• 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."
    Cicero

    "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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A rare home schooling post: AP Government & Citizenship

As parents, we make choices for our kids when they are very young with — we hope, we believe — their best interests at heart. I made a decision for Laura shortly after her birth that she recently came to realize was not the right choice for her, and we’ve spent a good deal of time and money, along with a recent “field trip” to the nearest U.S. consulate to renounce U.S citizenship, so that Laura could correct that situation and bring her citizenship in line with her reality.

Laura, who is 18-1/2 and just graduated from high school, was born in Canada and is a Canadian by birth. She has never lived in the U.S. and never had a U.S. passport. But she was also — by accident of birth to a (then) U.S. citizen, who then (sigh) applied for a consular Report of a Birth Abroad — a dual citizen. Laura realized over the past year, after much study (her “curriculum” selections and recommended reading list are below) and reflection, that she is not a dual citizen but a Canadian, and a Canadian only, who has only ever lived in Canada, and who does not believe in divided national loyalties. And she wanted to begin adult life with as few impediments as possible. She had read that renouncing is easiest between the ages of 18 and 18-1/2, because the paperwork requirements are much simpler, so she started the process last year around the time of her birthday, and after submitting all of the required paperwork last November, was given an appointment for last week; that’s a wait of more than six months for the appointment and some locations, like Toronto, have even longer waits. At last week’s appointment, she was told the wait time to receive her official Certificate of Loss of Nationality, which will be dated with last week’s appointment date, will be four to six months. For 2013, there was a 221 percent increase, a record number, of dual American citizens renouncing or relinquishing their American citizenship. In 2015, there were approximately 4,300 expatriations.

The past several years have been basically an Advanced Placement course on U.S. government, politics and law, and citizenship, covering early American history (“no taxation without representation” is apparently a variable concept depending on time and place), constitutional law, patriotism, homeland vs. Homeland, just vs. unjust laws, citizenship-based taxation (U.S. and Eritrea) vs. residence-based taxation (the rest of the world), national sovereignty, personal vs. national privacy and security considerations, and what — or what should — determine citizenship (for example, jus sanguinis, “the right of blood”, or the acquisition of citizenship through parentage; or jus soli, “the right of soil”, or citizenship by virtue of being born in a particular territory. There were also discussions about being Canadian and living in Canada, but having U.S. officials consider everything about you, from your Canadian passport to your Canadian address to your Canadian father, “foreign” or “alien”, when to a Canadian they all mean “home”. It was probably as good a way as any for Laura to figure out what, and where, home is.

This is a very complex issue. I’ll try to write about this as simply as I can, because

  1. there’s a lot of information involved, which can be overwhelming and the temptation to avoid it all can be great;
  2. there’s a lot of misinformation (accidentally as well as on purpose) which, if you follow it, can make make your/your family’s situation worse rather than better, including those who would equate Americans abroad with tax cheats who need to brought into “compliance“;
  3. that misinformation and misunderstanding of the situation confuses many Americans living in the U.S. — including extended family and friends — who don’t understand that there might be very real disadvantages to living overseas with U.S. citizenship; who think Americans abroad concerned about this issue are a bunch of whining complainers and/or tax cheats who don’t want to pay our fair share.

Here’s some background about the situation in general, from the very, very good Isaac Brock Society blog (named for the British major general in the War of 1812 who was responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States):

The United States is one of two countries in the world that taxes its people no matter where in the world they may reside. The other is Eritrea, which the USA has condemened for terrorism and for its diaspora tax. The majority of US persons who live abroad are not aware of their filing requirements. But recently, the US government has decided to crack down on those who are not in compliance.

