• 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.

In case you haven’t guessed,

from all those photographs and stories of children frolicking in the snow and -20 weather, we here at Farm School like winter. In fact, we love it!

We also like the winter solstice, with the idea that more daylight is on the way (hurray!), and two of our favorite books to read on the first official day of winter (though we’ve been having unofficial winter fun for more than a month now) are

Happy Winter by Karen Gundersheimer, which is out of print but worth tracking down. I’ve written about it before here and here; and

I Like Winter by Lois Lenski. Grandpapa bought this tiny book for Davy a number of years ago and it’s delightful. There’s even a musical arrangement by Clyde Robert Bulla of the verses:

“I like winter, I like snow,
I like icy winds that blow.
I like snowflakes, oh so light,
Making all the ground so white.
I like sliding down the hill,
I like tumbling

Other favorite Winter Solstice reading:

The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer

The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson

The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales from Around the World for the
Winter Solstice
by Carolyn McVickar Edwards

While the Bear Sleeps: Winter Tales and Traditions by Caitlin Matthews

Shingebiss: An Ojibwe Legend by Nancy Van Laan

Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root

And some handy dandy blog posts the subject,

from Audrey at A Small Corner of Nowhere

and from Nika at Progressive Homeschool


Poetry Friday: North

by Philip Booth (1925-2007)

North is weather, Winter, and change:
a wind-shift, snow, and how ice ages
shape the moraine of a mountain range.

At tree line the chiseled ledges
are ragged to climb; wind-twist trees
give way to the trust of granite ridges,

peaks reach through abrasive centuries
of rain. The worn grain, the sleet-cut,
is magnified on blue Northwest days

where rock slides, like rip-tide, break out
through these geologic seas. Time
in a country of hills is seasonal light:

alpenglow, Northern lights, and tame
in October: Orion, cold hunter of stars.
Between what will be and was, rime

whites the foothill night and flowers
the rushes stilled in black millpond ice.
The dark, the nightfall temperatures

are North, and the honk of flyway geese
high over valley sleep. The woodland
is evergreen, ground pine, spruce,

and deadwood hills at the riverbend.
Black bear and mink fish beaver streams
where moose and caribou drink: beyond

the forests there are elk. Snowstorms
breed North like arctic birds that swirl
downhill, and in a blind wind small farms

are lost. At night the close cold is still,
the tilt world returns from sun to ice.
Glazed lichen is North, and snowfall

at five below. North is where rockface
and hoarfrost are formed with double grace:
love is twice warm in a cold place.

* * * *

If you need hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows to warm you up after reading that, see the previous post.

Tricia has today’s Poetry Friday round-up, and a lovely Dusting of Snow, over at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Sorry today’s entry is so skimpy — the kids and I have to plow through some pretty big snow drifts shortly to do the farm chores so we can get to town in time for today’s special performance for students of “Blithe Spirit”. Tomorrow evening Tom and I go. The kids have been primed with a viewing of David Lean’s movie version with Rex Harrison on DVD, and are keen to see Mme. Arcati and Elvira in the flesh, as it were…

Confections for cold afternoons

I’ve been meaning to share one of Laura’s new, easy 4H recipes, perfect for frosty December afternoons — homemade marshmallows.

I’d been intrigued since first hearing Martha Stewart talk about them — who knew you could make marshmallows, and that they were made out of real food? — but they seemed so darn complicated. I tend to prefer dessert recipes that don’t require me to keep an eye out for the “hard ball stage”, and much as I enjoy kitchen chemistry, I’ll leave cooking for engineers to hardier souls; though the pictures at the website are handy, especially if you don’t have the chance to watch a bunch of 4H kids in action.

However, I was delighted to learn that in the capable hands of Laura’s club leader the other month, the recipe is amazingly simple. So simple that we were able to duplicate the results on our own the next weekend, which was a good thing because Daniel and Davy quickly ate up the samples Laura brought home. Unlike most of the other recipes I’ve seen, this one includes no candy thermometer, wet pastry brushes, or corn syrup (in fact, a grand total of five ingredients — water, sugar, gelatin, vanilla extract, and salt).

