• 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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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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Walls

The late June weekend before Tom’s operation was a mad rush to raise the exterior and interior walls on the first floor.

This is a long post, more for us than for anyone else, so click away now if you’re not keen on lumber. I wanted something to remember this special time, especially because a few days later Tom had such a difficult time having to set down his tool belt and hammer for several months.

Here you can see some of the stamped concrete from the porch (done a week or so prior), and some of the completed walls to be erected; Davy rolled out the foam that went underneath the walls,

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Putting up/pulling up the very first wall, Friday after supper, June 27th,

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The view through the very first wall, with Daniel running the telehandler,

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Up, up, and away,

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The front of the house, with the entryway, adjacent to the “tower room” off the living room,

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Joining the two walls,

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Part of the front of the house — from left, the front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area off the living room,

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The entire front, with, from left, bathroom (full barrier-free bathroom with shower, not a powder room), office/home school room, front door, entry hall window, tower sitting area,

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From left, tower sitting room (off the living room), entry hall window, front door, office/home school room, bathroom,

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Readying one of the interior walls (the wall between the office/home school room and the entry hall),

 

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Standing up the second interior wall, between the entry hall and the living room,

 

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Bracing the interior walls,

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The windowed dining room, to the left of the kitchen,

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The dining room again, with the windows and French door to the porch,

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The kitchen and, beyond that (if you look carefully you can see a post marking where the wall goes), the pantry; the door in the centre is to the garage; the window at far right is in the bathroom,

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Dining room at far left (beyond the orange ladder), kitchen window (to the  left of the yellow ladder), and pantry window; we decided to make a smaller kitchen, easier to navigate, with a good size pantry nearby,

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Tom taking measurements in the pantry,

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Kitchen, pantry, and garage entry,

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Dining room from the outside,

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Insulating the garage and basement foundation and backfilling,

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A visitor to the work site,

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Now that we’re done with the second cut of hay and our greenfeed, Tom and crew are back at work on the house, floors and the second story before the snow flies. Onward and upward…

Some summer scenes

Something cheerier for this post, and an attempt to catch up.

4H beef club achievement days in late May; the kids each did well with all of their animals (the boys each had a steer and a heifer; Laura had a steer, heifer, and cow-calf pair), and Laura also received her platinum award for diary points. Davy, at left, and Daniel at right, with their animals,

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In June, we had to do some fencing at our far pasture before we could move the cattle in; since we were there for hours at a time, cookouts were an easy way to have meals in the field:

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The shelterbelt lilacs in the field where we’re building the new house were beautiful this year with lots of blooms and lots of growth, thanks to heavy spring rains:

 

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In late July, I had a pile of leftover grated cabbage, intended for coleslaw (a meal I catered at the country fair), so I turned it into sauerkraut, in my mother-in-law’s old 10-gallon crock:

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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.

Summer snapshots

A bit late, but a few photos from my summer. No hail this year for the first time in three years, thank goodness, but very dry and lots of hungry voles.

The garden and a number of my containers were full of sunflowers, none of which I planted — all came thanks to Laura’s birds and the birdfeeders full of sunflower seeds,

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The boys’ new projects. The goal is lamb chops,

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Back

We had a productive week in NYC, getting reacquainted with the building maintenance staff (we were frequent users of the service elevator, and made good use of the building dumpsters and hand trucks). Tom and the kids also got to know the staff at the nearby Goodwill and Salvation Army stores, hauling 60 boxes with about 1,500 books.

The first full day, with a bird walk for Laura and boating for the boys all in Central Park, we learned on arrival back at the hotel that there had been an extreme heat/humidity alert. The heat and humidity continued for the rest of the week, until Friday.  We never made it to Trader Joe’s (since there was a line to get into the place and life is just to short) or to Lincoln Center or a movie, because by the time we were done at the office every evening, we were hot, tired, and hungry. We did, though, get to hear and meet one of Tom’s favorite authors, Mark Kurlansky, who gave a talk at the nearby Barnes & Noble about his newest book.

The kids discovered the magic that is Halal food carts. And we had some very good Chinese and Indian food, and picnic lunches and dinners with great bread, cheese, pickled herring from Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, and beautiful blueberries (from New Jersey, three pints for $5). And lots and lots of walking.

