• 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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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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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…

Birds, classes, hearts and more

Laura did a four-week internship from mid-August to mid-September at the Long Point Bird Observatory in Ontario, on Lake Erie, helping with migration monitoring as a volunteer field biologist. It was a follow-up to the 10-day young ornithologists’ workshop she did there last summer. This year’s internship was considerably more intense, not just because it was longer, but because Laura and the other interns and volunteers were working out of a bird banding station located on the tip of the Long Point peninsula, accessible only by motorboat. While they had electricity and running water, they didn’t have cell phone or internet service (so Laura was incommunicado for the first three weeks, which was an interesting experiment for me), and bathing and laundry happened in the lake.  They worked long days, seven days a week, doing bird and Monarch butterfly censusing, banding, data entry, as well as facility upkeep and maintenance (which meant that all the work around the house and farm, ability to cook and do chores, and a cheerful attitude came in handy). While I didn’t know about the incommunicado part, I did know that Laura would be out in the wilds for several weeks, and figured a first aid course might come in helpful, not only for her but for the people around her.

In May I started looking into the two-day St. John Ambulance first aid course. It’s generally offered as part of a local continuing education program, but they weren’t offering the course when I wanted it (late June, after 4H and theater wrapped up). A friend teaches the course and when I asked about hiring her privately, she asked if the boys would take it too. I figured why not, and then the course turned into a home schoolers class, with at least half a dozen other kids. It was a certificate course, which all three kids achieved, but I’m more interested in them having the knowledge and information they can use than the certificate. Very reassuring knowing that the kids, who are often on their own around the farm and the countryside (the boys each have a quad and motorbike now), have this knowledge, and it was one less thing to worry about with Laura several provinces away.

So it was interesting to hear a CBC radio news report this morning that more people survived cardiac arrests in Denmark after the country encouraged bystanders to step in and perform CPR. The study’s lead author, Dr. Mads Wissenberg of Copenhagen University Hospital Gentofte, said, “The main message from this study is that national initiatives to improve cardiac arrest management seem to have an impact with an increase in bystander CPR rates and survival rates.”

Medical officials in Denmark had noticed about 10 years ago that few people stepped in to perform CPR, with only a minority of cardiac arrest victims surviving for more than 30 days. In the United States, and I imagine numbers are proportional for Canada, about 300,000 people go into cardiac arrest every year and around 90 percent of those die, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Heart Association says immediately starting CPR when a person goes into cardiac arrest  can double or triple that person’s chances of survival.

Denmark decided to start a campaign to increase the number of people who could perform CPR. The campaign included introducing mandatory training for elementary school students and driver’s license applicants, as well as distributing instructional training kits, offering telephone assistance to bystanders, and putting defibrillators in public places.

The radio show host discussing the news showed considerable surprise that elementary students would be targeted, and the show’s medical contributor said there’s some evidence that kids that young aren’t strong enough to do chest compressions. But from my own experience, not only are younger kids able to absorb and remember this information well — better than most distracted, multi-tasking adults can — but more enthusiastic than most adults about their knowledge. And if you start with elementary age kids, who take refresher courses as necessary, those without the strength will soon (by junior high and high school) have the strength to go with the knowledge.

When the boys found out that the continuing education program in town was offering a two-night/seven hour Canadian Firearms Safety course (a requirement to acquire non-restricted firearms, though not for a hunting license, which the kids are working toward, some more diligently than others). While I don’t expect the kids to be acquiring firearms any time soon, I did like that the course teaches basic firearms safety practices; safe handling and carry procedures; firing techniques and procedures; care of non-restricted firearms; responsibilities of the firearms owner/user; and safe storage, display, transportation and handling of non-restricted firearms. Laura returned just before the course and asked to take it too. Definitely a worthwhile course.

Daniel got his learner’s permit recently, and Laura will be able to get her graduated license next spring, two years after getting her learner’s permit (age 14 around here).

And later this month Laura takes a two-day women’s self-defense course, which seems like a good idea if she’s going to (as seems likely) spend more and more time far afield, in fields and elsewhere, on her own. So just a few courses and an internship the kids have taken since June.

In other course news, Laura has made arrangements to borrow a copy of the out-of-print, horribly expensive to purchase secondhand Handbook of Bird Biology so she can take the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s home study course in bird biology this year; it’s generally a six- to eight-month course.  A new, third edition of the the textbook (which is a doorstop) has been in the works for several years now, and Laura has been disappointed several times as the publishing date gets pushed off again and again. She doesn’t want to take any chances (the current publishing date is listed as spring 2014, but if they’re wrong, she won’t get a chance to finish the course by the time she graduates from high school, which is her goal), which is why she’s borrowing the book. Which wasn’t easy, either, and required considerable networking in the provincial birding community.

Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Good to be home.

Field trip

A week ago today we all went, along with Tom’s dad, on a field trip to the site of the CN train derailment not too far from here, near the hamlet of Fabyan. The bridge, which is 195′ tall, is the second longest steel trestle bridge in Canada, at 2,775 ft. long. It was built in 1908 over the Battle River by the Grand Trunk Pacific. We’ve walked around the valley and under the bridge in the summer, and so were interested to see what the site looked like today.