They’re not only easy to make, but much tastier than the store-bought version. Especially if you insist, as we do, on gilding the lily — rolling them in toasted coconut or crushed candy canes, or dusting with a mixture of confectioner’s sugar and either cinnamon or cocoa (and you can make chocolate marshmallows by adding a tablespoon or two of cocoa to the recipe below). You could substitute the vanilla extract in the recipe below with some peppermint flavoring, too. My favorite way to serve, and eat, the marshmallows is to cut them in largish pillowy squares and roll them in toasted coconut, served alongside rather than in my hot chocolate. The kids like theirs with crushed candy cane, which does look spiffy before it starts to melt in the mug (see photo). By the way, homemade marshmallows make a lovely — inexpensive too — homemade Christmas present, especially tucked in a bag with a container of Ghirardelli hot cocoa mix or drinking chocolate.

Easy Homemade Marshmallows

Mix together (I do this in the measuring cup):
2 packages of unflavored gelatine (for example, Knox brand)
½ cup water

Then mix together in a large pan and heat over low/medium heat until dissolved:
2 cups white sugar
½ cup water

Add gelatin mixture to pot with sugar mixture, and bring to a boil.

Remove pan from stove and cool, for about 15-20 minutes. While you’re waiting, you can grease an 8″x8″ or 9″x9″ pan with butter, vegetable oil, or Crisco and then dust with confectioner’s sugar; I’ve also had good luck greasing the pan, then lining it with wax or parchment paper and greasing it again, with a final layer of confectioner’s sugar. Then to the cooled mixture add

½ tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt

With a hand mixer (or you can transfer the entire mixture to the large bowl in your stand mixer), beat the mixture until it’s white and thick and looks like Marshmallow Fluff.; this should take about 15 minutes.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan and let the marshmallows set until cool. Either tip the marshmallows out (you may need a knife or spatula) or pull out and peel off the wax/parchment paper. Cut into squares, roll in toasted coconut, cinnamon, or more confectioner’s sugar. Serve on a cold afternoon.

Poetry Friday: Winter words of wisdom from Edward Bear and A.A. Milne

The more it snows
(Tiddely pom),
The more it goes
(Tiddely pom),
The more it goes
(Tiddely pom),
On snowing.

And nobody knows
(Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes
(Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes
(Tiddely pom),
Are growing.

from The House at Pooh Corner, 1928, by A.A. Milne

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews has today’s Poetry Friday round-up here. Many thanks!

* * *

The busy holiday season is upon us. I had a Christmas party Monday evening, Laura had a 4H meeting/Christmas gift exchange Wednesday, and yesterday art lessons in the little village, getting to which by the northern back roads was rather fraught because the lack of trees and fences meant the snow blew over the roads and made the road part rather indistinguishable from the ditches. There weren’t anyone else’s tracks to follow for love or money, though the school bus had gone by in the morning. However, we were cheered considerably by the Christmas carols on the radio and, on the way home, the sight of three moose gazing at us.

Yesterday evening the Santa parade in town, and afterwards as usual we drove around town to look at all the lights. And now, two blissful quiet days at home today and tomorrow to do our baking and start watching some favorite holiday meetings. Then the parties begin again on Sunday, with a taffy pull for the kids and the big annual gathering of neighbors on Monday.

Keeping warm when it’s 24 below…

Playing with matches

Playing with fire

Dangerous and daring

The kids asked all summer if we could make a fire pit; it’s been too dry in previous years. Just when things were looking likely, it didn’t rain for the entire month of July and temperatures were close to 30C. The grass turned brown and crunchy and fires were out of the question.

Now, with winter’s arrival, a fire pit has become a possibility. The kids spent the other day making a pit out of snow in the front yard. Yesterday they spent most of the afternoon and part of the evening outdoors, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows for lunch and dinner. Today they were back at it, determining just how many hot dogs and marshmallows are too many. Tom and I watched out the window tonight, and we could see three little shapes dancing around the flames.

For tomorrow, they’re planning to rig up a grill so they can use a cast iron frying pan to cook bacon, sausages, and eggs. Daniel even asked about sleeping outside, but I told him that freezing to death would spoil our Christmas.

And would you believe that their mother still doesn’t like to light matches (hurray for barbecue lighters), especially after that one unfortunate incident in Girl Scouts where she dropped a lit match and nearly burned down the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Fortunately, the kids didn’t for any adult assistance, just trotted off with the matches, and food in a metal bowl from the kitchen.

