• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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A rare home schooling post: AP Government & Citizenship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * * * *

A recommended reading list for dual citizens of all ages:

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

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

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

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

“Introduction to FATCA for Canadians”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, on the lighter side:

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

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

Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans, available on YouTube

 

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

Workshop and apartment/suite progress

The weather warmed up for Christmas and the crew had some good, productive days in in between holidays.

The workshop, at the end of the garage and underneath the granny suite; some of the windows and the walk-in door are in. I’ve been researching overhead doors.

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In the workshop; the orange area will be the wall between workshop and garage.

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In the suite, the two windows at left are in the bedroom, and the two at right in the living room,

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The angled garage,

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Inside the garage, looking at the door into the house (up the stairs), and the back door,

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From the back, with a view of some of the sheathing on the garage roof,

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The apartment “door”,

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Inside the apartment; the kitchen will be to the right of the front door, and the laundry/storage room and bathroom to the left,

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Eat-in kitchen at left, living room at right,

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Wall week

The crew began the week building walls for the second story.

The telehandler is invaluable for getting the lumber up there,

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Before the walls were erected,

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One of the completed walls,

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Shop class,

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The rough window assemblies to make up the tower,

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And up they go,

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The telehandler is even more useful for lifting/standing up walls; this is the back of the house, with the dining room nearest the telehandler,

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The dining room from the other side,

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The 16-year-old running the telehandler,

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Finally on to the fourth side,

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The 14-year-old securing the temporary brace (until the interior walls go up),

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The white painted piece of lumber is salvage, when the grandstand at the fairgrounds was replaced years ago,

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Moving the top plate/cap plate assembly out of the tower to erect the wall pieces,

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I got distracted by a tiger swallowtail on the lilacs,

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Putting the top plate/cap plate in place,

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Removing the GoPro from the GoPro pole,

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A productive afternoon!

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Belated Europe

After the New Year, we spent four weeks in France and Germany, Tom’s and my first visit in 19 years, and the kids’ first ever. Home base was the house of an old family friend outside Paris, near Fontainebleau, and we took a variety of trips, to western France near Angers for a visit to a farm family, to Paris, to Tom’s family (his mother’s cousin) near Bremen, and back to France (Morzine) for some skiing.

One of the highlights was the stay in northwest Germany, which we all enjoyed very, very much — meeting some family members again, many others for the first time, the architecture, the food, and mostly the very warm welcome. And the kids were delighted to be able to help with farm chores, which helped with missing their animals at home. We had a lovely time, lots of fun and adventures, and made the most of our rental car, a BMW with GPS which turned out to be indispensable. The kids got to do a number of things on their wish lists — driving fast on the Autobahn, birding (Laura had several outings with local birders, and added 70 new species to her life list), and skiing in the Alps.

A few photos from the trip (in chronological order):

One of the houses down the lane in France, with moss everywhere (photo by Laura),

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A stone wall, more moss,

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The village’s outdoor Sunday market; yes, the butcher sells horse meat,

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During one of our drives through the forest of Fontainebleau, we came across one of the regularly scheduled hunts for deer and wild boar, necessary to keep the populations down in the area, for the safety of the humans and health of the habitat; we met the hunters who talked to us about the hunts and showed us some of the animals from that morning,

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We took a walk along the Loing river,

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Visiting a farm near Château-Gontier, in the Mayenne region, with Rouge des Prés (formerly known as Maine-Anjou) cattle,

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At the farm of a distant cousin, where they grow organic potatoes, onions, and carrots; lots of very, very old brick in northwestern Germany,

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Laura birding with some virtual friends made real,

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Peat blocks drying in stacks at the Drebbersches Moor near Lange Lohe; Black Grouse is now extinct in the area because of habitat loss caused by the peat harvesting in the moors,

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While Laura and I were birding, Cousin H. taught the rest of the family to make brooms with twigs, very good for sweeping out the barn stalls,

