• 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."

    "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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  • Copyright © 2005-2016 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Taking the chill off, with Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake

In need of some cheering up after that sad business about happy endings , I decided to make Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake with pears, from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition). Very nice for fall, by the way, or to jazz up a simple autumn supper of venison sausages, creamed garden potatoes, garden tomato salad, and home-pressed cider.

Gingerbread Upside-Down Cake (makes one 8- or 9-inch cake, square or round)

12 tablespoons butter (unsalted)
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
1½ cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. powdered ginger [I use 1 tsp. and also add 1 tsp. cinnamon and a pinch of allspice]
½ tsp. salt [I use just a pinch, and I omit it entirely if I’m using salted butter]
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a small pan, add the brown sugar, and stir over low heat until blended. Pour into a square cake pan and arrange the pear slices in the pan; set aside.

Mix the flour, baking powder, ginger and any other spices, salt, and sugar in a bowl.

Melt the remaining 8 tbsp. (4 oz.) of butter in a small pan [I use the same small pan from before]. Remove from heat, add the milk and egg, and beat well.

Add to flour mixture and beat until smooth. Pour over the pears and bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick/cake tester comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving plate, fruit-side up. Serve with whipped cream [or vanilla ice cream, or a drizzle unwhipped heavy cream] if you wish.

There, I feel better already. Don’t you?

PS The above recipe is also very nice — especially if you’re a gingerbread purist who requires molasses in your gingerbread — if you substitute one of Laurie Colwin’s recipes, such as this one from Home Cooking, adapted from the Junior League of Charleston’s The Charleston Receipts (first published in 1950), though admittedly she likes her gingerbread more gingery than I do:

  • Cream one stick of sweet butter with ½ cup of light or dark brown sugar. Beat until fluffy and add ½ cup of molasses.
  • Beat in two eggs.
  • Add 1½ cups of flour, ½ tsp. of baking soda and one very generous tablespoon of ground ginger (this can be adjusted to taste, but I like it very gingery). Add one teaspoon of cinnamon, ¼ tsp. of ground cloves and ¼ tsp. of ground allspice.
  • Add two teaspoons of lemon brandy*. If you don’t have any, use plain vanilla extract. Lemon extract will not do. Then add ½ cup of buttermilk (or milk with a little yogurt beaten into it) and turn batter into a buttered tin [buttering not necessary if you make the upside-down cake version].
  • Bake at 350 degrees F for between 20-30 minutes (check after 20 minutes have passed). Test with a toothpick/cake tester, and cool on a rack.

* Lemon brandy: “a heavenly elixir easily homemade by taking the peel from two lemons, cutting very close to get mostly zest, beating up the peels to release the oils and steeping them in four ounces of decent brandy.”

There’ll always be an England

Is there not something peculiar about an organization called The Happy Endings Foundation advocating book burnings? The highlight of the group’s year is the annual Bad Book Bonfire and Fun Fireworks Party on November 5th (not so coincidentally Guy Fawkes Night): “bring along an unhappy book to burn and we’ll be judging the Lemony Snicket Guy competition on the night”.

A friend in the UK sent me the link to the website of the group, whose motto is “Sad Books are Bad Books”. Under the heading “Report a Book” is the cheery suggestion, “Let us know which bad books you’d like to see burnt.” Alrighty, then!

THIEF’s aims are

* To eradicate sad thoughts from all literature
* To make people smile a little more often
* To encourage authors to write more uplifting books for children
* To highlight the dangers of reading sad books
* To unite parents of a similar thinking and create a force with which to be reckoned
* To protect the next generation of readers.
* And, above all, to ensure the longevity of HAPPY ENDINGS (that means “to make sure happy endings are around for a long time”)

The group is the, erm, brainchild of Mrs. Adrienne Small, who “has now left her career as a tax inspector to focus on THEF full-time. She plans to rewrite all 13 Lemony Snicket books to give them happy endings.” Sad and bad, indeed, but not the books.

My penpal was aghast to find that THIEF has chapters beavering away in Glasgow, Newcastle, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Oxford, Plymouth, London, and Norwich.

Other group suggestions for bringing sunshine, lollipops, and happiness to the world at large include holding “your very own Tickle-A-Moody-Person Week”, and, for Halloween,

We shall still be having a party but instead of going ‘trick or treating’ we will be going ‘fun & greeting’. Children will be encouraged to knock on someone’s door and offer a smile as well as reciting wonderful words to uplift the soul. We will be handing out fairy cakes and other homemade sweeties and showing goodwill to all. We will be spreading happy thoughts and feelings across the country in a rebellion against the witchery and horror of Halloween.

We want to take the darkness of the night and fill it with new light

To which Farm School can say only,


Celebrating the right to read and the joy of reading

Jennifer Armstrong, author of the new The American Story, was kind enough to send me an email with the artwork for this year’s Banned Books Week poster, because as it turns out it’s an illustration by Roger Roth from the new book, selected by the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression for the official poster.

Banned Books Week this year is September 23-30. For more information on Banned Books, including lists of banned, censored, and Bowdlerized books, go to the websites of the American Booksellers Foundation for Freedom of Expression, the Online Books project at the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Library Association.

At the end of the week, on September 30th, head over (virtually or otherwise) to Washington, DC, to celebrate the National Book Festival with the likes of Douglas Brinkley, John Hope Franklin, Doris Kearns Goodwin, U.S. Poet Laureate Donald Hall, Elise Paschen, Louis Sachar, Alexander McCall Smith, Judith Viorst, and many, many others.

And so I leave you with these thoughts:

“I never knew a girl who was ruined by a bad book.”
New York City Mayor James J. “Jimmy” Walker (1881-1946)

“I am going to introduce a resolution to have the Postmaster General stop reading dirty books and deliver the mail.”
U.S. Senator Gale William McGee (1915-1992) of Wyoming

“The sooner we all learn to make a distinction between disapproval and censorship, the better off society will be. … Censorship cannot get at the real evil, and it is an evil in itself.”
American writer and critic Granville Hicks (1901-1982)

“If in other lands the press and books and literature of all kinds are censored, we must redouble our efforts here to keep them free.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt

“To limit the press is to insult a nation; to prohibit reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves.”
French philolsopher Claude Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771)

“The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame.”
Oscar Wilde

“The dirtiest book of all is the expurgated book.”
Walt Whitman

“The price of freedom of religion, or of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson