• 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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Another story

Work on the new house stopped last October. It got too cold and snowy for working outdoors, Tom had other projects for clients, we went to France and Germany for four weeks after the new year, the kids made it to high school provincials for curling in February and March, Tom and I travelled to the West Indies to clear out the last bits from my parents’ retirement house before the sale (hallelujah), then it was calving season, and more big projects for clients.

Work started up again last week, and first thing on the schedule was to start working on the second story. The main floor now has a ceiling and the second story has a floor. Wall-building begins tomorrow, and Tom and I double-checked all the window placements this afternoon.

The view from the master bedroom’s tower sitting area (facing northeast),

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Another view from the master bedroom’s tower sitting area, facing southeast,

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View from the bedroom (facing east); you can see how dry it’s been, with only one decent rain (this past week) since March,

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View from the guest bedroom (facing north),

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The living room tower sitting area, on the main floor,

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The kitchen, with the pantry on the other side of the wall; the window is on the sink wall,

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The pantry, a very exciting prospect!

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Dining room (facing south) surrounded by the larch trees we planted eight years ago,

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Dining room door to the back porch, facing west,

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The living room, facing north and the front of the house,

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The temporary stairs (the actual stairs will be over to the right), which Tom rescued from the old farm supply store’s warehouse before it was demolished 25 years ago,

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Calving season

This time of year again, and with unseasonably warm weather — it was 14.5 Celsius on Saturday — which is much appreciated. Though not very good for the kids’ plans with the 4H Outdoor club to go skiing.

A little Speckle Park calf,

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Christmas wishes

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

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Other things we’re enjoying:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More BirdCasting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October

In the last five weeks or so, we’ve poured the concrete for the garage and workshop floors, and for the basement floor. In preparation for which, after exhausting the supply of the nearest Home Depot, we spent a long day in September driving around the big city to four other HDs buying out all of the rigid foam underfloor insulation. Tom put in everything for in-floor heating in the basement, but we don’t know that we’ll actually need it with the insulation; it’s there, though, just in case, because it’s a lot easier to put in now than later. The concrete is the last of the really season-sensitive projects for the house. In between projects for clients, Tom and the kids can do more framing for the second floor, and get the roof trusses on, through the winter.

It’s been a long, gorgeous autumn, one of the nicest and longest I can recall in 20 years, which has made all of these projects possible; of course, part of the reason it’s been long is that fall started so early, in late August. But the early cold nights made for very colourful leaves and for whatever reason they’ve been hanging on the trees. In the past month, we’ve enjoyed temperatures of 15-20 Celsius (60-70 Fahrenheit), with a few days in the high 20s. Though this is all supposed to come to an end this weekend — winter, and snow, are on the way in a few days.

Here’s the concrete floor for the workshop (over which will be a small apartment — we’re thinking we can rent it out, or one of the kids can live there, or Tom and I can move there in our dotage and let the next generation have the main house), which is at the west end of the garage,

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The garage floor with rebar, before pouring the concrete,

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The garage entrance to the house; on the left in the house is the bathroom (though there will also be a bathroom in the garage for anyone who needs to clean up from particularly messy building, farming, and gardening projects involving lots of chaff, oil, etc.), and on the right is the walk-in pantry,

 

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Stairs to the basement entrance, the cold room (to store root vegetable and canning), and the area where we will store three large tanks collecting rainwater (under that square),

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View from the other direction,

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Before pouring concrete,

 

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After pouring concrete,

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Aside from usual school subjects, Daniel, who is 15-1/2 and in Grade 10, is doing the provincial registered apprenticeship program in carpentry with his father; the program lets high school kids get a head-start on an apprenticeship, and we figured that Daniel might as well get credit for work he’s doing anyway. Daniel and Laura are also doing the Green Certificate program, sort of a farming apprenticeship; again, this way they get credit for work they’re already doing. The kids are all taking the provincial hunter education program online; Daniel went first and already got his license in the mail. Laura is off to Washington, DC in early November with her father; she’s been doing a biweekly segment on a birding radio show, and they are celebrating the 500th show with a live broadcast from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; they are very generously and kindly flying Laura out, and Tom is going along for fun and security (mine more than hers). She was also a nominee for the Chamber of Commerce employee of the year award, not bad for her first summer job. 4-H has started, and curling too.

