• 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)
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • ChasDarwinHasAPosse
  • Farm School: A Twitter-Free Zone

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

On the twelfth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

twelve lords a-leaping.

At first I considered the Lords of the Dance.

Like the Nicholas Brothers, or Russ Tamblyn in “West Side Story”.

Leapin’ lizards.

Or Baryshnikov.

But then I thought of my darling children and their shining faces on the twelfth day of Christmas, and knew it had to be marvelous, incredible leaping Lipizzaners

For more about Lipizzaner horses, Laura recommends:

White Stallion of Lipizza by Marguerite Henry; available new from from Sonlight

Album of Horses, also by Marguerite Henry

The 1963 movie “Miracle of the White Stallions

and for your own wee riding school, Schleich’s Lipizzan horse family

And to all a goodnight.

With that, folks, Christmas is officially over at Farm School as of tomorrow and if I have the energy — after the 12 days of Christmas, this recent blogging spurt, and the Cybils (short list to be announced Sunday, which I’ll post here after swilling my coffee) — the tree will be “planted” in a snowbank outside and the decorations returned to their boxes.

On the eleventh day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

eleven ladies dancing.

And a few of their friends,

You might know them as Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) “Dancing Ladies”, because they look like little swaying dancers in brightly-colored ballgowns. Especially if you are in the garden early in the morning before that first cup of coffee and without your glasses.

The picture above is from the online catalogue of Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine, which offers a great variety, including organic and heirloom seed. Imagine a whole garden full of dancing ladies, for the bargain price of $1.80 — the cost of a packet of seed.

This is the season gardeners love, planning the new year’s garden while snow is still on the ground. For me this involves stacks of printed gardening catalogues (and no, it’s just not the same online, though I do request them by email), a pen, Post-It notes, and a graph paper pad filched from Tom.

This recent Sioux City Journal newspaper article includes a number of good US seed and plant houses to contact for catalogues.

And here’s an online Guide to Gardening by Mail, Mail Order Gardening, and Catalogs, from DavesGarden.com. Very, very thorough, and includes Canadian seed and plant companies as well; there’s a nifty “Browse by North American State/Province” feature.

Canadian Gardening magazine has its 2007 list online.

I’ll leave the last word to Katharine S. White, E.B. White’s wife, an editor at The New Yorker, and ardent and opinionated gardener. After she retired from her editing duties, in the late 1950s, she began a series of garden pieces for the magazine. More than a few columns were reviews seed and nursery catalogues, which Mrs. White considered as seriously as any other American literature. After Mrs. White’s death in 1977, her husband collected them into a delightful volume, Onward and Upward in the Garden. From her first piece, dated March 1, 1958,

For gardeners this is the season of lists and callow hopefulness; hundreds of thousands of bewitched readers are poring over their catalogues, making lists for their seed and plant orders, and dreaming their dreams. It is the season, too, when the amateur gardener like myself marvels or grumbles at the achievements of the hybridizers and frets over the idiosyncrasies of the editors and writers who get up the catalogues. They are as individualistic — these editors and writers — as any Faulkner or Hemingway, and they can be just as frustrating or rewarding. They have an audience equal to the most popular novelist’s, and a handful of them are stylists of some note. Even the catalogues with which no man can be associated seem to have personalities of their own.

Before we examine the writers and editors, let us consider the hybridizers, and the horticulturists in general. Their slogan is not only “Bigger and Better” but “Change” — change for the sake of change, it seems. Say you have a nice flower like the zinnia — clean-cut, of interesting, positive form, with formal petals that are so neatly and cunningly put together, and with colors so subtle yet clear, that they have always been the delight of the still-life artist. Then look at the W. Atlee Burpee and the Joseph Harris Company catalogues and see what the seedsmen are doing to zinnias. Burpee, this year, devotes its inside front cover to full-color pictures of its Giant Hybrid Zinnias, which look exactly like great shaggy chrysanthemums. Now, I like chrysanthemums, but why should zinnias be made to look like them?

By the way, any Katharine White fans who have despaired of ever reading more of her garden writings would be very happy with Emily Herring Wilson‘s 2003 compilation, Two Gardeners: A Friendship in Letters, Katharine S. White & Elizabeth Lawrence, the latter a talented and prolific garden writer.

On the tenth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

ten pipers piping.

Now, you have your traditional bagpipes, and your pan pipes, piping bags for decorating cakes and cookies, lead pipe cinches, and more. But some of my oldest Christmas memories involve buying my father a new pipe. One year, when my sister and I didn’t have much money, it was a corncob pipe, like Frosty’s, from the tobacconist/newstand on the corner of Broadway and 91st. But one year my mother bought my father a meerschaum pipe, though it wasn’t nearly as elaborate as it could have been; then again, the less elaborate, the better the chances that my father would smoke it in public.

