• 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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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.

 

Another house

This one is for the chickens. We’re up to three coops now. Neighbours asked if we wanted their old chicken house, unused for several decades and not needed or wanted by the current generation. Laura, who had ordered day-old chicks in May to replace some of the tired old layers, and who had also hatched out several dozen exotic varieties (Chocolate Orpingtons, Lavender Orpingtons, and some more Ameraucanas) in the incubator, jumped at the offer. Laura and Davy spent an afternoon fixing the door, windows, and getting it ready for occupancy and winter. Next spring or summer it’ll get a coat of red paint to match the other two coops.

Getting ready for the trailer,

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On the move from their farm to ours,

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At home,

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Some of Laura’s chickens (photographed by her last month), some of whom will be getting a new home,

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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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Squash tian (aka casserole)

One of my new favorite recipes — a squash/pumpkin casserole. I found the recipe at The Kitchn; Faith Durand adapted it from Rosa Jackson, a Canadian-born food writer and cooking teacher based in Nice and Paris. The original recipe, Tian de courge, is at Rosa’s old blog; don’t miss Rosa’s current blog, Edible Adventures. This is a lovely dish for a cozy, lazy autumn or winter meal. It can be doubled easily, you can use any sort of squash or pumpkin you can find, and is perfect for a potluck. It goes great with a ham, roast chicken or turkey, or beef or pork roast.

I’ve made some changes, which I’ve highlighted below. I made it last weekend, to accompany a ham at a Christmas potluck, with a smallish butternut squash and a large Kabocha squash. I’m making it again for our big family Christmas eve turkey dinner, with a butternut squash and two acorn squashes.

*  *  *

Butternut Squash Tian with Herbed Bread Crumbs

Recipe adapted by Faith Durand/The Kitchn from Rosa Jackson. Serves 4

2 to 2 1/2-pound whole butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
1/4 cup short-grain or arborio rice (I use short-grain)
2 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
Provencal breadcrumbs (recipe below)

Heat the oven to 375° F and lightly grease a 1-1/2 to 2-quart baking dish (such as a deep pie dish) with olive oil.

Peel and slice the butternut squash. You should have 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds prepared squash flesh. Heat the olive oil in a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Cook the squash in the olive oil with a sprinkling of salt until it softens and starts to disintegrate, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cover for most of the cooking time to speed the process. (I sauté the butternut, but bake the Kabocha/acorn squash)

While the squash is cooking, heat a small saucepan of salted water over high heat. When it is boiling, add the rice. Cook for 10 minutes, then drain and set aside.

Place the cooked squash in a large bowl and combine with the rice, Parmesan, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and generous dashes of pepper and nutmeg. When it has cooled slightly, mix in the eggs quickly so that they don’t scramble. The mixture may seem on the liquid side, but this is fine.

Pour it into the prepared gratin dish, top with the herbed bread crumbs (recipe below) and a generous drizzle of olive oil. (If desired, you can prepare to this point, cover and refrigerate for up to two days. When ready to serve, bake as directed below.)

Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly toasted on top and set. Serve warm.

This recipe doubles very well; I (Faith Durand writing) use a 4-pound squash and bake the tian in a 9×13-inch casserole dish.

Herbed Bread Crumbs
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1 big handful flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (I use what the supermarket had, which often is only the curly variety)
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme or rosemary (I use a mixture of dried thyme and rosemary)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a food processor, blend together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Add the olive oil and blend until the breadcrumbs are soft and green, adding a little more oil if necessary. Season well with salt and pepper. (I don’t use a food processor. I use a rasp for the garlic and cheese, my knife for the parsley, and I sauté the garlic in the oil, then toss in the breadcrumbs to coat, sauté for another few minutes, then stir in parsley to coat. I like the flavor of the sautéed garlic, and I like not having to take apart and clean the food processor.)

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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Summer’s last gasp

Summer gasped its last sometime last month, but I’m only now getting around to posting these pictures.

I have boxes and boxes of tomatoes still, here are a few, and the last of the eggplants. This was the first year I grew eggplants, and they did surprisingly well.

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Yes, that is a propane tank at far right. No, that’s not where it belongs.

