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

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,

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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,

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

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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?

Courting Danger

Farm School blog posts

Do It Yourself Science

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

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

Fun with gunpowder

Dangerous Things

A manual for childhood

How can you resist “the Anarchist Cookbook of the nursery”?

Still searching for danger

Paddle your own canoe

Science with Tom Edison

Retro-progressives of the world, unite

Why safer isn’t always better

New for dangerous girls and daring boys

Other blogs:

Home Chemistry

The Borderline Sociopathic Book for Boys post introduces The Borderline Sociopathic Blog for Boys

The Dangerous and Daring Blog for Boys and Girls

Wisdom of the Hands

Self-Sufficient Living

Craft Blog

Make Blog

Geekdad

Lenore Skenazy’s blog Free Range Kids (not to be confused, by the way, with the nifty and dangerous home schooling blog Free Range Academy)

Websites:

Boing Boing

Make Magazine and Maker Faire (where the motto is “Build, Craft, Hack, Play, Make”)

Craft Magazine

Traditional Scouting

TedTalk “Five Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do” by Gever Tulley ofThe Tinkering School, a summer program to help kids ages seven to 17 learn to build things; the talk comes from Tulley’s book in progress,  Fifty Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do

Recommended books, some for adults and some for children, from the Farm School shelves and wish lists

The American Boy’s Handy Book by Daniel Carter Beard (do yourself a favor and get the Centennial edition published by Godine, with the lovely foreword by the late Noel Perrin)

Shelters, Shacks & Shanties: And How to Build Them by Daniel Carter Beard (also with a foreword by Noel Perrin

Field and Forest Handybook: New Ideas for Out of Doors by Daniel Carter Beard

Camp-Lore and Woodcraft by Daniel Carter Beard

Boat-Building and Boating by Daniel Carter Beard

Daniel Carter Beard’s Online Books

Wildwood Wisdom by Ellsworth Jaeger

Woodcraft and Indian Lore by Ernest Thompson Seton

Two Little Savages by Ernest Thompson Seton

Scouting for Boys: The Original 1908 Edition (Dover Value Editions) by Robert Baden-Powell

Boy Scouts Handbook: The First Edition, 1911 (Dover Books on Americana)

Canoeing with the Cree, the late reporter Eric Sevareid’s account of the expedition he, then 17, and 19-year-old friend Walter Port embarked upon several days after graduating from high school. The boys paddled 2,250 miles in an 18-foot canvas canoe, from the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay.

The Boy Mechanic, a four-volume series by the editors of Popular Mechanics, reprinted by the good folks at the Canadian woodworking and gardening institutionLee Valley, which also offers the reprint Boy Craft

Another, one-volume, version of The Boy Mechanicthis one subtitled “200 Classic Things to Build”

Backyard Ballistics: Build Potato Cannons, Paper Match Rockets, Cincinnati Fire Kites, Tennis Ball Mortars, and More Dynamite Devices by William Gurstelle

The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery by William Gurstelle

Whoosh Boom Splat: The Garage Warrior’s Guide to Building Projectile Shooters by William Gurstelle

Forbidden LEGO: Build the Models Your Parents Warned You Against by Ulrik Pilegaard and Mike Dooley

Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments: All Lab, No Lecture by Robert Bruce Thompson

Illustrated Guide to Astronomical Wonders: From Novice to Master Observer by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson

Mad Professor by Mark Frauenfelder

Manual Of Formulas: Recipes, Methods and Secret Processes by Raymond B. Wailes (Popular Science Publishing)

Lee’s Priceless Recipes: 3000 Secrets for the Home, Farm, Laboratory, Workship and Every Department of Human Endeavor compiled by Dr. N.T. Oliver, from the Classic Reprint series section of the Lee Valley Tool catalogue

The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments, available free online as a PDF file and a bit torrent file, and for under $30 as a reprint from Lulu

The How and Why Wonder Book of Chemistry by Martin L. Keen, illustrated by Walter Ferguson, published by Grosset & Dunlap, 1961, part of The How and Why Wonder Book series; out of print but worth looking for

Mr. Wizard’s 400 Experiments in Science, by Don Herbert and Hy Ruchlis; and don’t miss Mr. Wizard on DVD, especially the episode where he electrocutes the hot dog. Danger at its finest!