Here’s a selection from Altinok Pipe of Ankara, Turkey, from the fairly elaborate to the downright fanciful.

For a better view, and many, many more designs, go directly to the website, which also tells you all about the mineral that is meerschaum (German for “sea foam”), and how it is mined.

And now I get to say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”

On the ninth day of Christmas

my true love, a genuine hepcat, gave to me,

nine drummers drumming.

#1 Gene Krupa

#2 Buddy Rich

#3 Art Blakey

#4 Max Roach

#5 Chick Webb

#6 Louie Bellson

#7 Kenny Clarke

#8 Cozy Cole

#9 Joe Morello

And some jazzy extras, just for fun:

#1 vs. #2 (you modern types can see it here on YouTube)

#1 + #2

#2 vs. #4

On the eighth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

eight maids a-milking

There probably aren’t any dairies nowadays that use milk maids exclusively — that would no doubt fall afoul of federal legislation — but a surprising number in North America have begun again to offer milk in glass bottles as well as home delivery. One such outfit is the Dewitt family’s Dutchmen Dairy in Sicamous, BC, whose bottles are those pictured above. In addition to milk, Dutchmen offers sour cream and artisan ice creams and cheeses. The milk and milk products are distributed mainly by home delivery.

A not particularly comprehensive list of other dairies in North America offering home delivery and/or glass bottles (and usually a good deal more, including rBGH/rBST-free or organic milk, eggs, sides of beef, farm fresh baking, gourmet cheeses, and homemade eggnog for the holidays):


Avalon Dairy, Vancouver, British Columbia

Dutchmen Dairy, Sicamous, British Columbia

Jerseyland Organics, Grand Forks, British Columbia

Olympic Dairy Products, Delta, British Columbia

Ran-Cher Acres/Saanen Dairy Goats, Halifax, Nova Scotia


AB Munroe Dairy, East Providence, Rhode Island

Apple Valley Creamery, East Berlin, Pennsylvania

Byrne Dairy, Syracuse, New York

Calder Dairy and Farm, Lincoln Park, Michigan

Catamount Farm, 387 Parade Road, Barnstead, New Hampshire 03218; (603) 435-7415

Claravale Farm, Watsonville, California

Crescent Ridge Dairy, Sharon, Massachusetts

Hartzler Family Dairy, Wooster, Ohio

The Hudson Milk Company, Shrub Oak, New York

Karl’s Farm Dairy, Denver, Colorado

Lamers Dairy, Appleton, Wisconsin

Longmont Dairy Farm, Longmont, Colorado

Maplehofe Dairy Farm Store, 799 Robert Fulton Hwy, Quarryville, Pennsylvania 17566; 717-786-3924

Marigold Dairies, Elkhorn, Wisconsin

Meyer Dairy Store, 2390 S. Atherton Street, State College, Pennsylvania 16801-7613; 814-237-1849

MJM Dairy, Westchester County, New York

Mr Milkman, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania

Oberweis Dairy, Aurora, Illinois

Promised Land Dairy, San Antonio, Texas

Ronnybrook Farm, Ancramdale, New York

Royal Crest Dairy, Denver, Colorado

Shaw Farm Dairy, Dracut, Massachusetts

Shatto Milk Company, Osborn, Missouri

Smiling Hill Farm, Maine

South Mountain Creamery, Middletown, Maryland

Starlight Dairy, Yorktown Heights, New York

Straus Family Creamery, Petaluma, California

Thatcher Farm, Milton, Massachusetts

Trickling Springs Creamery, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

Vale Wood Farms, Loretto, Pennsylvania

White Orchard Farm, Frankfort, Maine

Yoder Dairies, Virginia Beach, Virginia

You can also try the clickable map from Milkmen Across America, which just for today I’m going to think of as “Milk Maids Across America”



Interestingly, as I started my Googling after coming up with the idea for today’s item, I discovered that I’m not the only one with deja vu all over again; the other week, The New York Times had this article on the subject (free registration).

I can’t think of many things that are both as luxurious and good for you, not to mention good for your local farmers, as home delivery of fresh dairy products.

On the seventh day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

seven swans a-swimming.

Which is a delightful, restful thing to do after you’ve been flying around all day, especially when you were turned into a swan against your will in the first place.

The fairy tale most of us know as “The Six Swans”, as retold by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen (his version is known as “The Wild Swans”), is the original German tale of “The Seven Swans”, which had been around for ages before the others got their hands on it and performed swan surgery; who knows, perhaps the Grimms found six a more pleasing and symmetrical number. Some 30 years after they included “The Six Swans” in their 1812 compilation of fairy tales, the German writer Ludwig Bechstein (1801-1860) stuck with the traditional “Seven Swans” for his own compilation, originally a much more popular collection of children’s tales. But the Grimms ultimately won out, as evidenced by the fact that few of us nowadays know Bechstein’s name.