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A small garter snake took up residence this summer under our deck, and liked to sun itself on the concrete pad in front of the house,

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A blog reader recommendation: my blog reading is down considerably but I still prefer a blog reader for speed and efficiency. When Google Reader died, I went back briefly to Bloglines (of course, I ended up at Google Reader when Bloglines was first killed off). But I just couldn’t get comfortable reading there. I tried all the new options and didn’t like any of them, and finally (can’t remember how, maybe here?) found InoReader, which I like very much, and which is easy, fast, free, and good looking.

Autumn

Winter arrived suddenly and unexpectedly — especially after last year’s mildness — in October. We’ve had snow, ice, and below zero (way below zero) temperatures since then. Yesterday we drove to the little city for Laura’s orthodentist consultation in a whiteout. My scariest time yet in a vehicle, ever.

A few snaps from this wintery autumn:

In October, we received our last box of BC apples,

McIntosh apples

Paperwhite bulbs,

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The wasp nest the kids found at the new pasture,

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Peppers from the greenhouse drying,

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Our all-but finished window seat; the only thing remaining is to finish the plywood strip underneath the cushion with a wooden band (stapled, not sewn, with foam, plywood, and fabric); Laura and I love to sit here for our reading and writing — we watch the birds at the feeders and in the past two weeks have had fun watching a weasel, all white already, and a little shrew gathering fallen seeds,

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In early November, Laura led a 4H hike through the Provincial Park; I went along to the be adult in charge, but mostly I lagged behind, making sure we didn’t lose any kids and taking photographs of things like rose hips in the snow,

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Bringing up the rear (yes, this was early November),

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We have a busy December with lots of activities (4H meetings and field trips, curling for the kids and Tom separately and together, theater), Christmas dinners and parties. The library renovation continues, over budget and behind schedule as these things go, but we’re all excited for a refreshed building. Planning for the music festival.

Davy turned 12 at the end of last month and has been enjoying reading through one of his presents, Why There’s Antifreeze in Your Toothpaste: The Chemistry of Household Ingredients by Simon Quellen Field. He and his brother are making use of another present, some camping lantern lighters, to retrofit their potato gun.

On the strength of her bird blog and other writings, Laura has been asked to write some articles for the American Birding Association’s newsletter, to help add some Canadian content, and also to be a contributor to a new Canadian bird blog. Needless to say, I’ve pretty much quit giving her writing assignments since she’s getting enough from other sources.

 

Fall work

The passionflower vine doesn’t realize it’s time to close down the greenhouse, and is flowering madly and sending out ever more crazy red tendrils,

Even more blooms on the way (disregard the greenhouse plastic in the background),

Virginia creeper vine on the trellis by the front door — hard to believe it was entirely green a month ago,

Laura’s greenhouse-grown cantaloupe, the second of two. Very tasty, very sweet, a definite go for next year (we also had good luck with tiny watermelons),

While I was busy working on the greenhouse, Tom and the kids did some fencing in the pasture where the river runs through, so there was a bit of wet work,

The kids were playing around with the special effects on the camera and got some funky color and focussing,

Tomorrow we start combining the wheat…

Autumn’s arrival

(It’s been here for a while already, I’m just late here…)

Wildflowers in the pasture, smooth blue aster (photos by Laura),

Moving cattle

Yesterday we moved the cows and calves home from the summer pasture, where the grass was just about gone. We also need to be able to load up the kids’ steers for 4H weigh day next weekend, and that’s much more easily done from our corrals than in an open pasture. Our heifers are still on another summer pasture, where they can stay for a while longer.

We had a cattle drive and just moved the animals down the road several miles, from the summer pasture to our farm. Tom drove the lead truck, calling the cattle, Laura rode her old horse Sioux (we hauled Sioux to the summer pasture in the trailer, so she would have to walk only one way, not both ways), the boys were on foot, and I brought up the rear in another truck, keeping an eye on stragglers and the rear view window to keep any traffic from scattering the herd. At times I drove ahead to block neighbors’ driveways, open gates in fields, and to hold traffic at intersections, and gave the boys the occasional lift.

In the end we got it done in a few hours on a beautiful sunny, though very breezy, afternoon. Much faster than using the trailer, which took Tom twice as long earlier this year taking the cattle to the summer pasture in the first place. Fortunately, we didn’t have too many animals to move.