The Radioactive Boy Scout: The Frightening True Story of a Whiz Kid and His Homemade Nuclear Reactor by Ken Silverstein

The Dangerous Book for Boys by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

Watch Yourself: Why Safer Isn’t Always Better by Matt Hern

Miscellania:

The Canadian classic film Song of the Paddle (1978); “Outdoorsman Bill Mason, his wife, and two children set out on a wilderness canoe camping holiday. In this film, the art of canoeing is more than technical expertise; it becomes a family experience of shared joy. Along the way there are countless adventures and much lovely scenery, including the Indian rock carvings of Lake Superior.”

Remember: BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.

 

Multiplying with wood

New from Instructables is a series of instructions to make your own set of Napier’s Bones to help with multiplying and dividing.

And more on the inventive Scottish mathematician John Napier and his Bones here, here, here, here, and here.

Paddle your own canoe

We were doing farm chores and driving around in truck the other week with the radio set to CBC, as usual, when I caught a bit of music and Shelagh Roger‘s comment that it was based on the Caldecott Honor book by Holling Clancy Holling — long appreciated by homeschoolers as an author of marvelous living geography books — Paddle-to-the-Sea, originally published in 1941, about a young Indian boy from Nipigon, on the shores of Lake Superior, who carves the small figure of a man, named Paddle-to-the-Sea, in a canoe, which begins its journey on a snow bank near a river leading to the Great Lakes and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean, in a journey fraught with danger. Think of it as a North American version of Hans Christian Andersen’s Steadfast Tin Soldier (to which the modern Ratatouille also owes a debt), but less morose and more delightful. Since the CBC website didn’t have the information up right away, I Googled around for a bit and, though I didn’t come across the answer I was looking for (until the next day), I did discover a few interesting things.

First, there’s a National Film Board movie version of the book, directed by the legendary naturalist, canoeist, film maker and author Bill Mason (1929-1988). The movie, made in 1966 and running just under 30 minutes, is available to watch free online at the NFB website. From the website: “For all children and those adults for whom the romance of journeying is still strong. This great NFB children’s classic is adapted from a story by Holling C. Holling. During the long winter night, an Indian boy sets out to carve a man and a canoe. He calls the man “Paddle to the Sea.” The boy sets the carving down on a frozen stream to await the coming of spring. The film charts the adventures that befall the canoe on its long odyssey from Lake Superior to the sea. This delightful story is photographed with great patience and an eye for the beauty of living things, offering vivid impressions of Canada’s varied landscape and waterways.”

Second, celebrated Canadian classical guitarist (and one-time squeeze of late PM Pierre Trudeau, which becomes more interesting shortly) Liona Boyd in 1990 put out a CD of original music along with her reading of the book. The CD is out of print, but I’ve been able to find a copy on audio CD through interlibrary loan. Still in print, though, is a a Boydless unabridged audio CD of the book available from Audio Bookshelf, read by Terry Bregy.

So we’ve begun rereading the book (which Davy barely remembers), listening to the CD, poring over maps, talking about trees, and when we’re all done we’ll watch the movie.

* * *

Holling Clancy Holling, the American author and illustrator, was born in Jackson County, Michigan in 1900. After graduating from the school of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1923, he went to work in the taxidermy department of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and also worked under assistant curator and noted anthropologist Ralph Linton. In 1925 he married Lucille Webster, and they worked together in the writing and illustrating of numerous books. Before turning to writing full-time, Mr. Holling also worked as a teacher at NYU, a freelance designer, an advertising artist, and illustrator for other people’s books.

Mr. Holling’s last books, from Paddle-to-the-Sea onwards, are a masterful blend of history, nature, art, and storytelling (which, yes, sadly, may be too slow-moving for many of today’s high-speed children), and the marginalia is fascinating. Holling Clancy Holling died in 1973.

Holling C. Holling books still in print:

Paddle-to-the-Sea (1941)

Tree in the Trail (1942); “The story of a cottonwood tree that watched the pageant of history on the Santa Fe Trail where it stood, a landmark to travelers and a peace-medicine tree to Indians, for over 200 years.”

Seabird (1948); a carved ivory gull becomes a mascot for four generations of seafarers aboard first a whaler, then a clipper ship, a steamer, and finally, an airplane.

Minn of the Mississippi (1951); a turtle hatched at the source of the Mississippi is carried through the heart of America to the Gulf of Mexico.

Pagoo (1957), illustrations credited to both Holling C. Holling and Lucille Webster Holling; the study of life in a tide pool through the story the hermit crab, Pagoo.

