the kitchen…

more dill pickles, and canning peaches.

I am wearing…

an apron, and longer pants, because it’s cold in the house. I finally succumbed and turned on the furnace this morning.

I am creating…

good food and small skeptics.

I am going…

to town quickly to pick up a parcel with Laura’s newest voice book for lessons, and batteries for her camera.

I am wondering…

how to fit all my greenhouse plants in the house.

I am reading…

Elle DecorTraditional Home, and Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, which though terribly sad goes well with our history readings (writing in The Guardian, Sarah Waters called it “A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War”).

Also, new from the library, 101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan, and How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.

I am hoping…

I have enough Ziploc bags on hand for the sliced peaches.

I am looking forward to…

cabinets in the dining room. We may have found some at Home Depot, the sort you can pick up in boxes and walk out of the store with. As long as everything is in stock, which is the rub.

And at Ikea on the weekend, we managed to get the long out-of-stock Numerar butcherblock countertops for the dining room. They’re oak, which I wouldn’t want for a kitchen, but for the dining room they’re fine.  The plan is for base cabinets on the east and west walls, topped with the butcherblock countertops, and then open shelving on the walls.

I am hearing…

the hum of the furnace. Very odd after so long without it. The kids were delighted, and ran to the registers with quilts.

Around the house…

there are plants, fruit, and vegetables in every spare nook and cranny.

I am pondering…

Professor Helen Zoe Veit’s editorial in favor of a return to Home Economics in the classroom, originally published in The New York Times. From which:

One of my favorite things…

peach cobbler

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Laura has her second babysitting engagement, which she finds thrilling.  Putting together the Ikea sideboard, which will be our under-the-chalkboard table, since it is not too deep. I may have the kids sand the sideboard, so I can stain it, because it’s a light pine which doesn’t go with much in the kitchen. And possibly painting the chalkboard, which is an old school board and green. Am thinking black might be a nice change.

A gift to home schoolers and all learners: Michael Hart (1947-2011)

Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg and the inventor, in 1971, of electronic books, died of a heart attack this past Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. His obituary at Project Gutenberg is here.

Some excerpts from his obituary, which is in the public domain:

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.


Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.” He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children: “Learning is its own reward.  Nothing I can say is better than that.”

*  *  *  *

To read more about Mr. Hart’s life and mission:

Richard Poynder’s 2006 blog post on Michael Hart on “preserving the public domain”, with a link to an interview with Hart

The Washington Post’s obituary, from which: “ ‘There are two things in the world that are truly, totally free with an endless supply,’ he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. ‘The air we breathe and the texts on Project Gutenberg.’ ” And:

…other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.

“The Legacy of Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael S. Hart” by Rebecca J. Rosen, at The Atlantic

Happy new year

A new school year started today. Well, at least that was the plan, until haying and fixing fences kept Tom and the kids out until 11 pm last night, which is when they finally came in the house and had dinner. So I let the kids sleep in today and we had a slow, relaxed start, especially since we still have another week to go to get the haying completed and the cattle moved to the new pasture.

Also, since I’ve been such a wretched blogger, I thought I would give something new a try, borrowing some of the daybook prompts I’ve seen at other blogs. But I am hopelessly consistent and live on a farm, so I will likely avoid regular updates of the “what am I wearing” prompts.


Outside my window…

The goldfinches are gathering up and preparing to migrate. We’ve had so much fun in the past few weeks watching the juveniles learn their way around, having baths in the gutter, learning to open sunflower seeds, flapping wings to get a parent’s attention.

I am thinking…

that I have some more decluttering to do. It has been a decluttering summer, especially since we had two old TVs, and one “entertainment center” to move out as Canada moved from analog to digital television. Unlike most of our family, friends, and neighbors, we did not have any flat screen TVs or satellite service. And cable is a dream out in the country. I am delighted with the new streamlined look, and my old eyes are loving the larger screens. The small TV in the bedroom, from my NYC days, was ridiculously small.