The road to the bridge was of course closed to all but official vehicles — CN, Transportation Safety Board, etc. — and we were waved along in the opposite direction. So we parked in an approach to a farmer’s field, and hiked through the snow and grass until we reached a point overlooking the bridge. Here are some of the photos the boys took, a few of which were published in a local newspaper.

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A trackhoe getting ready to tow away one of the derailed grain cars (photo by Davy); we stayed long enough to watch the car get pulled around the bend out of sight,

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CN workers repairing damaged track (photo by Davy); we believe this is the where the derailment began,

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Scaffolding near the support structure with damage visible (pieces of steel bent and broken), as a result of falling train cars (photo by Davy),

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Some of the train cars after they fell to the ground below (photo by Davy),

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A Hitachi track hoe with mechanical jaw righting one of the fallen cars (photo by Davy),

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Lifting a derailed grain car with two cranes; spilled grain visible on tracks (photo by Davy),

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Another shot of lifting a derailed car off the tracks with two cranes (photo by Davy),

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Working on the tracks above and in the valley below (photo by Davy)

Thank yous

to JoVE at Tricotomania, for the Christmas present of a hand-knit pair of mittens,

inspired by the colors of the Caribbean my parents loved so much. As you can see from some of my West Indian pottery, JoVE’s color sense is bang on,

JoVe and her daughter are coming for another visit next month, for a weekend, and we’re all very excited.

And thank you to Sheila at Greenridge Chronicles, for feeding my Downton Abbey fixation and letting me see what all the “Military Wives” fuss is about. “Military Wives” is heart-warming and inspiring, but I have to admit my heart belongs to Downtown, season two and especially the special Christmas episode. Find a cowboy in the middle west, indeed!

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.

The Lemonade Geography Tour

As you may know from the second to last post, 2010 wasn’t one of our better years.  Or as I recently overheard my husband explaining to a friend on the phone, “She’s had a hard time going from two parents to no parents in 11 months.”  Wednesday was the one-year anniversary of my father’s death, but because of circumstances, I spent the day busily preparing to leave home again, to clear out my parents’ apartment.

Thanks to the vagaries of New York City’s rent control, we have 90 days from the date of death to empty the Upper West Side apartment.  We started making plans after Christmas, having had a bit of time to unpack, rest, and sort through three months of mail.  I also started stocking up on bubble wrap (which I had sent to a friend and neighbor in my parents’ building), audiobooks (the CD version, so we can play them in the truck out loud), rolls of stretch wrap, and tape.  I also joined the Canadian Automobile Association and ordered a stack of maps and Trip Books, all of which arrived with incredible speed.

But the best feature of all at CAA/AAA is the online TripTik Travel Planner, which is free and immediate. For someone who remembers trundling down to the NYC office at Lincoln Center where a staff member would pull out a little printed plastic comb-bound map of, say, the Northeastern United States and then proceed to mark the best route with a highlighter, the online planner is a revelation and great fun.  You can find out instantly how many miles/kilometers and hours between locations, among other things. And allows me to show you our route to the east,

and back home, to the west,

We’re going to drive as long as we can each day without making ourselves crazy, and stop every night to sleep in a motel, preferably, the kids say, with a swimming pool, so I’ve packed the bathing suits.  We figure it that, weather permitting, it should take us about five to seven days there, and five to seven days back.  Some of our tentative stops on the east include Brandon, Manitoba; Dryden, Ontario; Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario; Sudbury, Ontario; and Toronto, to see Tom’s sister and her family quickly.  On the way back, our tentative stops are Cleveland (our first stop after NYC); Beloit, Wisconsin; Alexandria, Minnesota; then into Canada by way of Winnipeg; Regina; and home.

We are going to spend most of our time looking out the window to see the sights, and listening to CBC Radio and various US stations across the continent, for news as well as weather and road conditions. UPDATED to add: I just found out at their website that the helpful folks at NPR offer NPR Road Trip for those planning a long drive.  You can “print turn-by-turn directions for your drive and know which NPR stations are available throughout your driving route.”  Or just get a printable list as a PDF.  Nifty.

But for evenings once it gets dark and that long, rather less interesting stretch across the Canadian shield, we have the following audiobooks:

::  Simon Winchester’s Atlantic (unabridged, read by the author); we all enjoyed “Krakatoa”, and Winchester is a marvelous reader

::  Several from Richard Peck, a big favorite with all of us: A Long Way From ChicagoA Year Down YonderA Season of Gifts

:: Farley Mowat’s Never Cry Wolf, a new Naxos production

:: Watership Down, new on audio CD, which I’ve been waiting for for years now

:: Bill Bryson’s I’m a Stranger Here Myself: Notes an Returning to America after Twenty Years Away

It’s been liberating planning a cross-country drive — no plane departure times to make at the airport three hours away; all the toiletries where they belong without separating out liquids and gels, nail files and clippers; no planning of meals to combat inedible and expensive airline food, since whenever we get hungry we’ll stop at a supermarket, cafe, or coffee shop for provisions; and, compared to our trips to the small island, no laying in a supply of particular things we can’t find there.