At the summer pasture, through the dirty cracked windshield of Tom’s truck,

On the road,

Passing a neighbor’s farm,

Sioux is as old as she is beloved,

Getting close to home (in fact, you can see our house on the right),

Looking at a bird, or the neighbor’s bull or …

Finally, home again,

Halloween garland

Here are some photos of Laura’s latest project. We missed Halloween at home last year, and don’t think we did much the year before since we were in between returning home from the visit to my parents where my father had brain surgery and was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and my return to NYC to help him through radiation. So the autumn holidays were put on the back burner. Which is why, I think, Laura has started extra early this year. We were in the big city the other week and stopped off at Michael’s, where she found a Martha Stewart paper punch,

And somehow poking around on the Michael’s website, she searched for “Martha Stewart” and found a bunch of how-to videos, including one with a punch techniques demonstration. With all the new windows in the dining room addition, we’ve been kind of bunting/garland* crazy this year, so Laura decided to make one for Halloween, using orange and black construction paper (we are still using the stash I bought at the dollar store when the kids were little) cut in strips 1.25″ x 9″ .

* Bunting madness: I have become a confirmed etsy shopper in the past two years (especially for unique birthday and Christmas presents) and early this year discovered Jaime Mancilla‘s lovely fabric buntings. Let’s just say I looked through lots of buntings before I found Jaime’s. First I bought a couple of springy and summery ones, for Easter and Daniel’s birthday and beyond. Here is the Spring one (all bunting photographs by Jaime Mancilla from her etsy shop site),

Summer,

We were all so pleased that I decided to surprise the kids with an Autumn/Harvest banner from Jaime’s store (and indeed, when most years we are so sorry to see summer go, we were thrilled on the first day of September, when autumn had been here for nearly a month, to finally hang the new banner),

but then Jaime surprised me by including a Christmas banner — which was next on my shopping list — in the parcel,

Isn’t that beautiful? The fabric colors, prints, and style are just right — fun but not too cutesy, and elegantly simple. Highly, highly recommended. The buntings each come with three strands (10 flags and three feet long each), for a total of nine feet, which stretches nicely across the three windows on the north wall. I sewed all of the strands in each bunting together for one long length, and then used 3M Command hooks on the casing, which pleases my builder husband. By the way, Jaime also makes adorable mini buntings for cakes for all occasions, including Halloween.

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.

Trip report, part 5: NYC, Lego and lights

At FAO Schwartz, the boys were delighted to find another giant Lego sculpture, but had to wait for lots of adults to get out of the way before having their own picture taken,

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On Thursday evening, we went to see the Metropolitan Opera’s lively production of “The Barber of Seville” at Lincoln Center, Tom’s and the kids’ first live opera. The production was very, very good and the kids, and Tom, enjoyed themselves. Joyce DiDonato was especially good.  There weren’t many kids in attendance, and other audience members seemed truly delighted to find children — especially those who weren’t the seat-kicking and when-is-this-over kind — there.

Tom and Laura loved the Sputnik chandeliers in the opera house,

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Trip report, part 4: NYC, still wet, still wild

On Wednesday we took off for the Statue of Liberty, which Tom and the kids had seen only in passing on the Staten Island Ferry the other ferry; and I hadn’t been there since I was about 12, when we went with a friend’s teenage nephew, visiting from Scotland.  My sister, who works in the museum field, spoke with a colleague who arranged for us to take the much smaller, and less crowded, staff boat, first to Ellis Island for a 40-minute wait and then on to Liberty Island. 

Laura was happy to find a cormorant on the pier waiting for us; the picture isn’t great since I was in a hurry to snap the bird before it flew off,

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Our ship comes in,

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Aboard ship,

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Full speed ahead, racing the Staten Island ferry,

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On Ellis Island during our brief stopover,

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The kids enjoying the view,

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Standard tourist shot,

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The kids were very excited to discover all the money on the side of the pier, while we waited for the ferry,

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Daniel and Davy bedazzled by the bonanza,

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Heading back to Manhattan,

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On landing at Battery Park, we were surprised to find a wild turkey hen walking around,

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It turns out her name is Zelda and she’s lived in southern Manhattan for about six years now,

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Trip report, part 3: NYC, Columbus Day

On Columbus Day, we thought we’d head off in search of model railroads, first at The Red Caboose store on West 45th, just off Fifth, and then at the NYC Transit Museum shop in Grand Central.