In fact, I couldn’t find much on the original, given the pervasiveness of the Grimms’ tale. For more on “The Six Swans”, don’t miss SurLaLune’s comprehensive listing. In the meantime, here’s Andrew Lang’s version of the Grimm tale from his Yellow Fairy Book:

A king was once hunting in a great wood, and he hunted the game so eagerly that none of his courtiers could follow him. When evening came on he stood still and looked round him, and he saw that he had quite lost himself. He sought a way out, but could find none. Then he saw an old woman with a shaking head coming towards him; but she was a witch.

‘Good woman,’ he said to her, ‘can you not show me the way out of the wood?’

‘Oh, certainly, Sir King,’ she replied, ‘I can quite well do that, but on one condition, which if you do not fulfil you will never get out of the wood, and will die of hunger.’

‘What is the condition?’ asked the King.

‘I have a daughter,’ said the old woman, ‘who is so beautiful that she has not her equal in the world, and is well fitted to be your wife; if you will make her lady-queen I will show you the way out of the wood.’

The King in his anguish of mind consented, and the old woman led him to her little house where her daughter was sitting by the fire. She received the King as if she were expecting him, and he saw that she was certainly very beautiful; but she did not please him, and he could not look at her without a secret feeling of horror. As soon as he had lifted the maiden on to his horse the old woman showed him the way, and the King reached his palace, where the wedding was celebrated.

The King had already been married once, and had by his first wife seven children, six boys and one girl, whom he loved more than anything in the world. And now, because he was afraid that their stepmother might not treat them well and might do them harm, he put them in a lonely castle that stood in the middle of a wood. It lay so hidden, and the way to it was so hard to find, that he himself could not have found it out had not a wise-woman given him a reel of thread which possessed a marvelous property: when he threw it before him it unwound itself and showed him the way. But the King went so often to his dear children that the Queen was offended at his absence. She grew curious, and wanted to know what he had to do quite alone in the wood. She gave his servants a great deal of money, and they betrayed the secret to her, and also told her of the reel which alone could point out the way. She had no rest now till she had found out where the King guarded the reel, and then she made some little white shirts, and, as she had learnt from her witch-mother, sewed an enchantment in each of them.

And when the King had ridden off she took the little shirts and went into the wood, and the reel showed her the way. The children, who saw someone coming in the distance, thought it was their dear father coming to them, and sprang to meet him very joyfully. Then she threw over each one a little shirt, which when it had touched their bodies changed them into swans, and they flew away over the forest. The Queen went home quite satisfied, and thought she had got rid of her stepchildren; but the girl had not run to meet her with her brothers, and she knew nothing of her.

The next day the King came to visit his children, but he found no one but the girl.

‘Where are your brothers?’ asked the King.

‘Alas! dear father,’ she answered, ‘they have gone away and left me all alone.’ And she told him that looking out of her little window she had seen her brothers flying over the wood in the shape of swans, and she showed him the feathers which they had let fall in the yard, and which she had collected. The King mourned, but he did not think that the Queen had done the wicked deed, and as he was afraid the maiden would also be taken from him, he wanted to take her with him. But she was afraid of the stepmother, and begged the King to let her stay just one night more in the castle in the wood. The poor maiden thought, ‘My home is no longer here; I will go and seek my brothers.’ And when night came she fled away into the forest. She ran all through the night and the next day, till she could go no farther for weariness. Then she saw a little hut, went in, and found a room with six little beds. She was afraid to lie down on one, so she crept under one of them, lay on the hard floor, and was going to spend the night there. But when the sun had set she heard a noise, and saw six swans flying in at the window. They stood on the floor and blew at one another, and blew all their feathers off, and their swan-skin came off like a shirt. Then the maiden recognised her brothers, and overjoyed she crept out from under the bed. Her brothers were not less delighted than she to see their little sister again, but their joy did not last long.

‘You cannot stay here,’ they said to her. ‘This is a den of robbers; if they were to come here and find you they would kill you.’

‘Could you not protect me?’ asked the little sister.

‘No,’ they answered, ‘for we can only lay aside our swan skins for a quarter of an hour every evening. For this time we regain our human forms, but then we are changed into swans again.’

Then the little sister cried and said, ‘Can you not be freed?’

‘Oh, no,’ they said, ‘the conditions are too hard. You must not speak or laugh for six years, and must make in that time six shirts for us out of star-flowers. If a single word comes out of your mouth, all your labour is vain.’ And when the brothers had said this the quarter of an hour came to an end, and they flew away out of the window as swans.