We all enjoyed the vet clinic with entertaining calico kittens in the window just steps from the hotel, and Laura had fun at the Sephora across the street (able to try on nail polish and eyeshadow to her heart’s content), and Davy tried on every pair of sunglasses at Eastern Mountain Sports, also across the street. Appropriately enough, there are little trees growing in the sewer on the corner by EMS (all photos by Laura),

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Aside from the Upper West Side location, laundry room, and great breakfasts (very good bagels and croissants), our room came with a small balcony, which was a pleasant surprise. And good for bird watching and listening, according to Laura.

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While I’ve noticed a bit on other trips, it was quite apparent for this first summer trip in 20 years how much NYC has put into landscaping its public spaces, from the Central Park Nature Conservancy (the restoration efforts in the past two decades are truly a marvel) and whoever looks after Madison Square Park, to the garden areas outside the First Baptist Church at Broadway and 79th Street,

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Our welcome back to the prairies last night on the drive home from the airport,

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Good to be home.

Much too much

Last Tuesday evening we had 4″ of rain in two hours at our house, and close to 6″ at our corrals. The most rain in the shortest time most people around here have ever seen. For the past few days we’ve had temperatures around 30 C, which wouldn’t be that bad if the house weren’t geared toward keeping the heat in rather than out, and if we didn’t have all sorts of weeding to do in the hot sun. The greenhouse was still 100 F at 9 pm tonight. Not a good combination with hot flashes.

We started on our first cut of hay a few days ago, the boys cut all the alfalfa and tomorrow they’ll be ready to start raking and baling. We’re under the gun to get it done because we have a last-minute trip to NYC — the office is moving after 22 years in its current space, and there are still things from my parents (and from almost 50 years ago) to sort through, discard, and give away. We’ll be there a week, and the kids will be manning the hand truck, taking boxes of books and other things to the thrift store several blocks away. Unfortunately, while I think this week has been fairly pleasant in NYC, it looks like next week will be in the 90s. But I’ve been able to promise the kids considerably more air conditioning than we have here. Not the best time of year to remove ourselves from the farm and work, but the only time available between now and September, when the office gets packed up. We’re staying on the Upper West Side as usual, between Fairway and Zabar’s, and will have a kitchenette (and also laundry facilities), so we’re looking forward to quick and easy meals, augmented by nearby Chinese restaurants and hamburgers and shakes at the Shake Shack. The kids are campaigning for on one lobster meal (from Fairway, which sells and also steams them). There’s also apparently a new Trader Joe’s in the neighborhood; we enjoyed the one near our hotel in Washington, DC several years ago (though the line-up to pay was crazy), but that was in Foggy Bottom with only the sad Watergate Safeway for competition.

I’m taking advantage of the situation to order some things we have trouble getting up here — cheap reading glasses, cheap bras, French baking powder, and perfume, which Canada Post considers “dangerous/flammable goods” (living where I do, perfume choices are limited if you’d prefer to smell like vintage decants rather than like JLo, Jessica Simpson, or Pink Sugar). I don’t know how much time or energy we’ll have for any entertainment/cultural activities in the evenings, but it would be fun to take the kids to watch and listen to one evening of Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.

Laura is off to the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario again in August, this time for a month, to work as an intern, helping with the migration monitoring and working on her own research project, a Monarch butterfly census to see if the numbers recorded in Mexico in December hold up at this end. She’s been very busy with all of her bird stuff, keeping up with her bird blog, starting another blog for our naturalist society, working on her Young Birder of the Year projects, fundraising for Bird Studies Canada with a birdathon. By the way, if you live in Canada and are interested in both bird conservation and donating to a good cause, Laura is gratefully accepting any and all donations until the end of July via her birdathon page at BSC. Thank you and apologies for this bit of fundraising / advertising, which I tend to be allergic to in real and blog life.

The garden is going great guns, though the extremes of dry heat followed by moist heat have provided a bug buffet, and a boon for funguses and such. The powdery mildew is enjoying itself tremendously on the pumpkins, sigh.

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A bowl of succulents — perennial hens-and-chicks I’ll transplant into the garden at the end of the summer,

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A red begonia with creeping jenny,

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A hosta about to bloom,

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The Virginia creeper sneaking up on a chair,

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Mexican giant hyssop (Agastache mexicana “Acapulco”); the hummingbird and bees just love this, probably because it smells like citronella,

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June

Harder

Saw the above today at Grain Edit by Muti and I love it. Available from Society6 as prints and as stretched canvases.

