Saturday, June 25, 2005


It was 11 years coming, but it's finally begun ... the kitchen renovation. We spent yesterday and this morning madly packing away the entire contents of our kitchen into boxes and setting up a tiny area in the dining room for some small appliances, dishes and food storage. The kids helped scrape the old vinyl tiles off the floor. I managed to bake 8 loaves of bread, two pizzas, two extra pizza shells and a double batch of baked beans. Then, at around noon, the three friends we've hired to do most of the big work arrived and divested us of stove, oven, sink and running water.

We have a laundry tub and garden hose arrangement on the deck for washing up. Meals are pretty much organized and manageable on an outdoor propane stove and in the microwave. We'll survive.

The guys doing the work were great about showing the kids what they were doing and how all the tools work. Blake started the day with a little "in-service" talk, showing off what he was going to be doing. Later Barry began chiseling mortar and bricks apart and looked up to see Noah standing there watching him with safety goggles on. Barry sighed, grinned and quickly put his own eye protection on.

We expected the unexpected in removing the old flooring and cabinetry, and we haven't been disappointed -- rat-gnawed wiring, detritus under the cabinets, sorry-looking insulation, bits of concrete in the wrong places, awful smells. But nothing insurmountable so far.

It doesn't look like Fiona has chicken pox after all. I think she's got a cold and more than her fair share of bug bites. But we may never know for sure.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The New Deal

Three months ago at a family meeting we came up with a 'rule' for practising that actually worked, and that everyone was happy with. If you miss your practising, you don't play on the computer the next day. It was Noah's idea. We discussed this as a question of balance. If one day is balanced in favour of unstructured play and computer time, it makes sense to right the balance the next day and stay off the computer. During the first couple of weeks there were occasional missed practisings (sometimes Erin or Noah would only manage one practising on a particular day) but after that the practising was quite consistent.

But then the computer was out of commission for 3 weeks; the kids hardly missed it at all.... and interestingly they were just as good about doing their practising, even without the computer contingency. But then the computer got fixed a couple of weeks ago and we experienced a bit of a novelty effect. And this week at our meeting they asked for a change to the practising and computer rule. This week they want a maximum of an hour at a time on the computer (then they must take a break and let others take a turn if they wish). And they want to do their practising without reminders, pressure or coercion. And, of course, if this doesn't work, we deal with it at our next meeting and change the rules.

So far Erin has mostly practiced just fine. Noah has practiced about half the time, and Sophie has missed three or four days in a row. I have managed to stay pretty low-key and am determined to wait out the week, no matter how abysmal, and see what the kids decide at next meeting. I know it'll be clear to the younger two that this is not working. An imposed solution will not be as effective as something they participate in coming up with.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


None of the kids in this family have had chicken pox, despite many casual exposures. Chicken pox has been running rampant through the community for the past 6-7 weeks and I was hoping it would arrive in our home, but after all the end-of-term performances.

Fiona has been snotty, cranky and mildly febrile for 24 hours and has a few suspicious-looking itchy spots. This may be it for us. The other three will then get it within 14-20 days. The timing is great - no groups lessons, rehearsals, performances, art classes or soccer games to miss. Everyone better in time for the summer music camp weeks.

In the midst of whatever it is she's got, Fiona has had long spells of being her usual funny self. When I pulled up her shirt to look for more spots, she looked down at her flat chest and commented "I don't have any breastfeeders." Breastfeeding is still a central theme in Fiona's life.

As I type this, Noah and Sophie are perusing a "book" that Noah made with folded copier paper, a construction paper cover and a stapler two or three years ago. They are enjoying poring over his rudimentary spelling and printing. "Rainbow" is spelled "RAMBO". Noah made dozens of these books at that age; I'm glad this one survived. It's wonderful for the kids to see clear evidence of their academic progress. Without artificial milestones like "passing Grade 3", these tangible indicators of progress are worth their weight in gold.

Today we moved the dining room into the family room and moved the fridge into the dining room (even cleaned it in the process!). Tomorrow the kids are looking forward to tearing up the old flooring in the kitchen. We've been packing boxes of kitchen stuff and hiding them in the attic. Tons of work still to do, but the renovation should begin in earnest in a couple of days whether we're ready or not.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Thanks for coming!

One of the kids' friends showed up for a sleepover fresh from School Track & Field Day. A homeschooled friend, no less, who thanks to a receptive teaching staff, joins the schoolkids every now and then for fun projects and activities. Anyway, she showed up with 5 ribbons. Apparently everyone got at least four. Some got more, if they'd placed well in races and competitions. Her ribbons all said "Excellent", except for one which said "2nd place". An "excellent" ribbon was a 'participation award.'

At the end-of-year soccer wind-up a couple of days later, every child received a commemorative medal. Erin, Noah and Sophie compared this approach to that of the track and field day. Did the track & field ribbons meant anything in terms of the excellence they superficially stated. What did "Excellent" mean if "2nd place" was better? Was there any value in a "Thanks for Coming" award if there were real awards to the winners? Were the soccer medals awards or souvenirs? Did calling a ribbon an "Excellence Award" make it more or less meaningful?

