• 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)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

    antitwit
  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Remembering Pete Seeger: “I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Here’s an edited repeat of a post from May 2009 celebrating Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday; you can read the original here. I was saddened, though not surprised, to read last night of his death at age 94. His was one of those long lives well lived, and so many of ours were that much richer for his.

(I haven’t checked all of the links, so if any are broken, please let me know.)

*  *  *  *

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records and music, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when I was about nine or 10 and we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater, I think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a tourist destination. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He was the son of musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School, also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood is complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, for his sense of history,his family’s place in the history of American music, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirsWhere Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and the NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, and in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

Happy Easter

from Farm School.

Spring on the farm (all photos by Laura):

The 4H Outdoor club was asked by the local Habitat for Humanity to build some birdhouses for HfH to sell as a spring fundraiser. We had all the kids over to build 45 nestboxes in our shop, 36 for HfH and nine for members. Tom and the boys cut all the pieces ahead of time,

IMG_1543

IMG_1553

IMG_1558

Besides school, 4H, curling (today will be the end of the season), and the music festival, we’ve been busy this month with calving, made considerably easier for the new mothers and the rest of us by a new portable (on skids) calving barn we built. Tom was worried that if March came in like a lamb, it would go out like a lion. He was right. Davy (now 12 and a half) with a barn resident,

IMG_1517

One of our new babies, on a snowy morning (we had another dusting early today),

IMG_1528

Thank yous

to JoVE at Tricotomania, for the Christmas present of a hand-knit pair of mittens,

inspired by the colors of the Caribbean my parents loved so much. As you can see from some of my West Indian pottery, JoVE’s color sense is bang on,

JoVe and her daughter are coming for another visit next month, for a weekend, and we’re all very excited.

And thank you to Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles, for feeding my Downton Abbey fixation and letting me see what all the “Military Wives” fuss is about. “Military Wives” is heart-warming and inspiring, but I have to admit my heart belongs to Downtown, season two and especially the special Christmas episode. Find a cowboy in the middle west, indeed!

The gift of gab

Go into any part of the country, North, East, South or West, and you will find multitudes of his brothers, car conductors in Philadelphia, immigrants of the second generation in the East Side of New York, iron-workers in the Pittsburgh region, corner grocers in St. Louis, holders of petty political jobs in Atlanta and New Orleans, small farmers in Kansas or Kentucky, house carpenters in Ohio, tinners and plumbers in Chicago — genuine Americans all, bawling patriots, hot for the home team, marchers in parades, readers of the yellow newspapers, fathers of families, sheep on election day, undistinguished norms of the Homo Americanus. Such typical Americans, after a fashion, know English. They read it — all save the “hard” words, i. e., all save about 90 per cent of the words of Greek and Latin origin. They can understand perhaps two-thirds of it as it comes from the lips of a political orator or clerygman. They have a feeling that it is, in some recondite sense, superior to the common speech of their kind. They recognize a fluent command of it as the salient mark of a “smart” and “educated” man, one with “the gift of gab.” But they themselves never speak it or try to speak it, nor do they look with approbation on efforts in that direction by their fellows.

In no other way, indeed, is the failure of popular education made more vividly manifest.

H.L. Mencken, “The American Language”, 1921

*  *  *

Are you still here after all that?

I just noticed that the Barnes & Noble Review has a mention of Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law.  And from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

In his Wall Street Journal review, author Henry Hitchings wrote,

The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. Mr. Farnsworth includes numerous examples from Shakespeare and Dickens, Thoreau and Emerson, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. He also seems keen to rehabilitate writers and speakers whose rhetorical artistry is undervalued; besides his liking for Chesterton, he shows deep admiration for the Irish statesman Henry Grattan (1746-1820), whose studied repetition of a word (“No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer”) is an instance, we are told, of conduplicatio. But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.

(Mr. Hitchings should know, since he is author of the new The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, which, as The Guardian‘s Deborah Cameron writes, “takes the reader on a Cook’s tour of complaints about English past and present in a bid to show that the obsessions of the complainers are (a) as old as the hills, (b) based on no linguistic logic, and (c) ultimately futile, since no one can stop language from varying and changing.”  Good stuff.)

Getting back to rhetoric, Carlin Romano, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, calls the book “Farnsworth’s feast”:

“Everyone speaks and writes in patterns,” Farnsworth begins, arguing that our choices among patterns still make a powerful difference in whether words work for us or not. Such rhetorical figures “tend to show up often in utterances that are long remembered” he notes—the Rev. Martin Luther King’s eightfold “I have a dream” repetition was pure anaphora, and JFK’s “Ask not… ” a case of pure chiasmus—so it’s worth identifying them.

At the same time, Farnsworth recognizes that rhetorical figures often fail because, in the hands of politicians, they‘re “strained efforts to make dull claims sound snappy,” or they don’t sound “spontaneous,” or a speaker simply overdoes it.

How, he wisely asks, “does one study techniques that succeed only when they seem unstudied?”

His answer: by piling on examples until any idiot can separate the spellbinding from the spectacularly flat.

I’ll need to get a copy of the book if only to determine how much of the snappy Mr. Mencken is included.  More Mencken, from his Creed, a masterpiece of conduplicatio:

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind — that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty…

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech…

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.

I — But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Christmas in July

Bingo!

Even before we started home schooling, I started adding to the Golden Books, especially the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, collection of my childhood.  I’ve been able to find more titles at garage sales and the Goodwill shop in town, and Abebooks when necessary. Some of our favorites are The Golden History of the World by Jane Werner Watson, and illustrated beautifully by Cornelius DeWitt — perfect for the grammar stage — and Ben Hunt’s crafts and lore books (which I’ve written about before, including here).

The two most elusive titles have been The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments by Robert Brent and illustrated by Harry Lazarus, and  The Giant Golden Book of Biology, written by renowned children’s science writers Gerald  Ames and Rose Wyler, and illustrated by the even more renowned Charles Harper.  I’ve written about the scarce Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments before (here and here); that one is scarce because of the subject and because of nonsense (including much internet nonsense) that the book was once banned, by the government no less.