April and May zipped by alarmingly quickly. April was winter and May was summer, and spring somehow vanished. We’ve had hail already, and some fairly ominous weather.

The kids had the play (Wizard of Oz) which went very well, we all survived three days of 4H Beef Club achievement days/show/sale combined with a celebration of 4H’s centennial (the kids sold their steers, Laura won a showmanship award, Daniel received his silver award of excellence and Laura her gold, Davy and Laura won awards for their project books), we seeded our crops, planted and watered 985 little trees, planted two gardens and the potato patch, got the greenhouse up and running, are moving cattle to the various pastures, sorting out bulls, fixing fences. And oh, yes, school, along with some college/university planning, estate matters, and a variety of bird-related projects and trips for Laura. Our nest boxes are almost all occupied (Laura kicked some house sparrows out), and we have eggs and hatchlings everywhere.

Speaking of which, Laura was thrilled to that see her favorite birding radio show, Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds (which we first discovered as a podcast before wifi let her listen live on Sunday mornings), was the subject of a lovely feature article in The Boston Globe. There might be a quote from a young birder we know…

Also, if you’re in Canada and feeling inclined to support Bird Studies Canada in their national, provincial, and regional conservation and research efforts, Laura is participating in their annual Baillie Birdathon; her 24-hour birdathon was last week (she saw 84 species, four more than her stated goal), but donations will be accepted until the end of July.

This weekend the kids have their 4H Outdoor Club’s achievement day overnight camping trip, which they’re all looking forward to. Much scurrying about, sorting out sleeping bags and making their survival kits. Next week Daniel might be taking his learner’s permit test, which means that between him and his sister, I won’t be driving myself too much.

Some good books we’ve discovered:

Letters to a Young Scientist by E.O. Wilson (April 2013): somehow I stumbled across this in March and ordered it before publication. An inspiring, very personal little book for young scientists and their parents by the celebrated biologist and naturalist. Particularly helpful if the young scientist in your household happens to be especially keen on biology.

Two Laura found for her work with a Young Naturalists group, trying to get younger kids outdoors and interested in nature:

Look Up!: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate (Candlewick, March 2013): brand new and delightful. Perfect for kids who think they might be interested in birds, and also for those who think there isn’t anything particularly exciting in their own backyard.

The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book: 448 Great Things to Do in Nature Before You Grow Up by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (Falcon Guides, April 2013). For parents rather than kids, just the ticket if you need specific ideas on how to get started with your kids in the great outdoors.

I’ll leave you with another nifty poster, by Biljana Kroll, also available from Society6. Words to think about as some families’ formal studies come to an end for the summer.

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Summer fun

Just in time for Summer, and for Alice in Wonderland fans — the new book, Everything Alice: The Wonderland Book of Makes by Hannah Read-Baldrey and Christine Leech, published, not surprisingly, by Quadrille Publishing,

At last the Mock Turtle recovered his voice, and, with tears running down his cheeks, he went on again:

“You may not have lived much under the sea—” (“I haven’t,” said Alice)—”and perhaps you were never even introduced to a lobster—” (Alice began to say, “I once tasted—” but checked herself hastily, and said, “No, never”) “—so you can have no idea what a delightful thing a Lobster-Quadrille is!”

Ms. Read-Baldrey is a stylist and illustrator and Ms. Leech is an artist and designer, so the crafts are not the homemade sort. The women met working at the UK craft superstore HobbyCraft. From their own description of the book,

Welcome to Wonderland and the magical world of Everything Alice, where nothing is quite as it seems. Alice’s fantastical adventures in wonderland provide the inspiration for this book which contains a charming and original collection of 50 craft & cookery makes, ranging from a hand-sewn Mr Dandy White Rabbit toy,  to the stylish Time for Tea Charm Bracelet and pom pom-decorated Red King’s Slippers to papercraft Tea Party Invitations and cut-out-and-keep Dress Up  Alice and White Rabbit Dolls.