Never a dedicated Columbus Day parade goer, it never dawned on me that 45th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues would be part of the staging area for the parade.  The first tip-off came at 6th Avenue, where a cop had the street barricaded off, but like the New Yorker I used to be, without thinking I just put my head down and kept walking as though I belonged on the street, hoping that Tom and the boys would do the same. It worked and before long we were at the end of the block looking for the little hidey-hole that is The Red Caboose. We found it, but the news wasn’t good: the door was padlocked. It was then that I realized that the owner probably figured that with all the parade nonsense going on on the street outside, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile to come in and open up the store.  The boys were very, very disappointed.  So too were the three men who arrived just after we did, standing morosely in front of the padlock.

The boys cheered up a bit when we found the Batmobile parked outside.  Who knew that Batman is Italian?

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I managed to snap them in front of the car just before Batman zoomed off,

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The boys above are looking rather shifty, because they were distracted by a high school band still rehearsing. We didn’t know why they couldn’t rehearse with their hats on (speaking of  hats, Davy is very pleased with his new Zabar’s ball cap),

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Say what you will about the recently re-elected Mayor Bloomberg, but the streets are a darn sight more flowery (and clean) than they used to be,

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Then we headed a few blocks over, through more barricades, to Grand Central to the MTA Transit Museum Store, where last year in late November — I realize now it was probably a holiday special — the store had an amazing, enormous Lionel train display.  The kids were crushed to find out that the space was now occupied by an exhibit, “The Future Beneath Us”.

We did make it back to The Red Caboose a few days later, no parades, and it was open.  It’s a crowded basement treasure trove, the sort of place any train-crazy eight- and 10-year-old boys would love. Packages of HO and other scale people, animals, and vehicles are stapled to any available surface. There are display cases, stacks, and open boxes of model trains, cars, and other items. We spent at least an hour in there, some of which I spent on a stool in a corner with my eyes closed, wedged in between various merchandise and paraphernalia, trying to block out the incessant sound of a train whistle. But the boys loved it (or did I say that already?). And I shot myself in the foot early on in the visit by discovering, and mentioning to Tom, a no-longer-being manufactured Skilcraft Visible Cow kit, brand new and still wrapped in plastic. Tom thought it was too good to pass up, so, yes, it came home in our luggage, to keep our Skilcraft Visible Horse company.

Trip report, part 2: NYC, still wild

On our second day, Sunday, we were up bright and early to go birding in Central Park with Deb Allen. We met what seems to be a devoted group of regulars by the Turtle Pond dock near Belvedere Castle, where I spent many high school Saturdays climbing the castle and the rock walls below. Laura was delighted to be in the midst of the fall migration, surrounded by her favorite warblers, and found it interesting that some of the birds we take for granted and enjoy in full summer plumage, such as goldfinches, are simply visitors in New York in the autumn.  Also novel was birdwatching as a large group activity.

We started off at the Turtle Pond,

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Laura with her new binoculars, a belated birthday gift from Grandpapa,

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The lack of binoculars didn’t hinder Daniel,

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and I can tell you that by the end of our birdwatching, that backpack was full of acorns, all of which made the journey home with us.

The group zeroes in on a new specimen,

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Laura in her element,

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We walked through the Ramble, then out onto the very new Oak Bridge (which is really steel and aluminum), and toward Strawberry Field,

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Laura kept a list in a notebook of all her sightings for the day, which included ruddy ducks and gadwalls at Turtle Pond, brown creeper, golden-crowned kinglets, a swamp sparrow, a northern water thrush, winter wren, brown thrasher, eastern towhee, and pine warbler. I’m sure there were more, but I’m not the official birder in the family. Between the birds and the lovely New York birders we met, it was a wonderful morning.

We left after two hours (the walks usually last three hours) to head over to my parents’ apartment to make pancakes for brunch. As it was, we ran into a 10-block street fair at Broadway and 86th Street, which slowed us down considerably,

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Trip report, part 1: NYC, wet and wild

We were in NYC and Washington, DC, earlier this month, from the 9th to the 26th, visiting my parents and doing some sightseeing.  The day after we arrived in NYC, the 10th, we walked a few blocks to Riverside Park and 72nd Street, where we were able to take advantage of the last weekend of free kayaking in the Hudson River, which seemed to be a dandy way to celebrate Henry Hudson’s quadricentennial. I discovered the activity trolling through the NYC Parks Department website, which I’ve used before to find fun, free events on our trips.  And a big thank you to the members of the NYC Downtown Boathouse for making the kayaking possible.