But the maiden had determined to free her brothers even if it should cost her her life. She left the hut, went into the forest, climbed a tree, and spent the night there. The next morning she went out, collected star-flowers, and began to sew. She could speak to no one, and she had no wish to laugh, so she sat there, looking only at her work.

When she had lived there some time, it happened that the King of the country was hunting in the forest, and his hunters came to the tree on which the maiden sat. They called to her and said ‘Who are you?’

But she gave no answer.

‘Come down to us,’ they said, ‘we will do you no harm.’

But she shook her head silently. As they pressed her further with questions, she threw them the golden chain from her neck. But they did not leave off, and she threw them her girdle, and when this was no use, her garters, and then her dress. The huntsmen would not leave her alone, but climbed the tree, lifted the maiden down, and led her to the King. The King asked, ‘Who are you? What are you doing up that tree?’

But she answered nothing.

He asked her in all the languages he knew, but she remained as dumb as a fish. Because she was so beautiful, however, the King’s heart was touched, and he was seized with a great love for her. He wrapped her up in his cloak, placed her before him on his horse. and brought her to his castle. There he had her dressed in rich clothes, and her beauty shone out as bright as day, but not a word could be drawn from her. He set her at table by his side, and her modest ways and behaviour pleased him so much that he said, ‘I will marry this maiden and none other in the world,’ and after some days he married her. But the King had a wicked mother who was displeased with the marriage, and said wicked things of the young Queen. ‘Who knows who this girl is?’ she said; ‘she cannot speak, and is not worthy of a king.’

After a year, when the Queen had her first child, the old mother took it away from her. Then she went to the King and said that the Queen had killed it. The King would not believe it, and would not allow any harm to be done her. But she sat quietly sewing at the shirts and troubling herself about nothing. The next time she had a child the wicked mother did the same thing, but the King could not make up his mind to believe her. He said, ‘She is too sweet and good to do such a thing as that. If she were not dumb and could defend herself, her innocence would be proved.’ But when the third child was taken away, and the Queen was again accused, and could not utter a word in her own defence, the King was obliged to give her over to the law, which decreed that she must be burnt to death. When the day came on which the sentence was to be executed, it was the last day of the six years in which she must not speak or laugh, and now she had freed her dear brothers from the power of the enchantment. The six shirts were done; there was only the left sleeve wanting to the last.

When she was led to the stake, she laid the shirts on her arm, and as she stood on the pile and the fire was about to be lighted, she looked around her and saw six swans flying through the air. Then she knew that her release was at hand and her heart danced for joy. The swans fluttered round her, and hovered low so that she could throw the shirts over them. When they had touched them the swan-skins fell off, and her brothers stood before her living, well and beautiful. Only the youngest had a swan’s wing instead of his left arm. They embraced and kissed each other, and the Queen went to the King, who was standing by in great astonishment, and began to speak to him, saying, ‘Dearest husband, now I can speak and tell you openly that I am innocent and have been falsely accused.’

She told him of the old woman’s deceit, and how she had taken the three children away and hidden them. Then they were fetched, to the great joy of the King, and the wicked mother came to no good end.

But the King and the Queen with their six brothers lived many years in happiness and peace.

I wish all of my readers a New Year of happiness and peace, and lifetimes of happily ever after.

* * *

One thing I can’t help you with are resolutions. I like New Year’s, and staying up till midnight, and noisemakers and funny hats, and having a special dinner of hors d’oeuvres and desserts, and I miss Guy Lombardo, not to mention watching the ball drop in Times Square (we get only two channels, neither one of which broadcasts the NYC festivities). And I love buying my new calendar, and flipping the page, and thinking about how we already (already!) have more daylight. I don’t even mind all of the contrived year-end “best of” lists. Though I am finding this end-of-year business coming ’round faster and faster each year.

But no resolutions, because I don’t make them. In part because I know that if I made ’em, I wouldn’t keep ’em. This is supposed to be a festive season, and stopping to think about general improvements takes away from the festivities, at least for me. I also find that I deal with life and self-improvement the same way I do with our home schooling — tinkering on the go. I can’t imagine what life would be like if I saved all of the changes to implement in January. If something isn’t working, I’d rather fix it when I notice it, rather than saving up a big wad o’ changes for the new year, which I find just too dreadful to contemplate. It’s rather like not making the various, and individually manageable, quick fixes your vehicle needs through the year, waiting instead to push your rattle-trap jalopy, with an overwhelming list of repairs, into the garage on New Year’s Eve. No thanks. I’d rather start the year with a few last leftover Christmas cookies and a chocolate truffle or two, a hot cup of coffee, and the new Spring gardening catalogues.

So Bah Humbug to resolutions, and a happy and healthy 2008 to all!

On the sixth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

six geese a-laying.

And when they’re done laying, they sing.