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The family farmhouse near Bremen is more than 100 years old, and had these lovely encaustic tiles in the main hallway,

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I drooled over the kitchen’s 1920s aluminum storage drawers/bins, a hallmark of the celebrated Frankfurt Kitchen,

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At the neighborhood beekeeper’s, old terracotta roofing tiles salvaged for a new project,

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The beekeeper also restored a 19th century bake house on his property,

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From the bake house door,

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Scenes from a French village,

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For skiing, they made do with a combination of regular clothing we brought for the trip and rentals,

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The view from our hotel room in the Alps,

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We tried a variety of local cheeses every evening and I was able to attend a cheesemaking demonstration,

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Snowing steadily in Morzine,

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Back in Paris,

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All three kids had a great appreciation for the various fast and fancy cars,

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View from the Arc de Triomphe,

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Another fast and fancy car,

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which we discovered was possible to rent,

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At the Louvre,

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An eye for an eye,

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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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Trusses and joists

January and February were exceedingly cold, and Tom’s apprentice was off for two months for his courses. So Tom used the time to catch up on a variety of smaller indoor jobs, and paperwork, including completing our environmental farm plan. We also had our annual organic recertification application, which always takes awhile.

A few weeks ago, we took delivery of our roof trusses and floor joists.

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We also ordered the windows for the house, since most window companies run sales in the winter.

Other things we’ve been busy with — lots of curling, skiing (twice), 4H public speaking (all of the kids went to Districts, and the boys are headed to regionals with their presentation), and watching the Olympics. Laura and Daniel took a 15-hour driver’s ed course (10 more hours each to come, behind the wheel). And Laura has a summer job lined up already, at the local Ag Society’s office, prepare for the fair in July. Daniel has taken up welding, which he enjoys.

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And Laura made panna cotta, twice, which was lovely; she used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which you can also find here. And chocolate macarons, which tasted better than they looked, so we’re looking forward to more and more practice sessions. Just to be helpful, of course. The boys’ 4H presentation is on how to make sausage, so they’ve been making — and we’ve been eating — lots of sausage, mostly Italian style with fennel seed, but there’s talk of venison sausage with dried cranberries, too.

Oh, and we had a new baby, considerably earlier than all the rest, which should start to come later this month.

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Still remembering

In my earlier post today remembering Pete Seeger, I mentioned seeing him perform at South Street Seaport for an autumn festival. Turns out it was October 1972, according to the caption on the back of the photograph my father took.

Here it is, with Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick) and Pete Seeger at South Street Seaport. My younger sister and mother are at the bottom, in the clear plastic rain bonnets my grandmother and mother used to keep in their purses.

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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

Adding to the walls

The basement walls will be nine feet high, so Tom added wooden “parapet” walls to the poured concrete walls to raise the height.

Some of the parapet walls under construction (all photos by Davy),

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The tower parapet wall  is made from a recycled corrugated steel granary, modified in size (pressed down from 19 feet to 14 feet). Tom started by making a template from plywood, which he set on an OSB base,

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Putting the tower parapet wall in place with our telehandler,

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Some of the walls in place,

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Next up: construction of concrete footings and frost walls for the garage, covered veranda, and covered deck

*  *  *

Over the holidays, we had periods of lovely weather (around 0 C, even slightly above freezing) including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, alternating with bloody cold -30 C (not including wind chill), wind, and snow. We had some nice weather last week, but the weekend was frigid again, and after a cold day outside, we enjoyed the warmth of the house with a viewing of “Slap Shot”, venison sausages with red cabbage,  twinkling lights on the tree, and the faint jingling of the Swedish angel chimes. The next day I started the undecorating, including removing each and every piece of contraband German lead tinsel, for re-use. Here’s to a new year and the promise of warming later this week…

“McCracken, also known as Dr Hook for his scalpel-like prowess with the stick, has been known to carve a man’s eye out with a flick of the wrist. There’s a carnival-like atmosphere here. The crowd is gathered and, well, you can feel it, there’s an air of expectancy.”