When we get home, aside from arranging for a Sea-Can container in which to store my parents’ furniture and other belongings, we are going to distract ourselves by commencing our long-awaited kitchen addition, which will give us more eat-in kitchen space and storage for some of our home school books, and then finalizing blueprints for our new house.  We were going to break ground last spring until we were overtaken by events and I ended up out of the country for much of the first few months of the year.  The main thing that helped me through all that happened, aside from reading and gardening, was planning my new kitchen and my new bathroom in my head.  If your tastes run that way, I highly recommend this kitchen book (I got my copy cheap at BookCloseouts), which makes dandy and relaxing reading with a cup of of Mariage Frères Rouge Bourbon Vanille tea.

Cross your fingers, please, that the weather behaves and the roads are clear. We’ll be making the trip with our Ford F250 pickup truck and a 16′ cargo trailer, and a stack of maps…

Knickers in a twist

We fly back to Alberta on Sunday, and I’m disheartened though not surprised at new regulations that require we spend the entire flight from NYC to Toronto, and the last hour from Toronto to Edmonton, in our seats, without anything in our laps, not even a book; being allowed to go to the bathroom only with an escort; and with our one carry-on bag each in the overhead compartment unavailable to us for the duration of the flight. I plan to stuff my pockets with Tylenol (for adults and children — goodness knows we’ll need it) and lip balm. I don’t want to even think of my three children, ages nine, 10, and 12, being patted down. I suppose it would be too much to ask for the airports to quit patting down children and concentrate instead on lone adults with no luggage and one-way tickets paid for with cash. Just an idea.

Of course, given that previous would-be terrorists have used liquids and shoes, which are now allowed on-board only in limited quantity and after a security check, respectively, I suppose I should be happy that Air Canada and the Canadian Transportation Safety Board have, at least not yet, neither required checks of underpants nor limited solid substances.

However, given the latest updates from Transport Canada —

Passengers travelling to the US are advised that no carry-on baggage will be permitted, with the exception of a small purse, diaper bag, laptop bag. Roller bags and backpacks must now be checked in. Carriage of any carry-on item will result in lengthy security delays for the customer. To minimize inconvenience, airlines strongly recommend that customers travelling to the United States travel with no carry-on items whenever possible.

If travelling with a laptop bag, diaper bag, camera bag or other such item, the bag may only contain items confined to the bag’s original function. (For example, a laptop bag can only contain computer equipment, or a diaper bag can only contain infant necessities.) As a guideline for purse size, the footprint of the bag should be similar to that of a letter size sheet of paper (216mm x 279mm or 8.5″ x 11″).

— I can only imagine that more travellers will be inclined to stuff what they can in their pockets and underpants. Patented panty pockets, perhaps?

Trip report, part 5: NYC, Lego and lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Our ship comes in,

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Aboard ship,

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Full speed ahead, racing the Staten Island ferry,

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On Ellis Island during our brief stopover,

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The kids enjoying the view,

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Standard tourist shot,

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

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Daniel and Davy bedazzled by the bonanza,

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Heading back to Manhattan,

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

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

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Trip report, part 3: NYC, Columbus Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trip report, part 2: NYC, still wild

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

We started off at the Turtle Pond,

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

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The lack of binoculars didn’t hinder Daniel,

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

The group zeroes in on a new specimen,

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Laura in her element,

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

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

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

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Trip report, part 1: NYC, wet and wild

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

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

Laura and Tom surveying the river,

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Putting on life jackets,

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

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

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toward New Jersey,

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While they were paddling back,

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Davy got ready 

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to hop in when it was his turn,

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and then off they went,

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And then they were back,

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

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

A woman’s wit

Lady Russell had little taste for wit, and of anything approaching to imprudence a horror.”
from
Persuasion by Jane Austen

If you happen to find yourself in New York City between this Friday and March 14, 2010, head over to the Morgan Library & Museum for their new exhibition, “A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy”.  As The New Yorker noted recently, “If you blanch at the idea of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, take solace” at the Morgan’s exhibit:

This exhibition explores the life, work, and legacy of Jane Austen (1775–1817), regarded as one of the greatest English novelists. Offering a close-up portrait of the iconic British author, whose popularity has surged over the last two decades with numerous motion picture and television adaptations of her work, the show provides tangible intimacy with Austen through the presentation of more than 100 works, including her manuscripts, personal letters, and related materials, many of which the Morgan has not exhibited in over a quarter century. A Woman’s Wit: Jane Austen’s Life and Legacy also includes first and early illustrated editions of Austen’s novels as well as drawings and prints depicting people, places, and events of biographical significance.

The exhibition is organized into three sections — Jane Austen’s life and personal letters (one-third of all of her surviving correspondence are at the Morgan), her works, and her legacy — and also includes a documentary-style film directed by Francesco Carrozzini with interviews with Fran Lebowitz and Cornel West, who may or may not be Janeites.