If the “makes and bakes” are half as charming as the cover, they have a winner. One way to find out: two freebies from the website to get an idea of what the book has: free printable Alice in Wonderland paper doll and Red Kings Red Velvet Cupcakes recipe

The book, which was published in the UK on Monday, will be published in North America in early August. You can wait a month, or if you’re the impatient sort and/or just like ordering from Book Depository (guilty on both counts*), you can go ahead and order from Book Depository, which as always offers free worldwide shipping.

* Now that the Canada Post strike is over and Persephone’s Miss Buncle Married, just reprinted in April but in and out of stock several times since, is finally available again, my copy is on the way

Glowing, glimmering greenhouse

A few night shots with the solar-powered fairy lights (with little grapevine globes) from Home Hardware, and the Ikea Solvinden solar-powered lanterns. I couldn’t find a link at Home Hardware for the fairy lights, but they look similar to these at Target, though my string is twice as long. And I bought our Ikea lights at the end of the summer several years ago, so they were considerably less than $12.99 CAN ($9.99 in the US) each.

The lights aren’t that bright since it wasn’t completely dark yet. But it doesn’t get completely dark here now until close to 11 pm, and my own battery runs out long before that. But now that the days are getting shorter (sob…), I should have more pictures before too long.

Greenhouse school

[I am warning you now — if you aren’t in the slightest interested in gardening or greenhouses, click away fast. What follows are proud parent photos, but I’m worse than any proud parent because I never submitted anyone I know other than my husband and both sets of our parents to pictures of our adorable babies. But my plant photos I’m putting on my blog for all to see. I am truly besotted.]

My latest educational endeavor: figuring out the ins and outs of my new greenhouse, which is a grand adventure for all of us.  The boys helped build it, Davy has his tomatoes started from seed growing in it, Laura has two pumpkin plants and three ground cherries growing in there, and Daniel helps me attach various things to the walls. The greenhouse is part zoo (we’ve found everything from flies, bees, dragonflies, butterflies and moths, and one lost hummingbird in there), part vegetable garden, part flower garden, part school (we are all learning lots), and part mental health clinic, for me at least. I smile when I see it, I smile when I’m in it.  And I have a hard time leaving it, especially to make meals for other people.

UPDATED to add some greenhouse book links at the bottom of the post, for Jane at Read, Learn, and be Happy who commented below.

I promised Sheila some pictures quite some time ago, so here they are:

The greenhouse, now situated between the back of the house and our cattle pasture. The floor for the moment is plywood, on skids, just a temporary arrangement until we build the new house and get the greenhouse situated over there. Definitely not until at least next summer, quite possibly/probably the summer after. The permanent floor at the permanent location will be concrete or gravel,

Tom built the benches out of plywood, just something quick. We had planned to get something like the Dura-Bench panels, especially after finding out about the more easily obtainable (at least in this part of the world) poultry flooring, but all of a sudden the greenhouse was finished, pulled behind the house with the tractor, and open for business.  And I needed benches. This is the the view on the left, starting with an Early Girl tomato, bought started at the nursery about 12″ high, but going great guns,

I ran a double piece of twine from the leg behind the tomato up to one of the trusses, since the tomato has surpassed the tomato cage,

Davy’s unidentified heirloom tomatoes, started from seed saved from his favorite plant last summer, on top of the center table (one bell pepper at far left), and various squashes and tomatoes (and one pot of scarlet runner beans, bottom left) on the floor,

The scarlet runner beans never have leaves this large when grown outdoors in the ground,

Behind the tomatoes, Laura’s ground cherries, which I started from seed,

To the right of the door, some herbs on the bench (several different basils, cilantro, lavendar, rosemary), and Laura’s gallivanting pumpkin; the heater, which thankfully hasn’t been needed for several weeks, is at far right,

Laura’s pumpkin down below,

The shade-loving plants — fern, ivies, fuchsia — live under the bench,

Back to the left side of the greenhouse, on the bench. A few strawberry pots (and one teeny tiny avocado seed). There are berries on the plants and one is getting awfully ripe; the main benefit about growing strawberries inside is avoiding the marauding, starving robins and gophers, who love the berries as much as we do,

Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) blooming in same pot with not-yet blooming canary bird vine (Tropaeolum perearinum), started from seed, on the same tuteur found at Winners (Canadian version of TJ Maxx). I very briefly considered spray painting the tuteur black, then came to my senses and realized that once the vines start growing, it doesn’t matter what color it is. Both vines are growing so quickly that once in the morning and once in the evening I need to tuck the “escaped” ends in and around,