 

Another house

This one is for the chickens. We’re up to three coops now. Neighbours asked if we wanted their old chicken house, unused for several decades and not needed or wanted by the current generation. Laura, who had ordered day-old chicks in May to replace some of the tired old layers, and who had also hatched out several dozen exotic varieties (Chocolate Orpingtons, Lavender Orpingtons, and some more Ameraucanas) in the incubator, jumped at the offer. Laura and Davy spent an afternoon fixing the door, windows, and getting it ready for occupancy and winter. Next spring or summer it’ll get a coat of red paint to match the other two coops.

Getting ready for the trailer,

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On the move from their farm to ours,

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At home,

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Some of Laura’s chickens (photographed by her last month), some of whom will be getting a new home,

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Walls

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

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

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

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

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

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Up, up, and away,

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

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Joining the two walls,

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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Bracing the interior walls,

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

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

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

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

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Tom taking measurements in the pantry,

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Kitchen, pantry, and garage entry,

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Dining room from the outside,

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Insulating the garage and basement foundation and backfilling,

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A visitor to the work site,

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

Grow where you are planted

Most years I plant sunflowers, though there are always a number of volunteers, thanks to all of Laura’s bird feeders around the yard. This spring there were even more, despite the cool spring temperatures but maybe because of all the rain we had until the end of July. I transplanted a bunch to the former strawberry beds south of the house, so there were several rows of beautiful sunflowers.

We realized last week that, thanks to the birds, some of the sunflowers made it beyond our yard — one is blooming across the road, in the neighbor’s pasture, where the pipeline project still has some soil to re-grade. It makes me smile every time I go by.

And completely unrelated, we’re off to see the RCMP Musical Ride. It’s our third time — the provinces are all on a four-year rotation (much like The Well-Trained Mind), and next time they come around, we may be madly off in all directions…

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Some summer scenes

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

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

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

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

 

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

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What we did on our summer vacation, or…

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Wild blueberries in the woods, August 2014 (photo by Laura)

*  *  *  *

…life since my last post, on April 9th.

On April 11th, Tom had a biopsy for prostate cancer, after concerning results from his PSA test and then a physical exam. On April 13th, his father had a severe stroke and was close to death for several weeks. On May 9th, Tom got his diagnosis of prostate cancer which came as a shock no matter how prepared we thought we were, and surgery was scheduled for July 3rd, with a six-week recovery period. Given the sharp rise in his PSA, the biopsy results and his Gleason score, surgery rather than any other alternative therapies seemed prudent. The good news is that the pathology report was clear and the cancer seems to have been confined to the prostate, which is the best news we could have hoped for. But it’s also surgery whose consequences include complications such as incontinence (enough that many men refuse to undergo what can be life-change surgery), and we’re dealing with those now. If you or a loved one are dealing with prostate cancer and have any questions, feel free to email me (email address at left). I will say right now: get your PSA tested, especially if there’s a family history, as there was in this case going back at least several generations. Some relatives haven’t been tested, which we can’t fathom. It’s a simple blood test.

My father-in-law’s stroke has been much more complicated and much less hopeful. While he is no longer near death, as he was in the first weeks — so much so that his sons and some of the grandchildren built a casket for his cremation — he remains unable to stand or walk, and the stroke combined with his Alzheimer’s (and his Alzheimer’s might well have been brought on by two earlier strokes) has wreaked havoc with his memory and his speech, which especially at the end of the day can descend into gibberish. He’s no longer the husband, father, and grandfather he was, which has been a profound blow to each of us. He moves into the nursing home later this week. More bossy advice: make sure you, and the elderly parents in your life, have personal directives (living wills) and powers of attorney in order; if you need a thorough form for a personal directive, I highly recommend this one for its specifics. And talk about the details with each other and your kids. We have talked a good deal about what makes a good life, what makes a life worth living, and what we each think about so-called heroic measures.