And if you find yourself in NYC with children, bring them along.  On Saturday, February 6, the Morgan offers the Family Program, “Paper Dolls at the Ball: Jane’s Fashion for Kids”.  Then again, if you can’t make it to NYC and still want paper dolls at the ball, try this Dover book or Donald Hendricks’ Paper Dolls website for Miss Austen herself as well as many of her characters, including a jazzy Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey, an elegant Emma, and Anne Elliott and a very dashing Captain Wentworth from Persuasion.

Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World

The above is the title of the 2009 CBC Massey Lectures, given last month by Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist Wade Davis, and now in book form too, as The Wayfinders: Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World. Dr. Davis is currently a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. The lectures begin their airing on CBC Radio tonight, on the program “Ideas” with episode/lecture one, “Season of the Brown Hyena”.

From the first lecture:

One of the intense pleasures of travel is the opportunity to live amongst peoples who have not forgotten the old ways, who still feel their past in the wind, touch it in stones polished by rain, taste it in the bitter leaves of plants. Just to know that, in the Amazon, the Jaguar shaman still journey beyond the Milky Way, that the myths of the Inuit elders still resonate with meaning, that the Buddhists in Tibet still pursue the breath of the Dharma is to remember the central revelation of anthropology: the idea that the social world in which we live does not exist in some absolute sense, but rather is simply one model of reality, the consequence of one set of intellectual and spiritual choices that our particular cultural lineage made, however successfully, many generations ago.

*  *  *  *

Episode/Lecture Two, “The Wayfarers”, airing November 4, 2009

Episode/Lecture Three, “Peoples of the Anaconda”, airing November 5, 2009

Episode/Lecture Four, “Sacred Geography”, airing November 6, 2009

Episode/Lecture Five, “Century of the Wind”, airing November 7, 2009

According to the “Ideas” website, audio files will be posted the day after each broadcast.

Wade Davis at TED Talks

A few of the many other books by Wade Davis:

The Clouded Leopard: A Book of Travels (having just seen a clouded leopard for the very first time, at the National Zoo in Washington, I’m looking forward to reading this)

Book of Peoples of the World: A Guide to Cultures, edited by Wade Davis and K. David Harrison (National Geographic, 2008)

The Lost Amazon: The Photographic Journey of Richard Evans Schultes

 

Going back to Mannahatta

“On a hot, fair day, the twelfth of September, 1609, Henry Hudson and a small crew of Dutch and English sailors rode the flood tide up a great estuarine river, past a long, wooded island at latitude 40° 48′ north, on the edge of the North American continent.  Locally, the island was called Mannahatta, or ‘Island of Many Hills.’ One day the island would become as densely filled with people and avenues as it once was with trees and streams, but not that afternoon.  That afternoon the island still hummed with green wonders.  New York City, through an accident, was about to be born.”

Eric W. Sanderson, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York  City (Harry N. Abrams, 2009)

*  *  *  *  *

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Henry Hudson in New York. Before Henry sailed into the harbor, the river was known by the local Lenape as Muhheakantuck, “the river that flows both ways”. Having grown up a block and a bit from the river, I’m delighted to offer a bit of a round-up to celebrate the occasion.

First up, the official Hudson 400 website:

Albany, and the entire Hudson River Valley region of New York State, have already begun celebrating a significant anniversary. The year 2009 officially marks the 400th anniversary of our European founding by Dutch explorer, Henry Hudson. The Hudson 400 celebration offers a wonderful opportunity to explore the Dutch heritage of the Hudson Valley and to celebrate with special events on the Hudson River, along the shores of the river, and at historic sites throughout the region.

While the official motto is “Celebration of Discovery”, the website does note that

For centuries before the arrival of the Europeans, Algonkian-speaking Native Americans lived along the Hudson River. In the Upper Hudson Valley, it was the Mohican people who greeted Henry Hudson, as he anchored his ship the Half Moon in this fertile river valley in 1609.

There is also the official Henry Hudson 400: Amsterdam & New York 2009 website, featuring the pages “Henry Who?” and “Why Celebrate?” From the second,

In many ways Manhattan, not Plymouth Rock, is where America, and all that it represents, began. Following Hudson’s voyage, the Dutch Republic, the most progressive and commercially powerful force in the 17th century established the settlement of New Amsterdam in 1624.

At its peak, fully half the residents of New Amsterdam were from other nations, making it a true multicultural enterprise, a lively, liberal, idea-driven business community united in its focus on trade as the abiding source of the common good.

So it can be said that, from the start, New York was then what it has become today, a working symbol of freedom based on competence and respect, diversity and tolerance. The progressive connections between New York and its Dutch progenitor, Amsterdam, were and are profound.

The 400th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage comes during the age of globalization and offers a timely opportunity to celebrate and reinvigorate this vital transatlantic connection. Hudson’s discovery, and the achievements of Dutch businessmen in the years following, embody the unshakeable belief in new horizons, spirit of enterprise and diversity of views that remain defining characteristics of New York. Festival events will stimulate fresh understanding of this correlation, one that stimulates the city’s expansive cultural and trade developments to this day.

