• 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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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.”

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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.)

Daybook

Outside my window…

the garden is dead. We had the first killing frost last night, -6 Celsius (it was -10 at my inlaws’ house). The sweet peas, cosmos, clematis, lavatera, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and even the zinnias under sheets (had we known it would be lower than -1, we would have used two layers) are all gone. I moved much from the greenhouse into the house, and it looks sad in the greenhouse now. But the kitchen looks like a florist’s shop, and the banana plant is wondering why it’s in the living room.

I am thinking…

how quickly the cold weather came on, after 30+ temps last week, though it has been autumn here for the past month.

I am thankful…

that Tom got the propane heater late last night for the greenhouse, when we realized the thermometer wasn’t finished moving at -2.

for a warm oven, containing peach cobbler.

From the learning rooms…

we are doing a quick run-through the 20th century before beginning another cycle of ancient history. We are focusing on the perils of populism, in the 20th century, and now.

We watched “All Quiet on the Western Front”, the version with John Boy. We are bouncing around a bit, based on what’s available and when from the library. Next up is the 1998 Disney movie “Miracle at Midnight”, about the Nazi occupation of Denmark in WWII, starring Sam Waterston and Mia Farrow.

In the kitchen…

more dill pickles, and canning peaches.

I am wearing…

an apron, and longer pants, because it’s cold in the house. I finally succumbed and turned on the furnace this morning.

I am creating…

good food and small skeptics.

I am going…

to town quickly to pick up a parcel with Laura’s newest voice book for lessons, and batteries for her camera.

I am wondering…

how to fit all my greenhouse plants in the house.

I am reading…

Elle DecorTraditional Home, and Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, which though terribly sad goes well with our history readings (writing in The Guardian, Sarah Waters called it “A study of the disintegration of a middle-class family during the turmoil of the Second World War”).

Also, new from the library, 101 Things I Hate About Your House by James Swan, and How to Write a Sentence, and How to Read One by Stanley Fish.

I am hoping…

I have enough Ziploc bags on hand for the sliced peaches.

I am looking forward to…

cabinets in the dining room. We may have found some at Home Depot, the sort you can pick up in boxes and walk out of the store with. As long as everything is in stock, which is the rub.

And at Ikea on the weekend, we managed to get the long out-of-stock Numerar butcherblock countertops for the dining room. They’re oak, which I wouldn’t want for a kitchen, but for the dining room they’re fine.  The plan is for base cabinets on the east and west walls, topped with the butcherblock countertops, and then open shelving on the walls.

I am hearing…

the hum of the furnace. Very odd after so long without it. The kids were delighted, and ran to the registers with quilts.

Around the house…

there are plants, fruit, and vegetables in every spare nook and cranny.

I am pondering…

Professor Helen Zoe Veit’s editorial in favor of a return to Home Economics in the classroom, originally published in The New York Times. From which:

One of my favorite things…

peach cobbler

A few plans for the rest of the week:

Laura has her second babysitting engagement, which she finds thrilling.  Putting together the Ikea sideboard, which will be our under-the-chalkboard table, since it is not too deep. I may have the kids sand the sideboard, so I can stain it, because it’s a light pine which doesn’t go with much in the kitchen. And possibly painting the chalkboard, which is an old school board and green. Am thinking black might be a nice change.

Springing forth

The leaves on the trees are finally unfurling.  No, not all of them, but lots, and we finally have a haze of green around us.  The perennials are coming up nicely. I know because at 6:30 this morning I heard loud mooing much too close to the house and there were several cows and their calves who had squeezed through a hole in the fence and made it down to the pasture by the house where the fence, naturally, wasn’t closed.  So after shooing them back through the fence and closing it, I did a brief tour of the raised beds.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how warm it was this morning compared to other mornings, when the temperatures have been around freezing.

