• 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 and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 17/Grade 12, 15/Grade 10, and 13/Grade 9.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.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"

    "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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Christmas wishes

We’ve been enjoying warmer temperatures (closer to zero than -30) and lots of hoarfrost, thanks to very foggy evenings and mornings. The countryside looks lovely and very Christmassy.

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Other things we’re enjoying:

:: Jon Favreau’s Chef: one of the best movies I’ve seen this year (admittedly a very short list) with one of the best soundtracks ever.

:: Christmas Day dinner will be roast saddle of venison, courtesy of the 15-year-old, who shot his first deer this fall, and also won the youth division of the big buck contest. His prize was a new rifle and scope, and mine is Thursday’s meal.

:: A new favorite Christmas cookie recipe, The Kitchn’s toffee chocolate chip shortbread. Easy and fast to make too, and doubles easily. A few changes I made — slightly less sugar (1/3 cup vs. 1/2 cup), fewer toffee and chocolate chips, and I drizzled chocolate on top instead of dipping.

:: Free printable Christmas food gift labels from the talented Lia Griffith

It’s been a difficult year for us, but also a rewarding one.

Merry Christmas wishes from Farm School, and a happy and healthy* 2015!

*Advice for a new year: go to the doctor, don’t put off checkups and tests, hug your children, your parents, your in-laws, update your will, and make sure you have a living will/personal directive (no, you’re not too young) and talk to your family, including your kids, about your decisions.

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More BirdCasting

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Exciting news for us — Laura is in Washington, DC to help celebrate the 500th show of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, and will be part of the live broadcast tomorrow from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Talkin’ Birds is a live interactive half-hour radio show about wild birds and nature, airing Sunday mornings at 9:30 Eastern, on WATD (95.9 FM); you can read more at the Facebook page and listen with live streaming on Sundays here. They’ll be joined by Smithsonian ornithologist Bruce Beehler.

Ray has been an extremely generous, kind, and encouraging mentor and friend to Laura ever since she discovered the show about five years ago and then started calling in. I wrote back in June 2009 (“BirdCasting”), when she was 11,

Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard. Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society. She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds. And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts. So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts…

It didn’t take long for Talkin’ Birds to become her very favorite. And for the past while, she’s been part of the crew as a far-flung correspondent; when Ray gives her advice on how to speak on the radio, he knows what he’s talking about. I keep thinking how I, at her age, would have taken an invitation to take part in a live broadcast in front of a theatre full of people. I’m fairly certain that I would have said, thank you so much for asking, but no, and spent the rest of my life kicking myself for missing such a wonderful opportunity. The differences between extroverts and introverts!

Tom is with her, since while we have no problem sending her alone to the wilds of Ontario, we figured a major city is probably more enjoyably and safely negotiated with an adult travelling companion (the show staff are in town just for 36 hours), and Tom needed a holiday anyway. Good reports back from the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill (which has a pillow menu believe it or not), and also their restaurant last night, Cafe Berlin. They’re hoping to get to Bistro Cacao, not too far from the hotel, before they leave on Tuesday. Huge thanks to Talkin’ Birds for underwriting her flight and part of the hotel stay.

I’m writing this post as a thank you for so many things that have become an enormous part of my daughter’s life, and also as a reminder for any other home schooling parents who might still be reading — if your child has a particular interest or passion, even if you as the parent have little knowledge of (or interest in) the subject, modern technology has made it possible to reach out and find those who can inspire, guide, and teach your child. And if you teach your child about internet safety and writing skills, he or she can do much of the reaching out himself or herself, which is a good skill to learn. Living on a farm in rural western Alberta hasn’t been any sort of impediment, and a flexible home schooling schedule has meant Laura could take advantage of spending a month last fall as an intern at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, banding birds and working on an independent research project, or participate in an event like tomorrow’s festivities. Age isn’t a barrier either, as most home schooling families know; she’s been able to write bird book reviews, receiving printed and e- books regularly, and when she realized that there wasn’t a Facebook group for Alberta Birds (and birders), though most of the other provinces and states had something, she started one; the group now has more than 2,000 members who share their photos and videos, as well as sightings, birding stories, and blog posts. She’s made lifelong friends and learned more than my husband and I could have ever taught her, and we continue to be touched and amazed by the support and generosity of so many adult birders so eager to take young people under their wings and nurture this budding interest. It reminds me very much of gardeners I’ve met the world over who are always so quick to offer seeds and cuttings, in order to spread not just a love of nature but the joy of a passion shared.