And then there’s the NY400 website, home of Holland on the Hudson, also known as the official website of the Government of The Kingdom of the Netherlands for the celebrations of NY400.  As part of the festivities, New Amsterdam Village has been set up in Bowling Green Park, from September 4-14. The village

consists of traditional Dutch canal houses, a windmill and a stage set up on an open, outside area. In the village some of the best known Dutch agricultural products and foods can be sampled and bought, including some our famous cheeses, herring, dollar pancakes also known as poffertjes, sirup wafels (stroopwafels), cut flowers, flower bulbs and green roofs.

The Village has a historic component as well: traditional crafts are shown, such as wooden shoes making, glass blowing and a floral workshop. You can also rent orange Dutch bicycles for free there, to bike to the different NY400 Week events throughout the city.

In addition to the New Amsterdam Village, there’s also the New Amsterdam Market on South Street, a new public market near the site of New Amsterdam’s first market of 1642.  The season begins this Sunday, September 13, Harbor Day, with these vendors planning to attend. Dates for the rest of the year are October 25, November 22, and December 20.

The Half Moon and New Netherland Museum: Albany, New York’s New Netherland Museum operates the Half Moon, a reproduction of the ship that Hudson sailed in 1609 from Holland to the New World; the website is available in English and in Dutch. For those who can’t make it to Albany, you can take a virtual tour of both the Half Moon and the colony of New Netherland.

The Albany Institute of History & Art is featuring the yearlong exhibit, “Hudson River Panorama: 400 Years of History, Art, and Culture”, from February 7, 2009 to January 3, 2010.  From the exhibit’s webpage,

This unprecedented year-long exhibition will commemorate Henry Hudson’s 1609 exploration of the river that bears his name, and the remarkable narrative of the people, events, and ideas that have shaped this magnificent region.

Featuring hundreds of artworks, artifacts, interactive displays, and rare archival documents from the Albany Institute’s renowned collections, “Hudson River Panorama” encompasses five major themes relating the many agricultural, industrial, and cultural influences of this historic waterway: Community and Settlement; Natural History and Environment; Transportation; Trade, Commerce, and Industry; Culture and Symbol.

The Albany Institute not surprisingly also has a collection of Hudson River School Art, “The Landscape that Defined America”, with more than “60 paintings and oil sketches by first and second generation Hudson River School artists, and over 100 sketches, sketchbooks, letters, photographs and other related materials”, by Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Jasper Cropsey, James Hart, William Hart, John Kensett, Homer D. Martin, David Johnson, John Casilear, and George Inness.

In connection with the Hudson anniversary, the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx offers a new installation by Holland’s leading garden designers, Piet Oudolf and Jacqueline van der Kloet, the Seasonal Walk, which has its own website and which The New York Times‘ garden writer Anne Raver recently wrote about here. From her article,

Mr. Oudolf is the Dutch horticulturist who masterminded more than five acres of perennial gardens at the Battery, at the tip of Manhattan. There, and here in the Bronx, he teamed up with Jacqueline van der Kloet to arrange and time thousands of bulbs and other plants that bloom from spring to late fall. Observing this latest collaboration unfold from week to week is a revelation for any gardener.

You can now plant the new orange “Henry Hudson” tulip, which was formally introduced on Wednesday by Princess Maxima of the Netherlands, at Battery Park. For more information, visit www.bulb.com (more here for educators, non-Hudson related).  Canada gave the Hudson his own flower, the hardy white rugosa in the Explorer series, in 1976, thanks to the efforts of Dr. Felicitas Svejda at Ottawa’s Central Experimental Farm.

Still in the garden, don’t miss Fritz Haeg’s Lenape Edible Estate in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. The garden, planted in June, “provides a view back to the lives of the Lenape people, how they lived off the land on the island of Mannahatta, from the native edible plants and the mounded plantings of bean, corn and squash, also know as ‘three sisters’.”  Harvest is planned for Monday, September 14 with a free public reception from 6-8 pm.

Wave Hill, the public garden along the Hudson River in the Bronx, presents the art exhibit “The Muhheakantuck in Focus” (August 1 – November 29, 2009), using the original Lenape name for the river.  The exhibit features project by contemporary visual artists exploring “the native people’s engagement with the river, both before and after Hudson’s arrival on its shores”. The press release contains more information, and The New York Times ran a review the other day, calling the show “is a thoughtful, informative and entertaining” and noting that “there is enough good artwork here to impress upon viewers that the quadricentennial is a time not just to celebrate, but to remember”.

Through December 31, 2009, you can stroll through history along The New Amsterdam Trail in Manhattan, a 90-minute audio/walking tour of 17th century Dutch America. You can download the map as well as an audio narration of “Ranger Story: Nieuw Amsterdam to New York” by park historian Steve Laise, Chief of Cultural Resources for the National Parks of New York Harbor.