But what is more, the US government has begun, since about 2004, to apply with great pressure a long-neglected requirement of 35-year old law called the Bank Secrecy Act. That requirement is FBAR, the foreign bank account report, which the United States government expects annually from those who have accounts outside of the United States which exceed $10,000 in aggregate. The fines for failure to file this form are extortionate, and virtually no US person who lives abroad even knew about FBAR, while most of them, over a certain age, own bank accounts with retirement savings exceeding that amount. The threats of fines and imprisonment has frightened many people who as a result have consulted expensive accountants and tax lawyers to get this mess sorted out, only to face high accounting or legal fees on top of potential fines and back taxes. In 2009 and 2011, the IRS offered voluntary disclosure programs (OVDI). Some who entered into the 2009 OVDI, because of fear of the penatlies, were shocked when the IRS assessed them fines in the tens of thousands, essentially treating them as tax evaders instead of a law abiding citizens in their countries of residence.

For many US expats, renunciation now seems like a really good idea. Why not? Many haven’t lived in the US for years and now they have few ties there except perhaps some family members. So they want to renounce their citizenship only to find that the laws regarding expatriation are confusing and that the exit tax requirements are at best complicated and invasive, and at worst, extortionate and utterly in violation of their right to expatriate.

The media coverage of this issue has been uneven. There have a been a few balanced stories, but most of the time, the media has merely publicized the purposes of the US government; this is especially true of US media sources. The Canadian media has generally done a much better job of grabbing the attention of the world about the abuses of the US government. That being said, even the Canadian media sometimes falls into the IRS trap of projecting fear in order to force compliance. Overall, we regret when the media offers only condemnation and fear without telling the story from the side of the victims or informing them of their rights and alternatives.

US persons abroad also face US border guards who are starting to put pressure on all those who have a US place of birth to travel only on a US passport, even if the person has not been a US person for decades–an arbitrary change of policy making those who relinquished citizenship into would-be loyal taxpayers to a profligate government that has to borrow 40 cents on every dollar its spends.

As with a number of bureaucratic decisions, there is a lot of noise about the intent to target “big fish” and tax cheats, and much of the recent legislation including FATCA seems intended as retribution for the decision by Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin but the reality is that it’s mostly little fish, with bank accounts and mortgages, and “foreign” spouses and children, who are getting caught in the net.

From Nancy L. Greene’s 2009 article, “Expatriation, Expatriates, and Expats: The American Transformation of a Concept”,

Expatriation was initially a form of nation-building. For the United States to justify its break from Britain, it had, among other things, to legitimate the notion of leaving one’s country of birth. Expatriation was thus seen as a form of inclusion in America, with former British subjects in mind. Like citizenship itself, expatriation was both a theoretical/rhetorical and a practical/legal issue for the early state. The Declaration of Independence, which complained that King George III had impeded the peopling of the colonies (“He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither”), was a declaration of the right of emigration. In the ensuing decades, in order to consolidate American independence and citizenship, expatriation from Britain had to be deemed a legal, indeed natural, right for both the state and the individual. The United States had to counter both politically and philosophically the competing British claim that birth- right or perpetual allegiance bound those born under the crown everlastingly to it. This essentially feudal notion, most forcefully expounded by the famous jurist Sir Edward Coke in 1608, regarded expatriation as a moral travesty and a legal im- possibility. It would take several decades for the new nation to impose its view that expatriation was in turn a natural right. The right of exit was the necessary corollary to a right of entry, and a Lockean notion of free will underwrote the definition of the new American citizen. …

The United States may have been founded on a notion of the right to leave, leading Albert O. Hirschman [the German-born economist and author of Exit, Voice, and Loyalty] to speak of a “national love affair with exit,” but attitudes about leave-takers depend on who is doing the exiting, from where, to where, and when.