The Golden Book of Biology owes its popularity and high prices not to its content but to Charley Harper’s artwork and his popularity among graphic artists and designers, and the recent Todd Oldham-inspired Charley Harper renaissance.  Copies of The Giant Golden Book of Biology, published in 1961, the 1967 revised edition (The Golden Book of Biology), and the 1968 second edition have been selling for anywhere from $100 to $600. I’m not a collector of graphic design works* and didn’t want the book to put on the shelf, I just wanted a good quality working copy my kids could read.

Well, I finally lucked out  the other week with a 1967 copy at eBay, and while I didn’t pay anywhere in my customary 25 cents to $5 range, I didn’t pay anywhere near $100 either (or $500, yikes); little enough that I can leave the book on the coffee table for the whole family to enjoy and let the kids read it without encasing them or the book in plastic.  So the lesson here is that patience will pay off…

For me these books, and many of the Giant and De Luxe Golden Books, on astronomy (also by Rose Wyler and Gerald Ames), the human body, natural history, physicsworld geography (“A Child’s Introduction to the World”), world history, mathematics (another one with crazy prices), and the Golden Book encyclopedia set, are desirable because although they remain, after 40 to 50 years, some of the very best examples of children’s nonfiction. As MAKE’s Mark Frauenfelder wrote about The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments,

The book is an example of everything great about vintage children’s science books. Once you lay your eyes on it, you will come to the sad realization that our society has slipped backwards in at least three important ways: 1. The writing quality in old kids’ science books was better; 2. The design and illustration was more thoughtful and skillful; 3. Children in the old days were allowed and encouraged to experiment with mildly risky but extremely rewarding activities. Today’s children, on the other hand, are mollycoddled to the point of turning them into unhappy ignoramuses.

This blog post at Codex xcix shows a number of illustrations from the book, which gives you an idea of just why the book is so desirable for the art alone. Codex writes,

Charley admitted that he had to learn the subject while he was doing the illustrations, after all, he was an artist, not a scientist. The result, however, was a masterpiece – the quintessential mid-century children’s science text. It is widely seen as his magnum illustratus and has been widely influential to two generations of illustrators and designers. Todd Oldham described it as “…one of my favorite things I’ve ever had in my life,” and the illustrator Jacob Weinstein as “the world’s most attractive textbook.”

More illustrations from the book are at this Grain Edit post.

If you get the chance at library book sales or garage sales, keep your eyes peeled for books by Gerald Ames and Rose Wyler, who were married to each other and who together and separately wrote 50 or so children’s books, mostly on science but also on (science-based) magic tricks and other subjects.  Their publishers included Golden/Western, Harper & Row for a number of Science I Can Read Books, and Julian Messner. According to their individual obituaries in The New York Times, Mr. Ames died in 1993 at the age of 86,  Miss Wyler died in 2000 at the age of 80;

Ms. Wyler once recalled that as a girl she ”always had a collection of stones, bugs or leaves and always wanted to know more about nature.” She never could find books on nature as a child, she said, so at 11 she decided she was going to write them.

Among their best known titles: the highly recommended The Giant Golden Book of Astronomy: A Child’s Introduction to the Wonders of Space (1950), Magic Secrets (first published in 1954 and still in print as an I Can Read Book), Secrets in Stones (1954), The Earth’s Story (1957), First Days of the World (1958), The First People in the World, illustrated by Leonard Weisgard (1958),  Inside the Earth (1963), Prove It! (A Science I Can Read Book, 1964), The Story of the Ice Age (1967), and Spooky Tricks (originally published in 1968 and not too long out of print).

The Messner books, written mostly by Rose Wyler, are lovely for young children if you run across them: the “Science Fun” series, including Science Fun with Toy Boats and Planes (1986), Science Fun with Mud and Dirt (1987), and Science Fun with a Homemade Chemistry Set (1988); and the Outdoor Fun series, including The Starry Sky (1989), Puddles and Ponds (1990), and Seashore Surprises (1991).

*  *  *

Interview with Charley Harper at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

* Although I do have my mother’s old copy of Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two Cook Book, also illustrated by Charley Harper and held together with a rubber band for the past 40 years.

Your own private writing seminar

with John McPhee, via the Spring issue (now online, thank goodness) of The Paris Review.

For example, the importance of using an outline, from the interview with Mr. McPhee by Peter Hessler, “The Art of Nonfiction No. 3”:

INTERVIEWER
Where did this method come from?

MCPHEE
It goes back to Olive McKee at Princeton High School, and the structural outline that we had to have before doing any piece of writing. It came up again when I worked at Time. My first cover story just floored me. It was five thousand words, and I really struggled with the mass of material. I was pretty unhappy. It was just a mess—a mess of paper, I didn’t know where anything was. So I went back to Olive McKee and the outline, sorting through this matrix of material, separating it into components and dealing with one component at a time.

INTERVIEWER
Is there ever a risk of it becoming too mechanical?

MCPHEE
It sounds very mechanical, but the effect is the exact opposite. What it does is free you to write. It liberates you to write. You’ve got all the notes there; you come in in the morning and you read through what you’re going to try to write, and there’s not that much to read. You’re not worried about the other ninety-five percent, it’s off in a folder somewhere. It’s you and the keyboard. You get away from the mechanics through this mechanical means. The spontaneity comes in the writing, the phraseology, the telling of the story—after you’ve put all this stuff aside. You can read through those relevant notes in a relatively short period of time, and you know that’s what you want to be covering.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Also in the Spring issue, Ray Bradbury interviewed on the Art of Fiction, by Sam Weller, from which,

INTERVIEWER
You’re self-educated, aren’t you?

