• 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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Question of the week

‘Why, exactly, is a reader who comes to the website via Google or Facebook more desirable than someone who types in “www.nytimes.com”?’

Asks The Economist.

The New York Times has always been my hometown newspaper.  It was one of the few things I was sorry to leave behind when I left New York, even though it was getting smaller and skinnier by the year, even then, realizing as I did that home delivery of the Times would no longer be possible living in the country in western Canada. When we finally got internet, especially wifi the other year, it was wonderful to have daily, or depending on my schedule, weekly access to the Times again.  But now I may be losing it again, or at least if I want to read more than the five articles a day I can access for free via Google.

Lucky Canada is the guinea pig of the experiment.  As Arthur Sulzberger wrote on March 17,

Today, we are rolling out digital subscriptions to our readers in Canada, which will enable us to fine-tune the customer experience before our global launch. On March 28, we will begin offering digital subscriptions in the U.S. and the rest of the world.

The cheapest option, nytimes.com and smartphone app, is $15/month or $180 a year.  I don’t have a smartphone, and it occurs to me a nytimes.com only and/or foreign resident option, for those of us who are unable to buy a print subscription to the Times (which automatically nets you digital access), would be a nice thing.  But it took the Times a year to figure out the newly premiered three-tier plan.

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The pop culture perils of being relevant and engaging

From The New York Times the other day,

Every year, the SAT reduces more than a few teenage test-takers to tears.

But few questions on the so-called Big Test appear to have provoked more anxious chatter — at least in this era of texting and online comment streams and discussion threads — than an essay prompt in some versions of the SAT administered last Saturday in which students were asked to opine on reality television.

“This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV,” one test-taker wrote on Saturday on the Web site College Confidential, under the user name “littlepenguin.”

“I ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” he wrote, invoking the 19th-century social reformer. “I kinda want to cry right now.”

Less than a minute later, a fellow test-taker identified as “krndandaman” responded: “I don’t watch tv at all so it was hard for me. I have no interest in reality tv shows…”

The commenter ended the post with the symbol for a frowning face.

By Wednesday, comments on the now-infamous prompt — which included the question, “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” — had stretched across nearly 40 pages on College Confidential. Media coverage added to the scrutiny.

Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program, said she did not think it was unfair to ask that question of students who had neither the time nor inclination to watch Mike Sorrentino on “Jersey Shore,” or Kim Kardashian on “Kourtney & Kim Take New York.”

“The primary goal of the essay prompt is to give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” she said.

This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students, and had gone through extensive pre-testing with students and teachers. “It’s really about pop culture as a reference point that they would certainly have an opinion on,” she added.

How the other half lives, eh?  Am tempted to think that if Jacob Riis were around today, he’d find his tenements on television.

We have walls

for the kitchen addition.  Well, we’ve had the walls built for a while but just haven’t been able to stand them up until the -30C blustery weather and snow stopped.  For good, we hope, considering the date on the calendar, but who knows this year. Snow we expect through the end of the May, but -30 is usually a thing of the past by now.

Apologies for the pic quality, I took these from inside the house, which gives the best view.

Our telehandler helping out,

The west wall going up,

West wall attached; there will be built-in shelves with the window in the center (it was either that or two very narrow windows on the edges) with the countertop and cabinets underneath, as a sort of dining room/school room hutch.  There will be one “hutch” on each side, east and west,

The east wall going up,

The north wall; Laura was just telling us the other day that it’s time to get rid of the swing set, so we’ll pass it on to some friends with young children,

Next up, literally: trusses.

Oh dear

Dear Reader,

I missed the news back in January about the rapidly vanishing “dear” as salutation, as noted by The Wall Street Journal in its article, “Hey, Folks: Here’s a Digital Requiem For a Dearly Departed Salutation”.  Apparently, according to a surprising number of people, “‘Dear is a bit too intimate and connotes a personal relationship’.”  Oh. It seems for some baffling reason that they are equating “dear” with “darling”.  More, from the story,

Across the Internet the use of dear is going the way of sealing wax. Email has come to be viewed as informal even when used as formal communication, leaving some etiquette experts appalled at the ways professional strangers address one another.