* * *
For more wonderful movies by Bill Mason, including several with more paddling:

Song of the Paddle (1978); “Outdoorsman Bill Mason, his wife, and two children set out on a wilderness canoe camping holiday. In this film, the art of canoeing is more than technical expertise; it becomes a family experience of shared joy. Along the way there are countless adventures and much lovely scenery, including the Indian rock carvings of Lake Superior.”

The Path of the Paddle series, volumes one, two, three, and four

and two classics about wolves, Cry of the Wild and Death of a Legend

A few extra Canadian canoe resources:

The Canadian Canoe Museum, in Peterborough, Ontario, whose website used to, but sadly apparently no longer, include a page of profiles of patriotic paddlers, including Bill Mason and Pierre Trudeau, who paddled as well as he pirouetted, and who wrote an essay in 1944, when he was 25, “Exhaustion and Fulfillment: The Ascetic in a Canoe”: “What sets a canoeing expedition apart is that it purifies you more rapidly and inescapably than any other. Travel a thousand miles by train and you are a brute; pedal five hundred on a bicycle and you remain basically a bourgeois; paddle a hundred in a canoe and you are already a child of nature.”

Trudeau’s fringed buckskin jacket and canoe have been on exhibit at the Canadian Canoe Museum since 2002; the canoe was on temporary loan to the ROM in Toronto, through January 2008 as part of the Canada Collects exhibit.

UPDATED to add the Old Curmudgeon’s suggestion, Canoeing with the Cree, the late reporter Eric Sevareid‘s account of the expedition he, then 17, and 19-year-old friend Walter Port embarked upon several days after graduating from high school. The boys paddled 2,250 miles in an 18-foot canvas canoe, from the Mississippi River at Fort Snelling to Hudson Bay.

And a marvelous, though not Canadian, book, John McPhee’s The Survival of the Bark Canoe

And finally, from the Canadian Poetry Audio Archives,

Said the Canoe
by Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850-1887)

My masters twain made me a bed
Of pine-boughs resinous, and cedar;
Of moss, a soft and gentle breeder
Of dreams of rest; and me they spread
With furry skins and, laughing, said:
“Now she shall lay her polished sides
As queens do rest, or dainty brides,
Our slender lady of the tides!”

My masters twain their camp-soul lit;
Streamed incense from the hissing cones;
Large crimson flashes grew and whirled;
Thin golden nerves of sly light curled
Round the dun camp; and rose faint zones,
Half way about each grim bole knit,
Like a shy child that would bedeck
With its soft clasp a Brave’s red neck,
Yet sees the rough shield on his breast,
The awful plumes shake on his crest,
And, fearful, drops his timid face,
Nor dares complete the sweet embrace.

Into the hollow hearts of brakes–
Yet warm from sides of does and stags
Passed to the crisp, dark river-flags–
Sinuous, red as copper-snakes,
Sharp-headed serpents, made of light,
Glided and hid themselves in night.

My masters twain the slaughtered deer
Hung on forked boughs with thongs of leather:
Bound were his stiff, slim feet together,
His eyes like dead stars cold and drear.
The wandering firelight drew near
And laid its wide palm, red and anxious,
On the sharp splendour of his branches,
On the white foam grown hard and sere
On flank and shoulder.
Death–hard as breast of granite boulder–
Under his lashes
Peered thro’ his eyes at his life’s grey ashes.

My masters twain sang songs that wove–
As they burnished hunting-blade and rifle–
A golden thread with a cobweb trifle,
Loud of the chase and low of love:

“O Love! art thou a silver fish,
Shy of the line and shy of gaffing,
Which we do follow, fierce, yet laughing,
Casting at thee the light-winged wish?
And at the last shall we bring thee up
From the crystal darkness, under the cup
Of lily folden
On broad leaves golden?

“O Love! art thou a silver deer
With feet as swift as wing of swallow,
While we with rushing arrows follow?
And at the last shall we draw near
And o’er thy velvet neck cast thongs
Woven of roses, stars and songs–
New chains all moulden
Of rare gems olden?”

They hung the slaughtered fish like swords
On saplings slender; like scimitars,
Bright, and ruddied from new-dead wars,
Blazed in the light the scaly hordes.

They piled up boughs beneath the trees,
Of cedar web and green fir tassel.
Low did the pointed pine tops rustle,
The camp-fire blushed to the tender breeze.

The hounds laid dewlaps on the ground
With needles of pine, sweet, soft and rusty,
Dreamed of the dead stag stout and lusty;
A bat by the red flames wove its round.

The darkness built its wigwam walls
Close round the camp, and at its curtain
Pressed shapes, thin, woven and uncertain
As white locks of tall waterfalls.