BRADBURY
Yes, I am. I’m completely library educated. I’ve never been to college. I went down to the library when I was in grade school in Waukegan, and in high school in Los Angeles, and spent long days every summer in the library. I used to steal magazines from a store on Genesee Street, in Waukegan, and read them and then steal them back on the racks again. That way I took the print off with my eyeballs and stayed honest. I didn’t want to be a permanent thief, and I was very careful to wash my hands before I read them. But with the library, it’s like catnip, I suppose: you begin to run in circles because there’s so much to look at and read. And it’s far more fun than going to school, simply because you make up your own list and you don’t have to listen to anyone. When I would see some of the books my kids were forced to bring home and read by some of their teachers, and were graded on—well, what if you don’t like those books?

I am a librarian. I discovered me in the library. I went to find me in the library. Before I fell in love with libraries, I was just a six-year-old boy. The library fueled all of my curiosities, from dinosaurs to ancient Egypt. When I graduated from high school in 1938, I began going to the library three nights a week. I did this every week for almost ten years and finally, in 1947, around the time I got married, I figured I was done. So I graduated from the library when I was twenty-seven. I discovered that the library is the real school.

INTERVIEWER
You have said that you don’t believe in going to college to learn to write. Why is that?

BRADBURY
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught. The library, on the other hand, has no biases. The information is all there for you to interpret. You don’t have someone telling you what to think. You discover it for yourself.

Read the rest of Mr. Bradbury’s interview, especially on why he refused to write the screenplay for War and Peace, here. (I wrote about Mr. Bradbury and libraries last year here.)

And don’t miss the Review’s interview index, with gems from 1953 to the present.

*  *  *

Books by John McPhee, wonderful wonderful stuff and the perfect living books to include in your home school studies with older children, especially for science.  If you have to choose only one, make it Annals of the Former World, Mr. McPhee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of four books on the geological history of North America, published in a single volume in 1998.

A laughing sound

That would be me, delighted because Colleen Mondor in her latest Bookslut in Training column recommends as her Cool Read The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound: A Birder’s Journal by Sallie Wolf.  Delighted because next month is Laura’s 13th birthday, and the book — a “blend of poetry, field guide and nature notes” — sounds perfect for her.  Colleen, who also blogs at Chasing Ray, writes,

Wolf arranges her entries by season, and includes bird lists, haiku, observations, ruminations, watercolor illustrations and drawings on every page. Essentially, she is inviting the reader into her life, providing a space at her window and her desk. It is a very personal work, for all that it does not share about Wolf’s actual personal life. You are merely seeing what she sees, and perhaps altering your own conclusions about art and nature through her influence. Teen readers who might be wary of their own creativity, and are reticent to face the blank page, will find a sympathetic fellow artist here — someone who uses the barest of brush strokes to capture the creatures she sees. Exquisitely designed by Charlesbridge, The Robin Makes a Laughing Sound is one of the more elegant books to come across my doorstop in a long time. I hope a lot of young birders and artists and poets find it.

I think the book might be a bit young for Laura but I still think she’d enjoy having it, and she can always use another journal.  There’s another bird book I’d really like to get her, too, and while it shouldn’t be listed at an online bookseller for a decent price, it is.  I’ll post the title if I manage to get my mitts on it*.

The publisher’s page with various links and downloads is here.  Sallie Wolf has a blog and a website (where I learned that much like Davy, as a child Sallie loved Ben Hunt books and wanted to be a Mohawk. Davy wants to be an Iroquois, but why quibble?)

You can find all of Colleen’s warm weather reading titles for your favorite children and young adults in this post, Summertime, and the Reading Is Easy.

* Apparently the book is still in stock and winging its way to me:  the hardcover edition of Tim Birkhead’s The Wisdom Of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology, for $10.11 CAN, much cheaper and sturdier than the paperback edition coming out in March.  And for some reason the copies at Amazon.ca are  $26.92 and $39.57 — odd.

High end

The great William Zinsser, in a recent “Zinsser on Friday” column/blog post, “Life and Work”, over at The American Scholar,

I’ve never been–perhaps to my shame–a citizen of writing. I don’t belong to writers’ organizations, or attend writers’ talks and panels, or lunch with publishing potentates. I don’t hang out with writers. Writers tend to be not as interesting as they think. What they mainly want to talk about is their own writing, and they also have a ton of grievances, their conversation quick to alight on the perfidy of publishers, the lassitude of editors and agents, and the myopia of critics who reviewed–or didn’t review–their last book.

I’m a lone craftsman, not unlike a potter or a cabinetmaker, shaping and reshaping my materials to create an object that pleases me–nobody else–and when it’s done I send it forth into the world. I don’t have an agent. I never show my writing to other writers; their agenda is not my agenda. For the objective judgment and emotional support that every writer needs I depend on the individual editors of my books and magazine articles–fellow craftsmen–and on a few trusted friends. …

It may seem perverse that I compare my writing to plumbing, an occupation not regarded as high-end. But to me all work is equally honorable, all crafts an astonishment when they are performed with skill and self-respect. Just as I go to work every day with my tools, which are words, the plumber arrives with his kit of wrenches and washers, and afterward the pipes have been so adroitly fitted together that they don’t leak. I don’t want any of my sentences to leak. The fact that someone can make water come out of a faucet on the 10th floor strikes me as a feat no less remarkable than the construction of a clear declarative sentence.

Read the entire piece here.

Find the Zinsser on Friday archive here.

Find a list of William Zinnser’s books here, and read them.  He is one of the best writing teachers around, for the price of a book, and, nowadays, a rare fount of common sense.  As his Zinsser on Friday pieces prove.

Trading up

Another article from a few days ago (I’m on a roll…):

Carol Morello of The Washington Post reports that “a small but apparently growing number of the college-educated who are taking up the trades”:

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Notre Dame, Adam Osielski was pondering a route well traveled: law school.

He watched his friends work long hours as paralegals while studying law and weighed the all-encompassing commitment. That was five years ago. Today, Osielski, 29, is a journeyman electrician rather than a law firm associate. Or, as Osielski might say with his minor in French, an électricien.

In a region in which 47 percent of Washington area residents have a college degree, the highest rate in the nation, Osielski is among a small but apparently growing number of the college-educated who are taking up the trades.