The greenhouse is about an hour away from being finished and pulled by tractor to its new home behind the house.  Tom and his helpers built it in front of the garage so it was easy to unload building supplies and for an easy power supply.  On Mother’s Day afternoon, we dropped the kids off at rehearsal (the performances, finally, are Thursday-Saturday for “Willy Wonka”) and then headed to the recycling center, where next to the plastics bin we discovered several large stacks of enormous black plastic nursery pots for trees, perfect for growing tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, and eggplants in the greenhouse.  A very nice Mother’s Day present, though not nearly as nice as the breakfast in bed (heart-shaped pancakes, with bacon), flowers, greenhouse, nursery gift certificate, handmade cards, and seven-course meal.

Because I cannot do anything properly without reading about it, I have been reading my Bookcloseouts treasure, Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger, ordered before I realized I would have my own greenhouse to play in anytime soon. Ms. Kassinger details field trips to Logee’s and Glasshouse Works, where I spent far too much money as a single girl in the early nineties, though unfortunately exclusively by mail order and never in person; in fact, I used to keep the catalogues by the bed, and remember them well — the Logee’s catalogue was small and slim, and fit into a jacket pocket for easy subway reading, and the one from GW was large and floppy, on newsprint.  Have also ordered the following, from Amazon.ca and Chapters:

Eliot Coleman’s The Winter Harvest Handbook: Year Round Vegetable Production Using Deep Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses; I’ve long been a fan of EC and have been looking for an excuse to buy his latest.

Greenhouse Gardener’s Companion by Shane Smith, illustrated by Marjorie Leggitt; as soon as I saw Ms. Leggitt’s lovely cover, I knew this was the book for me, since I am planning on putting a comfortable chair near the door for surveying my new domain.

The Greenhouse Gardener by Anne Swithinbank, which also goes by the title The Conservatory Gardener, and which I had to buy from Book Depository because it’s no longer in print in Canada though apparently so in the US. Also ordered from BD, Debo Devonshire’s Wait for Me! because I couldn’t wait any longer, but sadly not Miss Buncle Married, which I have a feeling sold like hot cakes upon its recent Persephone reissue.

Am once again reminded by Cicero’s quote over on the left, “Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.”

Tom determined that the days are nowhere near long enough, and so hired a drywaller to finish the walls in the new dining area.  The fellow has been here for three days, and the sanding has begun, so the plastic is up and the dust is flying. When I drop off the kids for today’s full dress rehearsal, I’ll swing by the paint store for chips.  I’m horribly consistent, so I am planning to pick the same yellow as the rest of the kitchen, and we’ll repaint the kitchen walls and also the cabinets (which will be the same cream color I chose 12 years ago, too). The kids and I will prime and paint, and I have to choose casing for the windows too.  Then flooring, and Tom was even talking about the Ikea base cabinets for the east and west sides of the room (there will be base cabs on either side of the table, and shelves above them; sort of a modified Welsh dresser, for dining room as well as home school accoutrements), so we may well have a trip to Ikea in our future shortly. Which is good, because I think I would like these solar lights for the greenhouse:

I’ll take some pictures of the new greenhouse and the dining room as soon as I can find a camera I am able to use, and a cable.  For all the cameras and cables floating around the house, none of them seem to be mine any more.

Also yesterday, we had our semi-annual home school facilitator visit, who managed to make me feel good, and satisfied, about our efforts even though I have been managing estate matters and a business in NYC more than home schooling my children. Since Laura will be starting Grade 9 next year, we talked a bit about high school, though in Alberta at least it doesn’t start until Grade 10. I’ll be going by what I’m used to, which is 9-12.  And I am going to try to remember to be guided by the Gilbert Highet quote, also over there on the left, from his book, The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning,

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.

Finally, since this post feels rather naked without some pictures, I’ll add the ones from Daniel’s 12th birthday celebration the other week — his “hamburger” cupcakes made by his loving but not particularly crafty mother, who was egged on by Sheila, who does this sort of a thing at the drop of a hat and very well too. Surprisingly, though, they turned out quite well.  Unsurprisingly, I forgot all about taking any pictures until there were only three left, and of course they were the least successful of the bunch.  But you can get the general hamburger-ness of them,

You can see the original version here.

These days

Yesterday was my birthday and when I wasn’t thinking about how for the first time my mother wouldn’t be telephoning, and my father wouldn’t be emailing a Jacquie Lawson card and sending the usual box of books, it wasn’t too bad.  The kids and Tom made a heroic effort to distract me from my orphandom (is that even a word? orphanhood?).  Okay, it was awful and what did help was a quick trip to town to pick up some last-minute things for Daniel’s 12th birthday on Friday.  Much easier to concentrate on someone else’s festivities, especially when I need to figure out how I can co-opt some wedding printables for birthday purposes.

This morning dawned much better and happier, especially with all sorts of new birds back, and the yard positively vibrating from robins’ song. And the swallows are back and swooping around the window frames trying to figure out where to make their nests.  And here I’ve only more or less started the exterior spring cleaning — after just having finished, more or less, the indoor spring cleaning — and have yet to attack the window screens the swallows made such a mess of last summer. Must clean off old mess before they start making a new mess.

But then I checked my email and there was a merchandising come-on for Mother’s Day,

“be a hero to your hero! Great gift idea’s for Mom on eBay”

and, aside from the momentary pause to sigh about the dolts in charge of punctuation at eBay, it occurred to me that these next few weeks are going to be very, very hard.

Fortunately, part of my birthday present from Tom is a greenhouse — similar to this hoop-style greenhouse covered with poly, though Tom wants to make it more A-frame style with 2×4’s for ease of construction — and I am hoping that by May 8th I will be suitably distracted, or at least in a more suitable place to commune with the spirit of my parents, since my mother loved nothing better than filling the house with spring flowers (branches of pussywillows, forsythia, and lilacs) though she wasn’t in the least interested in how anything was grown, and my father was happiest puttering among his plants in his shade house.

Onwards. Upwards.


We have walls

for the kitchen addition.  Well, we’ve had the walls built for a while but just haven’t been able to stand them up until the -30C blustery weather and snow stopped.  For good, we hope, considering the date on the calendar, but who knows this year. Snow we expect through the end of the May, but -30 is usually a thing of the past by now.

Apologies for the pic quality, I took these from inside the house, which gives the best view.

Our telehandler helping out,

The west wall going up,

West wall attached; there will be built-in shelves with the window in the center (it was either that or two very narrow windows on the edges) with the countertop and cabinets underneath, as a sort of dining room/school room hutch.  There will be one “hutch” on each side, east and west,

The east wall going up,

The north wall; Laura was just telling us the other day that it’s time to get rid of the swing set, so we’ll pass it on to some friends with young children,

Next up, literally: trusses.

The return

We returned home late on February 14th, after about a month away.  While the rest of North America was celebrating Valentine’s Day with chocolate, cards, and crafts, we were driving west from Regina and just relieved to be home, from which we have been absent for four months since October, which seems crazy when I think about it.  My husband and kids have been absolute rocks to put up with all of this coming and going, emptying almost 50 years’ worth of furnishings and memories from a New York City apartment, getting on a first name basis with the staff at the nearby Salvation Army, and, the worst part of all, driving on the NJ turnpike from the Lincoln Tunnel to Jersey City, the trip’s true low spot.  We left last Wednesday, and made it to DuBois, PA the first night; our other stops each night, after driving about eight hours a day (except in North Dakota, where we had to keep driving past Fargo and Grand Forks until we finally, finally found a hotel room) were Danville, Illinois, Des Moines, Iowa; Grafton, ND; Regina, Saskatchewan; crossing the border into Canada north of Grafton south of Winnipeg, and home.