Laura’s Gerbera daisy, which she picked out at Wal-Mart. I have no shame. This one is great fun to watch, the flowers start as small green buttons, then slowly the stem lengthens and unfurls and bloom turns upwards, pinkens, and opens to several times the size of the original button. And very easy to water, because it lets you know by getting slightly, but obviously, limp, rather like a tired Southern belle.  Just add water,

Dragonwing begonia, which Laura, who came to the nursery with me, did not like. I’m glad I have veto power,

Variegated purple ornamental pepper plant, just picked up at the nursery on sale because it was on sale and also needed adopting,

Canna lily, rescued from Home Depot last week (I know, I know, it’s a sickness). Just began to bloom yesterday,

This is my lophospermum “Wine Red” vine; not much to look right now at but I’m terribly pleased with it since I, with my mother-in-law’s help for four months, managed to overwinter it. And as of March I didn’t think it would make it or, if it did, amount to very much, since the leaves on the middle section of the vine — only about a foot long in total — were drying up and turning yellow.  Even now, the middle section is a little dry and spare, but there are lovely new leaves at each end. This is the very first bloom since last summer,

Firecracker vine (Manettia luteorubra) and another (also not-yet blooming) canary bird vine, on another, larger tuteur from Winners,

Castor bean plant. I’ve wanted one of these for a while but didn’t know how it would hold up to our climate. The green strip on the plastic wall is masking tape so I can mark the plant’s growth, which has been rapid.  I wasn’t expecting the funky inflorescence quite so soon,

Some of the geraniums I overwintered, and at far right a hanging basket I rescued from the great outdoors after three days of rain and wind,

A mandevilla I found last week, on sale for $5 (with some lobelia I planted in front). The nursery kept cutting back the mandevilla to keep it under control, so it has three or four stems, all of which have blooms now. I found some bits of lattice left over from our deck, and nailed them to the studs. Mandevillas are the kind of plants I’ve never been able to grow before, without the greenhouse, since the summers, especially the evenings, just don’t get warm enough,

Another, um, mandevilla, rescued two days after the first from Home Depot. And marked down considerably ($8) and considerably longer than the other mandevilla. I had to do surgery on the cheap plastic trellis it came with, and around which it was wound with a vengeance,

Blooms coming,

Cosmos with sweet potato vine in the “infirmary”; the sweet potato vines were badly damaged by frost at the of last month, even in the greenhouse (Tom and I found it was -2 C in there at 5 am when we arrived to turn on the heater) but are making a good comeback,

Right side of the greenhouse, looking toward the door,

While I was taking pictures, a moth landed nearby (can you see it, in the middle of the picture?),

Heading out. That’s a water tank you can see on the back of the tractor. And the step stool is one of the things we brought back from my parents’ apartment.  For years it sat in the kitchen, under the telephone, and it’s where we sat while talking. It’s in remarkably good shape considering its age (close to 50 years, like me), and the fact that it made the trip home in the back of our pickup truck in January, since there was no room left in the cargo trailer. That chair and another, an old rush one, were piled up high in the back a la Beverly Hillbillies, and I suspect it’s the main reason we didn’t have to worry about theft from the truck and trailer overnight in parking lots. I’m sure people thought we were hauling our nearly worthless possessions about, judging from the junky-lookingpile in the back of the pickup.

I found small solar-powered fairy lights with round wicker covers on sale at Home Hardware, and finally put the three Ikea solar-powered white lanterns I’ve been saving for a few years to good use.  When it’s finally dark, around 10:30 pm now, it looks lovely in the greenhouse,

If you’re still here, thanks for indulging me!

BOOK LINKS, from my previous post:

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. Underneath the pretty pictures, full over very practical and useful advice.

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.

Paradise Under Glass: An Amateur Creates a Conservatory Garden by Ruth Kassinger. Not only an account of the building of her conservatory garden in Maryland, but also a history of green- and glasshouses.

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. Definitely more useful for those in more temperate climes.

As I wrote last month, am once again reminded by Cicero’s quote over on the left, “Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing.”