At the beginning of the month, a fleet of Dutch flat-bottom barges sailed into New York Harbor after crossing the Atlantic aboard Dutch freighters. The sailing vessels are “descendants of the sailing ships that plied Dutch coastlines in the 17th century, immortalized by the country’s painters, and closely related to the first ships built in New York.”  The fleet will remain in the harbor for three weeks, “taking part in sailing races on the city’s waterways and offering tours and transport to visitors”, and taking part in a grand naval parade, the Admiral’s Sail, with a “flotilla of lighted ships [coming] down the Hudson into the harbor past Battery Park”. Sunday, September 13 is Harbor Day in New York, and you can sail along on Pete Seeger’s Clearwater sloop; check here for more festivities.  The fleet will then sail up the Hudson River to Albany before returning, again via freighter, to the port of Amsterdam.

From September 3, 2009 to January 3, 2010, Manhattan’s South Street Seaport Museum, in conjunction with the National Archives of the Netherlands, is presenting the exhibit, “New Amsterdam: The Island at the  Center of the World”, of rare maps and documents of 17th century New York.  The presentation, by the way, takes its name from Russell Shorto’s 2005 book, The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped New York. The centerpiece of the exhibit will be

the now-famous letter, dated November 5, 1626, from one Pieter Schaghen, listing, among other items, the purchase of Manhattan for 60 guilders (falsely converted to $24 in the 19th century). The Native Americans actually saw this transaction as a treaty for the usage of land, not a purchase.

If you can’t make it to NYC in time, the Museum has a small online gallery of prints and maps. Edward Rothstein’s review of the exhibit for The New York Times is here. From which,

The exhibition has problems: the design (by Urban A&O and Thinc) is awkward, the chronology often hard to trace and the commentary and contexts too cursory. But these rarely seen documents are landmarks, mapping out early New York history. There is an open, oversize book in which, in elaborate script, the Dutch East India Company prepared a contract with Henry Hudson (misnamed Tomas Hutson), ultimately charging him, in 1609, with discovering a route to Asia via a northeast passage over Russia. Instead, of course, that venture led to the beginnings of Dutch colonization in North America.

From 1626 there is a letter that was once folded to form its own envelope; it is now torn and stained by the fingers that must have handled it, addressed to “High and Mighty Lords.” It is a dispatch from Pieter Schaghen to the directors of the recently formed Dutch West India Company, whose title implicitly recognized that the way east lay elsewhere. The letter disclosed the latest news about New Amsterdam from a Dutch ship that had arrived home: reports that “our people are in good spirits and live in peace,” that they have sowed and reaped their grain, that the cargo contained 7,246 beaver skins and 48 mink skins. And that, oh yes, the settlers had “purchased the Island Manhattes from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders.”

The New York Times‘s article heralding the 400th anniversary of Hudson’s voyage, “Henry Hudson’s View of New York: When Trees Tipped the Sky” by Sam Roberts, January 25, 2009

The Hudson River sloop Clearwater, established by Pete Seeger in the sixties to clean the river; Pete Seeger on the State of the Hudson, and the DVD edition of the PBS documentary ‘Til the River Runs Clear.  The Clearwater website’s education page and free goodies page are worth visiting.

Riverkeeper‘s Quadricentennial Exhibit: A Hudson River Journey

The grand opening of the Walkway Over the Hudson will be held on the weekend of October 2-4. The new pedestrian walkway is the former Poughkeepsie-Highland railroad bridge; you can read an 1887 account of the bridge construction in Scientific American here. According to the book Bridging the Hudson by Carleton Mabee, “The Poughkeepsie railroad bridge was the first bridge to be built over the Hudson River from the ocean all the way up to Albany. It was a technological wonder. Opened in 1889 soon after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, it is not only higher above the water than the Brooklyn Bridge, and founded deeper in the water, but also longer. When it opened, its promoters claimed it was the longest bridge in the world.”

Walking Off the Big Apple blog (“A Strolling Guide to New York City”), handy and very well written– and photographed — whether or not you need quadricentennial information and musings

And this being 2009, of course Henry Hudson has a blog

Music:

Songs of the Hudson River, including Pete Seeger’s “Old Father Hudson River”

Tom Winslow’s Clearwater song, “Hey Looka Yonder (It’s the Clearwater)”, on mp3

The out-of-print songbook, Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew: A Musical and Pictorial Log of the Maiden Voyage of the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, compiled and edited by Don McLean (yes, that Don McLean, who was a troubador on the sloop’s maiden voyage), and illustrated by Tom Allen

Hudson River balladeer Rick Nestler, one-time member of the Hudson River Sloop  Singers and also a member of the Clearwater crew, who penned the song “The River That Flows Both Ways”

“Broad Old River 2” by the Hudson River Sloop Singers; order here

Jerry Silverman’s new New York Sings: 400 Years of the Empire State in Song (scroll down to listen to 25 songs from the book, including “Land in Sight” and “Half Moon”, and to find upcoming concert dates)