It was a rather cool and raw day to be on the Hudson, especially because everyone exited the kayaks soaking wet, but great fun and our hotel* was just a few blocks away for a hot shower and change of clothes afterwards. Daniel, who brought his new movie camera, and I passed on the fun, opting to stay on land and photograph the others…

Laura and Tom surveying the river,

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Putting on life jackets,

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One of the Boathouse volunteers, cleverly wearing a wetsuit, kindly offered to take my camera to get pictures of the intrepid sailors down on the pier:

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I got the camera back just in time to watch my husband and eldest child paddle off 

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toward New Jersey,

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While they were paddling back,

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Davy got ready 

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to hop in when it was his turn,

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and then off they went,

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And then they were back,

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On the way out of the park we said goodbye to Eleanor Roosevelt and friend,

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* For the second year in a row, we stayed at the Hotel Beacon on Broadway between 74th and 75th Streets, right across the street from Fairway; for the second year in a row, our suite looked out on Fairway, and the kids enjoyed watching the trucks pull up to unload their boxes of fruits and vegetables.  Reasonably priced, recently renovated, with kitchenettes (though this year’s was much teenier than last year, with room for one, if you held your breath) and a laundry room.  Clean, attractive, comfortable, conveniently located — all in all, highly recommended. (Oh, and the windows open for fresh air if such things matter to you.)

A peach tree grows near Brooklyn

but perhaps not for much longer.  In Friday’s New York Times, Susan Dominus writes,

Close to 40 years ago, Michael Goldstein, then a young dad, rented the top floor of a building on the corner of Broome and Mercer Streets, and plunked a sandbox and kiddie pool on the roof. Such was the humble beginning of what would eventually become an elaborate, fantasyland garden, complete with convincing-looking synthetic grass, peach, apple and cherry trees, blueberry bushes, and Adirondack chairs nestled among the fragrant boughs.

Long before green roofs were hot [GreenRoofs.org], long before Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg declared his goal to plant one million trees [MillionTreesNYC] across the five boroughs, Mr. Goldstein was doing his part to green New York with his 2,500-square-foot aerie atop the ninth floor.

Until now, Mr. Goldstein’s garden has been governed mostly by the quick-changing whims of the seasons. This week, his birch tree is losing its leaves, and his apple tree has been bearing sweet, mild fruit. The seasons may be intractable masters, but Mr. Goldstein, now 71, has come to expect their tyranny. Much harder to accept: that a piece of paper pinned to a door should govern the fate of the small ecosystem that he considers an extension of his home.

In July, Mr. Goldstein, who runs a merchandising business from a small, sunny office mounted on his roof, found a troubling notice from the City Buildings Department on his building’s front door. From a roof nearby, the notice read, visual inspection revealed “small housing structures built on top of this roof,” along with other concerns, including “foliage resembling a small forest.”The building was not code-compliant, the notice went on to say, and the owner would be required to provide an engineering report documenting the structural soundness of the roof.

Then Mr. Goldstein received a letter in the mail, dated Aug. 28, from the bank that bought the building when its previous owner went bankrupt. The bank was terminating his lease to the roof. He would have until the end of September to deconstruct Eden and return the roof to its natural state: black tar, the kudzu of urban surfaces everywhere.

It is no small thing to plant and maintain foliage resembling a small forest in New York City — it requires two hours of watering a day, said Mr. Goldstein, who pays $1,700 a month in rent for the roof. He never leaves town in the summer, because a day or two of arid heat would take too heavy a toll.

Nor would it be a small thing to remove said small forest through the building’s cramped elevator, to disassemble a living, photosynthesizing community. Mr. Goldstein said he has told officials at the bank that he would hire an engineer to test the soundness of the roof, and remove whatever weight was deemed problematic. But he said he has been given no leeway, just orders to remove years of history and a space that is considered home not just to him and his neighbors, but to the two mockingbirds and three robins that feed off the fruit, and to an owl that occasionally surprises them with a visit.

Read the rest of the article here.

