• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "‘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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Extending the trusses

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

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

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

Workshop and apartment/suite progress

The weather warmed up for Christmas and the crew had some good, productive days in in between holidays.

The workshop, at the end of the garage and underneath the granny suite; some of the windows and the walk-in door are in. I’ve been researching overhead doors.

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In the workshop; the orange area will be the wall between workshop and garage.

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In the suite, the two windows at left are in the bedroom, and the two at right in the living room,

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The angled garage,

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Inside the garage, looking at the door into the house (up the stairs), and the back door,

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From the back, with a view of some of the sheathing on the garage roof,

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The apartment “door”,

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Inside the apartment; the kitchen will be to the right of the front door, and the laundry/storage room and bathroom to the left,

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Eat-in kitchen at left, living room at right,

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Happy New Year

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

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

Wishing you a happy and healthy 2016!

Garage progress

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

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

The garage in the centre and the workshop at right,

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The granny suite will go above the workshop,

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The boys putting up the garage trusses,

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The workshop,

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The view from the garage toward the workshop,

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

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

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

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

 

Belated Europe

After the New Year, we spent four weeks in France and Germany, Tom’s and my first visit in 19 years, and the kids’ first ever. Home base was the house of an old family friend outside Paris, near Fontainebleau, and we took a variety of trips, to western France near Angers for a visit to a farm family, to Paris, to Tom’s family (his mother’s cousin) near Bremen, and back to France (Morzine) for some skiing.

One of the highlights was the stay in northwest Germany, which we all enjoyed very, very much — meeting some family members again, many others for the first time, the architecture, the food, and mostly the very warm welcome. And the kids were delighted to be able to help with farm chores, which helped with missing their animals at home. We had a lovely time, lots of fun and adventures, and made the most of our rental car, a BMW with GPS which turned out to be indispensable. The kids got to do a number of things on their wish lists — driving fast on the Autobahn, birding (Laura had several outings with local birders, and added 70 new species to her life list), and skiing in the Alps.

A few photos from the trip (in chronological order):

One of the houses down the lane in France, with moss everywhere (photo by Laura),

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A stone wall, more moss,

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The village’s outdoor Sunday market; yes, the butcher sells horse meat,

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During one of our drives through the forest of Fontainebleau, we came across one of the regularly scheduled hunts for deer and wild boar, necessary to keep the populations down in the area, for the safety of the humans and health of the habitat; we met the hunters who talked to us about the hunts and showed us some of the animals from that morning,

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We took a walk along the Loing river,

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Visiting a farm near Château-Gontier, in the Mayenne region, with Rouge des Prés (formerly known as Maine-Anjou) cattle,

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At the farm of a distant cousin, where they grow organic potatoes, onions, and carrots; lots of very, very old brick in northwestern Germany,

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Laura birding with some virtual friends made real,

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Peat blocks drying in stacks at the Drebbersches Moor near Lange Lohe; Black Grouse is now extinct in the area because of habitat loss caused by the peat harvesting in the moors,

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While Laura and I were birding, Cousin H. taught the rest of the family to make brooms with twigs, very good for sweeping out the barn stalls,

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The family farmhouse near Bremen is more than 100 years old, and had these lovely encaustic tiles in the main hallway,

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I drooled over the kitchen’s 1920s aluminum storage drawers/bins, a hallmark of the celebrated Frankfurt Kitchen,

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At the neighborhood beekeeper’s, old terracotta roofing tiles salvaged for a new project,

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The beekeeper also restored a 19th century bake house on his property,

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From the bake house door,

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Scenes from a French village,

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For skiing, they made do with a combination of regular clothing we brought for the trip and rentals,

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The view from our hotel room in the Alps,

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We tried a variety of local cheeses every evening and I was able to attend a cheesemaking demonstration,

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Snowing steadily in Morzine,

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Back in Paris,

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All three kids had a great appreciation for the various fast and fancy cars,

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View from the Arc de Triomphe,

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Another fast and fancy car,

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which we discovered was possible to rent,

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At the Louvre,

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An eye for an eye,

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Christmas wishes

We’ve been enjoying warmer temperatures (closer to zero than -30) and lots of hoarfrost, thanks to very foggy evenings and mornings. The countryside looks lovely and very Christmassy.

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Other things we’re enjoying:

:: Jon Favreau’s Chef: one of the best movies I’ve seen this year (admittedly a very short list) with one of the best soundtracks ever.

:: Christmas Day dinner will be roast saddle of venison, courtesy of the 15-year-old, who shot his first deer this fall, and also won the youth division of the big buck contest. His prize was a new rifle and scope, and mine is Thursday’s meal.