The new CD from Betty and the Baby Boomers, “Where the Heron Waits”, a collection of river songs “marking the Boomers’ long involvement with Hudson River education and advocacy”

The Barefoot Boys’ “Sweetwater Passage”; the boys are Rich Bala (see below), Rick Hill, and Tom White

Rich Bala’s “Hudson Valley Traditions”

The Westchester, NY a cappella ensemble Sing We Enchanted offers “Hurrah for the Hudson: River Songs & Ballads”

Storyteller Jonathan Kruk and folk balladeer Rich Bala are The River Ramblers, who offer four educational musical presentations, including “The River That Flows Both Ways” and “Revolution on the River” (more here)

Bob Lusk‘s blog about the folk music of the Hudson River Valley and Catskill Mountains

Historical balladeer Linda Russell offers an educational program, “Songs of the Historic Hudson”

The new “River of Dreams” CD — see below

Finally, make your own music with wind chimes.  Not just any wind chimes, but Woodstock Percussion‘s new five-pitch Hudson River Chime, “tuned to the pentatonic melody” of Pete Seeger’s “My Dirty Stream (The Hudson River Song)”.  Read about the chimes here, watch/hear them here, and buy them here; a portion of the proceeds for each chime goes to Clearwater.

Art/Hudson River School:

The Thomas Cole National Historic Site at Cedar Grove, which for the festivities has a “loan exhibition of paintings by 19th century masters of the Hudson River School of art, depicting views of the river and related and connecting bodies of water”.

“Seeing the Hudson: An Exhibition of Photographs and Paintings on the Occasion of the 400th Anniversary of Henry Hudson’s Sail of Discovery”, September 17 to October 31, featuring the works of painters
Samuel Colman (1832-1920),
Jon R. Friedman,
Joseph Antonio Hekking (1830- 1903),
William Rickarby Miller (1815-1893),
Robert J. Pattison (1838-1903), and 
Robert Walter Weir (1803-1889); and photographers Carolyn Marks Blackwood,
William Meyers,
William Clift,
Robert Richfield,
Diane Cook,
Joseph Squillante,
Jan Staller,
Elliott Kaufman,
Susan Wides,
Len Jenshel, and

Harry Wilks.  The opening reception will be on the 17th from 6-8 pm.

Books and such for children:

River of Dreams: The Story of the Hudson River, by the aptly named Hudson Talbott; highly recommended (and not just by me).  River of Dreams has recently been adapted for for the stage (and what a stage) with Casey Biggs and Frank Cuthbert, and the CD soundtrack will have its release party on Sunday, September 13 at The Thomas Cole National Historic Site at Cedar Grove (see above); free admission.

My Mighty Hudson by Mitchell Bring, with a foreword by Pete Seeger; a children’s guide to Hudson River history, science, and fun

Beyond the Sea of Ice: The Voyages of Henry Hudson by Joan Elizabeth Goodman

Hudson: The Story of a River by  Thomas Locker

PBS Kids’ Henry Hudson page, part of their Big Apple History

Henry Hudson at Enchanted Learning

Dover’s coloring book, Exploration of North America and also if I recall correctly, their Woodland Indians book

The 100-year-old children’s history book, The Men Who Found America, by Frederick Winthrop Hutchinson — available online at The Baldwin Project — includes a chapter on Henry Hudson, “The Englishman Who Sailed for the Dutch”.

If you’re home schooling, don’t miss the Homeschooling on Hudson blog

NYC Dept. of Education’s Henry Hudson Quadricentennial Teaching Resources (including a very good listing of museum exhibits)

NYS Dept. of Education’s Champlain/Hudson/Fulton Commemoration Online Resource page

Teaching the Hudson Valley; I quite like the look of most of the 11 lessons in the “Life along the Hudson River: Exploring Nature and Culture” unit

Books and such for older folks:

Half Moon: Henry Hudson and the Voyage that Redrew the Map of the New World by Douglas Hunter

A Description of New Netherland by Adriaen Van Der Donck

The Hudson: America’s River by Frances F. Dunwell

The Hudson: A History by Tom Lewis

The Hudson Valley Reader, edited by Edward C. Goodman

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky; also available as a very enjoyable audiobook

Hudson Valley Voyage: Through the Seasons, Through the Years, “An Exploration of Four Seasons and Four Centuries along the Hudson River from Manhattan to Saratoga Springs”, with photographs by Ted Spiegel and text by Reed Sparling

and continue the festivities through next year with Ted Spiegel’s Hudson River Valley Calendar 2010

For the entire family, even if you’re not from, or don’t live in, New York:

The Manahatta Project, by Eric Sanderson and the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo, who used the science of landscape ecology to learn what Manhattan would have looked like in 1609, before Hudson’s arrival.

