• 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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  • Copyright © 2005-2014 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Preparing to raise high the roof beams

Tom and crew, with the help of the telehandler, last week hoisted the trusses to the second story in preparation for their erection, which should be this week. All of the interior walls are complete now on the second floor too, and it’s amazing to finally be able to see the rooms. This particular house has been our dream for the past 15 years, first waiting for the money and then the time, to begin; and I first started a “dream house” binder in my late teens, 35 years ago, and even brought it to university.

In other goings on, it’s been unusually hot and dry, which seems to be the case in Canada from BC through Saskatchewan. Temperatures are in the 30s (86-95 F), the air is hazy with smoke from the forest fires in three provinces, and we’re dealing with a drought as bad as the one that forced us to sell all of the cattle in 2002. Where our hay fields yielded 103 alfalfa hay bales last summer for the first cut, this year the grand total is nine. And we have 200 head of cattle to feed. The boys are hoping to cut the ditches along some of the nearby highways, and we’ve bought some secondhand irrigation equipment which might help us get a second cut in the fall.

We’re milking two cows who lost their calves (one a stillbirth, and the other at two months old, suddenly and heartbreakingly from pneumonia), and every other day I turn the raw milk into butter, cottage cheese (which is basically a case of letting a large soup pot full of skimmed milk with one cup of cultured buttermilk sit in the warm — thanks to the pilot light — oven of our 1950s O’Keefe & Merritt range), mozzarella (using Ricki Carroll’s 30-minute recipe), and sour cream/creme fraiche. Edited to add  I forgot to mention that my copy of David Asher’s The Art of Natural Cheesemaking arrived yesterday and I’m looking forward to reading it and trying some of the recipes. The book is subtitled, “Using Traditional, Non-Industrial Methods and Raw Ingredients to Make the World’s Best Cheeses”, which means there’s no need for packaged starters, synthetic rennets, or chemical additives. In fact, the point of the book is to encourage readers to “take back” their cheese, from the

dozens of different strains of packaged mesophilic and thermophilic starter cultures, freeze-dried fungal spores, microbial and genetically modified rennets, calcium chloride, chemical sanitizers, and harsh nitric and phosphoric acids; also, that most important ingredient (which is actually an anti-ingredient), pasteurization. None of these, however, is a necessity for making good cheese!

Asher offers a fast mozzarella recipe with lemon juice rather than citric acid, as well as a more flavourful “Slow Mozzarella” recipe, which takes 8-12 hours. More on the book here at the website of publisher Chelsea Green, including Chapter 1, “A Natural Cheesemaking Manifesto”.

Back to building, with some photos of the trusses atop the second story exterior walls,

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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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Another story

Work on the new house stopped last October. It got too cold and snowy for working outdoors, Tom had other projects for clients, we went to France and Germany for four weeks after the new year, the kids made it to high school provincials for curling in February and March, Tom and I travelled to the West Indies to clear out the last bits from my parents’ retirement house before the sale (hallelujah), then it was calving season, and more big projects for clients.

Work started up again last week, and first thing on the schedule was to start working on the second story. The main floor now has a ceiling and the second story has a floor. Wall-building begins tomorrow, and Tom and I double-checked all the window placements this afternoon.

The view from the master bedroom’s tower sitting area (facing northeast),

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Another view from the master bedroom’s tower sitting area, facing southeast,

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View from the bedroom (facing east); you can see how dry it’s been, with only one decent rain (this past week) since March,

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View from the guest bedroom (facing north),

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The living room tower sitting area, on the main floor,

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The kitchen, with the pantry on the other side of the wall; the window is on the sink wall,

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The pantry, a very exciting prospect!

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Dining room (facing south) surrounded by the larch trees we planted eight years ago,

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Dining room door to the back porch, facing west,

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The living room, facing north and the front of the house,

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The temporary stairs (the actual stairs will be over to the right), which Tom rescued from the old farm supply store’s warehouse before it was demolished 25 years ago,

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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…

October

In the last five weeks or so, we’ve poured the concrete for the garage and workshop floors, and for the basement floor. In preparation for which, after exhausting the supply of the nearest Home Depot, we spent a long day in September driving around the big city to four other HDs buying out all of the rigid foam underfloor insulation. Tom put in everything for in-floor heating in the basement, but we don’t know that we’ll actually need it with the insulation; it’s there, though, just in case, because it’s a lot easier to put in now than later. The concrete is the last of the really season-sensitive projects for the house. In between projects for clients, Tom and the kids can do more framing for the second floor, and get the roof trusses on, through the winter.

It’s been a long, gorgeous autumn, one of the nicest and longest I can recall in 20 years, which has made all of these projects possible; of course, part of the reason it’s been long is that fall started so early, in late August. But the early cold nights made for very colourful leaves and for whatever reason they’ve been hanging on the trees. In the past month, we’ve enjoyed temperatures of 15-20 Celsius (60-70 Fahrenheit), with a few days in the high 20s. Though this is all supposed to come to an end this weekend — winter, and snow, are on the way in a few days.

Here’s the concrete floor for the workshop (over which will be a small apartment — we’re thinking we can rent it out, or one of the kids can live there, or Tom and I can move there in our dotage and let the next generation have the main house), which is at the west end of the garage,

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The garage floor with rebar, before pouring the concrete,

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The garage entrance to the house; on the left in the house is the bathroom (though there will also be a bathroom in the garage for anyone who needs to clean up from particularly messy building, farming, and gardening projects involving lots of chaff, oil, etc.), and on the right is the walk-in pantry,

 

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Stairs to the basement entrance, the cold room (to store root vegetable and canning), and the area where we will store three large tanks collecting rainwater (under that square),

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View from the other direction,

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Before pouring concrete,

 

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After pouring concrete,

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Aside from usual school subjects, Daniel, who is 15-1/2 and in Grade 10, is doing the provincial registered apprenticeship program in carpentry with his father; the program lets high school kids get a head-start on an apprenticeship, and we figured that Daniel might as well get credit for work he’s doing anyway. Daniel and Laura are also doing the Green Certificate program, sort of a farming apprenticeship; again, this way they get credit for work they’re already doing. The kids are all taking the provincial hunter education program online; Daniel went first and already got his license in the mail. Laura is off to Washington, DC in early November with her father; she’s been doing a biweekly segment on a birding radio show, and they are celebrating the 500th show with a live broadcast from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; they are very generously and kindly flying Laura out, and Tom is going along for fun and security (mine more than hers). She was also a nominee for the Chamber of Commerce employee of the year award, not bad for her first summer job. 4-H has started, and curling too.

 

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