Or rather, chant.

(Careful readers will count seven geese, not six. But look again and you’ll see that goose #7 is not long for the choir, or this world.)

The manuscript illumination is from Das Gänsebuch, or, The Geese Book, a medieval German chant book, illustrated by Jakob Elsner (c1460-1517). Shortly after its completion (begun in 1270, the work took more than 200 years), the Lorenzkirche, or church of St. Lorenz, at Nüremberg commissioned a massive two-volume collection of music of the Mass liturgy for their choir, comprised of school boys and young adults; what they made of some of the illustrations one can only imagine. The volumes, completed between 1504-1510, measure 30″ by 50″, and the first volume alone apparently weighs 85 pounds. Both volumes can be found at The Morgan Library in New York.

Some of the music can be found on the Naxos CD, Das Gänsebuch (The Geese Book): German Medieval Chant, performed by the Schola Hungarica of Budapest, under the direction of the thoroughly unwolfish László Dobszay and Janka Szendrei. For a fascinating account of how the music came to be heard again after 500 years, and finally recorded, read this ASU (Arizona State University) Magazine article about “Opening The Geese Book“, a research project by Corine Schleif, an associate professor of art history at ASU, and Volker Schier, a German musicologist.

Although the Lorenzkirche was badly damaged by air raids in 1945*, The Geese Book survived World War II unharmed, and, according to the ASU article,

came into the hands of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. The group’s founders trace their roots back to a patrician family in Nüremberg. The Kress Foundation helped the church rebuild after Nüremberg was bombed. In return, the church presented The Geese Book to the foundation.

Interestingly, The Geese Book project, which was started in 2000, was supported in part by a grant from the Kress Foundation.

* The church was rebuilt in 1949-52.

On the fifth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

five gold rings.

Enough with the birds already. How about some lovely old gold, including five rings found on King Tut’s mummy?

The website at the previous link has a children’s page, “Color Me Egypt“, including a link to Amira’s World, a blog by a 14-year-old girl living in Luxor.

(Notice how I neatly sidestepped Olympic rings and human rights concerns. Not to mention filthy air.)

* * *

We spent all afternoon at the provincial park in town with friends for a more or less impromptu home schoolers Christmas sledding party. It was wonderful — hardly any planning, just a hill, sleds, a fire, and enough hot chocolate, hot dogs, and buns to go around.

If I don’t get Day 6 up tomorrow, it’s because of all the gorgeous snow that keeps falling, slowly, gently, and the fog that has crept in (on snowshoes rather than little cat feet), both making such vast amounts of hoarfrost that everything, from spruce boughs to overhead power lines, are sagging from the weight. We’re not too concerned, since we have a house still stuffed with goodies, and would be happy to continue our weeklong evening Monopoly games by candlelight. And it does look pretty, just what you’d expect for the 12 days of Christmas.

On the fourth day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

four calling birds.

Apparently “calling birds” is a corruption of the original “colly” or “collie” bird, the European black bird; from the Middle English “col”, or coal. And the European blackbird (Turdus merula) is really a small thrush with a melodious call, or song.

I’m going to skip any recipes for blackbird pie (it probably tastes like chicken, away), in favor of this nifty wooden mechanical model

from Mechanical Monkey in Cornwall, England (they have ballista, trebuchet, and catapult kits, too).

On the third day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

three French hens

#1. It’s impossible to get the legendary Poulet de Bresse in North America, but we can come close with the Blue Foot Chicken. Though it’s better if you don’t mind when the butcher hands over a defeathered chicken with the feet and head still attached, French style.

#2. Finding French chicks, however, is easier. You can get old French breeds, such as the Crèvecoeur; Faverolle; Houdan; and the very rare La Flèche, as day-old chicks.

#3. Make any chicken tastier by cooking it à la Française. Clotilde Dusoulier chez Chocolate & Zucchini has a wonderful recipe for Le Poulet de Muriel.

Bon appétit!

On the second day of Christmas

(also known as Boxing Day, also known as the day Farm School residents refuse to go to town or anywhere near emporia crowded with mad shoppers. Sledding, skiing, and eating Christmas cookies and leftover popovers for breakfast, however, are all encouraged.)

my true love gave to me,

two turtle doves.

The Turtle Dove: oil on canvas by Sophie Gengembre* Anderson (1823-1903).

*”Gengembre” is a variation of “gingembre”, French for ginger, so it seems appropriate to share Baking Bite‘s recipe for Vanilla and Ginger Scones, which will go well with the leftovers, whether it’s roast beef, turkey, goose, or ham.

On the first day of Christmas

my true love gave to me,

a partridge in a pear tree.