They started out studying aerospace engineering, creative writing and urban planning. But somewhere on the path to accumulating academic credentials, they decided that working with their hands sounded more pleasant — and lucrative — than a lot of white-collar work. So bye-bye to term papers and graduate theses, and hello to apprenticeships to become plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and carpenters.

For Osielski, the attraction was natural. After graduating from Notre Dame, he spent two years in Haiti working with a charity building schools, but he wasn’t allowed to do the one task that seemed most intriguing: wiring the electricity.

When he returned from Haiti, he began working as a furniture mover in the District to pay the bills and discovered the satisfaction that comes with an empty truck at the end of a day. A legal career seemed too much like drudgery.

“I have friends my age who are just deciding to go to graduate school,” said Osielski, who graduated this month from an apprenticeship program run by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26 in Lanham. “I’m glad to be already working and developing a career.”

Why the trend toward the trades?

Economists and labor scholars say the rocky economy has been a boon for trade schools. But they also point to policymakers, guidance counselors and parents who don’t value the trades and overvalue college as the gateway to success. As a result, American students come to trade apprenticeships relatively late, often after they’ve already tried college. The average age of the beginning apprentice in the United States is 25; in Germany, 18.

“It’s hard to get high school counselors to point anyone but their not-very-good students, or the ones in trouble, toward construction,” said Dale Belman, a labor economist at Michigan State University. “Counselors want everyone to go to college. So now we’re getting more of the college-educated going into the trades.”

This I found quite interesting but not surprising, having graduated from Middlebury with a BA in history and married a farmer and carpenter:

In the early 1970s, Robert Glover, an economics professor at the University of Texas, studied apprenticeship programs in nine cities. He found that 27 percent of journeymen in six construction trades had at least 13 years of schooling. Among the tradesmen he interviewed was an electrician with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and a bricklayer who was listening to classical music on the radio.

“It woke me up,” he said. “There is a strong anti-manual-work bias in this country. I fell prey to it, too.”

So too did Brian Jones, who is 30 and studied physics in college hoping to work as a NASA engineer. Unable to find a job in his chosen feel, he opted for work as an electrician: “It’s not the same as a job with, say, Lockheed, with a lot of office politics,” he said. “In the electrical trade, your knowledge and actions speak for themselves. The only downside is the prestige. If you say you work for a multinational, half-trillion-dollar company, versus, ‘I’m an electrician,’ it doesn’t have the same ring.”

It’s all about options and choices…

*  *  *  *

Related Farm School posts:

Moving in a common rhythm; from which one of my favorite Andy Rooney quotes, from his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia, “Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”

Carriers of arts, letters, and dumplings

Carriers of arts, and letters

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

Carriers of arts, letters, and dumplings

I had a post yesterday on Rebecca Mead’s current New Yorker essay, “Learning by Degrees”, on the purpose of education, which I agree with her should not be to “compete in the global economy”, as our politicians like to natter on about, but as Ms. Mead wrote, to “nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.”

So I was interested last night to read in yesterday’s New York Times Wednesday food section the article, “Their Future, Made By Hand” about a new twist in the road for “young, college-educated, Internet-savvy, and unemployed” New Yorkers who now find themselves at “the intersection of the economic downturn and the rise of the local artisanal food movement”, leading to “the recent flowering of small culinary start-ups” and food entrepreneurs:

As the next generation of cooks comes of age, it seems that many might bypass restaurant kitchens [and possibly college…] altogether. Instead, they see themselves driving trucks full of artisanal cheese around the country, founding organic breweries, bartering vegan pâtés for grass-fed local beef, or (most often) making it big in baking as the next Magnolia Bakery.

That “ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently”, learned in high school or in college (if not afterwards for many of us), can come in very, very handy. Keep your mind and your options open, and your future might well be delicious.  Read the rest of the Times article here. (And while you’re at it, go get the recipe for 1989 Rhubarb-Strawberry Mousse.  Yummy.)

Related Farm School posts:

Moving in a common rhythm; from which one of my favorite Andy Rooney quotes, from his 2000 commencement address at the University of Virginia, “Don’t rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head. There’s no reason why education should be incompatible with craftsmanship.”

Craftsmanship

Hands

Tonic and toast

Further thoughts on self-esteem and self-confidence

All roads lead to home and hard work

More thoughts on independence and freedom

Carriers of arts, and letters

Rebecca Mead, in her latest comment piece, “Learning by Degrees” in the current issue of The New Yorker, writes,

The skip-college advocates’ contention—that, with the economic downturn, a college degree may not be the best investment—has its appeal. Given the high cost of attending college in the United States, the question of whether a student is getting his or her money’s worth tends to loom large with whoever is paying the tuition fees and the meal-plan bills. Even so, one needn’t necessarily be a liberal-arts graduate to regard as distinctly and speciously utilitarian the idea that higher education is, above all, a route to economic advancement. Unaddressed in that calculus is any question of what else an education might be for: to nurture critical thought; to expose individuals to the signal accomplishments of humankind; to develop in them an ability not just to listen actively but to respond intelligently.

All these are habits of mind that are useful for an engaged citizenry, and from which a letter carrier, no less than a college professor, might derive a sense of self-worth. For who’s to say in what direction a letter carrier’s thoughts might, or should, turn, regardless of the job’s demands? Consider Stephen Law, a professor of philosophy at the University of London, who started his working life delivering mail for the British postal service, began reading works of philosophy in his spare time, decided that he’d like to know more, and went on to study the discipline at City University, in London, and at Oxford University. (A philosophy graduate in the Class of 2010, by the way, stands to earn an average starting salary of forty thousand dollars a year, rising to a lifetime median of seventy-six thousand. Not exactly statistician money, but something to think about.) Indeed, if even a professionally oriented college degree is no longer a guarantee of easily found employment, an argument might be made in favor of a student’s pursuing an education that is less, rather than more, pragmatic. (More theology, less accounting.) That way, regardless of each graduate’s ultimate path, all might be qualified to be carriers of arts and letters, of which the nation can never have too many.