From the website for Mayor Bloomberg’s MillionTreesNYC program (emphases mine):

MillionTreesNYC, one of the 127 PlaNYC initiatives, is a citywide, public-private program with an ambitious goal: to plant and care for one million new trees across the City’s five boroughs over the next decade. By planting one million trees, New York City can increase its urban forestour most valuable environmental asset made up of street trees, park trees, and trees on public, private and commercial land — by an astounding 20%, while achieving the many quality-of-life benefits that come with planting trees.The City of New York will plant 60% of trees in parks and other public spaces. The other 40% will come from private organizations, homeowners, and community organizations.

How does the city plan Getting to a Million Trees? With, among other things, “homeowner outreach”:

The Parks Department and NYRP [New York Restoration Project] will introduce public education campaigns that highlight the economic and health benefits associated with trees. Neighborhood residents will be invited to participate in tree planting workshops, join community-based stewardship networks, participate in volunteer tree planting days, and most importantly register their newly planted trees online.

As a result of this new comprehensive tree planting approach, neighborhoods throughout New York City will see their streets, parks and public spaces, business districts and front yards transformed into beautiful green landscapes-providing New York City families with the positive benefits associated with urban trees.

Can you think of a better community steward than Mr. Goldstein, whose neighborhood has benefited from his trees and plantings for almost 40 years? By the way, Mr. Goldstein and his wife, and other NYC rooftop gardeners, were profiled by The Times 10 years ago, too.

From the MillionTrees page on NYC’s Urban Forest:

Our trees and green spaces are essential to life in New York City.

Our urban forest totals over 5 million trees and 168 species. It can be found throughout the city along streets and highways, in neighborhood playgrounds, backyards and, community gardens, and even along commercial developments. There are 6,000 acres of woodlands in parks alone!

Trees in such a dense urban environment mean two things: people can directly benefit from them in their day-to-day lives (shade and cleaner air), but also trees must contend with a host of challenges that all city-dwellers face:

Competition for open space in the City is fierce, as residential and commercial developments reduce existing and potential tree habitat. Between 1984 and 2002 alone, New York City lost 9,000 acres of green open space to competing land uses.

Environmental and physical factors challenge street, yard, and woodland trees throughout the City. Construction damage, invasive species, soil compaction and degradation, drought, flooding, air pollution, vandalism, and pests, such as the Asian longhorned beetle, all impact the urban forest.

(Other challenging city pests include lawyers, banks, and city bureaucrats.)

 … MillionTreesNYC will bring thousands of trees to streets, parks, and forests throughout the City. In addition to adding trees to the urban forest, MillionTreesNYC will raise the profile of trees to the general public so all New Yorkers not only benefit but also contribute. Together, we can create a greener, greater NYC.

Paging MillionTreesNYC, and Mayor Bloomberg too…

32.7 in the shade

on September 3, 2009 at 2:59 p.m.

Remarkable.

Dipping a toe

… back into blogging after what has turned out to be a two-month sabbatical.  No apologies, no regrets.

It has been a marvelous summer, and at the moment we’re marveling that, here on the prairies six hours north of Montana, not only is summer still hanging on but we’re having a heat wave —  high 20s Celsius, with a forecast 33 C for Thursday.  The farmers’ crops are are drying in the fields, but the weather is perfect for the tomatoes and peppers as long as I can keep the water coming.  And it’s getting dark now disturbingly early, just after eight o’clock.

Our own crops are harvested, such as we could this year.  After we finished cutting and baling the alfalfa for hay, we cut and bale our barley crop early, several weeks ago, for greenfeed, instead of combining the grain. The boys are out as I type, with the water trailer, giving the shelterbelt trees a good soaking, and weeding the rows.

Speaking of the shelterbelt, in early July we took our first ever summer vacation, a whopping two-and-a-half days through Saskatchewan.  Our main destination was the shelterbelt tree center at the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration in Indian Head, SK, which holds an open house every summer.  It’s the first time in the four or five years since we’ve started planted trees that we’ve been able to make it, mainly because of the drought which meant the hay wasn’t ready yet for cutting.  We attended seminars, took a tour of the center, watched demonstrations of the equipment — including the where-have-you-been-all-my-farming-life Weed Badger, which we are thinking would mean an end to endless weeding — and went home with all sorts of goodies, including notepads, water bottles, posters, and more little trees to plant. The town of Indian Head not only has a lovely ice cream parlor on Main Street, but has some of the most gorgeous Victorian houses, and beautifully tended gardens, on well-treed streets I’ve ever seen in a prairie town. We also stopped at Moose Jaw for a tour of the Tunnels and (even better) the Burrowing Owl Interpretive Centre at the edge of town, where we met and handled George, the ambassador owl, fed grasshoppers to some others, and were able to buy very inexpensive owl pellets for dissection.  Next stop was Rouleau aka Dog River for the kids’ sake, though admittedly we were about two years late with that one.  On to Regina, where we managed to make a 6 pm tour of the legislature building and afterwards strolled through the lobby of the Hotel Saskatchewan since Laura has inherited from her mother and grandmother a love of grand old hotels.