(The gifts have been unwrapped, toys are being played with, new books read, outfits admired, the doll house is being adorned with its new finery — Santa Claus outdid himself with this one and I’ll seek if I can get some photos up in the next while with mention of an amazing Canadian source — and I’m testing out a new popover recipe for tonight, to accompany the roast beast.)

* * *

The partridge is a detail, the centerpiece in fact, of a lovely Christmas card that arrived yesterday from London. The work, “…And a Partridge in a Pear Tree”, is by Hazel Lincoln, and the card is being sold in aid of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Merry Christmas, from James Thurber and Farm School

Eighty years ago on this date, The New Yorker published this piece, still a classic (and longtime Farm School favorite), by James Thurber.

A Visit from Saint Nicholas (In the Ernest Hemingway Manner)
by James Thurber

t was the night before Christmas. The house was very quiet. No creatures were stirring in the house. There weren’t even any mice stirring. The stockings had been hung carefully by the chimney. The children hoped that Saint Nicholas would come and fill them.

The children were in their beds. Their beds were in the room next to ours. Mamma and I were in our beds. Mamma wore a kerchief. I had my cap on. I could hear the children moving. We didn’t move. We wanted the children to think we were asleep.

“Father,” the children said.

There was no answer. He’s there, all right, they thought.

“Father,” they said, and banged on their beds.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“We have visions of sugarplums,” the children said.

“Go to sleep,” said mamma.

“We can’t sleep,” said the children. They stopped talking, but I could hear them moving. They made sounds.

“Can you sleep?” asked the children.

“No,” I said.

“You ought to sleep.”

“I know. I ought to sleep.”

“Can we have some sugarplums?”

“You can’t have any sugarplums,” said mamma.

“We just asked you.”

There was a long silence. I could hear the children moving again.

“Is Saint Nicholas asleep?” asked the children.

“No,” mamma said. “Be quiet.”

“What the hell would he be asleep tonight for?” I asked.

“He might be,” the children said.

“He isn’t,” I said.

“Let’s try to sleep,” said mamma.

The house became quiet once more. I could hear the rustling noises the children made when they moved in their beds.

Out on the lawn a clatter arose. I got out of bed and went to the window. I opened the shutters; then I threw up the sash. The moon shone on the snow. The moon gave the lustre of mid-day to objects in the snow. There was a miniature sleigh in the snow, and eight tiny reindeer. A little man was driving them. He was lively and quick. He whistled and shouted at the reindeer and called them by their names. Their names were Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder, and Blitzen.

He told them to dash away to the top of the porch, and then he told them to dash away to the top of the wall. They did. The sleigh was full of toys.

“Who is it?” mamma asked.

“Some guy,” I said. “A little guy.”

I pulled my head in out of the window and listened. I heard the reindeer on the roof. I could hear their hoofs pawing and prancing on the roof.

“Shut the window,” said mamma.

I stood still and listened.

“What do you hear?”

“Reindeer,” I said. I shut the window and walked about. It was cold. Mamma sat up in the bed and looked at me.

“How would they get on the roof?” mamma asked.

“They fly.”

“Get into bed. You’ll catch cold.”

Mamma lay down in bed. I didn’t get into bed. I kept walking around.

“What do you mean, they fly?” asked mamma.

“Just fly is all.”

Mamma turned away toward the wall. She didn’t say anything.

I went out into the room where the chimney was. The little man came down the chimney and stepped into the room. He was dressed all in fur. His clothes were covered with ashes and soot from the chimney. On his back was a pack like a peddler’s pack. There were toys in it. His cheeks and nose were red and he had dimples. His eyes twinkled. His mouth was little, like a bow, and his beard was very white. Between his teeth was a stumpy pipe. The smoke from the pipe encircled his head in a wreath. He laughed and his belly shook. It shook like a bowl of red jelly. I laughed. He winked his eye, then he gave a twist to his head. He didn’t say anything.

He turned to the chimney and filled the stockings and turned away from the chimney. Laying his finger aside his nose, he gave a nod. Then he went up the chimney. I went to the chimney and looked up. I saw him get into his sleigh. He whistled at his team and the team flew away. The team flew as lightly as thistledown. The driver called out, “Merry Christmas and good night.” I went back to bed.

“What was it?” asked mamma. “Saint Nicholas?” She smiled.

“Yeah,” I said.

She sighed and turned in the bed.

“I saw him,” I said.


“I did see him.”

“Sure you saw him.” She turned farther toward the wall.

“Father,” said the children.

“There you go,” mamma said. “You and your flying reindeer.”

“Go to sleep,” I said.

“Can we see Saint Nicholas when he comes?” the children asked.

“You got to be asleep,” I said. “You got to be asleep when he comes. You can’t see him unless you’re unconscious.”

“Father knows,” mamma said.

I pulled the covers over my mouth. It was warm under the covers. As I went to sleep I wondered if mamma was right.