Merry Christmas

from our (farm) house to yours.

'Bringing Back the Tree' by Angela Harding

“Bringing Back the Tree” by Angela Harding, a greeting card reproduced from a lithograph; also available directly from the artist, and available as a tea towel, too

(For the first time in years, we didn’t head north to cut down a tree. I thought we’d save some time, with busy weekends and daylight so brief, by buying a tree. I found a lovely one in a store lot on the day we took the chickens and turkeys to be butchered, and the kids loaded it up for me.)

Sticky toffee pudding

This has become our favorite winter dessert this year. I bake it in a square metal pan, grease it well, and put home-canned pear halves on the bottom before I add the batter, and then serve it with unsweetened whipped cream and chopped candied ginger on top. We had a version with the pears, sort of like a pineapple upside down cake, when we were living in the West Indies about 10 years and it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Here’s another version with pears, though these are fresh and unpeeled. I would imagine apples (peeled) would be good, too.

The version below is from the Hunter’s Head Tavern, an “authentic English pub” in Upperville, Virginia via Bon Appétit magazine. Nigella Lawson has a very good version as well, but it calls for self-raising flour, which is hard to come by in this part of the world. It goes without saying that Farm School is Team Nigella.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from the Bon Appétit website)
Serves 6

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1-1/2 cups flour, plus more for flouring pan
1-1/2 cups (6 oz) chopped pitted dates (I cut off thin slices with a serrated bread knife)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (omit if you use salted butter)
3/4 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup, we prefer it less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Sauce
1-1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp brandy (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 °. Butter and flour pan. The online recipe calls for a Bundt pan, and the last time we used a Nordic Ware sunflower pan, which worked well.

Bring dates and 1-1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan with tall sides (the tall sides are important because in the next step, the date mixture will foam UP). Cook the dates until they are sludgy, and use a potato masher if necessary (if you didn’t chop/grate them finely enough).

Remove pan from heat and whisk in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside; let cool.

Whisk together 1-1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt (if using) in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 40 minutes or so (start checking at about 30 minutes). Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pudding onto rack. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Sauce
Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in brandy, if using, and vanilla. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.

Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream, and garnish with chopped candied ginger if you like.

A re-(re)-post to celebrate 30 years of “A Christmas Story”: I triple-dog dare you

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(This month marks the 30th anniversary of the modern classic, “A Christmas Story”, one of my all-time favorite holiday movies. In fact, the older I get, the more I like it. So I’m reposting this from 2006 and 2008. I’ve checked and updated the links, and there’s some new content, too. Not to mention blog snow, which my daughter the far more successful blogger told me about. Merry merry from Farm School!)

New content!:

“‘A Christmas Story’ Turns 30”

NPR: Cleveland Celebrates 30 Years Of ‘A Christmas Story’

Video of  ‘A Christmas Story’ Pole Scene Re-Created on NYC Subway

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen (author of the new Eminent Hipsters) wrote a Slate article last year, “The Man Who Told ‘A Christmas Story’: What I learned from Jean Shepherd”. Twelve-year-old Fagen was introduced to Shep’s radio show by his “weird uncle Dave”, “a bit of a hipster” himself…

The 30th anniversary Blu-Ray edition

“A Christmas Story”: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic by Caseen Gaines

Tyler Schwartz’s A Christmas Story Treasury from Running Press, a short scrapbook with recipe cards for Mom’s Christmas turkey, a replica of the telegram notifying the Old Man about his “major award”, and so on.