Read the entire piece here.

Of course, one nice think about home schooling is that you can start early nurturing critical thought, exposing the small individuals you love to the signal accomplishments of humankind; and developing that ability to respond intelligently.  You also have the chance to teach them basic economics, that expenses should not exceed income, so that they don’t find themselves with an enormous, unpayable bill at the end of four years; and also marketing 101, that there are wonderful professors to be found at institutions without snazzy T-shirts.

National Poetry Month 2010

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Canadian artist (and recent TEDTalk 2010 speaker) Marian Bantjes.

Here are some bits and pieces from some of my previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2010:

The CD “Poetic License”, featuring 100 poems read by 100 performers, comes out April 2, in time for National Poetry Month.  It’s the first project from the new label GPR Records (Glen Roven, Peter Fitzgerald, and Richard Cohen), which will record and distribute Broadway, classical, spoken word, and children’s music.  Poems and performers on the new CD include Louis Zorich with Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”, Michael York with Kipling’s “Tommy”, and Barbara Feldon with Margaret Atwood’s “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep”.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his second annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

This year’s Cybils children’s poetry book winner is Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky; winner too of a 2010 Caldecott Honor award.  The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Sidman has a free online reader’s guide to the book for students in grades 1-4 here.

Poet J. Patrick Lewis asked last month, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2010 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here.  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)
Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series. Search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

New from my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children: poetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

Schnitzels and shells: Cooking behind the lines

This being what the Canadian government now calls Veterans’ Week, it seems a good time to note that the new documentary film “Cooking History” by Peter Kerekes just had its New York City premiere at the American Museum of Natural History.  From the website,

What keeps the armies of the world going? Tanks, submarines, airplanes, bullets, bombs? Actually, bread. Bread and blinis and sausage and coq au vin, even “monkey meat” rations. As one cook puts it, without food, the army would be in a shambles. Taking a tour of 20th century battlefields, Peter Kerekes revisits its mess halls and field kitchens, asking the cooks to recreate the meals they served at the front. One Russian woman prepares blinis she once made for the soldiers fighting off the Germans outside Leningrad. Another hunts mushrooms in a Czechoslovakian forest. Hungarians slaughter a pig for kolbasz. A German sings a fight song while baking black bread for the soldiers who just took Poland. A French conscientious objector chases a cockerel for his dinner. Reliving the battles while they prepare the food, the cooks are proud of their roles in serving their countries yet remain haunted by the suffering.

You can watch the trailer at the AMNH website, too.

And from Variety‘s review,

Proving the maxim “An army marches on its belly,” playful docu “Cooking History” inventively uses the field kitchen as a prism through which to view 20th-century European history. Slovak multihyphenate Peter Kerekes (“66 Seasons”) provides fascinating sociological insights via powerfully staged interviews with a baker’s dozen of military cooks, plus Marshal Tito’s personal taster. Already released in Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic and winner of the international feature prize at Hot Docs, this tasty morsel (including 10 recipes) should be gobbled up by niche arthouse distribs and broadcasters around the world.Structured as separate episodes that consider conflicts such as WWII; the Russian invasions of Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Chechnya; the Franco-Algerian war; and the Balkan bloodbaths, Kerekes lets his articulate (and mostly aged) subjects hold forth in monologues, prompted every now and then by his off-camera questions. Through their subjective recollections, food preparation becomes a metaphor for battle strategy.

Engrossing as the cooks’ personal histories are, the extraordinary nature of the docu lies in the theatrical way in which the monologues are staged. Never mere talking-head shots, they take place against clever and elaborate backgrounds; in some instances, the subjects play to the artifice of the helmer’s setup, deliciously adding to the stories they tell.

For instance, Peter Silbernagel, the only crew member to survive the sinking of the submarine Hai in 1963, talks about his experience while preparing schnitzel on a sandy beach in Sylt, Germany, as the tide slowly rolls in and floats his table away.

I’ll end with an excerpt from Blue Trout and Black Truffles: Peregrinations of an Epicure (1953) by the reporter Joseph Wechsberg, who wrote for The New Yorker (more here), Gourmet, and Esquire:

For a great many people 1929 was the end of Prosperity.  For me it was the end of Gastronomy. I was drafted for eighteen months’ service into the Czechoslovak Army.  

Military experts have called the old Czechoslovak Army a good army, but I’ve often wondered how far the army would have got if, following Napoleon’s celebrated dictum, it had had to march on its stomach.

At five in the morning — the hour when I’d gone to bed in my happier days of freedom — we had to queue up for something called, for lack of a more suitable word, “café.”  This “café” came in large squares, which had the size of tombstones, the color of dehydrated mud, and the smell of asphalt.  The squares were dumped into large containers of boiling water, where they dissolved instantaneously into a witches’ brew.  It was always lukewarm when the cooks poured it inot our tin cans, though it might have been piping hot only a moment ago.  “Café” and a piece of dry bread were the soldier’s breakfast.  Fifteen years later, when I was drafted into another army — the Army of the United States — there used to be much griping at breakfast-time because the eggs were not sunny-side up or the milk wasn’t cold enough.

There were no such gripes in the Czechoslovak Army.  There were no eggs.  There was no milk.  We hated the witches’ brew until the winter maneuvers started.  After lying outdoors all night long in snow and ice, we were overjoyed at the sight of the field kitchen arriving through the misty dawn.  Something miraculous had happened to the “café“: it was piping hot, had the color of fine Italian espresso, and tasted like an exquisite blend of Puerto Rican and Guatemalan coffees.

Trip report, part 5: NYC, Lego and lights

At FAO Schwartz, the boys were delighted to find another giant Lego sculpture, but had to wait for lots of adults to get out of the way before having their own picture taken,

100_3232

On Thursday evening, we went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s lively production of “The Barber of Seville” at Lincoln Center, Tom’s and the kids’ first live opera. The production was very, very good and the kids, and Tom, enjoyed themselves. Joyce DiDonato was especially good.  There weren’t many kids in attendance, and other audience members seemed truly delighted to find children — especially those who weren’t the seat-kicking and when-is-this-over kind — there.

