• 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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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…

Trusses and joists

January and February were exceedingly cold, and Tom’s apprentice was off for two months for his courses. So Tom used the time to catch up on a variety of smaller indoor jobs, and paperwork, including completing our environmental farm plan. We also had our annual organic recertification application, which always takes awhile.

A few weeks ago, we took delivery of our roof trusses and floor joists.

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We also ordered the windows for the house, since most window companies run sales in the winter.

Other things we’ve been busy with — lots of curling, skiing (twice), 4H public speaking (all of the kids went to Districts, and the boys are headed to regionals with their presentation), and watching the Olympics. Laura and Daniel took a 15-hour driver’s ed course (10 more hours each to come, behind the wheel). And Laura has a summer job lined up already, at the local Ag Society’s office, prepare for the fair in July. Daniel has taken up welding, which he enjoys.

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And Laura made panna cotta, twice, which was lovely; she used the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which you can also find here. And chocolate macarons, which tasted better than they looked, so we’re looking forward to more and more practice sessions. Just to be helpful, of course. The boys’ 4H presentation is on how to make sausage, so they’ve been making — and we’ve been eating — lots of sausage, mostly Italian style with fennel seed, but there’s talk of venison sausage with dried cranberries, too.

Oh, and we had a new baby, considerably earlier than all the rest, which should start to come later this month.

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Adding to the walls

The basement walls will be nine feet high, so Tom added wooden “parapet” walls to the poured concrete walls to raise the height.

Some of the parapet walls under construction (all photos by Davy),

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The tower parapet wall  is made from a recycled corrugated steel granary, modified in size (pressed down from 19 feet to 14 feet). Tom started by making a template from plywood, which he set on an OSB base,

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Putting the tower parapet wall in place with our telehandler,

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Some of the walls in place,

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Next up: construction of concrete footings and frost walls for the garage, covered veranda, and covered deck

*  *  *

Over the holidays, we had periods of lovely weather (around 0 C, even slightly above freezing) including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, alternating with bloody cold -30 C (not including wind chill), wind, and snow. We had some nice weather last week, but the weekend was frigid again, and after a cold day outside, we enjoyed the warmth of the house with a viewing of “Slap Shot”, venison sausages with red cabbage,  twinkling lights on the tree, and the faint jingling of the Swedish angel chimes. The next day I started the undecorating, including removing each and every piece of contraband German lead tinsel, for re-use. Here’s to a new year and the promise of warming later this week…

“McCracken, also known as Dr Hook for his scalpel-like prowess with the stick, has been known to carve a man’s eye out with a flick of the wrist. There’s a carnival-like atmosphere here. The crowd is gathered and, well, you can feel it, there’s an air of expectancy.”

Merry Christmas

from our (farm) house to yours.

'Bringing Back the Tree' by Angela Harding

“Bringing Back the Tree” by Angela Harding, a greeting card reproduced from a lithograph; also available directly from the artist, and available as a tea towel, too

(For the first time in years, we didn’t head north to cut down a tree. I thought we’d save some time, with busy weekends and daylight so brief, by buying a tree. I found a lovely one in a store lot on the day we took the chickens and turkeys to be butchered, and the kids loaded it up for me.)

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.)

Basement walls and damp-proofing

The house, looking to the north (rounded tower wall at top right),

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Daniel and damp-proofing,

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The sub-garage, for the cistern and cold storage room,

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Davy’s long shadow (Solstice, here we come…),

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The sonotube concrete forms, for the front porch support pillars,

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Inside a sonotube,

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Sticky toffee pudding

This has become our favorite winter dessert this year. I bake it in a square metal pan, grease it well, and put home-canned pear halves on the bottom before I add the batter, and then serve it with unsweetened whipped cream and chopped candied ginger on top. We had a version with the pears, sort of like a pineapple upside down cake, when we were living in the West Indies about 10 years and it was one of the best desserts I’ve ever eaten. Here’s another version with pears, though these are fresh and unpeeled. I would imagine apples (peeled) would be good, too.

The version below is from the Hunter’s Head Tavern, an “authentic English pub” in Upperville, Virginia via Bon Appétit magazine. Nigella Lawson has a very good version as well, but it calls for self-raising flour, which is hard to come by in this part of the world. It goes without saying that Farm School is Team Nigella.