“A Christmas Story” 2014 wall calendar

The musical version of “A Christmas Story” returns to New York City, at Madison Square Garden from Dec. 11 to Dec. 29, featuring Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) as the narrator

The tourist organization Positively Cleveland is celebrating the 30th anniversary, including a special Christmas Story run tomorrow (runners are encouraged to carry a Leg Lamp or wear a Bunny Costume), and a contest to Light up the Holidays in CLE. You can win (what else?) a Leg Lamp. Unfortunately, we’ve all missed the 30th Anniversary Celebration & Convention on Nov. 29-30.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: Jean Shepherd’s original November 25, 1963 WOR radio evening broadcast, where he spent almost an hour talking about the impact of JFK‘s presidency, and his death, on American life. An MPR documentary produced by Matt Sepic with the assistance of Shepherd’s biographer, Eugene Bergmann.

Flicklives’ A Salute to Jean Shepherd, featuring A Christmas Story page

And, as always, TBS will be running its annual 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon from Christmas Eve to Christmas evening.

* * *

From December 1, 2006:

Just in time for Christmas, the cockles of my heart warm to learn that one of my favorite holiday movies has come to life:

Switch on your leg lamp and warm up the Ovaltine. The Christmas Story House and Museum will be ready for visitors starting Saturday. Imagine being inside Ralphie Parker’s 1940s home on Christmas Day. Stand on the staircase where Ralphie modeled his hated bunny suit. See the table where Ralphie’s dad wanted to display his tacky leg lamp. Gaze out a back window at the shed where Black Bart hid out. …

This past weekend saw the grand opening of The Christmas Story House. The house, used primarily for exterior shots in the 1983 filming, was renovated to look just like Ralphie’s home in the movie by owner Brian Jones, a lifelong Christmas Story fan.

At the museum gift shop, you can buy a chocolate BB rifle or a replica leg lamp from Red Rider Leg Lamps, started by Jones in 2003. And, I hope, a copy of Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, on which the movie was based. Ho ho ho!

*  *  *

Interestingly, I had a comment on the post last month [2008] — while we were away — from the people at the tourist organization, Positively Cleveland, about their “What I Want for Christmas” essay contest, which had a December 3 deadline.

There were two contests, one for those ages 16 and under and one for those 17 older. Prizes for the junior set included, among other things, a $100 gift certificate to Pearl of the Orient, the official Chinese restaurant of A Christmas Story House and Museum; a four-pack of general admission tickets to A Christmas Story House and Museum; and a four-pack of general admission tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  No BB guns, however, because you’d shoot your eye out.

Prizes for the oldsters were pretty much the same, except a full-size leg lamp was substituted for the restaurant gift certificate.

Any fan of A Christmas Story has probably stumbled over the latest curiosities, two new fan flicks: Road Trip for Ralphie and Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold Christmas Story.   Makes you wonder what Jean Shepherd might make of all this humbug.  Creeping meatballism, perhaps?

On the other hand, for pure unadulterated Shep, you can try the Jean Shepherd Netcast and The Brass Figlagee. Merry Christmas, fatheads!

Happy Thanksgiving

to Farm School’s American friends. Tomorrow is a regular work and school day here, and while our turkeys get to survive the day, it’s only until next week, since they’re destined for customers’ Christmas tables…

(all photos by Davy)

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And this lucky fellow, a Buff Orpington-Red Rock Cross rooster we raised, gets to stick around for a good long time. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Basement walls, part I

We postponed pouring concrete until yesterday — last week’s highs were in the -20s C but they started to warm up on the weekend, with daily highs just under freezing. Much easier on the people, not to mention the concrete. It was an all-day project, from about 10 to 5, and then checking on the heaters and tarps.

All photos by Davy with his new camera (the old one had spots on the lens from within somehow), which explains why he’s not in any of them.

One of the concrete trucks arriving Monday morning. All together, three trucks came with a total of six loads,

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Laura and Daniel,

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Daniel in the chute helping to clear it out,

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The concrete starting to dry,

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Laura in the turret section,

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Davy took this under the tarps and between the forms and excavation,

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Covering the concrete with insulated tarps,

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