My mother-in-law and I are dealing with somewhat similar situations, 25 years apart, though for her there will be no recovery. She is dealing with the loss of her husband, because, in her words, he’s not the man he was and “I lost him several months ago”. And instead of eagerly anticipating our 20th wedding anniversary or a possible one week holiday to BC in June, as we had hoped, we were instead driving to dates for bone scans and pre-surgery appointments. Either way, at 50 or at 75, the prospect, and reality, of losing the love of your life is considerable, and overwhelming.

We’ve had some highs since things started going wonky — Daniel’s 15th birthday and my 50th at the end of April, Laura passing her road test to get her driver’s license in June and her 17th birthday, as well as the most recent nifty progress on the house (the walls are up) in early July, just before Tom’s surgery; however, one of the hardest things Tom ever had to do was put away his tool belt and hammer, knowing it would be several months before taking them up again. The kids have stepped in and stepped up to do all sorts of work. At the beginning of June, Laura started a full-time job in town, to which she’s been driving herself since late June; it was a relief to head to the hospital in the big city knowing that the kids could cope with the farm and house on their own, without taxing the extended family’s resources any more than they already have been. The boys started haying a few days after Tom got home from the hospital, doing their work and his cheerfully without any complaints, with Tom supervising from the truck or a chair at the edge of the field. The boys have also been planning their “farm diversification project” — more sheep, some goats, and some pigs. Davy has been using Google Maps to plot how many fence posts they need to cross-fence some pasture for more livestock. The kids all went to 4-H camp and had a collective ball. We picked wild blueberries after we dropped them off and after we picked them up — three ice cream pails full (I think this is a western Canadian measure — I checked a plastic lid and it says “4 litres”, so we have 12 litres, eight of which I’ve turned into jam, blueberry muffins, and blueberry crumb cake, which lasted not quite 12 hours in this house).

But we’re all here. A little worse for wear and in dire need of a vacation or three, but still here.

First window

Preparing to install the first window in the new house, fittingly in the tower (all photos by second son),

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And it’s in,

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The tower has six windows, one of which will be operable; the east wall of the living room (the photo just above is facing east) will have window near the tower, so with both of those open we’ll be able to have nice cross breezes from Spring through Fall.

 

Tower rising

Tom (at right) and crew (including older son, at left) started building the tower today. And the windows arrived earlier this week.

Photos by younger son,

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Using the invaluable telehandler,

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A few shots I took this evening,

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Inside the tower,

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Spring

Spring arrived with a cold snap, heavy winds, and the possibility of snow. The overnight temp is forecasted to be -20C, with a wind chill of -30. Not ideal for calving, especially since we had three calves last night and one this morning. Tom and the kids spent part of the moving calf sheds into the pens for extra shelter.

One of my amaryllises from two years ago started sending up a flower stalk, and began blooming over the weekend (ignore the brown on the edge of one of the petals). Right around the same time I picked up these tulips at the florist shop in town, and they’re still hanging on.

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New camera

I haven’t had a camera for a few years — Laura started borrowing mine and then just absorbed it. When I wanted a picture of something, I’ve had to borrow a camera from the kids, or ask them to take a picture for me. I noticed that Best Buy had a little Canon Powershot A1400 on sale for $70, and it has good reviews at Amazon. The viewfinder was a nice surprise, because I sometimes have difficulty seeing the LCD display outdoors in bright sun.

I went out the other evening, just before sunset, to take some pictures to give it a whirl.

In addition to the portable windbreaks, we also got some portable fence panels which are very handy,

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The base of the portable panel,

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First floor

We have a floor, and wall construction is beginning. We also have warmer temperatures (a difference of about 40 degrees in less than week), much appreciated by us and all the animals, especially the cows who’ve started calving.