To counter the lows, which also included unhelpful apartment building staff (thanks to co-op board regulations and union regulations) and legal action taken by the landlord against us although my sister and I tried to explain that we had no interest either in the apartment or in prolonging the clearing out process (thank you co-op board and union), some of the highs:

* the vastness and beauty of the Canadian Shield, and the beauty of northwestern Ontario, especially Kenora, where we spent a night (all photos by the kids, often from a moving truck),

* some other sights we saw, including the Terry Fox statue in Thunder Bay, where he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope by the return of cancer; the Big Nickel in Sudbury, Ontario; and the CN Tower in Toronto,

* the magic of Niagara Falls in winter, when everything in the path of the mist is transformed into an ice sculpture,

* Le Roy, NY, the home of Jell-O, which I discovered just a few miles outside of LeRoy while reading through the AAA guidebook, because Davy has always been a keen fan of Jell-O.  We made it to the Le Roy museum just minutes before their 4 pm closing time, and the staff were gracious enough to let the kids have a quick look around the Jell-O gallery while I made a quick tour of the museum shop and made some purchases. Le Roy is a beautiful village in Genesee County, with lovely old houses

* AAA guidebooks and maps, which are all free when you join CAA/AAA, and the free online Triptik service, which was a great help in planning our route;

* meeting Susan Thomsen of Chicken Spaghetti after about five years of online friendship, because she was kind enough to let us park our 16′ cargo trailer in her driveway for more than a week, and during a crazy snowy month which shrank driveways considerably.  We also got to meet her husband, and son Junior (who quickly took in the boys and shared some Lego with them, much needed and appreciated after a week in a truck), and inlaws, who were all so warm and welcoming.  And we saw her chickens, and she and Laura talked about birds together. Thank you for everything, Susan!

* Laura’s and Tom’s bird walk with “Birding Bob” DeCandido, through a snowy and icy Central Park, where they saw an adult male Cooper’s hawk, brown creepers, a white-crowned sparrow, brown-headed cowbirds, red-wing blackbirds, and wood ducks.  Laura and Tom were the ones to spot a male yellow-bellied sapsucker.  Although Laura was disappointed not to spot the celebrated varied thrush, she was pleased with all the other birds.

* the kindness and pleasantness of motel clerks to NYC and back, despite our lack of reservations, and modern m/hotel thinking that makes a swimming pool, free wifi in rooms, and free hot breakfasts the new standard.  A special thank you to the woman at the Travelodge in Kenora who let me use the coin-operated laundry well past the 9 pm deadline to wash clothes after Davy lost his breakfast outside of Regina; and to front desk staff at the AmericInn in Des Moines, Iowa, who gave me two rooms with queen beds for $50 each, so that the kids each had a separate bed for the first time since leaving home.  If we are ever in your neighborhoods again, we will be back.

* the kindness, pleasantness, and professional manner of staff working at truck stops throughout the U.S. Remarkable people who probably don’t receive enough thanks and appreciation;

* being in NYC and being able to go to Barnes & Noble on the publication day of  the latest Flavia de Luce book, A Red Herring without Mustard by Canadian Alan Bradley.  I bought it for Laura who started reading it as soon as possible, and it’s at the top of my “to be read” pile now.  And now that we’re home, I’ve ordered, from the library, the Book Depository, Amazon.ca, and Chapters.ca, for my own reading, which at the moment seem to be limited to escapism (of the genteel and also the more murderous sort); sentimentality and nostalgia about leaving New York, the apartment which my parents had lived in since I was born, my parents; and planning our new house*:

* lobsters at Fairway, which are inexpensive and which the staff will steam and crack for you.  It was Laura’s idea, and made for a delicious dinner on one of our last nights in the apartment;

* our overnight in DuBois, Pennsylvania, which I didn’t know until our arrival was the hometown of Tom Mix — my father would have laughed;

* our afternoon visit in Moline, Illinois to the John Deere Pavilion in the city’s downtown and to Deere’s world headquarters, which also had a nice display. Laura found mute swans swimming in the lake near the building.

* the beautiful barns, graineries, and corn cribs in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, and I know the kids have more pictures, so I may have to have another post.  I just wanted to post a bit about the journey, and say thank you to

* which will be a combination of these two house plans, this one for the outside details, and this one for the inside floor plan (though it needs lots more rejiggering), especially on the main floor.  Work to begin in late May, and all I can say is that after having a new house as our five-year plan for the past 17 years (oy…) and everything we have gone through in the past 18 months, I am beyond excited to plan the new house.  Even better is the fact that we decided the other year to keep our current house, so we get to live in it during the building process and not live in a trailer or  a shipping container.