* * * * * * * * *

A recommended reading list for dual citizens of all ages:

“The Negative Implications of U.S. Citizenship on Those Starting Out in Life”

“My Thoughts on U.S. Citizenship for Young People”

“Letter of a Canadian Businessman to his Dual U.S./Canada Citizen Son on the Occasion of his High School Graduation” (and all comments at the Isaac Brock Society blog are always well worth reading)

Isaac Brock Society blog, and particularly helpful posts from the Isaac Brock Society blog (don’t miss the conversations going on in the comments, which are always helpful):

“Introduction to FATCA for Canadians”

“How to Renounce/Relinquish” (FYI children born dual must renounce, not relinquish)

Introductory Material on: Citizenship-Based Taxation (vs. Residence-Based Taxation), FATCA; A Synopsis of John Richardson’s Info Session (see below for more); A History of Isaac Brock Society

IBS’s consulate report directory and CLN delivery time chart (aka “What to Expect, at the Consulate, When You’re Expatriating”); “currently 240 pages of first-hand accounts of renunciation/relinquishment appointments, arranged by consulate location, along with further information and links to the required Dept of State forms and the Dept of State manuals used by the consulates in processing CLN applications, with an appendix containing a chart of CLN delivery time as reported by consulate location.”

John Richardson’s Citizenship Solutions blog; Mr. Richardson, an American, is a Toronto lawyer who gives frequent, very good information sessions entitled “Information sessions: Solving the problems of U.S. citizenship”. And John himself is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. He also writes for the Isaac Brock Society blog.

A new blog, The Dualist, an early 20-something born in the U.S. who left there at the age of 13 to live permanently in the UK, now dealing with

the options facing me – a UK citizen living, working and paying taxes in the United Kingdom – when I had just discovered that I am subject to US tax rules which say that no matter where I live, I should be annually filing federal income tax returns to the USA’s Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and reporting detailed information about all of my UK bank accounts to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. These rules apply to me because I am an American as well as a British citizen. The US government considers me to be a US taxpayer not unlike an American living within the States, even if I haven’t lived in the US since I was a child, rarely visit, make no income in the US and have no assets there. The fact that I hadn’t been filing meant I was considered as a delinquent non-filer under US tax policy.

In outlining the different options I had for addressing this newly-discovered ‘delinquent non-filer’ status, I showed that even though I was a young person from a normal background just starting out in adult life, there were no easy solutions or certain outcomes. Briefly, the main options were to stay outside the system, enter the system and try to live compliantly, or enter the system with the intention of renouncing my US citizenship in the future.

American international tax lawyer Phil Hodgen’s blog posts about expatriation, including a recent 10-part series by an Irish-American 17-year-old who renounced as a minor, aka “The Expatriation Chronicles of an Accidental American”

San Francisco tax lawyer Robert Wood’s articles at Forbes, such as this one, this one, and this one

The difference between renouncing and relinquishing explained, at IBS and at Citizenship Solutions blog; children born dual can only renounce, not relinquish

One needs to be be very, very careful about the “help” one seeks with this issue because there are many predatory and ignorant accountants and lawyers whose help will net you only large bills and more rather than fewer headaches. There are good, knowledgeable, helpful people and resources available, often free or inexpensive, and this list includes a number of them. Read widely and ask questions before you make any decisions.

And, on the lighter side:

Michael Moore’s latest documentary, Where to Invade Next (2015)

Canadian Bacon, Michael Moore’s fictional precursor to his latest, starring the late, great, Canadian John Candy

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, available on YouTube

 

* The fee for renouncing or for relinquishing is currently US $2,350, payable in cash or by credit card (which must be in the renunciant’s name). In September 2014, the U.S. State Department hiked the renunciation fee by 422 percent, from U.S. $450 to U.S. $2,350. The fee to relinquish in recent years went from 0 to $450 to, last year, $2,350. The current fee is more than 20 times the average of other high-income countries, and the U.S. government has collected about U.S. $12.6 million in fees since the Autumn 2014 fee hike.

Family Day fishing derby

Tom and the kids made it home after 10 pm last night, with fish, all sorts of prizes (jackets! ice fishing tackle! exercise equipment! tape measures! a toque!), and leftovers from a very tasty dinner. The weather was lovely, just above freezing, but it made for very slushy, very wet fishing. About 200 people at the lake altogether.

Davy had the best luck, catching two northern pike (known as jackfish in these parts), both over three-and-a-half pounds, the smallest of which won the prize for smallest fish by the youngest angler in the 11-15 age category. The prize for biggest fish caught all day went to a 4 lb, 11 oz jackfish. Davy of course arrived home quite excited and ready to go ice fishing again. Very soon. And fish on the menu here very soon, too.