In their absence, the boys and I are holding down the fort and farm, more like hunkering down, since winter finally arrived today, with a high of -5C and some snow that won’t be melting any time soon. Tomorrow’s daytime high is to be -11C with an overnight low of -15C. Welcome, winter. I think…

Walls

The late June weekend before Tom’s operation was a mad rush to raise the exterior and interior walls on the first floor.

This is a long post, more for us than for anyone else, so click away now if you’re not keen on lumber. I wanted something to remember this special time, especially because a few days later Tom had such a difficult time having to set down his tool belt and hammer for several months.

Here you can see some of the stamped concrete from the porch (done a week or so prior), and some of the completed walls to be erected; Davy rolled out the foam that went underneath the walls,

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Putting up/pulling up the very first wall, Friday after supper, June 27th,

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The view through the very first wall, with Daniel running the telehandler,

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Up, up, and away,

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The front of the house, with the entryway, adjacent to the “tower room” off the living room,

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Joining the two walls,

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Part of the front of the house — from left, the front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area off the living room,

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The entire front, with, from left, bathroom (full barrier-free bathroom with shower, not a powder room), office/home school room, front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area,

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From left, tower sitting room (off the living room), entry hall window, front door, office/home school room, bathroom,

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Readying one of the interior walls (the wall between the office/home school room and the entry hall),

 

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Standing up the second interior wall, between the entry hall and the living room,

 

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Bracing the interior walls,

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The windowed dining room, to the left of the kitchen,

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The dining room again, with the windows and French door to the porch,

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The kitchen and, beyond that (if you look carefully you can see a post marking where the wall goes), the pantry; the door in the centre is to the garage; the window at far right is in the bathroom,

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Dining room at far left (beyond the orange ladder), kitchen window (to the  left of the yellow ladder), and pantry window; we decided to make a smaller kitchen, easier to navigate, with a good size pantry nearby,

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Tom taking measurements in the pantry,

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Kitchen, pantry, and garage entry,

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Dining room from the outside,

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Insulating the garage and basement foundation and backfilling,

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A visitor to the work site,

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Now that we’re done with the second cut of hay and our greenfeed, Tom and crew are back at work on the house, floors and the second story before the snow flies. Onward and upward…

Grow where you are planted

Most years I plant sunflowers, though there are always a number of volunteers, thanks to all of Laura’s bird feeders around the yard. This spring there were even more, despite the cool spring temperatures but maybe because of all the rain we had until the end of July. I transplanted a bunch to the former strawberry beds south of the house, so there were several rows of beautiful sunflowers.

We realized last week that, thanks to the birds, some of the sunflowers made it beyond our yard — one is blooming across the road, in the neighbor’s pasture, where the pipeline project still has some soil to re-grade. It makes me smile every time I go by.

And completely unrelated, we’re off to see the RCMP Musical Ride. It’s our third time — the provinces are all on a four-year rotation (much like The Well-Trained Mind), and next time they come around, we may be madly off in all directions…

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Some summer scenes

Something cheerier for this post, and an attempt to catch up.

4H beef club achievement days in late May; the kids each did well with all of their animals (the boys each had a steer and a heifer; Laura had a steer, heifer, and cow-calf pair), and Laura also received her platinum award for diary points. Davy, at left, and Daniel at right, with their animals,

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In June, we had to do some fencing at our far pasture before we could move the cattle in; since we were there for hours at a time, cookouts were an easy way to have meals in the field:

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The shelterbelt lilacs in the field where we’re building the new house were beautiful this year with lots of blooms and lots of growth, thanks to heavy spring rains:

 

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In late July, I had a pile of leftover grated cabbage, intended for coleslaw (a meal I catered at the country fair), so I turned it into sauerkraut, in my mother-in-law’s old 10-gallon crock:

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What we did on our summer vacation, or…

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Wild blueberries in the woods, August 2014 (photo by Laura)

*  *  *  *

…life since my last post, on April 9th.