A couple of days later Noah asked Sophie who her best friend is. The idea of comparing and rating came up again in this context. I expressed my discomfort with the idea of rating friends as "Best", "Second-best" and "Third-best". What if, I said, you were kicking the soccer ball around after practice with a couple of kids, and you told one "you're my best friend" and the other "you're my 'thanks for coming' friend" -- how would those kids feel? Sometimes a "thanks for coming" award is demeaning or hurtful. The kids laughed at the idea of a 'thanks for coming' friend.

"Grandma gives 'thanks for coming' awards" said Erin with a smirk, referring to the stickers that are dispensed at the end of violin lessons.

"True, she does," I said, "but she doesn't try to pretend they say anything about the worth of the lesson. They don't say 'excellent', and she doesn't give out 'first class lesson' stickers some of the time."

The kids all seemed to understand the difference, even without me articulating it. There is no implied comparison or judgementalism in grandma's "Thanks for coming" stickers. They're just part of the ritual of lessons. A souvenir, like the soccer medal.

The kids have latched onto the "Thanks for coming" phrase though, as a humourous put-down. It fits in anywhere they want to say "nice try, too bad about the results." Now they just quip "Thanks for coming."

All of this is particularly funny because it was about a week ago, before all these discussions, that Fiona began shouting out "Thanks for coming!" any time she's taking leave of someone. She goes to grandma's house, has a nice long visit, and upon leaving, cheerfully shouts out "Thanks for coming, grandma!" She soaks up social niceties like a sponge, this kid, but she doesn't always quite sort out their precise social contexts on the first go around.

It was odd that this one phrase should take on two quite different, but equally funny, significances in our family in one week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Big Ride

The kids wanted to do something special on the first day of summer. I suggested a bike ride out to Three Forks along the highway, and then back along the Galena Trail. Sophie wasn't sure she was up for it, being the least experienced cyclist. Nevertheless I spent an hour reattaching the baby seat to my bike hoping she'd rise to the challenge. She did. I took her up the driveway hill so that she could show me that she's learned to use her coaster brakes to slow down. This is a skill she didn't seem to have a couple of weeks ago. We checked -- she could do it.

So we headed out. The ride out along the highway was mostly uphill and very hot with full sun exposure. We soldiered on and were all very pleased to drop down into the creek basin at three forks, getting off the highway and onto a gentle single-track trail.

About half way back, the trail crosses Carpenter Creek. The kids always love the cable car, and this was, I believe, Fiona's first ride. The trail was beautiful, in good shape, and absolutely deserted. Because it's an old rail grade, most of it runs at a steady 3% down-grade, which was just perfect for Sophie as she's on a gearless little-kid bike. I had forgotten how narrow and precipitous the trail was beyond this point. Sophie had fortunately proved herself very reliable at riding a straight and narrow trajectory on the highway so I didn't worry about her. As it turned out it was Erin who went over the bank when Noah, trying to ride a radical high line around a curve, clipped her back tire. Both kids were a little shaken up by the mishap, though no one was hurt and Erin just slipped 6 or 8 feet down a weedy slope. Still, they know that parts of that trail, especially just below our property, drop off cliff-like into the creek canyon. They rode very conservatively as we went past the canyon.

The whole ride took us about 3 hours and the kids were very proud of their stamina. This is by far the longest ride we've done with Erin, Noah and Sophie pushing their own wheels. A litre of ice cream disappeared in fairly short order upon our return.

Tonight the kids are still full of energy and are running about on the lawn, eagerly trying to soak up every last minute of the longest day of the year.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Morning Rounds

Most mornings Fiona and I go outside together and survey the world. These days our first stop after letting the chickens out is in the garden. Every day there is something new -- enough rhubarb for yet another crumble, garlic setting flowers, raspberries filling out, strawberries red enough to eat, tiny carrot sprouts all in a row.

Here Fiona is inspecting the snow pea blossoms. She's just walked through the hoop-and-chicken-wire tunnel and is under the runner-bean frame. The scarlet runner beans are poised to begin their growth spurt. We expect they'll grow at least 3-6" a day over the next two or three weeks.

Things are growing like crazy down at the GRUBS garden too. The club seems to have found its stride. There's excitement and familiarity to the routine of our meeting weekly. We work to develop the site, pull weeds, notice the new growth and explore a new activity or two. Today we moved some of the compost pile, installed a notice board, the kids picked and ate some lettuce and radishes, we collected, identified and sketched some wildflowers, watered and weeded the little plots, and the younger set made summer solstice paper plate suns with pastels and tissue paper. Then we headed up to Mick's organic market garden for a tour where everyone was able to sample some baby carrots and snow peas and help do a bit of weeding in the greenhouse amongst the tomatoes and eggplants. GRUBS comprises a huge range of ages (2 to 12) but it really seems to work.