All photos by Laura, except for the last one (two fish), which is by Davy,

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Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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Canadian Curlews

After 17 years in Canada, I’m still not entirely up on my CanLit and find lots of surprises. The latest one is Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, published in 1955. So for anyone looking for some modern CanLit for older students, a living book on extinct/endangered species, and a modern classic movie (adapted from the book) for younger children about extinct/endangered species, we have a couple of recommendations.

A bit of background to explain. For her two 4H clubs, Laura is writing two speeches, one on birds that are extinct, the other on birds that are virtually extinct. Going over her speeches with her, I learned about birds I’d never heard of (not hard for me, since unlike Laura, I don’t sleep with a copy of Sibley’s and read almost exclusively about birds). One of the extinction stories I found quite moving is about the Eskimo curlew. I’ve borrowed a bit from Laura’s speech.

The Eskimo curlew, a medium-sized shorebird in the sandpiper family, is said to have been among the birds that guided Christopher Columbus to the new world. But the curlew is so rare now from overhunting 100 years ago that it’s very probably extinct. If there are any still in existence, scientists think they number fewer than 50 adult birds, when once the population was in the millions and they flew in flocks so thick they formed dark clouds one kilometer wide and long.

If it sounds rather like the story of the passenger pigeon, there are parallels. Nineteenth century American market hunters in need of a replacement for the pigeon, which they had hunted into extinction, looked about and proceeded to do the same sad thing to the Eskimo curlew, which they called “doughbirds” — the birds, heavy from gorging themselves on berries, fruit, and insects in their breeding grounds in the Northwest Territories and Alaska, would put on a thick layer of fat in preparation for their journey. The curlews, again like the passenger pigeons, were so tightly spaced as a flock that a single shotgun blast could easily kill about 20 birds. The survivors had an unfortunate habit of circling back for their injured or dead flockmates, giving the hunters yet another chance. Hunters first starting shooting the birds on their spring migration, then, looking for even more, headed for the curlew breeding grounds, where men would blind the birds with lanterns and then club them.

The Eskimo curlew’s migration, we read, was one of the longest and most complex in the animal kingdom. The winter journey involved a large clockwise circle, starting at the subarctic Canadian tundra, through the western hemisphere, east through Labrador, down through the Atlantic, across the southern Caribbean, and finally to the Argentinian pampas and Chile.

Another strike against the Eskimo curlew, just as it should have been rebounding from overhunting, was the loss of one its important prey species, the Rocky Mountain grasshopper, or locust. If you read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, you might remember the almost biblical plague of locusts in the chapter, “The Glittering Cloud”:

The cloud was hailing grasshoppers.  The cloud was grasshoppers. Their bodies hid the sun and made darkness. Their thin, large wings gleamed and glittered. The rasping whirring of their wings filled the whole air and they hit the ground an dthe house with the noise of a hailstorm.

… Grasshoppers covered the ground, there was not one bare bit to step on. Laura had to step on grasshoppers and they smashed squirming and slimy under her feet. …

Then Laura heard another sound, one big sound made of tiny nips and snips and gnawings.

“The wheat!” Pa shouted. He dashed out the back door and ran toward the wheat-field.

The locusts were the farmers’ scourge on the Great Plains in the 1870s, and their obliteration was as accidental as it was complete, as well as devastating for the curlew population. In fact, entemologist Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood has called it “the only complete elimination of an agricultural pest species”. What happened, Dr. Lockwood discovered, is that

Between outbreaks, the locust hid out in the river valleys of Wyoming and Montana — the same river valleys that settlers had discovered were best suited for farming.

By converting these valleys into farms — diverting streams for irrigation, allowing cattle and sheep to graze in riparian areas, and eliminating beavers and their troublesome dams — the pioneers unknowingly wiped out locust sanctuaries. They destroyed the locust’s equivalent of [the Monarch butterfly’s] Mexican forest wintering grounds. They doomed the species.