People who don’t start communications with dear, says business-etiquette expert Lydia Ramsey, “lack polish.”

“They come across as being abrupt,” says Ms. Ramsey, who founded a Savannah, Ga., etiquette consultancy called Manners That Sell.

“It sets the tone for that business relationship, and it shows respect,” she says. “Email is so impersonal it needs all the help it can get.”

I learned about this latest nail in the coffin of courtesy in today’s episode of the CBC radio show “Spark”, which continues the old saw that “It’s clear what the tone is in a text or a tweet, but in an email the tone is a bigger problem as we swing back and forth between casual and formal contexts”. Somehow Dr. Johnson, George Bernard Shaw, Abigail Adams, and Groucho Marx didn’t seem to have any problem conveying tone, and without relying on facial expressions or emoticons.  And as Miss Manners has explained, there are those “folks who believe that modern society is annoyingly characterized by generosity, gratitude and consideration for others, and we would all be better off if we behaved like — well, like them. Miss Manners has heard from such people, who believe that daily life is not acrimonious enough. She only hopes that their brow-beatings will not succeed in dumbing down the standards that some of us still meet.”  Several years ago, in a Wired interview, Miss Manners discussed the salutation situation:

Wired: You favor old-fashioned salutations in written correspondence: Dear So and So … Do you use salutations in email?

Miss Manners: Email is very informal, a memo. But I find that not signing off or not having a salutation bothers me. I am waiting to see if this is just a fuddy-duddy vestige I should divest myself of.

I wracked my Sunday brain, and came up with a few letters between correspondents without intimate and personal relationships, in other words, in the no love lost category.

From Mr. Collins to Mr. Bennet:

DEAR SIR,

THE disagreement subsisting between yourself and my late honoured father always gave me much uneasiness, and since I have had the misfortune to lose him I have frequently wished to heal the breach; but for some time I was kept back by my own doubts, fearing lest it might seem disrespectful to his memory for me to be on good terms with any one with whom it had always pleased him to be at variance.”

— “There, Mrs. Bennet.” —

“My mind however is now made up on the subject, for having received ordination at Easter, I have been so fortunate as to be distinguished by the patronage of the Right Honourable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, widow of Sir Lewis de Bourgh, whose bounty and beneficence has preferred me to the valuable rectory of this parish, where it shall be my earnest endeavour to demean myself with grateful respect towards her Ladyship, and be ever ready to perform those rites and ceremonies which are instituted by the Church of England. As a clergyman, moreover, I feel it my duty to promote and establish the blessing of peace in all families within the reach of my influence; and on these grounds I flatter myself that my present overtures of good-will are highly commendable, and that the circumstance of my being next in the entail of Longbourn estate will be kindly overlooked on your side, and not lead you to reject the offered olive branch. I cannot be otherwise than concerned at being the means of injuring your amiable daughters, and beg leave to apologise for it, as well as to assure you of my readiness to make them every possible amends, — but of this hereafter. If you should have no objection to receive me into your house, I propose myself the satisfaction of waiting on you and your family, Monday, November 18th, by four o’clock, and shall probably trespass on your hospitality till the Saturday se’nnight following, which I can do without any inconvenience, as Lady Catherine is far from objecting to my occasional absence on a Sunday, provided that some other clergyman is engaged to do the duty of the day. I remain, dear sir, with respectful compliments to your lady and daughters, your well-wisher and friend,

WILLIAM COLLINS.”

And since I don’t have a copy of the entire letter, including salutation, from Katharine White to Anne Carroll Moore concerning Stuart Little (a letter her husband suspected “set a new world’s record for poisoned courtesy”), here instead is a 1953 letter from E.B. White to a Margaret Halsey,

Dear Miss Halsey,

I had just read your piece in the ALA Bulletin about taking your daughter to the public library, where she liked “the little chairs and the books about fierce things,” when your letter arrived protesting the editorial in the April 18th issue about human rights.  Since I am the author of the offending remarks, it is up to me to answer your complaints.