On April 11th, Tom had a biopsy for prostate cancer, after concerning results from his PSA test and then a physical exam. On April 13th, his father had a severe stroke and was close to death for several weeks. On May 9th, Tom got his diagnosis of prostate cancer which came as a shock no matter how prepared we thought we were, and surgery was scheduled for July 3rd, with a six-week recovery period. Given the sharp rise in his PSA, the biopsy results and his Gleason score, surgery rather than any other alternative therapies seemed prudent. The good news is that the pathology report was clear and the cancer seems to have been confined to the prostate, which is the best news we could have hoped for. But it’s also surgery whose consequences include complications such as incontinence (enough that many men refuse to undergo what can be life-change surgery), and we’re dealing with those now. If you or a loved one are dealing with prostate cancer and have any questions, feel free to email me (email address at left). I will say right now: get your PSA tested, especially if there’s a family history, as there was in this case going back at least several generations. Some relatives haven’t been tested, which we can’t fathom. It’s a simple blood test.

My father-in-law’s stroke has been much more complicated and much less hopeful. While he is no longer near death, as he was in the first weeks — so much so that his sons and some of the grandchildren built a casket for his cremation — he remains unable to stand or walk, and the stroke combined with his Alzheimer’s (and his Alzheimer’s might well have been brought on by two earlier strokes) has wreaked havoc with his memory and his speech, which especially at the end of the day can descend into gibberish. He’s no longer the husband, father, and grandfather he was, which has been a profound blow to each of us. He moves into the nursing home later this week. More bossy advice: make sure you, and the elderly parents in your life, have personal directives (living wills) and powers of attorney in order; if you need a thorough form for a personal directive, I highly recommend this one for its specifics. And talk about the details with each other and your kids. We have talked a good deal about what makes a good life, what makes a life worth living, and what we each think about so-called heroic measures.

My mother-in-law and I are dealing with somewhat similar situations, 25 years apart, though for her there will be no recovery. She is dealing with the loss of her husband, because, in her words, he’s not the man he was and “I lost him several months ago”. And instead of eagerly anticipating our 20th wedding anniversary or a possible one week holiday to BC in June, as we had hoped, we were instead driving to dates for bone scans and pre-surgery appointments. Either way, at 50 or at 75, the prospect, and reality, of losing the love of your life is considerable, and overwhelming.

We’ve had some highs since things started going wonky — Daniel’s 15th birthday and my 50th at the end of April, Laura passing her road test to get her driver’s license in June and her 17th birthday, as well as the most recent nifty progress on the house (the walls are up) in early July, just before Tom’s surgery; however, one of the hardest things Tom ever had to do was put away his tool belt and hammer, knowing it would be several months before taking them up again. The kids have stepped in and stepped up to do all sorts of work. At the beginning of June, Laura started a full-time job in town, to which she’s been driving herself since late June; it was a relief to head to the hospital in the big city knowing that the kids could cope with the farm and house on their own, without taxing the extended family’s resources any more than they already have been. The boys started haying a few days after Tom got home from the hospital, doing their work and his cheerfully without any complaints, with Tom supervising from the truck or a chair at the edge of the field. The boys have also been planning their “farm diversification project” — more sheep, some goats, and some pigs. Davy has been using Google Maps to plot how many fence posts they need to cross-fence some pasture for more livestock. The kids all went to 4-H camp and had a collective ball. We picked wild blueberries after we dropped them off and after we picked them up — three ice cream pails full (I think this is a western Canadian measure — I checked a plastic lid and it says “4 litres”, so we have 12 litres, eight of which I’ve turned into jam, blueberry muffins, and blueberry crumb cake, which lasted not quite 12 hours in this house).

But we’re all here. A little worse for wear and in dire need of a vacation or three, but still here.

Floor joists

“a heavy burden lifted from my soul”
~ Leonard Cohen, “Paper Thin Hotel”

A very good week. The kids and a friend won the finals of the junior super league curling; they’ve been curling together Monday nights since November, and were undefeated heading into the final.

It’s starting to warm up from the -40s, the wind has died down, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and by Sunday it will be +2. I’m also a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

With the better weather, Tom and crew got the floor joists knocked out pretty quickly.

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