Tonight we were back down at the GRUBS garden and its adjacent beach taking full advantage of the long day. The kids swam and played on the beach and the lawn; I sank a fencepost and transplanted some feral raspberries into a corner of the site. At 10:10 pm it's now time to complete the day. Fiona and I will go out in the last light of dusk and shut the chickens in.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The laundry joins the dishes

This is my new laundry airer. Actually, this is my laundry. The airer is what the laundry is hanging off, and you can't actually see it. This photo is angled up towards the living room ceiling. The airer is a pair of cast-iron end arms, four wooden dowels spanning the distance between them, a single and a double pulley to serve as anchors in the ceiling and a length of long braided rope that goes up from each end of the airer, through the pulleys, and down to a cleat on the wall. I got it installed during a week of pouring rain, which pleased me to no end. Outdoor line-drying was out of the question and I have maniacally been lowering, unloading, reloading and hoisting my airer all week. Our vaulted living room ceilings are very high, and all the warm air accumulates in the triangular space the ceiling encloses in front of the woodstove. In the winter time, this will keep all the wet winter clothes, all the mittens and boot liners and snowsuits and hats, up out of the way as they dry. When the airer is pulled up as far as it can go, you have to make an effort to look up to see the clothing at all.

So will I swear off the automatic clothes-dryer just as I've sworn off the dishwasher? I don't know. I will say that there is a lovely rhythm and routine to loading and unloading the clothes airer.

Today was violin recital day. Noah blew me away with his viola rendition of the Bach Gavottes from the end of Suzuki Book 3 (adapted from the Bach Orchestral Suite No. 3). Powerful tone, committment, musicality, confident posture and even some pretty nice trills. He really turned it on. Gosh, I was impressed. Sophie and Erin did fine too, but Noah's performance was the one that made my jaw drop. Now we are home and relaxing, our window sills filled with all the lupin-dominated wildflower arrangements we put together for the tables at the recital. I remember the smell of wild lupins from last year's post-recital evening.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Turning the corner

It's summer in just over 48 hours. And as the seasons turn, I feel a tremendous sense of relief at turning the corner with our activities roster. In the past 7 weeks we've had an orchestra concert, the last of the art classes and an art show, a zillion soccer practices and games and the final soccer wrap-up barbeque, piano recital, the last of the piano lessons, Erin's rehearsals of her piano piece with orchestra and the performances... and all the usual stuff including the garden going in, the annual accounting and tax deadline, and the GRUBS club in high gear. With tomorrow's end-of-year Suzuki performance party, the last of the extra activities fall away and we are free to slide into summer.

For weeks I've been putting the kids off when they ask about doing this or that: "Wait until after all our stuff is done." The kids all have big lists in their heads of things they want to get to in the weeks to come. They want to devote a day each week to hikes/bikes/canoe trips, to major/messy arts and crafts, to building projects, to child-led cooking & baking and to the beach. I know it will be easy for things to slip into lazy days of chaos and serendipity at home; that's nice in its own way, but they're asking for some help getting some of these things organized and done, and I'll do my best to help. We may end up having a fair bit more self-designed structure to our summer than we've had to our 'school year'.

Erin's Bach Piano Concerto performances were great. The KiwiVine Guest House we stayed at in Nelson during the final onslaught of rehearsals was excellent. It was private, well-appointed and very kid-friendly and comfortable. We were there for four nights and it felt just like home. We had a lovely relaxing time and I think all four kids really enjoyed the time. I worried a little that the week would seem so focused around Erin's needs, but we had so much child-led time and relaxing that everyone felt quite happy.

Musically things went very well for Erin. Her movement was dead easy to put together with the orchestra and she played nicely, very much in control and with a sense of musicality. She also had the chance to deepen her relationship with her teacher and to hang out a little with the two older pianists she was sharing the concerto with, something she somewhat surprisingly quite enjoyed. She suffers not a speck of performance anxiety, but normally she is so unaware of the importance of the audience that she looks almost sulky and lazy as she takes to the stage. But suddenly with these performances -- Wow! She was wearing a sophisticated-looking formal dress and it was as if she'd suddenly gone from being a sulky child to a charismatic young woman. She walked smartly on stage, smiled welcomingly at the audience, bowed and took her place at the piano with calm assurance. Afterwards she smiled and bowed graciously and exuded some real Stage Presence. I felt like I was watching someone else's kid. She looked like she actually cared ... both about the audience and about her performance for them.

Fiona has been incredibly needy for the past week and a half. She's still a chipper little thing most of the time, and funny and enjoyable to be around, but she seems to want to nurse and hug her mom almost full-time, day and night, lately. I hope she'll get full of whatever it is she needs and things will settle down again soon -- it's exhausting for me.

The kitchen renovation, after being put off for a few weeks, is set to move ahead in a week or so. That will carry with it its own sort of chaos... missing plumbing, no stove, no cabinets, drywall dust, outdoor food preparation and the like. But after surviving the past few weeks this seems like small potatoes.