* * *

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Odds and ends

Things to do before our big extended family Christmas Eve:

Bake one more braided loaf (the dough is rising) and some more cookies. And possibly an almond roca-ish candy.

Wash kitchen floor (done — ha!)

Wrap Tom’s presents for the kids, while they’re all out this afternoon delivering Christmas cheer, baking, and cards. Which would be easier if said presents did not include the requested two bucksaws (to make cutting wood for the daily bonfires easier) and a royal blue halter for for the colt (for Laura). I cut apart some cardboard boxes from our recycling corner for the saws, so the package shape doesn’t give the contents away, and to keep the blades away from the edges. The halter fit perfectly into the box that arrived yesterday, in the nick of time (the post office is closed Saturdays, and none of us is planning to be in town on Monday), with the kids’ Sploids.

Oh. And I have to perform pompomectomies on the boys’ mad bomber hats. They’ve been wanting them for several years now, but I was reluctant to buy any lined with real fur, because of the price and the fact that the fur means I can’t toss them in the washing machine. Several weeks ago, the boys noticed mad bomber hats in the drugstore flyer, and I went to investigate while they were at play rehearsal. It turns out the hats, in a variety of candy colors, are intended for teenage girls. But underneath all the pink and lilac headgear, I found one in red and one in neon green, meant to be chartreuse, I think. Lined with washable fleece, and under $30 for both. Only one slight hitch — an oversize pompom dangling from each flap. I figure I can take care of those with a sharp pair of scissors, as long as I manage to dispose of the evidence.

Figure out what’s for supper tonight.

And tomorrow we head north for the tree.

Poetry Friday: Christmas and Solstice favorites

I’ve posted the first two poems before, and figured it’s the time of year to visit old friends.

The first poem isn’t a proper poem, and I’m not a proper Jethro Tull fan. But I do like the words on the winter solstice.

The Christmas poems comes from a charming Random House Pictureback holiday anthology, Diane Goode’s Christmas Magic: Poems and Carols, published in 1992 and probably out of print but worth tracking down, especially because Diane Goode is the Diane Goode who did such a marvelous job illustrating When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, and other delicacies. Ms. Goode also has excellent taste in children’s Christmas poetry. I found our copy at the local Goodwill shop when Laura was a baby.

Ring Out, Solstice Bells
by Jethro Tull

Now is the solstice of the year,
winter is the glad song that you hear.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Have the lads up ready in a line.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Join together beneath the mistletoe.
by the holy oak whereon it grows.
Seven druids dance in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.

Ring out these bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.

Praise be to the distant sister sun,
joyful as the silver planets run.
Seven maids move in seven time.
Sing the song the bells call, loudly chiming.
Ring out those bells.
Ring out, ring solstice bells.
Ring solstice bells.
Ring on, ring out.
Ring on, ring out.

In the Week When Christmas Comes
by Eleanor Farjeon

This is the week when Christmas comes.

Let every pudding burst with plums,
And every tree bear dolls and drums,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every hall have boughs of green,
With berries glowing in between,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every doorstep have a song
Sounding the dark street along,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every steeple ring a bell
With a joyful tale to tell,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every night put forth a star
To show us where the heavens are,
In the week when Christmas comes.

Let every stable have a lamb,
Sleeping warm beside its dam,
In the week when Christmas comes.

This is the week when Christmas comes.

Merry Christmas
from St. Nicholas Magazine*

M for the Music, merry and clear;
E for the Eve, the crown of the year;
R for the Romping of bright girls and boys;
R for the Reindeer that bring them the toys;
Y for the Yule log softly aglow.

C for the Cold of the sky and the snow;
H for the Hearth where they hang up the hose;
R for the Reel which the old folks propose;
I for the Icicles seen through the pane;
S for the Sleigh bells, with tinkling refrain;
T for the Tree with gifts all abloom;
M for the Mistletoe hung in the room;
A for the Anthems we all love to hear;
S for St. Nicholas — joy of the year!

*St. Nicholas Magazine was an American children’s magazine published by Scribner’s from 1873 to 1941; its first editor was Mary Mapes Dodge, best known for writing Hans Brinker. I’m lucky to have one of Henry Steele Commager’s hardbound anthologies of the magazine, from 1948, which includes at the end a selection of works by children in the “St. Nicholas League” — the contributors include a 17-year-old Edna St. Vincent Millay (an Honor Member then, in 1910); Eudora Welty, age 15 (in 1925); Stephen Vincent Benét, age 15 (1914), and his brother William Rose, age 16 (1902); Cornelia Otis Skinner, age 11 (1911), who would go on to write one of the funniest books ever; Sterling North, all of eight in 1915; and Rachel Lyman Field, age 16 (1911). If you’re interested in learning more about the magazine, this comprehensive website is a wealth of information.