For the rest of the fascinating story, you can read Dr. Lockwood’s article here.

Last summer, the United States Fish & Wildlife Service said it is seeking any information about the Eskimo curlew, and will review whether the bird should continue to be classified as endangered or formally designated as extinct. The last sighting confirmed by the Fish and Wildlife Service was in Nebraska in 1987.

Getting back to the point of this post, while helping Laura, we discovered a celebrated Canadian novel written in 1955, Last of the Curlews by Fred Bodsworth, which is part of Canadian publisher McClelland & Stewart’s New Canadian Library line; I just ordered a copy. I like the idea of the book as a bridge to fiction, especially modern classic Canadian fiction, for her since she reads so much nonfiction (especially so much bird-related nonfiction), and also as an entree into CanLit for an older student who’s ready for a bigger challenge, but not quite ready for some of CanLit’s heavier offerings — though like most CanLit, this book is sad.  Here’s an excerpt from Chapter One:

The Arctic day was long, and despite the tundra gales which whistled endlessly across the unobstructed land the day was hot and humid. The curlew alternately probed the mudflats for food and patrolled his territory, and all the time he watched the land’s flat horizons with eyes that never relaxed. Near mid-day a rough-legged hawk appeared far to the north, methodically circling back and forth across the river and diving earthward now and then on a lemming that incautiously showed itself among the reindeer moss. The curlew eyed the hawk apprehensively as the big hunter’s circling brought it slowly upriver towards the curlew’s territory. Finally the roughleg crossed the territory boundary unmarked on the ground but sharply defined in the curlew’s brain. The curlew took off in rapid pursuit, his long wings stroking the air deeply and his larynx shrieking a sharp piping alarm as he closed in on the intruder with a body weight ten times his own. For a few seconds the hawk ignored the threatened attack, then turned back northward without an attempt at battle. It could have killed the curlew with one grasp of its talons, but it was a killer only when it needed food, and it gave ground willingly before a bird so maddened with the fire of the mating time.

The sun dipped low, barely passing from view, and the curlew’s first Arctic night dropped like a grey mist around him. The tundra cooled quickly, and as it cooled the gale that had howled all day suddenly died. Dusk, but not darkness, followed.

The curlew was drawn by an instinctive urge he felt but didn’t understand to the dry ridge of cobblestone with the thick mat of reindeer moss at its base where the nest would be. In his fifth summer now, he had never seen a nest or even a female of his kind except the nest and mother he had briefly known in his own nestling stage, yet the know-how of courtship and nesting was there, unlearned, like a carry-over from another life he had lived. And he dozed now on one leg, bill tucked under the feathers of his back, beside the gravel bar which awaited the nest that the bird’s instinct said there had to be.

Tomorrow or the next day the female would come, for the brief annual cycle of life in the Arctic left time for no delays.

It sounds as if it would make a wonderful living book choice for conservation and natural history studies, too. There’s another edition, a 1990s reissue, which came about because “Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin found this slim 1955 novel on a shelf in the house of friends, and, struck with the ‘plain, succinct evocation and beauty’ of Fred Bodsworth’s writing, suggested its reissue to a publisher.” That volume has a foreword by Merwin and an afterword by Murray Gell-Man, with J.J. Audubon’s painting of Eskimo curlews on the cover.

And for younger children, Last of the Curlews was made into a one-hour animated movie in 1972 to teach children about conservation. I was surprised to learn that it not only featured Vincent Van Patten (I’m old enough to remember “Apple’s Way”), but was also the very first ABC Afterschool Special, winning an Emmy for children’s broadcasting. I don’t read entries at IMDB much, but the reviews for, and memories of, Last are poignant. The animation by Hanna-Barbera is lovely, not at all what comes to mind when I think of H-B (primarily the Flintstones, etc.). We were hopefully optimistic when we heard about this, and delighted to find that it’s available, in several parts, on YouTubePart 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5. But a warning that the cartoon version doesn’t sugarcoat the story, which is not a happy or hopeful one. Extinction is extinction. We found a box of Kleenex helpful.