Next week: running with scissors.

Snow fun

Adding the nose

Now the celery mouth

Last minute snowman surgery (sawing off some
extra snow on the back of the head)

A new friend…

School canceled, on account of

snow and hunting.

We were surprised Sunday by a goodly snowfall overnight, and then a bit more Sunday night. Enough for the kids to make this before lunchtime yesterday,

It doubles as a (very) small sledding hill.

Last night the temperature dropped down to about -20C (just below 0F), the coldest weather so far this season; winter is here, no matter what the calendar says.

Tom shot a deer this morning, and he and the kids are at his parents skinning it before taking it to the butcher, who will cut and wrap the meat for us. It started snowing again, so thickly I can barely see the road from the front door, just after they left.

Davy already has plans for the hide, which we’ll send to the local taxidermist for tanning (though Davy wants to try tanning it himself, which I don’t think he’s quite old enough for; I found this online* but figure I’d be buying it at my own peril since he’s only seven), and Tom will have his hands full because Davy also wants some of the sinew to make a bow and for various Native sewing projects. Davy lately has been eating, breathing, sleeping (the books live under his pillow) the teachings of W. Ben Hunt, especially his Complete Book of Indian Crafts and Lore (a Golden Book), and Davy knows that Ben would want him to get the sinew. All of it. Of course, I mean need that deerskin/buckskin book so I know what to do with that sinew. Besides store it in my deep freeze.

* * *

A W. Ben Hunt library (these are all still in print); if you or your kids like old Boy Scout manuals and the books of Dan Beard and Ernest Thompson Seton, you’ll like these:

How to Build and Furnish a Log Cabin

Rustic Construction

American Indian Beadwork

These Ben Hunt titles are out-of-print but worth tracking down:

The Golden Book of Crafts and Hobbies

The Golden Book of Indian Crafts and Lore

Ben Hunt’s Big Book of Whittling

* not for the faint of heart or stomach when it comes to book titles, there is also this (consider yourself warned before you click away). I’ll admit to being a wee bit intrigued since Davy says that Ben Hunt said that traditional tanning methods yield a leather that’s much softer and more waterproof than modern chemical methods. By the way, we hear a lot of “Ben Hunt says” around here, and I’ve learned that he’s usually right.

By the way, the above link at www.paleotechnics.com has some nifty things on the “arts and technologies of early peoples”, including

a list of primitive living skills gatherings, mostly in the US, and

information on school programs for kids

A late winter Field Day

Here, with great thanks to Dawn!

Warm up with a Fun and Frosty Field Day

Dawn is hosting a Frosty Field Day on February 16th, with entries due by the 15th. Which gives you enough time to come down from your Valentine’s sugar high and send something in. Thanks, Dawn!

Snow snaps

(abandoned barn on neighbors’ adjacent property)

Tom clearing snow with the tractor so we can get
in to the corrals to feed the animals (as of 6 Feb.
2007, the snow in the ditches now forms a wall
at least eight feet high on both sides. The kids
have taken to calling it the Great Wall of China.
I call it claustrophobic.)

Blizzard boy (Daniel at -30 C)

A band of merry tobogganers (from left,
Daniel; Davy, kneeling; and Laura); with
their favorite present from Santa, who knew
just what to bring for a snowy Christmas).
I moved this photo here for Dawn’s upcoming
Frosty Field Day
, to put all my Frosty Fotos
in one place.

Rough day in the west

If it’s heading for you now, if you can’t stay in the house, at least dress warmly and stay in your vehicle. Please.

Hang on to your hats

The wind began to switch, the house to pitch
And suddenly the hinges started to unhitch

Now just add snow.

Not much sign of an impending blizzard in town just before heading home, 12 minutes away, but oh what a difference those 12 minutes can make. I removed the wind chimes and wreath and brought them in, just in case. Laura closed the garage door for the dog and the cat, so they can keep warm and so that too much snow doesn’t blow in.

Fortunately, I had a great big box from BookCloseouts to carry into the basement, which helped me from blowing away.

And it’s only the beginning. Oh my stars.