Summer garden tour

In 16 years, I haven’t had the same gardening weather two years in a row.  This year we’ve had very strange weather, first quite dry, which has been standard for the past long while, but then quite wet (though not as wet as Saskatchewan, thank goodness), and some very warm days and fairly cool nights.  Which has all resulted in some things growing like gangbusters, but other things rather  more slowly than in previous years.  I’m as confused as the plants.  The carrots took forever come up (though I didn’t have to seed them three times, as so many of us had to do last year), but they’re already considerably larger than at this time last year.  Apologies for the wonky light, which is different in almost each picture, which I took at various times of day beginning several weeks ago and ending today.  I’m putting these up for me for next year and also for my mother, so she can see what I spend most of my day doing (not including cutting dead branches off shelterbelt trees and running to town for baler parts).

My dipladenia, which spends fall through early spring indoors,

A mimulus,

Behold, papyrus on the prairies! An experiment this year, a small water garden.  Last year I noticed the nursery was selling plastic baskets already planted with water plants, and was intrigued. This year, I succumbed. The garden seems to be happy and doing well because the one plant is blooming with lovely yellow flowers,

Some of my many pansies,

My rose starting to bloom last week; I think told Sheila it’s the Explorer rose, Alexander Mackenzie, but now that it’s in full bloom, I think it’s Explorer David Thompson; it’s my Alexander Mackenzie coming back slowly from a bad winter kill, down to about four inches,

Mr. Thompson just before bursting into bloom,

My ornamental rhubarb has never, in all of its five or six years, looked like this — it has never put out such flower stalks, or been so tall.  And until this year it was always more horizontal than vertical.  I like the leaves on the stalks, which rather remind me of flying birds.  Here’s Davy with the rhubarb one evening last week,

I took this picture of just the stalks the week before,

Poppies everywhere,

I can’t for the life of me remember the name of this perennial, which is growing under my nicest peony, and I can’t find my tag (though the writing is probably faded anyway, drat).  Sheila, do you know?  It’s one of my favorite plants, easy to grow, lovely to look at, goes with everything, and fairly uncommon (which of course is why I can’t remember its name at the moment). The flowers look like little drawstring pouches,

Peony and mystery flower,

My other peony plant, with blooms just opening today,

The columbines, which seem to be thriving with our weather.  Some of the older plants seem to be a riot of blooms,

The simple, elegant white columbines square off against the gaudy, two-tone fuchsia hussies,

Some recently planted lettuces and dill,

The irises several weeks ago, at the height of their bloom.  They’re gone now,

My strawberry beds, on the south side of the garage (tomatoes in pots in front), newly mulched with chipped trees,

My new experiment this year — red-painted “rock strawberries” to discourage the robins,

A day’s pickings,

Earlier in the spring, I needed an extra plant stand while potting up my plants, and found the following, which Tom had rescued from garbage pile behind the supermarket; once I removed the signs/posters on the side and front for all the breads, it was quite spiffy. And it’s on wheels!

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.

Easy homemade ice cream

Well, not technically ice cream. But a yummy summer frozen treat.

Via Instructables, here’s Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn recipe for one-ingredient ice cream.

Considering that when they were babies, my kids’ favorite dessert was “banana pudding” (a banana mashed with a fork), this should be a hit around here.

And after you make your ice cream, you can get started on Instructables’ chain mail from pop tabs. Very, very nifty looking.

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?

A reminder for summer vacation

from author Michael Chabon, writing in the current issue of The New York Review of Books:

As a kid, I was extremely fond of a series of biographies, largely fictional, I’m sure, that dramatized the lives of famous Americans — Washington, Jefferson, Kit Carson, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Daniel Boone — when they were children. (Boys, for the most part, though I do remember reading one about Clara Barton.) [I would think this is the COFA series.] One element that was almost universal in these stories was the vast amounts of time the famous historical boys were alleged to have spent wandering with bosom companions, with friendly Indian boys or a devoted slave, through the once-mighty wilderness, the Wilderness of Childhood, entirely free of adult supervision.