The new floor; the hole in the floor at left is for the staircase, the bump out at right is the windowed dining room (all photos by son #2),

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Standing in the dining room, with the kitchen at left and staircase ahead,

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Making the floor for the tower,

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Making a wall,

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One of the oddest — and cutest — looking calves I’ve seen in 20 years,

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A baby hiding in the straw,

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Our new portable windbreaks, with initial construction at a nearby Hutterite colony, with final welding by the kids,

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Floor joists

“a heavy burden lifted from my soul”
~ Leonard Cohen, “Paper Thin Hotel”

A very good week. The kids and a friend won the finals of the junior super league curling; they’ve been curling together Monday nights since November, and were undefeated heading into the final.

It’s starting to warm up from the -40s, the wind has died down, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and by Sunday it will be +2. I’m also a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

With the better weather, Tom and crew got the floor joists knocked out pretty quickly.

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Trusses and joists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Current events: Ukraine

Are you looking for a clear, concise explanation of recent events in Ukraine, for yourself or your kids? You can’t do any better than today’s post in the New York Review blog, “Ukraine: The Haze of Propaganda” by Timothy Snyder. From which:

From Moscow to London to New York, the Ukrainian revolution has been seen through a haze of propaganda. Russian leaders and the Russian press have insisted that Ukrainian protesters were right-wing extremists and then that their victory was a coup. Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, used the same clichés after a visit with the Russian president at Sochi. After his regime was overturned, he maintained he had been ousted by “right-wing thugs,” a claim echoed by the armed men who seized control of airports and government buildings in the southern Ukrainian district of Crimea on Friday[.]

Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.

In fact, it was a classic popular revolution. It began with an unmistakably reactionary regime. A leader sought to gather all power, political as well as financial, in his own hands. This leader came to power in democratic elections, to be sure, but then altered the system from within. For example, the leader had been a common criminal: a rapist and a thief. He found a judge who was willing to misplace documents related to his case. That judge then became the chief justice of the Supreme Court. There were no constitutional objections, subsequently, when the leader asserted ever more power for his presidency.

and

It is hard to have all of the power and all of the money at the same time, because power comes from the state, and the state has to have a budget. If a leader steals so much from the people that the state goes bankrupt, then his power is diminished. Yanukovych actually faced this problem last year. And so, despite everything, he became vulnerable, in a very curious way. He needed someone to finance the immediate debts of the Ukrainian state so that his regime would not fall along with it.

Struggling to pay his debts last year, the Ukrainian leader had two options. The first was to begin trade cooperation with the European Union. No doubt an association agreement with the EU would have opened the way for loans. But it also would have meant the risk of the application of the rule of law within Ukraine. The other alternative was to take money from another authoritarian regime, the great neighbor to the east, the Russian Federation.

In December of last year, the leader of this neighboring authoritarian regime, Vladimir Putin, offered a deal. From Russia’s hard currency reserves accumulated by the sale of hydrocarbons he was willing to offer a loan of $15 billion, and lower the price of natural gas from Russia. Putin had a couple of little preoccupations, however.

Read the rest here.

Also by Dr. Snyder, The New York Review of Books article (available online now) from the upcoming March 20th issue, “Fascism, Russia, and Ukraine”.

And there’s more — a prescient (February 26th) article in  Foreign Policy by Dr. Snyder, well worth reading: “Dear Kremlin: Careful with Crimea: Why a Russian intervention in southern Ukraine could rebound against Moscow”.

Dr. Snyder is Bird White Housum Professor of History at Yale, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in modern East European political history. For the 2013-14 academic year, he is the Philippe Roman Chair in History and International Affairs at the London School of Economics. Dr. Snyder authored The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569-1999 (Yale Press, 2003), and helped the late Tony Judt with his posthumous Thinking the Twentieth Century (Penguin, 2012). More of Dr. Snyder’s writing at the NYRB, on Ukraine and other subjects, here.

Still remembering

In my earlier post today remembering Pete Seeger, I mentioned seeing him perform at South Street Seaport for an autumn festival. Turns out it was October 1972, according to the caption on the back of the photograph my father took.

Here it is, with Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick) and Pete Seeger at South Street Seaport. My younger sister and mother are at the bottom, in the clear plastic rain bonnets my grandmother and mother used to keep in their purses.

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