Also on YouTube is a little video blurb by Canadian eco-photographer Edward Burtynsky on Last of the Curlews for the Toronto Public Library.

Digging around online, we learned that Charles Frederick (Fred) Bodsworth is an internationally renowned naturalist, journalist, and novelist. Born in Port Burwell, Ontario, in 1918, after apparently spending some time working on tugboats and in tobacco fields, he became a reporter for the St. Thomas (ON) Times-Journal at the age of 22 and later was a writer and editor both at The Toronto Star and at Maclean’s magazine. Mr. Bodsworth left Maclean’s in 1955 to focus on magazine and nature writing, and novels. He also served as president of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists from 1964 to 1967. In 2002, he received the prestigious Writer’s Trust Matt Cohen Lifetime Achievement Award. I didn’t see any mention online of an obituary or his death, so I hope he is still hale, hearty, and watching birds at 94.

In other school-related news, work on the other speeches and presentation is going well, we’re in the midst of musical festival registration (both as registrars and registrants), the kids are happily galloping through more of Life of Fred, and in the phys ed department, curling season has picked up dramatically and the kids are curling quite well. Laura is also working on a summer internship application, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed for that. Oh, and roles have been handed out for Spring’s theater production of “Alice in Wonderland” so there is lots of singing throughout the house.  That and Davy’s cooking — he made baking powder biscuits yesterday and today some delicious gravy from our moose roast — are keeping us warm in this week’s cold snap. And -51 is verrrry snappy.


Those pesky outdated and inaccurate books

Oh, Canada.

From today’s Globe and Mail,

Today, many Canadian children have never even seen a school librarian and never will. Nova Scotia has none, and the full-time equivalent of just three are left in all of New Brunswick. At least one school board in Ontario hasn’t had a teacher-librarian in 15 years, and numbers have declined in Alberta and British Columbia as well [certainly in our part of Alberta].

Spring is a hard season for bibliophiles, as school boards across the country set their budgets for next school year. In recent weeks at least two Ontario boards have decided to cut library staff.

Teacher-librarians have been among the first to be sacrificed when boards make cuts, and the digital innovations they help students navigate are now being used as the justification for eliminating their jobs, and Canada is bucking an international trend of investing in school libraries.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, will release a special report on the decline of school libraries on Monday.

The study shows that less [erm, fewer…] than 12 per cent of Ontario elementary schools have a full-time librarian, and small communities, particularly in the north, are most likely to go without. Today, barely half have even a part-time librarian, down from 80 per cent in 1997/98.

The group’s concerns are about more than nostalgia: School libraries and librarians have been linked to several measures of student achievement, including standardized test scores and a love of reading. Most studies have come out of the United States and Australia, but Canadian researchers confirmed in 2006 that these benefits transcend borders and remain strong in a post-internet world.

“It’s not surprising that when you’ve got engaged teacher-librarians, they’re going to engage the students more and the more they engage our children the better they learn,” said Donald Klinger, the Queen’s University professor who led the new study.

What did surprise Prof. Klinger was the strength of the association between students’ performance on standardized tests and the presence of school librarians: His study showed scores were boosted by as much as 8 per cent.

If reading all of that makes you sad, this will make you even sadder [boldface mine]:

In April, declining enrolment forced the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board in southern Ontario to make up a projected $8-million to $10-million reduction in provincial funding. Trustees voted to lay off 16 secretaries, several teachers, and nearly all 39 library technicians. At the same time, Peterborough’s Catholic school board, east of Toronto, also said it is cutting library staff.

“We have to get past the old concept, the old tradition of what libraries used to be…” said Cathy Geml, associate director of education for the WECDSB. Books quickly become outdated and inaccurate, and the board is focusing its resources on internet research.

“We have people in various capacities in the secondary schools that are teachers and administrators who could support and teach digital literacy throughout the day.”