The New Yorker isn’t against freedom from want and didn’t attack it or minimize it as a goal. But we’re against associating freedom from want (which is an economic goal) with freedom of speech (which is an exact political principle).  There is, I believe, a very real and discernible danger, to a country like ours, in an international covenant that equates human rights with human desires, and that attempts to satisfy, in a single document, governments and philosophies that are essentially irreconcilable.  I do not think it safe or wise to confuse, or combine, the principle of freedom of religion or the principle of freedom of the press with any economic goal whatsoever, because of the likelihood that in guaranteeing the goal, you abandon the principle.  This has happened over and over again.  Eva Peron was a great freedom-from-want girl (specially at Christmas time), but it also happened that La Prensa died and the Argentinians were left with nothing to read but government handouts.

If you were to pack croquet balls and eggs in a single container, and take them travelling, you would probably end your journey with some broken eggs.  I believe that if you put a free press into the same bill with a full belly, you will likely end the journey with a controlled press.

In your letter you doubt whether the man who wrote the editorial had given much thought to the matter.  Well, I’ve been thinking about human rights for about twenty years, and I was even asked, one time during the war, to rewrite the government pamphlet on the Four Freedoms — which is when I began to realize what strange bedfellows they were.  A right is a responsibility in reverse; therefore, a constitutional government of free people should not ward any “rights” that it is not in a position to accept full responsibility for.  The social conscience and the economic technique of the United States are gaining strength, and each year sees us getting closer to freedom from want.  But I’m awfully glad that the “right to work” is not stated in our bill of rights, and I hope the government never signs a covenant in which it appears.

My regards to your daughter, who (human rights or no human rights) is my favorite commentator on the subject of public libraries.

Sincerely,

E.B. White

Just two examples where dear is far from darling.

Sincerely,

Becky (who does in fact have sealing wax in the house, and is not afraid to use it)

The gift of gab

Go into any part of the country, North, East, South or West, and you will find multitudes of his brothers, car conductors in Philadelphia, immigrants of the second generation in the East Side of New York, iron-workers in the Pittsburgh region, corner grocers in St. Louis, holders of petty political jobs in Atlanta and New Orleans, small farmers in Kansas or Kentucky, house carpenters in Ohio, tinners and plumbers in Chicago — genuine Americans all, bawling patriots, hot for the home team, marchers in parades, readers of the yellow newspapers, fathers of families, sheep on election day, undistinguished norms of the Homo Americanus. Such typical Americans, after a fashion, know English. They read it — all save the “hard” words, i. e., all save about 90 per cent of the words of Greek and Latin origin. They can understand perhaps two-thirds of it as it comes from the lips of a political orator or clerygman. They have a feeling that it is, in some recondite sense, superior to the common speech of their kind. They recognize a fluent command of it as the salient mark of a “smart” and “educated” man, one with “the gift of gab.” But they themselves never speak it or try to speak it, nor do they look with approbation on efforts in that direction by their fellows.

In no other way, indeed, is the failure of popular education made more vividly manifest.

H.L. Mencken, “The American Language”, 1921

*  *  *

Are you still here after all that?

I just noticed that the Barnes & Noble Review has a mention of Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric by Ward Farnsworth, a professor at the Boston University School of Law.  And from everything I’ve read, it’s a very good and useful book indeed, especially for classical home schooling types who enjoy their grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

In his Wall Street Journal review, author Henry Hitchings wrote,

The most immediate pleasure of this book is that it heightens one’s appreciation of the craft of great writers and speakers. Mr. Farnsworth includes numerous examples from Shakespeare and Dickens, Thoreau and Emerson, Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. He also seems keen to rehabilitate writers and speakers whose rhetorical artistry is undervalued; besides his liking for Chesterton, he shows deep admiration for the Irish statesman Henry Grattan (1746-1820), whose studied repetition of a word (“No lawyer can say so; because no lawyer could say so without forfeiting his character as a lawyer”) is an instance, we are told, of conduplicatio. But more than anything Mr. Farnsworth wants to restore the reputation of rhetorical artistry per se, and the result is a handsome work of reference.