Tom and Laura loved the Sputnik chandeliers in the opera house,

100_3247

Back to school goodies

I’m slowly, very very slowly catching up with some of my blog reading (and I have to admit I’ve been choosing the blogs with less to read and more pretty things to look at, because it’s faster and I don’t get as involved).

One of my favorite design blogs is Jessica Jones’s How About Orange*, where I found the following goodies:

* Free printable bookmarks, designed and offered by Sharon Rowan at lemon squeezy

* Free printable lists and recipe cards, designed by Erin Vale.  Includes a To Do list, Groceries To Buy list, HoneyDew list, and several recipe cards (with and without birds).  You can find all of Erin’s freebies here.

* Free printable calling cards (which you can also use as gift tags or place cards) at Creature Comforts, designed by Susan Connor

Thanks to Jess and all the designers for their talent and for sharing with the rest of us.  By the way, you can find all of the free downloads Jess comes across here at her blog.

* How about orange indeed, since one of my more successful container gardening ideas this summer was a chartreuse green tin pail, found at the local Bargain Shop in the spring filled with orange marigolds and hot pink verbena.  I had one pail on each of the deck steps, and they made me smile every time I went up and down the stairs this summer.

Washington, DC sights and resources: Part 1

Before we dash off this afternoon to pick cherries (hurray!), here are some things I’ve recently discovered and what we’ve been reading and watching to prepare for our trip next month:

The National Portrait Gallery: when I was living in Washington in 1985-90, this was nowhere near as crowded as the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, and I’m hoping this is still true now.  The NPG has a “Face to Face” podcast series, which I plan to load on Laura’s iPod; current exhibitions include Thomas Paine; Presidents in Waiting; America’s Presidents; American Origins, 1600-1900; and Twentieth-Century Americans.  Opening at the end of this month is Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924.   Also useful before you visit are the NPG’s brief “orientation videos”, one for teachers and one for students.

Capital by Lynn Curlee; I bought a hardcover edition from BookCloseouts several years ago and was delighted to find it on the shelves the other day.

Dipping a toe

… back into blogging after what has turned out to be a two-month sabbatical.  No apologies, no regrets.

It has been a marvelous summer, and at the moment we’re marveling that, here on the prairies six hours north of Montana, not only is summer still hanging on but we’re having a heat wave —  high 20s Celsius, with a forecast 33 C for Thursday.  The farmers’ crops are are drying in the fields, but the weather is perfect for the tomatoes and peppers as long as I can keep the water coming.  And it’s getting dark now disturbingly early, just after eight o’clock.

Our own crops are harvested, such as we could this year.  After we finished cutting and baling the alfalfa for hay, we cut and bale our barley crop early, several weeks ago, for greenfeed, instead of combining the grain. The boys are out as I type, with the water trailer, giving the shelterbelt trees a good soaking, and weeding the rows.

Speaking of the shelterbelt, in early July we took our first ever summer vacation, a whopping two-and-a-half days through Saskatchewan.  Our main destination was the shelterbelt tree center at the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in Indian Head, SK, which holds an open house every summer.  It’s the first time in the four or five years since we’ve started planted trees that we’ve been able to make it, mainly because of the drought which meant the hay wasn’t ready yet for cutting.  We attended seminars, took a tour of the center, watched demonstrations of the equipment — including the where-have-you-been-all-my-farming-life Weed Badger, which we are thinking would mean an end to endless weeding — and went home with all sorts of goodies, including notepads, water bottles, posters, and more little trees to plant. The town of Indian Head not only has a lovely ice cream parlor on Main Street, but has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses, and beautifully tended gardens, on well-treed streets I’ve ever seen in a prairie town. We also stopped at Moose Jaw for a tour of the Tunnels and (even better) the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre at the edge of town, where we met and handled George, the ambassador owl, fed grasshoppers to some others, and were able to buy very inexpensive owl pellets for dissection.  Next stop was Rouleau aka Dog River for the kids’ sake, though admittedly we were about two years late with that one.  On to Regina, where we managed to make a 6 pm tour of the legislature building and afterwards strolled through the lobby of the Hotel Saskatchewan since Laura has inherited from her mother and grandmother a love of grand old hotels.

Various other goings-on since my last post, but not in any sort of order (not much for pictures though, because either the camera hates the computer or vice versa and I can’t figure out which or why):

— Tom directed the kids to take the majority of the new-crop kittens to the fair, to Old MacDonald’s barn where they would be adopted. Only to turn into a softie when at said barn said kids discovered rabbits.  Laura asked first — “Dad, could I have a rabbit please?” But instead of a direct “No”, Tom mumbled something about having to make sure she’d do all her other chores first, etc. Which sounded, to Laura’s ears (and to mine) very much like “Yes”.  Which is all the boys needed to hear.  Which is why we now have two bunnies, Verbena and Claudia, happily munching on carrot tops, kohlrabi leaves, and other garden scraps.

— The rest of the time at the fair was equally exciting.  All three kids showed pens of chickens, their calves (on what turned out to be an exceedingly hot day), won prizes, spent two days riding the rides on the midway, showed off their handiwork at the exhibit hall (Laura displayed an example of handwriting, flowers, her quilling, and other things I know I’m forgetting; the boys displayed Lego creations, including Davy’s manure spreader made out of bricks, as well as first-prize winning birdhouses, one shaped like a grain elevator, and other assorted items; and all three and Tom displayed pint sealers of threshed grain, and sheaves of grain and forage).  We all ate homemade pie from the United Church booth and drank lemonade, and watched the show on the grandstand with good friends who came in from out of town to take in the festivities. And, as usual, we brought home the chicks hatched out at the incubator display.