* * *

Gina at AmoxCalli is the festive holiday host for today’s Poetry Friday Round-Up. Thanks, Gina, and greetings of the season to all!

Holiday links and hijinks, and gingerbread

over at Jealous of Gingerbread. Lots of holiday fun, or, as it says on the sidebar,

You’ve found the holiday hotspot…
Santa’s favourite hangout…

Here you’ll find all sorts of cool Christmas and holiday fare, from Holiday trivia, to Seasonal “must haves” tons of Christmas crafts, news, links to other seasonal sites and a few extra special goodies and exclusive Jealous of Gingerbread ideas and printables.

No gingerbread here today, though. Yesterday was dark fruitcake and Swedish Christmas bread. Today I’m trying some more of the Swedish bread but with almond flavoring instead of yesterday’s cardamom. Though I’ll have to make some more of that since one of yesterday’s loaves has already disappeared, with big crummy grins from the kiddies.

Everyone’s a critic

We were driving to town the other evening for a Christmas party and I popped Diana Krall’s Christmas Songs, recently borrowed from the library, into the player. I was feeling rather festive, and the kids were quietly enjoying the music. Or so I thought.

“Is she famous?” came a small voice from the back seat.

“Mmm…Diana Krall? Why, yes, yes she is,” I answered, glad Davy was enjoying the new CD.

“Well, she shouldn’t be.”

This from a seven-year-old who prefers the smoother sounds of Ella, Rosie, and Doris. And The Christmas Cowboy, of course (especially when he sings with Rosie).

Advent calendar ideas

Too late for this year, unless you’re a fast crafter and don’t mind missing the first few days, but there’s more than enough time to start planning for next year.

Cami at Full House and her kids made an advent calendar with homemade paper boxes, filled with treats, including wooden paintable nutcrackers and ornaments. I like the idea of larger boxes for such reusable and crafty gifts, rather than smaller boxes with candies; I noticed last week that our local craft shop has some inexpensive cutout wooden ornaments ready for decorating. We don’t have much extra wallspace around here, but I could see affixing magnets to the back of each box and turning the front of the fridge into a giant advent calendar.

Alternately, if you have a large collection of Altoid and other such tins, you can try your hand at this advent calendar. If you don’t consume a lot of mints, those round metal spice cannisters would probably work, with the tops painted, or old Christmas cards or other decorative papers cut to fit the covers, with or without ribbon hot-glued around the edges…

And Marilyn Scott-Walter’s lovely website The Toymaker has a printable PDF advent calendar here and here, for those of you modern types with color printers. More of The Toymaker’s Christmas projects here — you could also make a nifty advent calendar with the Glad Tidings Boxes, Santa’s Heart Boxes, Elf Balls, Angel Boxes, and/or Candy Cane Bags. (There’s a Toymaker book, too, you know.)

In the meantime, we’re sticking with our (very last) Advent candle, and the 3D calendar in the shape of a house I found on sale one year. But I think later this month we just might start making our very own calendar, probably following the Full Circle model, for next year.

UPDATED to add: I forgot Dawn’s snazzy “Tags of Comfort & Joy” wreath advent calendar!

A Christmas treasure in disguise

Karen at lightingthefires has a post with an absolutely lovely Christmas poem, A Merry Literary Christmas by Alice Low, which, since we’re smack dab in the midst of thank you card season, is more than timely. And might be rather nice printed on a handmade card with all the books I give my nieces and nephews…

My favorite lines,

But every year when Christmas went
I’d read the book my aunt had sent,
And looking back, I realize
Each gift was treasure in disguise.
So now it’s time to write her here
A thank-you note that is sincere.

So — thanks for Alice and Sara Crewe,
For Christopher Robin and Piglet and Pooh,
For Little Nell and William Tell
And Peter and Wendy and Tinker Bell.

Thanks for Tom and Jim and Huck,
For Robinson Crusoe and Dab-Dab the duck,
For Meg and Jo and Johnny Crow
And Papa Geppeto’s Pinocchio

For Mary Poppins and Rat and Toad
King Arthur and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road,
For Kipling’s Kim and tales from Grimm,
And Ferdinand, Babar and Tiny Tim.

Thank you, Karen for the gems you find, and post! My favorite gifts, besides the handmade ones from my children, remain books, especially the ones my parents send. Poor Tom, unfortunately, without a nearby bookstore or being able to use the computer just can’t keep up with my ever-changing wish list!

Oh! Was just catching up on my blog reading and see that Mary Lee and Franki at A Year of Reading also posted the poem, earlier in the month on the other side of Christmas. I think I rather like the idea of it as bookends, to remind one about giving and receiving…

Happy Christmas wishes from Farm School and Thomas Nast