Earlier this year, my father gave me the book that came out of the project, Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City by Eric W. Sanderson (Harry N. Abrams, 2009). It’s a marvel of a book, not just the computer-generated photographs of what the island probably looked like 400 years ago, but also Dr. Sanderson’s “Muir Webs” connecting all the organisms in 1609 New York, and, perhaps most importantly, his last section of the book, a prescription “to bring a little Mannahatta back to Manhattan” to sustain the city’s ecology and its inhabitants. Harry Abrams has done the book justice, with lovely heavy paper and beautiful color illustrations (photography, maps, drawings) throughout.  From chapter one,

It is a conceit of New York  City — the concrete city, the steel metropolis, Batman’s Gotham — to think it is a place outside of nature, a place where humanity has completely triumphed over the forces of the natural world, where a person can do and be anything without limit or consequence.  Yet this conceit is not unique to the city; it is shared by a globalized twenty-first-century human culture, which posits that through technology and economic development we can escape the shackles that bind us to our earthly selves, including our dependence on the earth’s bounty and the confines of our native place.  As such the story of Mannahatta’s transformation to Manhattan isn’t localized to one island; it is a coming-of-age story that literally embraces the entire world and is relevant to all of the 6.7 billion human beings who share it.

The Mannahatta project is the cover story of this month’s issue of National Geographic, “Before New York: Rediscovering the Wilderness of 1609”

The Wildlife Conservation Society page on Mannahatta is here

At the Mannahatta website, you can enter your address or the name of a landmark and see what it would have looked like in 1609, download lesson plans/curriculum, and more.

The Museum of the City of New York is hosting an exhibit curated by Dr. Sanderson, “Mannahatta/Manhattan: A Natural History of New York City”, through October 12.  Edward Rothstein of The New York Times reviewed the exhibit back in July, with an accompanying slide show.

Dr. Sanderson, with Eric Wright, helped to make a traditional Lenape wigwam in the New York Botanical Garden’s Family Garden

Eric Sanderson interviews via podcast from WNYC and the NY Times City Room blog

And, if you have younger children at home, you  might want to pair Mannahatta — you can look through the pictures together and read some of the passages aloud — with the wonderful children’s picture book On This Spot: An Expedition Back Through Time by Susan E. Goodman and Lee Christiansen.  In fact, when I first read about Mannahatta, I thought, “Oh good! On This Spot for adults!”

Washington, DC sights and resources: Part 1

Before we dash off this afternoon to pick cherries (hurray!), here are some things I’ve recently discovered and what we’ve been reading and watching to prepare for our trip next month:

The National Portrait Gallery: when I was living in Washington in 1985-90, this was nowhere near as crowded as the Smithsonian museums on the Mall, and I’m hoping this is still true now.  The NPG has a “Face to Face” podcast series, which I plan to load on Laura’s iPod; current exhibitions include Thomas Paine; Presidents in Waiting; America’s Presidents; American Origins, 1600-1900; and Twentieth-Century Americans.  Opening at the end of this month is Faces of the Frontier: Photographic Portraits from the American West, 1845-1924.   Also useful before you visit are the NPG’s brief “orientation videos”, one for teachers and one for students.

Capital by Lynn Curlee; I bought a hardcover edition from BookCloseouts several years ago and was delighted to find it on the shelves the other day.

Dipping a toe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down a lazy river

BETTER DROWNED THAN DUFFERS IF NOT DUFFERS WON’T DROWN.
from “Swallows and Amazons” by Arthur Ransome

* * * * *

As I wrote the other day, the boys were eager to take their new inflatable dinghy (on sale at the hardware store last week) down the river.  I did have some doubts about sending an eight-and-a-half year-old, ten-year-old, and even a 12-year-old, with only informal paddling and sailing experience but strong swimming skills, off for three hours on their own on the river.  No cell phone either.  But they did have life jackets, common sense, and enthusiasm, and the river couldn’t have been any calmer.  Saturday night, after a long, hot (31 degrees C) day most of which was spent helping their father shingle a roof, the boys along with their sister set sail on the river about two miles south of our house, where the river valley backs on to a farmer’s pasture.  The plan was for the kids to paddle the eight to 10 miles in the dinghy to the provincial park in town.  With leisurely paddling along the very quiet waters and lots of animal-watching, the trip took them about three hours.  We collected them just before 10:30 pm, and they were all grinning broadly.  By their count, they noted 30 sightings of beavers (Davy figured only 18 beavers in total, with lots of repeats including one who kept swimming just ahead of the dinghy), six beaver lodges, five muskrats, two deer (one mule, one white-tail), two mother ducks with ducklings, one dead female mallard in the reeds during their only portage, and 20 geese.

The kids were inspired by hearing Tom regale them again and again with his story of paddling contest down the North  Saskatchewan River when he was in his twenties, and by the Arrogant Worms/Captain Tractor song, “The Last Saskatchewan Pirate”.  Here’s to many more summer adventures.

Some pictures from the beginning of the trip.  It was getting too dark for photos at 10:30.

Loading up the dinghy,
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Laura surveying the river valley,

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A curious muskrat,

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Around the bend and away,

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Related Farm School posts:

Paddle your own canoe

But will they change Titty’s name?

A manual for childhood

Why safer isn’t always better

In search of freedom and independence, and big bangs

Outdoor life, or, How to have an old-fashioned, dangerous summer