(Mr. Hitchings should know, since he is author of the new The Language Wars: A History of Proper English, which, as The Guardian‘s Deborah Cameron writes, “takes the reader on a Cook’s tour of complaints about English past and present in a bid to show that the obsessions of the complainers are (a) as old as the hills, (b) based on no linguistic logic, and (c) ultimately futile, since no one can stop language from varying and changing.”  Good stuff.)

Getting back to rhetoric, Carlin Romano, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, calls the book “Farnsworth’s feast”:

“Everyone speaks and writes in patterns,” Farnsworth begins, arguing that our choices among patterns still make a powerful difference in whether words work for us or not. Such rhetorical figures “tend to show up often in utterances that are long remembered” he notes—the Rev. Martin Luther King’s eightfold “I have a dream” repetition was pure anaphora, and JFK’s “Ask not… ” a case of pure chiasmus—so it’s worth identifying them.

At the same time, Farnsworth recognizes that rhetorical figures often fail because, in the hands of politicians, they‘re “strained efforts to make dull claims sound snappy,” or they don’t sound “spontaneous,” or a speaker simply overdoes it.

How, he wisely asks, “does one study techniques that succeed only when they seem unstudied?”

His answer: by piling on examples until any idiot can separate the spellbinding from the spectacularly flat.

I’ll need to get a copy of the book if only to determine how much of the snappy Mr. Mencken is included.  More Mencken, from his Creed, a masterpiece of conduplicatio:

I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind — that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.

I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.

I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty…

I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.

I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech…

I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.

I believe in the reality of progress.

I — But the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant.

Quote of the week

Possibly of the month, possibly for 2011, courtesy of our little local weekly newspaper today:

“I am still determined to be cheerful and happy, in whatever situation I may be; for I have also learned from experience that the greater part of our happiness or misery depends upon our dispositions, and not upon our circumstances.”

Martha Custis Washington

The newspaper had the quote abbreviated, and my first thought was that it’s one of those crazy apocryphal misattributed quotes floating around the internet.  But a few minutes on Google turned up a White House page with the quote in its entirety, and it seems as though it may have been from one of Mrs. Washington’s letters to her friend, the writer and playwright Mercy Otis Warren.  Which led my curiosity to Mrs. Warren’s Selected Letters as well as the long overdue biography, The Muse of the Revolution: The Secret Pen of Mercy Otis Warren and the Foundingof a Nation by Nancy Rubin Stuart, both of which I think would be as fascinating as difficult to find in a Canadian library.

All of which is a very roundabout way to say that I think Martha was on to something.

The return

We returned home late on February 14th, after about a month away.  While the rest of North America was celebrating Valentine’s Day with chocolate, cards, and crafts, we were driving west from Regina and just relieved to be home, from which we have been absent for four months since October, which seems crazy when I think about it.  My husband and kids have been absolute rocks to put up with all of this coming and going, emptying almost 50 years’ worth of furnishings and memories from a New York City apartment, getting on a first name basis with the staff at the nearby Salvation Army, and, the worst part of all, driving on the NJ turnpike from the Lincoln Tunnel to Jersey City, the trip’s true low spot.  We left last Wednesday, and made it to DuBois, PA the first night; our other stops each night, after driving about eight hours a day (except in North Dakota, where we had to keep driving past Fargo and Grand Forks until we finally, finally found a hotel room) were Danville, Illinois, Des Moines, Iowa; Grafton, ND; Regina, Saskatchewan; crossing the border into Canada north of Grafton south of Winnipeg, and home.