It gets worse.  According to The Hamilton Spectator, the decision was made behind closed doors and with no public input:

In a controversial decision — which even some students are protesting — the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has laid off all but four of its library technicians and is dismantling all its libraries.

It has started to divvy up the library books in its elementary schools and distribute them to individual classrooms instead.

Among the board’s reasons, according to Ms. Geml:

schoolchildren spend time walking to the library, choosing books and returning to class. “That’s lost instructional time,” she added.

Lost, indeed. I’m not quite sure how much anyone in the Windsor-Essex Catholic school district has been learning over the past few generations if school board members believe that that books are purely for research, reference, and information. Whatever happened to wisdom, knowledge, and a great story?  How disappointing that there are trustees who think it comes down to Stephen Leacock vs. Google, Jane Austen vs. the current edition of the World Almanac, Billy Budd vs. Bing.  Am I really surprised to find that there are school board members who believe this?  No.  It’s one of the reasons we home school, and one of the reasons we’ve made a good home library a priority.

The good news, if there is any, is that not everyone in Windsor agrees:

“We believe students’ physical well-being is important, so we have a gym. As a Catholic school, we believe religion is important, so we have a chapel. If we believe literacy and reading is important, why wouldn’t we have a library?” said Windsor-area parent Donna Tonus, who is banding together with others to fight the board’s decision. A student protest is also planned on Monday.

Interestingly, one of the links provided by The Globe & Mail in a sidebar is for a story last December about Victoria, B.C.’s booming public libraries — because, as reporter Tom Hawthorn wrote, “The Greater Victoria Public Library embraces technology while respecting the time-proven value of that fine medieval invention, the printed book”.

A little light reading

Very funny, very wicked — wickedly funny and funnily wicked — and very Canadian (featuring a Mountie and set on an island much like Salt Spring), not to mention very suitable for older children:

Let’s Kill Uncle by Rohan O’Grady

From which, a bit about the children, Christie and the orphaned Barnaby, delivering bread,

And then on to Lady Syddyns. Wearing her faded purple velvet dressing gown and floppy-brimmed hat, she was, as usual, doctoring her roses.

She opened her arms to them and declared they must stop for tea.

Barnaby only smiled absently and did not answer, but Christie, pointing to the undelivered bread, declined with regret.

Surely next week then, said the old lady.  They would have cucumber sandwiches and plum cake.  She thumped both their heads affectionately with an insecticide sprayer, gave them each a rose and went on with her gardening.

The title page of the Bloomsbury edition is the original cover with art by Edward Gorey, which is marvellous,

[PS Edward Gorey fans should go to Boston for the new exhibition at the Athenæum, “Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey”, running through early June

PPS Gorey illustrated an earlier book by Miss O’Grady, Pippin’s Journal, republished as The Curse of the Montrolfes, still in print thanks to Second Chance Press]

When I read that The Bloomsbury Group would be republishing the 1963 classic Let’s Kill Uncle in July 2010, I put it on my wish list.  I was never a fan of the movie version, which is not only a very bad movie and poor adaptation, but is more malice than mischief.

According to Bloomsbury’s author page, “June Skinner [aka Rohan O’Grady] did not publish her first book until she was nearly 40, and she did her writing alone in suburban West Vancouver while raising three children.”  Shades of Shirley Jackson and Life Among the Savages

This biography at abcbookworld, complete with picture, seems quite comprehensive. The ending is moving: “Discouraged by minimal recognition, a lack of literary fellowship and slim earnings, June Skinner put away two unpublished manuscripts in the early 1970s, and stopped writing altogether. At 81, she does not regret giving up the writing life. ‘The creative juices don’t need to flow through a pen’, she says.”

Thoroughly deserving of more recognition — buy a copy of Let’s Kill Uncle and The Curse of the Montrolfes today.