:: A new favorite Christmas cookie recipe, The Kitchn’s toffee chocolate chip shortbread. Easy and fast to make too, and doubles easily. A few changes I made — slightly less sugar (1/3 cup vs. 1/2 cup), fewer toffee and chocolate chips, and I drizzled chocolate on top instead of dipping.

:: Free printable Christmas food gift labels from the talented Lia Griffith

It’s been a difficult year for us, but also a rewarding one.

Merry Christmas wishes from Farm School, and a happy and healthy* 2015!

*Advice for a new year: go to the doctor, don’t put off checkups and tests, hug your children, your parents, your in-laws, update your will, and make sure you have a living will/personal directive (no, you’re not too young) and talk to your family, including your kids, about your decisions.

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More BirdCasting

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Exciting news for us — Laura is in Washington, DC to help celebrate the 500th show of Ray Brown’s Talkin’ Birds, and will be part of the live broadcast tomorrow from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. Talkin’ Birds is a live interactive half-hour radio show about wild birds and nature, airing Sunday mornings at 9:30 Eastern, on WATD (95.9 FM); you can read more at the Facebook page and listen with live streaming on Sundays here. They’ll be joined by Smithsonian ornithologist Bruce Beehler.

Ray has been an extremely generous, kind, and encouraging mentor and friend to Laura ever since she discovered the show about five years ago and then started calling in. I wrote back in June 2009 (“BirdCasting”), when she was 11,

Laura has developed an interest in, and growing passion for, birds since last summer when I helped her put up some bird feeders around the yard. Her interest in the Christmas Bird Count last year is what got our family in touch with the local naturalist society. She spends much of her free time feeding, watching, listening to, and reading about birds. And recently she realized that there might be birding podcasts she could make use of on her iPod; she’s become a big fan of podcasts. So with my researching and her vetting, we came up with this list of her favorite birding podcasts…

It didn’t take long for Talkin’ Birds to become her very favorite. And for the past while, she’s been part of the crew as a far-flung correspondent; when Ray gives her advice on how to speak on the radio, he knows what he’s talking about. I keep thinking how I, at her age, would have taken an invitation to take part in a live broadcast in front of a theatre full of people. I’m fairly certain that I would have said, thank you so much for asking, but no, and spent the rest of my life kicking myself for missing such a wonderful opportunity. The differences between extroverts and introverts!

Tom is with her, since while we have no problem sending her alone to the wilds of Ontario, we figured a major city is probably more enjoyably and safely negotiated with an adult travelling companion (the show staff are in town just for 36 hours), and Tom needed a holiday anyway. Good reports back from the hotel, the Liaison Capitol Hill (which has a pillow menu believe it or not), and also their restaurant last night, Cafe Berlin. They’re hoping to get to Bistro Cacao, not too far from the hotel, before they leave on Tuesday. Huge thanks to Talkin’ Birds for underwriting her flight and part of the hotel stay.

I’m writing this post as a thank you for so many things that have become an enormous part of my daughter’s life, and also as a reminder for any other home schooling parents who might still be reading — if your child has a particular interest or passion, even if you as the parent have little knowledge of (or interest in) the subject, modern technology has made it possible to reach out and find those who can inspire, guide, and teach your child. And if you teach your child about internet safety and writing skills, he or she can do much of the reaching out himself or herself, which is a good skill to learn. Living on a farm in rural western Alberta hasn’t been any sort of impediment, and a flexible home schooling schedule has meant Laura could take advantage of spending a month last fall as an intern at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, banding birds and working on an independent research project, or participate in an event like tomorrow’s festivities. Age isn’t a barrier either, as most home schooling families know; she’s been able to write bird book reviews, receiving printed and e- books regularly, and when she realized that there wasn’t a Facebook group for Alberta Birds (and birders), though most of the other provinces and states had something, she started one; the group now has more than 2,000 members who share their photos and videos, as well as sightings, birding stories, and blog posts. She’s made lifelong friends and learned more than my husband and I could have ever taught her, and we continue to be touched and amazed by the support and generosity of so many adult birders so eager to take young people under their wings and nurture this budding interest. It reminds me very much of gardeners I’ve met the world over who are always so quick to offer seeds and cuttings, in order to spread not just a love of nature but the joy of a passion shared.

In their absence, the boys and I are holding down the fort and farm, more like hunkering down, since winter finally arrived today, with a high of -5C and some snow that won’t be melting any time soon. Tomorrow’s daytime high is to be -11C with an overnight low of -15C. Welcome, winter. I think…

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