Sticky Toffee Pudding (from the Bon Appétit website)
Serves 6

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1-1/2 cups flour, plus more for flouring pan
1-1/2 cups (6 oz) chopped pitted dates (I cut off thin slices with a serrated bread knife)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt (omit if you use salted butter)
3/4 cup sugar (the original recipe calls for 1 cup, we prefer it less sweet)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs

Sauce
1-1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 tsp brandy (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Preheat oven to 350 °. Butter and flour pan. The online recipe calls for a Bundt pan, and the last time we used a Nordic Ware sunflower pan, which worked well.

Bring dates and 1-1/4 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan with tall sides (the tall sides are important because in the next step, the date mixture will foam UP). Cook the dates until they are sludgy, and use a potato masher if necessary (if you didn’t chop/grate them finely enough).

Remove pan from heat and whisk in baking soda (mixture will become foamy). Set aside; let cool.

Whisk together 1-1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt (if using) in a small bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat 1/4 cup butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl to blend (mixture will be grainy). Add 1 egg; beat to blend. Add half of flour mixture and half of date mixture; beat to blend. Repeat with remaining egg, flour mixture, and date mixture. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a tester inserted into center of cake comes out almost clean, 40 minutes or so (start checking at about 30 minutes). Let cool in pan on a wire rack for 30 minutes. Invert pudding onto rack. Cover and let stand at room temperature.

Sauce
Bring sugar, cream, and butter to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue to boil, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in brandy, if using, and vanilla. Can be made up to 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm gently before using.

Cut cake into wedges. Serve with sauce and whipped cream, and garnish with chopped candied ginger if you like.

We have basement walls

We have basement walls, but we’ve also had more frigid temperatures (-30C), high wind chills (well below -30), arctic winds, blowing snow, and icy roads. So my hopes of all the insulated tarps coming off for better overview pictures are postponed for now.

But this is what I have,

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Aha, cured concrete:

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Our dog Lady guarding the new walls,

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Cattle not very impressed with the weather either,

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Basement walls, part I

We postponed pouring concrete until yesterday — last week’s highs were in the -20s C but they started to warm up on the weekend, with daily highs just under freezing. Much easier on the people, not to mention the concrete. It was an all-day project, from about 10 to 5, and then checking on the heaters and tarps.

All photos by Davy with his new camera (the old one had spots on the lens from within somehow), which explains why he’s not in any of them.

One of the concrete trucks arriving Monday morning. All together, three trucks came with a total of six loads,

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Laura and Daniel,

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Daniel in the chute helping to clear it out,

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The concrete starting to dry,

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Laura in the turret section,

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Davy took this under the tarps and between the forms and excavation,

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Covering the concrete with insulated tarps,

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Icicles

It’s been bloody cold here this past week, in the low -20s without wind chill, which has been considerable. And lots of snow and ice. We made a hair-raising trip to Edmonton last weekend for building supplies, more or less skating the entire way. Not nearly enough sanding trucks on the road, and too many vehicles spun out or slid into the medians and ditches.

These icicles, however, are purely decorative and lovely.

"Icicle Splendor" arrangement by Julie Mulligan; photo by Julie Mulligan from her blog,

“Icicle Splendor” arrangement by Julie Mulligan; photo by Julie Mulligan from her blog, Petal Talk

I found the idea last December on a flower blog I read, Julie Mulligan’s Petal Talk, and Pinned it, and shockingly it’s one of my most popular pins, passing 300. The arrangement is supposed to be for New Year’s, but it’s a beautiful winter idea, especially if winter comes early in your part of the world. Julie calls it “Icicle Splendor”, and says,

I absolutely love the way it looks when the bare tree branches of winter become covered with ice. You can easily create that same dramatic look in your home using birch branches and acrylic icicles. First, I filled the cylinder with a strand of clear lights and pinecones, before I inserted the branches, which gives this arrangement even more impact.

I have the clear glass vase, the birch branches, pinecones, and clear lights (warm white, since I can’t stand the bluish cool white ones), but the icicle ornaments have been harder to get my hands on in this part of the world. We have a trip to the big city in about 10 days to the orthodontist for braces installation, so am thinking a Michael’s store might be the way to go.