— The kids spent the latter part of the summer getting ready for children’s day at the Farmer’s Market in town, when anyone under 14 can get a table for free, instead of the usual $10.  The boys decided to take what they learned from making my birthday present, a plant cart made from an old barbecue (I had seen the idea in the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith magazine, and kept reminding the boys that it would make a dandy Mother’s Day or mother’s birthday present), and turn it into a business.   The first project they did with Tom’s supervision and help, and then they knew enough to set out on their own.

— Davy fractured his wrist in early August, jumping off a swing at a friend’s house.  His first injury in six or so years of professional swing jumping.  But the new doctor in town said all he needed was a splint and an ace bandage for three weeks, which was very easy to manage, especially for showers and baths. The splint and bandage just came off, and the wrist seems to be as good as new.

— Tom’s aunt and uncle in town took off for a 10-day vacation, telling us we could pick all of their raspberries.  One of the  most delicious presents we’ve ever received.  I went in every other day for an hour and a half of picking, and by the time they returned we had eaten as many fresh raspberries, and raspberry crisps, crumbles and clafoutis as we could, and I had canned the rest as jam and preserves to enjoy until next summer.  Ditto with saskatoons, some which we picked wild and others from friends’ bushes. Chokecherries, Evans cherries, peaches, and pears are up next for syrup, jelly, and canning.

— We started up our formal studies yesterday, a bit earlier than usual, but then we’re taking off for a few weeks next month to visit grandparents in NYC, and then on to Washington, DC.   Since Farm School is going to Washington, it seemed appropriate to spend our first day watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, which will be a springboard to the next two months of civics, folk songs, vocabulary, and more.  Next up, “Much Ado About Nothing”, in preparation for the Folger’s new production.  Oh yes, and math, grammar, writing, spelling, science…  For Laura, science will be based on around one of her recent 12th birthday present from her grandparents, Birds of Central Park. I’m looking at a bird walk or two with Dr. Bob DeCandido, and have already found the perfect city souvenir for Laura.

Many thanks to the two or so readers, in addition to my parents, who’ve stuck it out over here in the barrens. Any point in a (not) back-to-school roll call in the comments, just to see who’s still here?

A perfect school for learning

Last Thursday, Tom’s already unreliable helper — the Alberta advantage continues in the face of the recession — failed to show up for the first day of a big reshingling job.  All of the shingles needed to be removed and the roof tarped, and it was hot (31 Celsius) so moving quickly with several pairs of hands was much better than moving slowly with only one.  So I suggested he take the boys along, since we’re done with school for the summer.   The three of them worked long days, until seven pm or so, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and then Monday with Laura along to make sure the job got finished by the end of the day. Tuesday, the boys begged to go along for Tom’s new project — renovating two bathrooms, which included the demolition of walls, which couldn’t be any more fun if you’re eight-and-a-half and ten years old and are smashing down drywall with hammers and wrecking bars.  And under Tom’s supervision and tutelage, the boys finally got to use the air nailer.  They’re very pleased and proud of themselves.

I was in town by myself yesterday and Tuesday, and at every stop at least one person asked, “Where are the kids?”  Each time I explained that Laura was home (yesterday she took her bicycle off to the corrals and with newborn kittens in her lap wrote her 4H essay) and the boys were working with Tom.  Twice I was asked, “Are they old enough already?”  I was torn between replying “Old enough for what?” and mentioning that our junior apprenticeship program started a long time ago.  The kids have been going off to work with their father, and doing farm chores with both of us, since they were old enough to walk.  When I was pregnant with Daniel, Tom took Laura, who was not quite a year-and-a-half old, to work where he was building a new house.  She would help him by passing tools to him, and kept busy for hours at a time hammering nails into a large styrofoam block.  When Daniel was six months old and Laura two years old, we took off for Toronto so Tom could help his sister and her husband build a  new garage.  Laura had no interest in spending her time in the house with her baby brother and newborn cousin when she could be outdoors helping her father, which she did, much to the consternation of her uncle who wasn’t used to useful and capable young children.  Really, the question shouldn’t be, “Are they old enough?” but “Are they able enough?” And the answer is yes.

It was last night while the boys were enjoying a well-deserved sleep after a hard day’s work at their father’s side that I read Holly Robinson‘s heart-breaking story of her sixth grade son’s experiences in his Massachusetts public school, with school as “a necessary evil instead of an inspiration”.  I want to write to her and say “break the rules”, or “send him to us, sight unseen, for a summer at the farm”.  Here’s some of the article, at The Huffington Post, including the beginning of the article which I confess confuses me:

A couple of weeks ago, I was volunteering at my son Aidan’s elementary school after hours. The building was empty but for a knot of teachers clustered in the hallway. As we entered his classroom, Aidan leaped up to touch the door frame. Immediately, one of the teachers scolded him about safety.

Aidan apologized. As soon as we were alone, though, he rolled his eyes at me. “Teachers don’t like boys, Mom. If I was a girl, she never would have said anything.”

“They’re just trying to keep you safe,” I said.

Aidan is in sixth grade, no doubt old enough to be safe no matter how he leaps or touches a door frame, no? Also confusing, and just plain misguided on the part of the teachers, who seem to have little understanding of classroom management and the nature of children in general and boys in particular,

Aidan earns A’s and B’s in school, yet I’m constantly fighting battles like this one: When he misbehaves, his teachers take away recess. Please. Are they out of their Vulcan minds?

The less confusing, more heart-breaking part:

Now that Aidan, the youngest of our five children, is in sixth grade, I have little hope that the system will change. Our public school curriculum in Massachusetts, as in so many states, is designed to help students conquer basic skills and prepare for the state-administered MCAS exam. Not a bad goal. Just one problem: our teachers now scramble to teach to the tests. This means lots of worksheets get handed out and there’s little time left for creative, hands-on projects.

This is a tragedy, especially for boys. Research tells us what most parents know: boys are apt to be “kinesthetic learners.” That’s educatorspeak for the fact that most boys learn best while they’re in motion. Boys want to get their feet wet and their hands dirty. They want to build things and take them apart, trap small animals and climb tall trees. Or jump up and touch whatever they can.