Various other goings-on since my last post, but not in any sort of order (not much for pictures though, because either the camera hates the computer or vice versa and I can’t figure out which or why):

— Tom directed the kids to take the majority of the new-crop kittens to the fair, to Old MacDonald’s barn where they would be adopted. Only to turn into a softie when at said barn said kids discovered rabbits.  Laura asked first — “Dad, could I have a rabbit please?” But instead of a direct “No”, Tom mumbled something about having to make sure she’d do all her other chores first, etc. Which sounded, to Laura’s ears (and to mine) very much like “Yes”.  Which is all the boys needed to hear.  Which is why we now have two bunnies, Verbena and Claudia, happily munching on carrot tops, kohlrabi leaves, and other garden scraps.

— The rest of the time at the fair was equally exciting.  All three kids showed pens of chickens, their calves (on what turned out to be an exceedingly hot day), won prizes, spent two days riding the rides on the midway, showed off their handiwork at the exhibit hall (Laura displayed an example of handwriting, flowers, her quilling, and other things I know I’m forgetting; the boys displayed Lego creations, including Davy’s manure spreader made out of bricks, as well as first-prize winning birdhouses, one shaped like a grain elevator, and other assorted items; and all three and Tom displayed pint sealers of threshed grain, and sheaves of grain and forage).  We all ate homemade pie from the United Church booth and drank lemonade, and watched the show on the grandstand with good friends who came in from out of town to take in the festivities. And, as usual, we brought home the chicks hatched out at the incubator display.

— The kids spent the latter part of the summer getting ready for children’s day at the Farmer’s Market in town, when anyone under 14 can get a table for free, instead of the usual $10.  The boys decided to take what they learned from making my birthday present, a plant cart made from an old barbecue (I had seen the idea in the June 2008 issue of Harrowsmith magazine, and kept reminding the boys that it would make a dandy Mother’s Day or mother’s birthday present), and turn it into a business.   The first project they did with Tom’s supervision and help, and then they knew enough to set out on their own.

— Davy fractured his wrist in early August, jumping off a swing at a friend’s house.  His first injury in six or so years of professional swing jumping.  But the new doctor in town said all he needed was a splint and an ace bandage for three weeks, which was very easy to manage, especially for showers and baths. The splint and bandage just came off, and the wrist seems to be as good as new.

— Tom’s aunt and uncle in town took off for a 10-day vacation, telling us we could pick all of their raspberries.  One of the  most delicious presents we’ve ever received.  I went in every other day for an hour and a half of picking, and by the time they returned we had eaten as many fresh raspberries, and raspberry crisps, crumbles and clafoutis as we could, and I had canned the rest as jam and preserves to enjoy until next summer.  Ditto with saskatoons, some which we picked wild and others from friends’ bushes. Chokecherries, Evans cherries, peaches, and pears are up next for syrup, jelly, and canning.

— We started up our formal studies yesterday, a bit earlier than usual, but then we’re taking off for a few weeks next month to visit grandparents in NYC, and then on to Washington, DC.   Since Farm School is going to Washington, it seemed appropriate to spend our first day watching “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, which will be a springboard to the next two months of civics, folk songs, vocabulary, and more.  Next up, “Much Ado About Nothing”, in preparation for the Folger’s new production.  Oh yes, and math, grammar, writing, spelling, science…  For Laura, science will be based on around one of her recent 12th birthday present from her grandparents, Birds of Central Park. I’m looking at a bird walk or two with Dr. Bob DeCandido, and have already found the perfect city souvenir for Laura.

Many thanks to the two or so readers, in addition to my parents, who’ve stuck it out over here in the barrens. Any point in a (not) back-to-school roll call in the comments, just to see who’s still here?