I’d love to know if any of the 300+ pinners have made their own versions of this, and what it looks like.

Winter into Spring

We’re enjoying and making the most of the longer days, especially since we’ve started calving. Tom built a new portable calving barn, which has already earned its keep because March came in like a lamb and has turned into a lion. Spring seemed on the way until winter redoubled its efforts — the last few days have been down to the -20s C again and blizzardy, with wind and snow.

Inside though we’re thinking of spring and getting ready for the Music Festival. And happy to have 4H public speaking behind us, including Laura’s stint as a master of ceremonies at Regionals. Laura and I also managed a trip to the college’s open house for its environmental science department (Laura is considering the wildlife and fisheries conservation program), and the annual naturalist society sleighride and snowshoe outing.

Work has begun on the new oil pipeline across the way. All sorts of trucks and machinery, including what the boys told me are Argo all-terrain off-road vehicles, which look like mini tanks, arrived, and a good portion of the trees and bush were cleared. The three dozen deer who call the woods home seem a bit discombobulated, missing the trees but also enjoying the new cleared terrain and playing on the new snow-covered mounds.

The household hyacinth (my grandmother’s favorite spring flower, as soon as she saw them at the store in February or March, winter was over for her) — please excuse the chamber pot,

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On the way to check the cows one evening, Laura took this picture of a Snowy Owl,

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February fun

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We had a full weekend here — a six-hour hands-on calving course for the kids at the local agricultural college (which meant missing 4H district public speaking, which no-one minded because the class was likely the much more educational endeavor, and good fun to boot). They were the only kids registered, along with four adults, only two of whom made it. The instructor had a fiberglass model of the back end of a cow available, one cow in the college herd conveniently calved during the class, and there was also an actual cow’s reproductive track on hand, provided by the local butcher (it’s kept frozen in between classes). The course also covered some medical procedures, including injections and tubing a calf, and artificial insemination. Kids found it all fascinating and helpful.

Also dogsledding with the 4H Outdoor Club (Sunday afternoon), and the Men’s and Ladies’ bonspiels at the curling club from Friday evening to Sunday evening.

Tom and the kids had planned on curling together in the Men’s (girls and women can curl in the Men’s, but men can’t curl in the Ladies’); they curled together Friday night, and during the kids’ class he found two substitutes. But Saturday evening, after the big dinner, Laura was “borrowed” to curl on one of the ladies’ teams. Tom and the boys, and Laura and new team all made it to second place after curling two more games on Sunday afternoon. Tonight the kids are in the finals of the junior league playoffs.

Next up with the Outdoor Club — building bird houses for the local Habitat for Humanity project to use as a fundraiser.

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Family Day fishing derby

Tom and the kids made it home after 10 pm last night, with fish, all sorts of prizes (jackets! ice fishing tackle! exercise equipment! tape measures! a toque!), and leftovers from a very tasty dinner. The weather was lovely, just above freezing, but it made for very slushy, very wet fishing. About 200 people at the lake altogether.

Davy had the best luck, catching two northern pike (known as jackfish in these parts), both over three-and-a-half pounds, the smallest of which won the prize for smallest fish by the youngest angler in the 11-15 age category. The prize for biggest fish caught all day went to a 4 lb, 11 oz jackfish. Davy of course arrived home quite excited and ready to go ice fishing again. Very soon. And fish on the menu here very soon, too.

All photos by Laura, except for the last one (two fish), which is by Davy,

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Winter

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After lolling and lazing about over the Christmas holidays, it was back to work for the New Year. We took several of our finished steers to the packers for customers who wanted organic beef. We’ve been selling halves and whole steers, and also combination packages. The kids helped us with some of the packages and we got a proper assembly line going. Have also sold some of our broiler chickens, and a trailer is coming for a dozen or so finished steers this weekend. Laura’s pullets, which arrived as day-old chicks in August, started laying last month and everyone, family and customers alike, are all happy that our egg drought is over. More January stuff:

:: Lots of curling. The kids have after-schooling curling on Tuesday afternoons, junior league curling Monday night (the three are curling with a friend and doing well, they start playoffs next week), and curling with Tom on Wednesdays for the men’s league. And various bonspiels on the weekend; we just had the local junior bonspiel, and the boys won the junior high division curling with two friends (and got second place overall for points), and Laura got second place in the senior high division. More curling up between now and mid-March, and my mother-in-law won some tickets to the Brier, so Tom and the kids will probably be going to at least one game in the big city.