Blizzard a-comin’

All of central Alberta is under a blizzard warning. The snow is supposed to start later this morning, and by midnight “blizzard conditions” are expected — snow, very high winds, and sharply plunging temperatures, from just under freezing to -30 C. We’ll head to town a bit early today in advance of music lessons to make sure we can run all of our errands for the week and be home before the roads are too awful.

Tomorrow afternoon’s 4H public speaking workshop and meeting, and the Theater for Kids information meeting later in the evening will likely be canceled. Revamped plans, for us at least, call for Ben Franklin and lots of Lego while I read aloud. Oh yes, and those double chocolate chip mini M&M cookies Laura made for her meeting…

Poetry Friday: Happy Winter Fudge Cake

While editing my last comment on the previous post for too many italics (I forgot to turn them off), I discovered Elizabeth’s comment yesterday in last month’s Solstice post, asking for the Happy Winter Fudge Cake recipe mentioned. I’m happy to oblige, especially because it includes a bit of poetry.

(PS If you you ever have a question, please just email me offblog at the address to the left under the meadowlark; Blogger doesn’t notify me about new comments, so if I haven’t checked on an old post, which I rarely do, or tried to fix one of my mistakes at Haloscan — which is what I did last night — chances are any questions will languish.)

Here’s the passage about the cake (you have to imagine tiny pictures of butter, sugar, mixing bowl, beaters, etc. printed right after each line, just as it’s done in the book) from Karen Gundersheimer’s Happy Winter, followed by the recipe on the facing page:

“Happy Winter, time to bake
Some really yummy kind of cake.
So Mama flips through recipes
Just like she does for company
And reads them all — her favorite ones
Are Sunshine, Marble, Angel, Crumb.
But we pick Fudge, and no nuts, please —
Now tie on aprons, roll up sleeves.

The butter, sugar, eggs go in
A mixing bowl, then beaters spin
To stir up yogurt, thick and sour,
With baking chocolate, salt and flour.
The batter’s made, the oven’s set,
The cake’s popped in, and then we get
To scrape the bowl and beaters, too —
Last licks for me and slurps for you.
The timer pings! The cake is done —
Let’s slice it up and all have some.”

Happy Winter Fudge Cake

Please ask a grown-up to help you make this yummy cake.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Grease tube pan (9-1/2″ x 3″)
3. Cut up 3 squares semisweet baking chocolate. Melt over very low heat or in double boiler. DO NOT BURN. Set aside to cool. [I use the microwave; follow directions on the Baker’s chocolate box.]
4. Get a medium-sized bowl and mix dry ingredients (with wooden spoon):

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt

5. Get a big bowl and mix wet ingredients (with electric mixer):

2 eggs
1/4 cup soft butter or margarine, cut into small bits [please, please, choose the butter]
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups plain yogurt
Cooled melted chocolate (from step 3 above)

6. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, stirring with spoon to blend.
7. Add 1 cup chocolate chips. Stir them all in.
8. Pour batter into greased pan and place in preheated oven (350 F)
9. Bake for 45 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cake may need another 5 minutes.
10. Let cool 30 minutes before turning out onto plate.
11. Slice it up and enjoy.

I bought the late, great Laurie Colwin’s More Home Cooking shortly after it was published in 1993, and ran across Happy Winter at one of our library’s semiannual sales about five years later, shortly after Laura was born. It became an instant favorite for each of us, probably more for me since she was so young and I found something terribly sweet and nostalgic about the book. Since I reread Colwin’s cooking books every year, it didn’t take too long to twig to the fact that, omigosh, we have a copy of Happy Winter. As happy as I was to own what Laurie Colwin calls the “small, charming volume”, mostly I’m delighted to have one small link to her life and an even smaller way of keeping her alive. Here’s what Laurie Colwin had to say about the book and recipe,

You never know where you will find a recipe. They are often hidden in unexpected places. I did not anticipate finding a chocolate cake in a children’s book, but in a small, charming volume titled Happy Winter, written and illustrated by Karen Gundersheimer, I did. This book, which was one of my daughter’s early favorites, tells a story in rhyme about two sisters on a snowy day. when they have finished playing dress-up and going outside to make snow angels, they come indoors to help their mother make a fudge cake. The recipe is given in rhyme and then written out on the facing page. It is easy, wholesome, and delicious and has now become my daughter’s standard birthday cake.