To counter the lows, which also included unhelpful apartment building staff (thanks to co-op board regulations and union regulations) and legal action taken by the landlord against us although my sister and I tried to explain that we had no interest either in the apartment or in prolonging the clearing out process (thank you co-op board and union), some of the highs:

* the vastness and beauty of the Canadian Shield, and the beauty of northwestern Ontario, especially Kenora, where we spent a night (all photos by the kids, often from a moving truck),

* some other sights we saw, including the Terry Fox statue in Thunder Bay, where he was forced to end his Marathon of Hope by the return of cancer; the Big Nickel in Sudbury, Ontario; and the CN Tower in Toronto,

* the magic of Niagara Falls in winter, when everything in the path of the mist is transformed into an ice sculpture,

* Le Roy, NY, the home of Jell-O, which I discovered just a few miles outside of LeRoy while reading through the AAA guidebook, because Davy has always been a keen fan of Jell-O.  We made it to the Le Roy museum just minutes before their 4 pm closing time, and the staff were gracious enough to let the kids have a quick look around the Jell-O gallery while I made a quick tour of the museum shop and made some purchases. Le Roy is a beautiful village in Genesee County, with lovely old houses

* AAA guidebooks and maps, which are all free when you join CAA/AAA, and the free online Triptik service, which was a great help in planning our route;

* meeting Susan Thomsen of Chicken Spaghetti after about five years of online friendship, because she was kind enough to let us park our 16′ cargo trailer in her driveway for more than a week, and during a crazy snowy month which shrank driveways considerably.  We also got to meet her husband, and son Junior (who quickly took in the boys and shared some Lego with them, much needed and appreciated after a week in a truck), and inlaws, who were all so warm and welcoming.  And we saw her chickens, and she and Laura talked about birds together. Thank you for everything, Susan!

* Laura’s and Tom’s bird walk with “Birding Bob” DeCandido, through a snowy and icy Central Park, where they saw an adult male Cooper’s hawk, brown creepers, a white-crowned sparrow, brown-headed cowbirds, red-wing blackbirds, and wood ducks.  Laura and Tom were the ones to spot a male yellow-bellied sapsucker.  Although Laura was disappointed not to spot the celebrated varied thrush, she was pleased with all the other birds.

* the kindness and pleasantness of motel clerks to NYC and back, despite our lack of reservations, and modern m/hotel thinking that makes a swimming pool, free wifi in rooms, and free hot breakfasts the new standard.  A special thank you to the woman at the Travelodge in Kenora who let me use the coin-operated laundry well past the 9 pm deadline to wash clothes after Davy lost his breakfast outside of Regina; and to front desk staff at the AmericInn in Des Moines, Iowa, who gave me two rooms with queen beds for $50 each, so that the kids each had a separate bed for the first time since leaving home.  If we are ever in your neighborhoods again, we will be back.

* the kindness, pleasantness, and professional manner of staff working at truck stops throughout the U.S. Remarkable people who probably don’t receive enough thanks and appreciation;

* being in NYC and being able to go to Barnes & Noble on the publication day of  the latest Flavia de Luce book, A Red Herring without Mustard by Canadian Alan Bradley.  I bought it for Laura who started reading it as soon as possible, and it’s at the top of my “to be read” pile now.  And now that we’re home, I’ve ordered, from the library, the Book Depository, Amazon.ca, and Chapters.ca, for my own reading, which at the moment seem to be limited to escapism (of the genteel and also the more murderous sort); sentimentality and nostalgia about leaving New York, the apartment which my parents had lived in since I was born, my parents; and planning our new house*:

* lobsters at Fairway, which are inexpensive and which the staff will steam and crack for you.  It was Laura’s idea, and made for a delicious dinner on one of our last nights in the apartment;

* our overnight in DuBois, Pennsylvania, which I didn’t know until our arrival was the hometown of Tom Mix — my father would have laughed;

* our afternoon visit in Moline, Illinois to the John Deere Pavilion in the city’s downtown and to Deere’s world headquarters, which also had a nice display. Laura found mute swans swimming in the lake near the building.

* the beautiful barns, graineries, and corn cribs in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some things, and I know the kids have more pictures, so I may have to have another post.  I just wanted to post a bit about the journey, and say thank you to

* which will be a combination of these two house plans, this one for the outside details, and this one for the inside floor plan (though it needs lots more rejiggering), especially on the main floor.  Work to begin in late May, and all I can say is that after having a new house as our five-year plan for the past 17 years (oy…) and everything we have gone through in the past 18 months, I am beyond excited to plan the new house.  Even better is the fact that we decided the other year to keep our current house, so we get to live in it during the building process and not live in a trailer or  a shipping container.