You can find the new edition of Let’s Kill Uncle

at Chapters in Canada

at Amazon.ca

at Amazon.com

at Book Depository

The Lemonade Geography Tour

As you may know from the second to last post, 2010 wasn’t one of our better years.  Or as I recently overheard my husband explaining to a friend on the phone, “She’s had a hard time going from two parents to no parents in 11 months.”  Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, but because of circumstances, I spent the day busily preparing to leave home again, to clear out my parents’ apartment.

Thanks to the vagaries of New York City’s rent control, we have 90 days from the date of death to empty the Upper West Side apartment.  We started making plans after Christmas, having had a bit of time to unpack, rest, and sort through three months of mail.  I also started stocking up on bubble wrap (which I had sent to a friend and neighbor in my parents’ building), audiobooks (the CD version, so we can play them in the truck out loud), rolls of stretch wrap, and tape.  I also joined the Canadian Automobile Association and ordered a stack of maps and Trip Books, all of which arrived with incredible speed.

But the best feature of all at CAA/AAA is the online TripTik Travel Planner, which is free and immediate. For someone who remembers trundling down to the NYC office at Lincoln Center where a staff member would pull out a little printed plastic comb-bound map of, say, the Northeastern United States and then proceed to mark the best route with a highlighter, the online planner is a revelation and great fun.  You can find out instantly how many miles/kilometers and hours between locations, among other things. And allows me to show you our route to the east,

and back home, to the west,

We’re going to drive as long as we can each day without making ourselves crazy, and stop every night to sleep in a motel, preferably, the kids say, with a swimming pool, so I’ve packed the bathing suits.  We figure it that, weather permitting, it should take us about five to seven days there, and five to seven days back.  Some of our tentative stops on the east include Brandon, Manitoba; Dryden, Ontario; Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; Sudbury, Ontario; and Toronto, to see Tom’s sister and her family quickly.  On the way back, our tentative stops are Cleveland (our first stop after NYC); Beloit, Wisconsin; Alexandria, Minnesota; then into Canada by way of Winnipeg; Regina; and home.

We are going to spend most of our time looking out the window to see the sights, and listening to CBC Radio and various US stations across the continent, for news as well as weather and road conditions. UPDATED to add: I just found out at their website that the helpful folks at NPR offer NPR Road Trip for those planning a long drive.  You can “print turn-by-turn directions for your drive and know which NPR stations are available throughout your driving route.”  Or just get a printable list as a PDF.  Nifty.

But for evenings once it gets dark and that long, rather less interesting stretch across the Canadian shield, we have the following audiobooks:

::  Simon Winchester’s Atlantic (unabridged, read by the author); we all enjoyed “Krakatoa”, and Winchester is a marvelous reader

::  Several from Richard Peck, a big favorite with all of us: A Long Way From ChicagoA Year Down YonderA Season of Gifts

:: Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, a new Naxos production

:: Watership Down, new on audio CD, which I’ve been waiting for for years now

:: Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes an Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

It’s been liberating planning a cross-country drive — no plane departure times to make at the airport three hours away; all the toiletries where they belong without separating out liquids and gels, nail files and clippers; no planning of meals to combat inedible and expensive airline food, since whenever we get hungry we’ll stop at a supermarket, cafe, or coffee shop for provisions; and, compared to our trips to the small island, no laying in a supply of particular things we can’t find there.

When we get home, aside from arranging for a Sea-Can container in which to store my parents’ furniture and other belongings, we are going to distract ourselves by commencing our long-awaited kitchen addition, which will give us more eat-in kitchen space and storage for some of our home school books, and then finalizing blueprints for our new house.  We were going to break ground last spring until we were overtaken by events and I ended up out of the country for much of the first few months of the year.  The main thing that helped me through all that happened, aside from reading and gardening, was planning my new kitchen and my new bathroom in my head.  If your tastes run that way, I highly recommend this kitchen book (I got my copy cheap at BookCloseouts), which makes dandy and relaxing reading with a cup of of Mariage Frères Rouge Bourbon Vanille tea.

Cross your fingers, please, that the weather behaves and the roads are clear. We’ll be making the trip with our Ford F250 pickup truck and a 16′ cargo trailer, and a stack of maps…