:: Getting ready for 4H public speaking in two clubs. Laura has two speeches, one on antibiotic resistance in beef and the other on her time at the Young Ornithologists’ Workshop last summer. The boys are doing a presentation together for one club (How to Make Jerky), and speeches for the other (Daniel on M. Bombardier and his snowmobiles, Davy on the history of root beer).

:: I wear two hats for the music festival, promotions co-ordinator (getting information packages with syllabi out to families and teachers) and mother. Registration went well the other week (numbers down a bit), and after 4H public speaking is done, the kids will hit the memorizing hard. I’m going to use Laura’s help again with promotions — last year she baked some chocolate chip cookies which we delivered to the local newspapers with the press releases.

:: The big library remodel is done and it looks wonderful. The library hadn’t had a facelift of any sort since it was first built in the early eighties, so this was long overdue. We were lucky to have a librarian and staff with vision and determination to take this on. I’ve been on the board for years and have thought every now and then of stepping down, but am so glad I stuck around. Well, except for the part about being on the policy committee and starting a review of all our policies this month. Ugh.

:: Planning meetings for the fair for three of us. Committee budgets to approve, hall booklet to change, sponsors to sweet talk.

:: Laura was invited by her aunt to the season home opener of the Edmonton Oilers, great fun even if they didn’t win…

:: I had “pre-ordered” (nasty term) the latest Flavia de Luce novel, Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, for Laura, and it arrived last week. I also bought her the dvd of the documentary, “Birders: The Central Park Effect”, since we don’t have cable/satellite television, it’s not available on YouTube in Canada, and there’s no chance any of the libraries in our library system will bring in such an American item.

:: latest documentaries for school: “Bowling for Columbine” and “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

:: latest reading for school: George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”, which I think the kids are all ready for. I’m using my old copy of The Orwell Reader, which I bought because of the introduction by Richard Rovere, the subject of my senior history thesis in university. Happily, The Reader is still in print. I think along with the essay we’ll read this recent Guardian article by Steven Poole, and Frank Luntz’s recent Washington Post piece, “Why Republicans Should Watch Their Language”. And why citizens should watch very carefully when politicians start to watch, and change, their language.

Another book on the list, Mrs. Mike, very Canadian, very gritty, very plucky…

:: More in the learning to be a good consumer department: we’ve started watching a few older TV shows at lunchtime — last month CTV was airing episodes of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s “Til Debt Do Us Part” and then switched over to “Princess”. Quite eye-opening for the kids on the evils of credit and spending more than you make. Followed up with “Property Virgins”, where no-one seems to have heard of starter houses and everyone wants stainless steel appliances and granite countertops.

:: The college in town is celebrating its centennial and as part of the festivities they organized what’s hoped to be a Guinness world record giant toboggan run; the toboggan itself was 36′ long (that’s Davy at the top of this post, tucked in just inside the front curve of the giant sled) and had to slide 100 meters. Tom was asked to take official measurements and the kids went along for the fun,

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The kids with the giant toboggan,

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Coming up later this month:

:: dogsledding as part of the 4H Outdoor club

:: a hands-on six-hour calving course for the kids, at the local agricultural college

:: annual organic farming recertification, aka a pile of paperwork, sigh…

Recent nifty discoveries:

Paper roller coasters

Bar Keeper’s Friend; I had used this before moving to Canada but until last fall never saw it on Canadian store shelves, at least not on the prairies. I spotted it at Home Depot a few months ago, and it’s been the best thing for my kitchen sink, which after 14 years, had some pretty stubborn stains after cherry and berry season.  It’s also the best, easiest, and least toxic cleanser I’ve found in 18 years to use on rust stains from our well water.

It’s light out now until at least 5:30. In December it was getting dark just after 4 pm. And sunrise is now around 8 am instead of an hour later, and by the end of the month the sun will be up before 7:30. Hooray!

Blueberry Oatmeal Squares, from CBC’s show, Best Recipes Ever; Laura made these twice in three days, doubling the recipe the second time. The perfect way to use the gallons of blueberries etc I froze last summer.

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