As Aidan observed once, after spending an entire science class watching a movie about the life cycle of frogs, “We’d learn a lot more if the teacher just brought tadpoles and frogs into the classroom and we could look at them.”

“Send him to us.” Or let him go pond dipping near home, if possible.

Ms. Robinson writes,

But I can’t help seeing school as a necessary evil instead of an inspiration. It’s great that Aidan has learned how to do algebra, read a map, write an essay and navigate social situations without a black eye. Outside of school, though, is where Aidan does most of his real learning. He pursues his interests with passion: rock climbing, coin collecting, fishing, engineering, snowboarding. Our house is one big science lab; in recent months Aidan has built a hovercraft in the driveway, figured out that you could shrink potato chip bags in the microwave oven, and erected a K’nex roller coaster taller than he is. He has memorized the periodic table and taken apart an old computer. He surprised me in the kitchen by saying, “Here’s a cool invention for kids, Mom,” and pushing a cup of milk onto the ice dispenser of our freezer. Instead of dispensing ice, cereal came pouring out of the freezer and fell into his cup of milk. Messy, but way cool.

What would a perfect school for boys be like? Classes would be small and held outside half the time. Boys of all abilities and temperaments would build, paint, draw, take things apart, play computer games and listen to music while reading if they felt like it. If they wanted to write about volcanoes instead of the weather, or study the Civil War in January instead of September, why not let them choose? And, if they wanted to do math standing up or run a few laps between exams, why not?

Oh, wait. Our boys couldn’t do that. That would be breaking the rules.

Yes, break the rules.  Perfect.

Free printable bookplates

Via Jess at How About Orange:

Free printable bookplates, perfect for children, from illustrator Helen Dardick at orange you lucky!

Orange we indeed.  Many thanks to Helen and Jess.

*  *  *

Other free printable bookplates I’ve come across in the past few years:

Thrifty crafter and graphic designer doe-c-doe lets you download a beautiful design

Free printable bookplates from Anne Fine’s nifty website (which I first mentioned in a post celebrating international literacy day)

And just for fun, Stanford University Libraries’ Bookplate Exhibit (with a page of bookplate links). I love bookplates, probably because when I was young my father made sure that my sister and I had an ample personalized supply from the now defunct Antioch Bookplate Company (though Googling Antioch led me to Bookplate Ink, which carries some of the old designs).

Risky business

Engineer, author, and Maker (and Farm School favorite) William Gurstelle‘s latest book, Absinthe & Flamethrowers: Projects and Ruminations on the Art of Living Dangerously, is just out from Chicago Review Press and made a big splash in this week’s New York Times, reviewed with enthusiasm by Dwight Garner.  From which,

Mr. Gurstelle exactingly describes how to make your own gunpowder, a substance he calls “the most significant chemical compound mankind has ever developed.” It’s the foundation for many of his book’s activities, the same way the perfect fish stock undergirds dozens of recipes in a cookbook.

Making even small quantities of gunpowder, he adds, “puts you in the rarefied company of such important historical figures as Joan of Arc, Roger Bacon, Mark the Greek, Lammot du Pont, Black Berthold and Leonardo da Vinci.” From there, he’s on to making things like fuses, rockets and an eprouvette, or small cannon.

According to the review, Mr. Gurstelle was inspired in part by a 2005 op-ed piece in The Times by David Brooks, who wrote about the new age of the lily-livered, in which we find ourselves, “I blame parents. Kids are raised amid foam corner protectors and schooled amid flame-retardant construction paper. They’re drugged with a vast array of pharmaceuticals to keep them from becoming interesting. They go from adult-structured tutorials to highly padded sports practices to career-counselor-approved summer internships.”  Garner notes that Absinthe and Flamethrowers ends with its own call to arms,

Mr. Gurstelle’s own kind of Declaration of Independence, one perhaps worth reading aloud on the Fourth of July, ideally after strapping a battered football helmet onto your head so you look a bit like B. D. from “Doonesbury. “We, the intellectually curious, may soon find ourselves trapped in a pen, fenced in by rule-bound sticklerism and overzealous concern for our personal safety, unless we exercise our civil liberties and our curiosity,” he declaims. And so, “It’s time to retake authority from those whose goals are to limit, not expand, intellectual and physical pursuits.”

Bravo, sir. It’s the kind of speech you want to punctuate with a potato cannon blast.

And which gives new meaning to “the land of the free and home of the brave”.

For some families, the new book sounds like a dandy Father’s Day present or a good way to start off summer vacation.  As for us, well, I have to have a talk with Tom, who the boys informed me last night has plans to take them and their new inflatable dinghy (on sale at the hardware store this week) down the river this weekend. I don’t think Tom or the boys need any more convincing.

By the way, speaking of Father’s Day, Bill Gurstelle recently finished a stint guest blogging at GeekDad (don’t miss his post on “25 Movies with Catapults”, complete with Latin quote) and is in the midst of guest blogging at BoingBoing.

Related Farm School posts (all of which can be found under the “Courting Danger” tab above)

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer

Fun with gunpowder

Other fun William Gurstelle links:

Bill Gurstelle’s website

Bill Gurstelle’s blog, “Notes from the Technology Underground”

Bill Gurstelle on Twitter, which I still don’t care for, but he’s there if you want him

Make Magazine checks in with Bill Gurstelle (March 2009); with a link to Mr. Gurstelle’s King of Fling catapult contest

Make: television on PBS, which we don’t get but would like if we did (we don’t get even get our two channels anymore, since the wind twisted our antenna the other weekend; Tom and the kids zipped over to his parents’ last night to watch Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, the first hockey they’ve watched in weeks.)

A recent interview with Bill Gurstelle by Harry Sawyers at Popular Mechanics. In response to Sawyers’ question, who is the book for, Gurstelle replies, “ We’re all the progeny of generations of people who took risks. The immigrants who came to America were incredible risk-takers. As a society, we’ve gotten comfortable, and fewer daily risks are necessary. This book is for someone who wants to become a risk taker.”