• 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.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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Extending the trusses

To keep the same roofline as the main house, Tom and crew extended the chord of the garage trusses; this also means adding a post and beam underneath to carry the extended chords.

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Speaking of beams, in the workshop Tom was able to make use of a “recycled” laminated beam he rescued from the old hardware store before it was demolished; the beam is the horizontal, shiny one below,

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On the far right, underneath that laminated beam is a metal I-beam, rescued from the old supermarket before it was demolished this past fall, that Tom turned into a support beam.

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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Happy New Year

Belated greetings of the seasons, and wishes for a happy and healthy new year, from our house to yours.

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Perversely, Christmas vacation has meant even more time to work on the house. The photo above, taken by the 15-year-old with his drone and the fish-eye lens, was taken a few weeks ago before the trusses went up. There are also fewer piles laying about the yard — all the piles of trusses are gone now, and the last of the pile of plywood is gone since they started sheathing the roof (shingling to begin shortly, hurray). I asked for some overhead shots to help me start think about landscaping, because I need to plan for “rooms” and winter interest (aka evergreens and interesting branches), and that means trees and shrubs, what varieties and where to put them.

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016!

Garage progress

Tom and crew took a break from our house building project in September to work for paying clients. They finished up two weeks ago and came back here to start working on the garage. They’d been building the garage walls with the boys on weekends, and weekdays that ended a bit earlier, and two weeks ago started standing them up. The garage will have three overhead doors, and room to park several pickup trucks as well as house most if not all of our seven deep freezes. At the end of the garage is a workshop, where Tom will move most of the tools that are in the shop, and then the shop can house (as it was meant to) various tractors and machinery. We’re putting a “granny suite” over the workshop to maximize the space, either for Tom’s mother, if she’d like, one of the kids, or a renter. And possibly for us in our dotage! The boys are incredibly motivated to see more progress soon, and are working long days to get it done.

Last weekend Tom and the boys put in the two big laminated wood beams, for the overhead doors and for the floor joists (for the granny suite), and a steel post to support the beam for the joists. And now the trusses have started going up. I haven’t taken many pictures since the sky has been gray and gloomy, and because it would get dark before I could manage to get out of the house. Hurray for the coming winter solstice.

The garage in the centre and the workshop at right,

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The granny suite will go above the workshop,

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The boys putting up the garage trusses,

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The workshop,

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The view from the garage toward the workshop,

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Last month on a trip to the city, Tom and I stopped in at an appliance store that carries BlueStar ranges, to decide if that’s what we want for the kitchen. Definitely gas, preferably with at least six burners, and we like the idea that BlueStars are built for durability, with few bells and whistles other than electronic ignition to need attention. Out here in the country, we need something dependable that won’t need much service. And the the cast iron grates above the burners make a single, uninterrupted surface, so you can easily slide even a large, full canning or soup pot.

If we’re probably going to splurge with a BlueStar, we need to save in other areas, such as curtains, especially with all those windows. I’ve all but decided on Ikea Aina linen curtains, and I bought myself an early Christmas present — a Singer 4411 heavy duty sewing machine with metal frame and stainless steel bedplate, when it was on deep discount at Amazon.ca. I’m planning to add trim fabric along the curtain edges, once I teach myself how to use a sewing machine.

In other news, Tom had another successful PSA test, and the next test is now nine, rather than six, months away. A huge relief and not something either of take for granted. Laura is registered for an online organic agriculture course at the University of Sasketchewan starting in the new year; she said at lunch today that she just had an email advising that the syllabus and other information will be sent out next week. She’s also interested in graphic design so we’ll be looking around for some online courses in that subject as well. We’re planning a high school graduation party for summer, and with any luck will be able to have it outdoors at the new house.

Laura has had a busy month as president of the naturalist society. She organized two book signings in town, at the library and Main Street Hardware, for new book, Backyard Bird Feeding: An Alberta Guide by Myrna Pearman; as the biologist and manager of the Ellis Bird Farm near Lacombe for almost 30 years, Dr. Pearman is at the forefront of bird conservation in the province and Laura had a wonderful time working with and getting to know her. And this past weekend she co-ordinated the local Christmas Bird Count and led the Christmas Bird Count for Kids (CBC4Kids), both of which went well, with a record number of bird species sighted for the area. Not a surprise, as we’ve been enjoying lots of Snowy Owls and Redpolls so far this winter; we have a flock of about 30-40 Redpolls which are enjoying the feeders, especially the 36″ Droll Yankee feeder, which looks rather like a Christmas tree with bird ornaments, complete with one Redpoll at the very top, waiting for its turn at one of the ports.

 

Shingles

The house is almost all shingled after this week. They’re finishing up the tower, and then the only bit left is the dining room and back porch, which still need their roofs.

Son #1 isn’t in these photos because he had taken off for town for a haircut in preparation for this weekend’s 4H Provincial Judging, for which he qualified back in March. And on Monday morning he’s off for his first counselling gig, working with juniors at the same 4H summer camp by the lake he enjoyed for six years. Laura is off on Monday as well, for her 4H agricultural tour/camping trip to the Northwest Territories, for which I had to buy bear spray (gulp…) yesterday. She’s also helping out at Provincial Judging, as a 4H Ambassador (there are 20 or so in the province). The youngest is off to camp the week after next, and then we have three weddings in three weeks.

Our “Twilight Gray” asphalt shingles,

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The back porch at left and dining room at right. The back porch will be our summer outdoor eating area, and the porch might be enlarged in the future. I’m envisioning cedar trellises along the columns for Valiant grapes, which grow well on the prairies; provided I can keep the pesky leafhoppers away.

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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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