I make this cake in a springform tube pan with a scalloped bottom, and so it has a lovely scalloped top when it is is turned out. If you own one of those fancy cake-decorating kits that come with a pastry nail and dozens of tubes you will never use because you can’t figure out what they do, for this occasion you might produce some passable-looking roses and scatter them among the scallops, connecting them with green leaves. (Leaves are easy compared to roses.) The result is eccentric looking in a sort of demented Victorian way, but this cake is a hit with children who do not mind an uniced cake if it has tons of sugar roses. (A good rule for any birthday party is: a rose for every child.)

Really, what more could you ask for on a snowy winter day than a bit of Laurie Colwin, some Karen Gundersheimer, and fudge cake? Happy Winter, Elizabeth!

PPS Elizabeth, Happy Winter is sadly out of print. If you check Abebooks, you can find the original 1982 hardcover edition as well as the 1987 paperback reprint around $10 including shipping. Much as I prefer butter to margarine, I say go for the hardcover, which is just plain nicer and lies flat for following the recipe.


First round-up of the year, courtesy of Elaine, is chez Blue Rose Girls. Thanks, Elaine!


Our resident snowy owl flew overhead this morning not once but twice as we did chores, a sign, the kid and I thought, of the day’s importance. We celebrated by helping pack food hampers and toy bags at the local Santa’s Anonymous effort, and now the kids are stringing up some extra outdoor lights they found in one of our outbuildings. If it doesn’t move, it has lights on it now.

Winter weather has been here for a couple of months already regardless of what the calendar says, but today is special because the daylight hours begin to lengthen, an event worthy of great merrymaking and celebration for those of us northerly types who spend a fair amount of time outdoors. Today, for example, the sun rose just before 9 am and set just after 4 pm.

I like this time of the season, when winter isn’t a new flirtation, thrilling and exciting, but an old steady, cozy and comfortable. I’m used to putting on the extra layers, to driving on the ice and snow, and that first day of the first as unpleasant as it is unexpected chill is just a a memory. And winters with snow, unlike last winter when the first snow came just before spring, are an extra delight; I was reminded today by a radio commentator that this time last Christmas the temperature was around 15C/60F, thoroughly unChristmassy.

I posted this last year for the shortest day, and I’m posting it again, because the lyrics remains my favorite bit of solstice song and poetry:

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.

Added later: Somehow forgot to mention that another one of our traditions on the first winter night is to read Happy Winter, written and illustrated by Karen Gundersheimer, which really, really should not be out of print (and would you believe our library discarded its copy several years ago, though their loss is our gain). A sweet winter story accompanied by charming illustrations and a crackerjack chocolate cake recipe (favored by Laurie Colwin, blessedly still in print, no less). And it closes with Mama’s winter lullaby:

Hush and quiet, close your eyes,
The moon’s a night-light for the sky,
Where sprinkled stars are twingling high
And far below, the deep drifts lie
‘Til Northwind spins and flurries fly.
A snowy blanket’s tucked in tight
And so are you, and now good night.
A happy winter day is done.
Now close your eyes and dreams will come.

Digging out

We’re in the midst of another snow storm, and we’d be in big trouble if it were any colder; luckily, the temperatures are right below freezing. It started snowing again yesterday, and the wind started yesterday evening, so by 3 pm Laura’s voice teacher reluctantly decided to cancel the recital. They’ll try again next month. Overnight the snow continued and the winds picked up, so this morning we treated to even higher and more amazing drifts than before. Snow and winds still falling and blowing, respectively, with whiteout conditions. Tom and the kids set out for the corrals with the pickup truck after breakfast to do chores and as expected couldn’t go all the way with the truck. They set out on foot, but the drifts are up to Tom’s chest so it was quite the quarter-mile walk. Davy had the easiest time, since he’s the only one light enough to be able to walk on top of the drifts.

I stayed home, futilely shoveling in front of the house and probably equally futilely making meatballs for tomorrow’s 4H Christmas party and potluck dinner, which will probably be canceled (but then I’ll have some tasty last-minute meals in the freezer), and listening to An Oscar Peterson Christmas.


Digging out after a three-day snowstorm about 1913: “Standing on the roof of the James Ward home, Milton, North Dakota, Mrs. James Ward, Nellie Ward, James Ward, Hugh Ward”; photograph by John McCarthy from The Library of Congress