I am thankful…

that we don’t have to travel this autumn/winter (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood). This will be the first time in three years that we are/I am home for our traditional family celebrations of Canadian Thanksgiving, American Thanksgiving, Davy’s birthday (which has reached new lows for the past two years, poor kid), and Christmas. I am relieved and grateful, since I found being away for these terribly discombobulating and somewhat unrooting (disrooting? deracinating?).

From the learning rooms… 

We are starting over again with ancient history. Laura, who starts ninth grade, has formal science for the first time. Though tomorrow she is spending the day in the provincial park to observe the fall bird migration.

In the kitchen…

Over the weekend I made quarts of mustard pickle — my mother-in-law’s mother’s mother-in-law’s recipe, so venerable — and dill pickles.

In the new addition, across the three windows on the north end, we put up our new autumn banner (which I bought from Jaime Mancilla at Etsy),

to replace the summer banner, also from Jaime (and both photos from Jaime’s Etsy shop),

I am wearing…

oh dear

For today I will play along. An old navy blue Leon Levin polo shirt that used to belong to my mother, and yoga pants. Though not because I do yoga…

I am creating…

disorder with my decluttering, and with any luck out of disorder will come order. Unless I quickly learn some much needed reupholstery and slipcovering skills (not very likely), we need a new sofa, which may come from the new Crate and Barrel opening next month in the city. I would like to paint the living room, but we’ll see how far we get with the new addition (see below).

With luck, I will be creating a nicer version of the house. Between home schooling and farming, we live hard in this house. And with all our absences from home over the past two years, much has been put off and ignored. We need to fix things up, for ourselves and for the house.

I am going…

Nowhere for the next few days. Laura has music lessons half an hour north of here on Thursdays, and has moved her egg delivery day in town to Fridays, which is also the boys’ day for guitar lessons.

I am wondering…

if autumn can be remotely unharried. I get better each year at saying No, though lately with estate matters there have been few things to which No has been an acceptable reply.

I am reading…

The Three Weissmans of Westport; Sense & Sensibility updated for 2010, with two daughters who help their aged mother navigate the realities of divorce.

Thoreau’s Method: A Handbook for Nature Study by David Pepi; originally published in 1985 as part of Prentice-Hall’s wonderful PHalarope natural history series.

I am hoping…

that our calico cat Callie doesn’t bring me any more presents of headless gophers,

that autumn will not be too busy and overwhelming,

to keep the depression at bay, or at least to minimize it. In which case a busy autumn may not be a bad thing, as long as the busy-ness doesn’t make me anxious and overwhelmed. A fine line, I think.

I am looking forward to…

the new season of “Downton Abbey”, which begins in the UK on the 18th of this month and on PBS in January

the weekend arrival of the fruit truck from BC, with nectarines and peaches

the return of Michael Enright on CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition”


Laura getting her learner’s permit

I am hearing…

goldfinch twitterings, sandhill cranes trumpeting and rattling as they make their loops, the neighbors’ combines rumbling down the road, three young voices singing along to “Eleanor Rigby” on the radio.

Around the house…

we still need to finish the kitchen addition. I pestered Tom this morning to order the flooring (vinyl) for the entire area — kitchen, addition, and front entry. And we still need the kitchen base cabinets for the addition. I had hoped (ha…) to have this done in time for the beginning of our school year, but at this point I will be happy to have it done in time for Christmas.

I am pondering…

what color to paint the front door. It has been a dark green these past 17 years. When Tom bought the house, he painted it white with dark green trim. I am tired of the green door, though, especially on the inside.

One of my favorite things…

homemade dill pickles

A few plans for the rest of the week:

more hay to cut and bale

fixing fences so we can move the cattle to another pasture

insurance adjustors arriving to inspect damage to house and cargo trailer

music lessons, voice on Thursday and guitar on Friday

egg delivery

a trip to the library

start moving greenhouse plants indoors