Though the wilderness available to me had shrunk to a mere green scrap of its former enormousness, though so much about childhood had changed in the years between the days of young George Washington’s adventuring on his side of the Potomac and my own suburban exploits on mine, there was still a connectedness there, a continuum of childhood. Eighteenth-century Virginia, twentieth-century Maryland, tenth-century Britain, Narnia, Neverland, Prydain — it was all the same Wilderness. Those legendary wanderings of Boone and Carson and young Daniel Beard (the father of the Boy Scouts of America), those games of war and exploration I read about, those frightening encounters with genuine menace, far from the help or interference of mother and father, seemed to me at the time — and I think this is my key point — absolutely familiar to me.

The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past. The land ruled by children, to which a kid might exile himself for at least some portion of every day from the neighboring kingdom of adulthood, has in large part been taken over, co-opted, colonized, and finally absorbed by the neighbors.

Chabon writes at the end about the consequences of losing this land:

What is the impact of the closing down of the Wilderness on the development of children’s imaginations? This is what I worry about the most. I grew up with a freedom, a liberty that now seems breathtaking and almost impossible. Recently, my younger daughter, after the usual struggle and exhilaration, learned to ride her bicycle. Her joy at her achievement was rapidly followed by a creeping sense of puzzlement and disappointment as it became clear to both of us that there was nowhere for her to ride it — nowhere that I was willing to let her go. Should I send my children out to play?

There is a small grocery store around the corner, not over two hundred yards from our front door. Can I let her ride there alone to experience the singular pleasure of buying herself an ice cream on a hot summer day and eating it on the sidewalk, alone with her thoughts? Soon after she learned to ride, we went out together after dinner, she on her bike, with me following along at a safe distance behind. What struck me at once on that lovely summer evening, as we wandered the streets of our lovely residential neighborhood at that after-dinner hour that had once represented the peak moment, the magic hour of my own childhood, was that we didn’t encounter a single other child.

Even if I do send them out, will there be anyone to play with?

Art is a form of exploration, of sailing off into the unknown alone, heading for those unmarked places on the map. If children are not permitted — not taught — to be adventurers and explorers as children, what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?

Read the entire piece here.

Back when Chabon had a website, which I remember a year or two ago, he had a very good piece on kids, Lego, and imagination.  Here’s where it was, in 2006.  Will have to see if I can use the Wayback Machine to get a better link. Aha.  Try this.

(By the way, Chabon is married to Ayelet Waldman, author of the recently published Bad Mother)

Summer surprise

Just received: a parcel from my father containing

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Not a children’s book, but selected for Laura (though I can’t wait to read it), was inspired by Marilyn Stasio’s recent review in the Sunday Times Book Review:

Nancy Drew drives her own blue roadster. Harriet the Spy travels in a chauffeured limousine. Emma Graham, Martha Grimes’s 12-year-old sleuth, takes taxis and trains. Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old heroine of Alan Bradley’s first mystery, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (Delacorte, $23), goes her way on a beat-up bicycle she calls Gladys, more independent and demonstrably naughtier than her literary sister-sleuths.

The neglected youngest daughter of a widower who never looks up from his precious stamp collection, Flavia takes refuge from her loneliness in the magnificent Victorian chemistry laboratory an ancestor installed at the family’s estate in the English countryside. With “An Elementary Study of Chemistry” as her bible, the precocious child has become an expert in poisons — a nasty skill that gets her in trouble when she melts down a sister’s pearls, but serves her well when a stranger turns up dead in the cucumber patch and her father is arrested for murder. Impressive as a sleuth and enchanting as a mad scientist (“What a jolly poison could be extracted from the jonquil”), Flavia is most endearing as a little girl who has learned how to amuse herself in a big lonely house.

After reading that, Laura said she thought it rather sounded like “The Secret Garden” but with a chemistry set instead of a shovel.

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson, illustrated by Markley Boyer. Dr. Sanderson, who is Associate Director for Landscape Ecology and Geographic Analysis at the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, was a participant in the recent World Science Festival in the discussion, “The Hudson Since Henry”.  The book caught my attention in May while I was drooling over the planned events.  My father has obviously been working on his ESP skills, especially since the box also included

— Biologist Bernd Heinrich’s newest, Summer World: A Season of Bounty, which I’ve been wanting to read since starting The Snoring Bird: My Family’s Journey Through a Century of Biology, a recent purchase from BookCloseouts.  But I didn’t mention anything until the other day, well after my father placed his order.

Books do make the best gifts!  Thanks, Pop!